Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Glad That's Over
Of all the joints in all the world, the Salon de Juegos at Las Terrazzas was the last place I expected an introduction to Kate Brannigan.

Since I gave up teaching I don't care for holidays . Even a week seems too long to be away and it was quite a rush to get the reviews finished. In fact, I didn't finish writing about a November talk at Goldsmiths . The deadline wasn't until the 20th December but it wasn't easy to continue after a gap.
I think in future I'll settle for weekends in places with theatres - maybe I'll compile a list from the Internet. Even a trawl through a list of places in an atlas will be a start
What a pleasant bit of research. Off the top of my head I thought Stratford (upon Avon) Chichester and Scarborough I'll work my way up to a week for the Edinburgh Festival. That's a good idea - literary festivals. If the overdraft isn't too bad.

One advantage of being away was the chance for long-stretch reading. We'd decided to avoid check-in hell at Gatwick by taking only hand-luggage so book space was limited. By the time I'd put all the gadgetry in my case - hair-dryer, DVD and CD players and disks and chargers, plus the Chinese text book I'm working on, and Michael Billington's history of British theatre since 1945 , there wasn't much room for clothes, never mind fiction.

So I was thrilled to come across a Val McDermid volume as soon as we arrived at the accommodation, on the outskirts of Carmen del Puerto. It included two novels, called 'Crack Down' and 'Star Struck'. Even her single novels resemble half-bricks, so this was particulary good value at my favourite price : completely free. The battered cover had a printed sticker advertising The Bookswop, a venue I noticed later at the start of the 'Strip' , a line of shops and restaurants stretching for miles beside the 'playa grande'. Somebody had left the book on the snooker table in the Salon del Juegos. Readers, I lifted it.

The Goldsmiths talk was called 'Investing in the Creative Industries'. Industry makes me think of factories and it wasn't until I got home and did some research that I even found out what they are. There were some defininitions in Wikipedia, referring to things like the music business, films and other performance art. Funding issues are not ones I've thought much about, although they're mentioned enough, with bitterness, by Fringe directors. I don't know why I offered to write it . Maybe it was because the editor of the alumnus magazine was a particularly pleasant member of the Goldsmiths writing course. It was badly written, so I'm hoping it hides in a corner.

I did keep manage to fill a small excercise books with descriptions of Puerto del Carmen, suprisingly quiet and scenic, quite unlike the Costa del Sol. I always feel a bit dazed and disorientated in hot and sunny places, and the sense of lassitude is increased partly because I have to suit my pace to Roy's.
He exaggerates when he says I'm normally like a whirlwind - it seems to me I spend hours cooped up in my study at home, but I dash around the flat in between times, getting ready to go out. His own life is so regular: long slow breakfasting, a walk to Greenwich or Blackheath for 2-3 hours in cafes reading bridge books, then a session of actual play at one or another club in the afternoon. He meets up with an ex-BT colleague on Wednesdays, always in the same cafe near the RA, to go to a film or an exhibition. Once a month there's another crony, an ex bridge partner, who comes up from Epsom and they sit in the National Theatre foyer and chat. It would drive me mad. No wonder I am short-tempered after a few days of adapting my pace to his. It's what the Chinese call 'Growing old hand in hand together'.
Every day we walked down to the port to drink coffee overlooking the slipway of the tiny harbour. We read and I watched and photographed the wading birds and one or two fishermen on the rocks below. They seem to catch a lot of fish. A heron-like bird was identifed in an email from daughter Catherine as one of two types of egret. It was much more active than a heron - stalking about in the shallows and sticking its neck out at an odd angle to bring its head parallel with the water surface when it spotted a fish.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

This is me in Greenwich Park wearing the purple jacket I bought for a job interview for one day's teaching in Dartford. I decided against it before the interview. I decided by the time I'd done the preparation and the marking, not to mention meetings, it would add up to more time than I want to spend not writing.

I was determined not to have the same trouble as last year with the London Film Festival . Feeling I had to review every film I saw I drove myself demented with the work. It was so bad I gave up film reviewing for six months.

The festival only lasts for sixteen days, after all, and it takes me, average, five hours a review, with research and checking, so it's practically a whole day's work. I decided I'd cover only the Chinese films, but there were at least eight of them! Roy sensibly suggested I try not to review each one individually but try to rationalise, as he puts it. Anyway, if I don't count the non-mainland films and lump the rest into one article, which I'll send to Dimsum, I think that's me acquitted.

Besides, I've got my new drama responsibilities to think of. I finished off an article about the King's Head Theatre for the My Cultural Life website, which has its official 'final' relaunch on Monday, ie we need to re-submit photos before then, because Ali the site-owner thinks at the moment that it's the mug-shots of inhouse writers that are letting the site down. She rejected a couple I sent because of poor quality , and I know my camera doesn't have enough pixels. I blame my sister who told me a few years back I could get a digital camera at Argos for only £99 and I hadn't even heard of pixels then. Anyway, I'm going to get myself one as a Christmas present, although it'll be too late for Ali's relaunch.

I met a My Cultural Life fellow writer, Alan Diment, at the last festival film on Thursday, and he said Ali's own picture looks like a studio portrait. It probably is because she used to act, I think. Well, she used to be engaged to a leading actor who's in a West End show that's just opened. Alan agreed with me that it would cost too much to get professional photos done for the site.

In fact, I've overdone going out on rainy nights. I've had some kind of virus since Monday which makes me cough a lot, probably from mingling in packed venues. I was wandering around Shoreditch on Tuesday night , looking for the Amnesty International offices where I heard Jung Chang talking about problems with getting her books published in China. I'm not surprised, especially by the latest, 'Mao : The Untold Story' where he emerges as a real villain. The lecture theatre was packed to standing room at the back. They kept asking Chang questions about things she didn't know, but she just ignored them and answered the questions she had in mind to answer or told 'amusing' anecdotes I've heard before, like how she learned English from sailors at Shanghai docks.

I turned in the wrong direction leaving the the back alley location afterwards and wandered up Shoreditch High Street to find a bus stop, then retracing my steps because I needed a bus going the other way. No chance of finding Old Street Tube again.

At least I managed to get the talk written up the next day.

I was supposed to go to a fringe play in Battersea on Friday and had even accepted the kind offer of an extra ticket for Roy. I felt so tired I couldn't face it and have had to postpone until next Tuesday. This isn't good idea with a fringe show as it only runs to the 17th.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Everything Starting Again

I've been busy seeing and revewing films, plays and the odd exhibition, such as the 'First Emperor: China's Terracotta Warrors' at the British Museum. It was uncanny, being so close to the figures which had been buried for more than 2,ooo years.

I went to the London Film Festival Launch on the 13th and my press badge came in the post a few days ago. In theory I could go to all the daytime screenings for free as well as the Press Shows but after last year I'm going to be much more careful. I saw far too many and didn't allow enough time to write reviews. It even put me off reviewing for a while. Well, I'm older and wiser now - I hope. It doesn't start until the 17th October. I've ticked off the Chinese films in the catalogue and they alone are enough to keep me busy.

Besides, my language classes have started so I need to set aside some study time.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A good week.
Two nice happenings this week. First, I got an A grade for my GCSE Spanish - a sure indication, some would say that standards are not what they were.
I joined an evening class because the council built an adult college two minutes' walk away from where I live. I'd attended a beginners' class at Goldsmiths in the past - I took it up as an antidote to Chinese - and I like to go to Spain when I can. We've had a few homeswaps over the years.
I was surprised to learn it involved taking an exam. What does a retiree need with a qualification aimed at sixteen year olds? Never mind. The teacher, Carmen, was so encouraging and so conscientious that it would have seemed churlish to refuse . So I duly set about learning to express why I like discos - 'Me gusta mucha la musica!' and how I help my parents around the house.
Since the class disbanded I've been going to a Wednesday morning U3A session in a house at Herne Hill, where the emphasis tends to be on spoken language and the cultural aspects of Latin America. The half-dozen class members, older than me, are quite fluent. I join in as best I can, sticking to the present tense and resorting to French and English when I get stuck. They will surely roll their eyes in disbelief when I tell them my result.
When I announced I'd booked a couple of weeks on a cheap package in Lanzarote for December class member Miguel said they speak very bad Spanish there. He's just back from a few weeks stay in California, where he had plenty of chance to practise his Spanish. I read somewhere it's overtaking English as the majority language in the US.
The other good happened on Thursday, at a pub in Clekenwell. I was appointed 'resident- in-house-writer, along with a couple of others , for a website called My Cultural Life. It's about events in London and I've been posting reviews on it for a year or so. Ali, the young woman whose idea it was, designated certain areas of responsibility to the three of us she's chosen to cover specific areas of the 'magazine' section . I was surprised but pleased to be asked to cover 'theatre' . It'll be great to get back into a world I used to love, and I won't have to pay to see the things I review. This is the only perk of the job so far, although Ali is murmuring about eventual revenue from advertisers.
There was a third good thing this week - I learned that the back gate at Lewisham station is to be pemanently left open, so we no longer have to go down the steps to the underpass and the the long way round to get to out of the station. No doubt I wasn't the only one to write in to complain - and receive a very irrelevant reply from South East Rail management. My letter to the Evening Standard was probably more effective, though. They have this column for people to highlight failings in the transport system. It's nice to think that if enough people protest these companies take notice.
It even looks as if the weather will keep fine for the Notting Hill Carnival.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Back to Normal

We've been hosting an ex-student of mine from Singapore on his first visit to the UK, to attend a Medieval Literature conference in Leeds.

I had to turn down his original request to stay for eight days. He was with us for three days before and one day after the conference. Our flat is small, and the spare room doubles as a study. A combined bathroom and loo don't help, but that wasn't too bad.

I didn't have to paint the bedroom beforehand - that was my choice, but we're having a home-swap with my nephew in August so it seemed a good idea. His kids will be sleeping in it and it hasn't been painted in the twelve years we've been here. I managed to reassemble my desk in the main bedroom and apart from Roy complaining of the clutter it minimised the inconvenience as I could access my laptop and files.

I enjoyed sight-seeing part although alarm bells rang when Jiajun emailed to say he preferred to be escorted around. As it was I'd had to do all the Internet research about National Express coach times and costs, ditto trains from Birmingahm to Stratford as he was going there on the way.
I decided on day 2 after pointing out Admiralty arch as we stood in Traflagar Square the day before, that could find Buckingham Palace and go to the Changing of the Guard on his own. Shame the Tour de France interfered and he had to go when he came back from Leeds. I enjoyed the Sacred Texts exhibition at the British Library, with Jemima Khan's wedding dress in the 'customs and traditions' section - maybe she was still married when the exhibtion was at the planning stage. There was an interesting little video showing how to apply gold leaf to a manuscript, and the books themselves - Islamic, Judaic and Christian, shone out from the cases.

I enjoyed the out-of-town trips best. Jiajun reminded me that the big Singapore hobby is window shopping in malls, but we couldn't fit in a visit to Bluewater and he had to make do with the one in Lewisham. When I'd asked what he wanted to do in London otherwise he named the the tomb of the Black Prince andthe seaside. As a Singaporean living in Calgary - about which he complained vociferously - he says he feels landlocked. I was at a loss, until a wise friend told me I could do both on the same day, so Roy, Jiajun and I went by car first to Canterbury, because I found out that's where the tomb of the Black Prince is, and then on to Whitstable. Canterbury was crowded as the Tour de France team was expected! We had lunch in a fourteenth century inn called The Three Tuns. Jiajun said he didn't think he'd have the roast dinner because he didn't have a sweet tooth, which was a diplomatic way of saying he didn't want meat and dessert on the same plate, When I explained about Yorkshire pudding it was OK.

I chose Whitstable because it was a short detour on the way back to London, but we didn't get there until around 4pm. It was a hot day and I enjoyed a paddle in the sea at with Jiajun, picking my way gingerly over the shingle. It's a pleasant spot, with tall black fish-smoking sheds as a backdrop to the hundreds of small boats above the water line. The beach shelves quite steeply where we were, near the harbour, and is divided into fifty fot wide sections by wooden breakwaters. Roy was really happy because we arrived just as the stall holders halved the price of oysters. 25p each for the fine big specimens was quite a treat. Not for me, because I don't like them, but maybe I'll gve them a try in future. 'Surely, Sheila, we can afford to come down and stay overnight one weekend.'

What with eating-out expenses, even at cheap places like pubs and the local fish and chippie it's been costly, especially as Jiajun is on such a tight budget. I bought his his travel cards for London and although arriving Gatwick in the rush hour meant I couldn't meet him I drove him back there to save him the train fare. Going to the theatre was out of the question, but fortunately he hadn't asked. We settled for Harry Potter at West India Quay.

It was interesting to hear Jiajun's plans for his future in academia - he hates teaching so will try to minimise that in any future post. He's thirty and faces another year to qualify for PhD candidacy and then another four on the PhD itself - some aspect of medieval literature- but can't face living in Calgary so long, where, he says it snows in nine months of the year and people stay indoors.
After a while I began to think the academic life makes people very inward-looking and removed from the outside world, but maybe he's always been a bit that way. He kept in touch over the years mainly by writing about films. He was cheerful enough and kept up a stream of highspeed chat which is typical of Singaporeans. He works a couple of days at a pharmacy - he brought me some nice body lotion as a present- and some further hours as a research assistant at the university.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

!Adios Amigos!
I'll miss the Spanish Class, especially as it was only two minutes from home. I felt had to go to something as they built the new college but it was stressful to do exams. I'll stick to U3A next year.
I've already written a short story set in Spain and maybe I'll do a whole novel when I've finished the one set in China.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thank God That's Over!

I took my Advanced Fiction portfolio to Goldsmiths submissions office, in the the old Deptford town hall.

New Cross was dismal and I waited whilst the assistant searched he cupboard for the right folder.

Thank goodness that's over. I don't know why I put myself through these hoops. I'm in the middle of Spanish GCSE exams, too. I've done the oral already. It was OK except that the teacher, Carmen, was waving her arms about and I only realised later she meant I should use the past tense for one of the answers. The listening exam is onThursday afternoon so I'm going to see 'Goya's Ghost' tomorrow night to 'ambiencise' myself.

Last night at bridge someone said, 'Oh, splendid! I do think people of our age should continue to learn!'

It's not the learning I mind so much as exams and deadlines. I'm not going to have any next year; after all the courses I'm going to concentrate on writing to sell.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The tiny balcony by my bed is useless for sitting out. It's really a kind of fire-escape, although we'd have to tie sheets together then jump onto the threadbare patch of grass below.
Plastic nut containers are destroyed by squirrels but metal ones keep bluetits busy for ages. It was a mistake to buy the net of peanuts and fat-balls because the peanuts were released almost immediately by the squirrels. Fat-balls lasted longer and attracted birds big enough to perch on the pots and reach the net- mainly wood pigeons, with the odd jay and magpie.

Despite a spell of flu, generated, I think by a coach trip to the north and another to Brighton in the same week, I have written quite a few website reviews since my last entry. I was really put off by the the pressures of the BFI course last year, then by the London Film Festival. I saw too many films and didn't allow enough time to write between screenings.
Now I'm writing for about four websites and usually attend advance press screenings.
Dimsum is a website about China for the Chinese community in Britain. The arts editor is someone I met on the BFI course, and it's such a well-respected site I can mention it and get into China-related things for free. A couple of weeks back I went to the Tate Liverpool and reviewed an exhibition called The Real Thing: Contemporary Art in China. A few days before I'd been asked to contribute a piece on The Curse of the Golden Flower so that's on the same page:
A film website I write, called Cinemattraction, for is New York based. I reviewed 'Mr Bean's Holiday' and, more recently,
'Dans Paris' and 'The Singer' :
One of my favourite sites is about London events, especially fringe or minority interest is called My Cultural Life and I've written some China-related pieces for them:
Later in the week I'm going to cover a production of 'The Bald Prima Donna' by a company called Etcetera, in Camden.
I think I've managed to get the balance right now - not to try to do so many reviews that I get overwhelmed and to leave room to develop my fiction writing.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tales of the Decongested

I was pleasantly surprised when I went into Foyles on the last Friday in March. It was much less chaotic, altogether more roomy and tidy-looking than on my last visit. That was probably a few years ago, as I'd more or less given up trying to buy anything there what with the unhelpful assistants and cumbersome paying procedures. Besides, I've been using the library a lot.

I was there in the evening to listen to short story readings. These take place, apparently on the last Friday of every month at 7.00pm in The Gallery. When I tried to get to The Gallery on the second floor all was as I remembered from the old times. I turned left out of the lift, went as far as I could and when I reached an enquiry desk I was told to go to the opposite end of the building. There I saw four rows of chairs with bright red upholstery ranged in a a shallow arc in front of a platform.

The reading event is called 'Tales of the Decongested' and I'd encouraged one of my Goldsmiths class members to submit a short piece, having obtained the website address from my online writing group, www.writewords.com . He was really surprised to have his piece chosen but hadn't wanted to read it, so persuaded a friend to do so.

The event was well-attended by more than 100 people who filled up all the chairs. There was no wine because, said one of the young organisers, they were still negotiating the alcohol licence. Another sign that the old traditions have not changed too much. The standard of composition and reading was really high so I'll definitely go to the next one, on April 27th. My colleague said later he enjoyed the occasion and would submit again. It remains to be seen whether or not he'll read himself next time.

What I didn't like was that one thoughtless woman had two junior-aged children with her. Why? It wasn't billed as a childrens' event. Maybe the 'tales' of the title misled her - there are lots of library readings for children these days. The subject matter and language of the stories were very unsuitable and the organisers should have warned her.

I thought 'Tales of The Decongested' might be some kind of ironic reference to the traffic congestion charge, but more likely it's a reference to writers' block . I don't really know. The website address is http://www.decongested.com/ You can click to see stories in the archive. My colleague's story is titled 'Penalty Shoot-out', a really funny read.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Roy and I went to see 'L'Amigo de la Familia' (The Family Friend), directed by Paul Sorrentino, at the Renoir yesterday. We'd seen a previous film by this director, 'The Consequences of Love', which was an impressively told story of an ex mafia character stuck in a hotel waiting for a weekly consignment of money. He falls in love with a bar-maid. I liked the air of mystery with which the director surrounds his characters and the unexpected plot developments.

'A Family Friend' is ironically titled, a striking film with surreal tableaux-like images and an intriguing story line, although the title of the former film would suit it just as well. Mostly it was a character study of a grotesque, seventy year old miser,Geremia, who lives with his bedridden mother and preys on the local community as a loanshark whilst pretending to be helping them out of the goodness of his heart. His hobbies include shoplifting and beach combing with a metal detector although he also fishes with a Gino, a man in his forties who dresses in cowboy clothes and dreams of living in Tennessee. One of Geremia's more disgusting traits is his lust for young women - he watches female volleyball players from the window of his flat and then hires a prostitute to act out the game in his bedroom, using balls suspended from the ceiling. He is too mean to pay for an attractive woman, though.

All is well until he decides to take advantage of a local beauty queen whose parents are in his debt to pay for her wedding. She turns out to be more than a match for him. Shot mainly in a small seaside town in Southern Italy it also a night-time scene in Rome - one of the film's most striking shots with three middle-aged men in gladiator cotumes passing the coliseum. A major theme of the film is how dreams and obsessions rule peoples lives, whether it is a passion for bingo, or line-dancing or money. The acting, especially of the lead, was very convincing, a malevolent dwarf-like figure trotting round the neighbourhood with an overcoat draped around his shoulders and a plastic bag swinging like a huge flaccid phallus from an arm in plaster. In the tradition of humanist Italian directors such as De Sica (Bicyle Thieves) and Bertolucci ( The Last Emperor) Sorrentino has compassion for even the most repulsive of his creations.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I'm so annoyed to have lost the little cable that connects my camera to my computer. I took a great shot of City Hall on Wednesday, the first time I've had reason to visit, on a sunny day when so many were strolling and joggingor just hanging about along the river by Tower Bridge.

I should have known it was a waste of time anyway. I'd gone to see a Chinese documentary film that I'd received notice of by email. I must have got the dates mixed up, because the people at the front desk didn't know anything about it, and neither did the assistant downstairs. I asked could I check with the Internet but despite its hi-tech appearance the building is bereft of a computer for public use.

It must be dizzying to work in a circular building where the architects were set on emphasising its roundness - it was hard enough for me to to have to negotiate spiral ramps or come out from the lift to see a yellow wall veering to left and right in a continual curve and not know how long I'd walk before knew I'd chosen the wrong direction. There's something comforting, as I now realise, about a corner you can see ahead, no matter how distant.

Another maddening place where you can never be sure the people on the front desk know what's going on behind them is the School of Oriental and African Studies. After my Chinese class in Soho yesterday I went with Canadian Barbara to confirm there's to be a Beijing Opera show there next Tuesday. It did seem unlikely but someone had sent her an email.

Barbara was surprised when I said I'd go with her but I had made a mistake about the day to meet another sinophile chum, for lunch in Chinatown - at least I'd forgotten to confirm, so now it's to be next week instead. This happens to me a lot lately.

It was another sunny afternoon, with a crowd of international students milling about between the two buildings at the corner of Russell Square and we could hear chatter in a dozen or more languages as we walked up the steps, of first the Brunei Gallery and then the main building. No joy to be had in either - Beijing Opera was not on the schedule. 'Next Tuesday?' asked the counter assistant, hinting that it was an awfully distant date for her to know anything about, and, 'Is it an outside organisation?' as if SOAS has a resident Chinese opera troupe that had escaped her notice.

This morning Barbara tracedthe source of the email and confirmed there is indeed a Beijing Opera performance at SOAS next Tuesday. What's more, it's free. My favourite price,and definitely Barbara's.

I've checked all the other bits of download cable that are about, but I won't go straight out and buy another before I've waited a couple of days. Like most things in my possession for more than about half an hour it has been mislaid and will turn up.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Long Gap between Entries

Can it really be more than a month since I wrote something in this blog? I've been quite active on the writing front with small projects, mainly writing flash fiction and film reviews, and revising short stories. One of these I read out in my new creative writing class, Wednesday nights at Goldsmiths. I felt awkward joining in January, two thirds of the way through the course, and of course most people are much younger than me, but the standard seems high and the teacher's exercises generate at least one idea for a short story each week.

On my bigger projects, the China book and revising novel I have made almost no progress but I've manage half a day's research in the BL most weeks for a story to be set in China, about one of the last Emperor's sisters.

I suppose I've been tied up quite a lot with my language studies - Chinese in particular, but I've made a more determined effort recently. It's a challenge now I'm at a level where half the class are Chinese speakers, but since Canadian Barbara arrived to join us I'm more than ever aware of my shortcomings. It's no good me saying to myself she has two or three hours a day to devote and two other small classes to attend. In fact, my listening and speaking skills are better than hers as she is tone dead, but she definitely has better reading ability because of all the literary translations she does.

I had lunch with former classmate Pam in Chinatown on Thursday after the Frith Street class and she tells me she'll come to daytime classes next year because she'll retire in September. Well, she'll reduce her duties as doctor's receptionist to two days a week so she can come to classes twice a week. We meet near the tiny pagoda-topped pedestal that looks like a miniature bandstand and joke about being mistaken for one of the Chinese prostitutes who loiter there by the shops. They are not glamorous at all, but wear anoraks and trainers.

Carmen the Spanish teacher sets lots of homework, too, which I can see the necessity for with the GCSE exam looming in May - it seems quite soon, especially as we'll get a whole month of holiday before the exam. In fact, it's half term this week - excuse for an extra sheet or two of homework and a chance to celebrate son David's birthday as I'll have an evening free when the rest of the family are available too.

So most days before I even start writing I have an hour or two of language study and fifteen minutes of computer Bridge bidding practice to fit in. In a way I envy these single-minded writers who stay home all day and get on with it. I'd become too bored.
*The picture was added later, recording a heavy snowfall late in the month, when the greyness of my road was transformed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Re-arranging my work-room took longer than I thought. It's also the spare bedroom and I somehow thought I could swing a six-foot-six bed through 90 degrees to fit a seven foot space. The bed used to fit where the desk is now, lengthways in a long narrow room. I'd moved out the bookscases and contents from the opposite wall. I couldn't turn the bed, of course, and had to dismantle and re-assemble. What you can't see on this picture is another bed, a sort of metal shelf on wheels, with another mattress, that slides underneath. That had to be removed and upended, too. No wonder I couldn't move my right arm above elbow level for about four days! After looking on the Internet I became convinced I had something called 'frozen shoulder' , which is really nasty and can take a year to recover from, but it was just a muscle strain.

I was delighted to find that removing a top shelf and balancing it between the filing cabinet and a chest of drawers made a surface of just the right height for writing. I was steeling myself for a trip to Ikea to buy a desk. The radio/disk player is for the music - usually Mozart -that I put on and then hardly notice except to realise it has come to an end. Anything dramatic or any music with words is too distracting, as is silence.

It's surprising the difference it makes in the sense of space, without having increased the available floor area. A long thin space definitely felt cramped, whereas a square space feels twice the size.

It makes me smile, too, to remember that when I used to play golf, at which I was never much good, I always felt my game would go better after a purchase at the 'pro' shop, even if it were only a new set of tees. That's how I feel about the new room arrangement - my writing is bound to improve in the new environment.

New Year Resolution Number 1 : Find a publisher for my book about my year in China, called 'Sikworms and Snow'.