Authors: David Nobbs
David Nobbs was born in Kent. After university, he entered the army, then tried his hand at journalism and advertising before becoming a writer. A distinguished novelist and comedy writer, he lives near Harrogate with his wife Susan.
Praise for David Nobbs
'No one does truthful and touching and very funny as well as David Nobbs.
is a lovely book' Michael Palin
'He got where he is today by being very funny over a very long period of time'
'Nobbs's hilarious satire on celebrity culture is fuelled by an inexhaustible supply of jokes, while its sense of human frailty creates moments of true pathos'
Mail on Sunday
'A delicious entertainment, as comic and as sharp as they come'
'He perfectly encapsulates the British sense of humour in all its many guises. Nobbs has a matchless ear for the rich absurdities of human life . . . His love of finding "comedy in the little things of life" is positively inspiring'
'A bold novel . . . told with humour and courage'
'A highly readable and strangely affecting comedy of embarrassment, resentment, grief and love'
'An extraordinarily rich and satisfying novel . . . I laughed constantly' Jonathan Coe
'A funny and moving exploration of the impact of our physicality on who we are'
'The most wonderful book I have read for a long, long time' Miles Kingston
'A rich and loveable book'
'Genius got him where he is today . . . breezy, funny and often touching account of his life . . . Like all the best comic writers, he spins a healthy line in self-deprecation . . . This book is more than just a collection of memories of life in television'
'Very funny sketches of provincial newspaper life' Sue Townsend
I Didn't Get Where I am Today
is anecdotal, angry, heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny'
'Nobbs is undoubtedly one of our finest [novelists] . . . a warm, charitable autobiography'
'A marvellously comic novel'
'A more delightfully understated memoir you couldn't wish to find'
Mail on Sunday
'David Nobbs is the P.G. Wodehouse of the middle classes . . . Deliciously funny'
'Wry, gentle and funny'
'Playwright, comedy scriptwriter, and author of some of the finest humorous novels of recent years, David Nobbs has extended his range yet again, showing he can be just as funny writing about real events . . . Read all his novels you can lay your hands on, then read this book for a rare glimpse at the roots of comic inspiration'
'Cleverly, deftly written and wonderfully funny'
'Like all the best comic novels, mixes sadness with laughter to great effect'
'Flows brilliantly . . . sometimes funny, sometimes poignant . . . a great read'
New Books Magazine
'Richly funny, and rich in many other ways. Buy it'
Mail on Sunday
'Nobbs tells it with tenderness and humour'
'A funny, touching and reflective study of life and love that not only reinforces his status as one of Britain's finest comic novelists, but also lays claim for him to be considered as one of our shrewdest and most compassionate writers . . . a wonderful novel, mature in its handling of life's triumphs and tragedies, warm-hearted and witty in its insight into the nature of love'
I Didn't Get Where I Am Today
is full of rich anecdotes about exactly what has got him to where he is today, as one of Britain's most celebrated comic novelists and scriptwriters'
'In the hands of such a professional, a book like this could not be anything but entertaining, and it is always enjoyable to read about well-known people; their foibles, eccentricities and sometimes feet of clay . . . Nobbs worked during a golden age of British television and played no small part in making it so. His autobiography, funny, insightful and sometimes poignant, does justice to describing that time and the people in it'
'The author of Reginald Perrin deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone interested in the popular culture of the 20th century and especially in what makes us laugh'
'Nobbs delivers an eloquent, entertaining, and intelligent interpretation of his own experiences'
Norwich Evening News
Nottingham Evening Post
'Nobbs writes movingly about people he has encountered, his career, and emotional markers in his life. Satisfying anecdotes and wry witticism are injected into accounts of his early years'
Aberdeen Evening Express
'He has made his reputation creating wonderful images and sharp humour. This book is full of them, capturing all the people he has written for over the years – a veritable Who's Who of the great comics . . . David is a versatile author and tell screenwriter and all this shines through on his joyful journey through life. It's well worth joining him'
'It's not humour but good humour that explains Nobbs' appeal'
'Celebrated comic writer and legendary creator of Reginald Perrin, the brilliant critique of capitalist absurdity'
Also by David Nobbs
The Itinerant Lodger
A Piece of the Sky is Missing
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
The Return of Reginald Perrin
The Better World of Reginald Perrin
Second From Last in the Sack Race
A Bit of a Do
Pratt of the Argus
The Cucumber Man
The Legacy of Reginald Perrin
Sex and Other Changes
Pratt à Manger
I Didn't Get Where I Am Today
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Published by Arrow Books 2008
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Copyright © David Nobbs 2007
David Nobbs has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 2007 by
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
For Leslie Ash
The idea for this book started life as a play for Yorkshire Television, transmitted in 1981 in a series called 'Plays for Pleasure'. Would that such a series title could happen today.
I received at least twice as many fan letters for this play as for any other single piece of television. It was brilliantly acted and directed, and stayed with me, demanding eventually to be updated, lengthened and deepened.
I have dedicated this book to Leslie Ash, because she was tremendous, in her first television role, as the Ange character, then called Ros, and because she has been such a terrible victim of the hospital superbug and has done so much to try to puncture the complacency in which this dreadful disease is shrouded.
But I must also mention the late Robin Bailey as Alan; Marjorie Bland, wonderfully awful as Jane; and Julian Holloway, the very essence of a complacent don as Lawrence. Their sparkling performances all helped to inspire me to write this book.
Thanks also to David Cunliffe, the director, and Pat Sandys, the producer , who served me so well in those magical days when one-off plays still mattered.
The older I get, the more I realise how much I need the support of others. I owe much to my wife, Susan; my agents, Jonathan Clowes and Ann Evans; and my editors, Susan Sandon and Georgina Hawtrey-Woore.
I travelled on the same train today, exactly a year after our first meeting. A year! Was it really only a year ago? Has only a fifty-sixth of my life passed since that day which changed everything? It seems a lifetime ago, and yet it also seems like yesterday. I mentioned that to Lawrence. 'That's women for you,' he said. 'That's what they do to you.' I don't think he likes women – but then, if I was married to Jane, I don't think I would like women either.
I say 'the same train'. I mean, of course, the train that left Manchester and was due at London Euston at the same time on the same day as that train a year ago. It wasn't the same train at all. Well, it might have been, I didn't check the carriage numbers or the name on the engine, such trivia have never interested me, but I think it extremely unlikely. Anyway, I don't give a damn about these linguistic minutiae. Not any more. Not after her.
This time two people sat at the other side of the table from me. They were fat and boring and I hated them. I wanted the seat to remain empty at least until Stoke, so that . . . what? She would get on again? Ridiculous. This was life, not a fantasy. Some other woman would get on, lovely, sexy, available, and
would get talking and I would invite
to a posh restaurant? What rot.
For fourteen years I had been busy writing my great book, the book that would make my reputation. I had written 527 pages of 'Germanic Thought from Kant to Wittgenstein', and I still hadn't got further than Nietzsche. Now I have decided to put the project aside, until I have written
book, my book about her. I'm calling it 'Cupid's Dart'. I am no longer frightened of the obvious.
As the train pulled slowly out of Stoke's unlovely station, I found myself looking out of the window, observing every detail. A year ago I had also been looking out of the window as the train rattled through the Midlands, but I had been seeing nothing except my thoughts. She had pointed that out to me. 'You look, but you don't see nothink,' she had said. Well, there's no point in my hiding from you that grammar was not her strong point.
So now I looked as I thought that she would have looked. I saw some small factories with ugly corrugated roofs, enough waste ground to solve all the area's housing problems, and one lone brick kiln, a pathetic reminder of the golden age of the decrepit pottery towns. She would have felt sorry for that sad, isolated kiln, and now I found myself feeling sorry for it. Yes, I was anthropomorphising about a kiln. How I had changed. How I would have despised this me a year ago.
She would have laughed at me if she had known what I was thinking now. Not cruelly, though. Her laugh was never cruel.
I had a sudden fear that tears would spring to my eyes. That would never do. I said that it had been a day that changed everything. If I gave way to tears now, it would have changed nothing. If I was not different now, better now, braver now, then it had all been a waste of time. That would mean that Lawrence had been right. Just for a moment I saw Jane's cool, laser smile. 'We did warn you, Alan.' I owed it to myself not to allow Jane any kind of victory. I owed it to myself not to cry. I hadn't come on this train to wallow in self-pity.
I looked out at the water meadows, beside the uninspiring Trent. Rivers could inspire. Danube, Tigris, Orinoco. Amazon, Yangtze, Mississippi. These were names that quickened the blood. Trent did not.
A brightly painted narrow boat was chugging along an absurdly small canal at the side of the train. A middle-aged man stood at the helm. He was wearing a yachting cap and in his body there was the tension and self-importance of a man steering an oil tanker through treacherous waters. A middle-aged woman brought him a cup of tea. He planted a middle-aged kiss on her forehead. I waved at them. I, Alan Calcutt, Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, who had spent fourteen years of my life writing 'Germanic Thought from Kant to Wittgenstein', had waved from a train to a middle-aged couple on a boat. Yes, I had changed.
I smiled at the fat couple. Now that we had passed Stoke, I didn't need to hate them any more. They didn't smile back. Fuck you, I thought. Go and drown in your sad obesity. I had been thinking that perhaps I shouldn't mention that they were fat – that it was an unacceptable detail in these days of political correctness – but it was true, they were, and there is not much point in telling you my story if I'm not truthful. Besides, they were sitting where she had sat, and they were forfeiting any sympathy I might have felt by their constant munching of anything that crunched – crisps, chocolate bars, munch, munch, munch, crunch, crunch, crunch, these mouths were made for eating and not for talking: they barely said a word.
A heron flapped slowly over the sodden fields. It was raining, just as it had rained a year ago. I thought that I had never seen a heron before. I mean, herons had been in my field of vision, from time to time, but I hadn't really noticed them. How long and thin they were, and how inelegant when they flew. They were absurd. Life was absurd. If only I had realised that long, long ago, how different my life would have been.
But if my life had been different I wouldn't have met her, and I was delighted that I had met her, so it was impossible for me to wish that anything in my life had been different, so it was a blessing that I hadn't realised sooner how absurd life was.
The overweight couple were looking at me, and it occurred to me that they were wondering what I was thinking, and it pleased me that they could have no possible concept of what I was thinking, just as I could have no concept of what they were thinking – but then the man helped me. 'I've been thinking,' he said. 'I could murder a cup of tea.'
We passed the cooling towers of Rugely. We rattled through Rugby. I wondered what she was doing at that moment. I recalled my very last words to her, and I found . . . yes, I did, I really did . . . that I had the strength in me to live by those words.
I smiled ruefully to myself at the thought of that sad, virginal, pedantic anorak who had travelled this route exactly a year ago . . . well, not exactly a year ago, this train was going to be late, it kept slowing down . . . who had travelled this route exactly a year and seventeen minutes ago. I laughed at this caricature of my pedantry, laughed out loud, which made my travelling companions uneasy, which gave me a little stab of wicked satisfaction.
I smiled at them. I wondered how they had managed to find a bed strong enough to stand up to their ungainly couplings, but I didn't say anything about that, of course.
I said, 'I wouldn't have laughed like that a year ago, before I'd met her. I've a lot to thank her for. That's why I've made this journey really.'
They looked frightened. There were forty-five miles to go before we reached London, and they were beginning to think I was unhinged, and they were stuck with me on that crowded train.
I thought of the waiter in the snobby French restaurant, that first night, and I leant across the table towards them.
'I'm out on parole,' I said, 'but I have to report in every week.'
They retreated into their blubber in horror. How she would have laughed.
It made me sad to think of how she would have laughed.