Friday, 11 September 2009
It is one of the great unresolved mysteries of my life that I was never approached to join the Secret Intelligence Service. It is one of the mythic scenarios of university life, after all: the casual approach from a tutor, wondering out loud whether one had any interest in being of service to one's country, the subsequent meeting with the Man from London in the pub, etc. Next stop, a life in which one has to answer the question "And what do you do?" with even more evasion that I have to muster now. Or perhaps not. I believe Spooks'R'Us has a webpage now and recruits quite openly via the newspapers; they probably twitter, too.
I would have said no, of course (I think, probably), but I was such a good fit -- speaks a range of European languages including German and Russian, of nondescript appearance but possessed of an easy charm and ready wit, comfortable with the highest and the lowest in the land, with a wide acquaintance among political radicals and various subcultural currents, desperate for cash and easily seduced by the romance of a Lark ... Dammit, I even had the under-16 equivalent of a brown belt in judo.
On reflection, I think the problem may have been that no single person knew all of these things about me. That, and the fact that I spent three years more or less permanently in bed during daylight hours. Thinking about it, very few people other than a small group of similarly-inclined friends may even have noticed I was ever there.
The other classic opportunity for Great Things at university -- one that did come my way, but which I passed up -- was the approach from a future kingmaker. Last year, Geoffrey Perkins died. His name may not mean much to non-Brits, but if I say he produced The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and held Douglas Adams' feet to the fire to get the scripts delivered you get the idea. As a writer and producer, he was central to a whole generation of influential (but strangely forgettable) British radio and TV comedy.
When he died, pictures of him in his Oxford days were shown on the news, and I remembered: one evening in 1973 or 74 the very same slightly goofy lad wearing the very same silly tank top and another guy had come knocking on my door.
"We hear you're quite funny," he said, "Would you like to write some stuff for our review?"
"No," I said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," I said.
And that was that.