Sunday, September 16, 2012

If the truth be told, I feel a little out of sorts…

Caunes-Minervois, Languedoc
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 marked. 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 about something.

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 . . .

1 comment:

  1. according to a report on the BBC, middle-age starts at 55, so your brother, at least, has another year to go :-)
    Re your daughter, it is surprising how often I felt terrible about telling the children they couldn't have something...and they were fine :-) Our older son told me once, he was going to be a strict father!