There I am, beavering my way along Kentish Town Road with a copy of the new Simon Armitage I’d just chanced on in the library in one hand, listening to an old Desert Island Discs on my headphones (Freddie Flintoff’s choice of “Rocket Man” at that particular moment) and heading for Tony’s Heel Bar to get a new battery for my watch, and I spy a fairly new acquaintance coming towards me and promptly put Elton on pause.
“What are you up to?” she asks.
“Working,” I say, without a pause.
She looks back at me with a knowing grin, as if to say, “As If …”
No way to explain it’s not a joke, it’s true. There’s a poem I started in my notebook a couple of days ago now, a few more lines scribbled out yesterday on the inside of a paper bag, several more this morning; then there’s the new Jack Kiley story I’ve been thinking about ever since I finished reading Tim Winton’s “Eyrie”, except that even I can see it hasn’t got beyond somehow inserting Kiley into Winton’s novel and rewriting it as if it happened in NW5; and beyond that, there’s a new Frank Elder something-or-other I’ve started twice, no, three times, not knowing if it was going to be short story or a novel, maybe even a novella, and found excuses to set aside – another Frank Elder when I’ve said to the world and her wife I don’t know how many times, all that Elder stuff, it’s all played out. And, believe me, all that stuff is there, somewhere in my head, under my cap, jostling around beneath Freddie’s slightly self-deprecating Lancashire good humour and Elton’s rocket man soaring sadly off away from his family, there behind the back and white dog that keeps pushing its nose insistently against my friend’s outstretched hand, the man coming out of Gregg’s with what might be a cheese cob or a brace of doughnuts held tightly inside a paper bag, a mother and daughter hesitating on their way into Poundstetcher and the ambulance winding up its siren down by the corner of Prince of Wales’ Road, all that stuff that might one day settle down into something more than passing thoughts, stray words, bit and pieces of sentences that might find their way onto the page.
“Yes, working,” I say and head off on my way.