Here's the thing about me – I cheat. Not on significant things, like taxes, tithes or library reservation lists. But I lick the spoon after I bake a cake (though I am supposed to be losing weight), I look up the answers in the back of my Welsh book, and sometimes, despite my best intentions, I contradict what I have said on my blog. I wouldn't normally admit this. Only this week I have to – because I got caught.
I had dinner earlier this week with a newly married couple – let's call them Sophie and Tony (this is a clever ploy to protect the identity of persons concerned). Tony has a significant birthday approaching and Sophie had purchased him a gift online. We had finished main course (actually the only course) and were onto the Lindt chocolate when Tony said: 'My camera lens arrived to today.'
'That's quick,' Sophie replied, looking up. 'I hope you didn't open it?'
'Just s peek. To check it wasn't broken.'
'Tony! I told you not to look.'
'I didn't take it out. Or put it on my camera. So, it doesn't count.'
'You're hopeless,' Sophie shook her head.
I felt pretty smug at this stage. I mean I haven't peeked at a present since I was eight years old. Even then, I didn't mean to find the present. But it was a walking doll and mum had hidden it under my bed. It took all the surprise out of Christmas. I can safely say I haven't been tempted to peek at a present since. But I do cheat on other things and I was out of luck because, at that point, Tony needed a change of subject.
'What are you reading?' he pointed at the papers piled up on the arm of my chair.
'Oh, just some maps I copied from the State Library.'
'Yes, of Covent Garden,' I felt my face reddening. 'One's from the Regency Period. The other is late Victorian. I am trying to work out what the area looked like in 1841.'
'What for?' My husband (let's call him Joe) butted in.
'Well actually,' I swallowed it's for my novel.' Silence. I hurried on. 'It's just I did some TROVE searches and I found out the library had these old maps. And then I realised the Survey of London was online and a book called Old and New London. And I just started reading … I'm still having a break,' I added. 'I'm not writing or anything. Only thinking …
I looked away. Joe didn't say anything. Or Sophie. But I saw Tony smile because he knew that like him I'd been caught.
But, here's the thing about me. I love research. To sit poring over old maps trying to work out what a street looked like on a given date. To wonder how people lived in that room, in that house, or in that street. To read, and read, and read some more until I begin to see. Only a small picture, at first. But expanding like heat on a misted wind-screen. That is the way it works for me. It's heady. Like silver. Or nitrate. Or adrenaline. But is it cheating? The look on Joe's face told me it probably was. But really? I can't agree. It's not tithes or taxes, for goodness sake. I'm not diddling a library reservation list. And I certainly haven't un-wrapped my birthday gift. I'm just peeking – yes, that's it, like Tony. I'm having a quick glance in the drawer.