Out in the cold
Many, many years ago, I spent an afternoon making love to a rather silly woman who was married to a member of Parliament. Labour, of course. She was so daftly innocent in her way that during the overture she said, 'But we can't do this in the afternoon. People don't make love in daylight, do they?' Fearful that her frenzy would evaporate and be distilled into afternoon tea and conversation I reassured her saying, 'It's quite all right. They've put the clocks back.' That made it acceptable.
I am reminded of that afternoon because
it is so cold and winter is with us again. On that occasion it was so cold that I had to soak for 20 minutes in a hot bath before overture and beginners. I have been col- der, though, and the coldest was at the original Outward Bound, based at Aber- dovey. That was November too. They woke us up at 5.30 a.m. and then we went for a two-mile run: Okay. But after that we had to have a cold shower. Those showers were so cold that they actually winded us. They took your breath away. We were more or less held under them for 30 seconds and there was no life until some Porridge later. It was also nigh freezing sailing whalers in an angry Cardigan Bay. What a place. If it takes that sort of place to make a man of you I would rather be a woman. The afternoons were devoted to sport, and jumping hurdles we slipped on the ice and our javelins skidded over the frost. Some mothers will do anything to get rid of a son for a while.
So cold that it was physically painful was New York City in November 1970. The streets and avenues were littered with broken umbrellas ripped out of their own- ers' hands by the icy wind. I had no overcoat or the money with which to buy One and I was desperate. Then, by chance, I bumped into Francis Bacon who saved the day and not for the first or last time. Breakfasts of Dom Perignon in the Algon- quin every morning for a while and an overcoat followed. I also met a hot-water bottle in the shape of a friendly woman who had the strange name of Ricki Rhein- gold. A terrible winter that.
There was a cold winter that I did enjoy though. Phillip O'Connor, the author of a weird and fascinating autobiography, Pub- lic Baby, lent me a cottage in Suffolk and I got a job from the neighbouring farmer. For two months I worked at hedging and ditching and it was tremendously satis- fying. It was marvellous to make a stretch of hedge and a ditch clean, nice and tidy. After every 20 yards or so I made a little bonfire with what I had cut and sat down and had some tea from the thermos. The Country was crystal clear. Cloudless pale- blue skies and the cold brought everything into the sharpest of focuses so that a frozen blade of grass was as a needle. Blackbirds and squirrels followed my progress along the edges of the frozen meadows, and then just as I was beginning to feel like St Francis of Assisi the spell was broken. One night, sipping my lamb stew in the inglenook, it occurred to me to ask Robert Colquhoun and Robert McBryde to come and stay for a couple of weeks. Mistake, much as I loved them. They drank too much and in those days I thought drink was for Saturday nights. Beer only too. Well, I kept the lamb stew going, adding to it for an age while they had rows. McBryde got hysterical making bad jokes about the atom bomb which he called the autumn bum and I got so fed up with Colquhoun one night I kicked him into a ditch. I felt
rotten about that. He was a very good man indeed. Anyway, in those days it only took two weeks for the Roberts to make their impression on everyone wherever they happened to be and the farmer gave us our marching orders. I have never liked work very much but I handed in my pitchfork and sickle with great reluctance. No more log fires, bonfires and blackbirds eating the crusts of my sandwiches under the frozen blue silence of that sky. I could have killed them but they managed that themselves in their own good time. I miss them a lot.
And now another winter of our discon- tent has begun. The electric fire and the posh meals are no substitute for the lamb stew taken in the inglenook. I mean it.