A sharp gust and whoomph, inside-out goes the umbrella again. Restoring it to its proper shape doesn’t make things any better: the canopy now makes it over only about half of the ribs and it is raining rather hard now. And that, I suspect, is the only reason other pedestrians are not laughing at me – they’ve all jammed their own umbrellas right over their heads and can only see a few feet of pavement in front of them.
That’s the summer over, then. In terms of summery things to do, it has been a total wash-out. As you well know. I have not played a single game of cricket, which makes me ashamed (but when I look at my team’s stats for the season I feel as though I have dodged a series of bullets – could the presence of a gritty but asthmatic number seven have pulled them from the depths?), apart from one in, improbably, Scotland; I have not gone for long walks in the countryside; I have not taken the Beloved punting; I have not sunned myself on a beach.
Actually, I am trying very hard now to think of the last time I sunned myself on a beach. This would have been a Mediterranean beach holiday but when was the last time I went on one of those? I suppose that would have been eight years ago, around the time when I mistook, in my pre-dawn confusion, a two-months’-worth stash of first-rate weed for a pouch of tobacco and found myself in a little room at Luton Airport being asked to explain myself to a couple of customs officers.
(I motioned them to go to the little window in the door and look out. “See that woman over there?” I said. “I am much, much more scared of what she is going to say to me about this than anything you can do to me.” They both peered and pondered. The ex-wife is a good-looking woman but when the circumstances arise she can give rather the piercing glare. They let me carry on with my holiday, on condition that I went through the red channel and ’fessed up on my return. But that’s another story for another day.)
What are the other things that one does in the summer? Proms and picnics, I suppose. I made it to only one of the former, a performance of John Adams’s and Alice Goodman’s incredibly good Nixon in China; and picnics I really can live without, especially during the wasp season.
So, basically, a whole summer has passed without it really happening. As someone whose name, with an “-er” suffix, means, in French, “to bask”, I consider this an affront. I have even been having to rely on last year’s watch mark, and there is no way it will survive into 2013. I take absurd pride in this indicator of a summer spent profitably; another small pleasure denied, thanks to the ghastly weather. But it’s just a small symbol for how cheated I am feeling. I imagine there are plenty of you out there who feel the same way.
So when I see an announcement from a friend on Facebook (a real friend, not a Facebook-only one, not that these latter need be unfulfilling, in their way) that he has been offered a paid trip to Antigua but has decided, on the whole, that he’d rather not go, I chip in to say, “I’ll do it.”
Then the next thing I know is this: I have been commissioned to be flown out to the Caribbean, business class if it’s not full up, and specifically instructed to do nothing more than lie on the beach in the sun all day.
And here’s the funny thing: the moment I get asked to go, I stop feeling like going. I don’t need to go halfway round the world to switch off, I think, I can do it right now. (So, as if to ram the point home to myself, I have a little nap.)
Also, I think: my readers at the New Statesman might see the words “Down and Out” at the top of the column, and “dateline: Antigua” somewhere within the copy, and think to themselves, and I am putting this politely, “the words at the top do not seem to be terribly compatible with the words beneath”.
In the end I think that it would be silly to turn this down, because it has been 15 years since a magazine has sent me anywhere warm, because every dog has his day and I have gnawed my own liver to shreds with envy at some of the freebies my colleagues get. Plus I can use my fee to pay for half the Beloved’s ticket, and because Viv Richards is from there, and maybe I will get to play beach cricket with him. I will let you know how it goes. Unless you’d rather I didn’t.