Mock the meat it feeds on

Friday, 13 December 2013

Overgrown Orchard
Andrew Wyeth, 1959
Metropolitan Museum of Art

"The mind I love must have wild places,
A tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass,
An overgrown little wood,
The chance of a snake or two,
A pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of,
And paths threaded with flowers
Planted by the mind."

Katherine Mansfield

I bloody wish I'd written that.

time quivers slightly

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Twenty-nine years ago I left school; a graduation photo of me sitting in white robes on a dusty floor, mortarboard abandoned, Gauloise in hand, scowling into the distance, is a pretty accurate portrait of my state of mind back in 1984.

I had spent two years at that International School in Belgium trying unsuccessfully to be expelled so that I could go back to Scotland; my memories of that time are bleak.  I didn't fit in with the children of diamond merchants and arms dealers, corporate American citizens or French aristocrats.  I did a bit of acting but I mainly remember counting the days until I went to University, sitting alone watching experimental plays and feeling equally misunderstood, internalising a lot of anger, angst and black coffee and hanging out with local musicians, pretending to adore Moroccan drum music.

So when The Pretty One talked me into a school reunion, just a coffee, in London, nice people, it will be fun, I was completely prepared to bolt after ten minutes of squirmy, resentful small talk.

Of course, none of us are seventeen any longer.  We've got battle scars: death, divorce, loss of country and sanity.  We've got badges too: lots of beautiful children, unexpected careers, personal happiness in the teeth of grim societal opposition.  Almost thirty years is, it seems, plenty of time to grow up, to soften and forgive, and to open our eyes to the good things that happen instead of dwelling on the bad.

I would like to pretend that, on the train home, I let go of three decades of resentment and ire.  I am working on that, and it is happening, but this is a place for ugly truths.

I'm afraid I beamed with pride that a dozen people remember like yesterday, the sight of me outside Study Hall locked in battle with the Head, cigarette smoke and expletives thickening the air, refusing loudly and publicly to conform.  It was a recurring image for much of the reunion, he and I eyeball to eyeball, neither giving an inch, furious words, contraband vodka and threats, tears and shrugs. I have just found that long-suffering teacher on Facebook and composed a brief panegyric on his patience and compassion.

It would have been easier to expel me.

I keep blowin' down the road

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

'Sorry, Jean, I can't get a fucking signal so no, I don't know how far it is to the bloody pub.'
'Yes, and my stockings have chafed something rotten.'
'Jilly, I hope you've got a charger in that massive backpack, you prim old tart; if we miss the X-Factor results, I'll swing for someone.'

This year, I needed more local walks, and being bone idle, thought it would be useful to wander along behind a random group of old folk in bobble hats, secretly recording the route on my whizzy app and then smugly take family, dog and visitors to unexplored parts of this beautiful bit of coast I call home.

I joined the Ramblers.

I did wonder quite how gentle a stroll it would be when I wandered up to my first walk to be publicly admonished for wearing trainers and not carrying waterproofs.  It was at the height of this recent tropical summer, but apparently we are like the Scouts and need to be prepared for absolutely everything.

When we broke for lunch, I secretly pulled a Diet Coke out of my pocket and watched as they unwrapped sandwiches in paper, for all the world like Enid Blyton people; one old darling had stolen a teaspoon from the cafe at the supermarket because they wanted over two pounds for a wrap, whatever the Dickens that was, so he'd gone for a reduced-out-of-date tin of sardines for his bait. They called him all sorts over that piece of parsimony. He smirked in the sun and ate his sardines with the contraband cutlery and enormous relish.  With extreme care, the rest folded their waxed paper and banana skins back into Tupperware, and shared tartan thermoses and malt cake.

I am pretty fit, but I have to say I was struggling to make conversation by the end of an extremely brisk ten miles.

Nest time I showed up in proper boots with a rucksack and cake.  They softened perceptibly.  There was an influx of youth on the roads because of our Festival and they told me great stories about the times they all went in the 1960s - 'we had two kinds of drugs, beer and booze.' 'We had a damn sight more than that, Martin, we just never gave you any.'

I have learned wonderful useful things; the names of wildflowers and the calls of birds; the fiercely fought invisible battles between the Footpath Society and landowners; how to mend parts of a Morris Minor with unravelled barbed wire; how to avoid paying for car-parking within a fifty mile radius of my home; the dignity and bravery of the elderly and recently bereaved who are determined not to die of unhappiness and loneliness; the astonishment of laughing myself sick at unspeakably profane jokes told by a twinkly and apple-cheeked old lady.

It's the last ramble until the New Year tomorrow; fifteen miles of gloriously dank December dun. I hope they'll all still be there in January as I have grown to love them all very dearly.  Apart from the one who asked me how old my grandchildren were, the blind old bat.