It seems to me the comedy of human relationships is that you each want different things at different times. Here at the country retreat, the farmers were rolling cut hay into giant bales last night, and when I woke up this morning and saw the bales in the fields, just standing there all Monet-like in the sun, I said, “Good God, if I do nothing else today, let me climb up on one of those haystacks.” At that exact moment, my girlfriend India turned round and said, “I can’t tell you how much I crave haggis. Do you think you can order it on the Internet?”
When you come from Scotland (as I do), the idea of eating haggis can be a bit complicated emotionally. I mean, it’s a bit like someone from Georgetown waking up next to someone who wants to eat the Lincoln Memorial. We stewed for a few minutes in our irreconcilable wants, then India told me that if I tried to climb up on one of those haystacks, I’d end up like the Beecham man up the lane who lost the use of his legs when one of the haystacks rolled on top of him. I wanted at that point to tell the well-known story about the family who got rabies when a tiny morsel of haggis accidentally got onto their breakfast spoons.
Otis the dog is having nothing to do with this—he’s become all starry since appearing in yesterday’sSlate “Diary”—so I decided to pursue the issue of differences by sitting the kids down to watch John Ford’s Stagecoach. It seems that there are certain things you’re banned from doing once you’re over 30, like showing your underpants above the band of your jeans or taking excessive advantage of a free bar, but at the moment I’m more taken up with the obligations of being over 30, which for me include turning the children into lifelong devotees of John Ford, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy.
India has made a good effort at banning rifles and crossbows in the past, but after a few scenes of Stagecoach,the children want to turn our little corner of Warwickshire into the gunfight at the OK Corral—picnic benches are overturned, and I have to get the stepladders out to retrieve the much-needed ammunition from the roof. But I still want to investigate differences. I asked Oscar if he supported the cowboys or the Indians.
“John Wayne,” he said.
“The bigger picture,” I said. “What about the bigger picture? You don’t want the Indians to lose all the time?”
He raised his rifle to meet my liberal eye. “The cowboys are better at fighting.”
At this point Archie fires a sticker-arrow, and it lodges on the TV screen, right in the middle of Claire Trevor’s lovely face.
“The Indians are always sad,” he said.
I’m off to the Edinburgh Festival tomorrow (I have my orders to score some haggis), so this is the last day of walking up and down in my holiday pajamas dreaming about Monet. My brother and his wife and their children have gone, and much of yesterday was spent picking shiny sweet wrappers out of the rugs, out of the sofas, out of the hedges, out of our hair. The differences between siblings become subconsciously anthemic as you get older—when my brother was here, I was convinced he was about to have a heart attack—but as they left and their car raised dust down the lane, I immediately missed them somehow and wished I had made more of their being here. Holidays are Proustian in nature: They celebrate the notion of ease in an atmosphere of tension that is often borrowed from the past. During their visit, two of the adult guests (my brother and an old friend) left the village pub and got lost and fell asleep in one of the nearby ditches, the friend finally brought home by the local police. We laughed at that and mixed a few more drinks, but we also sighed with relief a moment later.
I told the boys that John Ford was on the side of the cowboys and the Indians, that his uncle had fought in the American Civil War on both sides. Of course they looked at me like I was crazy and left me standing on the stairs in my holiday rags, thinking of the journey to Edinburgh tomorrow where I’ll read from Personality and still admiring from the landing window the bales of hay that were gathered in the night. I wonder if I can climb up there when nobody is looking.