online: 24 april 2002

24 april 2002 a summer evening in spring

17:27 Outdoor cafe. Already the temperature is of summer with cloudless sky, many insects, and people in light clothing. The huge tree above me catches the sunlight - though the place where I am sitting is already in the shadow of Kenwood house. I feel I could sit here for hours - thinking, among other things, of a summer evening in the garden of a country house as Henry James described it in the first page or two of Portrait of a Lady*- the book that set me writing fiction in was it 1981? Where is that impulse now, he asks himself, changing to reported speech to give this a fictional turn...

Two men ask him about the handheld and he talks with them for a few minutes - discovering that they both have Welsh surnames, Price and Ellis, though they had not realised it... He guesses that they think of themselves as English.

...and then the young man who is clearing up the tables talks of his flower shop in Budapest. He has come to London to learn English 'to prepare for when Hungary joins the European Union'.

The young man expresses surprise at the diversity of cultures and nationalities in London but he does not, at first, see his own presence here as part of that diversity. He seems even more surprised when the writer tells him that whereas, for instance, there are about five million people in Ireland, there are perhaps thirty millions of people 'of Irish descent' in the USA.

That's not a fiction, says a voice. It is part of the spreading of all cultures to all places (see yesterday's entry to this diary) - and/or of the homogenisation of modern life.

I'm not so sure, says another. This could be page one of a new fiction... (and the writer remembers that discarded page ones, are said to be the main contents of the waste-paper baskets of writers... it being so difficult to begin... but this is being written in a public network for which there is no drafting, no rehearsal, and no thrown-away pages. And no need for truth to externals for this is non-realism, or poetry, a part of life itself. )

* Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea... The implements of the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English country house in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon... Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth dense turf. They lengthened slowly, however, and the scene expressed that sense of leisure still to come which is perhaps the chief source of one's enjoyment of such a scene at such an hour...

(from the opening page of Henry James, Portrait of a Lady, first published 1881, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex 1970.)

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© 2002 john chris jones

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