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Teaching Memoir
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Lost Art of Handwriting
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Just Williams
Inside The Jester's Court
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Castaway - The Inside Story
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Unmugged In Rio
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When Defiance Is
A Death Sentence

A Craicing Good Time
My London Village
How To Speak ... Dance
South African Ghosts
Pseud Awakening
Mad Matt's
One Hundred Years
Of Total Confusion


In a grim moment the other day, as I lay on the floor of my office contemplating the underside of my ergonomic writer’s chair in dark despair, I wondered whether any other occupations suffered from writer’s block, or its equivalent. Plumbers, for example. Is there ever a day when heating engineers simply can’t face it any more? ‘No, no,’ they cry as they stumble blearily towards their vans at 6 a.m., ‘not another bleedin’ pipe joint, never again.’

Obviously, writers are different. Harsh and morally draining though their working conditions are, their job description remains enduringly fashionable. These days, indeed, it sometimes seems as if everyone wants to be a writer, and not just those who have the desire or ability to get stuck in and do the actual writing. Whenever I open a weekend supplement there’s yet another professional in a completely different field who’s adopted the suffix ‘and writer’. Broadcaster and writer, actor and writer, chef and writer, hairdresser and writer, gameshow-contestant and writer. It’s not enough to win Bake Off – you have to write a book.

In addition to the pressure of belonging to a hip profession, writers have to put up with the awful strain of competition, too. The constant drip, drip, drip of ‘Am I as good as [fill in the name of a writer you admire; or worse, don’t]?’ They have to deal with the fact that quite demonstrably less competent practitioners of the craft land juicy 100k contracts, or sell more books, or win awards, while their immortal masterpiece languishes, spine out, on the back shelf at Waterstones. If they’re lucky.

Plumbers look over their shoulders too, of course they do. They mutter about the cowboys who don’t clip their pipes properly or overcharge. They also have awards. The Heating Installer of the Year or the Heating and Ventilation News Awards, where categories include Domestic Heating Contractor of the Year, Energy Efficient Installer of the Year and even – yes – Apprentice of the Year. But while such gongs are nice to have, they don’t drastically affect your sales, your workload, your viability. Nor are there as many ceremonies as there are in the literary world. The average scribe feels inadequate on an almost weekly basis.

How too would a plumber deal with the other contemporary demands of the job? Not just fixing the faucets but having to talk about what you do. Having to get on a train to God knows where, sleep on a lumpy bed in some noisy B & B and then stand up in front of a tent full of total strangers and drone on about the new four-tap bath units you’ve been installing recently, or the enduring problems of shower controls, before putting up with repetitive and insulting questions. ‘Do you use an ordinary spanner to undo that big nut that secures the trap or would you opt for a monkey wrench?’ ‘What’s the worst leak you’ve ever attended?’ ‘How can I be you?’ And what would they receive for this? At best, £150; at worst, a pot of local homemade jam or a flower. Can you imagine any self-respecting heating engineer spending a whole weekend away from home for a flower?

Although, hang on, maybe they would. Well paid already, perhaps they wouldn’t grumble about such pathetic incentives. In addition to the chance to hand round their cards to prospective clients, they might enjoy hob-nobbing with their peers in the Green Room, not to mention the chance to meet famous colleagues. ‘That’s Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers. Author of Bog-Standard Business. Drives a Bentley Mulsanne with the numberplate B1DET. Legend!’ They might also relish the discreet exclusivity of the world beyond the rope, the chance to feel just a teensy bit superior to the punters, for a change.  

In this way, through regular public appearances, plumbers might become not just essential figures in our lives and economy (as they obviously are already, witness the astonishing sums they can command) but people we look up to and wish to emulate. Soon arts graduates wouldn’t be dicking around trying to write novels, plays and film scripts that will never see the light of day. They’d be learning how to repressurize a boiler or drain a sump, with tangible benefits for all of us. It would be a short jump from there to ‘hairdresser and plumber’, ‘actor and plumber’, ‘writer and plumber’ and so on. Though with all that mental pressure, making special and fashionable what is basically a straightforward job of work, maybe they might all succumb to a new condition – plumber’s block.

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