Wednesday 24 June 2020

Charlie Hill, "I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal"

Charlie Hill is a writer from Birmingham. He left school at 16 and was self-taught until – after publishing two novels and many short stories – he decided to convert his experience into a qualification. In 2018 he was awarded a Master's with Distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham.

Charlie’s body of work is hard to categorise. His first novel – The Space Between Things – was a love story with allegorical elements, that was set in the 1990’s against the background of the road protest movement and the wars in the Balkans; his second – Books – was a farce about the commodification of contemporary art and literature. After this, he focussed on short fiction, indulging an interest in deconstructing the writing process (here, for example, and here), before becoming preoccupied with the various iterations of early twentieth century Modernism. His most recent publications were an existentialist novella and a pamphlet of short stories

If there is a guiding principle that runs through this writing it is Charlie’s fidelity to the idea that whatever the aesthetic challenge or formal purpose of a work (and notwithstanding the contentious nature of the term) it should also try to entertain. 

On Writing I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal
By Charlie Hill

I began writing I Don’t Want to Go the Taj Mahal by chance. Or, at least, not as the consequence of a conscious decision. The form it took – a series of almost self-contained vignettes, that only slowly coalesce – presented itself as the most obvious way of capturing the nature of memory. Likewise, the shifts in tense and perspective: some episodes are recreated with an urgency, others are of a more reflective bent, and others still slight, almost passed-over. Engaging with such technical considerations meant that the book was, in many respects, enjoyable to write. The ethics of the thing, however – which are peculiar to memoir – meant that more than any other piece of writing, it was a lived experience too … 

Below you can read an extract from the memoir.

Extract from I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal
I am a Christmas temp at H. Samuel, the high street jeweller, where a fella called Tahir puts me straight about the low quality of Pakistani gold and someone with blond hair and blue eyes, who looks after the Raymond Weils but is lacking in certain deductive skills, tries to sell me a part-share of a holiday apartment in Fuengirola. 

Another temp lives in a tower block in Five Ways. I go back to his and am told that people who use rolling tobacco in their spliffs are amateurs. At lunchtime I see him in the store room, filling a sports bag full of watches and alarm clocks which he later passes to an old woman, hard-bitten; if I hadn’t been stoned I might have said something to someone, though I think, in retrospect, that’s unlikely.

Interviewed for a Registered General Nursing Diploma, I have a plan to show I’m under no illusions about how hard I’ll have to work and that I haven’t decided to do it just so I can get a qualification, although this is certainly uppermost in my mind. “I know it’s a very dirty business,” I say, “I’m perfectly happy clearing up shit.” And then: “I mean I don’t mind clearing up shit at all, I know that’s a big part of the job. The shit.”

“Any questions?” they ask at the end, perplexed. “Not really,” I say, persevering, about a week before I don’t get an offer because they think I have some sort of shit fetish, “I just want you to know that I don’t mind wiping bottoms and I’m prepared to get stuck in with the cleaning up of all the shit.”

New Year’s Eve, after the pub, I am escorted round the back of an independent bakery, Lukers in Moseley, by a woman uninterested in pastries. I am being forced up against a pile of pallets when the security lights come on and she bails — a circumstance that leads me to question my hitherto rock-solid antipathy to the nascent Surveillance State.  

First love. One day, shortly after the longest Christmas on record, there was a heavy fall of snow in the south west. “I don’t want to go to work today,” I said, and she said, “you don’t have to. Tell them you went to Devon for the weekend and can’t get back.” So I rang a Civil Servant in the office where I’d just been promoted and told him I was snowbound in Tavistock.

We spent the morning warm under thin blankets, feeding each other fresh strawberries dipped in cream, mouth-to-mouth. Later, there was a cosmic blessing. The clouds above the city opened and dropped flowers of snow onto streets of cars and terraced houses and we went for a walk down the middle of Willows Road, linking arms like the Freewheelin’ Dylan and Suze.  

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