Sunday, 17 May 2009

Really wild child

Underneath the clock at Waterloo Station, the gateway to my Western world, weary women in pink leg warmers, trainers and bras over tee-shirts walk by, survivors from the London Moonwalk.

I am on my way home from The City Where No-one Ever Speaks To Strangers and the camaraderie and sense of achievement emanating from these women is humbling. I have left my old friend out in the suburbs in a Brief Encounter-like moment on a station platform.

Yesterday I did my pitch at the travel writing workshop. I was buoyed up by euphoria after being told by the trainer Dea Birkett that my notes in an exercise about using all the senses sounded like poetry. But when it came to pitching an idea to Dan Linstead, the editor of Wanderlust, my heart was knocking so hard against my chest I thought I might have to let it out and shake hands with everyone round the table.

Rather bravely, I went straight in with my first paragraph about the wind turbines in Puglia, encircling me like a sinister army, and then waved a collage of my photos for all to see. Dan was kind, said Puglia was a bit old hat but it was a nice opening paragraph. Dea ran her fingers through her boyish crop and screeched: 'Cut out all those adjectives', rang her bell and said: 'Next!' My heart wanted to bounce down the table and punch her on the nose.

One thing she said, though, stood out: 'Don't be too precious about your writing.' And she is absolutely right. Having been an editor in a previous life, I know that only too well. However much I think I am going to be the next Colin Thubron, there comes a time when reality steps in and introduces itself to your heart.

Afterwards, trudging along the South Bank, over the Thames and along the other side, I passed two tube stations that were closed. I wheeled my little pink case all the way to Holborn, having forgotten my A-Z and being too proud (and tight) (and scared) to flag down a taxi to take me to Liverpool Street station. I wished Mr Grigg had been there, to hold my hand, carry my heavy bags and tell me I was wonderful.

A man with a guitar, a Chinese girl wearing a red silk shirt and cowboy boots. An old couple out for the day. A young black man in a pinstripe suit. People of all shapes and sizes, colours and races, sexes, in iPod bubbles, Moonwalk hats and medals, shuffling, walking, Mind The Gap, running, sneezing, the smell of unwashed hair, boots, sandals, trainers, deck shoes, escalator up, escalator down.

An hour later, I was on a unfamiliar station, the end of the line and the last one off the train because I didn't realise I had to press a button to open the door. I felt sorry for myself, little country mouse with her belongings in a spotted hanky tied to the end of a stick. There by the ticket machine was Curious Girl, my old flatmate from 30 years ago. We hugged, but not very tightly, as both of us are slightly cold fish.

Last night and this morning, we talked about our wild child days in Plymouth in the politically charged and incorrect late 1970s and early 80s. We looked at the old photos, our perms and New Romantic big hair, posters of Bowie and Iggy Pop on the walls. We rattled on about our fellow trainee journalists and our training manager Jim Dalrymple (surely the prototype for Gene Hunt. He said he'd taken me on only because I had an 'arse like an Arab mare - low slung').
We recalled one of our tutors who said: 'Every journalist needs a damned good lunch'. We remembered one of the editors who refused to have disabled people's photos in the paper because it put off the readers.

We were deep in conversation on the platform this morning when Curious Girl suddenly pointed to the poster behind me. Iggy Pop advertising car insurance.

Real wild child indeed.

That's about it,
Love Maddie x


  1. Welcome home - how did I miss your post about heading for the Big Smoke?
    So many questions, but the biggest is Why the Assumed Name?
    Like some sort of old hayseed, or one of my old uncles, I don't know writing, but I know what I like and I like yours.

  2. Curiously Iggy Pop is interviewed in today's Sunday Times and says he was asked to do those adverts because the company felt everyone would like him, regardless of his previous misdemeanours.....

  3. Sounds like an interesting and worthwhile trip. Bet you're glad to be back home though!

  4. Welcome Home, just as I'm going ...

  5. It sounds like you went on a good course. Are you realy feeling down about what they said? I suspect if they didn't like your work in general they would have said a lot worse. If it's any consolation, if you wrote a weekly column in a newspaper I, as a mere consumer and one of the masses, would read your column avidly every week.

    I laughed out loud at the "arse like an Arab mare" and "Every journalist needs a damned good lunch" lines! It sounds ilke you had soem larger than life trainers!

  6. Hey, don't be down....
    we love you!
    I agree with Dave Pie n Mash, every word!
    London is a strange place now isn't it? I used to think nothing of living there, rushing around, now? Hmm, they can keep it!!

  7. Pondside - I write under a pen name and filled out the form without thinking. Once I got there, it was easier (but weird) just to go along with it.
    Gail - curioser and curiouser...
    Reasons 1,2,3 - I felt quite overwhelmed. I got my wide open spaces and no people on a vast scale fix when I walked the dog this morning.
    Oh Sal, hope you had a good time.
    Dave - thanks for your kind words. I knew you of all people would appreciate political incorrectness!

  8. Jude - our comments crossed in mid-ether.
    I'm neither down nor out. I think the London bit depressed me and failed to fill me with the excitement it did years ago.
    Good to hear from you again!

  9. Glad to read from your comment to Jude that your neither down nor out - though your writing seems to imply otherwise - just a bit down.
    Do hope that you spring back to your usual happy observant self. I think it might just have been the town thing - country mice just aren't supposed to go up to town.
    I to agree with Dave, your writing is fab.

  10. that was fab, MG, beautiful. How gruesome, though, that encounter, the chill of that "NEXT!" "Don't be too precious" - what exactly DOES that mean? Don't care? Don't try? What? also loved the idea of two cold fish having to hug.

  11. Ah Maddie, you strike a real chord with me...I can't believe I used to whiz around London, waltzing into smart restaurants and clubs, all on my own, interviewing stars and investigating scary stories. Now I'm scared of my own shadow...
    Travel writing is notoriously difficult though - I think it's the most oversubscribed of all genres...
    That having to pitch out loud sounds totally terrifying - I would have burst into tears I think.

  12. CK, Milla and EJ - I've been in out in the sticks for too long. And do you know what? I love it, wouldn't swap it for anything. I thought I was OK in the city, just in short bursts, but it was a really strange, claustrophobic/agoraphobic feeling I've not experienced before.
    It was lovely, though, seeing my old friend and her bringing me a cup of tea in bed on Sunday. She never did that 30 years ago!

  13. I have to say that sentence about editors refusing disabled people's photographs certainly opened my eyes rather wide. And the picture of Philip Glenister did too - he's gorgeous!!

    CJ xx

  14. Aah Maddie - the bit about the country mouse and wishing Mr Grigg was there with you makes me want to come and give you a big, big hug. You write beautifully - and take what they all say witha pinch of salt. I think they think if they don't give at least a tiny bit of criticism them they're not doing their jobs properly. Silly. Glad you're home safely xx


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