a fair fortnight

Two weeks since we returned from Melbourne, and here are a few things that have eased my adjustment back into London life:

The weather. We’ve had a spell of glorious, almost summery weather. Clear blue skies, temperatures into the low twenties, hazy sunshine. Crisp mornings and balmy evenings. Warm enough to sit outside a pub of an evening, sipping a glass of rosé, writing my journal, and doing my best not to think about work the next day. And then discovering I have two mosquito bites on my shoulder, two big red lumps rivalling the best efforts of the Melbourne mozzies.

Cycling. It’s been good to be back in the saddle, and doubly good given the near perfect cycling weather. My route to and from work takes in Battersea Park and Hyde Park. The trees mostly bare, just starting to come into leaf, drenched in sunshine. An avenue of cherry trees in full blossom. Two dazzling stretches of water – the Thames (via Albert Bridge, London’s prettiest bridge) and the Serpentine. A couple of times, riding home, I’ve been enjoying the cycling so much that I’ve nearly missed my turning out of Battersea Park.

I finished The Secret River by Kate Grenville. I read the first long chapter, set in London at the end of the eighteenth century, on the flight out to Australia, and wasn’t grabbed by it. Perhaps, unfairly, I was making comparisons with Patrick White’s stupendous The Vivisector, which was still large and alive in my mind. But I took the book up again on the flight home (to London, home – so this is home?) – but I digress. The book, The Secret River, did then draw me in, once the story moved to the convict settlement in Sydney and beyond, to the Hawkesbury River and the uneasy and ultimately brutal contact between white settlers and the indigenous Aboriginal population. The river and the surrounding bush landscape are vital characters in the book, and Grenville subtly portrays how her protagonist, William Thornhill, falls in love with ‘his’ corner of land. As a reader, you are, mostly, on Thornhill’s side, and it is to Grenville’s credit that I read wanting him to make a different choice at the book’s horrific climax. A book I’m glad now to have read.

Lunchtime art. To the Lisson Gallery on Tuesday to check out the latest exhibition, Ex Nihilo. Work by Spencer Finch, an artist I knew nothing about, but I love this – being able to walk into a gallery during my lunch break and discover something new. It’s not groundbreaking or earth-shattering work, but I was quite charmed by the show, and the accompanying pamphlet, written by the artist, is as quirky as the artwork. The idea of creating something from nothing appeals as much to me as it does to Spencer Finch, and I liked in particular Rain on the Studio Window – raindrops on his studio window in Brooklyn photographed, printed on clear film and then applied to the Lisson Gallery window – I had to look hard to see it; Darkness (Artist’s Studio, New York, 31/8/08) – an indigo neon lightbox glowing darkly in darkened room; and Paper Moon (Studio Wall at Night) – an installation recreating the changing light in his studio by means of some lamps, a window frame, and a toy train with a torch attached chugging contentedly round a circuit of track.

And last but not least, my own creating-something-from-nothing. Last Saturday I finished a short story I’d started back in July. I was working on it before we went to Melbourne, but there were a couple of phrases that still weren’t right. With fresh eyes, and several mugs of coffee, I finally cracked it and decided the story was ready to submit. Now the wait. But that’s my lifeblood, pen on paper, wresting words into something that didn’t exist before.

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