Breathing Spaces

Apropos of nothing, the one-armed cat is gaining speed with every day that passes. He has now re-learned how to gallop, and therefore how to scare the bejasus out of selected other cats. This morning I spotted George clinging hot-foot to a central-heating radiator, trying and failing to haul himself up, having been chased up there by some sort of furry Grendel, now nipping joyfully at his ankles. Cats cope with adversity so much better than us. If you had lost an arm, would you be galloping?

I was thinking the other day about the spaces I have found, when I felt like the wounded Grendel. Grendel, if I remember aright, slunk off to the swamp, or maybe some sort of big pond, and drowned there. Poor Grendel! Why do I feel sorrier for him than that granite-jawed hero Beowulf, who also died – in the end?

So, when feeling like a wounded Grendel (on average once a day, when imprisoned in the world of work), I would have to get away. If I couldn’t get away – meltdown. If you’ve never seen a meltdown…

The thing is with meltdowns, you can see them happening from inside. You can witness yourself behaving like some kind of lunatic and yet you can’t stop. Not for hours, sometimes not for days can you stop. And then you have to get yourself home, still sobbing and attracting horrified glances from passers-by. I had to walk four miles in that condition, once. And then you have to recover. And then, somehow, you have to go back, hoping you haven’t been fired in your absence. Pretending it never happened.

Breathing spaces are essential, and the trick is to get to them early, to forestall… it.

When I worked at the Power Station, it was difficult. We were virtually imprisoned many windswept miles from anywhere at all, behind a revolving-gate and plastic-pass security system that sometimes would and sometimes wouldn’t let you out. Mostly I hid in the loos, but there’s only so long you can do that, and toilets are not the most pleasant of places when you’re trying to regain your sang froid. I remember once, a blowsy blonde fellow-employee (I recognised her voice and that inane laugh) entered the cubicle next to me. I took a deep breath. She let off a huge – what’s a polite word for it – oh, bother it – Fart.

Oops! she screeched – that laugh again – But better out than in!

Oh go away, I thought. But people never go away.

In later jobs it got easier, though there was always at least one meltdown per job, just as there was always one bull-necked female supervisor or superior who took a raging dislike to me. Where did I go in those latter days, to breathe?

There was the library, in winter. I would find an empty table in the reference section and prop some weighty tome in front of me. I wasn’t actually using the tome, of course, I was writing, reading or daydreaming behind it.

And there was the church. That was usually empty at lunchtimes. I’ve always liked churches, when empty. I like places with really high ceilings. I think that’s what it is, the ceilings. Which I suppose is why churches and cathedrals were designed that way – as a kind of foretaste of heaven. Occasionally though they would have art exhibitions of fairly bad paintings, or concerts, or flower-arranging competitions.  Not so good.

In summer there was the Memorial Gardens – why do I find death so restful? – where the dead of World War One were cast in greenish bronze on all four sides of a stone memorial. What I liked was the space, and the green of the grass, and the rows of trees, and the unimaginative flower bed with their soldierly ranks of pansies and marigolds. I liked the wasps, and the students mucking about in their lunch-hours, and the drunks in the far bushes with their bottles of stuff in paper bags, or surrounded by a clutter of empty tins. I liked the prim professional people with their sandwiches. I liked the blue sky and the sunshine and the distance. Distance. I have to have space. That was my best place. Most of my best poems were written there.

And at other times I have found sanctuary in cafés, sitting in a parked car in a huge, anonymous supermarket carpark, and on railway stations where I could hang around pretending to wait for trains. Distance again – those rails which might be going – anywhere. I didn’t need to go. It was enough to know that I could go. Sometimes I found a kind of harbour at harbours, or anywhere, really, by the sea. Sea is distance. It is on the edge, it is – where you could, if necessary, walk into the water and swim, or jump onto a ship and sail away, never to be seen or heard of again. Distant parts. Freedom.

Where are your breathing spaces? Or don’t you need them?

deep-breath

On Brain Art, Brownspeak, the Curate’s Egg and Various Lengthy Conversations with the Fairies

To begin, I will tell you a tiny story. It is probably of no significance but it will keep returning to me.

Many, many years ago, for some reason, I was in a small car being driven along the sea front at Hastings – I’m fairly sure it was Hastings and not Brighton or Bexhill (immaterial, but I seem to have to mention it anyway).

My father was doing the driving. There was someone else sitting in the passenger seat beside him and my mother and I were in the back seat. As we sped along we passed a small blue wrought-iron gate, which seemed to serve no purpose, set into the long, concrete expanse of the sea front. And in those few seconds I recorded that this seemingly useless piece of street furniture was in the shape of a breaking wave, and knew that it was that shape because we were at the seaside. And had moved on, just as the car moved on, to some other reverie.

My mother remarked, ‘That was an odd-shaped gate’.

I said, ‘No – it was a breaking wave.’

My mother said, ‘How on earth did you notice that?’

And I thought, but fortunately did not say, ‘How on earth did you not notice it?’

Because stuff like that zooms in on me all the time. It’s like I have to notice all the irrelevant details of a landscape: Hunter’s Mind, as they sometimes, mercifully, call it. I’ve been researching (intermittently and inefficiently, of course) the ‘inattentive’ variant of ADD and wondering if this is what I’ve got. I’ve sure as hell got something. I don’t suppose I will ever know because who cares if someone my age has ‘got it’? By my age it’s too late. Any life you might have had has been well and truly buried under a heap of distractions, sudden passions, fading interests, forgotten-ness…

Everything, important or unimportant, descends instantly into a kind of memory mulch and – with the occasional exception like the sea-wave gate – cannot be retrieved. But which will retrieve themselves, when and if they see fit. Oh no, they haven’t gone, all those useful facts – how many years ago did I move here? what was my postcode in 1987? did I ever get vaccinated against German Measles? what year was my father born? – all the practical details other people seem to recall without effort – they are just hiding. Determinedly.

I have had so few people in my life – maybe three and a half (the half being Ex, and reliant on alcohol) that I could very occasionally allow myself talk the way my brain works, without the Sensible Filters applied. I learned, somewhere around the age of four, that for all of my life I would need to translate everything I actually thought into what I used to think of as a child as Brownspeak, or people would kind of… snigger.

In this blog it’s a mixture – a Curate’s Egg, as they used to say, somewhere around Dickens’ time or maybe – no – earlier – maybe around Goldsmith’s unreadable The Vicar of Wakefield.

Some posts, when I am arguing a point, I tend to try to ‘craft’ a bit. It’s not that I can’t do that. It’s just that I mostly can’t be arsed to do it, because it’s dull. But if you publish and be damned, leaving holes in your argument, people will inevitably home in on them, because the holes are the bits that interest them. The holes, to me, are the bits I wouldn’t have wasted precious time filling in, if I was just being me.

Other posts, like the rare (as hens’ teeth – I love that phrase) short story I will also polish – but this time, because the editing and the story-writing all form part of one indivisible process. This, I suppose, is the famous hyper-focus phenomenon. Writing is the only thing that that it kicks in for, for me. Cannot leave it alone until both aspects are right. Stuck at the computer, sometimes for day on end (hyperbole) because – not right, not right, not quite right yet…

But in most posts I do this sort of thing. I allow myself to ramble, soar, snooze, wake up, find myself talking to the fairies on some bleak hillside where the sedge is appropriately withering and no birds sing, or materialise back at the computer screen with frozen feet, a longing for caffeine and the thing half written, chuckling or aghast at what – somebody, anyway – seems to have just typed up there.

And now I think, would I have given it up – Brain Art, as one girl in the comments section of an ADD website described it when asked to list any positives of ADD – for the chance to have lived a normal life? That phrase jumped out at me – Brain Art – and I knew exactly what she meant. Although if you type it into Google now she seems to have disappeared, that girl in the comments section. All you get are lurid pictures of actual, physical brains with their branching neuronal systems lit up in various arty, rainbow-coloured ways. Quite jolly, but not something I would want on my living room wall whilst consuming Oeufs en Cocotte, Pigs in Blankets or whatever.

What would it have been like without a lifetime of pencilled and computerised Plans, none of which I could ever find the impetus, or manage to remember for long enough, to put into effect? What would it have been like to be able to make a decent living and not have to be constantly, constantly frightened? What would it have been like, not to have the funny looks, not to be odd – to have been a Brown person and lived in that Brown world where wave-like gates did not leap out at you, where you did not notice the patterns between the branches of trees rather than the branches themselves and realise that stately dance against the sky, for the tree in itself, was Art?

What would it be like not to get bored with and leave, or get fired from (usually both) nearly everywhere I worked? Wouldn’t it have been worth it to be able to store something I wanted to say, or do, or remember, in my head for more than a few seconds before a new thought or seven came rushing in to crowd it out?

What would it have been like not to be permanently Away With The Fairies – or rather never to know at what moment the Fairies would choose to reclaim me, and then release me?

To sacrifice those few seconds of joy, just every now and again; that occasional swooping flight of felicity; that unexpected, almost shocking burst of laughter when an image or series of images I somehow, accidentally managed to articulate hit home with my ‘audience’ – images I had just been somehow given?

To lose that feeling when a post suddenly makes sense, then the beginning suddenly bites the tail of the ending, and then connections branch out in all directions, between this post and other posts, between now and then. To never again discover, as if reading it for the first time, some small thing I must have been thinking all these years?

What would it have been like, to exchange my bewildering, endless, swooping inner landscape for a decent-sized back garden with a crazy-paving path up the middle and a selection of well-tended roses? Would it have been worth it, the chance of life – a proper, real, safe, contented, prosperous, happily married and gainfully employed life – in exchange for handing back my wings?

Let’s all just jump on William

Funny how things go: I just sat down here to write an article about – in a rambling sort of way – justice – and cats – and found a comment on that same subject by a new follower, on a different post.

I remember a lengthy conversation I had with Ex. We did have quite a few such lengthy conversations, often after too much beer or cider, which seemed to be the only way we could get past each other’s barriers. Hasten to add, I don’t drink now. Well, maybe the odd glass of wine at Christmas, if offered.

I was working for a firm of solicitors and had just had another conversation with my boss. She was a probate and trusts partner, but I had asked her how a criminal lawyer can bring themselves to defend someone who is pleading innocent although everyone knows he’s guilty – a violent rapist, say, or a mass murderer. Firstly, she said that if at any point the client was foolish enough to tell the lawyer he was guilty, the lawyer could no longer defend him. As long as he maintained his innocence, the lawyer – even though all sorts of verbal games had to be played to keep up this pretence – would continue to represent him, and do his or her utmost to put his side of the case (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as proving him innocent). Secondly, she said, everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

Now, Ex was a complex being. A gentle soul in many ways, he buried his deceased goldfish around the pond. He put up little crosses where each old cat was buried, and asked me to write a poem on a slip of paper to bury with them. He was many IQ points brighter than me (he took the test for MENSA) but if you were just listening to him arguing – about anything – you’d assume he was one of those shaven-headed National Front members, the sort with HATE tattooed on their knuckles. In argument, at least, he was always absolutely black or white, no shades of grey. Me, I love a good paradox: ambiguity is one of the few things I can cope with.

So his take on Justice was – and for all I know may still be – this: if everyone knows some bugger is guilty, then that bugger should be immediately shot, beheaded or castrated, depending on what he did. No time wasted by mealy-mouthed lawyers, arguing on his side. I remember, through the usual cider fog, saying that that was all very well, but just because everyone thinks they know someone is guilty, doesn’t mean that they actually are. After all, everyone knew all those poor, harmless old ladies in the Middle Ages were guilty of witchcraft and allowed the Devil to suckle on their teats, etcetera.

I remember asking him what if you were the one accused of a crime of which you were innocent – but everyone – everyone – knew you were guilty. Wouldn’t you be grateful then for a lawyer willing to prepare your case and argue in your defence? How could we call ourselves civilised, I asked him, if we reverted to taking it upon our individual selves to shoot, hang, castrate – or whatever – anyone we decided we knew was guilty?

And cats? Well, this week I have been looking after a cat called Nicholas.  Oh, let’s be honest, I’ve gone and adopted yet another stray. Nicholas arrived at my back door with a badly mangled arm, and the vet gave me the choice of either amputation at the shoulder, more or less, or euthanasia. So of course I paid for the amputation. I collected the cat later in the day. Inside his box they had wrapped him in a blanket against the cold. They did not offer to show him to me before I took him home, but I could imagine. Actually, though it looks strange – a cat with only one front leg – and sad, it’s not that shocking. He’s still the same Nicholas.

All went well for the first week, then I was woken at 2 in the morning by what sounded like a horrendous cat fight. But it wasn’t. It was Nicholas, standing in his pet bed, wobbling about on all three legs, screaming in terror whilst fighting off some invisible enemy that was obviously much larger than himself. This – whatever it might have been – fox, dog – had him by the leg – the now-amputated front leg – and Nicholas was twisting and turning, lashing out, trying desperately to pull himself free.

All my cats came running, as they always do when there is a ‘fight’. Their idea of justice is this: usually, any fight will involve William. William is a lumbering ginger cat who thinks he is in charge but isn’t – although he used to be. William is not very bright and, I’m afraid, a bit of a bully. So the cats come running and all jump on William. This does solve the problem, though it’s not exactly fair on William – he might have been in the right.

But now, with Nicholas, the weakness of cat strategy – the fundamental alien-ness of cats – has become apparent to me. Every couple of hours, still, in the depth of his nightmares poor Nicholas wakes up screaming. Fighting for his life against an invisible opponent.

Arthur approaches Nicholas. Arthur, huge, but usually the soppiest and most tremulous of cats. Ah, I think, he’s going to try and comfort his little friend. Arthur approaches, on tiptoe and extends a nose towards Nicholas’s nose, whiffling gently. And then he pounces on Nicholas and, notwithstanding the amputated front arm, proceeds to try to murder him. Fur flies everywhere. I grab Arthur. How could you? I ask him, tearfully. Even a human being wouldn’t set upon a disabled member of their own species, especially one who was suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas seems OK, if a bit battered. The stitches are still in place. Arthur looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand and I don’t understand. How is this logic?

So I am having to think of strategies to protect Nicholas when I am forced to be out of the house, just in case. Feliway Friends (expensive! and you have to buy a refill every thirty days!) plugged in right next to the room he is occupying – the bathroom at the moment, which is very inconvenient (argh, a pun!) – and a long rabbit run for the spare room, so that he can get around but hopefully not be attacked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My Life Is So Complicated.

Florence Nottingale

The Domestic Science wing at my school was known as The Crimea. This was on account of some connection with Florence Nightingale, the Lady With The Lamp. The headmistress never stopped banging on about old Florence and gave us the impression that wounded soldiers were actually nursed in our Domestic Science wing, in beds, in rows, like the picture above. I never quite understood this, because I thought they were on the battlefield and she went out to them.

You’d think this might have inspired me to be a nurse, or a heroine of some kind, but all I ever wanted to be was a Poet. My parents were not impressed when I told them this. They said I would be making better use of my time as a shorthand typist for the Electricity Board. Actually, over a whole frittered lifetime, there turned out to be nothing much I would have been better using my time doing.

Fast forward and here I am apparently nursing a stray cat with an amputated leg. I mean a very amputated leg, right up at the shoulder. His name is Nicholas, because he has a white necklace. When you have quite a few black and white cats it’s easier to remember them that way, like recognising seabirds by their beaks or whales by their fins. I have been feeding him outside for some time. He and Sunshine (another un-neutered tom) were sharing the garden on an unspoken rota basis. But Nicholas has been missing for several day.

Yesterday I got home from a routine visit the vet’s to find Nicholas outside. He looked brisk and business-like enough but he was holding a front paw in the air. Perhaps a thorn, I thought, or a cut. Looking on the bright side, or trying to, I reached down and scooped him up. Bad sign, that he let me do that.

Several phone calls to the vet, the RSPCA (to get an Incident Number), to the vet again, to a taxi firm. I can’t take a sick cat all that way on the bus. By lunchtime we are back at the vets. Probably an abscess, says the vet, in that Russian-type accent I have never been able to reproduce. If you are going to take him I will do the operation and castrate him at the same time. But when the x-rays come in he shows me – that leg is shattered. You have three options he says: have the cat put to sleep, refer him to an orthopaedic surgeon – because I can’t fix that – which would cost you around £4,000 – or have the leg amputated and the castration done at the same time, which I could do cheaply for you for only… Only?

The cat might be adopted afterwards, of course. He looks round from his computer and grins. ‘You don’t have to take them all.’ But he knows perfectly well that I do.

And so here I am – Mrs Squeamish, who hates any kind of physical responsibility, trying to be Florence Nightingale. Nicholas is alternately stretched out and curled up in an untidy heap of pet bed, blanket and folded fleece in the corner, partly covered by a blanket. He doesn’t look too bright, but he has eaten something and doesn’t seem averse to a stroke and a purr every now and again, between long sleeps. For some reason I think about Beowulf, and Grendel and his arm torn off at the shoulder at the battle of Heriot…

Concentrate, woman…

To be honest, I have never seen a newly-amputated creature before. An amputee is one thing – you see them on TV all the time – but a new wound is another. I had to bathe it this morning, and of course there are ugly things, like stitches and blood and shaven, puckered skin. I shall be so glad when that fur begins to grow back, Nicholas. He squirms over onto his tummy and squints up at me. I am going to get so bitten, I think, approaching on creaking knees with the cotton wool and the bowl of warm water. But no, he lies patiently and lets me clean him up and looks ever so slightly less appalling afterwards. Much smarter, I say.

I was thinking about angels, and that mysterious old man on the bus who talked to me about the meaning of life, recited Desiderata and vanished. I was wondering if we are all obliged to do ‘Angel Duty’ – a bit like conscription – at some point, or in one aspect of our lives. I was thinking maybe it was my job to be Nicholas’ angel today, and that he had at least chosen the right person to hobble to. I was wondering who my right person was, or would be if and when the time came, to hobble to.

I was thinking about competence and incompetence, and how the both things can exist in the same person at the same time. I was thinking that my sister doesn’t speak to me now, and wondering if it is because she has got lumbered with all the financial and practical stuff in connection with my mother, and despises me and my irresponsibility/incompetence/host of financial phobias and anxieties, for having backed out of all that so smartly. Did I let her down? At the time I just knew she would be better at it, but all the same… I’m the older sister and that should have been my responsibility.

No, you don’t have to take them all in. And you don’t have to be an Angel in everything. You have your one thing, and maybe only that one thing. That’s your mission, should you choose to accept it…

The Quality of Mercy

I must admit I am approaching this piece of writing gingerly. The thought of being trolled by some appalling witch of a woman in Tower Hamlets, some union-jack flapping person in Penge or a coven of ghastly, acne-faced sprogs in Market Harborough, fills me with dread. This is just my opinion, and you are free to decide I’m wrong.

Firstly, on the BBC’s news channel today were further details of the Welsh politician who took his own life this week, whilst under investigation by the Labour Party. Now – after his death – it appears that the accusations are in connection with inappropriate touching, or groping. He and his family felt that he had been denied natural justice. Since he had not been allowed to have any details of the accusations, he could not defend himself.

This is what I think:

No action is so bad that a human being should be driven by public opinion to commit suicide. Whatever someone has been accused of, in this country at least, they remain innocent until proven guilty. And even if they are eventually proven guilty they should be given a chance to put their side of the story, to apologise, to express remorse and to attempt to make amends. We do not have the moral right to push another person over the edge.

That thing about casting the first stone – male or female, which of us hasn’t done or said stuff in their past that – in the light of current thinking – they now wish they hadn’t?  Is it proportional, is it fair to seek a belated revenge for some decades-old pat on the knee or unwanted kiss after a boozy lunch by destroying somebody’s career? We cannot really know the vulnerabilities of others. They may appear strong and confident, but how desperate might they be, inside, right now? They could be waving, but then again they might be drowning.

wavingMy second thought is about the American actor Kevin Spacey. I don’t know whether he is guilty of all the things he has been accused of – I didn’t even know he was gay – but it seems that now they are planning to edit him out of his latest film. By the miracle of technology they are going to substitute a different actor for him.

Until now there has always been a clear, if unspoken, barrier between the work of an artist and the private life of the same. Painters, musicians, actors, writers, scientific geniuses, just like the rest of us, may be held to account and if necessary prosecuted for any wicked or foolish act they commit, but are we really going to deprive ourselves for ever after of what that person is capable of creating?

It seems to me that Kevin Spacey is one of the very few great American actors. Compared to him most American actors (and yes, actresses) are pants, frankly. Has it now become impossible for him to act in anything, ever again? I have this feeling, you see, that people with gifts are sent here to use them, and preventing them from using them is a form of spiritual torture, which is something none of us has the right to inflict.

I seem to recall that one of the main pieces of advice handed out to couples in counselling and parents having trouble parenting their children is never to say ‘I hate you’, but rather to say ‘I hate what you just did’ or ‘What you said made me angry, and this is why…’ Surely we should apply this principle when those in public life fall short of whatever standard of behaviour society happens to be finding acceptable at the moment?

Surely we could bring ourselves to say: we hate what you did but we will not pretend that you never existed. We will not prevent you from exercising your art, or from giving humanity whatever gift you were sent here to give, because you are human and we too are human. We disapprove of what you may have done in your past and private life, but we will not airbrush you out.

The meaning of life passes me by – again

So, I was sat there at the bus stop opposite the station having, as nearly always, just missed the bus home. There is a gap, after lunch, of one and a half hours. I had hit that gap.

I had been waiting there for over an hour already. Other buses came and went, and various other people came and waited – and went, on all the buses that arrived that were sadly not my bus. There was just me and this very, very old man. I was sat in the shelter, such as it is, with the narrow hard seats that slope forwards (on purpose, to discourage sleeping tramps, according to Bertie). He was sat behind me and to the side, on a low bench. The low bench is much more comfortable, though difficult to arise out of if you have been sitting in it for any length of time.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the very, very old man wished to talk to me. He was doing that fidgety, glancing in my direction and then glancing away thing that people do. So I went over and sat down next to him. He told me his sight was really bad and he couldn’t make out the numbers of the buses.

Was I by any chance waiting for the same bus that he was waiting for?

I was.

Would I be so kind as to tell him when that bus arrived?

I would.

He had a very soft voice, and unfortunately in the range that I find most difficult to hear. I tried to disregard the noise from a constant stream of traffic, and watched his lips. He told me that he was ninety… something. And now, strangely, that is nearly almost all I can remember of our conversation. I realised he was an educated man. We seemed to be talking about philosophy, and the meaning of life… and all that. I remember struggling to answer him in a way that would make it appear that I had heard… clearly. I wanted to hear. I could tell that what he was saying was really interesting. It came to me that we were kindred spirits of some kind, and that he was meant to be here today, sitting on this bench, and that he had an important message for me.

Finally our bus arrived. He sat next to me and carried on talking, softly. At one point I realised he was reciting Desiderata to me in that soft, kind voice. He knew it, and other poems, by heart. He said when he understood his sight was failing he had begun to memorise poems that were important to him. He said he worked to keep his memory sharp by reciting as many as possible of these poems daily. We discussed the origin of Desiderata, agreeing that it had not been found been nailed to the door of Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692 as was claimed in the 1970s, but that this didn’t matter in the least.

And then, whether by reason of my own physical weariness and anxiety to be home (it had been a long and stressful day) or because the bus was negotiating a series of hills and narrow, twisty roads, causing an increase in background noise, I could not hear him at all. Out of politeness, desperately, I continued to watch his old lips, still reciting and philosophising, still asking questions which I could not hear to answer, and could not lip read either.

As we reached his stop, he suddenly became audible again.  “Well,” he said, “here my journey ends. And yours continues.”

Into a ditch with Mozart

When I was younger, so much younger than today…

I was driving my wonky little old car across the Marsh. (One of a series of wonky little old cars.) I think this was the wonky little old red one.

Anyway, I was listening to Mozart, on a tape. Shows you how long ago it was. I was on my way to work.

I was listening to Mozart because he was the only classical composer I could think of the name of. I grew up in an uncultural environment. My mother was a fan of Matt Monro (the singing bus driver) – who died. Also Jim Reeves, who had a very deep voice. And died. My mother cried the day that Jim Reeves died, just as I cried the day John Lennon got shot.

My father liked to sing along to Sing Something Simple, which as far as I remember was Sunday lunchtimes on the radio. Oh, home on the range, he used to croon, melodiously, with the requisite tinge of an American accent, where the deer and the antelope roam… Well, we all used to croon.

My ex-husband was far more educated, musically, than I. He used to play blues guitar, and some classical pieces. I would listen to him in amazement, though it was depressing. I had once wanted to play the guitar and now – how could I?

He was nine years older than me and remembered jazz and folk, obscure (to me) blues singers from the thirties and forties – and all sorts of stuff that I was only able to love and appreciate after I had left him. He even knew about Early Music and the Aeolian mode, and the pentatonic scale, and polyphony. Now I love that stuff (though I still couldn’t explain the Aeolian mode) but I never used to listen to him when he started going on about it. Every time he started to reveal even an edge of his massively greater knowledge of just about everything I would bristle and switch off. Grrr…

But at one point, even while I was married to him, I realised that I did want to learn about Classical Music. I kept secret my experimentation with tapes (borrowed from the public library) because he would no doubt make me feel inadequate yet again if I told him. Telling him anything seemed to result in a helpful, university-type lecture. I accidentally made mention of helicopters once and was treated to a whole lunch hour’s disquisition on torque.

So I was playing Mozart, rather loudly, in the wonky little old car as I drove in to work. It had been raining overnight and the road was muddy, and then this blackbird flew out, really low, and of course I braked

People afterwards kept saying You braked for a BLACKBIRD? You crashed your car into a ditch and nearly killed yourself to save the life of a BIRD? Which only really goes to show that it’s more than skin deep, my belief that all life is sacred and all of absolutely equal value. Not killing birds,  slugs, ants or any living thing – not even carving my name into the bark of a tree or removing a stone from its resting place, is programmed into me. I am those things, and they are me.

Anyway, I was in this ditch for only about ten minutes. I couldn’t find the switch to turn Mozart off, and anyway I do believe I was shaking. So weird, that long, rightwards and downwards Mozartesque slither. So balletic. Then I understood that thing about time slowing down. And all around me were kind of weeds and tiny trees – a tiny tree had impeded my further descent – the Marsh ditches are major drainage channels, and deeper than average – and the road was now… somewhere up there!

I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I grabbed my handbag. Women always grab their handbags, I think. I pushed the car door open as far as it would go, which wasn’t all the way. Brambles. There was a sort of latticework of vegetation but no clear indication of where the actual bank was. I looked at my work shoes. High(ish) heels. I looked at my work tights. The tights were for it.

But shortly two, or maybe three cars stopped and two, or maybe three kind men came running from various directions and pulled me out of the ditch. One of them gave me a lift home. By this time I was shaking like a leaf and couldn’t stop talking. I remember thinking, stop talking, you wally! But I couldn’t.

My car was a write-off. It didn’t look too badly damaged but apparently its engine and all its working parts were kind of jammed up with mud. I never saw it again. Somebody must have dragged it out and disposed of it.

I have since listened with pleasure to a wide range classical composers, and have become a particular fan of Thomas Tallis. But Mozart? Poor Mozart, I can no longer listen to him.