I have an ignominious confession to make. At the very end of 2015 I went to Oxford… for the first time in my life. However, it isn’t as scandalous as it seems, as I thought I had been there before. Only, I hadn’t.
When I wrote ‘Existence Is Futile’ I had a clear desire to write about Oxford. My decision to loosely base Professor Henry Tomlinson on Richard Dawkins’ public persona meant that Oxford felt perfectly apt. I had a vague memory of racing my brother on a university square whilst my parents hummed the tune to Chariots of Fire, culminating in the greatest slow-motion finish in the entire history of everything ever that wasn’t ever filmed in slow motion. It saddens me to acknowledge the fact that this vague memory quite probably never happened.
The fact is that lying is somewhat the purview of a writer. If a writer is able to make a truth pliable, and make you believe that what isn’t is, they have performed the greatest of tricks. The creation of a new reality.
The truth is that lies come in all manner of shapes and sizes. They can be gargantuan. They can be tiny. ‘Existence Is Futile’ contains three individual rather tiny lies based around typical English names for things. Although these are somewhat innocent lies, each one has its origins in the absurd reality of my green and pleasant homeland.
The first one struck me when I began researching Oxford as a location. It was whilst researching the county where Oxford resides that I became somewhat enamored by the village names that can be found on the map of Oxfordshire. Hampton Gay, Islip, Little Coxwell, Pishill, Little Farker and Horton-Cum-Studley are a mere selection of the flamboyant magnificence that this county has to offer. Did you catch it? Did you even notice? Little Farker was my creation. It may surprise you that when I christened Henry Tomlinson’s village Little Farker it wasn’t initially for the purpose of easy jokes. It was because somehow it fit snugly, like a bug in a rug.
Little Farker wasn’t my only use of poetic license. England has a somewhat peculiar obsession with pub names. They range from the damn right dull to the borderline offensive. The pub name I used does not exist. Here is a quiz question for you….I will give you the answer next Tuesday. In the meantime take a look at this Metro article about some of the more interesting pub names in Britain.
The final lie which I must confess to is that I changed the name of the hospital in Oxford. All across England are hospitals named after Saints. I personally think it is a terrible idea. It is something Professor Henry Tomlinson would never stand for. The idea of naming a hospital after a Saint is as rational as naming a slice of bacon after a pig and is as just as likely to improve the pig’s future as a patient’s. I named the hospital in ‘Existence Is Futile’ after a somewhat obscure Saint named Dymphna. According to Wikipedia Saint Dymphna is the patron Saint of:
St. Dymphna is the patron saint of the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, and those who suffer neurological disorders – and, consequently, of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists. She is also the patron saint of victims of incest.
I do hope it worries you that the same Saint that cares for the crazy apparently cares for the health care professionals that also care for the crazy. It is like a one stop solution with extra incest thrown in free of charge. I think it is somewhat obvious why she seemed the perfect choice.
When we decided to go and visit Oxford it occurred to me that I could use it to trace the path of Professor Henry Tomlinson. So we did it. Unsurprisingly, we found a somewhat different reality to the one in ‘Existence Is Futile’. Oxford wasn’t exactly as I had written. It was almost like someone had used it as a basis, and then created a work of fiction around it. How bloody infuriating!
The next part of ‘In Search of Henry’ will be published here on Tuesday 2nd February.