In a duel between two of the better looking members of the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ cast, I think I'd have the advantage of my never having been a smoker. In fact, such is the clear superiority I’d have over the author of The Butt, which I recently added to my library, I would have more than enough opportunities to trap his wheezing body with the deadly Madeley earlobe manoeuvre inside three five-minute rounds. The fight would be over and I’d then have chance to confront an immobile Will Self about the terrible state of his penmanship.
That, at least, is the plan.
There is, in this, as much a note of confession as there is boastfulness. Confession because I’m quite aware that I lack Will’s relationship with words; his loquacity, the way he rumbles and tussles with synonyms, and the élan with which he executes any series of clauses over the course of a tightly writ contemporary satire. Yet I'm not ashamed to acknowledge that I have a clear advantage over the man when it comes to keeping the punters happy. I know, for example, how to sign my name. See:
The process that led me to make this startling realisation began on Friday morning when I found myself again cast out onto the streets of Manchester. An independent television producer with a mild Goebbels complex threw me from the ‘Eye of the Storm’ production offices because of the way I pronounce the word ‘mist’. Tearful, I dashed down to Deansgate and into Waterstone’s, where my slightly outlandish disguise of a beret and a false nose/moustache combination is sure to attract no ridicule. Half of the customers in the shop are celebrities seeking a little solitude and if nobody is going to recognise Bill Roache in a floral hat and woman’s taffeta gown, then I know I’m sure to be safe from the general public. It’s why I go there at least twice a week and rarely buy anything. I just loiter around the Henry Miller books where I console myself that – had I the money – I still wouldn’t go to the desk with a book covered with more modernist nipples than an Elberry post.
Yet Friday was no ordinary day. I had money from my birthday tucked into my sports girdle. In addition to which, I had eaten neither breakfast nor lunch, so I had a few extra coins in my pocket. I was in the mood and financial zone to buy a book. This is how I came to find myself deciding which of the editions of Will Self’s latest to grab. Was it to be the drab paperback made from recycled egg boxes or a hardback signed by the great man himself?
I chose the latter option but soon became disillusioned with the book once I’d settled myself in the coffee shop and set myself to reading it. I had a problem with how it was written. Not the story, I should add. I just mean the signature.
Swipe a pen across a sheet of paper dancing on a manic breeze and you might approximate the autograph I have in my book. The indifferent run of the pen lazily describes a shape that could be a ‘W’ but might also be some strange runic code involving white witches and duck tape. A few dots had been hammered after the scribble, but these too were without meaning. Where they the eyes of the author looking at me or nipples on a lounging figure? Has I turned away from Henry Miller only to still buy myself a reclining nude with literary pretensions?
Or was it that Will is so tired of signing these books that he no longer cares? Has the signed edition really become such a formality? A sham? A marketing exercise? Getting home late on Friday night, I retired to my room examine a few of the other signed editions I own. It didn’t take much searching to realise that Will is just not putting enough effort into his book signings. I have signed editions by Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Bennett, and David Mamet; all of whom were quite happy to exert their elbows when it came to signing my front pages.
Kurt Vonnegut's signature is a work of art as well as including a good partortion of his name, including at least a 'K', a 'V' and a 'T':
David Mamet's signature is almost readable on account of the two recognisable initials.
As for Alan Bennett, his signature is a work of precision to match his prose. Should a signature ever wear a herringbone tweed, this one would certainly have creases to match.
It begs the question: does Will Self know how to write his name so others might recognise it or is this lack of legibility caused by the rocking motion of the Waterstone’s gravy train? I suppose I’m surprised that the act of signing a book still involves a writer putting pen to frontispiece. Might we soon have to satisfy ourselves with the first edition ‘as breathed over by Will Self after a particularly spicy meal’? Might the tang of chicken korma curry be enough to prove that the book has been in the author’s presence? Get the man to urinate on a pile of hardbacks from a great height and I would consider that his mark has been made. Let Waterstone’s print stickers for the cover that read: ‘As Sprayed On By The Author’ and I’ll pay a premium price for a book by the man who best captures the zeitgeist, the throb of the nation’s pulse. He has words coming out of places where most men grow hair. I just wish he weren’t so incapable of signing his name legibly.
Will: I’m calling you out. I demand that you post me a legibly signed copy of your book or I’m coming for you. And I warn you that my deadly earlobe manoeuvre has crippled many a healthy man.