As the snow in London slowly turns to slush and ice and the schools re-open their doors to pupils, I’m looking out at the garden and a host of robins feeding at the birdtable. Not in Mortlake this time, but in Holland Park where I’m house sitting for some friends who are away in search of sun in Spain, but who seem only to have found tornadoes and rain.
Over the past 12 years I’ve spent a good deal of my life in this beautiful, quiet backwater of the metropolis. The mosaic kitchen table from which I write this is the same table on which my first published work was written. The gorgeous dining table in the next room has hosted dinners for authors, for my radio station colleagues and for friends aplenty. The house is replete with the ghosts of fine evenings, good friends and girls I’ve loved and lost. It is something of a spiritual home for me; a sanctuary of calm domesticity and I consider myself truly fortunate that the owners are friends enough to trust me with the responsibility of looking after it.
It was from here that I set off on Tuesday, westward, for the interview about which I’ve written. The roads were still icy but the journey was wonderful. Bright sunshine reflected from the white fields and hills the length of the M4. Red kites soared in the clear, blue sky overhead in search of food. It was one of those journeys when the radio isn’t required, the glorious views and one’s thoughts alone more than enough to sustain one’s mind. Despite the journey’s reason, I was calm, not nervous as I’d expected to be. This was to be my first formal interview for a job in over twenty years and although the previous night’s sleep had been interrupted by furious note-taking and marshalling of ideas, I felt that I was up to the challenge, that I could give a good account of myself and that I could clearly explain the plans and ideas I had for the offered post.
It would be foolish to give details but I will say that it was a pleasure. The festival team are a delight and the Board were courteous to a fault, probing in their questions and discharged their responsibilities with impeccable professionalism. It was an honour to make the shortlist and whatever happens next I have no doubt that the Festival will benefit greatly from their vision and commitment.
The journey back was somewhat less pleasant. Half an hour into it the snow began to fall, and fall, and fall. And then it fell quicker and thicker until the carriageway was reduced to just one lane and all I could see were the taillights of the lorry ahead. I’ve driven in some strange and tricky circumstances all over the world but this was horrible. If I could have stopped safely I would have done. The small knot of cars and lorries that we were crawled at no more than twenty miles an hour and cautiously left huge stopping distances between each of us. The slightest movement of the steering wheel would send my car into a slow and graceful 360 degree spin before pointing the right way again and continuing. Scary barely covers it. Oddly, once near death had been avoided, it became the sort of challenge that becomes a fun experience, a pure adrenalin rush that ended with the elation of arrival home, exhausted but happy. And three hours later than expected. But the question “where were the gritting lorries?” on this important and busy route still troubles me. Should any of my unknown compatriots of the road ever read and recognise this scene, I say ‘thank you to you’ for your caution and safety.
Now I just have to wait. There’s more than enough to be getting on with, of course, but I am finding myself staring out of the window more frequently than usual. Thank goodness for the robins.