If 2012 was the Year of Rain in the UK, then 2013 seems to be continuing the theme.
I know it’s not unknown for the UK to be a touch windy and rainy here and there, but even the seals are mistaking inland for the sea now.
Still, we have lots to be thankful for: Fifty years ago, the country was in the grip of the Big Freeze, when snow arrived on Boxing Day (26 December) 1962 and remained until early March 1963. Personally, I prefer cold and bright to mild and rainy any time, but two months of below-zero temperatures (in old houses that wouldn’t have had central heating…) must have been grim indeed.
Holloway Road didn’t look pretty today. It doesn’t look pretty any day; it’s a great stretch of a road in north London that carries part of the A1 (the road connecting London to Edinburgh) and has a bustle of shops, pubs and market stalls lining the way, many of them in need of some tender loving care. It’s a road, like so many in London, that has been built, rebuilt and rebuilt according to need. And today, in squally rain and wind on New Year’s Eve, everyone hugged their business close as they set about their day. It’s a day that never quite properly got light and leaves me wondering in my reflections of 2012 as I grip my umbrella with both hands, battling the wind at the junction, keeping an eye out for the green figure that stops the sheets of rainy traffic and lets me across the road. I’m here to buy a swimming costume, which is another story.
And yet Holloway Road should really be considered a handsome stretch: it’s a wide boulevard of a road – rare outside of central London, unless you’re heading to the traditional Broadways of the north and north-west of the capital. Some of the side-roads stretching north-east, once occupied by gentry, are still handsome. There are few opportunities to do this, but Holloway Road’s secret seems to be that is best viewed from above.
Back on Stroud Green road, we settled into a favourite place for food and drink, an early welcome to the new year. Stroud Green Road was looking none too pretty later on as the rain settled in again. On the way up the road, we left one shop that was colder inside than the street outside.
At 3.30 in the afternoon, the dark started to merge with the gloom as we settled back with glasses of pinot noir in the pub. Red buses flashed by in the darkening squall. Later we headed home for our own New Years Eves. 2012 has been horrific, extraordinary and exhilarating for me for different reasons. I hope the stretches of road in 2013 aren’t too rainy.
The clocks have gone forward, there is a definite sniff of spring in the air today. It’s one of those beautiful soft sunny days that never appear to really blossom, but remain fat with promise. The neighbourhood cats are sitting nonchalantly on the pavements (and stalking the nearby woodland). I have been the good citizen this morning and filled in my Census form.
March has been reasonably prolific for me: I’ve completed a short story, a piece of flash fiction and a piece of micro-fiction. I’ll see how these do in competitions. Meanwhile, I’ll focus on some new work. I’m carrying around plenty of ideas in my head, jostling for space. I need to carry on getting them down, honing them until they feel something like complete.
This weekend, I’ve broken two important barriers:
1. Been back to the Coliseum: when we went there before Christmas I fainted in my seat (they were high up and I hadn’t been well a few days beforehand). When my pal booked tickets for The Mikado I was apprehensive, but needed to get back in the saddle. And, from the same very high seats last Friday, all was well. Great show, too.
It sounds a silly thing to need to get over. When I was a child I was always fainting. “It’s her metabolism. She’ll need to eat little and often,” my mother was told. She was forever putting a couple of barley sugars in my coat pocket to eat at school. But, as an adult, the sensation of feeling faint in a darkened packed theatre was terrifying when you’re not quite sure how you’re going to get out afterwards. Thankfully my lovely pal negotiated all this for me.
So Friday was important. It also taught me something else: even if I faint in a darkened theatre, nothing truly terrible can happen. Let’s hope I have no further need for this wisdom.
2. Read something out in front of a group of strangers at a writing course: I was at a weekend course at the fabulous CityLit where I met lots of lovely and talented people. Brilliant tutor too. The aim was for us to have a draft of a short story by the end of the weekend and the tutors was asking for volunteers to read their ‘beginnings’. I had set myself the task beforehand of standing up and reading something out if possible and I managed it (I was standing metaphorically if not literally).
Great feedback, too. Very encouraging. It’s easy to think you’ve written something unimportant or tedious that takes too long to hit any moment of resonance. Feedback is important and so welcome. And I have my first draft! I can see this as a completed piece. Brilliant.
It’s unexpected to feel full full of energy on a Monday evening. So far I’ve put out the recycling, had a bath, put fresh sheets on the bed, sent my CV off somewhere and am now eating dinner.
While watching lovely Professor Brian Cox talking about stars and planets on the TV.
Next: tinkering with a short piece I’m writing for another blog. Must harness this energy when it appears!
We’ve started frequenting some new pubs, having discovered them on a blustery sunny day after Christmas. I say ‘discovered’, but they were always there, waiting and unknown until the day you decide to step inside.
We found them after a jaunt around Regent’s Park, lunch in Marylebone High Street and a potentially dangerous visit to the marvellous Daunt bookshop. And last week we made a return visit. These ‘new’ places are in a long-favourite area, Marylebone, and attract the rag trade, media and publishing crowd.
The Yorkshire Grey is long and narrow with the beautiful features and stained glass windows of a Sam Smith’s pub (known to us as a G&T pub as the wines in them aren’t great. We stick to gin and tonic). There’s something decadent about a mid-week day off work, sipping G&T by a roaring fire, with BBC radio sound engineers chatting around us. Then on to the Crown and Sceptre (with a special wine offer on Wednesdays! Just the thing when a nice glass of Rioja is often six quid.) A nice buzzy bustle in this larger pub.
And I’m thinking about new places too: dipping a toe in, taking a leap into something new work-wise. It feels like standing on the precipice and attempting to make focussed choices.
Today is the loveliest day for ages; possibly more than a month. Brilliant sky and soft chilly breeze. Even though the snow looked lovely (and was here for seemingly ages), there were very few brilliant blue days.
Walking to the supermarket. Domestic stuff, not very exciting really. Coffee, rosemary, goat’s cheese and so on. It’s about 25 minutes or so away and there are others that are nearer. I could get the bus, but sometimes it’s good to trundle through the streets. Particularly today.
Today I take a different route on the way there, zig-zagging along the quiet afternoon streets. The bare trees are starkly outlined against the brilliant blue above, while the streets below lay in shadow. Planes slip idly across the horizon.
On the way home, I move along streets I’ve never walked along before. There are whole sets of lovely roads with sleek rows of old houses with white paintwork, glistening in the lowering sun. Barely a soul around. A beautiful black Scottish Terrier passes, looking like a brush carefully sniffing its way along the path.
And home now, where a soft yellow glow is beginning to meet the brilliant blue. All over my flat, I find shards of sunlight in unexpected corners. Even at this hour, there is a sharp sliver of moon high in the winter sky.
Christmas trees just never quite lose their magic, do they?
There’s a new shopping centre on New Change, in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s nicely done, lots of glass and so on, with all the usual retail suspects there. My optician called the Brunswick Centre ‘Frocks and Food’ and he’d probably say the same about New Change.
The one intriguing thing to me is the jagged reflection of St Paul’s in the glass: Wren’s vision making its presence known.
Saturday was frustrating. It didn’t start out being frustrating. After listening to Saturday Live I managed to have a lovely bath and breakfast and be out of the door by 10.45. Early indeed.
The problem is the transport at weekends. Victoria line completely closed. Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith and City closed at random points. All these connecting arteries not really connecting. I hope the Olympics will be worth it.
And then the buses were diverted around the Square Mile because of the Lord Mayor’s Show. So, a combination of tradition and modernity conspired to snarl up a simple journey to the library to write.
When I got to the library to write, a power cut had snarled up the computers.
So, writing today was not to be and I was feeling philosophical about it by this stage. I chatted with an officer from the City of London police and established that yes, the buses were still diverted and what a bloody nuisance it all was. At 1.30 I gave up the ghost to go home.
There was relative sanity on the Piccadilly line. Opposite sat a beautiful man asleep with his book open. And above him, part of the Poems on the Underground series, was this newly-discovered gem by Katharine Towers entitled The Way We Go:
the way we go about our lives
trying out each empty room
like houses we might own
eavesdropping for clues in corridors until
standing at a gate or attic window
seeing beauty in a flag of sky
we’re gone, leaving the doors open
all the lights burning
(copyright Katharine Towers)
Simple and beautiful.