Sunday, May 29, 2011

Southeast 4 or 5, veering northwest 7 to severe gale 9, decreasing 5 or 6 later

big skyI've been in a right two-and-eight for the last month or so. When you examine the situation, maybe it's not that surprising. Our house is up for sale in the most fragile housing market in decades, we don't know how long it will take to sell, how much we will get for it or where we will end up living once it's sold. We're trying to keep it 'half an hour from viewable', which doesn't come naturally. I love this house, but now that I know we're leaving it, I want it to happen soon.

Our new house, when it's ready, will be much smaller, so we're also rationalising our possessions room by room, which we never did when we moved in together. This is sensible, but brings its own pain. M hordes books, records, clothes and CDs, I horde random items - socks, seashells, mugs - which, when I start clearing them out, disturb long, deep seams of memory and bring stories to the surface that I didn't even know I remembered. It's generally kind of a blur, the past, but I can replay certain scenes in my head as if they were a film being projected onto a wall.

Mostly, these scenes are entirely benign, just random things from the last four decades... an evening in a pub here, a walk on a beach there, a long journey, a party, a significant conversation. I'd see it as a bit of healthy mental stocktaking before a big change, but a) I don't seem to have much control over it, and b) it's surprisingly unsettling. M has a memory like a sieve, so this isn't happening to him in the same way, but he's been a bit out of sorts too. Something's going on in there somewhere.

So we decided that we needed to take a little time out. We thought about revisiting Robin Hood's Bay, where we spent a glorious week last May - which, with hindsight, was one of the things that brought the north into focus. But then we thought, well, the north is about to get closer (and we have to haul up there once a month as it is) so we should go south, which is about to get further away.

We settled on Sussex, which is where M spent his childhood, but we ended up in Kent, because that is where we found a cottage by the sea near a pub and a train station at a fortnight's notice.

So we went to Deal, and spent a week beach- and cliff-walking, going north to Sandwich and south to St Margaret's Bay, and hovering around the town iself with its narrow old streets, excellent fish and chips, and splendid concrete pier.

It was unknown, in that I'd never been there before, but the memories still kept appearing. Bleakish seaside - done plenty of that. Long quiet trains that divide in the middle - my approach to travelling changed forever on one of those some time in the mid-90s, when a man started masturbating at me in an otherwise empty carriage. That was in Kent, I remembered, as we progressed slowly south-eastwards.

I spent a lot of time in the bath, re-reading The Crimson Petal and the White, while the world around me discussed the difference between 'rape' and 'proper rape', one of the most powerful men in the world was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper, a Canadian policeman told high school students that they should avoid dressing like sluts if they didn't want bad things to happen to them, and a female MP argued that girls (just girls) should be taught the benefits of abstinence. I was furious. I've been furious for ever, but my fury seemed to be swirling around closer to the surface than usual, like stirring the bottom of a pond.

It was mitigated though by some interesting fractal beach plants, and some properly good food and drink - they like their local produce, do the Kentish, and so did I. And then there was Margate - vast sandy beach, decrepit amusement arcades, a sense of edge-of-the-world end of days about it. We went there to visit the Turner Contemporary -- which I highly recommend -- on a perfect late spring day. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling, M even went in for a swim... it all felt slightly unreal. I think maybe that was the northern light that Turner was so fond of, possibly exacerbated (though not in a bad way) by meeting up with E, who I last saw in Blackpool in the summer of 1986.

Seeing him again in Margate in 2011 had a pleasing symmetry, but it was weird. Not as weird as I thought it might be -- in many ways it was entirely not weird, some people drinking some beer and talking about some interesting things* -- but it was like a little trip to a long ago place that, of course, isn't the same anymore.

Everything feels a bit like that at the moment. Not that I want to go backwards - the future is full of good things, so far as I can tell, and the present isn't (and, brief interludes aside, has never been) so bad. Has got steadily better and better, I'd argue. So why do I feel so... peculiar?

Onwards. Upwards. It will all be ok.


* including beer, which he makes. If you find yourself in East Kent, look out for it. I drank a lot of it, and can confirm it is good.

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