Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Plugging In

With the power station, caravans and wind farms on our doorstep, and the university, nuclear submarine trackers and Blackpool visible in the distance I'm reminded of modern life daily. And while many of these sights might not be considered attractions their presence makes the beauty of the estuary more realistic and therefore deeper somehow than it would be without them, than it probably is in most visitors' photographs, which, I imagine, in the main focus on the Victorian lighthouse or the Bay itself, the sands, or Bowland fells. This draw to natural beauty is deeply ingrained. Why else would we call completely unnatural environments 'Bluewater' (shopping), 'Freshwater' (property), or 'Westfield' (more shopping)?

The man-made sights act as bearings. Where I stand as I spin round to clock them all is where they intersect. I am fixed by them. In some way they have made me. They distinguish me from the two women lighthouse keepers who lived here before me. And as much as I like to align myself with the 'natural' elements of the world, and do find a strength and vitalisation from it, I am as much 'artifice' or man-made as I am animal.

Maybe that's too flippant. It would be impossible to measure the parts that make me in percentages, and to declare myself equally spread between them, and perhaps it is too dismissive of the deep inherited memory of ancestors that makes up my instincts. Even so, I'm glad to be shaken from my tendency for Romanticism, and be forced to stare at what one friend called the giant battery of Heysham every day. After all, I also enjoy being able to plug in.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Creative Swimming

So the weather wasn't what we might have expected from the south of France this year, but that didn't stop me from swimming every morning before breakfast. Not a lot would. Waking up two lengths into a swim is a delicious and gentle way to start a day, especially when that day involves a workshop, several one-to-one sessions and eating a substantial breakfast, lunch and dinner. Getting up and into my swimming costume doesn't give me time to bail out, and increases the meditational aspect of a genteel breast stroke, limbs still soft from sleep, eyes unfocused. The house is quiet but for Moira and Regine preparing breakfast so I can generally make it down into the water without having to speak.

The creative benefits of exercise have been well documented. Many writers have spoken of going for a walk when they are stuck or unsure of how best to express themselves. In the past I've been an ardent cyclist - jumping on my bike for an hour's spin around the fells at home to shake free that elusive thought. Wherever we find ourselves there's somewhere to walk - I like the sound of Will Self's current project of walking from his house to the different London airports...

After twenty or thirty minutes in the pool I'd climb out hungry. Not just my stomach empty, but brain washed of dreams and mind unanticipating the day. I don't ever count how many lengths I'm covering, instead I count strokes: eleven one way and eight 'downhill', back to the shallow end. A manageable repetition: short and simple before I turn and begin again at one.

It's more frog stroke than breast stroke, more breathing than swimming, more asleep than awake, a transitory zone that bridges bed and breakfast, in which more happens than I can possibly imagine. As with that pause before writing, this space before each workshop allows a consolidation of thought, a focusing of the  theme of the workshop ahead and a bringing together of past reading experiences, past discussions and past writings that not only propel me slowly through the water but into an unboundried space for the workshop.

The groups at the French House Party are always a mixed bunch: novelists, memoirists, short story writers, experimentors and dabblers. So the more fluid I can be in terms of references, memory and silences, the better any group discussion will be. By better I mean more multi-voiced and stimulating for everyone there, including me. After all, I'm still learning too.