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It's started closing in

PAST Midsummer's Day, it starts closing in. Well, there you are, then: Nature's a bugger, really. Physicists will tell you (whether you want to know or not) that beneath the gross, coarse, macroscopic surface of things, it's all excitement, glittering unpredictability, the world like a cat and nobody knows which way it will jump. Molecules swirl and jostle, electrons change orbit with a quantum click, quarks dance and sparkle, winking into existence like glow-worms or snowflakes in the headlights, then vanishing again. Why do they vanish? Because they couldn't have been there in the first place. There's physics for you, and no wonder they won't stop talking.

But for the rest of us, it's a different story. Being the sort of man I am, gross, coarse and macroscopic happen to suit me very well, but there are times when one could fancy a little more variety, the occasional surprise. But no; the natural world just goes through the motions, endlessly repeating itself while we strive to get a toehold on the numinous (bungee-jumping, religion, weird sex) or just give in, put our affairs in order and buy a new damp-course for the damnable house.

The solar system is the worst offender. Past Midsummer's Day, it starts closing in. I'd welcome a change. You'd notice it about now, three weeks on. "I say, fellas: anyone notice anything strange? About nightfall? Like, the days are still getting longer?" But it won't happen. Physics is against it. The orbits are fixed by gravity, and gravity isn't just a good idea; it's the law. And the nights start closing in.

They're closing in for me, and they're closing in for you. Other things are closing in for me as well. And for you, but you just haven't noticed it yet: the little signs: feeling sick when you see someone running; wanting to go to bed a lot; dreaming, not of orgies, but of libraries; deciding it's probably too late to give up smoking, then deciding Things are closing in for me. Other people notice it, too. A man noticed it in the women's shoe department of Top Shop last week. I had gone with my daughter on a Shoe Expedition, and I had expired on one of those low pouffes you always find in fashion shops. After a while a man came over.

"Are you all right, sir?" he said. He had a radio and boots and I imagine he was Store Police.

"I'm fine," I said.

"No, can I be of any assistance? Is everything all right?"

"Yes," I said. "Everything's fine."

He looked at me dubiously. "I am with my daughter," I said.

"Ah," he said, and clomped off to Police the Store. And it occurred to me that he thought I was a pervert, the sort of creepy, middle-aged pond- life who hang around shoe shops, sitting on low pouffes with their eyes at crotch-level, eyeing up the girls as they slink back and forth, wiggling, or bend over to adjust their ankle-straps, or extend a long coltish limb in a graceful gesture of invitation, they are gagging for it, she led me on, Your Honour, she was deliberately inciting me by going out to buy shoes with her clothes on and underneath her clothes she was wearing her body, she was asking for it, Not Guilty!

So I had a bit of a peer around, a speculative wetting of the lips, a bit of a shufti, try on a leer for size, you know the routine, yes you bloody do. And ... nothing. What I saw was young women, thinking about making themselves look nice or trying to look nice or making the best of themselves, young women who were loved or will be loved or had been or at least hoped to be, and even the silliest of them had plans, wanted homes and someone to care for and maybe babies. Even the cleverest of them. And I couldn't see them as candy, but as the future. They and their children would carry things on when I'm gone; entirely unaware of my existence, they would, all the same, make sure that things didn't just ... wink out when I am dead.

It's so predictable; the turning of the seasons, the tiring of the heart. One day someone in a white coat will say, "I'm sorry ... we did everything we could" and it will be me they're talking about, and I hope I have time to thank ... whoever for the young women spending their money on shoes so that they look nice and find someone and keep things going when I'm gone. It's closing in for me. It's closing in for all of us. But pop down to Top Shop and it won't seem so bad.