Gareth Rees considers various methods of conquering the winter blues.
Something triggers the blues and you blame the trigger. It’s like blaming the symptoms for the disease. Right now I’m blaming teeth or rather the ones that fell out during a white lightning cider stage in my life. The dental engineers have done marvels but it still feels I’ve got a moving junk-yard inside my mouth and it makes eating toffee a bit difficult.
But if it’s not one thing, it’s another.
So, off to the tavern as usual and leave the blues at home. On the way, a gust of wind caught my purple hat and I had to run after it down the street. A man, seeing this said, ‘It’s all right for you, at least you’ve got your hat back. I bought a new hat today down at Gunwharf Quays. It was expensive even though it was reduced to £18. The wind blew it off my head too but it flew into the sea and that was the end of it.’ The guy was really grieving, I think, and a bit resentful of me because, unlike him, I’d got my hat back.
In the tavern, I spoke to a bloke who hides his dread of death behind Scouser wise-cracking. He knows he’s going to die because he drinks about a dozen pints of beer a day and hardly eats or sleeps. It seems he fears giving up the sauce more than he fears death. Well, you either keep a lid on it or the lid comes down on you.
A young woman greeted me warmly. I’d met her once briefly in the days of the Peace Cafe in Castle Road, a place of cake, Buddhist literature and internet connection or disconnection. She told me how, yesterday, the police had hauled her from a bridge where voices inside her had been telling her to jump onto the A27 below. She’d come straight from the mental hospital to the pub to try a treatment of orange cider.
It’s hard enough carrying your own burden without getting on board somebody else’s blues bus as well. But how do you get the balance between being sensitive to other people’s sorrow and not being overwhelmed by theirs added to your own? Sometimes it feels the best medicine is to be in the countryside and in the company of trees and to ride a bus out of the city. I caught the Coastliner.
While waiting for the cityscape to pass, I opened my book about the Brontë sisters by Mrs Gaskell but before I could read, I was distracted by the sight of a melon rolling down the aisle of the bus and an old woman running after it. When she’d nearly caught up with the melon, the bus made a turning and the melon disappeared under a toddler’s push-chair. As she bent down to see if she could see it, the bus did another turn and the melon rolled back into the aisle where, like a goalkeeper, she dived and retrieved her errant fruit.
I looked at my book and learned that Charlotte Brontë’s papa clearly had anger issues but, rather than raise his voice, he’d simply open the back door of the house and fire pistols into the moor. He was always armed as he made his parish rounds. Well, the Yorkshire moors in those days had a wild reputation perhaps like Waziristan has today.
I looked up from my book and noticed the press of the metrollops was loosening. I jumped off the bus and, after a few minutes, I was walking in warm sunshine amongst grazing cows. It was good for the eyes but not yet for the ears because I could still hear an incessant hissing from the motorway. I’d used the motorway to get me to a bucolic location so I couldn’t get on my high horse about the depredations of modernity. But gradually the noise pollution diminished and was replaced by the sound of the wind and the occasional flutter of a pheasant breaking cover.
I broke from woodland like a deer and skipped down a greensward and came to a road and a little twelfth century church. I prefer little churches to cathedrals which I sometimes think are more about the worship of the gigantic rather than the divine. Unfortunately, the church was closed so I carried on walking along the road. Sometimes I had to press myself against a hedge to avoid being chewed up by huge agricultural machines. And then, through the trees, I caught glimpses of parkland and a stately home and I wondered if the BBC owned it as a location for period drama.
Not much fun walking on a road and I was relieved to reach the village of West Marden and to sit on a bench under a huge willow tree and next to a pond. I’d had enough of walking and wondered with no great expectation if there were still such things as buses in this part of the world, somewhere between Petersfield and Chichester. I saw a woman behind a garden wall and asked her about buses. She said a bus did sometimes pass through and directed me to a bus stop where I discovered there were just two buses a day. I was lucky because one of these rare buses came round a bend just at the moment I looked up from the timetable. The driver expressed pleasure when I boarded because a human being needs to feel useful and at last his empty bus was empty no more.