Sunday, 22 July 2007

There’s a new computer in the house…

…so, as you can imagine, I have no time for anything except trying to make this new lodger talk to me and, more to the point, obey my orders. So far so tractable… but I haven’t asked it to link up to any other computer yet, over there in cyberspace. I hope it will agree to do that without dragging its feet too much because my patience is wearing thin.
In the meantime, two of my most favourite places in the world (I haven’t been anywhere much so they might not be on anyone else’s list of ‘100 sites to visit before you die’) – Stratford-upon-Avon and Tewkesbury – are under water. I’ve seen pictures. Awful!

Here, in my second-floor flat in Central London, I am not completely unaffected by the torrential rains: we haven’t had any hot water for the past two days because of it. Don’t ask me why; it’s too preposterous, as usual with anything to do with this building.


Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Boom booming

Yesterday morning (well, OK, lunchtime), I was sitting at my desk trying to convince myself that, yes, if I could translate four pages of a novel satisfactorily I could translate another 279 just as well, and, yes, I would stop having nightmares about it soon, when suddenly the building shook: a loud thud was reverberating through the floor and the walls of my flat.

Another mini earthquake followed, then another and another, and so it went on, practically without interruption, until 5pm. At some point, I went out on a recce and discovered piles were being driven into the soil next to our block of flats.

We knew it was going to happen: we had circulars warning that the owner of a small block adjacent to ours had asked planning permission for an extension. Everyone here was against it. We wrote letters to the council; we tried to have it stopped. Since the guy is French, I volunteered to go and swear at him in my mother tongue, but, for some unfathomable reason, my offer was turned down. As was his first proposal. But, of course, he modified the specifications again and again, and eventually he was allowed to build.

Apart from the initial shock, the first BOOM scared me, and I’ve been trying to understand why. I think it comes from an atavistic fear: although the piles are being driven vertically, it feels like the building is under attack and being rammed into. I have the impression that my home – my refuge, my sanctuary – is at risk.

I may be right too: a structural engineer has given the OK to the work next door, but who knows what this constant shaking will do to our building. We are already aware that some of us will be deprived of daylight; what else is in the offing?

I learned tonight that the shaking of my walls (my windows rattled too today) might go on for months. Why did the council ever say ‘yes’ to that greedy landlord? Why don’t reasonable petitions ever work? Slap!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Full circle

Life’s a funny old thing.

I was still at college when I got my first full-time job. While my fellow students still faced the prospect of having to look for work at the end of their last year, I was earning a good salary as a translator and archivist (employed by the CNRS; yes, like Luca Turin at some point in his career) at the Neurophysiology lab of the Faculty of Science in Nice, which was (still is) situated in a wonderful park full of gorgeous plants and flowers. Everyone was nice; I drove a cute little car; I felt happily settled, but eventually I realised I was too young to be such a bourgeoise and, at the end of my two-year contract, I left. I lost touch with my bosses (a charming couple of researchers) for 35 years – until I traced them again (it wasn’t difficult: they hadn’t moved around like me), and these days we are very close friends. They are incredibly supportive and keep me in Provençal goodies.

Back to the mid-’70s: after a short English hiatus, I found myself in the right place at the right time again, and became a literary translator in Paris, working for one of the most influential editors of foreign literature in France. I had my name on the covers of books; I went to book launches and cocktail parties and met well-known writers, but the freelance life is not for the young. Sitting in a room, day in day out, with a typewriter for company can be soul-destroying and I got depressed. Also, the Royal Shakespeare Company was still calling my name, and, again, after five years, I left.

That was 28 years ago. In the meantime, my French editor has moved to another – just as prestigious – publishing house, and, guess what, I am now working for her again (me and Alain de Botton, in fact, but not together, unfortunately). It’s a rather strange feeling: it delights me and makes me slightly dizzy at the same time.

Some might say (my parents certainly did, every time) I deserve a slap for turning my back, at least twice, on things others would have given their eyeteeth to get.

See you next year! I’m only half joking: I have a challenging 300-page novel to translate and no idea yet how to pace myself – it’s so long since I last undertook such a huge amount of work. Years ago, of course, it would have been easy: I would have waited until a few weeks before the deadline before starting on it, and I would have been dead at the end. I am a different person now, thank goodness. Now, if x is the time it takes to do a first draft and y the time it takes to....

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Tête à claques XIV

I had been planning to slap Mariella Frostrup for a while, but, you know how it is… However, since my commenters have questioned her presence on the list of Slappees below, I don’t think I can put it off any longer.

Something like 15 years ago, she presented a programme on Channel 4 entitled The Little Picture Show. It was on very late at night – probably just before the preposterous Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV (I’ve always worked at night with the TV on, preferably rubbish so my brain doesn’t have to engage with it too much) and it was just as inane. I’m afraid I took an instant dislike to Mariella. Who was this blonde bimbo with a rasping, flirtatious voice who reviewed the latest video releases? She may have been saying interesting things, but I couldn’t get past the annoying, staccato voice. I was repulsed by it, but I carried on watching: the awful can very often be fascinating.

It went on for a few months, then she disappeared. I believe she was George Clooney’s girlfriend or something useful like that for a while. Much much later, when I thought I could escape her by not looking at those pages in magazines that show bleary-eyed celebs staggering out of night-clubs, she turned up on Radio 4 – of all places! Presenting a book programme! Aaargh!

So, anyway, it’s been years and she’s finally getting a bit better (I would have sacked her after her first interview: it was such a disaster). I listen to Open Book because anything about literature interests me, but it’s through clenched ears (I know, I know).

She really was nothing but a blonde girlie with a sexy voice, but she was given the chance to learn on the job, from scratch. So many others, more talented, never get a look-in. I know she’s not the only one but, hey, who says I have to be fair?

Oh, yes, there’s something else: this is what she said, when asked what she missed most about her old life (i.e. before babies, etc.), ‘I miss the sheer indulgence of it. I miss having time to sit in a café, drink a coffee and read a paper. But, what I miss most are those lost afternoons; the ones where you meet a friend for lunch, drink a bottle of wine and then decide to order another one because you have nothing else to do.’

When did you have a life like that?

I rest my case.

Update (19/07/07): I feel like taking back everything I said about Mariella. I’ve just heard say that she didn’t understand why adults read Harry Potter, since there were soooo many wonderful books for adults. I may have misjudged the woman...