THE DARKNESS OF THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT

When I moved here I thought – well, this is the middle of nowhere, the end of the earth, but at least I’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep.

It was not exactly the area I would have chosen, but it was the nearest I could afford to move to my ailing mother. This week I have been wondering how much longer I will be here. A few days back I was visiting her at home with a lady social worker and Mum airily referred to me as my friend over there. She was never much of a one for verbal flourishes, but could she have meant it in an elliptical, literary sort of way? Or had she, for that moment, forgotten my name and how we were related? These lapses are only brief; another time she will know me, but for how much longer? Not too long I suspect before it doesn’t really matter where I am; I’ll just need to turn up to visit every couple of weeks and remind her I was once her daughter.

When that time does come maybe I will up sticks and go back to where I once belonged; or go somewhere else new, where I have never belonged. Maybe at that point I’ll discover that what’s left of my gypsy spirit has trickled away and I just can’t face all over again packing my life into cardboard boxes; amassing two great lever-arch files of legal paperwork, one labelled Sale and one labelled Purchase; booking cattery places on an industrial scale and being fawned over by two separate sets of estate agents. Oh for a crystal ball and a magic wand.

Well, it certainly is dark here. We did have a street-light. It gave off a faint orange light, most of the time. The lamp-post is still here, right opposite my house, listing drunkenly to port, but the orange light no longer lights up. Opposite my house is where lorries and delivery vans are obliged to reverse, so being reversed into was something of a foregone conclusion for that poor, solitary lamp-post, but that wasn’t what stopped it working. That was the local Council on one of its economy drives. Since we lived in the middle of nowhere they didn’t think we would miss it.

Almost every night the current custodian of the famous, beautiful and psychic Felix (see FELIX BROUGHT ME A MOUSE) stumbles up and down our unmade road in pitch darkness with a torch in search of him. We have all memorised the potholes and it is possible to avoid them, even in the dark, but you have to concentrate. Firstly Neighbour whistles that anxious, repetitive cat-summoning whistle that cats automatically disregard, then he starts with the calling:

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

Felix quite often lurks in my back garden but I refuse to reveal his secrets. Felix and I have a bond.

I know what’s going to happen next. After ten minutes or so the whistling and calling resumes in my back garden. I am not supposed to notice. I am assumed to be asleep.

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

This does rather annoy me. How come I am the only person in the street whose back garden can be entered by anyone who pleases? Just like I was the only person who could be left sitting around in a waiting room at the eye hospital with both eyes full of atropine drops, unable to read a magazine or even see the time on the clock without help, until the drops wore off and had to be put in again because a lot of more important people came in.

They have a different concept of privacy round here. It’s a cultural difference. At one point I found several children clustered round my side door, laboriously reading aloud a note I had taped to it for the delivery man. My next door neighbour at that time was an Irish lady with a red jumper. She’d never knock, just somehow be outside my side door now and again. I’d pass the side door and either catch her clambering stiffly over the low garden wall that separated our two houses or she’d just be there, silently waiting for me to pass my side door on the inside, catch sight of a scarlet woolly cloud behind the glass and open up. It could have been an hour since I last passed the door.  Had she been there all that time?

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

If the worst comes to the worst Neighbour knocks on my door, wringing his hands in the darkness, distressed, pathetic, imploring, and I have to put on my fluffy slippers and go out into my own rain-soaked garden, with my own torch, in my dressing gown, to search for his cat. Felix, wherever he is, now realises the game is up; Neighbour will almost certainly have disappeared into his own house, a svelte black and white bundle under his arm, long before I get back to my living room, muddy, cross and even less likely to sleep.

Then there are the shift-workers coming home. This tends to be about 2.30 a.m. if they’re on 7 to 2. Their headlights sweep past my window, gravel swishes, rainwater exits deep potholes with a splosh, car radio gets turned off in mid-thump, car door opens, car door is slammed shut. Sometimes they give each other lifts and then there has to be the lengthy goodbye-see-you-tomorrow-all-right-mate conversation.

Then there are the doggy conversations echoing all round the hillside. These have got louder and more frequent since the coming of a giant black dog, Ayesha (Ajska) who was rescued by my next-door neighbour from another, far less kindly, neighbour. Ayesha is actually a lady of Polish origins; she has a Polish passport, even. She also has the deepest, loudest bark imaginable and is an early riser. Four o’clock in the morning:

Wooooooof!!! (It’s ME!!!)

At once a doggy dawn chorus starts up, answering her, answering one another:

Here I am! Me too!! Are you there? No, I’m here! Who are you? Are you her? No, I’m me! Who’s me? Me! You know me! Me down here. You’re down there? I’m up here! He’s over there!

Occasionally there is a party and dance music will drift up to me from open windows. That isn’t too bad – it’s free music after all, and sometimes I sing along. It’s the way the partygoers tend to get drunker and drunker and louder and louder that’s the problem. Then come the arguments and then the bottle-throwing. Everything seems to echo round here. Thunderstorms; parties; Saturday night Karaoke in the social club down the road; police car sirens; ambulance sirens; after-pub staggering home conversations, the boys cajoling, the girls shrieking in response. Once in a terrible while a girl will scream and not stop screaming. Occasionally gangs of caravan site people bump into gangs of locals on the beach and stab one other. Drowning would be a quieter, and the sea is conveniently close, but knives seem to be favourite. Shortly thereafter, the sirens. But that’s only on the worst nights.

There are pleasanter noises. Bats for instance: strictly speaking you don’t hear bats, their cries being ultrasonic, but you do kind of sense them drawing near. Somewhere around nine or nine-thirty, that’s their time. You’ll see them if you are patient: watch for a bird not moving like a bird, something black and winged that dips and swoops, abruptly changing direction. At around the same time the hedgehog is on the move. On moonlit nights, look for a patch of lawn appearing to move; a small, round, scuttling segment of darkness. At around midnight he’ll come closer in search of food. I leave a bowl of cat food out for him; sometimes Felix nabs it first but if there’s any left the hotchi-pig has it. And I always know which one of them it was. Cats will pick from the bowl, and always leave some; hedgehogs stand in the bowl, tip it up, empty it out and clatter it around with their little pointy snouts; and in the morning there is nothing left.

I once went out to change the bowl of cat food. In the darkness, I groped around for the bowl in its usual place and found the hedgehog instead. Hedgehog hearing isn’t good; my hand accidentally brushed the top of his spines. Instantly, a great clattering and scrabbling as he jumped forward and rolled himself into a ball. Sorry, I whispered, putting the new food down and creeping indoors to bed.

A TOUCH OF EYEFLUENZA

Well, tomorrow’s the day I have to go to the doctors,and then possibly on the hospital if he/she thinks I have a detached retina. Fingers crossed, I am hoping for something lesser. At the moment my right eye has become home to a colony of frogspawn and tadpoles, illuminated of an evening by random flashes of lightning. It makes blogging that much more interesting, shall we say, as the white screen brings out the frogspawn in all its dotty gelatinousity.

Getting to the nearest hospital on public transport is a nightmare in itself – one bus, two trains and a long, untried walk with a street-map – so if the worst comes to the worst I will drive over to my mother’s and get a taxi from there. And then there’s the coming back, with an eye full of atropine and everything out of focus. But we shall manage, one way or another, because we always do. And, looking on the bright side, who knows what blogging material might wander my way whilst I’m hanging about on the 99th floor of a ‘special measures’ NHS hospital? I shall be sure to take a big notebook, a tin of pencils and a pencil-sharpener.

To be fair, apart from a nightmarish parking situation I have had no bad experiences at that hospital to date. And, looking on the brighter side, I may well not have a detached retina – far more likely to be something that will clear up in a week – a touch of eyefluenza, say.

And now for genuinely good news. If you happened to read my recent(ish) post concerning a very large, very loud dog I was thinking of as Baskerville (it was the post with a lot of Wooooofs in it – my onomatopoeic attempts at capturing the sheer volume of Baskerville’s bark) – well, he’s still next door. But I did happen to bump into my neighbour this morning, and got the whole story over what’s left of the garden fence. Baskerville is in fact a lady, and her name is Ayesha – or something that sounds like Ayesha but is spelt differently – something like Ajska – on her Polish doggy passport. Ayesha was rescued from a man who lives round here, who required payment of the full, humungous pedigree price before he would let her go. I am happy because although it probably means putting up with a helluva lotta wooooofing from now on, Ayesha is safe.

In fact as my neighbour was speaking I realised something. This is the dog I would hear howling and crying whenever I went for a walk or to post letters. Being a cat lady I’m not exactly an expert on barks, but something in that distressed doggy voice always hurt and worried me. I just didn’t know what to do about it. I wasn’t even sure where the dog was, as everything echoes and gets distorted round here. But that was Ayesha, and Ayesha now lives next door.

One more lost soul finds sanctuary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHPOzQzk9Qo

Singing, or something, in the rain

It’s a good thing I live in England. There wouldn’t be nearly enough rain anywhere else. How could anyone bear to live in a desert, deprived of that reassuring splashy-sploshy sound, those puddly, half-empty streets, that blessed curtain of anonymity? How do people think of anything to talk about where there is neither rain nor the possibility of rain?

And of course, it’s raining today. Earlier on I found some shoes and a mac and shuffled up to the post box with a letter. I live in an unmade road, and all its craters were full of muddy water. Sparrows were bathing. Where do sparrows bathe where there is no rain? What do sparrows drink? Or perhaps where there is no rain there are no sparrows. Coming back I met my down-the-end-of-the road neighbour – hooded, wellington-booted, stout walking stick in one hand and the end of Big Puppy’s lead in the other. Big Puppy is no longer a puppy and has a proper name which I’ve got written down somewhere for Christmas card purposes – something inappropriate – Charles or Montmorency.

Well, what do you think if this then? she remarks, not stopping.

Lovely for August, isn’t it? I reply, also not stopping.

They say it’s set in for the week, she chuckles, disappearing round the bend.

Now, what else could we have discoursed about with such convenient brevity, without having to get wetter than we already were?

My next-door neighbour just got a dog too. Huge, long-leggety beastie. Midnight black. I think of him as Baskerville although he may be a lady; I can’t see his undercarriage in that much detail from my spy-window on the upstairs landing. He/she has a very deep woof. Every night starting about 11pm he/she conducts long, lovelorn conversations across my back garden and under my bedroom window for what feels like hours with Millicent, the chocolate labradoodle on the other side :

  • Wooooooof!!
  • Woof?
  • Woooooooff!
  • Woof? Woof?
  • Woooooooff!

And then other dogs stationed all over the hillside join in.

  • Woof?
  • Woof-Woof!
  • Woof?!

Come spring I may need move house. But it’s possible Baskerville will have moved on by then. Maybe he’s the school dog and it’s Neighbour’s turn to look after him in the summer holidays, as is the case with class guinea pigs, class rats etc. Maybe he belongs to her second-cousin who’s gone to Spain for six weeks and will shortly return to claim him.

They say particular personality types are attracted to rain. According to the internet (so it must be true) these types tend to be INFP on the Myers-Briggs typology:

Creative, smart, idealist, loner, attracted to sad things, disorganized, avoidant, can be overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings, prone to quitting, prone to feelings of loneliness, ambivalent of the rules, solitary, daydreams about people to maintain a sense of closeness, focus on fantasies, acts without planning, low self-confidence, emotionally moody, can feel defective, prone to lateness, likes esoteric things, wounded at the core, feels shame, frequently losing things, prone to sadness, prone to dreaming about a rescuer, disorderly, observer, easily distracted, does not like crowds, can act without thinking, private, can feel uncomfortable around others, familiar with the darkside, hermit, more likely to support marijuana legalization, can sabotage self, likes the rain, sometimes can’t control fearful thoughts, prone to crying, prone to regret, attracted to the counter culture, can be submissive, prone to feeling discouraged, frequently second guesses self, not punctual, not always prepared, can feel victimized, prone to confusion, prone to irresponsibility, can be pessimistic.

I did the test out of interest and came out INFJ which is, if anything, worse. Very similar description. Where does that bit about marijuana legalization come from? And familiar with the darkside? Wot, like Darth Vader?

At least I am now in an appropriate profession, if you can call it a profession when you don’t make any money from it. Writers, unsurprisingly, fall into INFP and INFJ as do poets, painters, musicians, songwriters, art historians, library assistants, cartoonists, philosophers, environmentalists, bookstore owners… Can’t you just see us all?

  • Stringy beards…
  • Oxfam tank-tops…
  • Sandals…
  • Round-shouldered…
  • Unwashed.

But still I do like rain, even if it does consign me to some morbid, sad-sack, creative psycho-ghetto. As a child on my daily walk to the station to catch the train to school, I would pass an allotment plot with a wire fence. When it had been raining I used to tap the wires to release the raindrops collected on the wires. It was a kind of magic. Impossible to think about double maths when tapping raindrops. As a teenager, when I first began to realise I was going to have to be a writer I used to imagine myself living alone in a kind of shed with a tin roof in the middle of a forest. The tin roof was important. In my fantasy there was an ancient black typewriter like the one I taught myself to touch-type on, and it was always raining. Rain on the tin roof. Rain in the forest outside. Rain and writing, writing and rain. Now I am older I think I might include a threadbare sofa, a loaf of crusty bread, a pot of jam and a cat or two.

Later I liked to watch the blue or orange reflections of street lights in puddles at night, and I enjoyed those old  fifties films where it always seemed to be raining. Singing in the Rain has to be the rain film of all rain films. All that joyous splashing about. Not that I’d ever do that. Dance. Splash about. Joyously. None of that carry-on.

In any case, here I am, not in a rainy forest with a typewriter but on a stormy hillside with a word-processor and the incessantly Woooooofing Baskerville for company. Oh, and now some lunatic has decided to start some chain-sawing-in-the rain two roads up. People – it’s people who spoil things. Ooops – INFJ-ing again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1ZYhVpdXbQ

Gene Kelly Singing in the Rain, of course. Doesn’t it remind you of when you are a child and you see a ginormous puddle and you just have to….

And this link is to the original Everly Brothers’ version of Crying In The Rain. They were so young and beautiful at the time. YouTube also has one of them some years later and somewhat chubbier. By this time something sad seems to have happened, either to them or the song. It’s all very glitzy but they sound like they’re singing at half speed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qox-X5zr0lM

Ah, thunder…