inside the Baroque brain: the best of all possible worlds

One of the things I’m always told people like about this blog is the personal aspect, what someone once called the “literary girl about town” element, the hilarious anecdotes about me juggling folders and kids’ PE kits and overdue books from the Poetry Library, on 3-bus journeys to a ridiculous litany of destinations culminating in my then-hilarious-job as Publicity Officer for Tower Hamlets Housing. (Alison Fell: “her talent for fiction will come in handy.”)

Well, that job was a million years ago – wait, that one pre-dates the blog, but things were equally surreal when I was writing here – and the kids have grown. I mainly resisted the Julie-Myerson-style disclosure thingy, except to write a very carefully worded piece about – ahem – Julie Myerson, but we got through most of the teens…  the Baroque kids are total class, but like most great things they needed quite a lot of polishing. The particular Urban Warrior in question is now a highly responsible adult of 21, commuting from Tottenham to Mortlake like a true Prisoner of 2nd Avenue, or what my old grandmother would have called a real trouper. The show must go on, you know, and he has cheerfully shouldered it all. Uni starts up in a few weeks again and there will be sighs of relief heaved all round.

I don’t envy anyone being a teenager these days, except of course the teenagers who are doing really well and have the whole thing sussed. Mlle B is one of those, but even invincible she managed to get her handbag stolen in Spain this summer, at 3am when she was there with three friends for a week in a rented apartment… (turns out all the mums agreed to it because none of us thought anyone would actually rent to them!) That’s 3am after my first day in my new job, btw, so I arrived for Day 2 an hour late, on three hours of sleep, completely distraught – and the new handbag I bought her the following week in Topshop – real leather, please – has already broken. HELLO @TOPSHOP! £55? Yes?

Mlle Baroque, by the way, has just informed me that as soon as the GCSE exams were over she and her friends destroyed their books. This in answer to a request to see her poetry anthology, to see who wrote the Salomé poem she liked. (Was it Carol Ann Duffy?) They had a bonfire. She didn’t even get to burn hers, because she had chucked it in the bin at her dad’s the minute the exam was over. “Duh,” she said in response to my mild perturbation… (However, she’s now reading Jung.)

And of course the Poetry Library has started charging for overdues. It was, literally, too good to last. I have an overdue book, and I know it, but when I will get anywhere near the South Bank is anyone’s guess. I shoulda known better!

The fact is that there have been a great many things going on in the Baroque life, not all of them the sort of thing one wants to write about. There is an aged elderly aunt – actually an old friend of the family – who is a source of simply insane amounts of worry and a sort of depression. Someone – her defecting penultimate friend, in fact – told me to look up Diogenes Syndrome. I did. According to what my mother has told me over the years, she’s had it since she was about 20, oh how we larfed. But of course at 82 it begins to look a bit more serious. Lord.

Well, and there are other things, you know it isn’t easy in this world. I firmly believe that we are put here to be with one another, that love (I know: corn alert) is what we are here for. I suppose my Welsh minister forebears would have said it was divine  love, and service, and maybe that’s it: a sort of service within one’s life, or something. But love, the kind that is an action as well as a feeling, a commitment to something in yourself, a trust in something outside yourself, the ability to crowd-surf your own living room, is very hard to come by and is, I feel, perhaps not really the English way, among men born in the 50s and 60s? Certainly one is beginning to understand how one’s aged aunt could have fallen into such a predicament – even though rationally, of course, there is little parallel, as I have always been very orderly and lucid and a good cook.

Loads of people have told me – older women, I should say, have said – that life really does begin at fifty, that the forties are horrible because you are torn between the needs of all the other generations and supposed to be managing everything, and at the top of your game, and there’s not much in it for you. I can relate to this, with the one proviso that, professionally at least, the recession ate the top of the game, and now I’m just working bloody hard for less money, but lucky to be so after most of a year of unemployment, and with a truly ace workshop group and a year of prosody evening classes ahead.

And I have just ordered seven issues of Cyril Connolly’s Horizon magazine from the 40s, and will be sending a cheque tomorrow for two more, and am putting together in those odd little moments I get – you know – what will I hope be an amazing Issue 5 of Horizon Review. I’ll be doing it with lots of help from wonderful people, who inspire a sort of flooding gratitude, really. I wish Connolly had never said that stupid macho-boy thing about the duty of every writer being to “produce a masterpiece” – which it is widely agreed that he didn’t – when so very plainly his great life’s achievement was his masterpiece, plus his wonderful criticism, which remains both readable and more worthwhile than most reading matter even today. I’d be happy to achieve as much. I hope to be bringing Connolly’s spirit directly to bear – if not actually employing Madame Arcati to invoke his shade for advice – on Horizon Review. (This week marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Blitz in London, and while I won’t say we are in a similar immediate situation now as when Connolly started his magazine, I will say we are in dark, scary days, which are anathema to serious, involved art. Yes, more of everything is getting produced than ever before, etc etc etc. Are we getting more out of it? Let us see. All I can do is try to provide a conduit.)

Generally, thinking about poetry a little bit, but trying not to think about anything too much, to be honest. It all comes out in dreams anyway. Freelance clients, in small number. Essays: my Line one to come soon in Stress Fractures, ed. Tom Chivers, proof in my handbag to be marked up on the tube this morning. Beginning to mull over this Sherlock Holmes fever… My manuscript, tediously once again full of out-of-date poems for a now-apparently-previous love object, as if I were some stupid teenage girl or vapid TV actress who didn’t know what she wanted in life, is with the publishers, awaiting some minor edits. Due out next spring. I should be Voltaire by then.

A stress fracture, by the way, is not a nice thing. Reader Simon Gladdish tells me he has one, and I’m still suffering a bit with last year’s sprained ankle. (To say nothing of continuing fallout from the gallstone debacle, which may be partially responsible for my current state of acid reflux, pills, discomfort, distress, etc.) (Having said which, I do really want those black suede wedge-heel Chelsea boots from Bertie. They’re sure to help with my stomach, right? And my heart.) I have been having the babies-in-swimming-pools dream again, which readers of Me and the Dead may recognise. I had it in vivid detail the other night about a young person of my circle, not my own, in response to changing and uncertain relationships. It was very long and detailed. (Being able to put it in those terms makes it no less vivid or scary. Water’s water, you know.)

Further on the plus side is my big cream leather handbag with the lovely pockets. It holds anything, and matches my coat. My yellow pleated purse, with the big silver balls to close it. My lovely acrylic nails, which are so wonderful and are tapping these keys e’en now. My charcoal wool-nylon-cashmere scarf, which is more like a blanket, really. The memory of my five days away the other week, with a houseful of wonderful people in beautiful rainy Norfolk. My haircut. Lipstick.

Yes, it comes to something, doesn’t it. Rhett says to Scarlett, in the final scene of Gone with the Wind as he’s leaving her: “Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.” Well, never at any crisis of mine have I failed to go get a new lipstick. The one I got the other week is quite strange, very fifties, matte – & maybe too summery, now the weather’s changed. A more flat, orange red than my usual. (Wait, guys! Come back!)

Well, there you go. Inside the Baroque brain. A scary place, some have said, aye, and not one you’d like to be lost in for too long.

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