Friday, 27 April 2012

Taking stock...

I'm off to Qatar tomorrow for a three-day translation conference. This is about as glamorous as my life gets - even more glamorous, and this is saying something, than medieval-lynch-mob-decorated CAKE - but this post is not simply boasting. Obviously it is mainly boasting, and I'm sure I'll do more boasting when I get back, hopefully with pictures (I'm hoping for a sunlit portrait of me against a wonderful panorama of Doha - think blazing blond hair, white shirt, English-Patient chic - although judging by previous experience all my photos will almost certainly involve lots of squinting, a sunburn line across my nose from my sunglasses, and a ridiculous hat). But... well, maybe it's just me, but I find there's something about flying halfway across the world that focuses the mind on mortality.

I am not a nervous flier. Well, no, I am a bit of a nervous flier (I don't fly very much, and it scares me for much the same reasons that I play Euromillions, i.e. the triumph of imagination over statistics), but I think this particular phenomenon is more to do with the way journeys mark milestones - the way I was strangely thoughtful before I set out for Santiago de Compostela, for example, which didn't involve any flying. Medieval pilgrims always used to write their wills before they left home, and while that was quite sensible, really, because in those days it really was hazardous, I think it's a good tradition. Then again, I have no money, so writing my will isn't really worth the time.*

But instead I have been Taking Stock of my life. And I thought I would share my thoughts with you. Just in case. (NB: this is, as you might expect given the above, a singularly self-absorbed blog-post. Please stop reading now if that's going to irritate you.)

I am thirty.** I have published five books, had seven accepted, written ten. I have had emails from people I don't know and probably won't ever know, telling me that my books have made a difference to them. I have played Juliet, Antigone, the Duchess of Malfi, Cordelia and Margaret Thatcher. I was once accosted in the street after a show by a member of the audience who wanted to shake my hand. (It was in Elephant and Castle and for a second I thought she was going to mug me.) I have walked from Le Puy to Santiago with only a few bus journeys in the middle. I can make vinaigrette, harissa and roast chicken without a recipe. I can throw a pot, replace a zip, speak French - all after a fashion - and I can ride a bike, run a mile, keep honest counsel and mar a curious tale in the telling of it. I have a scar on my forehead that I got in a dagger fight. At drama school I was given a chocolate bar by a teacher because I was the only person to walk past when he was teaching a class and considerately not let the door slam. I once sent a clipping to the News Quiz and they read it out***, which is something I am genuinely proud of.

So much for achievements. It seems quite a short list.

I have written some quite bad plays, some quite bad essays, and some quite cringe-worthy poetry. I can't hold a harmony or whistle a tune or touch the floor with my hands while keeping my legs straight. At drama school I was held up as an example to the others of how a backbone should not behave. I was a terrible Kvashnya in The Lower Depths. I have done some truly awful auditions, most of which I can now laugh at. I don't know how to change a fuse or make a Word document into a pdf file. I once made garlic soup which stayed in the plate when I turned it upside down over my head. I have never earned more than £10,000 in a year. At infants' school I dropped a guinea pig, and it still haunts me.

What else?

I have 230 facebook friends. Some of those are really friends - including, I think, some of the ones I've never met. That's nice. Five people have declared love to me, a couple more have asked me out, no one has asked me to marry them. (Or not seriously, anyway.) I have been gloriously, blazingly in love once, and less euphorically and intensely in love six-ish times, of which at least two were unrequited. I have never slept with anyone and regretted it. I have regretted not sleeping with people. (You know who you are. Probably.) I have only ever deliberately put one ex-boyfriend into a book, and it ended up being a far more flattering - and much less exact - portrait than I originally had in mind.

I've never stolen an idea for a novel. Yet.

I have never broken a bone or spent the night in hospital (except when I was born). I have never been pregnant or taken any Class A drugs. Two of my teeth are fake. I had my first filling a few weeks ago. All my vaccinations are up to date. I've tried to give blood three times, and the last time I was so much trouble they had to drive me home in the blood van and took me off the donor register.

I have written some letters for Amnesty International, given a few quid here and there to the Red Cross, signed endless petitions for Avaaz and 38 Degrees, written to my MP more times than I remember, and helped wash up coffee cups after Quaker Meeting; I delete emails from Amnesty when they've been sitting in my inbox for longer than a few days, I buy cheap clothes even though I know they're probably made in sweatshops, I'd rather get a laugh than be universally kind, I can't always be bothered to rip the plastic windows out of envelopes so I can put them in the paper recycling, I once held up a love-letter someone sent me to invite ridicule from our mutual friends, and I've done a few other things which I'm not prepared to admit to on the Internet. Morally speaking I'm probably in the red, like most of us. (Then again, they say that when old or ill people are asked what they regret, the two commonest answers are, 'I wish I'd worked less' and 'I wish I'd been less virtuous'. So, given the above, and that I have never had a proper job, I guess I'm doing fairly well.)

So... I can't think of anything else. That's it. My life in a nutshell.

OK, so this has been a really self-indulgent post. But strangely enough, it's made me feel better.

* Although, now I come to think of it, I did do my tax return this week. But that was mainly so I could spend the money I'd put aside for my tax bill. (One of the few advantages of being totally poverty-stricken is that I can proudly say I am not funding David Cameron at all. Take that, Tory bastards!)

** I was going to work in a Tom-Lehrer style gag: 'It's people like that [Alma Mahler] who make you realise just how little you've achieved. For example, when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years.' Then I looked it up and found, to my disappointment, that I am still too young for that joke...

*** It was the label off a jar of sweet peppers in oil, which said, 'Why not toss into a bowl of fresh green salad?'


  1. Well you did mention feeling a bit guilty about not keeping up with your blog, so I suppose this makes up for it. Ok, so you're a little self-indulgent, but if it makes you feel better then fine. This could be the start of your (early) mid-life crisis, in which case I strongly advise you to enjoy it and do it properly; not some half-hearted 'taking stock' but full-on rebellion. Hastings May Day run?

  2. If this is self-indulgence, I love it! Have a safe trip.