Monday, 19 October 2009


I have been here two weeks (or is it two months?). So much has changed, to the extent that I am strangely nostalgic for my pre-Cambridge existence. It feels like a watershed moment, in the most brilliant way of course. I am surrounded by extraordinary, strange and wonderful people, from the computer science student with enough screens to take over the world to the English students with rooms full of arty photos.

I have been doing singing, rowing, I might be directing a play soon - in short, Cambridge fulfils the the standard expectations (not that there is much standard about the place). The terms are ridiculously short, so everything happens more or less at once.

There are dozens of stories to tell already, but for the moment I think I will let a former student at my college sum the place up far better than I can:

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The end of waiting

So on Saturday I'm off to Cambridge, after what has definitely been the longest September in recent history. I got back from France on the 12th, and have spent the intervening weeks doing some university reading, seeing some friends, "getting things ready" - in other words, not doing very much. Now I'm about to go back into an intensely academic environment, and am wondering how it'll be. I'm hugely excited, of course, but writing an essay after an 18 month gap is going to be an interesting experience. On the plus side, the books on the course seem to be really interesting.

The thing that most struck me, as I started reading books for study again, is the sheer vastness of the knowledge and talent that's out there - in a sense it's very intimidating. You wonder how you can ever make a significant contribution to what has already been said or written. But it is also reassuring, to find that people think in ways similar to you, and come to the same conclusions. After a year (or more) out of this world, I'm quite looking forward to getting back in.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I write, often,

and yet often have a sense of not saying anything important. I read what other people write, the magical things they do with words, and despair. Strong word, yeah, but it gets it. (I can't do it there's no way I can ever manage something like that why even bother). That's the sort of thing. But then I grandiosely imagine myself as the doctor in Camus' The Plague - and keep on at it anyway.

Started the week in Paris, a place I had never really seen beyond the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc etc etc. So I went for something else. Time with friends, for a start. Two startlingly different people, with different rhythms and tones. The first was a Sunday, languid speech and slow-moving grace. The next a Tuesday, crackling with the joy of things to be done, a face turned always towards you. Between them, a day spent finding new things - the impossible grandeur of Napoleon's tomb, the twisted streets conducting the laughter of students. This was the Left Bank, after all. Some clichés are more than clichés. I found the obscure medieval French book I needed.

There was glorious sunlight as well.

Friday, 4 September 2009

A late night

It's not my fault, I tell myself as I hold my glass of Poire Williams and stare at the bookcase. I can't choose what words remind me of. Like the fact that "cul sec" takes me back to that cramped Peruvian disco, the smile and the closeness which was oh so much much more than camaraderie I thought. Hands running across my forearms.

This a classic French family evening. Laughter in the car, a posh restaurant enjoyed without self-righteousness. The open, unpretentious way of these people. The realisation only now, as it always is, too late, that writing is all that makes me happy.

Friday, 28 August 2009

One of those very rare days

where fortune seems entirely on your side. Friday, the last day of the Tower Poetry summer school I was at in Oxford since Tuesday. Cloistered away in Christ Church, hardly venturing out, the 14 of us (aged 18-23) had intensive workshops, ate at high table, and found a magical space to write.

By Friday, I had work I was more happy with than I have been for a long time. My mind is so over-active at points that I can't get calm enough to write. The workshops reminded me how to do it, how to forget the mad rush we so often are in. I read four poems out this morning, amongst those of the other thirteen people. The other problem I have is that I constantly tell myself I'm not as good as those around me, that I'll never measure up. It's a competitive streak which can be if all writing, or people, are only there to be judged against.

After that, by chance, I met some friends of friends, poet-types I'd heard about before . Had an aimless ramble through London, an aborted trip to the Poetry Cafe, and was exclusively happy. Nothing mattered but these unique, fantastic new people. One of those very rare, very perfect days.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

London again

yesterday, and it was alive in the sun. The fullness of the light gave Trafalgar Square back something of its Imperial glory, and Covent Garden's cobbles might, for a second, have been in Italy. The explosion of sunglasses was strange and uplifting - and gave my Liverpudlian friend a sadly too positive view of the climate. As I got the train back home from Victoria, the sun showed me family-constructed cricket in suburban parks, railings climbing concrete walls. It also showed me 4 kids sitting on swings, on a patch of tarmac in Croydon. I couldn't help but think of The Wire - though I hope their lot is better than that.

I don't think I've mentioned The Wire on here before. I could easily launch into the sort of paean that you'll find in The Guardian or lots of other places, but I don't want to get caught up in that. So I'll just say that it is an extraordinarily impressive, exciting and real TV programme, and that everyone should see it.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Se remettre dans le bain

is how they say it in French, which I have mostly forgotten. Getting back into the swing of things: re-experiencing slow days at home, eating just because I'm bored, summoning the energy to write, watch a film, go to the gym, do something.

I increasingly believe that the most worthwhile things that you can do with your life are 1) help others, and 2) create something. If you can help people by creating something, so much the better. I know that my only vague talent for creation lies in writing, so I then wonder whether that can help people. I genuinely think that it can - there is, after all, a lot of truth in the phrase "we read to know that we are not alone". For me, the best moments when reading are when I find an idea, a phrase or a line that resonates with something within me, be it an experience, a feeling or a belief.

I hope that whatever career I go on to have (and I have made no decisions), I can achieve those two things I mentioned.

Anyway, I am relearning how to pass the time, seeing friends, writing (or trying to write) poems, watching films. Tomorrow I'm going to the theatre, and will take the opportunity to rediscover London beforehand. For now, I have to go pick up my new bike. Another thing which makes Cambridge a bit more real.