The Wright Stuff

My journey to what I do now for a living has had many twists and turns, but one constant for me along what is now often called a ‘journey’, has been some very kind hearted souls who I now believe could see a sponge in front of them, who was looking to learn and explore more, but one who did not really know where to begin.

One of my first jobs after leaving school was in the print industry of old Fleet Street. One day, a dispatch rider called Andy, who I had barely spoken to, said to me quietly ‘ere read this, think you’ll enjoy it and you might learn something’.

He then gave me a book called ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ co written by the man himself and Alex Haley. Now this would have been 1982/3 and we worked in a room of old white guys whose own personal reading mater of choice would stop at The Sun or The Daily Mirror. So reading a book like that, let alone then handing it on would have opened you up to merciless ridicule.

Though I had heard the name Malcolm X before, I had no idea of his story apart from hearing from those around me in that dispatch room, that he was a ‘right troublemaker’ and a ‘bit of nutter’

I thanked Andy for the book and began to read. I was soon captivated by the back-story of Malcolm Little and his move from petty thief to a leader in the Nation of Islam within the USA. More than that, the book had made to start to think, to use the brain that was in the process of shutting up shop.

It’s fair to say the book opened up an insight to a world I didn’t know and left me hungry, no STARVING, for more. It was like a locked door had been opened.

From that small act of influential kindness, I was off and running and wanted to know more about culture. I began to explore art galleries, book shops, museums and went down a different path that was in some ways laid out before me.

Many years later, I began to work with the writer Paolo Hewitt, someone I had admired since my days of reading his work in the NME. PH, has he quickly became know, was another who was forever tipping me off on books to read.

One that has stuck in my mind and which I have re read again recently is ‘The Lonely Londoners’ from 1956, by the Trinidadian writer Samuel Selvon. It follows the tale of the West Indians who arrived in the UK post war and who are often described as the ‘Windrush Generation’, after the 1948 voyage of the boat The Emperor Windrush that brought 492 passengers to the UK from Jamaica.

The book deals with the lack of acceptance many of those pioneers experienced and the deep frustration that caused. The book is lovingly written by Selvon, in the tongue of those with the tales to tell.

Despite it dealing with a bleak, ‘outsider’ lifestyle, I found the book really funny in parts and it provided an insight into lives that otherwise would be closed to me.

I grew up with the second and third generations of many who arrived from the Caribbean around the time of this book and it left me with a whole lot of admiration for their parents and a deeper understanding of the trials and tribulations they must have gone through on a daily basis.

Today, if I’m struggling to think of something to buy someone for a birthday or at Christmas, I often get him or her a copy of a book I have particularly enjoyed over the years.

I always think, you just never know what reading it might set in motion

The Mumper of SE5