Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I swear that despite all my noble thoughts of great British gumption, I would have stayed in bed for one more day, because I am still feeling most peculiar, but I had to drag my weary bones downstairs because there is the small matter of the Vital Document.
I give the Organised People permission to leave the room now. This will only make you cross and sad.
My filing system is the most ill-named thing since Sarah Palin started talking about the Real America. (Begging the question: what is the Fake America? And how can you tell? Is there a test? Will there be maths?) It is composed, I am ashamed to tell you, of Piles. Sometimes these are arranged in attractive baskets, because I once read a copy of Country Living; sometimes they find themselves rather sadly ON THE FLOOR.
In the general run of things, I can find most pieces of paper, eventually. But every so often there is a document of vital import which must be retrieved - an MOT test, my car insurance, something for the poor benighted accountant, a contract for French language rights - and I have no memory of it. I know I have put it in a Safe Place. (You see that this kind of confession requires stupid amounts of gratuitous capitals, something, along with exclamation marks, that I sternly tell my writing students to avoid on pain of death.) This is one of those times.
So now there must be frantic scrabbling. I crouch on the floor, watched with concern by the dogs, rummaging madly through every single piece of paper that has accrued in the last three years. I find many other vital documents, which is quite gratifying in its way, but of course not THE one. I send off pathetic exculpatory emails to the poor person waiting vainly at the other end. I imagine the long-suffering sighs which must greet each lame request for more time. 'I know it is somewhere,' I say. 'I shall get there eventually'. Yeah, yeah, I imagine the person saying to herself, and I just saw a Gloucester Old Spot flapping past the window.
The idiotic thing is that my good mother brought me up to be organised and efficient. She is madly tidy, and knows where things live. Somewhere along the line, some time in my twenties, everything went badly wrong. I think it was that I fell in love with the notion of Being a Writer, rather than the thing itself. When I was younger, and first starting out, I thought that you had to live in a certain way if you were a creative. I saw all those pictures of the famous studies of famous novelists, with their tottering manuscripts and towers of books, and must have subconsciously seen it as a zero sum game. Either you knew where your insurance documents were, or you could write Tender is the Night. No middle ground, no sir.
Too late I discovered the great Flaubert quote: be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. By that stage I had imbibed the entire Creative notion. There should be a certain carelessness in your dress, the occasional transgression of bourgeois mores, a definite tendency to drink at lunchtime. Pieces of paper: pah.
Now I think: damn Flaubert, for being right. I am bored witless by the panic and rummaging and rifling that must go on each time another Vital Document is required. How hard can it be? I am almost forty-four, and I should know better. I used to think it was charming and flaky to live in a slight haze of mild chaos; now I start to think it wastes too much time. I could write a whole other book in the time it takes to do the rummaging.
Of course the good life lesson (because there must always be a Lesson) to come out of all this is not so much that I MUST HAVE A FILING SYSTEM, but that people are always kinder and less cross than I imagine in my fevered head. An email has just arrived saying not to worry; there is yet time. Apparently, the very patient person tells me, I am not the only client to have mislaid a document. The flagellating part of my mind tells me she is just being nice, but perhaps it is true. It is of course the most reassuring thing in the whole world: to be told that you are not the only one. Funnily enough, it is one of the things I like most about blogging: from reading the comments here, and the confessions in other people's blogs, I get living proof that one is never quite alone in all one's absurd flaws and quirks and moments of self-doubt. There is something profoundly lovely in that.
Now for the pictures of the day. I tottered out on my old lady legs and found amazing signs of life.
All kinds of buds:
It was a rotten old day, with lingering snow and sheet ice and a raw feeling in the air, yet there were still the colours:
There was lichen, and moss:
And old leaves:
The Duchess delicately contemplated a very, very small stick:
While the Pigeon, who has no delusions of grandeur, gamely attacked a really, really big one:
(For those of you who worry about these things, they are only allowed to dismember very soft old sticks, so there is no danger of splinters.)
And, of course, the hill, rather impressionistic today:
(I realise suddenly that I have labelled these pictures 14th January. All day I was convinced it was the 14th and only now I discover it is the 13th. No wonder I cannot find the vital documents when I do not know what day of the week it is. The bonus to flakiness: now I feel as if someone has given me an extra day. It's a tiny silver lining.)
Finally, something should be said about President Obama's beautiful speech, but really I think my friend Miss Whistle got it right when she simply chose this one sentence from it, and posted it on her blog without comment:
'We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.'