Laurence Inman is in a pensive mood, dogged by regrets.
W.B.Yeats, in his poem of 1932 ‘Vacillation’, talks of the memories that
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.
I love the whole thing. I packed it away in my memory years ago, so that I can take it out whenever I like and roll it round in my mind. I’m sure it’s helped me to avoid the generation of many new memories which can fester and plague me in the future. Philip Larkin complained about this as well. For him, the whole of the past was turning into a swamp of embarrassment and remorse. Perhaps it’s Nature’s way of making death bearable, even welcome; a sighing, relieved casting-off of the burden of guilt.
But Yeats was lucky. Only every day? I count it a good hour if I can go a clear twenty minutes without wincing at the familiar Ach! shrieking up from the deep recesses of the darkest memories.
I’ve had occasion to re-visit the past just lately. I’ve examined my diary entries for the time I spent at a particular address in Fallowfield, Manchester, in 1971. My sojourn there lasted exactly 150 days. This was in my second year at University. I’m planning a kind of comic-philosophical memoir. I want to undermine the notion that any place, or time, or mind can possibly be more important or interesting than any other. So, Proust, but in Manchester.
But it’s a struggle. The slightest distraction – taking the dog for a run, raking the lawn, staring at the wall – can tempt me from it. It’s not just the aching regret for all the golden opportunities I scraped off the golden plate of youth straight into the golden bin of waste. It’s the guilt. Or rather: THE GUILT!
Guilt about what, though? Well, I’ll tell you. You can be the first to know.
It’s the feeling that I took someone else’s place. This someone; I’ve fleshed him out. He’s a real person. He was called David, or Davey. He was an only child, the pride of his parents. He lived in the North somewhere. To do Philosophy at Manchester University would have rescued him from a life of frustration and drudgery in the mill, the mine, the soggy field. I see them receive the letter of rejection. It’s Monday morning. Raining as usual. ‘Never mind, son, there’ll be an offer soon.’ But there never was. Any why ? Because Davey’s offer went to me, and the minute I got there I found it wasn’t for me at all, no, reading novels, playing football for the Northern College of Music, writing unreadable poetry, acting in impenetrable plays, drinking with my mates in the pubs of Didsbury and Withington, chasing women, that was for me. Yes, that was definitely my street, up which I lolled and wandered for three years, being in the end rewarded with what toffs at Oxford in the twenties might have called ‘a gentleman’s fourth.’ Or even fifth.
Davey would have got a First. He wasn’t a waster.
But, but, but….
The great thing about Philosophy is that it helps you cope with the consequences of doing (or not doing) Philosophy.
And now I’m in touch with someone who was there, on that course, with me. We don’t really remember each other. I’m just hoping that she wasted a bit of her time as well. Not much, just a week or two, a month perhaps. Every little helps.