Where are we?
Battersea Park. Timing is everything and my timing is not good. Just before the lockdown began my decorator neighbour started redecorating my flat in Streatham. I moved out to escape the smell of paint. I moved in with a friend who lives on the other side of the river (the smell was very strong!). I was once told that if you catch a mouse in a ‘humane’ mouse trap you need to release it on the other side of a river if you don’t want it making its way back. I am a mouse who doesn’t seem to have found its way back – yet.
What are you working on?
Poems about ghosts and an article about Louis MacNeice in London. The ghosts come with me to Battersea Park and that’s where I write about them. MacNeice gets read and written about in my friend’s office. Sometimes the ghosts and MacNeice and London get all mixed up. When I am not looking up at the light through the trees or writing the odd word in the park my favourite thing to do is to watch other people’s dogs. I used to have a border collie and I dream about getting another dog. A collie would be unsuitable for a small London flat but a dachshund? Sometimes the ghosts travel back to the office – ‘lifting a receiver warm from the ear of a ghost…’
What’s that over there?
A dachshund – MacNeice described them as running like centipedes – I am studying this one to see if they really do. They are funny.
What’s that sound?
A siren. My friend’s place overlooks Chelsea Bridge. Throughout April we watched as ambulances rushed across the bridge to St Thomas’ Hospital. The experience seems to have left me with a heightened awareness of the noise. The London traffic has now returned but I still hear the sirens all the time. Even in the park I can’t escape and now I wonder if there are more of them or I just notice them more.
Time for a break…?
Last year I had an operation on my spine, recovery has been achingly slow. I am trying to get stronger. I do stretches every morning and short bike rides in the park. If I enter the park at the Chelsea Gate there is a long drag that’s downhill and it lets me feel I can fly or at least still ride fast. When I try to cycle back up I am reminded that I can’t. This weekend my youngest daughter intends to squeeze me into one of her wet suits and take me wild swimming…
Was there a particularly enlightening moment during the Summer School?
You know how it’s always said that it’s the people who make a place? Well, by the end of the week I realised that’s true. I hadn’t been to the place but I had met the people. I was very apprehensive about what virtual would be like. It was exhausting but it was also a lot of fun and very serious. By the end of the week I felt I’d been away. Not being in a place I wanted to be has made me think a lot more about a sense of place in my writing.
On the last night I asked Glenn Patterson to describe what the Centre was physically like. He did it so vividly that I feel sure I could now find my way around the place. He also talked about Belfast and I’m really keen to visit as soon as I can. Meanwhile I’ve had to adjust to being back from not having been away.
Now that the Summer School is over, what's next for your writing?
I came away with lots of ideas of what I wanted to read next. I enjoyed the lectures about poetry at the Summer School and I’ve been reading ‘The Art of Voice’ by Tony Hoagland and ‘The Heart of a Stranger’, an anthology of exile literature edited by André Naffis-Sahely and Anne Carson’s ‘Men in the Off Hours’. During the Summer School I had a very enjoyable and inspiring one-to-one with Susannah Dickey so I’m really looking forward to reading her novel ‘Tennis Lessons’.
Time has also been spent collecting and ordering the ghosts for a pamphlet. I’m not quite ready for an exorcism but maybe I should start to think about it.