I took this afternoon off to have a walk with Badger at Tyninghame beach. East Lothian has some beautiful coastline. It was a cold, clear, winter day. Badger was run off his legs – he loved it.
The lady on the bus was older than I am. Possibly her grey hair aged her prematurely. She may have been about my age.
She was studying an English book – ‘negative contradictions’ was all that I could make out. It was aimed at people learning English but was also written in English. Clearly, she was set on improving. Learning and improving are the same thing.
I believe she looked Mediterranean. And tired. For a second I glimpsed her face and she had a round face, a “moon face”. She was dark around her eyes and her tanned skin looked as though it would be more comfortable in the sun than here in the misty, wet Scottish morning.
It occurred to me she might need to apply for a residency since we were getting so close to Brexit.
A pang of disappointment and anger passed through me. Anything to do with Brexit now had that impact on me. Most of my life I had hoped to work part time and move to Spain. Now that was a whole lot more difficult. Recently the economic situation had made it feel wrong to settle there. Spaniards need work and housing. When I could contribute I would go there. To a small town or village and in one of the less visited regions.
Did I have the desire this woman had? Would I sit in queues at the Ayuntamiento (Council) to get a visa to work? Would I visit the big cities and stand in long queues to be questioned. Would they want me – us? People argue their reasons for leaving a Union like the European project but, really, it is a display of disregard and lack of will on our part. We chose to feel that Europe hindered us and have clung to some idea we are a “better” nation. Not different – better. It is our way. At least enough of us to vote for Brexit. We never participated, not really. We paid lip service and paid our way. We were like the idle members of a good gym. We paid the direct debit each month but never worked out. Every few months we went along, had a coffee and people were polite to us. They knew each other and played squash on a Thursday. The Germans would swim there most mornings, early. We never did. We blamed them for our insecurity. It is the British way.
I asked myself again – would I sit on a bus on a bad day reading Spanish texts. Learning and improving. Would I study the grammar and the history to be tested on it? It would probably come to that. More importantly – would my wife? Is it fair to expect that of others simply to allow me the indulgence of a new life? A life, moreover, I am not sure is a whim or a destiny. I don’t know.
Then I began to realise that I would. I may do. Middle age has made me more determined to take a more direct approach to life. We do not have forever days. Lost friends and family teach you that. We only have so many days and there are only so many which go to plan. Yet the attainment of those good days is worth the gloomy mornings on a bus going to an inconsequential meeting.
Fingers crossed for that woman and the story I have written based on a glimpse of her complexion and her reading material. I wish her well. I wish myself well and I regret the perception of a smaller world which Brexit has left within me.
I remain stuck here on an island of grey people, lazy dreams and saggy ideals. All the weight of that wealth on our southern end is dragging us down to the depths. To remain afloat we have decided to use “immigrants” as ballast tossed overboard so we can keep our heads above water. Or so it seems. We could simply have distributed the weight more evenly. We were not sinking – just listing.
Image: View toward Zahara from a hilltop in the Sierra de Grazalema, 2018
I made this sad discovery. The bird who featured in the opening sequence for “The Good Life” – featuring Tom and Barbara – has been cruelly run over and flattened on a cobble street in Edinburgh.
And how we prefer to remember her:
What are the motivations for writing?
Anger? Love? Necessity?
To experience events buried deep in your own subconscious?
Christ, dear Christ. I feel sure boredom must be one of the motivations. Dull, grey Scottish days. Granite walls and granite seas. Anaemic complexions. Football spoken on the bus, football in the pub, in the news. Drunks kicking bus shelters on their way home after a football game. Fans singing sectarian songs, looking for a take-away and thinking, like some spineless, dribbling disciple that they are expressing their opinion.
Cold, dull Scottish days. Literature must thrive in such dark, wet, uninspiring environments. Lift a discarded concrete slab, prise it up from the damp, musty soil. Rip it apart from the sprouting weeds and find a dense, teeming evolution of life underneath. Wood lice, centipedes, worms, slugs, cotton-bud balls of eggs or larvae. A feast of decay and rebirth.
Frothing, fermenting stories.
Let the slab fall back in place. With any luck it might crush a few of the critters.
Her father always called her Georgia. Even her mother called her George or occasionally Georgie.
In private her Scottish boyfriend called her Dode. In spite of her objections he had persisted. As she had grown to trust him and rely upon him, she began to like it. Oddly, when he flirted or turned to her and said it, she felt feminine. Yet it was so absurdly masculine that she would giggle and question his motives when they fooled around.
Always Georgia, however, to her father.
When he had spoken her name she felt secure. She was still just a little girl needing to take her fathers hand in order to face the world. The loss of him was breaking her apart. She had not been prepared for the intensity of the grief.
When asked if she was religious she had previously taken pride in proclaiming her atheism. Now she was less certain of anything. Certainty now appeared arrogant. Nothing was permanent. Why had it taken her so long to realise such a fundamental aspect of life.
Since she was taking a role in organising the funeral people had been asking her about religion. Was her father religious? Had he a favourite hymn? Any biblical passages?
Her mother had discussed the possibility of a Humanist service. Some of the “nicest” funerals she had attended had been humanist. Yet, after some discussion, they both wanted a local minister to lead them through the day.
Today provided closure. She was told by so many people that the funeral would allow her to grieve and to begin the process of “moving on”. Such a thoughtless way to speak to a person desperate to hold onto a father. The last ten days had felt false. So many sentimental messages. So many embarrassed hugs. A wave of artifice. The only voice she could hear was her fathers.
This afternoon. Would his voice suddenly stop? If she visited him here, at his grave, would she feel close? It was the biggest step of her life. Far more important than leaving school. He had been so proud at her graduation. It now seemed so unimportant. At this moment she found there was no heart left for anyone else in the world and she needed the only man who had made her feel safe. She could ask no more of him. Had he realised how deeply she loved him? It was that thought. That thought was what started her cry. A loud, total breakdown of pain and loss and anguish. She realised nothing would stop her collapsing and she no longer wanted to try. She would never stop crying, ever.
Stephen’s arm wrapped around her and held her upright. She had forgotten he was there. He bent forward and looked into her eyes and she realised he was close to tears. They were for her and not for her father.
She felt his arm move and he took her hand. He held it tight and she squeezed. As hard as she could.
“Georgia” he said.