A little way away from here there is a sign by an old church, which stands perilously close to a sheer cliff, and it says, this church once stood four miles inland.
I find myself having chosen the wrong plot too – by chance, I have lived the wrong life, and I have begun to grieve for what has been lost. I know that lockdown is said to diminish mental health but that is not what afflicts me here. I’ve never really gone along with that line; isolation has been good for people like me, and not, as the misguidedly employed opinion formers would have it, been the cause of increased rumination. There has a been a little more time to reflect, I’ll concede that, but as anyone who constantly re-runs the video of an error strewn past will tell you, the space in which to do it properly without being harangued by unsolicited interruptions rather gives you a chance to manage it better by finding constructive distractions to displace it, than does being surrounded by the uninformed scrutiny of unwanted colleagues.
Increasingly I am drawn to the repeating thought pattern that I now know for sure that I will never re-enter society, especially not through the medium of a job or career – a step change to my previous state of complacent assumption; and it came with an unwelcome jolt of recognition. Whereas once, recently, I believed that I possessed the personal facets and skills which could, in the right atmosphere of training, mentoring and application, be developed into fully fledged capabilities with which to progress through the rest of life; now I see them as they really are: isolated silos of unjustified ego which will eventually melt away too to leave a personal landscape without features, forcing me to recognise that I must withdraw further from everyone else to reflect the new truth about my life – that I lack the essential skills to maintain peer to peer relationships.
I took mother’s dog with me in the general direction of that church yesterday, which requires crossing the Downs at a point which is given over to training horses. I arrived at that place when others often do, though they were sadly absent that morning. The gallops are officially closed to the public until 1.00 p.m. every day but on weekends a horse is never seen after 11.30 a.m., with stables anxious to get finished and have everyone on the way home by midday. Usage and custom give it over to doggers by late morning. A lady trainer, previously unknown, was stood talking to some owners as her horses, which I had mistaken for her daughters’ hacks, made their way home and I crossed her path on the way to the ancient meandering dog walker’s route to the encroaching cliffs and oblivion; not a soul in sight between me and the great grey vastness of the sea. She called out to me, and I made the mistake of waiting for her as she left her companions to walk the hundred yards or so to catch me up.
I took out one earbud as she approached – Ulysses – the bit where Bloom does the stiff-legged walk to the plasterer’s bucket. Love or burgundy. Yes, some spinach. Crucial moment. Rather a mess. Not completely. A Titbits back number. Did I know, she wants to know, that the gallops are closed to the public with their dogs until one o’clock? I did, and should have said so, but no smart rejoinder came with it, so I didn’t; only, ‘why, what time is it?’ Quarter-to, she says. Still no response other than a disdaining snarl, which I hope looks as ugly as it felt. Earbud back in, no further questions your honour, but she tries to come upsides, making a run up the rails. I pull my whip through to my left hand, and lean in on her with the dog, uttering, sotto voce I believe, pathetic cove. She pulls up, and trots back to the start.
Almost everything that everyone else says is not worth the air with which it is spoken, obviously. Earlier that morning, I’d completed a fire risk assessment for Norman Thrush and one of the questions had been, where is the source of oxygen? I didn’t mean to be facetious when I put, ‘the atmosphere,’ but he seemed to think that I had been wilful.
What happens when you inhale ozone? Is it nourishing, or does it send you to the covey-side? It’s a fascinating the subject, the diet. There must be a par value for exercise and consumption, at which we neither lose nor gain weight, and if so, surely, to go above or below it on any particular day must see us lose or gain weight for that day? Even if we’re only measuring in micros, it has to be true hasn’t it? Every day, a little added, or a little subtracted. Erosions versus accretions. The dog has been placed on a pancreatitis diet – no fat, and I can see the change it has wreaked in her – she looks too thin now. On the way home, we stop for her gruel in the only supermarket that stocks it and in there, I find myself stuck in what has become a one-way aisle; two lady-shoppers with their trolleys already waiting, me with my slightly nimbler basket, they are at either end of one of those large cages with which the staff re-stock the shelves, or pick up orders for delivery. As we politely attend each other, a middle-aged male boor, aggressively drives through from out of nowhere with his large trolley. As he passes me, I remind him that he is an ignorant cove, to which he takes exception. Not to worry, I am away in the opposite direction with my earbuds in, and his words fall on stony ground. Later, at the queue for the till, he finds me and has another go. I don’t give him the courtesy of removing the earbuds this time either – besides we’re on a good bit, but I get the idea that he says that it’s unacceptable to refer to him as a C-O-V-E, which he seems to spell out for good taste. I tell him that if he objects to such descriptions, he should learn some bucky manners, and that’s when I realised that I had been audible earlier on with the lady trainer who had tried to put me in my place. Soon the supermarket staff are doing the same thing, and I leave the store with nothing for the starving dog.
They come at you in waves, these notions, and when they pass, we revert to a new normal. Though it is only now that I have begun to understand that with each passing, something new is taken away.