This is an article about seeing, being, writing even when you're not writing.
Writing While Driving is Legal
First thing I have to do the school-run, so the writing goes on hold. Leave just after eight, over to Park House, drop the kids off, drive back in heavier traffic. I'm sat down at 08:40. NOW I can write. That's forty minutes lost from my life forever.
40 minutes. 48 words. Nothing happened. My life is empty.
Let's try again.
Every morning I do the school run and it takes an average of 45 minutes. Today I'm in the mood to write and I don't want to stop, grab the kids, put them in the Mini, go up the lane, come out at the top where it's dangerous (two years ago we had a serious crash there and wrote-off the car) and head for the jams. One and a half hours every day WASTED, no other word for it. In a week I lose 7.5 Hours, effectively one full day in an office, sheesh! I drop the kids off and pass a bag of football shirts to my son's soccer coach. Off go the kids and I spin out, get 100 yards before I am in a long queue of people-movers and 4 x 4s. I get home at 08:41, flick on the kettle, throw two pieces of bread in the toaster. I am miffed, frustrated that every day I lose all this time. I feel sorry for myself. Did Shakespeare have this problem? Did Dickens?
177 words. Not much ever happens to me except driving this damn taxi.
Now let's do the school run as a writer.
Oh, I so don't want to drive the kids today, but Debbie has a real job and I am only a writer.
Usually I'm up at six, but last night I went out and then wrote until 0200 so woke at seven or so. I'll delay until the last minute.
(The kids get edgy then and think they'll be late for school. BUT THIS IS ME. I'M MAKING A STATEMENT.
They are fighting again, but relatively low-level, low enough for me to not step in. I'm amazed how hurtful they can be.
They getting to a crucial age. PJ is just growing hair, muscles, attitude (and Jeez is he strong)...
Bridie is a young woman and that kind of frightens me. I hate that when I cuddle her I have to be "careful".
I'm on the internet, no, not wasting time. I send out some urgent emails, post some flash prompts for my writing group, log some stories that have come in. I can smell toast (isn't it an amazing smell? Aren't smells amazing? I can still picture our scruffy kids' kitchen, Mum, toast cooking, (often burning) and porridge flupping on the stove.
Time to go, only a couple of minutes late (but the story-logging was done, YES!) The front door is locked. PJ asks can he undo it. Thirteen years old and it's a big deal to open the front door. (He's also very nervous at night and has to lock the front door if I am out. He is neurotic about "being safe".
Mind you I was terrified of my house, scared shitless to be alone and sat behind the door with a poker nearby.
WHY? Exactly, why?
PJ is thrilled, by the way. Last night, while I was at Bridge (my once-a-week escape) he was promoted to County swimmer. My first reply is "Not National, then?" but he knows I'm joking and that I'm proud of him.
He's so sleek in the water. He just is natural, but doesn't (yet) work that hard at it. I am going to have to sit down with him and Deb and discuss the effort required, the time in the water.
When Alex tells me this I'm thrilled for him but have to think of Bridie who tries her heart out but just doesn't have his raw talent.
And then again, how do I one day, tell PJ he will never be a professional footballer?
There is a pile of purple football shirts by the front door (they remind me of "Dream Team.")
First thing today I realised that PJ can't train with the club Saturday or play Sunday because we are away. It was our turn to wash the shirts and so I have to get them to the coach. Frantic phone-calls, problem solved, I can meet him at the back of the school (he's a dad too!) and hand over the bag.
PJ and I watch Dream Team every Sunday night at 8PM. It's our big "one-hour together" and we snuggle up and watch a giant screen.
I love him so much I am scared to die, scared. Not for me, but I think of him without me and it makes me want to cry.
I love Bridie equally as much but it's different, a different kind of love.
Later, maybe I'll think about that.
Purple shirts. Who decides to commit a team to playing in purple? The Pope? Or maybe they got a deal.
The Catholic Choir Boys United team folded!
I put the shirts against the front door because I'm forgetful. Not even someone as stupid as me could step over the shirts and not pick them up.
What's that called? Metamemory I think, where we actively learn techniques to prevent forgetting.
Yeah I did a psychology degree. I wonder where all my student buddies are now? I know where John is: John who was hit by a drunken driver with his fiancé and they both were thrown off a bridge. She died, he spent months in a coma.
He was a brilliant footballer, could have been a pro but he wanted to go to university.
Oh wow, the soccer at Uni!
I was never that good, skills-wise but I was strong and very fast and could run forever (I wish I was half as fast and powerful now).
John looked the spitting image of Steve McManaman back then and he could dribble, oh, could he dribble! Three times he "gave me" two goals in a game. Once I asked him why he never gave me a hat-trick and he said "Are you mad? You go loopy when you score. If you scored a hat-trick you'd never come back to earth!"
I remember once he banged a corner in, not an up-down loop but low and flat like Steve Coppell used to hit them. I dived forward and headed in at the near post, best goal I ever scored.
I went up the field like an orang-utan on cocaine (yes I'm red-haired, Welsh-Irish) with one of the other side chasing after me with my ruined spectacles.
I enjoyed Uni. I loved the work, ran the student newsletter, got involved in the debating society, was a student representative, played soccer for the department, learned photography and dark-room techniques, worked selling double-glazing in an office in a brothel, (don't ask) once delivered a suspect package for a VERY heavy Liverpool villain. Was loaned a Rolls-Royce for the weekend. Yay, times when.
Hell, better get in this car and take the kids to school.
We go out the back way. We live in a converted barn which overlooks a racecourse and just beyond, a canal and a river.
Behind us is a trout lake and a bird sanctuary (and there's the gravel-pit). I love this place.
It pains me to think we might have to move because my choice of a life as a writer keeps us (relatively) poor.
Poor? Hah! What a laugh.
My kids in a day get more than I had as a child. This isn't a dirty council house. I'm not a smoking, gambling, heavy-drinking father.
Debbie hasn't deserted her children.
PJ and Bridie will never end up in children's homes.
What I have now was beyond those clichéd "wildest dreams".
Enough of poor. Yes, we'll have to move "down", but we'll still have four bedrooms, central heating, telephone, broadband, good furniture, a nice address. It's laughable what people can sometimes call "distress".
If you are talking STRESS then that's a different matter.
Part of the financial recovery plan involved trading in the super-dooper company car (a BMW X5) and taking this little Mini-Cooper. Depending on mileage we could be as much as £300 a month better off. That's about a third of my monthly earnings!
Talk about obscene.
I thought I would hate losing the Beemer but this litte car is FUN and already I'm beginning to slag off "those 4 x 4 gas-guzzlers". Some people just don't care enough about the planet (unlike me, who drives a mini.)
I open the electric gates. Electric gates! We had to have them. We used to get deer in the garden every day and they eat anything and everything.
(Except, for some reason known only to God, Lavender).
Thinking about it, why didn't we just fill the garden with Lavender? That has to be cheaper than electric gates.
The gates open and we are out. The kids are NOT fighting. Note by the writing that this is a rare occurrence. I hate the way, not that they have sibling rivalry blah-blah-blah, but the constant nature of the mutual, subtle undermining, the bitternesses, their dirty war.
It makes me sad and is a major source of stress for me.
When we got the mini (days ago) I promised we wouldn't go up the back lane. I turn up the back lane.
Heck using the lane saves 15 minutes a day!
We pass the other houses. An assistant Chief Constable and his teacher-wife, a self-employed business man, divorcee with new girlfriend, a guy in computers, sweet, gentle wife, two lovely daughters same age as our kids…
Fuck! The gate is chained up.
Someone likes to chain the gate up. I can go 200 yards the other way and still go up the lane, BUT THEY NEVER ASKED ME.
So I get out of the car, unchain the fucking gate (one night I'm coming out with some industrial sheers, ha-ha-fucking-ha…), get back in the car and we are off up the lane.
On the left is the gravel pit workings.
The gravel pits near us were 'worked-out" years ago and we have two pretty lakes (one is the bird sanctuary) and a few reclaimed fields, heavily planted. Twenty years from now this will all be forest again. I wonder, thousands of years on will they be able to tell that someone took a few layers out from under the ground?
I read up on gravel, shale etc once upon a time.
There's something raw and primaeval about the history, of ice-ages, deposits, long-slow rivers, how once there were jungles, lush forests, and the slow drip, drip, drip of time.
The workings are rust-brown, not rusty but laced with a local dust-colour that looks like rust. Debbie is always complaining that our house is the dustiest we have ever lived in.
Over on the right are loads of Canada Geese. They seem to settle in this field most nights.
Did you know that Geese on the floor are a gaggle but in the air they are a skein?
I mention this to the kids (again) and they say "Yes, Dad!" (again.)
"OK, I say, name a part of you that exists and doesn't exist, and I don't mean 'hidden' like your tongue."
They don't know so I tell them. Your lap.
I sometimes wonder about things like "lap".
How many other things are there like this?
There are two deer further up the lane but they skip, skip then dive into the bushes. I don't remember what these deer-types are, but at night we get a different type, funny little things, about the size of a large dog, and they have big arses that stick up.
We get badgers, all sorts of rodents. There's a big owl, a wood-pecker and a big bird of prey, I think it's a buzzard.
It's nice here, very rural, yet only a mile from the railway station. (I am so deprived.)
This lane is hundreds of years old, might be thousands of years old.
After The First Battle of Newbury, the Parliamentary Army marched right by here (where we wait to pull out) after the so-called "inconclusive" battle.
They went on to Brimpton, Aldermaston (where Rupert attacked their rear), Reading, and then a hero's return into London.
It boggles me to know that ten thousand men marched past here, less than four hundred years ago, bloodied, relieved to be alive.
I can SMELL them.
We are waiting to pull out. On Bridie's birthday 3 years ago I went to pull out (another small car.)
I realised that a car was coming too fast. I stopped with my nose in the road, the car swerved, clipped us, crossed the road and had a head on. Because the energy was dissipated over three cars, nobody was hurt, but had he been two inches more to the left we would probably have been killed or seriously injured.
Had he been two inches more to the right, we would have been uninjured but then they would have had a head-on with no energy removed and the deaths would have been the other side of the road.
I shouldn't come this way.
The top road, when I do get out, runs past Greenham Common Air-Base, where the peace-Protest Camps were, where B-52s and Cruise Missiles were stored.
Is there not something heavily spiritual to think that pikemen walked across this common, then great weapons of destruction were stored here, now people walk their dogs or go jogging?
Can't you feel the dark, dark presences of it all?
Golf Club to the right. Money.
4 x 4s, old men with red faces and funny trousers.
Further on we pass new estates, Tescos, a Retail Park. This road is going to be impossible in a year or so. Why don’t planners plan?
Once we get over the roundabout and past the college (why am I not teaching creative writing there?) we pass the long line of kids walking to school.
It's funny seeing the ages, shapes and sizes, and the tiny rebellions.
The boys all leave their shirts hanging out and ties undone until they approach the gate where they tuck in and tidy up!
Seeing the older girls turning into women makes me so aware of Bridie growing and all the young-adult stuff we will soon be facing, all the angst and hormonal stuff.
I get to the school and meet PJ's soccer coach. Apart from my family I think he's the only person who uses my real name.
Most people call me Alex.
We stop and the kids get out.
The coach comes over. He's hardly recognisable in a smart suit, collar and tie. When I was a running coach I often met people I couldn't place because I'd only ever seen them in shorts and top.
My favourite line when meeting the prettier female runners was, "Never seen you with yer clothes on…"
Gary takes the shirts. We chat. The game on Sunday is in the afternoon against the side currently top of the league. PJ is desperate to play and I have to try (later) to negotiate an early return from our trip away.
I think about Gary who LOOKS LIKE he's a presence but he doesn't "command" by strength of personality.
The boys and they don't listen well. That is interesting. I should write about it some time.
I set off back. Now I'm in the jams which normally I avoid, dropping the kids earlier in both time and distance.
I am FREAKED about wasting time and I discovered I could save ten minutes twice a day by doing X.
Silly? No. 10 x 2 x 5 x 40 = 4,000 minutes = 66.67 Hours gained a year.
I can write 75,000 words in that time, a shorter novel!
Now decision time.
Should I stop off at Tescos, buy the Independent, something for lunch (but the time, the time!) or zoom home?
I pass some sheltered housing for "people with learning difficulties".
It's interesting how the euphemisms change.
Once we would have said "Mongols" (and some said worse) then Downs Syndrome.
Will there ever come a time when someone will say "We should not categorise them by inflicting the presumption of 'learning difficulties' " ?
I have to say I LOATHE "Political Correctness", but don't even go there.
I've just remembered the six weeks I did working with handicapped children when I was a mature student doing that psychology degree. That was a tough time and there were other complexities. I remember the director of the home taking me to a hospital to show me what serious handicap was like. It was vision that I've almost blocked out but was the most uncomfortable hour of my life and I felt ashamed, inadequate.
Coming back past the Golf Club, a range-Rover is trying to exit and the man at the wheel absolutely GLARES at me, full of hate.
I'm amazed. Is he sick, unwell, mentally ill?
I turn down the lane (no vehicles it says) and pass the Nature Reserve.
Oh I'm sorry, can't rain today, it just wouldn't be right. Ask someone else.
This "Nature Reserve" is a WOOD.
That's it. A WOOD.
When we were kids we just went to these places.
It's amazing how the countryside disappeared. Did we trespass or were there really hundreds of places you could simply "go"?
That's what I remember. Blue Bell wood, The Gollers, The Quarry, The Lighthouse, The Dingle, The Canal.
My recall is of freedom, not fences and No Entry signs.
What’s that song about a tree in a museum?
I went down into the Nature Reserve/Wood on Christmas Day with Debbie and the kids, and discovered "coppicing".
They cut down trees and encourage new growths around the stump.
You get thinner, more useful branches then. I found that thought-provoking at the time, then blow me if two days later on a walk in Buckinghamshire I found myself in another "coppice".
I had spent God knows how many years thinking coppice = copse, just another name for a wood, a small wood.
(Must look up coppicing on the internet.)
I had used the word "coppice" in a story in October, but then as a surname. I wonder why?
How the mind works!
Over on the bird-sanctuary lake there's a flurry of activity, some big sea-birds. There are some twitchers (bird-watchers) walking up the lane.
One glares at me (How DARE you drive a car down MY path).
That's the second time I've been glared at with hatred or near hatred in five minutes. Both times by red-faced middle-aged "country-types" both of whom look like they haven't had sex in a while.
Hello? IT'S NOT MY FAULT!
Almost there, I slow as I pass the end house because if I buzz the electric gates through the gap in the fence, the gates start opening and I save thirty seconds when I get outside the house.
A minute, four times a day, twenty minutes a week, 800 a year, That's 13.33 HOURS.
Obsessive. WHO's obsessive?
An obsessive writer would be one who switches the kettle on and then goes to switch the computer on, then goes out to put the tea-bag in and pop the toast on, then goes back to see the computer just coming on-screen.
You can write a paragraph before the kettle clicks an the toast pops.
A paragraph a day is seven paragraphs a week.
That's 364 paragraphs a year, 100 pages.
I wouldn't need to obsess like this if it wasn't for wasteful things like the school-run.
School-runs are an AFFLICTION.
They take away the writer from what matters, the real world, where important things happen, where connections are made.
The school-run is simply "dead time", damnit!