The Time is Out Of Joint

It’s already spinning quickly into mid-June and at last, it seems we have a summer. Even last month, this seemed unlikely, something that could only be imagined.

In the middle of May, merry May, everything was late. The blossoms, the leaves, the birdsong in its full Spring splendour, and the bluebells, all had only recently emerged. The temperature was still lagging well behind, with a February chill persisting. Coat wrapped tight, hatted and gloved against it, I walked beneath the fruit trees to the shops, with the white blossoms gently perfuming the air and drifting to the broken tarmac like a late snow. To breathe this in, I could at least pretend it was properly spring.

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Late one evening, the wind rose violently, driving cold, hard rain against the window, an aqueous battering ram straight from late autumn. I tried to console myself with the thought that it was light until later in the evenings now, which is always a good thing, regardless of whatever the weather decides to throw up. Full after a mediocre dinner, and with nothing on the TV (why is it the more channels there are, the less there is that I want to watch?), I opted for music as a soothing accompaniment to the rain. A recently discovered piece, Spem in Alium by the Elizabethan Thomas Tallis. As the plangent voices filled my room, I was lifted clear away, out of time. Like plainchant, it felt so completely timeless. I could imagine myself listening to it in an old church, with the sounds and echoes rolling around the stones, seeming to be part of the very fabric of the place, gently exhaling it with centuries of incense and prayers.

In my room, I could wrap the music around me like a soft old blanket as the patter of rain on plastic window frames gently drums on. Such an evocative sound. It always takes me to my grandparents’ house, sitting in their back room looking out at the wet garden, the lawn a lusher green under the silken April drizzle. And now, even though these rains come from a colder place and a later month, the same feeling. The soft rains of memory drip into my cup so I can drink, but not too deeply.

Persistent winter, lingering and loitering long past its welcome. Spring and summer postponed, delayed, still out of sight of the day when sweaters, gloves and scarves can be put away. A shattered season, more broken than the chest of drawers I carried to the skip recently, my feet crunching on shards of glass last night’s drunks have left.

A few days later, and there was a real afternoon of heat. Reluctant to remain indoors, I drove out into the countryside. I parked near the Trent and Mersey canal at Hassall and walked along the towpath. I sat by a lock and read. Someone came up to the gates, turned the handle and with a roar, the rank brown water rushed out. For a few moments, it drowned out the drone of the M6. Daises and buttercups in the grass round my feet, dandelions fluffing the air. I read yesterday’s paper, the travel supplement, an article about road trips in America. It briefly filled my mind with visions of road side diners, huge trucks, men in check shirts and lots of cups of coffee. Instead of the green tunnels of the “B” roads of Cheshire, tea rooms, old ladies walking the dog, and Eddie Stobart Scanias. The barge passed between the rough hewn sandstone jaws of the lock, and once the drone of its engine had been swallowed by that of the motorway, only the soft slapping of water against the lock gates remained.

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A cloud rolled the sun away and a breeze blew up in its wake, chill in the renewed shade. It carried with it a faint aroma of cooking bacon and woodsmoke from a moored barge, with perhaps a subtler hint of coffee. Unless I unconsciously added that to perfect the cosy picture that had formed in my mind. Another article in the supplement concerned the best place to get a really good coffee in Portland, Oregon.

The sun re-emerged and I was once again bathed in its heat, refamiliarising myself with the delight of its hot breath on my face and arms. As I walked back to the car, past nodding cow parsleys, a glint of silver caught my eye: a dead fish in the still, rusty water. Past lines of tied-up barges, from places as far-flung as Oxford, Pershore, Nottingham, London, and closer to home: Middlewich.

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I passed several people walking the other way. Serious walkers these: proper boots, large rucksacks, and ski-sticks. Some smiled a greeting, most ignored me, faces set and determined. I remembered those now distant days when I could walk six miles in an afternoon and sit down later feeling content in my tired muscles. Unbidden, an dream image from weeks ago returned to me: a sort of alter-ego, a man who had thrown up his job and went to work as a level crossing keeper on some quiet railway, and who explored the roads of Britain in a camper van.

And now it’s June and warmer more consistently. Let’s hope it lasts….

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