If I were to write for money, I could find a worse role-model than Will Skidelsky. Here he is on cleft palates, treatment in England and India, and his own experience of his son’s cleft palate. The main focus of the article is Mr Skidelsky himself: “I” and “we”, for he and his wife, or he and his family, are common words, and the first paragraph is about his shock at the first diagnosis. He tells us his wife Gudrun feared setting eyes on their son, with this blemish. Feelings are paramount as he investigates the condition: confusion, trust, distress. Fortunately, on seeing their son’s face for the first time, the cleft was part of him, and so something to love.
The photo is of Will looking adoringly down at the baby, while his wife looks with amusement, I think, as well as Love, at him. Then, there is a bit about India.
Gosh, what a gig, eh? Off to India, long feature in the Observer magazine, colour photos of himself? I am so envious.
He discloses early that his wife had to have a late abortion, previously, because her child would not develop internal organs, and could not survive birth. This is a main subject of his book, “Federer and me”. In the Guardian, Julian Barnes eviscerated it. Perhaps most people would think that the partner’s proper position is as a support of the mother. She carries the child, she has to go through the termination. Instead, he runs away. My girlfriend, understandably grief-stricken, wanted closeness, intimacy. But I ran away from my feelings – and, by extension, from her. As ever, I sought refuge in tennis.
Understandably, things with my girlfriend had not been good, and one senses this may be understatement. Finally, he manages to accept his feelings, at Federer’s match with Djokovic.
This is a kind of writing I could emulate. Writers mine our own feelings for subject-matter, and while few have a hare-lip, most parents could relate to seeing the child for the first time, and falling in love- though some could not, and get pain from that. And most could relate to stories of desperate wishing the child would JUST SHUT UP!!!! and feelings of shame, or relief that temptation to hurt the child was resisted. There, you see, I am entering imaginatively into the experience of others which I have not had, but have heard of. Barnes does not think much of Skidelsky’s emotional intelligence: though he is able to identify and refer to emotional states, his ability to evoke them, characterise or colourise them, let alone follow through on their consequences, feels remarkably limited.
Richard observed drily that it can’t hurt that his father is a peer of the realm. Will was privately educated; we noticed at University that the “Yahs”, as we called them, had ineffable self-confidence. Will has had contacts, breaks, I have not had, but also clear talents which he has developed. Richard quotes Philip Pullman saying that most published authors earn less than the median wage- perhaps less than the minimum, we wonder? However, looking up at this vertiginous cliff- Pullman, with most people in Britain knowing his name, then Barnes, a long way above Skidelsky, a vast distance above me (Ooh! 10,000 page views for one blog post!) I wonder if my writing could ever be more than a hobby?