Friday, 29 July 2011

3BT: books, the West Wing, and a nice famous person

1. Time to read. Not just on trains, and not even just in bed last thing, but curled up on the sofa in the middle of the day, too. Reading a chunk in one day is just great for really getting into a book like the Finkler Question. It's also great research for my next novel - I've got itchy fingers...

2. I re-watch what might be my favourite West Wing episode ever, or rather episodes, plural, because they're a part 1 and 2, at the beginning of season 2. I do this with a glass of wine and some actual real home-cooked food. I just don't think any TV will ever compare to this, so it's bittersweet, but it's certainly easy on the eyes. Unless you count the tears.

3. A Hollywood star does a really nice thing for a friend of mine, and I'm partly involved. He does it in a very understated way (and he is not normally understated), but that doesn't stop the few of us who know about it squeeing that he's amazing and we love him.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

3BT: coffee, books and birthdays

1. I meet my friend for coffee at 6 pm. After about an hour, I check my watch for the time: 8.20. Now that's quality conversation (and a comfortable Starbucks chair).

2. A book comes in the post; not just any book. This is a sample copy of a friend's novel - self-published for now, but I am looking forward to the day when we are both properly published and hanging out in literary circles together.

3. Plans are coming together for my birthday. Hooray!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

3BT: a story, a baby, more stories

1. After four hours' sleep, even a breathless gallop up the hill to the station by no means ensures that I will make this train. But I do, and unable to keep my bleary eyes open I turn to my iPod and listen to Joshua Ferris reading out a chilling and cleverly allegorical story by George Saunders. I love these New Yorker Fiction podcasts: they feel like bite-sized pieces of an MFA in Creative Writing.

2. Across from us on the train, a blond, blue-eyed baby boy gurgles and giggles in the arms of his attentive father.

3. Books, books, books: Amsterdam is full of bookshops. I come home laden down with American magazines and new stories to sink into over this quiet part of my year.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

3BT: Authonomy, magazines and toothpaste

1. I spend most of today on Authonomy. I didn't mean to; it just happened. I find some great books, and am buzzing with my new backings. It's a lot of fun, in a nerdy kind of way.

2. The magazine I write for comes, complete with my article on learning a language. They've called me a 'language tutor and writer'. They've highlighted my favourite sentence - something about not doing your homework between lessons being like not cleaning your teeth between dentist appointments. And they've called it 'Speaking in Tongues', which amuses me.

3. Speaking of teeth, I have a new type of toothpaste today. Its colour reminds me of Blue Minty Gel, which I loved in my childhood and have missed: one of my earliest memories is trying to dilute it in water so that I could drink it. Well, this new toothpaste tastes very similar. Thank you, Colgate.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Belgian taxis...

Note: this was an assignment for my fantastic Gotham Writers course, in which I had to write about something I hate. Hence the negativity.

I know I should be grateful that the company where I teach twice a week pays for a taxi home. And I am. Really I am. There’d be no other way of getting there otherwise – public transport in these parts being what it is – and I’d be missing out on a lot of easyish money.

But oh, Belgian taxis. Firstly, they are never on time. Well, not never, not exactly, but when they are late, they are properly late. And there is never an apology. We Brits are compulsive apologisers, and it grates to live in a country where saying you’re sorry is optional at best. Like the woman at the taxi firm’s office who stated that she took no responsibility for the mix-up which had caused her to cancel a taxi which we had not asked for her to cancel. That it was actually her fault entirely is almost insignificant: in England I like to think she would have said “I’m sorry about the inconvenience” or at least “I’m sorry, but it really isn’t my fault”, even if she hadn’t meant it. And not hearing “sorry” makes me cross, even crosser than I already am when I’ve waited forty-five minutes for a taxi.

And then when it arrives, you ought to be grateful, or at least relieved, and you try to be, you try to tell yourself that you are imagining the smell of stale cigarettes impregnating every fibre of the car. But you are not imagining it: it is every bit as real as the no smoking stickers on every door. At least today they haven’t sprayed the odour-eating chemical which only serves to increase the nausea and headache brought on by residual cigarette smoke.

But even without all that, you’d still feel nauseous: there’s the stop-start driving, the swerving round corners, the fear when the driver keeps turns most of his attention to the form he is filling in. (“Don’t be so nervous, Madam, I do this all the time,” he says when you ask him if he wouldn’t mind waiting until the car has stopped.) There’s the screeching to an abrupt stop a few metres past the red traffic light then reversing back up the main road to rectify his position. (Again, of course, no apology; no acknowledgement that any of this is anything other than a mundane everyday occurrence.)

It’s only a ten-minute drive, but it’s the most stressful minutes of my week, and it takes a little while to shake off the nausea. I’d complain if I thought it would make any difference. Instead, I update my Facebook status accordingly and vow to blog about it someday.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

3BT: encouragement, taxi drivers, and friendship

1. I wake up still smiling from all the encouragement I got from my writers's group yesterday.

2. A different taxi driver picks me up. He hasn't smoked in his car and he doesn't drive jerkily, and this plus the sunshine puts me in a good mood. We chat, and he tells me he's not a true 'aclo' - the word for a purebread Nivellian. He was born in this town and one of his parents is from here, but that's not enough to count. When I tell him I'm Enlish, he says I have no accent (which I don't, being half-French, but Belgians often like to tell me they can hear one). If every taxi driver were like him, I'd have chosen a different topic for my Gotham Writers Workshop assignment on 'something I hate'.

3. A friend is having a tough day, and I'm there for her at just the right time.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 2 July 2011

3BT: an early Saturday, writing, and reading

1. I make it out of bed well before 9 am on a Saturday, and discover it's actually quite a nice time of day to be out.

2. It would be too hard to choose one moment of the "One Day I Wrote" workshop - the reason for my early departure from home - so here is a sample: discovering a fab new place to hang out in Brussels, meeting great new people, writing a story in 45 minutes, talking to a Real Live Author, and hearing nice comments about it ("you can tell you're a professional", says one new friend when I tell her I do some journalism).

3. Part of the day is a book swap. Since I took two along, I come away with "Nocturnes" and "Bel Canto", both of which have been on my to-read list for a very long time. "Nocturnes" will be next - i needed a shortish book to counterbalance the long, long reads I've embarked on lately.