Monday, April 2, 2007

on the rocks

I have been to the Smoke again. To London, I mean, but I have also been at the cigarettes. I have a love/hate relationship with both, although the real grande affaire is with cigarettes. It’s just a blip, I’m not taking it up again, by order of the doctor who has convinced me of the real risk of dropping down dead of a stroke or heart attack if I do. I did think for a while, and decided to choose life. It’s just that once in a while I have the urge to dance with death. I have talked about this before.

I stayed with my daughter. On the plus side it was good to spend time with her alone and experience afresh the revelation of her unfolding character and unique loveliness. I also had the new experience of sleeping on an airbed, and surprisingly comfortable it was too. I recommend it as a cheap and storable alternative to the futon. My daughter's life has been rocky just recently. Sometimes things are like this. Amongst other things, she was assaulted as she walked home one night in one of the supposedly “nicer” areas of London, a stone’s throw from the underground station. She was wrestled to the ground by a man who wanted, presumably, (it wasn’t clear) her mobile phone, and she fought for several minutes until someone else appeared and her attacker ran off. Apart from a graze she is unhurt, but these things leave their mark, need processing and leave a shadow on the landscape and in the body.

It is not just my thin skin, nostalgia for 1970s and the fact of living in the country that makes London feel so alien to me. There is an edginess everywhere, more people are on drugs and not in a fun way. The rich/poor divide feels more dangerous. The bijoux little whitewashed houses with flowers blooming on the trellises are bang next to council estates where there is gun-crime and drug trafficking and we all cross our fingers and hope it will go away or at least not touch on our lives.

Back in the sticks, of course, it’s spring and everything is fine in the garden. Isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

I won't bore you, but I am at my keyboard now in tears. It has been that kind of day and your post was beautiful. Beautiful in that it felt like. . . an important conversation. From the blip of smoking to the air mattress, to your daughter (I was stuck by "the shadow" that is left).

I fear my skin is too thin.

Reading the Signs said...

goodthomas, a friend is who is staying in my house at the moment said to me, "the week of Palm Sunday is often difficult." I don't know why she said it, nor do I particularly understand or connect, but when she spoke it felt like part of the "conversation" - of which your response is also a part, and for which thanks.

The Moon Topples said...

RTS: Having primarily a love/love relationship with both smoking and London, I was nonetheless moved by your post. The things you say are always so true.

I felt much safer visiting in London than I do at home in Chicago (there's a decent chance I actually was safer, I suppose), but know all too well how suddenly these things can change.

I live in a rich/poor neighborhood and can relate to the unease in the air. Walking through my neighborhood at night, past a wine tasting party visible through the windows of a newly rehabbed condominium and then past a woman on the same street who could be forty or seventy, and who I've seen near the drive-through of a local fast food place begging for change on more than one occasion. It feels as though one (or both) of them is wrong somehow.

There is some quality to your writing that I wish I could take apart and see how it works. There is a gravity, a density, a something that never fails to catch me.

I hope you keep writing forever, and that I can keep reading for some portion of that time.

I'm all italics and praise tonight. I guess I'm just trying out new ways to say how much I enjoy reading your blog.

On a more trivial matter, I have solved the collective noun problem to my satisfaction, and done up a post explaining my conclusion. Hope having your name be a link and the first three words of the post will make up for my not including you in my litany of vaguely insulting-sounding quotes from other bloggers.

Sorry to blather on so long. Once again, you've set me off thinking about things.

Reading the Signs said...

"I hope you keep writing forever" is a lovely thing to find in comments. Thanks for this and all the other things.

And oh yes, you have found the answer. No shadow of a doubt. Now why didn't I think of that?

nmj said...

hey signs, i enjoy your writing more & more, i'm with moon, you have a quality that is hard to pin down - & i am horrified at your daughter's ordeal & hope she is okay.

Reading the Signs said...

hi nmj, good of you to say so - and if it's true then I wish I myself could pin it down and get down to something substantial - as you and Ms Pants have done.

My daughter is ok, thank you. Too much been coming at her recently, but she's fit and strong, thank god.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi Signs, can I echo others' words about your writing? You evoke emotion so beautifully. I love your description that these things leave their mark, need processing and leave a shadow on the landscape and in the body. The body holds these experiences for some time, without our knowing it often. I wish your daughter well x

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs - best wishes to your daughter and I am very pleased she wasn't hurt. I'm so glad someone else has noticed that London is developing a vicious streak. People think I imagine it but living with it day to day, you see its corrosive effect more and more. Whether it's the malicious trashing or people bumping past you in the street as if your very existence is an irritant to them, it all contributes to a feeling of powerlessness and irrelevance. I don't care what anyone says, if your sense is you have no control over your environment, you feel like shit.

Thanks for the mench btw.

Reading the Signs said...

hi Ms M - yes, and one of my very favourite book titles is "Written on the Body" by Jeanette Winterson. I would have got the book for that alone.

Reading the Signs said...

hi Ms Pants - I wonder when it turned and why. Drug-related crime is obviously an issue, but life there seems to have become too hard altogether. It's shinier but nastier is my sense.

Gael said...

I hope your daughter has a speedy recovery.I'm slowly coming around to the awful realisation that you never stop worryinfg about your kids - and mine are still only 8 and 11. Being a professional northerner I had somewhat of an aversion to 'London.' When I moved darn sarf, ostensibly for lurve, I declared to anyone who would listen that I would not be venturing down the A12, never mind penetrate the M25. The North Circular is still just about my limit by car, a recent trip to the dizzy depths (mixed metaphor?)of Wanstead resulted in a parking ticket. I have a rather bizzare disposition that means that I am often quite ill with nerves at events that I really want to attend. Life is one long chain of forcing myself to do things. But force I do, and generally things are getting better. I adore trips into town now, so much so that I've just racked up 3 visits in 10 days, which is a personal record. A student discount is a powerful motivator, and also a passport to whole new worlds, if you can just make yourself take that step through the open door. Touch wood, I've not had a bad experience yet, and being of the Yorkshire Ripper generation, I am extremely wary of being anywhere urban on my own after dark. I'm afraid life in the 'burbs is just as dubious, a good friend of mine is a copper and our part of the Suffolk borders (Estate agent speak for North Essex) is awash with drugs and louts, despite the facade of pargetting and Willie Lott's cottage. You just do the best you can, try your hardest to be as nice as possible and hope that Mrs Do As You Will Be Done By is watching. Unfortunately most of the time she isn't ...

Reading the Signs said...

gael, thanks for the good wishes, I'm afraid you definitely don't stop worrying about them, you just have to pretend you don't so you don't drive yourself and them bonkers.

I connect to the idea of forcing oneself to do things. Sometimes it's the only way to overcome fear or, in my case, the idea that one can no longer do certain things. There is (for me) a cost, but it works.

Yes, life in the burbs and the sticks also has its dark side and it's perhaps all too easy to paint a black picture of London.