On finding beauty
I learned a long time ago that when you live and work in London it’s important to look up. But, as any good Londoner also knows, this comes with risks. What if someone catches your eye, dares to ask you for directions or, worse, engages you in conversation? This can lead to all sorts of dangerous scenarios, such as having to smile and offer your own thoughts on the state of the weather/traffic/tourist season. But, I think the risk is worth it. High above your head you’ll find all manner of interesting architecture. If you’re lucky you might also spot the odd stone lion or gargoyle or cherub. Eye level is boring and largely made up of chain coffee shops fronts these days.
I realised this week, though, that the opposite can be just as true. Looking down, properly looking, can reveal its own little gems. These pics are of a tiny scrub of land about three minutes’ walk from my house. I’ve driven and walked past it plenty of times, but until yesterday I never noticed this carpet of wildflowers. As I drew closer, I saw dragonflies darting in and out of the poppies – more dragonflies than I’ve ever seen in one place. I must have looked slightly mental standing at the side of the road taking photographs as cars whizzed past. I don’t really care – I can regularly be seen walking round the supermarket these days muttering to myself as I continue to work out the details of my plot. Mental has become a way of life.
Besides, look how beautiful this random, little patch of land is. Who planted it? Do they tend to it? When? Did they do it just to give strangers like me a little bit of unexpected pleasure? Do they have their own garden?
As I was snapping away, I thought about something I read the day before in Arnold Bennett’s Journalism For Women: A Practical Guide. Written in 1898, four years before his first novel was published, Bennett set down what he saw as the main problems with women journalists, including their loose regard for spelling and grammar, inability to meet deadlines and a tendency towards overblown, flowery prose.
It's of its time. But if you ignore the gender issues for a moment, there is some very sensible advice that would still stand any would-be journalist in good stead.
I mention it here, because he goes on to say: 'A lover is one who deludes himself; a journalist is one who deludes himself and other people. The born journalist comes into the world with the fixed notion that nothing under the sun is uninteresting.'
I’d say this goes for any kind of writer.
Which brings me back to my flowers. I got to thinking about them this morning and why they’re there and just how happy I was to stumble across them. And out of nowhere, a story emerged. So, today, instead of working on the novel as planned, I wrote a story. It might not be that great when I look it again with a more rational editing head, but I had fun. Either way, my flowers – as I know like to think of them – are a simple reminder of two irrefutable things: beauty and stories can turn up in the most unlikely of places.