Hello dear readers,
Now, some of you may expect my account of the coach journey to involve a very public panic attack or act of indiscretion, such as immediately removing my shoes or unwrapping a Stilton and cress sandwich to enchant the nasal cavities of my fellow passengers. Well, though I may not travel much, I am no animal.
I sat quite quietly and put on the I-Pod given to me by my good friend Piotr for use over the holiday. And yes, it was a real I-Pod, not some sort of Polish knock-off, called an I-Pol, with only one earphone and the capacity for one and a half songs. He is in IT and very savvy about technology. He even loaded the contraption up with some of my favourites, which I believe he may have pirated from the internet, the first of which was 'If I Can't Have You' by the Bee Gees, which was apt given I recently spent so much time, emotional currency and physical currency on a futile pursuit of my lady friend from work. Truthfully, my heart ached.
Yet, I resolved not to cede my spirit to despondency. I also resolved to be mindful of my breathing exercises and take no notice of my fellow passengers, even those who felt compelled to speak at volumes high enough to drown out the velvety harmonising of the brothers Gibb while providing a well-detailed, blow-by-blow account of some bint's naked escapades.
The first 90 minutes was fraught with anxiety and frankly I had doubts as to my ability to stay seated and silent. Thankfully the late hour cast the coach and its human cargo into a contemplative lull by the time we were shot of the city's gravity. At this point Mrs Donaldson removed our near-odourless sharp cheddar and pickle sandwiches from their wrappings and I removed my earphones.
We chatted about our possible itinerary over the next four days, agreeing to do some of the typical tourist activities - the Roman baths, the Jane Austin Centre and the city walk. I inquired as to jaunts to Stonehenge, which thankfully she dismissed as ridiculous, and Stow on the Wold, which elicited a snort of disgust.
'The countryside is reputed to be rather stunning,' I ventured.
'I've no need for countryside. I'm not a farmer.'
Now, I have long known of Mrs Donaldson's aversion to rural life. Her evacuation from London as a child during The Blitz was a defining experience in her life, yet one she has long refused to discuss in any detail, despite my many subtle inquiries. The odd scrap of detail has emerged, of course, such as that she was told very little by her parents about what was happening and was physically labelled like a parcel before being shunted onto a train. I know she has a soft spot for orphans and the like...
'What can you learn from a bleedin' tree,' she continued.
As our relationship is largely founded on aimless debate and being contrary for the sake of conversation, I argued that the entire canon of Romantic poetry had been based on the pastoral.
'A complete waste of time. And to think they cut all those beautiful trees to print their poems.'
I replied to this by reciting the first two stanzas of Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind', which was forced into my brain in secondary school by a Literature teacher fond of heartfelt poetry and throwing chairs at his students.* Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to remove Shelley, Keats or several passages of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar from my grey matter. Mind you, my keen mind kept me from ever being struck by a chair.
'What good has a poet ever done anyone?' Mrs Donaldson asked.
'They have sustained me in many a dark hour.'
She then went on a rather long monologue about how people needed to work, not think so much. Apparently the solution to death, disease, depression, heartache and hair loss can all be found by picking up a broom or spade and rolling up one's sleeves. As I've mentioned before, despite her advanced age, Mrs Donaldson is forever doing work with the church or coercing other ancient types into inappropriate social activities (see past posts re: elderly improv).
'No starving man ever chose a book of poetry over a hot supper.'
'I would,' I replied. 'I spend my wages on books. What's left over I waste on food and drink.'**
'Turn away your food tomorrow and I'll buy you a lovely meal or any book you like in the shop the following day. I suspect you won't be dining on DH Lawrence.'
I pointed out that most book shops on the high street were dead or dying, so there were no guarantees she could fulfill her part of the wager. We lingered in silence as the darkness hung outside our window. I then inquired what the Blitz was like, in case our proximity to countryside had stirred the faintest hint of melancholic nostalgia.
'You're the flippin' writer,' she said. 'Use your imagination.'
She then closed her eyes and feigned sleep.
*I know the first five stanzas
**I believe I may have stolen this line from someone... I can't recall from whom
All conversation approximated from notes. NF