Saturday 26 February 2011

Day After London

I woke up to heavy rain hitting the bedroom window and felt even luckier for yesterday's sunshine. Looking at the clock and seeing it was only 7:30 am, I told myself it was Saturday, to relax and sleep in. So I did, waking at 10:30 am to a loud knock at the door. I jumped up thinking it might be one of the books I've ordered from, but no, it was a clean cut, well dressed, shiny-faced man and woman with pamphlets of...guess what!..."The Watch Tower"! I couldn't believe it. How did they get into the building? It astounds me how the people who follow that religion can be so oblivious to the rude welcome they must receive more often than not (I know I've just committed an oxymoron here - rude welcome). I just looked at them in disbelief and said, "I've just been sleeping, if you don't mind." They apologized and shoved two Watch Towers in my hand before I slammed the door. Years ago at Keats I was busy painting or doing something upstairs early one morning when there was a knock at the door. This was in the middle of the week in the winter when no one except for the handful of us who lived there was around. I left what I was doing and made my way to the door, only to see, again, two clean cut, well dressed, shiney-faced people - a man and a woman. She was even wearing high heels! This was Keats Island - there's no pavement anywhere, just gravel roads. Where had they come from and how did they get to the island? I even asked them that, going a bit further by saying, "You guys seem to be everywhere." I remember as a child, living way out in Coquitlam, which was definitely the sticks in the 1950s, hearing a knock at the door, seeing mom flick her bedroom curtain and then ask me to answer the door and tell them she wasn't home. So I did. I was about seven or eight years old at the time. I knew I was telling a bald-faced lie, but having been given full reign to prevaricate, got some pleasure from it. I opened the door and confidently announced that my mother was not home...she was out shopping. The man squinted at me in what seemed a menacing sort of way, at least to my young sensibilities, and said, "But it's Sunday. The stores are closed." I just stood there and must have looked so pathetic they said, "Never mind, we'll come back another time." I wanted to die, and I think my mother felt horribly guilty about putting me through it. I've had a hard time being "Christian" about Jehovah's Witnesses ever since.

Even though it was raining today, I needed to walk, and so headed along the river bank, past the "Compleat Angler Pub" and up past the lovely stone houses alongside the cathedral. I browsed on the shelves in front of a couple of second hand book shops and chose a paperback for £1, one of the twelve novels written by my prof Michele Roberts. Then I retraced my steps back along the river path to Morrison's where I bought a fresh trout, a bottle of pinot grigio and some green beans for my supper. I already had some new potatoes to go with it and cooked up a pan with fresh tomatoes, onions, and olive oil, lightly salted and peppered, to pour over the fish. It was truly delicious. While I was enjoying it, I heard voices down inside the front entrance, then singing accompanied by a harmonica. I think they just wanted to test out the acoustics, which sounded fabulous, because I then heard the heavy front door close. I ran to look out the window in time to see three men walking down the sidewalk in the rain, one playing the harmonica.  

Friday 25 February 2011

London Town

Good ol' Norwich Station - just a 12 minute walk from the flat.
I was so excited about the prospect of going to London yesterday that I actually woke up at 7:30 am, which was way too early because I didn't have to be at the train until 2:00 pm. I never wake up that early, especially when I've read until 1:00 am, but I couldn't talk myself into going back to sleep.

I met Thea at Norwich Station as planned. The day was warm and sunny, which was an amazing stroke of luck given it rained all night. Thea and I conscientiously brought along our books and settled in for the journey. But I couldn't read with all the wonderful scenery flicking past the window. I managed to get a few good shots in - very different to the snowy scenes of winter on my way to Gatwick last December. Like Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, I could feel myself getting over excited about the warmer weather coming on, and I'm yearning to get out in nature and do some cycling and sightseeing.

This scene taken from the train window reminds
me of an Henri Rousseau painting.
The journey is two hours long, but before I knew it we were at Liverpool Station and Thea was leading the way through the turnstiles like the seasoned Londoner she is, or at least seems to be. She said she doesn't come to the city very often, but she clearly knows her way around. Because it was such a lovely day, she suggested we take a bus instead of the tube, which would give me a bit of an opportunity to see some sights. The bus took us past St. Paul's Cathedral and along the familiar-sounding Drury Lane, which was a slum in the 18th century and crowded with gin palaces but is now a very respectable area where the Theatre Royal is located. Even though I've been coming to England for years, I've never actually spent much time in the London itself and must resolve to get to know it better. I told Thea I felt like a kid in a candy store, and almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I spotted a new apartment complex that reminded me of brightly coloured candies, and of course I had to get out the camera.
It didn't take us long to find the Taz Restaurant (located just down the block from the British Museum) where we were meeting our fellow classmates for a quick supper before we took in the talk on publishing biography at the Biographer's Club. There were eight of us altogether, which made for even seating and the chance for everyone to hear each other. The atmosphere at the Taz was soothing and the Greek food was fresh and tasty. I ordered the calamari, as it's been ages since I've enjoyed it, the last time being in Vancouver at La Bodega where it's always excellent.

After dinner, we walked the few blocks to Swedenborg House - a lovely stately old building and home to the Biographer's Club. The place was hopping when we got there at 6:45 pm. A bar was set up inside the door where wine and soft drinks were cheerfully served by members of the club. Our friend Nicoletta organized the whole evening for us - from booking the restaurant to reserving our places at the event. Good thing too because it was completely sold out. There was a panel of four publishers who basically told us how difficult it is to get published, saying so almost gleefully I thought, but maybe I'm being a bit hard on them. I don't think any of us went away feeling that we had heard anything we didn't already know, but what a wonderful opportunity and excuse for an evening out with my classmates. We said our goodbyes and everyone headed off in different directions for home, Thea and I making our way back to Liverpool Street Station and the train to Norwich. I collapsed into bed at midnight, feeling tired but happy, and just sorry that the day had gone by so fast.

Sunday 20 February 2011

On Being A Slacker

I’ve been in a Monk-ish mode since last Tuesday when I went to the university for the publishing course - staying in (not difficult because the weather has been wet and dank), reading (good, because there’s plenty of it to do), and eating (always a favourite pastime). I did venture out to Morrison’s this afternoon. Sorry about mentioning Morrison’s so often, but it really can be a high point of the week, probably because it’s about nurturing and nourishing myself. Today I bought a free range chicken to roast for tonight’s Sunday dinner. I plan to stuff it with a whole lemon and some cloves of garlic, and once cooked, serve it with its juice on roasted potatoes, brussel sprouts and carrots. There’s still a splash of pino grigio in the fridge (half price at Morrison’s last week). Then I’ll stretch out on the sofa with my plate balanced on my belly and finish reading “Lark Rise to Candleford,” the autobiographical account of life in a quaint country hamlet at the turn of the 20th century. Flora Thompson brings her childhod village alive and with such exquisite detail that it’s hard to put the book down. I do have to fight the odd twinge of guilt though, feeling like I should be doing something and not “wasting” time reading books. But it’s what I’m here to do, so I have to get over that one. If I want to feel REALLY guilty, I go to and watch a movie for free. What an escape that provides! A classmate of mine sent me the link and I’m indebted to her for that. There’s no TV in the flat (a good thing) so I visit the BBC on my laptop, which is great because I can stretch out and balance it between my belly and bent knees (like my plate of food!). It’s fortunate that I’m being forced out into the world tomorrow – at least it’ll necessitate being vertical.

I’m having a hard time finding anything exciting to write about, having not been outside for five days except to forage. So I’ll end this and consider it just a small missive after a fairly uneventful week, aside from some truly wonderful emails and telephone conversations with some friends and family. It really hasn’t been so Monk-ish after all.

Tuesday 15 February 2011


Signs of Spring
Nancy left Sunday on the bus for Gatwick and her EasyJet flight back to Morocco. The flat seems empty without her. I got used to coming in the door and hearing BBC4 playing loudly as she listened to the news or a play while working at her Mac. And I'm going to miss eating dinner with her, enjoying a glass of wine and talking about life. Last night I went to bed at 9:00 pm, feeling a bit tired and headachy. It might have been the presentation on Virginia Woolf I had to give in the afternoon. I didn't think I was that nervous about it, but I guess I was, suddenly feeling really hot and flushed as the time approached to deliver. I had a strange sense of not being in my body and just talking and hoping for the best. Apparently, it went well. Speaking of going well, I got my marks back for the two major essays from last semester and was really pleased. Now if I can pull it off for the next two big ones, due May 13th, I'll be really happy. Part of me feels quite spent though. It's not just writing the stuff, it's about coming up with a topic I feel passionate about. I had tea with a friend who finished the Master's program last year and she said that a large majority of people who do the degree don't write anything for a whole year, they're so burned out. I certainly hope that's not true for me.

Spring is approaching and it's no longer pitch black when I take the bus back from the university. And with that I'm hoping to hear the last of the wet sneezes and phlegmy coughs issuing from fellow commuters. Today I saw snowdrops on my way to class and had to take a photo of them - a definite harbinger of spring! (Even though it was a cloudy day). I'm excited too because I bought my train ticket to London for next Thursday when some of us are going to a talk at the Biographer's Club called "Biography - What Publishers are Looking For." Today in my publishing class we had a presentation by a fellow student who's doing a PhD in the area of transmedia, which is a subject I'm not completely clear about. Anyway, she focussed on electronic publishing and the benefits of "doing it yourself" without having to go the route of finding a publisher for your work. She makes a compelling argument and says that if your work is well received online, publishers will actually come to YOU instead of you going to THEM. Sounds too good to be true.

On March 3rd, I'm taking another train journey - this time to Wales, Llandrindod Wells, to visit my long-time friend, Frankie (female), who I haven't seen for eighteen years! It's straight across the country in the opposite direction to Norwich and will take about eight hours. I want to get lots of reading done, but more likely will spend the whole time staring out the window. Apparently the scenery is stunning for most of the way. Back in the 80s, I rented a car in Hampshire and headed to Wales, thinking (as I looked at the map) it would take only a couple of hours. Eight hours later, I arrived in Harlech, punchy from fatigue but gobsmacked by the landscapes. I was not prepared for the beauty of Wales, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again, but this time letting someone else do the driving.

All the typing I do has given me an occupational injury. I've been having a problem with my left ring finger and went to the medical centre at the university yesterday to hear that I have "trigger finger." I actually have to straighten the digit out each morning with my other hand, and it's become quite painful. The treatment - a cortisone injection which I'm booked to get next week. Of course it comes from repetitive motion, i.e. typing, but there's not much I can do about that, except maybe stretching the hands from time to time...and getting cortisone injections. Not typing is not an option.

By the way, here's the link to Nancy's auberge in case any of you are interested in an authentic and unforgettable desert experience:

Friday 4 February 2011

Windy Night in Norwich

It was windy night in Norwich last night, waking me up a couple of times as it howled and rattled the metal roof across the way. It’s the windiest it’s been since I got here, and I really love it. Makes me want to be out on the moors in Bronte country listening to it whistling in the gorse. No mention of storm damage when I checked the Eastern Daily Press this morning though. I also woke to the sound of an owl hooting softly but distinctly outside my bedroom window. Always a good sign.

Yesterday was a day of social stimulation. Nancy had invited her friends Mike and Susie for lunch – but they insisted on bringing the meal – spicy vegetable soup made by Mike and a delicious loaf of granary bread. They also picked up from Marks and Spencers a strawberry trifle with custard and whipped cream - one of my all time favourites. I desperately wanted to taste it, but knew I’d end up congested and feeling miserable. Mike and Susie have a smokehouse up on the North Norfolk coast and have just bought a catamaran to take their grandchildren out on sails around the broads. They invited me to come with them when the weather gets warmer, and of course they didn’t have to ask twice. I can’t wait. That’ll be one of the destinations I’ll make on the train with my bike.

After they left, we got ready to have my friend and classmate Thea and her husband David over for dinner. Nancy had invited her friends Vanessa and Andy to join us but they had already bought tickets to  a flamenco guitar concert at the Norwich Arts Centre. They came for a drink though and were able to stay and meet Thea and David. Even though none of them knew each other, they seem to have lots of friends in common. Andy was involved with the development of the publishing program at UEA in the 80s, one of my modules for this semester. They’re all extremely nice and very interesting people. David is a lute maker and he and Nancy had a long and esoteric conversation about the similarities between the lute and the Moroccan gimbri. Tomorrow night we’re invited to Thea and David’s for dinner to meet a couple of artists and who lived in St. Ives during the sixties. Nancy doesn’t recognize their names, but they'll likely know lots of people who lived in St. Ives around that time when she and Anthony were there.

A seemingly lazy day, although I’ve got to get through Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth by Monday. Funny how curling up with books for a whole day can make one feel guilty – I have to remind myself that I’m actually working.

On the first weekend in March, I’m going to Wales to visit my long-time friend, Frankie. She has lived in Llandrindod Wells for about 18 years and I’m looking forward to taking the train from Norwich to Shrewsbury, then getting on the “Heart of Wales” train line to Llandrindod. Frankie says it takes longer than going straight to Hereford and then being picked up by either her or Tony, but it’s the first week of reading break, so I’ll have lots of time to read on the train and not worry about getting back to Norwich for classes. The student discount I get on rail travel makes me want to do more, and I'll regret it if I don't. Given I’m not far from Scotland, I’d love to go to either Glasgow or Edinburgh and listen to some good pipe music.

Yesterday, Nancy said I should have a better work space in my room, so we got a table top she had stored away and we laid it across the little table I’ve been working on since September. What a difference it’s made. I got so excited I took a photo, and it’s the only one I’ve taken for a couple of weeks now, so had to include it here. It’s now almost midnight and the wind has picked up again. If I can stay awake, I'm going to read a few more chapters of the Robert Graves autobiography.