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)
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)
So I was in Glasgow this week and actually got beyond the station entrance to walk on streets I’ve not seen in over 23 years. And it was a curiously emotional experience, which I hadn’t expected – to view with old and simultaneously new eyes the glorious sight of Glasgow’s truly beautiful architecture, and feel revived, joyous, happy.
Clearly and thankfully, I’ve reached a ‘rose-tinted-glasses’ view of a time wherein I lived for several years in this city during the early 90s and latterly experienced so much pain and sadness. I’m free of that old woe, free to view the good memories (there were lots!), see it anew… and with this came a level of affection that really took me by surprise.
Anyway… I arrived at HQ slightly late, on account of the deviation into street exploration, and gushed perhaps incoherently to colleagues, before continuing the day without any further startling emotions. But the feeling morphed into a circuitous ramble when I later listened to some favoured music on iPod shuffle and remembered how I’d come across it.
The album is a weird one, I can almost guarantee nobody who’d see this (apart from my estranged husband, kids and the friend who gave it to me) will know this person and her work. The album is ‘Napoli Mediterranea’ by Pietra Montecorvino and is one I’ve been listening to since about 2003 – the year it was released.
It was first acquired by a Scot called Douglas – a dear old online friend who sent it to a mutual friend, Marilyn, with a message along the lines of “tried to like this, but failed, perhaps you’ll enjoy it”. She almost immediately sent it on to me with a message along the lines of “Jesus, Douglas sent me this, awful, what do you think?”
I played it, was utterly hooked, and have listened to it a thousand times since.
Which just illustrates how taste is a fluid and perhaps even random preference, and friends are friends for many reasons but there’s no definitive set of shared criteria… they hated it, I loved it, and yet we all got on.
And thinking about how the CD came into my possession, and subsequently became part of my ‘very special’ collection of favourites… and how these two old friends had entered my life and ‘lived’ with me through some very difficult times… and how we’ve all sort of largely drifted out of touch… and how I was there, back in Glasgow, remembering all this stuff from so many years ago… and still loving Pietra’s music… and now able to re-love Glasgow again… well, I thought it worth sharing in case anyone else can also be moved to adoration by Pietra’s music (for every 9 folk who detest it, there’ll be one lucky soul who ‘finds her’, gets it, and loves it).
Pietra sings in Neapolitan, a distinct dialect of Naples, and I’ve asked fluent Italian-speaking friends to translate her lyrics and they can’t. Neapolitan is perhaps to Italian what Cornish is to English… an utterly separate language. And I love that she sings in such a distinctive and belligerent way – it’s clearly about the music and not the sales.
Here’s a taster… a sexy little duet:
The picture on this blog, incidentally, is a wonderful house I lived in for part of my time in Scotland – probably the most simultaneously happy/unhappy part. Weird. I’d moved out of Glasgow after 3 years or so and headed to the coast – where my novel The Town That Danced is set. And, indeed, this lodge house and the gorgeous castle to which it’s attached, are the very ones fictionalised in my novel. As are some of the local folk. But I could get sued for that, so I’d add that they are all very fictionalised.
And I spent a lot of time, at that point, working freelance for the organisation that now employs me, and so resulted in my recent visit again to Glasgow…
All things come around. All is linked. Circuitous is defined as a route or journey longer than the most direct way. In life, perhaps the circuitous route is the only route to take. Viva Glasgow, viva old friends, viva (re)finding my work tribe, viva life, and viva music that lives with us and stays with us throughout all other turmoil.