Sometimes it’s important to break the monotony of the weekly slog. It’s not healthy for a columnist to be cooped up in his study week after week, hunched over his typewriter, clawing around his mind for inspiration. Sometimes it is useful to tip over your desk, bung some money the way of an airline and go on a writing week. That’s what I think anyway. And that’s why I’m in Riga.
Lifestyle-wise, being ‘in Riga’ represents a massive change for me. On average, my life tends to consist of waddling around London, absorbing Sky Sports, eating sandwiches, reading, bathing and occasionally cuddling someone. In Riga, all of that goes out of the window. Ian Rush once said, about his time playing football in Turin, that it was “like living in another country”. He should try coming to Riga. It’s literally another world.
As soon as you arrive in Riga, you know about it. For a start, everywhere you look you’ll see either snow, or Latvians, or both. Even climbing out of the taxi outside my budget accommodation, I spotted a Latvian being absolutely snowed upon. Right away I felt inspired and held her gaze. The closest we get to snow in London is rain (and occasionally snow); and you can go months without seeing a Latvian. Out here they are – no exaggeration – everywhere. I waved at this snow-dusted siren and descended the steps to what would be, for eight days, my front door.
When planning a writing week, you need to be very careful. There is a balancing act to be performed. You must select somewhere with the perfect amount of distraction. Too little, and you go mad in your accommodation. Too much, and it becomes a holiday. Riga teeters somewhere between the two. It is a wondrous, beautiful European City, of course. But you can do it in a day. Once I’d loped along her wide, frozen river, devoured a Maccy D and had a snoop around the market, I felt I’d pretty much ‘cracked’ Riga. I could focus on the nitty-gritty of writing a column.
To call my corner an ‘apartment’ would be to do it a massive service. It’s more of a cave. Windowless and with a huge open fire, similarities with a cave don’t stop there. The bed is very hard, there aren’t many plates, there’s piss-poor internet and everywhere you look there are shields dangling from the rocky walls. But this is perfect for a columnist. Grim and dark. All I can do is write.
Only when I am blocked, or when cabin fever sets in, do I leave my cave. I put on my cap and mittens and I take a walk down one of Riga’s several cobbled streets. Shivering in the midst of flurries of light, Latvian snow is the perfect antidote to hard graft in a cave. I might also gaze at a church, or approach a Latvian and converse with them. They are an amazing people. Kind, friendly and handsome, they are shorter than us – possibly because their feet sink into the snow – and always listen earnestly to me before speaking softly in their own tongue and moving away.
I have just returned from such a break. I purchased weird Latvian bread from a large-handed female baker on one of Riga Old Town’s many picturesque squares. I’ve got the fire going again and typed up the notes I made earlier in a traditional Latvian café, where the staff are forced to wear clothes which I bet are from Latvia in the olden days. I then washed my face, sat in front of the fire a bit more, playfully wafted a shield about and now I’m slumped on the hearth, occasionally texting people in England.
A week has proved too long in Riga. I’m five days in and have already finished my column. I will move on to other writing projects tomorrow. I’d like to write a poem about the baker with the large hands. Buoyed by my new perspective, I’m confident of nailing it.