True Story

A pleasant day, inappropriately, with the annual disappointment of summer in recession.  September in England is neither nor the coolest, nor the cruellest month; warmish sunshine cascades through herringbone clouds which look like feathers or ferns or pine branches and for which the technical term is “cirrus”, which for some reason is the only term for a cloud I’ve ever been able to remember – I know the words are “stratus” and “cumulus” and “cumulonimbus”, but I’m damned if I could pick them out of an ID parade.

We’re sitting in the wooden benches outside the Cottage Loaf in Thurstaston, and the benches aren’t untreated wood but painted brown and varnished, or woodstained or whatever, which is as you’d expect because Thurstaston is practically Heswall so there must be a bit of money around here, even if the pub is cunningly placed slap in the middle of a wildlife conservation area or a site of special scientific interest or something, and consequently inaccessible to anyone except by car, which to my mind largely defeats the purpose of a pub.

I’m glad the benches are neat and treated, because I always hate getting splinters.  It’s not so much the actual splinter, but the disheartening and unpleasant process of finding tweezers and trying to get it out without breaking it and the splinter snapping at the dermis line and then you have to go after it with a needle and D&C the little shit, abort it right out of your hand.

If I dredge my memories I can recall sitting on the concrete wall at the back of 40 South Drive while my mother dug after a big splinter in – was it my thumb?  My grandparents might well be there looking on, and people are telling me that I’m being very brave, but I’m not, I’m crying and wailing and I wish they’d stop lying to me and just get the splinter out.

I got on the bus to Spider on Tuesday and a lady got on who smelt of pipe tobacco, which was nice because it reminded me of my maternal grandfather and my great-uncle Norm, who died of liver cancer which made him very itchy and whose doctor told him that the painkillers he was on were so mild that he could simply go back to his nightly glass of whiskey instead if he’d rather do that.

The next time I got a splinter it was in my big toe, and I was so frightened of the extraction process that I didn’t tell anyone.  I was lucky, it didn’t get infected, and I thought I’d have a visibly subdermal splinter forever in my foot, like Iron Man’s heart shrapnel, though one day I checked and it had simply disappeared, missing presumed dealt with by the kind of healthy immune system kids get by running around impaling themselves on splinters.

I confessed that I’d concealed a splinter to my mum after that, and she said, “That was stupid, wasn’t it?” and I thought, no, because it sorted itself out without amateur surgery, so I win.

I don’t know why we’re in Thurstaston, but it must be just before I go back to Lancaster so perhaps it’s a farewell meal.  Mum and my brother, Robert, are both there; Rob and I sip identical lagers from cold glasses that contrast pleasingly with the warm sun, and it’s before my problem really took hold so it’s a good drinking memory, summer sun and cool slaking of throat, which of course means it’s also a dangerous drinking memory and I have to counterbalance it with a reminder that those days were long ago and not returning.

In my memory the grass is wet, as though after dew or recent rain.  But I know it’s early afternoon, so it’s not dew, and if it had rained recently then the benches would be wet and we’d be indoors, so I conclude that the wet grass is a trick of the mind; the green verdancy and petrichor smell adding extra pleasure to a happy memory.

In a moment I will go and get the drinks in, and out of the corner of my eye I will be caught by the image on an old, round, wall-mounted television deeper in the darker recesses of the pub.  On the screen there is footage of an aeroplane flying into the World Trade Centre, and I will take this outside with the drinks and discuss it with my family, and we will agree that it must, surely, be a terrible accident.

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