How do you start a conversation with someone on a bike? I can’t remember the first time I noticed him or anything like that, but for the last few months I’ve been passing the same guy on my way to work, going in the opposite direction. After a while of treading the same path every day at roughly the same time, you can’t help but begin to recognise people. You see them more often than members of your own family. There’s a woman who always wears lovely dresses; we recently started acknowledging that we have come to recognise each other by exchanging smiles. It’s nice. There’s another woman who I wish would smile at me – she has great hair and big headphones, I like to think we might be friends, but she has yet to reciprocate. Either she is just too cool for school or she has no short term memory.
Bike Man definitely recognises me. Smiles have been exchanged. But it’s difficult to detect the tone; does he also imagine stopping his bike long enough for one of us to invite the other to breakfast? (one day I will be very late to work and that will be the reason). Who knows? I have a pretty active imagination when it comes to these things. My friend says I sound like a romantic comedy, wherein there is a montage of us passing each other in different seasons and weathers – summer dresses and t-shirts are replaced with winter coats; umbrellas and sun glasses come and go; there is a plinky-plonky Wes Anderson-ian soundtrack playing over it. (I didn’t say it was a good romantic comedy. More ‘You’ve Got Mail’ than ‘When Harry Met Sally’.)
Difficult to know how best to advance. I don’t think I’ve ever even introduced myself unsolicited to a man in a pub, let alone on the pavement. It’s logistically tricky. There are issues of road safety to consider. And almost as present as my vaguely felt concern that we might become another lost connection, is the chance that he will one day stop but turn out not to speak any English, or be really short. Excuses? Yep. Something-something-fear-of-rejection? Probably.
My new favourite thing to do is walk around listening to old movie theme tunes on my headphones. Strolling home from work and blasting The Big Country while I go through horrible Broadmead makes everything seem a bit more epic. It’s (slightly) easier to imagine that the evening sun is glinting off some vast canyon, rather than the side of Primark.
Moon River comes on as I cross through the Bearpit (a glorified central reservation for Bristol’s busiest roundabout, and home to those of no fixed abode) - it lends the whole thing a certain romance usually lacking, despite the best efforts of Bristol’s graffiti artists. As I approach Stokes Croft, the soaring notes and thundering drums from Lawrence of Arabia suitably reflect equal parts exoticism and a vague sense of threat, depending on the time of day.
As is the case in many cities, the higher you go, the nicer it gets. While I climb the hill towards home, it seems appropriate that the beautiful Georgian houses, built with fortunes earned from the slave trade, come into view to Scarlett’s theme from Gone with the Wind.
I have to keep stopping myself from throwing my arms wide and twirling dramatically around lamp posts. I highly recommend it.
On a related note, on the train back from London yesterday I saw a man wearing a t-shirt from the Before The Dawn concerts that started at the weekend, and I wanted to both quiz him about it and trip him up in roughly equal measure.
If you can’t be bothered to paint behind the fridge but nobody can see it, did it really happen? #diy
Wiltshire is damn nice. (at Whatley Manor)
“Perhaps we are too ready to draw on the balms of the past rather then seriously address the dilemmas of the future.”
“When asked how he achieved this effect, Maxwell likened the reality of what he wanted to express to ‘polished stones underneath the streams you can see from the surface. You don’t necessarily have to pick them up, but you can see some hard substance underneath the flowing water of the words.’”
I’ve never really managed to come up with a proper explanation for what it is that I love about a certain type of American fiction, apart from “IT MAKES ME HAVE FEELINGS”, but it might be something similar (though less eloquent) to this. The description immediately (predictably) makes me think of Raymond Carver, and - to varying degrees - others from my list of favourites: Steinbeck, Richard Yates, John Cheever, Sylvia Plath, and more recently Annie Proulx and Lorrie Moore. What the writer says about landscape also goes some way to putting these feelings into words.
Partly as a result of my life-long love of American literature, lately I’ve been noticing a gap in my English education. It’s not completely one-sided. I did a lot at school. I have so much love for the Brontë sisters. My brilliant A Level English teacher, Mr Buckley, allowed us to choose between Chaucer and Emily Dickinson, but my classmates outvoted me, those bastards, so I was forced into that one (not bitter at all).
Anyway. To try and address this imbalance, I’ve started with a ‘classic’, Middlemarch, but Eliot is so far from what I’m used to that I’m almost having to re-teach myself to read. Whereas Carver is from the Hemingway school of not telling you a fucking thing, Eliot spells everything out for you. I’m finding it incredibly dull. You can’t really compare the two, but the experience is making me think about what I read and why I read it in a way that hadn’t fully occurred to me before. Obviously it’s important to leave your comfort zone from time to time, and I intend to persevere (I’m pinning my hopes on Celia). But when Friendship, the new novel by (American author) Emily Gould, landed on my doormat at the weekend, I seized it and am in danger of finishing it far too quickly. The same cannot be said for Middlemarch.