I am standing on Platform 3 at Banbury, waiting for the fast train to Marylebone. It’s barely twelve, I’ve hours until the meeting at 4:00, but I can’t bear to sit at home, compulsively tracing tube maps.
I am to meet a literary agent, who might perhaps sell my book.
My eyes are dry from lack of sleep; my wire-tight nerves have disrupted my household. The children have been mutinous over lunch box contents, the dogs restless, following me, endlessly, plucking at my attention until I shout at them. I cannot remember my book, what I wrote, nor why. I feel terribly sick.
It’s not so bad now I’m on the move, on the way. I stare down the tracks towards Birmingham and will the London train on faster, faster. Come-on-now-faster.
The train arrives already packed, and I stride down the platform in my boots, looking in for a table seat. I overtake a woman my age wearing a tight navy suit and impossibly high heels; she glances at me, at once pitying and envious. She sees my pink linen shirt, my skinny grey cords and my lucky pearls. She probably thinking I’m a country wife off for a bit of shopping, whilst she is headed for a conference; important names to remember, processed air to breathe.
I’m meeting an agent, I imagine telling her. Because for ten years, I’ve been writing a book.
I find my seat on the train, pull a large brown envelope from my bag. The postman gave it me as I was leaving home, I assume it’s something for the children, from Amazon, but it’s not. It’s a copy of Meadowland, one of my favourite books, sent to me by its author, John Lewis-Stempel. I am so pleased that I don’t even open it for a while, I just hold it on my lap, and trace the heart of the owl’s face on the front. Quite suddenly, I notice the awful, rushing sick-feeling has lessened. I had meant to spend the journey re-reading my latest edits, polishing a pitch for Book Number 2, but instead, I put my phone away, and I start to read Meadowland. It’s about a year in the life of a field, and I’m in March by the time we reach Marylebone.
I get off the train and start walking towards Baker Street. I had planned to go to the Tate for a few hours, to cram my brain with whatever was on, but instead I walk, just walk. Eventually, I get on the tube and go to Little Venice, because I’ve never been. But it’s not how I imagine.
I still have almost two hours before my meeting, so I walk again, heading towards Kensington Gardens, because I think it must be nice there. A tramp asks me for a pound, and I give him two. ‘Bless you,’ he says. I don’t tell him I’m banking karma.
I reach the park and I sit in the Italian Gardens. Green parakeets swoop between the trees just behind me, and for a while I watch the dog walkers. I’m usually you, I think. About now. But not today.
There are other agents I might meet, that might like my book, but I particularly want this one. This agent. I wouldn’t even have approached her if my mentor hadn’t told me to try. A writer friend warned me: you’re going to be a very small fish, my darling. Practically plankton. In a very large pond.
But God, what a pond.
I pull out Meadowland, and eat an apple. I reach June, when it’s time to stop reading. I’m freezing from sitting still for so long, and when I look up and around, young school children and Boden mummies have replaced the dog walkers. I think of my own daughters, the way they’d hung around my neck this morning – g’luck, Mummy, g’luck.
I march towards the tube, anaesthetised still, by Meadowland. The book describes the private life of a field on the English, Welsh borders,and it talks about the creatures that live there, the birds that return there, year after year, generation after generation. John tells of how he measures the depth of flooded grassland by the ‘plash of his wellingtons’ in the dark, and how geese remind him of irate drivers, grid-locked in LA.
Meadowland is a book that does funny things to your perception of time – to the way it’s spent, whether savoured or wasted. It does funny things to perspective, too, and reminds you of how you fit, really fit, into the grand scheme of things.
My nerves of earlier are almost gone: Meadowland as Mogadon. I can see my book now, clearly, perfectly.
I arrive at the street, the green door (Greene!), and I take a photo of it – the gleaming brass, the neat black lettering. The children wanted me to photograph everything, ‘so we can picture it properly, Mummy’. They know I’m an unreliable narrator.
I ring the bell, can’t stop myself grinning into the intercom.
‘Carlie Lee,’ I say. ‘To see Judith Murray.’
I touch a finger to the spine of Meadowland, in my bag. A beautiful, generous, unexpected talisman.
The door lock releases, and I push it open.