oh, well, whatever . . .

dialectics in doggerlands

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I walked out in the garden with De Kooning this morning. It was mild and no longer raining. There wasn’t much wind.

‘A good day for cycling,’ I said.

We looked into Hugo’s world. The plastic moose stood exactly where we had first sighted it, steadfast, implacable, and totemic. The heron still tilted at the gurgling pool. The henge was tranquil. We wondered if Maureen and the gangling boy had been given the opportunity to survey all this and to ask Hugo the question about Intelligent Design. The station clock said it was almost ten o’clock. 

When we went back into the house Margaret was wrapping some things in a sheet of lilac and pink Paisley patterned paper. She told me it was Brenda’s birthday.

‘Ah,’ I said, knowingly, ‘the fifth day of May.  What have you got for her this year?’ I would also have liked to have asked how old Brenda is now, but I knew I wouldn’t have been told.

‘A antique silk Liberty scarf, a Chakra pendant and a bottle of a really good Chateauneuf du Pape.’

Now to me a birthday is just another day. Whatever interest I had in celebrating it dwindled to almost zero when I became an adult. If there is to be a yearly ritual marking aging perhaps it ought to be a wake of sorts, or at least a sombre stocktaking exercise to look at what you’ve done in the last twelve months and what there’s left for you to do before the reaper makes his inevitable and perhaps quite unexpected appearance. Momento mori would be a good focus for a birthday. A birthday party that denies death is to me a wasted opportunity.

But this isn’t a philosophy Brenda Blenkinsopp subscribes to. Brenda is a girl who expects her friends to recognise how special she is in the only way that a true friend can – with a debit card. Being a life coach and steeped in new age anti-materialism, she does not of course say that the price and quality of the gifts she gets matters one jot. Not at all. In fact Brenda will say she subscribes to the proverbial position that it’s the thought that matters. However, experience has clearly suggested that the thought that doesn’t elicit the right kind of gift will not be counted as a thought at all, or at least not one of the kind that matters. A detailed analysis of Brenda’s responses to the gift objects she has received over the years suggests that a gift generated by a thought that matters will be one that makes a clear and accurate statement to the world about her very particular qualities. The gift will confirm that Brenda has class, that she is creative and cultured, and that she is a beautiful, remarkable person. To date no cheap gift has managed to make this statement properly. It is therefore a reasonable hypothesis that expenditure is a reliable indicator of the quality of the thought that matters to Brenda.  Further evidence of this hypothesis lies in the fact that a few years ago Margaret was away on business in Chipping Norton and wasn’t able to get Brenda a present. Margaret rang Brenda from the hotel on the morning of her birthday to explain and to say that she hoped she had a marvellous day. It was almost seven months before Brenda spoke to her again. Ever since then Margaret has expressed her thoughts with much greater care.

‘Have you put my name on the card?’ I asked.

‘Of course.’

I took my bike up to Cresswell and rode the Castles and Coast route up along Druridge Bay through Amble and into Warkworth. Vague wraiths of mist were drifting up from the beach as the sun broke through. The sea was calm and steel blue. As I sat eating an apple at Low Hauxley I saw group a sand martins flickering and flirting around the edge of the dunes. Most years martins and swallows arrive before the end of April and always before I hear a cuckoo, but this group is the first I’ve seen this year even though I heard my first cuckoo more than a week ago now. It felt like summer really had arrived today. Ice cream vans and t-shirts, old men with slow dogs, little girls on pink scooters.

When I got back I sat in the garden for a while and watched De Kooning playing tennis with the bumblebees.  The lawn already needs mowing again and is now host to a gaudy crowd of invading dandelions. I might do it after work tomorrow.

Margaret arrived home at about eight. I was watching a Time Team special about archeological remains found beneath the sea, evidence of human activity at a time thousands of years ago when Britain was still connected by a land bridge to mainland Europe. A Dutch investigator had some bones and stone axes from Neanderthal times. The bone was found beneath the North Sea and is about eighteen thousand years old.

‘Did Brenda like her presents?’ I asked.

‘She loved them,’ Margaret replied. ‘We had a really nice time. Her friend Jennifer was there. You remember her, don’t you? Tall willowy blond, works in financial services?’

I shrugged.

‘Oh, you do know her. Oh, and I met Tristan too. He’s a really nice guy. You’d like him too. He’s a Marxist.’

‘Really? That is interesting. So what does a Marxist plumber get for his lady friend on her birthday?’ I asked.

‘Oh, he got her this fabulous blouse and some very, very expensive earrings. Dark sapphires in platinum. He’s also booked them in for a romantic break at a five star hotel in Florence later this month.’

‘I wonder if he isn’t a Trotskyist,’ I said. ‘How are your teeth, by the way?’

‘Actually they’re fine now. I’d forgotten all about them.’

Eighteen thousand years ago there were woolly mammoths, bears and rhinos roaming vast plains in the space where the calm steely North Sea now swills. Archeologists have given this now submerged world the name of Doggerlands. When I googled it I was asked if I meant “diggerlands”. Margaret went off to have a bath. I asked De Kooning if he had ever heard of Che Guevara. 


Written by yammering

May 5, 2008 at 11:34 pm

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