Saturday September 25, 2004
That was one of the strangest breaks I’ve ever had.
I was beset from day one by negotiations with the local council over my Council Tax, meeting head-on with a bureaucracy seeming to be set against the applicant from the very start. The approach appears to be one of instilling fear, uncertainty and doubt in those who apply for rebates to which they are entitled. I got the distinct impression that I was expected to give in and go away quietly, empty-handed. Well, that ain’t gonna happen, and the struggle isn’t over yet.
Then I discovered that the letter I sent by recorded delivery to pay my speeding fine had gone missing, along with my driving licence and a cheque in payment. I was obliged to beg for extra time, stop the cheque, and then to apply for a replacement licence. I have to say that on this issue I was met on all fronts with sympathy and helpful advice, and with good service, too. Except from the Post Office, who were about as unhelpful as it’s possible to be. Anyway, the replacement licence turned up a couple of days later, to be followed the next day by a letter from the Post Office, enclosing my original letter to the Court. It transpires that the clerk on the post office counter forgot to put a stamp on the envelope, the recipient refused to accept it, and the Post Office held on to it for almost a month before returning it to me. And I paid a premium fee for that! I shall get compensation for the expense, but nothing to remove the sour taste.
“I’ve got the impression the world’s against me,” I said. “Not only that, but I’m beginning to wonder if I can cope with it.”
“You need a break,” said Graham, full of sympathy.
“I’m on a break.”
“Oh. So you are. Well, you’ll have to make the most of it.”
And that’s what I’ve done, when I’ve not been wrestling with bureaucrats. I curled up with The Hobbit and lost myself in Middle Earth, tracing the journey there and, very soon now, back again. It’s a wonderful book, overshadowed by its greater sequels but essential to them. It’s impossible to read it without pre-echoes from The Lord of the Rings, of course it is, but my beleaguered state helped me get into Bilbo’s world, and to trudge along happily through the lightly sketched lands which will later became solid when I turn to the LOTR.
The weather closed in on me, too, keeping my bike rides close to the house. I’ve discovered a new little twist, cycling along the lane, across the main road and down a cycle track a little way on the outskirts of the old village, to a seat in a sheltered, quiet place, just right for empty-headed thinking and for taking a rest before returning home.
Against that background, I’ve been looking around for an activity to fill in the space left by the absence of poetry. When I examine my notebooks it’s plain that, for the past six or seven years, most of my efforts have been spent in writing poems, driven by an urge to explore the abstracts of the landscapes in which I’ve been living. It may be that our two house moves have suppressed that urge, or simply that the writing has simply dried up. I really don’t know. All I can say is that it’s many, many weeks now since I felt the tickle that precedes a new poem, and even longer since one came to a successful conclusion.
So, there’s a vacuum here, waiting to be filled. When I sleep, and I’ve done a lot of that this past ten days, I dream visuals rather than words. I’m not giving up on the poetry yet, and never shall. It may be time to let it rest for a year or two but I’m confident it’ll come back.
This is not a new phenomenon. All my life I’ve cycled back and forth from writing to some other creative activity. Mostly the alternative has been painting, and it may be that I shall turn back to paint and board. I’m not fighting it but I’m not jumping too fast, either. So far I’ve looked at colour charts, fingered brushes, and pulled out old paintings, false starts and failed ventures. Back in the fifties and sixties I produced a mass of work, most of which seems to have disappeared. Apart from three framed canvasses, two of which are hung on the walls here, I have nothing more than a few bundles of disorganised and ill-assorted sketches.
We shall see. I’m not in a hurry to leap out of my comfortable little rut just now but the itchings are there and, if past experience is anything to go by, I shall be jumping soon.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the mists of autumn but, when I dream, it is of cityscapes rather than rural landscapes. When I pull out my art books it’s Utrillo I lean to rather than Constable and Turner. I’m tempted to a lackaday here but I shall resist the urge.