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Week 17: 22 – 28 March

You can always tell when it’s springtime in Britain. First of all, the clocks go forward (as they did last night), leaving you with a dull, leaden, jet-lagged feeling and causing you to stumble stupidly around the streets like an extra in a low-budget zombie movie, as though someone had turned up gravity while you were asleep; and secondly it starts to snow.

Forgive me if I’ve told you this before – at my advanced age the memory starts to go – but snow made my twenty-first birthday party especially memorable (and yes, we’re talking about the previous century here). Well, it was memorable for the snow, plus the lesbian couple who had a blazing row when one of them tried to seduce a (male) guest in a side room, which rather broke things up with “most admir’d disorder” (Shakespeare). But that’s another story entirely. Ah, youth.

My birthday falls near the end of April, so no one was expecting a blizzard. But about 8 o’clock it began to pither, then quickly turned into a full-scale storm – big fat flakes that settled and soon turned everything white. The party was at my parents’ house which is out in the Northamptonshire countryside, all winding country roads, so after an hour or so the guests had to admit defeat and “shog off” (Shakespeare again, so it can’t be rude, can it?) or they’d have been stranded. By 10.30 they’d all gone, and I was left alone with the clearing up, Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming LP, and a magical, snow-filled night.

Drummond Square daffodils

My parents live in a splendid old ex-public house which backs onto the Grand Union Canal, and I went out into the garden and walked over to the canal, cold wet snowflakes melting on my face and hair. The only light came from the back door, so by the time I reached the edge of the canal it was almost totally dark, just a faint yellow glow to pick out the drifting flakes, the only sound the irregular slap of water against the banks. I stood there for some minutes. The contrast between the profound stillness then and the empty noise of the party earlier couldn’t have been greater. I was only 21, the age when everything’s possible, and alternate futures radiate out ahead of you like spokes on a bicycle wheel.

I didn’t make any grand, life-changing decisions – I was fortunately saved from youthful portentousness by the cold snow running down the back of my neck – but I think that was the moment I decided I’d at least stop pretending I liked parties.

Meanwhile, halfway up the front of the gansey. Soon it will be time to decide when to start the neck, and what to do about the shoulders. But for now, time to get the thermals out – and wait for summer, since spring seems out of the question right now.

9 comments to Week 17: 22 – 28 March

  • Lynne

    It’s hard to tell from the photo comparison – but IS the middle diamond smaller than the one on the back like you planned. It’s stunning, regardless.
    And – isn’t this upcoming birtday a ‘half-century’ milestone for you?

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    Yes, the diamond is slightly smaller – it should consist of one “hole” fewer on each side, compared with the back.

    And yes – It’s the big 50 this year – which would be fine if I didn’t look a day over 70…


  • Lynne

    You be very delicate with that ’70’ comment – that’s where I’m headed! As far as I’m concerned, ANY old age is better than the alternative! So let’s tip a toddy to 50 and 70!

  • Gordon

    Well, the way I feel these days, 50 is the new 70! (I’m listening to a lot of Mahler just now, and this is from his song cycle Das Lied von Der Erde: “Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod” – dark is life, dark is death.)

    But I think on the whole I like your way of thinking better!


  • Suzanne

    It was my 16th that was chaotically memorable, and also served to confirm my dislike of parties. My guests were attending a Frank Zappa concert that afternoon, and then coming up to the party. Toward the end of the afternoon, I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed a tall column of black smoke rising from downtown Montreux. I popped across the street (the church blocked the view of downtown from the kitchen), and was horrified to see that it was the Casino (which was the concert venue) that was engulfed in flames.

    My guests did arrive in due course, unharmed, keyed up, and reeking of smoke; and things got out of hand pretty quickly as the older ones drank far too much. By the time Claude Fuchs (21) was sitting cross legged under the buffet table with an orange paisley waste basket on his head, I knew it was time to send everybody home.

    A month later, Deep Purple, lacking a recording venue (the sound studio was in the casino)and, apparently, song material, banged out “Smoke on the Water” in the basement of a nearby hotel, and the Casino fire became the stuff of rock legend.

    Perhaps I have already told you that story. There was a sense of dejà vu in the writing. Must be getting old…

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    No I didn’t know the story, though I knew the origins of Smoke on the Water (great riff, though I always thought a song about a recording studio was a little self indulgent!). But at least it made for a memorable day?

    For the longest time i just assumed that parties were something you were supposed to enjoy, so I did my best, but no matter how much I drank I always seemed to be the sober one.

    And to quote a very amusing British journalist, Charlie Brooker, I don’t want to get out of my head – it’s where I live.


  • =Tamar

    I think I prefer the diamond on the front to the diamond on the back.

    Parties are an odd ritual. As a non-drinker, I’ve learned that there is a certain excitation of energy that makes a get-together into a party. Children do it more easily than most adults, which makes sense because there’s also a strong element of playfulness. It’s tiring. I can only party so long before I need a break, and most parties go on too long for me. It might be a learned ability. I haven’t been to a lot of parties.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    My problem with alcohol, back when I used to partake, was that I never got the feel-good effect most other people experience – I just got clumsy, but never had my self-esteem improved! So I just felt like the only sober person at the party, but a sober person who dropped things and couldn’t get his key in the lock. Maybe to really enjoy parties, like sport, or life, you need to be able to enjoy getting drunk first…?


  • =Tamar

    Maybe the key is to enjoy being silly once in a while, and not care what others think about it, even later. I can do that, I just don’t drink. What is tiring is having to keep it up for more than a moderate length of time; I need to take a break after half an hour or so. Also, some people seem to burn up the group energy without giving any back – they’re fun, often seem to be ‘the life of the party,’ but eventually I really want them to stop.