Driven to Tears

In which The Author is feeling very depressed

I’d been back in Aberdare for less than twenty-four hours following my weekend away, when I spontaneously burst into tears. It had dawned on me while I was away how much I actually despise this town, and an extraordinarily high percentage of the people in it. Anyway, my mood went into free-fall while I was listening to the radio. I’ve been depressed for several months already, owing to a series of events which started with Everything Changes and went on from there. This morning, I hit a new low.
I know I’ve written extensively on the subject over the past couple of years (and especially during the last few months), but in case you’re new to this blog, I’ll try and put it into some sort of context. For now, let me just sketch the situation out for you.
At nine o’clock yesterday morning, I was sitting in a small market town in the Forest of Dean. I’ll finish my account of the weekend itself another time, now that I’ve sorted out all the photos. Anyway, while I sat by the War Memorial in Coleford, I was juggling bus times in my head, trying to work out the longest possible journey home. For such a small town, Coleford offered me a surprisingly wide range of possibilities.
I could go via Ross-on-Wye to Hereford, from there to Brecon, back to Abergavenny, and then straight across the Heads of the Valleys Road.
Alternatively, I could head across the Forest of Dean to Gloucester, make my way along the Severn Estuary to Chepstow, on to Newport, thence to Cardiff, and finally make the long journey back to Aberdare in the way I did for too many years when I was working.
I could have gone to Monmouth, across to Abergavenny, via Pontypool and Cwmbran to Cardiff, skirting Newport on the way, and up from there.
Or I could just retrace my outward journey: Coleford to Monmouth; Monmouth to Abergavenny; Abergavenny to Merthyr; Merthyr to Aberdare.
In the event, I decided to just cut the crap and take the last option. You see, all this juggling with timetables and ticketing options was just a displacement activity designed to keep me from accepting the inevitable situation: I’d end up back in Aberdare. It didn’t matter how many buses I caught, or how many bizarre detours I made along the way – my destination was always going to be the same.
When I got off the bus, I went straight to the pub; I’d told Rhian before I left I’d bring her back a stick of rock. She reminded me that she’s not a fan of sweet stuff, but would settle for some fudge. In the event, I wasn’t able to find any fudge on sale when I got to Coleford on the Saturday afternoon. Instead, I picked up a small piece of sandstone from the bank of the River Wye on Sunday morning. I gave that to her, along with a postcard, and told her that it was the piece of rock I’d promised her.
Rhian worked until just after eight o’clock, when Lauren (eventually) turned up to relieve her. By that time, the usual suspects were in, and the scenario I wrote about in A Brief Interlude was well under way. We decided to go to the Glosters for a pint instead. I had the one and came home. I was hungry and tired after a long day’s travelling. I didn’t even bother going online when I got in. I had something to eat, had a nice warm bath, and went to bed.
This morning, I was listening to a fascinating talk on Radio 4 (Soul Music.) The former peace negotiator and Middle East hostage Terry Waite was discussing his experience of hearing Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. This setting of Cardinal Newman’s poem had been broadcast on the BBC World Service while he was in captivity in Beirut. Mr Waite’s recollections were intercut with those of a couple of other people for whom Elgar’s piece held a particular meaning. I had to switch the programme off a little way in, because it upset me so much, so I didn’t catch the full story. However, I gathered that the ‘dream’ itself is the vision of a dying man, who sees himself being guided to Heaven by an angel.
Now, I’ve never been a great fan of choral music, and so I must admit to never having heard it before. I’m also an ex-Catholic. John Henry Newman and I started from opposite ends of the belief spectrum and seem to have passed each other somewhere about the halfway mark.
This combination of factors meant that I was completely new to this piece of music, and also that I knew nothing of its significance. While I listened to Mr Waite and the other contributors talking about the music and the story it tells, I started crying and didn’t stop crying for quite a while. I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in angels, but I do believe in Death. It’s always there, and it’s featured far too frequently in my life during the last ten years or so.
My mother turned 70 on Sunday. At the time, I was in a tent in a field in the Forest of Dean, while rain barrelled down outside and I really, really regretted making the decision to go away for the weekend. As a couple of people said to me later on, at least if you’ve driven somewhere with the intention of camping, you can just jump back in the car and head for home again. But I was depending on public transport, and in rural parts of England there’s precious little enough of that in the daytime on weekdays.

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Mobile phone reception in and around Coleford wasn’t great either, to be honest, so I was pretty much cut off for most of my weekend break. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d had some company; at least we could have cheered each other up and tried to make light of the situation. But I was on my own, and I hadn’t even thought to bring the little pocket radio I keep in the bottom drawer of my desk. Even so, I didn’t cry. I felt like it for a while, but I didn’t. I just grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep and decided to make the best of it in the morning.
Before I’d set off (on the Thursday, in fact), I’d posted Mother’s birthday card. I wanted to make sure it arrived in good time this year – unlike the last two, which have failed to make it until the day after. I had a strong feeling that the card would be the only form of birthday greeting she got from me this year. As I explained in Nothing Short of a Total War, my brother and I are no longer speaking to each other. (If you haven’t already read that entry, I strongly recommend that you do so now, before you proceed any further with this one.)
Personally, I find it extremely unlikely that we’ll ever speak again. You see, somehow I’ve emerged as the villain of this particular piece – especially in Mother’s eyes. Even when I eventually got the opportunity to tell her my side of the story, it was evident that I was the one in the wrong. That’s why I decided on a card. Cards can go in the recycling bag, after all, and nobody need be any the wiser.
A phone being slammed down is rather more demonstrative. If I was out of phone range (out of the country, in fact), then that reduced the phone-slamming probability to effectively zero. Mother might have tried ringing me on Saturday, Sunday or Monday to thank me for the card, but my phone wasn’t playing. I’ve got the photos to prove that I was away, and the perfect excuse of the Motorbike Races to blame for my decision to get the fuck out of Dodge for those two days. My conscience was clear(-ish.)
However, when Mr Waite and his guests started talking about Cardinal Newman’s poem, and Elgar’s setting for voices, I realised that I’d thrown away a chance to – possibly – get my relationship with Mother back on an even keel. One participant in the programme talked about the music’s significance for him. It constantly reminds him of the death of his father, and of the death of his mother (and thereby the last connection with his father.) And at that point my own floodgates opened and the tears fell like rain.
Dad died in 2006. Mother was 70 on Sunday. She’s not going to live for ever, is she? Thanks to my neo-Nazi brother and his favoured status as ‘baby of the family’, it’s been impossible for Mother and I to have any sort of conversation in the last year – or at least one which doesn’t end up in a huge slanging match, followed by weeks or even months of total silence. I can’t remember how long it is since we spoke last. I’d had a hospital appointment for a scan on my shoulder, so we’re talking about last winter, or early spring at the latest.
I’m crying now, typing this at nearly midnight at home, listening to some weird bloody shit on Radio 3. I’d love to pick up the phone right now and speak to her, but I know exactly what the outcome will be. I’m absolutely not prepared to have to swallow my principles and make peace with The Piss-Artist Formerly Known As My Brother. It simply isn’t going to happen. He’s gone way beyond the point of no return.
I don’t care if some of my friends still bother with him; I don’t care if people think we should shake hands and put it behind us. The last time we spoke, I told Mother that there are enough fucking Nazis in Aberdare as things stand; I’m certainly not prepared to admit to having one in my own family. At the same time, I can’t stand the emotional pain of not being even to speak to Mother, because of the huge wedge he’s driven between us.
That’s why I cried this morning; that’s why I’m crying now; and that’s why I might continue to start crying without any warning from now on.
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