I rise insanely early, feeling like a kid. So early I'm washed and dressed even before Anna-mouse's sing-song cries break the coolish air (Daaaddy, oh Daaaddy!). As ever when we're both around, she is suitably non-plussed when I appear at her door, not he.
But I said... she begins.
I know, I know, you said Daddy. Well it's sooo early he's next door sleeping, so I'm here instead. Good morning!
Can I go and give him a kiss? she asks. So sweetly sleepily I've melted already, and the day not yet begun. No time for sentiment this morning, though. I take her through to the Bim. She curls into the nook of his big arms and deposits a kiss on his sleeve. I note with relief that I won't have to worry about Anna-mouse today. They're reading the one about George, the scruffiest giant in the world as I slip from the house to catch my train.
After numerous changes and waits on windy platforms (won't do that route again) I get to the university site with just twenty minutes to register. It seems I have, magically, appeared at exactly the right moment: my surname starts with the very letter they have just called and I am whisked to the front of the queue like a celebrity at a nightclub. I embrace my new-found status and in a matter of minutes I am clutching my take-out cappuccino in one hand and a large manilla envelope with my name on it in the other. I am beside myself with excitement.
They send me to Room 038, which I take some pride in finding first go. The nice lady at the front of the class informs me that there has been a room switch and that I have, in fact, come to the Effective Writing class. Creative Writing is in another building altogether. I walk in circles for some time before stumbling, at two minutes to ten, upon Room 068, my correct destination. All morning there are small moments confusion as one, two, then another of our class realise that the same error has occurred to them, only in reverse. But I only wanted help with my paragraphs! I could hear them muttering as, one by one, they scoop up their papers and beat an embarrassed, hasty retreat.
The class is upbeat, interesting, stimulating and precisely pitched to what I need. We discuss monologue, point of view, the tricky line between stereotype and character in 3-D. I am in seventh heaven. It all goes swimmingly well, in fact, until the last informal moments. I have spent so long making notes that I find I'm the last to leave. The tutor is there, too, packing up his papers.
That was very good, what you wrote, he says encouragingly as I near the door. I am beginning to approach a feeling equivalent to the icing on the cake. And then -
Who do you read? he asks.
A hopeful, expectant look flickers across his pleasant face.
Er... I say.
He might as well have driven me into a brick wall. Who do I read? I ask myself, attempting bibliographies in my head. Who do I read? And I, who was raised on the classics, who could quote Shakespeare at seven, who once wrote critical essays citing Woolf, and Mansfield, and Plath - I who carried Henry James with me at sixteen, discovered John Irving in my thirties, moved on to Philip Roth, then back a century to Edith Wharton - in that moment could not utter one single author's name.
The question was asked of genuine interest. For my tutor, who I read places me on his world map. Later it occurs to me that had he asked What do you read? I could have answered. And what I have been reading of late defines me as sharply as my former intimacy with the Brontes.
The conversation goes like this:
What do you read? he asks.
Sell-by dates, I reply without thinking. I read alot of those. Oh, and ingredient lists come a close second in those stolen moments at the fridge door. Then there's cereal packets, shopping lists and instructions on battery-fitting - always a joy. Small-print, disclaimers, the fiddly bits on bills. When I have lots of time I read magazines - you know, Woman and Home, Ideal Home, that sort of thing. Anything with a home in it, really...
Late tonight I flick through my notes for the day. The very first note, in big, breezy capitals, says READ, READ, READ. ANYTHING. EVERYTHING. BROADEN YOUR WORLD.
I think I'll start doing that now.