Saturday, June 10, 2017

Katharine Hepburn was pouring Bourbon she didn’t really want, thinking “what now?”

As I walked up my road last night I saw the local fox with her three cubs. This was very exciting because I know this fox, but I did not know she was a mother. It was only 9.30 but my street was very quiet. More like an early Saturday morning than Friday night. Everyone was either still at the pub or tucking duvets high and close under their children’s chins. I'd pulled myself through that restless indecision that follows an evening of sitting on a sunny curb drinking beer after work. That was some good curb time; I talked to a colleague about New York City and how good people are at flirting there. Better than in London where we don’t like to stare at a stranger’s shoes for too long in case they spot our approval. He is Greek, and told me that "Nostalgia" means homesickness and sadness, that it's a sort of homesickness for a place that made you sad. That's all he really said, but I look it to mean longing for something you don't really want.

A fox I saw in 2010. 
Now I was hungry and incapable of knowing what my stomach wanted. I decided that my stomach didn’t know what it wanted, so I just had to get home and give it something good. I needed to parent my stomach, and that meant being loving and stern. I thought about how red my sister’s eyebrows used to turn when she was a small and tired. It was a warning sign. I don’t have a physical indicator of listlessness. It either comes out of my mouth as a babbling list of possible outcomes, or I just go home. I think lots of people just carry on drinking through that feeling. But I had to go home. Henry was at work, and the others were far south of the river. Everyone already had plans.

But the foxes. I stayed very still when I saw them. I hoped they’d let me watch, but I couldn’t take a chance on them spotting me and running away because I wanted this moment. The mother was washing one cub's tail while the others raced skittishly. Before I came to London, I never saw foxes by daylight. A fox in Bristol or Manchester was a moment that stood still some time after 3am. I’d round a corner and share mutually shocked eye contact until it bounded off. Seeing a fox was like seeing an big full moon, or smelling a jumper that belongs to someone you love. I’d climb into bed thinking “ahh, thank you universe for giving me a fox tonight!” But the foxes in London are audacious and shabby and not really loved. They sunbathe on garden sheds and pick fights and stalk down the streets like commuters. Because they are Londoners they have learnt to be unbothered by the close-quartered living conditions. They do not have time for privacy, and are not embarrassed about gathering chicken bones or washing their cubs out in the open.

Hungry on the street, I wanted a fox mum to clean my tail for me. I wanted to be close to other people without having go to a restaurant or a bar or spend more money. I wanted to lie quietly in a room with a door open, and hear people pottering in other parts of the house. I wanted somebody to make me dinner, and for me do the same for them tomorrow. There are so many things I want, and I don’t think I will ever grow out of it. Sometimes I am plagued by longing, but sometimes it wraps me up. It wraps me up when I’m sprawling on the mad flower patterned sofas at my parents house, or at the cinema with my arm hairs on end, clutching at something.

I long for the feeling of lying on my parents’ sofa here in London. I long to own more than one shelf in my fridge. I long for summer holidays. I don’t begrudge the longing, because I am used to being guided by it. It’s what gets me up in the mornings, working for a bigger fridge, a longer holiday. I’ve accepted the everyday presence of longing, which sort of makes it feel less deep. Maybe you're reading this and thinking 'oh, she is having a bad time' but my feelings can be flippant. I go deep into my longing, and the next moment I'm thinking about something else. I reserve my right to write something and feel differently later. Longing always summons another Friday.

I think I like longing when it’s doesn’t make me obsess over money. But maybe I sort of like obsessing over money? I have carefully calculated monthly budgets in spreadsheets, I am always keen to learn how people can afford to live. I don’t know where I learned to love this obsession, or who it is serving. Longing, I think as I watch the foxes, is just how I pass my time. What would it feel like not to? In twelve hours time, I will be walking by the canal, following the Canal and River Trust’s signposted suggestions (“Be like a Tortoise, Not A Hare!”) and I will remember again.

I left the foxes to their washing and familial tumbling. At home, I stood at the counter shovelled hummus and crackers into my mouth, a really good prawn and mayonnaise sandwich from leftovers. I watched Summertime in bed, David Lean’s tale of longing in Italy. For much of the film Katharine Hepburn leans on Venetian bridges, marvelling at gondolas, water fire engines and old stone, trying to settle into her aloneness. She is forever crying out in wonder, and then moments later the ‘o’ of her lips has slumped. Her shoulders rolled forward, saying “what now?”.

There’s no one to turn to and say “would you look at that!” but if there was, she’d have to move through the crowds in a different way. Her holiday isn’t much different from being back at home, if you think about the gaps we really live in. One moment you’re watching a fox and wishing you had your people around, the next you’re spreading mayonnaise across bread, just being. Or rather, you're always being. You don’t remember that listlessness once you’re back at home from your holiday. Everyone had left aperitivo on the balcony for dinner, and Katharine Hepburn was pouring Bourbon she didn’t really want, back to thinking “what now?”. I was asleep within five minutes.

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