So the holiday is over, and the holidays are over.
Life has returned (as it was always supposed to have done) to the predictable rhythms of monotony, anxiety, stress and annoyance, occasionally redeemed by the benedictions of love, literature, sport, music, movies, and serendipity.
Here we are, then: From Mediterranean skies which aren’t really blue but of a colour that are their very own; from the crisp, air and the variegated green of the English countryside and London parks to the squalor of Mumbai and its impending monsoon, its sea like dirty washing and its skies of indeterminate colour, its sullen and rude taxi drivers, and awful roads.
Whoever should be in heaven is right there, and life is just as it ought to be. I have returned to work (as you, with alarm, must have noted), and our eight-year-old has returned to school in the new school year.
I am no admirer of returning to school (oh, the getting up early, the going to bed early, the homework, the irritation, the exasperation with people knowing better than you all the time, oh, the discipline), but there is one big difference between returning to work and returning to school.
The new school year, unlike returning to the office after a holiday, offers a chance of renewal and/or redemption.
Old friends, new clothes, new satchel, new lunch box, new pencil box, new painting-accoutrements box, new raincoat, new shoes, new classroom, new teacher(s). If you wanted to be deluded (or to believe in magic or be optimistic enough to commit yourself entirely to a new beginning), you could even imagine that it was a new YOU.
Returning to the office after a holiday offers no scope for such delusion (or belief in magic etc). One seems stuck in the same place, with the same set of people with their same set of demands and grouses (and, of course, one’s own grouses, one realises, haven’t changed one bit — often because they are contingent on other people and their whinges having remained unaltered), fighting the same battles in the same constituency. Even the desire to throw up once in a while returns with the same intensity and the identical degree of doleful self-pity.
So school — and I hadn’t actually thought I’d ever say this — seems the lesser evil.
In The Trees, Philip Larkin, with his austere lyricism, his gift for balancing nostalgia, hopefulness and a sort of wary scepticism, caught this mood wonderfully. I read the poem out to our girl the night before she went back to school.
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too..
Their yearly trick of looking new..
Is written down in rings of grain..
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.