Gosh, but it’s a been a while, eh, readers? Over the last year I had various blog “pangs” urging me to fly back to these pages and drop down a word or seven of current thoughts and opinions, but – goodness, there’s a piano lesson to give, a PhD book to read, and a toddler toddling toddling toddling through the living room in danger of eating a polystyrene letter “W” that he has flagrantly ripped from his Toys-R-Us alphabet floor jigsaw. Indeed, my absence from these pages since January 2015 has been felt deeply by me. It might have been a relief for you, however, but HERE I AM. Betcha missed me.
Now, this not a blog about becoming a piano teacher, or becoming a parent, but it is a blog about this frustrating, beautiful, over-priced, laconic, wildly compelling city whose skies shelter us. Clearly, I could talk to you about my caesarian scar but it wouldn’t be appropriate. Instead I shall labour on the beauty of Aldwych, Virginia Woolf, the loneliness of the long distance PhD student and London from the view of someone pushing a rice-caked encrusted buggy through the tube.
Firstly, I remain here. I mean, I can still live here, clutching on for dear life through the leaf-strewn outer suburbs of the metropolis. For how long, God (or my mortgage broker) only knows, but there is a sense of sliding out – or off – from the city as our family threatens to outgrow our small patch. Nevertheless, I see still being here as one of my greatest achievements, alongside: 1.) Being the first person ever to step onto the Somerset House Ice Rink fifteen years ago, immediately falling down and ending up with a photo of this event in the Evening standard and 2.) Living in London for 22 years and never once going to M&M World. Secondly, during my first 10 years in London I refused to travel by bus. I thought that the bus was for saddos and the tube for the sexy people. I now realise the tube is shit as our 15 month old son is frightened of it, sulks and sits in the corner kicking idly at the paintwork from the buggy and refusing to smile at his fellow commuters (can’t think where he gets it from….), and buses are Things of the Gods. They have special doors on the back for the oldies / unemployed / disabled – and buggies. And apparently going up the Finchley Road whilst facing sideways and staring at red brick houses and cross people standing at other bus stops makes small children deliriously happy.
You know what makes me happy? Coming to terms with the inescapable fact that I have to read a lot of spatial theory and philosophy in order to have the tiniest clue what my PhD thesis is supposed to be about. Yep. Makes me delighted and delightful in equal measure. Also makes me prone to rattiness and gin drinking in the evenings, when instead I should be reading about nineteenth century views on the developing field of psychology. Oh, do me a favour. I just wanted to read books, do a thesis and then get an earnest and slightly fabulous job as a lecturer wearing excellent 20 denier hosiery and drinking Bar Italia house blend in my University study, salivating over the prospect of a public sector linked pension and the fact that the British State is paying me to read books. But in order to do a literature-based thesis, I have to know so much about everything else. Lots of everything else. All everything else. And for the first time in my life, I am being really, intellectually pushed. And this is where Virginia Woolf comes in. Because she always does. Because we won’t let the poor cow rest.
You’d think that no one else in the Fitzroy Square area had ever written anything between the wars. The entire sections of early twentieth century literature shelves in our best bookshops think of “Modernist” writing as four words : James Joyce Virginia Woolf. And that’s it. I am not one to deny these two writers their genius, but there are so many other neglected scribblers from this period. Virginia Woolf is, sadly, not content with being dead. She has reared up again, as an enormous, characterless building at the Aldwych end of Kingsway, and she is the new home of the Kings College Arts & Humanities department. It is known as “VWB” – The Virginia Woolf Building. Junior lecturers and students send emails to each other about “coffee in VWB” and “Post-Colonial Reading sessions in VWB”. Virginia Woolf isn’t going To The Lighthouse. She’s going to the Comparative Literature department for a supervisor update session so she can check her Facebook on the University Wifi. An eerie waxwork of Virginia Woolf sits in the lobby area, shrouded by glass. She appears to be sitting in a tiny, wooden train compartment, and looks like she’s desperately trying to escape in the direction of the VWB Ground Floor Coffee Station.
This is where I go every four weeks. I love my supervisor there – I really love her. She knows precisely how to stop me being a twat, and how to lead me in the right direction in my research, yet never tells me implicitly how to do this. Instead, she lays a map, steers me along the library shelves and pathways, until I find myself exactly where I need to be (always a surprise, like waking up accidentally at the right tube station) and turning around amidst piles of papers and half-drunk mugs of Nescafe, suddenly proclaiming “Aha! Yes I see! Aha!” like some ghastly, mad-haired, sleep deprived Alan Partridge. I am always asked questions in my supervisor sessions. I never know any of the answers, but I am beginning to realise that might be the point. I did not realise this for the first two years, however, and just thought I was being an idiot.
I was the only person who rocked up to my PhD Freshers week five months pregnant, waddling past those trays of plastic cupped wine I could not drink, in a Dorothy Perkins maternity dress thinking :”What have I done this for?” Everyone else on my course is putting the “fresh” into fresher – young faces, bright with determined, academic clarity, just down from Oxford, each aged about 14 and three quarters. Even though I had stilton in my fridge older than some of my contemporaries, I felt a strong mother hen influence to protect them. “Ahh, bless”, I would think, as they took some group discussion of critical reading incredibly seriously in the first week, banging on about Russian Formalists and impressing each other by showing off that they knew how to pronounce Ferdinand de Saussure. The mother hen instinct evaporated as soon as I moved into the third trimester, and I grew to hate them, but hey, that’s hormones! By January I was a bus, a charabanc, a wide saloon veering majestically down High Holborn in the eighth month of pregnancy, constantly looking for somewhere to have a bitch about Wilkie Collins and a wee.
I took six months off for maternity leave. During this time our son exclusively slept so I busied myself with knitting him cardigans rather than reading Mary Elizabeth Braddon novels. I came back to the PhD in September, and mercifully glued the stagnant sections of my brain back together, and got the muscles up and running again, feeling as if the epidural had numbed my head instead of my spine. And now, eight months further down the line I might actually have a plan. I might – just might – have a first chapter for the upgrade panel – a rights of passage through which all M. Phil students must pass to become PhD students – which I need to get done by September. And I will get it done by then – not because my supervisor says I have to but because the longer I take finishing this thesis the longer I have to pay for the bloody thing. Knowing I had to come back to it after maternity leave plugged my brain in again. I am so grateful I got some of it kick-started before I had a baby. Would I have had the energy to commit to it afterwards?
So, the blog is back. And it’s lovely to be writing it again. I hope you will continue to read. But, be patient with me; updates will not be at the regular time of every Thursday, as they were for three years. They will be intermittent, and on a variety of subjects I hope you will enjoy. The Reading List will be updated shortly with my recent reads and I’m looking to get the Bluebird Short Story Competition up and running again. London, as I have discovered, has not gone anywhere. Neither, dear readers, have I.