Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Boat Race Cometh

Yoda, Covent Garden Market
So I'm in central London, bitterly cold weather - the worst for 50 years. Even so I can't help noticing the City's unique signs of seasonal change. Yoda floats above Covent Garden market, tourists gather in front of the Tower of London and Bikram Yoga is everywhere.







Tourists, The Tower of London


     We writers crawl out of  hibernation full of excuses about family commitments, writers' block or even, 'promoting my novel'. As a change from The Bear & Staff, our group grabs an impromptu meet-up in The Old City Arms pub, hoping its scalding scarlet paintwork can stimulate fresh energy. We like The Old City Arms - it nestles under Hammersmith's splendid bridge. On Easter Sunday it's going to be packed to the eaves for London's famous Oxford/Cambridge boat race; today it's a snug, 'beer and sausages' sort of place.


The Old City Arms

     Everyone's brought an exercise, something that's worked for them as a creativity jump. Dan's got a great one: to get one of your characters to live and breathe, you write a dialogue between the two of you. Put to them all the difficult questions about their ambitions, desires, feelings about the rest of the cast and everything that happens in the plot. Be a foul, pushy chat-show host, be a toddler, be a seductive lover. We all have a go, timing the exercise with Ruth's phone, which trumpets like an elephant every ten minutes. It's a riot; Dan's characters are psychopaths, Rob's hero has every female in the pub cringing and Ruth's time-travelling witch  plants a dose of hemlock in the real ale.

     I'm working on a short story for submission to Ether books. The hero, Alex McBride, is a veteran of WWII, and I try to taunt him into coming out with something romantic. He growls, 'What's an old codger like me got to remember? That stuff's filth, for scoundrels and moaning Minnies...' That's me told, then.


'I Remember Very Well' 


      As usual it's Ivy who produces the best creative stimulant, knocking the rest of us for six. She's made a Simnel cake. She puts it on the table, and tells us that traditionally, servant girls went 'home to mother' on the third Sunday in Lent, known of course as Mothering Sunday. They would take a Simnel cake, baked under the guidance of the cook, a sign of their growing skill in the kitchen and an early version of the Easter bonus, as it were.

      The Simnel cake, rich in fruit with two layers of almond paste, was topped with preserved fruit, flowers and other girly things. The word Easter does, after all, derive from Eostre, that gloriously fertile Saxon Goddess of Spring. During the Victorian era, the planetary riches were ditched for eleven marzipan balls, supposed to symbolise eleven of the apostles (Judas doesn't get one).

      'I think it's because the girls were returning to Mother Church rather than to Mum indoors,' Rob objects. 'That's what our parish priest used to say.'    

     'Well,' Ivy retorts, 'he would say that, wouldn't he?'

Ivy's Gift to Mother

Don't let them tame you!
Isadora Duncan