Some things that I know for sure

July 12, 2009

1 Even a cod can be sacred
I must admit that I wouldn’t have been convinced had I not gone to Boston for the first time last weekend and seen the Sacred Cod with my own eyes. For those who don’t know, the Cod hangs in splendour in the Massachusetts state house—and is now, for me, the emblem of a city which has grabbed my heart. Boston has it all – history (tons of the stuff), coffee shops, elegant new buildings, boat trips across the harbour, ancient graveyards, crabcakes of succulent loveliness, antiquarian book stores to die for.. . . and Beacon Hill, which has now become # 46 (in no particular order) of ‘places Sarah would like to live.’ Britain’s favourite food – cod and chips – will never look the same again. And long live Boston Cream Pie!

2 There are some eras during which one is fortunate not to have lived

Part 1: I had always considered myself pretty knowledgeable on the First World War (the 1914-18 variety), partly due to having spent many happy hours as a child/teenager pulling my father’s books on the subject out of his glass-fronted mahogany bookcases and reading accounts of the Somme (and other holocausts) that were entirely inappropriate for my age. And also because the man my Granny really wanted to marry (as opposed to his brother whom she actually did marry) died at Ypres. However, Hew Strachan’s extraordinary TV series that Husband and I are currently watching night after night has immersed us in a grey, grainy, great-coated misery that reveals things we didn’t know – Italian soldiers fighting high in the Alps. And oh, the poor Serbs . . . A great, groaning agony that spat out a new world.

Part 2: Yesterday I added Antietam to the list of civil-war battlefields I have visited. British people don’t grow up knowing much about the American civil war so here, only a few miles from the first battle of Manassas, I have made it my business to find out. On September 17, 1862, McLellan and the Union army met General Robert E. Lee and his army of Northern Virginia near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The result – known as Antietam after the creek of that name – was the bloodiest day of combat in American history. Thousands died in the Cornfield. Thousands died on the Sunken Road, known now as Bloody Lane. Twenty-three thousand in all. We walked through the soft, shimmering grass of summer and saw them.

3 Parents never stop worrying about or missing their children

I have one in the Middle East, somewhat ill, doing things that are anxiety-inducing, in extreme heat. I have another four weeks off starting at U California, but currently one visa short of a full load. Need I say more.

4 It is not a good sign when you dream about your Blackberry

But that is what I did last night. It seems that in my dream I was in New York at some publishing event, attended by those lovely people from Egmont USA. Regina Griffin was (in my dream) moving house, and suddenly – before my eyes – my Blackberry doubled in size and turned into a Garmin sat-nav. Panic – where were my emails???? They had vanished and all I could see were roads. This could either mean I’ve become very preoccupied with the planning for my upcoming trip to LA. Or it could just mean I’ve gone completely mad.

5 There is nothing like the exaltation of facing down your demons

I have two major demons. One is Not Yet Ready to be Discussed. The other, I conquered this week. It is embarrassingly feeble, so please be nice to me as I confess. Here goes: ‘My name is Sarah and I used to be scared to swim with my face in the water.’ Now I can, with the help of my pink goggles. OK, it’s a silly, small thing to you – but a great big thing to me. And now I can even do the crawl. Family members are in a state of shock; all the former order of the world has been overturned. Sarah’s hair gets wet. An old dog can learn new tricks!

6 Everything matters to a writer

This is what I really, really believe – that everything we do and feel, all the things we experience, MATTER to our writing. Because these are the things that we are, and our writing comes from that place within us. What else can there be? The craft of writing simply orders and shapes that which we know. This is what I have:

Three blue flowers blooming among the waving grass of Bloody Lane. A fragment of stained grey coat that vanishes as I turn my head. The ache in my heart because however hard I try, I can’t make things ‘right’ for the people I love. An unfolding map that writes my onward journey. And the silence at the bottom of a deep, blue pool.

It is from all these, and so much more, that I lay down my words.

7 Always keep a good horse to hand

Paul Revere knew this, and all those years ago he saw the lanterns, leapt on his horse and went charging out of Boston, yelling (though actually he didn’t really), ‘The British are coming! The British are coming!’

So, polish your bridle and prepare the oats. Mr Revere was right. The British are indeed coming – and our names are Sarah and Julia.

Enjoy your week and take care.

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