Why I will (sadly) never play the Dane

This may well be my time of the month talking (they don’t call it ‘The Curse’ for nothing, boys. Sorry, too much information), but over the past couple of days I’ve found myself musing on the nature of ambition and, well, wondering how it is that somewhere along the way I managed to lose mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still have crazy dreams of writing a best-selling novel and retiring by the age of forty (forty five at a push) with millions in the bank. But back in the real world – the one where I have to work to earn money to put a roof over my head, avoid starvation and so forth – as my best friends forge ahead with their careers, so my drive to excel in the field in which I work has all but dried up.

Thinking back I’m not sure I ever was enormously ambitious in a wanting-to-set-up-my-own-company-and-be-a-CEO sort of way. I just had a quiet confidence that I would eventually establish a niche for myself and be happy. And, after a few blips along the way, I’m glad to report the happiness part is very much a feature of my life as it is today. The niche, however, has very much still to be carved and, much as I try to deny it, this is much to my chagrin.

There was, a few years back, a moment when I stood (metaphorically speaking) at a fork in the road and surveyed my options. The road on the left would take me further along the corporate path I was treading, with higher financial rewards but, in return, higher personal sacrifice. The road on the right would see me take an altogether more altruistic journey. Of course my moral compass won out and, on the whole, I don’t regret my decision. Working in the charity sector has its rewards – how many people can honestly say they care about what they do? – but it’s not without its limitations.

Next week I’ll turn thirty two – gulp – and yet I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, not really. What I do know, with depressing clarity, is how Montague Withnail felt when he said the following:

“It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life, when one morning he awakes, and quite reasonably says to himself: I will never play the Dane.”

Raw

Why do they say that the air is crisp, as if it were something that one could bite into, that one could touch? The air’s no crisper than the sun, though that at least would burn you to a crisp if you could get close enough to touch it.

It’s funny what thoughts pop into your mind, unbidden, after a traumatic life episode. Here I am, lacing up my boots – the ones with the dodgy soles that let the water in, which are really altogether pointless as it’s almost always wet outside – and instead of thinking about what’s happened I’m ruminating on the physical qualities of the air and the sun. I suppose this could be called a ‘coping mechanism,’ in which case I should probably be glad of it. Lord knows I’d rather think about the air and sun than all the other jumbled mass of thoughts and emotions that are swirling around in the background of my mind.

I call Betty and she tears into the room with her trademark boundless enthusiasm. Betty is a cocker spaniel. She’s brown with white splodges of various shapes and sizes that look as if someone’s used her as a canvas to try and recreate a Jackson Pollock painting. She’s named after the landlady at the bed and breakfast where we got engaged. With hindsight that’s ridiculous, but when we bought her we were sickeningly in love and blind to sense.

I’m walking down the road now, treading the path that’s been so well trodden over our ten year marriage. The tarmac’s hard and unforgiving beneath my feet. Betty’s straining at her lead; she may be an old girl but she’s got more life in her than I’ll ever have. But I won’t let her off the lead until we’re on the footpath. Can’t risk anything happening to her – she’s all I have now.

Charles Reginald Harper (prefers to be known as Reg).

Likes: Arguing (loudly), snoring (ditto), mustard on rare roast beef, red wine, cherry jam, walks in the country, art (except, ironically, Pollock) and obscure foreign literature.

Dislikes: People not agreeing with him (always), his wife (most of the time).

As we veer off the road onto the footpath – Betty scrambling over the muddy terrain as if her life depends on it – I run our last argument through my mind. It was over nothing, as always, something as inconsequential as him not having done the dishes. But then it wouldn’t have killed him to do them, would it? Once in the whole damn marriage?

But I digress. His not doing the dishes aside, all of those silly, petty arguments aside; he was a good husband. It’s funny how it takes something like this to make you realise the good things about a person, to see them in a light that has been dimmed for far too long.

Still. We walk on, Betty and I, through the fields of corn that sway in the light breeze like lovers clasped together in a slow dance. I remember then the dance of our wedding day, the way his hand rested on my waist, the reassuring weight of it.

Where did we go wrong? Somewhere along the journey of our lives together we took diverging paths. I’m not sure either of us knew it at the time, but by the time we did realise it was too late to go back; weeds and thorns had grown across the paths behind us.

When we return from our walk I unclip Betty’s lead and pour myself a scotch; his favourite drink. I sit in his favourite chair and look out across his favourite view. And then it hits me. A tidal wave of grief that I have hitherto suppressed rises up and catches in my throat, emerging as a roar of emotion. Or should that be a raw of emotion, because that’s all I now am – raw.

I don’t blame him for leaving, how can I?

I just wish I’d had the chance to say goodbye.

I took this picture yesterday in East Stratton, Hampshire. It was the inspiration for this story.