December 20, 2005

Pace attack

The BBC Weather Centre Manager
BBC TV Centre
Wood Lane
London W12 7RJ

Dear Sir/Madam

I wonder if I might seek your opinion on the status of a outstanding query I have with the BBC Online weather forecasting service.

This offers a five-day weather forecast which one can access by inputting the postcode for a given area. Being a cricket fan, and the weather forecast being integral as to whether or not play is likely in a cricket match, I am naturally interested in the weather for Lord's Cricket Ground which is in the postcode area NW8. However, when I attempted to input that code, much earlier this year, I was given, much to my surprise, the following message:
Postcode searches must include all letters and numbers of the first part of the postcode. No locations were found for "nw8".
This took me aback since I have been going to Lord's for more than thirty years and it has been in the NW8 postcode area all this time. No matter, I thought: I shall contact the service, using the feedback form provided, and they will surely address the problem. My confidence was boosted by my receipt of a same-day reply:
Thank you for bringing this to my attention, we will be working on the postcode problems very soon, I have passed this onto the technical team

Duty Producer
BBC Weather Centre
That was on 6 April: the cricket season began two days later (hence my interest at that particular time) with the traditional match between MCC and the Champion County. The first day, as it happens, was lost to bad weather, with freezing temperatures and - if memory serves - snow. I didn't expect the problem to be solved by then (fortunately, I decided not to attend the first day anyway) but I was surprised, given the use of the term "very soon", that it remained unresolved a fortnight later, and on 20 April sent another email on the subject. This received no response.

On 18 May I sent another message, which was favoured with no fewer than three responses at various levels. The first read thus:
Your email has been forwarded to the BBC Weather Centre.
The second, an automated reply, began:

Thank you for contacting the BBC Weather Centre. Your feedback and comments are both welcome and important.
The third, clearly from an actual human being but not alas one with a name, said:
Good afternoon ejh

I'm aware of some problems with the postcode search but thank you for bringing this to my attention. We have set aside development time for this problem and will fix it as soon as humanly possible


Duty Producer,
BBC Weather Centre

"As soon as humanly possible". Naturally I assumed that the use of this term meant that it would in some way be addressed as soon as humanly possible, which it apparently was not. Within a week the First Test at Lord's between England and Bangladesh had come and gone (I had tickets for the third day, which was shortened not by the weather but by the ineptitude of the visiting side's batsmen, which degree of ineptitude apparently rivals your own). On 5 June, I contacted you again, asking:

Dear Sir/Madam

Do you have any idea as to when "as soon as humanly possible" is likely to be?

On 16 June I received a reply:
Thank you for your email with regards to the problem you are having accessing the forecast for your postcode. We are sourcing the latest post code data, which will fix this problem. In the meantime you can access your forecast by typing in your town name. Sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.
One notes, in retrospect, the absence of an use of the word "soon" or any synonyms thereof. The advice to input the town name was kindly meant, no doubt: unfortunately, it doesn't work. (Possibly the system fails to recognise St or something). I emailed back to point this out: no reply was received.

On 5 July, perhaps mindful of the approaching Ashes series, with the first Test to be played at Lord's, I tried again:
This problem remains unfixed, three months after I reported it.
and when after three weeks (and the first Test been and gone) your service was still silent, I tried again:
Nearly four months on, this problem has still not been addressed.
Mirabile dictu, a same-day reply, and from a real person, F! She wrote:
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately this wasn't a simple problem (although it may seem like it). Please bear with us while we set this up.

Kind Regards

Well, if it were not a simple problem, it would have been as well to tell me that when claiming that it would be done "soon", or "as soon as humanly possible", but no matter. I did indeed bear with you, until 22 August, when I sent another email to which no reply was given:
This remains unfixed.
It remained unfixed by 11 September, when the last fixture of the season was played at Lord's - and indeed when the cricket season ended on 25 September. On 26 September, realising that there were fewer than seven months until the next season and that there was therefore no time to lose, I tried again:
Do you think I could have an honest explanation as to why this hasn't yet been fixed?
I got a reply from another unnamed Duty Producer:

Hi ejh,

We are working on this problem and hope to have it and other mapping issues resolved by the end of October.


Well, short though my patience was by now, I nearly made it through to the end of October before enquiring again. On 25 October, I observed:
The end of October is practically upon us.
So it was: and once again, there was some celerity in replying to my message, if not (alas) in actually dealing with the problem. I had an email from C:

Dear ejh

Thank you for your email. I have checked with the web team, and they have confirmed that they now have an update to the postcode database and are working with the Met Office to add new postcodes as soon as possible. It is a priority, but as we mentioned before, not a simple job.

No doubt: it certainly seems not to have been "humanly possible" to resolve the problem in the eight months and more since I drew it to your attention. Nor indeed to respond to my subsequent emails on 17 November, 1 December and 14 December, the last of these asking if I could possibly have the name and address of an identifiable individual to whom I could send a complaint. Apparently, I could not: I had to contact the Met Office in Exeter just to get the address to which I have sent this letter.

Now, I know that it is, in some ways, a trivial problem. I also know that I could get a suitable weather forecast by entering the postcode of an adjoining area, or perhaps by entering Marylebone in the appropriate field where St John's Wood will not work. But I do wonder whether it is really necessary to take more than eight months in order to fail to resolve this problem, or whether the period of time it takes is really compatible with the claims that were made at the outset, that it would be resolved "very soon" or "as soon as is humanly possible". I really don't like being fobbed off at the best of times and fobbing someone off for a period in excess of eight months doesn't really do the BBC Weather Centre any credit unless it is an attempt to set some sort of record. (If so, I would be grateful to know what record is actually being aimed at, so that I know how long this is likely to continue.) Nor am I entirely amused by the number of my emails that have been ignored, especially the one asking who I should have to write to in order to pursue this complaint properly.

As the target of "the end of October" has eluded us, I wonder whether it would be possible to set a new one? The first match at Lord's in the
2006 season begins on Friday 14 April, just 373 days after I first raised this problem with your people. The MCC play Nottinghamshire, the Champion County. I do not know whether or not I am likely to attend, but I would like to be rather less doubtful that by that time, this problem will have been resolved. Or, if not, that we revise our opinions of the limits of human capacity, if this is not, in fact, "humanly possible".

In the meantime, I suppose I would appreciate some sort of explanation for the various nonsenses that I have been told, not to mention the numerous occasions when I have been told nothing at all. To be honest it is hard to know which of these two dismal options I prefer.



December 18, 2005

Give us pause

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

I can recite the whole soliloquy: I used to be able to recite the whole thing in about forty-seven seconds. I learned it, twelve years ago this month, as a party trick to celebrate the leaving of a job, choosing the high-speed Hamlet rather than - my other idea - learning to recite the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody backwards, beginning with blows wind the anyway and closing with life real the this is? I've never got round to learning the latter of these party tricks: I thought I'd save it until I celebrated leaving another job. And now I am leaving another job, I find myself not in the mood for celebration.

I wasn't really in the mood before, if truth be told. I resigned that job, twelve years ago, in a tide of anger and a torrent of relief. In truth, the job resigned itself. It had become impossible to do. Impossible for me to function in the job. Impossible for me to function while I did the job. When she left the Labour Party, Shirley Williams notoriously claimed that she hadn't left the Party, so much as the Labour Party had left her: the sentiment applied to my job and my leaving of it rather more than it ever really did to Shirley Williams. The job was gone, disappeared, disintegrated: it couldn't be done any more. Some line had been crossed, some line which marked the end of patience, the end of will, the end of my resistance. My notice wasn't resignation so much as recognition. I spelled it out before it was spelled out for me. Like Duran said to Leonard: no mas, no mas. No more, no more, he said, and turned and walked away.

On my CV, or on job application forms, the reason for leaving - when they ask - is thus: wanted to write a book. Well, so I did, and write the book I did, although the book was written many months later, and not, in fact, begun until I was back in a job. I had certainly intended to write. but it was not the desire to write that gave me the impetus to leave my job: it was, instead, leaving my job that gave me the impetus to write. Gave me the chance, the opportunity: more than that, gave me the possibility. I couldn't write until I gave up the job. I couldn't do anything until I gave up the job. I didn't have another job to go to: it took me six months to find another. It made no difference. I couldn't have written any job applications while I still did the job. I couldn't write, sleep, think or even talk properly while I did the job: my speech would cut up, tangle, words with which I was familiar would elude my stressed-out mind. I could not have learned a line of Hamlet, let alone recited it. I could not have written a word until I wrote my resignation. They say of sackings, we have to let you go: to resign my job was a release.

I had been working for six years, nearly seven, at the DHSS. Processing claims for Supplementary Benefit, which then became Income Support. The DHSS became the DSS and then the Benefits Agency: the name changed but the job remained the same, until I moved onto the front desk and a job that was usually no worse wearying became, instead, intolerable. To be in the job was to be in a position of conflict: it was to pay, or withhold payment, to people who had no money and needed it. To pay them later when they wanted it sooner, to pay them not at all when they needed it desperately. I had no qualms about the job, not from the point of view of conscience: if I didn't pay everybody who I thought should have been paid, paying people was my daily job and every day, people who came with nothing left with something because of what I did.

It wasn't conscience, it was conflict. It was people shouting at you, swearing at you, threatening you, hating you, down the phone, in the letters that they wrote, in person if you saw them on the front. It was not intolerable, provided it was intermittent: it was rarely meant seriously, it was just somebody lashing out, and while, given the choice, one would rather have done without, it was just one of those things that makes a job unpleasant rather than impossible. Rude customers, if you are a shop assistant: faredodgers, if you drive a bus. There is always something, somebody: the intermittent conflict was less troubling to the mind than the permanent understaffing and the permanent overwork. You could never achieve anything: you could never get anything significant done. The most that you could do was clear your desk, and that was rare enough. For most people beyond all hope of ever happening.

But other jobs, too, are pretty much like that. You never complete any projects, never clinch any deals, never win any trophies, never change anything so things are never quite the same again. Jobs get you down: it's what they do. They get you down, and get you down, and then you go home and put the job away until the next day. As long as you can do that, then the job survives and you survive. But when the job allows no separation, when it preys on you, disrupts you, messes up your head outside the hours that they are paying you, then there is no job, because it is not a job but an affliction. It needs not to be done but to be cured.

My job became an affliction after they moved me onto the front desk: I survived there, as I recall, nearly two years, which was by, a distance, longer than the time which you could reasonably be expected to serve. It was rather like the bombing missions in Catch-22, in which the number the airmen were required to complete before they were allowed to go increased every time they approached it. The only difference was that there was no set time you were supposed to serve on this front, so you knew officially ,as it were, that you were there for infinity - or before it did for you, whichever came the sooner.

Strictly speaking, this was not true. There was a recommended time of maximum service, agreed by the management and unions, which was something like six months, but subject to "the needs of the office", which meant, just as it always means, that the needs of the officie came before your human needs as surely as a full house beats two pairs. You had no chance. Your only options were desertion or discharge through incapacity.

The difference was the sheer relentlessness of working on the front. You couldn't get away from it. Nor could you walk away from somebody as easily as you could terminate a conversation on the phone - they were still there for somebody to see and there was a limited degree to which you could either ask other people to take over from you, or - in extremis - ask that they be removed. It was no longer within your own control to call a halt when things got too unpleasant.

Nor, if you called a halt, did it stop there. Not there, not at the time the job was over, not ever. At work, you would be threatened: outside work, you would be recognised. The line that spearated job from life, the line which saves us all from being driven frantic from our jobs, no longer held. You do not want, perhaps, to be a faceless bureacrat. It is a soulless, stupid, sullen role to play. But worse than that is being a bureaucrat with a face. You cannot take impersonal decisions on the government's behalf when you are a person who people recognise. I was recognised, in the street. Not often, but enough, enough to make me worry that I might be recognised. Recognised and - very occasionally - threatened.

You can be threatened a hundred times anonymously on the phone, at work, and you can handle it. But once you are threatened personally, outside work, there is no "outside work". There is no rest, no relaxation, no refuge from the stresses of your job. And the more the job eats into your personal space, the more that it eats into you. Until there is no you, just the job that is no longer even a job but something foul. You go to work with a sense of dread: you leave work with a sense of dread. You cannot deal with such a job, cannot negotiate with yourself to enable yourself to cope with it: because negotation defines limits, boundaries, points which may not be crossed. And the job has said it will not respect boundaries. Those lines are crossed. The line of no return is crossed as well.

There was one other aspect to this dread, this fear of being at work. It was the fear that, whatever happened in these situations of conflict, you would always be let down by the people above you in the system. You were obliged to say no to claimants: you could always save yourself that conflict by saying yes, but you were supposed sometimes - not sometimes, often - to tell people no. You were obliged, therefore, to bring hatred down upon your head. The limits of your discretion didn't extend, often, to whether or not somebody was entitled to be paid. They did, however, extend to whether or not they should be paid now, a giro, a counter payment, money they could take away that day. Except they didn't: your discretion was hedged about by guidelines and realities. Nobody ever wants their payment later than it has to be: everybody wanted a counter payment. To say yes to all of them was impossible - you had to say no far more often than you could say yes. But to say no to any of them was to risk the consequences in abuse and threats.

These limits of discretion extended too to the question of identification, without which no payments could, theoretically, be made. There was, however, no official limit as to what was, and what was not, acceptable ID. There was merely a short list of some documents which would be acceptable, without that list being exhaustive. There were ground rules which existed in each office, known to the staff working on the front and theoretically the basis for our practice. Official documents were acceptable, handwritten letters not, that sort of thing.

But these rules were not written down in any form, and could not be. But because they were not, they provided the get-out for every spineless manager who would not face up to the pressures that their staff experienced every day. You would turn down a request for a counter payment, perhaps on the grounds of insufficient ID, and you would get many mouthfuls of abuse in consequence. Yet you would stand firm, because those were the guidelines, that was what had been agreed, that was the proper and professional thing to do. So then the supervisor or the manager would be called: and they would decide to exercise their discretion. They would play Mr Generous to your Mr Nasty. They had no stomach for abuse: they would decide to bend where you had known that you should not. And they would let you down. They would always let you down.

If you complained, they would have none of it: they would always say that you should have exercised your discretion, that you could after all have referred it to them if you'd wanted. It was true, yet it was one of those truths which everybody knows is actually a lie. They knew very well you could not do this every time. They knew very well you were going by guidelines they themselves had set. It did not matter. You were the bad guy, inflexible. They were the good guy. They used their discretion.

The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes

It stank, and everybody knew it stank, and yet you knew, you knew in advance that they would do it. You knew, even as you were taking the abuse, that they would do it. You knew, even before you saw the claimant in the first place, what would happen. You knew you were going to put yourself through a vile experience and be left looking like a fool as a reward. And this knowledge, just as surely, just as often as the threats would fill your mind with dread. With anger and frustration and disgust and hopelessness. t was the most impossible of impossible positions. It was impossible to stand: it was impossible to function. It was destructive. It destroyed you.

Eventually, inside work and outside it, your head would fill with stress, blotting out everything but itself: a buzzing in your head, although a buzzing without noise. A ringing in your head, although a ringing without bells. You had to walk away. You had to walk away before you could do anything else. You had to walk away and say no mas, no mas, or else there would be no-one left to walk away. So walk away I did, December 1993, and left with Hamlet rather than a buzzing in my ears.

That was then: this is now. I have left several jobs since, some willingly, the jobs I hated, some unwillingly, when they closed down or I had to move on to something prearranged. But I have not, since then, resigned a job without something else to go to, not until no. Not until, with dread in my head and a buzzing in my ears, I resigned a job which I have been in for four lousy, fruitless years. Four years of being fobbed off, being let down, being put in impossible situations. The details do not matter. It is not detail but consequences which matter. I have no other job to go to, but I have learned this, learned this from a dozen years ago. You cannot let a job destroy you.

You cannot let them put you in impossible positions. You cannot let them treat you as though you were there to take the heat off them. You cannot let them fob you off until you give up dealing with your problems in despair. (The problems, of course, remain.) You cannot let them give you instructions and then pretend they are nothing to do with it when you put those instructions into practice. You cannot let them drive you mad, you cannot let them drive you into anger, you cannot let them fill your head with dread. If they do, at that point you have to walk away and damn the consequences of your doing so.

So I have walked away. I will not lt them do it to me. I will not let them interfere with me, with the private me, with the person who cannot function properly if his mind is filled with dread. I have other things to occupy that mind, other things I need to occupy that mind, other things that need that mind to be free of worry, free of loathing, free in general if I am to live my life. So I have walked away. And when you take a decision, and know that that decision was the right one, come what may, you always know, at the same time, that the decision should have been taken long before. I should have walked away a long time before now. A long time. I know this, know this, know this. I know, in knowing, that I knew it long ago.

God, I know it. God, I know it. God, they made sure that I know it. I have worked for them four lousy, fruitless years and at the very end of it, a few days past, I sat in an office and had a manager from Human Resources, an arrogant suit with no thought in her head other than to bully me into submission, stand over me. Stand over me raising her voice, finger jabbing repeatedly towards my face. A bully out of control, a bully almost breathless with the thrill of bullying. And I thought, God, I should have done this many months ago. God, I thought, how I hate you. Imperial College London Libraries, I thought, how I hate you. I thought, I would rather live on fresh air than work for you. But most of all, I thought: I should have done this many months ago.

But it is done now, at any rate. No recitations, no party tricks. It is done now, damn the consequences. I do not know exactly what will happen now and I do not care.

And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Not this time, Prince. Nor any time again.

December 13, 2005

Chess is for amateurs

Overheard last night just before my chess game in the London League:
I lost eleven hundred quid at bridge this afternoon.

The Brighton blight

For the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, last week, the Guardian interviewed a number of celebs to ask, unoriginally, where they were when they heard the news. Among these select few was Julie Burchill, who distinguished herself - in the same way one might distinguish oneself by wetting oneself in public and then shouting about it - with the following encomium to the murdered singer:
I don't remember where I was but I was really pleased he was dead, as he was a wife-beater, gay-basher, anti-Semite and all-round bully-boy.
We live in an age where it is frequently considered meritorious to be unpleasant in a calculated, boorish kind of way. An age of talk radio, of Simon Cowell, of Dragon's Den, of nasty contrarian journalists among whom Julie Burchill is among the nastiest. One should, I suppose, get used to this - it is not, one imagines, going to go away - but there is also a virtue in not getting used to it, in maintaining one's ability to be outraged every time, just as one should be outraged every time one sees young people sleeping in shop doorways or rich men complaining that their employees receive pensions that enable them to feel secure.

You have to keep reminding yourself, this is not right, this is not necessary: you have to keep reminding yourself, this is not human. Because once you become inured to it, inured to crassness, inured to ignorance, inured to contempt for your fellow human beings, then in an important way you deny that it matters. For what you do not notice, does not matter. What you are not hurt by, does not matter. What you are not outraged by, cannot be that outrageous.

It's true, of course, that provocaeurs exist in order to provoke: someone like Burchill is an empty vessel who can be filled only with our reactions. Leave them, they're not worth it, speaks the voice of reason. But the voice of reason is too quiet a voice. What enables outrages to happen is not just their commission but their reception: the cynic and the crass may enjoy your outrage, but indifference would be worse. You cannot, perhaps, shout down a loudmouth but nor can you you can smother them with silence. Qui tacet consentit: silence implies consent. When we stay silent, they proceed.

The likes of Julie Burchill create nothing because they care for nothing - save themselves. What, when the likes of Julie Burchill die, will they leave behind - save what they have accumulated? What will there to be said of them when they are dead? I read another piece this week, on the same model, eight celebs all saying what they thought of Bach. It looked just like the earlier piece and for a moment I confused the two: I started looking for Julie Burchill and even after I realised my mistake, I found myself wondering what she would have to say about the man and his demise. It is too easy to imagine.
Bloody German. God-botherer. Too many kids. Sucked up to all those royals. I'm glad the bastard's dead.

December 02, 2005

Second movement

I was travelling, on Sunday, from Huesca to Zaragoza airport, watching the unfamiliar landscape and thinking about how I had come to be there. As I pondered, thinking my contemplative thoughts, tracing the recent path from overcrowded London to near-deserted Spain, tracing the longer path of a life whose route I know but whose destination I do not, Mozart was playing in the tape deck of the car. A piano concerto, the twenty-first of his twenty-seven, the second movement in particular, the Andante, Elvira Madigan.

The theme of that second movement is a theme that exudes contentment, or so it seemed to me, as it perhaps was bound to do, at that particular time, in that particular mood. It rises, falls, returns, repeats itself, begins as strings and then reinvents itself as the piano: and, doing so, turned my thoughts inwards and outwards. Inwards, in search of memories buried, memories evoked, memories left behind until such time as I could pick them up, look at them and compare them to a present I preferred. Outwards, to the journey I was making. Then inwards again, to journeys past. Journeys past and journeys reinvented. The repetition of the past, but past distress remade, instead, as the present contentment.

It was the first journey of seven in a row. Twice that number, bearing in mind that I had made the opposite journey just the day before. A bus from home, in freezing air to Forest Hill. A train to London Bridge. Two tubes, each journey of a single stop, another train from Liverpool Street to Stansted Airport, a flight to Spain from Stansted and a car to take me down the final stretch to Huesca. Seven journeys, seven exhausting stages of a journey: and setting off on the first leg of the reverse leg of this relay, immersed in Mozart and his second movement, meditating on things past, on things redeemed and overcome, I recalled another journey I had undertaken. Another journey of too many steps, another journey in another country, another journey in another time.

Six summers past, that journey was. It began in Glengarriff, on the western coast of county Cork, on the edge of Ireland, where, at the end of patience and the edge of sanity, I broke up with S, in the morning, in a bed and breakfast up above the bay. She snapped at me - once too often, I might have said, had I thought, if she had not, that it would have made any difference in the end. But, once you have told yourself that one more is the end of it, then you are past the end of it already: and in that sense, it didn't matter. Our time was up, and should have never started.

But in another sense it mattered all the world. She was vocally, distressingly, entirely in love with me, though she would have been far better off if it were otherwise: and I was not in love with her, though I wanted it otherwise as well. We were both sick, both smashed-up and in need of anything but further hurt, and being sick, we made each other sicker still. Each resenting the other and resenting ourselves for our feelings, each postponing the time when we would have to admit it. When we would have to admit it in the open.

So we proceeded with a holiday, begnning in Cork, moving west to Glengarriff, further from home, further from reality, quarrelling in a restrained manner, snapping and reconciling without great energy or passion. Till finally, in the morning, in our B&B looking over the bay and towards Garnish Island, she snapped at me, not nastily but unhappily, full of a wretchedness for which neither of us was to blame. And I looked up and said to her:
I think we'd better stop now.
Quietly, as if she had expected it, and without either hope or rancour, she looked back at me and said:
I don't suppose I can have another chance?
I looked back and shook my head, as she must have known that I would. As she must have known that I had to. We had to stop.

The stopping was the easy part, or so I thought: it proved much harder, drawing lines that neither of us, for different reasons, wanted to draw. Drawing the line itself was hard enough: drawing it so it as meant, and understood. But harder still was walking across the line and yet staying upright, continuing to walk.

There had been too much, and too little time for recovery. Too many disasters, all piling up on top of one another and impossible to carry any further. Too many lines drawn unexpectedly: too many collapses and not enough recoveries. So, rather than walking across a line and moving on, I was walking, as it were, in a series of smaller and smaller circles, each one traversed more swiftly than the last, until it seemed that I was spinning round, dizzy from exhaustion and my own impossible itinerary, waiting only for my own momentum to run out so that the dizziness could take me down and stop, stop, just close my eyes and wait for everything to stop.

But first I had to get myself home, to Hertfordshire from the west coast of Ireland, in a series of small and smaller steps. From Glengarriff on a local bus to Killarney, then back almost the same direction that we had come, from Killarney on a coach through Waterford to the ferry at Rosslare. From Rosslare to Pembroke Dock and then the coach again, to the side of the motorway by Cardiff, and then a taxi in the small hours to the Cardiff flat that S was living in.

Then, in the morning, from Cardiff Central, a train which S got off at Bristol Temple Meads, on her way to her parental home in Southampton, while I continued, to Didcot, then changed for Oxford. And finally, more than a day after I had begun, a coach from Oxford to my mother's home in Letchworth, the last spin, the last effort before my momentum was exhausted and I collapsed, from dizziness, exhaustion, temporary and permanent, closing my eyes and lying on a bed, opening my eyes and looking at the ceiling, closing my eyes again and waiting for the time to pass, my head to clear, my thoughts to drain away.

Even as I travelled, even as the journey of eight parts was taking its gruelling course, it was obvious to me that the physical journey was no more than a reflection of the mental journey that had preceded it - but which shared with it a common culmination. That, at the end, when body collapsed into rest, like a cross-country runner unable to stop until the tape and then unable to start again, the mind would do the same. Exhausted, functioning just long enough to get home, just long enough for the movement to stop so that it could stop as well. I thought about it, but not hard. Not with the will or the desire to think it through. That facility was gone. Those reserves were exhausted.

Mostly I looked out of the window, seeing mountains between Glengarriff and Killarney, seeing the Irish Sea, seeing the landscape flatten as I moved east from Wales towards the Home Counties, seeing all these things as background, seeing them all the same. Stop, stop. You draw a line and stagger over it, as if it were a finish line, and then you stop. I stopped, and stopped. I knew that one way or another I had come to an end, and that any further movement was futile, nominal, was movement without meaning, without purpose. I could move no more of my own volition. I could do only what others or events might make me do. Within a year - within less than a year - I could not do even that.

I recalled that journey, like an elegy, on Sunday, as Mozart's reprises bid me reprise as well. Like an elegy, like a poem whose phrases I could half recall, like a poem for somebody departed. I picked it up, where I had left it, carried it with me for a while and set it down again. I listened to Mozart's theme rising and falling, much like the breathing of a lover, as it seemed to me, as it perhaps was bound to do, in that particular mood, at that particular time. It was the first step of a journey that would, after that step, be taken on my own. And while I travelled I thought, for a while, and for a while only, of another journey I had taken years before.

But this time everything was different, everything was turned upon its head. This time I travelled not to stop travelling, but to start again. This journey was not the exhausted end, but the beginning. But not, but not entirely a beginning. Nothing is entirely a beginning. Because, to get to that beginning, I have travelled. I have travelled very far.