(Charles Sims, The Shower: Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums)
April comes in like a drowned rat. The wettest English March for more than forty years – but today? It’s raining. Though traditionally placed at 15 July, St Swithin’s day has gone rogue, completely unmoored from the calendar. Forty days and nights of rain appears a conservative estimate of the drenching we’re ensnared in.
‘More social interaction than I’ve had for a while’, I said to the Librarian some while back. This comprised, firstly, a dialogue with the driver of the recycling truck that had failed to remove a broken box even though we’d received the replacement.
‘Can’t you take this one?’
‘Not us. That’s Avonmouth.’
‘I thought the old one was meant to be collected.’
‘Can’t take it. It’s hard plastic. They’ll tell you to break it up and put it in your black bin anyway.’
Next was a knock on the door: the driver of the resurfacing lorry.
‘Is that your van?’
‘No. There are men working next door. Maybe theirs.’
‘Can’t make anyone hear.’
In the back garden, I call over the fence.
‘You might have to move your van.’
‘Not our van. We saw the signs yesterday.’
(Being-in-the-world. Not quite Heidegger bur definitely being in the world.)
At least there was the excitement of seeing the offending van winched on to the back of a lorry and trundled away; the downside being that its alarm went off at regular intervals while the operation was in progress.
I left the broken recycling box outside to dry off before taking it through the house to break it up in the garden. It’s still there. Nothing has dried off. Conjugate that: nothing has dried off, is drying off, will dry off. The inspiration for that exercise comes from hearing the Librarian in the front room, intoning questions in French about trying the roasted mangoes with honey or invitations to dance at the castle, everyday stuff that gets those verbs meshing.
I resume readerly interaction with Hannah Rose Woods and Eleanor Catton, pausing to wonder exactly when it was that we went to a reading at Topping’s Bookshop in Bath and came away with a signed copy of The Luminaries. It was September 2013, I find. She mentioned James Salter as one of the writers she valued to the person ahead of me in the queue, so I told her, while she was signing my copy of her book, that we’d seen Salter interviewed and heard him read at the Watershed in Bristol in May, in the Festival of Ideas programme. He was almost eighty-eight then, in good form and good voice. He died in 2015, just past his ninetieth birthday. Eleanor Catton was already on the shortlist for the Man Booker prize. I wished her luck — but she didn’t need it.
Five years since I read any Salter. What would I revisit now? A Sport and a Pastime and All That Is, yes. Probably Light Years, maybe Burning the Days. Some of the stories and, always, the marvellous correspondence with Robert Phelps.
‘I also had a lovely letter from John Collier, who was seventy this month. His letter bears no reference to time, does not acknowledge it. He writes as if he had always been part of the world and always would be.’
‘I have 65 pages of outline, not to mention 150, at least, of notes. All this to be entitled to write a single paragraph, the last paragraph of the book.’
‘Why am I writing about myself all the time? Then again, who else do I know?’
‘Imagine finding a friend late in life when one’s heart has begun to close.’
‘I’ve felt, for a month, like those English of the Great War years, 1914-, who saw everyone they knew simply vanish and vanish forever.’
Change that ‘everyone’ to ‘everything’ and look around the world and things get a little chilly. On the other hand – good grief, I think the rain has stopped. To the park! Yes, the paths will be flooded and the grass beside them waterlogged and the road below the park running with water since the drains gave up the ghost – but the rain has stopped!