It was the Fresher’s Party last night. I remembered it this morning when I saw the massing of students descending Penglais Hill. They walked slowly. A messy huddle of t-shirted youngsters, mostly silent. It was 4.30 am. They were walking straight into town. I crossed the road, wading through the tide of them. Some were ahead of me on North Road. It changed the feel of my usual walk, having them there in front of me. There were more on the Prom. A chaotic, shambling collection of bodies, some barely conscious. The lights of the Pier Pressure nightclub were still ablaze. Litter dotted the pavement. Polystyrene burger containers, pizza boxes, chips and cigarette stubs. The cast of my shadow along the seashore set the oystercatchers peeping. A boy was shouting, Everton, Everton. It was quiet again by the Castle and down to the harbour. A solitary car was parked by the Perygyl. It was empty. Later, walking down Great Darkgate Street, they were there again. En masse, they flooded out of the SPAR. I heard more shouting ahead of me. I looked up across the road to a third floor window. It was lit. Three lads were hanging out of it calling to someone further up the road from me. You fucking queer, one of them shouted, walk away. Walk away, he shouted, walk away. And then I saw him. A tall, scrawny young man in a sleeveless T-shirt and baseball cap. Just one of you come down, he shouted back, just one of you come down. He’s coming, someone shouted. You wait, he’s coming. I observed the young man before me. He looked lost, dejected, trying so hard to be brave. It is their rite of passage, all this. This bravado, this fighting. It is hard for them. I wanted to stay with him. Offer him support. But he didn’t see me. He was locked inside his head, finding his way. Defending himself, his what, his honour? No, that is too pompous. He was finding his way. He is finding his way. Is it right? I don’t know. How do I know?
The students take over the town at night. They scrap and fight like the seagulls, their shouting no different to the birds, indiscriminate screeching. They leave the same mess. The air changes. A frisson of anxiety. And yet, I am safe. They rarely notice me. They are locked into their world, their viewpoint. Finding their way.
In Morrisons yesterday for the weekend shop. Sandra is in the queue before us. Morning, both, she says. You not working today, I ask. Usually she is behind the till. No, she says, not today. Doing anything nice? Nothing special, she replies. It’s my neighbours birthday tomorrow, she says pointing to the box of Maltesers on the conveyor belt. Her shopping lies higgedly-piggedly on its rubber surface. There are boxes of iced ringed donuts decorated with hundreds of thousands, bags of crisps, a tub of butter and some chocolate. I’ve never seen her out of uniform, standing up. She is small in stature but wide of girth. She limps, carries a stick. The smell of her is pungent, a sickly acidy smell. I touch her arm. Have a nice weekend, I say. Oh, I’m back in tomorrow, she says. Cheers, both.
A little Asian boy is on the Prom beyond South Marine Terrace blowing bubbles through a little hoop. An elderly white woman looks on. I remember doing that, I say to him. I thought it was magic, I tell him. When I discovered that it was only like washing-up liquid I was so disappointed.
I hear a buzzing from the sky. It sounds like a hornet. Looking up I see a grasshopper-like thing. It has legs that remain suspended as it flies. What is it? Two girls are playing on scooters in the Quad. They also look up at the flying object. You stay here and keep track of it, one of them says to the other, and I’ll go and get Mummy so that she can tell us what it is.
Did you see the drone? he asked coming up the stairs. Oh, I said, is that what it is.
So that’s how it feels. There are people out there in the world who see them regularly and to them they mean death. Anonymous things, directed, manipulated remotely, facelessly. Death by remote control. It is too easy. Isn’t it? I listen to Any Questions and some of them seem to talk so glibly. We’ll just bomb them and them and them. Then it will be alright. Will it? Aid workers, helpers from Medecin de Frontier killed by a strike. By Americans. It is madness. What are we doing? Have we lost the ability to talk, to face each other, eye to eye. To talk of peace. Is it just penis waving, one of the female contributors on Any Questions asks. Now hang on, another replies. Jeremy Corbyn says he wouldn’t press the button. His honesty is lauded by all. Clearly not Prime Minister material, one contributor says. Why not? Must governing mean killing? I wish him strength of purpose. He brings goodness in his wake. Liberality, fairness and a wish to be kind.
No to trident. Let us be another Sweden, or a Costa Rica where they spend the defence budget on education. And yet what do I know? What do I know? It seems that the older I get the less I do know. I couldn’t even protect that young boy from a potential fight. Is it in our make-up to fight? Must it be so? I seek peace. And yet, I believe it needs to come from the inside out. That willingness to be at peace, to accept oneself fully. I still fight with myself, that is my responsibility. Though now it is less and less. Thank god. Thank god. I shall wait then. Wait and see what it is I can do. About. It all. If anything. Meantime. I wait, watch and listen. Do you hear it? It’s coming. Be at peace, if you can, just be at peace. Be kind. Disarm. Disarm with love. They say that in our defenceless we are strong. Amen to that. Amen. Ah, men.