Bonphobia

I was going to call this post C’mon Baby, Light My Fire. It would probably have attracted more clicks but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.

I was a Girl Guide, actually, for about a week. Having miraculously escaped being drummed out of the Brownies for landing in the middle of the Toadstool and crushing it to death I became a Girl Guide but my new blue uniform hadn’t even arrived before I left of my own accord having been instructed to light a fire in a puddle round the back of the Junior School.

I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t so much the fire, at that stage, it was the ridiculousness of it.

I have never before tried to light a bonfire, to be honest. All this time and I left it to men. It was one of those men-tasks. Ex was very keen on starting fires. He was a man of many talents and in spite of being an artist worked for quite a while as a miniature steam train driver. As they chugged along – he and the Guard, who shovelled in the coal – they frequently set accidental fires all along the track. He loved doing that.

Later on he used to hold Bonfire Night parties and invite all the neighbours, and he personally would have built that gigantic bonfire down the bottom of the garden, and the elaborate Guy Fawkes. He personally had set up and would rush round setting off every single firework. He personally would have cooked vast trays of sausages and he personally would be dishing them up, in between rockets. I did nothing. All I saw of him all evening was this demonic shadow, leaping about, running the whole show. Something of a control freak.

Yesterday I was forced to try to light my first bonfire. I mean, how hard can it be to set light to some stuff in a bin? Too hard for me, evidently.

I was having to have the bonfire because I can no longer afford to drive my car. Seventeen cats means an awful lot of damp sawdust minus poo, sacks and sacks of it, and the Council only collects once a fortnight. Hitherto I had solved the problem by loading the car up with black sacks at intervals and driving ten miles or so to the tip where Council employees might or might not help me to drag the (leaking) sacks up the steep wooden stairs to the skip and heave them, somehow, over the top. Over the years as I have become weaker this has become more difficult.

I did ring the Council. I explained about the not driving and asked whether it would be possible for me to hire a second green bin, though really I couldn’t have afforded to.

No, she said.

Then would it be possible to class, say, paper bags full of sawdust as garden waste and hire one of those brown bins?

No, she said. Could you perhaps bury ten bin sacks full of damp sawdust in your garden every week?

Not really, I said.

I obtained all the stuff. The dustbin with the chimney, the red fireproof gloves, some little sachets called “fire starters”, a poker. I checked online when I was allowed to have fires and which weather conditions to avoid. The sawdust mountain was taking over the garage and I knew the day had came when I had to actually Set Light To Stuff. I hardly slept the night before. I don’t like to draw attention, you see. I don’t like to be seen. Setting Light To Stuff and causing a lot of smelly smoke was the equivalent, for me, of the casting off of the Seventh Veil.

As an afterthought I filled a large bucket of water to throw on it if it got out of hand.

I had no idea how to begin.

I realised I couldn’t just tip the sawdust in because there were air-holes in the bottom of the bin and it would just fall through. I thought I might have solved that problem by bagging the sawdust in paper bags. I put quite a lot of these in the bottom, and a bit of garden waste, and one or two of those little sachets of what looked like damp sugar, took a deep breath, lit a match and threw it in there.

Fifteen matches later, most of the bags had kind of singed through and blackened cat litter was trickling out of them. There had been a small amount of smoke but scarcely any flame, and what little flame there had been had died, repeatedly.

So, what did I do? Well, I did what I usually do in such crushing situations, of which there have been many in my life, I hid and trembled for a bit. Luckily in the corner behind the garage there happened to be plastic chair. No one could see me. Could they?

After a while I gathered myself together and went indoors, leaving the mess, temporarily. I went upstairs and turned on the computer and watched several YouTube videos on – How To Start A Fire, My New Garden Incinerator etc. Twenty minutes of watching some man throwing one log in after another and then putting the lid back on. I thought I would die of boredom but it was better than dealing with the mess.

I decided I had missed out several stages. I should have scrumpled up paper in the bottom, and on top of that I should have placed something called ‘kindling’ in a kind of horizontal lattice pattern on top. I searched for ‘kindling’ on Amazon and ordered some. Oh God, more expense. I should have set light to that and then introduced the cat litter once it was really hot. But how to introduce the cat litter, a mountain of which was currently bagged up in large brown paper bags guaranteed to kill any flame?

Then I found a video made by some bearded man with a pipe in a garage in America. It was about making fire-starters out of sawdust. He gnawed on this pipe as he melted down wax candles and mixed them with the sawdust in a bucket. Something about him was…soothing. Maybe it was the sound of the rain hammering on his workshop roof. I’m gonna work indoors today, he said, because of the rain. I wondered what manly, competent thing he usually did outdoors.

And then, he mumbled, around the pipe, you transfer the mixture still warm to these here muffin tins. Don’t use your wife’s (your wife?) best muffin tins because she will not be pleased. You press it down hard, like this and you put these here muffin tins in the fridge for twenty minutes or so to harden off and then you knock them out, like this, and…

So that’s what I’m going to try next, just as soon as the candles arrive.

You Can’t Exactly Stroke a Fish

Or can you? You just said it, but is it strictly true? Maybe someone, somewhere has stroked a fish. There may even be a profession of fish-stroker similar to horse-whisperer or chicken-sexer. My mind is heckling me.

To give the above some context, Godmother Elect and I are sitting once again in Mum’s nursing home room. Mum is watching TV, or so the Home would have us believe, just as they would have us believe she has been reading that ancient, water-stained copy of Woman’s Weekly on her little wheelie-table, or leafing through that disintegrating book of colour photos of lakes and castles . Window dressing!

This morning on TV it’s property porn. You know the kind of thing – New Homes In The Country,  Splendid Homes By The Sea, Coast or Country Which Will You Choose? Iceland or Azerbaijan Which Will It Be? I must admit I used to like them, a bit, but the novelty’s long since worn off. Mum doesn’t care what she watches. Her eyes follow the flickering screen. How thin she is now.

GE and I spend the statutory ten minutes trying to engage/include Mum in conversation. That’s a nice birthday card, Mum. Who’s that one from? It’s from the Home. Somebody in the office has run off a sheet of A4 paper on a colour printer and folded it into a four-leaf card-shape. They have scribbling her name into the box on the front in crayon. Infant-school writing. Everybody gets that same card. Sometimes Mum gets the birthday cards of such of the other residents as can still shuffle about. They tend to circulate around the corridors.

Godmother Elect and I then do what we always end up doing and relapse into adult conversation whilst keeping an eye on Mum and rescuing her teetering plastic mug of tea at intervals. Today I was telling GE about my Befriender visit yesterday to an old lady, and being taken out to admire the koi carp in the pond in her back garden. GE and I agree that koi carp are very beautiful creatures and compare notes as to the likely price of even a medium-sized koi at an aquatic centre. GE, a dog person through and through, said that fish were all right but she couldn’t really warm to them as pets. No, I said, you can’t exactly stroke a fish.

So, that’s the context. I still find it difficult to say meaningless stuff. Hence the heckling. The strictly logical side of my ‘wiring’ objects to it even now. But I do know it’s the proper thing to do…

(Sorry – distracted. Charlie-over-the-the road has been scanning the bar codes of his delivery round parcels, topless, as usual. He has been ignoring loud claps of thunder and the flashes of lightning following imminently upon them. The parcels are set out on his driveway, as usual, ready to go in his car. And now the rain comes, falling in sheets and torrents on everybody’s mail order goods, as the bangs and flashes continue. A torn plastic cagoule now covers Charlie’s almost-nakedness but nothing covers the parcels as he rushes about trying to rescue them. And there are hundreds. I do love a good disaster. But poor Charlie.)

…but I know it’s the proper thing to do. When I was a child people assumed, and I suppose I assumed too, that I was shy. In fact I was socially unequipped, which isn’t quite the same thing. Lacking any instinctive knowledge I became a keen observer of Homo Sapiens, and even more so of Homo NotVeryMuch Sapiens, like poor Charlie. I observed that they spoke a lot of rubbish most of the time but it didn’t seem to matter. After a while I worked it out – it doesn’t matter what you say when you are forced into the company of your fellow humans. It only matters that you say something.

Later still, at teacher training college, I learned that this kind of thing is known as phatic conversation. Phatic means words or actions whose purpose is to show the other person that you are friendly, not dangerous, that you like them, or might like them, that you want to be friends.

It’s also known as ‘stroking’, ie ‘That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing, Ivy. Where did you buy it?” or “I wish my kids were as well-behaved as your three!” or “That’s just fascinating. Do tell me more…” Apparently there is a kind of unspoken tariff for ‘strokes’ too. On the whole one earns one in return, but on occasion it can be more complicated. It depends how much you want the other person to like you, how much you have to gain from them – or even how frightened you are of them. You are exchanging nicenesses.

All this is – or was – foreign to me. For a long time I laboured under the misapprehension that if I were to say something stupid/meaningless/dull/trite I would be ruthlessly judged and found wanting. I must be interesting – the Oscar Wilde of small talk – or keep quiet.

So most of the time I said nothing. This is not the same thing as being shy. I did want to talk to people, just misunderstood how the thing was done. You don’t have to be perfect straight away. You start with the fish-stroking and lovely dress stuff and then, if and when you get to know people well, you can say stuff that means something and, if you’re lucky, they will say stuff that means something back.

Ah well, you live, you watch, you learn.

Like a bird on a wire

When the song first came out I wept, picturing the bird (aka Leonard Cohen) trapped in a snare, a loop of wire pulled tight around its leg. In those days we didn’t know so much American. I learned later that what we would call a telegraph line Americans would call a wire, and so the bird was probably just perched on it, ready to fly away.

The lineman in Wichita Lineman, then, should have been obvious to a Brit but he wasn’t. He was something ultra-romantic, science fictional almost, a wandering, lonely creature performing some unimaginable task for The County (what was The County?) – not one of those blokes that climbs up poles to fix the electrics.

Of course, I wept at the bird in its imaginary snare, flapping and flapping its tiny wings in a desperate, futile to escape because the bird, aka Leonard Cohen, was also aka me.

I was always two people. One of me was lonely, wild and free. One of me had known even as a child making messy daisy-and-buttercup chains on her grandmother’s lawn, that one day she would take off. As time went on I read the colour supplements my father discarded from the weekend papers. I pored over the photos of remote temples and marketplaces and traveller accounts of exotic destinations.  I was that traveller. One day very, very soon that would be me on the road to Marrakech in my long hippie skirt and my cheesecloth blouse, a fraying backpack containing all that I had in the world; feet blistered, sandals dusty and worn.

The other me knew it couldn’t go, knew even as a child that it was tethered to a family in which it had no place, engaged in a lifelong struggle of trying but failing to earn that place. The other me knew it needed the mirror they formed, because without that mirror it would vanish. I was only what they showed me; away from them I had no substance: I was a ghost.

And so I enrolled in a teacher training college only a short ride away from home. I took my Mum to a film show there once; she wasn’t impressed. I plodded away at that course for three years, trying to be interested in tessellations, Cuisenaire rods and lesson-planning whilst my friend Anji – she of the wispy, piled up hairdo and the Indian father; she of the many-page letters in green ink and that great circular artistic script; she of the long white raincoat and cool sunglasses; she of the unmistakeably gay boyfriend she was always hoping wasn’t entirely absolutely gay and one day might be startled into kissing her  – Anji went to France with a girlfriend. They worked as waitresses for a while until her friend stole a tablecloth and they were dismissed. She slept under lorries with lorry drivers. It was all in the letters, until they stopped.

But I have found that at least some of those fantasy Me’s do appear, eventually. But it’s like they get watered down and de-romanticised. So, at one point I imagined myself a mysterious Englishwoman living out her final days in a cliff-top village in Brittany or Normandy or somewhere. And here I am, not exactly in France and not exactly mysterious but certainly alone and in a village with a cliff-top.

I imagined myself a hippie traveller, someone who never put down roots, someone who passed through places and had brief conversation with exotic, world-weary strangers. And there I was yesterday, catching buses after years of car-driving, alighting from one train, searching for the next and being talked to (or mostly at) by a series of eccentrics of my own and other generations.

At a bus stop a group of us tried to understand the murder of so many children by a terrorist scarcely older than they were.

On the bus I learned about sunflower seeds.

In a train a young man with learning difficulties spent a long time explaining to me that the train I was on was indeed the right train, and how to tell, in future, if it wasn’t (‘It won’t be at this platform’).

At a station I discovered the Station Master’s name was Estelle and she was the sole member of staff so she had to sweep the platform in the intervals between trains. Also that the station had no loo and the nearest one was Burger King over the road.

In another train I watched a sober old man trying to calm and distract a very drunk young man so that he wouldn’t bellow the F-word aloud in a railway carriage.

I sipped on warm bottled water and ate granola bars in instalments.

I sat behind a boy with a brutally shaven neck and the top of his head crisply waved and dyed bright orange.

I saw many exotic tattoos exposed in hot sunlight and realised how difficult it was to get twins in a buggy off a bus (you have to climb down backwards).

I sat on what might have been an artwork or merely a dysfunctional bench to wait for my friends outside Marks and Spencer.

Hejira, finally.

Strange Pillows

Snatches of conversation from a very long day on an assortment of buses and trains:

After you, ladies! Six of you today. It’s my job to count you. I don’t count because I’m a gentleman, and because I’m the Counter.

There’ll probably be some more gentlemen along in a minute.

I only like ladies.

dinky9

It’s really quite warm on this bus. I’m beginning to feel Quite Hot. Good thing I wore my deodorant.

Thinks: So that’s what that smell is!

bus2

 

So I said to her, I’ll bring along some sunflower seeds but I don’t know whether they’re the sort that’ll grow or the sterilised sort for feeding to the birds.

Some of them grow too. I’ve got a little mountain of weeds under my bird table.

So I said to her, you’ll just have to plant them and see if anything comes up.

bus3

This metal thing is very low, for waiting on.

Yes, but better than nothing.

‘Spose so. Do you think it’s meant to be a bench or a piece of artwork?

Artwork – probably cost thousands.

A bench would have been more useful.

 

I pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel to shower off the dust

And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust 

I dreamed of 747s over geometric farms

Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

Joni Mitchell: Amelia

Pensioner in Crumbling Cliff-top Plunge, Almost

Did I tell you I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school? I was sent to see the Careers Advisor and confided in her my secret ambition. She looked very depressed, but she smiled. I have some pamphlets here about the Women’s Army, she said, eyeing my not inconsiderable height and sturdy skeleton. And there’s always Woolworths…

That was it, and truth to tell it would have taken less than that to discourage me. Some kids, unfortunately, need a great deal more input than their surrounding adults are prepared to give them; they will only flourish when bathed in the sunshine of positive and persistent encouragement.

But onwards, to that cliff-top: I’m sure you’re desperate to know all about the crumbly and her plunge from dizzying heights – almost.

Yesterday I decided to experiment with catching the bus. It must be twenty years since I caught the last one and I was nervous. How would I cope with being away from home without my car in which to beat a hasty retreat if necessary? Could I really use the Bus Pass the Council issued me with a while back and which has been mouldering in the bottom of my handbag ever since? Which way up did it go? What happened if it was invalid now? Would I be ejected from the bus in disgrace?

However, I managed it and spent the next hour hurtling around narrow country lanes, jolted this way and that whilst clinging to the seat-rail in a howling gale from the driver’s open window. That was why all the passengers were sitting on the left hand side. During one of the bus’s brief stops I shuffled across to join them. I saw villages, hamlets and straggly clumps of houses I had never seen before. I swept past field after field of bright yellow oil seed rape. I never thought a bus could go so fast. I never realised that speed bumps mean nothing whatsoever to a bus driver. In a way it was quite enjoyable, a bit of an adventure.

By the time I was waiting at the hospital bus stop to come back I felt almost confident. I had read the timetable affixed to the stop. I at least, unlike the brace of old persons waiting with me on that hard metal seat, knew when the next was due. Do you know when the next one’s coming? the old lady asked the old man. Search me, duckie. I’m a Londoner. Last time I was sat ‘ere over an hour.

A bus arrived ten minutes early, a bad sign which I failed to recognise at the time. But it had the name my home village on the sign on the front. What could possibly go wrong? Is this the one for Town? asked the old lady.

No, I threw back over my shoulder as I mounted the step with the air of a seasoned hippie-world-traveller, this one is going the other way.

Well, it was going the other way – from Town. Unfortunately it was also going another other way that I hadn’t even thought of. After three quarters of an hour of jolting through fields of this and that, a lengthy detour to the prison, where we picked up neither prisoners nor visitors, and a tortuous negotiation of country lanes too small for a small car let alone a large bus, the bus came to a stop at what I recognised to be the top of the cliffs, close to but far, far above where I lived. The bus driver and her bus driver apprentice turned and regarded me – the last remaining passenger – interrogatively.

I – I believe I may have got on the wrong bus, I murmured, and they agreed. In front of me a red and white sign saying Dangerous: Impassable to Motor Vehicles!!! or some such.

Um, I believe that road joins up with the top of my road? They stared at me again.

There’s no way I can get the bus down there, the lady driver said. She actually thought I was asking her to drive the bus down there, for my sole benefit.

No! I mean – I meant – I can surely walk it, if I’m careful? I’m only about fifteen minutes away from my house as the crow flies. They had obviously never heard that expression.

So I got off the bus and set off down the path, doing that confident, bibbety-bobbity Bugs Bunny walk I tend to do when I know I am making a complete idiot of myself. The bus did a several point turn and disappeared. The silence as I walked was deafening. Nothing but the odd cricket chirping. I was old, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a warm spring day, and quite alone.

Now, if it is possible for an old person on foot to screech to a halt, that’s what I did. A few inches in front of me the clifftop sheered away to nothing, in fact there was an overhang. I was standing on a thin overhanging shelf of mud whilst far below me the cold spring sea churned and tiny ships went back and forth on the horizon. It’s like Breughel’s Icarus, I thought. All I will be is a leg disappearing into the water, spotted by a ploughman.

I reversed, carefully, and walked back along the path, still cheery-looking and bibbety-bobbity. I know where I’m going, my jaunty walk proclaimed as I examined my options. I had overheard the bus driver and her accomplice saying that the bus only came up here once a day. Maybe I could call a taxi. Would my mobile phone get a signal up here? Maybe I could walk to the nearest house and plead insanity.

easter bunny

And then a horse came alone – not on its own, I mean there was a human being perched on top of it in a riding hat. May I ask you something? I asked the lady on the horse. The creature reared back several paces, or maybe the lady pulled it back. I suppose a wild-haired, panicking pensioner must have been the last thing either of them expected to see.

I’ll stay back, I heard myself saying, ridiculously. I wouldn’t want to frighten the horse.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Horse Lady pointed out another path, one that looked for all the world like the entrance to a holiday camp but wasn’t. Follow that right round, keep going and you’ll end up in the right place. It was a bit pot-holey – in fact very pot-holey. Very muddy, but luckily dried mud. Very quiet. I began reviewing the likely headlines:

Pensioner Found Dead on Remote Pathway

Pensioner Tumbles into Giant Pot-Hole

What Was She Doing There Anyway? Enquire Grieving Relatives

I felt quite smug once safely indoors slurping tea and munching on a cheese and pickle sandwich surrounded by cats. The hip would be playing up tomorrow but I had learned a valuable lesson (not ever to get on that bus again) and escaped unscathed, unplunged etc.

The relatives would just have to grieve another day.

The past: a foreign country

This will almost certainly never happen – so don’t don’t hold your breath whatever you do – but I thought I might pen a fantastically successful ‘cozy’ (or ‘cosy’, if you’re English) detective series. This would solve all my financial worries in one swoop, in perpetuity, and be very good for my ego. However, I’m not much good at getting to the beginning of projects let alone the end, and this would be a very long project indeed.

But I am very good at preparing. I enjoy the preparing so much more than the doing. This is because doing – especially writing-type doing – is very hard work and that fierce concentration, that excitement, that passion – sucks the very life-blood out of you.

So, in ‘preparation’ I am reading a monster of a book by Dominic Sandbrook (in fact there are two books, this is the first) entitled Never Had It So Good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles. My God, it’s a huge thing, I mean Bible-sized. You feel like you need a lectern.  My right thumb all but fell off with cramp after five minutes of reading.

That poster – You Never Had It So Good and the face of Prime Minister Harold MacMillan were part of my early teens. You couldn’t walk up Station Road without those hooded old eyes and those droopy old moustaches following your every move: MacMillan was the Big Brother of the early sixties.

But at that time I was just starting a new school, with all the terrors involved in that. Politics didn’t mean anything to me then and I had no idea that I was living through the seminal decade of the twentieth century. Whilst others were sitting around looking cool in coffee-bars or prancing round campsites in the West Country bedecked with flowers I was going up and down Station Road in my school uniform, burdened – yea, burdened – by hormones and a generalised sense of doom. I had no overview.

I would like to ‘write’ the sixties but the thing that worries me is the non-PC aspect. Can I really manage the awful, repugnant attitudes, the rampant racial prejudice, the ghastly belittling of women? Of course any writer worth their salt ought to be able to but it’s so very close to home. I was alive then. I didn’t know, but I was complicit.

We once had a temporary teacher of English. He was a young man – somewhat under thirty at any rate – and personable. We were a girls school full of frustrated teenage virgins (mostly) and you can imagine the electrical effect he had on us. Hysteria. We followed him everywhere, primping and giggling. But once in his lessons he threw a board-rubber – one of those great chunky wooden things – at a girl. It hit her on the forehead and she started to bleed. He was apologetic of course.

And once a Jehovah’s Witness girl stood up and confronted him. She was a timid girl, gingery, freckled and mostly silent – but he had just read out a couple of lines from T S Eliot’s Morning At The Window and it sparked something in her:

I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids

Sprouting despondently from area gates.

There is no such thing as the soul, sir, she said.

OK Susan, but let’s pretend there is such a thing as the soul, for the sake of the poem.

No sir, there is no such thing as the soul…

She was being courageously, terminally annoying. I’m not sure how I would have handled that situation as a teacher. What I think I would not have done even then was take her by the ear and drag her, tearful but unprotesting, to the headmistress’s office and dump her on the bench outside.

None of us thought a thing of it. He was our beloved, gorgeous English teacher. He was strong-jawed and handsome. His thick blonde hair was combed back in a kind of quiff. She was not popular, and he was a man.

In my new tome of a research book, I read an extract from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a famous novel of the sixties. I remember reading it at the time and thinking nothing of it. Arthur Seaton is sleeping with two married women, but tells himself:

If ever I get married… and have a wife that carries on like Brenda and Winnie carry on, I’ll give her the biggest pasting any woman ever had. I’d kill her. My wife’ll have to look after any kids I fill her with, keep the house spotless. And if she’s good at that I might let her go to the pictures ever now and again and take her for a drink on Saturday. But if I thought she was carrying on behind my back she’d be sent back to her mother with two black eyes before she knew what was happening.

Arthur Seaton is the hero of the novel.

arthur.jpg

Our handsome, bequiffed English teacher left after a term. He had in fact been a good English teacher as far as English was concerned, introducing us to challenging and relatively modern poems like Dylan Thomas’s Poem in October which I would never have come across otherwise. He broadened our minds. He threw board-rubbers at us. He took us by the ear and dragged us.

He left to become a Black And White Minstrel on TV. My parents loved that programme and, forever after, every time it came on our black-and-white TV I would look out for him, although of course you couldn’t tell under the black-face makeup. Apparently he was a resting actor. You didn’t have to be qualified in those days as long as you had a degree. It never occurred to me that it was offensive for white people to black up. It never occurred to me, to be honest, that Minstrels were supposed to be black people. They were just Minstrels to me, as Gollywogs were just a kind of teddy-bear alternative. Not people.

Which is another story, and one that I don’t feel up to telling at the moment.

Couldn’t we just skip spring?

I never liked spring. Spring is an uncomfortable time of year and every year older I get the more uncomfortable I get with it. I’ve never quite been able to pin down why this is.

April is the cruellest month… as the poet Ezra Pound put it. And the reason he gives for this?

…breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

I seem to remember from my distant ‘Eng Lit’ past that lilacs are synonymous with lust, or at least they were around the time this poem was written. Lilacs flaunt their sinful, lustful little stalks in TS Eliot’s Portrait of a Lady too, come to think of it:

Now that lilacs are in bloom

She has a bowl of lilacs in her room

And twists on in her fingers while she talks,

“Ah my friend, you do not know, you do not know

What life is, you who hold it in your hands”;

(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)

“You let it flow from you, you let it flow,

And youth is cruel, and has no remorse

And smiles at situations which it cannot see.”

Could that be it? The further away from lust you grow, in body and in time, the more distasteful reminders of it become? I was watching a pair of pigeons out on the back lawn this afternoon. She was waltzing about looking for sunflower seeds overlooked by the sparrows, he scuttling behind her in that weird bobbing courtship dance they do – obsequious, desperate. I am here, your Feathered Majesty, and only too willing to serve…

I caught myself thinking, Pack it up you two, or get a room.

I suppose it reminds you how very old you have become when every tree is suddenly, horribly out in overblown, luxuriant blossom – so pink, so white, so bridal!

And then there’s the weather. I went to visit my old lady today – not Mum, the other one – and standing at her front door shivering as the chilly wind blew in and the laburnum blossom danced and pranced on her lawn she seemed quite upset by it all. It should be warm, we both knew it. Either good and warm or good and cold but not this ghastly can’t make up its mind, middle of the road changeability. We couldn’t be doing with it, either of us.

At least we’re into May now. That’s April disposed of. Bad things always seem to have happened to me in April, and the lowest sloughs of despond. I remember one awful walk alone in April. I had forced myself to go out because I knew I would go mad if I didn’t. My shoes were worn out. The sky was the colour of old saucepans. Passing motorists had dropped cigarette packets beside the road, the tinfoil catching the afternoon light, and someone had tossed out an old music cassette (remember those?) with brown tape streaming off into the grass of the verge.

Everything seemed odd, the wrong colour, polluted. Down the side of the hill, in the distance, horses were bending their heads to eat the wet spring grass in a field. There was something horrific about it, something wrong. I suppose it wasn’t the worst day of my life – the very worst ones seem to merge and sink out of sight – but this particular one took root in my memory.

Spring always affects me like that. I was a winter baby. Give me icy roads every time, and that kind of damp cold that gets into your bones. Give me blizzards and an early, cosy nightfall. Failing that let me have lazy summer heat when the roads are empty at noon and nobody stirs, or autumn and the sudden death of the leaves, the first few gales.

Couldn’t we just skip spring?