When I met my husband, many moons ago, he was what one might call a wild child.
He and his bawdy group of young intellectuals did not even attempt to balance their finely-honed minds with that mammoth-slaying elemental maleness which puzzles women so.
He was a loose cannon. Anything could happen in the next half hour. On an early date I remember having a pint of lager emptied unceremoniously on my head outside a pub because I offended. I reciprocated in kind. We both shouted with laughter. And we went home hoppy and soggy, never to repeat the experience.
He had had strings of women at his beck and call as these mad, bad and dangerous to know types usually do. One had a PhD in chemistry: another was a stunning journalist with a bluestocking background. A third came from a go-getting, entrepreneurial family, and to this day is well-off. All had moved on.
Anyone who wanted to keep this gentleman needed to keep their wits about them. And now I look back, the same could be said of me.
As the great Monty Python script goes, our chief weapon was surprise.
We kept each other guessing, inadvertently, subconsciously, delighting in the art of the one liner and the outrageously unexpected.
For us, the extraordinary became commonplace, which is nice, because somehow I can never have too much of this commodity.
There’s a woman in literature whose chief weapon was surprise.
And to remind you about her- for like other heroes of mine, you know her, as if she were an old friend – I shall use a translation of the Persian original. It was translated by Sir Richard F Burton.
“She had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed, it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers.
“She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.”
Scheherazade, one of literature’s greatest storytellers, used her art to keep herself alive. Amoung the pages of 1001 nights, we hear how the great King, Shahryar, had had a bad experience with his wife.
She had been unfaithful. And his power had been lampooned, and his heart was broken, and all by a woman.
So, he revenged himself on womankind. Each night he ordered a new virgin to be brought to him. Each night he slept with her: and the next morning, as if to seal the perception that he had washed his hands of the fairer sex, he had his new bride executed.
Three thousand women, he had got through. Three thousand young girls with their lives before them.
Note, then, that Scheherazade, the Vizier’s daughter, was no victim. In the light of these events, she chose to walk into the lion’s den. One night, she presented herself at the palace, with a plan.
Before she embarked on her last night, she asked the King, might she see her beloved sister one last time?
Had he refused, there would be no nights at all. But being fictional, he said yes. In his presence, she told her sister part of a story: just half of the most glittering and captivating of tales.
Of course, the King wanted to hear more. So this wife was spared the next morning, that she might complete the story.
And the cast was set. Every day, half a story, to keep the King hanging on for more.
It was not the beauty or youth of this woman that saved her life and that of so many who would have come after her: it was her ability to range through the corridors of a King’s imagination, pulling out a hero here, a magic carpet there, a rogue, a beauty, a brigand, a magical eclectic collection of events and happenstances.
Polite and witty, well-read and well-bred. My heroine.
I set myself a fewer number of nights. My nightly storytelling was to continue throughout these long Summer holidays, some fifty or so days of preparing material between trips out and making dinner and walking the dog and making cups of tea.
And tomorrow, I return to work.
I don’t think I could stop now if I wanted to. This couch is free.
But while I hope and pray that I can continue to narrate nightly, it’s quite possible that 6:30 may arrive one night without a story. No-one is there to chop my head off, which makes it less of a priority for me than for my favourite storytelling heroine.
Reader, you will not be aware of this, but so much of my writing has a sound track to it. I am a musician as well as a writer, and for every story I have, there’s a piece of music to go with it.
And today’s soundtrack is swaying back and forth hypnotically for me, cobra-like, as I write. And I find I simply have to share it.
When I went to college to study music, my teachers never could get past my love for the exuberant Russian composers.
Whilst they strived to train my thoughts towards the heavy genius of Beethoven and Mahler, my red shoes kept dancing me towards those bad-eyed East European mavericks.
This piece was written by a Russian sailor – an officer in the Russian Imperial Navy. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the five firebrands who painted the vast wastes of Russia for the world, using just manuscript on paper. His passion for the sea seeps through every bar.
And the Russian sailor and composer chose the Persian queen and storyteller for his subject.
It is all it should be, this tribute to her skills: seductive, MGM-theatrical, mesmerising, possibly slightly de trop: but who gives a fig?
Listen, and enjoy.