Since my move to my new home a week before the launch of the book, I have taken to taking a walk before I start work in the morning. It clears my head and reminds me that there is a world outside these four walls and my computer screen. Thanks to my friends, Ann and James, for whom I am flat sitting, the neighbourhood in which I now find myself at the beginning of each day is more genteel and scenic than I am used to. There are less weapon dogs to dodge, the streets are winding and tree-lined, and if I ever feel the need, it is possible to spend £8.50 on a loaf of bread.
Today, on my morning constitutional, I was trying to compose in my head an article I had been asked to write for Waterstone’s Quarterly. My concentration was broken when I saw a man lumbering towards me who looked like REM’s Michael Stipe after an unhealthy cocktail of growth hormones. He was screaming about “F*cking postmen!” at the top of his voice.
I am never quite sure whether to ignore these people, or to stare them down; show them that I’m not scared. I decided to stare him down. I looked at him and found myself thinking of a cartoon character with spirals turning in its eyes.
His body posture changed instantly. From being a snarling ball of rage, he visibly relaxed. “I had a friend who was knocked down by a dustcart once,” he said, mildly. He seemed to have forgotten about the problem he had postmen.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Oh, he’s not dead, but I think he has a headache.”
I nodded, and wondered if this person who was knocked down by a dustcart was him.
He followed me round the block, reeling off a stream of non sequiturs about the origins of romance and why he didn’t like Kilburn. He didn’t seem to notice that I was contributing little to the conversation. At one point he grabbed my arm. His hand wrapped around my bicep and his grip was fierce. Not a person to get on the wrong side of.
We arrived at my front door and I was worried he would invite himself in, but he became distracted by the number on my front door. “I don’t like the number 28,” he said sadly. “It’s wrong.”
I’m not sure that this encounter inspired me, but I wrote the article for Waterstone’s very quickly. Perhaps I wanted to finish it before lunch, in case I bumped into my strange neighbour next time I ventured outside.
You can see the article now on http://www.wbqonline.com/feature.do?featureid=509