Off I went to Middle Temple Hall last night. In another life I was a student barrister and ate my dinners here en route to a pupillage with Michael “shagger” Mansfield (now QC). But I changed my mind at the last minute after passing the Bar exams and became a journalist instead, more fool me. I regret this decision when things are going wrong so I probably did the right thing.
I was here ostensibly for Stephen King. His new novel Lisey’s Story is just out. I really can’t be bothered to read it. I prefer the movies of his books: you get through them quicker: Misery, Pet Sematary, Christine. Can’t stand The Shawshank Redemption though it’s every film fan’s all-time favourite (they pretend). Love Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
Hodder & Stoughton thought it would be fun to fly King over for a party. And Middle Temple Hall, off Fleet Street, is a great place to lig at. Nothing much has changed since I passed the port yonks ago: it’s all Tudory wood and royal paints: Van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I still gazes out above the long Bench Table. Twelfth Night was first presented here. But that’s tourist bus stuff.
So my companion and I arrive at Middle Temple only to be told by a H & S serf that King’s just done the press conference. Oh, really! Don’t tell the journalists then. Who has a press conference at 6.30 in the evening? What is it with publishers? Do they sign a pact with the devil to be congenitally stupid in return for the next Harry Potter? Are publishers the most cretinous people on this planet? If I had my way I would bundle every fucking publisher into one of those concrete mixer lorries and watch them revolve and harden into statues. Then I’d stand them in my garden over the pond life with a fishing rod sticking out of their fat arses.
Anyway, we missed nothing. The thing about King is that he rarely says anything worth reporting. About six years ago he said something interesting: he announced he was going blind. When I later ask him about this at the party he says: “I am not going blind. What I meant was that macular degeneration runs in my family, and I don’t have the condition.” So he told a lie. I heard him say he was going blind.
Lots of people stood around in the hall chomping fish ‘n’ chips in tiny card funnels and mini-burgers. Almost everyone had a copy of his novel in their armpit: it’s so heavy that the party looked like a Quasimodo fan club convention. The whores just wanted King to sign their copy so they could show off to their pals and families – not that I recognised many of the whores. The publishers seemed to have forgotten to invite many journalists.
Then there was this dreadful racket in the hall itself. At first I thought The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was being screened somewhere below Charles I. Then I realised the noise had a rhythmic quality, like a heartbeat roused up by Viagra. As I made my way towards the Bench Table I spotted the source of the racket: a southern blues band called Alabama Free or Free Alabama - or something.
Worse was to come. Stephen King shuffled into the midst of the band. His besuited publisher had introduced the novelist in a homage: apparently King is our Charles Dickens, he greys the line between schlock and literary. Fair observation. The Dickens reference took my mind to Barnaby Rudge which offers a good description of the Middle Temple. But I mustn’t allow my mind to wander.
So there was the great man in a pea soup-green T-shirt, distressed jeans and white trainers. The hair is still thick but a sort of elderly dyed blond, I think. Couldn’t he have dressed a little more appropriately? Doesn’t he have a suit back in Maine? How dare he darken the portals of an Inn of Court in jeans.
The southern blues band restarted their horrible noise. And Stephen King sang! Yes, he made a noise that’s called singing. He can’t sing, or if he can, then only like Rex Harrison, sort of talk-singing but with long, flat, grating notes to suggest the idea of singing. To fool us. Some publisher tart started bopping like she had a dildo in place, judging by the expression on her face. God, did I want to kick her in the tits. But I refrained from kicking her in the tits and joined in the revelry by placing my hands over my ears. I hope King noticed.
Fortunately, despite the dervish behaviour of the audience, “encore!” was not a word to rise up at the end. We were grateful to have witnessed why King has stuck to writing. Some other tart who runs bookshops said to me: “Isn’t he wonderful! But you know he hasn’t got much energy since that truck ran him over. He can perform in short bursts, then he has to rest. I can never get him to sign books. Last time he was in London he sang with Ken Follett.” My God!
Then King said what he said about not going blind and then I pissed off to Orso for grilled sardines.