Tuesday, 3rd November
I set off briskly into the city needing to get a couple of things before restrictions are re-applied. The bookshop is busy. I am looking for a recently published poetry pamphlet to review as part of my course. I choose ‘While I Yet Live’ by Gboyega Odubanjo. I also buy ‘Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians revisited’ by Steven Isserlis and ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’ by Horace McCoy. I am hoping that I will make good use of my promised confinement during Lockdown 2 to read more widely.
On my way past the Royal Arcade I am asked by a young man who is selling the magazine The Big Issue, “Have you ever read The Big Issue?” I reply that I have and he then follows up with “What do you think of it? Do you like it?” and I stop and talk to him for a bit. He is tall, fair-haired and not entirely untidy. He has anxiety mapped in his eyes. His nose had obviously suffered a break, but some time ago.
He is twenty-three years of age and has recently resumed selling the magazine in order to raise funds for a bed each night. He told me that the room cost had nearly doubled recently, making it very hard to bring in enough cash to get somewhere to sleep. I asked how he was getting along and he said that it was tough, but he was determined to be strong and get through. He said that he was practising envisioning to keep himself positive. He was a little edgy, and spoke in brief sentences. He dropped information about his background and family history. Always quick to answer, not quite grasping the sense of the question. His replies seemed to be learned responses to cover the basics of his recent experiences, tailored to his part in street life, enough to encourage such sympathy to secure a sale of the magazine.
Although I do not carry cash around much anymore I remembered I had a five pound note in my wallet. I told him he did not need to give me any change.
I moved on to the record shop, suddenly guilty that I was intending to buy myself an album, whichever caught my fancy, while the lad was trying to scrape together even that relatively small amount just to pay for a bed for the night.
On the way to my apartment I walked down a steep twisty lane littered with piles of leaves clotted by the heavy rain of Monday, with sycamore and acer being the most common specimens. I was delighted to see leaves from a Ginko tree, including the largest of any such leaf I have ever found. It was still quite damp from the night’s heavy rain, so I folded into my wallet to dry out in the leather, rather than soak the pages of my pocket notebook with it.
I stopped again halfway down the hill to listen to a small flock of long-tailed tits that were hopping around on the wooded hillside. Here the sound of the city’s traffic is relatively subdued, where the path is shaded by the trees, a high brick wall and the lee of the hill. I hesitated just long enough to gain a sense of tranquillity, before heaving a breath of autumn air and resuming my retreat to the apartment block.
That night, I enjoyed a final pre-Lockdown outing with some fellow students. It extended into a late night out in which this social sextet drank on until after two in the morning at a house on the edge of town.
My immersion in the evening party mood is rippled by two messages from afar. My former lover sent a brief email to acknowledge that she remembered today would have been the anniversary of our first meeting. She expresses her gratitude for us having once met.
The second and more unsettling message comes from my sister-in-law to let me know that my first brother has been moved to the intensive care unit in his local hospital. He is now critically ill.
This is a time for holding breath, a time of waiting and I am close to tears at this news. My friend reaches across the pub table and puts his hand on my forearm, squeezes it gently with affection and compassion. No platitudes. This simple act of reassurance comes at a time when physical contact between those living in separate households is publicly disavowed. It is an incredibly powerful gesture that will not be easily forgotten.
After the party begins to break up, I walk briskly home alone under clear skies, the waning Moon and Orion lying prone, sliding toward the western horizon. I pause opposite the old church in King Street and listen to a pair of small birds calling and responding to each other from the trees either side of the well illuminated road. Is there such a thing as the dead of night anymore?
It is cold. Condensation on parked cars is congealing, forming the first frost of the season. Music is audible through an open window from a small block of flats.
I get home and lay my clean duvet cover between the duvet and me. It is too late to struggle with the chore of putting the duvet in it. I sleep like a bastard.
4th November 2020