I am not over-fond of this time of year. Summer’s lease hath all too short a stay. Date, I mean. Why do I always get that wrong? Anyway, it’s now autumn. The windows that have been left open are now shut to stop the draughts, the summer plumage – linen, basically, and those cheapo desert boots you buy from shoe shops on the Uxbridge Road for £20 – is replaced by the winter version, and the Proms come to an end. This is particularly sad this year, as it is the first time since 1999 that Roger Wright, head of Radio 3 andthe Proms, hasn’t invited me along to his box to eat his smoked salmon sarnies and drink his wine.
Maybe he has wearied of me. I thought he used to be amused by my having to climb over him for a pee during the long, long wall of sound that is Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, or making feeble passes at Jenny Agutter, or gawping at Simon Heffer’s profile. How does anyone get jowls like that? He’s only three years older than I am. Heffer, not Wright. Wright is older than either of us but has the ageless good looks of a Donatello putto. I sat and waited for his call all summer long but it never came, and when I heard “Jerusalem” bouncing off the walls all the way from Hyde Park, I had a tear in my eye. So that’s it, then, I thought.
I know I’m not important any longer – I used to be radio critic for the Independent on Sunday until they decided I was surplus to requirements about six years ago – but what about auld lang syne? They sang that, too, as if to wash their mouths out after “Jerusalem” and “Rule, Britannia!”, and that nearly floored me. (Incidentally, I gather the Independent on Sunday has now decided that all its critics are surplus to requirements and has given the entire arts desk the heaveho. You will write and tell them they’re being silly arseholes, won’t you? They had some fine writers on those pages.) Oh well; nothing lasts for ever and at least this year we had a summer to speak of, unlike last year’s washout.
I used to like September, though. I was never particularly fond of school but at least you got to learn some stuff and there was always a good chance that I’d have some new masters who had yet to nurse any grudges against me. The start of the university year was even better: leaving the family home meant the thrilling prospect of going where there were locks on the lavatory doors.
But that was when life was still a process leading to sunny uplands. Each year was going to be better than the last one: you’d know a bit more, be earning a bit more and certainly be having more sex. After all, I would ask myself in my late teens, how could I be having any less? That’s not something I’m worried about now, thank goodness, but as for the rest . . . Well, anyone out there feeling happier, richer and more confident about the future than they were last year?
I thought that at the very least this government had reached the maximum point of stupidity and malice a supposedly enlightened western democracy was capable of, but now I read that the DWP is to start calling people in if it thinks they’re not earning enough money and will tell them to work more. Am I missing something or is this the most brutal move against the poor yet? Other solutions – say, raising the minimum wage – seem not to have occurred to them.
Not only is one’s own life going downhill at an increasingly uncomfortable rate but the whole country is, too. The nights draw in, the clouds roll over. It’s all very well battening down the hatches but what if one has no battens with which to batten them? The eldest child is going off to university and by the end of her course will almost certainly be in debt to the tune of £27,000, which worries me even more than the fact that at least one member of the philosophy faculty not only thinks Descartes was a medieval philosopher, but pronounces his name “day car” to boot. The last time I mentioned that, I got accused of the most outrageous snobbery; I’m bracing myself for that again.
But it turns out that I cannot even take solace from such fragments of learning as I retain. I take my melancholy and do what everyone does with it these days: air it on Facebook. “Summer’s lease hath all too short a stay,” I write laconically, hoping to impress everyone with the lightness of my learning, the deftness of my command of allusion to fit the mood of the time.
“Date,” everyone writes back. “It’s ‘date’, you idiot.”