Day whatever it is in the heaven that is the South of
France (© the various travel supplements of the Sunday Times, the Observer, the
Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Spectator (‘the Speccy’ to various
right-of-centre fuckwits) and, perhaps, the News Statesmen on those days when
the revolution is on hold and they feel guilt-free enough to acknowledge their
middle-class or aspirational middle-class roots (‘I’m working class and proud
of it’, a statement which, on only the most superficial analysis, proves itself
to be complete bollocks). Day whatever it is and I am curiously out-of–sorts. I
don’t really know why. I think it is the result of a number of things which are
all conspiring to ensure I am not quite my usual jovial, devil-may-care self.
For one thing, where we are staying – it is a
renovated house in a narrow alleyway of the medieval part of Caunes-Minervois –
as, for me who is on holiday, one flaw. If it can be made sufficiently warm in
the winter, and I imagine the temperature can drop quite a lot in these parts,
it would be superbly cosy. But in the summer it is perhaps a little poky and,
crucially, there is nowhere to go and sit in comfort, no terrace or courtyard
or anything of that sort. And sometimes I should like to do just that, sit
outside, perhaps with a drink, perhaps without one, and read or even just sit
outside and do nothing. But there is nowhere, and nor is there anywhere nearby
which might do the trick.
Then there is my brother who is curiously inert and,
to my sheer surprise, tonight announced that he is ‘old’. I have two brothers
and as I have never been close to my older brother, I have always felt close to
this younger one. We both share an ironical outlook on many things, but whereas
my cynicism is to a large extent a pose and at heart I’m just another sweet little pussy cat, his seems to have taken hold rather
alarmingly over the past few years and especially this last year. He is an
interesting chap and a fount of information – I won’t say knowledge as he, too,
can be rather brimful of prejudices – but there is a lack of something there
which I have long been aware of, but this year seems to have become more
I’ve noticed that he has no small talk, no chat. He
can talk at length about many things but I’ve realised he never initiates a
conversation of any kind, never asks questions, never talks unless he can talk
Years ago, he told me that as far as he was concerned ‘life is just a question of filling in time’. A day or two ago, I reminded him of that and asked him whether he still thought so. Yes, he said, he did. He’s always been a solitary sort, and that was one reason why
I persuaded him to come on holiday with me last year and why I suggested we
should go away again together this year. Quite simply I wanted to get him out
and about a bit, out of his rut, and I thought I had succeeded last year. But
in a strange kind of way this year is different.
There was, for example, his
rather startling claim an hour or so ago that he is ‘old’.
While we are here and because of the lack of a
terrace or courtyard in which we can sit, it has become our habit to prepare
two very large gins and sit in the alleyway outside on two concrete bollards (pic to come).
This isn’t quite as public as it might sound and is well in keeping with the
Mediterranean practice of living more in the open, and as local French pass by
as well as a variety of tourists, we wish each other bon soir as is the French
habit. Each large gin will be followed by another large gin while whatever meal
I am preparing (going on holiday like this is a chance for me to cook which I
enjoy very much). Some of time he will scrutinise preloaded tweets on his iPod
Touch. Then we might talk a little about this and that. Tonight, I don’t know
how or why, he announced that he is ‘old’.
The point is that he is only 54,
whereas I am 62, and although I don’t regard myself as a spring chicken, I
honestly don’t yet regard myself as ‘old’. But he does regard himself as ‘old’.
And this, as well as his otherwise almost totally solitary life, is disconcerting.
I told him he should socialise a bit more, but in
insists he has socialised in the past and has had enough. I suppose it comes
down to how one socialises and with whom one socialises, but how, for heaven’s
sake can, one be fed up with socialising.
. . .
The other odd thing is that increasingly I just feel
like spending a bit of time on my own. I could happily sit in the sun somewhere
for hours on end doing nothing at all but day-dreaming, but I would feel a heel
informing him that I want to get away for a day to be on my own. So, of course,
I don’t. The trouble is, I still want to. Incidentally, he doesn’t read this
blog (as far as I know), and although my sister does, I don’t think there is
anything personal I have written here which would upset her.
. . .
There are two other things which have rather
unsettled me, one of which has now been resolved, but I shall come to that in a
minute. The first was the other night: I drink rather less than I once did, but
the other night, my brother Mark and I had three large gins each, then I finished off
a rest of the white wine I had used for cooking, and then – it was while
writing the blog entry before this one – I had two glasses of pastis. And while
we were drinking outside and then while I was writing, I must have smoked at
least five, if not six, cigars. It became a very long night and I didn’t get to bed until very late, much later than usual here.
I knew I was not sober when I went to bed, but
nor did I feel in any way drunk, although I was aware I had drunk to much.
Then, at about, 3am, I woke up. I found I had been waking up at that point
every night, but this night was different. I did not feel any chest pain, but I
felt a growing, and physical, feeling of unease working it’s way up towards my
neck. And my pulse was racing. This is it, I thought, the second heart attack.
Sod’s Law, well, at least the French health service is efficient and - thank the Lord - I remembered to bring my NHS health card.
I talked to myself rationally and reminded myself that I was not
feeling any chest pain and that a heart attack usually involved chest pain, but it all continued for several minutes until the
sensation encroaching my neck abated. I lay quiely in bed for a few minutes,
wondering what to do. I knew I had drunk rather too much and smoking cigars
does no one any favours (though they do taste good), and then it started all
over again. I took my pulse, and registered that it was about 120 beats per
minute. I have gone far above that in the gym, but it shouldn’t usually be that when one is lying in bed quietly and then waking up halfway through the night.
Several years ago, in the early 1990s, I suffered
rather badly from panic attacks (which can be extraordinarily unpleasant and
which, before I actually had a heart attack, always convinced me that one was
in progress or, at least, imminent). Bit by bit I persuaded myself that I was
not, as I feared, about to suffer a second heart attack, but that is was somehow
akin to those earlier panic attacks.
The trouble was that at the same time I
was quite aware that I was – and possibly am – rationalising it all. The
following evening I didn’t have a cigar and did not drink gin but just one can
of lager, and I slept better than I have slept since we arrived. I have not had
any gin or pastis since, though I have been back on the cigars. The bottom line
is that it all very disconcerted me.
. . .
The third thing which managed to get me out-of-sorts
was a text from my 16-year-old daughter asking whether she could go on a ski
trip sponsored by her sixth-form college. She said that she would contribute
from the money she is earning from her newly started waitressing job, but could
the rest be as her Christmas present? The killer was the price: £899 for, what
I later discovered, was just a one-week trip. We have funded other school trips
for her, but none was anywhere near as expensive.
I spent the night mulling it
over and decided that no, she couldn’t and that I would have to tell her.
I wrote her an email saying as much, but in the
course of it I also told her a few home truths: that she is in the habit of taking
just a little too much for granted and that, for example, she has, despite my repeated
requests, never bothered to haul herself off her sofa, where she half-watches
TV, half-texts her friends and dabbles in a little Facebooking if she has the
time, to walk the few hundred feet down the lane to drop in on my stepmother, who
is an invalid and very much cherishes little visits. I told her that it might be no skin
off her nose, but that old folk are touched by such attention, that even a
short 20-minute visit can cheer them up enormously.
I was not unpleasant but
not did I pull my punches. I then sent her the email, asking her to text me as
soon as she had read it.
The trouble was that I felt awful. When she was
born, a friend who then had two slightly older children remarked to me that ‘we
need our children just as much as they need us’, and boy don’t I know it. Life would be unbearable if I knew my children disliked me. So I feared
that my email laying it out straight would achieve something but not least that
she would hate me. And until I spoke to her this afternoon on the phone, that
has been at the back of my mind ever since. Happily, it seems she has not taken
that point of view (and happily my wife agreed with me that £899 for a one-week
trip was far too much).
. . .
In some ways the purpose of this entry, mentioning
my unexpected thoughts about my brother, my fears of suffering a second heart
attack and my fear that I might lose my daughter’s affections, is a strategy of sorts to allay those
fears a little more if possible. I’m sure most of you reading this have been
there, too. But there again, there’s nothing much wrong with that and very little to loose except readers deeply disappointed that I haven’t rattled on again for the umpteenth time about what a dog’s dinner the euro has become. And on that note . . .