Another rough night. No sweats, for some reason, but a persistent nagging ache in the kidney which conquers the single nurofen I’ve started taking to get me off to sleep. I’m grateful that I haven’t had another real attack. But I still feel there’s one waiting, ready to ambush me. This sort of night makes me particularly apprehensive.
I’m also a little perturbed by an email I get from a colleague who’s only recently heard the news. Its’ very generous, but it does sound a little bit like the kind of tribute you’d expect at a funeral! That’s off-set by one from an old Oxford friend, Mark Roper, a talented poet and now opera libretto-writer, who lives in Ireland. A passionate Wolves fan all his life (what a cross to bear!), he once told me that he hoped to retire to a house on a street abutting Molyneux. Good job he didn’t. It would have halved in value (to about £50) now his team’s moved to a swanky new stadium elsewhere. Mark writes in both serious and comic vein. Had he known of our trawl for honeymoon venues (he’s arrived on the blog late), he’d have recommended Wolverhampton. Not only does it have a lake, as requested, it even has a park! I wonder if the former’s of the boating variety and situated in said park. At least he didn’t get the chance to suggest going to a Wolves game as our honeymoon centre-piece.
Thursday’s highlights include another visit from Gabi (see previous post). My counselling psychologist friend has come to give me a guided meditation based on the c.d. she left last time. I’m doubly grateful because she’s fitting me in while getting ready to dash off to Rumania tomorrow for her mother’s 85th birthday. Before we begin, we compare experiences of being mothered and the difficulties of growing up with one who’s depressed. Gabi’s been luckier than me insofar as she’s been able to work through the burden this entailed with a parent who’s not only still alive, but is now determined to make the best of every minute she has left. We then settle down in Lotus position on my floor and for 35 minutes (it feels timeless), she talks fluently. It’s different to Deeepak Chopra, but Gabi has a lovely soothing voice with a faintly exotic accent which keeps me alert to all the exercises she offers in relation to living in the moment, to manage anxiety about the future, especially the operation, which is beginning to loom on the horizon.
I come out of it deeply refreshed and feeling completely centred again. Then we discuss writing as a mode of living in the moment. First of all, because to have something to write about, you have to live both intensely and self-reflectingly in the present. Secondly, because when you’re actually writing, it requires a concentration on the moment of just the kind she’s been advocating. I feel reassured. I’ve had moments of thinking this blog is Ego, alongside the useful functions it performs of keeping everyone in the loop who wants to be. Now I understand more clearly my earlier comments about the relationship between writing and life. It’s a life-line in more than way, offering benefits parallel to other ways of living in the moment.
Once Gabi’s left, I go the wardrobe in my study. Time to start thinking about what to wear for the wedding. I slightly dread it opening it. The flat’s been infested by tiny clothes moths, some of which have evidently survived last summer’s industrial purge of all the carpets where they used to lay their eggs. They seem to do just as well in the dusty book-shelves of my study. I’ve been at war with them since spring began, methodically eliminating each one I see before they can spread to the rest of the flat again. Good job I’m spending so long up here – and they show up beautifully on the white ceiling where they sit around waiting for a shag. The beautiful suits I used to buy when I had more money than sense, what’s happened to them? Imagining I’ll just find shards and ribbons of cloth at the bottom of each plastic protector sleeve, I’m very pleasantly surprised. The smell of cedar balls I’ve placed there from time to time seems to have kept the b’stards at bay.
Not that I want to wear a suit. Something jaunty and colourful, with a straw hat, even a boater, perhaps. Depends partly on what Anna chooses, I guess, so I ring her to discuss. We’ve ummed and aah’d about whether to take Maddy out of nursery for the ceremony next Friday. That might sound strange, but as you’ll see, we’ve had reason to been afraid about how she might react. But we’ve now decided she should come. First of all, I’ve urged that when she’s older and sees the film my friend Paul’s going to do for us, she might be really hurt that she wasn’t present. Second because we’ve decided to widen the wedding brunch beyond Paul and our two witnesses to encompass Anna’s London family. To that end, we recently decided that Maddy should be a bridesmaid at the ceremony, alongside Isi, Tim and Elena’s daughter. Ever helpful, the Bennetts have expressed their delight at the idea.
[What follows is partly my dramatisation of Anna’s account of her early evening with Maddy.] Breaking the news to her in the playground, Anna’s startled when our little girl bursts into boiling tears.
‘But I wanted to marry you both,’ she sobs.
She’s inconsolable for quite a while as Anna tries to reassure her that most of her friends’ parents are married and that, in our case, it won’t make any difference to our day-to-day lives.
‘You promise you won’t be going away to live somewhere else then?’
Maddy’s watched too many Disney films where heroine and husband decamp to start their new life. Especially Cinderella, which is threatening to displace Frozen as her favourite.
As Anna tells me the story, I feel chilled by this glimpse of the absolute childhood terror to which our normally so-confident girl has succumbed. I think back to how desperately she clung to Anna’s leg on Wednesday evening. All her normal routine (with me) disrupted and now this! I recall a nightmare of my own, when I was a little older than her. I was in a cave, overlooking the Manyoni-Dodoma road in central Tanganyika, waiting for my family to pick me up (why, this scenario? don’t expect a rational answer…) I hear the sound of the family lorry approaching but, to my horror, it doesn’t stop. I see my parents up front, my siblings standing in the back, eyes screwed up against the glare, hair flattened by the hot wind. But however hard I shout I can’t attract their attention. Abject with terror, I watch the spout of dust from the unmade road die down behind the lorry as it speeds my family further and further away.
Only back at Anna’s does Maddy begin to calm down. Soon enough – living in the moment – she’s starts to get in the mood, asking if she can wear her mother’s old bridesmaid’s dress which she first donned at Easter (see previous post). She gives sage advice on what Anna should wear, insisting it be what our little girl symptomatically calls the ‘Cinderella’ dress, a lovely gown which Anna brought for another wedding but was unable in the end to attend. It’s been sitting in her wardrobe, waiting for the right occasion. It’ll go well with what I have in mind, even if Anna’s bought something else for next Friday…I’m getting excited, too, by all this wedding talk…
I think about heading over to join in the fun. But I have a problem to deal with first. A while ago, I wrote to my old friend Larry’s wife, asking if I could have a photo of him. I didn’t explain why. Yesterday I wrote again, this time explaining why and directing her to the blog. Her reply quickly comes, with a beautiful photo of Larry and expressions of dismay at what’s befallen me. But Jane’s evidently in a very bad way herself, all these months on from Larry’s death and I feel awful to have pressed her. She’s back in the house where they lived outside St Girons, making her third attempt to settle back there. I think long and hard about offering advice, but being a preachy sod, as well as a concerned one, in the end I do. First, I suggest, remembering my mother’s life-path after my father’s death, Larry’s thinking there’s no way he wants Jane to be single and mourning him all her life. She’s barely in her fifties, after all. When the time’s ripe, and you feel ready, Jane, I advise… Second, I hint that going back’s maybe been a mistake (I’m damn sure it has been). She’s going to be overwhelmed by memories. Move somewhere new, maybe La Rochelle, where they’d been thinking of decamping to before Larry fell ill…
I’ve barely pressed the send button when I get a reply. She’s really grateful for the support and advice. What do I think about Spain? But as for men, Larry will always be the only one for her. Give yourself as much time as you need, I repeat, and don’t look for someone to replace him, rather a friend or companion, you’ve so much still to offer and be offered. She says she’s been in floods of tears since getting my last message but one, as she trawls through photos of Larry looking for another to send. Is this typical of the grief that survivors’ partners suffer, whether they show it or not? I haven’t thought about it enough. Is this what my mother Marise went through all the long years of my adolescence, hiding it from us, before she was able to move somewhere completely new and different, on the other side of the world? I think about my conversation with Gabi with a twinge of shame. And Anna?
My thoughts inevitably return to Larry and the good times we had in St Girons. Since I’ve been dipping in and out of Yeats today, I’ll mention one remarkable gift he had. He could quote from memory whole poems of Yeats, even long ones, one after the other, declaiming in his beautiful baritone Dublin accent. My guests and I would listen, mesmerised, after a summer supper on the terrace overlooking my wonderful garden. Jane’s expressed the hope that somehow Larry and I will meet again. I really hope so too, but – as Saint Augustine reflected while considering when to turn his back on his youthful libertine ways – not just yet.
When we do meet again, the fecker’s going tease me rotten about how I wasted my life being abstemious and keeping fit when, like him, I could have been drinking gin, gorging on red meat and smoking for Eire / England. Once, when I was thinking of running yoga / pilates holidays in the French house, he offered to come and give a lecture on the perils of hyper-ventilating, over-stretching and a vegetarian diet. I’ll get my own back by reminding him of when he strode stark-naked onto his balcony, in the middle of the night, using his high-powered air-gun to scatter the gaggle of slavering dogs yelping at his neighbours’ gate, behind which a bitch on heat strode demurely up and down. R.I.P. and slan, mate, I can’t help feeling you’re locked in animated conversation with Alan Maclachlan (see earlier post) about who lived the fuller life of the senses.
[He] has not grown uncivil
As narrow natures would
And called the pleasures evil
Happier days thought good.
Whatever happens to me, I’ve been so lucky in my friends.