I’m too tired to write this standing up. I almost got up at 5, then procrastinated and fell asleep again. The bin collection is already doing its rounds down our street and those around us. Wednesday morning. Mid-week. So many people I speak to feel trapped in a never-ending circle where nothing seems to change from day to day, where, although they find some satisfaction in what they’re doing, they find themselves without a purpose. Every day the same, even weekends. Covid has done this to us. And still is. All we’re doing right now is drawing slightly larger patterns in slightly larger circles.
Are birds land animals? I watched a small one, could have been a thrush, speed across the roofs of the street just now. They must be faster than humans. Must be faster than cheetahs. My mind went to migratory birds, and the physical miracle of their travels. They know no borders, they know no xenophobia, unless you count the nets that still catch millions of them every year as xenophobia. They carry no passports, not even tiny ones strapped to their tiny legs, so they can gain entry into the countries they visit. Priti Patel isn’t trying to get them deported to Rwanda if they so much as set a feather into the UK. I saw a rotund pigeon bullying a sleek magpie the other day on the Heath. That answered my question as to why I’d not seen the magpies again that were building a nest in the huge cork tree two doors down from me, a tree no seemingly dominated by one rotund pigeon couple. They were obviously channelling Brexit Britain’s xenophobia.
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a picture of himself that I took 10 years ago in London and which he used on one of his chapbooks. I took it in South Kensington tube station, where the pedestrian tunnel towards the Natural History Museum takes an elegant bend to the left. A decade since I saw him, which is really very odd. At the beginning of that tunnel, as you step down into it, there was a massive promo poster of Dead Men, a poster I never took a picture of myself of in front of in situ, and which is now sitting in a cardboard tube in this study. I should stop measuring my life in missed opportunities. Because there are more opportunities ahead. Always. It’s just a case of spotting them.
I have now written over 100k words in this space since the beginning of the year, and we’re not even a third of the way through it. Imagine printing that when it’s done. Then putting it through a shredder for New Year’s Eve confetti and starting all over again. This is how life is.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 67
‘That was stupid,’ Zav says. ‘Going through a red. That’s how they can track us.’
‘No cameras on that one,’ Aggie says. ‘Now shut up and let me drive.’
The darkness begins to close in on them. The country lanes have no lights to guide the way, only occasional villages with forlorn-looking pubs with forlorn-looking fairy lights outside them and forlorn-looking smokers looking for someone to talk to while they smoke. Aggie doesn’t slow down for the images of a deserted England, left behind by time and disease and adversarial politics. Her eyes are now set on the route she’s mapped out for herself, determined to make the fastest time she can to York, to meet this mystery man, Marit’s father, Cassandra’s former lover. Perhaps he’s her lover again, from a long distance, perhaps he knows where she is, perhaps she’s there, hiding in some modern penthouse suite with her own morning robe, some newly-bought make-up and an old toothbrush sitting coyly in a mug in the bathroom, a mug with some pretend cheery message printed on it, an artefact totally incongruous with the wealth and art of the Norwich house. They cross small streams on small bridges, the water glittering with the scattering atoms of the car lights, turn corners so quickly, the beam of the headlights carries on in a straight line across the wide-open fields until they catch up with it again two turns later. Light moves slowly up here in the evenings.
Bubwith, North Duffield, Skipwith, Escrick, Naburn, Bishopthorpe, and then the lights of the city ahead. Old, pre-suburbia villages now within the loops of ring roads and dual carriageways, become suburbia.
‘I need to know where to go now,’ Aggie says to Marit, elbows her lightly in her side.
‘The Minster,’ Marit says.
‘That’s easy,’ Aggie says.
‘Mad, isn’t it?’ Marit says.
‘Couldn’t we just have called him?’ Zav says from the back.
‘Who’s being stupid now?’ Aggie says. ‘Leaving traces everywhere.’
‘And this isn’t leaving traces?’ he says.
Anna sighs. ‘The truth is that we’re visible anywhere. There’s no point even trying to hide or be inconspicuous. Everyone’s conspicuous everywhere.’
The car snakes its way past the racecourse on the left, grandstands lit up in the distance for parties no-one’s been invited to. They pass the old chocolate factory, lights dim. The road becomes illogical here, but Aggie has it clear in her mind. ‘Bloody one-way systems,’ she spits, follows the road round, until the catch sight of the old city walls.
‘Very picturesque,’ Zav says. ‘Maybe I’ll pretend I’m on holiday with my favourite friends.’
Anna hits him, not too hard, and he catches hold of her hand, in the dark. She doesn’t pull away. Katharina looks away, a smile on her face.
‘Pretend you’re on your honeymoon instead,’ Aggie says, sniggers.
Zav and Anna let go of each other, their blushes warming the car.
‘Not far now,’ Marit says.
Through the centre now, across a wide bridge, ancient buildings either side mingling with new metal and glass constructions, the street lights shadowing back from the oversized windows, streets narrowing, old gatehouses, any number of churches.
‘Left here,’ Marit says. ‘Into Minster Yard.’
The car hops over the cobbles, as the Minster looms above them now, dark and forbidding.
‘Like Norwich Cathedral,’ Zav says.
‘Bigger,’ Marit says. ‘Pull up here.’
They get out of the car. Marit walks across the cobbles to a black gate by a hedge. ‘This is it,’ she says, and pushes open the gate.
‘What?’ Aggie says, follows her to the black door at the end of the short path, a brass knocker on it below the number 5.
‘He’s the Chamberlain of the Minster,’ Marit says. ‘Didn’t I tell you?’