Jenny went home to Glasgow during the Easter holidays. Paul went home to his village in the West Highlands for a few days. His parents were glad to see him, but disappointed that he didn’t intend to stay longer. He told them that he had a lot of study to do and it was easier in Aberdeen. In reality he wanted to continue campaigning. Jenny had wanted his parents’ number, but he had come up with an excuse. She wondered if he’d even told them about her. Most of all she just wondered why he hadn’t wanted her to phone him at home. Paul, too, felt the awkwardness, but he brushed it off by pointing out that she could contact him by e-mail and facebook, and mobile phone. She reminded him that mobiles frequently didn’t work where there were mountains all around. In the end he came up with another implausible excuse and she decided not to push it. He had a reason and he didn’t want to tell her what it was. It shouldn’t have niggled her, but it did and throughout her time in Glasgow this small thing stayed at the back of her mind.
She spent her time doing the small amount of work she needed to do for her course. Effie had told her about how finals had been thirty years or so before, where everything depended on seven or eight three hour exams and the only aspect of continuous assessment was perhaps a dissertation. All that had changed. Perhaps, it was for the better, perhaps not, but Jenny knew that little actually depended on what she had to do now in the next couple of months. Her First class degree was all but assured, not least because the department expected it and had marked her accordingly for the past few years. Still she went over what might crop up in the couple of short exams she would sit, and she put the finishing touches to the last essay that she would have to write.
She continued her Russian studies by watching some of the films that Petr and Effie had lent her. She wondered if perhaps Paul might like to watch one or two with her. She drilled herself on grammar continually doing endless exercises. The subject interested her because she found it so difficult. She’d had a glance, despite being told not to, at a page of Dostoevsky in Russian. It had been much, much harder than she had thought it would be. With other languages she had got the basics of the grammar and then learned by reading literature, looking up words in a dictionary. This worked well enough with Danish, but had proved impossible with Russian. They seemed to use a different grammar in literature, and you couldn’t even find the words in the dictionary as the forms the words took were often unfamiliar as if they were trying to hide themselves; and even if you could find them it was frequently unclear quite what they meant. Sentences went on and on, and you just got lost half way through. There were hordes of tiny little words which were used to join the sentence together, but no dictionary could tell you what they meant. This was a challenge, thought Jenny. This was a subject worth studying.
When she got back to Aberdeen, there were signs of spring. Paul had suggested they go to Duthie Park, and on the first nice Sunday they did. They decided to get their by walking along the river Dee.
“I’ve never even been this way,” said Jenny.
“What? Along the river?”
“I’ve never been here at all. Nor to Duthie Park.”
“Don’t you like plants?”
“I like them well enough. I just had no reason to go.”
“But you do now?”
“You asked me. That’s reason enough, don’t you think?”
The route didn’t start of promisingly, passing some factories and small businesses, but soon they reached the river. There were some boathouses for rowing and one or two teams of rowers on the river.
“Did you ever try that?” asked Jenny.
“I’m not that sporty,” said Paul. “It strikes me that they’re pretending they got into Cambridge.”
“I haven’t done any sport since school.”
“What did you do then?”
“Oh, you know, hockey, netball.”
“You went to a private school, didn’t you?”
“Well, sort of. It wasn’t that expensive and I lived at home.”
“While I boarded, but it was a comprehensive.”
“You could hardly have travelled there every day. It would have taken half of the day.”
“How do you remain so slim then?”
“I exercise in my room.”
“Well, I have a small step that I use for my legs, and I have a small weight with a handle that I use for my arms. You swing it. It’s pretty good.”
“Well, it certainly works, Jenny.”
She pressed his arm and smiled at him very pleased with his complement.
“It also means I can learn a bit about music.”
“What music ,Jenny? I didn’t think you liked music. You never want to go to clubs.”
“I don’t really understand that sort of music. It’s probably my lack, but I just can’t really get into it.”
“What sort do you like?”
“I like two sorts. I like songs with words that have some sort of meaning, you know, folk songs or songs from shows and then I like modern classical music.”
“So, who in particular?”
“I’m listening to Bob Dylan at the moment and Messiaen.”
“You were born in 1993, weren’t you?”
“So you’re listening to a guy who was first popular thirty years before you were born. I’ve never even heard of the second one.”
“Have you listened to Dylan?”
“One or two things. Strange voice. And very, very old-fashioned.”
“I know. It’s one of your best qualities. What does modern classical music sound like?”
“I’ll play you something later if you like. But you need to practice.”
“What sort of practice?”
“You need to practice how to listen to it. What classical music do you like?”
“I don’t really know. I don’t have very much. Some Mozart maybe or Beethoven.”
“You need to build up to the modern stuff, you sort of need to start at the beginning and take it in stages. Messiaen is where I’ve reached just now, but there’s more.”
“It sounds like hard work, Jenny.”
“I know, but it’s worth it.”
“Well, I’m willing to give it a go. It would be nice to share something.”
The Park itself was looking splendid in the sunshine with spring flowers having finally arrived in the northern part of Scotland so much later than in the southern parts of the UK, anyone would have thought it was a different country.
“I wish I’d come here before, years ago. I wish you’d taken me then, Paul.”
“I do, too. I know we don’t agree on everything, but we agree on wanting to be together. I wish we’d been together for years.”
“We will be. I very much hope we will be,” said Jenny.
“Let’s go into the Winter Gardens.”
“But it’s not winter?”
“I know, but it’s the best bit of the park. The rest is like any other nice park in Aberdeen.”
They went in and passed slowly through the various parts of the Winter Gardens. There were rooms with hot house flowers that were humid and very warm. There were rooms with cactuses and rooms with all sorts of other plants that had no business growing in the north of Scotland.
“Do you know anything about plants, Jenny?” asked Paul.
“Not a thing really. I’m not very scientific. What about you?”
“Not that much, but we used to go to Inverewe gardens when I was a kid.”
“That’s somewhere over on the west coast right?”
“It took forever to drive there, but it was worth it. I remember there was what looked like giant rhubarb and palm trees. Stuff like that.”
“How on earth does it grow?”
“There must be some sort of warmer spot. Something to do with the Gulf stream. My mum is into plants. She loves gardening and so I picked up a bit here and there.”
“What does she do? You never talk about your parents.”
“She teaches in a little school. She taught me, in fact.”
“My! I don’t think I’d fancy that. Was she strict?”
“Not especially. But you couldn’t really leave school behind at the end of the day.”
“What about your dad?”
“He teaches, too, only he teaches climbing and sailing. Things like that.”
“They sound like fairly unusual highlanders.”
“I suppose so.”
“Did they meet there?”
“I wasn’t around,” joked Paul.
“But did they move to where you live now? From where?”
“We’ve been there as long as I can remember.”
Jenny knew not to push the conversation further. It was strange, but there was something that Paul was reluctant to discuss. She wondered what it was and why he obviously didn’t trust her enough to talk about it. She felt slightly hurt, but then reflected that there were all sorts of reasons why someone might not want to talk about his family. Perhaps, his mother had remarried, perhaps, he’d been adopted, perhaps who knew what. It was probably something mundane. More likely still he just didn’t like talking about a place he was glad to have escaped, though he clearly thought the world of his parents. She brushed it off, but thought she’d continue to probe just a little as they got to know each other better. After all, at some point she hoped to meet his parents.
They found a bench in a quiet spot surrounded by some of the most colourful plants.
“It’s a lovely spot to sit,” said Jenny.
“I’m really glad you like it. I’ve only been a couple of times myself.”
“You bring all your girls here?”
“Actually, come to think of it, I’ve been here hundreds of times with hundreds of girls. I’m in the process of building a harem.”
Jenny laughed, but she wondered who he had brought before. It wasn’t the sort of place you went on your own. It was a good way of fencing to exaggerate in the way that Paul had.
“Do you think the man who has the harem is happy?”
“I don’t know. I suppose so. Most men would think it’s a pretty ideal situation.”
“You mean you’re surrounded by the most beautiful young women and you can choose a different one every night.”
“What’s not to like?”
“Do you think there were ever harems that worked the other way round? Where there was one woman and dozens of handsome young men?”
“I’ve no idea. Are you planning to set one up?”
“It just intrigues me. It’s such an unlikely idea, because I don’t think any woman would want it. Yet the reverse probably appeals at some level to every man.”
“It appeals to something instinctual, something superficial. But in the end it’s not what men want either. Not if they’ve got any sense. It’s a temptation for men. Something we think we want. But it’s not really what we want. Does that make sense?”
“I think so, though it all sometimes seems mysterious to me.”
“I’ve been reading the book you gave me.”
“The Brothers Karamazov?”
“What do you think?”
“Oh, I’m not even a quarter of the way through it. I like it on the whole, but it’s pretty tough going.”
“Which brother do you like?”
“I’m not sure I like any.”
“But if you had to choose?”
“Maybe Ivan. He seems very clever. What about you?”
“You’re going to study this book?”
“Not only that one, but some of the others, too.”
“Can I ask why?”
“Well, I think they have more to say about faith than any other books I’ve read, apart from a Danish writer also from the 19th century.”
“And you’re studying Danish to read him?”
“I can read him already well enough, though I can’t really speak the language.”
“Why not just read it all in English?”
“I don’t think that’s really possible, if you want to understand properly. You can go so far, but you’re far too dependent on the translator.”
“Surely the translators are good enough?”
“They are. But Russian is a long way away from English. The tendency is either to be too literal or just to paraphrase. Either way you sometimes miss something vital.”
“But I don’t see what good it will do in the end, Jenny. You’re not going to be able to prove anything about faith, are you?”
“Oh, no! I’m certainly not trying to do that.”
“Then what are you trying to do?”
“Perhaps, I’m showing a path that people may want to explore if they are interested in finding faith, or more accurately in being given it. It is a gift, you know. You can’t get there on your own.”
“I like the kindness of Christianity; I like the morality, the ideas about sharing. I can see why you like Alyosha. Wouldn’t he approve of socialism? Wouldn’t that bring Christianity to the world in the only way that’s really possible?”
“During the Soviet Union Dostoevsky was rather frowned upon. It wasn’t so much that he was banned as discouraged. There’s a reason for that.”
“But the Soviet Union was a distortion of socialism.”
“Agreed. But the point of Dostoevsky is not that we achieve Christian ideals politically. Rather we achieve them individually.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If you make me love my neighbour by means of law, it ceases to be a matter of morality at all.”
“Do you think it’s moral that we have food banks in Scotland?”
“I’d rather we didn’t.”
“We’re campaigning to get rid of them.”
“I know you are. You’re doing what you think is right. And that’s as it should be.”
“So how would you get rid of them?”
“Through kindness and generosity, and good management of the economy.”
“You think the Tories are running the economy well. You must have seen the poverty in Glasgow?”
“Don’t let’s argue, Paul. We’re not going to agree especially if we attack each other. But we can find a common ground that can be discussed.”
“I’m sorry, Jenny. I’m not attacking you.”
“I know you’re not, you feel passionately about what you’re campaigning for. Who am I to say you’re wrong? We just disagree. Time will tell who is right.”
Paul felt once more her reluctance to argue with him. It was just slightly humiliating. She never got worked up like he did and when they got to a point when he was sufficiently worked up, she just ducked the argument. He knew she was trying to prevent them falling out, but sometimes he wished she would just give him both barrels and tell him what she really felt. At least that would have shown she respected him as an opponent. Then again he also knew she was right. If they became opponents what would be left of their love?
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: