Low life

A journey backwards through my journals

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

I’m looking backwards: old journals, old photographs, old notebooks. What strikes me above all is the vigour and energy I once took for granted. The following little descriptions I found in the same pocketbook. The first is an oddity because I have absolutely no recollection of the action being reported. It can’t be fiction or an idea for a piece of fiction because I relinquished that fantasy a very long time ago. It’s scribbled down in black ballpoint.

‘There’s Sophie and there’s Maddie at the moment. Sophie I met at a poetry reading. “Why are you wearing that tie?” she said. “Are you a bourgeois?”

“Why are you wearing that scarf?” I said. “Are you a Palestinian?”

“The Palestinians are the most oppressed people on earth,” she said. “Tell me about the tie.”

“Tie Rack,” I said. “Liverpool Street station. I like the colour purple.”

“Are you a reactionary?” she said.

“I am,” I said. “Philosophically, I am Eeyore the donkey.”

“Who is your favourite poet, Eeyore?”

“Hardy,” I said.

“I thought so as soon as I saw the tie,” she said.

‘When we were in bed she said, “How old are you?”


“Fifty-five,” I said.

She said: “How long have you been having carnal knowledge of the opposite sex? Am I the first? You seem to know absolutely nothing about the female anatomy. I’m going to draw you a diagram. See this thing here? Now you see it, now you don’t? That’s key. All you have to do is touch it.”

‘I resumed operations, taking care like an earnest student not to neglect point A of her diagram. I think I did OK second time.

“How did I do?” I said.

“You’re rubbish,” she said, coming back from wherever she’d gone. “I must be mad.”

“Sorry,” I said, with genuine humility. She was 25 and slender. Her poetry was rubbish.’

No recollection. None.

After a few pages of quotations and bus times, there’s this:

‘Dream. Those beautiful lions again. I was walking through the green countryside, with whom I forget. I walked on ahead. A narrow path through undergrowth, then a sunny glade and lying down at peace was a pride of lions. I ran back to warn whoever it was, then went back. The lions were now running down an adjacent green hill. I can’t remember what happened next. But always those sleek lionesses resting or running in sunny English countryside. What can they mean?’

Further on I report a conversation between me and my grandson, who must then have been four.

‘We were walking along the promenade at Dartmouth and passed a WW2 mine set up as a memorial.

“What’s that?” Oscar said.

“Well,” I said, “about 70 years ago we in England tried to kill as many Germans as we could and the Germans tried to kill as many of us as they could. One way they tried was to float that thing in the sea and when one of our ships knocked into it, it would explode, sink the ship and kill lots of our sailors. It’s called ‘war’.”

He walked on in silence for several yards, pondering. Then he said, “That’s not very good, is it?”’

Then more train and bus times and shopping lists, then this:

‘Picked up Oscar from his pre-school class at midday. He was speechless with solemnity to be met by his grandad. I brought him back to the house for lunch – yoghurt, fried egg and spaghetti on toast, peaches and ice cream.

‘I gave him all my money and an ink pad and a stamp of snow-clad mountains. My mother was in the sitting room. She kept pleading with him for a kiss and a cuddle. She kissed him and she cuddled him and she lifted him up and looked him in the eye and said, “God bless you!”

‘Dear chap he is. He must think we’re all mad. Then we went down to Blackpool Sands and bought ice creams and a bright pink bucket and spade and built a wall of stones and sand against the incoming tide and skimmed stones and built a little house of pebbles with pebble furniture and we invited pebble guests in for a cup of tea. The profoundness of his conviction in our little fantasy was delightful yet slightly disturbing.’

Then I say: ‘Writing this in the waiting room at Dartmouth surgery. I’m waiting to see a doctor for blood test results – possible prostate cancer. Difficulty peeing a while back. Fine now.’

The way these random jottings marked the end of one kind of life and the start of another – the exact tipping point between enlargement and diminishment – I found startling. In many ways, the latter stage has been richer. Certainly more grown-up. But then a few pages on, I found this little nugget of wisdom: ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that works only backwards!’ – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

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