What a week. A friend’s brother flew over from LA, cleared in his latest round of tests, well and happily spiky, only to collapse and die. “Can’t talk” she emailed. “Wanted you to know.” Another friend reviewing documentaries found her professionalism worn thin through hours of rape, the Rohinga, rape, Isis, rape, Myanmar, rape, knife culture, rape, gangs, Grenfell and rape. After a blissful week of quiet, my upstairs neighbour returned to unpack and trundle around, mostly after midnight. There is nothing of her sideways and she sounds like a troop of horse. My first sleep broken, settling down again (getting cross doesn’t help), is unlikely. Second go at Aftermath – an exhibit about the art emerging from WWI and the years that followed: terrific (look up George Clausen whose portraits are a bit twee but whose landscapes are notable) but not lightweight. Another friend spoke about the number of Jews planning to leave Britain: her calm shook me rigid. She doesn’t want to go, she was born here and prefers it to anywhere. “But don’t dismiss the intention” she said. “It’s real.”
When you can’t sleep, never mind why, whatever else is in your mind becomes distorted and frightening – but even so … The background noise is threatening to spill over into the foreground any minute now. A correspondent half my age said it reminded him of the “phoney war”, those weeks when WWII war was declared but eerie calm prevailed while government sought to rally the military and prepare the public. With the present Labour and Conservative incumbents at each other’s throats, do they even think of us ?
I went yesterday to a section of London near me that I haven’t been to since I fell and had to walk my legs in again. The only flower shop sells artificial, fashion shop(upmarket) is now a juice bar, fashion shop (humbler) is empty and boarded up. Gone is the pet parlour, four other eating places, the cinema … I stopped counting empty properties. This used to be a neighbourhood. Now it is three bus stops on the way to another neighbourhood.
It is customary to complain about rent and rates and invoke the internet. Personally I hate shopping for anything of colour, texture or fit over the internet but for others, the speed and so called convenience is preferable to shopping as we knew it. And once shops go, other businesses do too. Sometimes I feel that living in a consumer society is particularly corrupting, all I Want alongside Me Too.
And then you have a moment. Not desperation or rage or ineptitude, but joy.
I was on the bus going home, I could do commercials for the bus even though the experience is often close to 19th century shipping steerage. A man as tall as my son, very dark and neat, got on and beside him, the most beautiful child – a little boy with skin so dark it’s pale, lit from within, enormous eyes and the whole attitude of the body unalloyed curiosity and pleasure. “Upstairs, daddy ?” said a very clear little voice and his father gently explained that they would be staying downstairs, it was only a few stops – so I leant forward and said ”If you get tired of him, I’ll have him …” And we beamed at each other. “He’s just two and he doesn’t know all the words, he’s just so excited they’re coming out of his mouth” and he moved him into a seat by the window while he, the father, sat on the gangway opposite me. I held out my hand. “Where’s the family from ?” “Nigeria” he said and shook hands. I said, thinking of my son’s “brother” Uzo “You’re the same size as my son- and he (indicating the child) is beautiful.” He thanked me gravely and the little boy peeped round the bulk of his father, smiling . “Yes, we’re talking about you” I said. “And if you listen, your ears will turn pink !”” Delight. We spoke a bit, not much and then they went to get off, till the boy turned to me as he left to wish me goodbye, the very small prince of a nearly forgotten kingdom.