View from the Bridge: 41

by John Morrison


41: Wet and Wintry

It's a soggy January, a bit of an anti-climax after all the festivities. The one hope, for over-indulgent Milltown folk, is that the hangovers will have subsided by the time the Visa bills roll in.

It's been raining for days. A photographer might enjoy the gilded reflections of street-lamps in puddles, and the way that the cobbles glisten in the back-streets. But everybody else sees just lowering skies and a succession of dreary days that makes summer seem a very distant prospect - whether you look forward or back.

The river, normally the most placidly turgid of watercourses, surges swollenly beneath the old packhorse bridge. Where it meets another beck, the water churns and bubbles like a cauldron of winter stew on the boil.

With the days being short - and the nights depressingly long - this is a good time for making plans and looking ahead. There's Lottery Millennium money available for creating new village greens, and Milltown is staking its claim. Councillor Prattle is confident that we shall soon have a new park to brighten up a neglected corner of town. To dissuade the kids from hanging around drinking cans of extra-strong lager and, incidentally, to create a modest tribute to Princess Diana's pioneering work, some - unspecified - areas of the park will be discreetly land-mined.

Willow Woman is browsing through the extensive 'self-improvement' section at the Milltown Bookshop. Despite already owning hundreds of titles that promise, perhaps optimistically, to "change your life", she can never resist buying a few more. Her current inspiration is an unequivocal feminist rebuttal of Transactional Analysis - entitled 'I'm OK, You're OK . . . Now Piss Off' - which reaffirms her belief that there are few problems in life that can't be sorted out by a turn of the tarot cards or a session of face painting.

She likes to get in touch with her feelings, to the detriment of other activities (especially housework). Exploring the innermost recesses of her own psyche can take an innordinate amount of time. There is no experience too meaningless, and no incident too trivial, to be related in its tedious entirity. So whenever you hear the dreaded words "I had this amazing dream last night . . . ", you may as well sit down, plump up the cushions and make yourself at home. Yet the biggest question of all - "So what do you think? Can Man United do the treble this season?" is the one she consistently fails to address.

It's an occupational hazard of living in Milltown for men to be told that they don't get in touch with their feelings . . . by women who appear to do little else. But any ill-feeling tends to be dispelled whenever there's an insistent knocking from underneath a car bonnet. Willow Woman's instinctive reaction is to don a pair of ear-muffs, hum tunelessly to herself while driving and hope the uninvited noise will go away of its own accord. When the car sounds like it could explode any minute, she'll invite some young buck to take a whistle-stop tour of what goes on beneath the bonnet. He'll be rewarded by a tray of inedible wholemeal scones, or a whistle-stop tour of Willow Woman, depending on her mood and the positions of the planets.

It's simplistic to suggest that every Range Rover driver is an arrogant tosser. Simplistic, but true. Mr Smallholder likes to surround himself with the trappings of success. At work he has assembled a motley collection of time-serving lackeys. As he acknowledges: "Good friends may come and go, but sycophantic toadies are for ever".

Back at home there's his trophy wife, with her sun-bed tan and spendthrift habits. A significant rise in the FT Index might yet encourage him to trade her in for a newer model. But in the meantime he's content to be surrounded by servility; even his possessions have to know their place. He aims his key-fob at the Range Rover and presses the button. The lights flash obediently and the car gives a bleep that is reassuringly obsequious. "I am yours, O powerful one", it seems to be saying, "what might be your bidding?"

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