SITREP – Advancing on those three-score years and ten
By Parson Thru
That feeling: completely out of step with everything and everyone else.
To put a light on it:
I ran as fast as my legs would take me out of here on 2 August, dragging my heavy case towards Intercambiador Avenida de América, via an interesting cafe I’d spied from the C1 Circular on numerous occasions but which, in the end, failed to deliver on expectations, dropped my bag (one kilo under the limit) at the front of a deadly queue, walked half way to Manchester and flew the rest. The idea being to avoid penury during summer and spend some time with my mam. Teaching English here is not the road to wealth.
It was a summer spent among the familiar (both senses): the house that holds all my memories, my lovely deluded and forgetful mam, the running route into town, the river, etcetera.
And all the changes. Totems of energy and working class aspiration, long given over to stacks of shoebox living-quarters – who can buy them? Ponds and becks have vanished underneath those dormitories. The runways to which successive cohorts of fourteen year-olds wheeled their rejuvenated Honda 90s and Raleigh Runabouts to sit and screw where shattered Handley Page Halifaxes had been gently put down for patching-up. Except we didn’t know that then. Nor that my brown-boilersuited aunty Kath had helped to wash out the remains of the far-flung Commonwealth’s future, lately drinking tea in Betty’s.
I spent the summer doing practical things: redecorating the little bedroom where Glenn had slept briefly in 1969 having come from Canada to fetch me from my den underneath those 70s houses. Old haunts. Fixing the roof of the garage, where the rain had begun to infiltrate the memory of my dad unveiling the Bedford van conversion he’d just bought from Bernard the local dealer across the road. It smelt of something. Who knows what? Just new. To us. Maybe I’m best at those practical things.
Then rumbled down to London – Victoria Coach Station – noting things from the window. Looking down at the Mercs and the Porsche 4x4s in traffic jams around the streets named after Norman families who still own them. Tried to hide my disappointment at being stood up. Ate a lousy burger and bonded with the poor bastards who’d served it to me. On to Bournemouth. I could hear the mellifuous voice of Donald Beale. He drove the Pines Express into there. Sandbanks - put a bomb under it. Agricultural show and family. Nothing wrong with that. Final checkpoint W-S-M. Nine year home and block management AGM.
Somehow, it hasn’t been the same since. So many stresses. Long-distance relationship (though shorter in miles) striving to live up to expectations. House-home-let-mess of responsibilities and money pit. Serial disasters, management responsibilities (unremunerated) and more stress. Mam.
Street cliché: Don’t get me wrong. I love what I’m doing here and live among the most embarrassingly generous and good-natured people I’ve ever met. I’ve never been happier in my work – or more broke. But something calls me (in my dreams, when I’m fortunate enough to sleep). Albion? Identity? (one among many) Fealty to something (Crown? Not in these last years Ma’am. World’s richest woman watches countrymen’s agony.)
Maybe it’s the time of year (don’t sue, CSN&Y). I always thought I hated it, but those weeks after the death of summer. You know the ones: parking up under horse chestnuts, soft rain dripping from branches, giant copper leaves landing with a gentle kiss on the ground, smell of damp fires, the throes of autumn.
Walking up to village schools, community centres, hot-dogs, sparklers, the bonfire and fireworks. She thinks it’s all for her. Birthday walks in misted woods, low cloud dragging through the upper boughs, streams swollen, meadows boggy. A fire in the hearth.
Further back: it takes a little longer for the engine to catch. Choke fully out now. Sit among the damp leaves and watch – a cigarette maybe, they were healthy then – as the revs build, then get up and push the choke halfway in. Forget the Harley. 70s Honda fours. The Z550 courier bike, so much abused up and down Britain’s motorways in all weathers. The Bandit. Ah. Race tuned by magicians in Dewsbury. Metal with a soul. Wiping condensation from the seat and mirrors. Clouds of condensation.
It’s nostalgia. I know it. But is it real? It was once.
And now awareness. The universe. The smoke and mirrors of the lackeys of the rich. Does it help? Am I happier? (Sips from his glass)
Be careful where you go with Kerouac. Aaaah, Jack. Don’t blame Duluoz. The laughing voices crowd around the curtain. Jack’s fine. There’s a whole firmament screaming at you to take a look.
Seventy years. We spoke about it this morning over coffee and toast in Lista and an overcrowded train to King’s Cross. We get it whether we want it or not. And, as you say, we have to fill the gaps. So we try. And here we are trying.
If it doesn’t work out, there’s always the Service revolver in the study drawer. Or there was. Anyway, my brother got there first. Another responsibility thrust in the path of an unsuspecting survivor of all the shit that went before – inheritance.
Her train has been cancelled. Doesn’t happen so much on the long routes here. Cercanias, forget it. Cancellations are its lifeblood. Eight-hour journey for a two hour meeting with friends – she’s got a heavy cold. “Stay where you are.” she says. “You’d hate it.”
I was going to write a scene with two men fishing. I’ve done it before. One showing the other (a coarse angler) how to fish with a fly. Now it all seems a bit contrived, since I’ve been reading Norman Maclean. It would have been a vehicle, anyway, for my own view of the world. Did Maclean not do the same? We all do. One way or another.
So, where from here?
Intent: Carry on, I suppose. Though I ache with the missing of certain people and the memory of places.
Reality: Who knows? See what happens on 29 March next year. Britain might have a few refugees washing up on its shores. Will it be machine-gunning them by then?
Until then, try my best to sleep at night, look out for my mam and N, fulfil my responsibilities here and there. Give the best of myself to my students. Try to prolong the functioning of my liver, always aware of the pitfall of placing such a burden on one organ as the horrors of human life. Keep enjoying the here and now of teaching and the beauty of ephemeral human interaction. Enjoy reading. Enjoy the increasing sophistication of the songs I try to play on the guitar whilst not getting mired in the shortcoming of my skill. Finally, keep on pushing towards those three score years and ten. Have to. I can’t find the guarantee.