Massaging warm olive oil into my hands, face and legs, then wrapping in hot wet towels. To heal cracked fingertips, smooth hardened cheekbones, and soothe sore red skin irritated by too many layers of clothing. It is the Norwich cold. Standing on the bathroom scales and shrieking. I have acquired an extra five kilos in Norwich. It must be the cold. All the extra eating and yet feeling constantly hungry. All the extra chocolate to keep warm. I have never eaten this much chocolate before. Just when my friends are putting an end to their Lent chocolate renunciation, I begin mine. I put on a skirt and high-heeled shoes – oh, hello, I can see my ankles, again – to go to the theatre. I hide my rubber-soled, practical boots out of sight. I do not want to see them for the next few days. I also bury my green waxed jacket, large enough to accommodate the two thick jumpers I have been wearing over each-other for the past few weeks. I slip on my tailored gun metal coat with the black velvet collar, instead. I arrange a black beret on my head, pinching the edges to make them sharp, and pulling it down at a slant. Although it is very cold in London, I can risk exposing my left ear to the elements. There is no wind blowing in straight from the Urals to stab my eardrums, here. I dare take a peak in the mirror. Good. Well – better than the recent Michelin man reflection. As I walk up the Old Vic Theatre staircase, my step feels lighter than of late. Funny how too many layers of clothing restrict your movements and make you feel clumsy.
Two hours of wonderful, beautiful words and highly-polished acting. Henry Goodman is perfect as the proud Arthur Winslow. The Winslow Boy, by Terence Rattigan. If only I could write like that. No word out of place. Characters with layers and layers of conflicting motivations. “Let right be done.” It is easy to do justice but not so easy to do right. Inspiring words that send me floating back to Waterloo.
After Norwich, I am very aware of the London crowds and loud voices. In Norwich, even on a Saturday lunchtime on the Market Place, you do not brush other people. One night, about two weeks ago, in Norwich, I was walking home from a writers’ do. I walked for over half an hour without seeing a single human being. I had taken the wrong turning and was following a long, tree-lined road, unsure whether I was heading towards the Golden Triangle area – or Edinburgh. The wind bent the tree tops, and their dark shadows swooped before me, teasing my anxiety with threatening shapes. It began to snow. The kind of snow that blows into your eyes, nose and mouth, and finds its way in the nook between your scarf and your throat. In London and other cities, I have walked through some rough districts and felt more in control of my anxiety. As an urban mouse, I have developed a different kind of alert system. It is based on a split-second assessment of faces, body language, and on adapting your own bearing to the circumstances. On making yourself either larger or invisible. Here, in this empty street, I slid into panic mode. I feared I had lost my way. And the streetlights would be switched off for the night, soon. I pulled out my mobile and dialled a friend’s number, in London. “Please talk to me,” I said. “About anything. Just talk to me.” Finally, the glimpse of two human shapes by the traffic lights ahead. I ran as fast as my cold-constricted breathing would allow. Two women. I asked the way. They clearly viewed my terror with amused puzzlement. Like a child scared of things adults know do not actually exist. Later, when I recounted the episode, someone asked, “Why didn’t you just knock on the door of one of the houses and ask for directions?”
I stared in total bewilderment. Knock on a stranger’s door? At night? What planet is this?
One where there is still kindness, decency and where fear has not dug in its claws. May it never do so. A different world, worth safeguarding.
This morning, Langlais’ Messe Solennelle at the Temple Church. The first outing of the organ, after two years of restauration. A clear, proud, uncompromising tone. The choir voices, brilliant like diamonds against the stone pillars.
After the service, I walked towards St Paul’s, listening to its baritone bells fly towards Ludgate Circus.
To those who observe it, happy Easter!