OLIVIA GLAZEBROOK diary diary
Ihave of late, for the most cheerful of reasons*, been getting up early to work. All well and good — deadlines have been met — but now I can’t break the worm-catching habit. Long before dawn the eyelids flutter open and the brain begins its spinning machine whirl. I force myself to stay in bed until five o’clock, the point at which I consider a late night to be baptised as an early morning — or in other words, the earliest acceptable moment to switch on radio and kettle. As the World Service gives way to the Shipping Forecast I sit down at my desk, wondering whether I would be better employed as a postman or dairymaid, or perhaps as a teasmaid at the Today programme. Mark Twain (and this is my favourite quote about the business of writing) said that ‘the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair’. I hope he wasn’t particular about whether the pants belonged to a suit of pyjamas or trousers.
To wake so early without the aid of an alarm may be odd but the truth is, I love it. The violet plush of the trees; the promising glimmer of the sky; the ashen quiet of the street. I like seeing the paper boy, lit fag clenched between front teeth, bowl the FT overarm into next door’s porch. A particular pleasure is to witness a chance encounter between the earliest commuters and the latest of the night owls. One rainy morning a man on his bike was almost floored by the remnants of a hen party tottering across the road. As the cyclist slalomed between them the hens started up a tremendous clucking: ‘Where are you going, gorgeous?’ ‘What’s the rush?’ ‘Ooh, hasn’t he got lovely legs…’ At dawn an early start feels like a gift of free time — ‘I’m getting so much done!’ — but of course those three hours of brain activity are simply shaved off the end of the day. Soon after teatime the spinning machine runs out of power and the eyelids descend like steel shutters.
But as luck would have it I have discovered a new sport which more than compensates for a dwindling social life. The recent clement weather revealed an unexpected legacy from a previous resident of my flat: on warm summer evenings every crevice in the kitchen produces a flutter of Plodia interpunctella, known more commonly as food moths. Part Tinkerbell and part Hilda Ogden I dart from tabletop to mantelpiece, clutching the vacuum nozzle and sucking up the greasy blighters one by one.
It is fortunate, what with the four o’clock starts and the moth badminton, that at present I have no immediate neighbour to disturb — the nice couple who lived downstairs moved out quite suddenly the other day. After a previous experience when the man who lived below me set the house on fire and turned out to be a hoarder (yes, really: after the fire brigade had gone men in paper suits came to shovel skiploads
Grouse Wine Coaster in Sterling Silver of stinking rubbish from the premises), I resolved for ever more to be the neighbour from hell, rather than be afflicted by such a person. Catching my reflection at five a.m., a startled-looking creature with the tattered costume, the upstanding hairdo and the faroff gaze of a desert island castaway, I am certain I have achieved this ambition.
Everyone I know has a bad neighbour story. A friend was once woken by the splatter of vomit raining down on her bedroom window from upstairs. She decided enough was enough and moved to a remote corner of Wales, but only yesterday when she asked the man renting the house next door if he would mind not climbing over her fence and into her garden, his response failed to include the word ‘sorry’ and instead contained the words ‘your head’ and ‘kicking’.
Keen to take a break from the rigours of my domestic routine I sped out of town for a weekend party ignoring, with characteristic damp squibbery, the instruction to come dressed as knight or maiden. I am to fancy dress what Mr Knightley is to picnics: ‘My idea of the simple and the natural,’ he says, when lunch outdoors is proposed, ‘will be to have the table spread in the dining room.’ Such comments may distinguish Mr Knightley as a sensible man but I fear my reluctance to festoon makes me little more than a party pooper. ‘Aha,’ said the only other guest not wearing sword or wimple, looking me up and down, ‘It seems we share the herd-like desire to stand out from the crowd.’ At halfpast five the following morning I gave up on the notion of a lie-in and crept downstairs to my hosts’ kitchen for tea and toast. On the stairs I met the last of the night’s knights, still dressed in his suit of armour and clanking unsteadily up to bed. We regarded each other for a moment. ‘If you weren’t carrying that iPhone,’ I said, ‘I might take you for the resident ghost.’ He blinked at me owlishly, but gave no answer.
The news that children no longer play I-Spy on long car journeys reminds me of a friend —amotherof three —inwhose car I found two pairs of high-quality headphones. ‘These are nice,’ I said, assuming they were for the kids’ DVD players. ‘Don’t you worry they’ll break them?’ ‘Oh,’ she said, with a grim half-smile, ‘They’re not for the kids. They’re for us.’ *Novel accepted by publisher.
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THE SPECTATOR 4 September 2010 9