I’ve been reflecting on that undeniably sound observation, that it is easier to like someone when you don’t have to put up with them than when you do. It is easier to cosset warm, gloopy sentiments about an individual when they are miles away, than when they are on the spot, getting up your nose and generally making a nuisance of themselves. One can appreciate more readily the fine shades of their personality when removed from them by the kind of distance that separates, say, Lyons from Leicester, than one can when they appear to be buzzing constantly about your ears like a angry Venetian mosquito in a feeding-frenzy.
Perhaps, you will feel, this is the reflection of a misanthrope. Perhaps, you will suspect, this is the philosophy of a Billy-no-mates. It is nonetheless true for all that!
I’m soon to leave Lyons. The end of the school year approaches, and already the English lecteurs are doing the necessary limbering up and stretching before they come under starter’s orders. Interviews are being attended. Plane tickets booked. An industrial quantity of unmarked student work is being attended to, so that in a few brief weeks notes can be emailed to the appropriate secretary just before the airport-bound taxi tootles its horn in front of the apartment door. And soon Lyons will be left behind us, shrouded not only in that cloud of pollution that floats up the Rhône Valley from the chemical plants in the south, but also in those gentle mists of memory that anoint our pummelled psyches with a kind of human analgesic.
Forgive and forget, eh! I still remember one of our teachers promising us in Senior 3 that, in ten years time (so, hmm, approximately 1996), some of us would be parents, some of us would be serious crime victims, and some of us might even be dead. It was the kind of cheery thought which, in the dark, satanic gloom of an Oldham comprehensive school, seemed to lighten the mood just a little. Richard Hicklin, God rest his soul, was the first to go, run over not once, but twice, on a pedestrian crossing on the A633 near Oldham. Legend has it that with all the optimism of his seventeen years he assured the paramedics he would be fine when he reached hospital. He never did. And, we all stood around at his funeral and said what a wonderful chap he’d been, a nice fellow, a dab hand at helping out with the maths homework — even though, being one of the anoraks who played Dungeons and Dragons, he’d never really been ‘in’ with the in-set, nor indeed with the declining, bohemian music-block dwellers. Perhaps at the age of seventeen, forgetfulness of the facts was more jejune hypocrisy than kindly forgiveness, borne of the sense that our feelings ought to have been governed by something more meaningful than the permanent preoccupations of passing adolescence.
Of course, our feelings ought always to be governed by something more meaningful. It is one of the constant challenges not only among the burger wrappers and empty, discarded beer cans of a thousand Friday-evening nightmares, but also among the thicket of professional cares and the cuckoo’s nest of material need.
Chesterton’s answer: we need both the wisdom of restraint and the capacity to last until we catch the second wind.
If we do not fast before the feast, then we will fast after the feast; but someday we will have to fast. Rushing at it all with a kind of psychological promiscuity always leads us into messy psychological divorce proceedings. Just ask the man who has everything. Thus far the wisdom of restraint.
The alternative is not the dullness feared by the hedonist, but the point to which we can be carried if we wait for the second wind — getting there, getting there slowly, and enduring the doubter’s scepticism — the place beyond unpleasantness or numbness where we taste and see…. The second wind:more Indian summer than burp fest.
And so, as I gradually up-sticks and gaze westward-ho, I look forward to looking back with pleasure on my séjour lyonnais, convinced that my happy memories will be due in part to the fact that I no longer live there!
But, I will resolve to look for the second wind when in September my feet wander again over the Oxfordshire Downs and along the lanes of the Vale of the White Horse.