Sunday, 21 April 2013

For Whom The Bell Tolls

So, Twitter's alive with the news of Baroness Thatcher's funeral, and the route's announced. It's  passing within five minutes' walk of our favourite writers' haunt, The Bear & Staff pub in Charing Cross Road.
Rob tweets.

The Bear & Staff

'Fancy a cheeky one, group?'

We tweet back that a 'cheeky one' ( London slang for an unplanned drink or indeed, any short burst of illicit activity) could be ideal use of this beautiful spring morning.

We don't call in at the pub - 11.00 am is a bit early even for us - but station ourselves in the coffee shop on Trafalgar Square, by St Martin's Church.

Waiting to Watch Baroness Thatcher's Funeral

We chat about the  trouble ahead - Margaret Thatcher was a Prime Minister who divided the nation, inspiring adulation from some and from others, bitter hatred. A gaggle of protesters crowds into our coffee shop. They are bullied by their  massive banner, which refuses to lean neatly against the wall, constantly falling down and apart, simultaneously. We discuss, in whispers, their extreme youth - can they remember the humiliation of the coal miners, the loss of Britain's proud manufacturing trade and the 'there is no such thing as Society' comment, we wonder.  We're super intrigued when they announce, far too loudly, an intention to turn their backs on the funeral party as it reaches Ludgate Hill.

A Gaggle of Protestors
Keeping politics out of it, for we are a mixed bunch, we discuss the issue as writers - how vital  time and place become when you plan a novel. Dan's thriller would have extra fascination were his protagonist to hide in this very coffee shop. He could, perhaps, hope to be mistaken for the owner of the 'rest in shame' banner. Ruth's time-travelling witch could alight here and join the mourners in her black gown and cloak. As for Rob's hero Vordek, well, surely even he couldn't contemplate the inappropriate pursuit of yet another hapless female at a funeral. Or could he?

Jostling For A Vantage Point
Observing our own beloved city in the context of our novels is a fascinating exercise. Ruth's brought along Natalie Goldberg's great classic 'Writing Down the Bones'. We turn to page 108 and use 'A Tourist in Your Own Town' as the basis of a writing session. Natalie considers what she loves about her home town; old coffee cups, sparrows, city buses, thin ham sandwiches. We should, she says, make a list. We should fall in love with the familiar again, and make a solemn vow to use each one  in a poem, short story or article before we die.

I turn to my novel's hero Thomas Tarling, and how it would feel to be arrested when the legal system was falling apart, the Metropolitan Police not as yet in existence. I think of the dreaded Newgate gaol, not a quarter of a mile from where I'm sitting, of imprisonment without benefit of lavatory or regular food. To be  taken for a murderer, with no evidence, no possibility of a barrister, no right to be represented in court in any case; what would that have been like?

We Watch From Ludgate Hill

We down our coffee and head for the streets. They are packed with people. They aren't the rich, nor the famous; some are Thatcher's supporters, some are not. You can't tell because London's own have done what they always do - overridden the views of the media, the TV, the politicians who had the gall to make headway out of this death. 'She was an old lady, consider 'er grandchildren,' says the man beside me. 'Show some respect.' We zip along  Ludgate Hill, hoping for a view of our protesters. If they do turn their backs on the procession, I shall find a way to put it in my novel. I see the Paratroop Regiment, arranged in lines up Ludgate Hill to pay their respects. No room for any banner-holders to squeeze in there amongst the berets. I suppress a grin. That's how we do things in London.

That's How We Do Things in London

Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing; no-one to blame
Erica Jong

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