When I lie on our bed to do my back stretches (worth adding here that I will start doing them in the study once we’ve finished the building work and can commission our library; I have a yoga mat ready and waiting), I can see two small irregularities in the plaster on the ceiling, and tend to focus on them while I do the first part of my stretches (bringing my knees up onto my chest). I often lose count of how many I’ve done (the plan is to do 10 30-second stretches), and sometimes I wonder what would happen if I lose count to such an extent that I got stuck in an eternal loop thinking over and over again I was on my 6th or 6th or 8th repetition. Of course, it couldn’t happen in reality – the light would change, M would come and look for me and rip me out of the loop (as she has often done when I’ve got caught in other loops in my life), or I’d drop back into the proper count. It’s an interesting thought, nonetheless, because those loops do exist.
Talking, as I was, of loops and minute decisions that change lives and send alternate lives off in different directions, A, M, and I went to see Everything Everywhere All At Once in the cinema yesterday. A had already seen it once, and thought it would be a good idea to get her elderly parents out of the house for once, so we walked down there (and back up again, 6 miles in all). What a brilliantly weird, what a weirdly brilliant, film. It’s all about those connected universes that spring off when we make certain decisions, and a part of us goes off in a different direction (think Sliding Doors, but with more than two options, and with much more real-life absurdity, and therefore much more reality, about it), and what might happen if we could jump between those universes, and what might become of us if we had the ability to see, and live in, all those universes simultaneously. I was absorbed from start to finish (despite raising my eyebrows more than twice), and once again reinforced in my view that life is absurd, that we live in an abstract painting, that nothing can be predicted, and that it is actually pointless worrying about things we can’t predict or control. The ultimate message is that, however much we doubt it right now, kindness will prevail.
While I was broadcasting on Radio Stradbroke yesterday, I got an email from Marina Florance letting me know she’d just written a new tune and asking if I could write some lyrics. She sent me a draft verse, and I started scribbling thoughts down while I was on air (hence sounded very distracted I should think). In the end, I sent one set of lyrics which went off in a direction she hadn’t envisaged, and then another set of lyrics which were possibly more in line with what she had been thinking. Just as I was about to turn off my phone before the film, already in my seat, I got an email from her saying how much she loved the first set of lyrics. We will see how all that turns out – the gestation period from draft tune and draft lyrics to finished song can always take a while (as it should). I just feel blessed that she asks me to write lyrics for her beautiful voice.
In yet another serendipitous moment of my life, just before I went on air yesterday, and just after I’d finished writing about my great friend L, M handed me an envelope addressed to me, and sent from California. A hand-written letter from said L which moved me deeply. I will put pen to paper later today – I have quite a few letters I want to write.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 97
‘Specialist cleaners?’ Katharina says. ‘Wouldn’t it be easier just for us to do it?’
Robert laughs. ‘He does still have some connections, and he hates to get his hands dirty.’
‘I don’t want you to have to see that again, dear lady,’ Martin says. ‘Go out the back way. Much more straightforward. And I can talk to the staff and pay the bill. They’ll be out there in the courtyard smoking, I bet.’ He pats Katharina’s shoulder. Very discreet the cleaners, too. Nothing to worry about. It’ll be done in a matter of hours.’ He waves his arms. Now go, go, people. I’ll see you when I see you.’
‘Tomorrow,’ Robert says. ‘We’ll meet in the morning after I’ve seen Aggie off.’
‘And me,’ Anna says.
‘Ditto,’ Zav says.
‘We’ll see about that,’ Robert says. ‘Who knows what more surprises the night still has for us.’
They walk out, past the surprisingly unconcerned-looking waiters and cooks, the night surprisingly mild for this time of year, the courtyard quiet and restful, out across the garden Anna just a few minutes ago walked across to climb up onto the houses surrounding it, but, instead of going the same way she did, Robert leads them off to the left and a small snicket to the side of the York Theatre Royal, and out onto another street altogether, one which curves round to the right and brings them to to one of the old toll towers that’s part of the ancient walls.
‘Bootham Bar,’ Robert says. ‘Another part of history we’ve grown so used to we ignore it.’ He sighs. ‘We ignore so much history. It’s like we learn no lessons at all.’
Aggie doesn’t stop herself from putting a long arm around him, feels his sagging muscles under the jacket, the so well-disguised trembling. ‘We will learn,’ she says. ‘One of these days we will learn.’
He doesn’t shrug her off, puts his mole-covered hand on her huge paw. ‘It might be too late by then, my dear, much too late.’ One squeeze, and he lets go. ‘I just want Cassie back here with me at the end of days.’
‘She’ll be back,’ Aggie says. ‘And it won’t be the end of days. Trust me.’
He shakes his head. ‘There’s something odd and indefinable about you, my dear, and I can’t put my finger on it. Some might say you’re too naïve to be real.’
The streets are empty and echo their muffled footsteps back at them.
‘Let people think what they want,’ Aggie says, forgetting just for one moment how much she does care that she always feels people staring at her, her outrageous size, her loping gait, her ridiculous height, the weight of her circumstance. ‘I know what I feel, what my intuition tells me.’
‘You carry on being who you are. You’re wiser than you think,’ he says. He raises his voice a little. ‘I really don’t want to go back through the Minster. There’s a path round the side of it that will take us home. Just let’s all stick together. I’m not sure the lamps will still be on. In fact, I can’t even remember if they’re working at the moment.’
The Minster rears up just ahead of them, and to the right of it is the street corner with the huge tree from which the now dead man tried to shoot Martin. Robert veers off to the left, leads them up to a locked gate. ‘Easy enough to climb over, if you can all manage that.’
Aggie just stretches her legs and jumps over, lifts Robert physically over it, and does the same to Katharina before she can even react. The others climb over, Zav huffing and puffing. ‘Could do myself untold damage here,’ he says.
‘Stop being an idiot,’ Aggie says. ‘We’re not interested in what you’ve got between your legs.’
‘Well, you might be,’ Aggie says, and elbows her in the side.
‘I didn’t say anything,’ Anna says.
‘You didn’t have to.’
They walk along the path in one tight group. There is no light here, just the city reflected back at them from the clouds above. They round the curve, turn a sharp corner to the right. Robert’s house is less than fifty metres away. And the lights are shining brightly out onto the path.
‘I’m sure I didn’t leave the lights on,’ Robert says.
‘Nor the curtains open,’ Aggie says.