Snow fell on the mountains here yesterday, the first snows of the winter, light blue-white and glittering. From the spare room, I dug out hot-water bottles, thick socks and thermal underwear, made minestrone soup and a butternut risotto to ward off the chill.
Today it is glacial but dazzling, with deep blue skies and sunshine. Off to the local garden centre, a sorry place, in search of herbs — Merwida (not her real name) who runs the centre is a terrible plantswoman. I am not joking. She is plant-deaf and lets her plants become pot-bound, neglected, dried out. Fortunately, I found new stock in a damp corner: pineapple sage sparking with scarlet flowers, a prostate thyme from Cyprus, old-fashioned curly parsley and a large-leafed origanum. No winter savory, no chervil, no coriander.
As we walked out, Merwida said; ‘You know, I never dreamed I would end up working in a nursery. I meant to go into banking. I’m really a number-cruncher, not a gardening tree-hugging type. ‘
‘No kidding,’ I said drily.
‘It does baffle me that so many of us end up doing things for which we have no aptitude or passion, no vocation. It is more comprehensible in lives derailed by alcoholism, but so many just drift into jobs they don’t care about, wake up at 46, 55 or 62 and stare into the mirror wondering why and how and when. This staring into the mirror is often to do with menopause in women, or that nameless malaise which can affect men of a certain age, afraid to face their shaving mirrors and the face behind the image.
An insight I like from Jonathan Coe taking about his latest novel here:
The book is in part an attempt to find “strangeness at the heart of the deeply ordinary”. “If you look hard enough you can find romance and mystery and dark undercurrents everywhere in life – even in the most unprepossessing places, the Park Inn Hotel, Watford, or the cafe at Knutsford services, and I suppose doing that has – to put it rather grandly – become one of my mission statements as a writer.
A sober friend writes to me saying she is undergoing a difficult transition that not coincidentally began after her Step 4. She was blissful in early sobriety and began to wear purple, and tinted her hair a slippery ash blonde, then learned to dance the tango. She suddenly descended into the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno and all the reasons why she had drunk like a thirsty savage demon from the age of 32 onwards came up again, beckoning, threatening, cajoling. She rehearses her Step 5 in the shower and wears plaited garlic bulbs around her neck when she sleeps. I laughed merrily on hearing this, which both startled and reassured her.
Living sober is like learning to breathe underwater for a long time — and then we come up for air.