Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Little Things

Went to see Coetzee in Norwich on Thursday night. He spoke for an hour, a little about his experience with censorship and censors in South Africa in the 70's. Then he read a couple of excerpts from early novels, to illustrate. It wasn't boring, but it wasn't lively either. At a couple of points, I wanted him to ad-lib. Just, say, make a small joke, something a little self-deprecating. He didn't come across as arrogant, just nervous. Also, a bit shy. It was a literary experience, but a dry one. The audience were polite, but they wanted to laugh, applaud, yearned for a bit of his charisma to break away, detach itself and fill the room with energy.

Halfway through, I was filled with terror. I had forgotten to turn off my mobile. It was there, in my jacket pocket, which in turn was lying at my feet. Everything was quiet, and Coetzee read studiously and without much emotion from Waiting for the Barbarians. Should I reach down and retrieve it, turn it off? It makes a ding-ding noise whan I do that - not good. Drawing attention to my faux pas. The woman in front of me looked like she would lead the way, tut-tutting in disapproval while I went as red as a radish, and the phone blasted out the ringtone of Back to Black. No one ever phones me, I know, but what if I they did, this one time, during the one hour when I didn't want them too?

So I left it. My blood pressure fell, as I calmed down. Then I almost dared it to ring. Yes, go on you bugger, ring. At least I would be famous for something. The audience would murmur, I would stand up, and take the call. Coetzee would shuffle his papers, flustered, as security descended the stairs and dragged me out. Yes, darling, we will be leaving soon. Home in an hour or so. Yes, everything is fine. Love you too...