With age, I am becoming a compulsive oversharer. Maybe time seems so precious and so short that I don’t want to waste any of it talking about the weather. But then, I’m also fascinated by people who care about handbags, and want to get inside their heads. I want to ask them where their ring is from, despite already knowing it’s from Boodles. I know how much they would love to be asked, would love to tell me, and would love to then insert some humbleness about it being a “very special gift”, or “very lucky”. I don’t ask, because it will never get me any closer to knowing who they are. Such people are unknowable, even to themselves.
I went to the pub for the first time in forever, and I ended up talking about deeply personal things which was the result of a slightly flippant remark, of the kind that nobody who I’ve known in the last ten years would even pick up. The strange thing about friends from college is that ordinarily, such a conversation would have me tying myself in agonised, self-recriminatory knots for days. I would be playing over and over what I said, what I should have said, and what I should never have said. It would be a screenplay playing out in my head over an endless, uncontrollable loop of mortification and desperation to correct and perfect a conversation that was merely plainly spoken thoughts and theories. And yet, with people who have known me for 25 years, it is just a slight surprise on my part about why the conversation ended up being meaningful rather than a chat about mustard, but without any desire to change any of it.
I always believe that everyone’s deepest desires and regrets are broadly similar. We often wish we were more “something”; in my case, I wish I could feel anything as deeply as I used to. Everything fades and recedes, and I cannot quite grasp even what youth and insecurity felt like. I can review it in my own words, because I wrote many, many diaries over the years, but they include bizarre curiosities like this one (from August 1997):
I have snippets of my favourite Bridget Jones’s Diary columns cut ouf of the Independent. There is a picture of the cast sheet of The White Devil, which we went to see with school in Stratford, and a tramp stole my silly little bag that contained my crochet and my favourite spoon (I was a truly bizarre 17 year old).
I also liked to write, endlessly, about food, and about the various little treats that got one through the boarding school day. I assume that is why I glued in this receipt of all my treasures:
Since I generally assume that we all have more in common than divides us, I also assume that other people are touched by the same music, art and film as I am. Those I suppose are the three mediums that are most people’s conduit to culture. Theatre is less and less so, and it is so ephemeral, and in the case of opera, viewed as elitist. Unfortunately, I tend to find that neither La Traviata nor Blade Runner seem to resonate for everyone after all.
The things that have touched my soul in the last few years, off the top of my head:
It probably helps that I love the vampire genre, but this was entirely unexpected. My sister, who does not like that kind of thing, said that nothing had affected her more in years. The sense of dread that was only really the pedestrian dread of social expectations, and the pedestals that people put themselves on, believing that their own perception of their kindness makes them so. The confusion of good intentions having bad outcomes, the horror of absolute faith, and the Catholicism that is still somehow redeemed at the end.
I am 44. I am not capable of being touched, truly, by new music, because music is the imprint of youth. And so all I ever have to fall back on is Pulp, and my recollections of this song in 1996, when the year 2000 was full of promise. I spent most of 1998 writing reams of text about the fall of Clinton, my idol, and listening to Common People on repeat (as well as a truly horrific 1960s mix tape I’d rather forget about).
Every time it comes on Spotify (it never comes on the radio), it takes me back to Merton Lane in a rather Proustian fashion.
Also, like the rest of the entire world, Take me Home, Country Road makes me feel wistful and nostalgic for something that never even existed. I suppose we all think about some place we grew up, which we can’t go back to. My childhood home was an old Brisbane house built on stilts, with a basement that constantly flooded. It’s vaguely pleasing to see the expensive renovations still made the same mistake of fully furnishing the basement.
Spotify knows my darkest Steps secrets. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1E3a0gPVDhWRDp?si=awi9M081Rfi5LggK6mzp-g&utm_source=copy-link
The Dutch House
Good book. I have almost no recollection of what happens in it (old age), but it’s the right sort of dynastic sweep that avoids dumb clichés.
Jeder stirbt für sich allein
A book which is hard to read, but unforgettable in its depiction of life in the Third Reich. I started it in 2017, and finished it on a plane in May 2022. It is much more “trivial” in many respects than the more dramatic war story arcs that involve some element of adventure and the possibility of escape. It is solely about the Nazi ideology, about the characters who enthusiastically adopted it, those who did not, and the pressure cooker of Berlin. The most interesting aspect is that the Resistance members are not painted as noble, but as inevitable. There is a rather strange depiction of a Jewish victim who stays in Berlin whilst her extended family leave for London, because she does not want to lose her business. It is hard to establish whether this is a rather casual bit of stereotyping, or a sarcastic take on Nazi propaganda.
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