I’ve been working hard recently on my not-so secret project, spending much of the weekend reading, writing and revising, until my collaborator and I sent our proposal in on Tuesday. So rather than waiting patiently (aka constantly clicking through to my inbox) for the email telling me this is the best project in the world and everyone would like to publish it, I went off to London to meet up with two of my finest writing buddies. You need these if you spend most of your time on your own in front of the computer, and I always think there’s a little magic in the air when you find the right ones. For me, liking cake, an ability to write in strange places, and the willingness to explore are the essentials.
Some of the highlights from our ‘writing date’ included listening to a brand new song outside at Somerset House (together with a little bit of whale dancing, but to truly appreciate that that you had to be there), and finding a HUGE rather grand table to write in at Two Temple Place that we made totally our own.
As usual, I had brought enough work for five days, and ended up writing something completely different and new. It never fails to amaze me how writing outside my normal writing space brings fresh thoughts to the page. And the joy of taking notes of all the small things I see, a notebook full of thoughts, and ideas, and sights.
Extract of a letter from van Gogh to his brother Theo:
Daubigny’s garden, foreground of grass in green and pink. To the left a green and lilac bush and the stem of a plant with whitish leaves. In the middle of a border of roses, to the right a wicket, a wall, and above the wall a hazel tree with violet foliage. Then a lilac hedge, a row of rounded yellow lime trees, the house itself in the background, pink with a roof of bluish tiles. A bench and three chairs, a figure in black with a yellow hat and in the foreground a black cat. Sky pale green.
I offered my students this paragraph above from a letter from Van Gogh to his brother recently, and asked them to do journal portraits of places using solely one of the other senses – taste, smell, touch, hearing. So here’s my taste portrait from Wednesday….
The lemon and ginger tea tastes full of colour. It’s like a grandmother’s cold medicine, the ginger warms up my mouth at the same time as the lemon sparks it. And I catch the unmelted bits of stilton from the broccoli and stilton soup quickly so I can collapse them on my tongue. They taste like Christmas, like Samuel Pepys, who might once have dined in the exact same spot when it was a grand house, or round the corner in the Devereux Arms when it was a coffee house. The soup tastes like gout and ruddy faces under too tight wigs, but nicer. The salad like a mouthful of green bird feathers tickling my mouth. Later black coffee in a white cup and saucer wakes me up. I feel it pummel with a hundred fists as it slips down my throat. The cold tap water is a spring day, and I drink it like a dog who knows what food is best for him. Outside at Two Temple Place there’s a stall selling Egyptian Street Food: rice and pasta base, beans, a tomato sauce and then dried fried onions. We take paper bowls inside, eat at the window seat, and spoon mouthfuls of death masks and the small bottles of kohl buried with a teenage girl and wooden coffins and jewels and adventurous women who refused to conform into our mouths. We say ‘it hits the spot’, and we feel a little cuddled by this food. The other Sarah says that ‘sometimes you don’t know what you wanted to eat until you get exactly the right thing,’ and we know exactly what she means. Before the play, I sip a glass of Merlot that’s so rich it’s like the glass is lined with fifty pound notes, and which takes me to a log fire, a knowing that I’m in the right place, and dreams of moving to Paris to write and talk and to always being just a little full of potential.