10 NOVEMBER 1990, Page 59

New life

Ordeal by radio

Zenga Longmore

There is, as I expect you are aware, an ancient belief that only childless men are able to fight valiantly in battle. Men with children, so they say, feel their lives are so valuable that they are no longer able to put their hearts and souls into the act of killing and being killed. Celtic chieftains made it a rule never to allow their most bloodthirsty warriors to procreate — at least I think it was Celtic chieftains. It could have been Mongol swordsmen, but you get the gist. What I am trying to say is that once you have children, some hormone is triggered

off, producing a certain greenness around the gills — and not just in battle.

In my case last Thursday, it was a radio interview which caused so chronic a state of nerves that I was unaware that for half the morning Omalara had been making paper aeroplanes out of my books. For the purpose of promoting my paperback, Tap Taps to Trinidad, my publishers had arranged for Syd Burke from riLR to interview me. They should have known better. Without meaning to sound hard on today's literati, it must be said that writers are never much cop at interviews. They always seem to come across as either unbearably pompous, or dull and mock modest. However, in my pre-Omalara days I had recorded many a radio interview, and whilst not being what you would call a sparkling raconteur, I was at least able to string a few words together without losing my thread. But last Thursday, Anno- Omalara, my nerves became as steely as marshmallows.

To find out whether I was about to ruin my reputation and cause Omalara to be forever teased in the playground, I did a Tarot reading. Four years ago, my actress friend Stella bought me a Tarot pack which had lain in a drawer until this fateful day.

`What', I asked it, 'will be the outcome of tonight's interview?' The culminating card was the hangman upside-down. Could this bode well? Did upside-down hangmen portend successful radio interviews? No. They denoted: 'Pain and suffering. A vul- gar mob. The uncaring mass.'

`That's it,' I told Omalara, who lay asleep on the couch. 'I'm not going and that is that.'

Arriving at the studio at nine sharp, I was introduced to Syd Burke, mine host. I found him to be the wisest, most friendly interviewer I have yet come across; but by now I was in such a frenzy of terror as to be impervious to all but a close-range bomb attack. There are times when the events you most fear go like a breeze. This was not one of those times. To give you an indication of the way things went, I'll give you an example of the conversation:

Syd Burke: What inspired you to write a travel book on the Caribbean?

Me: (Eyes glazed, cigarette shaking in nerveless fingers) Well, urn, that is to say, ah, I don't know really. Or to put it another way, er. . . .

S.B.: Mmm. Yes, interesting. Have you anything else to add?

Funnily enough, as soon as the mic- rophones were switched off, Mr Burke and I were able to discourse with the ease and grace of Oscar Wilde and Janet Street Porter. The reason was explained when I reached home. Olumba informed me wari- ly that as soon as the interview had finished Omalara had thrown the Tarot cards into the cooking pot, thus eliminating their evil influence. The hangman now lies face downwards in a pile of cold foo foo.