The little beard, the untidy hair, cardigan and canvass pack the young man I meet on the bridge is the ghost of who might have been. It’s cold but I like to walk out here, on the fringes of Tolly Maw and often I stop at the bridge. You can cross the stream, avoid Tolly Maw entirely, skirt it somewhat if preferred. This is the man that might have been as I say, had it not been for the war, for Singapore and Changi. He smiles faintly at that, for this is the man that did not have to go to war, that did not work on the death railway. My dad’s uncle did too, Lt. Back, but Ronald Searle does not know him. How would he? This is the man that never had to.
“He was always the happiest man I ever met,” I say.
“It can go that way,” he says, “or so I believe.”
“You’re not stopping? Coming in? Mervyn Peake lives next door. I’m sorry about the Selfs on the other side and there’re all sorts of...” but no, he has other plans. He will walk. He will walk as other men did before the war, though he’s a little plump and looks more like a beatnik than some keen-type. I don’t know what to say, so I just say what I know. “Molesworth.”
“My mother always wanted to have been a St Trinians girl. She knew all the words. But I was right on the last little spot of spilt ink from Molesworth. You draw wonderfully. You will, or did. Sorry,” I’m not very good at this sort of thing.
I’m glad Ronald Searle lived to be 91. I’m seeing him off now, because he’s not stopping. He has fields to see and paths to walk, because he never did. And I think his art was wonderful. Though the two are probably connected. I watch him go but he doesn’t turn back, he’s looking forward as he doubtless always did after Changi. He’s walking towards the sun so that all his shadows are behind him.
As any fule kno.