Waking is like rising from the dead. The slow climb out of
sleep, shapes appearing out of blackness, the alarm clock
ringing like the last trump. Ruth flings out an arm and
sends the alarm crashing to the floor, where it carries on
ringing reproachfully. Groaning, she levers herself upright
and pulls up the blind. Still dark. Its just not right, she tells
herself, wincing as her feet touch the cold floorboards.
Neolithic man would have gone to sleep when the sun set
and woken when it rose. What makes us think this is the
right way round? Falling asleep on the sofa during
Newsnight, then dragging herself upstairs to lie sleepless
over a Rebus book, listen to the World Service on the
radio, count Iron Age burial sites to make herself sleep and
now this; waking in the darkness feeling like death. It just
wasnt right somehow.
In the shower, the water unglues her eyes and sends her
hair streaming down her back. This is baptism, if you like.
Ruths parents are Born Again Christians and are fans of
Full Immersion For Adults (capitals obligatory). Ruth can
quite see the attraction, apart from the slight problem of not
believing in God. Still, her parents are Praying For Her (capitals
again), which should be a comfort but somehow isnt.
Ruth rubs herself vigorously with a towel and stares
unseeingly into the steamy mirror. She knows what she
will see and the knowledge is no more comforting than
her parents prayers. Shoulder-length brown hair, blue
eyes, pale skin and however she stands on the scales,
which are at present banished to the broom cupboard
she weighs twelve and a half stone. She sighs (I am not
defined by my weight, fat is a state of mind) and squeezes
toothpaste onto her brush. She has a very beautiful smile,
but she isnt smiling now and so this too is low on the list
Clean, damp-footed, she pads back into the bedroom.
She has lectures today so will have to dress slightly more
formally than usual. Black trousers, black shapeless top.
She hardly looks as she selects the clothes. She likes
colour and fabric; in fact she has quite a weakness for
sequins, bugle beads and diamanté. You wouldnt know
this from her wardrobe though. A dour row of dark
trousers and loose, dark jackets. The drawers in her pine
dressing table are full of black jumpers, long cardigans
and opaque tights. She used to wear jeans until she hit
size sixteen and now favours cords, black, of course.
Jeans are too young for her anyhow. She will be forty
Dressed, she negotiates the stairs. The tiny cottage has
very steep stairs, more like a ladder than anything else. Ill
never be able to manage those her mother had said on her
one and only visit. Whos asking you to, Ruth had replied
silently. Her parents had stayed at the local B and B as
Ruth has only one bedroom; going upstairs was strictly
unnecessary (there is a downstairs loo but it is by the
kitchen, which her mother considers unsanitary). The
stairs lead directly into the sitting room: sanded wooden
floor, comfortable faded sofa, large flat-screen TV, books
covering every available surface. Archaeology books
mostly but also murder mysteries, cookery books, travel
guides, doctornurse romances. Ruth is nothing if not
eclectic in her tastes. She has a particular fondness for childrens
books about ballet or horse-riding, neither of which
she has ever tried.
The kitchen barely has room for a fridge and a cooker
but Ruth, despite the books, rarely cooks. Now she
switches on the kettle and puts bread into the toaster,
clicking on Radio 4 with a practised hand. Then she
collects her lecture notes and sits at the table by the front
window. Her favourite place. Beyond her front garden
with its windblown grass and broken blue fence there is
nothingness. Just miles and miles of marshland, spotted
with stunted gorse bushes and criss-crossed with small,
treacherous streams. Sometimes, at this time of year, you
see great flocks of wild geese wheeling across the sky,
their feathers turning pink in the rays of the rising sun.
But today, on this grey winter morning, there is not a
living creature as far as the eye can see. Everything is
pale and washed out, grey-green merging to grey-white
as the marsh meets the sky. Far off is the sea, a line of
darker grey, seagulls riding in on the waves. It is utterly
desolate and Ruth has absolutely no idea why she loves
it so much.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...