Saturday 9th August 2013
KURT Vonnegut is the kind of writer I get on with. He tells it like it should be would be could be – if only we were all as smart, cynical, humanist and humorous as he. Many of his books include recurring phrases: ‘So it goes’, ‘And so on’, ‘Hi Ho’… and so on.
That evening in Bridgnorth, Kurt was busy elsewhere, so the Tralfamadorians sent an angel in his stead. I learned the angel’s name, but remembered it only as far as the next afternoon, when I met his grandson. It matters not, for all persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.
The encounter started with an email I nearly never read, for the NSA, Google Protection Service, or God, decreed it spam: the word ‘poetry’ in the subject line no doubt proving its subversive content. So it goes.
My young correspondent had painted each word a different colour. Children, who are born to care, do that kind of thing, when given permission not to behave like pretend adults.
She and I had to go through proper channels, but the grown-ups agreed to let me visit her school with my playground of words. Thus I journeyed to Bridgnorth under warm skies, arriving far too early, but a man in my position knows not to rely upon catching the last bus to a town you’ve never visited before, so you take the previous one, just in case.
In his last book, A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut talks of the pleasure of walking to the Post Office to buy a single stamp. I believe he is right about that.
I sat on a bench and spoke to passers-by. Hi ho.
A wooden sign with an arrow led me down back streets to the cliff railway and there, in the entrance – for the funiculaire was still open, at ten minutes to eight – stood the angel, smoking a pipe.
We conversed. He told me much of his own and the town’s history. I lit a cigarette. He wore a white shirt and navy-blue tie. I said that the terraced cottages and cobble-stones reminded me of seaside towns, at which he nodded.
A bell clanged, summoning him to press buttons and pull levers that operated winches that sent one car down empty while another ascended, conveying a young couple up from the embankment beside the river below. Clean machinery sang in the clean evening air.
There are time machines all over the place… once you learn where to look.
Vonnegut was a lifelong smoker of unfiltered cigarettes: a habit he described as ‘a classy way to commit suicide’. He died in 2007, after falling down a flight of stairs at home.
So it goes.