I’ve been listening to a lot of Divine Comedy lately. In particular, I’m taken with ‘Our Mutual Friend’, though quite a bit of the most recent album has slipped into my consciousness like an earworm, taking up residence in my brain in a manner resolved only by considerable repetition courtesy of Spotify. I find myself thinking that if forced to choose between open-access Spotify and the rest of the internet, I would take Spotify; from the moment I wake up to the minute I sleep, there is music in my head, no matter what I am doing, and the joy of having so much music at one’s fingertips is just indescribable.
As an aside, I love the narratives that Neil Hannon creates in his songs, and in ‘Our Mutual Friend’ I love the way he enunciates ‘I visualise her’, and I also love the North-by-North-West-reminiscent tambourine which kicks in as he sings ‘it’s hard to hear your own voice / Above the beat and the sub-bass’. There is something almost reassuring about hearing someone sing in a lexicon familiar from one’s own speech; ‘She told me that she really liked me / And I said “cool, the feeling’s mutual”‘ makes me smile.
Other recent listening has included Steve Reich, for whom I have a long and abiding love. His ‘Nagoya Marimbas’ is utterly entrancing.
Music has been a constant presence in my life for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I used to fall asleep to the sound of my parents playing piano duets in the room diagonally beneath me. When I had progressed to the deceptions of teenage life, I leaned perilously far out of the bathroom window, cigarette in hand, reassured that my transgressions would remain undetected as long as I could hear my mother practising Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ or Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’.
As an adult, I lost many of the pieces of my childhood for several years because they were contaminated by the immense grief I felt when my mother died; in her instructions for her funeral, she asked for Holst’s transcendental ‘Venus’, together with ‘Ondine’ from Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’, and both were lost to me for a decade thereafter.
Today, I can listen to those pieces and find myself once more in the church where I moved through her funeral as one asleep, but the distance that fourteen years of time has brought is a kindness; I ache to see her, to tell her of my life, to ask her all those questions that as a twenty-two-year-old I did not know I needed to ask and to which I will never now know the answers, but as a woman of thirty-seven I can think of her without always following the well-worn path to her deathbed.
Today has not been an easy one, and I long for the understanding I feel she would bring me. I wish I could ask her how she balanced the demands of her children, of her own inner life, of the dreams she still had as a fifty-something, many of which I know she felt unable to act out in the narrow version of life that reality offered her. I wish she could tell me that I am doing OK, that she understands, that it isn’t all a big and irretrievable mess. Just at the moment, just in this fugitive moment that I know to be transient but which feels nonetheless very permanent as I write this, I feel alone. Experience has taught me that these flashes of sharp grief will pass leaving nothing but a mild sting, and yet still I cannot seem to learn anything beyond the merest, most superficial awareness of this as I live through them. I repeat, by rote, ‘this too shall pass’, and I know intellectually that it is true even as I feel emotionally that it makes no bloody difference, and that my life is a D. H. Lawrence-inspired parade of one damn thing after another.
I sit at the kitchen table. I survey the warmth of the oak kitchen that I drew on the back of an envelope a little under a year ago, and which a lovely yet slightly intimidating man made into reality for me when we moved here. I look at the silver shine of the kettle, sitting atop the Rayburn and awaiting the first fire of the year. Six demijohns of plum and apple wine glug contentedly on the windowsill. My girls sleep, one in pyjamas with glow-in-the-dark constellations, the other a Victorian-length nightdress covered in squirrels. It is all a balancing act. Life is painful. Life is beautiful. Perhaps the pain is what makes it beautiful. Perhaps this constant paring-away of one’s image of oneself until one is left raw and unguarded is the ultimate beauty.