Peter Woodcock telling tales at Pentameters Theatre
Photograph by Leonie Scott Matthews
And if I lay store in trying to access the truth, then I have to admit how evasive it is. However clear I begin describing the time, the place, the sensations that occurred of a particular event, other ideas break the flow, take me off course until I back track and take stock.
Something as simple as revealing the inner drama I, we all, go through of just being alive.
Age of course is a good mentor-ageing and being aware that the body is failing.
But more important is to keep track of the beliefs one identifies with, almost unconsciously, even in old age. That, somehow all this happened unknown to me.
The sudden realisation that so many of my friends are dead, that conversations ceased, arguments, laughter, shared intimacies.
As time goes by there are less and less I can share these with, not only because friends died, but the age of intimate conversation seems to have also died. In its place are three second quips, headlines from trash newspapers, pretend concern, the emphatic gaze, the squeezing of your hand, the dreaded words, ‘I have been there, too.’
No you haven’t, I want to say.
You haven’t wandered the streets wondering who you were, feeling a terrifying chill of disconnection from your surroundings, as if entombed behind glass, watching the outside world unfold like a film.
Or waiting for the telephone call to tell you the relationship is over, the person has gone back to a previous lover, as you were too much, too difficult, too demanding because I questioned his mediocre life and his yuppie new age cod psychology, filched from better sex manuals and idiot counsellors writing in the Sunday papers, giving lifestyle advice. Lifestyle indeed!
Life doesn’t have a style. It’s not a Habitat sofa or whatever is the latest desired object to put your arse on. You may know your skinny latte with oat-milk from a frappuccino, your bagel from a toastie, but you do not know how to live. You have no culture.
Culture has become homogenised, buy one and get one free, indulging in mental masturbation about which dickhead and bimbo is going to win Love Island.
There you are! I’ve gone off at a tangent again. Away from the incessant rain, the depression, the effort to just get up and do something. Something I had planned to do but now have totally forgotten what it was.
My cleaner says he notices older people stop while doing things, fastening shoes, if they can reach them, pulling on a dressing gown and instead sit, as if frozen, remembering some memory that has resurfaced. How such and such had hysterics when they were told about something, how the mother of a friend, who had died, refused to speak to her son’s ex-lovers, all gay. It’s as if each moment expands into a drama, a slow-motion film, which has no bearing on the present.
Then, most things in life have no bearing on the present, because often we are unaware of the present. Caught up in how we think things are, the voices in our head adding their advice and, in a flash, we forget the present.
The flowers I bought two days ago are still fragrant, but the old hag who sold then, watching me like a hawk gave me a headache, what was she expecting, I’d steal the anemones? Urinate on the potted fern?
And I had toyed for days about buying flowers. An extravagance.
But beauty is essential, and I have over the years lost my appreciation of it because of the English disease of utilitarianism. Of seeing beauty as an indulgence, a sin against frugality. Whereas in Europe beauty is revered. Whether it is a beautiful painting by Corot or Van Gogh or a plate of fresh, sliced tomatoes with olives and basil, glistening with olive oil on a plate.
I can’t blame the batty old English, I myself have downgraded my sense of what is beautiful. Too many ultra-realism thrillers on television taking place in sink estates, or redundant shopping centres.
Of course, if you live, as in London near a heath or large park, beauty is accessible, but you have to make the effort to go and see it.
But what I mean, are the vast areas in the day of emptiness.
Voids in which you fall, usually asleep and wake up confused, not really knowing if you are still in the dream. And then you notice, oh yes! life is unreal anyhow. It doesn’t follow a script. You may repeat your routines, some being secret superstitions and rituals for unacknowledged gods or demons, but you’re not really here. Only as a watcher. A voyeur of your own life until, miraculously something wakes you up, and life becomes real once again.
© Peter Woodcock, March 2020