Sarah has gone away, sea kayaking this time, and I’m alone again. Not lonely though. I find I rarely get lonely. Which is just as well as I find myself alone a lot.
Usually I’m alone here in this peaceful house. This house where I’ve lived for twenty six years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. A typical Liverpool three bedroomed terraced house that I’m appreciating so much while there’s only me here to keep it company. Bay windows top and bottom at the front, no carpets, sparsely furnished, gently coloured and a small yard at the back leading on to the entry, alleygated in recent years.
Sarah moved into the house a couple of years after me, so I never think of it as mine and have few memories left now of the brief time I lived here on my own. Though I do have the feeling that I was lonely here then but for the twice weekly stays of my young daughter Clare. Memories when Clare wasn’t here of cold evenings, with nothing much to do when my dishes were washed up after tea.
It’s been a good house though, and I’ve been happy here. Even if Sarah and I briefly looked around for somewhere else a few years ago, telling ourselves that we’d been here long enough. It came to nothing.
One of the reasons we looked around was to avoid having to do this place up. To find somewhere with new electrics, a new kitchen and a new bathroom. Because all of those things are old here, along with old plaster and old ceilings. In the early summer of last year one of the ceilings partially collapsed, bringing down with it a smell like the whole of the twentieth century. Smoke, sweat, boiled cabbage and two world wars. So work will need doing.
We’ve planned it out before, even saved up for it. But lives, circumstances, hospital waiting rooms and therefore times not working used up the savings and left the house waiting. Waiting for soon.
While I’m alone I’ll mostly read. The book I interrupted to start writing this being “Siege” by Helen Dunmore. Her novel about love, war and starvation in Leningrad in the winter of 1941. I’ve been reading only novels recently, though I hadn’t realised that until I started writing this sentence. I wonder why? When happy I’ve always had a habit of reading history books, the stories of things done and where the outcome is known or at least generally agreed upon. Maybe the novels are about my need for new stories in my life at the moment? I would say that’s probably true.
Mostly I read in silence so I can hear the story I’m being told. The different voices, the weather in the streets, any music that’s mentioned. But occasionally I’ll turn the radio on for a bit of background of my own. Usually Radio Three these last few weeks and particularly “Essential Classics” which I’m happy to leave on all morning, unless someone sings.
I do like listening to people sing, though it’s never opera, and usually only in the evening when I’m alone. Singing which Sarah doesn’t much care for, like on Stewart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music, or my beloved Scott Walker. I never read when I’m listening to Scott Walker. In fact I probably sing along. But that’s between me and these four walls.
Where all is silence and has been for all this time I’ve been sat here writing. Writing one of these more reflective blog posts being another thing I’m liable to do when I’m alone. Something I’ve particularly enjoyed over these last couple of weeks as the blog has taken its turn into thinking about what I’d do if I thought I only had a year left to go? I’d definitely spend large amounts of that time alone.
Still enough of me, happily alone and partly so because I regularly know when I won’t be alone. But what happens when being alone tips over into loneliness Then we’d be faced with one of the major ills of modern life, where loneliness, isolation and depression would not be the subjects of mildly appreciative reflections such as this.
For now though, in this blog post, I’m appreciating being occasionally alone and the pleasures it can bring. So I’ll go back to my book now. Then later on, before sleeping, some Scott Walker. The quiet solitude of Copenhagen.
“Follow me into just one more spring”
Morning now. A good sleep but awake, as I often am, around 6:30am. Remembering my Grandma when she’d visit us, early 1960s, padding around the house first thing when she was the age I am now.
I walk around on automatic. Curtains opened, cereals and juice poured out, short read of “Siege” while my breakfast goes down, last days of an uneasy peace in Leningrad, teeth brushed, put my running kit on. In silence.
Then out to the sound of my breathing, my own feet padding down the hill to Smithdown, quiet, not much early Saturday traffic, through the not yet waking terraced streets to Greenbank Park, herd of geese parting to let me through, not much honking. Up the slight rise on Greenbank Lane, arms starting to help now, across into Sefton Park, down the avenue of nearly autumnal trees, turn left by the café, along the brook and up the steps to near the Palm House. First other runner passes the opposite way now. Across to Ibbotson’s Lane and down the side of the on-site university halls to the Penny Lane Corner, too early for tourists. Then up the railway hill, arms and thighs straining now to the top, before gently down the far side, back across Smithdown and round Church Road and Prince Alfred to home. In silence, alone.
I type up the run there while it’s still in me then go for my shower, where ideas come to me while I stand in the running water like they often do. This is about silence too. If I turn the radio on I’ll listen to it, makes sense. But if I don’t and I have only the sounds of the running water and it splashing on my body to listen to then I’ll sometimes be able to hear myself think. Sometimes these ideas are about big things like what to do with my life. Today’s is about somewhere to run something that I’ve been having trouble finding. Clear and obvious, I step out of the shower knowing what I’ll do. All sorted without a word being spoken.
Dressed and down the stairs I prepare to break the silence. Kettle boiled, running kit and other clothes in the washing machine, I drink my tea and get ready to leave the house as Saturday morning wakes up around me.
Camera in my bag and that gig venue to check on my way to get the bus into town, to wander round, take photographs and see what’s what. If you see me say hello?
Another morning, still on my own, and Sunday dawns a little darker then later that Saturday did, a palpable message from the darkling year. Up again before seven and getting ready for another run. Running only working for me if it becomes a ritual part of my life rather than a special effort. This will be, I reckon, my tenth run in not much over a fortnight. After a patchy year of over busyness and therefore getting literally out of my rhythms. Which in the end made me ill and off working for weeks.
Breakfast, read a bit then run, like yesterday.
Same run, my body still mildly surprised at being asked to run on consecutive days. The sparkly autumn sun through the parks is a gift though and I reach home with the energy to sprint the last few hundred metres.
Later, mid-afternoon and reluctant now to let go of the silence. It’s come to feel like a possession I want to protect. Earlier I turned on the radio, like I often will on Sunday mornings, but today Cerys Matthews, much as I like her, kept interrupting the silence so I turned her off.
I’ve become hyper aware of how much I usually multi-task, a modern phrase it seems to me now for not concentrating properly on anything. If I’m reading I only want to read. If I’m eating I only want to eat. I needed to get to this, this straight thinking and I’m here now. Thanks to being alone and thanks to the silence. Now, in the last few hours of this current silence I’ll take my straight thinking for a walk to find where the thinking will take me next.