Guess who’s coming to dinner?
If you’re asked who your main influences are, where do you start? It’s a toughie isn’t it? In some ways I think almost everyone who becomes part of your life in any way, influences you to some degree. But it is a question people ask and it’s something I’m always curious about with other people, because I think it’s another window into who they are.
This led me to think about who I would invite to dinner, if I was allowed only six people. My first instinct would be to invite all the family members I’ve lost and who I’d dearly love to see again, but this would take me to over six straight away. So, family not included, here are my six, in no particular order, and why.
David Bowie: I was brought up on DB, right from the early stuff – Laughing Gnome and London Boy, and my favourite Bowie album (yes, they were albums in those days) Hunky Dory. I used to sit as a kid, cross legged on the floor of the living room, swaying from side to side and singing, at the top of my not so great voice, from the lyric sheet. My all time favourite has to be Kooks, from the Hunky Dory album. I saw DB perform at Milton Keynes Bowl in the 1980s on his Serious Moonlight tour – an amazing experience.
Kathryn Hepburn: Because she really was one of the best actresses ever: witty, funny, smart and so beautiful. That nose… those cheekbones. I would die for those cheekbones. I love all of her films, but The Philadelphia Story, which came out in 1940 and won best screenplay oscar, is one of my all-time favourite films, in which she stars with the wonderful Cary Grant and James Stewart. It is hilarious, farcical and as sweet as coconut ice-cream, and she is superb in it. Her timing is impecable and her expressions captivating. And that voice – what a voice, I can hear it now!
Sylvia Plath: My mum used to have a collection of Sylvia Plath poems on the bookcase, so even before I read them for myself, I was aware of her. When I did finally read them, I was completely drawn in. Then I read a wonderful biography about her, Bitter Fame, by Anne Stevenson. This was a pivotal moment for me, because I felt such an affinity with SP that I was determined to take my writing further, to keep at it and to work even harder. I actually paid a visit to her grave many years ago, a very moving and profound experience.
Eddie Izard: The man is a genius and utterly fascinating, incredibly funny, incredibly honest, incredibly warm, full of steely determination and drive and has the best name ever in the whole world of human, or animal, names. He can do no wrong in my eyes. I saw him live on his Glorious tour and he was… well, glorious!… and did I say he was funny?… he’s ever so funny!
Leonard Cohen: I’m in danger of repeating myself , but… I was brought up on Leonard Cohen, oh yes I was. My mum had one of his albums, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, and a collection of poems. At a later date, one of my uncles did a cassette (yes, there were cassettes then too) of his songs for me that I used to play like crazy. It was later that I got into his poetry, which I now adore. His Book of Longing is beautiful, absorbing, inspiring and raw. If I need a kick up the bum to write more poetry, I read this book – it does the job!
Oh God… I only have one left… so last, but definitely not least…
John Peel: My hero. It is no exageration to say that I probably wouldn’t have got through my angst-ridden teenage years without him. I would listen to his radio shows every evening, often falling asleep with my headphones still plugged in and the radio still on, way after his show had finished. He was the light at the end of my tunnel, my saviour at the end of another diabolical school day. I could shut out all the horrible stuff and sink into the wonderful music he used to play, bands like The Cure, The Comsat Angels, The Cocteau Twins (I must have had a thing about bands beginning with C!) I won my first writing prize from John Peel, his first (and possibly only) competition to answer a question that hadn’t been asked. There were 10 winners. I was one of them. I won an EP by The Fall, and he signed the sleeve: ‘Dear Abi, A present! John Peel’… what more can I say?
That’s it, that’s my six… but I would sneak in my Grandma, who I miss loads, and there would be white rose petals sprinkled on the table cloth, glass vases of fresias just for her, hunks of bread, cheese and pate, potato salad, a huge glass bowl of home-made fruit salad, and, of course… cheesecake! Well, honestly, you didn’t think I’d forget the cheesecake did you?
Who has inspired you and who would you invite to dinner?