Grave Goods – Jeff Young
For this Grave Goods outing, we have Jeff Young; screenwriter, memoirist, and author of the highly readable and Costa Award nominated ‘Ghost Town’, an addictive, lucid and intriguing account of his formative years in the city of Liverpool.
As always, the guest is offered a selection of objects drawn from five categories – Tools of the Trade, Food for the Journey, Memento Vivere, Lucky Deposition, Ex-Libris, and a discretionary Message from Beyond the Grave.
Tools of the Trade – a tool/implement without which you’d be lost, whether it’s a pen, trowel, notepad, bottle-opener or scanning electron microscope.
‘My most used tool – or tools if that’s allowed would be my notebook and pen. I never leave home without my survival kit of black pocket-sized notebook and black ink pen. For longer journeys I’ll pack a larger size, which is more of a scrapbook for sticking things like newspaper cuttings, tram tickets and beer mats in. So, for that I’ll need a glue stick and perhaps some coloured pencils so I can doodle and sketch the view from my pavement café vantage point. So now I’ve gone too far, and I need a rucksack to keep all this vital equipment in. And a craft knife…and now I’ve gone too far.’
Food for the Journey – a favourite portable snack, or a portion of something from your funeral feast.
‘My food for the journey would be a simple plate of bread, cheese and pickles, but not just any old plate of bread, cheese and pickles! I would like it to be from Café Louvre, the Art Nouveau café haunted by Frank Kafka on Prague’s Narodni Avenue. I’ve only been there once but I have such happy memories of having supper there with my family a few years ago, feeling close to my hero Franz, imagining him playing billiards, pacing the writing room, struggling to form an idea into a story or perhaps trying to explain to Max Brod his urgent instructions to destroy his manuscripts after his death. The cheese and bread and pickles are plain enough, it’s the atmosphere they conjure up that matters, the memory of that special place with the people I love most. The guests at my funeral can eat whatever takes their fancy but the dead man will take his humble plate of cheese.’
Memento Vivere – a memento of a companion/event to bring you cheer (can be an image).
‘I would like to take a silver matchbox that once belonged to my great grandfather on my mother’s side. At some point in her childhood my mother inherited it and she used it as a tiny treasure chest in which to keep small trinkets and keepsakes. After my mum’s death, I inherited the matchbox and it became my talisman. I had no idea it was full of treasures – silver sixpence, lucky black cat, brass locket, collar stud, dog tag, two tiny ivory elephants – and opening it was like shining a light into her childhood imagination. The matchbox and its contents are a magical device to transport me into the past where I can make contact with my ancestors. It’s a memento, full of mementoes.’
Lucky Deposition – a bonus selection chosen by the guest – can include transport.
‘I recently bought an old Dutch bicycle, complete (or incomplete?) with cruiser pedal brakes rather than handbrakes. The reason for this is I have arthritis and my hands are next to useless, so me on a normal bike is a dangerous prospect – I wouldn’t be able to stop it! I used to live in Amsterdam where I cycled everywhere on a series of classic ‘sit up and beg’ bikes, which I rode until they fell to pieces and then I’d buy another. So, I had this brainwave that the answer to my arthritis and my need for exercise now that I can no longer walk very far was a Dutch bike and my friend the poet Mathew Thomas Smith found one for me at a very reasonable price. I’m working on the assumption that there are cycle lanes in the afterlife so I’d like to take my beautiful old machine and cycle down the lanes of death, which I think will look like the Amsterdam of my nostalgic dreams.’
Ex Libris – the book or text you are least likely to tire of reading.
‘I would take William Blake’s notebooks, preferably not a copy but the actual book Blake worked in between 1792 and 1794. In this notebook, he scribbled ideas for poems such as ‘Tyger’ and ‘London’ and rough sketches for abandoned illustrations for Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. There are drawings exploring ideas of Good and Evil, there are rough drafts of ‘Songs of Experience’. When I first read Blake in my school days I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but then as I grew older he became a companion and inspiration. Seeing the notebook a few years ago on a pilgrimage to the British Library was truly moving and I wished I could have touched the book and gently turned its pages. I once went walking with my friend, the musician Jah Wobble and we talked about Blake, exchanging favourite lines as we roamed the Pennine hills, ‘Songs of Experience’ echoing through the wilds. In a play I wrote for the Liverpool Everyman called ‘Bright Phoenix’ one of the characters spray paints Blake quotations on the walls of the city, illuminating Liverpool with shafts of poetic light. I’d like to think the afterlife is adorned with William Blake graffiti, which I can read and shout out to the echoing sky as I cycle along the avenues of Heaven (or Hell).’
A Message from Beyond the Grave – an entirely discretionary option – leave a note for a future generation to find.
‘All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small…’ I don’t believe God made them all but I do believe all things are in some ways bright and beautiful and need to be looked after. The great Buckminster Fuller said, ‘We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.’ I’d change the word everybody to everything and that would include as many living things as we can save – animals, birds, trees, weeds, moss, lichen, dirt.
And perhaps I’d leave a note: ‘The key is under the mat, let yourself in and make yourself at home. I apologise for the mess we made but hopefully you can fix at least some of the things we’ve broken.’