I moan a lot about where I live, telling the Husband that I hate the fact we have to live in London for his job. But, actually, where we live is really quite nice, and I consider myself lucky to live near such open spaces as Morden Park.
We went for a wander this morning, through the little park that is by our house, full of young families, playing on the swings. Down by the river past the bus garage, across the road to Sainsbury’s and further down the river, past Dean City Farm, which was bustling with children and their parents, all going to see the peacocks and the horses. We walked through the wetlands of Morden Park and on into the National Trust buildings where there is a tiny, second-hand bookshop selling such wonders as The Reader’s Digest Bedside Book of the Art of Living, which I picked up for a pound. Published in the 1950s, it’s proof that for decades people have felt out of touch with their fellow man, alienated by the modern world, distance from God.
Walking with the Husband is one of my favourite things to do. We talk more openly out in the fresh Autumn air than we can in a house where the TV is always on and there are other things to distract us. Walking with him is a free luxury, we should remember to do it more often.
We stopped at Merton Abbey Mills for a cup of coffee. I love Abbey Mills. A former textile factory, it prides itself as London’s Alternative Market, which always makes us laugh given that we used to go to Camden a lot. But it’s where William Morris worked for years, and Liberty bought most of their fabrics from here before the 1970s. These days, there are little restaurants and market stalls which are ever so nearly right, but just not quite. I’d like to see more handmade crafts, less of the useless market tat you can buy on any street corner. It has a wonderful pottery place, though (featured on FaceJacker, if you watch that sort of thing) and we promised ourselves we’d go down their one weekend and get lessons. Abbey Mills is a great place to people-watch, I could probably stay there all day.
But we wandered home eventually, tired from our walk, cheeks reddened with the fresh breeze, to our little house, which I don’t hate as much as I say I do.
Stephen King in On Writing, says that you should write the first draft of any novel in a quiet space, without interruption, and you should never show it to anyone until it is finished. So, in preparation for writing my Great First Novel, I have sorted out the space in the spare room so I can work there. It’s not ideal – it’s where P keeps all his clothes (clean and dirty) and also the home for all that stuff that has nowhere else to live. But it is a space, nonetheless, and now that I’ve personalised it a little more, with pictures from my Favourite Little Person and a noticeboard full of PLOT, it feels much much better.
So. I’ve done the hard bit, right? Now I can just sit down and happily write a bestseller. In a month. While working full time. Yes.
At the weekend, the Inventor (who lives on the Farm with my Mother-in-law-sister) started a conversation about my writing. “The poetry’s going well”, he said “By which I mean, you’re writing”. He asked if I wanted to write a novel, it’s something I’ve mentioned before. “Yes” I say, not entirely sure this is a conversation I want to have. “Then you will”. He asks me how long it takes me to write a page, when I tell him I don’t have the time to write my book. He asks how I spend the rest of my time, he asks what I do when I’m smoking, whether I watch TV, whether there are times in my life I could be using better. He understands, he says, that teachers are so often dead on their feet at the end of the day; but is there some way I could be making sure this book gets written? I admit that there are times I could be using better.
Three pages a week, he says. Write three pages a week, for six months, and you’ll have a novel. This is such an engineer’s way of thinking it makes me laugh. But, yes, writing is a job like any other. You do it, and you do it, and you keep on doing it, until it is done.
I promise him three pages a week, not yet knowing if I even have a story that will take more than three pages. But he has given me the rules, given me the framework, that the little girl in me needs if I’m ever going to get this done. He has given me – in that short instruction – all the support and “I believe you can’ that this neurotic child is looking for. And he knows, I suspect, that this is all I really need.
This is what I do, he says. Once, my Mother-in-law-sister told him she wanted to play in a band. Classically trained on the piano, she wasn’t sure she could play the Blues, jazz, all that modern stuff. So he made her practice, he helped her ignore that little voice in her head- that maybe said she couldn’t, and he found her a band.
This is what he does.
Check out my Mother-in-law-sister and the Inventor’s band here – they’re well worth a visit if you’re in the area: http://www.lemonrock.com/screamingweasels?page=gigs
To help me with my three pages a week, and to best utilise my time on the bus, and out for cigarette breaks, I have downloaded the My Writing Nook app on iPhone (Procrastinate? Me?)
I’ll let you know how it goes, but it looks pretty good – clean and usable. It synchs with Writing Nook on Google, and also gives you a very useful word count (good for NaNoWriMo, if, indeed, I ever get around to doing that).
Check it out here: http://www.mywritingnook.com
I tried to write my Mother-in-law-Sister a poem for her birthday, but it seems I can’t sum up the people I love in such small verses, and especially not this lovely lady. Yesterday was her birthday, so we travelled down from London to join her for dinner. It is always so special spending time at The Farm; somehow cleansing and inspirational.
It’s difficult to say how much I have learned from my husband’s mother. She is so full of affection, so open in her love. She grabs things with both hands – always looking for new challenges, always finding new things in the world to be amazed at. Among the many things I feel I should thank her for, is the way she always makes me feel so incredibly special, so absolutely loved. She teaches me to take life a little less seriously, all the time, and to ignore that voice in the back of my head that tells me ‘No’ and ‘You can’t’ and ‘It shouldn’t be done like that’.
She is incredible as a mother, having raised two beautiful men (and one beautiful soon-to-be man) who say she is less a mother, more a friend. She is the kind of teacher that young men and women still remember, decades later. She plays in a band, volunteers to work with difficult teenagers, remembers everyone’s names and makes them all feel special too. When I grow up, I want to be as young as her.
She noticed today how far I have come in recent years, mending relationships, discovering myself and feeling happier with so many things, and I didn’t know how to tell her how much I owe a lot of that to her influence in my life. I didn’t know how to thank her.
Maybe this will go some way to doing that.
When I am ill, one of my favourite things is to be read to. It has been years since I have found someone who will do this for me, and no one ever does it quite so well as I remember my dad reading the Hobbit when we were all home with chicken pox as kids. These days, I download audiobooks from iTunes and in recent years I’ve gone through a great deal of Agatha Christie, listened to Five Children and It, Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales and other childhood favourites. This weekend, I caved and downloaded Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love – a book I had seen in Waterstones and turned my nose up at. I always judge a book by its cover, stubbornly avoiding anything that looks like it’s deliberately marketed at those most disgusting of creatures; women. I also avoid any book that is currently in the cinema, hating to be seen to jump on a bandwagon of any kind. But, oh, I think this book may be changing my life.
A memoir about a 30-something woman, who finds herself crying in a heap on her bathroom floor one night, begging God to rescue her… to tell her what to do – it speaks to me. And yes, so she’s American, and God tells her, eventually, that she probably should leave her husband and be happy, but something in it really strikes a chord.
I haven’t finished listening to it. As I write, she is only partway through the first leg of her life-changing journey – consuming all the pleasure of Italian food and sunshine – but already she has me so totally gripped with her total understanding of what it’s like to feel like life is running away without you, to be on anti-depressants when you worry they’ll kill your creativity, to feel stifled in a world where suddenly everyone is moving to the suburbs and having babies…
She writes about the time when she realises that, even in Italy, the old fears come back: “ They flank me – Depression on my left, loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show their badges. I know these guys very well. …then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that”. And I know that feeling, and it’s as if I’ve found a friend who understands.
I hate that the book is a bestseller, when I want it to be mine and mine alone. I hate that they’ve made it into a film, which will no doubt rip it of all that’s good and leave only the story, which is secondary to the real action of this book. I hate that I like a book that so many people will claim has changed their lives. But there it is. It has.
Windsor is a sunny autumn afternoon of holidayness. Perhaps the last good weekend of the year. We meet at Clapham Junction and get the train to the Best Man’s new house. Out of London, it is quieter, it feels like a day trip to somewhere altogether different, though it only takes half an hour. I am ill, struck down with the usual October cold, but my super-strength pills and woolly hat keep me happy.
We stop at a pub by the river and wile away an afternoon drinking with friends and catching up. It is nice to have people who remember things for me. It is nice to have friends who remember a time when the Husband ate at Chicken Cottage every night – before he became an unbearable foodie.
Back at the Best Man’s new home, we are treated to a medley of curries. He’s a great cook, and a fantastic host, quietly orchestrating everything so that his guests don’t see just how difficult it must be to cook for 12 people in a tiny kitchen.
Conversations range from politics to weddings, stories of a recent French trip and arguments about manuscripts and nineties music.
Everyone is on fantastic form and the wine and beer flow freely.
The argument that the Husband is having with Transport for London, about whether it actually will reduce traffic at Bank station if you turn the escalator off and make people walk down it, continues.
A water experiment attempts to solve the problem once and for all. The Australian and the Husband – in agreement for once – are not impressed with the rest of them.
We all get the late train home. Some of us a little worse for wear, all of us happy and glad for a good day out of London.