Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hugo Williams, at a reading in Essex recently, said the past was a poet's source material. Winter arriving somehow sharpens that awareness. Today is sharp and bright. It reminds me of the first weeks as a student, away from home, in Portsmouth. A sense of everything being possible, new people, names. So I think of the Florist pub down the road from Adelaide Street where I lived after a year in Caen, the tiny terraced house I shared with Ralph and John, then Ralph and Leslie. Beanie, little Steve, Moira and Caroline - fine art students - next door, the guy I served at the union bar every Friday night who looked like Mick Jagger. That first autumn was an introduction to semiotics, Saussure, gigs in the union and Stendhal.

When I left and started work on a newspaper in Guildford, autumn was the end of the silly season, the desperate phone round of contacts for anything that might make a paragraph or two. I met up with an old friend the other day, over from Los Angeles. John, we worked together on the paper. We were into music, had many friends in common, we even suffered a newspaper law course together.

It was wonderful to see him and meeting him again was a reminder of myself, wild and nearly thirty years younger. I think we have to revisit ourselves, remind ourselves of what we've neglected and forgotten. Not dwell on the 'old days' but be conscious of what's discarded. Why did I stop riding? Was it because I associated it with childhood and I wanted to leave childhood behind? What have I kept of those old lives?

The past punctures the present. I can see a Morris Traveller and be catapaulted back to my first car, seal grey, and driving through the night with Mark, the first man I lived with, towards Cambridge. We were driving because neither of us had the courage to make the first move. The tension in the car was astonishing. I vaguely remember two friends in the back, but god knows who it was. At one point in the early hours of the morning a police car pulled up, parallel with us, looked in curiously, perhaps for the source of the massive exclamation mark that must have been hanging over the roof as we drove.

Halloween allows the dead to interrupt our present too. Whether or not you believe in the afterlife, and I don't, it makes sense to celebrate them when it's dark even before the afternoon's over and you feel as if you're living more and more in the border of night and day. So a dreamlife takes over. And tonight, after I read ghost stories to my kids, it's not just the dead I think about, it's the way writing meanders around that border, needs that border and uncertainty. Just as summer supplies the energy, winter's the time to explore the psyche and all that accumulated memory stored in a body.

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