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.