I’m a little weary of eerie

Bah, humbug – or halloweenbug – or whatever!

By the way, the picture above should not be taken as meaning that I approve of the boiling of lobsters, or even the eating of fish, or that I believe cats should be wrestled into Halloween costumes when they have no idea of the significance of Halloween and hate having to wear stuff. Cats are cool with wearing the same furry outfit every day, and think how much simpler their lives are: this idea even appears to be catching on with a few free-thinking humans.

I hate Halloween. Well, I hate most things including Christmas, Easter and birthdays. Here are half a dozen reasons why I hate Halloween:

  1. I hate the very thought of fancy dress. I have only ever worn fancy dress once in my life. Many years ago, Ex and I were invited to a posh party, except that we didn’t know it was posh and made our own costumes instead of hiring them. We didn’t understand about hiring – life had moved on since our childhood. I forget what Ex’s costume was but it was probably passable, since he was an artist. I went as a Tree, complete with leafy apples. I don’t remember why. I made the costume on my ancient Singer sewing machine out of brown and green bedsheets. I looked like a twerp. A conspicuous twerp. Furthermore, I couldn’t sit down all evening.
  2. I hate children. Well, that’s not absolutely true. I’ve nothing against infants in principle and no doubt would speak kindly to a child if ever a child came within fifty feet of me. But they don’t. They stare at me. Spooky! Babies smile at me, in supermarket queues, but then babies smile at anything. It’s probably wind. Or the spectacles. I am advised that they are fascinated by these strange mirror-things some people balance on their noses. Cats are the same, actually – take a swipe if worn, chew if not.
  3. I hate people knocking at my door after dark. I particularly hate it if they are wearing masks and ghoulish costumes. I hate it even more if they are six feet tall male adolescents, and sniggering. It frightens me. No one ever knocks on my door and sniggers normally. If they can’t be bothered to knock on my door and snigger for three hundred and sixty-four days of the year why should I buy huge tins of sweeties or a mountain of salt and vinegar crisps to dole out to them for the privilege of being terrified on the three hundred and sixty-fifth?
  4. I hate pumpkins. They are obscenely big and too orange (hate orange, so common!) and silly-looking. Can you even eat a pumpkin? What is the point of them? I once mentioned to a girl I happened to be sitting next to in the call centre that I had never tried to carve a face in a pumpkin and had no idea how to do it. She gave me that look that people always tend to give me and issued detailed instructions for pumpkin-carving. I still haven’t carved one.
  5. I hate anything designed mainly to extract money from people – by making them feel they need to buy a whole lot of useless plastic, net, tinsel and paper stuff or a greetings card. That includes Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…
  6. I hate e-cards and Halloween is yet another occasion for people to send them. I hate the unwanted spam-type email they come in, the instructions to click Here when you don’t want to click Anywhere, the lengthy semi-animated cartoon-thing you are forced to sit through when, inevitably, you do click. I hate the thought that I am not worth going out and buying a card for, not worth a second-class stamp or a trip to the post box, not worth a human signature and a row of wobbly ‘X’s.

However, the world’s in such a perilous and spooky state at the moment, any little problem I may have simply pale into insignificance. So I’ll make sure to lock the doors early this evening. I’ll barricade myself in the living room and shut the curtains so they can’t see the television. I’ll turn the sound right down. I’ll stand on one leg and try not to breathe till they’ve gone away, I’ll… And I dare say I shall survive yet another Halloween.

I dare say we all will.

Eerie

The Human Zookeeper

I do tend to over-think things. This morning, over my breakfast bowl of trifle and yoghurt – inappropriate I know, but it was what happened to be in the fridge – I over-thought that my twelve cats could be conceived of as chaos-engines, i.e. the cats create the chaos I need in order to restore order, and be at least somewhat soothed.

You see there’s nothing more dispiriting than coming home to a house that’s exactly as you left it. Even now after – quick calculation – twenty-four years alone, I still find it difficult to believe, when I turn my key in the lock, that nothing will have moved in my absence. I find myself scanning the kitchen and living room just in case something might have moved.

At least when I come downstairs in the morning, thanks to the twelve cats, I know things will not be the same as I left them the night before. I know there will be cat litter all over the floor; food dishes upturned; drinking-water slopped; things knocked over; things probably broken. I know there will be a good three quarters of an hour of zoo-keeping-and-cursing to get through before I can allow myself to sit down in front of the News with my cup of coffee and my bowl of cereal or whatever-happened-to-be-in-the-fridge. ‘Getting up’ takes ages. If I have an appointment at 9 a m I have to set the alarm for 5.30 a.m.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like without the cats. Presumably it will come to that one day, assuming I manage to outlive the current cohort, as is my plan (and assuming no new moggies come tapping at my window pane with their little muddy paws and beseeching miaows). I think life would be cheaper, since even without vets’ bills the cats cost me more than I cost me. I think it would be very restful, since being zoo-keeper to twelve cats is the equivalent of a part-time job, hours-wise. I could put my feet up and watch daytime TV. I could… I could…

I think it would be like being dead, actually. Indeed, once the cats are outlived I shall hope to be dead soon after. Preferably not run over by a bus or anything too nasty or time-consuming.

I need to make order out of chaos, so I need a good supply of chaos to make the order out of. It’s the same as writing – you need the chaos of unwritten words, unimagined stories, to make the stories out of. You need to make things make sense. Life – real life – doesn’t.

When I was first married I developed a Theory of Housework. (Told you I over-think.) There were two points to it:

  1. Everything has is optimal Place and its Condition. The house-person’s job is to return things to their optimal Place and Condition. For example, the Place of clothes is hanging in the wardrobe and the Condition of clothes is clean and ironed. So, dirty clothes must be collected, washed, ironed and returned to the wardrobe.
  2. Running a house is really like being the minder of a big, square machine-for-living. You are trapped, to all intents and purposes, inside the machine. As machine-minder your task is to get all kinds of waste (dirt, dust, clutter, rubbish etc) outside the house, and get the raw materials for the machine to keep on functioning – food etc, etc inside the house. All housework can be boiled down to getting stuff out or getting stuff in and preferably more stuff out than in. Those with more stuff in than out are in danger of becoming hoarders and will end up crawling through tunnels of ancient newspaper or being removed by the Council whilst all the clutter is emptied into hired skips and fumigated, and then finding themselves consigned to an old-folks home or saddled with social workers for ever after. Don’t give them the excuse, is what I say. Fly under the radar.

This makes it sound like one of those demon housewives, one of those poor people who clean, clean, clean from dawn to dusk. I watched a TV programme about that once – someone who smoothed the quilt on her bed over and over and over again, to get out every last wrinkle. But she never, ever got to the last wrinkle. There was always another wrinkle…

It’s a balance, isn’t it? I need the cats to make enough chaos for me to have to be clearing up all day long, but I need the natural tendency to daydreaming idleness I inherited from my father and the ultra-low boredom threshold I inherited from my mother to stop me getting obsessive about it.

And if I do feel tempted to polish or scrub in excess I simply remind myself of the old saying that nobody, on their deathbed, wishes they had done more washing-up.

 

(The Human Zoo: Desmond Morris, 1969)

What is it about me that’s so scary?

There’s probably quite a range of things that can give you the heebie-jeebies and dent your confidence in your own sanity. As an example: if I started seeing little green men everywhere I went – the classic kind with boggly eyes and tinny, mechanical voices, my first thought would be –

Goodness! something has gone ‘ping’ in my head whilst I slept. Where is the nearest hospital? Perhaps I should just call an ambulance?

as opposed to

Gracious! Interplanetary voyagers have invaded whilst I slept. Are the police aware? Perhaps it would be prudent to hide in case they have weapons that reduce a human to a little heap of carbon dust or a puddle of water.

Well, it hasn’t got to that stage yet, but there is this something… this something about me that seems to startle or physically frighten some people.

And I don’t know what it is.

Earlier today I took one of the cats to the vets to get her claws clipped. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Judy the receptionist did not cower behind her desk and beg me to just take the contents of the till, and Rosie my cat, and be gone. I had a jolly little chat with yet another Polish locum who was all for charging me nothing at all to clip Rosie’s nails until Judy sotto voce corrected him.

So far so more or less normal, but then I got home. No sooner was I safely indoors and thinking about sandwiches than Charlie appeared in my back garden carrying an empty dog lead. This is not unusual for Charlie. He’s a bit simple, is constantly mislaying one pet or another and has no concept of trespass or privacy. There he was, nose pressed up against my patio doors, looking in.

So I went out. He took several steps back, quaking – sort of.

What’s up, Charlie? Though the empty dog-lead was a clue.

Together we searched my garden for his dog. He hung back, seeming unwilling to venture further into my garden with me. He’s happy enough to wander round it when he thinks I’m out – even in the middle of the night when he assumes I’ll be asleep.

She isn’t here, Charlie. Usually she just comes in, does a big poop on my lawn and leaves. I even had to buy one of those pooper-scoopers…

I am trying, in our oblique English way, to make a point about dog poop, but subtlety does not register with Charlie. You’d have to hit him over the head with a hammer –

Giant Poodle poop THWACK! in my back garden THWACK! not THWACK! at all THWACK! acceptable THWACK! THWACK!

And of course I wouldn’t do that. Live and let live; anything for a quiet life.

All the same, he is starting at me in horror and backing away, muttering. I give up and come indoors.

Gazing in the living-room mirror, I try to work out what it is, since this is not the first time I have had this reaction. Admittedly, it’s a bit gloomy in my living room since I have to keep the curtains closed, since the cats swung on the nets and ripped the rawlplug out of the wall… But surely I could see if I had sprouted a big hairy wart on the end of my nose? Do I have fangs, perhaps? All I can see is a tired, pale, oval of a face. Sure, it looks like no face I ever imagined I would be wearing, but we all grow old sooner or later. It’s familiar enough.

Am I making weird faces? Of course, now I am staring in the mirror I am not making faces, but maybe I only make faces when I’m not staring in the mirror. Someone once asked my mother if I had St Vitus’ Dance when I was an infant. I had no idea who St Vitus was or why he should be dancing or what that had to do with me, and I never found out. What I was left with was her displeasure. Her embarrassment, her irritation even, to be saddled with a child like me.

Do I twitch?

Do I grimace?

The other thing that used to happen to me was in supermarkets. I thought to begin with it was only when I was with Mum. She had this habit of grabbing at me in horror as if I was about to step on someone – or blaring (she was deaf) Watch out Linda there’s a lady behind you – when I’d been perfectly aware of the lady and was in no danger of crashing into her. And if anything she was the one who was not aware of her surroundings: I always seemed to be having to coax her out of the way of other shoppers.

I thought it was just me she did this to, but later discovered that my Canadian sister had also been irritated at being treated like some sort of ticking time bomb or monstrous impediment in public.

I thought it was Mum, not me. But then I was in the supermarket on my own one day, quietly shopping, aware of an elderly lady shopping some considerable distance away from me, when suddenly she gasped, stepped back and threw her hands up, as if convinced I was about to assault her. I wanted to yell at her What IS it with you? What exactly did I just do to elicit that reaction?

But of course I didn’t, since that would only have frightened her more. She’s probably have screamed for the manager.

Maybe I don’t want to know the answer, even with Halloween coming up.

What is it about me that’s so scary?

The Folks That Lived On The Hill

When the light started to fade and the wind began to really howl in preparation for the night of mayhem to come the tree in the garden of Aslam House, down the hill, was perpendicular. Before daylight had properly returned next morning it was leaning to the left. So far to the left it was obvious it hadn’t just casually decided – as, who knows, trees may do during the night or when they assume nobody’s watching them – to have a bit of a lean, maybe, just rest the old roots for a moment…

No, the tree was uprooted. All that was holding it up even this much was another much smaller tree. Furthermore, it was leaning over my garden shed and, I realised – for it was a very tall tree – my garage/workshop. Ah well, there was nothing to be done. I murmured a little ‘thank you’ to Whoever for the tree actually not being in my garden and therefore not about to cost me thousands of pounds I did not possess to have it cut down. And I murmured a little ‘fingers crossed’ that the person at Aslam House would possess the pounds to get something done about it before it crushed my garden shed and garage/workshop.

I made some porridge. Outside the rain still rained and the wind still howled, but less viciously. I wasn’t expecting to hear from the mysterious owner of Aslam House at all, far less see him that same day.

I’d always liked to look down at Aslam House. Partly because of the name, which reminded me of the lion (in fact we must capitalise it – Lion – since he is at least partly a  Christ-like figure) Aslan from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It gave Aslam House a magical air. Anything might be going on in a house like that, I told myself.

Aslam House is like nothing else round here, architecturally. It’s very much older, and bigger. Its roof dips and sways in an Elizabethan fashion. It’s made of higgledy-piggledy slates rather than row after row of greyish dry-ridge tiles. It has beams – real ones not fake ones. Its windows are tiny and heavily-curtained and go right up into the attic. Sometimes, at night, I see a light in one of the upper rooms; always the same room. No blue flickering, which usually means a TV set. It has a garden, a higgledy-piggledy garden that goes all round the house. The garden has untended roses and a broken down shed without a roof. I can see that now, because now the tall tree has gone.

It has a conservatory, a fair-sized one, with a lot of furniture in it and – I can see if I screw my eyes up – some sort of coffee table, and paintings on the wall. No one is ever in there. A whole conservatory to himself but he doesn’t use it. My, how I would make use of such a conservatory, if I had one. I’d spend the whole of winter in it, warm and toasty, savouring the sight of my snow-covered roses and snow-filled, roofless shed. The birds you could watch from down there, out among the roses; the peaceful thoughts you could have surrounded by all that comfy chintzy furniture.

It occurs to me that Aslam House must have here right at the very beginning – it and the tall trees that are dotted about the hillside, interrupting people’s boundaries. How quiet it must have been back then, for The Folks That Lived on the Hill. No 1980s excrescence of a housing estate; no miles of concrete and brick, everything more or less identical to everything else; nothing much of anything between them and the sea in one direction or the great field in the other.

Turning one way they would have been able to watch the plough going up and down the great field, the men and women coming along later to harvest the wheat and stack it in  old-fashioned V-shaped stooks rather than the great net-covered bails the combine harvester will spit out nowadays.  Turning the other way they might have watched the red-sailed barges coming in, or maybe bigger ships.

I didn’t expect to see him, but later he came round. I don’t know what I had expected – pointy ears, perhaps; hairy feet or a suspicion of a mane – but he seemed an ordinary middle-aged/oldish man. He didn’t look too happy, but then who would be happy with several thousand pounds worth of tree-surgery suddenly looming?

Could you give your husband a message for me? Could you warn him not to go in his workshop or shed just yet? That tree’s about to go over and he’d best not to be in there when it does.

No husband, I replied, rather too swiftly. He looked nonplussed. It was the wrong thing to have said; I should have just gone along with it.

I suppose I was put out, though I should have been used to it by then, by that assumption every male over a certain age seems to make that there will be a husband. Women just don’t inhabit houses – or anywhere – on their own, apparently. What would a woman want with a workshop? She obviously shouldn’t have bought a house with a workshop, not being a man and having no earthly use for a workshop. What foolishness!

And to be honest I was saddened all over again by my man-less state. What was I doing on my own? What was I doing with a workshop? How did I end up sitting out winter after winter of storms, rough seas and gale-force winds alone in an ugly house in the back of beyond? How come I woke up – alone – with some great uprooted tree leaning over most of my garden? Why wasn’t there some broad-shouldered, check-shirted, corduroy-trousered somebody to go striding down the hill with a chainsaw, offering his services to his neighbour? Why wasn’t there a husband to make stuff and fix stuff out in that workshop, to store his well-used garden tools and spider-infested wellingtons in the shelf in the garden shed?

Bad luck – about your tree, I said. He shrugged: I’m beyond caring, he said. My wife died last year.

I am sorry to hear that, I said. And I was.

Now if this had been one of those Mills & Boon stories this would have been the moment for the reader to start hearing the ringing of bells, if only faintly. Ah, lonely woman, lonely man; she with an undeserved workshop and feeling a mite shaken in the aftermath of the storm; he conveniently widowed, having rose-bushes and an unused conservatory. But life is not a Mills & Boon story. I felt sorry for him, for his current hopelessness, the tree and all, but he was pretty ugly. Also, he had a large drip on the end of his nose and was either unaware of it or making no effort to wipe it away. If there’s something I find it hard to see beyond it’s a drip on an unwiped nose.

He went on his way un-romanced, did the gloomy inhabitant of Aslam House. Within a few days a bunch of local hooligans arrived to make a noisy and inexpert job of butchering the tall tree. Now all the shade has vanished from my kitchen. The sun shines in so brightly now, I can no longer see the flames on the gas cooker and have to exist on yoghurt and sandwiches until night has fallen.

Who made honey long ago

I tend to wamble around the house these days, opening books at random. In search of what? Entertainment? Inspiration? It may be that, having still not learned that most difficult of all lessons, I am still hoping the Meaning of Life will jump out at me one of these days.

The older I get, the shorter my attention span. I am like Edmund Blunden’s honey bee, buzzing around the sunlit meadow of incipient old age, sipping at nectar here, nectar there…

Like the bee that now is blown

Honey-heavy on my hand,

From his toppling tansy-throne

In the green tempestuous land, –

I’m in clover now, nor know

Who made honey long ago.

That poem, Forefathers, was one of the first I ‘discovered’ having crossed the threshold. I should explain. At some point, whilst still at school, poetry ceased to be one of the dire somethings that teachers tormented me with – not quite as dire as algebra, perhaps, and nowhere near as dire as netball, but dire. Maybe it happened as they were reading me Poem in October or The Wild Swans at Coole – or even during an argument between a Jehovah’s Witness girl and our poetry master, over the lines I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids / Sprouting despondently at area gates…  (there was no such thing as the soul, she maintained, and got dragged off to the headmistress’s office by the left ear for maintaining it). Whenever it happened, at some point poetry morphed into one of the loves of my life.

Forefathers, the Edmund Blunden poem – I discovered it in a little book A New Anthology of Modern Verse 1920 – 1940. And it was modern. That particular edition was published in 1943. Below the junk shop owner’s pencilled 25p someone has written in faded blue-black ink, what looks like Tring (but can’t be) – with love, Xmas 1943. Even handwriting was different in those far off days. The cheap paper is by now the colour of cappuccino, together with sprinkles. Foxing, they call that – the mottled brown spots old books, like old people, develop in extreme old age.

How lovely it is, to have a book you can hold in your hands and turn the time-buckled pages of. Such a book has its texture (cheap cloth over board), its colour (a streaky red, faded almost to pink) and a smell (dust; dried-out and crumbling glue; possibly Players cigarettes, the sort people used to buy in packets of ten, with cards inside depicting famous footballers in strange, long shorts, and well-known Shakespearian characters). A book is a thing in and of itself, not just its contents stripped out and digitally stored.

Forefathers may not even be a good poem. I no longer bother to categorise poems as good or bad: I either like them or I don’t. Maybe it’s a sentimental poem – in fact it probably is. When a country is at war its people cling to that all-important myth of their homeland. Our myth is of Englishness and goes beyond hobbits in hobbit-holes, long-bearded, wand-wielding wizards and forests full of Ents. Probably everyone has their own myth of England.

My England seems to contain larks ascending from sunlit cornfields, cumulus clouds lumbering across endless green hills, little lakes hidden among (relatively) little mountains. I’m not ashamed – too old to be ashamed – maybe it also contains that ploughman, wending his weary way through the churchyard, with its drunken gravestones; a village blacksmith or two; country choirs; A E Coppard’s higgler traipsing round the villages selling ribbons, saucepans and patent medicines for a living; convivial harvest suppers and yes, maybe even a wooing or two, lit by the Huntsman’s Moon.

Men enlisted to defend this poetic vision of an England that never was, which they perfectly understood never actually was – rather the everyday England of corned beef, chilblains, soggy fish-and-chips and queues for almost everything. This vision, I (hesitantly) suggest, is what politicians and city stockbrokers utterly failed to take into account, and are still overlooking whilst wittering endlessly on about how Brexit was Not Supposed to Happen: not a thuggish, Union Jack and knuckle-duster-wearing racism; not plebeian ignorance and the lack of a university education; not a sudden national obsession with border control; nothing at all like Donald Trump and his band of redneck followers; not the arrant selfishness of old folks who ought to just die and let young folks have what they imagine, at the moment, they want; not even the prospect of being able to make our own laws again – who, really, gives a stuff about laws? – but the heartfelt need for England. I saw a bit of film of an old man crying after the vote. I’ve got my country back, he said.

Incidentally, and on a lighter note, I learned quite a lot from that poem – the word ‘thew’ for instance – so useful for Scrabble.

These were men of pith and thew…

Pith and thew, don’t you just love the sound them, whatever they mean?

tansy

And I learned there was such a thing as a tansy-flower. It was to be many years before, thanks to Google Images, I actually saw a picture of a tansy and noted that its petals were of a very distinctive pale gingery yellow – which was exactly the hair-colour of the only lady I ever met by the name of Tansy. I suppose Tansy must have been born with a full head of hair, or at least a reasonable covering. Otherwise how could her parents have known to call her Tansy? I mean, if she’d been born bald, as most babies seem to be, she could have ended up as a Poppy, or a Violet, a Rose or even – perish the thought – a Prune-ella.

We live on the borders

We live on the borders, some of us,

Between the other world and this.

Further out than all of you,

Still we can only peer at distant hills,

Catching whispers in the wind sometimes,

Channelling darkness drifting through,

Weaving the two.

Strange stars appear in our skies.

 

We’d give our breath to breathe that other air,

And sanity to hear the singing truly.

For it is joy and madness both

To be so close

To all that’s dark and dreaming

And yet to have

No hope of homecoming.

When you approach the boundary between This and Other words bleach right out: they lose their relevancy. But words are a shield against the dark and dreaming, and for the moment we do need that shield.

I can only say that this concept of the border is what keeps me going. It’s not so much a reason to believe as a sense that I need to keep to my own internal faith. I keep the channel open so that the music – and the darkness – can drift through.

Such stuff as friends are made on

I probably wouldn’t notice – not straight away, anyway – if one of my followers decided to stop following me. This is partly because I find any kind of statistics difficult to pay attention to, but it’s also WordPress’s fault, or at least the fault of some electronic WordPress thingy. My stats today say I have exactly 200 followers but the widgety-thing (bottom right) says no, you have 212 followers. They haven’t agreed for some time. Both seem to fluctuate from day to day so presumably I am being followed and un-followed all the time. Is it the same people going away, changing their minds and coming back? Or are they going away for good but being compensated for by new arrivals?

After a while, of course, it would dawn on me I hadn’t heard from a regular follower a while, and I would miss them. No more feedback, no shared similar experiences, no comments. No little : )s  or ; )s. Even then I doubt that I’d check to see if they’d unfollowed me as opposed to being away on a lengthy, luxury cruise or locked up for some nefarious doing or other. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. Better that things stay vague, in a comforting electronic limbo.

Which leads me to my Thought For The Day. What exactly is a real friend? Is a real friend

(1)  a flesh and blood person you can share a pot of tea and a giggle with in Debenhams? Someone who will listen to you without judgment, though they’ve heard you wittering on about whatever it is so many times before? Somebody who mysteriously continues to like you however dislikeable you know yourself to be?

(2) a name-and-selfie you have never heard of, who has clicked some button on Facebook – is that a friend? or

(3) somebody you will never meet (thank goodness! I hear you all sighing), who may live  many thousands of miles away and in a culture so different from your own that you can barely imagine it; somebody whose real name, age, gender or circumstances you may never know, but you have shared at least some of your history with them and at least a few of your innermost thoughts, feelings and ideas. Is that a friend?

In my headI think – well, I would be thinking if I was in my head – a friend is another entity I have shared time and stories with. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot of time – maybe even a chance encounter would count as friendship, a joke about the lateness of the train, an intercepted glance and a half-smile across a crowded street would qualify. Friends, or followers, can be fleeting or longer-lasting.

It doesn’t even need to be human. It might be an animal, or even a book. It could be an encounter/series of encounters with anyone or anything as long as time and stories have been involved. On that basis I think I would go for (1) and (3) but scrub (2).

After all, we have in a sense ‘imagined’ every one and every thing we think we know. Every friend you ‘have’, whether now or then, here or now and whether constituted of flesh or electrons, is stored in your head as a kind of blueprint, a memory-pattern to be reconstituted as required by the firing of electrical pulses between neurons.

We store every thing, every one and every when and every where as electrical patterns. In my head I have at least my version of all the things, people and places I have ever encountered. In my head jumble around together my flesh-and-blood friends, my internet friends, friends long-dead and friends long fallen-out-with. They’re all the same stuff.

I can never visit my grandmother’s garden again but it’s here and, by the firing of neurons in a particular pattern or sequence, I can walk around it. I can see the hollyhocks and the London Pride, the yellow roses, the swing on the apple tree, the bird-bath with the poem all round it. I can recite the poem. I can see it. I can never see my father again, but he’s in here somewhere and if I want to I can hold a conversation with him. I can never meet Jane Eyre – after all she’s not ‘real’, merely a character I constructed with the help of Charlotte Brontë. I can never meet Charlotte Brontë either.

And yet here they both are.