I took Monty for a walk in West Hampstead cemetery yesterday. I don’t know what it is about cemeteries that always makes me think of death, etc, but anyway, I was sitting on a bench feeling sorry for myself, thinking about my own demise, and of all the terrible things that will happen before it. I’m in a bit of a trough at the moment. I can’t sleep. My teeth hurt. Writing is hard and slow, and also shit. The cricket season has finished, leaving me with memories mainly of disappointment. My hopes that I’d acquire interesting new abilities and skills as I aged has proved illusory: I’ve never learned the trombone or the fandango or how to speak foreign languages beyond the universal “uno biera por favore, garcon”. Quite the reverse, in fact. Those few gifts that I once had are slipping away. Where once I could fart the whole of God Save the Queen, I now can manage only the first note. So there I was, staring blankly out over the graves, my fat arse extruding itself through the slats of the bench, when I heard above me a twittering. I recognised the sound as the calls of long-tailed tits – they chatter to each other as they travel around in their winter flocks. I stared up into the branches of the scruffy willow over my head. It took a few seconds to find the first of them, but then the others came into focus. Two, five, ten, maybe more. Usually, you only see them as they skip ahead of you through the trees, never still for a second. But this flock stayed right over me for a couple of minutes. I’ve always loved long-tailed tits, since I first saw them in my Ladybird Book of Garden Birds. We didn’t get them in my part of Yorkshire – the flat and barren dank prairie-land of the Vale of York, so they seemed impossibly exotic and glamourous – tiny birds of paradise. I lived in my Ladybird Books, back then. I had a big collection, neatly lined up along the back of my nature table (the top of the chest of drawers in the bedroom I shared with my brother). A pheasant’s wing. A seahorse. What else? I can’t remember. By the time the flock had dematerialised, their calls still reaching faintly from off-stage, and then silence, I realised that my face was stiff from smiling: you can’t be sad when a flock of long-tailed tits are dancing around your head.