I am reminded of an event I witnessed thirty years ago in the days before mobile phones. At that time I was working in Central London and used to cycle home in the evenings past Battersea Park, a large open space south of the river.
It was autumn and the evenings were beginning to draw in. The road beside the park was like a motorway, the traffic heavy and no sign of any pedestrians. I switched on my bicycle lamp and pedalled determinedly, trying to think of something other than how much of my journey still lay ahead.
Then I saw the woman. She was standing inside the park clutching the railings with one hand and holding a baby in the other. There was something about her face that drew my attention as I flashed past. Had I been mistaken or had she mouthed something at me? I carried on cycling for a few minutes as my brain tried to decode what I had just seen. Suddenly I realised that she had been saying, 'Help me!'
I stopped my bicycle, turned round and wheeled it back towards the woman. As I got closer it was clear from her expression that she was utterly desperate. 'Are you all right?' I asked
'No,' she said. 'The park gates are locked and I can't get out.' She was almost sobbing. 'If I didn't have the baby, I could climb out but I can't leave him. Will you take him?'
She handed the child over the railings to me and a few minutes later she had clambered over herself. I gave her back the baby. 'How long have you been stuck there?' I asked.
'Three quarters of an hour,' she said. Then her self-control broke and she began openly weeping.
'Do you want me to walk home with you?' I asked but she shook her head.
'I'll be all right now,' she said, embarrassed by her tears. 'I don't live far away. I just couldn't do anything because of the baby and he was getting so cold.' She walked away without another word. I got back on my bicycle and carried on with my journey.
Whenever I see my friend struggling to find a way of finishing her novel while looking after her toddler and working three days a week at the same time, I remember the woman in the park. Like her, my friend needs the traffic to stop. She needs an agent or an editor to take an interest. And all the time that she waits, desperately hoping for a miracle, she struggles bravely to maintain her self-control and to keep her dignity.