A Short but Sweet Tale from the Reading Room…

June 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm (Uncategorized)

I know I promised you New York, but I hope you’ll forgive me when you realise the reason for the interruption. Long-term readers of this blog will know that one of my dear blogosphere friends is LitLove, the formidable intellect, prodigious reader, prolific writer and all round good egg behind Tales from the Reading Room. We have been reading each other’s blogs for several years now, becoming as firm as virtual friendship allows, and today – just now, in fact – we met in person. I’ve just returned to the British Library having escorted LitLove to her train; she made the ultimate sacrifice in chronic fatigue terms by making the trip to London from Cambridge, all to spend under two hours with me.

Originally I had planned to make the trip to Cambridge myself, but we’re in the midst of such a savagely exhausting battle with the Touring Toddler’s sleep patterns that the thought of going anywhere is enough to make me weepy, so when Litlove kindly offered to come to me, I leapt at the suggestion. And a good thing, too, as last night I was up until after 5 am – awake for the first birdsong of the day – and just travelling across London in time to meet Litlove felt epic. 

Our faces simultaneously split into the widest grins when we came face to face for the first time. I had already done battle on the library’s restaurant floor, finally victorious in my bid for a booth overlooking the magnificent glass-enclosed collection, which rises through the centre of the building, a spectacular tower of knowledge starting below ground and disappearing through to the floors above. Litlove approached from behind, a thick pillar hiding me from view until she was suddenly there, standing beside me. We knew each other instantly as we’d each seen photos of the other, but it was still a psychic, aural scramble catching up to the unfamiliar sound of an otherwise totally familiar voice, for here was Litlove, someone whose writing voice I know so very well, whose speaking voice I was hearing for the very first time – wow! The same but still somehow different YOU!
I now have an urge to ask Litlove if she experienced the same pleasing, slight recalibration of identifiers – for voice is now an additional feature that I know her by – and if she thinks my voice in person matches my writing voice… don’t you think it’s interesting to wonder? I have met blogging friends in the past (hello Woo and Fugitive Pieces!), but I don’t think I thought to ask them about this aspect of the experience; perhaps it’s a conversation we can all have in person another day.

It’s really delightful and unusual to know someone so well when meeting them for the first time. I was able to articulate more to Litlove in under two hours than you’d think possible, I guess because we’ve already shared so much in writing. There are also conversations with friends that are specific to whatever pathologies you share, which underwrite the relationship in some fundamental way, so that in this instance, for example, I was able to talk easily to Litlove as another incurable scribbler, even though it’s a topic I instinctively tend to avoid with people who don’t write. When people are mad with it, whatever their own ‘it’ is – call it their heart’s desire – there tends to be a fear that other people won’t understand, blessed as they are in their freedom from affliction, so in the interests of passing for some version of normal, many of us keep the extent of our personal obsessions under wraps. But it is just wonderful to unburden oneself to someone dropped so irretrievably in the same ink-well. Things that I know sound bizarre or unbearably pretentious or melodramatic or absurd to others, I felt entirely comfortable saying aloud to Litlove, and I think she to me. It’s enormously soothing to have such a crazy-making, vexing enterprise in common, because sharing the sickness always makes me feel ever so slightly less insane – and much less alone with it.

So here I am, alone again but feeling much, much more buoyant than when I first dragged myself to the shower this morning, my feet leaden and my red raw eyeballs aching in my skull. Litlove and I hugged each other goodbye at the station with a warm affection that leaves me feeling full again. Looking across the mezzanine to all those antiquarian volumes displayed in the enclosed column is helping too. Books and book people. Damn, I love ’em. Thanks, Litlove.

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Greetings from Old London Town

June 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm (Uncategorized)

Over a month since my last post and over a fortnight since we arrived in London… this might be a bumpy re-entry into the blogosphere, too, as I am feeling a little frayed around the edges. The really good news is that today I finally – after visiting what feels like every single fucking Apple store on the planet for reasons too dull to explain – caved in and bought a wireless keyboard for my iPad. I had failed to bond with the device and it probably goes some way to explaining the lack of posts; if I’m going to forego a pen it turns out I must have keys – some sort of tactile engagement beyond touching the screen. However, I shan’t waste this precious window droning on about technology – let’s try to get somewhere, anywhere, in terms of telling you about this trip.

We have done an excellent job of bringing rain to previously drought affected areas everywhere we’ve visited since leaving Sydney – and that includes all the domestic travel of our month-long road trip. Even Coolah and Dubbo – notorious dustbowls – managed to turn on the taps during our stay. Despite inspiring even the Sunshine State to abandon its famed fair skies for the duration of our stay in Noosa, still nothing prepared us for the onslaught of precipitation that would greet us overseas.

Hong Kong celebrated our arrival with an early start to monsoon season. It’s extremely hilly in the Central area in which we were based – so much so that covered outdoor escalators service commuters from top to bottom – over a distance of several kilometres – heading down during the morning rush hour and then heading up for the rest of the day. We were staying right by the escalators so became intimately acquainted with their often slippery operation; I loved travelling on them – the elevated aspect over the streets below turned up otherwise hidden gems daily – but just as much I enjoyed observing the steady flow of human traffic the escalators shift each day. They are a slender yet constantly swollen vein of activity coursing through that section of the city, affording one the ability to slide effortlessly (sometimes literally) down, down, down each day toward the frenetic heart of Hong Kong: its spectacular harbour, near to where the escalators end. And at day’s end, during yet another deluge, it was always a relief to be delivered safely to the top again.

One thing Hong Kong is not is pram friendly; ours was carried up the three flights to the apartment upon our arrival and there it remained until we left. I think I saw one pram on the streets of Central in the four days we were there, and I had to ask myself who would bother – it would be a hell of a place to negotiate with a fully loaded buggy in tow. But without the pram, Llew was forced to carry the Touring Toddler on his shoulders for much of the day, so in the long-term I really don’t know what we’d do. Those resident in the city must have solved this riddle – and I suspect the answer is hired help.

Hong Kong confirmed for me what Shanghai so strongly suggested: I really love the urban Chinese. They’re so… so civilised, blessed with an unforced sophistication that really puts most of us to shame. Perhaps it’s the way that a sense of ceremony is brought to even the most simple task – such care is taken. China has such an ancient and fascinating history, and I think it must affect the national psyche in some deeply embedded way. Certainly there is pride, but not in that really revolting, brash, hostile display we see too often elsewhere. Not so far as I’ve seen, anyway. This is much more a quiet confidence, the way the truly stylish just exude personal style without ever screaming about it. The Chinese people I have met on these two trips just are cultivated, it seems entirely natural to them, and it affords them a pre-possession I admire.  It’s true that I have thus far only visited places in China where the West has played some role, but both trips left me feeling much more “New World” than Europe has ever done. The elegant, easy composure (perfect posture to boot) of the average urban Chinese always makes me feel like a clumsy oaf. My cheeks still burn recalling my realisation outside a gorgeous antique gallery that my water bottle had spilled right through my handbag. I stopped just short of entering the gallery, dropped to my knees and began messily fishing everything, sopping wet, out of my bag. Flustered, I then dropped the bag and the entire load, including loose tampons, promptly rolled off the step and onto the footpath. The most beautiful, immaculately groomed lady glided across the gallery’s floor, opened the door to me – poor wretch – and proffered not only tissues but a warm invitation to enter, wash my hands by all means and enjoy the gallery at my leisure once I was done collecting my things.  And it’s that kind of unfailing, unstinting hospitality that has made a far deeper and more lasting impression than even my own self-consciousness, and I very much look forward to returning to China and seeing more.

So much more to say about the countless charms of Hong Kong, but I keep glancing at the time, panicking as those pesky grains of sand continue racing out of the hour glass… We have to go out in an hour and I know I’m going to run out of time if I don’t love you and leave you now… if only you knew what a frustrating exercise in time-wasting the majority of this hard-won toddler-free day has been, you’d know how keenly I wish to remain here, spewing words, arse glued to the chair. But perhaps you’ve heard enough for one post anyway – yes, I imagine you have.
The next stop was New York, so brace yourself: it’s going to take me a while to get over that. It was my third visit and all it did was make me want to live there more than ever before. And that’s saying something.

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