In a recent comment on one of my blogs, someone wrote that he never got round to writing because he was waiting for the inspiration. I thought of responding with what every writer knows, that you don’t wait for inspiration before you write. For some reason, however, the comment made me think of Aphrodite. And Mrs Cravat. And it triggered the realisation that for me, inspiration, when it arrives, is in part an unwelcome guest.
Mrs Cravat is on her hands and knees scrubbing the stone steps leading up to her house. She’s wearing her usual blue nylon scarf turban-style so that it entirely covers her hair except for a row of three plastic curlers decorating her forehead.
Mr Hancock works in The City (of London) as a finance clerk. During the day that is. Evenings and weekends, he’s an artist. Mr Hancock is a boarder in Mrs Cravat’s guest house and it’s clear there’s no love lost between them. Their relationship of mutual antagonism is about to deteriorate further when Mrs Cravat discovers Mr Hancock is working on a giant stone sculpture: ‘Aphrodite at the Water Hole’, in his bedroom.
“’ow did you get it up here in the first place?” she asks.
It turns out that Aphrodite consists of 15 bits of stone held together with iron rods. Her left leg is “… a bit of the old war memorial.” Somewhere in the jumble of Aphrodite’s body parts are two lumps of railway bridge. Another bit of her used to be the foundation stone of a pub called the ‘Dog and Duck’.
Aphrodite is not a handsome woman. (Of course, her age is against her. Since there’s bound to be at least one fossil buried in all that stone, Aphrodite is probably more Jurassic than Greek). It’s clear that Mr Hancock is deeply deluded about his talent, though he soon runs off to Paris, prepared, for his ‘genius’, to starve in a Montmartre garret.
“What is it?” says Mrs Cravat.
“It’s a nude.”
“It’s not nice; it’s got no clothes on.”
Mrs Cravat turns her attention to an oil painting on the wall. She waves a scrubbing brush at it as she asks:
“What’s this ‘orrible thing?”
“That is a self portrait.”
The scene’s from a favourite 1960s British movie “The Rebel.” It stars the late great comic genius Tony Hancock. Mrs Cravat is the late great Irene Handl. Aphrodite is played by herself. Yes, I think of Aphrodite as a third character in this scene.
I identify with all three. A bit of me is Hancock’s ‘frustrated artist’. I would like to think there’s a bit of Mrs Cravat in me too, for she’s the embodiment of the boy who is too simple-minded to tell anything but the truth in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s no accident, I think, that Mrs Cravat refers to Aphrodite as having ‘got no clothes on’ (as the boy says about the emperor) or that Hancock refers to Mrs Cravat in the scene, as a ‘buffoon’). In fact, Mrs Cravat carries the theme of the film, which is a debunking of the art world (in which you’ve only got to get a bunch of people to agree to something for it to be true).
I think however, I most closely resemble dear Aphrodite: an unhandsome woman of uncertain age (but at least 25 millions) cobbled together with all sorts of - as Mrs Cravat so characteristically puts it – ‘miskelainyus rubbish’.
The screenwriters (Galton and Simpson) didn’t wait for inspiration before creating this fabulous comic scene, I’m sure. That’s not the point, though. Aphrodite ends up being dropped into the English Channel as she’s being loaded into the cargo hold of a cross-channel ferry, but I believe she was sent back from Davey Jones’ locker to reveal to me that what stops me from being creative (when a 'big freeze' turns up) is not lack of inspiration, but fear of it.
She showed me how, when I ‘freeze’, it’s because when inspiration does arrive, I know I'm being directed to inspect some aspect of myself that needs ‘sculpting out’. That’s terrifying because it will mean I have to change; even fundamentally, if I find myself digging around my ‘Dogs and Ducks’ - my philosophical foundation stones. It would seem that to be an artist means having to be able to accept change and every day.
It’s said that a writer ‘is not his characters’. But that can't be so. My characters are my Aphrodites and they come from my excavations into my ‘miskelainyus rubbish’, from those bits of ‘me’ that ‘Inspiration’ is telling me, need my attention. And I know that neither I nor my characters will ever become ‘handsome’ unless I’m prepared to do the dirty digging.
If you’re in need of a laugh and would like to ‘meet’ Aphrodite, Mrs Cravat and Mr Hancock ‘in person’, here’s a link to the scene from the film: