Now that I am officially on long service leave, I have really stepped up the pace on my book. Yes, I know it's meant to be a holiday; and yes, there is something quite grand in that line coming up quite soon, but I am just happy to feel able to work all day, and quite productively, on the ms. I keep going over and over the various chapters, smoothing, co-ordinating, filling in gaps, and writing footnotes, even though I still have one entire chapter to write from scratch, and still a few little clumps of paragraphs to add in here and there. I have a couple of tough readers lined up, and I want to get a bunch of chapters ready for them to read. I am supposed to get all but the last chapter to the press by September. That's going to be a close call.
But it is my leave; and so I am doing some of the things I have been thinking about doing for a while. I have been cooking a little, and two Saturdays in a row, now, I have made a big rum baba in a wonderful heavy ring tin my mother gave me. The cake just fell out of the tin both times. The second time I tripled the amount of syrup, and it was sodden and succulent as it's supposed to be.
I have started learning Italian, and now when I'm in the car I listen to the Italian radio station (even if I can only pick up things like identifying the weather, the soccer reports and the ads for Piedimonte's, my local supermercato). I also bought Il Globo, the Australian Italian newspaper, and so I get to look at (I can hardly call it reading yet), national and local news in Italian. Seems odd to see the Queensland premier being called "la Bligh", but there you go.
I have also joined a gym. I swore for many years I would never darken the doors of such an establishment, preferring to get my exercise for free and on my own. But the idea came to me in Philadelphia [ed. and DC (see comments box)], when I realised how fit and lithe were some of the medievalists I admire most, and now I am utterly hooked. I have no idea what to do when I'm there, so I've booked in for a sequence of sessions with Miss Sophie, and we have a hilarious time, as she shows me how to use machines I had no idea were possible, and exercises I had no idea I could do. The time goes very quickly. Today I was lifting a few little weights, and she swapped the dumbbells for a big round plate, so I could feel "more manly", she said, as we fell about laughing. I come home and demonstrate to the others what I've been doing, and bounce around the house for a bit until the endorphins subside and my arms and legs start to ache. I now know why weightlifters get those trembling legs.
Anyway, it is deeply fun to do something completely different with the body and mind. I have also started playing the piano again, too, in anticipation of a Great Event and a Big Black New Arrival tomorrow.
I guess in a different world, you'd go and spend the entirety of your long service leave in Sardinia, or somewhere, and write a novel or read poetry. That's not the world I live in, though; and so I'm happy enough with this new balance of things. I'm especially happy that work is going so well. Perhaps I should have joined the gym years ago...