An in-between Summer…

I haven’t blogged for ooh, ages. I know. I’ve been meaning to, but, you know how it is. And I absolutely have to make a conscious decision to be better organised. Although, in my defence, I had three weeks of rather nasty back pain that stopped me in my tracks. It’s frightening how something so simple can utterly derail everything: there is no getting away from back pain, it colours everything in jagged spines that slice right through the core of you. And then it just becomes so fucking boring, too. But never mind, it’s done with now. Hurrah.

So I’m in that in-between phase, in the no-man’s land between having been a bit useless, and gearing up to Do All The Things. And it’s the school holidays too: my daughter has finished primary school, and is doing the developmental groundwork before full rehearsals for the teenage years begin. And of course, getting ready for secondary school. We have begun buying the uniform etc. And I have remembered how to tie a tie, a thing I haven’t had to wear since 1988. So there’s that little tidbit of knowledge to impart. And once the new routine begins in September, and the new stationery has been bought, and the new pencils sharpened, perhaps new words will be transmitted from brain to paper, and screen.

So in the meantime, we play. We go to the cinema, (we’ve seen Ant-Man, and LOVED IT, and Inside Out, which we enjoyed), we go swimming, we’ll be going to London, and there’ll be other things to do too. In the meantime, I have to negotiate access to my desk, while my daughter constructs worlds in MineCraft.

In the meantime, there is the small matter of rehearsing some readings. I have been asked to participate in the Spoken Word event at this year’s Stroud Fringe Festival. I have been described, by someone whose professional opinion I value a great deal, as ‘an up and coming writer’. Oh, GULP. Someone has faith in me, and has publicly declared it. And I find that I am feeling a little daunted. I mustn’t disappoint. I mustn’t let them down. I absolutely HAVE to be better at what I do. Cue, getting organised. Etc.

In the meantime, here is something I’ve been listening to for ages, because I love it. I’m listening to it now, in fact. So plug in your headphones, close your eyes/ turn out the lights, and let it wash through you. It’s beautiful.

NB: As of yet, the Fringe website does not have performance details. But it will, soon.

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Briefly random post, with added Meteorites (they’re sparkly)

So, yes, it’s been a little while since the last post. This last month has been particularly mishmashy for all sorts of reasons. And I’ve been ill, which was rather trying. Then there was a brief jolly to London, and just now the school holidays for Easter. So the whole what-passes-for-normal routine has been well and truly skewed. Things don’t feel connected to other things. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. But certain things – very small things really – happened, or were thought, and seem to have some significance in my head.

For example, the purchase of a rather lovely sparkly face powder, Guerlain’s Meteorites (teinte rose, if you’re curious) led to the analogy that good short fiction should be like a meteorite. It’s not about the twist in the tale, although a twist can add to it: the best short stories  – and especially flash fiction – should, like a meteorite, have an impact disproportionate to its size. It should pack a punch like a ten mile wide crater. That’s what I think. Find some excellent flash fiction and tell me I’m wrong. The face powder too has an impact disproportionate etc… rendering even my tired visage fresh-faced and springlike. (Two people said this. It happened. Ergo, Meteorites = miracle workers.)

The second thing I was going to mention has now slipped my mind – the perils of blogging with a glass of something convivial for company. It may or may not return. I suspect it doesn’t matter.

The third thing was going to be the crux of this post when I started thinking about it. About art, and people watching, and how people behave whilst looking at art, and does the art look back? But the more I thought about it, the better it seemed to fit into a sort of story. So I’m doing that with it instead.

And I think I’ll stop here.

An incident with limes.

So, yes, it has been quite a while since last I blogged. I will rectify this now.

The summer has been long, and quiet, and not terribly summery. And I’m glad it’s over.  The autumn is proving considerably more invigorating. I have been devouring books (although you wouldn’t think so, to look at the piles of books still waiting to be read), I have been thinking – perhaps too much – and I have been to London for another dose of culture and escapism. All of which is food for further thought, naturally, and hopefully, will feed the writing that is yet to come.

London was a particularly full-on experience this month; I went to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain – despite having seen all the paintings featured in previous exhibitions – it was good to see them brought together in the context of their development and function within their own movement. There was a Millais landscape in particular that I was delighted to see again (although the linked image does not do justice to the colours and detail of the original). I also went to view the Tim Walker exhibition at Somerset House (a lot of the pictures can be viewed here); a lot of quite beautiful and arresting images. I’m hoping that if I drop enough hints, the accompanying book might turn up as a Christmas – or indeed, a birthday – present…

As well as gallery hopping, and shopping, I was out for three nights out of four. Dinner with my brother and his boyfriend was an absolute blast. Dinner and cocktails with an old school friend whom I’d not seen for sixteen years, was just wonderful. We picked up the conversation as if we’d last seen each other the previous week. And my last night in town was special in many ways, not least for going to the Soho Theatre to see a friend perform in Pandvani 108, high energy storytelling, and bumping into other friends in the bar whom I’d also not seen in ages. So all in all, it has been a pretty enjoyable week.

(That last sentence was an understatement.)

Oh yes, and there was, on the Sunday afternoon, a strange little moment outside my brother’s flat. I had decided to walk up to Clapham High Street to grab a decent cup of coffee (my brother Neal is not a coffee drinker), and it was raining. Neal had loaned me an enormous umbrella,  and as I was wrestling it to open (with my iPod headphones in), a middle aged man of indeterminate ethnic origin shuffled towards me from the cafe front where he likes to sit and watch the world go by. I had just become aware of him when he started to mumble something at me, whilst showing me, very proudly, the two  bright and shinily green limes he had in his hands. I think he was going to juggle them for me. They were very green, and very shiny, and he did seem so very proud, and eager. But then the umbrella decided to co-operate, and I was perplexed as to how I might extricate myself from the moment. And I was damp, and desperate for coffee. So I said, with my politest smile, ‘Yes, well done,’ and left him there, with only his limes for company. It was… odd.

(That last sentence was also an understatement.)

London, Summer 2012

I went to London for the weekend. I felt very nearly like a person I remembered being, before. I stayed with my brother, and we watched Absolutely Fabulous, and laughed a stupid amount. We also did a lot of singing along to the Eurythmics, loudly, in the car, because that’s what we’re like. And we went to see the new Spiderman flick, which I rather liked – it was FUN. And loud.

But mostly the weekend was about Picasso. On Saturday afternoon I went to the British Museum to see the Vollard Suite. This was one of my favourites,

a strong yet ambiguous image; what is the Minotaur doing? Will he wake her or kill her?

Sunday was the last day of the Picasso And Modern British Art exhibition at Tate Britain. It was interesting, but did not quite grip me as much as the Vollard Suite had, although the Hockneys did amuse me.  It was also very crowded, which afforded a wonderful opportunity for people watching. In fact when it’s so crowded that you can’t get to the paintings, people watching is all there is. One woman I overheard was unsure whether or not she’d already seen a particular painting; she was explaining to her male companion that she was almost certain that she hadn’t, because she didn’t recognise the frame. She gave me rather a strange look as I tried to smother my giggles in my sleeve…

Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson’s dictum that if one is tired of London, one is tired of life, always springs to mind whenever I visit the city of my birth. It is an exhausting place, but I never tire of it; there is simply too much to see, and to do. And it always gives me something new to think about, especially when I get to visit without my daughter in tow. But of course, it is wonderful to be able to show the city to her, and see it afresh through her eyes, and remember how I too was taken around town as a child. And she will do the same with her children, one day. And so it goes.

But this weekend is about being the me who is not the mother. And today I have had the pleasure of going to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, the hottest ticket in town this spring. I must confess to feeling indescribably smug as I walked past the hideously long queue, my ticket nonchalant in my fingertips… And the crowds inside were a fearful crush. But it was worth it. I was occasionally treated to a prolonged view of the side of a random stranger’s head, and there were of course, the usual personal space invaders (not to mention the chap who apparently came only for as prolonged a view of my cleavage as he could get away with. A charming smile and a flicked V-sign told him he’d been rumbled), and the ones who came, not to admire, or even appreciate the paintings, the sketches, the films, but rather to make loud display of their indifference. A good exhibition is worth the crush not only for the art, but for the opportunity of people-watching en masse. Call me cynical? That’s fine by me.

The landscapes were quite beautiful; the same lane, the same trees, visited and revisited through each seasonal change. The fall of light, the depth of shadows as they alter according to the time of day as well as the year’s progression; the changing tones of green, and the changing colours of the wildflowers of each season, all recorded and presented in the artist’s fearless way. The films made using 9 cameras mounted together on a grill and attached to a Land Rover were quite strangely powerful, particularly the winter films. The bare trees, the brilliant cold clear cleanness of the snow, and the pale blue blazing sky above, had a magic quite separate from the verdant glamour of the other seasons. And more than any other image, it made me long to be able to walk into it, and keep on walking. And that feeling was worth the crush alone.

Tomorrow I may possibly venture north of the city, to Highgate Cemetary. We’ll see…

Rabbit? Or Pooh?

Alan Alexander Milne was a very wise man. I’ll go further; he was a Very Wise Man indeed. You might choose to agree, or not, but I stand by my assessment. Having recently had the pleasure of rereading both Winnie The Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner with my daughter, it ocurred to me to wonder whether – in terms of writing, or I suppose, in the run of things generally – I am more of a Rabbit, or a Pooh. I know  – despite my unwelcome perennial capacity for depression – that I am NOT an Eeyore. Pooh is a placid, calm sort; he waits for things – especially hums and singy-ness, and ideas – to come to him. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t – you never can tell – and he is happily humble in what he is pleased to call his lack of brain. Rabbit on the other hand is very captainish; he likes to be organised – or rather, he likes to organise other people – and never waits for anything if he can go and fetch it. He has brain, but he doesn’t really understand things, or not in the way that Pooh does. Truthfully, I am inclined towards a state of being Pooh, although I know that being a bit more like Rabbit would be beneficial in terms of actually getting things done. But then other people who are terribly Rabbit-ish tend to drive me up the wall – there is a vast amount of control freakery in people who always want to organise other people just so that they (Rabbit) can feel important. That is not who I am.

Still, in my own meandering dilettantish way, I have at least learned not to be a hostage to my muse; there’s always to something to write, or to write about, even if it isn’t what I might have originally planned, or thought it would be. And thankfully that bastard Writer’s Block hasn’t muscled its way through my brain to sit at the front, flick popcorn at my inner cinema screen and make loud and unhelpful remarks. (Although my Inner Editor has just drawn in a sharp breath at the previous sentence and is now sucking its teeth.) Paul Simon summed it up so perfectly: ‘You want to be a writer? Don’t know how, or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.’ (From the album You’re The One… I think the track was called Hurricane Eye.)

Today is one of those days where I’d really like to not have to DO anything, but instead be in London wandering around the museums, waiting to be ambushed by new insights, new ideas, and learn random new things that I never thought I might need to know.

On second thoughts, perhaps I’m Owl, instead…

No, it’s still not finished…

Things have been busy, and strange, and sometimes, strangely busy. Perhaps I am making excuses? Either way, the WIP is still awaiting the first stage of completion. Soon, I promise myself; it is coming together.

In the meantime, we’ve been to Devon, and had a lovely weekend of doing not very much apart from lolling in a hot tub with a glass of red while watching the swallows weave across the sky. I like to think that if we didn’t live in Gloucestershire, we’d live somewhere in Devon; two very different rural idylls. We did also watch the amusing culture-kitsch that is Eurovision; I have to confess to being one who doesn’t take it remotely seriously; I would rather have liked Moldova’s two-tone rapping gnomes to win.

Along with the glass-in-hand type of lolling, goes losing-oneself-in-reading, and I did. I got well and truly lost in the late 18th Century world of Dejima and Nagasaki as evoked in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and since emerging, have been wondering what on earth I might read read next. To immerse myself immediately in everything else David Mitchell has written, would I fear be a distraction too far… indeed, since writing that last sentence, life itself has been a distraction too far – I’m completing this post over a week after I started it <hangs head in shame>. Well, I say ‘life’, what I mean is someone else’s life, 8 years or so of Stephen Fry’s, to be precise. Having read The Fry Chronicles – out now in paperback in a bookshop near you! – I have since stepped back in time with Colette’s Cheri… but I will be girding the metaphorical loins, and writingwritingwriting. I bloody well must.

In the meantime, the inestimably lovely Claire King has posted a wonderful cheerleading post that has filled me – and a GREAT many others –  with heart and hope and other helpful words beginning with H.

I’ll be in London for a few days over half term, with my daughter; another thing to look forward to, another thing to take me away from writing…

That’ll do.