Amersham meandering

Walking over pitted concrete, between red brick houses in the bare winter air. Along the trellised walls, winter jasmine in flower. I stumble over a time warp. What was that? Just a scent, or a birdsong sound, or the chill? Remembering – even transported – into some childhood world. It’s like a brief Narnia moment.

These are books, childhood books, aren’t they? I can’t imagine such a uniquely felt world arising from TV or film. It’s a Secret Garden I once inhabited, unlocked through some barely perceived, unpindownable stimulus.

Somehow then the phone in my pocket – looking-glass into globalised culture-on-demand – seems irrelevant, even toxic.

On Amersham main street, I dodge Costa bitterness, heading for Nero smooth. However, I’m intercepted by the locals. Harris+Hoole? Never heard of them. On a hen-speckled brown saucer, I’m served toffee-tinged latte.

Stacking cups clink like cowbells. Blondie sings Heart of Glass. Saucers stack. Handsome English women sit chatting by the window on mini wing chairs with spindly wooden legs. Milk steamer hisses. Businessmen with confident accents exchange technical vows centre-stage. When one leaves, a laptop-wielding blonde emerges from the shadows to take his place. Girlfriend? Next client? Unsure.

“You busy this week, then?” he begins, as she settles into the easy chair opposite. Client, then, I think. Some kind of coffee house micro-dealing.

The initially solitary couple by the window seem to be acquiring more children by the minute.  I guess school’s out, then. As son number one begins to expound on some Important Fact, Dad’s eyes are introvertedly unfocused, and Mum’s the sole audience. Dad engages briefly then begins thumbing his phone, head down-turned. The dog stands bored under the table as Mum pulls out her phone too, bidding the boys farewell and arranging a rendezvous in the park. Thumbs tapping, they half-attentively converse over the empty cups and crumpled napkins. By the till, the barista briefly shoulder-massages his colleague.

At the window, the chatty women stand, tapping a next meet into electronic diaries. Except cable-knit cardigan woman. She seems to have a brain.

Durbar Square

I’m staying in a room in Freak Street that’s little more than a plywood box. I’m not sure there’s much more than corrugated iron between me and the sub-zero December air. In the room next door, a couple of guys with some very pure-looking grass. I spend several hours stoned in the most pleasant way – none of the nausea and toxicity of British hash.

Breakfast standing in the freezing fog in Durbar Square. Not many folk about, and the guy cooking some kind of Asian-style eggy bread on a low charcoal burner is friendly. I breathe in the mist, the cold, and the gorgeous unfamiliarity. I’m just happy.

In a second-hand bookshop, I pick up a copy of Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Travelled.” Happy hours are spent over coffee and in odd corners, just reading, unhurried, un-harassed. Nepal is such a blessed relief after the fractious, pestered journeying through India.

Mike, the guy who’s motorcycled from England, reappears. I last saw him in Jaipur, when three of us rented bikes and saw the Bollywood filming in the fountain gardens.

We celebrate Christmas with water buffalo steak, and begin planning an end-of-season Annapurna trek.

Paperless statements

Not the long anticipation and morning expectancy of when the Puffin Club magazine will arrive. Not the sound of gravel scrunching as the red Post Office van pulls up at the house, a couple of minutes after its brief rhythmic staccato traverse of the cattle grid’s girdered texture. Not slitting open the handwritten envelope and pulling out a crisply folded, coloured, distinctive invitation to a seasonal Celtic festival.

Not getting up from the dinner table to pull out the vast Oxford dictionary, search the feather-light, thin pages for the elusive word, stumbling on others that amuse and astonish.

Not the chaotic misfiling and non-filing of administrative mail, layered with odd socks like a nightmare lasagne, on, under, around and randomly distant from my dysfunctional desk.

Not the arrival of a weightless blue Air Letter from distant friend in New Zealand, handwritten in every precious corner and adorned with fond sketches and love hearts.

Not the long gaps of no stimulus from the external world, of simple presence with doors opening and closing, wood smoke backing down the chimney and flavouring the air, frost on the ash leaves brittling their stems and releasing them heavily on the first touch of morning’s sun.

Virus

The shapes on the textbook pages look alien, technological – as if they’re custom-designed docking stations intended to board my human cells. Spiky and staccato. The smell of freshly printed knowledge sheens from the paper, engendering a fog of half-formed understanding.

I can’t feel each individual cell fighting back – instead, a generalised malaise. My head aches in a non-specific way, and the throat begins to feel raw and dry. After a few days, my body spasms painfully with gargling, chesty coughs. The clear phlegm is essentially tasteless as unpleasantly spat out into the toilet bowl.

Now is the time to retreat into mounded duvets and escapist fantasy tales – to accept depression and feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm. Perhaps I can sweat it out in a few days of total rest.

I spend a whole day watching the contorted, popularised fantasies of Once Upon a Time.