A bruising day; first I overslept despite having gone to bed at 8.30 the night before. I had spent the evening doing some editing work for a friend but she needed it done quickly, so I had to turn the radio off not long after Jonny Bairstow started hammering the ball into the stands for England in the Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge. Afterwards I tried to block out the news so the highlights on BBC Two would surprise me, but I switched on the radio again by mistake during the news and when they said “cricket” the tone of voice told me England had won.
Before I turned the lights out I started an aggrieved correspondence with a publisher who owed a small but to me non-trivial sum of money. They’d said, after I’d asked why I hadn’t been paid yet, that they’d pay me at the end of the month, as was their standard practice; I said “the words ‘on delivery’ carry a certain weight with me”, and showed them a screenshot of a recent email from them. I will not go into the sordid details but tempers flared on both sides, and they eventually paid me, but closed with the words: “We will thank you never to get in touch with us again.” Deal, I thought, but I can’t say either of us covered ourselves with glory. Such is the life of the freelancer.
I mentioned this exchange to my friend D— and she said her sister worked in the film industry, and the runners there are on a grand a week even if they’re just making the tea. I went to bed and had a little cry, but she added she wouldn’t do their job for anything, so I dried my tears and had a nap.
Another weight lifted off my shoulders was an email from the literary editor of another magazine who had sent me a book to review about two months ago. Maybe more. I will not say what it was, but suffice to say it was very big indeed and also written in verse. He had commissioned me to review it because I have a reputation for being unintimidated and often even welcoming of unconventional novels, but this one proved too much for me. I would read a few pages and then my attention would start wandering. What am I going to have for dinner tonight? Can I manage without a haircut/doing the laundry for another week?
The book followed me around. That is, I would take it with me from room to room; and then on my trip from Brighton to Oxford and back again. I would do this to show I wasn’t ignoring the book, and had the discipline and professionalism to tackle it. My friend A—, who owned the house I was cat-sitting for, saw it when she met me off the coach; she couldn’t have failed to, the plastic bag it was in had split open. She had read it too for her work.
“Oh God”, she said when she saw it. I nodded.
In the end things got so bad that I found myself ringing EDF to discuss the money I owed them instead of sitting down to finish the book. It’s a pity because it has not been written by an idiot or someone who can’t write; far from it. Which makes it worse, somehow. But I would occasionally read a few pages of Ulysses for light relief, and to depressurise. Anyway, the literary editor emailed me to acknowledge his correct suspicion that the book had defeated me – the only time this has happened, I think, since my first paid book review appeared in 1985 – and that he was going to send me another, shorter one. God bless him and all understanding souls like him.
I am bracing myself for the forthcoming heatwave, which should be over by the time you read this. I like living by the sea and knowing that if things get really bad I can go for a swim, but then I also know there is more chance of my flying to the moon and back than having a cooling dip in the English Channel. I have invited my children down for the weekend if they want to splash about and escape the heat, but they said they will only jump in if I will. I said OK, but I had my fingers crossed behind my back when I said this. As they have known me for some time I suspect they know this too.
Meanwhile, scaffolding has gone up outside the house I live in. This is necessary maintenance, and hats off to the landlords, but it means I am having to keep the bedroom curtains shut. It is one thing being the Naked Neighbour in the window when the window opposite is a long way away, and another being the Naked Tenant in the Squalid Bedroom when there are people who can literally press their noses against the window-glass if they want to. So that’s one means of ventilation closed to me, during daylight hours at least.
It’s getting warmer as I write. Maybe I should go for a dip in the sea at some point. I don’t have any swimming trunks, though. Where does one get swimming trunks? I presume not Oxfam. But at least I have some upper body strength now, after carrying that bloody book around all that time.
This article appears in the 22 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Britain isn’t working