April Moon: day 15: permission to wish

Permission to wish. Permission to really, really want something. I find this difficult. I have a superstitious conviction that letting myself really, really want something will alert some contrary-minded force to my desire, and I won’t get it.

It’s a defensive little monster in my mind, promising me that if I manage not to want something then I won’t be disappointed when I don’t get it. It’s first cousin to the Angel in the House (who has been quieter of late, but is still in there somewhere) who sits in my head telling me that whatever it is that I want cannot possibly be as important as whatever it is the other person wants, and that if I get it instead of the other person, it will all go wrong and will all be my fault.

Of course it doesn’t stop me wanting it. I catch myself thinking, ‘well, if I get it, I’ll…’ – or, more dangerously, ‘well, when I get it, I’ll…’ Wear this. Say that. Be able to do the other.

There’s nothing that I can do at this point to make it more or less likely to happen. These little mental tricks will make no difference to the outcome. All I can do is wait.

I tried forgetting about it, but it hasn’t worked. I’m still watching my emails, listening for the letterbox. (There’s a lot to hear from the letterbox at the moment, but it’s mostly Labour and the Lib Dems fighting for this marginal seat.)

Let’s try an experiment. There are ten days left of uncertainty. Let’s try really, really wanting it for those ten days, and risk the disappointment. Truth is, monster, I’ll be disappointed anyway.

Very well, then. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I wish…

Just for a second, I manage to really, really want it.

April Moon: day 14: water and trains

‘Oh, I’m so lucky!’ my mother exclaims, whenever she remembers where she lives.

View over the English Channel from South Street, Ventnor

This is why.

Standing on her garden wall, you see Ventnor falling away below you in higgledy-piggledy terraces down to the sea, and the Channel stretching out. France is over there. Thataway.

I don’t have the English Channel, but I have taken to thinking the same way about the river Cam. I live three minutes away from this. I am still overwhelmed by the fact that I am lucky enough to live here, and I’ve been doing it for nearly a year so.

There’s something about living near water, I think. There’s the huge, calming vastness of the sea. The river doesn’t quite do that, but it’s full of life and activity. The ducks, the rowers, the houseboats, the swans – there’s always something going on, always something to look at, and you have to go out very late at night if you want to be sure of not meeting anybody.

The days draw out, and even on work days I leave home in daylight and I return in daylight, and I cycle to the shops, or I walk to the pub, or I sit by the river and eat an ice cream, and I watch the ducks flying downriver and the boats hauling upriver and the swans nibbling at the grass from the bank, and the trains pelting over the bridge, and I think, ‘Oh, I’m so lucky.’

I love living near water. One worries, vaguely, about flooding and cliff falls, but they haven’t happened yet. I’ve always lived either near water or within earshot of a railway, or, as now, both. The one time we did flood we were way out in the country, and that was the river Teme remembering its prehistoric course and coming straight through our cellar. It was all right: we lost the freezer, and that was about it.

I love the trains, too, but in a slightly different way. Water is huge and full of activity; the trains are contained. Human creations, orderly, predictable, going where they’re meant to go. They make me feel safe. Even in the awful bedsit, the worst place I ever lived, I heard the trains rattling past at night, down in the cutting underneath my window, and I could think, ‘I can get away. If it gets too bad, I can get away.’

Here, I have trains and water. This is what makes me feel lucky.

April Moon: day 13: false dichotomies

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever… shh. Don’t wonder too hard. You’ll wake it, and it needs a rest. So do I. It’s asleep, curled up in a cave somewhere in the Mariana Trench. Don’t worry. It’ll come back when it’s ready.

We’re not talking about this today. We can talk in generalities.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever make my living by writing – and then I realise very swiftly that I don’t want to.

Oh, I dream. I wander along the banks of the Cam and wonder which house would be the best to live and write in. I think of having a studio with a balcony and looking out at the swans and ducks and rowers. I imagine how my books will change people’s lives. I daydream about being interviewed in my beautiful home, and all that guff.

In the mean time, I write on the train to work.

Here’s a confession. Even in that dream life, I still go to work.

I was talking about other people’s expectations early in this round. I think there are just as many levied on artists, of whatever ilk, as there are on everyone else. Just as everybody assumes that the temp can’t be happy until they’ve found a real job, everybody assumes that the artist must really want to chuck in the real world and devote themself to art.

It’s the dream, isn’t it? Chucking in the [soulless bullshit job] and giving the whole to [one’s vocation]. But is it really the dream?

I have a friend who, in his forties, left the air conditioning trade and went to university (which is where I met him) to study French, with the ultimate aim of becoming a teacher. He tried teaching, hated it, and is now back in air conditioning, although with a life much improved (or so I believe) in other ways. Meanwhile, my uncle has left teaching to become a lorry driver. (He’s also an extremely accomplished musician and photographer.) Life is, as ever, more complicated than that. And people vary.

Personally (and I know I was ranting about the conflation of these concepts earlier in the round, as well) I would no more like to be a full time artist than I would a full time mother. I like my day job. I like getting out of the house and going to the big city. I like interacting with amusing, knowledgeable people. I like my forty-five minutes of writing time on the train. (Hush. Hush. It’s all right. Not you. I didn’t mean you. Nobody’s writing anything more on you at the moment.)

Even if there were a way to earn a living by writing without the nicotine and/or alcohol dependence and chronic financial insecurity that characterised the only household I knew where anyone tried it, would I want to? I don’t think so. I am learning to take better care of myself than that.

April Moon: day 12: when the sun and I are in the right place

Cycling south and west, parallel to the river. The first cup of tea of the morning is beginning to kick in, or perhaps it’s just the cool air rushing past me. Swans squatting in the beer garden of the Green Dragon. The morning sunlight drenching the house on the corner of Ferry Lane and Water Street until its pale green paint glows.

It doesn’t happen every day. For three months of the year it’s dark when I ride down Water Street. Sometimes it’s raining. Sometimes it’s cloudy. On the days when the sun and I are in the right place and the right time, though, this is the best part of my day.

April Moon: day 11: permanent święcone

I am trying not to talk about food.

No, that’s not true at all.

I am trying not to talk about food in a certain way, with certain people, but they’re not making it easy.

Recently I cancelled my Graze box, partly because it kept going to someone else’s desk and I found it embarrassing to go and track it down, and partly because they insist on labelling their cake ‘guilt-free’ and filling their covering notes with irritating little screeds about the nutritional superiority of their snacks over anything else I might happen to be eating. I have yet to find a replacement, which is irritating, because if I don’t eat something on the train back from work then I’m a total wreck when I get home.

Once last year I tweeted angrily at Riverford because they included in the box a recipe brochure divided between ‘good’ and ‘naughty’ options – complete with halos and horns. They haven’t repeated the offence so far; I doubt my tweet had anything to do with that, unless perhaps it was echoed by many others. I don’t know. While the parts of the internet that I frequent tend to recognise the value of food, offline I seem to be surrounded by people who assign moral virtue in inverse proportion to nutritional content.

I want no part of this culture of guilt and ingratitude. I need to eat. So does the rest of the human race. Food is good! Food is a blessing! One of the loveliest things about marrying into a part-Polish family is the Holy Saturday ritual of putting together a święconka, a basket of smoked sausage and cake and hard-boiled eggs, and taking it to church to be blessed ready for Easter. It is the most refreshing interlude from the outside world, which is busy beating itself up because it tells itself it has eaten too much, or the wrong thing.

Last year I had a practice of silently giving thanks as I ate – not just for the food itself, but for the labour that prepared it and brought it to me. I’d like to revive that. I would like to live in permanent święcone. I would like to appreciate the food in front of me, rather than tell myself that I don’t deserve it.

Oh, but it would be so much easier if people in the office were not dieting, or, if they were, didn’t feel the need to tell me about it! I keep meaning to make a list of suitable alternative subjects, so that when this particular one comes up I can change it.

April Moon: day 10: portal hub kitchen

The moment I enter the kitchen I feel as if my perspective has been subtly altered. I wake up; I slow down; I remember things I’d forgotten.

Sometimes, of course, I think, ‘oh, sod it, the washing up,’ or even, ‘ooh, tea…’ But it shakes things up.

Because of the slightly unusual layout of our flat, the kitchen is in the middle, between the bedroom at the front and the living room at the back. It’s comparatively dark – its only natural light seeps in from other rooms – but I walk in there from the front and the wash of light from the french windows is a surprise. Going the other way, from the conservatory or the living room into the kitchen, the darkness is soothing, cooling. Entering the kitchen from my study takes me out of my cocoon and back to the world outside.

It’s a hub, a portal. It moves me from darkness to light, and from light to darkness; from work to rest, from sleep to action. Even though neither of us spends very much time in it, it’s the centre of the home.

April Moon: day 9: “oh naughty one, Mayfair”

I immediately feel my body tense up whenever I hear the sound of the telephone.

Who is phoning me? What do they want? Are they going to ask me questions to which I don’t know the answer? Are they trying to sell me something? Ask me for a charity donation? Scam me? Is it family? Bad news? Hassling me for a decision that I haven’t yet made? Wanting to know my plans for August when I haven’t thought beyond May?

Even if it is somebody I want to hear from, the chances are I’m in the middle of cooking my dinner, or eating it. Sometimes, when I’m alone in the house, I let it ring and ring off, and then dial 1471 to find out who it was and whether I want to call them back – in my time, on my terms.

I am glad that I was born into the age of the internet, when communication is moving back towards writing. It’s not so much the fact that it’s written, as that a delay is built in. On email, even over instant messenger (though I have that turned off most of the time, as well), there’s space to breathe between sentences, time to assimilate what I’ve just been told, and room to come up with an appropriate answer. There’s a moral panic that the internet encourages a demand for instant gratification; so far as I’m concerned, it’s got nothing on the telephone.

I like to think that, in centuries to come, our descendants will view the telephone as a quaint artefact of the uncivilised twentieth century. One summoned one’s friends with a bell, and expected them to drop everything and speak to one? How unutterably rude! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must just answer Xanthe’s mind-telegram while I remember. No hurry, though. She knows I’m well; she’ll have seen my neutron update.