Royal Air Force
Administrative Apprentices Association

Multum A Parvo

Member Articles

The Von Meck Solution – Peter Cully (29th)

I have always enjoyed writing (or scribbling as I should perhaps describe it) and hope that the examples of my work that I leave behind will be appreciated by those who read them. The collection is varied, comprising a mixture of (very) short stories; descriptions of events from my life; a few poems; and one or two attempts at humour. I never made any money from this hobby (that was never the intention) and – with the exception of a brief poem about walking the Fells of the Lake District apparently published in some journal at the behest of my English tutor at S Martin’s College – I have never been published either.
Of course this passion for scribbling arose from the fact that I have also been an avid reader of the works of many of the major exponents of the art. In my own small way I have attempted to emulate them, while revelling in the joy of the English language. It has been fun and satisfying.
Nevertheless, I am forced to confront the fact that I have never attempted to write a book, or even contemplate – heaven forbid! – a series of books, and the loss seems increasingly irksome to me now as the time allotted to me to make good this omission is rapidly running out.
I am forced to confront the question, ‘Why have I never attempted to write something longer than a brief article?’ Ego requires me to scratch around seeking valid excuses to explain this situation. Pressure of work and lack of time are obvious contenders. Coming from a relatively modest working class background I was naturally obliged to get a job and help pay my way through life. 14 years in the RAF was followed by 4 years at College and a further 14 years as a schoolteacher. Spare time was usually at a premium making it difficult to begin my magnum opus (though other struggling authors managed to do this in spite of circumstances). On the other hand, had fortune smiled and bestowed on me a more leisurely work-life balance it is quite possible that my literary output would have been considerably greater and even stretched to a book or two.
There is a precedent for this type of day-dreaming. Back in the 19th century a wealthy Russian widow named Nadezhda von Meck (1831-1894) found a musical soul-mate in the young Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and for almost 14 years supported him financially allowing him to concentrate on his career as a composer. They corresponded frequently during this period but his benefactor insisted as part of the arrangement that the two of them should never meet. And they never did. It may seem bizarre and somewhat extreme but we must remember that this took place in Tsarist Russia, a land of snowy forests and Slavic temperament.
Nevertheless I cannot help but fantasize how such an arrangement might have worked in my favour in the final half of the 20th century. A guaranteed income would have freed me from the need to seek employment in either the RAF or the education system. Actually, for the most part I enjoyed being an Airman, but the idea of not having to cope with the secondary education system (bolshy kids and back-stabbing staff) greatly appeals. I could also have given up my years as an examiner for foreign pupils taking Cambridge examinations. Would it have been a win-win situation? I wonder. It would certainly have freed me from the burden of seeking paid employment and bestowed lashings of free time on me to pursue a literary career. Who knows what I might have achieved.
On the minus side there are some obvious drawbacks. I suppose I would have been ridiculed for being a “kept man” living off the generosity of someone else. Whilst being an attack on one’s masculinity, the truth of the matter is that those casting these aspertions are more than likely motivated by simple jealousy. On balance therefore I think it very likely I could have come to terms with this and accepted the situation with equanimity!
I am not so sure that Nadezdha’s desire to remain a distant stranger would have proved possible in the media-savvy world of the 20th century however. With universal 24 hour access to the plethora of news items spewed out by the many media outlets, how long could the cloak of anonymity be preserved? How soon would it be before some aspiring paparazzo secured a scoop (complete with photographs courtesy of a long lens camera) purportedly showing that I was nothing but an idle conman slopping around the house in slippers and dressing gown doing nothing much at all (rather like our current crop of Civil Servants!) enjoying the high life at someone else’s expense. Imagine how that might go down with my benefactress?
I wasn’t going to mention it, but it seems relevant to say that Mrs C (‘er indoors) might also have something to say about this arrangement!
No, the fact of the matter is quite simply that up till now it has been apparent that I lack the creative genius to expand my offerings, and therefore the effort to write novels elludes me.
But I am resolved not to be beaten! Unknown to my vast audience I have been spending what remains of my time here on earth preparing to astound the literary world with my debut novel. My original research involved the adventures of an orphan boy anxious to attend Wizards’ College until my grandchildren pointed out that this path has been well and truly trodden by a competitor. This news was something of a setback, but I regrouped and tried a new approach.
Instead I am now busy preparing the draft of my new book which will be a romantic novel set in modern day UK, featuring the life and loves of a variety of entertaining characters. Ever conscious of the need for a headline-grabbing opening sentence designed to intrigue the reader and ensure his or her continued willingnness to embrace the story, I can now offer as something of a sneak-peek the opening sentence of this monumental work of fiction:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married
man in possession of a good fortune must be in want
of a mistress!”