My mother and father had a running battle over how much you should tell me about a book or a film.
My mother would cry “Oh don’t tell her all that, you’ll spoil it” while my father’s descriptions and memory for detail lodged deep in my enthusiastic brain. If I want to read or see it, you can tell me chapter and verse. Nothing will detract from my wanting to see the film or read the book for myself.
My parents were impressive on a number of levels and they made a deep impression on me.
You could read to my father – well, I could read to him because for some reason we shall never know now, the timbre of my voice hit his chancy deaf ear right nine times out of ten. He couldn’t always hear my mother or my sister. He lead everybody a dance about what he could and couldn’t hear – absolutely guaranteed to hear what you wanted to keep from him – but he could hear me more often than not.
My mother disliked being read to. She said in her straightforward way that it sent her to sleep. This was different (work this out!) from listening to the radio and when she went blind, for starters I read her a volume of Dirk Bogarde’s autobiography and one of his novels, a chapter a day over the telephone, because she had to learn to listen.
And she did, out of necessity.
I thought of her on Bank Holiday weekend.
Many of my friends who live alone don’t like Christmas. I can handle Christmas because it’s such a five star fandango that you have time to get used to it and work through or round it for your own peace of mind. You may have a weepy moment but if you face it, you can handle it. At least, I think you can.
But Bank Holidays sneak up on you. Suddenly this shop is shut and that one is open.
Half the population seems to want to spend its time in the car or at the airport and the BBC and ITV are currently running an informal competition to see who can programme worse for an extended weekend. If everybody is away and you are left behind, you can get a bit blue. But not this last Bank Holiday.
I have a friend who has just got herself an agent and a book contract. She is not a young woman and I had known from an earlier literary outing that she could write.
Writing is very personal. There are millions of books sold that I don’t like or would like to like but can’t read. Writing is like food. It either tastes right or it doesn’t. You may try again later – that sometimes works – but there are things that just don’t taste right.
And Parthenope (not her real name, the name of Florence Nightingale’s sister) can write.
Because the book is about people – and what people do and how and why has been central to my life, professionally and personally -she rang me when she started to write and asked me to read the first five chapters.
I asked why me?
“Because” she said” you can’t dissemble – you won’t say you like it if you don’t – and because you have a good ear for the wrong word or a false note.”
I read and really liked her first chapters, wrote back with my few suggested amendments and asked for the next five chapters – it was a terrific read.
And this weekend she asked me to read the whole book aloud – 12 chapters on Friday and 8 on Monday. And I watched out of the corner of my eye as the pen flew in her hand, to amend, to correct, to note – I who so love the sound of my own voice (as my mother would say), I felt useful and I was honoured. I can’t tell you much more about the book yet, it has a way to go, but count this as pre-publicity. I had no time to think about anything but getting through the traffic, wearing comfortable clothes and reading aloud as fluently and intelligently as possible.
Parthe got what she wanted – useful distance which became clarity in work she had laboured over – and I got to play the only great music I can play – with my voice. And if I could tack that on to helping a friend I esteem in an effort I admire – then nobody loses. It’s a win/win.