Monday, May 09, 2005

word up: feasting on discontent
I’m writing again. And, more to the point, I’m thinking about writing again – not thinking about writing in a manãna kind of a way, but really thinking deeply about the shapes words form. Which means, I think, that I am unhappy but about to be productive, perhaps even – dare I say it – prolific? Previously I have been unhappy and dry (in a writing rather than drinking sense) or happy and unfocused (I rarely feel like writing when I’m happy – usually I’m too busy being happy), so I’m not pleased to be unhappy, but sort of excited.
I can tell I’m unhappy and, unfortunately, so can TA; it was the unstoppable tears at the weekend that gave the game away. Why am I unhappy? For starters and main, I am not acclimatising well to the new living arrangements, not at all well: loud voices, constant singing practice and a clash of lifestyles does not a happy badger make. For seconds and pudding, on Friday I spoke with the management team in the US – they are making two editors redundant and I almost wished it was me. And here’s the cherry, Friday was also TA’s last day at the muppets – it seems they couldn’t transfer him to the badger project after all – although he might be offered work there in the autumn, so it’s back to the single-income slog and the pressure that it brings. One more wafer-thin mint: of course all that stuffing is bound to cause one to feel a little heavy and I do, which is increasing my unhappiness. Last week’s three day trip to the Isle of Wight did wonders for my stress levels but played havoc with my waistline – I quite literally ate all the pies while being egged on by a mother, who I am convinced has serious food issues of her own. TA is weight training again after a three-year hiatus and after only a week is noticeably buffed up. Bitter, me? Not to be outdone, today I have brought my running gear with me. The arduous hill climb to fitness and well-being started yesterday with a walk from chez Badger to Marylebone – across London SE to NW, along the river and through snaky backstreets.

“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,”


One good thing about the new flat is the way it is encouraging me to see London anew, a new walk to work, new faces, new buildings. Surely ever Londoner, even every visitor to London, develops a relationship with the Thames. Mine began many years ago with school trips and deepened when I moved here in a Dick Whittington way. Recently back from spending nine months in Greece teaching, I was sleeping on a friend’s floor and had only two or three days to find a job before I would need to return to the Isle and admit defeat. Overwhelmed doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. I went to the South Bank and, sitting on a bench, stared across at all the buildings we mean when we say London – the dome of St Paul’s, Westminster Palace, BT Tower, even Centrepoint. I walked past the Coin St development and Gabriel’s Wharf down to the Oxo Tower and decided that yes I could do this. In the five years I have lived here, the London Eye and the Gherkin have imposed themselves on the skyline but the river – ever mutable – seems unchanged and eternal. And since I am of that inclination, the Thames floods my imagination too – “Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song” I recite to myself as I walk under Southwark bridge.

“I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.”


TA told me, but only after the event, that on Saturday while we were in town he saw the saddest thing he’d ever seen. There was a man holding two bags, clearly homeless but not unkempt, not yet beyond caring. He put down the bags and in one there was a half-eaten sandwich that he’d, probably, picked up from a bin. The man tried to eat the sandwich but TA guessed it was stale and inedible because the man stopped eating, fell to his knees and was wracked with sobs. It is hard to describe what happens to us, what changes us and why Londoners don’t stop, never ask "what’s wrong?" or "can I help?" Perhaps it’s the sense that some sorrows are beyond our means to help – certainly that’s what TA said stayed his hand – or perhaps the sheer number of people in need of help.

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