Tidying a few of my dad’s things away I came across this…

…a small pot of bent nails. He kept everything. Even bent nails were worth hanging onto. This isn’t just the behaviour of an obsessive hoarder, this is about value and understanding that, without wanting to sound like a Pound Shop Taoist, all things have a place and a purpose – it’s just a matter of time before their usefulness is revealed. This is also perhaps about not giving up, that even the broken, the bust, the bent and the crooked should not be discarded.

From the banks of the Clyde to London’s East End in the 1930’s my dad didn’t just see poverty he lived in it. His mum made and sold toffee from her front step in Poplar. And he regarded himself as fortunate. While getting your Claire Rayners robbed might be a risk run by today’s youth in Tower Hamlets, he went to school with kids who didn’t have shoes. He also saw what the war brought to London and what it left behind.

When your world has been resolutely destroyed it takes a remarkable defiance to rebuild. To come back from nothing is impossible but to reconstruct the shattered and the smashed is feasible. The process requires a resourcefulness that will identify the broken from the hopeless. All art is about salvage, about taking one thing and turning it another. It is about the ability to recognise potential in something improbable. We live in an age of replace and up-grade; we would do well to remember the practice of ‘making good’. Become accomplished at this before embarking on your masterpiece.

I can easily succumb to the skewed view that my life has, to date, been a series of nails half banged in, a bunch of botched and broken off attempts at making and creating, one sore thumbed endeavour at driving something worthy home with a dull hammer. There are 20000 writing documents currently sitting on my lap top. Stories and scripts unfinished, essays begun and abandoned, letters unsent, poetry in progress and endless notes-to-self neglected. Of those 20000 I’d say there are around 200 that qualify as ‘pieces of work’. That’s a 1% success rate. The rest of the stuff? Just bent nails, bent nails. And I’m hanging on to them.

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