Postcard from Droitwich

I always enjoy listening to Mariella Frostrup's Open Book podcast, particularly the literary postcards, where writers in places outside the UK send an audio message about what's happening in their world. A few months after I moved to the UK from Singapore, I wrote one of my own, but a domestic one, because at that point I felt like I was observing my new home as if it were foreign and deserved a postcard to London.

 The Raven Hotel, St. Andrew's Street, Droitwich Spa

The Raven Hotel, St. Andrew's Street, Droitwich Spa

January 25, 2017

Dear Mariella,

I’m sitting in the Droitwich library. The mums and babies group downstairs is really noisy. The knitters in the function room near me are quiet. This library was built around the proscenium arch and gallery of Salters Cinema. That cinema was built on the site of Salters Hall, a construction commanded by ‘Salt King’ John Corbett as a place of recreation for the salt workers and townspeople. This spot has never been a quiet place for writing.

My view is of St. Richard’s House, formerly the entrance to the Saint Andrew’s Brine Baths and now the Droitwich Heritage & Information Centre. Across the street to the left is the derelict, Grade II listed Raven Hotel. That too is to be repurposed. Until work begins, the large gold L from the sign will lie on the tarmac behind the gate to the parking lot. I’d like to climb over the fence and take that L. I love the letter L. It’s a luscious letter. There are four L’s in the title of my first novel. They have a copy of it in this library. It’s usually on the shelf, but today, for once, it’s gone. I wonder who has taken it out. One of the ladies from aqua aerobics, maybe? Unlikely. The instructor gave the book an excited plug after I joined the 50-strong class in the leisure centre pool, and just about everyone looked embarrassed. Maybe they can’t see themselves reading something by the only woman who takes her bathing suit off to shower after exercising.

There is a dynamic, diminutive statue outside the Droitwich Wilco of locally born separatist Edward Winslow, who travelled on the Mayflower in 1620 and became governor of Plymouth Colony. He was also author of ‘The Good Newes from New England’, and co-author of Mourt’s Relation. At least one other living writer currently resides in town. Joanna Hughes (I read in the Droitwich Standard) finally gave in to her friends’ pressure and self-published, as J.D. Hughes, a novel called You Have My Heart, which she says is “a cross pollination of Bridget Jones and Fifty Shades of Grey”. There’s someone else too – someone who got away. Actor Ross Armstrong, of shows like Ripper Street and Jonathan Creek, recently had his first novel published by HarperCollins. The Watcher, he told the Droitwich Standard, is a sort of “Girl on the Train meets Fight Club meets Rear Window.”

That seems to be what Droitwich is about – a mixing and matching, a successful purposing and repurposing. My opposite neighbour is an ambulance medic, but my aqua aerobics instructor, who knows her through her sister-in-law, tells me she’s also a great hairdresser. My duplex neighbour is a DJ, and when he’s not he sells garden furniture and carved wooden ducks from Bali. His father-in-law, across the street, is a college maintenance man, and moonlights as a musician. When I asked him what sort of music he played, he looked away to think for a moment, and then said, “Your music.”

“Oh yes?” I said. “What’s that?”

“Soul music,” he said.

That was funny. But I didn’t laugh. He was trying to connect with me. In order to connect back, my husband and I went to hear him play the saxophone and sing, wonderfully, soulfully, with his band at the Old Cock Inn – the Old Cock, first licensed in 1712, being one of the few places in town that still is what it once was.