I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
When I read this last week – under a blanket on our sofa, just after the British Gas man had left us with a new boiler and no thermostat, so that our flat swiftly got blissfully hot – I felt ever so snug and reassured. It has got to be one of the most comforting first lines of all literature ever.
I first read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith when I was ten or eleven years old. I remember very clearly sitting on a bench in the playground of my primary school and telling a teacher that I was reading it. I had hoped she’d be impressed, as it was quite a grown up book, and I thought I was rather precocious to be reading it so young. But she just smiled and said, ‘Oh yes, by the lady who wrote 101 Dalmatians, how sweet.’
I was rather put out. For I Capture the Castle is nothing like 101 Dalmatians. Not that the latter isn’t a great story, but it is something a of a babyish one. This one is a quite different kettle of fish.
I’m not sure if my anxiety levels in the run up to my wedding quite came across in my last post. I was more than a little bit nervous. And stressed. And I found myself unable to concentrate on anything unweddingy. It occurred to me that it was not unlike an illness … which was when I had a Eureka moment.
Whenever I’m poorly – I mean really poorly with a temperature, rather than just a bit snuffly and sorry for myself (which happens at least every fortnight during the winter) – I find there’s nothing better than reading children’s books. When my tonsils were removed last year, I whizzed through loads of exciting books by Philip Reeve, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and – thank you Julia for the best recommendation of all time – A Long Way from Verona, my first Jane Gardam. If I retreat back to my mother’s for extra-special TLC, I tend to read through several of my old favourites. The Narnia books, Swallows and Amazons, even Tintin if I’m feeling really peculiar.
I realised that the only thing I could possibly even hope to read in the few days before I got married, was a children’s book.
So I swiftly reread A Long Way From Verona, which I somehow got through in a single blissful night (perhaps as I’ve read it so many times already) and already felt much more human. The following day I popped along to the bookshop, where everyone was surprised to see me and thought I must be terribly excited. I said that actually I felt rather queasy and nervous, but that seemed to get dismissed as nonsense. Anyway, after much browsing of the children’s shelves and finding that nothing that I hadn’t already read looked quite right, I alighted on I Capture the Castle and realised it was perfect.
And I started to read it that very afternoon, in our warm flat, which felt even warmer after reading all the descriptions of the bitterly cold castle where Cassandra lives in very romantic poverty with her beautiful sister Rose, reclusive writer-with-writer’s-block father, and artistic stepmother Topaz. Incidentally, I soon realised – with a peculiar feeling of a penny dropping – that this is the book in which I originally came across the delightfully silly phrase ‘communing with nature’ (which Topaz does all the time).
But the next couple of days passed in such a whirlwind of activity that I was only on around page fifty by the time we went on our honeymoon! But this turned out to be rather fortuitous.
For the HUSBAND (no longer fiancé!), had caught a nasty vomiting bug, we were both absolutely zonked out and happened to be staying in the swankiest loveliest hotel in the world – in a suite that was larger than our flat!! – thanks to my brother’s very generous wedding present. So although we were to spend a great deal of time wandering around Paris feeling like it was terribly romantic and weren’t we happy and in love, we also spent rather a lot of time cocooned in our enormous suite in a comatose state eating chocolate. All of which was rather conducive to reading a gorgeous novel about a girl cocooned in a castle, wanting to be a writer and falling in love for the first time.
I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I shall say it again. I adore coming-of-age novels. And I personally find they are particularly good when the main character wants to be a writer. Yessssss, I hiss to myself in my head, I can relate to this …
Of course, our honeymoon was interesting enough for me not to read the entire thing! But yesterday evening, on the Eurostar back to London, while the husband was sleeping, I read so much of it, in such an intense sitting, that when I got home and saw there wasn’t much more to go, I felt I absolutely HAD to finish it before I could get on with real life again. I felt that I was so firmly ensconced in Cassandra’s world, that I couldn’t possibly get back into my own world until I’d left hers behind.
So I did my favourite trick of staying up very late wrapped up in blankets on the sofa, reading until there were only around twenty pages left. Then I went to sleep and woke up half an hour earlier than I would have done, so I had time to finish it off first thing.
Finishing a book has got to be the best possible way of starting a day. The thing is, normally when one finishes something, it is late and there is a sense of everything ending. Coming out of the cinema in the dark, turning off a DVD or closing a book and looking at the clock to see that it’s well past one’s bedtime, is a bit miserable. To sleep, perchance to dream … I don’t know, I think there’s something a bit depressing about it, especially if one’s very tired.
But finishing something in the morning. Now that is exciting. Then one can breathe deeply, indulge in a moment of reflection, and then look out of the window at a beautiful ice blue sky, spring out of bed for some toast and feel like it is the beginning of something, as well as the end.
And I suppose that today really is the day that I begin something very new indeed. Real life as a married woman begins now. Goodbye to a comforting blissful childhood read of falling in love and yearning and wistfulness, and hello to the very exciting new world!!