Our landlady has very kindly decided that since our house is, not to put too fine a point on it, falling down, we have to move out. She’s not given us the hugest of windows to get on with this, there aren’t many places I really want to live, and we own a lot of things (this is primarily my fault because I am to books what magpies are to tin foil). As a result of this I’m even less able to get my head around writing anything intelligent at the moment, so here’s an extract from a letter I started writing during my lunch break today.
Almost anything can be an act of devotion if you want it to be one.
We have beautiful churches here. What makes them ‘holy’, or gives them a sense of the divine, is the shape. It produces echoes that move upwards, and keeps the place cool and strangely silent: there is self-imposed order in these buildings designed to make you feel small but in touch with something bigger: Leonard Cohen captures it sometimes in his songs of adulation, sacrifice, and self-abasement. His passion is masochistic, religious – whether sanctified or decidedly profane, he understands that there is pleasure to be found in kneeling before something.
One of the beaches we used to drive to in the evenings was a long narrow scar cutting inland between a huge high cliff and a lower one made of sandwiches of dark rock run through with wide quartz seams. It was a terrible place for swimming – I nearly drowned myself on a number of occasions – but on our way in and out of the deep valley there was a graveyard up on the cliff top.
It was small, full, and completely surrounded by a stone wall that came up to my chest – filled with plants and birds’ nests – and with a roofed-over gateway of the sort that is common in churchyards in Southern England. But if there was a church it had gone. The graves lay in a sort of order, but the rows had grown higgledy-piggledy and everywhere long pale grass was taking over the land of the dead, just as the branches scaled the walls. I have always loved cemeteries of the old English sort because they are quiet, empty, and home to exciting wildlife, but this one, with its view to endless blue skies and nodding ox-eye daisies, with the wind bringing the sea into my hair at sunset, was always my favourite.
It was unusual for an English graveyard for its lack of trees, specifically the heavy yew that haunts most. Somehow the bright and breezy loneliness of it seemed more appropriate than the stifling mourning-scent of yew, a bit like the Chinese preference for white for mourning being somehow more sensible than the European predilection for black.
It is a very long and meandering letter of the sort I haven’t written in a good long time, and I’m fairly pleased to find myself in the right frame of mind for writing to people at all. It places the sci-fi short out of commission for the time being, perhaps, but there was no deadline on that.
Currently reading: The Charioteer by Mary Renault (a reread and a comfort read, which I’d already found I needed before the eviction notice), and Where Angels Fear To Tread by E M Forster, with occasional digressions into David Cronenberg by John Costello as I have returned to my old, bad habit of reading several books at once.
Currently listening to: A return to obsessive re-listenings of Virtue by Emmy the Great, although I have promised a friend I would give her my thoughts on England Keep My Bones by Frank Turner.
Currently watching: No television, although I intend to catch up with The 10 O’Clock Show to mitigate the poisonous seepings of the newspapers I can’t help seeing on the way to work, and a kind of fervent fascination with cut scenes from the 1987 film adaptation of Maurice.
And a small favour: If you have been eyeballing anything in my shop, between now and early May would be a lovely time for you to buy it, as I need to get stock out of my house before I move.