Les Grands Amours

I arrive back in Paris, and see it “properly” now “for the first time.” These mark the “last few days of a fantastic holiday,” and “those few days were wonderful.”

I feel that glow now, it expands beneath my ribs and makes my breath seem warmer. “I think my favourite building in the world for its originality is the Centre Pompidou,” I tell myself on The Tape, and for a long time, I remember, that was the case. I embraced modernity, pre-, post- and present. I was into things, such as cool architecture; they excited me then, they excite me today. I record and recall seeing La vie de Brian, as The Life of Brian was called there, and us laughing our heads off, the way we only could then. There was an evening, not long after I’d moved to London, when my friend Peggy and, I believe, beautiful Stefan and maybe one or two other people were assembled in my shared living room, lounging on the grubby sofa and draped over a stained but strangely comfortable armchair, watching Airplane! on TV. We laughed so hard at this, we literally ended up on the floor. That capacity for joy, so unalloyed: we had it then, we had it in Paris – that was exactly the era – and I don’t know when or where it went. That freshness, even with an open mind as I try to keep it, has simply gone: hardly anything ever makes me laugh now anywhere near as hard. Perhaps I’ve seen it, heard it, if not all then just too much of it, to tickle me so with surprise?

I remember loving the Pompidou, I remember loving and laughing at La vie, I remember little if anything else, apart from Christian, Judith’s brother, whom I thought “great” and “quite eccentric, in his own way,” and probably fancied, if not was in love with, just a bit. Judith, whom I loved then and still love today, though I haven’t seen her in a decade (and then under sad, troubled, circumstances, of which to speak now would not seem right), was my school pal whom we were visiting in Paris, where she was staying with her boyfriend, Alain. For reasons I don’t recall I spent quite some time with her brother, liking him immensely. (Maybe because Judith was with her boyfriend, Alain?) At one point Christian and I got on a metro train together. As it arrived, we noticed that it had first and second class compartments, and he said we should ride in second class since we didn’t have first class tickets. I, having never been to Paris properly before, convinced him that this must be a remnant of the olden days and that by now the metro surely only had one class for all. So we boarded the less crowded first class carriage. Within minutes we were surrounded by about five ticket inspectors, demanding a surcharge and a fine. I was outraged: I told them they were being completely unreasonable, since it was impossible for me, a Londoner, to know that a metropolitan underground could have two classes. They pointed at the big 1 that was painted on the interior of the carriage, and mentioned the same on the outside. I was having none of it: I live in London, I said, I use the tube all the time and we don’t have any of this nonsense. They let us off. We were made to move to second class, but no money changed hands. I can be stubborn when I need to be, that hasn’t changed…

My forever enduring memory though of these last few days of my Europe tour in 1988, and one of the best and most cherished of all my years of going to the cinema anywhere in the world, was Le grand bleu. I had seen it before, in Grenoble, and fallen in love with it and with Jean-Marc Barr then, but this now was in a league of its own. The film was immensely successful in France, and so Le Grand Rex, one of the largest cinemas in Paris, had put up an extra large screen in front of its existing one. It was, I tell the tape, “a 25 metre screen”, which would make it either nearly the size, or even slightly bigger than, the screen on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival (which today is still the largest in Europe), depending on whether that was a horizontal width measure or a diagonal, which I can’t remember. In any case, it was huge. (They may even have ‘renamed’ the cinema for that run. It’s entirely possible, but once again I am no longer certain, that the cinema was really normally called Le Rex, and they labelled it Le grand Rex just for Le grand bleu, with the big screen.)

Because the screen was so large, there were now, in the auditorium, new restricted sight lines. The stalls were fine, as was the upper balcony, but from all but the front row, the view in the dress circle was severely restricted, because you would not see the top of the screen (which was blocked off by the balcony above you) or the bottom (which was obscured by the circle in front of you), for which reason the cinema had cordoned off the dress circle altogether. We were not young people to be told where to sit in a cinema with unreserved seating, so while people raced, as the doors opened, to the best seats up on the balcony and down in the stalls, we opened the door to the dress circle behind the red cord and saw it empty with a vast screen beckoning. We snuck in, closed the door behind us and took up the few seats in the centre of the front row of the dress circle, the ones directly in the middle of the screen: your entire field of vision was taken up with The Big Blue: it was magnificent. I to this day can’t get over how beautiful and real the sea and how close-enough-to-touch Jean-Marc Barr were. Other good actors appeared in the film, there was other fine scenery, but I remember him and the sea and the dolphins. And the party on Taormina, I believe, where Jean-Marc Barr turns up dressed in a dinner suit, wearing trainers, looking sheepish and unbearably cute. I could have married him there and then.

I later met Jean-Marc Barr after a performance in the West End of a Tennessee Williams play, and he was gracious and polite; I a little timid and shy, but happy to be face-to-face with him in person, and now getting him ‘out of my system’: he was a lovely, good-looking man, and a very decent actor, and I no longer now had to pine…

“Unfortunately, on the last night” of our stay in Paris, I tell my tape, “Judith split up with her boyfriend, Alain,” and so “went back with her brother Christian,” to Basel, I presume. I, on Sunday, which therefore must have been the next day, took the train back to London and arrived there in the evening, “about 9 o’clock.”

Venus

Venus troubles me. I come here reluctantly; so bright. So mystifying, so inscrutable. So tenebrous, as well, beneath that gleaming skin. Moist. Overwhelming, warm; so uninhabitable, at least for me. And still I feel I ought to spend some time here. Wherefore, I know not. For the experience? For the completion of my being? For the expansion, yet, of my horizon? – These planets travel far and yet not wide, except they do. They are – we all are – on a forward motion we don’t notice. Venus knows. This is a body that’s imbued with universal wisdom, which it can’t express. We move in spirals, not ellipses, our sun drags us with her, and whenever we feel we’ve been here before, we have, but we’re a little further down our path: it’s not the direction of our nose that we travel in, it is the direction of our pate. We have no eyes there, at the top of our head, we have only a string that pulls us, and still we resist.

Here on Venus, everything feels strange; the smells, the flavours, the embrace. The fuzzinesses and the softness, they unsettle me. Long before I become comfortable I become complacent, and that will not do. I start to wander, restless. I think I am getting ready to settle in some sort of way, but settledness entails a great deal of immobility. I like the rest of motion. I need to be alone. Not all the time, but enough. Venus asks me too many questions. It’s not that I can’t find any answers, these answers can mostly be found, but the effort is out of proportion. The thinking that normally invigorates me tires me out, here. The obviousnesses, the courtship; the irrationalities, the repetitions.

At the time there was no myth and no meaning. The time being the beginning, the beginning being the origin, the origin being unknown. I suddenly feel alert, a little, and happier to exist, mainly because of this old realisation that I can’t, I just can’t expect myself to make sense of it all. Any of it, really, it’s just there. Annoying as it may be. I take a step back and I look at my thoughts as they spread out before me and find them unsatisfactory. The thinking I’m doing is inelegant, crude; it will not suffice. Nor is it poetic. And thinking without poetry is like love without mathematics. It has no substance, no structure, no special tingle of satisfaction, no meaning. It is like sex in a haze of drunkenness with someone you don’t fancy. I’m becoming self-referential and it irks me.

Womanhood. Much like aliens, women don’t so much scare me as baffle. I’ve hardly ever thought this through, but there comes a time. And a place. I seriously doubt that now is that time or this that place, but when or where will it ever be, and does it matter? I contend myself mostly with knowing that there are things I can’t know and go where my curiosity takes me, which is not normally here. Nor abnormally. I’m out of my depth, out of my comfort, out of my pond. The mountains, the seas and the rivers, the streams. The landscape and the disorientation. There are too many things happening all at once to get a handle on any of them and there is also the new mix the new blend the new fusion. That both thrills and frightens me, a little. Not because I dread the loss of myself but because I really like my delineations as much as I like my inbetweennesses and my blurrages; the overlappedisation of our existence, I like it. Entropy.

I hear a warm soothing voice that is not in my head and it is not in my memory; it is not my mother, my sister, my wife. (I have no wife, by the way, that was an unnecessary witticism of moderate charm and no consequence.) The voice comes from the ground and from the cloud that envelops the ground and from the all about the sphere that I have wrapped my body around, and it says that there are no mysteries and there must be no pain. She’s trying to reassure me, I’m not sure she succeeds, but her sentiment is benign. I feel her hand on my back on my neck on my thigh and the touch is tender and real. I recall once upon a time being deeply at ease in this presence and as deeply afraid of it too. What embraces you can ensnare you, what holds you may crush you, what loves you will kill you, what desires you own you. What owns you is you. And you thought you knew who you were.

Did I? Maybe a couple of aeons ago; it is possible, then, when I did not yet exist, that I was really quite sure of myself. I had an arrogant streak, not mean, not cocky, but aloof. My journey humbles me. I sense I’m getting closer to the truth, and like everyone else I know that there is no such thing. The energy that we are. The quantum states. The potentialities. The particles and the waves. Of course I am Venus as much as Venus is me: we share the constituent parts, and yet: I don’t belong here. It’s sometimes good to know where you belong, and also good to know where you definitely don’t. There’s nothing definite, ever, and anything can and does change, and you never say never and all that goes with it, and in any case there is only so much existing you can expect to do at one time, but by the time your energy dissolves and changes its form, time ceases too and you are quite literally reborn, only not in the way that you thought you didn’t want to think about, or were taught, or wanted to believe to be nonsense. From one state to another. These states are all within us contained. The energy that you are is your matter your body your molecules your thoughts your emotion your wants and your needs (always, they come as a pair, you knew that already), your shades and your textures, and when they go they don’t go they are simply reconfigured because energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed. I shall not miss myself when I go for I am always around. So are you, so is Venus. So are the superclusters of our sistergods.

I am much happier now than I was before I came here. I knew I would be, I doubted it not. But now, much as I sense the draw of the earth that is so near and so familiar and so welcoming too, I must surely go on a detour and find me a distant adventure. Home beckons, but I have to explore…

Outrage

‘Stupidity’, Sedartis thunders, ‘is the enemy. Stupidity is the outrage: the crime!’ Here is that word again. ‘Perpetrated not by the stupid, they may never have learnt – never have had a chance to learn – to be less so; no, it’s the chief crime of your society: as long as you allow stupidity not just to exist, but to flourish in your midst, as long as you cultivate, nurture, elevate and celebrate it, you deserve everything you get.’

I feel chastened, although I have no answer. Sedartis does not expect me to: ‘You talk about inequality. You talk about democracy and a fairer society. And yet you blind yourselves to the evil that trumps all: you lull your masses into stupidity and then keep them there. Because you’re selfish, egotistical, greedy and lazy, you “give the people what they want,” which you keep telling them is soft porn mush and their own supposed “reality.” You invite them to be abysmally stupid on your television shows and think you’re doing them a favour because they recognise themselves: you make stupidity the norm, and condemn aspiration to an intellect as a pretentious frivolity. You dismiss intellect itself as an irrelevance, knowing full well that without intellect you wouldn’t be here where you are, in your privileged position. You keep your people stupid because that’s how you keep yourselves aloft and rich; you fear them and you dread what they should do if they ever they latched on to how they were enslaved by you.’

I sense a pause. It doesn’t last. ‘You feed them what they already know and shore up their prejudices, you belittle intelligence as “too clever by half” and smirk at anyone who thinks in public. (How can you even hold on to an expression like that?) How can you have built a civilisation in which not only one percent own more than half of all material wealth, but another one percent at most are schooled in handling knowledge, when you know that knowledge is power.’

Is knowledge power, still? ‘Thinking,’ he thinks at me, ‘is an exertion, yes. That does not absolve us from it. So is walking, yet walk we must, otherwise we grow fat, stale and lethargic. Flossing is a pain, but we do it, even if reluctantly, to hold on to our gums. Life is not convenient, no matter how successful we are at making it so. So even if it hurts: use your brain. It will shrivel, shrink and stink if you don’t.’

I can tell how angry he is. ‘I am not angry, my friend,’ Sedartis hears me well before I speak, ‘I am outraged. I am outraged at the stupidity you allow on this planet. At the casual simplicity you cast over everything, and make do. At the quick quote, soundbite approach you have taken to politics. The commercial current that runs through your culture. The inoffensiveness of your art. The soft sell in your science. You constantly ask: what is the story, what is the narrative. Because you are too lazy to connect the dots for yourselves. You open your mouths, crying, “feed me!” You’ve regressed into infancy, and you wallow in your own incapacity. You suckle the nipple of light entertainment, and if you do wean yourselves off it, you go on to sugary bottled “fun,” and then you wonder why your teeth are all rotten, and you’re incapable even of crunching an apple: you’ve become toothless, grown-up-but-refused-to-grow-up, idiot babes. You have lost sophistication, elegance and wit. You shun the strain of inquiry, and you moan and moan and moan. Like the whiny brat in the stroller whom you’ve elevated to a tiny emperor and allow to terrorise your existence, you yourself throw your toys out of your pram and expect somebody else to bend down and pick them up for you and hand them back to you. Everything is somebody’s fault. It’s the government’s fault. It’s the neighbours’ fault. It’s the immigrant’s fault. It’s anybody else’s fault but yours. Have you listened to yourselves? You are a disgrace to your species, the way you behave, and you know it, but you will stone me for saying so to your face.’

I am stunned. I have never experienced Sedartis like this. I’m a little afraid. And in awe.   

He senses my discomfort, my fear. He calms down: ‘Species. That in itself is too simple, too categorical. I know you need simplicity, you need categories. But look at yourselves from a distance, or look at yourselves close up: you are so close to your nearest cousins that you can barely tell yourselves apart. Yet you think you are a majestic, exclusive achievement. You are nothing of the sort, you are simply first on your planet, and alone in your solar system. But there are so many solar systems in so many galaxies, you need not fear of finding yourselves alone: this universe, as well as any other, is teeming with life. Your problem is not your position, not your location, not your intelligence: your problem is your perspective. Your nearest cousins, the dolphins, the bonobos, they may be a few hundred thousand years, maybe a few million years behind you in their development. But that doesn’t make them categorically different. It just makes them slower at something you can not take credit for. What you can take credit for is this: your culture. That’s what you do with your advantage. And that is why your stupidity is unacceptable now. At one point, in the not so distant past, you were just like the great apes, scavenging for food, fighting each other for primacy over your females, thinking of nothing other than preserving, projecting, your genes. Slowly, gradually, you emerged from the dullness of your existence and you became conscious, intelligent beings. How dare you not use your intelligence? You will get there, of course; you will reach your next level, as every other life form reaches its own. You will merge with your inventions, you will make yourselves immortal. You will begin to populate other worlds, if nothing else as a hybrid of human and human-made machine. That is all very well. But choose how you get there. The pain that you’re causing yourselves and your fellow creatures on earth is excruciating. When you already have the means to not inflict it at all. All you have to do is use your intelligence and learn that you are not the thing that matters, you are part of the thing that matters, and that is enough.’

What is the thing that matters, I ask Sedartis. 

He remains silent. He remains silent for a long long time and we sit together watching the squirrels and the birds, and imagining the bonobos and the dolphins and the cows and the lions and the beautiful, but a little clumsy, giraffes.

I take his silence to mean ‘I don’t know either,’ and it saddens me that he doesn’t know either, but I know he doesn’t know either, and I wonder does anyone know, anyone in the multiverse of infinite universes at all, or are we all just a part of it unknowing but yearning to understand and failing but trying and playing our part.

‘It doesn’t matter, you see’, says Sedartis. And now I can really hear him. ‘It doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that you make the most of it. Whatever it is that you can. That is all that actually matters because you have no control over anything else. You can’t control when you are born. To whom. Where. You can’t know why. You can’t dictate the terms of your existence, but you can take them and deal with them well. And by dealing with them well, you may alter them. Whatever is given, you don’t have to take it just as it is. What you do have to do is make the most of it. And you really have to make the most of it. You really have to not take no for an answer, you really have to probe deeper and go further and demand of yourself more. Because if you don’t, somebody will. And they may not understand what you understand. But you understand what I understand and that is how we are connected, how we are part of it all, how there is a greater scheme of things, and how our moment here is tiny, but we can, must, make it magnificent.’

∞² Revival

I resolve to dive in. Not the water – that’s way too cold for me, this time of year, early summer, just after the solstice and before the sea has been warmed by long days in the sun – but into the experience of it all. There, inside the experience, may lie a clue. If not a clue, then perhaps an insight, a truth. It could be random, it could be real. My research has yielded nothing. I have spoken to cafe owners and life guards; to beach goers and hut holders. To dog walkers (where they’re allowed, the dogs) and to joggers. Hoteliers, I spoke to, two of them. And two police officers, one a young woman, the other a young man, both attractive, both friendly, both clueless as to the origin of this tradition that is still, after all, fairly new; but a tradition nonetheless. Age has no bearing on the soul of a matter, be that a culture, a person, a people, a place: roots burrow deep, far deeper, we know, than the living thing that we see may suggest.

Everybody, of course, has a story to tell. Most of them charming, some of them harrowing, all of them sad, in a way. I’m surprised to find that is so. No matter who I talk to, and for how long, there is always, always a moment of sadness. How did I miss that, in my perception, and for so long? How sadness seeps through the seasons, irrespective of who you are. Here, many remember, with a scarred sense of fondness for how it all brought them together, the Solstice Spectacle several years ago now, when two youths had set fire to almost all of the beach huts along the seafront in the most brazen, most wanton, act of arson anyone could recall. Nobody refers to it now, as some ‘newspapers’ did at the time, as a ‘massacre’; and few people, though the sadness over the girls does prevail, the twins, who’d perished, aged five, having been put to bed in one of the larger huts, while the parents were sharing a rare moment of intimacy, just outside, in the twinkling night of summery stars, are weighed down now by sorrow.

So into each other, so absorbed by their bodies, the parents were at that time, that they didn’t notice the bangs, or the heat, or the flames from the beach in the distance at first, or the smoke: they took it for fireworks in the sky, for being at one with each other for the first time in ages; and the chain lit up so quickly, by the time the Calor gas bottle exploded and they’d rushed back to their hut, just a few yards, a few steps really, no more, it was way too late. The devastation still registers in the young mother’s eyes; the young father holding her hands, as they sit, outside their new hut, overlooking the sea. They are no longer young now, these two, but they do have a son and a daughter, aged twelve and fourteen. They are not happy, but they’re content. And they have no anger now in their hearts, and no hate. Then, they did, they tell me, they wanted them dead, the two youths who had done this to them, who had taken their daughters. Now? Now they feel a kind of resignation, and calm. Life is like that. ‘Life is like that,’ the young father, no longer young now (maybe a little young, still), but proud of his son whom he shows me a picture of, after he’s shown me one of the twins, and before he shows me one of his daughter too, ‘life goes on; has to, really.’ The young mother, who I know, although she doesn’t tell me, feels guilty for having left the girls in the hut while stealing, for the first time in weeks, maybe months, a bit of time just with her man, to enjoy, to inhale, to taste and to have him, in the freedom of the seaside air and after the long struggles for daily survival, in and out of the sun, smiles a wan smile of undying regret. She could have saved them, her eyes – though they be adorned by kind lines after all – tell me, pleading for my forgiveness. I have no need, nor do I have any gift of forgiveness for her, it has nothing whatever to do with me: I only feel love for these people, and thank them their honesty and their trust. ‘Thing is, we couldn’t have saved them,’ her husband, squeezing her hands, so in tune he senses her anguish without needing to ask any question, tells me: ‘it was just too quick. When this kind of catastrophe strikes you down you have to, if you can, just get up again. Kids die in accidents. In a car crash. If we’d been lying there with them, and had fallen asleep, we’d both be dead too?’ His voice inflexes a question. The doubt. The ‘catastrophe’. It sounds a little incongruent now, but true. Maybe he wants to be sure, more sure than he is. Who can blame them. I salute them, I wander on.

‘Boscombe & Bournemouth has had its fair share of tragedy,’ the old lady tells me, ‘maybe more than.’ She sits further down the beach, in front of her own hut, that is hidden a little, tucked away behind a bit of a bluff, and she nods at me sagely. I expect her to go on, but she doesn’t. There’s something in my memory that I can’t recall that makes me think that I know what she’s talking about, but the look that she gives me suggests that the time isn’t right. And so I don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell. Some things are best left unspoken. Yet for a while. 

And so I take the plunge. The Boscombe & Bournemouth Nude Beach Stroll. I have never been naked in public. I’m innately shy. People don’t think so, they think I am confident, bold even. I’m not. It’s the last Sunday in June and I’m curious: will it happen. And how? The weather is glorious, hot: more than thirty degrees. I shower, smear sun cream all over my body, wear shorts and a shirt and flip-flops; the near compulsory hat, and the shades, and head out. It’s just gone lunch time and I expect to be disappointed. For a while it looks like I might be; and then, suddenly, unnoticeably almost at first, then more and more obviously and quite naturally, it happens. Here a naked person, another one there. A couple, a group, some talking, some smiling, without exception all sunning themselves and their bodies in the luxurious heat, they are strolling along the beach. As I get there, they are vastly outnumbered by clothed people, but the clothed people don’t bat an eyelid, with the exception perhaps of the odd tourist. I am on my own and I don’t know how to do this now, where should I stop to undress? I feel lost, I must look it, too. I need not fret, it turns out. A big burly man with a lot of hair on his chest and a belly protruding far over a very small penis beams at me baring the broadest of grins: ‘you look just like someone who’s come to stroll in the nude.’ For the duration of half a thought I want to say, ‘sorry? Who? Me? Oh no, don’t worry about me, I’m just looking for a place to buy ice cream.’ But his friend smiles at me too and I like her for that. She’s generous, kind. Their mutual friend, I assume, seems to be thinking about something, but he too gives me a nod of encouragement, and so I say: ‘Yes. I am.’

‘I hope you’re wearing sunscreen?’ the big man, who steadies my arm as I step out of my shorts asks me, and his friend cocks his head a little as if to comment, not strictly approving, but not dismissing either, my soft cotton trunks. I take them off too. And the shirt, and I put them all in a little backpack I’ve brought along for this purpose, and I step back into my flip-flops and put on my hat and say: ‘thank you. My name is Sebastian.’ We shake hands and they tell me their names and I put on my shades and we stroll.

Helvetia

From Milan I take the train to Chur. Chur has never been my favourite place in the world, and it’s not difficult for me to say why: it feels dour. It is, apparently, the oldest city in Switzerland, and it has, I believe, several things going for it, none of which is entirely evident to me. Mainly because it sits hemmed in by big mountains that deprive it of light, almost completely, in winter, while not being splendid enough in summer to offer any gorgeousness of a view. My sister at this time lives in Chur and I am heading towards her to spend a couple of days with her, The Tape tells me. My memory of this is, again, hazy, but I’m clearly delighted: “it is wonderful,” I narrate, “to spend time together and talk,” for the first time in years. And I have no reason to doubt this was so. To this day, I enjoy spending time with my sister, though to this day I don’t do so often enough, and on this occasion, we must have had a lot to say to each other: I was back in the country where I grew up, but which I had always struggled and never found it either necessary or entirely possible to call home, for the first time since, almost exactly three years earlier, I had left with two suitcases, both made of leather, one black and one red, neither of them with castors, and a friend’s address in my pocket, in Enfield, from thence to make London my home.

Helvetia. I like thinking of Switzerland as Helvetia. It has something sturdy, celtic, dependable to it. Unique. Firm and reassuring. ‘Switzerland’ sounds – maybe because it so much has become – like a brand, a theme park, a place you go for your holiday. Helvetia is a place you were rooted in, once. Whether you then uprooted yourself, and for whatever reasons, fades into the background, into the fabric: it does not become insignificant (nothing of that kind ever is) but it’s just there, part of the character, part of the being, part of the history, part of the substance, the core. And so is Helvetia.

The train from Milan to Chur, I relate to The Tape, “took absolutely ages,” but also “provided the most admirable views.” It’s one of these instances where I betray the fact that I’m still not on top of the subtleties of the English language. I hear myself do that a lot on this recording: I nearly get the word right, but not quite. I still, from the back of my mind, translate traces from German, maybe not so much words, as concepts, perhaps. I’m just not quite there, yet.

In Treviso I change trains and board “this incredible little red train, consisting of about three carriages, all the way up, over the San Bernardino Pass.” Here my memory suddenly kicks in again, vivid and strong. I remember this journey, this train. And with awe. I remember the windows being open and the warm summer air wafting in, I remember the noise, intermittently suddenly so much louder going through tunnels; I remember the green and red covered seats: red for smoking, green for non. I was a smoker then, I may have been travelling red. Then again, I may already have done what I did for a while, park myself in the non-smoking section and nip to the red part of the carriage for the occasional fag. The train wasn’t full, I remember it being almost empty. It’s a glorious trip, and you can do it, still. Now, they have state-of-the-art rolling stock with huge panorama windows, and smoking is a definite no-no, but the trains are no faster and the views no less stunning than they were thirty years ago.

I seem to also recall that I met up here with an old school friend whose brother, in fact, I would shortly be linking up with in Paris, but The Tape makes no mention of this, so perhaps I am wrong. Come the following Saturday, I take the train to Basel. This is where I went to school, this is where I grew up: the first twenty-one years of my life. I spend eight or nine hours talking to Peggy, my best friend then and my best friend now from our high school days, and today as then, when we meet, we find ourselves talking for hours. Eight or nine are nothing unusual: if you pitch up at six, have dinner, sit out on the balcony, keep on talking, before you know it, it’s three in the morning…

On Sunday Peggy, my mum and I go to see an exhibition (I don’t tell myself which one, and I can’t recall) and then my brother comes round with his two sons, one of whom is my godson. There is a photograph of this occasion, which takes place in my parents’ garden, with me sitting between the two boys, looking at a picture book, maybe reading them the story. My mother, a little while later, sent me this picture in a card with a quote from George Bernard Shaw, translated into German: Es ist ein ungeheures Glück wenn man fähig ist, sich freuen zu können. I try to find the English original, and so far I fail. ‘It is a tremendous fortune to be able to find joy in things,’ is more or less how I would translate it back, but it still sounds far more clumsy than it should. If it’s Shaw. Maybe it’s been misattributed, that’s possible: many things are.

“Then we went to see Ironweed at the cinema.” I don’t remember anything about this, the film or who ‘we’ is in this instance, but my 24-year-old self puts on record that “it was like no time had passed at all.” Maybe because hardly any time had passed, a mere three years…

Tuesday I spent in Zürich, “meeting, luckily, Benjamin for the first time in absolutely years,” and also Beatrice. Benjamin. Beatrice. These two people: they are lodged in my mind, in my soul. Benjamin more than Beatrice, and in a much different way, but both register, both matter, both shaped who I was and therefore who I am today. The meeting with Benjamin I remember clearly, he was his usual, laconic self. He was the boy I most loved, for a very long time. We were in no relationship, he never, as far as I know, reciprocated my feelings, he was not even gay, he was just the boy I most loved. By this time, he would have been about twenty-two and he’d either just been released or was on day-release from prison. He’d been sentenced to prison for no crime: he was a conscientious objector, and had refused to do military service, which then carried a prison term, and a criminal record, in Switzerland. He was unfazed by his time in prison: he took this, as he seemed to take everything, in his stride. Granted, it also sounded like prison for conscientious objectors was in Switzerland by now a gentle affair. He was beautiful, as I had always seen him, and unruffled. Unexcitable, but good humoured. I’d carried him around in my heart for the entire duration I’d been living in London, and for many years later. It was only really when one day, on a Sunday afternoon, he phoned me, out of the blue, to tell me he’d received a letter I had sent him many months earlier, care of his mother, and we talked for maybe five hours or so on the phone, both getting increasingly woozy on our respective drinks, that I was able to put that love where it belonged: in the past, in my youth. In a time before even our reunion here now in Zürich. I have memories of us sitting at my parents’ home next to each other on the sofa all night long, drinking coffee, almost getting high on it, so much of it we drank; of us walking in the fields near his parents’ home on Lake Zürich on a wintry afternoon; of us first meeting at a school fete… I have everything with me still, as if it were yesterday. But only since maybe ten years ago, slightly less, am I able to think of it really as yesterday. I believe I once kissed him, I’m not even sure. I’m sure that I wanted to, always. Always.

How deeply that boy seeped into the folds of my brain. How strongly he clasped my heart; how warmly, how tenderly I longed for him, for how long. I still have his letters, of course. I no longer have this desire: I’m glad it has gone, I was able to bid it farewell. Not the memory though, not the fondness. I am over him now, but I cannot, and nor do I need to, get over how much I loved him.

Beatrice, I also remember, also fondly, but not on that day. I certainly kissed her, and she me. She was, I’m quite certain, keener on me than I was on her, but I liked her and for a short while it was as if we were together. How strange, to think of it now. But that alone, having been there, the girl with whom I was once almost together, secures her a place in my self. She, too, is part of me, was then, is now.

Wednesday a lunch with a friend. “In all,” I recount to The Tape, I “had a chance to see lots of people.” Also my grandfather. I was “very worried about grandfather, he looked very ill and weak; he was very nice, but I have an impression that any time we meet might be the last time.” So, I think, it proved, on this occasion.

Mercury

My mentality makes me leap as close to the sun as I may without being burnt, without floating adrift, without losing my sense of belonging, if not here, if not there, then in the universalness of it all. There is something wondrous about being me, still, at this age, at this point, which is never a point only but always a wave just as much, at this juncture which is never a coming together only but always as much a moving apart, through this phase which is never as much a beginning as it is also an ending only more so which means it just is; there is intemperance, folly, wisdom and wit to be found where there’s light and there’s the mischief of knowledge: am I really just information?

Here on Mercury where a day lasts a couple of years at least by perception my mind is blasted by solar winds and I take hold of my wand meaning to keep it. The power to lull the awake into sleep, to awaken those lost to slumber, to ease the agony of the dying and to quicken the dead. The quickness, the quirkinesses, the quintessentialness of it all. I race around the sun looking out into space and enjoy the ride more than ever I did before. How come youth arrives at an age when it is all but gone? How come it happens twice? The first time with no experience on the fabric of sensations to handle it well, the second time with said fabric so worn that it feels all but threadbare? Will there be a third instance, maybe a fourth? Is it necessary, possible, even, to count? My braincells refuse to collapse and my curiosity gets the better of me, so I keep carving open new synapses firing new thoughts into a continuum that is already awash with ideas.

No time, no space, no respite, no rest, no melancholy here, no decay: this iron is liquid is hot is alive with pure energy, not organic, not systemic, not caustic, not quiet, not loud: effervescent in its potentialities. This place may be small but its capacity to astonish is great, nay unlimited, nay infinite and profound. Can lovers be friends? Can pleasures bedevil the heart that has grown to be kind? Can connections be the meaningfulness of it all? The essentiality? The reason? The cause? The spark and the fire but also the balm? Can this toxicity heal as well as inspire? Can this generosity of spirit ask more than questions? What is there beyond the surprise, the delirium, at having recognised I am able to speak? Am I the medium or the message or merely the conduit? Would I mind if I knew, could I know if I cared?

There are now too many possibilities too many strands too many fluctuations and too many rotations, too many rupes that like laugh lines adorn me for me to worry: care I may, yes, and consider; learn I can, and communicate, lend a gentle ear, sometimes, and a generous eye and embrace the love that is not mere emotion but more than instinct is intellect and say yes: I comprehend. Not understand, perhaps, not everything, yet, quite possibly not ever – things move so fast, so all over – but I can take it all in. I can be it all. I can be little and insignificant and still mean the multiverse. That’s just what I wanted to sense. There is no mirror here on this planet, Narcissus has settled on Earth and my ego today is not needy, nor never will be, no more: my eccentricity here is at its most extreme, at its most exquisite, most extraordinarily elegant, and I’m comfortable with that too.

I call on my younger self to excuse my inadequacies as I know my older self will be looking across to me now as I am and merely encourage, not chide because I have here now forgiven my older self its preposterousness, its perfection. Its contradiction, in terms. This, for all its unreasonable demeanour is maybe the best position I’ve ever been. And I’ve been everywhere, but not yet. Soon this, too, must come to a premature end if it is to last forever, and that’s what it is. The caduceus though I shall treasure…

 

305834590834590 Whist

‘My girlfriend is getting texty,’ the man who ticks every box and makes me go aglow inside tells me. He’s a trombonist and that alone should tell me everything I need to know. Except he’s also tall and blond and a bit Scandinavian looking and exceptionally friendly, and he has that borderline cute proportion of a long torso and comparatively short legs that make him simply adorable.

I have nothing to say about this. Therein lies the ‘interesting’ realisation. It’s ‘interesting’ in so far as I normally have something to say about things. I pride myself – not ‘pride myself’ so much as take a certain degree of satisfaction that I take pains not to let leap into smugness – in being able to find words. I like words, I love – nay, adore! – them. I use more words than necessary. What is necessary? I get admonished for being verbose. What, pray, is verbose? I say things for the sake of saying them. Thrice. I use language people don’t understand, but I get tasked with making things understandable, as a job. I like that. I like ironies, I like perplexities, I like conundrums and calling them conundra. I have said so before, but I like saying things again. I like repetition. Repetition.

In the game of love & chance – I like ampersands! And I love interjections, or little asides… –  I am particularly useless, but I have of late started to enjoy that fact. It used to trouble me. Astonishing men like my trombonist right here and right now used to send me down a spiral of remorse and regret about what I knew not. About not having loved. About not having lived. About not having taken the chance. Now that I’ve taken the chance once or twice and then thrice or several times more, and notwithstanding the fact that this has sometimes but certainly not always paid off, and now that I realise that a ‘girlfriend getting texty’ is just exactly the kind of thing that would drive me up the wall, even if it were a boyfriend as handsome and delectable as her boyfriend right now, I can smile at the man’s beauty and charm and listen to the resonance of his torso and admire the sounds he produces from his instrument and say to myself: that has nothing whatever to do with me. It’s wonderful, and wonderful for him too. And I wish him to really, and genuinely, fare well.

I love that kind of love. It’s taken me maybe thirty-five years – five heptades! – to get to this point, but I’m now at a point where I can absolutely love a man like that and know his life has absolutely nothing to do with me beyond the set of fortuitousnesses that brought us together in this context, at this moment, for this short period and then let that be as it may. And should our paths cross again, then so much the better, but it would still not mean anything else or anything more or anything less. And should we become friends through our paths crossing further, that too would be just that, and it would be just fine. Trombone man shows me that I am all right. He is marvellous, in my mind; and let that forever be so, and I am perfectly all right about that.

We part and go our separate ways and I think of it or of him no more and I am where I once was and where for a long time I longed to be anew: unencumbered and free. I use these words a lot, I now find, it must mean they have become important to me. I see on the social network that he’s doing something exciting with his trombone and his musician friends and the band somewhere and I am deeply happy and unreasonably proud. I have no cause and no reason to be proud, I have nothing to do with his or any of his colleagues’ achievements, but I still feel a little proud of him and of them as if it had something to do with me. And maybe it has something to do with me in as much as I know him and we’ve once tangentially worked together (worked on the same piece, at least, for a very short while) and so at least in as much as everything is really connected and this therefore perhaps really also connects us it may have a tiny little something to do with me, and that thought alone makes me happier still.

And now the words are there and they are no better and no worse than any other, and that too is just fine and dandy. All words need not be weighty and grave. Some could do with being a bit more poetic probably than they are, but mostly they merely need to ring true.