Posts Tagged With: T.S. Eliot

September is the cruellest month…

You made a first class fool out of me...

You made a first class fool out of me…

It’s late September and I really should be back in school. I know I keep you amused, by I feel I’m being used…all together now: “Oh Maggie, I wish I’d never seen your face!”. I have just realised I know all the words to Maggie May, but then we used to sing it en masse in the middle of the dance floor at Bradford University students’ union bar in 1973. In the song, Rod Stewart is a young man in love with an older woman. The summer has run its sweet course and he needs to get back to his studies. He needs to break free; the days of romance have lost their shine and reality has hit him like a bag of cement.

September is a sad month – unless you like misty mornings and burning leaves at the bottom of the garden. Or unless you live in Brazil, where it’s the beginning of spring. Come to think of it, how can it be spring and autumn at the same time, with some people getting out the blankets and others gearing up for bikini parties? How can the world be in two places at the same time, creating two completely different moods? How can I be in Bradford and Brazil? Well, I am, sometimes…

The street near the park where I had my first flat in Bradford

The street near the park – my first Bradford flat

It’s September 1976 and I’m in Manningham, by the park, near the famous Lister’s Mill chimney. I have fallen in love with Judith, an older woman (she’s 23!) and we are about to have a romantic holiday in the Scottish Highlands. The summer has been spent cuddling and giggling in my Victorian conversion flat. I have been pretending I know how to cook and driving without a licence, but then I am young and foolish. It feels divine.

In the Highlands we curl up inside a little orange tent, I try and cook breakfast like a man, we drink whisky in cosy pubs; then we move to a caravan and lie flat on the solid bed, listening to the rain pattering on the roof, feeling warm inside like glow worms. I stare at Loch Ness for hours, captivated by the deep silence, and we take pictures of ourselves pulling faces, revelling in the fizz and froth of youth. We are so in love that we listen to Barry Manilow cassettes and think it’s normal.

"I want to be clever like T.S. Eliot" - me and my books in 1982

“I want to be clever like T.S. Eliot” – me and my books in 1982

September is always a turning point, a time for reminiscing. T.S. Eliot wrote a riddle about time, suggesting that “time future” was “contained in time past”. I think he means to go forward we need to revisit and make sense of the past. My grandma used to long to be 21 again, but only if she could go back with her older, mature mind. I would also love to travel back “knowing what I know now”, but I would be 26. Yes, I would sail back to 1982, the year I tried to reinvent myself as a scholar. Gone were the purple loon pants, patchouli oil and unkempt hair, and in came the second-hand suits, kipper ties and cardboard briefcase. I looked like a down-at-heel insurance man but fancied myself as Rupert Brooke.

Doomed youth - English poet Rupert Brooke

Doomed youth – English poet Rupert Brooke

Being Rupert, my favourite haunts are reading rooms in the grand old libraries of Yorkshire where I sit for hours with a pile of books – John Ruskin, Jonathan Swift, Ernest Dowson – pretending I am at Oxford or Cambridge. When the library closes I drift over to the pub with a Penguin classic in my pocket, sip ale and recite passages from Ulysses. The locals call me ‘Gandalf’, the daft idiot in the corner who talks to himself. But I care not. I want to be educated, a gentleman. The life of a flat-capped, pigeon-fancying, whippet-keeping northern working man is not for me.

As the year comes to a close, a disc-jockey mate of mine invites me to join him at a Christmas disco. Why not? So I boldly waltz into the place with a grin as wide as a flat cake, acting and speaking like Bradford’s answer to Oscar Wilde. And there in front of me is my old flame Judith. She is now married with kids, but we beam at each other and both realise instantly that the thrill hasn’t gone. She is tiddly and asks me if I still have a hairy chest. I say it’s hairier and she moves closer. We end up clutching, hiding in the middle of the dance floor. Suddenly there is a loud shouting voice and her husband appears. He grabs her arm and yanks her away.

Gandalf marches away from the flat caps and whippets of Bradford...

Gandalf marches away from the flat caps and whippets of Bradford…

So ends another chapter of my life. Judith – my Maggie May – symbolizes my old Bradford youth. I loved her when I was a simpleton. But Gandalf had other ambitions; he wanted to learn the Latin tongue and experience the exotic charms of Spain and South America. Nevertheless, love is a powerful force, and every September I think of that orange tent in the middle of a damp and misty field somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland. Only I don’t hear Rod Stewart singing, I hear Barry Manilow inviting me to join him “at the Copa, Copacabana”. You see, Gandalf had to come to Brazil and find his Lola.

We love you, Barry, only don't tell anyone!

We love you, Barry, only don’t tell anyone!

Categories: Blighty, Musings, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Till Death Us Do Part…

It's just me and you, duck!

It’s just you and me, duck!

Whoever invented monogamy should be shot. I mean, only being able to have sex with one person for the rest of your life just isn’t natural, is it? Surely sex is one of life’s great adventures: something that grows and blossoms like a flower; something to be shared and then discovered anew with different people. T.S. Eliot once said we measure out our lives in coffee spoons. But isn’t the truth that we measure our lives by the quantity and quality of the lovers we’ve had? If you only manage one or two dull, uninspired bed-mates in your life it’s all been a bit of a failure, hasn’t it? Ah, but what about love, I hear you say…

A Bradford pub, where you're bound to encounter all sorts of carrying on...

A Bradford pub – where you’re bound to encounter all sorts of carrying on…

When I was in my 20s I discovered at least one truth about love. It happened one night in a pub in Bradford when a mate turned up with a “girlfriend” we had never seen before, a woman he had met and was now “living with” in London. When she had slipped to the toilet he blurted something out: “Jane is really great. I love her…but I’m not in love with her”. Ah, there’s the rub. The difference between the two is paramount, Hollywood even. The question is then, how do you stay in love with the same person for donkey’s years? Doesn’t passion always turn to routine and couples turn into something more akin to brother and sister? Surely sex is a spark, an electric rush that is ignited by novelty, secrecy, newness, naughtiness.

In Brazil it is quite common to meet middle-aged couples who have been together since they were at school. Admirable, you might say – enviable even. No horrid break-ups to go through, no cringing jealousy to suffer, just a long solid slice of togetherness. Sweet. But hang on a minute – don’t they ever fantasize about sleeping with somebody else? Have they managed to shut their eyes to any tempting, sexy beings who pass their way? Or have they conditioned themselves to stop fancying other people, to think about something else, to have a cold shower and read some poetry?

T.S. Eliot taking a fancy to Stravinsky's wife, or thinking about coffee spoons

T.S. Eliot taking a fancy to Stravinsky’s wife, or thinking about coffee spoons

It’s a funny world. Now we have realised that monogamy is a shibboleth of organised religion, a dictate of the church – a lie no less – why don’t we just put it all behind us and start having multiple partners? Well, some brave people tried that in the 1960s – open marriages they called it. Didn’t work. Why? Because somebody got jealous, somebody’s ego just couldn’t handle it. In the end open marriages became normal marriages again, only with somebody else. Our romantic love has to be focused on one person only. It just isn’t possible to love two people at the same time. Or is it?

When I was in my 20s (again), there was one unforgettable Christmas in Bradford when I found myself in the delightful and unrepeatable position of having three women on the go. Perhaps I was just a scoundrel, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that I loved them all in my own way. If I had been forced to choose one it would have been very difficult. I was lucky, though. If a woman has several partners she gets labelled as loose – tarnished in some way. When a man does it he’s a stud, a kind of hero, someone to be envied. Funny that. Perhaps that goes back to the bible, too.

Right - from now on if you even look at another woman I'll knee you in the nuts, you toe rag!

Right – from now on if you even look at another woman I’ll knee you in the nuts, you toe rag!

Of course, when you get older you have children and then you are responsible for a family; the goalposts have changed. The family is something sacred, hallowed turf from which it is scandalous and disreputable to stray. But that’s only because we accept it as such. There is nothing “natural” about the family unit because there is nothing natural about modern society. Indeed, the family unit can be seen as an incredibly conservative institution, something that fits nicely with the individualism and materialism which prop up capitalism. Perhaps that is something we just have to live with “for the sake of the children”. Nobody wants to be the first to start a revolution, or try another open marriage.

So, the greatest challenge in life – fidelity – is one we just have to accept, along with rotting teeth. We have to constantly stop and check ourselves from going a step too far with someone we fancy because we are married or “spoken for”. When we, the faithful, get to the end of our lives, I hope we can look back with great pride and self-righteousness; I hope we will say “we didn’t succumb to temptation, we didn’t give in”. 

Sir John: more sex, please, I'm British

Sir John: more sex, please, I’m British

The former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, was asked near the end of his life if he regretted anything. “Not enough sex”, he said. As he had been married and had several lovers in his time, I suppose he meant “not enough sex with different people”. You see, love and sex are wonderful things, but there’s just not enough of them in our lives. 

“Speak for yourself” I hear you say. Well, in writing this I seem to have learned at least two things about myself: 1) I fall in love too easily; 2) I’m a coward.

Categories: Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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