In his book The Unquiet Grave, British Author Cyril Connolly looks briefly at his own mind and compares it to a temperamental automobile that has to be "revved up, slowed down, choked, fed various types of fuel" according to the journeys it has to travel. When time is empty and stimulation is required to get the car going briskly, Connolly advises heights, wet days, southwest gales and hotel bedrooms in Paris. If, on the other hand, the mental mechanism is overwound and needs calm, he suggests cigars, sitting still, hangovers and listening to fountains, waves and waterfalls.
Connolly's list is personal, but the point he makes applies to all writers, especially those who are constantly traveling, in and out of other people's lives, in and out of strange places. All must cope with the peculiar needs of their own minds, but few contain them as well as Hugh McIlvanney, who wrote the story of Ken Buchanan that begins on page 30.
McIlvanney, who has tried most of Connolly's remedies and then some, writes a column for The Observer in London, concentrating primarily on soccer, boxing and racing. He is recognized as one of Europe's foremost sporting critics, and his assignments have taken him north and south in both hemispheres.
"The best place to restore body and mind is Rio," he judges. As for New York, he says, "I'd rather be on the Pequod with Ahab."
When he is on the road, McIlvanney can be easily located, either in bed in his hotel room with the sheets pulled up to his neck and staring blankly at a wall, or, with a certain W. C. Fieldsian zest, partaking of quality bourbon and conversation. In London, though, finding Hugh would be a challenge even for a Stanley. His whereabouts are seldom known, yet he is never a fraction off the mark even under the most wicked of deadlines.
"Once," he says, "it seemed that I was always looking for calm or stimulation of some sort, but I don't mess with, say, southwest gales anymore. Perhaps, a rare hangover here and there might be helpful, but mostly I just give my mind the back of my hand and let whatever is there seep through."
Though "seep" is not quite the word, whatever does emerge from the McIlvanney mind has twice earned him Britain's Sportswriter of the Year award. (He is the only man to have achieved this honor more than once.) It flows deep with perception and is clothed in a style built on glinting phrases, respect for form and a reverence for detail. If seepage it be, we hope our pages will go on serving as its catch basin.
TWO BUCHANANS AND ONE McILVANNEY