I have spent my life journey largely looking out of the window at passing events, fascinated by the spectacle of existence rather than having any thoughts on a destination or purpose. “Clever but not present” a teacher said about me to my father on one occasion and I can agree, at least, on the “Not present” bit as that has been increasingly apparent to me in my life.
Some people I started the voyage towards maturity with, friends at one time or another, can now boast about a prosperous business, or career’s in some professional field marked by significant appreciation, large detached houses in well-ordered streets or a home somewhere deep in countryside while I have dabbled in a number of professions, but remained in none: somehow keeping myself just beyond “Beggar’s Lot” where the seriously disengaged and unlamented live in unsought circumstances. I now work on the forecourt of a petrol station where the great and good, the disregarded and the social barbarian join briefly in their search for fuel.
The people I work with are among the nicest I have met, and defend a life of simple values as best they can, while working long hours on the minimum wage to sustain their families: that quietness, the modesty and a certain caringness for others, are often absent in some customers, engrossed perhaps with more urgent concerns in their drive-through life.
My landlord Richard, grumpy, invasive but kept at bay by that vague air of erudition which has made my life more civilised than I deserve, looks at me with bewilderment but is tolerant because I always pay my rent on time and make no noise, which is not so true of some of his other tenants, all of whom are younger than I.
In the midst of this, I sit in my room researching, as I so often do, the lives of the pre-Raphaelites and John Ruskin who was one of their champions. It is a curious interest, perhaps, and one which does not involve a rich social life but through an internet forum, inhabited by those who enjoy all things to do with Victorian history, I have come across Anne, who shares my love of obscure topics and joined me, via the internet, in an investigation into the origins of the impressionist movement.
Gradually our interest in each other progressed beyond the intellectual but she lives in Newcastle and I in London and neither of us has the money or the freedom to visit the other. Yesterday we Skyped for the first time and it was wonderful to look on the face of someone I thought to be of value who felt the same about me.
Can I find a way to live nearer to her, and would it be too forward to suggest such a thing? Here I am, somewhere between hope and frustration, but sensing the birth of courage and a determination which has always been foreign to me. I cannot write of what I do not know and should not form plans based on a fantasy but regardless I can still dare to hope and hope may be the pathway to my dream.