The Great Escape

Still alive – it can be trying at times.

I know – so ungrateful. I can remember my parents telling me how grateful I ought to be, because after all they had given me the gift of life (of course, they hadn’t actually enjoyed engendering me) and subsequently sacrificed the best years of both of theirs.

But, I lived my life, and it wasn’t all bad. You’d think you’d forget most of it, and in a way you do. But in a way you don’t – at least I don’t. Memories come back to haunt me in rotation, like a kind of randomised slide-show, dropping in unannounced demanding tea and biscuits while I am doing the washing-up, knitting, feeding the cats.

Suddenly I am standing on a street corner in a distant town and somebody quite unsuitable is about to kiss me.

Or I am in a school hall in my new blue uniform, seated, socks and shoes off. The games mistress is working her way down the line, inspecting feet, peering between toes.

Or I am sitting on a riverbank, a lot further from home than I ought to have been, my bicycle abandoned in the yellow grass. Somebody else – another girl – is with me. I remember the river, the grass, the bicycle, the sense of too-far-awayness, not the companion. That’s fairly typical.

Or I am in the school playground and everybody is laughing. Somebody has pinned a note to my back. I am supposed to have noticed straight away, but I am not a noticing teenager. When at last I find it I sense am supposed to react in a particular sort of way, but I don’t. I just examine it. The note itself and the motive for pinning it to my back, are both a mystery.

This kind of film show does help to pass the time, I suppose, and it keeps the little grey cells in practice. But it can also be distressing. Then of course there’s news from the outside world – perhaps the less said about that the better.

I consider ways of escape – or escape-ism. It’s not that easy to distract yourself when you are on your own, not that well, past a certain age. The days are long, increasingly so.

I have been watching television, and catching up on all the films I never got to see at the time – I even started watching Robocop the other day, thinking it might be Arnold Schwarzenegger (I have a soft spot for Arnie) but it wasn’t. I suppose I’ll have to finish it now. At least he can’t get his arms blown off and left as a twitching pile of offal twice. But I’m slowly running out of things to watch. Of course, every now and then something good comes up – like series 4 of Killing Eve, or the next Friday episode of Picard – though what’s happened to his voice? Just got old, I suppose. But my ‘watching’ box seems to be emptying out, day by day.

Increasingly I supplement watching with listening – podcasts. I have years and years of excellent science, psychology and music podcasts to work my way through. But the very numerousness of them is off-putting. And do I really need to know all about Oxygen, Mercury – in fact the whole gamut of Elements? Do I really care about Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, or what it”s like to have synaesthesia? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

I did consider alcohol. I mean, that’s supposed to be the great escape, isn’t it? The trouble is, I haven’t really got an addictive personality. A neighbour of my Godmother’s actually drank herself to death after her husband died. It took her approximately ten years. She got grossly fat and kept being sectioned, coming out and hitting the sherry again. She was a great nuisance – not least to poor Godmother, who kept having to go across and rescue her from the foot of the stairs, and eventually adopted her little dog, or else the poor thing would have starved.

The nearest I got to that was drinking two bottles of wine in one day – bought from the local supermarket along with a box of tea-bags so as not to look too desperate. That was when I was at my most “broken-heartedest”. It did not impress the breaker of the heart, who found the bottles in the rubbish next day, and I felt terribly ill. Never again, I realised. And nowadays I can feel at least fairly ill most mornings without going to the expense of alcohol.

Which leaves travel – endless solitary wanderings – a genuinely attractive option but not with a house full of dependent moggies – or reading. So reading it will have to be. I did try googling “list absorbing books”, thinking to immerse myself in a great series of fairy lands, outer space, Victorian England etc. But that was a bit of a waste of time. I’d already read a lot of the recommended books (another peril of living long) and the reviews of all the others were utterly contradictory.

Goodreads in particular is useless. One person posts a fatuous, misspelled review and five hundred others pile in to congratulate the first one on his or her wonderful insight (or wunderful unsoight) and generosity in bestowing it. They all hated that book, it appears, and for exactly the same reasons. It seems to me that the average age of a Goodreads reader is fifteen; average intelligence approximately the same.

I recently read Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke, which nobody on Goodreads seemed to like. I loved it, and have now started on her collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu. I’m also reading – on Kindle – because I rarely read one novel at a time – Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. What I need is a good series of novels – nothing so satisfying as collecting them, one at a time…

6 thoughts on “The Great Escape

  1. I agree with the comment above….we all need some sort of escape from the harsh realities of life, and writing a novel is even more absorbing than reading one. And the bonus is, you get to decide what happens! How cool is that? Seriously, though, you have the writing skills if you decide to pursue it. And the rest of the world would be better for more of your writing being in circulation.


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