When I was about nine, the deputy head of my school referred to me as possessing a ‘docketing’ brain. I am not 100% convinced that there is any such adjective, but the teachers at the school were forever intent on coming up with abstruse nicknames and descriptions for their charges. For instance, it is true that I have essentially two modes: talkative (very), and ‘in a trance’. To celebrate the former, teachers called me ‘William The Silent’ (oh the irony); when the latter, they called me Greenhill (as in ‘There is a green hill far away’, oh the irony).

But I have remembered ‘docketing’ for nearly 50 years, so it has obviously hit home. There are in fact three other adjectives which have stuck: superficial, traditional and insipid. The first was in a school report when I was 15, and seemed rather annoying to refer to a very, very long poem I’d written called ‘bobby kennedy did you have to die?’ (lower case was de rigueur in the 1960s, if you were a teen poet), and I haven’t forgotten the insult. Traditional was used of me by my boss to describe my qualities as a head of department in FE, and I took major umbrage at it, since I liked to think of myself as slightly unconventional. It was because I didn’t buy into some of the wackier management methods. Insipid was used of me on a school cruise (which needs a blog-post of its own) when I was twelve, by an attractive (as I thought, I hadn’t met many before) girl called Alice Wilson, a year older than me. She smiled sweetly at me. ‘Do you know what you are?’ she asked. ‘Insipid.’ I was overcome with delight, and made my amorous and delirious way to a dictionary. Oh.

But ‘docketing’ meant that I liked making lists, and it is true, I still do. I cannot be alone in this, since there are hundreds of books published, especially at this time of year, which are essentially lists (look how it made a publishing sensation of Ben Schott). It is probably half the reason I like family history, since what is more attractive than a nicely organised chart? And I also have a database of all my records, in their squillion different formats, which has now become necessary to avoid re-buying what I already possess. I could certainly go on. I like dictionaries, grammars, thesauruses, compendia, concordances, almanacs. If I could figure out a way to create a novel like this, I would probably shift over from poetry. Is this in my DNA? It has nothing to do with being tidy (see earlier posting), because I’m not.

Incidentally, the reason I was called docketing was because, in my read-every-Agatha-Christie phase, I kept a book on the suspects, noting clues down with great fervency. The only one I didn’t keep a page on was the detective. Who, of course, was the murderer. Foiled again.

Perhaps I should have been a librarian, or a railway clerk.


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