The Aardvark Blog
I realise that it has been nearly three weeks since my last blog. The reason for the long delay is not because I have been sunning myself on some foreign beach, but rather a pedestrian cold, followed by a burst of work and then the last week's terrible weather.
There is something particularly unfair about winter weather at the beginning of Spring. There we all are getting ready for endless daffs and gambolling spring lambs, when suddenly we are plunged back into the depths of an arctic winter. Our new dog is extremely unimpressed with snow as it clumps onto his fluffy fur and gets stuck between his toes. I am beginning to realise that the gulf between a collie cross and a poodle cross is a wide one.
Driving back from watching a film - 'What's Love Got To Do With It? - at the Courtyard in Hereford ( we'd been invited as sponsors of the Borderlines Festival), I found myself thinking about endings, and how hard they are to get right in any form of art. So many songs seem to have a disappointing ending, whilst very few television series go out on a high. Recently we watched the last episode of a long running crimes series 'Major Crimes', watching which has got us through the winter (I like to have a series to watch as a single episode is just the perfect amount of night time TV watching before the serious business of pre-bedtime reading can begin). The writers managed to add just the right amount of sentimentality without the pace slowing down to a crawl. Two of my favourite series 'Justified' and 'Friday Night Lights' both ended with perfect final scenes, whereas other great series like 'Game of Thrones' or even 'The Sopranos' have gone out on an anti-climax. And for every symphony that ends with a full and satisfying climax, there are many that seem a disappointment (I am too downy a bird to get into the whole Tchaikovsky’s Sixth business).
And then there are novels. Is the ending of 'My Cousin Rachel' a brilliant device to leave the reader guessing or an unsatisfactory mess caused by the writer not really knowing which way to jump. It is true that one can follow Shakespeare in Hamlet and end everything with a blood bath, but that is perhaps the most annoying ending in all of literature. We have all met Fortinbrases and their smugness is not a thing to behold. Wodehouse was brilliant at endings. So brilliant in fact that sometimes I think that he thought of the ending first and worked backwards. I chose the same quote from Psalm 30 to put on my mother's grave, as Wodehouse chose as the title of perhaps his greatest novel ('Joy in the Morning').
One of my favourite films (sadly never seen on 'best of' lists, but what can you do) is the 'Wonder Boys'. In the film (and the Michael Chabon book from which the film was taken) Grady Tripp the protagonist is suffering from the opposite of writer's block. Perhaps one could call it writer's diarrhoea - a condition in which the writer cannot stop writing the same piece of work. At a key point in the book one of the other characters confronts him and tells him that he himself had always said that writing was about choices and in his own work he hadn't made any. Choosing means letting go of a little part of ourselves.The lives we will never live.
When I think of poetic endings I always think of the 'Four Quartets' and the lines:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
But this is not actually the end of the poem, and perhaps the actual ending ('And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well/When the tongues of flames are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/
And the fire and the rose are one), reflects a different kind of ending to that which we instinctively seek.
In 'Fern Hill' Dylan Thomas has the ending that we all instinctively want ('Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,/
Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea), but perhaps it is just a little too polished for the reality of the lives we lead. See also Swinburne's 'Garden of Proserpine' ('That even the weariest river/Winds somewhere safe to sea.')
For just as all great works of art end, so all human endeavours and all human lives are also works in progress seeking out their own kind of ending. The week before last I sat in a spare bedroom that had belonged to one of my favourite customers and looked at the serried ranks of his library of science fiction novels. Each author a choice, each book another station on the journey.
My late business partner Edward had perhaps the ending we all hope for. When I found him that Spring evening he was frozen forever in time, the opened bottle of Cobra never drunk on the table beside him, and his glasses and the newspaper folded up on his knees. As the wife of the late Who bass player John Entwhistle was quoted as saying, when her husband was found deceased in a hotel room with a talonneur and a quantity of white powders that were not talcum - it was the way he would have wanted to go.
And yet, and yet, even the best of endings brings with it a feeling of sadness. We never want to say goodbye to the things we love. Even though we know we have to, and even though the doing so is what makes us who we are.
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