I congratulate myself that I am now a city girl, having lived with cars, pollution and nearby theatres, restaurants and university for fifteen years but having gone down to London this week - I know people call it up to London but there you go - I realise what a naive little soul I am.
You'll love this because it sounds terribly impressive. I went to London to see my agent, meet my new editor, have dinner with writing friends at a club which was built in Georgian times, and generally be seen. I was looking forward to the dinner, then having afternoon tea with my editor and agent the day after and winding up at a writers' party in a library. How very apt.
I got new clothes to go. What a good excuse to spend money. I traveled first class otherwise I would never persuade myself to the station and when I got to London I walked around the corner to the Premier Inn at Kings Cross.
Could anything be handier? Yes, I almost choked at the price but hell, London is all like that and it has to be the best Premier Inn in the world and that's saying something. There are few places better than a Premier Inn. The staff knock themselves sideways for you, their beds are so good I always wish I could smuggle one out in my suitcase and the food is well, at least edible and this one was particularly good. The wine is excellent and not terribly expensive. If you like red go for the beefsteak Malbec. Seven quid for a huge glass. Also Premier Inns are ideal for single women. You don't have to go outside in the darkness, there is always at least one restaurant on hand and there was also a Costa coffeeshop and a big foyer or entrance hall or whatever you call it where you could sit and read, talk, work and in my case read George Gissing and enjoy my wine. The staff were lovely and asked me if they could help without being a pain about it. Wonderful people. I hope that next time I have the flu I can stay in the Premier Inn at Kings Cross, everything is at hand and I don't suppose they would turn a hair if I went downstairs in my pyjamas, my pyjamas being black and by Calvin Klein.
I always forget what hell London is to get around in and since I've hardly been in five years it has gotten so much worse. You really would be better off walking and I hadn't seriously considered it or buses or tubes and I had taken no shoes which would be suitable so my agent despaired because she has lived there almost forever and knows what a gridlock London is.
The dinner was lovely though being partially deaf I hate wooden floors and the kind of tables where you sit in rows facing one another. I can't hear anything past the person I'm sitting next to and if she has a soft voice I'm lost and end up like one of those daft nodding dogs in the back of cars. Nobody knows how limiting deafness is unless they have experienced it. I did try not to embarrass myself and to make reasonable conversation but I fear they just thought I was losing it mindwise.
The following day I had nothing to do until three o'clock. Now an intrepid traveller would have gone to an exhibition, gone shopping ( though to be fair the shops here are just as good) but when my agent asked me how I had spent my morning I had to admit that I sat in the foyer and read. Nothing would induce me to walk about in London. For God's sake, all that pollution!! My view also these days is if it's a decent exhibition you can't get close and if it isn't then what the hell are you doing there?
So we set off at three, were meeting my editor at four. My agent had already implied I was a complete clot for having no suitable footwear and since there was a student demonstration in London it took is an hour and a half and even then we didn't get to the right place.
We ended up in a little pub near the house of commons eating ham sandwiches and being incredibly cheerful. Luckily my new editor is absolutely lovely and didn't seem at all fazed and then we went to the party.
I can't remember the last time I went to a party and didn't wish I was at home. There were hundreds of people shouting at the tops of their voices, it was so hot it could have been a sauna and there again yes, I couldn't hear!! I baled out and spent the next hour getting back to the joys of my Premier Inn. God bless the people who thought up such wonderful hotels. I could have wept with relief as I staggered into the bar. The staff remembered me from the night before and brought me my lovely wine so George Gissing and I spent two hours in the foyer where it was light and comfortable, nobody bothered us and I read my kindle with glee. New Grub Street. Brilliant book!!
This morning I almost cried when the bloke on the train back had a Newcastle accent. I know it is very tiny of me to be so prejudiced but I can't help it. When I got off the next lovely bloke was the man who looked after the local stations and he carried my bag for me. He said they hadn't finished revamping Durham station and he said it was his favourite station and I said it was my favourite station too and neither of us was lying. I always want to weep when I come home. The views from the train of my lovely little city are all there below me, the houses all different colours, the cathedral and the castle and the river. I feel about Durham like Londoners feel about London. How could anybody live anywhere else?
I will go back. I need to make London mine again. It's where my work is, where the books are produced, where the agents and the editors have to live, God love them and I don't think they would want it any other way, at least if they hadn't lived in Durham so I will take London by the scruff of its neck and next time I pass the great big church all lit up near the bridge I won't have to say,
'What a pretty church,' and my agent with admirable aplomb said,
'Yes, that's Westminster Abbey.'
And I was generous enough not to say - and it costs sixteen quid to get in -
'It isn't a patch on Durham cathedral. And the cathedral is free.'