I caught the tail end of an adaptation of a story called ‘Cuckoo’ on the radio this morning as I prepared breakfast. It flitted back and forth from the past to the present and ostensibly was about a mother who was sent away from her children, home and husband because of her volatile mental state. A state that was ‘created’ by a so-called friend who ousted her. ‘The word mother should never be mentioned’ – she told the children. One of her sons is looking back trying to remember what happened. ‘My mother printed a hundred copies of her memoir’, he says, ‘and then threw ninety-three in a skip.’
They’re meant to be good for your heart. I love them baked and steamed but the smell can be noxious. One of the contributors on From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4 yesterday spoke of their importance in Indian cuisine and its economy. Onions. Know your onions, what is that all about?
He answered. I’m on the Perygyl, he said. He’d walked. I was pleased. He was pleased. It’s lovely, he said.
So much to do. Sit with me as work. Help me to find the words. Help me to be relaxed, to let the narrative unfold.
Town was a din. Kids in shorts and mini skirts, bare-legged and noisy. It’s mayhem. They shout and bluster across roads into the path of mini-cabs as they duck and dive. The debris of half-eaten pizzas and burgers and their containers litter the streets. Gulls fly overhead, swirling and screeching or swooping down to scavenge on the scattering of chips outside ‘Finger Lickin’. They seem perturbed, unsettled by the clamour. Or are they joining in, participating in the chaos? We talked about it over breakfast. He thought it might be to do with their nests. They nest in the roofs above this particular student drinking ground. Maybe they are being defensive, warning off rather than merely adding to the melee. One gull’s wing whisked past my ear as it landed. So near. I felt the power of it, it’s force, it’s might. You have to be careful, he said, they can attack. There are all sorts of tales, some tall no doubt, others apocryphal, of seagulls dive-bombing people to protect their young or to steal food. Some call them ‘flying rats’. I don’t know. Everything has it’s place. In those early mornings they are more like a mirror – the madness on the ground being reflected above.
I listen to William Trevor’s writing with such pleasure.
I am scared they don’t want it. Give me the strength to resolve this. Amen.
I’m glad about the crackles, he said during supper. She hadn’t found any. She’d got me to lean forward on the bed and take deep breaths through my mouth as she listened through her stethoscope. Nothing. And the oxygen intake was a hundred per cent. So all good. He seemed pleased. But they will still do all the tests. Am I wasting the NHS’s money? It seems so. Best be sure, she said. Blood, ECG, something to do with an echo and a chest X Ray. Pitted and prodded. So be it. It seems to make him happier. And he is. Happy.
They’ve started painting the Prom railing. A long job. A sign of summer. Make it look its best. Even if it does look like an Iberian building site most of the time. Oh. And the Lifeguards’ Hut is out too. Nice.
Six hundred miles give or take. Twenty hours give or take on trains. We read, ate, did crosswords, slept, laughed, bickered and cuddled. It was a joy to see them. To see her and her. A Tasmanian Devil. A Tasmanian Devil with a beautiful smile. What a winner. She trashed the place but no one seemed to mind. And the sun shone. And on.
Bristol Temple Meads station and we’re waiting for our connection. He is watching a seagull. He acts like he owns the place, he says to me. Look, look. And nudges me in the ribs. He’s right, the bird is strutting about wholly unperturbed by the waiting passengers. One of the railway staff is walking towards us grinning. I grin back. A nice face with warm brown eyes. He must’ve seen us watching the gull. He stops to talk and tells me how that particular bird hangs around the kiosk on the adjacent platform waits until the assistant has gone into the back and then flaps up onto the counter and steals a packet of Quavers. He does it every morning, like clockwork, he tells me. Always Quavers? I ask. Always.
There was a dead wasp on the hallway floor when we got home last night. I was sorry. It must’ve been flying around trying to escape all day.
I’m going to apologise right away, said the woman with the red hair, we’re going to be really noisy. And drink has been taken. It’s about 10.00 am and we’re on our way to Plymouth on the train. She has taken a seat across from us. Then her friends arrive. The same orange tans, lacy black bras under jackets, tattooed ankles and false eyelashes. They sit at a table and gesture for her to join them. She grins at me. We’re still going to be noisy, she said, sorry. And they were. But lusciously so. They were going to the races and were clearly determined to have a whale of a time. Stories were recounted, in particular one about a club called the Barracuda (though the woman telling it kept pronouncing it Bar-ra-cuda) and a friend who’d been legless. When the train got to Newtown Abbot there was a mass exodus and when the guard’s voice came over the tannoy announcing that this was the station to disembark at for the races they all let out a whoop of delight. I felt a tinge of sadness when they went. And the train became silent.
‘Already the first of his summer freckles had come.’ (William Trevor)
It was in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was just a chair. You know those metal tubular chairs with a fabric seat circa 1950s. Church hall kind of chairs that you can stack. But this one had a hole in its seat. A seat that wasn’t fabric but plastic. It was a commode. And the bucket and lid that fitted under the hole were also strewn across the road. Mercifully it was empty and clean. Who’d put it there? To be fair it isn’t a main road. It’s a square really, flanked on two sides by rows of once gorgeous, now a little dilapidated Nash houses. Was it a student prank? If so, where they’d got it from. Perhaps they were student nurses or doctors? Or was it an elderly person? A protest perhaps against the onset of old age, of infirmity and incontinence.
It’s from word commodious, surely. But which came first?
I walk past them almost every day and the name chimes in my head as I do. A name that has taken on mythic proportions. I haven’t see it written anywhere else. Just there on the two man-hole covers outside the Four Seasons hotel. Peter Savage. The name Peter Savage etched then raised in metal. It makes me think of Huxley’s A Brave New World.
The sun shines. I think of our journey tomorrow. The apology I must make. I read and read. The reading is as important as the writing, I think. Both are taking me where I need to go.
People seem to do strange things in the dark, or is it just my heightened perception playing tricks on me. I was coming down North Road just past the eye clinic when I had a noise like a rustle of a plastic bag. I turned my head to see a lad by the two large recycling bins pull away from the wall and lean down to pick up a white plastic bag of SPAR groceries. He looked a little sheepish. What had he been doing? Y’alright? He called to me as I passed by.
I caught the moon, to the right of the sky, as I trundled down the hill to the side of Alexandra Hall. A half moon. An orange moon, though it was more like peach. A warm, almost saccharine-like hue. What make it so coloured? Is it the tides, is it reflecting back the colours of the earth?
The Prom was busy. Three girls in various states of undress – shoes off, no coats to be seen, mini-skirts hoiked up – ambled along. One sat down on one of the benches nursing her feet. The other two walked on ahead. Is it ringing yet? one of them screeched back to her friend. The seated one opened her bag and dug around inside it. It’s ringing, its ringing, she called out triumphantly.
The oystercatchers squeaked plaintively from the seashore.
My heart feels water-logged. It is drowning. My legs are heavy and rigid. Will it pass? Work then work. And the sky is clear.
I’ve been gloomy. And tired. And the prospect of going out into the cold dark is a challenging one. I do it though. Always. Today I walked from the Bar end to the harbour instead of the other way round. It was dry so I could walk on the Perygyl. As I approached there was a boat. A fishing boat. A proper one, as he said this morning at breakfast. They have to move slowly out of the harbour. And I watched as it passed me, high above it, not moving much faster than I was. How can I tell you how joyous such a sight makes me feel? What is it? It’s lights? Like Christmas tree lights, bright and glittery in a triangle, red, yellow and white. Or is it the gentle way it bobs and rides the waves? It was cold. No picnic out there at 3.00 am in the morning. And then, joy of joys, there was another one, close by its heels. This was full of lobster creels. It’s the hush too. Just the purr of the engine. No one talks. It is too early, thoughts are not yet formed. And the smell of diesel oil. A faint miasma, not like cars, innocuous. I stood and watched them pull there way towards the open sea.
Walking home a man was running along the main road. He was a hefty shape and breathless. He wore shorts. Was it a race, a dare? Two other men stood watching him.
Flat cleaned, washing done and coffee made. To work.
There were two confetti hearts on the ground just by the Bar and beneath Alexandra Hall. Perfectly rounded white hearts. Bright things, innocent things in the pitch dark. There is an abundance of work suddenly – almost too much. There is never a steady flow, just a rush or a nothing. A stagnant nothing. I have to rise to it. I want it. I have asked for it. But the terror of failing is always present. They were happy with the last one. I am glad. I am finding some pleasure in that work, though it isn’t high falutin’. Work called last night. I was trying to slumber though too much tea the day before was taking its toll. Three times he called. Was there parking? Had I read my emails? No, I wanted to say, I haven’t, I’m in bed. But I didn’t. He was young and it sounded like a producer was breathing down his neck. And now, just now, I’ve had a text saying the booking is cancelled. It can’t give me a living. Just imagine if you depended on it. A cancellation means no fee. Simple as that. Whims and politics. So be it. I now have more time to work here. My real work. My proper work. My heart’s work. And I’ll make a pot of tea. New tea. Lapsang Souchong. Leaf tea in my new pot and using my new red tea cosy. It’s the rituals that see us through. I had to cancel our meeting. It all gets too much and I need to claw back time just so that I can breathe. I like her. She’s a sweetie. We will meet when she comes back for the autumn. God speed little one.
I think about the performance of stillness I want to do. It will take some thinking about. Why the stillness? Is it to do with yearning for rest, for peace, for time? I want to sit in front of a Rothko, ideally, and stare. No, that’s the wrong word, not stare but look, really look. Looking in public. Looking for the aura. What would happen? Stillness is a strange thing in our contemporary world, I think. I want to see what happens. Always, this wanting to see. Wanting to see what happens.
There is a row of windows above the job centre with a series of posters fixed to them. Are they posters? Not sure. Anyway they read something like – ‘Gateway to South America’. I pass it when I walk the back way to the harbour. What an odd thing. From what I can read from such a distance and without my specs on, they offer dance classes. Salsa, tango. Shall I go us those steps? Shall I learn the tango?
We talk about my not getting enough sleep. I cry, as always these days. It is connected, I know. There is just so much I want to achieve, to get done. More work comes in and I am oh so grateful but I fret about deadlines about getting it all done and well enough. It does get done and I do it well, as well as I may with what I have. It’s not as bad as you think, he says. And I know it isn’t. It is lovely, beautiful at times. And we have such a nice time together, he and I. What kindness there is. So we shall try it, incrementally. Not yet. Not yet. He knows not to push me. Too hard. I will do it. I will try. To get rest. Blessed rest.
I get agitated and we end up having a row. Go away, he shouts waving his hand at me. And I do so. It’s fair enough. I’m feeling horrible inside and consequently, am horrible outside. I got agitated thinking about change. I need to change. I need to make an adjustment but the prospect is so alarming. This routine of mine, however singular it is, and it is, needs to be changed. It won’t do. It just won’t do. I wake to the dark and the gloom descends. I need more light. I’m a troglodyte, I said to him yesterday, I live mostly in the dark. But how to change that? I just don’t know. I’m chasing time. I’m chasing work. I’m chasing how to be good enough. To whom, though? Myself. I’ve cast this routine, formed it from fear of this lesser life, trying to make it bigger, more expansive. And all I am is tired. To tired to think sometimes. I fantasise about sleeping. Of going to a country hotel and sleeping for a week. With everything taken care of, food, warmth, clothes. All of it. And just me yielding. I write it down every morning. I yield. I yield. But I don’t. I am rigid, that is what I am. Everything is so brittle. You won’t need to stress and strain, he told me all those years ago. No I don’t need to but I do, I make myself. It is all so unnecessary. All this discomfort is entirely unnecessary. I have so much and yet I behave as if there is nothing. Why is that? I question to understand, to get to the bottom of it. Seeking clarity. I walk to find it, in the rain, listening for the wisdom. By the time he wakes I am tight with it all. Poor love. He doesn’t know what’s hit him. We make up. We always do. There is too much love not to.
She holds my hand, grips it tight. A loving woman. I’ve wanted her to be mine so often. A tiny thing. I’m eight-five next month, she told us. I smelt of her perfume when we left her. Miss Dior, I think. I’ve got my book, she said. He was happy, loving the drive. The greens were stunning.
Today there is rain. A grey day. Wednesdays are all too often blue days for me. And yet there is much to do. We will talk about it, over tea. Can it be resolved? Can I allow myself some rest?