43 years ago I was interviewed by David Frost in his last such series for the BBC. This happened because I was relatively young (30) to have got a visible job ie problem page editor (that’s what it was called) on Woman magazine. Peggy Makins, retiring after thirty years’ plus, began doing it when she was 22 – but don’t let’s spoil the story. Even in those far off days, a story had to have a “hook” and “Britain’s youngest agony aunt” was mine. I could tell you about what I wore and why, about the man who sent me to television training and the man who “taught” me (he claimed not much), DF’s mother Mona, who said what and what it meant to me, then and now, but what’s lasted is the letters.
I have long thought that one of the reasons I so enjoyed the job was because of the mail which is odd because without exception, I can’t read published diaries and shrank even from my father’s letters to his parents or my sister’s letters to ours, legimately passed to me after their deaths. Letters are private, said my mother – but letters addressed to me – oh wow, oh joy, bring ‘em on… The rattle of the letterbox and I’m up like a pup, legs braced, nose wrinkled, show me, show me, show me !
The brown box had a faded blue silk lining and it contained my treasures – a letter from my mother, a letter from my father, my passport, silver pudding charms, my son’s welfare diary as a baby and one Frost letter which described me as “the most cogent, soignee and articulate woman I have ever seen on the box.” Of course I wasn’t but, unforgotten, it gave me something to aspire to and I did. Soignee still makes me laugh because the root is “soie” (silk) and none of the estimable adjectives offered as synonyms by the dictionary seem to describe me. Still, we cannot see ourselves as others see us. Cogent ? “Clear, logical and convincing “(OUD) – I do hope so, at least some of the time and “articulate” I accept. It is my only artistry.
The other day, through the good offices of the internet, I received to annalog what might be called an afterword – a couple of lines in the same spirit – “Having just started to read your blog, may I say that whatever you have and are content with, you deserve more. Your writing is a pleasant window on to your considerable humanity and I will happily recommend it to others.” How very much that meant to me – controlled but all there, like those often excellent black and white British films of the forties and fifties,
where it all got said and shown without excess.
Interesting to receive at the same time as this: “Hello” said the little note pushed through my door before 7.00. “We are terribly sorry about the noise on Friday night and write to express a sincere apology for the inconvenience caused. We were not very thoughtful but we truly didn’t mean to cause any upset. Again, we are very sorry about the disturbance to your evening.” So somebody must have played merry hell because the same group have had more or less of a hooley every other week for a year. But look at the ambivalence.
We’re sorry – but not so sorry that we’ll tell you who we are or where we live – in case you come after us again. (Like the thief who wasn’t sorry he took the diamonds, just very sorry he got caught). We are sorry – and now we have said we are sorry more than once, we’re free to do it again. I’d love to be more hopeful about people than this but momentarily I’m not. Excuse me while I go up the road to collect a discarded lavatory brush, dog mess and various other bits and pieces that nobody wants to wrap up but everybody wants taken away. Actions speak louder than words and there are no words for the meaning of mess. That it is worse in other places doesn’t make me feel any better. God bless Marigolds.