I have been in the Alps, playing about in the snow – my favourite thing to do in the world, as in this picture. I took it outside a little hut where we stopped for lunch, because Lake Geneva and Montreux are just visible in the distance. Looking in the other direction I could clearly see the summit of Mont Blanc. I don’t think there are many other spots where you can do this, at least on ordinary piste skis. So I was feeling quite sad when the time came to leave paradise and fly home. On the plane, I glumly picked up a discarded colour supplement and started reading about shopping. The writer suggested that if you have retail hunger and can’t quite find the right item, then you could always pick up another succulent for your collection.
What? I know about having reached peak stuff (peak peak would be an impossibility, of course. There is always another desirable mountain). In terms of possessions I could understand not being able to covet another milk jug or canvas rucksack, but a succulent instead? Aren’t they the little squashy plants with no flowers that used to sit in a tin trough on your gran’s kitchen windowsill, next to the Vim and the enamel dish with the cracked pink soap and the ancient Brillo pad? I was ready to dismiss the snippet as style-journalist piffle, but the notion stuck in my head for some reason. And ever since I have been spotting these little greeneries, arranged in their artful vintage earthenware pots, in every cool corner of London. In the last three days I have seen them in one of those coffee shops where you have to choose the bean by name, in a place seeming to sell only six identical teeshirts in plain grey linen, and this morning on a marble slab in my very own haircutter’s establishment. They do look nice. Maybe it’s time to tap into the zeitgeist and start my collection.
I have never felt less zeitgeisty, though. I have been wearing the same pair of boots for three winters, and they have sprung a leak. I am writing very slowly and painfully, undoing more than I commit. But I have been reading a lot, and it occurs to me that mercifully books don’t have to be – shouldn’t be – any sort of style statement. Admittedly there is the book-as-meme thing, where a certain novel is suddenly everywhere, is contagiously being read because everyone else is reading it, is the one you know will be mentioned if you ask anyone between 12 and 92 – but these tend to be replaced as quickly as they emerge. I mean the sort of slow-burning personal browse of random books, picking one or two out of the pile, sniffing to see what will suit the mood, the weather, absence of directional boots. Finding the right one is like a warm blanket against a rainy, a balm for post-holiday tristesse. I’m reading the posthumously published novel of an old friend. I can hear his tone in every paragraph. It’s almost like having him in the next room.
Truly, a book is a remedy for every condition. You couldn’t say that about a succulent.