Newland

30/01/2024

1

Newland was part of our wider social circle and I recall initially only seeing him at parties a friend would host. These usually took place in the spring, summer and autumn months, whenever the weather was warm enough and dry enough to spend an evening in the garden. The parties were subdued affairs and yet lively; quiet enough for neighbours to have little cause for complaint, and big enough for people to make friendships they wouldn’t have made without the parties. Usually, the parties went on until one in the morning, and the remaining partygoers would go upstairs to our host’s first-floor apartment, a three-bedroom flat that could entertain twenty to twenty-five people but not the seventy or eighty who would sometimes show up in the garden. The music outside was always live, and only acoustic; usually, people played guitar, a flute, a cello or a clarinet. There was no speaker system, and instead, the energy required was for the two outdoor heaters that people could huddle around if the temperature dipped. The neighbours were always invited to the parties and even those who didn’t come needn’t have too much cause for complaint; may even have found it soothing as they went to sleep listening to a solo guitar as if to a lullaby. 

It was at one of these parties Newland met Nelly. I think I can say she was striking, as he was not: I would have seen Newland probably at several parties before but couldn’t have recalled with certainty, even if the host later told me he had been a regular attendee for several years. I knew when I saw Nelly that she hadn’t been to any of these parties before with absolute confidence. She seemed, early in the evening, to be with a man who left around eleven, and for the rest of the night, I saw her talking with Newland. When more than a dozen of us were still there at one, we went upstairs and were all sitting in the host’s sitting room, except for Newland and Nelly, who were chatting in the kitchen. They were both smokers and sat by the window seat, with the window wide open. I passed on the way to the bathroom and any suggestion that I go in and even get myself a glass of water felt like it might be an intrusion. 

By the time of the next party about three months later, they had become a couple. They arrived together, were affectionate with each other throughout the evening, and while I didn’t see them leave it must have been around one when they departed. I don’t think they went upstairs. I saw them again a few weeks after that, sitting on a terrace cafe. It was early September and the weather was warmer than people expected. I was seated at a nearby table with friends who didn’t know Nelly and Newland even though they had been to one or two of the garden parties in the past. At one moment I asked the friend sitting next to me, after getting tea when we returned from a long walk, and who could see them at a couple of tables away from us, whether they were well matched, whether they seemed happy, and whether they would remain together. The friend, who I always thought was a people watcher to augment his profession rather than an idle escape from it (Buford was a psychoanalyst and ten years my senior), said they were surprisingly unmatched physically, very happy, and would not stay together. I asked if the first fact would lead to the third and that the one in the middle was finally irrelevant. He said with a precision that seemed to surprise him, and with a sensitivity that he rarely expressed, that this man’s purpose was to be good rather than to love and be loved. At the moment he was being good to her because he was a good person. But surely he loves her I said. He didn’t doubt that — but he saw in the woman an egotism that would soon enough be surprised by the generosity of his personality, one that was so much greater than the capacity to be infatuated by just her. 

I was intrigued by his comment, feeling that it contained not only truth but evidence as well, though it would only be sometime later that this would become manifest; that I could say with confidence that Richard was right. Watching them sitting together that mid-afternoon, I saw two people who seemed entwined in their bodies as though in a physical manifestation of their souls. I would see couples often enough who looked like they were in love but I saw also narcissism, with the two often attractive people looking like they had doubled their physical appeal rather than created a spiritual union. When I watched Newland and Nelly sitting there, I believed I was looking at bodies contained by a quality that couldn’t be seen, but I might now assume that this was a quality that chiefly belonged to Newland and that Nelly was in love with the gaze upon her rather than in a union of souls.

2

I didn’t see them together again. There were further parties in the garden the following spring but Newland and Nelly weren’t there. I didn’t think very much about this and, if I had given it thought, there was no reason for me to ask the host where they were. Sometimes at the parties I would wonder why a particular person or people weren’t there but these were people I knew if not well enough to know why they hadn’t come beforehand, could at least ask why they weren’t there on the night. I knew Newland and Nelly not at all, and wondered if I believed I knew them it rested centrally on the remark Richard offered. It is an odd thing indeed to know the future of people without knowing their present but that was how Richard’s comment made me feel, as though I was intrigued by these strangers because I knew what they might become. 

At one moment during one of these parties, someone said they had seen Newland recently and he seemed despondent. He was sitting alone in a cafe and while usually Newland would be looking up and around, happy to engage someone in conversation, or at least offering a smile, he didn’t say hello to anyone. Somebody else asked if he was still with Nelly. He said he didn’t know. As the others talked about Newland I knew I had nothing to add — I obviously knew him less well than the others. Yet I felt at that moment my ignorance was compensated for by a fellow feeling I couldn’t quite name and might now say was based on prediction: that I would come to know Newland much better than I did at the time. Yet perhaps prediction needn’t be viewed so mysteriously: often it is just the predictable. When a person claims they were destined to meet their boyfriend, to get a certain job or to find themselves in a particular country, and view this as both unbelievable and inevitable, I would be inclined to see it as predictable, without any negative connotations often associated with the term. I suppose I would say that the unconscious meets with the statistical, that we have thoughts and feelings we hardly know that we have but if we did we might be able to see the likelihood of events and encounters we find ourselves later in. One needn’t be a cynic or a mystic, just aware that when we look back after an event which takes place, a friendship that has developed, a love affair embarked upon, a job taken, that it had a statistical likelihood based on desires, affinities and beliefs. This may explain my later friendship with Newland.

At one of these parties from which Newland was absent, I was sitting by the very kitchen window Newland and Nelly had been seated at a year earlier. I was talking to a young Irish woman whose two friends worked with the party host's tenant and they had left half an earlier when the party moved upstairs and they were looking for a livelier gathering. As she came into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water, I was sitting thinking about how difficult it seemed to enter when Newland and Nelly were sitting there. She had no problem entering with me there alone, and I had no difficulty asking her why she hadn’t joined her friends. I wondered if she wanted a tea, and she said she would love a cup but, added, that this might border on a presumption a glass of water needn’t demand. I said she sounded in that moment like a character out of a 19th-century novel. I offered a variation of a 19th-century character’s remarks too when I insisted I was no more entitled to helping myself to a hot beverage than she was but by somehow offering one to another I was temporarily playing the host. 

And so I made her a cup of tea and I accepted as well her kind suggestion that I have one too. We sat by the window and, after we had been sitting talking for around thirty minutes, someone came in and hesitantly stood for a couple of seconds before retreating. I shouted out that they should come in but they didn’t reply. We talked for a further hour and then left together. Siobhan was staying with those two other friends in a flat on the other side of the Meadows, and I was living down near the canal. It was 230 in the morning, and she said it was nice to walk through the Meadows without feeling unsafe. I said I wasn’t much of a hero, and if we were going to be attacked the best I could offer was to be the first victim and give her the chance for a proper escape. As we walked, people were sitting on the grass, a pungent smell of cannabis coming from a person sitting on a park bench, his dog by his feet, and some teenagers who were all probably claiming to be on sleepovers and hoped the various parents wouldn’t enquire into who was staying with whom. They were rowdy and raucous and if there were houses nearby no doubt someone would have called the police, but instead they were left to their fun. Perhaps the police knew they were there and thought they gave this unsafe park a sense of safety in numbers; anybody inclined to attack would be aware they would be doing so with witnesses aplenty. I could imagine the police sitting in their car nearby feeling that they were less obliged to get out and walk if the kids were loud enough to keep the park from danger. 

We joked about this and she said it would have been no laughing matter if she had been alone and I said it would have been a matter for the psychiatrists if she had been laughing alone. She laughed again and said isn’t it terrible: that lonely people can’t even laugh without appearing mad? We talked like this till I left her at her front door ten minutes later. We had been in each other’s company for less than three hours but it seemed it had been longer. I said this to her as we hugged and she said that isn’t usually a good sign. Isn’t time supposed to go much more quickly when you are enjoying yourself? I supposed that was generally true but when you meet someone meaningful a short period can seem to have been elongated: that each moment appears extended. Maybe that is it I said, perhaps retreating from what I might have seen as exposing my feelings, perhaps just trying to explain myself a little more clearly — adding that in the meaningful, time expands; when having fun it contracts. I kissed her clumsily on the forehead as she moved her head up towards me for what may have been a kiss, and I said that for me it had been both meaningful and fun. Time expanded and contracted.

In my awkwardness, I left without knowing her number or her email address and was left only with such an old-fashioned notion of locale as a means of locating someone. I thought about this as I carried on from her place in Bruntsfield, down to mine at Polwarth. We were living only ten minutes away from one another: we were unlikely not to cross paths soon.

3

Over that summer we didn’t see each other at all, even though I sometimes deliberately passed her street when I would go shopping on Morningside. Who I did sometimes see, especially near the Meadows, was Newland. There were a couple of cafes off Mid-Meadow Walk that he had clearly chosen as regulars, even as working spaces. They had become regulars of mine as well, one would get the light in the morning and in the early afternoon, and the other cafe for two or three hours more. I liked the light but didn’t much care for the sun, and would often sit just outside the cafes, which were shaded by concrete canopies. Newland often sat in the glare of the sun, working on a laptop whose screen I was surprised he could see, and was frequently interrupted by people he was happy to welcome. Often he would insist they join him at the table, then someone else he knew joined them, and after a while, there would be three or four around him at the table and they talked amongst themselves as he returned to work. He didn’t appear disturbed by their presence and could often be seen typing quickly, presumably working on an idea in his mind rather, than taking dictation as the others talked. When he was in company he looked animated, even happy. When alone, his countenance was severe, concentrated and perhaps melancholy. I never saw Nelly in his company during this period and assumed they were no longer together. Those who joined his table were frequently women, often attractive and usually younger than Newland, who was probably in his late thirties. 

There was no sense that any of these women were lovers; nor even that they might become so. Newland appeared to see them as younger sisters and they saw Newland as an older brother, though this doesn’t quite sound right: there was none of the tension one finds in siblings and yet to call him avuncular wouldn’t quite capture his disposition towards them, and to call him a kindly uncle from their perspective would capture but an aspect of the exchanges. It was around this time we started nodding to each other, though during that summer I don’t think a single word was exchanged between us; not even a hello. I suppose this was more my reserve than his; I liked seeing cafes as a space for reading and thinking, and preferred pubs and parties for meeting people, usually only ending up in a cafe in company if a friend and I had been for a long walk. Yet I couldn’t pretend my attention was always focused on the book or notepad in front of me: often I would observe others and nobody more so that summer than Newland. 

One afternoon, I was sitting underneath the cafe at the front and there was a new stall selling soaps, hand creams and other organic items. The person selling would sometimes join Newland at his table, get up and go across when a customer approached the stall. She was more beautiful than the other women who joined Newland that day or any other, and more beautiful too than Nelly, and for some reason, I hoped that she would become Newland’s new partner; a ludicrous hypothesis not because she was so attractive and Newland quite plain. This hadn’t stopped Nelly’s interest and why should it? No, it was idiotic because it was based on assumptions within assumptions: that Nelly had left him and hurt him, that this woman was single and that Newland must inevitably find her as appealing as Nelly, since she was still more attractive. At the same time, though, I might have been thinking of Buford’s comment: what would he have made of this woman and Newland as a couple? Would he have seen that they were both keener to be good than to be loved? Beth seemed to possess warmth in her gaze, in the gentleness with which she stroked a dog whose owner approached her stall, in the lack of frustration she showed when a customer asked about various creams, tried all the samples and still didn’t buy anything. But maybe the good can never love each other; that the couple is antithetical to such a notion.

This might have been my solitude speaking, and would even view the failure to see Siobhan even once over the summer as testimony to it; that some are made for loving and others for yearning — and perhaps still others for the good. I wondered too since I often passed by the flat in which one she lived, whether she might have seen me passing and sometimes I walked on the other side of the street, hoping that from her window she could see me. If she was on one of the higher floors she wouldn’t be able to see me below but from across the street she would have been able to do so, and I sometimes looked up to see if I could glimpse her. 

It was at the end of that summer, in early September, when I went again to one of the garden parties. I hoped she might be there but she wasn’t and so, the party though as busy as any, felt empty. Yet I stayed until 2 in the morning, joining others around the kitchen table when everyone moved upstairs after midnight. Usually, when the remaining partygoers moved from the garden to the flat, people dispersed in different rooms: a dozen or so including one of the hosts would go to the sitting room and try to retain the party atmosphere while trying to keep it subdued. A few would go into the host’s spare bedroom and usually someone would play guitar. The kitchen was often left empty but this time for some reason it was where everybody congregated. There were eight around the large table, and a few others leaning against the sideboards, a couple seated by the window. I was sitting at the table and next to me was Newland, listening with immense patience as the host explained to him why anything short of a revolution would be tantamount to failure given the complete collapse of the system we were living under. 

   Newland had earlier said that he believed he wished for evolution and not revolution; why do something quickly and violently when it would be better to insist on change? The host insisted such thinking was inadequate, that the violence society was doing to individuals made it necessary for individuals to use violence against the state. The host, when drunk, often became belligerent and seemed to defend positions that were all the more strongly held due to the contradictions they possessed. He owned the flat he was in and another nearby that helped give him an income. He was a musician, and a good one, but it never gave him enough to live off and he was fortunate his parents were wealthy. They bought him the flat he was in when he was at university and the other one after when they realised he was unlikely to support himself playing music. Newland didn’t say it, but all of us sitting around the table who knew the host well, knew too that he would be a victim of this revolution; that his properties would no longer be his. All Newland did say was that he wanted the alleviation of struggle, not the confiscation of luxury. If that luxury had to be removed it should be with a heavy heart and not a gleeful one. Much of what is good in this world came about because people had the money to make life more colourful. Let us not, Newland said, live in a grey world just because we envied those living in a colour one. 

I didn’t know if I agreed with Newland but sometimes we follow an argument dispositionally; that we like the tone of the person’s voice, the calm of their manner, their willingness to listen. The host wasn’t listening, was far from calm and interrupted his friend. After a while the debate moved on, people were engaged in smaller conversations and that was how for the first time I started speaking to Newland. He turned, saying that he had seen me at various parties and over the summer saw me in the cafes we both regularly frequented. Over the next hour, we talked about why we liked working at cafes and I asked him whether he ever felt that the people who joined his table distracted him from his work. He didn’t think so; one reason he liked working in cafes in the first place was that it meant he wasn’t alone. When he worked in his flat, where only he lived, he sometimes reckoned the solitude was too strong, which was odd since he had no problem eating, watching films, and reading alone. But when he worked he needed the presence of people and he said he thought he knew why. For five years he was employed at an environmental magazine in London, and the office was open plan with everyone exchanging ideas as they worked. He supposed he wanted an aspect of that atmosphere now: the people who often joined him were master’s students, friends doing PhDs. He said he was teaching in the environmental science department. 

We never talked about how I was the opposite, that I liked to read without company even though I too had no flatmate, nor partner, and so, when a few days after the party I saw Newland and he didn’t ask me to join him at his table, it didn’t seem rude but instead perceptive: that he sensed I would wish to remain in my own company as I worked. But after I sat and read for about an hour and a half, and paid, I passed by his table to say goodbye and he asked if I wanted to join him for a few minutes. Nobody else was there, nobody else had stopped and chatted with him and he insisted he wanted to take a ten-minute break. We talked for thirty minutes and during it, I asked him about the host and their discussion. He supposed that the host, who he knew well and better I supposed than I did, wanted to live in a different world but knew too that his life might be different in that new world. If his revolutionary wishes came to pass he would be living like Newland was — in a compact, one-bedroom flat, with rent low — rather than living off the rents of others. He managed to say this in a tone indicating no judgement; more that he could feel his way inside our host’s contradictions and was happy not to reside there. As I was leaving, the woman with the stall arrived. Beth had all the goods in a trailer on the back of her bike, and I thought for a moment that she might be one prepared for the revolution. 

5

On my way home, I thought again about what might constitute a revolutionary consciousness. I had heard the phrase over the years but always within the context of abstract politics and that day was the first time I thought about it in very personal terms. Maybe it had little to do with knowing one’s Marx or Gramsci, but finally about our dispositions in the world. It seemed stupid and obvious but it appeared to me that afternoon a revolutionary consciousness was predicated on self-contentment: that a happy world needed happy people. But what had to come first? People who were self-content or who needed basic security to feel safe enough to be contented? If I’d read that so much theory of the sixties was interested in a combination of Freud and Marx, that would insist that a future Marxism might not be of much use if the individuals were psychically damaged, then that still appeared to me too abstract. There was something in the host’s argument with Newland, Newland’s response to the host, and in his remarks in his brief discussion with me, that was more fundamental to the revolution. Yet there was also something saintly about Newland and I recalled a comment by Orwell, that the average human being is a failed saint but many people genuinely do not wish to be saints. Maybe the revolutionary needs to be not a failed saint, merely a flawed one. To be saintly, for Orwell, was to remove oneself from common humanity; the revolutionary wants to access it. I also thought about my friend’s comment, his remarks about Newland and Nelly. They could not have been that revolutionary couple as I might have wished to define it. It would have required two people equally capable of, simultaneously, self-contentment and self-sacrifice. By now I was at the top of Bruntsfield, walking down towards my flat, and passing Siobhan's street that I had become in the habit of walking along.  

I noticed coming out of the building Siobhan and instinctively darted down the street to the left just as I saw her turning to the right. She would pass me in less than a minute and I kept walking for a few seconds so that she would only see my back if she were to look in my direction. Once I was sure she had passed by on the main road, I turned round and walked back along the side street, and saw her now approaching the top of Bruntsfield and quickened my pace.  

Why hadn’t I stopped and said hello; why did I insist on detouring and them following her? It was I didn’t doubt a certain type of shyness, an inability to feel comfortable saying hello to someone who had been in my thoughts for several months and yet who I had only met once before. It was also though because I had seen her only once before I wished to see her again. However, this seeing appeared to be a desire to gaze upon her and not an awkward conversation with her. I felt at that moment both immature and perverse, determined to observe from afar and incapable of speaking to her up close. But it isn’t easy following someone who knows what you look like and whose face you can’t see unless they turn round, and then they can see your face as easily as you can see theirs. Instead, I observed her walk and saw in it a light gait and a swinging movement. Sometimes walking behind someone is a very good way of comprehending a person’s level of contentment, my psychoanalyst friend would say, as he said it would be very professionally unethical but he did sometimes wonder if it would have been professionally useful to follow someone after the therapy session: to see how they moved through the world rather than how they sat in a chair. There was a performative dimension to analysis, he supposed; that the patient was usually there as an unhappy person, knowing this was where they could unload their misery and, once out of the room, a modest happiness could return. He offered it as a half-joke. recognising that an hour a week in a confined space wasn’t really enough to go on when it came to comprehending somebody’s life. I wondered what he would make of my inclination to follow Siobhan rather than say a simple hello. I supposed he would be intrigued and see in my revelation the desire to become his patient. Perhaps. 

By now I was near the bottom of Morningside and I assumed Siobhan was meeting people in the Hermitage pub before Braid Road: there weren’t any cafes or pubs further along that I thought she’d be likely to enter. Instead, she kept walking and turned up onto Braid Road and I guessed she was going to continue through to Blackford Hill. I believed it was acceptable to follow her through an urban area but to do so while she was walking through much more isolated nature would be a violation. I stopped and turned back, trying to recall the face from the past that I hadn’t been able to see in the present. 

Many may insist that I was a pest for following her at all, yet I suppose we all have our moral thermostat when it comes to the knowledge we seek and the violation it may cause, and I suppose too I have always been more observant than enquiring — someone who will see what I can glean visually from a situation rather than ask directly. But that is how most of us access information from others, and why Buford found it ironic that his position was the opposite. However, I knew also that my observational interest was often curiously without purpose, though too usually morally without consequence. Nothing in the attention I had given to Newland suggested the morally troublesome, but does it often become so when our interest is more than idle, however attentive that idle curiosity happens to be? There I was following Siobhan and only stopped when it would have been hard to justify walking behind her as anything but stalking.

6

Over the next couple of weeks, I saw Newland several times and usually sat with him for a while after I had finished reading. On one occasion we were joined by a couple of his Master’s students, and on another by a PhD student. Sometimes we were on our own and once he mentioned Nelly. We were talking about the garden parties and he said he remembered me, especially from one of them: he was by the window speaking to the person who that night became his girlfriend for the next nine months and he recalled her saying to him after I looked into the kitchen, and immediately retreated, that it looks like somebody was assuming an intimacy that they hadn’t yet instigated. She promptly kissed him. Would they have kissed, he said? Perhaps, but not at that moment, and that moment was created by my discretion. He told me more about their relationship and said it couldn’t last; that while he was faithful he couldn’t be inattentive to the world around him, and Nelly didn’t even pretend that she was interested in friends or her work. Her life revolved around him, a dull phrase that she animated and yet of course it was as exhausting as it was flattering: she needed no one else but him, she said. What was initially music to his ears became a cacophony of needs. He told me this without any judgement, saying that this wasn’t Nelly’s fault but his, that he should have seen very quickly not the sort of person she was (that would be to judge her) but the sort of relationship she desired. But I recalled what Buford observed and believed Newland was blaming himself for what would have been an impossible situation. He said when she left him he had never felt so bereft after a breakup. He saw her passing on Mid Meadow Walk a couple of months ago; she was with another person and seemed happy. He hoped that this man was capable of a devotion Newland couldn’t match and one that, he admitted, created not just a feeling of immense grief for six months, but also made him question what he meant by love.

I didn’t tell him what Buford said after observing Newland and Nelly that day but I did think that Newland needed a love that was open to the world without at all requiring polyamory. He needed the trust of love with a desire for friendship, one that would augment that feeling he would have with his partner, and perhaps I didn’t say anything to him for two reasons: who was I to diagnose what he needed; and that I wasn’t quite sure what needed.

It was also during this period, and a couple of days after this chat with Newland when I saw Siobhan. I was walking through one of the narrower paths on the Meadows and saw her coming towards me. Short of hiding behind a tree a meeting was inevitable, assuming she recognised me at all. She did, and said hello. We talked for a few minutes and she told me that she had been away all summer; that she had returned to Ireland. Her mother had been quite ill and she was the daughter who could most easily drop everything and return to the family home - even if her sisters were living, like her mother in Dublin. She offered it as though it were an excuse, a way of explaining why she hadn’t been in contact since that walk months ago. But she didn’t have my contact details, didn’t know where I lived; hadn’t proposed we meet and had failed to turn up. Yet at the same time she had disappeared and I suppose wondered what I’d thought about her disappearance. She said we should meet up but that she was busy over the next fortnight. We exchanged phone numbers and she’d let me know when she was free.

I didn’t know what to make of the exchange but what I sensed throughout was a sense of apology that I couldn’t explain until about ten days later. In the meantime, most days I went to read at the cafe at the front or the back, near Mid-Meadow Walk, and usually saw Newland there as well. It was a mid-to-late September afternoon and what might have been the last warm day of the year. People were in shorts and T-shirts, eating ice cream, and the Meadows was packed with people, the sound of drumming, the smell of barbecues, the chatter of students newly familiar. The deciduous trees were still leafy and the clouds were brief tufts in the sky. At the cafe all the tables were full and the same with those at the back. Even Newland couldn’t get one of his usual tables and he was sitting where I would often sit: under the concrete canopy at a table by the entrance of the cafe. He didn’t initially see me and I continued to the cafe at the rear before returning to the front hoping a table had become available. None had but Newland saw me and insisted I join him. He was alone, and there was space at the table for four. I said I would but not for long, insisting I didn’t want to disturb him while I was sure he well knew I didn’t want to disturb my routine of solitary reading.  

            We chatted for just a few minutes when he said he had to send a couple of emails; I opened my book, started reading, and continued to do so without interruption for forty-five minutes. I noticed now a table was free but was happy where I was, and ten minutes afterwards the two Master’s students I had seen Newland with before, joined our table. They offered a few pleasantries but within minutes all of us were immersed in whatever we were doing and this continued for another hour and a half. I was surprised I could concentrate, even when the others would offer the occasional remark I was still immersed in the book and knew that I’d be happy to read in their company again. 

The woman with the stall joined us too, pulling up a free chair, and by now nobody was any longer working and we were all willing to engage in conversation that ranged over how well the stall had been doing that day, the joy of such warm weather with the underlying anxiety of global warming, and the book I was reading. The woman had an aura I couldn’t quite describe but that her beauty didn’t quite cover, and I suppose it lay in the attentive over the attention-demanding. It was as though her looks gave her the natural advantage of getting people’s instant attention, which she would then use to engage on levels that had little to do with her looks except as a premise. I noticed she used them to ask questions. Over the next thirty minutes, she must have asked everyone at least a couple of things and all of them pertinent, even impertinent. She asked me, for example, why I would usually read alone, what I was reading and why, and whether reading was a vicarious experience or one that augmented life. I wanted to ask her why she worked at a stall, whether it was all year round or just during the summer months. I also wanted to know when she said she lived near the bottom of Leith Walk, whether it was difficult to cycle up to the Meadows. But it was as though I couldn’t ask a question that potentially had an observational answer; that patience would reveal. Was it again shyness that made me unable to enquire or was it another aspect of my personality; one that if I were given to impose my professional interest on my personal one I might call epistemological revelation: that if a philosopher once proposed that questioning was the piety of thought, I would be more inclined to claim the piety of thought resided more in observation. 

   Maybe one day I would find out how difficult that climb was when I would see her with her bike and trailer going up Leith Walk; I would find out on another that she did work in winter too, perhaps around Christmas on the Royal mile. And yes, she might be talking to someone else and revealing why she chose to work at a stall. Indeed she revealed the latter ten minutes later, saying to one of the Master’s students that she wanted to stay away from state control; didn’t even have a bank account, only used the internet in cafes, and had an old mobile phone that didn’t have internet access. She only accepted cash on the stall. It wasn’t quite off -grid-living but was as close as she could manage. She offered her comments after the Master’s student asked her what protecting the environment meant to her, and she replied that it meant partly protecting herself — from so many aspects of contemporary life that damage ourselves as well as the environment. 

Just after this chat, a person on a bike and an empty trailer pulled up by the stall, looked for a moment perplexed, then across at our table and saw that she was sitting with us. He came over, plonked a kiss on her lips that lasted long enough to suggest that passion was still there between them however long they had been together, and said hello to everyone before they went over to the stall and started loading up the trailers. I glanced across and thought about them as a couple, and could see they were physically well-matched: not only in her beauty and his handsomeness, but in the manner they did things. They both looked like people who enjoyed working outside and with their hands and I could see them in a few years with perhaps a farm: living off-grid and off the land. Yet they weren’t quite the couple who could be described as soulful, not quite the good couple I believed that Newland would be part of if he found a partner who matched his benign qualities. Nelly wasn’t that partner but who was?

7

I suppose I thought so much about Newland’s capacity to be part of such a union because I never saw in him anything but warmth, nothing but a regard for others that was equal to or outmatched his regard towards himself. 

But it was a few days after I sat with Newland, his Master’s students and the stall owner, that I might have found what Newland possessed in himself, evident in a couple. Buford and I would usually during the summer months walk a couple of times a month, often on a Wednesday afternoon that he would always take off, and our walks would be as varied as Edinburgh would allow. We might go down to Stockbridge and round by the Botanic Gardens, or up through Blackford Hill, out by canal and past the parish at Colinton, onto the mill, or down by the shore, walking back through the water of Leith. This time we went down to Stockbridge, through the Botanics, carried on through Inverleith, past Fettes College, back up into town via Orchard Brae and through Dean Village. During the walk, we discussed how observant he felt he could be when what he would have to work with was a client sitting in a chair opposite him. Wouldn’t it be ideal, he said, if he could walk around the city as he did with me or observe people while they sat with family, friends or lovers in cafes and bars? There is a discretion to the role that inhibits the knowledge one has of a client but at the same time it may be a little like a scientist who knows that to achieve a certain result he needs a controlled environment. The room he supposed was exactly that. But of course, he added, while we took the small but steep hill from Dean Village up to the main road, sometimes you do see your client on the street, in a cafe, at a restaurant and so on. Obviously, you usually wait to see if the person acknowledges you first but even if they don’t you cannot always help seeing this person in a new context and being curious about it. 

He said to me there was someone who had been seeing him for about eighteen months and the man wasn’t sure whether it was his job, his parents or his partner who was making him unhappy, or something else entirely. In the sessions, Buford discussed on numerous occasions aspects of the client’s childhood, the job but most of all the man wished to discuss his partner. Buford wanted to focus on root causes rather than present symptoms but one evening he was in a restaurant with Polly (his partner) and a couple of tables away was this man and his wife. He didn’t say anything to Polly, which would have been unprofessional, but he did find himself glancing across occasionally, and looking more closely still when Polly went to the restroom. The man hadn’t recognised Buford or didn’t wish to show that he had, and Buford didn’t doubt he had made several observations based on the dynamic and believed he probably found himself using it in future psychoanalytic sessions with the man. That evening in the restaurant, he and his partner were attentive initially, irritable by the middle of the meal, and angry with each other by the end of it. Buford couldn’t quite see them as a couple who had been together for five years as their attentiveness suggested a more recent affair, but the irritability and acrimoniousness were familiar enough, especially for those who go to analysis partly because their marriage is a mess. That evening Buford wondered if they were arguing over having children. She wanted them; he wasn’t sure and part of the analysis had been about the client overcoming fears about his childhood so that he was in a position to decide properly whether he could have a child with his wife. 

Now when meeting the client he had additional information he couldn’t not know, and so when the husband said he thought his wife was being unreasonable, Buford had a clear image in his mind of the woman, just as when reading a novel after we have seen the film it is hard to see the character in a way contrary to the actor who played them. But, Buford said, and this was the point of his story, three months later the client told him that he had been seeing another woman for around six months. It was almost certainly this other woman and not the wife that Buford had seen him with, in the restaurant. A little bit of extra knowledge led to an almost certain misinterpretation and so, while observation has its place, best not to apply it when there is a gap between two milieux: the client in the room and the client in the world.  

8

      By now we were at the top of the Mound, ready for a seat and a coffee. While it was almost October, the weather was still warm enough to sit outside as long as the sun remained. We went to the cafe at the back of Mid-Meadow Walk. We were sitting in the far corner outside next to the window when, after about ten minutes, I noticed Siobhan taking a table on the other side, away from the window and nearer the square, where three or four skaters were spinning around. A moment later she was joined by someone and they sat adjacently looking out towards the square, his arm around her shoulder and they turned to face each other in a kiss. Between ours and hers were a few other tables, and our view was partially blocked by a closed cantilever umbrella. As we talked I kept glancing across and at one moment Buford asked me what was drawing my attention. He could only see by moving his chair a few inches in my direction and where his view was no longer blocked by the closed umbrella. I asked him to tell me what he made of the people sitting in the distance. He joked that not only had he just explained to me how he managed almost certainly to misinterpret a client’s love life, but now I was expecting him to comment on two people in the medium distance whom he knew nothing about and were more or less facing in the other direction. I said he had observed others in the past and been very perceptive in his observations; that he had guessed that Newland and Nelly weren’t going to stay together. He said he would observe as well as he could from this distance, offering closer inspection when he went to the toilet.  

Returning from the bathroom, he said that this was a couple who seemed happy and in the eight seconds that he saw them on the way to the toilet, and the eight seconds on the way back, he saw no reason why they would part. He offered it facetiously, playing down the role of professional emotional expert that people sometimes insisted of him, as if to take the role seriously in an unprofessional environment would indeed be to undermine that professionalism. Yet as they went up to pay, passing in front of his eyes while I would have been hidden behind the umbrella, he observed them again. After they left he said that sometimes it was odd. He could be with a client for months, they would be talking about their partner and he was only able to guess at their relationship, despite the enormous amount of information the client provided. It was partial and only verbal, however detailed and this wasn’t so when he saw a couple for only a few seconds. It wasn’t detailed but it was at least complete and visual. He supposed it was a different skill and perhaps what created the confusion with his client in the restaurant was that he found himself applying one observational category to another. I asked again what insight he could offer; he reminded me what he said about Newland and Nelly, remembering their names I suppose because I’d talked a bit about them recently - when I had told him I became acquainted with Newland. He reckoned that the mismatch there was that one person was giving and the other taking, and that can work if both of them have in their personality give and take, an interesting phrase he supposed if looked at more analytically. Most relationships are give and take. But if one consistently takes and the other consistently gives that can work sado-masochistically and people can remain together for years. But what he sensed in Newland and Nelly was that he wouldn’t have only given to her but to others as well, and this would have generated too much resentment and she would leave. He was offering such a broad observation, he insisted, because this was a casual chat, and reckoned it was much more nuanced than that. With the two people he had just now so briefly observed he thought that they were both giving and so their relationship might broaden out to giving to others, to the children they may have, charity work they might do, family they would help support. They would see themselves as a team, he suspected, and if they were still together in fifty years he wouldn’t be surprised. He said this as though his observational acuity was still focused on these two people he was trying to keep in his mind’s eye and he hadn’t looked at me at all. When he did, he saw on my face, I suppose, an expression of tender horror. I then explained how I knew her and didn’t know anything about the boyfriend, didn’t realise she had one and maybe they were already together when we met at the party.

9

Siobhan texted me about a week later and I replied saying I was very busy, a half-truth but a useful excuse. My feeling was that her boyfriend had returned to wherever he was from. I guessed that this place was Ireland and that she met, or at least started seeing him, after that party, when she went back home to look after her mother. Yet not only did I hypothesise a scenario for Siobhan and her new boyfriend, I also tried to view this relationship she was now in, and that Buford thought was likely to be so successful, from a perspective that possessed the generosity of Newland rather than my constant temptation to view it with resentment and regret. A couple of days after I saw Siobhan that afternoon in the cafe at the back, I was in the front one with Newland. I found myself telling him about what had happened days earlier but didn’t tell him that my friend had observed him and Nelly likewise. Newland said that perhaps regret should only be evident for another person’s sake: that if I believed that she was unhappy with her boyfriend and that I could have saved her from that unhappiness by having kissed her properly on the doorstep, then that might be cause for regret. But if I felt that she was happy then all I had to deal with was my resentment, which could easily seem without much value. Newland then talked a little about Nelly, saying that he knew that he couldn’t feel exclusively happy with someone which wasn’t the same as a desire to be unfaithful or to be polyamorous. Nelly wished that his attention was focused on her and reckoned instead that he was too attentive to others. Of course, she didn’t wish for him to be selfish and ignore other people, but she reckoned he wasn’t only keen to help others when they asked for help, or came to the rescue of those who needed it, when they stumbled on the street, fell off their bike or banged their head on a beam, but that he was alert to all these possibilities before they happened. She thought he could never quite gaze into her eyes; that the surrounding environment was always present. 

     It was odd hearing someone talking of themselves as if in the third person, but there was no immodesty in this, and he was trying simultaneously to explain to me what she had felt with what I may have needed to understand. My psychoanalyst friend, he said, saw two people who could accept the importance of a world that was much greater than their own and that is also why he may have seen the relationship’s possible success. Sometimes couples are suffocatingly in love and this gives to their affair a great passion but makes it almost impossible to open it out into the world. Its energy rests on its internal focus. At the other extreme, he proposed, a person can possess an open perspective, one that cannot quite incorporate the aspect of selfishness that is needed to love another. Most relationships he supposed work somewhere between those points. 

Was Newland a saint? Of course not, but perhaps an aspect of the saintly is all we can hope for and the smallest aspect of which I might hope to achieve. Newland could talk about his relationship with Nelly as though it had happened to another and maybe a modern notion of saintliness is no more than a sense of perspective. There might be little sense of a beyond but there ought still to be a world beyond ourselves. I suppose I had the chance to see if I possessed that quality around seven months later when there was another garden party. 

It was the beginning of spring and after a warm late March day, it was becoming a cool evening. When I arrived at 930, as well as the usual lights that were hanging from the trees, there were the usual two heaters and also two makeshift ones using bricks and a metal bucket. It hardly warmed up the garden but allowed those feeling the cold to huddle around them. Newland, the two Master’s students, Beth and her partner, and I had all met in a nearby pub an hour before. By the time we got there around forty people were in the garden, and the band were beginning to set up, waiting for Beth and her partner to join them. Beth was a singer; her partner played guitar. It was Newland who persuaded their band to come to the party and they offered to play. I didn’t have much of an ear but could tell that they played well and that the band’s energy came from the complicity between Beth and her boyfriend. When he shared her mic to sing during a chorus it didn’t just seem a pragmatic need to sing through the microphone but even more a wish to move in close: they shared a mic the way others would share a kiss. It was as though watching them play together I understood what I half comprehended when he arrived at the stall and kissed her as he came over to her table: there was a balance between presence and absence, between being there for her and being there with her, and I sensed the same as he came in close to join her as they sang together. I supposed the energy of their love rested on this tension; that they could be people who got on each other’s nerves if they were around each other too often. I suppose Buford might say that their love would survive if they could find constantly the opportunity to find outlets for this contrary force. They weren’t naturally compatible.

I wondered quite what I meant by that and perhaps found the answer not long afterwards when Siobhan and her boyfriend arrived, along with I supposed the two flatmates she had come to the party with the previous year. Amongst the hubbub of people she probably didn’t see me or didn’t wish to acknowledge me, and if either of us had a right to umbrage it was her: in the social scheme of things, though I would have been more hurt by her taking up with a boyfriend than she would have been by my refusal to arrange a meeting, the latter was ruder than the former. There were so many people by then that we needn’t have noticed each other at all: there were about eighty people in the garden. It was louder and rowdier than usual and the host knew this would be so when he agreed the band should play and that they would have a speaker system bellowing out the tunes. All the neighbours were invited as usual but on this occasion, it looked like a few of them had come - maybe aware that they weren’t likely to get an early night and might as well join the crowd. And so it was easy to observe others without feeling observed myself. I watched Newland as he moved freely between people, speaking briefly to one person and then chatting with another, dancing for a few minutes and then intensely engaged with the host for a while. But of course, I watched most of all Siobhan and her boyfriend, trying to understand Buford’s comments and also why I needn’t feel either regret or resentment. 

What I noticed throughout the evening was that they never left each other for more than a few moments. While Beth and her partner after they took a half-hour break were chatting with others and offering only the occasional complicit glance between themselves, Siobhan and her partner were constantly holding hands, putting their arms around each other or finding an excuse to touch each other. Yet I had no sense this was sexual; they lacked or didn’t look like they cared to possess each other as I might have believed Beth and her partner wished; that they weren’t in a constant tussle but were at peace with the couple they had become. I didn’t see them leave, never had the opportunity to apologise to Siobhan, and I suspected that in the future, when looking back, I would see this as a greater regret than that I never kissed her at all: that I wouldn’t have known whether she would have accepted the kiss but I did know for sure that she wished to meet up. Many people probably need time to give themselves perspective: to see that their thoughts and feelings are too entangled within the present moment to recognise their behaviour as rash, churlish, or mean. I am no doubt one such person but it seemed to me that Newland had gone beyond the limitations of seeing himself as tethered by the time and space in which he lived. I think this is the closest to transcendence one can hope for, and Newland had more than most achieved it. Perhaps he was if not a saint then a potential revolutionary. Beth and her boyfriend would be in a continuing tension that might not cease before they did, or they would break up if it happened to do so, while Siobhan and her partner may never need to feel the gravity of their egos and live as happily ever after as people can. My thoughts gravitated between the cynical and the hopeful but it was as though I could only see the hopeful in others and the cynical within myself.  

 

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Newland

1

Newland was part of our wider social circle and I recall initially only seeing him at parties a friend would host. These usually took place in the spring, summer and autumn months, whenever the weather was warm enough and dry enough to spend an evening in the garden. The parties were subdued affairs and yet lively; quiet enough for neighbours to have little cause for complaint, and big enough for people to make friendships they wouldn't have made without the parties. Usually, the parties went on until one in the morning, and the remaining partygoers would go upstairs to our host's first-floor apartment, a three-bedroom flat that could entertain twenty to twenty-five people but not the seventy or eighty who would sometimes show up in the garden. The music outside was always live, and only acoustic; usually, people played guitar, a flute, a cello or a clarinet. There was no speaker system, and instead, the energy required was for the two outdoor heaters that people could huddle around if the temperature dipped. The neighbours were always invited to the parties and even those who didn't come needn't have too much cause for complaint; may even have found it soothing as they went to sleep listening to a solo guitar as if to a lullaby.

It was at one of these parties Newland met Nelly. I think I can say she was striking, as he was not: I would have seen Newland probably at several parties before but couldn't have recalled with certainty, even if the host later told me he had been a regular attendee for several years. I knew when I saw Nelly that she hadn't been to any of these parties before with absolute confidence. She seemed, early in the evening, to be with a man who left around eleven, and for the rest of the night, I saw her talking with Newland. When more than a dozen of us were still there at one, we went upstairs and were all sitting in the host's sitting room, except for Newland and Nelly, who were chatting in the kitchen. They were both smokers and sat by the window seat, with the window wide open. I passed on the way to the bathroom and any suggestion that I go in and even get myself a glass of water felt like it might be an intrusion.

By the time of the next party about three months later, they had become a couple. They arrived together, were affectionate with each other throughout the evening, and while I didn't see them leave it must have been around one when they departed. I don't think they went upstairs. I saw them again a few weeks after that, sitting on a terrace cafe. It was early September and the weather was warmer than people expected. I was seated at a nearby table with friends who didn't know Nelly and Newland even though they had been to one or two of the garden parties in the past. At one moment I asked the friend sitting next to me, after getting tea when we returned from a long walk, and who could see them at a couple of tables away from us, whether they were well matched, whether they seemed happy, and whether they would remain together. The friend, who I always thought was a people watcher to augment his profession rather than an idle escape from it (Buford was a psychoanalyst and ten years my senior), said they were surprisingly unmatched physically, very happy, and would not stay together. I asked if the first fact would lead to the third and that the one in the middle was finally irrelevant. He said with a precision that seemed to surprise him, and with a sensitivity that he rarely expressed, that this man's purpose was to be good rather than to love and be loved. At the moment he was being good to her because he was a good person. But surely he loves her I said. He didn't doubt that but he saw in the woman an egotism that would soon enough be surprised by the generosity of his personality, one that was so much greater than the capacity to be infatuated by just her.

I was intrigued by his comment, feeling that it contained not only truth but evidence as well, though it would only be sometime later that this would become manifest; that I could say with confidence that Richard was right. Watching them sitting together that mid-afternoon, I saw two people who seemed entwined in their bodies as though in a physical manifestation of their souls. I would see couples often enough who looked like they were in love but I saw also narcissism, with the two often attractive people looking like they had doubled their physical appeal rather than created a spiritual union. When I watched Newland and Nelly sitting there, I believed I was looking at bodies contained by a quality that couldn't be seen, but I might now assume that this was a quality that chiefly belonged to Newland and that Nelly was in love with the gaze upon her rather than in a union of souls.

2

I didn't see them together again. There were further parties in the garden the following spring but Newland and Nelly weren't there. I didn't think very much about this and, if I had given it thought, there was no reason for me to ask the host where they were. Sometimes at the parties I would wonder why a particular person or people weren't there but these were people I knew if not well enough to know why they hadn't come beforehand, could at least ask why they weren't there on the night. I knew Newland and Nelly not at all, and wondered if I believed I knew them it rested centrally on the remark Richard offered. It is an odd thing indeed to know the future of people without knowing their present but that was how Richard's comment made me feel, as though I was intrigued by these strangers because I knew what they might become.

At one moment during one of these parties, someone said they had seen Newland recently and he seemed despondent. He was sitting alone in a cafe and while usually Newland would be looking up and around, happy to engage someone in conversation, or at least offering a smile, he didn't say hello to anyone. Somebody else asked if he was still with Nelly. He said he didn't know. As the others talked about Newland I knew I had nothing to add I obviously knew him less well than the others. Yet I felt at that moment my ignorance was compensated for by a fellow feeling I couldn't quite name and might now say was based on prediction: that I would come to know Newland much better than I did at the time. Yet perhaps prediction needn't be viewed so mysteriously: often it is just the predictable. When a person claims they were destined to meet their boyfriend, to get a certain job or to find themselves in a particular country, and view this as both unbelievable and inevitable, I would be inclined to see it as predictable, without any negative connotations often associated with the term. I suppose I would say that the unconscious meets with the statistical, that we have thoughts and feelings we hardly know that we have but if we did we might be able to see the likelihood of events and encounters we find ourselves later in. One needn't be a cynic or a mystic, just aware that when we look back after an event which takes place, a friendship that has developed, a love affair embarked upon, a job taken, that it had a statistical likelihood based on desires, affinities and beliefs. This may explain my later friendship with Newland.

At one of these parties from which Newland was absent, I was sitting by the very kitchen window Newland and Nelly had been seated at a year earlier. I was talking to a young Irish woman whose two friends worked with the party host's tenant and they had left half an earlier when the party moved upstairs and they were looking for a livelier gathering. As she came into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water, I was sitting thinking about how difficult it seemed to enter when Newland and Nelly were sitting there. She had no problem entering with me there alone, and I had no difficulty asking her why she hadn't joined her friends. I wondered if she wanted a tea, and she said she would love a cup but, added, that this might border on a presumption a glass of water needn't demand. I said she sounded in that moment like a character out of a 19th-century novel. I offered a variation of a 19th-century character's remarks too when I insisted I was no more entitled to helping myself to a hot beverage than she was but by somehow offering one to another I was temporarily playing the host.

And so I made her a cup of tea and I accepted as well her kind suggestion that I have one too. We sat by the window and, after we had been sitting talking for around thirty minutes, someone came in and hesitantly stood for a couple of seconds before retreating. I shouted out that they should come in but they didn't reply. We talked for a further hour and then left together. Siobhan was staying with those two other friends in a flat on the other side of the Meadows, and I was living down near the canal. It was 230 in the morning, and she said it was nice to walk through the Meadows without feeling unsafe. I said I wasn't much of a hero, and if we were going to be attacked the best I could offer was to be the first victim and give her the chance for a proper escape. As we walked, people were sitting on the grass, a pungent smell of cannabis coming from a person sitting on a park bench, his dog by his feet, and some teenagers who were all probably claiming to be on sleepovers and hoped the various parents wouldn't enquire into who was staying with whom. They were rowdy and raucous and if there were houses nearby no doubt someone would have called the police, but instead they were left to their fun. Perhaps the police knew they were there and thought they gave this unsafe park a sense of safety in numbers; anybody inclined to attack would be aware they would be doing so with witnesses aplenty. I could imagine the police sitting in their car nearby feeling that they were less obliged to get out and walk if the kids were loud enough to keep the park from danger.

We joked about this and she said it would have been no laughing matter if she had been alone and I said it would have been a matter for the psychiatrists if she had been laughing alone. She laughed again and said isn't it terrible: that lonely people can't even laugh without appearing mad? We talked like this till I left her at her front door ten minutes later. We had been in each other's company for less than three hours but it seemed it had been longer. I said this to her as we hugged and she said that isn't usually a good sign. Isn't time supposed to go much more quickly when you are enjoying yourself? I supposed that was generally true but when you meet someone meaningful a short period can seem to have been elongated: that each moment appears extended. Maybe that is it I said, perhaps retreating from what I might have seen as exposing my feelings, perhaps just trying to explain myself a little more clearly adding that in the meaningful, time expands; when having fun it contracts. I kissed her clumsily on the forehead as she moved her head up towards me for what may have been a kiss, and I said that for me it had been both meaningful and fun. Time expanded and contracted.

In my awkwardness, I left without knowing her number or her email address and was left only with such an old-fashioned notion of locale as a means of locating someone. I thought about this as I carried on from her place in Bruntsfield, down to mine at Polwarth. We were living only ten minutes away from one another: we were unlikely not to cross paths soon.

3

Over that summer we didn't see each other at all, even though I sometimes deliberately passed her street when I would go shopping on Morningside. Who I did sometimes see, especially near the Meadows, was Newland. There were a couple of cafes off Mid-Meadow Walk that he had clearly chosen as regulars, even as working spaces. They had become regulars of mine as well, one would get the light in the morning and in the early afternoon, and the other cafe for two or three hours more. I liked the light but didn't much care for the sun, and would often sit just outside the cafes, which were shaded by concrete canopies. Newland often sat in the glare of the sun, working on a laptop whose screen I was surprised he could see, and was frequently interrupted by people he was happy to welcome. Often he would insist they join him at the table, then someone else he knew joined them, and after a while, there would be three or four around him at the table and they talked amongst themselves as he returned to work. He didn't appear disturbed by their presence and could often be seen typing quickly, presumably working on an idea in his mind rather, than taking dictation as the others talked. When he was in company he looked animated, even happy. When alone, his countenance was severe, concentrated and perhaps melancholy. I never saw Nelly in his company during this period and assumed they were no longer together. Those who joined his table were frequently women, often attractive and usually younger than Newland, who was probably in his late thirties.

There was no sense that any of these women were lovers; nor even that they might become so. Newland appeared to see them as younger sisters and they saw Newland as an older brother, though this doesn't quite sound right: there was none of the tension one finds in siblings and yet to call him avuncular wouldn't quite capture his disposition towards them, and to call him a kindly uncle from their perspective would capture but an aspect of the exchanges. It was around this time we started nodding to each other, though during that summer I don't think a single word was exchanged between us; not even a hello. I suppose this was more my reserve than his; I liked seeing cafes as a space for reading and thinking, and preferred pubs and parties for meeting people, usually only ending up in a cafe in company if a friend and I had been for a long walk. Yet I couldn't pretend my attention was always focused on the book or notepad in front of me: often I would observe others and nobody more so that summer than Newland.

One afternoon, I was sitting underneath the cafe at the front and there was a new stall selling soaps, hand creams and other organic items. The person selling would sometimes join Newland at his table, get up and go across when a customer approached the stall. She was more beautiful than the other women who joined Newland that day or any other, and more beautiful too than Nelly, and for some reason, I hoped that she would become Newland's new partner; a ludicrous hypothesis not because she was so attractive and Newland quite plain. This hadn't stopped Nelly's interest and why should it? No, it was idiotic because it was based on assumptions within assumptions: that Nelly had left him and hurt him, that this woman was single and that Newland must inevitably find her as appealing as Nelly, since she was still more attractive. At the same time, though, I might have been thinking of Buford's comment: what would he have made of this woman and Newland as a couple? Would he have seen that they were both keener to be good than to be loved? Beth seemed to possess warmth in her gaze, in the gentleness with which she stroked a dog whose owner approached her stall, in the lack of frustration she showed when a customer asked about various creams, tried all the samples and still didn't buy anything. But maybe the good can never love each other; that the couple is antithetical to such a notion.

4

This might have been my solitude speaking, and would even view the failure to see Siobhan even once over the summer as testimony to it; that some are made for loving and others for yearning and perhaps still others for the good. I wondered too since I often passed by the flat in which one she lived, whether she might have seen me passing and sometimes I walked on the other side of the street, hoping that from her window she could see me. If she was on one of the higher floors she wouldn't be able to see me below but from across the street she would have been able to do so, and I sometimes looked up to see if I could glimpse her.

It was at the end of that summer, in early September, when I went again to one of the garden parties. I hoped she might be there but she wasn't and so, the party though as busy as any, felt empty. Yet I stayed until 2 in the morning, joining others around the kitchen table when everyone moved upstairs after midnight. Usually, when the remaining partygoers moved from the garden to the flat, people dispersed in different rooms: a dozen or so including one of the hosts would go to the sitting room and try to retain the party atmosphere while trying to keep it subdued. A few would go into the host's spare bedroom and usually someone would play guitar. The kitchen was often left empty but this time for some reason it was where everybody congregated. There were eight around the large table, and a few others leaning against the sideboards, a couple seated by the window. I was sitting at the table and next to me was Newland, listening with immense patience as the host explained to him why anything short of a revolution would be tantamount to failure given the complete collapse of the system we were living under.

Newland had earlier said that he believed he wished for evolution and not revolution; why do something quickly and violently when it would be better to insist on change? The host insisted such thinking was inadequate, that the violence society was doing to individuals made it necessary for individuals to use violence against the state. The host, when drunk, often became belligerent and seemed to defend positions that were all the more strongly held due to the contradictions they possessed. He owned the flat he was in and another nearby that helped give him an income. He was a musician, and a good one, but it never gave him enough to live off and he was fortunate his parents were wealthy. They bought him the flat he was in when he was at university and the other one after when they realised he was unlikely to support himself playing music. Newland didn't say it, but all of us sitting around the table who knew the host well, knew too that he would be a victim of this revolution; that his properties would no longer be his. All Newland did say was that he wanted the alleviation of struggle, not the confiscation of luxury. If that luxury had to be removed it should be with a heavy heart and not a gleeful one. Much of what is good in this world came about because people had the money to make life more colourful. Let us not, Newland said, live in a grey world just because we envied those living in a colour one.

I didn't know if I agreed with Newland but sometimes we follow an argument dispositionally; that we like the tone of the person's voice, the calm of their manner, their willingness to listen. The host wasn't listening, was far from calm and interrupted his friend. After a while the debate moved on, people were engaged in smaller conversations and that was how for the first time I started speaking to Newland. He turned, saying that he had seen me at various parties and over the summer saw me in the cafes we both regularly frequented. Over the next hour, we talked about why we liked working at cafes and I asked him whether he ever felt that the people who joined his table distracted him from his work. He didn't think so; one reason he liked working in cafes in the first place was that it meant he wasn't alone. When he worked in his flat, where only he lived, he sometimes reckoned the solitude was too strong, which was odd since he had no problem eating, watching films, and reading alone. But when he worked he needed the presence of people and he said he thought he knew why. For five years he was employed at an environmental magazine in London, and the office was open plan with everyone exchanging ideas as they worked. He supposed he wanted an aspect of that atmosphere now: the people who often joined him were master's students, friends doing PhDs. He said he was teaching in the environmental science department.

We never talked about how I was the opposite, that I liked to read without company even though I too had no flatmate, nor partner, and so, when a few days after the party I saw Newland and he didn't ask me to join him at his table, it didn't seem rude but instead perceptive: that he sensed I would wish to remain in my own company as I worked. But after I sat and read for about an hour and a half, and paid, I passed by his table to say goodbye and he asked if I wanted to join him for a few minutes. Nobody else was there, nobody else had stopped and chatted with him and he insisted he wanted to take a ten-minute break. We talked for thirty minutes and during it, I asked him about the host and their discussion. He supposed that the host, who he knew well and better I supposed than I did, wanted to live in a different world but knew too that his life might be different in that new world. If his revolutionary wishes came to pass he would be living like Newland was in a compact, one-bedroom flat, with rent low rather than living off the rents of others. He managed to say this in a tone indicating no judgement; more that he could feel his way inside our host's contradictions and was happy not to reside there. As I was leaving, the woman with the stall arrived. Beth had all the goods in a trailer on the back of her bike, and I thought for a moment that she might be one prepared for the revolution.

5

On my way home, I thought again about what might constitute a revolutionary consciousness. I had heard the phrase over the years but always within the context of abstract politics and that day was the first time I thought about it in very personal terms. Maybe it had little to do with knowing one's Marx or Gramsci, but finally about our dispositions in the world. It seemed stupid and obvious but it appeared to me that afternoon a revolutionary consciousness was predicated on self-contentment: that a happy world needed happy people. But what had to come first? People who were self-content or who needed basic security to feel safe enough to be contented? If I'd read that so much theory of the sixties was interested in a combination of Freud and Marx, that would insist that a future Marxism might not be of much use if the individuals were psychically damaged, then that still appeared to me too abstract. There was something in the host's argument with Newland, Newland's response to the host, and in his remarks in his brief discussion with me, that was more fundamental to the revolution. Yet there was also something saintly about Newland and I recalled a comment by Orwell, that the average human being is a failed saint but many people genuinely do not wish to be saints. Maybe the revolutionary needs to be not a failed saint, merely a flawed one. To be saintly, for Orwell, was to remove oneself from common humanity; the revolutionary wants to access it. I also thought about my friend's comment, his remarks about Newland and Nelly. They could not have been that revolutionary couple as I might have wished to define it. It would have required two people equally capable of, simultaneously, self-contentment and self-sacrifice. By now I was at the top of Bruntsfield, walking down towards my flat, and passing Siobhan's street that I had become in the habit of walking along.

I noticed coming out of the building Siobhan and instinctively darted down the street to the left just as I saw her turning to the right. She would pass me in less than a minute and I kept walking for a few seconds so that she would only see my back if she were to look in my direction. Once I was sure she had passed by on the main road, I turned round and walked back along the side street, and saw her now approaching the top of Bruntsfield and quickened my pace.

Why hadn't I stopped and said hello; why did I insist on detouring and them following her? It was I didn't doubt a certain type of shyness, an inability to feel comfortable saying hello to someone who had been in my thoughts for several months and yet who I had only met once before. It was also though because I had seen her only once before I wished to see her again. However, this seeing appeared to be a desire to gaze upon her and not an awkward conversation with her. I felt at that moment both immature and perverse, determined to observe from afar and incapable of speaking to her up close. But it isn't easy following someone who knows what you look like and whose face you can't see unless they turn round, and then they can see your face as easily as you can see theirs. Instead, I observed her walk and saw in it a light gait and a swinging movement. Sometimes walking behind someone is a very good way of comprehending a person's level of contentment, my psychoanalyst friend would say, as he said it would be very professionally unethical but he did sometimes wonder if it would have been professionally useful to follow someone after the therapy session: to see how they moved through the world rather than how they sat in a chair. There was a performative dimension to analysis, he supposed; that the patient was usually there as an unhappy person, knowing this was where they could unload their misery and, once out of the room, a modest happiness could return. He offered it as a half-joke. recognising that an hour a week in a confined space wasn't really enough to go on when it came to comprehending somebody's life. I wondered what he would make of my inclination to follow Siobhan rather than say a simple hello. I supposed he would be intrigued and see in my revelation the desire to become his patient. Perhaps.

By now I was near the bottom of Morningside and I assumed Siobhan was meeting people in the Hermitage pub before Braid Road: there weren't any cafes or pubs further along that I thought she'd be likely to enter. Instead, she kept walking and turned up onto Braid Road and I guessed she was going to continue through to Blackford Hill. I believed it was acceptable to follow her through an urban area but to do so while she was walking through much more isolated nature would be a violation. I stopped and turned back, trying to recall the face from the past that I hadn't been able to see in the present.

Many may insist that I was a pest for following her at all, yet I suppose we all have our moral thermostat when it comes to the knowledge we seek and the violation it may cause, and I suppose too I have always been more observant than enquiring someone who will see what I can glean visually from a situation rather than ask directly. But that is how most of us access information from others, and why Buford found it ironic that his position was the opposite. However, I knew also that my observational interest was often curiously without purpose, though too usually morally without consequence. Nothing in the attention I had given to Newland suggested the morally troublesome, but does it often become so when our interest is more than idle, however attentive that idle curiosity happens to be? There I was following Siobhan and only stopped when it would have been hard to justify walking behind her as anything but stalking.

6

Over the next couple of weeks, I saw Newland several times and usually sat with him for a while after I had finished reading. On one occasion we were joined by a couple of his Master's students, and on another by a PhD student. Sometimes we were on our own and once he mentioned Nelly. We were talking about the garden parties and he said he remembered me, especially from one of them: he was by the window speaking to the person who that night became his girlfriend for the next nine months and he recalled her saying to him after I looked into the kitchen, and immediately retreated, that it looks like somebody was assuming an intimacy that they hadn't yet instigated. She promptly kissed him. Would they have kissed, he said? Perhaps, but not at that moment, and that moment was created by my discretion. He told me more about their relationship and said it couldn't last; that while he was faithful he couldn't be inattentive to the world around him, and Nelly didn't even pretend that she was interested in friends or her work. Her life revolved around him, a dull phrase that she animated and yet of course it was as exhausting as it was flattering: she needed no one else but him, she said. What was initially music to his ears became a cacophony of needs. He told me this without any judgement, saying that this wasn't Nelly's fault but his, that he should have seen very quickly not the sort of person she was (that would be to judge her) but the sort of relationship she desired. But I recalled what Buford observed and believed Newland was blaming himself for what would have been an impossible situation. He said when she left him he had never felt so bereft after a breakup. He saw her passing on Mid Meadow Walk a couple of months ago; she was with another person and seemed happy. He hoped that this man was capable of a devotion Newland couldn't match and one that, he admitted, created not just a feeling of immense grief for six months, but also made him question what he meant by love.

I didn't tell him what Buford said after observing Newland and Nelly that day but I did think that Newland needed a love that was open to the world without at all requiring polyamory. He needed the trust of love with a desire for friendship, one that would augment that feeling he would have with his partner, and perhaps I didn't say anything to him for two reasons: who was I to diagnose what he needed; and that I wasn't quite sure what I needed.

It was also during this period, and a couple of days after this chat with Newland when I saw Siobhan. I was walking through one of the narrower paths on the Meadows and saw her coming towards me. Short of hiding behind a tree a meeting was inevitable, assuming she recognised me at all. She did, and said hello. We talked for a few minutes and she told me that she had been away all summer; that she had returned to Ireland. Her mother had been quite ill and she was the daughter who could most easily drop everything and return to the family home - even if her sisters were living, like her mother in Dublin. She offered it as though it were an excuse, a way of explaining why she hadn't been in contact since that walk months ago. But she didn't have my contact details, didn't know where I lived; hadn't proposed we meet and had failed to turn up. Yet at the same time she had disappeared and I suppose wondered what I'd thought about her disappearance. She said we should meet up but that she was busy over the next fortnight. We exchanged phone numbers and she'd let me know when she was free.

I didn't know what to make of the exchange but what I sensed throughout was a sense of apology that I couldn't explain until about ten days later. In the meantime, most days I went to read at the cafe at the front or the back, near Mid-Meadow Walk, and usually saw Newland there as well. It was a mid-to-late September afternoon and what might have been the last warm day of the year. People were in shorts and T-shirts, eating ice cream, and the Meadows was packed with people, the sound of drumming, the smell of barbecues, the chatter of students newly familiar. The deciduous trees were still leafy and the clouds were brief tufts in the sky. At the cafe all the tables were full and the same with those at the back. Even Newland couldn't get one of his usual tables and he was sitting where I would often sit: under the concrete canopy at a table by the entrance of the cafe. He didn't initially see me and I continued to the cafe at the rear before returning to the front hoping a table had become available. None had but Newland saw me and insisted I join him. He was alone, and there was space at the table for four. I said I would but not for long, insisting I didn't want to disturb him while I was sure he well knew I didn't want to disturb my routine of solitary reading.

We chatted for just a few minutes when he said he had to send a couple of emails; I opened my book, started reading, and continued to do so without interruption for forty-five minutes. I noticed now a table was free but was happy where I was, and ten minutes afterwards the two Master's students I had seen Newland with before, joined our table. They offered a few pleasantries but within minutes all of us were immersed in whatever we were doing and this continued for another hour and a half. I was surprised I could concentrate, even when the others would offer the occasional remark I was still immersed in the book and knew that I'd be happy to read in their company again.

The woman with the stall joined us too, pulling up a free chair, and by now nobody was any longer working and we were all willing to engage in conversation that ranged over how well the stall had been doing that day, the joy of such warm weather with the underlying anxiety of global warming, and the book I was reading. The woman had an aura I couldn't quite describe but that her beauty didn't quite cover, and I suppose it lay in the attentive over the attention-demanding. It was as though her looks gave her the natural advantage of getting people's instant attention, which she would then use to engage on levels that had little to do with her looks except as a premise. I noticed she used them to ask questions. Over the next thirty minutes, she must have asked everyone at least a couple of things and all of them pertinent, even impertinent. She asked me, for example, why I would usually read alone, what I was reading and why, and whether reading was a vicarious experience or one that augmented life. I wanted to ask her why she worked at a stall, whether it was all year round or just during the summer months. I also wanted to know when she said she lived near the bottom of Leith Walk, whether it was difficult to cycle up to the Meadows. But it was as though I couldn't ask a question that potentially had an observational answer; that patience would reveal. Was it again shyness that made me unable to enquire or was it another aspect of my personality; one that if I were given to impose my professional interest on my personal one I might call epistemological revelation: that if a philosopher once proposed that questioning was the piety of thought, I would be more inclined to claim the piety of thought resided more in observation.

Maybe one day I would find out how difficult that climb was when I would see her with her bike and trailer going up Leith Walk; I would find out on another that she did work in winter too, perhaps around Christmas on the Royal mile. And yes, she might be talking to someone else and revealing why she chose to work at a stall. Indeed she revealed the latter ten minutes later, saying to one of the Master's students that she wanted to stay away from state control; didn't even have a bank account, only used the internet in cafes, and had an old mobile phone that didn't have internet access. She only accepted cash on the stall. It wasn't quite off -grid-living but was as close as she could manage. She offered her comments after the Master's student asked her what protecting the environment meant to her, and she replied that it meant partly protecting herself from so many aspects of contemporary life that damage ourselves as well as the environment.

Just after this chat, a person on a bike and an empty trailer pulled up by the stall, looked for a moment perplexed, then across at our table and saw that she was sitting with us. He came over, plonked a kiss on her lips that lasted long enough to suggest that passion was still there between them however long they had been together, and said hello to everyone before they went over to the stall and started loading up the trailers. I glanced across and thought about them as a couple, and could see they were physically well-matched: not only in her beauty and his handsomeness, but in the manner they did things. They both looked like people who enjoyed working outside and with their hands and I could see them in a few years with perhaps a farm: living off-grid and off the land. Yet they weren't quite the couple who could be described as soulful, not quite the good couple I believed that Newland would be part of if he found a partner who matched his benign qualities. Nelly wasn't that partner but who was?

7

I suppose I thought so much about Newland's capacity to be part of such a union because I never saw in him anything but warmth, nothing but a regard for others that was equal to or outmatched his regard towards himself.

But it was a few days after I sat with Newland, his Master's students and the stall owner, that I might have found what Newland possessed in himself, evident in a couple. Buford and I would usually during the summer months walk a couple of times a month, often on a Wednesday afternoon that he would always take off, and our walks would be as varied as Edinburgh would allow. We might go down to Stockbridge and round by the Botanic Gardens, or up through Blackford Hill, out by canal and past the parish at Colinton, onto the mill, or down by the shore, walking back through the water of Leith. This time we went down to Stockbridge, through the Botanics, carried on through Inverleith, past Fettes College, back up into town via Orchard Brae and through Dean Village. During the walk, we discussed how observant he felt he could be when what he would have to work with was a client sitting in a chair opposite him. Wouldn't it be ideal, he said, if he could walk around the city as he did with me or observe people while they sat with family, friends or lovers in cafes and bars? There is a discretion to the role that inhibits the knowledge one has of a client but at the same time it may be a little like a scientist who knows that to achieve a certain result he needs a controlled environment. The room he supposed was exactly that. But of course, he added, while we took the small but steep hill from Dean Village up to the main road, sometimes you do see your client on the street, in a cafe, at a restaurant and so on. Obviously, you usually wait to see if the person acknowledges you first but even if they don't you cannot always help seeing this person in a new context and being curious about it.

He said to me there was someone who had been seeing him for about eighteen months and the man wasn't sure whether it was his job, his parents or his partner who was making him unhappy, or something else entirely. In the sessions, Buford discussed on numerous occasions aspects of the client's childhood, the job but most of all the man wished to discuss his partner. Buford wanted to focus on root causes rather than present symptoms but one evening he was in a restaurant with Polly (his partner) and a couple of tables away was this man and his wife. He didn't say anything to Polly, which would have been unprofessional, but he did find himself glancing across occasionally, and looking more closely still when Polly went to the restroom. The man hadn't recognised Buford or didn't wish to show that he had, and Buford didn't doubt he had made several observations based on the dynamic and believed he probably found himself using it in future psychoanalytic sessions with the man. That evening in the restaurant, he and his partner were attentive initially, irritable by the middle of the meal, and angry with each other by the end of it. Buford couldn't quite see them as a couple who had been together for five years as their attentiveness suggested a more recent affair, but the irritability and acrimoniousness were familiar enough, especially for those who go to analysis partly because their marriage is a mess. That evening Buford wondered if they were arguing over having children. She wanted them; he wasn't sure and part of the analysis had been about the client overcoming fears about his childhood so that he was in a position to decide properly whether he could have a child with his wife.

Now when meeting the client he had additional information he couldn't not know, and so when the husband said he thought his wife was being unreasonable, Buford had a clear image in his mind of the woman, just as when reading a novel after we have seen the film it is hard to see the character in a way contrary to the actor who played them. But, Buford said, and this was the point of his story, three months later the client told him that he had been seeing another woman for around six months. It was almost certainly this other woman and not the wife that Buford had seen him with, in the restaurant. A little bit of extra knowledge led to an almost certain misinterpretation and so, while observation has its place, best not to apply it when there is a gap between two milieux: the client in the room and the client in the world.

8

By now we were at the top of the Mound, ready for a seat and a coffee. While it was almost October, the weather was still warm enough to sit outside as long as the sun remained. We went to the cafe at the back of Mid-Meadow Walk. We were sitting in the far corner outside next to the window when, after about ten minutes, I noticed Siobhan taking a table on the other side, away from the window and nearer the square, where three or four skaters were spinning around. A moment later she was joined by someone and they sat adjacently looking out towards the square, his arm around her shoulder and they turned to face each other in a kiss. Between ours and hers were a few other tables, and our view was partially blocked by a closed cantilever umbrella. As we talked I kept glancing across and at one moment Buford asked me what was drawing my attention. He could only see by moving his chair a few inches in my direction and where his view was no longer blocked by the closed umbrella. I asked him to tell me what he made of the people sitting in the distance. He joked that not only had he just explained to me how he managed almost certainly to misinterpret a client's love life, but now I was expecting him to comment on two people in the medium distance whom he knew nothing about and were more or less facing in the other direction. I said he had observed others in the past and been very perceptive in his observations; that he had guessed that Newland and Nelly weren't going to stay together. He said he would observe as well as he could from this distance, offering closer inspection when he went to the toilet.

Returning from the bathroom, he said that this was a couple who seemed happy and in the eight seconds that he saw them on the way to the toilet, and the eight seconds on the way back, he saw no reason why they would part. He offered it facetiously, playing down the role of professional emotional expert that people sometimes insisted of him, as if to take the role seriously in an unprofessional environment would indeed be to undermine that professionalism. Yet as they went up to pay, passing in front of his eyes while I would have been hidden behind the umbrella, he observed them again. After they left he said that sometimes it was odd. He could be with a client for months, they would be talking about their partner and he was only able to guess at their relationship, despite the enormous amount of information the client provided. It was partial and only verbal, however detailed and this wasn't so when he saw a couple for only a few seconds. It wasn't detailed but it was at least complete and visual. He supposed it was a different skill and perhaps what created the confusion with his client in the restaurant was that he found himself applying one observational category to another. I asked again what insight he could offer; he reminded me what he said about Newland and Nelly, remembering their names I suppose because I'd talked a bit about them recently - when I had told him I became acquainted with Newland. He reckoned that the mismatch there was that one person was giving and the other taking, and that can work if both of them have in their personality give and take, an interesting phrase he supposed if looked at more analytically. Most relationships are give and take. But if one consistently takes and the other consistently gives that can work sado-masochistically and people can remain together for years. But what he sensed in Newland and Nelly was that he wouldn't have only given to her but to others as well, and this would have generated too much resentment and she would leave. He was offering such a broad observation, he insisted, because this was a casual chat, and reckoned it was much more nuanced than that. With the two people he had just now so briefly observed he thought that they were both giving and so their relationship might broaden out to giving to others, to the children they may have, charity work they might do, family they would help support. They would see themselves as a team, he suspected, and if they were still together in fifty years he wouldn't be surprised. He said this as though his observational acuity was still focused on these two people he was trying to keep in his mind's eye and he hadn't looked at me at all. When he did, he saw on my face, I suppose, an expression of tender horror. I then explained how I knew her and didn't know anything about the boyfriend, didn't realise she had one and maybe they were already together when we met at the party.

9

Siobhan texted me about a week later and I replied saying I was very busy, a half-truth but a useful excuse. My feeling was that her boyfriend had returned to wherever he was from. I guessed that this place was Ireland and that she met, or at least started seeing him, after that party, when she went back home to look after her mother. Yet not only did I hypothesise a scenario for Siobhan and her new boyfriend, I also tried to view this relationship she was now in, and that Buford thought was likely to be so successful, from a perspective that possessed the generosity of Newland rather than my constant temptation to view it with resentment and regret. A couple of days after I saw Siobhan that afternoon in the cafe at the back, I was in the front one with Newland. I found myself telling him about what had happened days earlier but didn't tell him that my friend had observed him and Nelly likewise. Newland said that perhaps regret should only be evident for another person's sake: that if I believed that she was unhappy with her boyfriend and that I could have saved her from that unhappiness by having kissed her properly on the doorstep, then that might be cause for regret. But if I felt that she was happy then all I had to deal with was my resentment, which could easily seem without much value. Newland then talked a little about Nelly, saying that he knew that he couldn't feel exclusively happy with someone which wasn't the same as a desire to be unfaithful or to be polyamorous. Nelly wished that his attention was focused on her and reckoned instead that he was too attentive to others. Of course, she didn't wish for him to be selfish and ignore other people, but she reckoned he wasn't only keen to help others when they asked for help, or came to the rescue of those who needed it, when they stumbled on the street, fell off their bike or banged their head on a beam, but that he was alert to all these possibilities before they happened. She thought he could never quite gaze into her eyes; that the surrounding environment was always present.

It was odd hearing someone talking of themselves as if in the third person, but there was no immodesty in this, and he was trying simultaneously to explain to me what she had felt with what I may have needed to understand. My psychoanalyst friend, he said, saw two people who could accept the importance of a world that was much greater than their own and that is also why he may have seen the relationship's possible success. Sometimes couples are suffocatingly in love and this gives to their affair a great passion but makes it almost impossible to open it out into the world. Its energy rests on its internal focus. At the other extreme, he proposed, a person can possess an open perspective, one that cannot quite incorporate the aspect of selfishness that is needed to love another. Most relationships he supposed work somewhere between those points.

Was Newland a saint? Of course not, but perhaps an aspect of the saintly is all we can hope for and the smallest aspect of which I might hope to achieve. Newland could talk about his relationship with Nelly as though it had happened to another and maybe a modern notion of saintliness is no more than a sense of perspective. There might be little sense of a beyond but there ought still to be a world beyond ourselves. I suppose I had the chance to see if I possessed that quality around seven months later when there was another garden party.

It was the beginning of spring and after a warm late March day, it was becoming a cool evening. When I arrived at 930, as well as the usual lights that were hanging from the trees, there were the usual two heaters and also two makeshift ones using bricks and a metal bucket. It hardly warmed up the garden but allowed those feeling the cold to huddle around them. Newland, the two Master's students, Beth and her partner, and I had all met in a nearby pub an hour before. By the time we got there around forty people were in the garden, and the band were beginning to set up, waiting for Beth and her partner to join them. Beth was a singer; her partner played guitar. It was Newland who persuaded their band to come to the party and they offered to play. I didn't have much of an ear but could tell that they played well and that the band's energy came from the complicity between Beth and her boyfriend. When he shared her mic to sing during a chorus it didn't just seem a pragmatic need to sing through the microphone but even more a wish to move in close: they shared a mic the way others would share a kiss. It was as though watching them play together I understood what I half comprehended when he arrived at the stall and kissed her as he came over to her table: there was a balance between presence and absence, between being there for her and being there with her, and I sensed the same as he came in close to join her as they sang together. I supposed the energy of their love rested on this tension; that they could be people who got on each other's nerves if they were around each other too often. I suppose Buford might say that their love would survive if they could find constantly the opportunity to find outlets for this contrary force. They weren't naturally compatible.

I wondered quite what I meant by that and perhaps found the answer not long afterwards when Siobhan and her boyfriend arrived, along with I supposed the two flatmates she had come to the party with the previous year. Amongst the hubbub of people she probably didn't see me or didn't wish to acknowledge me, and if either of us had a right to umbrage it was her: in the social scheme of things, though I would have been more hurt by her taking up with a boyfriend than she would have been by my refusal to arrange a meeting, the latter was ruder than the former. There were so many people by then that we needn't have noticed each other at all: there were about eighty people in the garden. It was louder and rowdier than usual and the host knew this would be so when he agreed the band should play and that they would have a speaker system bellowing out the tunes. All the neighbours were invited as usual but on this occasion, it looked like a few of them had come - maybe aware that they weren't likely to get an early night and might as well join the crowd. And so it was easy to observe others without feeling observed myself. I watched Newland as he moved freely between people, speaking briefly to one person and then chatting with another, dancing for a few minutes and then intensely engaged with the host for a while. But of course, I watched most of all Siobhan and her boyfriend, trying to understand Buford's comments and also why I needn't feel either regret or resentment.

What I noticed throughout the evening was that they never left each other for more than a few moments. While Beth and her partner after they took a half-hour break were chatting with others and offering only the occasional complicit glance between themselves, Siobhan and her partner were constantly holding hands, putting their arms around each other or finding an excuse to touch each other. Yet I had no sense this was sexual; they lacked or didn't look like they cared to possess each other as I might have believed Beth and her partner wished; that they weren't in a constant tussle but were at peace with the couple they had become. I didn't see them leave, never had the opportunity to apologise to Siobhan, and I suspected that in the future, when looking back, I would see this as a greater regret than that I never kissed her at all: that I wouldn't have known whether she would have accepted the kiss but I did know for sure that she wished to meet up. Many people probably need time to give themselves perspective: to see that their thoughts and feelings are too entangled within the present moment to recognise their behaviour as rash, churlish, or mean. I am no doubt one such person but it seemed to me that Newland had gone beyond the limitations of seeing himself as tethered by the time and space in which he lived. I think this is the closest to transcendence one can hope for, and Newland had more than most achieved it. Perhaps he was if not a saint then a potential revolutionary. Beth and her boyfriend would be in a continuing tension that might not cease before they did, or they would break up if it happened to do so, while Siobhan and her partner may never need to feel the gravity of their egos and live as happily ever after as people can. My thoughts gravitated between the cynical and the hopeful but it was as though I could only see the hopeful in others and the cynical within myself.


© Tony McKibbin