I’ve been to quite a few sessions with Joe now and mostly I don’t know what to say. It’s getting embarrassing but I don’t want to stop coming. He keeps asking me questions about my parents and school and work and girlfriends but it all just feels like such a dismal mess and I don’t want to go into it. I just want to forget about it. I’ve told him what Ray and Harry and that lot said about my future and about trying to explain to them about my painting and why they insist on explaining it to me instead. He said it’s a very good question. They probably feel threatened.
‘That’s the trouble with old people these days’ he said. ‘They think they know everything.’
That made me smile.
Anyway, this time, as I take my seat he says ‘What was your favourite TV programme, back in life?’
I’m still buzzing from thinking about Lucy. I asked her, very casually, about making a drawing of her and she smiled sexily and said she’d think about it. I can’t believe it. I can’t think.
Why is he asking me this? It seems a very long time ago. Watching telly. I remember kid’s stuff, American cop shows, British comedies, Columbo, Dad’s Army, Scooby Doo. I smile and look up, embarrassed at my lack of sophistication.
‘Don’t think about it too much. First thing that comes into your head. Go!’
‘MASH!’ I say, triumphantly, because it’s both true, and quite cool.
‘That’s too cool. You thought about it for too long. What was your first thought – really? I promise I won’t laugh’ he says grinning all over his face. Why don’t I trust him?
‘You go first’ I say. He does that thing where a person gives a world weary look upwards as if to say “God help us.” or “Why me?” or “Get on with it.” Why isn’t there a word for that expression? Maybe I should invent one. You could say ‘They all wooked at me’, or maybe ‘She made a wookie’ or, for parents ‘Don’t wook at me my lad!’
So anyway, he gave me a wookie and said ‘Starsky and Hutch. There, your turn.’
‘I was going to say Pogle’s Wood, but then...’
‘No, good choice’ he says. ‘I preferred The Clangers myself.’
‘It was that guy’s voice... whatsisname...’
‘Oliver something...’ We stop and think about it for a moment, draw a blank.
‘It’ll come to us’ he says. ‘Why?’
‘Why what?’ but I know perfectly well “why?”
‘Why did you like Pogle’s Wood? God, it’s like blood from a rock sometimes. I’m trying to help here.’
‘By asking what my favourite TV programme was?’
‘Yes. I was trying to subtly come at some issues you’ve been avoiding by a different route. Ok?’
‘I’m sorry’ I say, and we sit silently for a while. ‘Is it worth going on with this?’ I ask, tentatively.
‘Why are you so bloody reluctant to be straight with me about this stuff? I’m not here to play guessing games with you.’
‘I’m really sorry’ I say again.
‘Look, if I may say so, your life was a fuck-up. You were ignored, humiliated and rejected, repeatedly. You got precisely nowhere. Do you want to do all that again? Or do you want to take this opportunity to sort some things out and maybe do a better job next time, because, frankly, that’s all this’ indicating everything around us ‘is about, as far as I can work out – doing better next time. Do you get that?’
‘Yes’ I say ‘I do.’
‘So... Are we ready?’
‘Yes’ I nod heavily.
‘So tell me why the fucking hell you liked Pogle’s fucking Wood so fucking much... you wanker.’
I have to grin. He laughs a little to himself. Sometimes I really wish he had been my friend instead of this... counsellor, or whatever role he is supposed to be in. Nobody really talked to me like this in life – Justine maybe, but she had her own problems. Nobody asked me how I was getting on. Nobody told me what I needed to know.
‘Pogle’s fucking Wood... erm... was a small, safe, cosy place’ I begin. ‘Pippin always had his friend Togg to have these little adventures with and his parents, Mr and Mrs Pogle were always there for him when he came home, and...
‘...and the flower?’
‘I don’t know what that was.’
‘Some sort of Fritillaria is my guess. Maybe a Codonopsis.’
‘Never mind. It gave advice didn’t it? I don’t remember. A benign spirit-of-the-woods sort of a deal?’
‘A mini God?’
‘A handy, garden-size deity. Useful.’ We both ponder this for a moment.
‘Oliver Postgate’ I say and we both nod.
‘Voice like home baking...’ adds Joe. We nod nostalgically again.
‘Wouldn’t it have been a bit claustrophobic though, living in a hollow tree all the time with just your parents and a squirrel? What happens when Pippin leaves home and encounters the flesh pots of Camberwick Green?’
‘He never does’ I say with certainty. ‘It just goes on. There’s always things to do.’
‘But don’t you think you have to have new challenges, new experiences...’
‘He does, all the time, in the wood, there’s always unexpected things.’
‘How big is this wood?’
‘Doesn’t matter. It’s nature. There’s always something new to look at. Or you make something new happen.’
‘And you never run out? Never get bored? What about growing up? You know – Mr and Mrs Pogle die, you inherit the hollow log, and then what? Are you going to mate with the squirrel? Leave a lot of weird mutant tufty progeny?’
I think about this for a while – not mating with the squirrel obviously – but change, growing up, leaving home. I can’t imagine the Pogles’ lives changing. That’s how it should be, forever.
‘Would you not be just a teensie bit curious about the outside world? How does the rest of the world look to a Pogle?’
‘I don’t think they think about it much.’
‘Put yourself in their place. How does it look to you – the outside world?’
‘I can’t believe you’re asking me to identify with a soft toy.’
‘Just do it.’
I close my eyes, go to the edge of the wood. I can see it very clearly. ‘It’s just a huge empty field. I look through the hedge and I can’t see the other side. It’s frosty and there’s stubble – brown and dead.’
The outside world is bleak and empty as far as the eye can see.
I tell Joe this and he sits for a while, considering, and I leave.
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