It's late in the evening, it's a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, it's August the 3rd or 4th, 46 maybe 47 summers has passed since then. I’m completely drunk riding in the back of an Austin Allegro. The car, much ridiculed back at the time, was brand new, just two or three days old. A few more yards and I was home which was just as well. I was about to throw up. My right hand was clamped over my mouth, my left scrabbling for the door handle. As the car rolled to a stop I rolled out of the car and was promptly, horribly sick. My friend, whose dad was driving, checked I could get myself to the back door of our house and left me to it. I can’t imagine what his dad thought of me. I blame the “new car" smell.
A few hours earlier I found myself at a party near Roché (like Roche but with a certain je ne sais quoi). I remember the party for two things. One thing was I had a spectacular fall the other was the cider. The party was in a barn, up some granite steps, above some stables. At some point, while I was pretty well oiled, I stepped out of the barn and as I turned to the left to descend the steps I fell backwards to the right and landed on the ground on my back. Wallop! “Funny” I thought “that didn’t hurt”. It was my good fortune to land on the dung heap from the stables below. I was completely unhurt, a bit stinky but unhurt. There was so much straw I don’t think I even needed much cleaning up. Nevertheless I was rescued and well and truly pampered by the girls. Lovely.
Then there was the cider. The two brands I recall were Blackthorn made by the Gaymer Cider Company and Woodpecker made by Bulmer (other ciders may have been available at the time). Both cheap as chips making them a party staple. There seemed to be plenty and I consumed plenty, hence I fell off the stairs. This would turn out to be the first of countless times alcohol got the better of me at a party but it was the last time I drank cider.
Over the intervening 46 or 47 years I’ve tried to tease cider back into my life. I remember just 3 years ago. Sitting outside a café in La Rochelle. If you’ve been to La Rochelle you'll have seen the café. We were doing a spot of people watching. Tricia had a bowl of the local cider (cidre in French) and I had my customary petit café (small coffee in English) and an accompanying glass of water (verre d'eau). It was hot, it was sunny, cider seemed the perfect drink of the moment. I decided, yet again, to try some cider. The situation was perfect. I steeled my resolve, raised Tricia’s bowl to my lips and sipped a little. Yuck! It's just not gonna happen.
Periodically I’ve kept trying. If at first you don’t succeed then try, try again. I’m reminded of this historical moment; It wasn't long before England recognized Scotland as an independent country with Robert the Bruce as it’s rightful king. To this very day, the victory and independence of Scotland is traced to a spider that kept trying again and again to spin her web in a cave that inspired the king. Maybe the irritating Nicola Sturgeon is trying, trying again.
So hold that thought, think of me as a Cornish Robert the Bruce.
One sunny afternoon last Summer, Tricia and I were languishing in our hot tub.......something we seemed to do a lot of in our lockdown summer. Better to call it my lockdown summer than my last summer but let’s not dwell on that. Anyway there we were in the shade in our hot tub. I had a beer and Tricia was drinking a bottle of cider. It happened to be a bottle of Healey’s Rattler. (Named after the feisty Cornish Rattler apple).
It was hot, it was sunny, cider seemed the perfect drink of the moment. I decided, yet again, to try some. The situation was perfect. I steeled my resolve, raised Tricia’s bottle to my lips and sipped a little. A revelation, it was nectar, a definite distillation of the forbidden fruit. It was delicious maybe even ambrosian. After almost 50 years I had a whole new adventure of discovery laid out before me. My cider adventure. That afternoon, languishing in our hot tub, bottle of cold cider in hand, had I reached Optimum Happiness? I think I had. “Och aye”
Optimum Happiness is a bit like casting the runes and they align. It doesn’t often happen but it doesn't mean you stop trying because sometimes, just sometimes, fleetingly the alignment is perfect.
It might be something you plan like a holiday. It might be a meal with friends. For me I recall swimming my first 25 meters, or wandering around France in the motorhome. Sometimes it's small moments when we all go out walking. Now and then I think I experience this heightened state. Sometimes they’re fleeting like a hug, an unexpected phone call or message or a perfectly timed smile. Sometimes you only recognise it when the moment has passed.
In my present state, my moments of Optimum Happiness are liberally interspersed with moments of abject misery. Fortunately the bad moments are generally fleeting and thankfully only a few have borne witness to them. They’re there nevertheless and I have to deal with them.
My chemo is working somewhat. Will that increase my moments of Optimism Happiness? I hope so. But another 3 months of chemo will provide plenty of moments of abject misery. I now know the routine, I know when the miserable days will be. It’s the days you won’t be seeing or hearing from me. It’s the days Tricia will insulate me from the world. It’s the days Tricia will bear the brunt of my misery.
Those are the days she’ll need you more than she needs me. It’s the other days, the better days, those days when I’ll strive for and hopefully achieve moments of......Optimum Happiness.