Driving to Chalford this morning, listening to Start the Week on BBC Radio 4, I am intrigued by a concept in a book of short stories neuroscientist David Eagleman. In Sum, one of forty possibilities that he suggests for the afterlife is that when you die, you may choose your favourite experience from your life, and this becomes your experience in perpetuity – a kind of Groundhog Day of your choosing.
What would mine be? It’s a case of being careful what you wish for. The day my daughter was born might seem an obvious candidate, but it involved major surgery, and once was more than enough. The following night might be a contender: I lay awake all night long, gazing with wonder through the clear plastic sides of her hospital cot, transfixed by the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But the perpetual crying of other babies dotted about the ward might get me down after the first decade or two.
Other achievements that gave me great pleasure, though in a different league, include producing the village youth group’s fashion show, years ago, and later their talent show, including what I thought was a sublime sketch, penned by me, called “The Simpsons Go to the Hawkesbury Show”. The children’s acting was fabulous and the costumes priceless – who’d have thought a blue plastic carrier bag could be so cleverly transformed into Marge Simpson’s big hair? Being on stage myself, in amateur dramatic shows, was great too – but even the best shows would pall after endless repeats.
But for an experience that could be perpetually rerun , I’d be tempted to go for the “happy place” that I go to in my head whenever I can’t sleep at night: lying under the apple tree in my back garden, with early summer sunshine filtering through the blossom. It’s my favourite place in the world (and I’m pretty well travelled). Birds always sing in the surrounding mass of trees; there’s the occasional gentle buzz of light aircraft, sometimes doing aerobatics; floral scents waft by on the warm breeze – musky lavender, sweet lilac, rosy apple blossom, heady crab apple, and later in the season, intoxicating nicotiana and night-scented stock. It’s a spot I’d never tire of.
Later, on the way home, I plan how best to use the brief window of time between arriving home and collecting my daughter from After-School Club. I need to make the most of it. Actually, there is no decision to be made. I head for my apple tree. The hammock is still in place from my daughter’s birthday party yesterday afternoon, as are the old curtains that we’d suspended from strategic branches to shield us from the intense sun of the current heatwave. I arm myself with a few books and magazines, but soon I am dozing in the afternoon sunshine, swinging very gently in the hammock. Occasionally a petal or two drifts down from the apple tree and lands on my face. I pick one up to examine in, and discover it is already tinged with brown at the edge. Eternity this isn’t. Better seize the day.