Yesterday, after a morning of errands in a particularly nice area near me, I stopped off at my local(ish) bookshop, which is a small but popular place in the middle of a mostly-residential street. It’s tiny, but contains all the good books; the people who run it known them all and will chat at length about them; and they have a coffee machine and cake. Chocolate Guinness cake, yesterday, so I ordered tasty things, borrowed a pen, and sat outside for half an hour to make lists in my notebook and generally pretend I was in a nice movie for a few minutes. Once I ran out of lists to make, I bothered to look at the window display and there, as in all bookshop windows this week, was Helen Fieldings’ new Bridget Jones book, Mad About the Boy, which I’d temporarily forgotten existed, what with Eleanor Catton winning the Man Booker Prize and so forth. (Obviously that’s what distracted me. Shut up.) Continue reading “And they all lived once upon a time”
I’m typing this awkwardly with blistered hands from steam-cleaning the kitchen carpet – because that’s the sort of glamorous, rock-and-roll thing us London girls do at the weekend. The blisters are sort of worth it as, although the carpet is probably not cleaner, the dirt is more evenly distributed. I’m sharing this detail because it’s sort of relevant to the below post which, as you’d expect, meanders through three different subjects before stopping abruptly. Structured writing skills – I don’t haz.
Bridget Jones’ Diary has been the source of a lot of conversation this week. One of my friends was re-reading it, and that prompted me to pick it up and re-read it (actually I picked it up to try and get Coffee Monster to read it, but then I took it off him again). As a result, the book and the character have come up a few times in different discussions with different people.
Back when the book first came out, one of the reasons it was a hit was because Bridget is an Every Woman. A thirty-something every woman, living in London, working in publishing – to some extent, she is still something of an Every Woman, at least in my circle of friends. One mate commented that her mother pointed out that her career path matched Bridget’s; another related how her friends had (insultingly) pinpointed her as being Bridget when they were all 16 and watching the film. I’m of an age now where I was curious to re-read the book and see how much of myself I recognised in it.
When it came out I was about 13 years old. I knew of it because I was the kind of weird 13-year-old that picked up the Sunday papers book section and pored over the bestsellers list and read the reviews and interviews and was very intent on building my ‘grown-up’ book collection. I mean, I actually had a separate shelf on my book shelves where I put all my ‘grown-up’ books. Stuff by Rick Moody and Esther Freud and JG Ballard separated from all the Jean Ure and Robert Swindells. Roald Dahl occupied places in both sections.
So when the little corner shop down the road had a copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary for sale in its tiny, dusty book section, I eventually scraped together the money (I also had a weekend job at this point) and bought it. Then I went home and snuck up to my room and read it in one day. I don’t know why I snuck up to my room with it – I was fairly secretive about the whole venture. But I read it and swallowed it whole and re-read it several squillion times, and nurtured the thought of a future working in publishing, in a City, writing stuff, hanging with friends.
The whole boyfriend/fuckwittage thing was amusing, but that really wasn’t much of a concern at 13 – in fact I went through school being a) an unattractive geek and b) very certain that school romances were a waste of time anyway, since school was nothing but a starting point and it would all be left behind in favour of a glamorous future. (And then Facebook came along and destroyed that fantasy for the world.) I was all about the lifestyle. That’s amusing now, because now I’m older clearly the point is that she’s not glamorous at all. She’s awkward and normal and broke and bored at work and has a damn good group of friends, and that is, if you’re lucky, basically life in a nutshell.
At 13 I really wanted to be a writer (I finished my first novella at 14 and it was appropriately dreadful. As has been pretty much everything since). I was reading the media stuff in the Sunday papers in part because I spent a lot of time dreaming of the wider world and writing and films and books and the future anyway, and then along comes Helen Fielding and BAM! Talk about reading (and rereading) at a formative age. Then I got older and, well, a bit bored of the whole thing… and now we’re here, where I find myself reading it all over again, but instead of relating to (or wanting to be)Bridget, I seem to have morphed into Shazzer. Sweary, ranty, feminist Shazza. And that suits me just fine, because she always seems happy, if with a core of rage at the world, which is something I can totally relate to. It also suits me because it fits nicely with my comfort zone – always the sidekick, never the star. I like being behind the scenes and helping things work. I don’t like being the centre of anything – it’s far too much pressure.
Some of you might be scoffing at that –yes, I have diva-ish moments. Notably when I’m ranting about shit. But the best way I can think to illustrate how I feel about my place in the world is like this… On university trips to the climbing wall, sat in a mini-van on the way home, driving through the mountains in the dark in the middle of nowhere, I used to play a rather morbid game of ‘Slasher Movie’ in my head. The game is essentially this : if the van broke down, and we were all being stalked by a crazy psycho in the middle of nowhere, who in this van would survive? Who is the star, who is the killer, who is which bit player? Who dies fighting, who dies running and who dies fucking? Apply all the movie tropes and see where you end up. I never cast myself as the star – I figured I’d probably be the one who was abruptly stabbed through the window after we heard spooky knocking at the doors. Quick and easy and out of the way. (I can’t be the only person in the world who considers these things?)
Anyway – obviously reading Bridget Jones’ Diary is not the be-all-and-end-all of why I live where I live and do what I do – I found out about the book in the book section, for heaven’s sake. Even if I hadn’t read it, no one from my past would be shocked that I work with words now. But, in retrospect, it might have genuinely shaped some of my choices. This, in turn, with babies and children on my mind (my sisters’, not mine, I hasten to add) makes me think about how much of an effect all the reading and writing and pictures and games has on kids today, and how much more glittery and how much worse it seems to me, looking at it with adult eyes. There’s nothing for me to be smug about – there was a lot of crap available when I was growing up as well, but it was easier for parents to protect kids from it. Now there’s such an onslaught of rubbish shaping minds. Everything is so photo-shopped and glamorous – really glamorous, not Bridget Jones glamorous. It’s fucking scary.