When I sat down on that bench high on the chalk cliffs above Etretat, I
hadn't even decided whether it was you I was going to write to, or
Stefano. But I chose you. Aren't you proud of me? You see, I'm
determined that I'm not going to go down that road. I promised myself
that I wouldn't contact him, and a promise to yourself is the most
binding of all. It's difficult, because there hasn't been a day for four
months when we haven't spoken, or emailed, or at least texted. That kind
of habit is hard to break. But I know it will get better. This is the
cold turkey period. Looking at my mobile sitting on the table next to
the coffee, I feel like an ex-smoker having a packet of fags dangled in
front of her nose. It would be so easy to text him. He taught me how to
send text messages, after all. But that would be a crazy thing to do.
He'd hate me for it, anyway. And I'm scared of him starting to hate
me--really scared. That scares me more than anything. Silly, isn't it?
What difference does it make, if I'm not going to see him again?
I'll make a list. Making a list is always a good displacement activity.
Lessons I've learned from the Stefano disaster:
I can't think of a number three. Even so, that's not bad going. Both
those lessons are important. They'll stand me in good stead, the next
time something like this happens. Or rather, they'll help me to make
sure (I hope) that there won't be a next time.
Well, that looks good, on paper--especially this expensive, thick, creamy, Venetian paper. But I remember a line that Philip always used to quote to me. Some crusty old pillar of the British establishment who said, in his dotage: "Yes--I've learned from my mistakes, and I'm sure I could repeat them perfectly." Ha, ha. That will probably be me.
Fourth coffee of the day
National Film Theatre Cafe
London, South Bank
Wednesday, 8th December, 1999
Yes, I'm back, sister darling, after an interruption of twenty hours or
so, and the first question that occurs to me, after a morning spent more
or less aimlessly wandering the streets, is this: who are all these
people, and what do they do?
It's not that I remember London very well. I don't think I've been here for about six years. But I do (or thought I did) remember where some of my favorite shops were. There was a clothes shop in one of the back streets between Covent Garden and Long Acre, where you could get nice scarves, and about three doors along, there used to be some people who did hand-painted ceramics. I was hoping to get an ashtray for Dad, a sort of peace-offering. (Wishful thinking, for sure: it would take more than that . . . ) Anyway, the point is, neither of these places seems to be there any more. Both have been turned into coffee shops, and both of them were absolutely packed. And also, of course, coming from Italy I'm used to seeing people talking on their mobiles all day, but for the last few years I've been saying to everyone over there, in a tone of great authority, "Oh, you know, they're never going to catch on in Britain--not to the same extent." Why do I always do that? Bang on about stuff I know nothing about, as if I was a world expert? Jesus, everybody here has got one now. Clamped to their ears, walking up and down the Charing Cross Road, jabbering to themselves like loons. Some of them have even got these earpieces which mean you don't realize they're on the phone at all, and you really do think they must be care-in-the-community cases. (Because there are plenty of those around as well.) But the question is--as I said--who are all these people and what do they do? I know I shouldn't generalize from the closure of a couple of shops (anyway, perhaps I got the wrong street), but my first impression is that there are vast numbers of people who don't work in this city any more, in the sense of making things or selling things. All that seems to be considered rather old-fashioned. Instead, people meet, and they talk. And when they're not meeting or talking in person, they're usually talking on their phones, and what they're usually talking about is an arrangement to meet. But what I want to know is, when they actually meet, what do they talk about? It seems that's another thing I've been getting wrong in Italy. I kept going round telling everybody how reserved the English are. But we're not, apparently--we've become a nation of talkers. We've become intensely sociable. And yet I still don't have a clue what's being said. There's this great conversation going on all over the country, apparently, and I feel I'm the one person who doesn't know enough to join in. What's it about? Last night's TV? The ban on British beef? How to beat the Millennium bug?
Excerpted from The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Coe. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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