Fifteen years ago, while living in Dublin, I was a bit heartbroken. D., told me that sometimes not getting what I wanted might turn out to be the most marvellous stroke of luck. At the time, I didn’t like the sound of his homespun wisdom, how could what I be feeling, in any way, be construed to be luck? Turns out he was right. Then again, if you wait long enough, and stand far down the long, narrow and dimly lit passage of time, all of these once-devastating incidents from the past appear to be a half remembered book you once read where you were one of the characters: ‘Really? That was me? Don’t recognise myself!’
W.H. Auden has written some of my favourite lines of poetry. They are pithy, incisive, knowing, timeless. One of his lines makes me sad, though; sad for him, as I believe it to be autobiographical.
“If equal affection cannot be
Then let the more loving one be me.”
He’s said to have written this about himself and his partner, fellow-poet, an American, Chester Kallman. But surely this one-way love must have hollowed out his heart? Can people live this way? Not me.
Often when I get a subject into my head, in this case unrequited love, examples of it spring up everywhere. I’m humming along to a song in a café before the words swim into focus. “You made me love you, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it.” That’s got to be an old one – I think, as I look it up. It is. It was made famous by Al Jolson – and I can’t quite believe this – over 100 years ago. No one person can make another love them, cast a spell. God knows, people have tried, and it is often in the very act of over-trying that one least succeeds. Explained more succinctly by Patrick Kavanagh in ‘Raglan Road’: “And I loved too much – And by such, by such – Is happiness thrown away.”
I once attended a craft class where we had to bring in pieces of cracked and broken crockery we no longer wanted; if they were coloured and pattered, then all the better. The vessels were assembled: an array of old dinner plates, damaged through mishandling by sloppy teenagers reluctantly taking their turn to wash up; a painted jug, once beautiful, it had been dropped on its lip and now poured erratically, like a four year old boy trying his hardest to miss the toilet seat; Spanish tapas bowls painted in primary colours that must have been used as juggling balls, given their extensive damage. We took them out into the back yard and duly hurled them onto the concrete paving to smash them. The laughter, energy, and glee that day were palpable. Then, with a brush and pan, we collected all up the broken fragments, re-matched them finding pieces that fitted snugly with each other, glued them onto plain terracotta plant pots, and made mosaics. They weren’t going to win any prizes, but looked better than the previous cracked and weary apologies of tableware. And never underestimate the satisfaction to be had from wilfully breaking crockery!
A former boss used to tell me: “if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” I never quite knew what he meant by this. Did he mean we should be in a perpetual state of change? That we shouldn’t settle for the same thing all the time? Or maybe he just liked the contrary sound of it. In the case of the chipped crockery, though, it was definitely a case of: if it’s ‘broke’, smash it up and see what can be retrieved from the debris. Don’t cling to broken things. It is coming up to Christmas and we’ll all go out to buy things that we, and others, do not need. We have a bizarre fixation upon replacing things that are perfectly fine whist we grip tightly onto things, maybe relationships, that have long since past their best. So, if you are about to leave behind something that’s chipped and cracked, don’t worry too much, I’m sure you’ll find a replacement soon enough.
‘Bloody Men’, Wendy Cope
“Bloody men are like bloody buses –
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.”