‘Most people have a novel in them,’ commented Scot-grot writer, Irvine Welsh, ‘and in most cases that’s where it should stay.’
Now, I happened to be vibrating with caffeine when I read this quote and, obviously assuming Irvine was addressing me directly, momentarily rethought my grand idea to join in the frolics at National Novel Writing Month. If the title has failed to enlighten, NaNoWriMo requires that mentalists aspiring authors write a short novel (50,000 words) in one, tiny month. The idea is that the encouraging combination of a tangible (read: panic-inducingly short) time limit and the pom-pom waving enthusiasm of the other nutters amateur novelists, will provide the necessary greasing of the ways required to birth one’s over-due, wailing blockbuster. Thus inspired, I decided to ignore Irvine’s warning, and actually started off pretty promisingly. However, the trickiest thing turned out to be shaping realistic, yet quirky characters.
Fortunately, I got my bike nicked this week. And after the stream of unmentionable expletives had died down, I realised I needed to go to the supermarket (more swearing) and would have to walk now that I was bikeless (no, I can’t drive. Yes I am 33 years old.) And this meant, not only more cussing, but waiting for my flatmate to come and pick me up, encumbered as I was with comestibles.
Ok, so far so what. BUT standing outside a supermarket is one of the best ever places to engage in high-quality people watching. In my experience, normal folk just want to get away from supermarkets as soon as possible. Unless they actually enjoy telling poeple in high-vis tabards what sort of washing powder they opted for today. But trust me – any writers or social anthropologists out there who need novel or documentary fodder: Tescos (or in France, the catchily named Ed) is where terrific social observation is to be bagged. It also allows for flagrant trolley ogling (why the contents of a stranger’s trolley are so hypnotically fascinating is a mystery. But they are.)
Courtesy of the bike thief, I observed the following: A shifty-looking man with enormous beard buying a mysterious combo of salad leaves and Heineken; a be-suited, well-to-do looking woman who cursed like a Teeside docker on discovering that the sliding entrance door she’d opted for was broken; a woman who bought 50 small yoghurts, two pumpkins (!?) and paid with a hundred euro note and an environmentally-challenged male, who exited his enormous 4×4, left it running and proceeded to do a whole shop before strolling out fifteen minutes later and driving off. Presumably to spray lots of aerosols in his garden, burn some fossil fuel and re-new his subscription to HateThe Rainforest magazine.
My flat-mate appeared half an hour later apologising for her lateness. But I was grateful. Thanks to the bike thief, I at last had a vegetarian, alcoholic drug-dealer, a female torture expert who (by day) ran a posh charity, a pumpkin wholesaler with a dairy fetish and a mentally-scarred, OCD ex-getaway driver who left his car running 24/7. Oh, and a brand new bike (pictured) which a friend rescued for me out of a skip to replace my stolen one. Which is delightfully twee.