Advent

Was it Advent? Was that service in Bath Abbey a celebration of Advent? I remember it was cold, so cold and the church was in darkness. That was the point, of course. At the end of the service all was light and the great door opened and there was the tree in the square beyond. Undecorated but lit. I remember I cried. I was low then. Lower than now. Low and lonely and scared. I went there for solace. I kept going but didn’t find it. An austere kind of faith. All hard edges and the church always so cold. That night it was packed and I couldn’t sit in my usual pew, at the front with Winifred and Hugh. Did they see me, did they wave? Winifred for ever frightened of the snow. And her middle-aged daughter with anorexia. Won’t even eat beetroot, says its carbohydrate. I cried from loneliness, for the darkness and for the beauty of the lighting-up rite. The gradual, one-by-one lighting of candles. All hand-held, with cardboard circles under the stems to catch the drip of wax. Inch by inch the church was lit. I burst into tears. I think I even let out a cry. I was pressed between couples, between families. Did they notice? The warmth of others around me. I felt it. It comforted as well as generated my grief. And it was grief, even before the real grief years later. There was magic in the service. I felt as others have felt for hundreds of years, that longing for light in the darkness. She feels it out there and I long to comfort her. I have felt it too. We give it names, talk of special lamps yet it is our condition, it is a dying and all we can do is succumb, make the best of it. Lie low. Light candles. And wait. Wait for the returning of the light. I miss going there. I miss the early Sunday morning services. Just a handful of worshippers right up by the altar. No singing. No frills. Two readings, a lesson, a sermon, prayers and communion. We all sat apart. Apart in our worship. No chatter. No Hugh and Winifred. Just a waiting, a longing for comfort and the taste of the communion wine in my mouth as I walked home.

There was a girl sitting on her haunches on the Prom this morning. Just sitting there, well, perching. A baby bird in neat ankle boots. She stared ahead at the sea, at the darkness.

They are going to shut Bodlondeb. Bod they all call it. The local council-run old people’s home where his mother died. A shabby place but kind. The staff were kind. She had a tiny room. She wasn’t meant to stay, she needed more care than they were able to give but they let her stay on regardless. To move her wouldn’t have been kind, would’ve speeded up her demise. He clung on, knuckles white. They even had a mattress on the floor, for him if he needed to stay. I remember the tea trolley. It was always being pushed round. Tea, biscuit? She a tiny bird, no flesh, no teeth, in a nappy, crying out when they had to turn her. They were kind. What price kindness, eh? And the wipe clean board downstairs at the entrance to the canteen with its menu of the day and a weather report underneath. Chicken curry, spotted dick and custard, tea, pineapple upside-down cake, sunshine and showers. In the hallway was a locked glass cabinet displaying hand-made crocheted doll toilet paper covers to buy in support of the Bod fund. Are they definitely going to close it? I asked her. Yes, she said, her face glued to the screen. When? I asked. Next March.

He told us about an ex-student who spent the whole three years writing short stories in the style of Raymond Carver. Raymond Carver is my favourite writer he’d said, picking up my book, all those years ago, when he came to house to interview me. It’s a good way of learning, he said. A way of learning the craft. Shall I do the same? Immerse myself in short stories? I want to write stories. I have ideas and I want to dispel this idea that I’ve told myself that I am not a fiction writer. I can be what I want to be, can’t I? I want to write about a woman who cross-stitches. I thought about it as I walked. I want to write my way into understanding why women do it, the time they invest in it when they could be doing other things. I remember the story that that historian (I forget her name as I forget so many others, she’s nice with a round, open face and a penchant for leather) told of the eighteenth-century woman who made laced, tatted, sewed, embroidered her way through a loveless marriage. Did she write a diary? Might I seek it out? A contemporary take would be interesting. I want to explore such a woman’s mind-set. Mine, too?

Today we go to talk and have tea. I shall tape it, listen to it back. Write it up. He is generous, generous with his time, his tea and sympathy. The blessing is ever present, even in the sadness. The moon is dwindling and I am sorry for it. I have welcomed it’s light. Off soon. Till tomorrow.