London weather

One of the girls in the office commented yesterday about the ‘London’ weather we were experiencing, and she was right: gloomy and drab, the chill seeping into your bones. It has been like that for the last couple of days, and though it will brighten again it is a precursor of what is to come. So be it. As I hurried out the door this morning I wore my overcoat and looked up and around me, cold again, I thought, more of the same. Then I caught the tram.

I bought my ticket as usual and found myself a seat. Opposite me was an older man, his hair grey and cut close to a scalp that showed pink between. His eyes were blue and watery, and on his cheeks, there was a bristly beard not dissimilar to the hair on his head. His green striped shirt was unbuttoned at the collar, revealing beneath a white undershirt with a frayed neck. He sat quietly as the tram gently rollicked along, without a newspaper to read or an iPod to listen to, his eyes never wavered, never flicked towards the window to take in the cold morning without, nor did he take in the passengers entering the tram and standing hanging to a strap, waiting for their stop. Like many he seemed in an early morning trance, sleepy still probably, and that exaggerated by the chill and sense of foreboding winter.

I knew the feeling well enough, but I looked at him and others, my eyes darted out the window and I speculated – as I do – on my fellow passengers, even as I intently listened to my iPod.

During the last few days, I have been listening to an audiobook, Seek My Face, a novel by John Updike. It is the tale of a famous woman painter now in her seventies being interviewed by a much younger woman. There is a sense in the byplay of rivalry between these two women, of generations past and the things that made them special. It is written from the perspective of the painter, her detailed and rambling answers, beautifully described, and in between, the memories she doesn’t voice but dwells on instead between her answers. It is interesting and beautifully written, as you come to expect from Updike.

I listened to it last night as I took the tram home, as the tram crowded around me unexpectedly and the evening sky lowered. In the streets we travelled through the traffic going by and in the shops’ lights came on to illuminate a patch in the growing darkness. I thought then as I listened of the flow of the time – this is what the book had done to me. I was aware of these moments and for once looked upon them in the context of a larger story. Listening to this fictional painter range far and wide across her life, the people she had known, the little adventures, the controversies and successes and questions, had given me a longer perspective on time. I realized that the moments we so blithely live somehow knit together into something larger and more substantial, into which there may be seen a pattern emerge – or maybe not. As the tram slid homewards I wondered what story I would tell from such a distance, where I would sit and what I would remember.

That came back to me looking upon this man opposite me. I wondered if in the years ahead that was where I was heading. He was older than me, smaller, quite different really, I was more robust in every way, but who’s to say what toll the years ahead may take? As I listened to the story continue to unfold in my ears and the tram chugged along I pondered that unemotionally. I couldn’t see it happening, but then show me someone willing to admit they can?

I don’t know what the years ahead hold, though I have hopes, and I’m unsure what trials might come my way. By and large, though I am pretty focused, more than most I get told. I have a fair idea of who I am and what my capabilities are; I have expectations that become standards of both conduct and performance. This is how I live. I couldn’t imagine a time when that might be different. I might come to accept some things in a different way, but I’ll always be hard at the ball. My mind is too active I think for it to be any other way, and I am possessed of an arrogant pride that will never allow me to dwindle.

I wonder though what the story will be told, what one day I will look back upon, how someone might speculate upon me sitting opposite on a tram. My stop came, I alighted from the tram and wandered down one of the narrow laneways that somehow remind me of Paris, and ordered a coffee, with a muffin to go with it. I will live a long time or go early, I thought, but I tended to believe I would go on and on. How can I not? People ambled by. I stood with my hands in the pockets of my coat and quietly joked with the girl behind the counter. It will be another cool day, I thought, more London weather, another day of many more to come.

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