The rain woke me at 2am. It sounded like the gutters of all the houses in the street were overflowing. The noise was overwhelming, and the sound of the water splashing onto every surface imaginable filled me with that sense of comfort we lucky ones in houses have of being somewhere safe and secure. The others slept through it, and it stopped as suddenly as it started. I woke again at six, and the sky was yellow, that apocalyptic yellow that seems to augur the end of something and the beginning of something else. Nothing ended, and nothing started, and I fell asleep again. And when I stepped out into the garden this morning, the brown was just a shade darker than it had been at last light yesterday, the sense of a damp desert rather than a flooded plain. The frog sink (as we call the shallow butler sink at the end of the garden by the office) seems emptier than it did last night, and the second water butt has no water in it, except for a few desultory millimetres of stagnation that could have been there before. It seems like the night’s deluge was in my imagination, although I know it wasn’t. And it was still 28C in my office when I opened the door first thing.
Sod’s Law will be, of course, that the real lasting rain will come when I wend my way down to the BBC studios in Norwich this afternoon to do my postponed bit on BBC Radio Norfolk. I can imagine shaking the rain off me as I walk in there, still dripping water off me when I reach the studio on the second floor, and leaving a pool of water on the studio floor that won’t evaporate until well after I’ve finished my bit. Which reminds me that I once left my cap in the studio in yet another fit of absent-mindedness years ago, and thought it was lost forever, only to have one of the producers give it back to me a month later when I was back in there. I still wear that cap, which is much the worse for wear (and sweat), and, although I bought a new one a few months ago, I still revert to it as my favourite. Old habits and all that. And it’s comfy and worn, a bit like me.
The best news yesterday, that C alerted me to, is that Arctic Monkeys have a new album out in October. This comes four years after the much-maligned and under-appreciated Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a fine jazz album if there ever was one, and nine years after the great A.M., which was a 9/10 album on any scale, with just one duff track on it. C and I went to see the band at Earls Court (before Johnson ill-advisedly approved its demolition and had it sold off to greedy developers – the place, not the band), and then again at Finsbury Park (which thankfully still stands, no thanks to said disgraced Johnson who clings on to his post for a few more weeks), and they were magnificent. I’ve always said Alex Turner (lead singer, writer etc etc) is either a genius or an arrogant bastard or both. After the Ears Court gig, of course, we hung around after the gig so C could see the man himself (which she did), then lost my Arafat scarf at the tube station (but recovered it), ended up walking most of the way into Central London, last train missed), and spending all night at Bar Italia in Soho, and then walking to Liverpool Street to catch the first train home the next morning. A long long time ago. I hope the new album is worth the recounting of these memories.
Interesting responses to the blog yesterday. Simple answer is – it has not yet entirely served its purpose, as the purpose is to write each day and to ensure I finish a novel this year. The thing is to moderate negative self-reflection. The thing also is, that the need to write, and to be a writer, is as often a curse as a blessing.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 190
Aggie watches Lilibet in the shower. It’s too small to share. Her heart beats more quickly than she has ever known it to. She feels torn. And then she thinks of Robert, turns away from watching the naked body of her lover, stands up, and leans on the sill of the window through which she can see the cathedral. She picks up the burner phone, dials the number.
Two rings, and Robert picks up. ‘What news?’ Robert says, his voice as unflappable as ever.
‘I’m flying to Washington later.’
‘What?’ Not so unflappable now.
‘I found something in a tunnel from the house to the castle. A room.’ She doesn’t mention the files. ‘Instructions from Cassie. She wants me to meet someone over there who may be able to tell me more about me, about Valentine.’
‘Seems a bit odd.’ HIs voice is even again.
‘I know, but I don’t think I have a choice.’
‘I suppose not. But why wouldn’t she tell me?’
Aggie imagines him standing in that room with the piano, one hand on the keyboard, a silent new melody in his head, full of longing and despair, full of questioning. Attachment anxiety. Strange in a man of such talent with such a gift for music and clarity. She won’t tell him what Cassie said in the video, about him being too flaky. She understands what Cassie meant, although she asks herself if Cassie even understands why he is like that, if she doesn’t realise that he’s that way because all he does is love her, the woman who went off with his arch enemy, married his nemesis, made Robert wait and wait and wait for her, and then, when he thought he had her back, disappears to somewhere, no-one knows where. ‘I think she wants a woman to do her work. And it’s a woman I’m meeting.’
Robert sighs. ‘The world has changed beyond my understanding, you know, Aggie. I think it’s best for me just to sit here and write my music, and ignore what’s going on outside of these walls. And wait for her to come back to me when things are normal.’
They won’t ever be normal again, Aggie wants to say, but hols her tongue, bites the inside of her mouth, exhales. ‘You can only do what you think is right,’ she says, and hates herself for being so mealy-mouthed.
‘Ah, you’re a diplomat as well,’ he says, and laughs. ‘I do know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably not wrong.’
‘Oh, Robert,’ Aggie says. ‘You are much too complex a man for a simple girl like me to understand.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ he says. ‘You understand me better than anyone else does. That’s why I’m talking to you.’
At that moment, just as Lilibet comes up behind her, and puts her arms around her, all Aggie wants to do is to give Robert a hug and tell him that everything will be fine, even if it’s a lie, even though she can see his hands tremble as he talks to her, and she puts her free hand on Lilibet’s arms, bids her to hold still. ‘I’ll keep you updated, with everything, I promise.’
‘I know, I know.’ A pause. ‘Is Lily going with you?’
Aggie shakes her head, and voices the shake. ‘No. I hope not to be gone for more than a couple of days.’
‘Fingers crossed. And then come back to me. Zav and Anna are driving me nuts already. All that lovey-dovey stuff. Next thing we know they’ll be asking me to marry them in the Minster at dead of night.’
‘I suppose it depends on how you look at it.’ He laughs again, and the bitterness comes through from under his obvious delight at the two having found each other. ‘I shall have to write a special processional for them. Perhaps I’ll call it Alpha and Omega, although that does seem a bit of a cliche.’ He sighs. ‘But it’s not my fault they’re at the beginning and end of the alphabet.’
‘None of this is your fault, Robert,’ Aggie says gently.
‘No. God Speed, my dear.’ And he hangs up.