Monday, 26 April 2010

Brief from Oxford

First Peter, now Alan Sillitoe. Daughter H being about to give birth any day now, I am longing to say the Shepherd's lines from The Winter's Tale:

Heavy matters! heavy matters! but look thee here,
boy. Now bless thyself: thou mettest with things
dying, I with things newborn. Here's a sight for
thee; look thee, a bearing-cloth for a squire's
child! look thee here; take up, take up, boy;
open't. So, let's see: it was told me I should be
rich by the fairies. This is some changeling:
open't. What's within, boy?

I am not equipped to speak of Alan as a novelist and only a little of him as a man: a calm phlegmatice presence, a radio ham, a man with a fascination for maps, a man without the least pretension, without the least air of 'literary man', still less of 'classic'.

When I was young the thought of death had a certain romance. Was it Martin Tupper who wrote the book of poems called Death's Doings? No, not Tupper. A man called Richard Dagley, 1827. I have a copy at home that I haven't looked at in some twenty years. One would, of course, die in a fitting way, in an appropriate romantic finis, possibly suddenly, possibly ceasing upon the midnight with no pain while listening to a nightingale, possibly spitting blood, possibly by plague or execution.

Or perhaps it wasn't quite so romantic even then, simply distant, and distance, as they say, lends enchantment. One knows life is finite, to be rounded off. So get with the rounding.

In his last ten years my father was walking through an ever less populated personal landscape. Having over thirty people attend his funeral was surprising. I wondered if there woould be even ten?

The erosion of contact is part of the process. And it is not enchanting. I don't mind dying, said Woody Allen. I just don't want to be there at the time. Maybe one isn't entirely. Maybe whatever is 'there' isn't any place we would know. Maybe it is always a 'here', that we mean.

Then, for a while, the 'here' washes off us and seems 'there' again.

It is sunny is Oxford. Tonight I read again after the workshop of this morning. This is the 'here' I recognise and know. And now to plan the reading...What's within, boy?

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