“Where the fuck have you been?” Alf wants to know. He doesn’t say it harshly, but dropping the ‘darling’ he adds to anyone from teaboy to toast rack I have to adopt my most winning smile.
There’s snow about the shelter of the hedge yet it’s bright enough to wear sunglasses. Mine are round, because nothing else suits me. I say, “Here Alf, mostly.”
He tells me they’ve been out looking. No word for days and they feared the worse. Even Mme Roux is worried it seems (and she knows for a fact that nothing bad has happened to me since she knows the times we have yet to meet). I say I find that last hard to believe, “We’re very different,” I point out.
“Politics and biscuits aren’t as important as you two make out,” says Alf. He sits beside me. There’s a great view today. A little cold the air is blue and clear. The clouds are high where here they’re often neighbours. The mountains are beautiful. I am in a fine sort of mood and have been for days. “She don’t know as much as she makes out,” he says regarding Mme Roux. “she don’t know what happens between those scratches where you overlap. There are times indeed when you make her nervous.”
“You can be right inscrutable, darling.” Alf in his 60s camp clobber is a nasty bastard when he doesn’t care to try to be otherwise, so I’m glad he’s being friendly again.
“I’m not,” I say, “I’m very open, me.”
“Honest and honourable? She ain’t, so don’t believe no one else is neither,” his accent grows as he relaxes to the day. It is a very fine day after all, and his voice all thick-friendly Lambeth. He’s smarter than I am, is Alf; he takes great pains to not appear so. “Anyway, where’ve you been?”
“Here. It snowed most pleasantly and in between the sun was brilliant. It’s March, Alf.”
And so it is, and so he nods. Just as shit always happens in December right before Christmas so too do good things happen in March. And it’s Rex Manning day on Friday, and the postie brought me the newly updated extra-scenes-version of Empire Records this morning. I can only think of one proper relationship that didn’t start in March, and instead that year I changed my life when I ended up in the Elephant and Castle. My eldest daughter was born in March. I’ve ever had good news in March. March as mad as the proverbial hare. I love March. Spring with a winter woolie and summer hat. It’s a cold beer, new bread, a good book unread. March and my life is always right. And my life right now is very right. Apart from not seeing enough of my youngest, which is the long shadow to such a fine sun. I had a pinch to navigate and I came back for that – and I made, I think, the right decisions. The day seems to prove it, the week indeed. And I’ve got these fantastic sunglasses. Round, the only ones that suit me. I say, “Where did you look?”
“Usual. Salisbury and the Ukraine in the 30s. London and Berlin crossing the 90s. That train you like. Bournemouth, not that I understand that one.”
“Never anything bad in Bournemouth,” I explain. It’s my place of no-shit and total relaxation. It’s a shame it isn’t that for one of my dearest friends right now, because the reason it is such a special place for me is entirely because of him. “But I was here all along. Just working, as ever.”
“Balls,” Alf doesn’t like Tolly Maw. He knows it’s not as other places. He knows why that is too, and because of whom. He won’t tell me though I suspect, and if he’s right then again as much in his wish not to discuss it. There’s only one line you do not cross with me, and it’s her 9th birthday in a little over a week. “There’s something you’re not telling me, darling,” he says.
“There’s something I’m not telling anyone, Alf.”
“So tell me something else...”
So I do. I tell him about Mary Anning, died of breast cancer in 1847. Not born well, never very flush, she discovered a great many fossils in Lyme Regis of startling importance. She changed, was a pioneer indeed of palaeontology. Due to her gender and certain religious difficulties she never entirely realised the recognition her worth deserved. In 2010 the Royal Society named her as one of the ten British women to have most influenced science. Dickens wrote of her in 1865.
“Never heard of her,” says Alf.
“There you are then, now go and do something about that. Or how about Nelson? Atop his column in Trafalgar Square he faces the mall through Admiralty Arch – and the streetlamps of the Mall all have a ship atop them representing one of the ships from the fleet of that battle for which the square is named.”
“You all right?” he says. He gives me the funny look.
“It’s mad March, Alf. Everything’s all right,” so I stand and stretch my arms right out just as Julian Cope would want me to. Because it’s March, and on Friday it’s Rex Manning day.