Wednesday, October 15, 2014


One good thing about being a writer is not having to retire. Writers hardy ever want to retire. They keep scribbling away, and piling up the paper. Anything sets them off, they are always reaching for an ever-handy pen.

The fox on the fence
The other morning for instance, I was lying in bed listening to the radio and gazing at the windows draped with their unexceptional Warehouse curtains. The light was shining through them – a nice day was promised. The abstract pattern of the curtains is of nothing in particular but in tasteful smokey colours of pink, grey and the palest ochre.

While thinking vaguely about getting up I have often seen images in those curtains. Among other identifiable shapes there is a large figure 2 zooming along with a trail of exhaust fumes, and the head of a Japanese boy-child. How do I know it’s a boy-child? Something about the haircut. I see these often, so it must be something about the way the folds hang. This morning, however, there was something new: a chimpanzee. Almost a whole one, head, shoulders and belly and looking a little apprehensive. It was so clear that I wondered why I hadn’t seen it before.

In order to see shapes in curtains – and for that matter in wallpaper and shrubbery, a skyline of trees (see "Poodle in the Sky" posted May 2012), fences, clouds … ah, clouds! Even as a small child I remember lying on my back on the grass watching clouds scud past, trying to catch the images before they dissolved, billowed and morphed into other images. I still do that, but more sedately, from the comfort of the sofa on the deck.

Where was I? Oh yes, lying in bed looking at the curtains, seeing a chimp and trying to explain what is necessary to see shapes where none are supposed to be. I suppose, like writing, it requires imagination and a willingness to drift into a watchful, receptive state of slightly unfocussed attention. Like those magic eye pictures which look ordinary until you relax and glaze over, when the images swell and deepen and appear three-dimensional.

The most unlikely patch of curtain can morph into an unexpected image. The most prosaic area of a garden can reveal a surprise. The most insignificant object can trigger a story, an essay, a poem. Lolling about, not-quite-thinking, can be very productive. Often that’s when the best ideas appear, the ones that turn out to be the most productive, the most interesting, the most urgent, or the most unexpected.


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