Well, it was bound to happen one day. Here I am, interviewing myself. I seem to talk a lot about membership cards and bicycles. And I reveal a truly terrible secret. So, Neil Baker, outstanding writer for business, master of the short story, and all round creative genius (writing your intro has its perks), it’s over to…me, or you.
What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?
A Raleigh Chopper. The iconic bike. At first I thought, argh, that’s a lot of responsibility. I’d have found it easier to write about a small, inconspicuous object – something that could be tucked away in a dark corner if my sestude was rubbish. But as other writers sent me their work to edit, I realised: all of the objects in this exhibition carry a lot of responsibility. They are all treasures.
What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?
When I was nine I formed a bike ‘gang’ with some friends. We called ourselves ‘The Trackers’. My job was to make everyone a membership card – that tells you a lot about the kind of gang we were. Until last week, I thought I still had my card – 35 years old – somewhere in the loft. I couldn’t find it. I’m hoping it might still be up there somewhere, buried under a sack of old clothes or books or Scalextric. But I’m not going to look, just in case it isn’t.
Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go to, and why?
My ninth year was an important one. Not only did I establish Morden’s softest – and only? – bike gang, I also flunked my Cycling Proficiency Test. I’m still the only person I’ve ever heard of who failed to get their little red triangle badge, evidence that they could ride safely. My error? We were taught to look right, left, right before pulling away from a T-junction. On test day, I looked right, left, right and then added an extra left. I failed for being over cautious. I’d like to go back for a resit. The trauma still weighs on me.
Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?
Our family moved to a small village in Devon when I was eleven. There wasn’t much to do, except play snooker. My friend Darren had a miniature table in his bedroom, but the only full-sized table in town was in the Conservative club. I took a deep breath and joined the club. When my membership card arrived in the post, I was horrified to learn that – by mistake, honest – I had joined the Conservative Party. I still worry that, come the revolution, this will be discovered and I’ll be among the first against the wall. But I’ve declared it to the world now, and I feel a great sense of relief. Yes, I was a Young Tory.
What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?
I remember carefully writing my address – Seymour Avenue – at Tudor Primary School, practicing it over and over. But the first ‘proper’ bit of writing was a short story that I dashed off in my English class, in response to the word ‘fire’. My teacher read it out to everyone and said it was good. Thank you for that, Mr Aitken. (He also made us listen to Bruce Springsteen tapes, which was less kind).