A few minutes ago I took in a pair of parcels for a neighbour. So far, so uneventful. The delivery man – very happy that I would take the parcels in, and polite with his questioning – asked my surname. Look at the “About” section of this blog and you will see that If Percundis is an offshoot of “Richard Brink Books” – my name is Richard Brink: I don’t hide it. “Brink. B-R-I-N-K”. He spelled it back to me as he typed: “B-R-I-L-“ “N”, I corrected him, “B-R-I-N-K”. He continued typing, I assumed correctly.
“Ooh, that’s a very unusual name. Where is it from?” Not a question I get very often, but one I like answering: “It’s Dutch”, I told him. “Ah, great. Are you Dutch?” We’d spoken a few words, and I have a pretty standard English accent, so I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. “No, no, I was born around here” – I didn’t want to be hauled out by the Alt-Right in one of their forthcoming anti-foreign-born putsches any time soon, so I covered my arse with a protective shield of comforting Geordieness.
He asked me to sign for the parcels, before I could take them in. When I did so, I noticed two odd things: first, my name had been spelled with a lower case b; second, it had been spelled “brilk”.
There are two things in that little anecdote which I would like to explore. Least contentious first.
Am I speaking coherently to you? I know you can’t hear me, but I still ask. Am I slurring my words?
There have been so many occasions where I have asked someone if I can buy something: a Jack and Coke, a copy of Metal Hammer, packet of biscuits, for instance. On one out of every three or four occasions I am greeted with a dumbfounded stare, as if what I have asked for is a “Schlasch und phloche”, rather than the delectable beverage which I have requested. I have even received a Gin and Coke on occasion: an abomination. The barman openly doubted that I had not requested it.
In my head I am speaking clearly and coherently, and at a speed at which I should be perfectly and wonderfully intelligible to anyone who has sufficiently strong grasp of the English language. Yet, most of my sentences are met with a “Huh?” a “What did you say?” or a “Schlasch und phloche?” It shouldn’t be that hard: I am most fortunate that I do not have a speech impediment – I am grateful for this fact every day. Yet, for all intents and purposes I do. No TV or radio career for little old me.
The second issue is having a slightly foreign sounding name in this time of rising hatred and fascist fury. Whenever society takes a lurch to the authoritarian, aggressive, fascist right, it follows that left-leaning, people-respecting, foreign-named, likely Jewish-descended folk are the first to be dragged from their beds in the middle of the night by pitchfork-wielding Nazis. This has happened too often in human history for it to be a coincidence. Racist thugs desire the anonymous chaos of the purge.
It is times like this that I don’t know how to feel, or how to think. I oppose racism, fascism and the leering face of white supremacy. I understand that innately. Yet I also fear their rise. I fear the dark consequences of their reign of terror over us all, and I wonder how much of a spine I would have, should the unthinkable come about. I put myself in the place of the heroes of the Second World War and doubt my resolve is anything like as strong as any of theirs. I hate myself for such cowardice.
I understand that I would hide in my comfortable existence, and toe the line under the totalitarian regime of the Trump-alikes, and I truly wonder whether it would be better just to kill myself now.
I think I am a nice person, I really do: I take in parcels for my neighbours, I allow people to utterly abuse the spelling of my name, I even appease the Nazis in their annexation of the Sudetenland.
Why then, do I feel like I am always the bad guy? Yes, I understand that I am a rather large man, with a huge voice and a shaven head. That just makes me moderately intimidating, at least until people hear the voice coming out of my mouth, and they just take pity on my clearly wretched soul. Unless they can understand me, when they assume that I am well educated (I am) and therefore quite posh (I am not), so they stop thinking I am quite so very scary as the corpses on my t-shirt would imply.
Every utterance of mine seems to be met with the assumption that what I am saying is negative. I have never understood this – it often feels like people are only listening to one in three words to come out of my mouth, and choose to fil the gaps with something where I am telling them off (my four year old), criticising them (my partner and her mother) or predicting the imminent end days of all humanity (my mother). OK, two of them have a point, but the middle two need to concentrate.
The desire for complete strangers to like me is something I utterly abhor, but which my hypocrisy is seemingly blind to. I want to have a successful blog, and a glittering publishing career, both of which require me to sell myself to the widest possible audience of people to whom I am a stranger. My inability to make myself understood verbally is likely a large part of the reason I choose the written word: I have control of what is put down; if you choose to misinterpret that, that’s your dumb fault.
Last night I was kept awake by a “daydream” where my most recent work of fiction won the Booker Prize, and made me very rich. I enjoyed calculating how much I would make in sales of my eBooks, and what I would do with the proceeds. I invested in pensions, paid off the mortgage, and had the loft converted in to a spectacular en suite bedroom. Then I started to doubt what to write next, and stasis kicked fully in. In minutes I became Harper Lee, and published one (ish) book in my lifetime.
Either way, not much sleep, and a rising spectre of race hate on the horizon. What else can cowards like me do but cower under our desks? Even if only for the fear of people getting my name wrong.