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gee

I first saw the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery

when I was about 12.   My father said smiling, softly “the right of the line, the terror of the world and the pride of the British Army.”  It’s not a military family and I had never seen horses like that.   The combination of the uniform, apparently one of the most attractive and practical, and the horse flesh remains on the back of my eye.   I’ve tried to trace that remark but the great god Google doesn’t help (nice to know these things are finite).  I do know that several units were in India in WWI, where my father was stationed.  It may have been something the rest of the troops said.  Who knows?

The Troop was the unit to which I was closest when I went to Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph and I watched the horses stand, unmoved by the guns going off.  Except for the one immediately in front of me, waiting for his female officer who was in charge of a gun.   Something rippled under that coat,

an indication of tension mastered, which was stilled as soon as his rider returned.  You could almost hear the exhalation.  

I was not a little girl who had riding lessons.  Ponies don’t do it for me.  I first sat on an enormous hunter when I was 13 (he let me) and I sat probably with a little more connection on my hostess’s regular mount in Sussex years later.    I bluffed that I could ride to gain the approval of a boyfriend and you can imagine how that ended, he and horse.

In the recent past, I read a book about the history of man’s relationship to the horse

because of course human history would be completely different without them.   The distances travelled not once but again and again, the weights carried, the accidents averted – all depended on the horse.  Not for nothing is the engine defined by horse power and in the pictures I have of them ( by Yann Arthus Bertrand) you can see why they were worshipped.   

One misty November morning, I was unexpectedly up the street when the Troop came round the corner, on morning exercise, shining muscular caramel out of the grey.  I stood at the kerb at attention, my upbringing, to the memory of my pa.   The leading rider toucher his crop to his helmet – “Good morning, madam !”  Hooray for a voice, I replied clearly “God bless you all.”   Now that is generational.   We used to say “God bless” quite routinely, and now we are afraid it may label us, class or belief, or it means nothing which is even sadder.  We all smiled at each other and they clattered past.

Last week was a terrible week.  I have a friend whose entire family is in the medical profession and they are all in India. 

  I didn’t hear from her for ages, she has been most unwell with her first pregnancy and she and her husband have lived on the telephone and through the laptop to try and help their beleaguered families.   All I can do is be kind and encouraging and gentle.

I met a neighbour I’d been thinking about but hadn’t seen for months, whose daughter is anorexic.  She is in hospital again, everybody strained to breaking point, eating disorders are labour intensive ordinarily but these are not ordinary times.   The facilities for adolescent health were always critically thin and they are now struggling cruelly.  I stood in the street with her for 20 minutes or more, it is all I can do for her.     

And I really do take my own medicine.  There are only small things to get us through this in human terms.  If the big successes and big kindnesses don’t affect you directly, you’re back to the small ones, the personal ones, the best you can do – and you do it, again and again.  Buns found something called Livingstone daisies which he remembered from his mother’s garden and there was a picture in the paper of a horse reaching his head to his rider and she smiling, kissing him on the softest bit, just above the lip.  King’s Troop.

small

My friend Wal is a decorator, a designer,

a go to man whether for a boiler or a brilliant.  He has clients he tolerates (they pay) and one or two he is deeply fond of.  He walks his dogs which means he may meet somebody: we are both open to the delight of the casual encounter – stories told,  experiences clocked – and we tell each other about them.  But this exchange has been reduced, while he and Howard, together for 25 years, haven’t been able to indulge in lunches out, shopping trips, or any of the “no we don’t need them but they’re nice” pleasures we are all missing.  Several times recently Wal has said to me or I have to him in winding up a conversation “  Sorry, I am a very boring person.” 

I am not bored as such if I have something to read

but much of what I read isn’t for him. And what most of us have learned, passing through the Covid tunnel if not before, is that there are small pleasures and unless you’re a dope, you grab them and recognise them for what they are.  Like one day last week when it was cold.

I opened the door, sniffed and shut it again.   Did I have supper?  Yes.  Did I have soup for lunch?  Yes. Right.  Not going out.  

So I embarked on what Pam the Painter calls throwing the hoover round – heaven knows, it was time.  And when I had done that to some sort of standard, I cleaned the kitchen stove with a product new to me, bought because it was reduced and not a Puritan special.  Several times, I have bought things to clean the kitchen or the bathroom and the fumes have caught in my throat or made my eyes water.  The Puritan thing is that dirt is the Devil and must be destroyed.

I am all for clean, I think it has underrated appeal, but I prefer to survive the grot intact and if I choke or my nose hurts, I can’t help but wonder how remnants of that substance will impact on food or my ageing skin in the shower, let alone the sensitive mucoid lining of my nose or lungs?  I know the enemy is bad bacteria

but it isn’t all bacteria.   And sprays are a two edged sword too.

So here am I facing the gas stove with a neat little package composed of a substance admixed with orange oil and an abrasive scrubber.  Yes, it took slightly longer to use than some other products and a bit more in the way of wiping away, but it did the job well and it smelt agreeable.  (Don’t think I was mucky about the bathroom – it was done the day before.)

And as I pause in the middle of the dusting I was probably doing in the wrong order, the letter box rattled and under a pile of coloured literature about mobility scooters and sheltered accommodation, there lay a parcel.    I wasn’t expecting anything and my mother’s description of me lingers in my ears yet –“Hell to buy for !”  But Perce didn’t think so.  He had spotted this book, he thought I would like it and he sent it.  The thought alone was enough to make me grin

like a fool.

So then I washed the kitchen floor – in Simone Signoret’s only novel, the concierge does this daily but I regret to tell you, I don’t.  Though as everything dried into freshness, and the soup was warm I thought as I often do, that I’d rather my life than a lot of other people’s.   And once I stretched out to read a bit of the gift book, I fell asleep.

I came to when the letter box rattled again, though I thought it couldn’t be post so I ignored it.  And when I got up, it was an Amazon envelope containing another book, from a radio friend who thought I might like it – two books in one day ?

As evening came down, I stood in my small clean house, candles lit in every room, books in my hands – lucky, lucky, lucky.  

 

nod

Sleep is a country.  I am a great believer in sleep. And if it’s a country, I hold a passport in apparently good order because I visit, regularly and with gratitude.  At various times in my life I have been unable to sleep and crawl into the next day feeling like I look – grey.  There are people who don’t sleep, through personality or illness – I worked for one true insomniac, by which I mean nothing to do with drugs or drink,  and I marvelled at him.  Rather him than me.

There are times in your life when you don’t sleep. 

My son slept through the night twice in the first three years.  The first time I thought he was dead, waking with “mother’s ears” to stumble to his cot where I couldn’t see anything moving.  Eventually he muttered and I let out my caught breath.  The second time was a slightly less dramatic re enactment, almost as shocking because of the infrequency.  On a good night he woke three times, on a bad a lot more.  Three years of sleep deprivation were offset by the fact that I had got him at all.   It made me think, with new respect, about my mother who had me when she was even older – though she had WWII for prep.

In my last full time job I was absolutely shattered by unexpected tension and unpleasantness, and when we parted company, I fell asleep in every comfortable corner for next several months.  I was as they say “fair wore out.”  

Of course there are times when there is an extraordinary demand on you . 

 

Someone is ill, you have to work a different shift pattern,  or you have to be on call, to be awake.  And you do it.  Needs must.  I don’t remember (though we all know how exclusive memory is) being ongoingly cross with my son, I was so darned glad to have him.  I do remember that the golden pleasure of him seeped in and drove the fatigue into retreat, not quickly, not easily but over the years. 

When you are younger, time is elastic. 

 

You can stay up all night, and another night, catch a few zzzz’s and go off to basketball practice or meet friends for a swim (I use these examples just to prove that not everybody likes football.)   In a sense, when you’re young, you’re in puppyhood.  One of the nicest things about a young animal is how it gads about till it’s tired and then falls asleep where it stands. 

I learned something about sleep from my son.  He was big – tall and big made – and he needed sleep.  And if he were unwell (which didn’t thank heaven happen often) he could sleep himself right – an idea I grew up with.

As you get older, sleep changes. 

 

It becomes elusive, never enough, never deep enough, unsettled, unsatisfactory and people start reading theories about sleep – how you should this (oh, should !)   and you mustn’t that … any or all of which may help you or not.   The best sleep in the world, over time or a terrific holiday, is only a step in the right direction.   How you sleep now is more or less how you sleep now.   And if I go back to the beginning, that sleep is a country, then it has its own customs and the interpretation of them varies.

Older, I can’t eat late any more.   I drink less than ever simply because it keeps me awake.  Though occasionally, several glasses of a really good organic red has the opposite effect.   I looked at the opening of a film the other day and thought “Right –  I am in the company of a violent person – do I want to be with him for the next two hours ?”   And switched off.  I often read old favourites last thing at night, the rhythms familiar, enough – now try …

But if I can’t sleep, I can’t.  I get up, find a book, make hot milk, take two digestives and face it till I can or not as the case may be.  And if I am ill or shocked, I channel every puppy I have ever known, on to the couch, under a blanket and into surrender.  Sleep as a healer, thank heaven for it.

 

 

onward

I have a friend who often begins or signs off her emails thus – onward –

and it reminds me of one of the editors I used to work for who would say “Onward and upward “ , usually after a scrappy staff meeting, leaving me muttering quietly that I would settle for onward.  Certainly at the moment.

Friends are talking about holidays, others about a meal out – so it is grim to hear that the no show rate for booked tables in London is so high, with the industry staggering.  Spring makes you want something new, because new is all around you.

 I’m sure it is a very old impulse, layers of interpretation changing with the times.  

Come spring – a whole conversation right there – and I would be ripe for reinvention.  I’d go off, buy something and was very rarely pleased with it.  It took years to realise that it was me I wanted renewed, not new clothes. 

Don’t think I don’t like something new, I do, but whatever I bought only fixed that feeling of dissatisfaction for an increasingly short time.   I think my wariness of spring crystallised into learning something about myself.   You can change the packaging but not the item.

There are certain domestic tasks that make most of us feel better – cleaning the silver, all two teaspoons of it: changing the bed: a line of washing hung out in the breeze.  Some of us like to cook.  All of these are characterised by a beginning, a middle and an end – and the end is different from the beginning.  The silver shines, the bed beams, the washing smells fresh, the cooking appetising.

But you can only do that symbolically with yourself.  You can have a haircut or buy something new to wear and it may improve you but it won’t change you.  I went out to buy in spring  and came home knowing the magic hadn’t worked.   New things in the carrier bags,

AR same old same old.

In a funny kind of way this was simplified by lack of money.  I couldn’t afford to buy something I wasn’t going to wear (shades of my mother) so I pulled back.  I can’t remember the transition or whether I turned housewife holy for a year or two and cleaned the house from top to bottom instead of going out for a spring shop.   I do remember changing my eye makeup because it was breakthrough.

I don’t wear much makeup.  Over the years I have found things that suit me and discarded things that don’t.  I remember the first “professional” makeup I was given for the first press photograph – green eyeshadow

and orange lipstick – and thinking “Well that’s never going to happen again.”  If Elizabeth Taylor could learn about her makeup, I could too. 

Colour seduces me.  I couldn’t count the number of wrong buys in the right colour.  Blinded by the colour, I hardly ever got that wrong – but I couldn’t see shape or cut.   I learned.  One year, knowing my colouring had changed with age, I bought a pencil for the eyes named in a way that still makes me laugh and matched it with an eyeshadow from somewhere completely different so that even when my eye troubles precluded the modest couple of coats of mascara, I still looked halfway human.  Spring breakthrough.  Yippee !

A couple of years later my spring buy was a pair of modest earrings, relating from the period when costume jewellery was judged successful by its evocation of the real thing.  Shopping earrings.  Great. 

This year I bought the most beautifully envisaged and put together Guerlain lipstick, packaging heaven, lovely colour, wonderful idea.  But it doesn’t last five minutes.  It is always the luck of draw with any form of lipstick. It reminds me of all those wonderful moments when I looked at women putting on lipstick, my mother, movie stars, some elegant woman somewhere – and thought one day, one day … when I grow up … and it came in the last few years when I collected several lipsticks (including a reduced price Guerlain, two Nars and a breakout Chanel) which I have worn nearly to nothing, mask notwithstanding.    My mother would be proud of me.  I don’t think she went to the bin without lipstick and earrings. 

   

besides

One of the great successes

of Richard Osman’s first (and as he says, best) novel is that death is never denied.  If you set a story in a retirement home, no matter how rich or pleasant, death is a reality.  Avoiding it with endless operations and parties is still denying something that is there.   In the outpouring over the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, it was acknowledged that HM and he will have faced this, as will the family and the court.   They do.  It’s part of the job.  

Just as, all those years before, the young couple must have thought of the risk of the distance when they went to Treetops,

where the Duke had to tell his young wife her much loved father was gone.   Certainly, said my mother, the King knew he would never see her again. As he kept looking back at the plane, his face said it all.

Death is the shadow besides the substance of life.  It is there for all of us.  People have different relationships with that incontrovertible , a great many of them to do with denial.    I have one friend who, like me, was brought up to accept death as part of life rather than a separate thing which is imposed upon us.  I think in a decade we have spoken of it three or four times, it is a comfort. And I can forgive her everything for the clarity of this shared perception.  

It is a mistake to think that shadows are always threatening, any more than they are always benign.  But they are evidence of life, live conceived, life lived, life damaged, life ending. 

  I am not afraid of death but I am very afraid of dying.

When Covid began, my son, one of the kindest and most sensible people I know, said “ Mum, you can’t get this.  Not with your chest.”  My lungs were compromised when I was 6 and I have scars on both of them.  A chest cold is worrying, anything else is uncomfortable.  And so I began to be careful.   It has all lasted a very long time and I am as bored with it as many others but so far, so good – and I’ve just had my second vaccine.

You can’t chose your death, the shadow choses you.  Suicide, wilful death, is another discussion and I don’t propose going into it here, though I have known and loved two friends who chose it and I understand their choice if nothing else. 

Yes, there are terrible medical accidents and misreadings.  Only yesterday a friend wrote from Germany to say that the youngest uncle of her richly happy and extended family had died five weeks after a diagnosis of cancer. And medicine can get it wrong.   

We are deeply medicalised.  We go to the doctor as people once went to the church and the religious and the medical were once much more interactive than they are now. Wonderful things can be done.  And often we seem to expect a miracle.   So large numbers of people just don’t think about death.    It’s like the girls at school who thought that getting pregnant was something that happened to other people – over there somewhere, unreal, unrecognised, shadowy.  I’d say, denied.

But it’s real.  Death comes. 

  Of course we would all like to die with dignity but many of the big bad diseases don’t allow for that.   We would like to die painlessly – that isn’t always possible either.   And as I wrote to my friend in Germany, the lack of decline may serve the dying but it is hell’s own hard on those left behind. 

And it is not escapable.   You cannot outrun it.

  It is, if you like, the shadow on the sun of our existence.   There are people now who say “Thank heaven I am no longer young.  To face this world – plague, global warming and political infighting, destruction of the seas –  is beyond me.  Heaven help those who come after me.”    Countermanded by those who say “Got to keep on keeping on, while there’s life there is hope.” 

 I have a deep sustaining relationship with The Master of the Universe, closer to the Great Spirt of the First Nations than anything else, and the old prayer says “Thy Will, not my will “.  Not much besides.    

joe hill 2021

When I was 9, I attended

the Avenue Methodist Church in Middlesbrough.  I had been brought up to visit any place of worship with appropriate dignity but just in case |I sound too holier than thou, I went because Derek Moore did.  I liked Derek and he lived near me.  It is the first place I ever heard a missionary speak, a tall white haired old man from whom I think I heard the phrase “hands across the sea” meaning good wishes from distance.

I am not an Amazon fan. 

The overpacking makes me spit bullets.   And a friend told me about watching the delivery man unable to raise her by ringing the bell, walking back down the hall (mansion block) and just throwing the package aside.  “They are paid so badly, they don’t care whether they deliver or not.” Always another unit, always another trip.

Recently I came on a story about Bessemer, Alabama where there is an enormous Amazon packing station – because there isn’t much else.  27,000 people, 71 per cent black, 25 churches.  Average shift 10 hours with two 15 minute breaks which, given the size of the plant, means some won’t be able to pee and eat.  (See Hidden Figures, a film based on the true story of three Afro American women working for NASA on the 1960s for a stunning scene when the brilliant mathematician explains in rage and humiliation that she must use the coloured lavatory and it takes time to get there and back – that’s why when her supervisor looks for her, she is often unavailable.)

Bessemer decided to try to unionise.  Amazon can’t forbid this, that would be against the law.  But they can make it as difficult as possible for people in a town where there aren’t a lot of options.   I found the story on NextDraft, rerun from VOX in the US and on Monday 29 March, Bessemer made it into the Times Business Pages.   Of course the backstory is not simple but the majority of the churches support the bid to unionise and this is Martin Luther King country.  Not much point in asking people to pray if you don’t help them eat.

So I went back to the original US coverage and found a photograph of a church with the name clearly displayed and wrote a letter of support to the Pastor.  It really just says thinking of you, good luck, discrimination against the low paid works out as discrimination against everybody, I am old and white and you’re in my prayers.   I could have chosen the one place where they’re against the union.  But I sent it. 

Hands across the sea.

I had a fine weekend which included a birthday but somewhere in there I developed a cold – the real McCoy, an oldfashioned stuffed nose, hacking cough, hot and cold job.  And like a fool I have run out of slow release Vitamin C.  I can make it through 24 hours, I’ll get it tomorrow.  Until I mentioned it to a friend who leapt forward with outstanding Amazon credit and arranged to have what I needed sent to me – and then wrote and said “Don’t be mad !”   I’m not mad, I’m grateful.  So you can see that Amazon has a role in my life,

though if they had to live on me they’d starve.

Would I have done that for myself ?  No.  I don’t know how.  Will I accept it when somebody does it for me ? Of course, with appreciation.  Does it make me feel any better about those arch and expensive television ads telling what nice people Amazon really are ?  No.   Seventy years ago Goebbels would have directed them to offer the benign face of Hitler and praise the autobahn.  There is always somebody trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

 It’s only a few years ago we were all trying to save trees.  Now we’re knee deep in paper pulp (made from trees) and Amazon is so much part of present day life that we accept its terms without question.   Unless you’re poor and you know the fight is right. 

 

“a few bits”

You can have almost anything in the supermarket but the growing, farming and marketing involves forcing, picking early, travelling and storing in cooled air, loading, unloading and this often makes for  looks over taste.  Last week, half way back down the street going home,  I passed a well established flower pitch,  with four or five boxes, small amounts of various  things, one containing  some smaller orange fruit.  So I asked what were they –

mandarins, tangerines, satuma, clementines – anything, said I , as long as they are not easy peelers (great name for a stripper) which taste of nothing.   He said he thought they were clementines  – “Here, take these and try ‘em”… he offered me four for £2 and then added extra – I wound up with 7.  I offered him a fiver and we were both embarrassed, neither of us had change.  “So you’ll bring it tomorrow” he said.  “It’s £2.”  In the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, lockdown, 2021.

When I went back, the stall was presided over by Artur who is a tall thin Russian (I bought six reduced price geraniums from him a couple of years ago, after an unforgettably bad haircut, and identified his accent). I bought a ripe avocado (“You choose,madam”), the most gorgeous pale yellow almost beige into grey parrot tulips plus the two pounds I owed.  Artur asked my name, to tell the gaffer with my thanks, which turns out to be what her schoolfriends call his daughter who is really Anastasia.

Fay who runs the dry cleaners opposite with the work ethic that built the Burma Railway says they make her feel better, a combination of what’s possible and politeness along with the quality of everything.  Heartlifting.

I am sure I was smiling which is what caused a woman some years my senior to observe grinning herself “You look pleased !”  So I told her about the fruit and owing the money and going back, showed her the flowers. and she talked about the reduced Waitrose and how they’d moved the tables round in M&S, “just as long as they leave the shop there” she said.  “It’s all change, I’m not keen.”

Change comes, whether you like it or not.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  Wol who know more about money than I shall ever learn took up with Lidl out of curiosity. “Make up your mind to it, there are loads of things you’re never going to touch” he said “but what they do well, they do very well – fillet steak at half the price, lovely flowers, never had a bad piece of fruit or veg.  and I don’t know how they do it, but I have never met a member of staff who was less than delightful.”            

When not economising , Wol has discovered the delights of the local farmer’s market

which has stayed open (the two I use didn’t)  throughout out this weary year. He pays over the odds for everything and has the time of his life with two Australian sisters whom he taught to roast beef,  a Slavonic fish man, Sam the sweet but absentminded, and Paul and his son who flirt with him outrageously, to the consternation of the poor people who only went out for what my one and only family retainer Dot used to call “ a few bits”.   

When I parted from Mrs. M&S, having teased her about doing commercials for them, I passed one of the larger stores, now vacated,   There were so many horribly similar places and we wonder what will become of them.  You want to draw to the attention of the housing secretary Robert Jenrick, to the amount of every kind of property standing unused before he starts building on green belt. 

This is not America, space is limited and chopping down ancient trees or eroding every green corner of our busy cities is wilfully shortsighted. But he won’t get this building.  It is already allocated, advertising, lots of small counters, all under one roof … good luck to them.  We used to call it shopping.

discovered

Last week was a first.

  I couldn’t write.  Well.  I could, I did – but it was tripe.   And there will be those among you who like tripe but I don’t. I sat and moved things round and tried again and my back (pulled muscle) hurt and hurt till I chose the pictures and put it all away.  Of course, it took longer to find the images than it usually does.  And that hurt more.  Eventually I aligned it to forward to Dee my “hands” who puts it up, usually on a Tuesday, and gave in.

I went back to it on Monday and wasn’t sure.  When I went back to it again I was even less sure.  You must remember that, with a blog, you have your own standards to meet – or you abandon them and just blog.  

I am my sternest critic.  And of course my taste is not yours but over six years, we seem to have established a connection – we must have done, such a generous response, thank you, when I wasn’t well.

So at 4.45 on Tuesday morning, I emailed and cancelled the whole thing, wrote a note, chose a picture of a Canadian lynx and gave up.   I couldn’t get to a physio until later in the week but I discovered that standing up was fine and lying down was fine.  I just couldn’t sit without discomfort verging on pain. 

On the Saturday – so often now the worst night of the week on television – I lay in a room with two candles lit and read a book.   I was flat, all was quiet and the book was worth the effort.  Thin Places described those places of time and nature

where the disturbed soul approaches peace – the other parallel world – and the writer Kerri ni Dochartaigh grew up in Londonderry, a savagely divided city, with a Protestant father and a Roman Catholic mother so she fitted in nowhere.   

She evokes the various violences, the tension, the confusion – and she delineates the damages done and how she sought to mend herself – through this concept in Celtic Christianity called thin places.   She also mentions in an utterly unhysterical way the effect of Brexit in undermining the hardwon peace, and the schism through occupation and brutality of Ireland from its own self – its natural world, its history.

We never know what it takes to make a book. 

  I think probably very few are the shape they come out in or indeed book shaped at all.  I remember years ago being introduced to the woman behind a famous bestseller and being told that she had made that book – though only the trade gave her credit for it, another name was on the cover.

And on Saturday again by chance I switched into a documentary on a group of children in Syria, whom the film maker had recorded after their school was bombed – and he followed up several of them eight years later.  There was a point in how many years, for the Syrian War goes on and on like the Troubles did in Ireland .  

The children are young adults now, not all of them made it. And they are appallingly burned.   In Dochertaigh’s book the damage is harder to see but just as profound and though she documents it, she isn’t self pitying.   There must be a cost, she infers, and she had to pay some of that.

It is an odd book, it isn’t easy and I doubt if it will be a best seller but quite early on she writes “I hope you never have to try and sustain a child through such terror but if you do  set them to watching, buy a magnifying glass” and paints a picture of herself in the mud of the tiny council house garden where her journey began.  And I thought of how I have striven for every good, kind, beautiful moment and thing through this miserable year – one year, and I am so aware of the damage done.  One of the worst things about humans is how slow they are to learn and how often they don’t learn out of good will or a willingness to share but out of tragedy and loss and upheaval. 

But not to learn – that’s even worse.

note of absence

Annalog is under the Arctic Dome, isn’t well and won’t appear this week.

Look forward to seeing you next week.

minotaur

Last night, in a trip down memory lane – I cleaned two pairs of shoes

before I went to bed – actually just after supper, so the emollients could sink in.   I felt about 12.   So much cheaper than Botox  !  In the girls’ comic I used to read, it was announced that smiling took something like 21 muscles to frowning’s 150.     And then, train of thought, I remembered the Reader’s Digest. 

Years later I learned about its political and social standing.  At the time I couldn’t have cared less.  It introduced me to words and stories and jokes, and I once found myself interviewing a woman whose memoir about diabetes I had encountered there.  When I was a girl (Oh I have been dying to write that !) information was entertainment.

We had a class at school on General Knowledge, we had GK workbooks.  Of course we chattered and swapped beads – we all had bead tins – or buttons, mostly beads. 

Just because they were pretty.  Remember, this is the 1950s.  We had just come through the biggest war in the world and there wasn’t much of anything.  I read yesterday in the obituary of a Czech Jewish historian, working out of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, that he had written “… beauty is inescapable”.  I rang Wal to tell him.  He agonises about the death of beauty.

Buns (friend with sweet tooth) sent me a link to the promotion we did for Talk Radio years ago when we were all young and fair, and it was a radio station.  I think sometimes energy is its own beauty.   He had just had the first part of the vaccine and said that his eyes filled because, he realised, he had been afraid for a year.

And then (“real readers are re-readers” Nabokov) I read some more of The Manchurian Candidate  – and noticed I had marked two words I still haven’t looked up.   Every so often, if you are a reader, you read something you wish you’d written because of the sheer accomplishment of it – and that’s another kind of beauty.   What arts writers describe as the arc pulls everything into the right place for this particular reader and makes you want to stand on a chair and shout hooray.

And affection and respect makes you want to shout hooray even louder.  I made a decision last week and as it might affect other people, I wrote to them and they wrote back, carats of care and understanding,

beyond the wildest dreams of diamonds.  ”You will keep those emails won’t you ?” asked a friend with whom I had shared some of them.  You betcha.   Untaxable and indestructible.

I pushed a film called Gifted until my son said “What is it about this film ?”    And I said “It’s about  love, and being a father and you don’t have to be a parent to act like a parent.”  Just listen to Ian Wright talking about Mr. Pigden, the teacher who rescued him from illiteracy and punishing loneliness.  

When my son was put into my arms, I thought how wonderful to have a child sized child – I had known so many taller ones, so many in pain.  Family is indeed a wonderful thing when it’s wonderful and when it’s not, it is an instrument for destruction.   Takes a lot of fighting to survive.   And how you fight and where you fight is a deeply personal matter.

And you can earn and be admired and praised and do a great deal of good, incidentally and with intention – and still be in what we might call deep spiritual doodoo.   The media will not resolve this, they will only feast on it – under lights, with hair and makeup.  Is there some atavistic belief that the bigger the lamp, the brighter the corner, and that when all is revealed, it will be well ?   It risks taking a lot of people down. 

I have never been convinced of the elision between the talking therapies and the personal interview, a confusion deeply seductive and deeply dangerous.   And I have interviewed and been interviewed. The camera is not neutral.  Better stick to candles, understanding is better than the plea to be understood.

“Dances with Wolves and Two Socks.”