After my customary Sunday lie-in, I have forced myself to come into the office. And I’ll be leaving again as soon as possible. It’s a gloriously sunny day out there, not a cloud in the sky. Writing in a sunless office on a day like this seems like a particularly useless occupation.
On the train home last night, I finished Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, and, like at the end of all great books, felt particularly bereft. The man’s style of writing is such that the reader becomes a part of the story. The dialogue, with no punctuation and no speech tags (such as he said, she said etc), is as much heard as read. There was music in that book, the true music of words, and not many writers can achieve that. The thing is, though, that McCarthy demonstrates, with his unusual style of writing, that he has a grasp of all the tools of grammar and punctuation, and not the opposite. I have always found the problem with many writers I have come across to be that they claim they don’t need to know grammar or punctuation, that the lack of this knowledge and their ability still to produce books, is a demonstration of their genius, that knowing the basics is just the establishment not allowing new talent to flourish. Well, that’s just a load of old rubbish, in truth. Innovation is always built on intimate knowledge of tradition.
When I travel, I tend not to take my main notebook with me, for fear of losing it, and it being lost to me forever, so I made pages of notes in a temporary notebook (which I’ve left in the house). I had planned to write pages and pages of a new chapter for The Mortality Code on my over 6 hours of train journey, but became too distracted by people-watching and countryside watching to do any of it (well, a couple of paragraphs, but I need to research sandstorms more). What is in my head of the notes I made (and, yes, I am being too lazy to go into the house to get the notebook) is the tapping of feet in time to an unheard tune, the girl across the aisle who had to get a new rail ticket because she didn’t have the right kind, the guy in the seat in front of me trying desperately not to fall asleep, the woman loudly on the phone a few seats behind talking about how she hoped to make her connection despite the train being almost half an hour late. And, finally, the girl behind me saying she’d have to catch a taxi because it was 25 miles from her final station to get to where she had to go, and because her mother was refusing to come and pick her up from the station. The other thought was – why don’t trains have reading lights so that the main lights can be turned off at night, and those of us who want to can look out into the darkness and see signs of life out there, yellow glow from far-off villages and cities, or single houses, signs of life from places we will probably never set foot in?
The memorial was lovely. Strange how many memories we do lose. When we were teenagers, my friends and I used to play football on the Town Fields in Doncaster (yes, after Sunday lunch!!!), and this one man whom I’d met at our church started to join us. He was a very talented and elegant footballer, and we always compared him to one of our favourite midfielders at Doncaster Rovers (and called him by that players name). To me, who was 16 or so at the time, S always seemed to be the responsible adult, the guy already in a job, someone serious and with gravitas. I’d forgotten that he knew my late sister, so meeting him again yesterday was a total bolt out of the blue. And then to find out he’s only two years older than me put those memories of him as old and respectable into some kind of middle-aged context.
But memorials and memories can be dangerous things. The context for your present lives can be misleading. We can revert back to a type we no longer are, we can start thinking that those days past were better because they now see carefree and more romantic (in the sense of all we did being an adventure, and the whole life we had ahead of us then being a succession of adventures), and then we look in the mirror and see the thinning hair, the tiredness from everyday life in our eyes, and start questioning what we have now, and start, all over again, hating the vagaries of life, the prospect of old age, the uselessness of the constantly repeating days. But now, here, in this dark office, just a sliver of sunray now creeping in at the far corner by the window, this life now is not useless or meaningless. Patterns repeat throughout life. I’m not sure that in my youth I had the power and ability to change my life if I wanted to. I do believe I have a greater opportunity to do that now.
And all those scribbles I’ve left in the notebook in the house will find their way into poetry or prose at some time. Some time…
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