‘This fall was special. I have never before, of my own physical volition, flown’
Ifell over last week. Not the most arresting sentence I’ve ever written but there’s falling over and there’s falling over. This fall was out of the ordinary. In the first place it was actually my wife who fell, dragging me down after her. My fault for being such interesting company that, as we strolled along, arm in arm, she didn’t notice the crater in the pavement. Down she went, anyway, and down I went after her, except that I didn’t immediately drop. So afraid of falling on top of her was I that I somehow contrived to fly over her and hover momentarily mid-air before landing safely – by safely, I mean safely for her – a foot beyond her. So there’s the first way in which this fall was special. I have never before, of my own physical volition, flown. I am an earthbound man and was an earthbound boy. As an infant I screamed when my father threw me to my uncles. At school I wouldn’t high-jump, longjump, somersault or trampoline. I was put in detention by the gym master after refusing to go over the vaulting horse. For saying, “I’m happy to go round it, sir” I was put in detention again. And once you’ve got through your schooldays without flying, you never have to think of doing it again. Yet here I was, decades later, sailing through the air with the lightness of a teenage gymnast.
While I was up there, a line of misremembered poetry went through my head. “I fell twice before my fall.” Only after landing did I realise that what I was hearing was Emily Dickinson’s “My life closed twice before its close”. What I haven’t said is that this was my second fall in as many weeks. Thank you for asking, but no, there is nothing wrong with my balance or my muscles and I am not overdrinking. It’s just that I have much to think about and the streets of London are a minefield.
A fall that reminds you of a good poem is a fall to be thankful for. But it wasn’t only a poem I heard as I flew: I saw a painting, too. Man soaring above his wife – what did that remind me of? I should have known, since we were on our way to an exhibition of 50 lithographs illustrating Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Ben Uri gallery in St John’s Wood. Chagall. Of course. Out of precisely that loving concern that Chagall painted again and again, I’d become a bird.
I recommend the show. Chagall was 88 when he produced the lithographs, so he has a keen feeling for Prospero’s farewell arewell to his art. Go and see it. But ut beware the craters.