My summer elbows always take me by surprise. They appear first as painful red patches somewhat like carpet burns, and I spend the next few hours wondering why I have carpet burns when I’ve not been doing anything that has involved rubbing my elbows on the carpet. A day or so later they metastasise into scabs about the size of my little fingernail, and it all becomes clear as the memories of past summers slot into place. They are the result of sitting at a pub table in warm weather with my sleeves rolled up, of plonking myself down and yakking away to a friend or two for hours.
I didn’t get them last year: I didn’t go to the pub. At least I don’t think I did. Written down, the words “I didn’t go to the pub” seem like the most unlikely, or implausible, I have written in a long while. But then it’s quite possible. I saved money by staying inside, and besides, who did I have to go with? I’m not sure if the weather was good enough last year to do it for more than 15 minutes at a stretch anyway. I think I got more of a tan in Gothenburg last year than I did in Blighty. But, for reasons we need not go into here, I don’t see any more trips to Gothenburg in the offing. Just when I was beginning to like the place.
Well, there are always other places. Penge, for instance. One hears good things about Penge. Yet there is a mood in the country that makes me cast piercing glances at my American passport. Then again, there is a mood in the US that makes me look back again at the British one. The thought of quitting everything for a new life the other side of the pond just as Donald Trump becomes president gives me the heebie-jeebies. (I gather he’s 10/3 against, and when I think about his leading opponent these odds look attractive to those with sporting blood.)
What’s more, I have obligations to family. The girl is all grown up, but likes crashing at the Hovel en route between Berlin and Bristol; the older boy has returned from four months abroad, and the youngest has a couple more years before university. And their paternal grandmother is now on her own and, though not decrepit, appreciates company.
Anyway, there is also the fact that lately life has stopped treating me the way a baby treats its nappy (for once). I write this nearing the end of April, and that month is two days away from getting an “I Was Good!” sticker slapped on its school blazer. Even if it screws up royally between now and the 30th it will have earned one that says “I Did My Best”. By comparison, the previous 12 months, which is as far back as it is healthy to keep these records, have each in their turn been told not to let the door bang their arse on the way out.
There has even been the odd ray of sunshine. That I have summer elbows for the first time since 2014 is proof. I’ve met old friends and made new, sitting outside the Duke. Yet such pleasure as I take in this is tempered – actually, no, not tempered, but ruined – by the bitter knowledge that the Duke has until the end of May to live, as I believe I may have mentioned in these pages.
There was some hope that the ground floor would remain as a pub, where it had been serving the neighbourhood for 150 years, and was the source of much copy for this very column; but those in the know tell me that it is to be turned into a Tesco Metro. This is great news not only for those who appreciate early-Victorian architecture, as Tesco is renowned for the sympathetic manner in which its shops blend into the surroundings, but also for the existing corner shops on the street, each with its distinctive character, whose owners will doubtless welcome the opportunity for competition that the opening of a Tesco Metro provides. There is also a Tesco Metro and a Sainsbury’s round the corner on Baker Street, but that’s miles away.
So, if there’s a dearth of jokes this week, I’m sorry. Is there a way one can fight this kind of thing? Some of you lot must know a thing or two about it, and also be broadly sympathetic to the pub’s plight. I can’t do it: I’m not terribly good at paperwork, as my entire adult history attests. That Montaigne, too, hated paperwork is a comfort – but only a small one. I suppose I’m doing what I can by drawing your attention to it. Meanwhile, I look to the clouds and pray they part, and send down another ray. I don’t want to spend the summer inside, picking at my scabs.
This article appears in the 04 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred