the same but different

I heard her before I saw her, a young woman asking the bus driver

for a location he didn’t recognise. I put my hand on her arm and said “Come with me, I’ll show you.”  It was a short walk  and we talked all the way.  She said “Isn’t the weather dreadful ?” (stair rods) and I said I had seen that the UN had announced that global warming was moving faster than they had anticipated. 

She talked about false news on social media and said “But you can’t disagree with them” and I explained how I had gone back to reading the newspapers because television coverage was so stratified and unsatisfactory.  She said the pandemic had caused real suffering – she had been unhappy, put on weight, it had unsettled her relationship ( her terms). I said I was sorry, it was inevitable because it isolates us and we don’t know who we can trust.  I told her about the story of a US cop and his family adopting a boy

“Ronnie, his family and the adoption judges”

horribly burned by his father, who had already killed his mother and sister. I said “And that’s about as far as you can go … white family, black boy  …” She added “And a policeman.”  I shrugged “There are always decent people and that’s all that matters.. “  “And there always were , back in the day” she added.  I nodded.  “Could I have a hug ?” she asked.  “Of course you can” I said and there we were,

elderly white woman and young black girl in a laughing embrace in the middle of the street before I put her on the right bus.  

Way back when all this unhappiness began – and there are so many things running in parallel with the pandemic, the world is in upheaval and it feels like the End of Days – a woman putting her  shopping into her bag at the supermarket remarked (I leave you to imagine the tone) “I suppose this will make some people more thoughtful”  – “Well, I don’t know” I said, Lady Bracknell

well to the fore before I could stop myself.  “I never needed a pandemic to be polite.”

I realised the other day that I am on the one side turning into a mixture of my mother at her most acidulous, and Queen Victoria, and on the other hand – not unusual for the elderly – I have seized on the manners of my youth which were to greet people, to exchange remarks with them, if possible, share a laugh.  You can’t like everybody,  nor can you know their trouble. But some sense of companionship is important, with surprisingly long effect.  As Covid began to ravish the Indian subcontinent,

I asked a bus driver – was the family OK?  He nodded.  “I mean the people at home” I said. He looked at me quite differently – and we have greeted each other ever since.

We don’t have to be new best friends, we don’t have to pretend intimacy but we do have to do what dogs do – sniff and wag at every opportunity.  It is better for us and better for the other person, it’s the only way we can all fight to the next day, surrounded as we are with doubt and confusion.  It costs nothing, it takes little time, you don’t need technology, you can always bale.

It is apparently now cheaper to order online than to go shopping, supplies are marked up for footfall.  And I understand that if you lack money, or you have a family, or you’re trying to do several things at once, you will order on line.  I – alone and responsible for nobody but me – will continue  – masked on the bus and in the shop – to walk, talk, greet, choose for myself, walk some more, carry it home -just as I have done all the way through this.  I am not going to sit at home becoming a “mental health issue” because I have no exercise, no spontaneous social contact, no air. And I don’t know one single person among my small and cherished group of friends who hasn’t made certain personal decisions about how to respond – and we differ, not much, but a bit.

the nice bits

The other day as I came home, I passed one of the neighbouring young men, propped up against a wall, deep in his mobile and  I remarked that he was just posing there to show off his terrific legs and wonderful tan. 


He accompanied me up the street, telling me about a holiday that hadn’t quite worked out, but it would, and various other things.   When we had done that, I said “Now let me tell you something nice” and told him about something that had just happened to me.

“You’ve done that about six times” he said.  “I’m a bit pissed off, something is wrong.  You listen, there is exchange – real exchange – and then you tell one of these stories.  Do you go out looking for them ?”  I shook my head.  “But I am open to them.”  One of the best lessons I imbibed about journalism and indeed life was observation. 


Don’t be afraid to see what you see.  I am fascinated by what people can decide not to notice.  Good or bad, I am interested in it all (which isn’t to say there is always an answer – because sometimes there isn’t).  But you can put the interest down to my mother whom I asked when she was my age, what her secret was.   “Enthusiasm” said Ethel Maude Taylor (nee Burdett, known as Jane) “is worth 100 times any cream that was ever invented.”  And I would add – if you are open to people – and it doesn’t follow that you have to be open to everybody, or that you can’t change your mind – they open to you and the nice bits happen.   And, oh, we need them to.

Let me tell you about the opposite which is not so often mentioned.  I met a couple in a restaurant where I was having lunch and the man asked me to repeat a quote he had overheard, from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  I thought it was the nub of the book, now I would say the nub of the trilogy: “You don’t get on by being original.  You don’t get on by being bright.  You don’t get on by being strong.  You get on by being a subtle crook.”   Applies to women too. His partner asked me to meet her and when we did, I had a very strong feeling of invasion, that I was hearing about a third of what I would be asked to hear, and I didn’t like any of it.  It is impossible to convey in a few words, how repelled I was, I could do it with a gesture.  I didn’t want any of it anywhere near me so I summoned fire.  I am a fire sign and I visualised fire between us, trenches of it. 


And we worked to a polite ending.  He wrote to me, I burned his letter and I never heard from them again.        

But the other day (as I told my young neighbour) there was a woman on the bus shouting in an Asian language into her mobile.  I stuck three stops and then thought there was nothing so all-fired important waiting for me that I couldn’t take another bus, getting off beside a woman to whom I commented about people thinking that because they spoke a foreign language, they could do so at volume.  “I think she was pretty disturbed” she said.  “I saw her in the street before I got on the bus” and I remembered my sister’s loudly demented hostility.



So I got out at Hyde Park Corner where there are several bus stops. Along came one to the stop next to mine and I saw the driver – smack on my sight line – look into her mirror.  Struggling along came a very elderly Oriental, I truly couldn’t determine more, dragging a wheelie full of shopping.  The driver moved the bus with economy and elegance – I have such respect for anybody who can do that, those buses are heavy and awkward – to an adjustment alongside the kerb, lowered the entry platform and waited. She caught my eye and I applauded. 


She grinned.  The would be passenger got in, the driver made sure she was sitting down and gave me a little wave.  I blew her a kiss.  She laughed.  All dumb show.

To be disposed to the good, no matter how small, is a social imperative in a troubled world.  And no moral duty risks your soul.   

Tiger’s paw



the long way round

It was too early to go to where I wanted to go so (untypically) I switched on the television where in a terrific clip from a film about the wildlife of the Andes, I saw

spectacled bears.  According to the voiceover they are the only bears in the northern Andes, not true bears and I have never seen them before.

Then the phone rang.   My son.  Always a bonus.

And eventually I left the house and in walking up the Kings Road , I met a man my own age going in the opposite direction.  Probably Middle Eastern, maybe Sephardi, balding, bespectacled and eating (I caught a whiff of it) the savoury version of an iced bun.

  “You’re really enjoying that “ I said smiling.  “Have a bit “he said.  So I did.  “ More ?”  I shook my head, we beamed at each other for a few seconds and parted.  I can’t remember the last time I had that sort of exchange.   

The thing I missed most in the pandemic – forget nightclubs and pints and pings – was spontaneity.  I am more than willing to co operate in any way I can but there is an emotional impact about planning everything which leads to an emotional cost and you can’t really avoid it.  Which is what I see a lot of behaviour as trying to do  -“just do this” or “do it this way” and you’ll feel better.  And what happens if you don’t ?  

On Sunday morning Matt Rudd in his column in the Sunday Times magazine advised that if you want to feel better, you should ignore everything to do with wellness, delete all your wellness apps -I quote. I bet I am not alone in feeling that yesterday’s slimming industry is today’s world of wellness.

A lot of people will make a lot of money out of it without getting to grips with the basics.  Somebody wrote that the most effective diet was a slow rhythmic movement of the head from left to right.  Too much of wellness – itself a baseborn term – is based on exploiting the need to belong to a select group and that money makes magic.  Speaking as one who is open to all sorts of mind and body connections, it is the marketing of those possibilities, without understanding what they are really about, that bothers me most. 

My happiest moment of contemplation last week was watching a robin ablute in the shallow terracotta bowl

I keep filled with water for the purpose.  Ten minutes of avian self absorption while I watched and thought of nothing but what I could see.  No guru endorsement, no reinvention of self and positively no jade inserts.

Last week was all change in our street.  After several reinfections, and thus rolling periods of isolation, Suse finally tested clear for Covid and went home to New Zealand, leaving me a handpainted card and a magnificent samurai-esque wrap for the winter.  Annie had already left to meet her family in Milan for a deserved holiday with them in Croatia (she’s just done her Master’s).  The pleasant presence of the people opposite is no more – they have removed themselves and their two young daughters to the country and the new people are not yet incoming.

I met a young woman and her mother unloading a car, she has just moved round the corner from the main street (“too noisy”) and bought five doors down. Whether “for sale” or “to let”, there is movement: we shall see.   I overheard one of the estate agents explaining that people who had fled to the country were now returning to London.   Hope springs eternal …  though I always think hope is very expensive.

The heat knocked me sideways, though now I am beginning to think about who will take my books, about cleaning the shelves, about where I have put this or that – movement which seemed impossible under the pot lid of last week.  

I met one of my shopping acquaintance who had the most lovely line for her crumbling spine – “Oh well “ she said “I always knew I should outlive my skeleton.”  I’m not alone in feeling that the structure of our lives has changed and there is only one way – forward.  


Even as I write it, I hear a soft trans Atlantic voice talking about connectivity.  Forget it. 

  What do you think of when I say bridge – Sydney Harbour ?  a game of cards ?   dental work ?   I think of Devil’s Bridge, a beauty spot local to where I grew up.  I think of being driven at 19 into New York City for the first time over the George Washington Bridge.  And I think of all sorts of connections I have made throughout my life with a few words, maybe a gesture and a grin. I thought the other day that if I had a gravestone, I’d like it to read The Last Bridge.

We live in a world of mixed messages.

When I was young,  I started out thinking about enduring emotional edifices and wound up knowing that emotional connection is something much closer to the gestures of the big cats I love.  It’s valid while it happens and it remains valid – unless supplanted by something equally truthful.

We talk about joined up writing

but much more important is joined up thinking.  And if thinking is disjointed, some of that may be to do with plain old human muddle or a missed opportunity,  and quite a lot of it is to do with reasons for keeping ideas separate, where they are  easier politically manipulated or used for commercial opportunity.

I do not listen compulsively to news coverage because I have always read middle of the road reliable national newspapers (under threat), local newspapers (as and when) and responsible journals.  My news listening is reduced because I haven’t found a tone I can commit to and that includes sound, coverage and format.  So I may have missed something.

But in amongst the ghoulish coverage of the flooding in German, Belgium and the Netherlands,  I haven’t heard one connection back to the floods we had last year and before.   Although hundreds of thousands of acres is on fire on the west coast of America, I haven’t heard any comment on how that will affect the global atmosphere.  If you cast your mind back, we didn’t talk about how the burning off of oil affected the atmosphere during the Gulf Wars. 

  We don’t routinely bring together these positives and negatives together for fear of panic in the population.  Though the population on present showing only panics about getting into a football match.  And what was Japan thinking of in going ahead with the Olympics ?

While if those three wealthy tosspots Musk, Branson and Bezos (which sounds like a firm of entertainment industry accountants) want to go to the moon,

then may I hope they do and that they stay there.

On this planet we need trees, to help absorb carbon.  We have to get the plastic out of the water systems before we foul the oceans irretrievably.   But sooner or later – certainly in the comparatively wealthy west – we are going to think about food.  Food distribution in the UK is by truck and we don’t have enough truck drivers.  Food growth, its production and harvesting in this country will push up the prices.  It’s July.  Winter will come.  And erratic weather will compromise food wherever it is grown.  We have no national plan to encourage people to grow food. 

And with regard to the weather, let me tell you that – whether the weather is down to God or man or a lethal mixture – last Saturday is the first time in 77 years

that my skin burned in the UK.  And no I wasn’t lying in a park like a worn out sausage, I was walking through it and I only stopped at the bus stop and for once, for less than five minutes.  Thank heaven for natural yogurt.   Takes the sting out.

“We are all in this together”

is a wonderful idea.  It challenges all kinds of ideas but mostly credibility.  Because if we haven’t got the information, the joined up writing, the connection – then we are still sectioned off into groups which can be used for various kinds of profit.  Actually the human race is both better connected and still widely dissonant – how long, oh Lord, how long ?  

look back in wonder

I suppose I like my recollections under control. 

Putting memory to one side, things like, say, school reunion? No thank you.  Book launch?  All those old acquaintances you thought you would never have to see again, in one room?  Hell.  The personnel of the radio station then as opposed to now?  Maybe half an hour …   Very few people shine back to back with stingy wine.  We all move on, some to better things, some to predictably stuck.   Is it an illusion that I am improved with age?  Maybe I am a pain in the neck….

Ever since I began having treatment on my eye, I have avoided (it’s as good a rationalisation as any) doing any big job at the computer.  The screen is very hard on the eyes.   But yesterday, I looked through the file I keep on annalog.

A middle of the road hoarder, there are things I can’t part with.  The edition of the Just So Stories

from which both parents read to me isn’t going anywhere, though dogeared and old and I may never read it again.  They touched it, it’s magical.  I can’t just give books away but I can thin them.

I do the same with clothes, with increasing severity.  I don’t keep what I don’t wear – much – except for odd things I am unaccountably fond of. 

I go through my few files regularly and throw things away, though the temptation of the desktop files is just to push things into them and forget it.   So yesterday I went through annalog.  I am very glad I did

because it made me grateful all over again, to Linda who pushed me into doing a blog and Dee who puts it up when I have written it and chosen the pictures.  Please don’t write chidingly to me about the technology.  We all have our weak spots, I have so many the soul is freckled.

Here I found the first person who ever wrote in response, against all the perceptions of who listened or read me.  There were the appreciations, the kind thoughts and enquiries, the comments on the substance of what I had written, the wishes that I was still on the radio.  And the heartbreakers – the people who wrote great big beautiful stories about their lives and their experiences and where radio fitted in to that, or why this idea or that image had so appealed to them.

You know that picture in various childhood stories – I am thinking of Aladdin – where the hero or heroine opens a chest of jewels – how they twinkle and shine!

   Jewels you don’t price, you just marvel at …    That was me looking at you and annalog yesterday and feeling enriched in a way that was nothing to do with money.  Kindness and consideration, and the wish to communicate them is beyond price or currency.

It has been a horrible couple of years.   And of course people vary in their different perceptions about what was the worst of it – or what is the worst of it.   The true and sparkling wealth of what I read yesterday is not to do with agreeing, it’s to do with the expression of individual opinion and the room for it.

Like the woman who rang in when we did a programme on being allowed to die, to say that her husband had, she had terminal cancer but she did not want life taken from her.  “How do you manage?”  I asked.  She referred to pain management, prayer and gin.  She was wonderful.

Or the man who heard me opine that loneliness might be something innate, a predisposition, and wrote to me about it.  I don’t think I persuaded him but he was interested enough to ask and at least we both called it what it was – a word which people shy away from – because, I think, it indicates that they fail – they can’t reach you.   If we were both boats,

perhaps for a few minutes I was alongside.

The most wonderful thing about radio audiences is their longterm fidelity.  Over and over in the jewelbox of memory, writers referred to 20, 30years – and not only did they remember, and stick with me – they transferred significant loyalty from one medium to another.  Yesterday was a day when you couldn’t make me feel broke.  You made me rich.  Thank you.


“Do you think there was


already tension between Harry and William before Meghan came along ?”   Thus the breathless intro to yet another article about the Royal brothers.  If tension were completely absent, they’d be unique among siblings…  and as Judi Dench remarked, there is such a thing as good tension.  So this is all conjecture and maybe.  I hope it sells newspapers because I can’t think of any other way it is of use.  And when I mentioned something related to Buns the other day, he said “I don’t care.”  Oh dear.  I was brought up to believe that “I don’t care” was the beginning of the end. 

Though it may have a more flexible meaning too like when you become so saturated with something (like me with the BBC 6.00 news) that you just push it away, and for slightly different reasons, often Channel 4 News not far behind.  IDC doesn’t mean I don’t care about news, it means I don’t care for the package in which it is being offered to me.   I’ll find out about things some other way, via Al Jazeera or RTE or the news channel, my chosen papers, anything reliable (I don’t count social media) that has moved me on from relying on it to reacting against it.

This is not a plea to throw the baby out with the bathwater. 


It is a plea to take the baby (the news) out, put it somewhere warm and dry, drain the water (the setting and the cliches) and re think. The BBC News Channel featured Katty Kay and Christian Fraser together for an hour, notable for the fact that they talked intelligently with an often unexpected range of guests, often US news (Kay was based in Washington DC) and as a watcher I was more interested in the content than the style.

I was electrified when Manny (a devoted teaching assistant to children with learning difficulties) said  he didn’t care in putting his foot down with colleagues but this is a more positive use of the phrase.  Through a combination of factors, he was everybody’s good guy for years to the detriment of his own interests.   No more Sugar Plum, self respect in the ascendant. 


Hooray for him, a constructive don’t care.  But of course he does care – viz and to wit – the sleepless night after he had made the related decision.  What he means is he is ready to consider his part in all this alongside everybody else’s rather than constantly seeing other people’s wishes as necessarily more important.

A fragile woman, complete with stick, was shoved aside in parking by a swollen ego in pink shorts.  When she remonstrated, he was loudly disagreeable.  “I should have turned the other cheek ..’” she wrote to me.  Only if it works for you. 


I can see a context for most things, but honestly, I have never had much sympathy for this cheek turning thing.  I desire above all things to be agreeable if I can but if you set out to be disagreeable with me, I feel free to respond.  Take the high moral ground and put it elsewhere, just as well sainthood was never on my list. 

In Peter Jones on Friday, a shop assistant in his fifties rallied  waiting customers  with unnecessary volume – “Cards !”   I approached, very carefully distanced – such unpleasantness may be catching – and asked “You would like me to pay by credit card ?” He assented – “It’s so much easier.”  I said levelly “It also causes people to spend money they haven’t got.”  “Well” he said “it’s all about self control and power.”   “What an interesting conversation to have in Boris Johnson’s Britain” I said.  “Thank you so much”, took my lemon oil polish and left.   IDC.

There isn’t very much I don’t care about –  not in the sense in which a naughty child might say it.  There are things I don’t care for, which would put me at some variance with large numbers of the population – but I can’t help feeling that once you seriously don’t care about this or that or the other thing, you have closed the door on it.   And I prefer the possibility of the door ajar.



what did I miss ?

Wal (no, not short for Walter: stands for “wonderful and lovely” which is how he likes things to be) has an intern,


the son of friends, who needs to start somewhere.  Wal is a designer who holds with some force that there is only one way to do things, and that’s the right way.  And to this end, he teaches, what to write in pencil (so it can altered without mess), the keeping of all sorts of records, and the writing of thanks.  “That’s nice” said George (17).  Wal explained that you never know when you need goodwill  and that not everybody has a mobile.  “Really ?” said George.   “Some people don’t want them” said Wal, thinking of me.

I had a mobile for just short of three uncomfortable months. 


It was an unnecessary bill.  I have voicemail on the landline, an email address and if you want me, you’ll get me.  Moreover, I am cackhanded, actually almost afraid of technology, can’t use Varifocals so wear two pairs of specs, and loathe the idea of being constantly interrupted – and the sound quality !  Being on demand as Wal is, is like living with a flatulent tree creature, a constant stream of burps, farts, clicks and rings.  (To his credit, he further explained to George that if he didn’t have a business to run, he wouldn’t have one either.)   

There was a newspaper story about an old man who couldn’t get a drink in a newly opened pub because he didn’t have the app. 


Another columnist wrote about not being able to give money away.  But when I went to the new hairdresser (salon the size of a shoebox, room for two clients and two technicians – he’s Brazilian, she is South Korean, best haircut in years, £25 cheaper than the last one)  l was asked if I could pay in cash, which I had come prepared to do and when I did, we all laughed in recognition.  Perhaps it is a new definition of poverty.

We keep on about the damage done to the environment by aircraft – unless of course they’re bringing somebody in to a football match or somebody important has to get somewhere in a hurry,  But  I worked on two liners, four or five years apart, in which time the quality of the cruise declined and so did the quality of the passengers.


  And no matter how many polite notices, we had 16 toilet occlusions in 5 days just because people would put down the pan anything they wanted rid of and the system wouldn’t take it.  Standing on my little balcony at night, I looked at the stars above – and at the furrow of filth being pumped out into the sea below.

It’s like the joy of the dishwasher – which I had when I was married and working and loved the convenience of – till I saw the underside if you haven’t cleaned it rigorously.  All my fault – but it put me right off.  And yesterday I met a neighbour hauling a food processor home on the bus, who told me she takes the car fewer and fewer places because of expense and inconvenience.    I would have built a taxi into the budget but then I lack the wish to suffer.  And I have never driven.

woman driver driving school panic calm retro style pop art. Car and transport


I have never had groceries delivered, not since I was a child at home and the Pybus man came once a week.  I stay away from Amazon and everything else on line as much as I can.  I am not saying you should, only that it is possible to live this way, particularly if you live alone and your time is your own.    I go out, I walk,  I meet people and I carry shopping.  

The other day, coming home from seeing David Hockney at the RA with Howard and the most expensive three glasses of wine in the world (two for him, one for me) courtesy Fortnum and Mortgage, I saw a woman  waiting for a bus.  She beamed at me.  I said “I wish I could remember where I know you from… “   She said  “You don’t.”.  I said “But you smiled at me … “  “ Well,” she said, “you smiled at me.”  “I wish I knew you” I said and we embraced in the street.


Two trees stand side by side blooming white flowers. Beautiful landscape at sunrise. Couple trees lover


getting through

The Times (15.06.2021) front page headlined “ English team playing gesture politics


by taking the knee, says Patel.”  Patel should only see my gesture politics to her and her colleagues, finger rather than knee.  What are people supposed to do in the age of opinion ? 

Then a bit further inside the paper there’s “Men, have you got brain fog ? 


It may be low testosterone”.  Though when you think of all the things that could cause brain fog now (no work, overdraft, disarray of children’s education, strain on personal relationships, holiday confusion and cancellation, any illness other than Covid, and and and – why blame testosterone except for headline value ?      

One of Forum’s experts was a Dr. Robert Chartham , the originator (at least as far as I was concerned) of the idea of the “hooded clitoris” on which he blamed most of female anorgasmia.  Every time we published that phrase, I swear circulation rose.

This is the beginning of what we used to call The Silly Season.


  Apart from the occasional joke and April Fools, the silly season is when summer is upon us (the British are very sentimental about summer because there isn’t much of it) and, it is alleged, we lack real news.  Or the real news happens, but we are too chilled to give it attention, being busy sunbathing and sniffing the roses.  I have always felt that if there isn’t serious coverage, it is probably more to do with DNotices than a drought in world events but it does open the door to  why the young feel baulked at only spending £20,000 on a wedding, and Kelly the lip reading collie.

Getting through is increasingly difficult in a world obsessed with systems.


   When systems work, they are things of wonder – like getting money from the cash machine.  When you get it and it’s no trouble at all, it’s terrific.  When you don’t and the money goes missing, it may involve anything from a 15 minute rescue mission on behalf of the bank, to a full scale form filling omigawd. 

Like so much in modern life, the systems look speedy but probably slow things down.   You can’t write a letter, whether of blame or appreciation, with any expectation that it will get through. I speak less of the post office,


rather of the system that receives the post.  So you may spend the time, stationery and stamp in the knowledge that even if the envelope is delivered, the chances of it reaching the addressee aren’t great.  Nobody cares.  Their minds are elsewhere, party to the systems..

I wrote to a company featured in a reliable newspaper (there are still one or two).  I was asked to sign a Letter of Authority.  I did and returned it in the enclosed business paid envelope.  A month later I emailed the signatory of the supporting communication.  Nothing.   Two weeks after that I rang her.  She had not received the Letter of Authority – “Oh yes, we have had a problem with that.”    And she hadn’t got my email.  Really ?   She sent me a second form and a second letter (thank God for my postman) which I returned a second time, making a note of the date.  Nada.  Ten days later, I rang again.   “I’m away from my desk …” indeed.  Probably in Alaska.  “Leave me a message…” “No messages may be taken for this mailbox.  It is full.”    Clearly a case for gesture, hang the politics.  

You cannot explain how insecure you may feel about personal details floating around.   The prevailing view is everybody else does it. Ergo, you should put up with it.   Just as it’s a pity the gestures of team solidarity have offended against Ms. Patel’s sense of what’s appropriate but as in spite of being at the top of their sporting tree, they are racially abused


or know somebody who is, so isn’t it admirable that they make a peaceful gesture of solidarity ?  

Gesture politics might include Churchill’s V for victory sign, the Duke of Edinburgh’s fingers to the brim of his hat at his last public engagement, Marilyn Monroe’s curtsey upon presentation to the Queen, the first clenched fist salute at the Olympics (John Carlos and Tommie Smith), Shakespeare’s Mercutio biting his thumb.  Feelings conveyed.   

“Myanmar against the military”



in the ear of the beholder

“I like his voice, I just don’t want to have to look at him” said my mother of both Cliff Richard and

Frank Sinatra.   This is the woman who taught me that John Carradine (look him up) was what she called “an ugly goodlooking man” and they were a lot more appealing than the conventionally handsome.  She also said that plain men often have something quite separate to recommend them, good manners, a great voice, beautiful hands or by extension feet.  Ever the realist, she pointed out that this extra attractive thing shouldn’t be taken to be the whole story.  Or in her dry way she’d add “I mean, you can’t marry feet !”

I think of her as I become more and more her daughter. Voices affect me more and more.  Ugly voices or voices being ugly

and of course, each to their own.  It’s no good badmouthing people who speak publicly for a living because clearly what strikes on my ears like a tight shoe in a heatwave doesn’t bother their listeners or they wouldn’t be employed. 

There are several people doing wonderful work with animals and I can only think that the animals must be tone deaf.  (Remember the monkeys with their hands over their ears ?)  Any bird or beast

with human perception would wince as these people enumerate their needs.  They sound like false smiles into the face of a child.   And there is a historian I only have to glimpse to switch off, while I’ve lost count of the things I have tried and thought – can’t listen to this noise – which is exactly what my mother would have said.

Appeal is highly individualised and it changes over time and circumstances.  We say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, well, it’s in the ear too. 

You know how you want to share a track with somebody and you just can’t – they don’t “get” what you hear.  Sound appeal is quite subtle and very precise.  You hear modulations somebody else doesn’t hear.  And it means exactly what you want it to mean. 

When we began the lockdown, I celebrated being the luckiest woman I know, the flat surrounded upstairs and down by friendly people, all younger than me.  It was more than just “smile in the street” friendly – they wrote notes and rang the doorbell and, ignoring slight awkwardness, they made it clear they knew who I was and should I need help, I shouldn’t hesitate to ask, and offered mobile numbers.  

And I took parcels in and they forgot keys (they had had the sense to offer me a spare) and all sorts of bits of neighbourly living.  I mention this because a friend of mine just wrote and in her email remarked that she thought of neighbours as non existent because people move so much more often.  

Coming home last week, one of the young men I call disrespectfully but affectionately “the boys” saw me and asked if he might talk to me about work.  And talk he did, and I to him, and while I wouldn’t have refused if I didn’t like his voice, the fact that I did, helped.  And I heard myself asking him to realise his youth (25), just as my father did when I had my first reverse and thought it was my last at 19 – though now I was able to say how things changed – but it took until I was 30.    

I wonder if seeing people changes how you hear them ?  Lib is going back to New Zealand.

Her papers have expired, and as both her parents have had some ill health while she has been away, she is reconciled to that.  The other morning I waved to her through the window and phone in hand she came racing out to introduce me to her mother on video link in NZ.  I had never done anything like that before, obviously had never heard her mother’s voice before and she was a most attractive person.  But what’s interesting is that if I close my eyes, I can hear her voice – just the wisp of it, presumably because I so like her daughter.  

sweet nothings

I dread being a middle class late middle aged (tick, Wal !) soppy.

The crooning “Aaaaahhhh !” is not for me, nor pink frills or fairytale anything. Other than real fairytales and they are dark.  I have a cherished memory of the leonine Glenda Jackson telling me how much she liked babies (“People just think you don’t, with this face”) and I remember a boy a couple of years older than my probably five year old son asking me “Why do you call him honey ?”   It took too long to explain that I call anything for which I have that mixture of appreciation and affection by some endearment or the other.   I called the bumblebee on the ilex blossom darling. 

“wrong flower but a lovely picture!”

I heard myself, well meaning loon.

There is the man or woman who calls everybody darling – it saves learning names.  Darling simultaneously brings you close and pushes you away  – how useful.  A controlling device, and contextually variable, the difference between  “I say !  Darling …” and “ Now you listen to me, darling …” being several miles over choppy water.

A woman much older than me recently called me ducks- I hadn’t heard that since my mother died in 1988

and I was thrilled.  I was touched to hear Tina Turner describing how her oldest son always began his telephone conversations with “Hello, dear …”   And she wished she had paid more attention when that stopped, which she now felt was an indication of trouble.

There are people who don’t use endearments.   My son’s voice colours what he says. 

  He may use endearments to his other nearest and dearest, but not me and, instead of finding it cold, I find it particular, coloured as I say by the voice itself.  Or there are those who make the endearment out of a word. My big love called me Kid.  Oh I loved Kid.  Kid was private, kid was special, kid gave me a place to be and when I heard him use it to somebody else, my heart sank, chilled.   Was I no longer special ?   Was it no longer special ?  Probably both.  Ouch.

There are people who use endearments as placement as in “Now you listen to me, my dear …”  Older person to younger person, usually but not always man to woman – might be reassuring, might be patronising – might be both.    Endearment can be frankly diminishing “Now, you listen to me, sunshine …”  

There are endearments admired: I once wrote of the very old frail couple who lived up the street when I was a child and Mr. Moss occasionally called me “’unny” .  I loved it, it sounded sweet and appreciative and special.   I doubt very much that my patents ever used “sweetheart” to anybody but me and my sister. 

 And the diminutive (sweetie) is reserved for the very young or vulnerable.

Over time, you learn how you use words.  It will not be like anybody else.  I could analyse for you my broadcast voice and how I used slang and the occasional endearment to take the edge of the bad news I often brought.   You want the voice to be clear but you want it to stay warm.  Buns and I (old radio hands) endlessly bemoan the death of warmth in broadcasting.   It’s not fuzzy warm, it’s “I’m with you” warm we want.

 But that depends on being able to rely on a flexibility of language which is sadly in decline.

It is of course highly personal but there are endearments from which you recoil.  Precious from my mother, yes – nobody else.   Babe and baby haven’t come my way very often outside New York and of course language moves, endearments change and what you are left with is either fashion or vocal intention.  

I asked a young man in his 30s if I could speak to his very large ageing pit bull.   He said he would like that and looked at me curiously while I began offering my hands to sniff, stroking his muscular neck and caressing ears to bliss.  The dog leaned on me.   I murmured every loving word.  “Never seen him do that” said his owner.  “You really made his day – mine too.”