Back from the summer house where the sun doesn’t set at midsummer. Where the mosquitoes are almost as big as butterflies. Where there is a drawer full of photographs and postcards from Liverpool and New York and California. Hundreds of frozen faces, the relatives and friends of relatives who emigrated two generations ago.
When my grandmother was young they used to pack down their whole house in the spring and move out to the summerhouse. I think they even moved the piano, but I might have made that up. When my dad was young my grandparents crammed their children, cats and dog into a small car in June and drove for three hours to get to there, stopping occasionally to allow the children to vomit from car sickness. They stayed at the summerhouse until autumn came and it was time to go back to work and school. During one of these summers they picked up a tame crow. Another summer my grandmother adopted two aggressive turkeys that nipped at the feet of those who went out for a nightly pee.
The place is heavy with memories and stories. Every summer the house calls us back and we retell some and add some more.
There is a rowan tree by the shore. An ant hill next to the car park and another one near the wood shed. There is a big pine against which my brother and I practiced throwing knives one summer when we couldn’t come up with anything else to do. If I close my eyes I can see the path running from the house to the shore, the one going behind the small red hut which is rotting away and needs a new roof. I can see the rose bushes, the blueberries, the trees and the paper mill on the other side of the bay. I know the place and it knows me. There are roots from the soles of my feet that go deep into the ground. At the summerhouse I’m part of something bigger. I’m part of a past and a story.
We went to the summerhouse for a week and now we’re back. I’m raging against London sounds and pollution. But I’m here, back home. Missing home.
When I was fifteen I read about Sylvia Plath writing in her cold flat in London, the water pipes freezing on the outside of the building because it was such a harsh winter (one of the coldest in centuries). I used to think this sounded intriguing and I daydreamed about sitting in a cold flat somewhere in the UK, typing away with fingerless mittens and drinking lots of tea. I now realise that fifteen is a delusional age.
This is the coldest it’s been in London all winter. It doesn’t compare to the minus 20 degrees and snow hammering my hometown at the moment, but it is still quite an unfortunate time for the heating in the studio to break down. So here I am typing away wearing layers of woolly jumpers, my scarf, several socks and I’m still freezing. The only thing that makes it a bit more bearable is to drink lots and lots of tea. It’s not exactly lovely or glamorous or even that interesting, but then again not many things you idolise when you’re fifteen will be.
I have learned one thing though. Tea is great.
Image by Padurariu Alexandru.
Take 7 days. Add one pop-up in Camden. A Music 4.5 event. Three deadlines. Some video editing and an open studio night. What do you get? Lots and lots of empty coffee cups.
I’m spending a lot of time in Camden this week, at the Camden Collective pop-up shop, where Gerry and I are taking turns to sell some Plane Clothing wares. The coffee and the company is good. I get to make new friends and hang out with fun people like Natasha of An Original Leroy and Jennifer of Sosome. I’ve also met one of the few other Lottas in London.
Then there are the hours when I stare into space as my brain slowly freezes. There is the person peeing in a rubbish bin outside, the sirens rushing by, the fire alarm going off. Lots of candy crush. Dancing around to bleepy electro and Beyonce to keep the blood flowing. Trying not to look at the other brands in the store because the last few months of creative writing adventures has left my bank account in the state of a starved toddler looking longingly at other people eating chocolate. Retail is hard work, it’s also awesome.
There is one thing I ponder as I sit here – how do people with young children/young animals/a regular exercise routine do it? Where do they find the time, you know that extra time… the time that has been squeezed out of this week. The time that means that dishes are done, clothes are washed, books read, thoughts organised, empty wine bottles taken down to the recycling. I’m looking around for that time, suspecting it might be hiding somewhere amongst those hours I use for sleeping.
One more week of time squeeze left.
Ps. I love periods like this.
The chervil is wilting on the balcony, a sign that summer has turned and London is tired. There have only been a few storms since June. It’s comforting to know you can’t have heat like this without the occasional release of thunder.
One storm woke us up in the middle of the night. A huge bang at five in the morning. It sounded exactly as if someone had slammed a giant hammer against a metal roof. The rumble reverberated between the council block, our apartment building and the train track below. It was so loud you could almost feel the house vibrating. The vikings must have known what they were talking about because the image of a giant bearded god hammering away above the clouds suddenly felt very real. There were flashes of lightning too and thunderclaps following almost immediately after. I don’t think I’ve ever heard thunder like that before and if I had been a child I would have put my fingers in my ears and cried.
Except for that theatrical night London has been suffering with a slow-burning fever. It’s been dry and hot, but never hot enough to be truly uncomfortable. On windless days the exhaust fumes and city dust turn the air syrupy with pollution. This is when I give up and want to lie down like a tired dog, my tongue hanging out, my head heavy on my paws. Those are days when it’s worth shrugging and giving in to the fact that you will probably not get much work done and your head will feel like it’s been jammed full of cotton wool.
There are other days, better days, when white clouds race each other east and planes zoom high above. Those are the days when the heat is bearable, when the sunlight feels pleasant on my skin and I smugly imagine my body soaking up all that media-hyped vitamin D. Those are days worth collecting, a little star next to each in my calender. Days when the streets hum with happy summer thoughts, busy Londoners hold open doors and bus drivers smile at you.
Each summer in the city seems to pass quicker than the one before. I want to remember this one. With its dust-filled hot days and blue skies. I want to remember the thunder storm and the herbs on the balcony that have gone to seed.
I love this city when…
It’s eleven on a muggy summer evening. Gerry and I have just shut the studio door after a long day at work. We’re tired, slightly grumpy and can’t wait to get home. Suddenly a woman in her 50s, grey hair, bright yellow jacket, skateboards past us with a defiant look on her face. I love London.
I hate this city when…
I’m late. London smells of exhaust fumes, the pavements are hot underneath my feet. I rush to get the tube, even though I hardly ever get the tube. I miss a train and decide to take the District line and change at Monument to the Central line. Because I never take the tube I don’t realise that I’m making a huge mistake.
I get off the train at Monumement and I start walking. Did I mention I hate the tube? There are long corridors and I try not to think about how much dirt, cables and Victorian piping there is between me and the street above. I had my first panic attack going up the escalator at Angel. I try not to think about this as I get to the first set of escalators. I travel further down. There are more corridors. More escalators. And then the signs for the red Central line point me towards more escalators, this time going up again.
I try not to hold my breath. My palms go sweaty every time I think of the escalators in the tube these days. Maybe I’m suffering from some kind of escalator phobia? But I’m trapped somewhere near the Central line at Bank station and I have no choice. I walk up the escalators. Eventually I get out. Choose to abandon the tube altogether and get a bus instead. I turn up late. I hate this city.
Image by Alejandro Escamilla.