BY TONY OSWICK
When I was growing up, I wanted to be just like Great Uncle Ferdy. My mum was his only living relative and, when I was a kid, we visited him every month in his flat overlooking King’s Cross Station.
Great Uncle Ferdy loved telling stories about when he’d been in the war serving with General Montgomery.
‘One day, our HQ was under attack. Saved Monty’s life. Dragged him away seconds before a shell exploded next to his tent.’
Great Uncle Ferdy told me how he joined the London Fire Brigade after the war.
‘Going into burning buildings was no picnic,’ he used to say. He told me how he rescued two young children in the Connaught Street fire incident before the whole house collapsed.
I’m not sure his stories were suitable for a ten-year-old, but I was transfixed.
After he retired, Great Uncle Ferdy became a coach at the Peckham Boxing Club, where he took a lad called Henry Cooper under his wing, guiding him to become a British heavyweight champion.
‘The Duke of Edinburgh visited one day. He was so impressed he invited us all to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party.’
Yes, when I grew up, I wanted to be just like Great Uncle Ferdy.
Because Great Uncle Ferdy had never been to North Africa and saved Monty’s life; he’d never been a fireman who rescued children from burning buildings; and he’d definitely never been a boxing coach who trained a British heavyweight champion.
No, Great Uncle Ferdy just loved making up and telling stories. I later discovered he’d spent the war form-filling at Catterick and afterwards did the same for the Woolwich Dock Company. He spent most of his retirement in the public bar of The Griffin. His wonderful tales were all in his imagination.
Imagination! That’s one of the many qualities you need to be a good writer, and it was one of the first things my creative writing tutor taught me.
‘You can follow the old writing adage of “write what you know” by all means,’ she told us in our first-ever class, ‘but if you write “what might have happened”, it makes for much more interesting reading.’
She always encouraged us to let our imaginations flow, however bizarre.
‘You can write stories pretending Margaret Thatcher meets Tarzan in the jungle; you can write about the astronaut who’s afraid of heights; you can write about the Siamese cat who speaks perfect German. If you want to stand out, think outside the box. Take your reader to places they never knew, introduce them to unlikely characters they’re never likely to meet.’
Using my imagination has certainly helped me in my writing career. Not that I’ve written any books, but I have won the odd competition and had a couple of stories published in magazines.
I think Great Uncle Ferdy would’ve understood the advice of my creative writing tutor.
Except – and I’m sorry to confess this – Great Uncle Ferdy never existed. There’s no such person. He’s my own personal creation. He’s fictitious. He’s all in my imagination.
But, had there ever been a person like Great Uncle Ferdy, I’m sure I would be just like him – a person who enjoys using his imagination to make up stories. Yes, me, a humble retired tax accountant from Richmond.
Or am I making that up, too?
About the Author
Born and brought up in London’s East End, former civil servant Tony Oswick is now enjoying his retirement. He took up ‘writing for pleasure’ fourteen years ago and, although he claims to be a serious writer, he often prefers to eschew doom and gloom for the more light-hearted, amusing or absurd.