Robert and Rabbit

He wrote the second half of the competition story out in the garden. When he stumbled across it on the website, it was the unfinished-ness of it that he couldn’t bear. He had never seen an unfinished story before. When you borrowed a book from the library it always has an ending, but this one seemed somehow screaming and bereft. He couldn’t bear it – it had to be mended, just as if he had gashed his hand and seen blood oozing from it he would have wrapped something round it, to plaster what was raw and suffering.

He printed it out and took it into the garden with his mug of tea, placing the tea carefully on the top of Rabbit’s hutch, unfastening the catch and opening the door, reaching in to stroke the silky ears. Responding to a familiar signal, Rabbit squeaked and lolloped out into the garden, disappearing by unhurried instalments into the uncut grass. Sitting on the kitchen chair, which he had dragged out through the patio door, taking advantage of the afternoon lull, when all that could be heard was the distant sound of children in the playground of the village school during their break, Robert began to read the short story so cruelly abandoned by Marius Hawkinge.

The story did not strike him as very good. It was about a young boy in the 1950s, train-spotting on the platform of a country station. He was waiting for a particular train although the story did not explain why. Quite a lot of not very interesting things happened in the story, which Robert found it difficult to concentrate on; a sparrow dropped onto the platform beside the boy and started pecking at crumbs; the stationmaster arrived and said a few words, warning the boy not to go too close to the edge of the platform; the signals changed, the signal arm clattered down, a bell rang, etcetera, etcetera.

Robert took in all these details, whilst finding them annoying. Some of them were actually wrong. Robert knew, because he read a lot of railway books, and his local library had the biggest collection of railway books in the country. The reference to green glass in the signal, for instance. Anybody who knew anything about railway signalling would know that lamp-glass was blue. It only appeared green when the lamplight was shining through it. And he’d got the signal arm going down, when it should have gone up.

Robert had never attempted to write a story before, but he knew from a lifetime of book-borrowing and his poor dead aunt’s passion for Agatha Christie novels that he would be expected to pick up this trail of irritating loose ends and give them some significance in the second half of the story – the bit that he would write. How, he wondered, could the famous playwright-person have given away his precious story, like leaving a baby on a doorstep. He supposed that the playwright must have been paid to supply it, but how could he? Leading on from that, Robert wondered if the playwright-person had actually attempted to finish the story himself. Surely he must have done, or how would he know it was finish-able?

Were there stories that couldn’t be finished, or could all stories be finished, no matter how unpromising their beginnings? Robert did not know, and presumed he would not know until he had tried. In the meantime a milk-scum had formed on the surface of his tea, and Rabbit had got under the wire into next door’s garden and was eating marigolds.

As he works, he becomes absorbed. He looks down at his hand, writing, sees the words taking shape at the end of the pencil, the pencil wearing down and needing to be sharpened, the crossings-out, the interjected thoughts, balloons and arrows scrawled on the blank page opposite – yet at no time does he have the sense that he is inventing anything. It is as if the story has been there all along: it just needed his brain, his arm, his fingers to bring it into the world. As he writes, the story tells him how it wants to end but, to the last word, he can’t be sure.

Looking up, he is astonished to see that the sun has gone down and a white flying-saucer of a moon is in the sky. He realises he is shivering, partly with excitement and partly because his back and shoulders are wet with dew. Rabbit has long since returned to his hutch of his own accord, and sits there now, chewing carrot-tops, his eyes focussed somewhere in the middle distance. As bats begin their dances in the gloaming, a ruminative happiness envelops them both.

 

 

 

Uses of Disagreeable People

What is a disagreeable person? Defining one is not as easy as it sounds. There are ways of being and behaving which I find disagreeable – arrogance, intrusiveness, dishonesty, negativity – but am I to be the sole arbiter of this? There may well be an aboriginal tribe somewhere that values Dishonesty, or whose idea of Intrusiveness is far removed from mine. So much depends on the culture. I actually ‘did’ a bit about this in an Open University linguistics course.

In one culture, for example, it would be perfectly acceptable, even expected, when travelling on a crowded bus to instruct another passenger to Shut That Window! In a different culture – let’s take English, since that’s the one I know best – this simple, clear form of words is likely to land you in trouble. Speak to a woman that way and you’ll probably be met with a glare, the turn of the shoulder, the uncooperative stare into space. Speak to a man in such rough and ready terms and you’ll likely be told to get lost – one way or another. Speak thus to a very large man with tattoos and a shaven head who happens to be in a particularly bad mood that morning and you could end up with a punch in the snoot. Safer and more effective to haver apologetically around the subject for a while.

Um.. terribly sorry to interrupt but… I wonder if you’d mind if… its blowing right down the back of my neck, you see… frightfully chilly for the time of year… would you mind?

You never actually ask the person to close the window: you just kind of guilt-trip and nudge them into it. (If you’re interested in people-watching there’s an excellent book called Watching the English by the anthropologist Kate Fox.)

But cultural differences apart, and to save time, let us assume that a disagreeable person is broadly the same in all societies. What, if any, might be the uses of such a person? Do they have any uses, or would the world be a far better place if some disagreeability-sweeping alien spaceship were to make a pass over the planet and hoover them all up?

I find Blabbers disagreeable. They tend to be women, but not exclusively. Ultra-sociable, they’re on gossiping terms with every single person in every single house within a radius of several streets. No matter what it is you tell them – how trivial or insignificant – everybody knows within half an hour. They do have their uses, however. If there is something you do have to tell everybody, but can’t be bothered to – I’ve just got a monstrous big dog and he’s likely to woof a lot, say – just mention it in passing to the Blabber. Better still, mention it in confidence. Saves all the bother of saying stuff you already know over and over again. Also, having reached other people as gossip, dull facts appear far more interesting.

And then there are those people who go on and on and on about something – bores, in other words. I’d class them as disagreeable, although I forgive them, having been boring enough on many occasions myself. In ‘olden times’, when I was still married to my Artist, I would sometimes go with him to the local pub. He would talk to his friends and I would always get pinned against the wall by a chap with a big nose. You know the way they lean in at you, one hand on the wallpaper next to your left ear? That nose has stuck in my memory because I used to end up focussing on it, and the variety of open pores and stray hairs it included, unable somehow to look at away. He also smoked cigars, so every utterance was accompanied by a Churchillian whiff or two. He wasn’t a bad chap – in fact, I think he was lonely and quite liked me – and unfortunately he worked in some distant department of the place where I worked – so I felt obliged to listen, or at least to look as if I was.

Every evening I was treated to the story of how he had discovered a motor bike in his back garden, and dug it up. I was trying to remember the name of the motorbike, which he repeated ad nauseam, but it’s gone. It might have been Cherokee… I have a vision of feathered head-dresses. To make matters worse it amused my husband to pull faces at me from behind the poor chap’s back: of course I couldn’t allow any sign of this to appear in my face. It was a battle of wills – which I always won, because on balance my husband annoyed me even more than the bore with the buried motor-bike.

Another of my husband’s friends – a joyous, witty but eccentric Air Traffic Controller – after a few beers would enjoy telling a long, long story involving an Irishman and a cat. At some hideous point in this story the (hopefully fictional) Irishman would seize the (hopefully fictional) cat and hurl it out of the window. The thing was with this friend, he was clever. He’d lull you into a false sense of security by never starting that story in the same place twice. It was a story without a beginning and without an end and this story would appear to concern a completely different set of characters in completely different circumstances. But no. After ten, twenty, thirty minutes and several more beers, in would stroll the (hopefully fictional) Irishman and out would fly the (hopefully fictional) cat.

There is one use for boring people – as a kind of shield. They make excellent fodder for other boring people. Introduce them at some length (that way each has plenty of ammunition to use against the other) and slip away. One or two might also come in useful in Parliament, now I think about it – for those occasions when MPs need to ‘talk a bill out of time’. I believe it’s known as filibustering. Like a secret weapon: just set them going – on buried iconic motor bikes, fictional (hopefully) flying cats or whatever, put your feet up on that famous green leather upholstery and take a little nap.

(Uses of Disagreeable People is number 11 on Tanner’s 1917 list of 250 Topics for Familiar Essays)

The Eighth Sin

Remember the seven cardinal sins? You’re given the serious task of adding a new one to the list — another trait or behaviour you find particularly unacceptable, for whatever reason. What’s sin #8 for you? Why?

Apparently a Jesuit priest recently did a study of the most common deadly sin confessed to. Men and women apparently differ in this, as in most things. Men most commonly confess to Lust, and women to Pride. I always suspect that when people do admit to a weakness it’s likely to be one that reflects on them in a good light. It’s a bit like that pair of questions Human Resources like to throw out at job interviews:

What are your greatest strengths? What are your greatest weaknesses?

Both of them are a trap. Greatest strengths – yes, you can list them (ensuring that by some strange coincidence they are just what Hattie from HR or Hattie’s boss is looking for) but you run the risk of coming over as an obnoxious bighead with an inflated sense of his/her own importance. Greatest weaknesses is the real killer. You have to concoct something which might be construed as weakness but is actually a strength when turned on its head: something vomitous like “I am much more experienced at using Microsoft Word compared to Powerpoint but I am planning to train myself in my spare time so I can get up to speed with it” is recommended. Ohhhh… how glad I am I don’t have to toady my way through job interviews nowadays.

So it is with Deadly Sins. A man confessing to Lust – well, what red-blooded man hasn’t lusted? For a man to confess to Lust is tantamount to saying “I’m virile, I am! I’m a bit of a lad!” For a woman to confess to Pride – well, basically she’s saying “I’m saintly, really. I’m so terribly aware of my sins that really, underneath, I’m ever so ‘umble”.

In the same way, it is said that your deepest faults tend to be revealed by the appalling things you are perfectly happy to admit – those views it wouldn’t even occur to you to hide, the prejudices you assume that, naturally, the other person will share.

So you might say that the Eighth Deadly Sin is Stupidity or – to define it more narrowly, since a genuinely dim person is not being dim on purpose – a lack of scrupulosity, a failure to think, a failure to examine, or even allow mind-space for, alternative views. It’s the assumption that you must be right because, after all, you are you. How could you be wrong? I read somewhere else that a fool knows he’s clever, whereas a wise man becomes increasingly aware of his own vast ignorance the longer he lives. I wish I could find the exact quote but Internet Explorer is – as ever – not responding.

Someone once told me, in the days when I used to go to chapel of a Sunday that Pride was the greatest sin of all, encompassing all the other sins, because Pride gives you a sense of entitlement – of being on a level with God. I am entitled to that man’s wife; I am entitled to eat or drink myself into an early grave if I want to; I am entitled to a luxury holiday in the Bahamas – I’m worth it; I can’t be bothered – it’s not my responsibility; it makes me so angry when people treat me (of all people) like that…

To draw up the threads this rambling post – I keep thinking about that James Stephens poem In The Poppy Field, in which he seems to be saying that Money is the greatest evil, and Work the deadliest sin. Not the greatest of poems, perhaps, but one that’s hard to forget:

poppy field

Mad Patsy said, he said to me, / That every morning he could see / An angel walking on the sky; / Across the sunny skies of morn / He threw great handfuls far and nigh / Of poppy seed among the corn; / And then, he said, the angels run / To see the poppies in the sun.

A poppy is a devil weed, / I said to him – he disagreed; / He said the devil had no hand / In spreading flowers tall and fair / Through corn and rye and meadow land, / by garth and barrow everywhere: / The devil has not any flower, / But only money in his power.

And then he stretched out in the sun / And rolled upon his back for fun: / He kicked his legs and roared for joy / Because the sun was shining down: / He said he was a little boy / And would not work for any clown: / He ran and laughed behind a bee, / And danced for very ecstasy.

Where have all the widgets gone?

Well, today, or to be strictly accurate yesterday at around 4pm, I finally entered the… what century are we in, now? That century.

The Amazon delivery man arrived with my Kindle Fire.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what it would do. I had a Paperwhite, for reading books, and I thought that was pretty swish, but this…

My niece has got one, you see – the one with the kidneys/dialysis. I hardly ever see her but she has taught me, unwittingly and by example, a number of useful things. Or maybe I just mean I copy her. Yearning for my long lost youth. She showed me once how to drape one of those chequered Arab scarves round one’s neck and look like an art student. In her less seriously ill days, at any rate, she wore Doc Martins with skirts, and tattoos, and jewellery in her tummy. And you never knew what colour her hair would be. I remember at Dad’s funeral it was neon pink. She used to make me wish I’d been born a couple of decades later. Well, she has a Kindle Fire.

Apart from niece-envy, there were a couple more grown-up reasons. I had it in mind that anything resembling a computer, however mysteriously little, would cost £squillions, so I didn’t even bother to check. When I did check – although technically nothing is affordable – it was within my grasp. And then there was the failure with the smart phone. I think a smart phone is probably a step too far. It’s just too small, and scary. And the one I got – I don’t know – it just didn’t match my brainwaves. I do things one way, the smartphone did it another.

But as soon as I got started on the Fire I knew we were going to be friends. Ridiculous – because it has all the things a smartphone has – apps and whatever. I wasn’t even sure what an app was (though my nephew designs them for some hi-tech company – they snaffled him straight from university) until I started downloading them. Most important was the WordPress one, but I also found BBC i-player, Zoopla, Heart radio, a thing where you could tune into classical music from all over the world and something called Spotify.

So, at 2 o’clock in the morning I was still wide awake, tapping and swiping away and going “Aha – it does this” and “Aha – it does that” when it occurred to me that the delivery man, in bringing this little black box to my door, has in fact made obsolete in one fell swoop my television set, my generic mp3 player, my desktop computer and who knows what else? Maybe even the microwave.

Although of course I’ll still need the desktop for my 90 mph blog-post typing in Word (I prefer to cut and paste – less chance of losing the whole lot). And I’ll still settle down in front of the TV set with the cats of an evening. It’s just that now – I can watch TV anywhere! If I want to. I can check my emails anywhere! I can…

But how long my blog posts look, scrolling down and down and down. And it took me a while to work out where all my widgets went – all those neat little mini-programmes on the right hand side – Calendar, Category Cloud; Most Popular and Most Recent Posts. I mean, it’s not absolutely intuitive to turn a computer on its side.

Is it?

First Person Singular

My name is Maurice Smith and until recently I spent most of my days up here, in the fourth floor day-room. It’s not popular with the other patients. Difficult to get to, you see; several sets of swing doors to negotiate, then the lift. But I preferred to be alone in those days. The sight of others depressed me.

It used to annoy the hell out of Matron, me being up here. She’d keep coming up to check on me. “I do wish we wouldn’t wheel ourselves quite so close to the glass, Mr Smith,” she’d say. “It’s a safety hazard.” What she meant was that people might look up from the street – and they might not like what they saw.

I don’t give a toss about the squeamishness and sensitivities of the general public, but I like to watch it all the same – imagine where it’s coming from in such a hurry. Where it’s going to. What it’s got in its shopping basket. And other things, like what it feels like to wave to someone you know on the other side of the street and have them smile back at you, look you straight in the eye, not over your head.

I first noticed the girl one afternoon in May. She was pushing a child in a pushchair and she’d stopped at the crossing, waiting for the lights to change. The wind was whipping her hair about. A strand of it got caught in the corner of her mouth and she shook her head to free it. She was wearing a short skirt and a long leather jacket, the two hems almost coinciding. The almond trees were showing the whites of their leaves that day, their blossom-heavy branches jerking about in the wind.

The lights changed at last. I didn’t so much as hear her high heels tap-tap-tapping across the road as feel their rhythm in my body. They synchronised themselves with my heartbeat. After she had gone I spent hours trying to define the colour of her hair, which was neither red nor blonde but a strange peppery buttercup. I decided her name was Emmeline.

I saw her most days after that. As the weeks went by she discarded her leather jacket, exposing her bare arms; they were white, with freckles, gradually turning brown as the summer moved on. I could have counted the freckles individually, just as I could have recited car number-plates a mile or so off, for I have unnaturally sharp vision. I suppose it’s a kind of compensation.

I invented backgrounds for her. It helped to pass the time. She’d been a nurse, I decided. She’d fallen in love and married very young but the husband was no good and had run off, leaving her pregnant. Soon now, though, the child would be old enough to start school. She was planning to return to nursing. And what more convenient place to come than here? I imagined that red-blonde hair pinned up underneath a white cap. Her uniform would be starched so that it rustled. Ah, that wonderful rustle…

Maybe she would be the one to plump my pillows…

It was about this point that reality always crept in to sabotage my fantasies. If Emmeline was to be my nurse she would also have to take me to the toilet, bath me. She would see me lying there crumpled and twitching and her face would take on that familiar, set expression. She would start addressing me in the plural, like Matron did. “Can we manage to turn over on our own this time, Mr Smith?” “Are we ready to get our socks on?”

The day the accident happened I had wheeled myself right up to the fourth floor window as usual. I was idly watching the workmen building the new Law Courts across the road as I waited for her. They swung about like monkeys, shouting to one another – jokes, mild obscenities. They take it all for granted, I thought: the sun on their backs, the jokes, the possession of muscles that work, muscles that can lift a hod and hold a woman tightly to them…

And then everything went out of my mind. Emmeline had just turned the corner at the end of the road. In a minute she would be here, passing underneath my window and as close to me as she was ever likely to get.

She was wearing a white cotton dress. It looked good on her with her small waist and her long hair – romantic and fresh. The child wasn’t with her this time. She was about to push the button for the pelican crossing when one of the workmen spotted her and shouted something. She looked up and grinned and he blew her a shameless, suntanned kiss like Errol Flynn playing a pirate in one of those old movies. My mind was awash with pain. Try as I might I couldn’t shut it out, the picture of this man with my Emmeline, naked, laughing; doing all those thing with her that I had never done, and never could.

I believe I was the first to see the lorry coming down the hill towards her. Of course I realised at once that it was going to fast – out of control, in fact. The driver’s face flashed into my mind quite clearly. He was screaming, his mouth making a great cartoon ‘O’.

People were beginning to turn round and look now, pointing, gasping. It seemed that everyone had noticed the lorry apart from Emmeline, who was still making eyes at Errol Flynn. I don’t know why I did what I did; pure inspiration, I suppose. With my one good arm I seized the nearest object to me – a large metallic ashtray – leaned forward in my wheelchair and hammered as hard as I could on the window of the fourth floor day-room. She couldn’t fail to hear. She whirled round and looked up at me, her face registering first surprise and then…

Was it disgust? I prefer not to think so. After all, she’s in no position to feel disgusted now. The accident hasn’t touched her face, and that glorious red-gold hair is the same as ever, but her body is twisted and paralysed out of all recognition and she can’t speak. Brain damage, you see. Couldn’t have worked out better if I’d planned it.

At my request they often park Emmeline next to me in the fourth floor day-room and I have tried to help her come to terms with what happened to her. After all, who could be better qualified than a man who has spent his whole life in a home? They approve of our friendship. I overheard Matron telling a visiting social worker recently how nice it was that Mr Smith was becoming socially adapted at last, and how fortunate it was that the new lady so enjoyed his company.

I have told Emmeline that she is still beautiful. We are all beautiful really, I tell her. Our minds – what’s in our minds, that’s all that matters. She stares back at me with those big green eyes of hers, and sometimes they fill with tears. This distresses me.

I would hate to think that the girl of my dreams was unhappy.

Stargate is all wrong at elevenses!!!

Our days our organized around numerous small actions we repeat over and over. What’s your favorite daily ritual?

Why do they keep changing the listing for Stargate Universe on Pick? I don’t have Sky – all I have is this free Pick channel, which is a kind of shop-window for Sky. Pick is generally loathsome (endless programmes about monkeys, lorry-drivers, the Australian Air Ambulance Service and people failing to smuggle pickled ostrich-meat into Canada). The only good – indeed, excellent – thing about Pick – making up for all its other deficiencies – is the sci-fi: on Pick I am gradually catching up on all those splendid series I missed out on for five whole years whilst working the twilight shift at the call centre.

It’s not so much to ask, is it? The highlight of my day – Pick permitting – is 8 p.m. when the classic sci-fi repeats come on. I settle down – or did settle down, before Pick spoiled my evening ritual – on my ancient, community store sofa with a cup of instant coffee, a bowl of cereal and a whole lot of snugglesome cats and am transported to other universes… universii…

Some sci-fi is excellent, some is bearable and some is… frankly, beyond the pale. They aired three-quarters of series 1 of  Stargate Universe starring – amazingly – how did they land a catch like him? – Scottish actor Robert Carlyle and then… and then it’s vanished and in its place is some idiot futuristic cartoon starring a girl with a ponytail and one giant eye, plus a little pink chap with tentacles. Not my cup of tea at all. Whole evening spoiled.

Frantic rummaging on the internet reveals that SGU has now been moved to 11 o’clock in the morning. Also, if you have access to Pick + 1 – 12 midnight. I do not have access to Pick + 1 because I don’t have Sky, because I can’t afford it. Also, I would object to paying a whole subscription in order to watch exactly the same programmes about monkeys, lorry-drivers, the Australian Air Ambulance Service and people failing to smuggle pickled ostrich-meat into Canada an hour later than I would have done on Pick proper.

Quite possibly next week I will discover that they have moved SGU back to 8pm and the girl with the uni-eye plus the pink person with the tentacles will have been relegated to some other time. Until then, it’s 11 a.m. or nothing.

But Robert Carlyle is not the same unshaven hero/villain with the birds twittering outside, sunlight streaming in through the kitchen and endless delivery lorries reversing up our unmade road, as Robert Carlyle when the curtains are closed, it’s pitch black outside and you’re covered in snugglesome cats. The whole point about SGU is that it’s dark, and sinister and clunky and… mechanical. They’re trapped in this alien spaceship hurtling through space and getting on each other’s nerves something chronic, plotting against one another, falling into mineshafts on abandoned planets, getting infested by brain-scrambling space-ticks and… and it isn’t the same at elevenses, with the post falling onto the mat and a heap of ironing to be done, and the cats full of (daytime) beans, zooming around destroying the house, and all that washing up…

Neither is it the same watching a blurry, too quiet YouTube version of Robert Carlyle in s.1 ep.18 of Stargate Universe on a desktop computer, even at 8 p.m. It’s just not.

Really, it’s not.

Could it be Falling Leaf Syndrome, doctor?

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

It’s difficult to separate, sometimes, what you can remember, what somebody showed you a photograph of, or what you remember remembering but don’t remember directly now. If that makes sense? If not – it’s a getting old thing.

The first mental image I have of myself is from before I could walk. It’s from a black and white photograph. There I am, plonked down on the back garden path at Bedford Road. I am playing with a bucket – not one of those little plastic children’s buckets, no, but a full size cast-iron builder’s bucket. It is almost as big as me. I am wearing dungarees and a stupid sunhat. I look a bit fat, frankly – but then babies do. I am not smiling.

Bedford Road was an Edwardian(ish) terraced house in a long, long narrow road on the outskirts of a rather ghastly town. It’s still rather ghastly – famous for it, in fact – but hey, it’s a town. It has stuff like shops, and metalled roads, and railway stations, unlike here. I recently emailed Betty, my Godmother, to ask her what number we lived at. She’s older than Mum but still compos mentis – I knew she’d know. She told me. She lived next door to Mum and Dad at the time. She told me she used to come home from work at lunchtime and Mum would put me over the garden fence so that I could toddle up and down her garden path and chase the dog. She said she used to babysit me on a Friday so that Mum and Dad could attend Cycling Club meetings, and was always slightly worried in case I woke up as she was (still is) a single lady with no experience of babies. Mum never told me any of this, and now all her memories are gone. Details – like dead leaves, so fragile and so easily blown away.

The first proper, non-photograph, non-Betty memory I have of myself is when I was three. I thought this was pretty good, but Ex can recall lying in his cot as a baby and watching the model aeroplanes suspended from the ceiling spinning round. Possibly the start of a lifetime interest in aeroplanes. I wonder who made the models.

When I was three I was sitting on the closed seat of a brand new (disconnected, of course) toilet in the living room of the new bungalow Mum, Dad and Grandad were in the process of building. Mum’s still there now. So’s the toilet (connected, of course). Unfortunately Mum no longer recognises either the toilet or bathroom as real rooms. They have invaded them. They are In There Now. But I digress. I think we must have been having a tea-break. I vaguely remember Dad being there – so Mum must have been (she was never anywhere Dad wasn’t). How memories are layered. The same street, the same house, the same room and so many versions of your life lived out in it.

And now I am thinking of moving, and for some reason – maybe this is where Falling Leaf Syndrome kicks in – had an irresistible urge to set eyes on that house in Bedford Road again – the house where I was born. That must have been why I emailed Betty for the number – I didn’t realise it at the time. So, courtesy of Google Maps, I viewed it, and duly saved it to Favourites. Really, it looks just like thousands of other terraced houses – a narrow, mud-coloured sliver of downmarket real estate squashed into an endless vista of other, near-identical properties.

I can’t imagine myself actually living in the Bedford Road house – even if it was for sale – or in that town – can I? And yet I wish – I so wished – to be allowed to go inside and wander round, alone. For some reason I needed to know whether the stairs were on the left, as I remembered them, or on the right, as appears from the placement of the windows. And did the kitchen really did have a brown Belfast sink? I believe I wished to sit on that garden path (getting down there is a possibility, getting up again another matter) with bucket and stupid frilly hat if necessary – and become ‘me’ again, at the age when anything might have happened. Before it did happen, and went pear-shaped.

Falling leaves return to their roots. Chinese proverb, popularised by Adeline Yen Mah’s best-selling biography/autobiography: Falling Leaves (1998)