Pasting, parks, and a pioneer of solo travel

Three things I learned or loved this month


I loved making collages during a short course at CityLit: the simple-yet-not-simple task of putting disparate pieces together to make something else.

When I sit down to write I have an idea of what will happen, or at least what I want to happen. Collage starts with a blank page too, but – because it is new to me and maybe also because it’s without pressure – feels impossibly open-ended. 

I liked the surprise of the decollage technique – pasting layers then removing elements to create something entirely new. It is unpredictable: some people in the class said they didn’t enjoy the lack of control. 

I liked the tutor’s suggestion to have multiple pieces on the go at once, to shift without thinking from one to the next and back again, to see things afresh, to start noticing themes or connections that tie them together. Above all, he said, it stops you being too precious, it frees you. 

And I liked being in a different space for three hours, far away from screens and notifications and the distractions of home. Instead, absorbed in your own thing, but among other people absorbed in their own thing; and choosing to spend time on something that logically is completely pointless, but also engrossing and difficult and joyous. 

London’s lungs

Another different space: a patch of grass under a huge tree, for yoga class in my local park. Next to us, a small tai chi group makes its slow, focused movements. The breeze carries the sounds of a dog training class nearby. A little further, a fitness session; then friends drumming, then a group creating a dance routine. Many of Britain’s public parks were created in Victorian times, to encourage better health for workers who lived nearby in crowded, unsanitary conditions. I’m so glad that these spaces are still here. London life would be unimaginable without them.

Dervla Murphy: ‘I just did my own thing’

I learned this month that the Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy had died, and though I have only read one of her books (a long time ago), I felt a sadness to hear the news – possibly because I’d recently read a profile of her. Jude Webber paints a wonderful portrait of the 90-year-old, beer-drinking, fearless adventurer, who defied conventions of what a woman should be like. Not just because she was a “male-ish”, solo traveller; and not just because she was a single mother in 1960s Ireland. “Her baby’s father was married to someone else, but what really scandalised the locals, she says, was the fact that she took her baby out naked in her pram to get some sunlight.”