Today I went into London, to have lunch with my editor (as you do). Yes, I know I live in London, but when you spend your life in the suburbs and don’t get out much, going into proper London is a big event. So one of the things you see in proper London is a lot of billboards advertising plays, films, books and investment companies. Today I saw a poster for Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book, and the comments recommending it included: ‘Heartbreaking’. This is supposed to make me want to read it? Listen mate, I have had my heart broken plenty enough times in real life. I don’t need a book to break it for me. Anyone who thinks the description ‘heartbreaking’ is a positive reason for reading a book, clearly doesn’t know they’re born. ‘Heartmending’ – now that would make me want to read a book. But such books are few and far between.
Have just returned from a fabulous retreat at St Cuthman’s, a beautiful 17th century house with enormous lake and gardens, where they don’t do anything organized but just give you a comfortable room, masses of lovely food and the run of an extremely good library. What they hadn’t laid on for me this weekend, but someone did, was utterly gorgeous weather all day for two days. All I did was sit in the sun in the garden (had to use a sunshade as it was too hot!) and read. Managed to devour two and a half spiritual books and one and a half novels. This could have resulted in spiritual (or literary) indigestion but didn’t, as I actually took them very slowly and kept stopping to think.
As a result of the thinking I also drafted three poems (well, I think one of them is more or less finished) which is more than I have done in the last four years. I think I need beautiful places and good books to write poetry.
I didn’t get actual indigestion either, despite the lavish food. Then on the way back I went straight to the Mennonite Centre where there was a delightful party to welcome the former director and his wife who were passing through on holiday. We sat out in the garden with candles in jars and had a great time chatting to various other old friends who had gathered to see them. We also gave them advance notice that we want to visit them in Elkhart, Indiana next year!
Now I have returned to almost 70 emails and a double booking for lunch. Am back pedalling furiously and trying to stop myself taking on lots of new and interesting commitments which I know I won’t be able to sustain. Even if I am not bipolar, my moods certainly behave rather like it…
Because it happened before I started my blog, I didn’t mention the intruder we had early last week in the middle of the night. Nothing taken as far as we could see, but the cat flap was smashed up and the pieces, bizarrely, buried in our herb bed, and son’s school bags were dumped on the lawn. We heard a noise about midnight, but thought it was just the cat or something falling out of son’s overstocked loft bed. Next morning we found the damage and also learnt that the neighbours whose garden backs onto ours (and whose daughter & friend had climbed the fence to visit us that day) had a full scale burglary with a bicycle and a handbag taken. Obviously the same gang.
Police were very helpful, taking fingerprints and even printing a crime leaflet, asking for witnesses, to be dropped through all the doors in our road* (what a wonderful thing computers are). We lived with an open cat flap for several days, delighting the cat, but also allowing ingress to a very bold fox – I went to the kitchen one night, hearing another noise, and spied fox standing just outside in the dark, staring at me with his eyes reflecting our light. I’m sure he’s been eating Pippin’s food as it’s gone down much faster than usual. However the Grouch has now put the new flap in, much to chagrin of both cat and fox.
He has also discovered that his digital camera is missing – which means that the intruder did get as far as the hall after all. I can’t believe he/they didn’t take my handbag full of money and credit cards, which was in full view. I feel very blessed that they didn’t, as it’s only 18 months since I had my bag snatched in Tesco’s car park, when I was at a very low ebb already. I guess they heard our voices upstairs talking about the noise, and scarpered with only the camera (which, sadly, had been a Christmas present from me to the Grouch).
Anyway, I only heard of its absence when I got back from my very quiet and relaxed weekend retreat at a beautiful seventeenth century house in Sussex that only does individual stays and not groups. In glorious weather I did a lot of reading, mostly sitting in the garden, a lot of eating hearty meals that I didn’t have to cook and didn’t even have to talk at (they have a silent dining room as well as a sociable one), a little walking and a little praying. All very therapeutic, and I even drafted my first poem for ages. The poem had a lot of colours in it, from the garden and the house: the garden apart from green is mostly purple, orange, pink and yellow, and the house a warm red which is even warmer in the sunset.
1) The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam who is my utmost favourite contemporary writer (I think this was a children’s book but who cares?) – the retreat house has a very impressive library with an excellent Jane Gardam collection. This one was all about what used to be called Westmorland, and made me want to go there immediately.
2) The Second Journey by Gerald O’Collins, a Catholic writer (it’s a Catholic retreat house), a very wise look at the process of entering the second half of life, and the changes in perspective we can go through at that stage – extremely relevant for me at present, and chimes in with much of what Richard Rohr was saying a couple of Greenbelts ago.
3) The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden, which I had bought in a charity shop some months ago and taken on holiday to Lithuania, where it got stolen on a bus (why? who reads out of fashion English novels in Lithuania?) when I had only read two or three chapters. The retreat house, bless them, had it in the library so I was able to finish it, and what a well written novel it was.
*the leaflets were to be dropped through the doors, not the witnesses…