Image: Brijesh Patel
August 26 2010
The summer of 1983 was a heady time for me. Some time during early July that year I was judged sufficiently educated to be dispatched to university with the headmaster’s valedictory sermon ringing in my ears and a commemorative Bible in my hands (my name, albeit slightly misspelt, inscribed in handsome calligraphy on a bookplate).
Boarding school had proved a powerful experience – a little too powerful at times. On my arrival I was told that the 30 or so boys in each dormitory were accommodated on beds (which had planks instead of springs) that had been used in the Crimean War. This may have been apocryphal, I do not know. However, there were times when the 11-year-old I was on arrival felt as if I was, to mix up two of Tennyson’s poems, hurtling down “the ringing grooves of change” straight into the valley of death.
And then, in 1983, it was over. Never again would I feel that back-to-school sinking sensation. After all, logic dictated it, as I was no longer returning to school…
But, as we all know, logic has little place in the workings of the human mind – and my mind is less logical than most. On the whole, I view logic much as I regard brain surgery or nuclear fission: a hazardous business best left to those who know what they are doing (a surprisingly short list including Aristotle, George Boole, whose An Investigation of the Laws of Thought on Which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities is a highly effective sedative and not remotely habit forming, and, of course, that master logician, the half-Vulcan Mr Spock). In my case, however, the child has proved to be father to the man and so, almost like some Pavlovian reaction, the onset of September brings with it that mopy feeling.
During the summer I will have fallen into a lotus-eating frame of mind. I do a little work, read a bit of Dickens or Balzac, smoke a cigar, and watch the sun set (preferably behind a screen of spear-like cypresses). The thought of September is, quite frankly, alarming. First I torture myself with all the stuff I didn’t do over the summer – the improving literature that remains unread, the sites of historic interest that remain unvisited, and so forth. Then I terrorise myself with all the stuff I have to do during the closing months of the year.
This autumn, however, I have decided to combat this seasonal dip in mood by taking up an interest. I would like to say “hobby”, with all its comforting patched-cardigan qualities, but I think I am in need of something a bit stronger than a hobby. As Balzac himself said, “To adopt a mania is like applying a poultice to the soul.” As yet, I am uncertain what shape this consuming interest will take; it might be numismatics or, then again, philately. But, given the limited sartorial possibilities that these – dread word – hobbies hold, it looks as if shooting will become my, how should I say, “leisure occupation” of choice.
One thing I do know is that my pastime will not be painting small soldiers. I fear that the thought of recreating the Charge of the Light Brigade in miniature would reawaken memories of those iron beds with their wooden planks.