My effort was fairly guarded: ‘Slightly mature male, G.S.O.H. Non Smoker, own Teeth, Hair, and Cat, wishes to meet young, energetic nymphomaniac. No dogs.’
Hers was: ‘Aspiring Actress seeks Youthful, Passionate, Handsome, Multi- Millionaire. Recent photo and Certified Accounts required.’
‘No chance for me there then.’ I said.
‘Or me, I’ve got two labradors.’
‘I could make an exception if you’re otherwise qualified.’
She smiled and stretched out a slim manicured hand. ‘Janice Mitchell.’
‘Jack Baxter.’ I said, taking it.
I certainly hadn’t expected meeting up with anyone like her in a place like this. She was a lot younger than me, in her mid twenties was my guess, stunning looking and very stylishly dressed, out of my league to be honest. Not that I’m getting past it you understand. I still haven’t quite been reduced to fancying those two ladies on the ‘Antiques Road Show; the ones who do ‘Bears’ and ‘Mechanical Toys’, so I made a point of grabbing the seat next to her before anyone else did.
‘So what’s brought you here?’
‘Been thinking about doing some writing for years,’ I said ‘Thought it was about time I did something about it, and you?’
‘Much the same I suppose’.
So what we were both looking for, along presumably with everyone else in the room, was expert guidance from a published author willing to share his skills with us.
What we got was Frank O’Malley.
Irish, and best described as an ageing hippie, Frank was thin, scruffy, had too much hair, and an ear- ring. He was older than me, and looked the sort who lived on a canal boat with some woman he’d knocked up on Greenham Common.
Not many really successful writers look like that, I thought to myself, so the likelihood was that the lessons we’d all just signed up for were just an easy way for him to get his hands on a few extra quid. The ice breaking exercise he’d set us to start off with was quite a neat idea though, and it did serve to get us all chatting to each other, as he busied himself making his way round finding out what sort of writing experience we had, and what our expectations from the course were.
He’d obviously done this kind of thing many times before.
When he got to Janice he smiled at her very warmly, probably expecting ‘lecturer’s perks’, and you never know with women, some of them can be attracted to ‘bits of rough’ like him.
‘Hi.’ he said to her ‘Great to see you again. Any chance of a lift afterwards? My car’s on the blink again.’
‘A likely tale.’ I thought, but true or not it worked.
‘Fine.’ she said.
‘Catch up with you later then.’
‘Right,’ she said, returning his smile. ‘Lot’s to tell you.’
Then he turned to me and after introducing himself, got straight down to business. ‘Been to any other classes like this?’
‘No. This is a first for me.’
‘Done any writing before?’
‘Only stuff for a college magazine.’
‘So what had you got in mind?’
‘Nothing in particular. Light articles I suppose, short stories, that sort of thing.’
‘What kind of reading do you do?’
‘Nothing heavy. P.G.Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett.’
‘That would have to be a toss up between ‘Catch 22’ and ‘Adrian Mole.’
He weighed me up carefully. ‘O.K.’ he said ‘What I want you to do is go away, write the funniest scene you can think of, and bring it next week.’
And that was that, he started to move on. It was hardly my idea of detailed professional help.
‘You haven’t told us what your writing experience is,’ I said sharply. He wasn’t going to get away from me as easily as that.
He stopped and looked back, sensing I might be trouble.
‘Short stories. Kid’s stuff mostly.’
It didn’t sound very promising. He noticed my look and resented it. ‘Harder than you think,’ he said. ‘The little buggers won’t take any bullshit you know.’
Then he went over to the only other male member of our little group. He was about thirty, weighed a good twenty stone, wore thick glasses, and had teeth badly in need of attention. ‘Damien Unsworth isn’t it?’ he said, consulting his notes.
‘Yeh. Heard what you said about children, can’t stand them myself. The trick is never to make eye contact. That way they leave you alone.’
Frank eyed him warily. ‘Right. It says here you’re an Information Technology man.’
‘Have you written anything?’
‘Computer viruses,’ said Damien, ‘It’s my hobby.’
Frank frowned but didn’t pursue the matter. He probably wasn’t sure whether he was being sent up or not. ‘So what are you looking to be doing here?’
‘Broadening my horizons,’ said Damien, ‘Meeting people. My mother says I should get out more.’
‘Right,’ said Frank, still not sure whether his leg was being pulled, so he moved on.
The rest of the class was made up of middle- aged women. It turned out some had been coming to Frank’s classes for years, almost like groupies, and I doubted they would be writing much. They made up his numbers though, and without them it was unlikely he would be able to attract enough people to run this course every autumn. He flirted gently with each of them on his way round, and I had to admit he could turn on the old Celtic charm when he wanted to. A man to be reckoned with, that much was obvious.
For the rest of the evening he had us doing ‘free form writing’, putting down the first thing that came into our heads and taking it from there, just scribbling away without thinking about it. ‘Loosening our creative muscles’ he called it.
More like allowing him to sit back and do nothing for the rest of the session I thought, as it left him reading the evening paper while we got on with it.