I saw my son on Christmas Eve – he was working through the holiday – and as he left, the cold arrived. Waking at six or so on Christmas morning when it was still dark, I shrugged into a shawl and went from room to room, lighting candles in each, big fat beeswax numbers that were my present to myself this year. And then I went back to a bed I didn’t leave except to lie on the sofa, for the next week. It sounds joyless (cough/splutter/sneeze/sweat/repeat) and it was certainly tiring, but I gave in.
I must have been ill, I couldn’t concentrate to read. TV programming reached a new low and food didn’t interest me much. The cough medicine has been returned as unfit for purpose – now made under licence some other where which is just an excuse to shift units. Brandy and tonic was much more use. And lemons, lemons till I was yellow round the edges.
But the quiet embraced me. Everybody was away. I could hear birds occasionally and a brief glance into the street showed it still. I’m trying to remember when I became so aware of silence: maybe it is just that the world grew noisier as I aged. A great deal of what the rest of the world tolerates as a matter of course is intolerable, hands over ears, to me. The quality of sound fascinates me, though what it is and how you interpret it is in the ears of the beholder.
In autumn 2017, a friend, much brighter and more down to earth than I will every be, remarked in conversation how threatening London felt – that the aggression in the air was tangible. In the 25 years we have known each other, she has never made a remark like this. Perhaps it is simply that we use sound to deafen ourselves against the thudding of our nervous hearts or we use sound to perceive.
The silence over Christmas is largely to do with the falling away of levels of sound you tolerate in a city. Every kind of traffic slows or stops, you notice the interruptions but they are few. And if the silence isn’t broken, you begin to listen to the silence. Apart from silence that just is – because it occurs – there is a silence born of snow and another that comes with fog. And then it’s about levels of perception. Snow is benign if you are warm indoors and can contemplate it, less so if it’s many feet deep and you’re stuck in it. Just as fog can vary between romantic mist and deadening white out, frightening to travel through.
So the last days of the old year passed, leading up to the drama of New Year which I haven’t shared for years because a new year is like a new person, you don’t know how it will behave until you learn a bit more about it. I think of New Year as a tiger: very beautiful but cuddly it is not. And I wait to discover if it is going to let me get past it or I am going to have to wrestle with it. I love big cats but forget the anthropomorphism.
So this is Day Two – Wolf Moon tonight – and we are in the corridor. In the corridor at work meant where you put things you had no space for in your office. In the corridor at school meant you had misbehaved and were sent out to wait until the teacher had time to deal with you. In the corridor, I thought this morning, the passage in between two places. I looked it up, derives from the Latin “to run”, running between, on the way to somewhere. Good image for New Year. In the corridor geographically means the passage between a landlocked territory and the coast. The journey out, the way forward …Travel safely.