Alec Hargreaves left his office at five on the dot as he had for the last thirty one years and headed for the station. It was a mild Spring evening, filled with warm eddies and crosscurrents, the leaves half returned, and there was a mixedness to things that gladdened his heart further, that made him feel, though he was himself closing in on the end of his days, 79 years old this very September, still as intoxicated by the sense of change and new beginnings, the burgeoning and ripening of the world’s urge to fullness, as he had been as a boy.
How time flies. He took a deep breath on what had once been called Charing Cross road. And yet what monumental things he had lived through, they had all lived through. He was an old man, suddenly, to his own surprise, and still thought in terms of Nations perhaps in a way that younger generations, his grandchildren simply did not. He felt, on that still promissory, intoxicated breeze, all of Europe and beyond, the USSR, the Peoples’ Rebublics of the Far and Middle East, The Great Seventy Percent of the earth’s surface, the billions of people gathered together in Universal Association, breathing freely as one. In this too he had played his own small part.
Now he would retire, spend a relaxing summer with his family watching the Olympics he had been instrumental in organizing, the summit of a career spent in public service and in which he took enormous pride.
To his surprise the Underground station was piping a piece specifically composed for the Olympics by Grisom. Personally he liked it, though it had inevitably been attacked for containing nostalgic and sentimental even kitsch elements by Stainhope, Wilding and others, along with the usual complaints about the Cult of the Individual Composer. It was, admittedly, not as radical as the theme to the Moscow Olympics had been, a colossal, symphonic work generated and modulated through a series of feedback loops controlled and essentially composed by the peoples thronging the stadium themselves, huge, multicolored loops of noise, constantly in flux, a series of eight interlocking and rotating rings of densely polymerized sound, a sonic analogue of the Olympic flag. But then the Russians were still so far ahead of everyone else, had experienced such a radical renaissance over the past twenty five years that they threatened to eclipse not merely their own contemporaries in the Socialist sphere but seemed now to have attained a level of social, aesthetic, technological and political sophistication such that almost all prior cultures were thrown into stark relief. To go to Moscow and attend those extraordinary games and then to know that Britain was next had been truly daunting.
And so here we are, he thought, a small nation but one which has managed finally to propel itself fully into the stream of History. Small, but he believed, content, fully realized, a country in which the long trudge toward a mature, full modernity had been realized. Though not without a cost. Not without dark periods, nor without blood. As he waited for the train to the central interchange he chatted to a young girl who recognized him from the News and struck up conversation, asking about the progress on the games and explaining that she had helped to work on part of the development for the materials used in the moulding of the great resin shell that formed the stadium. He expressed his admiration for her work on the project and wonder at the technology that had allowed them to create so large a building as a single, seamless, biodegradable whole. In his youth such things had seemed impossible dreams. As had many things that had now come to pass. He asked about the music. Did she feel it was too British? She responded that it was perhaps impossible to fully and absolutely purge reactionary historical influences from culture, at least at this stage, a mere thirty years into the British Republic. Then she smiled, a forgiving, affectionate smile, you have your attachments she seemed to say, at your age one becomes nostalgic, we understand. She was young, recently graduated from Glasgow School of Biometallurgy. Hargreaves took immense satisfaction in talking to the young, enjoyed how much more committed and selfless, how much more united and certain they were than his own generation had been.
He was due to have a final inspection of the stadium in Birmingham the next day, more a ceremonial event than anything now the work was completed, which he looked forward to but also regretted having agreed to somewhat, as his grandson was visiting at the moment, back from Scotland for a few weeks and how much more time he might have to spend with him was uncertain. Perhaps he could take Scott with him. He was so like his father, physically, in manner, that it was almost as if he and Mary had had their own, brave, lost son restored to them. Not without blood, indeed. Not without sacrifices.
Alex Hargreaves was a little rueful on the train to Birmingham, which took just under half an hour, though back in the house in Handsworth his spirits immediately lifted.. He enjoyed a good natured debate on the ongoing struggles in the United States with Scott and his friend David, quizzed David, freshly back from a student exchange in California on what they all teasingly referred to as his new American girlfriend, drank a dry sherry, grew sleepy, retired to bed at ten thirty with a slight stomachache and passed away peacefully in his sleep at exactly three fourteen a.m., in his own bed, in his own home, in the country, among the people he had built his life around, his beloved grandson in the spare room next to his, his wife of fifty-seven years, Mary, sleeping softly beside him in a world transformed beyond all recognition from the one he had been born into.
All as he would have wanted.