Saturday, August 3, 2013

Another Summer of Discontent

Summer is the season of loneliness.

Now, in my mid-Fifties, it’s not often I feel the loneliness that blighted the greater part of my life.

In my 20s, 30s and early (although less so, later) 40s, I used to look at friends with partners and children and fantasise about their perfect lives, while I sat in trains, planes and bars alone, thinking that I had missed out.
That all stopped when I hit 50. On the last day of my 40s, I decided to treat myself to a trip to Los Angeles, a city I had visited and loved 30 years previous. I continue to spend most of my time there, loving the work ethic and relishing the TV and film industry that pervades every corner.
But, every summer, my heart sinks. Summer is me at 13, when my grandfather died in Wales. I remember the sun and smell of freshly cut grass outside and welcoming its freshness after leaving the dark wood and shadows of his bedroom, sticky Lucozade rings on the bedside table like the patterns my Spirograph made at home.
Summer is 1989, the last one I spent with my dad, who died in January 1990: him trying to force Mum to put the spare butter pats from their Plowman’s lunches into her handbag and her refusing because they would melt.
Summer is the memory of my childhood holidays in Cornwall as a family: jars of pebbled sweets, whose smooth grey and white surfaces made each one a jewel.

Summer is hacking into the cliffs at Southerndown, near where we lived, and alighting upon a tiny insect, stored for centuries, its legs spread-eagled forever in time.

Summer is late night hot doughnuts and milk at Butlin’s Pwllheli, the joy of watching the wet batter emerge solid and sugary like a life transformed.

Summer is that terrible day in Los Angeles four years ago on August 4th, when I heard that my dear friend and mentor, Blake Snyder, had died.
What is it about summer that brings memories to the fore? What is it about those memories that, last night, had me consumed with a loneliness I have not felt for some years, as I sat by myself watching other holiday-makers locked into their own August world?
Everyone is away with somebody else. Friends, partners, husbands and wives, children – I feel like the cripple in the Pied Piper of Hamelin, left behind because the Piper has led everyone into the secret holiday mountain -  except me.

Away on work, I sat in the Marbella Club listening to the Hammond style organ playing “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” It had that incessant beat beat beat that these instruments bring to all songs, and, as usual, accompanied by a very mediocre singer who delivers every note at exactly the same pitch.

On the dance floor, a lone couple smooched, separating only when the organ and singer launched into Abba.

Were they in love? Were they high on Sangria? How long had they been together? Had they only just met?

I wanted to know their story, but whatever it was, it made me feel infinitely sad. Suddenly, I wanted to be in a cheap summer dress with bleached blonde hair, being held by a man from whom I would, in all likelihood in daytime, run away from.
I tried to think of the disastrous men I have been involved with during summers past (all the names have been changed). Tony, with whom I sat on a table outside a Primrose Hill café and he told me he was falling for me in a big way – and phoned the next day to say he had come out in a facial rash and it was all over.

David, who told me on a hot summer’s day in Paris that I was the brightest, funniest, most wonderful woman he had ever met – but he just didn’t fancy me.

Alan, who enjoyed the five star hotel I paid for one summer in the south of France – and then ran off with Bonnie the nurse from Boston.
When I moved to Paris in 2001, I recall sitting on a café terrace in St Michel, alongside the Seine, reading a book, drinking a glass of Rose but feeling sorry for myself, when I rang a friend and she told me who they had round for lunch.
In my mind’s eye, I saw a huge ballroom, couples dancing, happy children running round in gingham, dinner plates piled high with every luxury – and then, in the background, I heard: “Look, if you don’t shut up, we’re going home right now!” followed by loud screams.

“I would give ANYTHING to be sitting by the Seine with a book and a glass of wine,” said my friend.
I have never been someone who thinks the grass is greener on the other side; I love the side I am on.

In fact, most of the time, I don’t know how anyone can bear not to be me.
But there is just something about summer that brings out that little bit of wasteland in me when I recall summers past.

And then, I remember Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and these words: “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date”.

For me, it can never be too short.

I comfort myself in the knowledge that it will soon be autumn and, as Keats said: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”

Oh, yes.


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