So I’m trying, badly, to describe steampunk and I come across this picture of a ‘Victorian computer’, dressing-table mirror attached. What a perfect present for the steampunk enthusiast, or anybody who, as they’re brushing their hair (50 strokes a night, so Nanny always said) has a sudden thought. In my mind’s eye I can see brilliant, furious Jane Carlyle, wife of the irritating Thomas, fingers darting over the keys, a small, sharp reflected gleam in her eye.
The man who runs our corner shop retired this weekend. For the last sixteen years, we’ve seen him or a member of his family practically every day. He was there every time we locked ourselves out; he was there when an unexpected three feet of snow stymied my attempts to get to hospital; his chocolate disks have nourished the children’s bodies and souls. And now, after decades of getting up at 4.15 a.m. to provide newspapers, milk and the random necessities you always forget – washers, lightbulbs, shoelaces, bicarbinate of soda – he’s gone. As we wave goodbye to him, I glance down the street and realise that I’ve known the lady in the cleaners for twenty-four years. She calls me Mrs. Grant; I call her nothing because I don’t know her name and it seems a bit late to ask. She’s seen two of the children born and grow up. If you don’t move house often, and we never move if we can help it, you accumulate folk who are neither friends nor acquaintances, but are more like a leg or an arm. When they retire or move, the sense of loss is not sharp, as it is when somebody familiar dies, it’s wistful. The service or shop continues yet nothing is the same until, of course, you realise that the new proprietor, always known as ‘the man who’s taken over from Mr. …’ has actually been in situ for twenty years and is on the brink of retirement himself.
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be at the final of the international Kids’ Lit competition, this year held in Edinburgh. Seven teams had made it through some pretty fiercely fought heats, if the West of Scotland heat was anything to go by. For children’s writers, it is a glorious treat to see the grim warning ‘no children read anymore,’ so flatly contradicted. These children had read the old classics; they’d read modern classics; they knew their fabled places and their first lines. They whipped through the questions on ‘steampunk’, a genre I’d never even heard of, with confidence and aplomb. I felt quite left behind. The competition was won – just – by the City of London School for Girls, whose speed on the buzzer and brilliant recall of every book they’d ever read was a wonder to behold. Well done them, and a great big cheer for Wayne Mills, the indefatigable quiz master, a man who knows his stuff with a capital K H and S, and whose enthusiasm for children’s literature made me sing all the way home.
The answer is that both impart a rather smug feeling of virtue. I am basking in this feeling right now – dentist induced, not confessional. Post dentist, I also find myself asking what on earth induces people to make a career out of other people’s bad teeth? And do people really choose to be chiropodists, or is it some kind of cry for help?
Deciding which book covers should be top-of-the-site banners is difficult – although that’s not true for the de Granville trilogy, for which the Puffin (UK) covers and the Walker (US) covers are more or less the same. But for the Perfect Fire trilogy, there’s a real difference, so should I put up the lovely Quercus (UK) covers or the glamorous Walker (US) covers? The Walker covers currently grace the top, with the Quercus covers in the books section. I swither …
Similarly, here’s the Alice O’Neill illustration down the side of the blog not as silhouette but as cut-out.
So many beautiful things, so many delightful decisions to make.
By the way, Alice also does brilliantly eye-catching cut-outs of people’s houses. So much more dramatic than paintings or photographs, a cut-out captures something about a place that other representations miss.
So here we are in our new place on the web, and it feels very nice. I’m also in a new place at home in Glasgow. Some readers will know that I write in what used to be the meat-safe, right at the bottom of our old Victorian house. It’s got no heating, which is useful since it’s hard to nod off. Hooks used to hang from the ceiling. I removed them after a while. Tempting in the wrong way, particularly when things aren’t going too well.
About a month ago, laptop under arm, I ventured upstairs into our drawing room with its fiery Carnelian walls, painted bookshelves, motley sofas and piano. My husband, astounded to see me prowling about (astounded to see me at all, perhaps) and nervous for a room in which he takes some pride, set to and created an old-fashioned writing desk by the window. Now although, sadly, I still look as I do in the photographs to the right of this blog, I actually feel like the lady below.
This is my summer persona. In the winter I’ll retreat to my meatsafe where the cold may be intense but, I fancy, keeps me as well preserved as the bits of sheep and cow whose place I have usurped.
Posted in Blog
Tagged husband, meatsafe
I have a new website, and here it is! I shall post properly over the weekend, but rather like a new dress, I just want to slip into it and see what it feels like …