Last Tuesday I tried to sign up to a new life. My wife and I argued, slightly. ‘I don’t think this will work!’ she laughs, and I reply feebly: ‘But babe, it’s the future.’ (My use of the word ‘babe’ is like a label on the conversation — WARNING: HAVING ARGUMENT WHICH I AM ABOUT TO LOSE). She protests that she needs a car for ferrying kids and clearing the allotment and occasional 5.30 a.m. starts at work, and I produce a small piece of plastic and wave it, like Neville Chamberlain. This is my trump card. I have signed up to Zipcar. With this rectangle I can unlock a hire car from a nearby street and just drive. ‘It will be the end of petrol, insurance, repairs, mud and road tax!’ I say. Our own car has been embarrassing us since monkeys at Longleat tore off the rear screenwash nozzle; pushing the button now drenches passers-by. Besides, in London there is public transport for most journeys: 80 buses an hour go down the main road at the end of our street — 40 in each direction, meaning the adage ‘You wait an hour for a bus, then three arrive at once’ has no meaning to my kids, because three are always arriving. Anyway, I lost the argument. Sorry, Zipcar. The new life will have to wait.
Age 49, I often despair at how rarely I make new friends. Then, through an old one, I met Andrew. A tiny bit older than me, and much the wiser — he quotes Jonathan Swift, I respond with Taylor. We go to movies together and discuss our lives and what brought us to where we are (this sometimes upsets other people watching the film). ‘Think about old friends the most,’ wrote Yeats, but a new one makes you consider life differently. It feels wrong to add this part, but I will: diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, Andrew must contemplate his own death. So his spare minutes are far more valuable than mine, and this friendship more precious than most.
Ed Miliband’s conference speech — where he decided to memorise 80 minutes of text, then left out key passages on immigration and the deficit — raises questions in the Radio 2 office. Why would anyone try to learn an 80-minute text? By my calculation that would be ten thousand words. Why do it? I can explain. At my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, my father, whose life has been engineering and mathematics, felt he could only pay heartfelt tribute to my mother by speaking from memory. Part of his speech was a long and complicated poem. The brain that got him into Cambridge on this occasion let him down: the sentences fell apart on delivery and he ended up looking imploringly into the faces of lifelong friends for each missing line. Still, I understand why he did it. In the phrase so loved by disapproving parents, he was just showing off.To the Appledore Book Festival: my favourite of them all. Someone told me the UK now has 435 book festivals, and the grandest are industrial in scale. Appledore is not like that. When authors arrive they get a hug from Brenda and tea in the yurt. Lyn interviews them. Sarah takes their photo. Brenda’s rugby-mad son Matthew, a teenager who has recently discovered ELO, is on hand for any extra requests. Pat, in the converted coastguard’s house, hosts a Saturday dinner with the waves crashing below her balcony in black-and-white, like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. This year I interviewed allotmenteer Terry Walton (a Radio 2 favourite), Jenny Molloy (Hackney Child) and Anthony and Ben Holden (Poems that Make Grown Men Cry). It’s a roundabout way of saying, if you get the invite to Appledore, don’t ask where. Just say yes.
A few months ago, Tesco followed Asda by slashing the price of milk. Four pints — in one big plastic bottle — now cost £1. This came to mind last week when I met Kevin, a milkman in Shoreditch for 40 happy years. As soon as he handed me one of his old-style bottle-holders and I heard the glass clink against the rusted metal frame, I was converted. I got on a website sharpish and ordered a doorstep pinta — two, in fact — three days a week. But here’s the rub. The milk costs 79p delivered in a glass bottle to your doorstep, so four pints are £3.16, which is a gob-smacking increase on the £1 you pay in the supermarket. My milk decision was supposed to return me to a simpler, truer age. But when I ask Kevin who his customers are, and he says ‘Mainly hipsters’, I worry that I may have done the worst thing: become something I am not, for the sake of appearances.
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