Shadow Play Pencils

The old inability-to-write-when-others-are-around problem has kicked in. My sister has been staying with me since Sunday, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself for having managed two brief posts since then. But now writer’s block is setting in, dully, vengefully, that dreary constipation of the soul. Why is it when the other person is downstairs, making a fuss of the cats and watching a repeat of Saints and Scroungers on TV whilst contemplating making a packet-mix lemon sponge, which would mean making a second trip to the village shop for eggs since there are inexplicably none in the fridge, that I still can’t write? Even shut away upstairs at my computer?

Yesterday, S and I drove to the town where I used to work. Whilst S was off exploring the shops I snuck back to the car clutching an illicit bar of chocolate, a new giant writing pad and a special tin of new pencils. These pencils are called Shadow Play. They are grey with black tips, and are really intended for sketching. There are six of them and they go from B up to 6B. I love B pencils, even 6B which are virtually pure smudge. Normally new pencils or new paper of any kind will magically set me writing.

But not this time.

So I sat in the car park, chocolate gobbled and the messy wrapper melting on the passenger seat shortly to be occupied by S; noting how the quality of sunlight changed as the day wore on; observing the frenzied activity on the Ring Road: school-kids flouncing home along the pavements; a starved-looking silver birch tree opposite, the breeze just starting to rattle it’s leaves – a sign of rain to come; a single sparrow diving into this single tree on some kind of kamikaze mission. Winding down the driver’s side window, I listened to the now-unfamiliar sound of rush-hour traffic and human voices. Hot air rushed out from inside, and back in from outside. Low-level, late-afternoon sun burned my right arm where the sleeve was rolled up.

In desperation I tried free-writing. I never normally need to resort to this amateurish writers’ group trick – it’s more a case of keeping a grip on all the bizarre the ideas churning around inside my head for long enough to get some of them down on paper, by which time sentences positively gush forth, often fully formed.

Not this time.

Failing that, new pencils or, if no new pencils, newly-sharpened pencils.

Not this time.

And then it occurred to me that these Shadow Play were the wrong new pencils. They needed to be those moss green ones, with the texture of crocodile skin. Artist’s pencils. German, most probably. German pencils are always of perfect quality, and inspiring, whereas Chinese pencils are always broken, randomly, all the way through, as if dropped from a great height. There is no point in even picking up a Chinese pencil. And never bother trying to write with a pencil with one of those silly eraser things on the end. The very presence of an eraser is enough to defeat the muse.

Fifteen minutes before I was due to meet sister outside the Post Office. Just time to detour to WH Smiths, to look for green, crocodile-textured, German, artist’s pencils.

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