Archive for the ‘Things seen’ Category

Pink / poems / patterns / pregnancy

August 8, 2018

12 January
To read Proust is to make an excursion into one’s own memory. This lunchtime Marcel first glimpsed Gilberte Swann among the pink hawthorns that had bewitched him, and I thought how unlike me he was in his boyhood interestedness in flowers and in his love of pink. My memory is that pink was anathema to me, but I now doubt that was the case. Certainly I’d not have wanted to wear or own anything pink, but I’m sure I must have slept in pink sheets sometimes, and the colour didn’t deter me from The Pink Panther, a cartoon I loved to the point of catalogue-type obsession, certainly more than any other cartoon until The Simpsons came along. And I suppose I liked flowers too, some of them. Peonies in the front garden, fuchsia and snapdragons in the back yard, dandelion clocks. Anything you could put in a vase with food colouring in and transform the blossom from white to blue. Or indeed pink.


13 February
Something nice: found J’s ex (the previous one) on Twitter; followed links to various blogs; found poem he’d written for her; thought, that’s impressive; started to read it; utterly awful.


27 February
During the first interval K and I were chatting about E, and something he said prompted me to say ‘When he gets an erection it looks like a rocket taking off’ and he nearly spat water all over the man in front. It’s a lovely line that I must use more often.


14 April
Email from someone claiming to be an ‘antique and collectable hobbyist’. He certainly has a high opinion of himself.


31 May
How obsessive behaviour starts: I noticed earlier in the year that by chance several of the books I had on my library account had been borrowed at fifteen minutes past the hour or on the hour, which was neat. I engineered, partly consciously, to read and return those books that didn’t fit the pattern. (I’d probably have read and returned them sooner or later anyway, but still.) Now I have reached a point at which all six books on my account were borrowed at neat times: 10:20, 17:15, 12:00, 12:00, 12:20, 17:30. Here’s the kicker: I can’t now borrow any book at any time that isn’t a multiple of either ten or fifteen. (12:35 or 12:55 would be right out.)


17 July
‘Shit off’ is quite good, isn’t it. Could start using it.


15 September
I don’t recall why I had two pregnancy tests in my possession. One I could understand, but two? I ended up throwing them out. I now wonder why I didn’t use at least one of them myself. What a waste.


12 October
A couple of weeks ago I was walking to work and spotted a new conker on the ground. Kicked it away with my left toe, it bounced off the heel of a man walking to my right, and I trapped it with my right foot instantaneously. Messi couldn’t have done it better, conkers are unpredictable.


30 November
The advantage of keeping certain books locked in a cupboard is that occasionally a student will appear at the issue desk and ask me for Transgressive Sex, as happened this lunchtime.


18 December
When I came to Cambridge for interview many years ago, the place seemed forbidding and inhospitable. Approaching King’s from an unfamiliar direction this morning, that mood came right back to me. Only there was a boy coming out of a barbershop on Silver Street who smelled unmistakably of Turkish delight, which took the edge off somewhat.


Diary excerpts 7

February 26, 2017

4 January
Looking at old home videos I realise I peaked physically at New Year 1998. But I’m better now than I was at ten, which is a consolation.

13 January
Glimpsed through a window on Hertford Street: a middle-aged couple watching Up Pompeii in stony-faced silence.

30 January
M’s idea, several years ago, of an 11-year-old maths prodigy coming up to Cambridge and leaving with a third because he spends all his time with Footlights seems to me as brilliant now as it did then.

8 February
Wandering past the gift shop on the corner of Rose Crescent, I spot the same Mr Bean coaster set that’s been there for several years. Thinking of Mr Bean coasters as status symbol. Who would own such a thing? Someone who loves Mr Bean, perhaps. Thinking of the universal appeal of Mr Bean, given the absence of any language barrier, and the jarring notion of a family in Ethiopia, say, using their set of Mr Bean coasters (which isn’t after all so unlikely, given the work of Comic Relief). In a gift shop on King’s Parade, a Queen figurine and a Mr Bean figurine side by side. Perhaps Mr Bean would be one of the, say, ten most globally recognised British people. I can certainly think of several less desirable candidates.

8 March
We’re all so full of unacknowledged prejudices, aren’t we. I just walked past a pigeon in Webb’s and called it a fat fucker for no reason.


21 March
Message just received on my voicemail: ‘I’m really sorry, I called your number by mistake and I think I might have sworn, which wasn’t intentional, so please accept my apologies.’

24 March
I like to think of Lemsip as the proprietary name of a generic drink called lemon sip.

13 April
Awoke today to hear myself singing ‘Was ist Silvia?’ What a lovely voice I’ve got, I thought. Turned out to be Fischer-Dieskau.

Diary excerpts 6 — walking to work edition

November 30, 2016

7 January
Chalked on the back of a lorry in Trinity Street: HAPPY XMAS MUMMY

17 March
Seen on the way to work today: a builder singing ‘Cowabunga’ to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus, and a cyclist wearing a baseball cap with horns attached.

12 April
Woman dragging her heels in front of me this morning. When I got to where she’d been dawdling, I saw why – a female blackbird hopping about on a wheelie bin. Just the most beautiful of birds. I didn’t care for blackbirds as a boy, I liked the showy ones, kingfishers and peacocks, even pigeons with their shiny feathers.


13 May
On the way to work this morning: a father bending down to kiss his 10-year-old son as they walked to St Luke’s. A swan with a titanic wingspan flapping under Magdalene Bridge. Boulez on a bike. Daniel Zeichner. A male blackbird alighting on the King’s Parade wall, flapping his wings and stomping his tail and tweeting vociferously. I wanted to put him in a little box.

18 September
Senses simultaneously heightened and blurred by slight drunkenness last night. Waking up with my voice a fifth lower because of the beer, singing along with songs down the octave as I got dressed, humming pedal D’s on ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’ as I walked to work.

22 September
A few days ago I walked past a dead pigeon on the pavement at the bottom of the road. I didn’t stop to inspect it, but it appeared to have died peacefully, albeit surrounded by its own droppings. Now the body is gone, but the droppings remain. Can a bird shit itself to death, I find myself wondering.

29 September
Listened to the first movement of Brahms 2 (Harnoncourt) as I walked to work through the teeming rain. A realisation later that Brahms is my great hero, maybe my greatest hero, for that piece as much as for anything else. It’s remarkable.

3 November
It’s not every day you get leered at on the way to work by a ponytailed man carrying a banana in a threatening manner. Just some days.

Freedom and laziness

October 2, 2015

A moment of self-pity this morning, of wishing myself elsewhere, or at any rate elsewhen.

I was standing in the library, looking out on to the back lawn. The end of the academic year usually infects me with a mild melancholy; this time, it was students coming back that set me off. Emily, back for her fourth year, walking along with a laundry bag and her father in tow, acknowledging one of the gardeners, unaware of me looking on.


The library was almost deserted, and the desk by the window beckoned me, Sit down. Sit and read and watch the students going past. Be free. I was transported through time. A sudden displacement, no harps or wavy lines. I was one of the students coming back, coming home. Working (or not working) in the morning, going for lunch in town at the sandwich place on Rose Crescent that no longer exists. Perhaps the cinema in the afternoon. Free, not obligated to anyone. Not that I was entirely free, but it’s possible to be almost entirely free if, like me, you resist committing to anything.

Was I really that apathetic, or is it a false memory? I did my work conscientiously, at least for the first term, and I performed in concerts and organised and publicised recitals, successful ones too, and attended committee meetings of varying degrees of tedium. But a lot of the time I spent on my own, browsing the record shops (also now closed), listening to Kindertotenlieder in my room, playing my piano, feeling gloriously independent. And sleeping.

That freedom is gone now, and work and routine and prescription have won. No more the short trek to the porters’ lodge to sign out the Recital Room key, no more the return to Cambridge at the start of term to find a package of CDs waiting, no more the self-consciously studenty midnight library visit in search of Apollinaire or Dylan Thomas. Take me back ten years, please, I prayed.

Except that my student days are so far in the past that by this time ten years ago I’d already graduated and was about to return to Cambridge, but not to study. I came back because I needed a course of treatment at Addenbrooke’s, and because I didn’t know where else to go. Months of unemployment followed, a continuation of the fecklessness of my third year that saw me barely scrape a 2.1 (I found a transcript of my marks the other week: it was a much closer run thing than I’d realised).

Eating pizza, watching Deal or No Deal, not applying for jobs, going to Blockbuster at the bottom of the road to borrow Godard films, listening to Carmen and Kodály and Jim O’Rourke on repeat, going to the hospital every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, reading Wodehouse and Harry Potter on the bus. A pleasing existence in its own way, but untenable. When, miraculously, I got a job, it was a godsend. If I hadn’t, goodness knows what I might be doing now.

Our lives turn on the flimsiest things. A hackneyed thought, but a true one. Some time ago I was excited at the prospect of a new job that I would have been ideally suited to in many ways. If I’d got it, who knows what marvellous things might have happened. But I do know that some great things that have happened since then would not have happened, because of my being elsewhere.

Right now, I’m happy. I admit it to myself quite often. It’s nice that because of my past having been generally pleasant I have the luxury of nostalgia, and I do spend a lot of time thinking about stuff that happened when I was younger, but although I can contemplate it I can’t recapture it, and would I really want to? The future may be even better; for the time being, this’ll do. I’ve come over all fotherington-tomas. Apologies. It won’t last. Or maybe it will.


[Play the two videos simultaneously, it’s very pleasing.]