James woke – notes

‘James woke’ – notes

Fit and active 55 ish. Early forced retirement. Modest independent means. Banker, finance, PR, marketing, advertising, IT management, civil service senior management, …. Left behind by restructuring, technology, young turks with MBAs or paid for internments, mergers and downsizing, recessions and loss of contracts, … Does not necessarily relate his immediate experience and problems to larger social, economic, political and cultural changes.

With impending leaving, re-evaluates the job, its ethics, its usefulness, the contribution it makes. Also sees his friends who are all colleagues in a different light. Work and striving for success have dominated his life. He learns to despise his colleagues and his life so far and therefore, by association, himself.  Leaving work means losing structure, meaning, status, identity, a crumbling world view and set of attitudes. But also his self image and identity – the sort of person he is and has been.

Possibly divorced in his 30s or early 40s. Estranged from ex wife and children. Marriage wrecked by total dominance of his work and financial commitments.  Scope for some sort of reconciliation in the story.

Total release and stress free to begin with in new life. But gradually sees this as not viable for another possible 35 years or so. Needs a complete reinvention of self and life style, of satisfactions and meaningful existence. Danger of isolation, turning in on self, increasing bitterness and cynicism.

Cottage rented in a small hamlet of 3 or 4 dwellings. Manages to keep contact with other residents to a minimum and restricted to ‘nice days’ and ‘good mornings’.  Gradually feels at home but realises that drifting and passing time without any particular goals or objectives, without any broader purpose or meaning to life is becoming a new source of oppression and stress. Tendency to focus on the past, its betrayals and disappointments, its inauthenticity and meanness.  Lack of identity and purpose, increasing self obsession and isolation makes contact with others threatening and stressful. Story line: Some occurrence to force development of interactions and relations with others in the community needed. Via an accident or some occurrence that necessitates some discussion and cooperation perhaps. Need to develop our knowledge and picture of James through conversations with others, their observations, impressions, ‘theories’ etc. about him.

One other inhabitant is an elderly sprightly woman, retired widow of a Don. Late 70s perhaps or early 80s? A privileged and sheltered background of entertainment and ornamentation as well as running a home and doing appropriate voluntary work connected with the university and its community. On his death she realised her life had been dominated by the lifestyle and social circles of Academia which she now realised she was only included in via marriage. She also sees ‘high table’ university life more realistically and cynically than before from her new perspective as outsider. She also questions her previous identity and meaning of life. Retires permanently to what had been their second home in the Peak District.

Very different backgrounds and experiences. Very different lifestyles, world views and understandings. Both to some extent victims of broad social changes that have impacted on their lives differently. Shared feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction. Similar ‘existential’ problems. Does she have children or surviving family?

Background to their relationship. A near generational difference than spans the end of the old post war society of restructuring, recovery, expansion and confidence and the ‘post industrial’ brave new world of individuality, independence, entrepreneurship, ‘no society’,  dismantling the welfare state and the ‘post war settlement’,  changes in the ‘jobs for life’ economy and the increasing insecurity of life generally.

Plot and story development: do they share reminiscences? Do they support each other and become important parts of each other’s lives? Not in a romantic way. Do they gradually learn to see the other’s point of view, the validity of their own but different experience and their understanding of it? Is there any concluding redemption? Do they both learn to see their previous lives in a broader context that leaves them with some self respect and intimations of what their lives can still be and achieve?

Who else is in the hamlet? Perhaps a ‘child of Thatcher’ who has made good and runs a business from home or who has a second home in the hamlet? Or an old retired farm labourer? Or a retired high ranking police officer? Or just incidental but plausible characters who play minor roles in the story?

James woke

James woke to the sound of the breeze rustling the ivy outside the open bedroom window. Blinking in the bright sun light, mottled and shifting as the net curtains fluttered, he wondered briefly where he was. He had only been in this cottage in the Derbyshire hills for little more than three weeks but in his half waking moments he was still in the Leeds apartment where he had spent the last 7 years and he was only just getting used to the muted sounds of the country side, or at least the relative quiet in the absence of traffic noise, sirens and burglar alarms. With the luxurious realisation that he had no commitments that day, no deadlines or others’ expectations to meet, or fail to meet, he relaxed more heavily into the bed and let the relief flood his body. So far his new found structure-less and anonymous life had been one of complete mental and physical relief.  He got up when he felt like it – sometimes at first light, sometimes in time to eat a simple lunch. Some days, particularly if the weather was unsettled, he would read and doze on and off all day. But so far it had been a good June and most days he had taken to walking for an hour or two exploring his immediate surroundings or riding his bike along the local byways and tracks, always heading off further away from the nearby town a few miles away. He had cycled to Wirksworth three times so far but had confined his activities to shopping for the few modest provisions he needed. He supposed he would join the local library in due course but for the moment he was keen to explore the unknown psychological landscape of anonymity and uncommitted solitary living. He had travelled down by car but this had stayed in the ramshackle wooden garage at the end of the short grass drive to the rear of the cottage. He had brought a lap top and a few books along with a scant wardrobe of casual clothes. So far the lap top had not been turned on and in any case there is no internet connection at the cottage. He had had no contact with old friends and ex-colleagues. He had only had the most perfunctory and utilitarian exchanges with checkout staff. He had no television or radio. He had not read a newspaper since his arrival at the cottage. His isolation was complete and, for the moment at least, this was just the way he wanted it.