Recently, while reading a review of a famous ex-pat Australian novelist’s latest masterwork, I came across a reference to Henry James’ What Maisie Knew. Now, I haven’t read James’ novel, which may well be a crime, but it did get me thinking. If there was a novel called What Nigel Knew, what exactly would be in it? I considered the question, but after an hour of pacing up and down, all I had was a six-foot high pile of notes on things that I might know but couldn’t be absolutely sure. So I set myself a challenge: by the end of the day I was to identify just three pieces of knowledge in which I have complete and utter confidence.
Thankfully, I came up with the goods.
1. When feeling blue, plant something. If you find yourself in a bit of a funk, go outside, get a pot, terracotta’s the best, get some soil, put the soil in the pot, get a plant, put the plant in the pot, pat the soil down, then give the plant some water. When all is done I guarantee you’ll feel better, everything with the world – and I do mean everything – will be alright. And just so you know that I walk the talk, I did this last Tuesday, when I found myself concluding that I may never be as good a writer as, say, a certain famous ex-pat Australian novelist.
2. The first cold day of winter is always a treat. This is true. When you’ve woken to the great, still sky, when you’ve put on your ugg boots and gone to get the paper, your breath’s ghosting in front of you, and the paper is dusted with frost. Then, back in the house, you switch on the heater and fill the loungeroom with the smell of burning dust. Despite the heater staying on for hours, you still have to get out your grandmother’s mohair throw so you can do your usual weekend thing of spending hours on the couch, beside you a plunger of coffee and a packet of Caramel Crèmes, and you get lost in, well, a famous ex-pat Australian novelist’s latest master work. It’s just bliss. (Special Note: should they occur on the same day, Knowledge Item No. 2 is outweighed by Knowledge Item No. 3, which is below.)
3. Sunday afternoons are melancholic. This is an irrefutable fact. As soon as 3pm Sunday hits, the glums start rolling in. Now, for me, I’m happy to report that the Late Sabbath Day Sadness hasn’t anything to do with the proximity to five consecutive days of work – I get to spend my days in the arts and you won’t find me complaining about that. It’s just that this time of the week makes me feel as if I’m the lovechild of Winston Churchill and Leo Tolstoy, which isn’t a good thing. No amount of dog walking, lap swimming and/or Tai chi yogalates will get rid of the feeling. Tomorrow I’ll just have to remember Knowledge Item No. 1, and put it into practice. Again.
At the ripe old age of thirty-nine and a half, this is what Nigel knows. It’s not much, certainly not enough to fill a novel.
In fact, it’s barely enough for a column in a newspaper.
(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, February 16 2008)