Half a million spent on cranes and forklifts and trucks, lifting rock from a stately home (that doesn’t need to profit, what with the visitor tariffs and gift shop and restaurants) and digging up another site on monied ground. Planting up the flowers and pumping water through like it was a stream, a real stream. The Champagne people are here, stroking their chins and their wallets. The Royals stagger through. The paying people gawp. They look at the sandstone, at the scale. They feel in their pockets for cash. They forget that all this is theirs; that the land lives.
Sometimes when it feels to her as if everyone is waiting for some small event to breathe life into a suffocating world, she is found attending to memories.
She tries to catch absences as they arrive; the past as it claims the present; the futures that crumble at a touch; the goings as they’re coming.
She notes how glister turns to gloom. (Her words.) And how gloom soon unfastens.
Over lunch, in the park, a man sits on a bench and chews a sandwich. She gathers up her phone, keys and pass, and heads back to the office. Time up.
Christ but there’s too many flags about, he said, sittin back down and slidin three pints across the table. Too much wavin from balconies, fly-pasts and old codgers grumblin bout the way they suffered. Christ, I mean. He sniffed.
Look at you man, the guy’s friend said, sweepin his fringe from his eyes. I mean your jeans, that shirt. Out of touch.
Oh don’t start.
I’m not startin. It’s just, you know, you’re old. Everyone’s lovin all that these days. Nostalgia. Fashion.
Yeah, why not? You’re suppin ale, everyone’s eatin cupcakes.
Tory fuckin cupcakes?
They both laughed.
Wearing this jacket, which bears witness to the grand public schools, the British Empire, Kipling and Kitchener, Ypres, the Somme and the Western Front, brassy medals, Chelsea bombings, fighting in Norway, Palestine, South Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, the Order of St Patrick, the ‘Troubles’, Brian Boru, the kid cadets still named ‘mini Micks’, Passchendaele, Jacobites and the Battle of the Boyne, the bear-skin hats, the Stuart dynasty, postings in Belize, Cyprus, securement of the British Sector of West Berlin, Kuwait, Basra, County Fermanagh, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, the freedom of Liverpool, with thousands upon thousands dead and mutilated, I thee wed.
That summer, cauliflowers and cabbages landed in our garden, gifts from next door’s vegetable patch. Maybe we played army in the fields. Post-Lennon, pre-Falklands, before the first CDs, just after the Toxteth riots and ahead of Sadat’s assassination. Retro styling meant Shakin’ Stevens and the future was the Commodore 64. There were street parties while plans were hatched, affairs were had, lies were told, while you were a sudden shudder, engendered there – and then… the burning truth, the broken car, and your mother dead.
And, well, we used to talk over the garden fence; now we do it across firewalls.