24: Park – Calling

There is one aspect of despair that must feature in this analysis, and that is disappointment.

It is the summer of 1963 and, on this particular day, everywhere I go in the world, indoors and outside, is flooded by that wonderfully brilliant light of my dreams. I have been in the garden, rid­ing my bicycle up and down. We have had lunch, and now, as the afternoon advances, thick crystal-like shafts of sunlight, filled with floating motes, cascade out of the south-western sky onto the bril­liant blue living-room carpet. All day I have brimmed with the excitement of an anticipated trip to the large public park that lies to the south, only a few hundred yards away, along the main road and down a short side-turning. We went there often, I and my parents (or one parent), with my brother in his pram or pushchair. The park, earlier in the century[*] had been the private grounds of an aristocratic estate, one of a dozen or so public parks (some smaller, some larger) that are dotted across the map of north London. It possessed a wonderful network of tarmacked paths, laid like piped icing sugar of the wrong colour on top of the virid grass, which was perfect for riding my bicycle on. Towards the southern side of the park was a boating lake, with an island on which ducks lived, and one of my favourite bits of path circum­navigated this lake, affording at every moment beautiful waterscapes of scintillating light, accom­pa­nied by the occasional sounds of splash­ing as ducks put their heads down looking for waterweed to eat, and of wings thrashing momen­tarily, or of excited quacking. Sometimes we brought stale bread to feed to the ducks. This boating lake was my Walden Pond, though I did not know then that I could phrase it that way.

I so wanted to visit the park that afternoon, and my father had said that he would take me, and as the morning hours had passed, and as the after­noon began, my eager anticipation grew more in­sistent. Perhaps it was three or four o’clock, and perhaps I had been up and down the garden on my bicycle a few times, at the point I asked my father if we could at last set off for the park. He looked up from where he was reclining in his chair, interrupted in his reading, and said that he was too tired to go to the park that day. Oh dear… He had said we would go, but now he has changed his mind. Of course, this has happened before, so it was not a new thing and therefore more devastating for its newness. So in a sense, this change of heart was to be anticipated no less than the going itself.

duck-hi

Oh, but I was so disappointed. I had so want­ed to go. I had ordered my day around that going. Everything done so far, all thoughts enter­tained, all words spoken, every step upon the stairs, all had been done in anticipation of our trip to the park. Such disappointment. And somehow, now, the rest of the day didn’t seem to fit properly, like putting the wrong key into a lock, or unex­pect­edly finding that you have opened a book upside-down, causing that moment of shock and disorien­tation. And I think I felt cheated. I was at this time already aware of transience, already aware that in the history of the world, whether anyone would ever know it or not, the facts would register that in all my life I was to visit my lovely park on only X occa­sions. But now that number was to be X1, and even the art of arithmetic, which is trying enough anyway, conspired to darken my bright day.

That particular disappointment was a failure of expectation, a collapse of anticipation. There is another disappointment that sometimes afflicts me, and that is the disappointment of flaws. This, for me, manifests mostly in my experience of books. For sometimes, I have had the misfortune to ac­quire a book that has faulty printing, or faulty binding (I once had a book that lacked one of its signatures), or had been damaged in some way, during manufacture or afterwards. That is the worst page to read, the page with the flaw on it. It is not possible to read this page without one’s eye repeatedly darting to the flaw, as if the disfigure­ment had some kind of magnetic pull. I once had a book with a slight tear to one of the pages, just a little one, at the bottom, and even though all the other pages were sound, the presence of that tear, unseen as yet today, made reading the good pages almost impossible.

[*] The 20th century, that is.

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