A vision of relaxed professionalism, I had finished briefing the MPs in advance of the following day’s session. After their late night arrival one MP sensibly headed to bed; the other, a scot, was keen to make for the bar and chat. Amidst the trashy glamour of our Montenegrin resort hotel we talked Parliament and politics. I spoke about my time working with parliamentary committees. I spoke with affection for the people, the time, the place. I miss it.
So where do you want to take it? he asks.
I freeze. A life question. Ask me something else, ask me something I can answer, ask me again about the Montenegro electoral system, anything…
A half-truth, then. My time in Parliament was a couple of years back, then health problems intervened. Since then it’s all been about getting better. He nods, encouragingly. How old are you?
For a moment he looks surprised. Clearly I look younger, which is good. But a sense too perhaps in that raised eyebrow that I ought to know more convincingly where I want to take it? That I would know this if I had any talent or ambition at all? Mercifully Sinisa returns at this point and a switch back into planning mode brings escape from having to explain myself further.
But the taste lingers. It will continue to as this next birthday approaches. The extent to which illness has been a barrier. The extent also to which it has become an excuse. An excuse for retreat from the metropolis of ambition to the provinces of surrender.
It is cultural and geographical retrenchment Croatian writer Milovan Danojlvic* has in mind when he writes about a power that makes you ‘forget where you were headed, what you were after, and you don’t want anyone reminding you of it.’ But few phrases I have read this year sum up so starkly what it is to be ill in your early thirties. Incurably ill, before you even reach half time.
*Quoted in Dubravka Ugresic’s brilliant collection of essays Karaoke Culture