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ďOh, you must come!Ē she said. ďYouíve no reason not to. Thereís nothing stopping you.Ē All eyes were turned towards me. I found myself looking for excuses. Iíve always had them in the past, along with promises of yes, one day, of course, Iíd love to! I couldnít think of any. So, Iím going. This evening I booked a flight to Lyon where weíll meet up and drive back down to Buxy. Now that itís happening, Iím feeling quite upbeat about the prospect. I rang her tonight to confirm the flight. ďYouíll just love it,Ē she enthused. ďHonestly, you will.Ē
I wouldnít call it a shock; more of a wake-up call. Sheís 93, after all. But is it time for her to go into the nursing home? Sheíd get a better level of care but sheíd lose her private room and all of her possessions, save what she could fit into a bedside table in a five bed ward. Weíve decided no, not at this time. But it serves to remind us that, should she live on, sooner or later itís going to come down to that, and it may be sooner rather than later. Itís a day I dread.
In the charity shop downstairs you can buy paperbacks for 50p and hardbacks for 75p. Good quality books. What else can 50p buy these days? A movie in London will set you back £10 minimum, often a lot more. Books last longer and can be endlessly revisited. Thereís a real pleasure in scooping up a handful of small change and exchanging it for a good book. If we didnít have such a small place already stuffed to overflowing, Iíd be buying dozens every week. As value for money goes though, 50p for a magic carpet is pretty hard to beat.
Sometimes I hunger for a life that is less task-driven. It seems like thereís always something that needs to be done. About the only escape is when I go down to the island. Letís hope a few days in rural France will provide the same relief. Bronwen assures me that it will. So did Donna when we spoke on the phone yesterday. Thereís a central core of me that hasnít fully relaxed for a long time now, a knot of tension right in the solar plexus that never seems to go. It diminishes sometimes but it never disappears completely.
iPods are amazing. I held out against them for ages. It wasnít until Teddy came back from the States last year and dropped one in my lap that I became an instant convert. (Ah, so fickle, I know!) Whatever drawbacks they may have, theyíre just so damned simple to use and they can hold an incredible amount of music. Downloading as much music as I do, thereís a lot Iíve not really listened to, but stumbling across and rediscovering Andrew Bird the other day was a revelation. I was blown away! The guy is a musical genius. I'm completely sold.
ďNice day for it,Ē I said. ďYeah,Ē he replied as the new TV came to rest on the trolley. He helped me carry it up the stairs. ďItís a lot lighter than the last one,Ē I noted. ďIt took four of us to carry the old one up.Ē I remember that. We almost dropped the thing getting it out of the old basement flat. Thatís why itís going into the bedroom. Itís too difficult to get it back down the stairs. He laughed when I said that. ďYeah, I hear that one a lot.Ē I thanked him for his help.
What is it about relationships? The littlest things can deteriorate into a major issue without even trying. Example. Weíve decided to buy a shredder. I reach for the Argos catalogue. Iím asked if Iíve seen the office supplies catalogue. I canít recall seeing it. Suddenly, the room is turned into a bomb site in a vain attempt to locate the missing catalogue. Much huffing and puffing leaves me in no doubt that I am to blame for its disappearance. Within minutes a pleasant holiday morning is transformed into a new Cold War. Such is life! What is it about relationships?
Cycling through Battersea Park on a warm spring day while you rollerblade beside me. Itís been unseasonably warm. Everything is bursting forth into leaf and bloom. There is a genuine feeling of optimism, the kind that weather such as this generates. I find myself smiling. So do you. Itís hard not to on days like today. I almost feel like Iím seven years old again. Itís the ambience of the day; the way the sun settles on the trees and the grass, the colours of the reflections on the river, the very feel of the day. Some days are diamonds.
Iíd forgotten how enjoyable cycling can be. Today I rode out to Hyde Park and meandered along the Serpentine, past the Italian Garden, around the Diana Memorial Fountain and up to the lake in Kensington Gardens, a favourite haunt when I lived in London in the early 90s. Itís been another stunning day of sunshine and blue skies. As evening approached however, I found myself increasingly clouded by darker worries and concerns. There is a real conflict, a lack of resolution, an absence of willpower. Itís the same old issue and it has to be addressed. It wonít just go away.
So here I am in Montagny with Bronwen. I first met Bronwen 25 years ago. What a rich and warm friendship itís been over the years. From acquaintances to lovers, through to friends who have seen each other pass through many stages and chapter of life; had it not been for that fateful train ride 25 years ago, I would not be here and much of my life would have been very different to how it is today. Indeed, I may not have even survived. Which begs the question: did it take eight hours or 25 years to get here?
A different country, a completely different environment and my mind is suddenly in a very different place filled with completely different things: dining out in street cafes, wine tasting, a late afternoon stroll around the vineyards of Montagny and reading ĎKafka on the Shoreí late into the evening. London seems somewhat vague and indistinct from this distance and getting a handle on things seems much less daunting. Itís all so doable but Iíve got to stop this crap going around in my head. It doesnít need to be so difficult and nor does it need to be a big drama.
The past 24 hours have been dreamlike Ė reading late into the night, sleeping deeply and dreaming intensely, this morning again spent reading before going off to explore the Burgundy countryside; churches, chapels, villages and towns, the names of which wash over me with blissful, poetic forgetfulness. Thereís no need or desire the fill the empty spaces with empty chatter. In the tranquil warmth of the day I have time to let my mind meander as it chooses. Itís as though something has quietly gone ďkerplunkĒ, like Iíve had the opportunity to step outside of myself for a while, and rest.
Itís been so much more than I had imagined. (I was going to say better but that seemed trite.) Today was mostly spent reading; with Bronwen by the window; I myself by the window; in the car going to the airport; at the airport itself and on the plane. In between, a walk through the countryside immediately outside Montagny, being chased by bees and generally feeling more in tune and at one with myself than I have for a long, long time. I held out for so long but what a rewarding time once I chose it. I'll be back.
What is it about jinxes? I was only saying to Bronwen and Francois yesterday that Iíve not had a back problem for ages, and as soon as Iíd said it I wished I hadn't. Call it superstitious but I thought to myself, damn! Iíve gone and jinxed myself now. Sure enough, running for the bus today on the way to help Peter and Vivian pack the truck, bang! Out it goes! Whether itís simply a fluke or a self-fulfilling prophecy, itís a damned nuisance, thatís for sure! Still, it gave me an excuse to sit and take it easy afterwards.
I look my age. Iíve managed to dodge it until recently but finally, I look in the mirror and I see a 47 year old man looking back at me. And Iím not thrilled. There was a time when I felt reasonably pleased with my looks, but increasingly, to me eyes at least, what looks I may have had are rapidly fading. Some days I think theyíre gone completely. Getting older hasnít been a major issue for me but looking older has. I hate it; the greying, thinning hair; the drooping skin; the look of age Ė I really hate it.
For a whole host of reasons I grew up distrusting older males. Thatís not to say there werenít some goon men around, there were. But there were some outright bastards, too: the one who snapped my sisterís arm across his knee; the one that beat up another; the one who tried to run Mum down in a car and the one who molested the girls in the family. Significant males. And thatís just for starters. I so wanted someone to look up to; someone to whom I could say, ďI want to be like you one day.Ē Hence my profession.
London is positively blooming! The unseasonably warm weather of the last couple of weeks has transformed early spring into summer. Walking through St. Jamesís Park today I was surrounded on all sides by the whites and pinks of a multitude of blossoming trees offset by the early, youthful green of new leaves overhanging flowerbeds of every colour and hue. Concurrent with all of this I find myself feeling renewed, reinvigorated and more centred in myself than I have done for ages. Itís a good feeling. I feel as though Iíve turned a corner. At last, things are looking up again.
I was dreaming, and in the dream there was an alarm that we were trying to turn off. But try as we may, we couldnít get it to stop. Then I stirred in my sleep and realised that the alarm was real and that it was coming from a shop somewhere down the street. You stirred but didnít wake. I lay there trying to shut the sound out. But thatís the thing about alarms; theyíre designed to penetrate and disturb. Lying there, I wondered whether it would stop or whether it was one of those that go on all night.
He was as delighted to see me as I was to see him. The mutual regard was palpable. As the first anniversary of his fatherís passing approaches I canít help but feel how proud he would have been of his son and how well placed that pride would be. Heís come a long way in a year and, with his whole life before him, he has so much promise. He wants to enter the police force and thereís no question that heíd be one of the good cops. Go forth with confidence my young friend. May life smile upon you.
The older I get the more Iím able to fully understand and appreciate just how difficult it is to be young. I received a very troubled and heartfelt email from my 14 year old godson in Melbourne today. Responding to an email I sent him yesterday he opened his heart and bared his soul in a way I hadnít anticipated. I had to go for a long walk along the river before contemplating how best to respond. To be at the mercy of the decisions of others, with no effective voice of one's own: being young is far from easy.
Itís been one of those days in which time becomes elastic and the hours pass languidly by. Thereís a lot to be said for closing the door on virtual reality for a while and opting to spend more time in the real world, and thereís a real pleasure to be found in pottering around and doing things as the mood dictates. I spend a great deal of time, too much sometimes, focused on trivial and meaningless pursuits that offer no real nourishment or input. In making a conscious effort to alter that, Iím discovering that Iím really enjoying the change.
France really was the circuit breaker Iíd been looking for. Itís like something has kicked over and Iím in a different place within myself. It was a metaphorical window of opportunity and I chose to seize it. Sustaining it will no doubt have its challenges but I can do this. I know I can. Itís simply been a question of timing. The knot in the stomach has gone. By letting go of the drama Iíve cleared a space for something else to take its place. It feels as though time has become a little more elastic; a little more fluid.
Itís early days still but I have a real sense of laying new tracks and entering a new kind of mindset. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and allow the changes to occur. After a protracted period of little or no change it feels really good to be moving again. And Iím not trying to push too hard, either. Forward motion is good enough. It doesnít have to be a race. In many respects itís a process of rediscovery and reconnection; of tapping into that inner resolve I feared Iíd never feel again.
Pausing to reflect on all of the people Iíve known over the years, and all of the people Iíve loved, I canít help but wonder where they all are right now, at this very moment, as I sit here with pen in hand gazing off into the distance. Where are the friends of my teenage years who seemingly mattered to me more than life itself? Where are the lovers with whom I shared times both tender and tormented? Where are the housemates, the college friends, the work colleagues, and those special few who changed my life and then disappeared completely?
One of the real challenges is in avoiding the temptation to surrender to dichotomized styles of thinking: either/or, good/bad, right/wrong, success/failure. Not that those kinds of black and white descriptors donít have their uses. But in this instance I need to consider what moves the situation forward and simplistic, reductive thinking doesnít support such a move. Perhaps two steps forward and one step backwards may be more apt. On balance, much more has been achieved than wasted, and the willingness not to lose ground, given that willingness is what underpins everything, is what matters the most.
My mind goes blank. Well, maybe blank isnít quite accurate. My mind is filled with lots of things actually, but nothing particularly noteworthy as far as writing is concerned. My journey to work was severely delayed due to a huge fire at Dartford; I met another new cohort of kids; I missed the bank by five minutes this afternoon; I downloaded a stack of new music this evening. We also watched a compelling Russian film about Chernobyl. An ordinary sort of day really. I guess writing late at night as I do, itís hard to muster much enthusiasm for writing.
They say itís yet another sign of global warming. How sad that such unseasonably beautiful weather should be undermined by the nagging anxiety about a changing climate, and all that implies. My generation grew up with the threat of mutually assured destruction hanging over our heads. Now itís the prospect of the planet being slowly cooked. Still, wandering along the river and through the park at dusk today I couldnít help but bask in the balmy weather. I suppose no matter what gloomy days may lie ahead, sometimes you just have to be in the present moment and enjoy it.
Joy Allen, where are you? As I approach my first full year of writing 100 words a day it occurs to me that I discovered this place via an internet search for you. It seems there are a lot of Joy Allens in the world. One of them led me here, though sadly not to you. You would be 68 now. We met in Adelaide in 1985. You introduced me to Progoffís journal writing technique, Lazarisís tapes, Philip Glass and Gabrielle Kelly. I would so love to find you again. You were my dear friend and you changed my life.
I very nearly slid back in. Itís so easy to do. I dipped my toe back in and before I knew it I was up to my waist without even trying. Itís so easy to surrender; itís so disarming; so seductive. Yet I know that what starts out feeling warm and welcoming ends up feeling heavy and immobilizing like black treacle. Itís a feeling I can do without. And although I was waist deep, I turned back, and in turning I felt the relief immediately. Thereís so much more to life! So, one step backwards; now for two leaps forward.
Sitting on the morning train to work, bathed in the pale yellow of the mid-spring sunshine and struggling to maintain my concentration and focus on Simone de Beauvoirís ĎShe Came to Stayí I realise that Iíve not had enough sleep this weekend. Iíve got a long day ahead, too. Iím going in early to print off the Monet exemplars and get the student ID cards sorted and I have an after school meeting in Eltham until six. I wonít be home until after seven, and itís only just gone 7am now. Still, itís another beautiful day and all is well.
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