I kicked further back into life this weekend.
Jono invited Maureen and I to join him in celebrating his wife Gina’s birthday at an Airbnb location in Suffolk. The accommodation was decent enough, in the annexe of a large house buried somewhere in the rurality of Nayland-with-Wissington. But the company was the thing. We hadn’t all met for over a year. The conversations ranged broadly. Starting with the necessary catch-ups, touring through our children’s and parents’ lives, touching on work and perennial financial struggles, blasting gustily through the ersatz political landscape and always landing most happily in a fecund bed of humour. A mini-Biscuit Factory.
The River Stour was our background companion. It showed us a calmly meandering route from the nearby church at Wiston, wIth its Norman architecture and dragon murals, along to the Anchor pub in Nayland, where we ate twice. It was also the location for our goodbyes, on the outskirts of Dedham, watching a playful herd of bulls from a riverside café. Best of all, we saw the sun set low on Saturday night from stunning vantage points over the widening river in Mistley and Manningtree.
The fish and chip shop in Manningtree High Street didn’t look too promising. Gaming machines, garish colours, strong smells of old fat, and hardly any food on display. The woman behind the counter was talking to a young man, advising that he take great care with his money. He had the directness that can accompany learning difficulties, as he asked a series of simple but pertinent questions to gain feedback on his financial situation. The woman patiently gave him a set of detailed answers, adroitly mixing the compassion and good sense of a mother with something of a policeman’s unquestionable authority.
The guy took a huge, humorous delight in pronouncing that there were only 87 days to Christmas. After he left, she told us that he had lost his mother and lacked a competent father. She helpfully steered us to where our meal, costing just over £16, could be eaten while we watched the Stour and the sky. Hundreds of waders exploiting the low tide were barely visible by the time that we munched our deliciously fresh fish and chips.
Two geese made the air wobble as they set sail inland. A train coursed along the opposite bank, heading for Colchester, lighted carriages contrasting with the blackening above us. Jono talked about Ezra, their son. Photography degree secured, he has decided to live in Glasgow, so that he can use the inspiration of nearby mountains and water to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. Rather than live with his talented girlfriend in London, Ezra has given himself 10 years to succeed. He will find a factory job for half of the week, and create in his own most unique ways for the remaining time. The regret of looking back and knowing that he failed to give his dream his best shot will not be Ezra’s.
On the way back, we discussed the notion that a voracious heterosexual encounter might leave ‘a whiff of penile cordite’ or female equivalents in the air. Gina later referred to ‘penile cordial’, which triggered raucous new suggestions.
The sun shone all weekend. West Ham beat Manchester United 3-1. I snuck into my wife’s bed on Sunday morning for a cuddle of outstanding quality.