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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

I didn’t mean to go missing for five days, but for a writer used to having ample time for reflection this last week or so has seemed hectic.

I do think that reflection, even gazing vacantly out of the window while half listening to some consumer affairs report on the radio, is a vital part of a writer’s life. I would add to that the afternoon walks to town, the lengthy perusals of the football gossip websites, the comments I stick on You Tube, the gathering together of materials for a satisfying lunch, the afternoon tea-break - and the lengthy phone conversations I have two or three times a week with a couple of close friends. I should add that Mike calls me two or three times most working days. These non-writing activities are all a part of living life, of engaging with life, with people and the world about us. They represent my research, you might say. When I’m writing a chapter for Mike Pannett, for example, I can’t just stick to the facts - to the crime committed, the pursuit of the malefactor, and its outcome. I have to find things for him to do on his days off, things for him to mull over in his mind as he drives around the countryside, topics for discussion in the messroom or when he’s single-crewed on a long and lonely night shift. So I send him on walks with his dog during which he observes pretty much what I observe on my walks - locally, along the railway lines here, or out on the moors. I send him to football matches (and that is the one thing, the one social thing, he and I do together in real life) so that he can chat about York City over a sandwich and a cup of tea. I have given him an interest in and appetite for food which I doubt he really possesses. But I certainly do, so there are any number of references to grub in the books. I’ve twice sent him to the races, because that’s something I like to do. And I now have him planning a vegetable garden at Keeper’s Cottage. His mate Walter is based both on the old fellow he actually lodged with some years ago when he first returned to Yorkshire, and on the rural rat-catcher of the same name who taught me that trade - and an awful lot about country life - back in the 1980s.

What I am saying is that if you are a productive writer, composing accounts of believable people who live believable lives, you owe it to yourself to fit in a full life alongside all those hours of actual work. If I sit down to my desk at 0700h on a morning and retire at, say, 1930h to get dinner on the table, how many hours will I have spent actually writing? I’d guess at two or three - and I say that because the day before yesterday I know I produced my thousand words more or less in a single stretch between about eight and twelve, with an  hour off for lunch, plus a bit of head-scratching, a natter with the window-cleaner and a couple of phone calls.

Okay, catching up. The trip to London with my son was excellent. Our team cantered to a 4-0 win. Yes, I lost the chance to scoop several hundred pounds at the bookies, but my treble from Saturday, when I predicted three draws, returned £26. It was my first game at Stamford Bridge since about 1981. Why? Raising a family, living up north, and generally being skint, to put it bluntly. Of course, the old place has changed beyond recognition in that time. All that remains from that era is the old East Stand, seen here twenty minutes before kick-off and with most of the 40,000 crowd still to take their seats.

When I was a fourteen-year-old, slipping away from boarding school and nipping up to town without bothering to pay my train fare, I’d get to the ground ninety minutes before kick-off to ensure a decent view. It held 58,000 then (as many as 80,000 in the 1930s) and accommodated a greyhound track as well as a football pitch. I’d guess it then had as few as 5-10,000 seats. For a big game, once you found a place to stand you could forget going to the toilet: you were wedged in. One beer before the game was risky; two, and you ran the risk of causing yourself serious harm. 

I forgot to take my camera to London with me, but my son snapped a few pictures on his phone. The East Stand seems to feature in all of them, including this one of a Chelsea  attack towards the end of the ninety minutes.

After the game we ate in Covent Garden, exchanged Christmas presents, then took our separate trains home. I read my present all the way: it was a copy of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens.

No proper writing today: I have re-drafted the first six chapters, and am waiting to receive number 7 back from Mike and his wife with their comments and suggestions. So, with the noon-day sun shining, and the temperature nudging 48, I’m off to the allotment to continue my winter digging.

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