November 2007

Thank you all so much for your kind birthday greetings. I received a link from Mel, although to be honest I may have stumbled upon them myself as I do occasionally take a sneak peek at everything. It’s quite a good way for this 42 year old to find out what’s actually going on in his life.

I had a terrific, lazy day. The countryside around me an explosion of autumnal colour in the deceptive sunshine. Oaks and Ash, Hazel and Acer, Sorbus and the grand old Sophora, all creaking limbs. My day began at around 6.30 when the radiators in the barn started clanging to life. I remember when I was a kid I used to think that there must be a whole army of heating men running through some underground tunnels and banging on the walls with their wrenches and spanners when I heard that noise. But this time I just pulled a pillow close and dozed off again.

Then the shooting starts at around 8 and birthday or no birthday I make a cup of tea, light a cigarette and start going through my emails and bills. I listen to the radio and find out what’s been happening in the world and I have the whole place to myself for a bit before people start arriving to deliver newspapers and prune shrubs or just say hello (which they do alarmingly early around here).

The shooting is of the pheasant and rabbit variety. I don’t have shooting rights on my land and obviously the rabbits are aware of this, spending many happy hours eating through all the new growth on the very expensive plants I’ve slaved to dig in this year. But they take one step out of this Green Zone and wham! Two hours later they’re under cellophane in the local village butcher’s shop.

The pheasantry are a different matter, they can’t wait to throw themselves before anything that might be remotely hazardous. They are the only wild animal I’m aware of who will scamper across the road to safety only to change their minds at the last and scamper back again just in time to hit any traffic which might be passing by. The one or two birds that actually survive this strange ritual must surely be pheasant outcasts, pariahs which no self-respecting soon-to-be-squashed superior pheasant will ever talk to. Indeed a pheasant that lives into old age must be a miserable pheasant.

The day continued with a short present opening session. I have an ambivalent attitude towards presents. I’m nearly always embarrassed if I receive a gift from someone I don’t know very well. I’m sent into a spiral of confusion, not knowing how to proceed with that person, are we now friends? Do I suddenly have obligations? Happily there was only one of these gifts this year and I only have to remember to thank one unfamiliar person for one item. Misanthrope? Me?

Birthday cards are not complicated and I loved receiving all of the ones you sent. I was especially grateful for the beautifully bound little book of ‘good wishes’ from everyone. Happy Birthday to you too Karima. “Thanksiding Day” must surely be a complex affair, Liz. Thanks to all of you.

I think I should be wishing all the stateside folks a happy Thanksgiving as well. It’s so brutal having to prepare that big meal twice in the space of two months. But that is your lot and you all put a brave face on it year after year. After cooking a Christmas lunch I can take months to recover; I may not get around to doing the washing up until the following Christmas Eve.

Washing up is a contentious chore in my house. I live with my step-father, Michael, who is, I think somewhere between sixty and a hundred years old. He will spend ten minutes looking for a rusty old decommissioned pan to boil an egg, when he could have completed the washing-up in 5 minutes. This, to me, is bordering on pheasant-like behaviour. And the longer we live on the same land, the more often I say so.

It’s strange living with another adult again. My ex-wife, Nana and I lived together (obviously), and there were a string of ex-girlfriends, but in retrospect I can say that we only pretended to live together, sort of dress rehearsed for the real thing … but living with Michael is odd and I feel we all naturally slip into roles; and ever since my mother died, the only vacant post has been for that of wife. So I nag and bicker and grumble about the washing up saying, “I’ll do it” with a smile that might have been glued onto my face for all it’s sincerity.

I’ve started work on another French film called L’Espion with a remarkable man called Nicholas Saada, an erstwhile film critic and aficionado newly turned director. He describes the film as a cross-genre spy thriller. For the French, commerce is a genre not a vocation and I assume he means half commercial, half art-house. Ambitious stuff and very intriguing. I like working for the French and I love France so I jumped at the opportunity. French directors are totally obsessed with nuance and detail and the micro environment in their films and this, for an actor who has grown up in Los Angeles, is refreshing and challenging. It stars lots of interesting people but I can’t remember any of their names. Typical. I hope none of them have a present for me … at least until we are properly acquainted.

I’m not a gardener, but I have spent an enormous amount of time gardening this Summer. I know the names of about three things and I’m always confusing Hornbeam with Beech or basically any deciduous hedge tree, but after presents and cards and tea I link up with Sarah, our lodger who lives in the pig-stye and wander around the garden and start working out what to do with everything. Most of our work is clearing overgrown stuff and cutting new beds and destroying nettles (and the children of nettles and any nettle even remotely related to the nettles). It’s quite hard work, made even harder by the fact that Sarah’s dog, Pepper, despises me with such a passion that I must be on guard at all times and be ready to fend off any swiftly executed maneuver she may attempt. I’ve been bitten three times so far – I’ve got my eye on one of those deep sea diving suits they used to wear back in Jules Vernes’ day, from eBay. And a very old but possibly re-fixable Gatling gun.

Work in the garden is getting easier now that the days are getting shorter and come Spring it’ll all pay off. The latest project has been a sort of cross-genre perennial vegetable/ fruit bush affair. Twenty artichoke plants, blueberries (each growing in a massive plastic bin sunk into the ground because I have the wrong type of soil apparently), white-currents, gooseberries (which neither look nor taste anything like geese) and a fig. The plan is to be completely self-sufficient and carbon neutral by 2075. A ridiculously unrealistic target, I know, but I can dream.

Anyway this letter has (as they do) gone on for ages and I have with a me a friend’s dog called Stanley who has been sitting patiently on the sofa and staring in my direction. He needs to be taken for a walk and chase complacent rabbits.

Best to all of you,
Sid