Tag Archives: nostalgia

OK Not OK

Ext: a hill overlooking a festival field at dusk. Glastonbury. Two friends, O and K, early 40s, are sitting and looking down towards the Pyramid Stage, at a myriad of winking lights from phones and torches and sparks from lighters and cigarettes. At an armada of tents, like inverted boats spread across the hillside. At flags and banners. At thousands and thousands of people, walking and laughing and dancing. They have not sat here for many years.

O: “What strikes me is how little has changed despite how much has changed.”

K: “I’m not sure I follow.”

O: “Do you think people really change? Their essential character, I mean. The core of them.”

K: “I don’t know. I’d like to think we don’t get set for life at a particular point. It’s not like jelly in a mould. It’s…”

O: “Wobbly ?”

K: “Maybe that wasn’t the best analogy.”

O: “Maybe it was the perfect one. We get set in the mould but then we’re still a bit wobbly even after we get turned out.”

K: “And then, of course, if someone pours boiling hot water over us then we disintegrate and dissolve.”

O: “Remind me not to let you make the tea tomorrow morning…”

K: “No danger of that, my camping skills haven’t changed since last time we were here. I’m surprised you didn’t notice when we were putting the tent up.”

O: “I did. It seemed impolite to mention it.”

K: “You have changed. See, we’re not set. You’ve acquired a bit of discretion and diplomacy in your middle age…”

O: “Whereas you haven’t acquired any useful festival skills at all in the past twenty years.”

K: “But I have grown in so many other ways.”

O: “You’re not wrong there. Now we’re back to things being wobbly again.”

K leans back and reaches inside an adjacent tent, pulls out an acoustic guitar. Strums opening bars to Radiohead’s “Karma Police”. O sings the first line tunelessly. It is hard to say whether it is intentional. They laugh. K stops playing.

K: “If they fail to show later then we can offer to step in.”

O: “How long do you think we’d last before we got bottled off?”

K: “Well they’re more experimental these days. Maybe no-one would notice.”

O: “You remember last time? When was it? ’96? ’97?”

K: “God, yeah. It was ’97. Best performance I ever saw. I know some of it was timing, don’t get me wrong. Listening to them play a bunch of songs about a sense of dislocation and anxiety and unease. It was like Thom Yorke nicked my diary and set it to music.”

O: “Presumably he left out all the bits about why women wouldn’t sleep with you?”

K: “That was The Bends, I think…”

O: “If it’s anything close to ’97 then it’ll be pretty special tonight. Maybe they’ll still do Karma Police. You can check you’re playing it right.”

K: “I think I am. For the longest time though I couldn’t play along to that song. Don’t laugh, it’ll sound stupid but there’s an e-minor in the chord sequence and in the shorthand, on the tab, it’s always written as Em.”

O: “You couldn’t play it because it had your ex-girlfriend’s name written on the music?”

K: “You said you wouldn’t laugh.”

O: “No, I didn’t. You asked me not to and then told me something so funny that it was impossible to stop myself.”

K: “Luckily there aren’t many names you can make out of chord annotations.”

O: “I knew a guy once called A Sharp.”

K: “Of course you did.”

O: “Used to call him B Flat just to annoy him.”

K: “I was expecting a better pay off in that gag.”

O: “Well, that’s half your trouble, isn’t it? You keep setting your life expectations too high and end up being disappointed.”

K: “Perhaps I did then. Not so much now. Experience takes it out of you after a while.”

O: “I guess it does. So does sitting on the ground like this to be honest. My back’s killing me.”

K: “Want to head down?”

O: “Hang out with the kids? Pretend we still got it?”

K: “Whatever we had, we still got. Don’t worry about that.”

O: “Alright then. Let’s show them how it’s done. You okay ?”

K: “Some of me’s not okay. The same stuff that wasn’t okay then, it’s not okay now. And I don’t think that’s going to change. But, yeah, I’m okay.”

O: “You haven’t really changed. And you know what? That’s more than okay.”

 

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We are home now

It resumed, as befits a great love affair, on a hot summer’s night. Not quite the Valentine’s anniversary that would have knitted together the last twenty three years perfectly but after so long what’s a few months between old lovers ? It resumed in London. Leicester was a hazy memory of long fringes, short sleeved tee-shirts over long sleeved tee-shirts, and long afternoons in bars stretching into longer nights in clubs and watching bands.

She brought her mates again. They’d not been together for a while but the easy camaraderie and friendship was still there: a little gang against the world, like all the best bands. I turned up alone. She was still cool, confident, talented and sassy. And now she was wise and warm too. I was no longer growing out a haircut turned bad. After several missteps from our first encounter I’d settled on something suitably respectable: greying, sensible, unremarkable. I probably should have had a better sense of who I was by now. Maybe I did. Some days I’m not so sure. She was from Boston, Mass. I was from Amersham, Bucks. Twenty three years ago it probably wasn’t meant to be and I guess now that will never change.

Earlier on this blog I wrote about seeing Belly in Leicester back in ’93. You can read that here: https://42at42.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/you-cant-change-the-unchangeably-untogether/. Last night they returned to the UK for a series of reunion dates and, spoiler alert, it was glorious.

As I wrote then there are some bands that you just get. They’re playing at relatively small venues – this isn’t a cash in tour by any means – but they’re all packed out with devotees who probably never thought they’d see them again. I’ve rarely seen an audience so on side with the people on stage. Everyone who was there gets them. There’s just something in those circular, dreamlike, chiming riffs and something in those vocal ticks and trills and something in those lyrics – man, those dark and twisted and beautiful lyrics – and something in those shout along melodies and choruses. They were woven into the fabric of my 20s and I can trace the stitches back across the last twenty years. There are parts of me that those songs spoke to, still speak to, and always will.

We got the singles. “Feed The Tree”, “Gepetto”, “Now They’ll Sleep”, “Super Connected” (a riotous version: they pack more of a punch than I remember). There are a few sound problems but dynamically they were always a tough band for an engineer to pin down: from the quietest whisper in the ear to a roar and back again inside of a verse and chorus. But you know what ? It didn’t matter. We got some lesser known gems, brilliant versions of “Spaceman” and “Thief” (this post’s “we are home now” borrowing its refrain). We got most of “Star” and we got most of “King”. The songs from the latter, in particular, came across really well – a wonderful “Judas My Heart”,  a delicate “The Bees”, a joyous stomp through “Red”. We got two new songs and they offered huge promise although given Tanya Donelly’s solo and recent collaborative songwriting that really wasn’t a surprise.

There were several on stage references – mainly from bassist Gail on usual hilarious form – to reliving the 90s but the thing that struck me over and above everything was just how well the songs had weathered. They don’t sound especially like a stuck-in-the-90s band; that just happened to be when these songs first surfaced. I’m hoping they decide to surface some more now that they’re back playing together again.

Finally, we got “Stay”. Writing about the performance in ’93 I described it as a soaring, spine-tingling, heart-bursting-out-of-your-chest kind of song. I wasn’t wrong then and time has not dimmed its power. Emotionally it was a curious evening in many ways – a revisitation of people we used to be, catching up with ourselves and remembering some former, formative versions of ourselves. Mostly it was a straightforward expression of joy. “Stay” stopped me in my tracks just like it did all those years ago. There’s all sorts of personal reasons why hearing T sing “it’s not time for me to go” cut me to the core and that was the moment, right there at the end, that Belly had me in tears. I’ve a long and distinguished record of crying at concerts but this was the strangest mix of happy tears for what had been and sad ones for some things to come.

Then they were gone. If falling in love, all those years ago, was about possibilities and being at peace, then rekindling that love was about all of the things that love is really about: constance and comfort and fun and feeling like you’re home. Oh, and singing fragile ballads but also rocking like bastards.

We are home now.

Gravity

I listened to the dial tone until it flat-lined into a single note. Please hang up and try again. The receiver was heavy in my hand. Please hang up and try again. I pressed the red button to reset the phone, vaguely remembering the days when hanging up was more literal. The world was more physical then. We were more physical then.

Perhaps I should have seen it at the time but I always thought I was content in the moment. Now I think I was slow. What was it you used to say ? The appearance of things depends on how quickly you’re moving: that was it. That was typical of you. Making a joke about relativity when I was telling you how much I loved you. Still love you. You were always moving faster than me. I guess love must have looked different to you.

I knew what had prompted it. The reason I was holding the phone. The urge to make contact. On the radio this morning they’d babbled excitedly about gravitational waves, about detecting the ripples from broken stars across the furthest reaches of space. We can even hear it. God’s pulse. The universe’s heartbeat. But I needed to hear you, laughing at my ignorant wonder and explaining it all; rational, precise, sure. God’s pulse ? I could almost see you shaking your head, that mocking half smile. Signals converted to sound waves and frequencies pitched for human ears. You might as well let a child press random notes on a synthesiser. People will still claim they hear God. That’s what you would say, that or something like it. You were never cold though. Just different. I knew you’d hear the beauty in the sound of dying, ancient black holes, even if it was us that had given them artificial voice. You marveled at the ineffable but saw no guiding hand, no designer. Love had been the great unknown for you once. Something you felt but could not explain. The only thing I could ever express better than you.

There was something else I’d heard listening to that gravitational surge, something magical amid the traffic news and weather and stories of strikes and crime and footballers and missiles and award shows. I also heard hope. Or more accurately I remembered hope. I remembered us. To me it was like a distress beacon from the past; my distant collapsing heart, folding in on itself all that time ago, still yearning, still beating, only for its absent twin.

I dialled the number again, each digit echoing down the line and back across the years. You pick up.

 

……
This is the twenty second story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. My fundraising page is here and all donations, however small, are appreciated: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/
Apologies to any real scientists reading. My knowledge of quantum mechanics is more akin to the narrator’s than that of his absent partner. I guess this is a companion piece to an earlier story in the 42: https://42at42.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/polaris/ 

Underneath a thousand blankets, just to find a place

18. Dream All Day – The Posies                                                                                        1996

The legendary 1996 Reading Festival… Legendary for me, that is. Not particularly for anyone else I suspect – nothing special about the line up, nothing remarkable happened (beyond, maybe, the shambolic demise of the Stone Roses)… and yet. And yet it remains frozen in my  memory as one of my favourite weekends and, in hindsight, seemed to mark an important transition in my life. I hesitate to say that it drew a direct line between adolescence and adulthood but it does feel a little that way. I was 24 at the time; something of a late developer.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not, probably, going to turn into a lachrymose lament to my lost youth – I haven’t forgotten the mud, the hassle, the people, the hangovers, the Supernaturals, the puking, the dizziness, the traffic, the piss, the toilets and all the rest of it – but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that missed it. For a variety of reasons music has progressively become a less communal experience for me as I’ve gotten older. There was always a balance between the private, listening on my own at home, and the shared, out at a club or, as in this case, a festival. The balance has steadily tipped towards the private over the years and I regret that I’ve let that happen as there’s a whole range of things music can do beyond helping you sit around feeling sorry for yourself…

Surfing various other blogs I came across a brilliant event / idea that some people run down in Devon. The blog’s called Devon Record Club and the basic premise is that they get together on a regular basis, each bringing along a record, and they listen to ’em, discuss, and share their thoughts via the blog. Not complicated, bit like a book club. Bet it’s a lot of fun. Exactly the sort of thing that I, and friends, used to do informally – it was just a natural part of our lives to sit around and talk about why “Verdi Cries” by 10,000 Maniacs should always be in any top 5 best records list… So, if you’re in the Bucks area or fancy doing something virtually – must be a way for that work – then drop me a comment below…

Back at that festival there were inauspicious beginnings in 1996. I was working in Nottingham at the time and didn’t have a car which meant a meandering train journey through the midlands in the rain. Changing trains at a rain sodden Coventry station was just the thing to evoke the festival spirit; “sent to Coventry” indeed. Connection. The train to Reading picked its way down the country, the skies opened and it poured. I was listening to a compilation of old Kandi Klub (my old club haunt in Bristol) favourites during the journey, watching the rain splatter incessantly against the window, and thinking of old flames. Or, in some cases, old flickers. In the movie-of-my-life playing in my head (more of a straight to DVD cult classic than blockbuster success) this made me feel romantically nostalgic, melancholy, deep and imbued with the soul of a poet. To the untrained eye I may have appeared as a mildly sulky young man in need of a hair cut.

On arrival the rain stopped but the break in the weather was short lived and by the time I’d reached the festival site it was pelting down again and the ground had turned to mush. At this point the local Holiday Inn probably looked strangely alluring… Avoiding its charms I met up with I. and R. and we shuffled away to our tent, joining the slow procession past purveyors of, variously, bootleg tee-shirts, posters, beer and drugs. Perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was just experience, but the sense of anticipation from previous festivals (we must have been veterans of at least 10 by this point) was conspicuously absent this time out. It all felt almost routine. Fortunately that feeling didn’t last.

Friday. In the morning we trekked into Reading to buy provisions and a water proof coat. Weather noticeably improved after I’d spent £30 on said coat; I should have stuck with the strategically torn bin liner. Managed a quick pint in a pub on the way back and I guess that started it all off as we proceeded to drink for the rest of the day which obviously meant that we got drunk. Really drunk. I should mention bands that we saw that day but none of any note spring to mind. For much of the weekend the bands played a secondary part to our drunken letting down of hair, which is perhaps how it should have always been.

It’s not possible to try and recount a daily version of events from here on in. I doubt I could have recounted it later in 1996, let alone in 2013. Things passed too hazily, too drunkenly. The only constant was booze, each day building on the last to the, frankly, ridiculous events of the Sunday when I think we may have kicked off with vodka at breakfast. I don’t really know what it was about this year that was different to previous festivals in terms of drinking. We’d always had a drink before but we’d never really gone all out and just relentlessly gotten hammered.

Through the fog of time and alcohol there are still memories that loom large. They won’t make any sense – I think the point was that they weren’t supposed to – but they loom large. From beating each other about the arse with some discarded pipe lagging, to the straw fight by the main stage whilst The Posies were playing, to waiting for Billy Bragg in a torrential downpour… just small details that will mean very little if you weren’t there but never fail to raise a wry smile if you were. And then, of course, there was the lemon. At some juncture – may even have been as late as the Sunday (when the wheels really fell off) – someone found the aforementioned fruit. Nothing unusual in that. However, for reasons that even at the time made little sense, we decided to worship it for the rest of the day. Worship quite actively. Largely this involved chanting “lemon” a lot, passing it round to be fondled and kissed, and occasionally encouraging other people to temporarily join our little cult. That’s cult. Journeying round the site we proceeded in single file, usually running, with the leader holding the lemon aloft and the rest of us trailing in its wake; shouting our mantra in a bizarre call and response.

I think it was also the first time I was particular aware that I was getting older – that there was another generation coming up behind. Obviously now it happens all the time (usually in terrible circumstances – 22 year old newly qualified doctor having to check your prostate, that kind of thing). We ended up sat round our camp fire one night with a load of people from neighbouring tents who were all a good few years younger than us – I think they were 16 and 17 as I’m sure we had an astonished conversation about sitting with people born in 1980. They, in turn, were equally astonished that we’d been “lucky” enough to witness Ned’s Atomic Dustbin first hand: in their pomp no less. We were 24ish at the time and incredulous that anyone at a festival couldn’t have been born in the 70s…

Somewhere amid the drink, lemons, lagging, rain and sheer glee of it all, some bands played. Instead of appearing front and centre in my memory they seem to just provide the soundtrack – it was maybe the only festival I’ve been to where seeing the bands wasn’t the main reason for being there. I remember seeing Catatonia – I think Cerys came on stage wearing a big pair of boxing gloves – as we spent much of that day singing “You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For“, apropos of nothing. Otherwise ? The Roses headlined and were awful: lifeless, leaden and topped off by Ian Brown’s atonal apology of a voice. Experience the horror for yourself here if you’re curious. This should have been a massive disappointment as we were (are) all huge fans but, at the time, I think we just found it funny. Black Grape and The Prodigy were the other day’s headliners – the former were good fun, the latter were touting a set that was heard at pretty much every festival in Europe for three years. Beyond that, and the previously mentioned Billy Bragg and The Posies, I’m struggling. Looking at who played I could guess that we would have seen Rage Against The Machine, Drugstore, Super Furry Animals, Ash, The Wedding Present… but I have no memory of any of them. Did I get drunk because the line up was so poor or can’t I remember the line up because I got so drunk ?

Here it is, anyway, for posterity:

reading96

For me the weekend acted as some sort of pressure valve – releasing the pent up stress of a transitory period in my life. The friends that I had in Nottingham were leaving and I had long been looking for a way to move down to London – it took me another 18 months or so but I eventually made it. I’d left University a couple of years prior to this but I think this was the weekend that drew a line under that phase of my life before I moved on to the next – a last outpouring of childish glee before settling in to the serious business of careers and houses and relationships and being a grown up.

So The Posies make the list. Not particularly because I think it’s a great song – it’s a decent slab of power pop but there’s lots of stuff in that genre that I’d ordinarily pick ahead of this (for starters I’d have to dig out the short lived, under appreciated Silver Sun). It’s here simply because I can’t hear it without being back in a field, jumping around, chucking straw (only down due to the mud) at my friends having pretty much as much fun as it’s humanly possible to have.

Anyone up for a 20th anniversary reunion in 2016 ?

Like an extra arm, you are a part of us…

16. Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) – Laura Marling                                                2010/11

Since my daughter was born, just over six years ago, there’s pretty consistently been snow each winter in England. Growing up I remember snow as a rare event – I don’t know factually whether it was, it may just be the vagaries of memory – whereas now it seems to arrive every year.

It’s divisive, snow. With adult eyes I view it as a wearying inconvenience: scraping the car, clearing the drive, being cold and wet, dangerous on the roads. Through a child’s eyes, of course, it’s a massive adventure: building a snowman, throwing snowballs, slipping and sliding, and the delicious prospect of the cancellation of school.

“Goodbye England” was the lead single from Marling’s second album “I Speak Because I Can” and was the song that, to me, heralded the arrival of a very special talent. Her first record “Alas I Cannot Swim” is extremely good but what has struck me as miraculous about Marling is her progression from record to record in such scant time. There’s a discernible growth in confidence in her four albums, appearing in relative quick succession over the last five years, with each building musically on the last. It’s the closest thing I think I’ve heard in my lifetime to the sort of artistic evolution that, say, Dylan or Mitchell went through in the 60s. Ryan Adams also came pretty close for me in the run from Whiskeytown through “Heartbreaker” and up to “Love Is Hell” but there aren’t many others. I appreciate that puts her in some fairly exalted company but I think it’s a valid comparison; I genuinely think she’s that good. I guess there’s an argument that she wears her Bob and Joni influences too freely but, frankly, who doesn’t if you ply your trade as a singer songwriter with an acoustic guitar, and at 23 it’s not like she hasn’t still got time to transcend those influences.

I could have included a number of Marling’s songs in this list and, in fact, originally I’d intended to go with “Sophia” from her third album “A Creature I Don’t Know” – partly because I adore it and partly because I distinctly remember hearing it for the first time and just laughing at how absurdly good it was. So here’s a link to the video for “Sophia” as a little bonus: it is a marvelous thing.

For a while last year – if I’d been writing this last year – then I’d almost certainly have gone with “Night After Night”. Does it borrow a bit from Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” ? Yes (which she happily acknowledges). Does it matter ? Not really when it sounds as assured, as poised, as stunning as this. So there’s a link to that too: it is also a marvelous thing.

Or “Flicker & Fail” (very, very Joni Mitchell), or “I Was Just A Card”, or the brutal “Master Hunter”, or the also pretty brutal “Saved These Words”. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday (or any day but I’m posting this on a Sunday) than watching and listening to these.

“Goodbye England” though is the one that I return to with affectionate regularity and, in the spirit of the overall list, has the most personal associations. The song seems to be concerned with the breakdown of a relationship and a desire to escape but those aren’t the reasons that it really chimes for me (although the escape thing is something of a recurrent theme in stuff I like). Marling recounts a story about visiting a hilltop as a child with her father and looking at the snow covered landscape. So struck with the beauty of the scene, and no doubt contemplating the passage of time as his daughter grew up, her father asked her to one day bring him back to the same place, to remember how beautiful the world could be; just once before he died. It’s a feeling that you get a lot as a parent, those peculiar moments when you briefly see the world afresh through your child’s eyes and simultaneously understand how fleeting those moments are – in a way that your child doesn’t. It’s incredibly bittersweet, somehow wrapping up a sudden, strong sense of your own mortality and a desire to preserve the innocence of childhood. It’s not unhappy – those moments can be almost perfect – but there is an abiding melancholy to it. This song does that to me every time.

Sometimes serendipity lends a hand. The song begins with the lines:

You were so smart then

In your jacket and coat

My softest red scarf was warming your throat

A couple of winters ago I was building a snowman with my daughter and she was traipsing through the white stuff dressed in a red coat and scarf. I think in the context of the song that it’s presumably Marling remembering that her father was the “smart” one with her scarf warming his throat but it doesn’t really matter to me – it instantly triggers the memory of a little girl cheerfully conversing with the snowman rising up out of the ground.

IMG_3853

As the song develops it explores the tension between leaving and staying that Marling feels as (presumably) a relationship ends, reflecting ruefully on the nature of love:

And a friend of mine says it’s good to hear

That you believe in love, even if set in fear

Well I’ll hold you there brother and set you straight

I only believe true love is frail and willing to break

She moves from disbelieving regret (I wrote my name in your book… only god knows why) to frantically pouring out some kind of explanation in a letter (I wrote an epic letter to you… it’s 22 pages front and back) before asserting that it’s too good to be used. A moment of candid self awareness – I tried to be a girl that likes to be used – before, finally, the confident assertion that I’m too good for that: there’s a mind under this hat and the decision to go (And I called them all and told them I’ve got to move).

That middle section is brilliant; sketching out the whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty that accompanies the breakdown of something in eleven perfectly judged lines, capturing the random little asides that the mind throws in to the mix. The wry, self deprecating and I bet you that he cracked a smile following only god knows why is a great touch, as is picking up the thread of being used – from her own letter being too good to be used to recognising that she had played a part that wasn’t her, wasn’t good enough for her, and that she was also too good to be used.

The tension in staying or going then wraps us back into that moment on the hill with her father, now torn between running away (as an independent adult) or returning to her family:

Feel like running

Feel like running

Running off.

And we will keep you

We will keep you, little one

Safe from harm

Like an extra arm, you are a part of us.

“Little one” is what Marling was often called within her family and, serendipity again, is also something that I call my daughter – I doubt it’s uncommon. The “we will keep you” lines deliberately borrow from the mice’s “We Will Fix It” song from Bagpuss, a British kids show from the 70s, which perfectly distills the sense of comfort and nostalgia in returning to the safety of her parents. On another level the Bagpuss tune itself is adapted from a 13th century folk round (“Sumer Is Icumen In”), something that I imagine Marling would be well aware of and that she may well have picked up from her parents; her father was also a musician and ran a residential recording studio, her mother was a music teacher. If it is a nod back to her parents, grounding the song back in a folk tradition which they may have taught her, then it’s a lovely touch. Even if it isn’t then it’s still a delightful moment in the song, it doesn’t need the context to work.

The sense in the song is that her choice is to strike out on her own (it’s called “Goodbye England” after all) but with a promise to return:

I will come back here

Bring me back when I’m old

I want to lay here, forever in the cold.

I might be cold but I’m just skin and bones

And I never love England more than when covered in snow.

I guess as a parent that’s the best you can hope for, that your child grows up confident and assured enough to strike out on their own but always with that promise to return. Like an extra arm, they are a part of us. So next time it snows there will undoubtedly be part of me that sighs heavily and prepares to shovel lumps of it off the drive. There’ll also be part of me though that puts this record on and remembers the privileged time I spent in bringing up my daughter, the opportunities to see the world anew, and the many, many glorious, transient, bittersweet moments along the way.

It must be the time of year…

9. December – All About Eve                                                             Nottingham, December 1996.

A short story.

This feels true. It isn’t, of course. I know that. She would know that. The details are all wrong and nostalgia and memory aren’t the same thing. But you don’t know that. All you need to know is that once upon a time we tried again. Failed again.

……

I think it must be the time of year; it had started in late Autumn. Back then we were two chronically shy souls tentatively finding each other; the falling leaves marking our own inexorable falling in love. There was an awkwardness between us, somehow in us, at first which held a certain naïve charm. An innocence. I don’t know, maybe we were just foolish kids. It had ensured that those beginnings had run on from October into December, two months of careful courtship – our painfully slow reaching for each other as old fashioned as that word implies.

So this time of year always brought it back, the magical blaze of the beginning sustained over those months that ran from fireworks to fairy lights – the world alive with lights in the darkness.

It had ended a handful of years later in the same span of months; still those clear, crisp skies, and the aging sun hung low, but now with a snap and bite to the wind. Still discernibly Autumn but withering into Winter.

And now here I was, lost and lonely, reaching for her again across the years, looking for what we’d once had. Choosing to be blind to the reasons why it had failed the first time, the second time, all of the times. I reached for the phone, dialled a number. The brief silence before the dial tone sounded was enough to give me pause and I hung up, put the phone down again, picked up a bottle of cheap red wine and poured another glass.

Eventually I reached again for the phone. Dialled a number.

……

She had stayed for the weekend as usual – it had become our habit over the past six months. She’d even stayed on Sunday night which was less common as it meant an early start for her long drive back south to make it to work on Monday morning. Neither of us could have known for certain that it was our last night together, lying there squeezed together on my single bed. If we had would it have been different ? Would we have made love, reconciled to the end and spending those last moments lost in each other ? Perhaps we’d have talked, spent the time making sure we were right that this was the end, that there wasn’t some way we could make it work that we’d missed ?

I don’t think we’d have talked. We’d never spent our time together talking, never found a way to open ourselves up honestly and ask for what either of us needed. We wrote, that was what we did. Even in those beginnings we wrote to each other, exchanging letters in person, the sender waiting nervously as the recipient read. It was the only way we found to express ourselves. The next day would bring a reply – a conversation played out over days, in slow motion, that might have taken minutes if we’d been able to break the silence. Perhaps we imagined ourselves characters in one of the Austen novels we’d been studying. Maybe we were just foolish kids.

Things had briefly flared again in those last months, occasionally a spark catching flame in the dying embers, but ultimately turning to ash. Picking our way back across familiar ground felt good at first, a small reminder of the rush of being sixteen and falling headlong into first love. But we weren’t sixteen this time. Besides, even when we had been the evanescent rush hadn’t sustained us once that initial thrill had passed. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not denying the truth of what we felt that first time: it was something extraordinary. You only fall first once and we fell so hard we were left gasping for air. But this time ? Could it be taking our breath away again ? Were we just clinging on to the feeling of being in love or were we really in love ? That I even wondered seemed to suggest an answer.

She left before dawn as I slept.

……

When I got up I found that she’d left a letter. Carefully placed where it couldn’t be missed. A letter to say all of things that we couldn’t say. Just like in the beginning, just like always. It was a letter of the future, talking of all the things she would do, all the places she would go, all the dreams she still had. She wanted to move on with her life and was asking if I wanted to come along.

I knew that I didn’t.

I knew but it broke my heart all the same.