Across Continents

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Pen and ink

“Plausible impossibilities should be preferred to unconvincing possibilities” Aristotle

A link I’d been sent recently to a reputable website, the BBC in point of fact, had been a gentle reminder that literature is inextricably bound to the landscape. Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie. Somerset. Wordsworth and the Lakes. Virginia Woolf. Cornwall. Whilst I didn’t exactly disagree with the writer’s assertion, the romanticisation of rural Britain would have been a better premise for the piece. Exploring the irony that in doing so, in bringing such idyllic locations to the attention of the masses, the middle classes at least, the very essence the authors had sought to capture would be lost. Forever.

I’d hated Cider with Rosie at school but as an adult loved its descriptive prose, the fine detail. You could taste the morning dew, the crunch of freshly plucked apples. But what I liked most were the manuscripts. Scrawled handwriting, as if written in haste, struggling to get ideas onto paper before they might be lost. Insights into composition that would endure. I’d imagined a writing desk, blotting pad and an ink bottle. Generous black strokes, scribed deeply into thick parchment paper. A contemplative silence ruffled only by the gentle tick of a clock. Beyond, a bay window, soft early morning sunlight.

And then I remembered. Freshly made coffee. A small cafetiere, filled to the brim, the plunger precariously balanced on a thick crust of grounds. My inspiration, frequent sips as a smoker might draw on a cigarette. Dylan Thomas perhaps, surrounded by discarded papers, crumpled in frustration, lying now on a tatty, stained carpet. Soft hazy spirals rising slowly from nicotine stained fingers. Ash on the page, a small tumbler of cheap whisky within reach.

I doubted if anyone wrote novels long hand these days, but hand written prose still had its place, the art of letter writing at least offering a gravitas electronic media could never match in an intrinsically sensual world. Fine vellum wasn’t necessary, indeed composition on the back of a paper napkin, jottings on cheap hotel headed notepaper, suggested the author had made that extra effort, had sought to share their thoughts, their feelings, with a freshness, a spontaneity that might otherwise have been lost.

The plunger slid down with ease. Quickly decanted into a mug marked Captain. I’d nautical aspirations, rather more Swallows and Amazons than the open ocean. Returning to the kitchen table, neatly stacked with work for the day ahead. Soft brown leather organiser, a trusted companion, now with light sheen from years of faithful service, a gloss disrupted only by a few deeply ingrained freckles. Couple of A level texts. Mathematics. Classic works but with bright, appealing covers and well presented text inside. A scientific calculator with a soft grey case. Creativity can be ordered, a beauty in precision quite possible.

[Despite a childhood aversion to Cider with Rosie – one of his set texts for English Literature – the author actually secured a respectable ‘O’ level, as much to the surprise of his teacher as to himself]


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