I can’t remember who first called a dog of many breeds a “bitsa” in my life but from childhood, I was taught that often oddly shaped creatures had the consolation prize of fine temperaments and shining eyes: they made first class friends. There are snobberies about dogs, sadly nowadays mostly related to money, and there are those of us (count me in) who prefer one breed to anything else, while having a soft spot for most of the race. I confess, I don’t like “all “ dogs any more than I like all people or all children. Individuality counts. Clones don’t rule in this neck of the forest.
Pop’s nickname for a mongrel was a “heinz” ( as in 57 varieties) while years later, somebody said “bitsa” and it stuck as an idea as well as a description. You can pull together a “bitsa” supper – what was left over, two fried eggs and an orange and it will be fine. You can have a “bitsa” outfit when you throw three things on and for some reason, hooray, that lovely old scarf makes it, you feel comfortable and look good. You can have a “bitsa” interview where you think you did all right, but then again … And heaven knows in today’s world, you can have a “bitsa” year and 2016 was surely one.
Coming out of a favourite bookshop, I fell by chance into step with a man my own age who smiled and remarked “Strange times!” And I agreed.
News coverage of the bombing of a Coptic gathering of women and children made me cry. One of the worst features of international news coverage is that you are not spared anything for very long so you have no time to get your head round it (if indeed you could) before the images are in your eyes and ears. And we talk about whether our reactions are better or worse or the same when things are repeated to the rest of us so fast. For this has been a bitsa year and it still is and will probably extend into a bitsa five years while the infighting and insurrection of various groups floats to the top of the global pool and calms down, please God, leaving us with air to breathe and enough to eat.
Our troubles, nationally and internationally, are many. Uncertainties count as troubles. Situations are bewilderingly complex. We don’t follow stories through because they are complicated beyond comprehension. I sometimes think the world is like my fingernails: I know what shape the world should be, but it isn’t and no amount of chopping and changing will make it so.
So in the middle of all this, I’d like to focus on the positives and here are mine – I expect you have some too if you think about it. The first and best is that my friend Ginny has got through the long haul to a job she wanted. The second thing is that the delightful man and his wife I only met through a man I’ve never met, a correspondent, liked me enough to invite me to meet them again: I was just rehearsing sending an email to ask for an address to which to send a card when they got in touch to say, come to supper: I was/am thrilled.
I don’t keep endless cuttings and correspondence but I do keep some. People have always been generous to me and it’s good to remember that in the midst of political and social upheaval. Anne Frank wrote that “in spite of everything I really believe that people are good at heart” and my life shows it. I have been the recipient of great trust and affection, I don’t forget it. And every year I take a flier on a small number of cards to addresses which may no longer be where the addressee lives. They could have died, they could have moved leaving no forwarding address so essentially that small number of cards is cast on the wind. Times change, people move on. You could say this is a conceit, a waste of money, the cards won’t get through but – in a bitsa time – I prefer to think this bit is evidence of that quiet little creature, the last to emerge from Pandora’s box, after all the buzzing stinging angry creatures had dispersed, to drive the world and us in it mad. That little creature was called Hope.