Monday, 11 July 2011

On taking a day off!

So - I haven't got a title (see my last post - just in case you thought I was referring to a ladyship).  Waiting for a title is a bit like waiting for a late train.  Shall I count to 20, 30, 50 - and then look at the board to see if it might turn up any time soon?  Or maybe change my destination - who wants to go to London anyway, when Cheltenham beckons.  I've revisited title ideas, and come up with the same drivel over and over again.

Time to take a day off.  What shape should this day take?  A trip to London . . . No - following on from some of the thoughts that swam about after reading Kathleen Jamie's book (see a couple of posts ago) I decided to have a silent day.  She talks of the demise of the Sabbath, a day when everyone was expected to put down their pens, their picks and shovels, and reflect on the almighty; she suggests that this lack of quiet space makes the noisy times even more intrusive.  Her writing - which is poetic, and beautiful, and all sorts of repetitive words like that - is testimony to her capacity to seize the quiet times.

I don't do religion, but I do, at times, think I long for a space where I can be really quiet.  Although I live alone, I still feel the raucous onslaught of 2011.

I made minimal rules. I would spend the day with no TV, no computer, no radio, and no music.  I would only do one thing at a time (so no playing with the crossword while I ate; no stirring soup with a book in my hand; no going for a long walk plugged into a radio).  I would telephone my old aunt (she would have a fit of the vapours if I didn't), and answer the phone if it rang.  But I wouldn't ring anyone else. And I could eat and drink whatever I liked - this was not a hair-shirt, bread-and-water day.

It was an interesting day.  Some of it was wonderful - I went for a long walk in Savernake Forest and noticed a little pink flower clinging to the bank near my house - why hadn't I seen it before?  And the cat-like cry of the buzzard - what had upset him?  Was I too close to a nest?  Surely he could see there was no chance I'd shin up his tree to inspect an egg or two.

But eating meals without a distraction was difficult. I made an effort, cooked food that was different, designed to be appetising.  But all that effort and I shovelled it down my throat in less than ten minutes and my stomach struggled with the sudden weight of it.  Another time I'll be more flexible.

There was a low point when I saw the evening stretching in front of me.  All those silent hours, without the distraction of the internet, the TV.  But I read, a bit of Stephen Fry, a few stories in Mslexia, poems in Ambit. Hours slid by without me trying. I used to read like that in my teens, hour after hour, resenting the necessity of meals. As an adult, reading has been fitted in - between work and family and friends and writing and TV and the computer - it was such a joy, discovering that it is still possible to read for that long, oblivious to passing time.

There were other surprises.  I spent far less time faffing - just filling time for the sake of it, no hitting the refresh button on facebook, pottering on twitter until some programme came on the telly. Finding resources in myself was easier than I'd anticipated - I read, I wrote (in my notebook, pages and pages of scribble) and savoured this respite from technology.

Who knows if it will make any difference - to my writing, or to my relations with the way I live. I'm back at the computer today (obviously), but with good resolutions to keep it in its place. I shall keep faffing time to a minimum. I shall listen for the buzzard; maybe he has a story to tell.

And yes, I may do it again, from time to time. It's wonderful how noisy one's mind becomes when the world is silent.


  1. Love the idea of a quiet day though I would imagine it's a lot harder than you think it should be.
    Might have missed something (entirely possible)... but I don't see why you can't call it 'gap years are wasted on the young'. I like that title.
    However will get thinking.
    Annie x.

  2. The quiet day was easier than I'd expected, once I got into it. And has given me masses to think about.

    The title - it doesn't tell you what the book is about. And it's too negative. Which doesn't mean it's not a great sentence - it just doesn't work as a title. (And yes, I like it too - but I have to listen to advice like that.)

    I've got an idea or two - they are simmering. Any others so very welcome.

  3. Have you read Sarah Maitland's book 'The Book of Silence'? If not, I thoroughly recommend it - Elinor

  4. Elinor - No, I haven't read it, though I remember reading about it when it came out. Time to head for Amazon and buy a copy . . .