The end of a close, a cul-de-sac. A dead end in a dead end town. I wanted to be with her but I didn’t want to be there. But then neither did she.
The room in which I wrote and studied was bare-boarded and empty. Temporary. We didn’t sand it down or carpet it because we never intended to be there long. The pale green pile of the living room carpet held the smell of the previous owners’ dogs. We should have made the effort to get rid of that.
The empty room looked out over the garden, and Tricky’s beats and Chet Baker’s voice and trumpet sounded fine in it. Beyond the garden were waterlands. Fishing lakes man-made out of the marshes of the Blackwater valley. The river itself ran along the bottom of the garden. A weeping willow wept into it, especially lachrymose since diggers and all manner of other heavy vehicles had moved in to build a ‘relief’ road through all that watery quiet and beauty. But by the time I got there it was long past the moment to throw myself in front of the diggers. The battle had been lost years before.
Though she had been there longer, it was my home only for a year. Our first together, so that it didn’t matter so much that we weren’t in the perfect place. Neither were the neighbours perfect. On one side, a couple with a young family, the intemperateness of the father audibly being reproduced in the son. By which I mean shouting. Lots of it, through the walls. Constant running battles between all members of a nuclear family; a war of attrition. Sometimes, scarily thuggish-sounding behaviour, the kind where you wonder whether you should be calling in help. On the other side, the relatively comic character of Rod, constantly tinkering under a bonnet and giving the distinct impression that the garage out of which he worked was a lock-up for goods not of entirely legitimate sourcing.
On cold and dark winter mornings I would cycle the fifteen minutes to the railway station, up the hill through the cemetery and then down past the football ground. And so began my first suburban commute among pinstripes and pencil skirts. But in taking that regular train I restored my connection with London. I could feel the Smoke calling me back; I’d been away long enough. I still wanted, I think, its ache of possibility. The good in that, and the not so good. The magic, when you were out, of seeming to be at the centre of the world; and the other edge of that feeling, that if you stayed home, life was passing you by.
And yet, even there in a place that was far from being London or France or Bristol, there was magic if and when you looked for it. At the weekend the diggers were silent and but for odd pyramids of gravel and sand you could imagine nothing had changed. Skeins of geese flew in and out of the watery landing strip; in her company or alone I walked the banked-up towpath in one direction or another, accessing the canal where now it bridges the relief road as an aqueduct. I watched narrowboats pass, and wondered what it would be like to live life at that pace, not needing to be anywhere special at any time; idly making for the Wey navigation, and then on to explore the upper course of the Thames, with all the time in the world at your disposal.
In the garden, from a deck chair, you could lose yourself in watching the little river slowly flow; and, reflected in its glassy water, the weeping trails of the willow’s golden shoots.
Photo by agaetys via deviantART.