It’s the last week of October; the clocks have turned and the mornings are glummer than a month previously, when I’d last been in London. My bike whips down the hill. It feels good to be riding again, the anticipated burn in calves as I try to beat the day before’s commute is welcome. Vietnam was wonderful, but it is good to back to the real world again, to be dealing with life after three weeks of fantasy.
I pause at the junction, a brief glance right to check nothing is in the bike lane and I accelerate up the other side of the hill. As I reach the crest I find myself singing under my breath, a Belle and Sebastian song of joy, a sign all is right.
‘Another sunny day, bah-bah,’ I sing to myself, forgetting the words. It isn’t sunny, not yet and maybe it won’t be. It doesn’t matter. It’s the way I feel. ‘I something in the garden.’
Ahead a bus pauses to collect passengers. There’s a car in front of me and one just over my shoulder. I signal and move between the two. The three of us go around the bus and I head back to the bike lane.
The bike surges forward; my feet lose the pedals: A lack of traction and they skim off. I feel the fork twist and hold on despite knowing what is going to happen.
‘Another sunny day,’ the voice in my head reiterates as I enter the air.
I haven’t been writing so much recently, not for the past five months or so.
I tell myself that the words aren’t there, that there are a million other things to be doing, that we’ve been out the country, that I’ve been recharging my literary batteries by reading.
All of which is true, but also I haven’t really wanted to.
And that’s much more worrying.
‘It’s all right, mate,’ the guy in the fluorescent jacket leaning in to me says. ‘Just stay still. An ambulance is on its way.’
I blink. I can’t see properly. One side of my face is wet.
‘What do you mean? An ambulance? I’ve got to get to work.’
I try to get to my feet and there’s a great sweeping lightness in my head, like I’m adrift in the ocean, floating out to the depths.
I look down at my body. There’s an enormous gash on my shin. There’s quite a lot of blood on my t-shirt. Where’s it all coming from?
Fluorescent jacket applies a bandage from a first aid kit to my shin. In the background, I see someone else leaning my bike against the wall. Others look on, concerned. Someone calls the police to go with the ambulance. People who stopped to help. People who gave up their time on the busy rush to the office. People who could have just walked on by.
And I didn’t even manage to say thank you.
Since we last met, dear reader, if you remember, things have been busy: I got married.
I still can’t quite get over that statement. Six years ago, such an idea seemed ridiculous and yet here I am. Beringed and besotted. Nauseatingly happily married to a wonderful woman who surprises and delights me daily. I could not be happier.
And yet the words won’t come and, to some extent, I don’t want them to.
They demand time I could otherwise spend with my wife. They will put me in difficult places, to imagine people and lives far removed from my own mundane existence. I have to find some of humanity’s darkness and shine a light on it, a process which often puts me in an odd frame of mind at the very least.
And I’m not angry enough.
I pierce together a hypothesis for what happened. I think the car behind me nudged my back tyre, the impact knocking the chain off the gears and sending me out of control. The car didn’t stop and no-one got the licence number. I have a concussion, a whopping black eye, surgical glue holding my shin together, missing half a toe nail and a dozen or more nasty cuts and grazes.
I spend the morning in A&E, my wife finds me sitting, miserably, holding red soaked paper towel to my face.
People are angry on my behalf and all I manage to say is: ‘Maybe they didn’t realise.’
All writing is, ultimately, about conflict. Not, as in fighting and war. Not obvious conflict, but emotional conflict, both external and internal. There has to be a pressure, a sense of jeopardy, a tension of the unknown. The narrative form, the construct, the broader themes, the question posed can be anything, but somewhere there is conflict which requires resolution. If nothing changes, or threatens to change, then what are we reading for?
My fears that with a perfect life, with a lack of personal conflict, I will run out of things to say seem to be coming true. I am stuck. The novel remains parked, its fundamental flaw still unrecognised. I’ve been fiddling with a couple of short stories, one of which is probably a dead end and one of which could well be something after all. I haven’t blogged for months. Who wants to read about happy families, about domestic bliss, about a normal, calm life pottering along?
And so I don’t write. Or, at least, not with the same urgency. There were a few years where it was write or finish. There was little else keeping me upright. Perhaps I just need to find a balance. Perhaps I just need to understand who I have become and therefore what words will be suitable.
I was at gig recently. Two old, good, friends are in the band. There’s a pause between songs and the guitarist introduces the next number: ‘We’re not normally a political band, but these aren’t normal times.’
Perhaps I need to look beyond myself to find the conflict, the impetus, but it feels hard.
Early December and the alarm goes off at five o’clock, not for the first time that week. Next to me my wife sleeps as I clamber to my feet. The cat stretches, yawns and looks at me as if to say, are you sure it’s breakfast time already?
The tiles on the bathroom floor are cold. The heating doesn’t kick in for another hour and I feel the chill biting underneath my scabs, gnawing away and digging at the bone and marrow.
I hack up phlegm for a minute or so wondering when my cough will give up and leave, when I will get some more sleep, when life will ease up for a moment. I am cranky and tired, there’s a hint of bloodshot to my reflection.
Later clean and dressed, I pop my head around the bedroom door, the mug of half-drunk tea in my hand, teeth freshly scrubbed. My wife still sleeps, quietly and full of peace. I silently wish her luck for the day. I have no need of same, for no matter how early it is, how much I ache, I know I couldn’t be luckier. It might be dark and frozen out in the streets, but inside my head it’s another sunny day.