Great Northern

by ofthewedge


‘Good morrow, Benedick:

Why, what’s the matter,

That you have such a February face,

So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?’

Much Ado about Nothing, Act V. Scene IV

A few days ago I watched Alan Bennett’s Diaries, a film about Alan Bennett writing and reading his diaries. In the final scene we see the Great Northern Sage reviewing the proofs of his latest volume of diaries 2005-2015, with his voiceover of the postscript to those diaries, the postscript which recounts reviewing the proofs of the diaries on the day of the Brexit referendum.  A sort of autobiographical infinity mirror after the fashion of Krapp’s Last Tape.

Alan Bennett, let it be said, has a February face. A face weathered with pessimism, erudition and God-knows how many cups of tea. February is The time of greyness above, below and inbetween, like the ashes the priest presses against the forehead at the beginning of Lent.  The muffled, doleful, heavy chords of the Cowboy Junkies’ 1992 Winter’s Song offers an appropriate soundtrack.

Hand in hand we’ve watched

The autumn fires burn

Summer’s dreams collapsing

Chestnuts in need of gathering,

The whole world lies rotting in the street.

The crocus is not here yet, the snowdrops were late arriving, but the robins are hopping gamely, there is a tribe of chaffinches bossing the edge of the forest and the blackbirds have started to sing a frugal song.

‘I imagine,’ goes Bennett’s entry for 26 June 2016, ‘this must have been what Munich was like in 1938 – half the nation rejoicing at a supposed deliverance, the other stunned by the country’s self-serving cowardice.’

The final line of the documentary, author’s sunken, unimpressed eyes are turned directly to the camera:

‘Well, we shall see.’