Fragments: From Rosario To St Anthony
The year my great-great-grandmother turned eighteen, the Duke of Wellington took a pack of hounds with him from England to Spain, so he could hunt foxes while his soldiers busied themselves killing Frenchmen and raping Spanish girls. Goya, meanwhile, painted rich ladies and generals and sketched the dying as he wandered through an inside-outside hell, tormented by his deafness, by the blackening violence and by the crunching smallness of making ends meet. Back home, my great-great-grandmother was painting imaginary masterpieces and driving a pack of imaginary hounds through an imaginary Spain. And me? I stayed in Barcelona, learned Catalan, stole.
I’m writing this as I sit (yet again) on the 85, this time behind a wild-haired woman of about thirty who’s holding a soft, cuddly, one-eyed toy tiger and roaring playfully at him. The Polish builders stare at her. I watch them stare. Putney High Street is busy this morning and the bus is jerking, slower even than usual, towards Roehampton. The man who just came up the stairs, glanced around and went back down again looked just like Goya to me. And a little like my great-great-grandmother.
Which is odd. As is this: the stranger in the seat next to me turned to me just now and said, ‘Who was that woman I saw you with?’ I haven’t been asked that for years – especially in Catalan – and I gave an answer, as I always used to, that was both true and evasive. In the Egypt of (yes) Isis – ideal woman, ideal wife, lover of saints and sinners – there were no buses, there was no Putney, no Kanye doing Bohemian Rhapsody even. So how am I really supposed to answer questions like,’Who was that woman I saw you with?’?
It seems to me two question marks at the end of any sentence is excessive. Which reminds me …
The children in here are badly behaved. It’s something you’ll notice about The Guardianreadingmiddleclasses (as this tribe is known): the kids inherit their parents’ sense of braying entitlement. I’m in a cafe in Crouch End now: the stranger’s curiosity was too oppressive, particularly in the bedroom. And I’ve been thinking about my father and realising nothing can ever quite make sense, however we disguise it with soft, clever words and internal rhyme. Time to go back.
BTW (as they say): when Goya walked in just now and ordered chai latte and one of those asparagus, chard and quinoa cake things, I started to cry. And then I decided to write you that letter.
You wondered what an appropriate soundtrack to our relationship would be. Well, a bit of Mott, I reckon, a slice of Schubert, a lot of Stockhausen, the more ballady stuff of Slade, some Jackson Browne and early Einstürzende Neubauten. All done by an Elvis impersonator fronting a Scritti Politti tribute band. Nothing after 1984.
d) An aphorism:
He who travels through time stays in the same place.
No big reveal, not yet. I’m wearing sunglasses. And a hat. I’m hiding. Like a spy. A love spy. Which was probably a 1965 film starring David Niven and Jean Seberg. ‘The Love Spy': A Cubby Broccoli (TM) Production.
The beach bends gracefully round in a nonchalant arc. It’s small, empty except for a fun-worn donkey and a sandcastle about to be repossessed by the North Sea. We text, meet for the first time, go to the pub – you have a spritzer, I have a JD – then wander past the Italian ice-cream place you love which is shut for the summer. When it starts to rain, I’m glad of the hat, though not the sunglasses. I take both off and we have no choice but to kiss. I don’t like the expression on the seagull’s face. Smug, chip-stealing bastard.
As a glorious victory approached, Wellington commissioned a portrait from Goya. He was so pleased with it, he took it with him into battle.
It’s true. I started to paint a portrait myself recently, in a style similar to Goya. Your eyes, sweet darling reader, your smile, your mother’s hair, your father’s body. You’re clutching a soft, cuddly, one-eyed toy tiger. I’ll finish it soon, as soon as you tell me you’ll come with me to my time.
Mathematical physicists use calculations that involve a fifth dimension: the usual three, plus time, plus one they’ve just made up. Using this extra dimension, they try to make sense of black holes. Which don’t – actually – exist. Probably. Sometimes metaphors just come along and smack you in the face.