Category Archives: Uncategorized

on the face of it

Endlessly interested in character actors,

I catch myself wondering if they are really as they seem –  so dour, so ditzy, so dangerous – or whether in real life they are all perfectly ordinary men and women (whatever those are) who just happen to have a cast of countenance useful in a particular story and the way the camera sees them.

“Don’t look like that” said my mother to me, as far back as I can remember.  “You’ll turn the milk sour.”   Or even more intriguing was another remark, usually addressed to her reflection in the mirror when she was tired “Oh dear, I can’t take that out – it’ll frighten the horses !” 

When I was small I wanted to know-why horses ? – and she had to explain to me that when she was my age, quite a lot of vehicles were still horse drawn.  I thought this was very romantic and she left me with that lovely image till, much closer to adulthood, I saw some programme about the rise of the engine, to which she commented drily “More dust, less smell.”  If you’re allowed horses as in fairy tales, the reality of horse manure comes as a bit of a shock. 

But I’ve thought of the sour milk image several times this week, when I see people rushing off with 27 packets of loo roll and enough dried pasta to feed an army.  And I am sure I look disapproving.

A very old woman frowns unhappily in this black and white portrait.

Probably one of the reasons that a tv career was not open to me was because, no matter how controlled the voice, one look at my face and you’d know exactly what I was thinking.  My radio crews tumbled to it and laughed in the production booth, my son still teases me about it.  And as I get older, my facial expressions echo (as do occasional vocal inflections) what I recall of one parent or the other in particular circumstances.

For example, the boys next door woke me from deep sleep the day I came home from the eye hospital.   I lay there, listened for a minute or two and reached for the dressing gown, convinced it was about 4.00 am and this wasn’t on.  So channeling Hecate,

white hair to the shoulders in a long robe, I opened the door and said to the group trying to extricate an unwilling passenger from the car they share, in tones just like my  Edwardian mother at her martial best “It is very early in the morning.”  They stopped dead.    I said it again, the voice of authority in received pronunciation.   James said  “Oh Anna, I’m sorry, did we wake you ?” to which I rejoined “Sort it out”- that dates  me, right there – which I reiterated when he tried to say more.

I relocked the door and swept into the living room, furious about being disturbed in my own home, wah-wah-wah, checked with the speaking clock and found it was 12.02 am.  Was my face red.  And then, thank you Robert Burns, I saw myself as others see us – and it was truly horse frightening.  So when that evening, James and Harry arrived with what are known as “a few flahs”,

we all laughed.  I told them how I had misjudged the time and how I had “seen” myself and they told me they had been trying to get rid of the gatecrasher for an hour or more but that  he left a few minutes after I spoke.  (When I told Buns this story, he said he thought I should retrain at once, I clearly have a future in security.)

There is a place, of course there is, for the expressive face, the wonderful speaking glance you exchange with a perfect stranger and just know without a word spoken, you are on the same wavelength – or maybe just one word.  “Indeed” you say and reap the harvest of acknowledgement.

Much more recently, in what is laughingly called maturity, I came to appreciate Wal’s theory about the power of confidence – not bombast, not throwing your weight around and being disagreeable – just being able to be and letting your face speak for you.  But when skin is so thin and so many people are on the jump, you have to be prepared to give account of yourself.  Or huddle behind your mask.

coming up roses

I wrote about division last week and even the garden

doesn’t know whether it is coming or going.  There are flowers in bud, flowers in bloom, there are green shoots, brown leaves beside green ones and wintry stems, all in just about equal parts.   Sounds familiar ?  The division in the UK over Brexit was just about half and half – just like the much larger, much richer and more violent US of A in its recent protracted electioneering.

Some years ago an American client told my then husband that he didn’t like either of the two candidates on offer and he disliked profoundly the system that made them what was available to him. 

“Too long and too expensive” he said “ and that means the people you’re interested in drop out.”

But some stay in.  Boris Johnson made it to Number Ten and Joe Biden made it to Pennsylvania Avenue, third time lucky.  The British press is full of stories that the Blond was disagreeable when he met Biden as Obama’s vice president and that he (Biden) has a long memory.  In terms of trade, need and cooperation, we can only hope that he will like us even if he doesn’t like him (BJ) – as we have felt about Americans for the last four years.

So I don’t envy about-to-be President Biden his inbox,

the snarling writhing spitting opponents, social conflict at every level and how many of America’s most important institutions have been run down both in numbers and quality of personnel.  I don’t envy him the bitterness with which he will be greeted by those who hitched their dreams to the wagon of the outgoing reality television president.

The United States into which I arrived at the age of 19, where I worked and paid taxes for two years, now seems remote.  Last night, a friend who spent time there as a youngster and for whom it was always top of his list of favourites, told me he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it for the foreseeable future.   “They’ve lost the plot” he said. 

And some of us wonder what we ever really knew about the United States.

We put bad news aside. We chose not to remember that even the personal friendship between  Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, men of similar status and Churchill’s mother was an American grandee, even so – the special relationship was not enough to bring our greatest ally into WWII.   We owe the Japanese for Pearl Harbour.

America puts its own bad news aside.  Sooner or later a presidential candidate has to invoke “the American people” – those same American people who were systematically lied to through Presidencies of both parties, which threw all sorts of securities and loyalties into doubt during the protracted war

in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  

The old echoes of “Secession !” and “States’ Rights !” which characterised  the outbreak of the American Civil War (1860/65) remain as unresolved to some as the period of reconstruction for freed slaves.   There was more hope in the 1960s and there was more honesty.   And honesty has no colour.

And I don’t envy Mr. Biden the sheer physical and mental burden of office which we have seen cruelly age every incumbent.  I don’t envy him the stick he is going to take in Congress and the Senate, the bad mouthing he will face for his Vice President – a woman of colour with a brain.

We all have decisions we’re unhappy about, among our own and our neighbours, nationally and internationally.   There are things we cheer for and things we regret, things we can adjust to and things we just can’t.  And the higher up the chain of command you go, the more strenuous is the negotiation.

But Joe Biden wanted this and he got it.  Because of this long long run up, he knows more about how the machinery of American government and public life works than many people.  And for me, the single most encouraging thought so far is that he is noted for “reaching across the aisle”.   I don’t even know if this is too little or too late.  I hope not.  I wish we had access to the same.    

alcheringa*

I am tired of division. 

Bread and Roses by Mike Alewitz

I am tired of the old being arbitrarily separated from the young, the young from the younger, the boys from the girls, the straight from the binary, the black from the white.  It is not how I was brought up.  I was brought up that the cover may indeed inform you about the book   but only that it is possible.   Generalisation is only a discussion point.  Fluffing up one group like a pillow isn’t so that you understand it better, it is so that you can market to it and manipulate it more successfully, whether ideas or pet food.  I am tired of that.  I was brought up to believe in circles and journeys and a central spine to life, like the spinal column, from which everything derived, often interrelated and to which, sooner or later, everything returned.

And just because I am primarily a dog person, it doesn’t automatically follow that I don’t like cats.    Groovy Kitten (named in the sixties) ran away when I left Michael.   And I shared two moves with Chocolate Pud (he was Burmese) but I couldn’t do that to him again so we found him a home in the country with a cat he got on with, companions to cherish him and trees to climb.  He was beautiful.  

A friend has been throwing away old papers

and we agree that there are things you can’t toss till you’re ready.  And I shall never be ready to part with the worn edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, one of a set of books my father bought and which both parents read to me.  And of course keeping the book is not just to do with the stories but to do with memories of my parents.  And I find recall is like a mental tree, like those lovely drawings of the Tree of Life,

Celtic Tree of Life 2 by Joan Stratton

or Joshua trees, or the baobab –  once you start, the mind begins to project images, and the nose to recall smells, your ears hear voices and even the fingers twitch at the remembrance of this sheet or that coat.

Kipling’s story of The Cat that Walked by Himself came to mind last night, because it was Halloween which was originally Summers’ End (Samhain) in the Celtic calendar, one of those permitted because it couldn’t be overcome festivals that the Christian church let be, especially if they could doorstop it with All Souls immediately afterward.   Last night  Samhain (when the barriers between the dead and the living were thought to dissolve, gods and devils came among us) was also the night of a full moon, and this was the first time the two had been together since 1944, my birth year.  I have never needed to wait for more than a nudge to respect the old.  And I remembered the Woman who lived with the Man in the Cave of the Kipling story and how she made the First Magic.

In my childhood there were no pumpkins.  Halloween lanterns were made of turnips.  And if we were lucky we’d be invited in to play bob apple or to eat sausages and potatoes cooked over an open fire (delicious), on the common at the end of the street or in somebody’s back garden.  And we respected what went before because we had imbibed that wisdom which says that if you have no past, you have no future.   No root, no bloom.

All fire is wild and I have the greatest regard for it, from bonfire to match, and its concomitant, light.  Fire drives away danger, light banishes fear,

candles keep you company and offer respect to the old and the new, and the power of both.   And I thought of pine cones which symbolise renewal and the Third Eye.   So I arranged a line of nightlights across the sash window with careful spaces into which I put the cones.  I sprinkled salt around the perimeter of the house and I went to bed, oddly comforted at having made a small gesture at pulling the bits together.

In the middle of the night, I saw a face, the face of an African child.  I can rationalise this for you but I’m not going to.  What is interesting is that she smiled warmly and sweetly, and that I smiled back in the darkness of not quite awake. 

 *dreamtime, the Golden Age when the ancestors were created,

   from the Australian Aborigine – with respect. 

meldrewed

I don’t believe Donald Trump ever had Covid.   From the moment

I saw the doctor who isn’t a doctor coming out on to the steps in front of the medical centre, surrounded by a chorus of batmen in white,  I expected them to launch into barbershop harmonies.  Smell ? It reeked.

I don’t believe Jeffrey Epstein,

nearly as rich as he was unpleasant, killed himself.  I am sure the job was paid for. 

I don’t believe the Prime Minister gives a damn.  He wanted power and the country delivered it to him.   And now we know that all that burble

is all there is.  

I don’t believe the Chancellor is any better, just a newer face.   He may pray more often but that’s for his own soul.  Not ours.

I don’t believe that there is any great difference in mindset between Piers Morgan and Boris Johnson.  The only audience either of them care about

is the image in the mirror.  Whether it is media or Westminster, get between those guys and the glass, and you really will be unpopular.

I don’t believe what bread looks like.  I believe how it tastes.  If I had a pound for every tarted up loaf I have shelled out for  – at fine food fairs, farmers’ markets, artisanal outlets  and patisseries – that looks fine but tastes of not very much, I would be a rich woman.  My son used to tease me about being the only person he knew who would go distance for a good chicken – true – and now it’s bread.

a striking image!

Walking to find food may not sound as glamorous as exercising to an on line tape or walking for charity but it counts as exercise.

I am still giggling about being described as a hysterical feminist. (IDBI)  I was looking for something on line (it was a slow afternoon) and turned it up.   You’ll have your own view of feminism (a bit like beauty, in the eye of the beholder) but I have never been hysterical.  It is how a certain group of men  describe any woman who gets angry.  I was born angry

–  my parents, I salute you.  And I owe a man (Dov) the greatest thanks for having told me that it was so, and the story from Solomon, and Martin Buber’s rewrite, that confirmed it.  

And while the above seems heavily laden against the male sex – may I just say I would be just as critical about women who behaved as badly, unkindly, immorally and with such noisy irresponsibility – as the above ?   And that in the last few weeks I have received several outstanding letters, all from men.  Half a dozen letters isn’t a sea change but it might be a marker.    All too often the thoughtful are shoved aside by an unthinking mass.

And that image  – the few being inundated by the many – describes why we are in such a state about several of our institutions – the NHS, the constitution,  the BBC, my God read the information from Logistics UK about the increase in prices.   No wonder people keep looking for a saint or a superhero to pull us back from the lemming

brink that looms.

The slender young woman with red hair who passed as I was putting rubbish in the bin (I have a very good relationship with my bins) was wholly mortal – yawning.   And she wore a well cut single breasted coat the colour of orange peel – over which I exclaimed, asking her to show me the back  (where cheap coats pinch and become ugly) and generally enthusing.  She excused herself (with a whisper of an accent) for yawning without covering her mouth, I told her she was probably the last person in London to do that, we smiled at each other and parted.  

Later in the afternoon, I opened the door again and on the step were 12 roses, white, yellow and orange.  The orange must have been dyed, I have never seen a rose that colour, how clever –  and a note:  “not quite a jacket but a splash of colour to brighten your home.  thank you for connection.  your neighbour, orange jacket.”

Orange Rose © Harold Davis

Note:

Victor Meldrew is a popular British TV character whose catchphrase is “I don’t believe it !”

fisherman’s*

I was never a big drinker

which is not to say that I haven’t tried to keep up with Wal and Howard who have hollow legs or Ginny (ditto) but I wound up belching, farting, giggling and blurred.  About as far from soignee as you can get. 

Pam the Painter and I (who have  known each other for 25 years) have been known to drink two bottles of Prosecco at a sitting – we liked it long before it was fashionable – though I remain the only person I know who can’t drink champagne. 

Two polite glasses maybe but a drop more and it depresses me to death, crying jag.  And every time I buy tonics, some wiseacre jokes about gin to which I am very nearly allergic.  One gin – pale and woffy. Two gins – lavender with taupe shadows under the eyes and most unwell.  Not worth it.

I longed to be continental, smoking caporal and knocking back Scotch

but neither liked me and I never got the appeal of white wine once I was out of my twenties.   A rose can hit the spot sometimes in the summer, though it is not what I would habitually chose.  I love red wine and Ginny and I used share supper and surprise each other variously with South African blended or Italian experiments – a long way from Chianti – cheering each other on. 

But red wine likes me less than it has ever done.  It stops me sleeping .  So I drink less than I have ever drunk, two grudging glasses of wine on a night when I think I can tolerate the second one and sleep ( I am known to have just one measurable one). 

Or a mean measure of brandy in a long glass filled with ice and tonic (always Fever Tree, who speak advertising truth to purchasing power ie the mixer is two thirds of your drink and it does make a difference) – one.  I have been known to have a second but not more than half a dozen times a year.  Come Armageddon,  I want to be sober.    But I do want to drink Vittel again before I die.

When I first moved in here, I was still working a bit and thus earning.  The local convenience store, which has changed hands and some of the stock but remains convenient, sold Vittel. 

And I drank it. It wasn’t cheap and I gave it up when it was an economy I could make.  A senior representative from the Water Board whom I had interviewed at Talk Radio (when it was a radio station) had written to me delightedly about being allowed a fair shake.   So I taught myself to drink

water from the tap.

Somewhere in there this was reaffirmed by discovering Sarah Helms’s book about Vera Atkins and SOE.  

I first read about Special Operations Executive in the person of Noor Inyat Khan.  The book was called Codename Madeleine and I found it in the school library when I was 14.  Vera Atkins drank two big glasses of cold water to start the day and if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.  I also drink water during the day which is what most people forget to do, under and around the two cups of coffee I purr over for breakfast, possibly a cup of tea in the afternoon and whatever else.  But I do miss Vittel.

I pass on soft drinks and cartons of juice.   I have only once drunk Coca Cola – parched, in the Kruger Game Park – and I would rather be thirsty. Mouthwash.  There was once a man who told me on radio he drank 16 cups of white coffee a day and I thought he was potty.  Once I had discovered that I was very nearly allergic to chicory,

gone off and back on to coffee, which took years – it was black as the pit, hot as hell and sweet as an angel. Quite apart from what the latte was doing to his digestion, think of the impact on his wallet.

You can live a surprisingly long time without food and all kinds of other fluid but you need water. 

Make mine Vittel.       

*Cockney rhyming slang: fisherman’s daughter /water.

music and the tiger

The Tiger

is an experienced nurse from Bengal, not Bangladesh. It was the first thing she told me, in response to my question about her name.  Her father is a devoted GP in the south east of England.  She has seen tigers in the wild.   Music

is the surgeon who told me her name means music – when the Hindu gods spoke, it was called music.  One of her grandfathers had hoped she might be a musician but both father and mother are surgeons and she is too.   Once she had chosen the eye (opthamology), she concentrated on the retina.   If the retina can’t work, there is no sight.

I have macular degeneration and the right eye has slid from dry to wet mac.   Several weeks ago I went to Moorfields the specialist eye hospital for the first time in 50 years where there was a slender hope of a variant.  This week that hope vanished. 

The treatment in the NHS for mac is a drug called aflibercept,  injected into the eye. 

What stops people taking part in research ?  I was asked to take part in a study asking if retinal images can predict response to the aflibercept therapy (etc) and enthusiastically agreed. That imaging takes ages,

age related degeneration, moorfields

a skill of its own, requiring you to sit very still in an allocated position. Somewhere in there the researcher said “You can relax now” and I growled “Shut up”, went on concentrating till we were done, and then apologised.  From there I was escorted to a quiet room with Music and the Tiger in the research part of the hospital where I said immediately that I was a complete coward, not good with needles, needles and eyes – not to be thought of.

But it is the treatment and often effective (if I had asked, Music would have given me the percentages).  As it was, I had hoped to evade this for a time when I would be ready (never) and it didn’t work like that.   

When I met the Tiger, I asked if she held hands.  She said “Yes” firmly.  And Music explained, what, why, where and three more dates.  Ayse who is running the project put the letter with the dates in my hand.

We’ll skip blow by blow, because all interventions are highly personal.   There are men and women who have suffered pain at levels I would find unthinkable. 

There must be an accommodation over time, the body must biochemically adapt, as does the mind (pain is perceptual). There are painkillers, the right position, coping strategies, etc but nevertheless, pain is.   This is a big deal to me, because I have been witness to so much – physical, emotional, sexual, social – so easy to cause pain.  And I know my physical levels of pain tolerance are low.  (A great friend is going through a procedure at the moment which is made more difficult because she is used to putting up with pain and she has to approach it another way if she is to heal.)

The Tiger did indeed hold my hand, Music told me what she was doing as she did it, through anaesthetic, antibacterial, retractor and injection. 

  There was indeed a moment of profound discomfort and I spent the rest of the evening wanting to shake my head like a donkey with a bothersome fly (one of my favourite poems is GK Chesterton’s The Donkey).   But there is no pain.  There wasn’t last night and there isn’t this morning.

I was given drops and told how to use them (in the worst designed ever bottle but then I am clumsy).  And they asked “Would you like us for the other appointments? ”   And I said yes please, it  would give me clinical coherence, explaining how in my professional life I spent time with people who never saw the same person twice and constantly had to go back to the beginning.  And how distressing that is, a diminishing loop.

I doubt that Music and the Tiger said anything they hadn’t said before and before, but I met them with one of my few gifts – communication – and it’s a two way street.  Two women, both mid 30s, committed with admirable skill sets and experience, kind hearts and clever hands.  My mother well wished me.  It was her birthday.

a small day

It’s all too big. 

£154 billion for the high speed rail link or borrowed to keep us afloat, a billion pound bail out for London Transport, here a billion, there a million –  £5 million for Graham Norton, £1 million plus for Zoe Ball.    Yesterday I heard the first sensible argument for the plan that reduces  “an Englishman’s home is his castle” to crumpled fag packet.  I remain unconvinced.   And however good at his job Graham Norton is, his price is too high.   To the whinny of “that’s the market price” I’d say – then let somebody else pay it.  Ditto Ball. Nobody is irreplaceable.

Small is Beautiful

is still on my reading list and  maybe, after Dick King-Smith – because after I wrote last week about my son reading his childhood books for reassurance in life’s pressure cooker, I have been reading one a day.  Let it rain.  I am dry, warm and comforted, not the least by the writing.  And they are still running dinnerladies on Sundays.

A friend rang to say that she didn’t want to talk to her grandchildren on Zoom – “It’s not the same” – and last weekend she had found a garden they could visit, she and her husband, the preserved and functioning herb garden of a 16th century fever hospital.  The guardian took them round and showed them everything, about a dozen visitors carefully masked and distanced.  And then as they were going, presented my sympathetic friend with a bouquet

of some 20 herbs, tied in a red ribbon.  When she, thrilled, reached for words, the guardian ran through the herbs by name. I gasped when she was telling me this story on the telephone and she said she had gasped too.  “That’s what we need, a small a day…” I said, and you can make up the rest of the rhyme as you like.

When I left the house (newspaper run) I looked to my right – dumped toilet and cistern.

  Too heavy for me to fling through the window and you must get the right dwelling if you’re going to do things like that.  So I turned left, ducking under the branches of the trees in the street, heading for where my side road adjoins the main road – and there, smack on the corner were two navvies (19th century from the word navigator – Oxford Dictionary) surrounded by red plastic hurdles and warning notices, taking out old paving stones. 

  And I said delightedly” You’ll interfere with the bikes” and started applauding. They looked at me.  “You go right ahead” I said.  “ This is a blind corner, I am an  old woman and they come down here “ I gestured” and go on to the pavement to bypass the traffic… “ and they grinned. “ Good for you, get in the way of the bikes.”  And I resumed my superficially respectable exterior and left them to it.  

I went out the other way, the road is blocked and they have a job to do.  But when I came back from shopping, there was an enormous wagon parked on the point of the corner and the two men still working, so I asked the nearest one “What shall I do ?”  He nodded and dug his spade in, walked out, held up his hand to the admittedly modest flow of traffic and waved me through.  As I went past I said ”Thank you very much” and he replied “You gave us a good laugh this morning.”   A small a day.  Please note: I am all in favour of bikes but not their weaponization.

Buns rang from a secret location –  the only way he can avoid constantly offering himself for painting, tidying up, bailing out and monitor duty is to go somewhere he doesn’t know anybody – and in a long and much appreciated telephone call, we discussed how wearying all this is.

  Not only the illness and all its preventions and conventions, but constantly having to prethink, which is in itself a problem.   I told him the two stories above, and the mantra I had devised.   

Don’t talk to me about Christmas, still less the flatulent neo-Victorian blowout which has dominated the past decade.  Don’t wish your life away.  A day at a time, a small a day …   

a small a day

It’s all too big.  £154 billion for the high speed rail link or borrowed to keep us afloat, a billion pound bail out for London Transport, here a billion, there a million –  £5 million for Graham Norton, £1 million plus for Zoe Ball.    Yesterday I heard the first sensible argument for the plan that reduces  “an Englishman’s home is his castle” to crumpled fag packet.  I remain unconvinced.   And however good at his job Graham Norton is, his price is too high.   To the whinny of “that’s the market price” I’d say – then let somebody else pay it.  Ditto Ball. Nobody is irreplaceable.

Small is Beautiful is still on my reading list and  maybe, after Dick King-Smith – because after I wrote last week about my son reading his childhood books for reassurance in life’s pressure cooker, I have been reading one a day.  Let it rain.  I am dry, warm and comforted, not the least by the writing.  And they are still running dinnerladies on Sundays.

A friend rang to say that she didn’t want to talk to her grandchildren on Zoom – “It’s not the same” – and last weekend she had found a garden they could visit, she and her husband, the preserved and functioning herb garden of a 16th century fever hospital.  The guardian took them round and showed them everything, about a dozen visitors carefully masked and distanced.  And then as they were going, presented my sympathetic friend with a bouquet

of some 20 herbs, tied in a red ribbon.  When she, thrilled, reached for words, the guardian ran through the herbs by name. I gasped when she was telling me this story on the telephone and she said she had gasped too.  “That’s what we need, a small a day…” I said, and you can make up the rest of the rhyme as you like.

When I left the house (newspaper run) I looked to my right – dumped toilet and cistern. 

 Too heavy for me to fling through the window and you must get the right dwelling if you’re going to do things like that.  So I turned left, ducking under the branches of the trees in the street, heading for where my side road adjoins the main road – and there, smack on the corner were two navvies (19th century from the word navigator – Oxford Dictionary) surrounded by red plastic hurdles and warning notices, taking out old paving stones. 

  And I said delightedly” You’ll interfere with the bikes” and started applauding. They looked at me.  “You go right ahead” I said.  “ This is a blind corner, I am an  old woman and they come down here “ I gestured” and go on to the pavement to bypass the traffic… “ and they grinned. “ Good for you, get in the way of the bikes.”  And I resumed my superficially respectable exterior and left them to it.   

I went out the other way, the road is blocked and they have a job to do.  But when I came back from shopping, there was an enormous wagon parked on the point of the corner and the two men still working, so I asked the nearest one “What shall I do ?”  He nodded and dug his spade in, walked out, held up his hand to the admittedly modest flow of traffic and waved me through.  As I went past I said ”Thank you very much” and he replied “You gave us a good laugh this morning.”   A small a day.  Please note: I am all in favour of bikes but not their weaponization.

Buns rang from a secret location –  the only way he can avoid constantly offering himself for painting, tidying up, bailing out and monitor duty is to go somewhere he doesn’t know anybody – and in a long and much appreciated telephone call, we discussed how wearying all this is.

 Not only the illness and all its preventions and conventions, but constantly having to prethink, which is in itself a problem.   I told him the two stories above, and the mantra I had devised.   

Don’t talk to me about Christmas, still less the flatulent neo-Victorian blowout which has dominated the past decade.  Don’t wish your life away.  A day at a time, a small a day …   

familiars

The night before an exam, I went upstairs to say good night to my 12 year old son and found him sitting up in bed, reading a story he had loved when he was younger. As I looked at him, he said wrily “ It makes me feel better.”   I still have that book, Magnus Powermouse by Dick King Smith.

Sometimes I wonder if I namedropped, would it make me more interesting?

Like – Jilly Cooper introduced me to the Sunday Times.

Harold Evans took me to lunch.

I met Barbara Amiel at the BBC.

I chose these three names because they have all been recently publicised – Amiel to flog a book, the popular Cooper to memorialise the passing of the variously excellent former editor of the Sunday Times Evans.   But they were only part of the scenery as I was living my life.   Which is what we do if, along the way, we meet somebody well known.  We note what we think, how they strike us but we don’t know them.   Passing fair, passing handsome, passing through.   Unlike Magnus Powermouse.  He lingers.

Last night one of the very few women I know who is intelligent, good looking and likeable analysed the Covid situation and asked me where I stood ? – among those who were prepared to be sensible and do their best , however unhappy with the vagaries of the powers that be,  or with those who were jumping up and down about conspiracy and the infringement of rights.   As conspiracy theory is only ever interesting to me inasmuch as it reveals the fears and preoccupations of those who cite it – I am in the first group.  And as far as those parameters are concerned, I am fortunate.

I live alone, not wedded to seeing anybody.  I have personal resource – certainly as long as my eyes last.   I wear a mask, wash my hands, hair, self and clothes.  I am what we used to call sensible.  If it’s going to come, it’s going to come.
Today I saw the first item which suggested that many of the elderly would rather see family this Christmas and die in consequence than be cut off from them all.  Provided they take the further responsibility of Do Not Resuscitate and leave instructions not to hijack the appallingly overstretched NHS, I can understand that.

Not good at endless wimping, there is much of modern life I don’t miss but I know that much of the familiar is now out of reach.  It is a political act to go out, to go the cinema, to wander round the shops, to pick things up, to touch an arm in empathy or sympathy.  So you seek what is available to you  and occasionally you turn up a goodie, like ancient gold in the furrow.

Mary Stewart wrote a series of books about the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Merlin the Enchanter

photography by John Fox

where I found this when I wasn’t looking.   Merlin to Uther Pendragon about the king to come: “Mithras, Apollo, Arthur, Christ – call him what you will.  What does it matter what men call the light?  It is the same light and men must live by it or die.  I only know that God is the source of the light that has lit the world, and that his purpose runs through the world and past each one of us like a great river, and we cannot check or turn it, but can only drink from it while living, and commit our bodies to it when we die .”   It sounded like my father, wholly familiar.

In the last week, I have reached for old cherished reading, had my drains attended by a comforting and informative plumber and received emails from two men quite dissimilar but warm in their wish to communicate appreciation across the divide.  I know the books but I find new things them every time I look.  I did not know the plumber, his company costs the earth but always delivers while the two correspondents spoke quite differently – one in general appreciation, the other quite specifically.  For him my broadcast voice was part of the light and part of the light was its familiarity.

 

the glass

That glass.  You know the one, the one that we describe as half empty or half full.  Life’s glass, the image a friend offered to me at the end of an anxious, tired conversation about the ills of our world (which I am not going to list, who needs a negative incantation ?)   “And well, you know” she said “ for me, the glass is always half full.” “The glass is half empty” I said.  “I drank the first half” and we laughed.  It is very difficult to have a positive conversation without sinking into toe-curling bromides.

But I am serious.  I had a wonderful time.  Yes, I have had sorrow, defeat and loss but I have had joy, victory and gain. You will note the absence of “also” in that sentence.   The balance is kept in another place, I don’t do ledgers about life.   I mean what I say and it is still true.

One of those small decisions we live by was that I would have a desk diary.  In one sense this is ridiculous.  I no longer work beyond annalog, social life was nearly in neutral before the bug and will continue to be so.    I am not as self sufficient as some of my friends.  There are still days when I need a voice first thing in the morning as much as I need my two glasses of cold water (here’s to you, Vera Atkins, SOE).  I was absurdly and unreasonably hurt by the people who didn’t come through on the telephone during lockdown.  But then others I had not expected at all did.  It’s that glass again …

The desk diary however gives me great pleasure and with one exception, it’s been the same diary for years – Redstone Press.  One of those places you email and they reply ?   Unlike finding a gardener which took me four goes including a cold as a stone chit who told me “We don’t give advice.”  “Oh really ?” I said.  “Then why don’t we just forget the whole thing …” and then I hit a home run.  I am not being grand, I am being (gawdelpus) sensible.  If I went up a ladder to fix the honeysuckle and made a mess of it, or me, it would be one more thing for my son to cope with.

In the desk diary I put birthdays and dates of importance.   This has already paid dividends.   We are human, we like to be remembered, we like things about us to be remembered ie the anniversary of the day the big job came through, your father’s death, in my case, both parents’ birthdays, days of good omen.  I noted the death of Ho Chi Minh, Kristallnacht and Oradour, the day I saw the neurologist, sayings that appeal , the plagues of Egypt, how correctly to address Her Majesty .  All sorts of bits and pieces that need to be noted in a safe place you won’t lose, and should you need them, you will know where to look.  The Redstone diaries have wonderful written things in them and pictures, and like my cherished New Yorker date-a-day, it’s something new, inexpensive, personal and positive.

And I have discovered I may be a secret optimist because I have just bought my diary for 2021. That made me laugh at myself.  Who knows if we will even be here ?

Don’t talk to me about the new normal, another irritating slogan.  The recent normal was about as far from normal as you could get, I mean for about the last 50 years.  Greedier and greedier, less and less thoughtful, more and more synthetic.  Bound to rupture and it did.  And then “thousands of children fail to show up for school” (Times 16.09.20).   My grand daughter was at school for two days before she was sent home to isolate as a suspected Covid contact.  Normal.

It’s not my favourite word.  It has quite specific connotations.  Thrown about, it is just another buzzword.  Like “woke”.   What is normal really is to have the glass both half full and half empty at the same time.   It’s the same glass and unless you are a member of the Magic Circle, it will be the same bit that’s full – the bit you have still to get to.   Here’s to you.