There are nooks in London, I must admit, I wish no more to see – places that evoke memories still too raw. And yet, on occasion, they can’t be avoided and the tide comes rolling in. Such is life, such is growing older – pass the bottle of port round the table.
I once stood with a friend on a westbound Tube train, and he told me all was not well. In time it must have got worse. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him, fondly. Best not dwell of course, mustn’t get down, still so many bright days ahead. But these days, and nights, one is given pause and a glass or two is raised to fallen comrades.
Spend enough years on God’s green earth and conversation drifts to old times. The eyes of the world will roll, but some things can’t be helped: reverie is an addiction for middle-aged men.
What, then, to make of such a man displaced on an ancestral isle? Where does he fit in? Where is home? It depends what he was chasing or fleeing upon landing at Heathrow. It depends what was found or lost. Twelve years in London is 12 years away from Sydney: the Bondi sands wash up along the Thames. The cities tumble and swirl and the faces draw forth, saying: ‘Welcome to intermission.’ Now the years ahead are fewer than those left behind and thoughts dart like starlings, habits die hard.
I’m not the kind of man
Who tends to socialise,
I seem to lean on
Old familiar ways
I first heard Still Crazy After All These Years, the title track of Paul Simon’s fourth solo studio album in 1975, when just a boy. It made a vague kind of sense then: that things looked different with age and experience. Each of us is crazy in our own human way – even the sanest person can lose the remote. Everyone falls a little in love, everyone breaks a heart, everyone needs a jolly good night’s sleep.
Poets best capture the inconvenient truth, of moving forward while looking back. ‘You can’t put off being young until you retire,’ Philip Larkin wrote, 37 years after Dorothy Parker asked: ‘What is it, what is it, I almost remember?’ They knew, just as each one of us learns eventually about the essence of timing. Is it too soon to reflect, or too late to plan? When is it right not to care?
Four in the morning,
Crapped out, yawning,
Longing my life away.
I’ll never worry,
Why should I?
It’s all gonna fade
Well, quite. Another year rolls into view, time again to reassess the correct dosage of red wine. Time once more to marvel at the kindness of friends, the patience to weather scatterbrain thoughts and much too much emotion. Here comes Charlie Chuckles again, all sine-wave mouth and furrowed brow, and a curious giggle when panicked.
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers,
Still crazy after all these years
We’re all in this together – or at least, we’re not alone. Anchors and lifebuoys are within reach and there’s a lighthouse to guide the way. I love my friends, I’d be lost without them. God bless our fallen pals.