“Your past is always with you, always waiting in the future, time is like a boomerang”, these words, or words to that effect – you know what my memory is like – heard on the radio as part of a short story, listened to on an unusually quiet and solitary evening, struck me powerfully. In many ways I’ve always been keen to forget the past. To look ahead or to invoke myself in the here and now. I’ve always been drawn to excess, but never quite succeeded, a sort of part time hedonist, a half assed libertine. Others may disagree, but then they see me at my finest, when I’ve chosen to go out, to play the game, to shine brightly for one night and then take myself back into the shadows until the next time. And so they only ever see the life and soul, the up for it, animated me. The peacock me, posturing and pirouetting , pretending to be the person I’d have them believe I was. But in truth I’d say that was not really what I’m about at all.
Of course you know that, you’ve felt my coldness first hand, you’ve witnessed the downward spiral of remorse and self doubt. It’s a compliment really, in a perverse sort of way, the only other person who gets to see it is Peter and well, perhaps that says it all. It’s all part of the never ending quandary we find ourselves in, the one which , for a myriad of reasons , we are never able to reasonably solve.
Anyway, I found myself half listening to something on the radio while reading your diary. I switched the radio off pretty quickly, it was more than enough to sink into your words and imagine the places you were describing, the sand dunes and the old mill and the hidden from the real world beaches. And instantly, along with being carried into your world I felt suddenly sorry for everything I had kept away from you. That this beautiful stream of words of yours deserved a reply, deserved a similar attention to detail. That actually I was a vain and selfish egotist who merely took and soaked in your experience and offered little back in return. This is by way of an apology. It isn’t calendrical, my head for time and dates is a bit like those caged tombolas, a mix of letters and numbers, nothing will come out in chronological order, I’m no archivist like you. But something is better than nothing and here are a few of the things I have seen.
There’s a girl who works in the local coffee shop. She’s probably about seventeen, still at school, works there in the holidays and at the weekend. I’ve probably watched her for the last five years, walking past my window on her way home from school, or trailing behind her dad as he strides ahead in a camouflage jacket and a scowl. She’s dyed the ends of her hair a light febrile green and when she works at the coffee shop her hair is pulled back into a messy bun and her neck is as slender as her arms and fingers. Her nails are short, her regulatory white blouse is greyish and she has a sort of knowing, detached look about her, as if she’s seen more than her years would allow. I’ve projected a whole personality onto her when I know nothing about her other than the things I describe now. When the other girls laugh and exchange high giddy tales behind the counter she always seems to to be holding something back. I wish I knew everything about her and I always get a strange urge to take her into my arms and hug her.
Once, quite a long time ago, it was in Guatemala, at the top of a dead volcano, there was a beautiful lake. In the woods around the lake there were the sounds of wailing women. It must have been a special saints day, or a day for the spirits. I walked around the whole of the lake anti clockwise because that felt the correct way to go – towards the sound, towards those tiny Mayan women in their rainbow coloured clothes and black shining hair. At the water’s edge they had made small fires and alters of flowers and the air was thick with incense. It was a crazy mix of God and forest spirits and old customs and not so old ideas. And all the way around the lake I could hear their songs, like they were being held in a bowl at the very top of the world. It was as if we were touching the bottom of the sky and as I had almost completed my circle a man walked down to the lakes edge, he was as small as the tiny women which made me feel like some strange giant, and he was carrying two long knives which he washed and swished in the water. He sat by the side of the lake for ages and so did I, watching, listening. The singing wailing stopped and everything went eerily quiet, I felt as if even the birds had stopped singing, and over the tops of the trees a light white mist rolled. Beautifully billowed like some serene magical breath, into the lake. It lasted for maybe five minutes, the lake took the mist and then gave back the sky its reflection as if nothing had happened. It really was magical and I wished you could have seen it.
This summer, a rush of goats. I don’t know the collective noun for them but from now on to me it will always be a rush of goats. I heard them before I saw them, the familiar bright yet hollow sound of bells against coarse hair and bone. It was early evening and the sun was still hot but low in what had been a cloudless clear blue sky and I was walking up a steep track from a hidden beach and suddenly there they were, hurtling down the path, jostling and tottering on their strange spindly legs, a mass of brown and black with flashes of white and amber. I had to sink back into the tall grasses at the side of the path to let them pass and even though they obviously belonged to somebody, they were far from what could be described as wild, it felt so good to feel their raw energy, their collective lack of self consciousness, I suppose what could be described as their amorality, as they hurtled past me. It seems pompous to describe it that way, but I feel sure, had you seen it, you’d have felt the same. I think perhaps we notice the same things when it comes to observing nature, we can lose ourselves in the apparent freedom of the falcon or the butterfly or even the goat , a freedom that is somehow beautifully focused and uncomplicated. And by that I mean how easy it is to sigh and wish yourself into a swallow’s flight.