Unspent roots

It seems, lately, as if my life is being unrun from elsewhere. By unme.

‘I remember, I remember’, one of Philip Larkin’s delightfully, skittishly maudlin and yet weightily contemplative poems includes these lines:


‘Was that,’ my friend smiled, ‘where you “have your roots” ?’

No, only where my childhood was unspent,

I wanted to retort, just where I started:


‘Only where my childhood was unspent’. These words have haunted me for several years, sticking in the very back of my skull like a disinterested spider, gently spinning a web into which my memories stick, struggle, and eventually expire.

It’s not that my memory is going, just that how much I care steadily diminishes. Every time I peer into one of the many, many boxes, both literal and figurative, which make up my life, I find less and less that enthralls. I despense with increasing amounts. The past becomes a postcard from another person.

Like all of us, my life is compartmentalised neatly – or not so neatly – by those who engage with it. At an interview on Monday – the last such situation I shall place myself in for a year at least – I was confronted with the issue of geography. ‘You’re from Norfolk, I see’. No. Not exactly. But yes. Bred, not born. But not in any sense from there. It is merely where I was when the choice was not mine.

Having begun my presentation with the Larkinism ‘Books are [not] a load of crap, I ought really to have continued in this vein. ‘It was not even where my childhood was unspent’.

Such strange questions.

To the outsider, that is, to he or she who is outside of me, I am to be categorised in terms of overlap. The eternal venn diagram of acquaintance. Which parts of me overlap with them? How can I map this individual onto my world? What parts of me do they stimulate? The ease with which one can simply create another compared with the torment of trying to get to know oneself is instructive.

Would I like myself if I were a stranger? I am, and I’m not convinced that I do.

The past is myself, or so Karen Blixen wrote. And yet the past is not what once it was. The present is simple.

And yet, I wait, hamstrung by decisions which cannot be made but by others. Decisions which will dominate my immediate future.

Unspent sounds as if it’s a word of wastage. My childhood was unspent, it passed me by, I refused to engage with it.

Roots are intangible structures which hold nothing together save one’s sense of self, reflect merely where one’s been, and are practically identical in structure to the branches above ground: both grow simultaneously. They are not stuck in some familial soil, but made and remade continually.

When something is spent it is useless, worn out, over. That which is unspent is potential. It is yet to come to fruition.

It may well rot on the bough.


Waiting for godknows

I set out through the driving ‘snow’ of Brighton and wend my way to Reading, where I am to be interviewed for a post which I ought to walk into but quite plainly won’t. I managed a short conversation with the chap going in before me, and realised that his brown suit matched his beard, just as my black suit matches mine. This will be remarked upon, in private if not in the interview itself. These times, these waiting times, are always interesting, as you seep indecision and confidence as the time ticks slowly by.

I have not prepared myself suitably. It seems strangely beyond me. It’s as if I’m willing myself towards failure, towards humiliation. Part of it is simply that when I sit down to read of an afternoon, eyes shut, and I sleep. It starts with a heaviness of the lids, sometimes accompanied by the feeling of a band, like an Alice band (If I could leap, like Alice …), slowly tightening around my forehead, and on rarer occasions these days, by the feeling that someone grips my wrists. The lid soon close, and it takes all my powers of concentration to force them to part, though I can never keep them there.

My head snaps and I realise I went. For how long? Between 2.30 and 4 is the worst time. It is as if lunch, whether the physical fact of it or the break in what I laughingly call ‘concentration’, works with the dopamine agonists to cause spot narcolepsy. The only cure or palliative treatment is physical work. When I yawn … when I yawn my left arm goes into spasm, like a sort of super tremor. It’s almost as if it’s the stored up shaking denied by the mirapexin. This used to be the only time I shook. This is slowly changing. Often, when I’m working out (I have an interview in ten minutes and my lids are going. Alice is here. I’ll be back) …

He walks back with a face like a kipper. I suspect it hasn’t gone well … that and the fact that he’s out after twenty minutes. I am hauled in. it happens. I’m not sure I’ve ever been less convincing in my life.

I haven’t the heart to finish …