Day 28

Still troubled by yesterday's thoughts of death and non-existence, I went out and visited Elsbeth at her Oxfam charity shop. I offered my help and was put to sorting out donations at the back. Great piles of clothing and odds and ends, most of it in surprisingly good condition. People have too much if they can give this sort of stuff away.

We ate sandwiches together for lunch. Elsbeth I guess could see I was not in good form so it was a subdued affair. We parted after lunch as I had to buy some food, and anyhow needed time to think.

Its tugging at my soul, this issue of existence and non-existence. Why do I exist? Why do I care? The world is just material and has no business being aware of itself. Just causes trouble.

Harry has not been around lately. Slightly worried. I hope he's ok. Its nice having another living thing around. The absence of life and relationship makes for a very cold world.

Day 27

Elsbeth said something today that troubled me.

We were talking about old age and lives passed, and dying, when she said suddenly that she was not afraid of death. Its not that I have a morbid preoccupation with it, but its not something I particularly look forward to. First there is the process of dying (assuming I don't get run over by a bus), which is unpleasant enough as our life fizzles out and we fall part. But more than that there is the death part. No more Aaron. I cease to exist. If I were just a collection of lucky cells with no awareness of self that wouldn't be a problem, but by some further fluke, this bunch of cells became "I", and "I" does not want to be extinguished.

And if there is some sort of afterlife, and all this talk of God has some truth to it, then being extinguished might be the best of all possible worlds!

Can I be blamed for being unable to believe something that has so little tangibility? I'm not looking for proof of God, just some sense of reality like I know the wind is real because I feel it and I observe it fluttering flags.

Lots of people seem to have this sense. Elsbeth has it in excess, hovering around her like an aura, an aroma, a breath of fresh air, a raison d'etre.

I have nothing but memories, many failures, a few successes, and a countdown.

Day 26

I decided today to face up to what I have obviously been avoiding that last few days: a walk to the park, and Elsbeth.

So I did, and she was there, just about to leave. Perhaps my face betrayed my feelings and perhaps she took pity on me, but anyhow she asked me if I liked walking and wanted to stroll along the canal with her.

This has easily been one of my most pleasant days in recent times. The sun shone wanly, full of hope, through cold clouds, and there was little or no wind, so we walked and talked together for miles like old friends.

I discovered that she is a widow of some 10 years, has one son slightly older than my children (but then I did start late), lives up the road, loves reading, helps out at the local charity shop, is an excellent, kind listener, and believe it or not is a devout Christian. What is it with my choices?? I can see Joe laughing wherever he is.

I think Elsbeth and I will get along just fine. We're meeting again tomorrow for another walk.

Harry has just made a guest appearance but is not interested in eating it seems.

Actually, neither am I, silly old lovestruck fool that I am.

Day 25

I felt much better today so decided to take walk in different direction and ended up on a grass hill with quite a decent view of the City. I sat there a long while on a park bench and munched on a jam sandwich. Some kids flying a kite nearby reminded me of that book "The Kite Runner" which came out as a film recently; a fabulous book about love, honour and forgiveness in the face of evil and adversity. There's something about suffering children that touches even the most hardened old soul.

Its been a reflective, grey sort of day, as if a cloud of great sadness has descended on me and coloured my mood. With old age comes too much time, opportunities to reflect, but unfortunately too few people to share those reflections with; particularly the younger generation who know it all and aren't interested in the ramblings of an old duffer.

In order to cheer myself up I decided to make a big pot of lentil stew with a nice chunk of Speck the butcher no longer wanted. It was my favourite dish as a child.

Unfortunately lentils give me serious wind, so its a good thing I live on my own.

Day 24

Still feeling pretty ill and tired of reading so I stared out the window for most of the day. From my window one can only see a bit of the canal through an alleyway, so its not much of a view, but its better than counting the flowers on the wallpaper. I watched the cars drive by, the pedestrians on the pavement below huddled against the biting wind, and people in the apartments opposite busy with their daily chores or just lounging about. Don't these people have jobs to go to?

That's the one thing I don't like about the Welfare State here in Britain. I know it does look after the truly needy, but the absence of it would certainly encourage a lot more people to go to work, or else starve. I know I am a heartless old bar steward but I can't abide laziness. I worked hard all my life until I retired. I also drank hard but that's another matter. The point is I didn't scrounge off others.

Joe would have probably popped in to say hello had he still been alive. I miss the old blighter. He was one of the few genuinely selfless people I knew – always had time for others.

I wonder what people will say about me after I'm gone. Miserable old fart? Loner? Probably. Good father? Debatable, even though the girls do love me. Good husband? I don't know. Marriage is complicated, and blame for its failure rarely lies at the feet of only one party. In my case, I drank, but why did I drink? Did Fiona drive me to it? Was she lonely because I worked too hard? Did her constant demand for things force me to work so hard? Was she looking to things to replace something I failed to give her? I thought I loved her, but perhaps that wasn't enough.

I read an article in Readers Digest, that font of all reception room education, about “Love Languages”. Awful title, but very interesting nonetheless. It was all about how we give and receive love in different ways, so two people could potentially love each other and yet not be meeting each other's needs. I wonder if that's what happened to Fiona and me?

Oh well, no sense pondering now about things gone by I guess, but I do wonder if I learned anything.

Day 23

I slept very well last night, but I feel ill today. I guess the last few days of activity have caught up with me. Or perhaps I have the love-bug, heh-heh. Silly old fool, Aaron.

The weather has turned again and it looks like sleet outside. A perfect day for being bed bound. I picked up a much read copy of Thomas Hardy's "Far from the madding crowd". I love the opening:

"When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

His Christian name was Gabriel, and on working days he was a young man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress, and general good character. On Sundays he was a man of misty views, rather given to postponing, and hampered by his best clothes and umbrella: upon the whole, one who felt himself to occupy morally that vast middle space of Laodicean neutrality which lay between the Communion people of the parish and the drunken section, -- that is, he went to church, but yawned privately by the time the con-gegation reached the Nicene creed, and thought of what there would be for dinner when he meant to be listening to the sermon."

I wish I could write like that. "When Aaron smiled, his face was lost in a sea of wrinkles and mirth on which floated two deep pools of sorrow." Hey, that's not bad, if a little fluffy.

Its been very quiet of late in the building. Those binned eviction notices weigh heavily on my mind.

Back to my book methinks. Harry hasn't budged all day. I think his lady friends will have to wait until the weather improves.

Day 22

Sunday. I was woken up by church bells this morning. Bloody nuisance they are. Don't they know nobody's coming?

Joe once dragged me along to his church. I think it was a Baptist place. Ugly as sin the building was. I'll say one thing about the Church of England - they know how to build beautiful churches. The church service was a dismal affair. An old woman on a piano leading baleful tunes, a long-winded preacher going on about irrelevant things that may have happened centuries ago. The people were very nice though. Made me feel right at home. The coffee tasted like drain water but nobody seemed to mind. I wonder why they bother? Religion is dead. Antiquated beliefs from a more superstitious ignorant time.

I took a walk along the canal, and saw that she was sitting in the park, reading. I decided to act my age so went in and sat in my usual place. Our eyes met and we smiled at each other. I felt like a flustered youngster finding first love but managed to talk about the nice weather we were having. I watched her as she spoke: gentle movements, bright eyes, shy smile. I'm not a great talker, but it was easy talking to her. We talked about everything: books, people, our lives. I discovered her name is Elsbeth. Elsbeth, that has a lovely mystical ring to it.

I don't know about love at first sight, but she is a fine woman and I hope to see her again soon.

Harry liked his new food and I suppose dreams of great chases as he warms my feet.

Another good day.

Day 21

I love market day: colourful stalls and people, smells that delight, sounds of life everywhere, delicious goodies, and lots of cheap crap.

I bought some fresh fruit and veg, the apples all the way from New Zealand. I thought briefly about carbon footprints and eyed the overpriced Braeburns, but then went for the cheaper option. Environmentalism is a middle-class pastime – the rest of us can't afford it. Harry got some proper cat food. Five different meats in a can? The beast will be eating better than me.

The sun made a brief appearance so I sat on a bench and watched the world go by. A couple joggers in lycra, families laughing, couples in a world of their own, old timers walking dogs that looked their owners. Heh-heh, who are you calling “old timer”? I read a great definition of old age in Readers Digest. "Old age is when your morning face IS your face".

A good day.

Day 20

I heard someone on the radio saying that it was completely illogical to believe in God. I didn't understand that. Why is it illogical? Sure there are some odd things about God like predestination and freewill that seem contradictory, but if there is a God and he is all the things they say about him (or her or them), then surely we're not going to understand everything? Does my world disappear into a puff of illogic because I can't explain where we come from, or why I have morals, or why I even think I exist?

Where is Joe when you need him? I wonder if he is in heaven or if he believed in the wrong God?

Harry has just looked at me with those condescending cat's eyes of his so I guess its time to turn out the light.

Day 19

I sat on the bus most of today, touring the City and using my pensioner's pass to the full. Its not that I needed a tour – I've lived here most of my life – but I needed something to do that didn't involve walking to the park. Really silly, I know, but at my age one has to accept one's deficiencies – too set to change.

I like travelling on the bus – its warm and soporific, and good for people watching.

People are very interesting, all shapes and sizes and colours. I like guessing. The woman teetering on high heels in the corner with a beer bottle in her hand. Why is she drunk? Is she happy or sad? The old man opposite me with a laptop and email printouts. Is it his business? Who is Sarah Jenkins? A customer? His boss? And so on. Hours of fun.

Other times I just gazed through the rain spattered window at the cars and houses and people rushing by, all with somewhere to go and more purpose than an old fart loitering on the bus for a day. Now and then my tired bearded reflection would stare back at me, slightly accusingly I thought. Its strange looking at one's reflection up close. Deep wrinkles. Hair sprouting in all sorts of unwanted places. Has it come to this? I still feel 20 in many respects. Perhaps wiser, perhaps calmer, but this? Old, doddery, unshaven, tired. Where have the years gone? What do I have to show for it? Ex-wife. Dead friends. Memories noone cares about.

I thought of Jojo and Liesel, and now Harry lying on my feet.

It could be worse, a lot worse, you daft egit.

Day 18

Well I never.

I went on my usual walk today, and in a complete daze sat on a different park bench. Her park bench. Suddenly she was there, smiling at me. I smiled back furtively, mumbled something about the weather and a pressing engagement and hurried off.

She had a nice smile. The glow of an ember in a cold room.

There was a notice on the front door when I got back, an eviction notice. I tore it up and binned it with the rest.

Harry seems to be a permanent resident. I wonder if I should find him a collar. Mind you, that smacks of ownership, and our relationship is not like that. Harry comes and goes as he pleases. I like having him around as long as he doesn't pee on the bed.

I decided to wash the long overdue dishes but found I didn't have any detergent. Oh well.

Day 16

Slept very badly last night. I kept on seeing Joe in my dreams, lying in that bed, leering at me with a deathly grin.

Dawn was a welcome sight. I got up early, let Harry out and went for an early morning walk. The City was still sleeping and an eerie mist hung over the canal. I walked many miles, heart aching for my friend.

Grief is selfish; Joe's last years were pretty miserable and he's probably better off. Depends on whether you think not existing is better than existing in pain. I miss him, and it hurts, selfish or not, I don't care.

Jojo phoned today to cheer me up with a joke. “How did the man die in a bowl of muesli?” “A raisin pulled him under”. Its funny on so many dubious levels. Raisin should be currant in case you missed it. She has such a quirky sense of humour, like her old Dad, and it brought a wry smile to my lips. I've noticed a change in her - she was wearing makeup the other day. I wonder what's going on.

I heard crying at the neighbours. I think he's left for good. Life can be pretty crap.

Harry brought me a little mouse as a gift but kept the head for himself. Ugh.

Day 15

Missed a few diary entries. Buried Joe yesterday and haven't felt like writing much.

Only Amy, Liesel, Jojo and I were at the grave. Fiona was doing her nails I suppose. I used to love that woman with such a passion. Not sure where it all went wrong. Can't blame it all on the drink, surely?

I miss Joe terribly.

Day 8

Joe died last night. The doctors wouldn't tell me exactly why – presumably because I'm not kin. Bastards.

I don't have words to express the depth of sadness and loss that I feel tonight.

Harry is asleep on the bed and keeps my feet warm as I write. His purring contentment is a stark contrast to my emptiness.

Day 7

Harry was still there this morning, so I gave have him some milk and let him out to do what cats do. Harry is a large, ginger tabby with a stomach that scrapes the ground as he walks. I do wonder how he does it, probably scrounges food from every tenant in the block.

I called the hospital to see about Joe. He had come to, so I trekked across the City to see him. He still didn't look great but had some more colour about him. It was Tuberculosis he said, quite severe, but he reckoned he was on the mend. I had brought him some grapes and a newspaper. Why do people always bring grapes to hospitals?

I didn't stay long, as he was tired. I hope he'll be alright.

Harry was there again in front of my door, so I seem to have a new flat mate.

Day 6

Got a call today from Amy, Joe's neighbour. Joe was in hospital. They had found him collapsed in the stairwell. The hospital was unfortunately at the other end of the City so it took me over over an hour to get there by Tube.

He looked awful, a crumpled collection of skin and bones in a sea of white linen, surrounded by beeping machines and colourless tubes. I sat with him a while as he slept and thought about the years we had seen together. Joe lost his family in WW2 and soon became a member of ours. The girls loved Uncle Joe when they were little and used to squeal with delight as he played silly games with them. Fiona liked him well enough I suppose, but he was too wild for her – she always did like to be in control. It saddened me to see this husk of man, my dearest and only friend, lying there, once so strong and full of zest for life, now poised on the brink of eternity.

Death has no favourites. It takes us all and then we begin the cycle again as worm food.

I do sometimes wonder about God, about what it would be like if He turned out to exist after all. Be quite a big “Oops!” I suppose.

Joe believes, and that partly explains his constant joy and love for life, despite the complete shite it threw at him. Me I buckled under it and turned into a sad old git. I can't comprehend a God that would allow such things to happen. Joe always said it was a necessary evil, a consequence of our free will, but this bad? Was the experiment worth all this suffering?

Harry was at my front door, mewing plaintively so I let him in and for the first time he didn't go straight for the fridge but made himself at home on the sofa. I don't think I'll tell the neighbours – they don't deserve pets... or oxygen for that matter.

Day 5

Liesel and Jojo dropped by today, bless them. Fiona doesn't know and would go ballistic if she did – court order and all – but my gorgeous girls still love me. They brought some presents, mostly of the edible kind, helped me clean up my place, and played cards. I taught them poker at an early age so they robbed me of every match stick in the house. They stayed a good few hours. I was sad to see them go and cling to the memories of their laughter, touch and smell.

The apartment is very empty tonight but I decided to lay off the wine for a change.

Day 4

Didn't sleep much last night. The neighbours were fighting again, screaming at the top of their voices and throwing things at each other. Sounded like he'd been smiling at some other bird again. She doesn't like that. Eventually he walked out and slammed the door so loudly that my one picture fell off the wall. Fortunately it didn't break. Its a lovely Constable print that I found in a rubbish bin along the nicer parts of the canal.

Decided to go for a walk again along the canal in the hope that She was at the park again. She was, sitting in the same place, feeding the birds. They are really comfortable with her – one even sat on her hand. She looks a bit like what I imagine Mother Theresa to be like: saintly, wrinkled and very kind.

Our eyes met briefly, but I was so embarrassed at being caught sizing her up that I looked away and hurried off. You would think that at 64 one might be a bit more together, right?

I decided to deviate on the way home from my normal route and walk through the back roads for a change. I don't like doing that much because some of the areas are very rough, and groups of loitering youths scare me. I hate being old. In my prime I would have knocked their bloody blocks off.

I wonder where Harry was today. I specially bought some cream for him yesterday.

Yummy left over Spag Bol for tea. Its always better on day two.

Day 3

Well what do you know? It was actually sunny today in good old England. Having shopped yesterday and collected my benefit money along with the rest of the Great Unwashed, I had nothing that needed doing (apart from the dishes but those will keep), so I went for a walk along the canal.

Its not much of a canal and the water is filthy, but it has "character". Mysterious house boats line the banks, some deserted, some containing families or lone farts such as I. I'd love to have a boat. I'd spend all my days navigating the various canals around the South East. Perhaps I'll win the lottery this week.

I sat in the park again and watched the yummy mummies with their children. Surprised I still have any stirrings at my age. The kids were very cute, apart from that little brat called Bradley who has his hapless teenage mother wrapped around his nasty little finger. I wonder where the dad is. Probably holed up on some pub, or fishing along the canal.

She was there again today, feeding the pigeons and reading what looked like Silas Marner. I love that book; reminds me of myself when the girls visit. I wonder who she is. Of course I haven't got the courage to say hello. She looks too good for me anyhow.

I managed a good few miles today. Thankfully the old knee is holding up ok. Felt so good that I even decided to cook something. Spag Bol. You can't beat the old favourites. Got enough left to last me a few days.

Day's caught up with me. Its been such a good day that I ought to be thankful but since there is no God, that would just be silly.


Day 2

Raining again today. I love the rain, the way it drives against the window, especially when curled up in bed. Just need a good woman to share it with. Well, I had all that, but screwed it up, so no point thinking about it.

It was good to see Joe again after so long but its worrying how ill he is. He's lost a lot of weight and I'm sure I saw some blood on his handkerchief. But the old fool won't listen to reason - he hates doctors and hospitals. We managed a few rounds of poker and reminisced over old times. Joe and I go back a long way. I still remember vividly waiting with him outside the headmasters office for a caning after we accidentally burnt the bike shed down with our cigarette stubs. Joe as usual was prepared with his rabbit skin which stuck down his trousers. I still wince at the pain.

I need to stock up on some food today. There's only so many times you cut the mould off bread. Mustn't forget the wine.

The neighbour's cat is outside the window again, poor thing. Better let it in and give it some milk. I wonder if I should give it a name. Harry. Yes, that'll do. Fine name.

Day 1

Woke up with a headache this morning. Probably too much red wine again. Plus the neighbours were at it again. I mean, if they're not killing each other then they are destroying the bed springs and my beauty sleep. Me, I'm single, living in a crummy flat overlooking the canal. I got nobody, no money, nothing.

There I go again, dark thoughts. I should be grateful to even have a place at all. Those poor bastards under the bridge are lucky if they even wake up in the morning. If it's not the cold, it's the guy who fancied your shoes. I was lucky to find this place. I heard from a mate that there was a squatting opportunity. A room with a view as it were. Funny guy.

I should do something useful today. The dishes need doing, but then they did last week too so that could wait I suppose. Maybe I'll visit Joe. We could play cards if he's well enough. That cough has been getting worse but he won't go to the hospital, old fool. "Death trap", says he.

Really miss the kids today. I know I walked out on them and Fiona but it was all too much - working long hours, Fiona nagging me about everything, never satisfied. Then there was the drink. I never could handle it, but I got no self-discipline. I wonder how they are. Does Jojo have a boy friend yet? She's such a tom-boy. Liesel on the other hand doesn't have any problems in that department. What a beauty. Reminds me a lot of Fiona when we were younger; dark and fiery.

There's that cat again, mewing at the window. How does it get up this high? Must have fled from the neighbours again. Think I'll give it some milk.

God, my head hurts.