I finished reading EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU and I enjoyed the second half very much. There's some cracking dialogue in there, even if I do say so myself. Anyway, the book is now rehabilitated inside my head. It was such a difficult book to write that whenever I've thought about it since it was published, it's made me shudder. Now I might be able to read it again in the future.
I have no idea whether other writers reread their own books. Perhaps it's a shameful thing, but I've told you before that I sometimes re-read Plotting for Grown-ups when I'm ill or sad.
Anyway, the other book of mine I have mixed feelings about is Zuzu's Petals - the book with the dreadful, inappropriate cover for which I will never forgive the publisher.
But an old writing friend told me this week how much she had liked a particular section of it. So I just picked it up this morning and read it from there to the end, and I enjoyed it. I liked the final chapter so much I have taken out the spoilers and am going to post it on here today. It's what broadsheets call 'a long read.'
The last chapter of Zuzu's Petals
The leaves are
out on the copper beech in Bingham Park, new and pink and tender, and the sweet
cicely is frothing up in Whiteley Woods. It’s May, and I’ve been thinking about
This time last
year he was in hospital and I was visiting him. He missed May, the loveliest
month of all - the fresh bright green of the spring - because he was stuck in
hospital. And I missed it last year because although I noticed it on the day he
was buried, the rest of the month leading up to that was lost in thinking about
him, visiting him, watching him disappear.
It has all
come back to me with the beauty of the season and the birds singing at half
past five in the morning. I have been feeling sad again. But this time,
although I am missing Pa, I no longer have the questions swilling round my head
about the rest of my life and about how I want to spend it.
I was going up
to Wensleydale for Pa’s anniversary and managed to order some sweet peas from the
flower shop in Broomhill for his grave. When I couldn't get any last year for
his burial, I was upset and somehow getting some this year seemed to set that
right. Last week when I rang the shop the man thought they would be £1 a stem
and I dithered. He knew that was expensive and he said “It just depends how
extravagant you want to be.” As it turned out, they were half the price he
On the way up
the dale from the A1 I called in at the burial ground. I walked up to the
grave, and the stone was still stark and new and horrid. And the black paint in
the lettering was nasty. The bunch of sweet peas felt small. The grass was
long, and there was still a long coffin-shaped mark in it.
I didn't stand
there and talk to Pa. Partly, it’s the off-putting thought of the people who
live in the old Meeting House behind, and partly it’s because I don't think he
is still around. He isn’t there. He isn’t anywhere. I don’t believe in life
after death, in spirits hanging around waiting to be talked to. The only life
after death is in what the person has left in memories. And then there’s his
deeds, his creations, his influence on his children and his genetic heritage. I
see both of the latter in traits and physical characteristics in Megan and
Steve, and I expect they see it in me. That is where the comfort is. There’s no
comfort in going to the grave.
I didn’t know
what Ma wanted to do for Pa’s anniversary. She never mentioned Pa, she was
quiet all day. We did a bit of paperwork in the morning when I got there –
sorting out her bills. She had an annual electricity statement which was
impenetrable, so we took her off direct debit and put her back on quarterly
I asked her if
there were any consolations in being old.
children come and look after me,” she said. But that was all she could think
Megan and Ed
arrived after lunch. I was pleased to see them. After drinking a cuppa and
munching through a bowl of cherries that Megan had bought on Bristol market, we
walked up to see Pa’s tree. It was showery and there was a cold wind.
In the evening
Steve and Martine came over and we had roast beef and raspberry trifle. Ma had
ordered a big piece of beef. She told me she had asked the butcher to her house
especially to give him her order, not just rung up the shop.
Pa was not
mentioned, apart from when Megan opened a bottle of pink champagne in the
kitchen while she was cooking, and poured us all a glass, and I said “To Pa.”
Megan and Ed
and Steve and Martine said “Yes, to Pa.”
Ma nodded, and
said “Yes,” and took a sip.
sharpened the carving knife and prepared to carve the joint.
get this right or I’ll be in trouble.”
I said. “Now Pa’s not here, no-one’s going to complain about how you carve.”
meaningfully at Megan’s back as she drained the potatoes at the sink.
round and laughed and said “He lives on!”
she and I walked up to the gate on the Thoralby road, the one we walked up to
on the same night last year, on the day he died. Then we walked down to the
hotel, and back across the fields. I don't think Pa was mentioned.
At the cottage
there is a tiny red stapler which lives in the two inch square box it came in,
and on it Pa had written STAPLER in his fine strong capitals. Since he died,
every time I’ve used the stapler, I have found it a comfort to see his writing.
This time I was up at Hollycroft I went to get the stapler and Ma had scrawled Stapler
over his writing in inky rollerball, completely obscuring that winning remnant
of Pa - his writing. It was a trivial sentimental thing, but I showed it to
Megan, and she understood.
I drove all
the way up the Thornton Rust road to the nursing home to see the sweet cicely
and the cow parsley along the roadside and to see if any lambs were playing on
the road as they were last year.
There were no
lambs. And the verges had less sweet cicely than the country lanes down here in
the Mayfield Valley. On the way back I stopped at Pa’s tree. Then I drove to
say goodbye to the Falls. I slowed the car down on Church Bank and wound down
the van window and smelled the wild garlic in the woods. I could see the river
without getting out of the car – it was a lovely colour – dark peaty brown with
a creamy head of foam. Pa always commented on the colour of the river, and if
there’d been a lot of rain he’d say, “It’s running a full pot.”
When I got
home, I talked to Viv about Pa, and the gravestone, and about the fact that Ma
didn’t mention Pa the entire time I was there, yet she seemed so pleased that
Megan and I went up. She mentioned it so many times. She wanted to mark the
day, yet didn’t talk about Pa, or about anything that wasn’t mundane. If Megan
had not been there no-one would have mentioned Pa, and I would have found that
Megan just rang
me to tell me that there’s a jar on the top shelf in the cloakroom at
Hollycroft with a label on, written by Pa - SALTPETRE. He bought it when he was
planning to cure his own bacon. She said she had hidden the jar at the back of
the shelf so that it wouldn’t catch Ma’s eye.
I’m sitting in
the sunshine just now. I’m drinking tea, and eating parkin. I remember sitting
here last summer on my steamer chair, feeling utterly wretched about Pa.
Now I am
happy. And I think that Pa would be pleased.