Sunday 5 February 2012

Why I won't become a Hermit

Last week I was surprised to overhear myself ranting about the horrors of London.
Without quite realising it, I’d started to think life would be better if I never left the flat.
“I don’t feel like going out anymore,” I said, feeling wrinkles spread prematurely across my face and my red boots turning into orthopaedic grey lace ups. “Everyone’s so aggressive and horrible to each other.”
At some point my view of the dynamic city had flipped on its head.
Perhaps it was all the depressing bus journeys.
Every time I’ve got on a bus recently, it has jerked to an abrupt halt because passengers are shrieking at each other.
Last time there was toxic abuse and a bloody head, all because of an accidental nudge.
I’d cowered on the top deck, absorbing the terrible tension until I couldn’t take any more and got off.
“Really? Is that how you see it?” my cousin said. “I just find everything so amazing at the moment... perhaps because I’m going away and won’t have any of it anymore.”
Soon she’ll be heading to Nepal with VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas). There’ll be kids sniffing glue on street corners and sewage running down the roads and London buses will be a distant luxury.
After listening to her I realised I had to change my view.
Determined to get out I searched online for something to do and ended up in the British Library at a free exhibition on Charles Dickens.
I had no idea he’d been sent to a boot-blacking factory at the age of 12 when his father was sent to jail for not paying his debts. He’d written about the great social injustices of his time but I hadn’t known he’d had firsthand experience.
The Victorians had a fascination with the macabre and the supernatural and Dickens attended evenings of spirit tapping and table turning, weaving these realities into his books.
Imagine if Mr Dickens had never left his front room.
It became clear as I walked round that temple of books that if I was going to be a writer I had to observe life!
The ideas for my short stories have always arrived like gifts when I’ve been out and about.
Some external impulse sets my imagination off. It might be something unremarkable, a man asking for change, a woman crying quietly on the tube.
If I hide from the world, my stories will dry up. And that really would be terrifying, much more terrifying than a journey on a London bus.