I am always shocked when people stand up to speak in public and don’t do it well. Yes, of course, different people have different gifts but surely it is some measure of personal intelligence not to mention honesty to know when you aren’t good at something like that ? I will refrain from listing all the “ordinary” things I can’t do but there is a list and I acknowledge it. There are different ways to be a good public speaker and one of the most wonderful I ever heard was May Hobbs who fronted the Nightcleaners’ Union: just wind her up and let her go ! I heard John Gerassi speak and followed him blindly through the crowd afterwards. He was Pied Piper to my charmed rat. James Baldwin’s tones are as unique in speech as Nina Simone’s are in song. Different animals going into the same ark.
So welcome (but only with a member) to one of London’s most venerably respected clubs, whose very name invokes literature, science and learning (I checked) to a man with a string of academic titles who couldn’t speak intelligibly to most of the people in the room. I think he spoke in English but of that rarefied variety which is deliberately obscure – what my family called “highfalutin’”. I am deeply fond of the friend who took me and the meal was wonderful, thank heaven. So that was Monday.
On Tuesday I had stiches removed (gently and kindly) after skin biopsies – and in the freezing cold went off to eat and drink something (I rarely eat out) where I was served by an Italian called Hercules. I presume he told me he was called Hercules because he thought I couldn’t say Ercole. Same difference. Do you look at a stranger sometimes and think “You’re not happy”? I couldn’t begin to hazard why but I felt sure he wasn’t. There was a story… So we were nice to each other – because I was so grateful about the stitches being out and he to have a human for a customer instead of another boy in a bad suit on speed dial.
Donald Trump acceded to the White House.
After lunch I went on one of those fools’ errands to look for something I wasn’t sure I wanted in a store I didn’t want to be in but the taxi driver was Moroccan born, London raised (Aziz) and we talked about recognising emotions, sharing space, differing opinions and he waved me out of the cab thanking me for my “positive energy” – which made us both laugh – we agreed we’d need it.
On Thursday I heard that a dear friend had had what we call a knockback. Bad stuff can’t bear to be lonely, it so often comes in matched sets.
And on Friday I burst into tears in Waitrose. I was thinking about my father in the 14/18 War and the two minute silence finished me. I had not realised how frightened I was when I began the treatment that required the stitches. I think about my family more and more as I get older because I am closer to them as people, over and above adored parents, and I heard my father’s voice in my ear talking about “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month …” and the Armistice – and I have various worries don’t we all ? and they rose in my throat and came out of my eyes.
“You all right, Anna ?” asked Deb, built like a battleship, heart as big as all outdoors. “No” I sniffled. “I need a hug” and I cried all over her.
So when I started today’s contribution, I looked up “don’t quit” and it led me to Psalm 40 from which I chose the title of “the horrible pit”, I found a reference to “tender mercies” (I never knew where the phrase was from) and lastly “He has put a new song in my mouth.”