Far away and long ago.
It's one of the most disconcerting things about ageing; when you suddenly realise that it's not just your childhood and youth happened so long ago; that your middle age is - it feels - a long time ago too. If not in some ways longer.
Granny belongs to a writer's blogging group, most of the members much younger than her. From time to time they talk about their parents; worrying for instance what their mum, let alone their dad, will think when they write, graphically, about sex. (This is not a new problem; Granny had to shut her mind, often, to the horror of her old dad reading her adult novels - which he did, every one; faithfully, sweetly, and probably without much pleasure. Though all he ever said was: 'I do wish you'd go back to writing children's books.' ) To get back to the point; it is a shock in itself to realise that some - many - of these shockable parents are around her own age; that her fellow writers could be writing about her. While she, on the other hand, feels much as she ever did, not so shockable at all, and not so far from any of them as this gap would make it seem.
Nearly fifty years ago she arrived in Oxford along with a group of young women of her own age. Four of them became particular friends. This four, forty-nine years ago, spent part of one Easter vacation in Northumbria walking the Roman wall. None of them had walking boots, let alone lightweight walking gear of any kind; it did not exist then. All of them ended up with searing blisters on their feet. They stayed in spartan - very spartan - youth hostels or in almost as spartan B&B's with fierce brown linoleum on the floors and quarrelsome gas heaters in the bathrooms that produced no more than dribbles of brown, luke-warm water; forget soaking in hot baths. But at 10 shillings - 50p - a night - to those so broke they'd had to hitchhike their way north - who cared. Anyway, in the fifties. such things were normal enough.
This May the four of them had intended to celebrate their meeting, 50 years ago, by walking much more comfortably in Calabria, in Southern Italy. But it wasn't to be. Three, including Granny, had already lost the husbands - long divorced or still married to them - whom they had met at Oxford. Now the only one left has fallen ill, seriously, and may well not survive, meaning that the fourth member of the group cannot join them. Granny knows that women tend to outlive men; but it seems an injustice that out of those who married into their group - and two or three others married to some more peripheral friends - not one has survived beyond their mid seventies, and most barely into their seventies. While the women on the other hand, younger admittedly, remain relatively, hale and hearty. (Was that the problem, she wonders; 'did we wear them out??)
Granny thinks back to being young, to being middle-aged; to being in love, marrying, raising children etc etc alongside these men, the kinds of business- and busyness- in which of many of her writing friends are now engaged. 'Dark, dark they've all gone into the dark.'.. she thinks, sorrowfully, misquoting TS Eliot who was, to be literal, writing about people going into tunnels in tube trains ... but at the same time meaning precisely what she means, what she feels, here. It makes her feel not only melancholy but dolefully resigned. Yet glad - grateful - to be alive herself. And yet, yes, melancholy, very.
'Dark, dark, they all go into the dark..' Granny's group of women is still in the light, though; they will go to Italy next year probably, inshallah. Meantime the three of them whose Oxford loves have already disappeared into the tunnel are off tomorrow, much more penitentially, to walk in Pembrokeshire. Granny is looking at her suitcase even as she writes; West Wales in May - or any time - means preparing to be frozen, cooked or drowned. She is going by bus as far as Bristol - now as then, students and the aged have this means of transport in common. With no car to hurl it all into, her suitcase is - has to be - a smallish weekend one. How will she fit everything in?
See you next week, wombats. Ta ra for now.