This morning my plan was to curl up on the sofa, shamelessly privileging indolence over activity on a splendid spring Saturday, and watch back-episodes of the long dead Keifer Sutherland series, 24. This was scuppered when the dishwasher man, who had not responded to a single texted call for help across the week, suddenly rang to say he was on his way. It was the second plan of the morning to hit the dust, the first being to have a lie-in. As I write, it is just 9.30am. So far, so unexpected.
It’s been a challenging month: a new job, new people, new routines, new ways of seeing the world. I’m awake at six, head buzzing with ideas, even if sleep didn’t come till two. it’s a bit like falling in love. Every step has bounce. But it’s also self-defeating – I know my thinking is sharper when I’m rested.
These ruminations brought to mind a book I once read by the psychiatrist Raj Persaud. It was called Staying Sane. I was dealing with a troubled friend at the time, and thought it might provide insights. What it in fact did, was make me question my own sanity: how hard was I working at it?
Persaud noted that as we get older we fixate on personal fitness – joining gyms and taking up regimes that keep joints supple and muscles flexed. This was fantastic, he said, in preventing or minimising the mobility problems of old age. But just as many of us, he suggested, will suffer from failing mental health. What exercises were we doing to keep our emotions and our minds fit and supple?
One of the great revelations of running Tricycle Readers has been the challenge as well as the pleasure that literary criticism provides. At our group meetings we hear the texts read out loud, and hear them in our own voices in our heads. We then debate the content, the signposts, the omissions, the meaning, the presentation, the voice, the themes.. Looking at work in three different ways is very different to reading alone. It’s a gentle boxing match with group members feinting punches. At the end of it, there is no question that we’ve had a mental work out.
For those wanting to tone up between the ears, it’s time to join. Last week we had short stories from Haruki Murakami and W Somerset Maugham (whose bequest to the Royal Literary Fund supports our group – the RLF provides twelve Reading Round groups including Tricycle Readers) and a poem from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There was much debate with some members irritated by the writing styles into absolutist statements, and others being gently considered.
During the flux of recent weeks, Tricycle Readers has provided 90 minutes of communal relaxation, sharp thinking, and emotional wellbeing. In a busy world – in the time taken to write this post (it is now 10.30) the engineer has been, cleaned and dismantled the dishwasher, fixed a new pump, sat at my computer with me to order parts to secure the plate racks, and left to take his sons to an Arsenal game – it realigns all the bits. Why not come along? That’s one plan that won’t be scuppered!