Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last Goodbye

We went down to the river. Sons, daughter, mother, sister, grandchildren. We threw the ashes in. It was early afternoon, but as autumn gathers the sun never gets very high. As we tossed handfuls of the burnt remains into the water the dust caught the light from the low sun. The stuff itself isn't very dusty, it's surprisingly coarse, and somewhat crystalline in texture, but I suppose that the crematorium consumes things at very high temperatures, producing this strange matter. Only her sister was too squeamish or perhaps too sensible to join in. The grandchildren all grabbed a handful, threw it as far as they could and threw a flower in afterwards. My grandmother, old but still not frail exactly, made her way out over the edge of the riverbank. "Goodbye Sal," she said, quietly, unhysterically, and threw away the last grasp of her daughter she'd have.

There was enough of it for another dozen mourners, but we were in a public spot, and unsure of the legality of what we were doing. The last third or so of the container I upended over the water, enjoying the dust surrounding me. That would wash off. Self-evidently you can't wash away memories. The river ran clear there, and you could see the ashes colouring the river bed.

The whole scene had a kind of awkward suburban beauty to it. My wife took a picture. Then we went to Ikea. Life will go on, so you may as well go with it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I stabbed myself in the chest with a chisel. This was not some Gothic exercise in self-harming as therapy, you understand. I was carrying out some basic joinery work at home, and the blade of the chisel, which I was too idle to sharpen, failed to bite into the wood and bit into me instead, just north-east of my breastbone. If you've ever wondered what it feels like to stab yourself with a chisel-type object, perhaps even considered trying it, I'd say:- don't bother. It's an unpleasant sensation. It leaves you feeling winded, and a little panicky. There wasn't a great deal of blood - it's not a fleshy part of the body - just a gentle rusty seepage. I wondered about getting a tetanus booster, but then couldn't be bothered. I have had enough of all things medical recently to last me into the next decade.

The loft is almost finished. This is a good thing because we'll get our house back, but I'll miss the excitement of coming up the stairs to see what sudden reshapings of space have occurred while I've been at work. What I love most about what's been done so far is that it hasn't really altered the character of the place. It's still somewhat shabby, somewhat chic, and it's still home. Once the builders depart, of course, the real work begins; dealing with my daughter's prolonged and irrational grief at their departure, decorating, flooring, moving furniture and all the associated DIY injuries I'll inevitably sustain.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Kid Fears

When I was a child I was convinced that a nuclear war was imminent, that the entire Northern Hemisphere would be destroyed, and that the only sensible course of action was to move immediately to New Zealand. You couldn't drag me there now, of course. Unless I could go there in stages. London-Boston-Seattle-Hawaii-Auckland or something along those lines. There's no way I'm spending 26 hours on an aeroplane. Looking back Carter and Brezhnev were a pretty stable pair to command their absurd respective arsenals but it didn't feel that way to my eight-year-old self. I was not sophisticated enough to appreciate the niceties of Mutually Assured Destruction, but I knew that hiding under a table would not protect me from a nuclear winter. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction - The Chrysalids, I remember, made a particular impression - and worried away in bed.

So, how do I protect my daughter from the night terrors? She is too young to recall the events of 9/11, but was affected by the London bombings in an oblique, childlike way. Kids don't forget anything of course, but I hope that once she becomes aware that the "Bombs" don't set themselves, and aren't an abstract evil, she won't grow suspicious of the Muslim classmates she now plays with without prejudice. I hope that she'll communicate her fears so that we can reassure her that they have no foundation. (This is a kind of hypocrisy, of course. When her godmother is away in Iraq or Afghanistan we fret about her, although she is probably more likely to sustain serious injury crossing the road in Sunbury.)

I'll tell her that it's Martians she needs to worry about. That'll do the trick.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What If We Give It Away?

I have a new profile photo. I'm still looking irritated, because the passing years have not been kind to me. A couple of weeks ago I went to give blood at the Bishopsgate Institute. This is not an exercise I enjoy, it hurts, and the rewards are somewhat abstract, unless you count the biscuits and weak squash available after your donation.

The phlebotomist asks me my name and date of birth.

"Tom Miles, third of May, nineteen seventy-one," I tell her. She's young and attractive and slightly offhand. She has short dreadlocks which she swishes for emphasis.
"Three days before mine," she says. I laugh a small uncomfortable laugh. She looks young enough to be, well, my significantly younger sister. If I were black. I can't help but ask:-
"Nineteen seventy-one?" She nods. Having already, actually stabbed me in the arm she has now poked a metaphorical needle into my heart. I murmur something feeble along the lines of "You look very well on it," and she smiles in a way that makes it perfectly clear that she's thinking "And you really don't." She doesn't say it aloud, at least. She swishes off instead to attend to another donor, in that young, attractive, offhand way of hers.

I pout at her when she comes to remove the needle, but then thank her (for hurting me and siphoning away my lifeforce!) and hobble off towards the refreshment table, silent and aggrieved.