‘What have you learned, do you think?’ the book says.
‘Do you mind, I’m trying to have a bath!’
‘Now I know why you got that nickname at school,’ the book says.
‘So?’ the book says.
‘What’ve you learned? What has 2018 taught you?’
‘Can’t we do this later?’
‘No time like the present! And anyway, I made coffee.’
The book and I look at each other. Cold currents are starting to form around my legs. There is no sign of the coffee.
‘Pass me a towel,’ I say, heaving myself dripping out of the bath.
‘So?’ the book says again.
‘I am old,’ I say, looking in the mirror.
‘I could have told you that,’ the book says. ‘This is news?’
‘I am old,’ I say again. ‘2018 has taught me that I am old.’ The book passes me a shirt, some clean underwear.
‘I was doing a lecture the other day, you know, motoring along, warming to my theme, and I mentioned Blue. I got a single nod in recognition.’
‘What, the band?’ the book says.
‘The album! What other Blue is there? Same thing happened when I mentioned the Clash. Joe Strummer. Even Withnail and I.’
‘Did you do your Camberwell Carrot impression? Your Richard E Grant? I love your Richard E Grant.’
‘You know, half the cast of that film are dead, now.’
‘I’ve seen you on more cheery form,’ the book says. It passes me a pair of jeans. ‘So you’re old. So what?’
‘People look through me at the shops. In queues. At parties. Young people. Even people the same age as me. Do you think it’s the baldness?’
‘They’ve been doing that for ages, let me tell you,’ the book says.
‘The thing is, I thought I had stopped being open, and I haven’t,’ I say. ‘I thought I was shutting down, you know, after what happened a couple of years ago. But the thing is, I haven’t at all. If anything I am more open now than ever. To others, to new books, new friends.’
‘Those are good things, aren’t they?’ the book says. ‘Where d’you keep your jumpers, by the way?’
‘But that’s what I am saying,’ I say. ‘Staying open, it’s… It’s not easy. Not at all. When people look through you or one student nods at your Blue reference. But I can’t help it. It’s painful. But I can’t help it. It’s what I do. Who I am, even. Even though it’s hard and no one is getting my Blue references. And discovering that has been what 2018 has taught me. I don’t know how else to say it.’
‘You haven’t even mentioned Brexit,’ the book says.
‘Or social media. Are you open to that as well? I noticed you haven’t tweeted in a while.’
‘That’s the really interesting thing. As you are asking. Since logging off a few weeks ago I think I am coming to realise that I am not really designed for it. On one level I find it very hard to get interested in someone’s cake, or perfect children, or acceptance of the shortlist that they find themselves on. I kind of want to throw the laptop out of the window. The shouting, about you know what and you know who, well, that’s just the atmosphere, like water round a goldfish, to mix metaphors. It’s unavoidable. Even when you set out to avoid it.’
‘And this you call being open?’
‘But it is a kind of opening, you see. It really is. Let’s say you walk into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. What’s the first thing you do, switch Five Live on, or reach for the kettle?’
‘Five Live. Every time. They’re playing a blinder, don’t you think?’
‘Absolutely. But that isn’t the point. By not switching it on a new openness appears, in the silence, as I look out at the bird feeder, or the rain, or hang the washing. I listened to Blue the other day. Not while I was doing something else. I listened intentionally. All the way through. For the first time in years. And it was good, to coin a phrase.’
‘So basically, what 2018 has taught you is a confessional album of songs from 1971?’
‘If you put it like that, yes. I am rediscovering what was sitting there all along.’