“There, but for the grace of God, go I” is a pompous old thought, but it’s hard not to entertain it sometimes.
I’m in Castle Cary, in south-west England, not a million miles from where I grew up, and I’ve just spent an evening with an old friend among the very hippies, cheap cocaine and psy-trance that I did everything in my power to escape when I effed off to London back in the late ’90s.
So it’s safe to say I’m not in the most positive frame of mind about the place where I could have grown old if I’d been less stubbornly convinced that meaningful lives cannot be built on taking drugs in fields with your friends’ parents.
It’s also grey and drizzly, I’ve missed my train, and I’m sitting out the three hours till the next one comes in a mediumly grotty and completely empty old pub.
Into this Sundayest of scenes walks a group of seven dreary so-and-sos, tight-lipped and forty-plus, and here to partake of a flaccid roast dinner in honour of one of their grizzly old birthdays.
The misery of others can be a powerful antidote to your own, and I’m all set to start shovelling Schadenfreude when the plight of the chief lady among the bunch becomes too much for me to settle down to my smugness.
Five of the seven revellers are simply staring down at their plates and forking mush into their mouths, while the other two―presumably the birthday boy and his best mate―are conversing monotonously about local football (soccer, whatever, you can have that argument with yourself).
In a valiant attempt to salvage what is supposed to be a celebration, this lady, clearly the wife of the man in whose honour they are feasting, tries—not once, not twice, not three or four times, but again and again and again—to steer the topic of conversation to a more inclusive place, and incite the doleful cattle around her to look up from their lunches and start mooing.
What makes the entire affair so saddening is that these people are not deftly sidestepping her conversational approaches, nor are they driving her back with snappy ripostes—they’re all just flat-out ignoring her.
Slowly but surely, she goes from stoical to sour, and it’s at about this point that I pretend to be fiddling with my phone in order to capture the moment.
Having done so, I sit back and start picturing the home life that must go with this scenario—the towering mountains of unspoken resentment, the barren wastelands of aching nothingness stretching between celebrations such as these (because, lest we forget, this is them on festive form). Christmas hits a really stinky chord in this imaginary monotony, all unwanted presents and stifled arguments…
And this is when the “there, but for the grace of God” kicks in. And I’m immediately reminded that this is exactly the kind of lazy thinking I hate—that this particular meal could be a blip in an otherwise hilarious and fulfilled existence, and that I probably don’t exactly look like success personified in their eyes either.
A tired, bedraggled ex-hippy runaway fiercely and presumptuously imagining how much more miserable than his own the lives of a bunch of probably perfectly contented older people must be. Now that’s what I call rural England.
Day 100 #100happydays: Capture. Write. Publish.
I can't leave it at 59,586 words, can I?!
An update on Aubrey and Daddy - a Hi success story perhaps?
Day 94 #100happydays: Men at work
Day 93 #100happydays: Final week
I will miss the elegance of this place
Day 92 #100happydays: Shiny
Day 89 #100happydays: Fast cars
Day 88 #100happydays: Brambling