On the weekend I spent a day with a friend who came up from London on the best of all possible days, the weather being warm and blue and gold with just the right amount of breeze. We sat outside on the terrace of a country hotel that used to be a convent, looking at the monkey puzzle tree and close-cut grass that sloped down to the lake with ornamental fountains, drinking white wine spritzers with cassis, eating Caesar salads with fresh prawns. There was a wedding party and we watched the guests gather on the lawn and considered the strange Queen Mother-style clothes that women wear for such occasions. There was one, though - a striking and very large dark-haired woman who wore a white trouser suit that made no apology for her size and clothed her beautifully. An added adornment was the shine of kindness on her face and in the way she accompanied a much older woman as she walked away from the party and back into the hotel. Watching her it felt, somehow, auspicious. But then, you know me.
My friend and I both used to live in Hackney, round the corner from each other, we belonged to the same women’s writing group. Our children played together and we saw each other most days. Being with a good friend means one can breathe more easily, properly inhabit one’s body and skin. She poured coffee straight from the packet into the cafetiere. We liked coffee and books and writing. The first time she heard me read my stuff she said I was possessed and I felt newly and exuberantly gifted. She too could write up a storm. I had M.E. then but I could still find pockets of strength with which to override it. It cost me, but really there was no choice, I had found the thing I wanted to do and I sat at the kitchen table in the late hours, in the early hours, and I did it. We published stories and then I moved here to the edge, we both did all kinds of other things, my illness became more entrenched, but whenever we met we talked about writing; about everything else too, but it always flows back, as a river goes to the sea, to the writing, the process, the notebooks, the others, the words, the writing.
After the Caesar salads, strong Americanos and an absence of cigarettes (we have both given up again), I spilled my misgivings about the formal, paid work I was about to undertake, how the small strength I had would be taken by it. Her judgement was swift and uncompromising. Don’t do it, she said. Life is too short and we are women of a certain age and must grasp it, life, the nettle or the thing that won’t be pushed aside, the writing. Sometimes it takes someone else to say the obvious and the road ahead suddenly rises to meet you.
The novel-racing, competition-hosting, good Mr. Moon has given me an Inspirational Blogger Award. So cloth-headed do I feel that I can’t for the moment figure out how to upload the nice badge thing so it appears where I want it to. But I’ll see to this and everything else because just now – what with the woman in white, the perfect advice of a friend, good words from a blog-pal and a very attractive black and gold award – everything looks very, very auspicious. Of course, there is always the possibility that I am losing my marbles. At present, however, I remain,
Reading the Signs.