Tears in rain

 

 

Bladerunner came out in 1982. I thought it was the future and in many ways, it was. I remembered two things about it principally, apart from being vaguely irritated at cool, intuitive Decker going gooey over what was essentially an interactive blow-up doll.

The first thing, obviously, was Rutger Hauer’s tears in rain speech, about how memories are lost, becoming just another tiny detail of existence. Another thing in the film makes me think more and more that the poor consciousness of Roy Batty the replicant missed the point. Completely.

When Decker is on the trail of a replicant working as an exotic dancer, as reporters used to say when they still made their excuses and left, he discovers something odder than the fact that a robot keeps a robot snake as a pet. They stole photos too. The pictures of a childhood they never had, the assertions of mortality, the detail that verifies in its irrelevance, the substance behind the insubstantiality of someone remembering, or pretending to remember, that once they had a dog or swam in the sea and couldn’t see the bottom or how once in an airplane the moon seemed to be below them through a trick of the light.

One of my robot snake scales was just as tiny. I’d gone to Gloucester for the first time, on business. It was a boiling hot day. On the way back we stopped at a stone pub near a mill bridge over a clear stream. I walked down to it on my own. There were three full-grown trout keeping station against the current, there under the bridge. And on the bridge a tiny kitten, half their length, eyes like saucers, was trying to work-out any possible way of catching them. Or even just one of them.

Now, I don’t think these moments are tears in rain, irrelevances. Now, I think they’re all there is of life that is important. We live in a world where people decide to fly airplanes into buildings, where doctors decide to take a rifle in to work, where £1 billion of public money is used by the government to buy a majority in Parliament, for one Party’s benefit and none of this is really strange or exceptional. But the wonder of that tiny kitten long ago an old cat, that survives. And wonder is always more important. Tears in rain at least sparkle and shine. Those moments are never lost. Nothing never happened.

 

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False hopes and seemings

Seemings, certainly, although this odd little episode had its share of hopes, false or otherwise, as well.

Once upon a time in a land long ago, or Dorset when I was younger as I prefer to call it, my oldest friend bought an old schoolhouse. It wasn’t just any old schoolhouse, but Thomas Hardy’s sister’s one, in a tiny village near Sherbourne. I lived in London at the time, but I’d drive down fairly often for a taste of green fields and the things I’d never really left behind.

The Gleaners

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She had a picture hanging up behind the kitchen door, under the stairs. I always wondered why it was there where nobody could see it, but my friend did things her way and it was after all her house and her picture.  I thought so, anyway. I knew where it was any time I wanted to look at it.

I thought about it a lot over the years. It seemed to sum up something of the life I didn’t have, the one that thankfully most people don’t. The gleaners were looking for grains of corn or wheat, anything left over from the harvest. Because they were dirt poor. Life was not fun, nor easy. But hey, let’s talk about the pictures.

I discovered that there was another painting by Millett (presumably before he sold chepa camping gear) the year before, in 1857; The Angelus, one that always struck me as plaintive and sad, as if even while praying their crops would grow, this pair of peasant farmers lived with the knowledge that they might well not. This was real life for most people 150 years ago; it’s up to us if we chose this to be the way of things again.

The Angelus

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I was thinking about both paintings a lot recently; namely how much I missed that house and how if I could find a copy of either of them I’d buy it, if the price was ok and if I could find either one, which didn’t look likely these days. Apart from anything, they’re pretty huge and in a style I haven’t seen anywhere for years.

And then I did at the local auction. I left a bid of £10 on them and much to my surprise it won. I collected themn and cleaned the frames and the glass and stripped off the binder twine used to hang them and the silver paper used to back them and hung them.  I rang my friend, who was a bit bemused when I told her I had a copy of the picture she used to have under her stairs. I sent her a picture of both of them, just in case my memory had confused which one she’d actually had.

She rang me back.  She liked them. They were the kind of things that if she’d seen them she’d have bought, if they were that kind of price. But she hadn’t. She’d never seen either one. She’d never owned either of them. She’d never had them in the house. They never hung under her stairs or anywhere else. Except in every visit to that house in my mind.

Memory isn’t always true. But then, truth isn’t always memory, either.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comfort food

Once upon a time, when I hadn’t had a massive bill I wasn’t expecting, when I was going up to London to do university interviews instead of wondering how my life would have been if I’d done the degree I knew I should and could have done, when my jeans were tight because that’s how they were supposed to be worn, when I first discovered patchouli and wore it for the same reasons then as now, the mark of the dwindling tribe, I discovered this wondrous food.

We’d always been into vegetables at home, and a series of uncles’ and aunt’s weddings proved that the recipe for bacon and egg flan was not unknown in our circles. But it wasn’t until I went up to my step-sister’s in Notting Hill, those heavy years away when ordinary people lived there and not that thankfully, given that there was plenty of unspecified trouble just waiting to happen to you if you walked around not noticing what was going on, or noticing too much of what was going on. Then I got broccolli quiche for supper.

Almost every time. When years nearer now than then I mentioned it my step-sister wasn’t best pleased. But I was by it. She always made it from scratch, when she came in from law school. Her husband usually got back earlier and we’d drink massive gin and tonics steel blue and then red wine sitting around the table, eating bread cut with a razor-sharp old knife on ancient plates off a Portobello stall, talking of the future and psychology and all the things that were to happen. Some of them did.

So tonight, unable to visit that place in the past, I made broccoli quiche. It goes like this.

The Pastry

300g self-raising flour

About the same of butter.

Mash it all up together, crumble it between your fingers, then add just enough water to make it roll into a ball that stays together. Not too much. You can’t get the water out again if you mess it up.

Wrap it in clingfilm if you’ve got some or silver foil if you haven’t and put it in the fridge for at least half an hour. I gave it a day and half because I changed my mind about what to have for dinner yesterday.

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The Quiche Part

Half-boil some chopped broccoli.

Soften some finely-chopped onions, lots of garlic, at least three cloves. Do not burn any of this.

Mix up three eggs, creme fraiche or yoghurt and some grated cheese. Feta works. Anything in the fridge works. No, more than that.

Doing It

Roll out the pastry (use a floured wine bottle if you like) and put it in a heavy flan pan with a removable bottom. About £8. Trust me on this. You won’t regret it. They’re what TK Max is for.

Put little fork marks not all the way through into the pastry then bake it on really hot until it changes colour. You’ll see.

Take it out and put the onions, broccoli, garlic into the pastry shell then pour the eggy cheesy creamy mixture over it.

Bake until it sets without burning the pastry.

 

 

Then eat it, talking about Nietsche, the Channel Tunnel, Gurdjieff and if you really want to go for it, Kate Bush.

And don’t worry. You don’t have to know anything about any of them this far back into your comfort zone, just like the first time.

I’ve added another egg to this recipe because I skimped and only used two today. I didn’t use anywhere near enough cheese either. And I burned the onions and the oven was clearly too hot for the blind baking. All in all, it wasn’t quite as good as it used to be. But then, nostalgia never is.

 

 

 

 

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David Cameron and Me

A year ago David Cameron was Prime Minister. Daddy was a money man, Eton and Oxford his schools, the Queen some kind of cousin, and certainly close enough for someone to make a phone call to tell Carlton TV, which he joined as his first, very first job out of uni, that a) they’d better hire him and b) £90,000 seemed about right for a new graduate. So far, it’s true, we don’t share a lot.

But yesterday David Cameron gave a speech at De Pauw. Which you’ve almost certainly never heard of before. But I have. Just like David Cameron. I’ve been there.

Snarkness on the edge of town.
                                                           Snarkness on the edge of town.

Once upon a time in a land long ago I was teaching kids to shoot on a summer camp up in Wisconsin. Like you do. After camp ended I bought an old Chevrolet I found in a barn and drove it down to Greencastle, Indiana, chasing a red-haired cheerleader called Nancy-Jean. Not wanting to spoil a good Springsteen theme I put my work boots on and drove my Chevy across the railroad tracks every morning to go work in the sawmill, alongside a guy who claimed lineal descent from Dan’l Boone. Because that’s how we said it in the mill, with the smell of cedar and Camels all around.

Other days I got a job working construction, but not for the Johnstown Company. I worked demolition on a post-bellum mansion that had been an orphanage. Some people said it was haunted; if it is then I know where the happy ghost walks. I found the names of the people who had worked there when the place was an orphanage, twenty years before, carved into the underside of the stairs to the basement.  I discovered those big porch columns outside the front door were never marble or even stone, but made in Birmingham, England, cast out of iron. It said so on the base.

Lunch we either brown-bagged, made by Nancy-Jean’s mom in the big house with a wooden eagle over the fireplace, up by the golf course, or not often, took a trip to McDonald’s and ate a burger looking out over 150 year-old wooden houses I never got back to then or now. It wasn’t the burgers we went there for but the air-con. Summer was hot in Indiana.

But it’s snowy there now. It’s a place nothing much ever happened. Indiana never knew whether it was the northernmost state in the Confederacy or the southernmost state in the Union, which must have felt familiar to Dave.

There was a bank robbery there once in the 1930s, which might have been the Dillinger Gang’s work, but everywhere a bank got robbed people liked to claim it was one of the big name gangsters who did it. When I was there a policeman was facing jail time for shooting two men who were shooting at another police officer locked in a car boot. The problem was he’d done it with a back-up gun he shouldn’t have been carrying after the bad guys took his issue weapon.

Greencastle still has the only other V1 rocket bomb in the USA stuck on a plinth. The other one is in the Smithsonian. And it’s got a really nice old courthouse square, just like something out of a John Grisham novel. And that’s pretty much it. It’s the middle of nowhere. That’s why IBM chose it for a distribution centre. Because it was in the middle. So why De Pauw hosted a speech for David Cameron there and paid him £120,000 for it beats me. There’s a lot I don’t understand about now. Things change.

I hung up my bandana and traded the Chevy for a Saab. Nancy-Jean became a professor of story-telling, published books about swamp beasts and posted pictures of her C-section online for reasons that as Hunter Thomson used to say, were never made clear. It rather spoiled what had been fond memories of  her lower stomach area. Much the same way David Cameron’s gamble spoiled a lot of things for people not called him.

But the past is a different country. They do things differently there. And that, as they say at De Pauw and the sawmill, that ain’t no lie.

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Gloria mundi

Hemingstone Hall.
Hemingstone Hall. By the mid-1850s no Brands lived there. There were none left.

I’ve always been surprised that there was never an American sitcom with a zany heroine called Gloria Monday, but as Americans used to not do irony maybe not. One thing The Donald definitely has done is blow that stereotype away completely.

You know the quote or you’ve heard it or just saw it most of your life: sic transit gloria mundi. Thus pass worldly glories. Dust to dust. You can’t take it with you, the biggest, most profound and inescapable joke ever played on the unscrupulous, the richest and the worst. Our tomorrow is the night, as Victor Hugo put it.

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I don’t know what the Brand family were like. Nobody does, now, because I think they became extinct in the early 1800s. But I know where they lived and from their memorials in a tiny Suffolk church that started-off Saxon I drove past for 15 years, perched high on its hill all alone apart from what I hope is called Church Farm next to it, The Hut, the 1920 wooden village hall a hundred yards away along the ridge.

One sunny afternoon in September I stopped and went in, just to see. Up near the altar were two memorials to the same family in the tiny village of Hemingstone. The dates seemed to tell a sad little story.

Squire John Brand’s wife was first to die, aged XXIIII, just 24, in 1792.  He followed her to their marble plaque on the wall of their church – and being the squire and his wife I’m sure they felt it was actually their church – 9 years later, in 1833, aged 63. Well, if we must then…..That means he was born in 1770. She was two years older than him.

Just two years later, in 1805, Miss Elizabeth Brand died on January XVIII, the 18th, just as the days seemed to be getting longer again. She was 16, meaning she was born in 1789. If she was Elizabeth’s daughter her mother died when she was two.

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Then Miss Elizabeth, surely the other daughter with that name, on a tour of the Hebrides, died at Stirling in Scotland, in 1812, aged just 23. She had to have been born in 1789 as well. Twins? It’s hard to see how they can’t have been. All have the same marble slabs on the wall of the church, handsomely carved.

1812 was the time when Mendelsohn was just born, later writing Fingal’s Cave and spurring a whole new strain of mock-Scottish legend. In 1795 Southey and Coleridge had a joint wedding in St Mary Redcliffe, although not to each other. Wordsworth was maundering around the Lake District and fashionable young ladies of a romantic inclination did their own Grand Tour. To be able to afford it in this pre-industrial age the family must have been pretty well-off. Certainly their Jacobean-style house with its Dutch gables that may cover a much older building says so.

But there were a thousand things to die from in 1812, however rich you were. Simple infection from a cut finger could do it, 140 years before antibiotics were around. The squire lingered on, his wife dead, his son and heir dying in the womb even as his inception killed his mother, I’m guessing from the dates, the two twin girls, one named in her likeness, cold and dead as the marble that commemorates them now.

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It’s a beautiful little church, high on its hill. The house was shrouded in fog when I went again, yesterday, to find the church busy and being decorated for the Christmas carol service. A welcoming little place, full of grace. And not the worst place to be peacefully remembered on a wall, not quite unknown.

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The kingdom by the sea

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It looks like something from years ago around here, where I live. Because it is. The first few people I met when I moved to this forgotten part of England alarmed me. It wasn’t just the nonsense they talked about being over-run by black people. To be fair, I did actually see a single black person in the village once. The shop was run by people from Sri Lanka; I’m not sure if they were included or not.

It wasn’t just that the local district nurse told me that in her professional opinion two families in the village at least hadn’t got out of a Saturday night as often as they ought to have done, with long-term consequences.

It wasn’t just the solid Conservative vote, delivered like clockwork, by people who then spent the next four years complaining about their buses being cut,m the railway being a joke, the road being a deathtrap in summer and useless the rest of the year for getting to That Lunnon, not even 100 miles away, in anything less than two and half hours if you were lucky and knew where the cameras were. They didn’t complain about the village being one of the last places in England to get broadband, nor the fact that when we did get broadband it didn’t work very well when it rained.

Why would they want to know about the outside world anyway? This was a place where some people didn’t go to London from one decade to the next, where people said they didn’t see any need to go outside the village now their National Service was done. National Service ended in 1962. A Southwold barber proudly told me how his daughter had gone to uni and at the end of her first term showed him how to use the Tube. He was surprised how she’d got used to it; she hadn’t been across the bridge till she was 19, he told me. I thought for a second he meant the bridge into Reydon, a couple of hundred yards away. The truth, that it was the Orwell bridge, was hardly any better.

But the most alarming was the man who like many others here, regretted that he wasn’t older. Not five or ten years. Seventy or eighty years older. So he could have been what everyone here still calls The War. It must have been great, he said.

Not much happened in the village from 1939 to 1945, much the same as not much ever happened there. William Joyce called the local American squadron the Yoxford Boys, but they only rarely visited because leave was better spent in London. There was supposed to be a Home Guard Auxiliary weapons dump somewhere that people half-remembered being stocked but nobody really remembered it being de-commissioned, or really, exactly where it was. Cuckfield Hall was bombed, but the single bomb only demolished the ugly Victorian wing someone had added to it. A German Heinkel was shot to pieces over nearby Saxmundham and most of the wreckage ended-up smashing into a farm up the hill.

What he wanted to be involved in wasn’t the killing but the excitement. The thousands of Americans pouring into the area, the 3,500 living in a field at Leiston, the many more at the bomber station at Parham. The strangers at High Street, the 360-foot high Chain Home radar towers so secret there was only ever one photograph of it, taken by accident in the 1950s before it was pulled down.

The kingdom by the sea was the title of Paul Theraux’s book, published back in the early 1980s, one of the first books I bought. Later I read Jonathan Raban’s Coasting; the same year they’d both travelled around Britain in different directions, one on foot, one by boat, but where Coasting is mainly about an inner journey, Theroux’s book is about the awful, deluded insularity this place that used to be the heart of an empire still has notwithstanding that Raban’s comment on the unedifying ever-lasting spectacle of MPs clamouring for a war in a place they couldn’t point to on a map half-way around the world and the nonsense of a fleet supposedly sailing for an officially ‘unknown’ destination was like listening to a country talking in its sleep.

It doesn’t change much, except as the picture shows, every year it’s based on less and less. The dragon’s teeth anti-tank defences’s foundations are undermined; they’re slowly, year by year, tumbling down the little cliff into the sea. And across the water where once truly brave Dutch boys paddled canoes to freedom, where once, maybe, at about this very spot a U-boat might have landed a raiding party, or who else burgled the Hall the very evening Churchill’s double was visiting, the enemy has long gone.

 

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Few memorials here now unless you know where to look for them and know what they are. A place abandoned mainly to dog walkers. The way it should be, if it was ever for anything at all.

 

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Mushrooms unseen

I was taught this recipe I don’t know when. We ate it a fair bit because we didn’t have much money I think, but there are lots of other reasons to do it. It tastes good. It’s quick. It’s actually pretty good for you. I don’t understand why hardly anyone I know has ever heard of it.

It’s winter. It’s cold, your shoe feels like it’s leaking, it’s dark, you don’t know what you want, but you want something easy, hot, tasty and above all, quick. But that’s probably not going to happen tonight, so you’d better get some dinner instead.

OK, it’s not really called Mushrooms Unseen. But they are. Until now. I just call them Mushrooms On Toast. If you want to be fancy, or don’t like toast, or like me,  your toaster has just half-broken, so it only does one slice at a time, like every darned toaster I’ve had for the past few years that give-up the day after the warranty expires, call them Poached Mushrooms.

And do them like this.

Get some mushrooms. Preferably brown chestnut ones from the market at £1 a paper bag. Although of course you might not go to a market, in which case more fool you.  A pound/half kilo is too many for one, but choose how many you think you can eat.

Put some toast on.

Wash the mushrooms and cut them. I used to just chunk them, but slices look nicer.

Put them in a saucepan with a little milk and a knob of butter. Soya milk works fine. A knob of butter is the size of a walnut, and that’s way too much butter, so make it a small knob of butter.

Boil. Until they soften. The milk will go mushroom colour, astonishingly enough. It will also thicken, so don’t let it catch and burn on the pan. I like loads of black pepper with them. I can’t really imagine adding salt. This is a sweet, earthy taste. Add enough mushroom juice poured over the buttered (or better, Marmited) toast to make it soft.

That’s it. Less than ten minutes for a really nice, simple, tasty, quick, cheap, healthy lunch, good winter breakfast or supper. Every student should know about it. Every adult too. And I still don’t understand why hardly anybody I know has ever even heard of it.

Thank me later.

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They don’t tell you

I started drinking beetroot juice a while ago.

At first I hated the taste, but it’s grown on me. Beetroot juice with a bit of ginger in it is even better. It’s meant to be fabulously good for you. It fights free radicals, which sounds like it’s a bad thing, except free radicals aren’t people like Will Self or of course, me, but stuff that acts like rust on your skin, oxidising it so I’d have to spend much more on moisturiser and being generally vain than I already do. And I don’t at this point, actually want to talk about what happened in June with the sales girl in Bond Street on a really hot day. It was expensive though. Like,

Like, RARELY...

So, beetroot juice, which oddly you never find in Poundland or anywhere at much under £2.50 a litre. Except oddly this week in Saxmundham Tesco. Now to be fair, I hardly ever go there. But I was feeling thrifty and economical (it has to happen once a year, after all. Law of averages) and I was price comparing between there and the Waitrose literally across the road.

Tesco won on price, with organic beetroot juice from the same local maker nearly 70p a litre cheaper than Waitrose. I suspect because nobody in Tesco buys organic beetroot juice and they were trying to get rid of it in favour of stuff people actually do give their cash for.

 

But they don’t tell you the thing about beetroot juice. Nobody does.

You drink it. Half a pint of it. It’s good for you. If you don’t breathe at the same time it’s actually an ok taste. (No, I don’t know how that works). You feel you’ve drunk something that’s going to make life better, make your teeth whiter, make you feel like someone in a cornflakes ad on TV 20 years ago. Almost refreshed. You sort-of spring out of bed, just avoiding stepping on the belt buckle on your jeans you dropped on the floor because you didn’t have company. You go to the bathroom and do the things everyone always does. And then you think:

OMG I’M GOING TO BE DEAD IN THREE DAYS!!!!

Because what they don’t tell you, the thing they don’t put a BIG warning about on the bottle is this: drinking half a pint of beetroot jiuce turns your urine scarlet.

It’s totally harmless. Except it doesn’t look that way. And you can’t mention it to anybody. What do you say?

“You know that thing with your best friend I didn’t tell you about, look, I’m going to be dead soon.”

“You know that time I was mean to you about – look, I’m going to be dead soon.”

“You know that £5 I owe you, look, I’m going to be dead soon.”

“You know how I’ve always fancied your wife, look, I’m going to be dead soon.”

And luckily, by the time you’ve not said any of these things, you’ve Googled it. But it’s still worrying. A real, serious, sick in your stomach, maths test in the morning bloody red bleeding worry.

And I wish they’d just TELL you…….

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Into the light

Now I’m older I can admit it.

Now I’m older I can realise there actually is a problem.

It’s not me. And it’s not my fault.

No amount of ‘snapping out of it,’ ‘stopping feeling so sorry for myself,’ no ‘up at the corners’ is ever going to change it. Only one thing does. The thing I don’t want to do. That’s part of it, somehow.

It’s the light at this time of year. It wrecks me. Light seeking light might light of light beguile, but when there isn’t any, you’re stuffed, Mr Shakespeare. And some, not a lot at all, but some of your stuff was frankly bollocks. Like this quote, for example.

It makes me keep the lights off in doors, which makes it ten times worse. I have no idea why I do that. I have to stop myself doing it, consciously, and turn on lights. But I know I don’t want to. I have lights all over the house. A massive silver Anglepoise that would sear the retinas of a German gynaecologist. But I don’t want to put it on. Or any of them. I want to cave. It’s the light.

It makes me clumsy and disorganised. I’ve hurt my left hand five separate times today, doing simple things that got out of hand. My knuckles are cut where a spanner slipped; sorer because of the bedstead and cupboard and something else I hit the same hand on. I wanted to go out tonight, but because of this I think it’s safer to stay at home. I went out this morning. I need to go out tomorrow. I need to do this and I know I need to do this. It’s just that I don’t want to. Because of the light.

It makes me tired all the time. By four in the afternoon I’m ready to just sit on the sofa, because it’s too early to go to bed. So I watch films or read or play my guitar or all of these and then it’s half-past one in the morning and the next day is going to be more difficult. And the next.

It’s the light. And there’s nothing I can do to change it.

I’ve got one of those Seriously Affected Dysfunction lamps, or whatever they call them. That actually helps. Except it also floods the entire room (well, dur!!!) with ghastly rays brighter than a thousand suns, which doesn’t make for a relaxing evening. And because my sleep is shot what I feel I need is a relaxing evening. And morning. And lunchtime.

It makes me stay indoors when I need to be out in what light there is. It’s not helped by the fact that I haven’t any more students to teach this year. If I had to go out, get in the car, drive to the school and stand-up on my hind legs telling people they can do things they don’t think they can it would be different. I could do that. Not doing it doesn’t help.

In two weeks it will start to get better. All I have to do is get through to the 21st and suddenly and faster and faster the evenings will get lighter, the days longer until by the end of freezing January it will be back to tolerable light. I’ll start going to walks again without feeling it’s a penance.

I can get through. I have my lamp. I have wonderful, caring friends who recognise what’s happening and text me to say ‘turn your lamp on.’ I am so lucky with that.

I still have to deal with it. But at least these days I know it’s not me.

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Days are hastening on

In not even three weeks now it’s going to be Christmas. Somehow. Just as I’d bought a new scarf to replace the brilliant one I found maybe five years ago, hanging on the door of a pub where it had been for more than three months, the one a Scottish girlfriend loathed on the grounds, big, triangular, gold, red and brocade with tassels on it as it was that ‘THAT’S A WIMMIN’s SKERF!’

Somehow, the words ‘Aye, wittabootut?’ didn’t seem to calm things down at all. Rather the opposite, in fact.

I’d got my fingerless gloves out of the drawer this morning, pausing once more to regret not buying those elk-skin ones in that shop in Dam Square must have been fifteen winters back, but they were about 150 euros so there were reasons.

scan-9-version-2But more than that, the last few days I’ve been waking up thinking it’s Christmas. The first time was because I’d left the heating on and being British and of a certain age and type of person who just does and doesn’t do certain things, and I suspect, probably from not having had children, I turn the heating off about an hour before going to bed. Unless, well, you know. If I have guests who might feel the cold, as it were.

The second because I’d lit some scented candles because I’d forgotten to take the bin out after making a fish thing and it was that or set light to the house and walk away from the smell.

But the rest, I don’t know. I’ve been teaching, the last intake of students were the best and worst I’ve ever had, their behaviour got so bad that my class was actually moved so we didn’t disturb other classes and I came home that day feeling I had to either stop teaching forever and do something else or sort out what was going wrong that evening. I did the second, to the extent that for the rest of their course they worked solidly, hard, well and as near as makes no difference, in silence except when they should have been talking.

And then it stopped. No more students this term. No more commute. And no teachers, books, Alice Cooper or evening walks around a crisply cold Christmas Fair in the reflected glow of floodlit a Norman tower solidly brooding the centuries into millennia.

It makes me think of Christmas holidays years ago, at school and just after, when everyone I knew drove out in a cavalcade of cars and motorcycles people pretend are classics now to a pub that’s become someone’s house, deep in the fields, to sit under gas space heaters in sub-zero temperatures, marvelling at each other’s new coats and stories and boots and leg warmers and jeans and the certain knowledge that as Chris Rea put it, in so many ways, like the time a girl said no, don’t open this gate down a lane you think is a shortcut, just no. A lane that turned out to lead to an unfenced quarry late one night; past here there was no place to go.

And everything, as Ben said.

I wake up every morning right now, thinking it’s then. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe it’s because people are showing some interest unexpectedly in Not Your Heart Away again. Maybe it’s because I’m writing again, properly, doing the thing I should always have done.

I don’t know. But I like this feeling, these ever-circling years on the wing.

 

 

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