Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Miles Kington - a bit late.

There aren't many people you encounter in life that you feel you could relate to on almost any level; a friend, a sister, a hot date.

That's how I feel about Miles Kington.

Such a pity he is deceased.

I should have taken more notice of him during his lifetime.

A bit late, I know for general worship and reverence but not too late for a tribute now, that I have got something of the measure of the man.

An event at Cheltenham Festival of Literature had the extraordinarily well-kept Joanna Lumley, Terry Jones, Maureen Lipman and Miles' widow Caroline talking about their memories of him and reading extracts from a book of the letters he wrote to his friend and agent Gill Coleridge when he knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer. The letters are comic, quirky, witty and not in the least maudlin. The affection for Kington was almost palpable.

I knew Miles Kington was a witty writer and always enjoyed what I read of his but I didn't actively seek him out, which is a shame because I find I like him a lot for many reasons.

He was a cyclist for a start. Cycled from home to Fleet Street every day. Cycled at weekends down in the countryside near Bath.

Miles: “I have often found that the mind goes into free wheel more easily on a bike ride than anywhere else in the world and you get some really good thoughts up there in the saddle.”


He wrote with an easy, witty panache. He had an extremely messy study, he was a musician and he had a liver and white English Springer Spaniel. He was entirely my kind of bloke.

The more I read of Miles the more I like him. He penned his collection of letters, collected in the book “How Shall I Tell the Dog?” after the time when he realised he would probably not outlive his spaniel, Berry.

He never told the Independent, for whom he was writing a daily column, that he was ill. So even when he was admitted to hospital for chemotherapy, he'd hand-write his columns in the morning, gave them to his wife Caroline and she'd take them home to type them up and email them to the Indie as usual. She did say that he hated all those columns because he disliked not having the opportunity to “polish” them.

Reading the book in a corridor at Cheltenham Town Hall, I found that he pitched the idea of a book called “A Hundred Things To do Before you Die” rather than the “1,000 Places to Go Before You Die” (written by some American woman) which I've always considered unrealistic to achieve especially if, due to indecision over dates and suitcase size, you have lost time and find yourself wheeling along the oxygen, drip and catheter bag.

Like me, Miles dislikes the whole Yank thing of travelling the world ticking off the sites of interest as they are bagged. He extols the virtues of doing all the things you ever wanted to do but didn't without even leaving home which is v achievable in spite of credit crunches etc.

He cites the essentials that everyone ever wanted to try but didn't get around to it, like Learning to Give a Piercing Two-Fingered Whistle. My Sicilian sister-in-law was very good at that. She could whistle her children in from a crowded Cefalu beach in high season. She tried to teach me but I think my fingers were the wrong shape. I envied her ability though.

I was with her at a dog-training session on the edge of a vast recreation area full of people playing Sunday league soccer. It came in handy when her large Doberman puppy slipped his lead and careered off into the distance to join them.

She put her hand up, wedged a finger in each corner of her mouth and emitted a whistle of jet-engine pitch and volume that simultaneously brought all four soccer matches to a complete halt.

Like meerkats, the players gazed in the direction of the whistle. The dog stopped dead too, briefly acknowledging the call before seizing his chance to snatch the nearest football and flee.

Some other valuable learning strategies proposed by Miles included:

How To Pronounce 'Macho' and 'Chorizo' Properly – Unlike Mark Lawson

Get – and Keep – That Space By The Beach Or Pool

How To Make Children At Adjacent Tables Burst Into Tears For No Apparent Reason

It's Never Too Late To Learn How To Shoplift

Beating A Duvet At It's Own Game

How To Do A Cartwheel

Of the wider list, I could only mentally tick off four, which is extremely poor.

How To Swear in Other Languages (I've got a neat little phrase book), How to Fix a Ballcock (you bend the ballcock thingy until it almost snaps and mostly does so you have to purchase a whole new section) and as for How To Make A Noise With A Blade Of Grass, I perfected that when I was eight. It's rubbish. Only useful for alarming pheasants.

As for Tossing A Coin, I can already toss a coin really high – something I had to learn in order to avoid looking even more stupid playing league ping pong.

Anyway, like him, I think there is a market for the One Hundred Things book. I'd buy it, if only to master the two-fingered whistle.

Miles also planned his own memorial.

“If there is any money accruing from any of the books which may be written as a consequence of these letters to you between now and my death, I would like you to arrange for a bench to be bought and dedicated to me along the canal.” (The Kennet and Avon, near his home).

He liked benches. They were useful for pausing to do up shoelaces and for sitting and scribble thoughts that had occurred during his bike rides.

He wanted the Kington seat to bear a plaque with the following words:


'How Shall I Tell the Dog?' is a special book by a lovely bloke.

Maureen Lipman says it's a glorious feat of good nature, imagination and courage. I tend to agree. Worth a look. Definitely.

No comments: