I live in a beautiful Lancashire village where a river passes under Victorian arches, winding past the ruins of a medieval abbey, and my place of birth - Pendle Hill - sits quietly in the near distance, filled with ghosts. History reverberates around me... my own, and that of the many other misfits who have also called this place Home. I feel at peace here.
Aren't I the lucky one?
I met an old and dear friend for dinner this week, someone who is – outside of family – my longest-known-and-still-in-contact-with person. We’ve known each other 40 years, but have lived quite distinct lives for the last 35 – catching up sometimes rarely, but in that glorious “it’s as though the intervening time hasn’t happened” way.
And yet it has. Sitting, post-prandial, by the log fire in a wonderful rural inn, we spoke about various Stuff that’s happened over recent years, and there was a sudden lull. A joint pondering. He said, “man, but there’s been so much…”
So much Life, is what he meant. Between ‘us then’ and ‘us now’, we have each lived full grown-up lives and despite the natural familiarity are, in fact, largely strangers.
Which got me thinking – good, positive pondering, like a visit from the Muse – about this friendship, and others, spanning years and yet to all intents fixed on a small space of actuality: a tiny fraction of Time Known, where there was a tight connection, with the intervening years enhanced by that strong sense of recognition – a tie, a bond, a lasting connection – which is actually a memory, a perception, and no longer a reality.
My dinner companion was a hugely important part of my life 35 years ago, and the essence of that remains. I’ve spotted him, occasionally, in other men, in other decades. The glimpse always draws me. It’s that memory of something… perhaps it’s unfinished business from a previous life. Perhaps it’s a quest on behalf of an alternative self in a parallel world. Perhaps it’s just a hunger.
Ah, but it was a gentle and welcome Muse. It resulted in a poem:
Over the last seven months, I’ve needed to travel within the UK a fair bit for work. Travel is exhausting, really it is, and in particular the homeward-bound journeys – where tiredness reigns and tolerance is low – can be greatly enhanced or deteriorated by the quality of personal interactions.
In probably 90% of trips, I find the personal interactions wonderful and I massively appreciate the friendliness of service workers… whether they be the people who help with booking tickets and hotels, those who are actually on the platform giving advice and direction to travellers ridiculously lost (as I often am!), those on the trains who check tickets and wait patiently as I find my supposedly faster digital tickets, those who are serving food and stuff in shops, cafes, and restaurants… or on Virgin trains Carriage C, where so often I find lovely smiley folk who cannot believe I’m paying that much for a double espresso (it’s that you only have large cups, makes it seem pathetically small!) and so give me something more like a quadruple for free… I love you.
You folk make my journeys. You revitalise a weary person and you make me smile. The difference between a service worker who smiles and connects – no matter how tired we all are – and someone who is surly, fed-up, and cannot make the effort… it’s immense. I want to give a huge shout out to those who do the former: who put on a smile on even though they may also be tired, those who genuinely connect, who go the extra mile over and over and over and possibly think it’s not recognised… it is recognised. I see you. You make my day. Thank you so very much.
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam, The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, Which when it bites and blows upon my body Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say ’This is no flattery. These are counsellors That feelingly persuade me what I am.’ Sweet are the uses of adversity Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything. – As You Like It, Act II, Scene i
My fridge ‘poetry’, cobbled together on a sleety cold afternoon in the absence of anything outdoorsy to do, doesn’t come close to the magnificence of Shakespeare’s words. But the sentiment is remarkably similar. For the Duke, the woods brought restorative peace from the perils of a court that ousted him. For me, the vibrant Lancashire village to which I have returned offers something similar.
It’s been a tough four years, possibly five, maybe ten… either way, retreat to the woods was a judicious move. I’m now settled back on home turf, surrounded by the familiar and gloriously historical landscape of my formative years, welcomed back by family and long-standing friends after 33 years a-wanderin’… and it feels great. Tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything? Yes, yes, yes and yes.
My fridge poetry offering expresses – surprisingly more subconsciously openly than intended – the inspiration that now drives me to rise and enjoy each day. Life is good. Life is fun. Life is a tangible joy. Sweet are the uses of adversity indeed. Salut!
I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown
24/7 Sylvia Plath
Writing in blood on the walls
‘Cause the ink in my pen don’t work in my notepad
Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not
But at best, I can say I’m not sad
‘Cause hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it, Lana Del Rey (album: Norman Fucking Rockwell, 2019)
Whilst the world lunged forth into 2019, Fate’s divination zapped me back to the seventies and I haven’t yet managed to find my way out. Funny, but I’m happy lingering here, somewhere in the mid-late 70s, when summers were summery and life was simpler.
I saw a news article a day or so before the rest of you left 2018 – a mere glimpse as I scrolled, the corner of one eye just capturing the name ‘Karen Carpenter’ – and from that momentary input came an ear worm firmly planted:
Every sha-la-la-la-la, every wo-oh-wo-oh…
Twenty four hours of that and I had to listen to the song in the hope it’d go away.
It didn’t go away. It intensified. It was the unexpected portal to a past from which I’ve yet to emerge… primarily because I’m loving it here.
What a beautiful voice she had. My parents had the album and I’d listen to it – I’d sing along – with others that remain fixed in my mind from that time: the Bee Gees, Simon & Garfunkle, Barbara Streisand… many songs from whom have survived the test of time and are still enjoyable now. I’d lie on the living room floor when my parents were out, the record crackling in circles on the player, getting up periodically to turn it over (yeah, remember that?!), carefully place the stylus, and play the other side.
Delayed gratification of a type we no longer recognise.
With the ear worm refusing to budge, and the memories of a simpler time beguiling and not something I wanted to cast out, I downloaded the Carpenters’ greatest hits album on Apple music and listened to the lot. Songs like Goodbye to Love and Solitaire still make my heart ache, but I’m not entirely sure they’ve stood the test of time – I think my kids would find them very much of a bygone epoch. Though the sentiments are entirely current.
No surprise, I guess, as there are a limited number of plots for human experience… some say 6, some say 36 – either way, we’ve been singing the same songs of love won and love lost since we first sat round a cave pit fire, banged a few rocks, grunted in unison, and found we had rhythm. Prior to that how did we feel? Who knows. Perhaps we were less inclined to acknowledge hurts. Perhaps we just went out and bludgeoned a few edible critters. Got over ourselves.
Now… well, we reflect. We feel pain. We actually enjoy sadness to a point… and then it gets too much. There’s a fine line between melancholy and pain. Sometimes I wish I could just go out and bludgeon a few edible critters. Superstar, up next:
Play that sad guitar.
So, Yesterday Once More… beautiful and I reckon it’s stood the test of time. Goodbye to Love, not so much alas and yet that guitar riff towards the end is blissfully relevant. Solitaire… well… I find it hauntingly beautiful, and apt for our times, but I guess it’s now dated even if the context is relevant – moreso in our world of social media.
The song which has least stood the test of time is the one referred to in the title of this post: Please Mr Postman… which probably made me the most nostalgic. Do you remember getting letters???? It was wonderful! Letters, postcards – more glorious delayed gratification – and long-winded phone calls, tied to a fixed point, sitting on the carpet somewhere for hours because phones had wires that would only stretch so far, and that was that, we knew nothing else.
I’m not ready to join you all in 2019 just yet. I need to just listen a bit longer… but Happy New Year to those of you who’ve arrived. I’ll see you there later.
Just play this one out until it explodes into a thousand tiny pieces
What’s your story, universe, you are melody in numbers
You are shapes, you are rhythms, there are signs that we can learn
To place over the heavens, to predict how long we’ll burn
How long will I last, can I turn up the heat?
What star am I circling, what’s circling me?
Now my ebb and my flow, my lack of control
Turning on, turning off
Saying yes, but playing no
Things keep changing…
The Be Good Tanyas, A Thousand Tiny Pieces (album: Hello Love)