Looking for Albert (and Kate)
I’m a long time fan; I can remember watching ‘Wuthering Heights’ on TOTP back in 1978, probably at my friend Ian Quance’s house in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains, because his house was the only place near our student house we knew where they had telly. So every Thursday my housemates and I would hack over to Q’s house, watch Topper, and go. It was on the whole a frustrating experience; we went because once in a blue moon you might see The Clash, or Elvis Costello; for this was at the height of the ‘punk-rock’ boom of the late Seventies. This particular show, on came Kate, this bonkers genius singing like no one else I’d ever heard, looking like the most wonderful hippy chick of every boys dream, and… we were blown away. And she’s just got better ever since.
But although I’d leap at the chance to send her a gibbering fan letter, in this instance I’m trying to get in touch to see if she’ll grant me permission to use a verse of ‘This Woman’s Work’ in my new book. If authors quote from things, they are supposed to pay. For example, in ‘Parallel Lines’ I use a Betjeman poem, for which his estate charged me a hundred quid. Fair enough, you might think, and I’d agree. If you use less than 25% of a poem, this counts as ‘fair use’, and you don’t have to pay at all. But to use even a line of a song can cost thousands of pounds, which is odd, if you think about it, because poets need money a lot more than songwriters. I suspect that it’s not the songwriters fault, but their publishers being greedy, with the sad result that songwriters probably get less than poets, because no writer can afford to quote them; especially mad since you can just Google a song, and find the lyrics anyway. So, I’m hoping the divine Ms Bush will hear my pleas (the Facebook shout-out having paid off to some extent), and let me use her wonderful song.
At the same time, my wife has been looking for my maternal grandfather, Albert Bulbeck. He was a vile, violent man, who I wrote about in ‘The Longest Crawl’. He brutalised my Mum, and although she hasn’t seen him since she was seven, she has always lived in fear that he might come back. The family know nothing about what happened to him after 1940; in particular, we don’t know when he died. I’d like to find out where the old bastard is buried, so that I can tell my Mum that she’s safe. Looking for lost relatives, like reclusive geniuses, throws up some fascinating stuff, and I wouldn’t know what I do know about my evil grandfather without my wife’s patient and painstaking research skills. For example, before today, I didn’t know that my great-uncle John was killed in action at Ypres…
Or, for that matter, that I’d even had a great-uncle John.