Tag Archives: memories

Mayday

remember that day when we saw the kite caught in the big tree
the little ginger cat from your neighbour’s garden had followed us all the way to the shop
the red kite in the big tree and you with grass stains on the knees of your jeans
i think every boy in the park climbed into that tree to get the kite back down,
human pyramids, twelve boys up in the big tree and you and me laughing at the foot
playing catch with an old tennis ball

and in the end they got it and the pretty girl said thank you
and in the end none of them took her home
pollok dave said he got her number but elgin dave said he never did
either way, we didn’t see her again.
in the evening your neighbours had a barbecue and shouted over the wall for us to come round
we fed that little ginger cat on scraps of chicken until it fell contentedly asleep
the sky was all orangey fading into slate

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Raise your glass to change and chance.

All about my mother

here comes the sun

In the middle of every Shabbat service, just before the shema, we read:
Blessed are you God who forms light yet creates darkness, who makes peace yet creates all.

‘The mother is God in the eyes of a child’? Perhaps it’s something like that. She is my creator, after all, and for some nine months (during some of which, it seems, I could have been conscious) she was my world; she is the only constant, the thing that I have known the longest. But with my mother, more than most, I think the dichotomy is relevant and tangible – she brings love, laughter and light into our home, but also anger, pain, dissatisfaction, sadness. She has three living children, three of us who survived infancy, and two who did not. This ratio is about right, I feel: she has always been, and will always be, more light than darkness, more happy than sad. But it’s a close-run thing sometimes; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think of her without her past, like a cloud, an ache – to see her as my mother without the ghosts.

She always puts flowers in my bedroom when I visit home, and she is always making something: she knits, sews, crochets, lately she spins wool from tops and dyes it; she bakes and she writes. And she has children, of course. She understands fibres and food. Everything is soft and structured, everything is many-coloured, patchworked and warm. Because she always has something unfinished in her hands, and because my parents’ house is so full of her gloriously handmade things, she’s sort of soft around the edges – you can’t really say where she ends and what she made begins.

The scents that remind me most of her are paper and old leather, warm and worn. A battered jacket that she used to wear, I think it must have once been like a biker jacket but time had creased and cracked it until it was soft and supple as chamois. In first year I bought one of my own from Armstrong’s – a subconscious memento? – but it’s different, so thick and solid it’s like a shell. In my mind’s eye my mum’s jacket hangs over the back of an old-fashioned, oiled wood chair in the hazy sunlight of childhood; dust motes dance above it in the yellowish beams that slip through faded curtains, heavy cotton, hand-dyed in yellow, red, orange. Sparkling fronds that we made together from glass beads and sweet wrappers, acetate and foil crinkling and clinking together when the wind blows. The association with paper is obvious, it’s from her many books – literature, poetry and plays, classics, Latin, recipe books and newspaper clippings, paperback novels bordering on pulp fiction, graphic novels, magazines, notebooks, sketches and doodles, diaries, plans – but also from the typesetting job she had when I was little; the clean and slightly chemical smell of her office, the laminators and inks and unknowable machines. She used to bring home little books and folders of paper samples, for me to draw on; neat little spectrums of pastels and brights, assorted weights and finishes, watermarks… how I treasured them! I must have kept some of them, my favourite ones, for seven or eight years. There’s something else: the clean smell of bread dough, not baking, although she is excellent at that; the baking scent itself reminds me of something more vague, a general feeling of welcome and wellbeing, I guess it does that for everybody. This is a scent of ingredients: flour, almonds, cinnamon, yeast. And finally something dark and dry, like dead air in a small dusty wooden box; cigars, unsmoked; the feeling in the back of the throat when you eat good, bitter dark chocolate.

The poems I associate with my mother – Mignon by J. W. von Goethe (her favourite, I think), The Song of Wandering Angus by W. B. Yeats (I remember her reciting it many times to me as a small child; I was entranced and haunted by the image of ‘a fire in my head’; the last stanza’s ‘till time and times are done’. I had only been alive for five or six years, and I suppose self-absorbedly thought that that was all the time in the world – when could this ‘time and times are done’ possibly be? Was this my first glimpse of the idea of infinity… celestial apple-plucking without end?) and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost – all have in common a longing to be somewhere else, somewhere far from the mundane and the colourless quotidian; a restlessness, an insatiable existential itch that I think perhaps I’ve inherited from her and her poems, I feel it sometimes in my own skin. Is it the same as Thanatos, the lust for death? Of course that’s what people say about about Frost’s poem and you could definitely make a case for it in the others too. But I think it’s not quite that simple. Intertwined with the bittersweet wish – not even a wish, nothing so conscious and active… more a gravitation, a pull as of magnetism, something inevitable and slow – to die, there is an inescapable love of life too: not merely an aesthetic appreciation of the intense beauty experienced in our own finite little lives, but a fiery thing, a fightback. In a sense, those poems all seem to me to contain (somewhere beneath the surface) a manifesto for loving: a resume of ‘why I’m not dead yet’, if you will.

If my dad is suffused with a springtime feeling of wholesomeness, freshness and youth, then my mother (in the nicest possible way) is autumnal, elder but not old – she dresses in autumn colours, and quietly she exudes the quality of those days of warm, rich colours and their crisp cold new air that hurts your lungs if you breathe deeply; of the ripeness of red fruit and of bright burning-looking leaves, but tinged with the beautiful spikes and whorls of first frost. A beauty that is inseparable from the knowledge that it’s fleeting; a warmth and joie de vivre that go hand in hand – perhaps closer – with the first-hand experience of random death. She is always somewhat tired, but wholly alive. She will always have miles to go before she sleeps.

I want life in every word to the extent that it’s absurd

All about my father

dad

When I think of how to begin describing my father, I think of the things he and I have in common: we are both Londoners (my mum is not) and we share a deep affinity, a love for the place that sometimes people can find a little hard to understand. I think that, like me, he feels reassured by the noise and the restlessness, the impersonal, unpretentious, inconstant bustle of those charter’d streets; it’s a feeling of belonging, I suppose, but more than that: calm, affirmation. It makes you feel human.

The other place I instantly associate with my dad, and have inherited his love for, is the sea. I think of him whenever I’m there at the edge of the land, at the wide horizon; I remember him in vast empty beaches in wind or snow or any weather, always happy and always swimming. His neatly-shaven head slices the water into regular lengths, bobbing and dipping further and further out among the boisterous waves, and reassuringly back again. You’re probably thinking that deserted beaches and populous North London are disparate places to like; I thought so too, at first, but in another way they’re not at all. They’re both just expansive, massive and full of fractals and microcosms – the people of the city can be very much like the pebbles and shells by the sea. You don’t see them as individual units until, or unless, you get up close.

When I was little, my dad had an allotment, and I had my own corner where I grew radishes and flowers; carrots from tops slowly germinated in jam-jar lids on the kitchen windowsill. He was always growing something, and he taught me how to rake and till the soil and to dig and fertilise and sow, poking tiny seeds protectively down into their damp dark beds and gently covering them over again. I have happy memories of weekend afternoons spent there, painstakingly weeding, studying minibeasts or just messing around with my brother while Dad worked on his vegetable patch. He would urinate cheerfully into the compost heap at the end of the allotment, explaining that it was good for the plants; perhaps this helped to create the impression I have of him as suffused with a general, quiet, essential vitality. Even his waste helped things grow. I mention that he taught me everything I know about horticulture; I mean that he taught me everything. Maths, Hebrew, history, geography, politics, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religious studies, critical thinking… I owe him more than I can ever say for inculcating in me his love of learning, his ability to be fascinated; his capacity for awe. He teaches me still.

He is an excellent correspondent: wryly witty, affectionate but never sappy, gentle, interested, sharp. A letter, or more frequently a card, from my father is something to treasure and re-read, something to save for after all the boring post and open over tea and toast, or even to take to uni or work with me to be opened only when I need cheering up, if it’s going to be a long day. I guess some of the first letters I’d have received from him were while he was working in Newcastle, staying in a horrible, cold little flat on his own during the week and driving down each weekend, before we got a house sorted out there and all moved up together. I hated that time; I don’t even remember how long it went on for, can’t have been more than a month or two, but it was dark – it was winter, ostensibly moving into spring. It was snowing in April, when we got there. I couldn’t stand, still can’t, the thought of him alone in that place; his letters were brilliant and warm but of course I couldn’t help feeling sad while I was reading them, snuggled in my woolen coat down by an old iron radiator in the corner of a room that wouldn’t be my school library for much longer. The carpet was dark green, corrugated or lined like corduroy but bristly tough, the fibres tiny tight-coiled plasticky things. I remember I was reading A Clockwork Orange at the same time. It’ll sound melodramatic if I say my experiences during this period provided me with object lessons about love and pain, their inevitability, and the spaces between them or lack thereof.

The other thing about my dad, the thing you’d notice right away if you were to meet him, is his friendliness; his good nature and good faith. He is affable, equable, but most of all instantly likeable – both interesting and kind, I think people want to be friends with him and that is a lovely, and unusual, thing. Sometimes people say that I’m approachable or friendly or memorable and when this happens I like to quietly thank my dad, because I think although we are dissimilar in many ways, that must be something he’s blessed me with somehow, just because it shines out of him, not glaringly but softly, a light seen through gauze.

It’s actually something I admire about both my parents, the way they’re so welcoming; their generosity of spirit, their capacity for friendship and their easy grace. When I go home there’s always someone new, either there in my living room or just around in their lives – an old lady my dad gives lifts to and helps out; a guy they do shape note singing with, so they invited him to my sister’s bat mitzvah; an Israeli student who’s staying here for a while and wouldn’t have anyone else to celebrate Seder Night with; a guy who’s thinking of converting to Judaism, only in the end he becomes a priest instead; my mum’s going for dinner with a woman from her old work. I love that about them, it makes me feel proud and hopeful too. When I was fourteen my dad and I went to Poland, he assembled a motley Jew crew somehow and we went there and travelled to sites of particular historical importance, and some places that were just interesting or fun as well. We met all sorts of people; my dad befriended one guy, Wojtek, so much that a while later his son Filip came over and stayed with us in London as a kind of holiday, I guess, if you can call it a holiday when you sleep on our living room floor and our cat comes in and wakes you up by licking your face.

Anyway, I digress; I just meant to say, that’s the kind of thing I value about my parents and the household they made for us, the places I grew up in and the experiences that I had. While I reckon they’re both, mum and dad, far from ‘mainstream’ or ‘conventional’ by any measure, they’re also far from insular or even proud; they’re in touch with their surroundings and the rest of humanity, more than I am really although I feel better when I try. Quietly extraordinary.

You could either be successful or be us with our winning smiles

One from my notebook: Bryn.

in the kitchen

BRYN

is a boy who could be any age between about 17 and 28. He is pale with pretty jade-green eyes and a dreadhawk which is dun at the roots and then dyed to a subtle, denim blue tending toward slate; I want to say it matches his eyes, but his eyes are really quite different, greener; I think what I mean is it matches somebody’s eyes. It does match his hoody, well-worn, soft like a faded photograph. He has a piercing on the right-hand side of his lip and wears a little ring in it which perhaps lends the impression of a half-smile even when he is not half-smiling (which he is quite often), and he has a slightly unusual face with a prominent nose and mild chin, a little as though when somebody made him, they started by pinching a little pinch of the Bryn-clay and pulled it forward to make a nose, then added everything else around it as an afterthought.

He reminds me of my brother immediately I see him, which is in the kitchen on the first day extolling the virtues of drinking cups of hot water to avoid caffeine. Someone shouts “Bryn, you’re taking this vegan thing too far!” and so I assume he’s straight edge, but then later it turns out he isn’t at all. I say “drinking hot water, eh? It’s really good for you, isn’t it?” (having not regained my Lahndan ‘innit’, definitely not at this stage, I don’t think I did at all really, or maybe self-parodyingly a bit.) and Bryn says “nah it’s not good for you, it just tastes really nice! Nicer than cold water. You should try it”. And this exchange sums up something of what little I’ve gathered about the nature of Bryn: he is unconventionally affable, he is serious but never earnest, or he is light-hearted but never free-wheeling. Something like that. Also he seems, unusually, to be absolutely as happy and comfortable chatting in a group of people or sitting in silence alone somewhere with his thoughts and the sky and the faraway sea in his eyes. If you find him doing the latter, and talk to him, he responds as though he’d just been waiting for you to come along (and ask him what he got up to last night, or whatever – “folk rave!” he might enthusiastically say), rather than as though you’re interrupting. He is quietly confident and never brash; his style is demonstrated when I shyly ask if I can take his photograph and he keenly agrees, smiles, but then doesn’t quite meet the camera’s gaze. It is quite delightful really.

On the last day, when we are in a terrible rush due to leaving the site an hour later than we’d planned (I blame F), we stagger, loaded with bags, past Bryn on our way out. I drop some of mine to hug him and kiss him on the cheek, though because a light rain is falling again, he has his hood up and it gets in the way and so the kiss lands far over toward his lips, perhaps touching them at one side, and I’m a bit embarrassed. Again, that feeling that I want to say something meaningful, or I want to tell him something but I don’t know what. I think I say “it was really good to meet you”, and then he says something about flickr and I say “I will!”

These could be the good old days.

The day of the red feathers

We were walking down to the shops one early evening at the start of May. We were on the street two down from ours, a quiet, broad street where there’s a school and some flats and a closed-down shop and a beautiful old building that used to be a church, when we saw the red feathers.

There were many, many of them everywhere – they’d been blown all along the pavements, sticking in the bushes and trees and weeds and cracks, in the ivy and in the gutter, bright, scarlet feathers between about 3 and 10cm long. They were the same kind you get in feather boas – it was as though someone had got one (or even two, the number of feathers there still were, maybe two had had a fight) and ripped it to shreds, floating, bright red, fluffy carnage in the middle of the street. That was something I noticed, there didn’t seem to be more on one side or at one end of the street; they were so spread out that you couldn’t tell where they’d started from, there didn’t seem to be an epicentre. Like rain.

I kept seeing the red feathers, fewer and farther between, whenever I was walking around our area for the next few weeks, it felt like whenever I’d look down I’d see one. The winds took them and scattered them, and the sun and rain bleached them – I think they must have been white and had been dyed to be so bright in the first place, and gradually they become more pink and pale, fading like bruises, until you wouldn’t realise they were the same ones unless you’d seen them all that day. The stems or stalks in the middle, the harder parts, the spines of the feathers, they stayed redder for longer but mostly they got broken.

It’s been three weeks now, or thereabouts, and I still see one or two around the place. The only ones left now are caught up in something, mostly wrapped around weeds or tangled into fences. I saw one today, straggly and faint, sadly clinging to a little clump of alyssum that was growing at the bottom of a doorstep. That made me realise that I hadn’t thought about alyssum in a long, long time; I remember a big carpet of it around the edges of flowerbeds and pots in the garden of my maternal grandparents, who, I realised when reading something Sarah had written yesterday, I don’t speak or write to enough. I have a lot of good memories of being a child in their garden; I told my grandmother this – I bought her a card with a botanical illustration of a passion flower on it because it reminded me of her and there – and, my mother told me, made her cry, but in a good way.

Alyssum, then – it’s simple and understated and I used to like the smallness of it and the scent, but mostly the name, I think. They called it sweet alyssum, or maybe that was the variety, and made a thing of how it sounded like ‘sweet Alice’. Perhaps that was what I thought it was or should be called, how I’d have spelled it if I didn’t know: alice-um. But I was always good at reading, and I always used to like reading seed packets and catalogues, so on the other hand perhaps I knew how to spell it before I knew what it was. That’s how I can spell all the flowers: helianthus, delphinium, hydrangea, even fuchsia, which I remember was one of the hardest but one I liked a lot so I had to learn. Mr Fothergill’s seed packets and Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies; between the two of them my horticultural literacy was assured.

Those long sunny days that I remember in their garden being small, the school holidays, I would be with my brother and sometimes my cousins. Or on weekends in London, in the magnificent garden of my dad’s great-grandmother, a warm and tiny woman. She died when I was thirteen and she was ninety-seven. Her garden was tidy, almost formal, but if you knew where to look, which of course we did, it was bursting with life and more importantly fruit; apples, plums, gooseberries, redcurrants, and most wonderfully a mulberry tree. Me and my brother and my other cousins this time, my London Jewish ones. We’d stuff ourselves with mulberries, plump, dark and intense, and she’d warn us that we’d get tummy aches but mostly we just got sticky purple juice everywhere. It was before I ever had a sister; a sister with a flower name or otherwise. I wonder if there was a time when I would think about flowers, or leaves, and not feel even just a tiny bit sad. A time before loss, I suppose. I wonder if anybody does, or can.

At times like these I think it’s strange how symbolism doesn’t work on things outside of your head; it’s strange the difference in accountability between the imaginary and the real. If I’d dreamed all this, the story of the red feathers and the spring alyssum, you’d say that everything meant something; perhaps the feathers were some metaphor for… K, or time, and the red was because of my phobia that I’d been thinking and worrying about, and the fading was because of me worrying about being trapped in my job, and so on and so forth. Everything would have its place, everything its reason. But I didn’t dream it, it just happened one day in the street, and so it doesn’t have all that neat translation or explanation, it doesn’t have to be reasonable or reasoned with.

I didn’t mean this to be sad.

A shell is nicer when there’s somebody to show it to as well.

One rainy night in Edinburgh:

I met K tonight, for what she calls in her inviting text ‘post-work brunch (?) like proper grown-ups’. After the ‘brunch’ (at Biblos in a comfy corner sofa), we moved on to Sandy Bell’s, where I’d never been before but, being situated in the middle of student-pubs-ville, have been drunk within a few yards of its doors scores of times. It’s really refreshingly unstudenty; we bought our pints and snuggled in to a wobbly little table that’s almost in its own tiny room, deep-pinkly walled on three sides away from the world. I don’t need to write what we talked about, that is for us and nobody else and it wouldn’t get across how much it means, how much she means, there’s no way that words ever could, no way that I ever could, no way that writing this will, but I do it anyway – I’m trying, struggling to catch it and put my fingers on it, to hold on to something that can never be held on to. I just don’t want future-me to forget this, this night and this time in my life, this girl who is so much more than a girl, this remarkable one, so wise and so beautiful, this… little human being who is everything. As always I’m struck by the frequency and accuracy of her knowing exactly what I mean when I can’t express it, and by knowing what she means before she does; she never fails to amaze me. As always I love her on the surface, as well, I love her eyes and her beauty and her speech and her idioms, so close to the ones that anyone else would use but with her own Finnish twists; ‘but it just slips through your hands, all this time’, she laments. I want to never let her slip through my hands. At the same time I know that she won’t be here for ever, and whatever happens I will always be so, so lucky to have known her.

At the pub there was a little loose group of musicians sitting around a nearby table and playing unpretentious folk music, looking as though they were doing it for themselves and for the fun of it rather than for the benefit of the few people who politely, quietly clapped at the end of songs: playing, not performing. A plain-looking, middle-aged woman sat with them and sang one song, in a voice so lovely that it stopped me in mid-sentence to gaze at her as though by watching her I could work out where it was coming from. Her voice was like driftwood or sea-glass, something weathered, worn and softened by time and elements, only to become more and more beautiful. A man was playing what looked like a little tiny guitar, but with decorative little curlicues on the corners of the body and the top bit where the tuning pegs go, which gave it a delightfully organic look as though he’d just found it growing like that and plucked it one day, perhaps at the top of a magic beanstalk. Actually what it reminded me most of was this little fellow, even if that is pretty geeky. Afterwards we went out and stood under an archway to shelter from that very Edinburgh type of rain that seems so light and fine but makes you very wet very quickly, while she smoked. Behind her there was a very pretty old switch that said ‘FIRE SWITCH’ but all the letters were peeling off and higgledy-piggledy. The switches were bright blue, like her hair. (What do those things do, anyway?) We talked about friendship. I wanted to take her hands, her elegant porcelain hands, half-hidden in loose turquoise fingerless warmers like extra sleeves, and never let go.

These words are to remind me. I want to keep moments, keep things that can never be kept and have already gone. I take photographs sometimes. Today I write this down instead. It’s like a sigh.
Snowflakes on my tongue, rain in her eyelashes, post-coital sweat on his skin, sand in your shoes, wind in our hair: things that can never be kept. Time with her, her voice, her gaze, her laugh: things that can never be kept. This feeling, or more accurately all these feelings, including but not limited to devotion, relief, awe, tenderness, peace: things I hope to feel again.

Promises

We go to Francis’ and Mattia’s farewell drink, planning to drop in on our way to A’s, so we’re unfashionably on time and only the two celebrants are there when we arrive – they’re sitting outside on this slightly chilly, bright evening and looking even younger without their aprons or their shirts and ties, their uniforms. We get our drinks and go and sit inside in the section they’ve reserved; I remark that the barman looks as if he’s in a band, not realising that Francis knows him, and ‘he is’, he agrees, wide-eyed, ‘…they’re rubbish’. He’s obviously younger than me as well, which makes me feel funny.

Francis phones our mutual friend P, gets me to talk to him to convince him to come along, but he’s not co-operating, and when F realises that P and I have just got into one of our interminable chats (apparently he’s got a great story for me about a swing) instead he snatches the phone back: ‘Stop stealing my minutes!’ We agree that P’s action – or lack of – is lame, but really I wish he were there because I feel so unselfconscious when I talk to him; it’s just familiarity, I guess, he’s part of my comfort zone. Soon we’re joined by Lewis, who was such a sweetheart and who I haven’t seen since he left, maybe six months ago; and some more friends of Francis’, a girl and a boy who are laden down with instruments, they have been out busking. She greets him as Frangipane, which makes me smile because it reminds me of my and P’s (but mostly my) many silly nicknames for him – Mad Frankie Lister, Francesco, General Franco, Frankenstein, Bacon, Teenage Kicks, Assissi. Obviously, he’s just an inherently nicknamable lad. We all talk about this and that – work, people we know or used to, summer, Italy, Portnoy’s Complaint (I’ve bought a copy for Francis, wrapped it in bright tissue paper and curly, lustrous scarlet ribbon which I find myself looking at, bunched up on the table in a little spray, when I’m too shy for eye contact) – with a slightly polite, slightly restrained enthusiasm, as befits the group. We all laugh when Lewis and F, like a tag team, tell us a funny story about a woman asking for squid in the deli where L works now; the laughter is uproarious, mostly because it’s a funny story and they tell it well, partly because laughing is free and easy and come-as-you-please, it’s a release, or a relief, or probably both.

f
Eventually the conversation will turn to music and the many instruments of the two (are they a couple, or just friends? I can’t tell) who arrived with Lewis, the two who I forget the names of almost as soon as I’m told. She’s the wind section, plays a mouth organ and a penny whistle; she can do guitar too though, and something else, flute perhaps? but she doesn’t have one on her. He can play guitar too, and most excitingly, sitar; he takes it from its case to show it to us, quiet, careful, not so much proud as reverent. He’s slim, this boy, and he gives the impression of slightness and delicacy, though he must be taller than me in my boots and I’m sure he’s not actually unusual in proportions or dimensions at all. Perhaps it’s his facial features that are delicate, softly sculpted; his hair is wavy and overgrown, his gaze is shyly averted and his lashes long. There’s something coltish about him, something not awkward, but not quite yet grown into his skin, a looseness of limb, maybe, and something hushed, it’s as though the unkempt fringe is there to shade or veil him from the world, or it from the intensity of him.

He’s eloquent when he plays, he’s at his best then; when his eyes are fixed on his own fingers and his face is relaxed and peaceful. The sitar is a remarkable object, the body, he tells us, fashioned from half a pumpkin or gourd and the neck incredibly, disproportionately long and covered in little tuning knobs all the way up; it looks as though there are more strings, many many of them, at the bottom and then some of them are shorter and the ends wind round these little turnable keys halfway up and further, by the time you get to the actual head of the thing there are only four or six left.

We go outside where it’s quiet to listen to him play. He sits down on the corner, on the little bit of wall at the bottom of the railings and he touches, tickles the sitar and these amazing sounds come out and ripple around us, caressing us, and spill raucous into the broad New Town street and the deepening blue air. It’s so beautiful that I want to laugh. The music strokes everything, touches everything like light does and stains it with beauty; there’s a full moon and the sky’s getting inky now and the clouds are scudding by fast and it makes me feel small to look up at them; the world is spinning around and untiringly around and the big bright moon is spinning around it and the whole thing is spinning around the hidden vital sun and here we all are, on the street corner, listening to this boy and his sitar. He’ll do requests. Someone says ‘paint it black’ and he can’t remember how it goes, so someone, the girl I think, sings ‘do do do do-do do do do-do do-do doo’ and he does it, plays the intro and then some improvised little curls and some of the middle in a way we’ve never heard and this time I think we do laugh a little, not an amused laugh but a delighted one, as though we’re surprised, like when you see a magic trick. Music is like magic, sometimes, for me; I don’t know how it’s done and I don’t really want to, I like the way it’s beyond my experience and perhaps I just want to think it comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside the quotidian and what humans do, that it’s… real.

This boy had been a bit down on himself, before, inside; not in a dramatic or attention-seeking way, not in a compliment-fishing way but genuinely, slightly embarrassed because he’d finished (or left?) sixth-form and hadn’t got a job yet and had been looking for a month. He’d talked about coming to work at V&C and I tried to warn him, and of course he knew all that from Francis, but said to e-mail me if he really wanted to, but we might not get it because of the spam filter being broken so he should come in, I guess. He was casual about it and he didn’t get upset, but I knew how he felt, I remembered it; he laughingly said something about just being a bum, and sleeping too much, and having to busk for his supper before too long.

Then when we were outside, in the fresh air, a cold little wind blew and I wrapped my dark red coat around myself and stuck my hands in my pockets, but I wanted to hug him, I wanted to say ‘don’t be mad, a month is just a month, you’re so young and you’ve got forever to work for other people and feel compressed, opressed and tired of taking their shit; a day is just a day but for you it’s a chance, a chance to do this and make this music and make people happy, make them peaceful, make every bad thing melt away, even just for a few minutes while they listen to you. You’ve got something so awesome here, so special, and you make everyone richer, and you just do it and look so natural and perfect and you’re just a child; you’ve practically seduced a woman five years your senior here, if you wanted to, do you realise?, and fuck, if I could have done that when I was eighteen – well, let’s just say I’d be proud. And you’re not proud, I can tell, not cocky at all and I guess that’s one of the things that’s great about you, and I’m just so happy to be here now tonight with the sky so blue and the air so crisp and the music so perfect I want to stop time for this moment, not with my camera like I always do, but just want to catch it with my hands and scrunch it and roll it, fold it up into a little mass that feels like clouds and smells like springtime, and I’d lock it up to keep it clean and fresh in a tiny blue box with a silver key with a heart for a handle, and I’d take it out again and stretch it over my hands and my face, soft like silk and light like feathers, when I felt cynical and tired, and I’d look at it sometimes before I went to sleep so that I’d dream good dreams, and maybe I’d look at it again before I die.’

But I didn’t, I said ‘Nice to meet you, good luck, maybe see you again some time’ and then we were off.

On the way up the street we saw Monika but I didn’t recognise her at first, I was glad that someone else was going to see them, for every reason.

Easter Sunday.

A small, spread out ‘congregation’ hardly congregates, more politely distributing itself evenly among the sparse, simple wooden chairs in Old Saint Paul’s tonight, high-ceilinged, candlelit and draughty. More people are there alone, and there’s perhaps a slightly younger average age than I’d expected – it’s not just little old ladies, in other words, though there are also no children and I may in fact be the youngest person outside of the choir. The choir in their white robes with red bits at the collars: what are they thinking, I idly wonder during the quiet bits. They are equal-opportunitiesishly pick-and-mixed in terms of height, age, gender and skin tone, complete with the requisite big girl who sings like a little girl (she does some bits solo, and she’s got an amazingly high, delicate soprano voice, floaty like dandelion clocks and dragonfly wings), several earnest-looking prettyboys who remind me of a question that occurred to me once, way back in the mists of time, while watching the boy I liked in my primary school choir: does raising your eyebrows make your singing sound better? (well, does it? I’ve never been able to check because I’ve never been able to sing either way). My other favourite is the small, bald, slightly spooky one who looks a bit like Pierluigi Collina.
There’re some ritualistic goings-on, lots of gilded ornaments and the covering and revealing and re-covering of something called ‘the Sacrament’ – it’s something small that I can’t really see. Hand gestures, mumbled responses that I’m not familiar enough to get to in time, and what the order of service calls ‘censing’, which seems to be the act of spreading sweet smoke everywhere by swinging a gold cage that hangs from a chain like a holy nunchaku. A man without any special dress steps up and reads a couple of passages from the Bible, elongating word-final consonants and pausing emphatically just like the priest in The Simpsons. In John 20:19, he seems to especially enunciate the bit where the doors were locked “for fear of the JEWS” and I look at the floor, then feel silly and paranoid for thinking so.
The choir dwells incessantly on the line “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently”, repeating it ever-changingly over and over. In the emotionally weakened, open, unstable state I’ve got myself into it brings tears to my eyes and I let them flow and fall, wondering, if anybody notices, what they’ll think my story is. A pure, devout and blameless soul who’s undergone some undeserved and traumatic persecution and identifies her Semitic little self with old Joshua ben Joseph; the new Jesus in a double-D cup, Jesus in her cowboy boots and her mineral make-up? Or do I look more like a penitent sinner, a glamorous murderess perhaps, humbly kneeling on the hard wooden floor to beg of your Christian charity, to receive the forgiveness that comes clouding in the sweet smoke, ready for redemption this Eastertide, for a fresh start, a little resurrection of her own?
I’m somewhere in between, I suppose, but definitely a lot more the latter; far from glamour and Gabriel Garcia Márquez on this blustery night in Scotland in almost-spring, far from Jesus and Saint Paul and all the saints and angels, and also far from, but drifting ever-so-slowly toward, peace.

Outside, as I sit on the steps waiting for my man, a little white feather floats down out of nowhere into my field of vision and I watch it as the wind buffets it bouncingly along down the street, past the clicking stilettos and the unmistakable rivers of last night’s urine, until it blows into the gutter and there it stays. Or to be more optimistic about it, there it is hidden by the kerb from my view, and it goes ahead where I can’t follow. There’s always more than one way of looking at these things.