"As I was going to St. Ives..."
"Ooh, look, I'm a tiger!"
"Are you?" I said, peering at the wall calendar. "I think I'm a horse."
"Yes, 1978, year of the horse. Let's see mine again. Hey, look! It says I'm supposed to marry a horse!"
"But 'beware of the monkey'."
"It sounds like one of those clockwork board games they sell in toy shops for six to eight-year-olds."
Christmas at the Gallery. It really was Christmas. Turkey with all the trimmings and stuffing and vegetables lavishly prepared by James and Verity and an army of helpers. Wallace and Gromit in the late afternoon, all of us stuffed and parked round the television, laughing at claymation and the adventures of a never ending box of railway track pieces. Wine and mince pies and Christmas pudding. Gift exchanges. Elrond himself, the venerable Mr Taylor, oversaw things. I sat there with - oh, Lord, I was about to call her Arwen but that really doesn't work when you consider the sort of relationship that creates. But she's prettier than an elf that caught the evening mists.
(Has anyone ever seen an ugly elf? I mean apart from Haladir?)
Sunday, Emily and I woke up (at a civilised hour, after being woken early by the anxious mews of a cat desperate to be fed) and stuck a pin in the map and found it was Cleethorpes, so rather than go there we just got in the car and decided to pick a destination on the way. We wound up in St. Ives, a beautiful little market town a few miles north of Cambridge. Many of the shops were closed but I managed to visit Woolworths (another notch for the bedpost) and we looked round the charity outlets for a while - something I never did until I met Emily but a pastime that's quickly become a new-found favourite of mine. We had lunch near the river in a poky Costa diner that was a large converted house, complete with unisex bathroom and slightly clueless waitress. At the top of the stairs I spotted a local newspaper on the landing: it detailed the invitation to Buckingham Palace for our reigning monarch to visit Huntingdon (for the first time ever) in order to commemorate its eight-hundredth anniversary in 2005. They'd received the standard "Thank you, we'll think about it" reply but the newspaper had run with the headline "QUEEN MAY VISIT HUNTINGDON" before going on to describe the plans for the ceremony in great detail, as well as describing the exact shade for the probably-already-ordered red carpet. That's journalism, I guess.
She and I (this is Emily now, not the Queen) wandered along the river across
a meadow. The sheep ran away as we approached them. She said something funny
and I laughed.
"Hey!" she cried suddenly, "there's pea stuck by your gums."
I tried to work it loose.
"Look, open your mouth. Now lift your lip up."
I did, and she howled. "You look like a horse!"
"Oh, thank you very much."
We strolled on. The sheep ran away as we approached. It was a glorious winter's day, but the wind was freezing. I know it's reclaimed from the sea but does Cambridgeshire have to be quite so flat? For a while, even talking was an effort. I told her I loved her. We looked out at the sky and the sun, beginning to slope downwards behind a distant patch of trees, the absence of foliage meaning that its rays were only slightly diminished, and it shone through lighting up the pink and mauve sky around it, where jet planes scratched a clear stretch of blue. I kissed her. Time stopped, if only for a moment. A dog bounded across a bare patch of ground seventy yards away, happy to just be dog-like. We cuddled. And then wandered back to Woolworths to buy chocolate.
Two hours later, back home: "You still have that pea stuck between your
"Yes. Come on, grin like a horse for me again. Ah. My lovely horse."
This will mean nothing to you if you don't watch Father Ted, but between us we somehow made up the following:
"My lovely horse,
Pea between your tooth,
I'm always picking and it keeps on sticking in the gum,
I need a toothbrush or a jar of floss
I'm running out of patience,
I keep on trying and I'm getting cross
And we're visiting relations
My lovely horse
I'm in need of some help,
My teeth are green and my mouth is a fright,
and I can't leave my house,
and I can't leave my house.."
It was one of those little moments which perhaps isn't particularly amusing to others but that makes you laugh and laugh and laugh.
I realised yesterday morning that I hadn't listened to 'Blue' in a while, so it became driving music. A year ago, when I was still travelling by the 7:47 from Tilehurst to Didcot, I was despondent, annoyed, frustrated, destroyed. "Only a phase, these dark cafe days". Which of course was true, although you don't notice this at the time - people can't reach you, even your closest friends. You will never be all right again, and you'll be doomed to sit in your black moods for the rest of eternity.
While the cause for my eventual reversal was obvious I don't remember at exactly what point it turned round - I can give you a ballpark, but that's it. Like Narnia it happens when you're not looking for it. Like a good thriller it's often not slap-bang overstated but deliciously subtle. And like an autopilot journey to work on an oh-so-familiar route you don't realise you've got there until you stop the car and take a look around. In any event I was listening to "A Case Of You", which is anything but an unambiguous straightforward love song, but nonetheless -
"I remember that time you told me, you said
'Love is touching souls'
Surely you touched mine
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time".
Happy Birthday, Joni. Sorry it's a month late. And God bless you for rummaging
in my head for this stuff and putting it down on paper.
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