Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. But also out of sight is out of mind. Well, which is it wise old sayings? As usual you want it both ways, wanting your cake and the other. In a crisis, judge which one to use, I suppose. It takes a little insight and tact to choose the right one for the right person. Like I told Sally when George moved further away, 'Absence etc.' but when he cheated on her, 'Out of sight…' Not sure how much either helped in the circumstances, but a best friend has to say something, although saying the wrong thing could lead to being the best friend no more, stuck in a bush rather than at hand as it were.
But which saying is truest? Enough of depends. We are talking about ultimates here. Clearly, no pot would call a kettle black unless it wanted stones through its glasshouses. When there are too many cooks you might as well go lie on the couch or order take-out. Also, a beachside pendant is not going to make you rich however golden it glistens. But absence, that is something else. I figure a little absence can indeed serve as a reminder but too prolonged and you are going to be replaced, people being what they are.
All this pondering took me back to my schooldays and my brush with the saying, enough is as good as a feast. In my younger days, I lived on a curving terrace of red brick which backed on to the High Street of the town. Many of the neighbours relied on me to run errands for them. For Mrs. Davies half a pound of butter, for Mrs. Price a cotton reel from a market stall, for Mrs. Lewis-bottom-house a pint of milk. And from each of them a few coins or a breezy 'Keep the change'. Credit where credit is due after all. I used to save the money and go to the local newsagent to buy books. Not that there were many to choose from. At the front, newspapers and confectionary, but behind a bead curtain a few books, old and dusty on a few rough shelves. It was here that I found the Kay Tracey mystery, 'The Six Fingered Glove' which I stayed up reading by the light of the streetlamp.
One day on those shelves I found a leather edition of 'The Essays of Elia', pocket-sized and in its own cardboard case. I imagined carrying it in my blazer pocket into which it would easily fit. I decided that I had to have the mini volume and so hid it at the back of the bookcase until I could afford to buy it. Not that I needed to bother for no one else would have been likely to yearn for it. Another flower withering away unseen.
I worked harder than ever on the odd jobs, even cleaning windows until I had the princely sum of a guinea. I gleefully handed it over to Mr. Leach, the newsagent, and took my treasure home where I read all the essays where Lamb sets out to disprove well-known sayings. Later, I carried it like a little blue Bible to school.
Imagine my delight, dear reader, when my English teacher announced that every pupil was going to give a talk recommending a book. I was ecstatic at the prospect of speaking about my new purchase. Several weeks passed as I listened patiently to talks about Agatha Christie, Louisa Alcott and even Enid Blyton. Eventually it was my turn and I chose to read from Lamb's essay 'Enough is good as a feast', throwing in a potted history of his sister's madness, matricide and his unrequited loves. I looked at my class-mates' seeming indifference and wondered if I should have chosen one about not throwing pearls to swine but I continued with as much gusto as I could muster. I paused only to accept questions. Some were seeking facts, others opinion but then Samantha overcame her extreme boredom and asked, 'Why has he called it that, when he should have called it enough is not as good as a feast?'
I probably rolled my eyes before saying, 'If you had been listening you would have known that he is setting it up to be disproved.'
An audible in-take of breath from the class. Samantha was not someone to take a slight lightly. My English teacher looked up from the notes she was making, 'Don't patronize your audience.' she said, with an expression I failed to read.
When the grades came out for our talks, I only got a B and the girl who chose 'Arabian Nights' got an A+. It did not seem fair. I had been counting my chickens, forgetting about Pride and riding roughshod. Not one to sit on the laurels but more inclined to wear them, I accosted my teacher about my grade and why the Essays of Elia had not charmed the savage beasts of my class. She raised one eyebrow, looked at me quizzically and explained that a speaker doesn't bite the hands that feeds, even if those hands don't appreciate a feast. Well words to that effect.
I blamed Samantha for my low grade for a long time until my best friend Janice told me roundly not to fret about spilt milk and to fight another day. This cheered me up and next time I got my A plus by being extremely polite. As manners, it seems, cost nothing. That is not quite true as sometimes they cost gritted teeth. By that time Samantha had moved to another school and I had almost forgotten her. However, I would like to make it clear to all persons that her absence did not affect my heart and frankly, like the essays themselves, she was out of my mind. Until, that is, I was going through a box of books, and came upon a little blue volume still in its cardboard case, opened it and read the said essay. It made me smile for I still beheld its beauty and it was a joy even if it didn't get me an A grade. Well you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need to move on. The Rolling Stones said that, so it must be right.
Jude Brigley is Welsh and has been a teacher, a performance poet and an editor.