Amsterdam V: Am I Gonna Get Laid?

sosometaAndrew showed Peter how to use Mr Google on my Samsung and he is frittering away my data-plan looking up pictures of women in gardens.  “You have to understand I don’t have an unlimited contract,” I whine.

“Me next,” seventeen-year old me chimes in.  He has just found out that I still have the Penguin Metaphysical Poets he was reading in Amsterdam and wants to check a few things out.  I tried to take him under my wing.  “Listen, kid,” I said,  “So, so, break off this last lamenting etc.’ appeals to you because you pucker up on the ‘so’ and that’s smart and you like the smartness of it, but Donne is not exactly a pleasant personality.  He has a quite nasty egotism and he wants the whole world to conform.  ‘No man is an island’ is a political manifesto for totalitarians not free-thinkers.”

“Are you patronising me?”

So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss..

I don’t remember myself having this bolshie, forthright way of expressing myself.  I say, “You are asking for it.  When you get to my age….”

“I can’t believe you just said that.  Do you really think it would be right for a seventeen-year old to think and act like a fifty-two-year old?  I know that’s wrong and I haven’t even read The Praise of Folly yet.”

“I guess what I want is to save you some pain.”

He pauses.  “Harsh words.  What do you mean?”

“Well, you might fall in love with someone who doesn’t like Donne.”

“Tell me about it, old man.”

I decide the best way to do the talking is to do some walking and take him up past the cowshed and the barn and then hairpin back onto the top path that goes through the trees that border C.’s top field.  It is afternoon and the light filters through the branches.  Crows call in the distance.

Off to Greenham Common

“You meet someone, in the story I know, about six months from now.  You are the same horny bastard I can see in front of me right now.  Just as clueless.  This girl you meet is a reader.  She is not a flouncy, summer dress, pretty-pretty either.  She is smart, provocative and has these eyes that dance with sardonic humour.  She is a feminist and goes to Greenham Common.  You know all those symbols you have been reading in the paintings in Amsterdam?  Fertility, chastity, constancy, flux and so on and so on.  You are not aware that they are anything more than what is in the world; for you the gaze is masculine and the one being gazed at is feminine.  That just seems natural, and it is no surprise given the history of western civ; male eyes, female bodies.  You are going to learn, just like you did looking at the skull, that reading can invert the gaze.  That the one you are reading can read you right back.

“It’s not fair to talk about you.  You and I are the same but…, if there is a reason behind taking you out of Amsterdam… it must be so that you do not have to be exactly me.  The imminent precipice I saved you from was the brink of the chasm of returning to Colditz, with all the boredom and acidic nastiness that school life in that place contained.  Peter the Painter came along for the ride.  He is going to have to go back.  You are going to have to go as well, but there is something in this moment out of time…”  I dry up.  I can’t continue.  I look him in the eye and he seems to be egging me on.

“Am I gonna get laid?” he asks.


“Shit,” he says.  He kicks a stone across the path.  “Goddammit.  We can change that at least, if we are going to be changing stories and messing around with plotlines.  Let’s make me a ‘getting laid’ story.”

“Jesus Christ!” I exclaim stopping by an ivy-eaten elder trunk that has fallen across the path and is blocking our way.  I clamber over it and turn around to look at him.  “Do you think I am the one to help you to get laid?” I ask.  “Remember, I don’t have anything more than you have except a bit more experience.”

“Yeah, but this girl… is she hot?”

“Christ alive!  Yes, she is ‘hot’ in the sense that you have the hots for her.  You can’t help yourself.  It’s not like looking at girlie mags or fantasising about women around town or on the TV.  No, this is something different because she is going to awaken in you something you don’t even have an inkling exists.  Respect!”


“Sure, sure.  I get that.  I am not a complete arse-hole.  I mean, it has got to be better to shag someone you respect, hasn’t it?”  He turns his jejune teenage face to look through the trees to the vivid green of the field catching the low afternoon sun streaming over the crest of hills in the distance.

“Respect is not quite the word,” I correct myself.  “Awe.”

“You really are getting old, aren’t you?  Do I marry this girl?”

“No.  She turns out to be a lesbian.”

“You’re kidding me.  You have to be fucking kidding me.  What kind of a life are you laying out for me here?  You are talking about someone you knew- what?- thirty-five years ago, which I would like to remind you is twice my age.  You fall in love with her, you don’t get laid and you don’t get married and you carry her around with you for that eternity.  I’m sorry but that seems kinda sad.”

“Of course, it is sad, you cretin.  Of course, it is.  Can we just get back to the John Donne for a minute?”

“Sure, shoot.”

“OK.  What can I say?  Umm.  Let’s see.  Quoting John Donne to a feminist who is a sharper reader than you are is not a good way forward.”

“OK, what about George Herbert or Henry Vaughan.”

I shudder with the memories.  “Please don’t,” I say.


“But Henry Vaughan is cool,” he says.  “There is something in him I respond to.  Maybe it is because he is a provincial like me.  Herbert’s God stuff is too much, I’ll give you that, but Vaughan’s provincial pessimism… are you telling me that I shouldn’t define myself by the writers I like?”

“Hmm.  Let’s see.  Yes, I would say that is exactly what I am telling you.  You are treating these writers like they were pop groups: you pick them up to see if they will help you to construct your identity, but your identity is not the question, is it?  It is not about you.  It’s not about your identity.”

“What is it all about?  I can be honest with this one for sure.  I do not know what it is all about.  And I guess that is what keeps me reading, isn’t it?”


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