Happy New Decade! 2020. While I always celebrate a new year, the prospect of a new decade leaves me simply awestruck. A ten-year span? That’s room to breathe, to think, to grow, to imagine; to create and recreate. In ten years’ time, anything could have happened.
Last month I wrote about a Japanese measurement: handheld. Having not thought about this in ages, I revisited it again. Handheld—simple, small, intimate, caressing. It reminded me of my netsuke, a gift, an afterthought really, bought for me in an antiques shop in St Anton, Austria, from a proprietor who momentarily eyed me, weighing the odds. Was I the rightful owner?
“Fancy a cuppa?”
The first time I heard that was from an English friend, who had to say it twice before I realised she was essentially asking me if I wanted to take time out for a cuppa tea and, as she would say, “a chin wag.” (I found it so easy to fall in love with English colloquialisms.) Obviously, over time, I learnt that you never take tea on the run. In fact, there is an entirely separate entry on the menu of almost any decent English café or hotel entitled “Afternoon Tea,” which, if you don’t know already, involves thinly sliced sandwiches, scones (with jam and cream), and of course cakes. (This is where every British pastry chef cuts her teeth.)
Cicero observed in the first century, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Does what Rome’s greatest-ever orator believed still hold true today? A garden and a book – everything I need?
Well, maybe. Gardens, and flowers in particular, have been brought into sharp focus for me recently. In one of the two manuscripts I am attempting to complete, it was pointed out that the small and seemingly inconsequential, but recurring, details about geraniums in the story might be important…
Recently, someone asked me what it felt like to participate in the FT Oxford Literary Festival, and someone else what it felt like to have Off-Island on the cover of the Bookseller, a British trade magazine reporting on the publishing industry. Cringeworthy came to mind. Cambridge Dictionary defines cringeworthy as “making you feel very embarrassed.” Why, I asked myself, does just the thought of being self-published, of paying to appear on the front cover of the Bookseller, make me feel uncomfortable?
I love the sunlight in May, especially here in England where grey is the default colour of the sky. For some reason, at this time of year (perhaps because there’s more light), when glancing up from my kitchen table or breezing past the dresser on the upstairs landing, something will catch my eye: an artifact, an object from my childhood, or my father’s life or even my grandmother’s, and I am still for a moment, remembering—dinner tables, conversations, banging doors, birthday candles, gifts and wishes.
In this part of the world, spring means finally getting to venture out of doors, after a dark and relatively cold, remorselessly grey, winter. I’m not sure what came over me this spring but having thought about it for many years—like that online course in financial management from the London School of Economics that I still haven’t signed up for—I actually did buy myself a pair of underwater, or at least waterproof, earphones for swimming. Before now I’d somehow failed to get the job done—too many other pressing issues. Who really needs waterproof headphones for the pool? Who needs Debussy while doing the Australian crawl?