Saturday 31st March
It seems that there is a real dissatisfaction with politics at the moment. People were seduced by the smoothness of Blair, and the reasonableness of Blair-Lite Cameron, and for a moment by the apparent breath of fresh air of Clegg, but like a lot of Chinese take-away food, none of it satisfies somehow. In fact after you have eaten it, it leaves a cloying and irritating taste in your mouth, because try as you might you cannot get rid of it. But it is even more than the characters, unsavoury and nondescript as they are, it is the whole political system. Maybe we just need a politician to hold his or her hand up and say “You know, actually, we can do very little, all I can promise you is that we will try to manage events as best we can, we will not take bribes or try to be influenced too much by big business or the unions, and we will consult you if anything crops up that we haven’t talked about already. I know that doesn’t sound much like a programme for Government, but honestly that is the best we can offer, anything else would be lies.” And you know they would be crucified by the press and the commentators if they did.
But in all reality that is about all that under the current system anyone can do. And even if we had a much better (perfect is too much to hope for) system of responsibility and real consultation and engagement with people the world is so interconnected that there ‘ain’t any real hope of substantial change anyway. Companies would simple up and move their car production or their Insurance headquarters elsewhere if the public’s views were really acted upon. The reason that there is so much unhappiness with politics is not the lack of honesty, we quite expect our politicians to lie to us, it isn’t the lack of consultation, most people would soon tire of having to express an opinion about education or changes to the NHS; it is the knowledge that unless the whole world changes our politicians are at best simply tinkering around with a broken system.
Friday 30th March
They are at it everywhere you look; in fact you don’t even have to look. It used to be just that annoying ring whenever you were on a bus or a train, and that irritating reply, “I’m on the bus.” – yes we know that, we can see you, and by the way do you actually realise that you are shouting and making an absolute exhibition of yourself. Somehow the natural English fear of embarrassment seems to desert people whenever their mobile rings. Then it was the absurd sight of people with earpieces apparently talking to themselves while on a hands free set. The fixed stare into the middle distance and the animated face as if they are actually having a conversation with some invisible interlocutor, do they realise just how ridiculous they look, and yet totally oblivious of all around them, they are locked into the conversation of which we can only here one side, (thank goodness). And then the lunch companions who insist on answering every Pavlovian summons; have they not heard of the silent button, but no, the phone must be obeyed, even mid-sentence, and with barely an apology either. But now with the advent of all those Apps on these smartphones, which I refuse to be dragged down the conformist road towards, we have the sight of huddled pathetic phone fiddlers, stroking repeatedly the images across their tiny screens, or watching music videos or playing games or answering e-mails or texting or checking the news or the football scores or the traffic jams or the state of the tube or whatever other useless information the Apps industry can try to sell to people. And they are everywhere, on every tube train, in cafes, when there is a slight lull in the conversation and even walking along the street. And they are all locked in their own little isolated world, oblivious to any other human being on the planet. So, wake up people please, and realise that there is a life away from your handsets, and please, please stop playing with your phones.
Thursday 29th March
What makes something like a stone, a mineral deposit, a rather large natural crystal either worth millions, or a few pounds or worthless? Nothing; except our accepted ideas of what is beautiful or rare or desirable. Years ago I read a story by Solzhenitsyn about prisoners being forced to walk about a thousand kilometers through the frozen tundra to one of the outposts of the Gulag. The thing that struck me most was that the guards traded with the native Siberian peoples, half Eskimo I suppose they would be. The guards swapped, or traded empty gallon tin cans for furs. To the Western world empty cans are thrown away, disposable – as of course to these nomadic peoples the excess skins of animals they had captured and killed for food were. In the West one of the most desirable items being a fur coat; just waste material for these people, and yet a tin can was invaluable for carrying water or other possessions in. So the value we put on anything is completely arbitrary and not based on any intrinsic value the object may have. So a lump of coal, unless we want to burn it is pretty useless, yet whole armies are funded by diamonds, as well as being one of the most desirable objects in our society. But why is that, is it because diamonds are so hard, so indestructible (unless we burn them) or because they are so rare, or because they are beautiful. They certainly are beautiful, although quite over-rated I think. Personally I have always preferred those semi-precious stones like Turquoise or Amethyst or Jet or Amber (I know, not a stone at all). They are usually much larger and less brilliant, but the colours are so lovely and look better against human flesh, which is the real test. I also have a habit of beach-combing whenever I am near the sea, picking up some unusual but nicely coloured and smoothly ground stone from the beach. And each one of these common pebbles is really as beautiful as any diamond that was obtained by sweat and toil in some African mine.
Adrian wrote me a poem – you can find it in Catherines Story :
Jet, Your obsidian net, Captured me right from the start.
Jade, Don’t ever fade, Or it would break my heart.
So precious or semi-precious or just a stone from the beach, they are all beautiful and equally valuable.
Wednesday 28th March
Now that the clocks have been forced forward in their relentless search for sunshine and the evenings are lighter earlier, the corollary is that the mornings are darker again. Suddenly we are slung back into a touch of winter in the shape of darker mornings. And you have to get up even earlier to really appreciate it. Instead of my usual six-thirty to seven I have been rising at five forty-five. This was a conscious decision, not a result of sleeplessness or some temporary insanity I can assure you – I wanted to see the sun rising again. So I was up at that ungodly hour, which in old money was way before five even, and quickly dressing and foregoing my favourite and first tea of the day I was out of the door. The temperature was not as cold as I had feared; the skies have been quite clear for days now, not a cloud to hide the blushes of the night, and I had expected it to be really cold, but although chilly it was remarkably mild. And still – the very air seemed frozen, as if the wind had forgotten its duty to blow. Hardly anyone was about at all, a couple of taxi’s still trawling the deserted streets and early morning delivery vans but no pedestrians at all. In a moment I was in the park and here the light was just opening out, the sky a deep indigo brightening gently towards the land. No birds were singing and no squirrels scampering as if a hush had come upon the land, I walked over to the lake, usually bustling with ducks, moorhen and a solitary swan, but here all was quiet too, the surface of the water an oily greeny-black, lurking and waiting for the sun. The darkness was lifting quite quickly and soon the sky was a bright blue and the crescent moon just visible but the myriad stars were fast fading in the light of day. There were too many trees to get a good view of the sun, but the light was perceptibly filling the sky and then there in-between the trees was the sun itself, large and bold and golden flickering through the branches. Then I started to hear the birds start singing, a couple of dogs barking on their early morning walk, and the incessant hum of traffic resumed its background mumble. Gone was the beautiful still of the morning; but for a few moments it had been so quiet that one could almost imagine the world itself had paused for a moment in its tracks, just a small hesitant pause, hardly a moment at all, before resuming its eons old journey through the day.
Tuesday 27th March
When we were at school assembly all those years ago our Head-Mistress Miss Taylor, or Hilda as we used to call her, (though whether the H initial of her first name was actual Hilda or a more innocuous Helen or Harriet we knew not; Hilda she was known as and Hilda she became) loved to present us with a little epercu, a thought for the day if you like, some little homily used on the generations of girls who passed through her hands which she would say in a voice full of wisdom and a baleful stare above our heads as if to some God hovering in the ether. Well God never replied to Hilda, but sometimes in my head I did. One of her favourites which would be rolled out every few weeks was, “Here hath been dawning another blue day, Think, will thou let it slip useless away?” to which my considered and silently mouthed answer would be, “Mmmm probably.”
And how true that was; every day is another blue day, and yes, we mostly do let them slip if not completely useless away, then more often unfulfilled than a box-ticked achievement. As a young woman, conscientious to a fault I would often assess my day, and give myself a mark out of ten, writing it neatly after my usually sparse diary entry in a circle, more often than not my score was 5 or below, and only occasionally hit the heady heights of an 8 or a 9. Being taught at school that perfection was actually unachievable, but simply something to strive for I would on principle refuse to ever award myself a 10.
I stopped all of that nonsense years ago, including the diary entries, although of course my little blog which you are now reading has become a sort of substitute for a diary. Now I rarely think about whether I have let slip the day or have actually used it well. And the reason is that I have discovered that no matter how poorly one has wasted the day, how carelessly let it slip away, there is always the promise of tomorrow.
Monday 26th March
This was another of those great Tamla-Motown songs of the mid-sixties, this one by Jimmy Ruffin. It has been covered many times by many artists, one of my favourites being by Colin Blunstone in the early eighties. But I don’t want to write about the song but about the phrase, the emotion, the shared experience; that awful desolation when you realise that the one you have loved doesn’t love you any more, or has let you down, or more likely, gone off with someone else. The utter despair when you can hardly face getting up and going to work, maybe because you will have to explain why you are no longer together, or just try to fill your day with something, anything to stop you thinking about them and digging deeper into the roove of your misery until the blood runs free. There you go, pick-pick-picking at the scab, and just as your mother (or in my case Grandma) told you to leave it alone to heal on its own; you just can’t stop yourself from tormenting the wound over and over and wallowing in the mud-bath of your own despond. That moment seems to want to last forever, as if letting go of the pain means you are letting go of the once-loved one; that you are somehow betraying your desperate and hopeless love by laughing or having a good time once more. And so for days and days and sometimes weeks you do penance for the sin, the capital crime of letting them slip through your fingers, as if you cannot quite forgive yourself for losing them, when in most cases you are completely the innocent one. Ah, but apportioning blame helps little, it matters not whose fault it was, the heart is broken and will not mend, and actually you don’t ever want it to mend, as then the memory of your perfect love will be be-smirched. And so you mooch around and make those around you miserable too, until one day you wake up and realise that the sun is shining, you are mildly happy, and you haven’t thought of the wretch all day. Instantly you feel better, straight away the heart lifts, and you can hardly believe what you saw in them anyway, and you make a solemn promise never to let anyone ever treat you like that again.
That’s what becomes of the broken hearted.
Sunday 25th March
Every single human being is wonderful, even those few flawed and broken, or what we might consider not quite whole humans, are wonderful. The texture of their skin, even when broken and cracked and chapped – soon heals, the gentle fall and curl of eyelashes never fails to amaze, the eyes themselves, each a window to the soul within, the hands which express and show and hold and sometimes harm. All of it – and each and every one is marvelous. And when you occasionally are in a crowd, at a concert say, or a football match, or just shuffling along down a tube corridor, you cannot help but wonder that we are all so similar and yet each of us quite quite unique too in this mass of say a few thousand. Then when you think about a city like London, which I always considered must be the largest in the world but which is rapidly being overtaken especially in the far East, with its teeming how-many-millions of people, all different but all basically the same, how large that number becomes, suddenly we are into the millions. The human population is estimated at about seven billion, which is about one thousand cities of London full, and again each one much the same and yet vastly different. At this point one begins to wonder at the enormity of numbers, to try to physically count them would be impossible and we would die before we achieved it. And human beings are far and away from being the most populous of species, even among the animals; there are far more fish of some types in the sea and most insect species number far more individuals, which we can only assume are similar but each one different too. Then we have the plants, where billions are incredibly small fry; has anyone ever tried to estimate how many individual grass plants there might be. When we try to think about bacteria and all microbes numbers are simply no use to us, as there are millions on each individual human let alone in the air around us. And I ask myself, why this enormity of numbers should exist; is it DNA run riot, or just that there is real safety for a species in numbers? But we look at numbers from the wrong perspective, we each have our single identity, and we therefore look at all numbers as multiples of ourselves, whereas we should maybe be looking at mankind as one, and grass and ant as one too. Then perhaps we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by the enormity of numbers.
Saturday 24th March
I bought this book because I happened to see an advertisement for it on the Underground. I had somehow missed the review of the book, which is strange because I am quite thorough in perusing the book reviews in the Sunday Times, and would be most surprised if this was not featured. I recognized the name, and remembered reading a couple if his books, oh, quite a few years ago now; Nice Work was certainly memorable.
Well, I bought the book without even reading the synopsis, and stuck it on the shelf. I have just read it, and was quite surprised to find that it was a biography of H.G. Wells. Well, actually a sort of fictionalized biography, quoting real events and letters, but making up a lot of conversation and all of the emotions. It works remarkably well, because it is essentially real, and unexaggerated, but reads more like a novel. And of course, with the subject matter one had to make nothing up, the story is quite remarkable. I knew little of H.G.Wells except having read a few of his popular novels as a younger woman, and I sort of knew that he and Rebecca West had a fling. What I hadn’t realized was what a fabulously complicated love life he had; it’s a wonder he found time to write anything at all. He was also a socialist and a leading thinker on science and mankind and society. A real renaissance man, and yet today he is hardly ever mentioned. Which just about puts it all into perspective, here was a giant among men, a prolific writer and a well known public figure for many years, and yet he lies forgotten. He predicted among other things Atomic power and manned space flights and aerial warfare, and he is remembered if at all for an early sci-fi novel ‘The War of the Worlds.’ But it is his tangled love-life, falling successively for young and beautiful intelligent women who he seduced and usually abandoned that makes him so fascinating. His second wife ‘Jane’ seemed to acquiesce in his pursuit of and ravishment of these women, while remaining passive sexually herself. I just wonder if there was far more going on here than even David Lodge surmised. The book is beautifully written and quite a triumph, but I feel that if I had never read any of or knew nothing of H. G. Wells, I might have lost interest early on. So a writer’s book I feel, and I give it seven out of ten.
Friday 23rd March
And of course I am in the fortunate position of being able to do just that, but try as I might I am always up by seven. Even when feeling poorly, with a sore throat, a runny nose, or just that seasonal depression that comes on one in the winter, when you look out over grey misty dirty looking skies, and the rooftops opposite are wet and the slates greasy looking, and the lovely London skyline looks smudgy and unwashed, I haul myself out of bed and downstairs I plod. My hand goes out automatically for the switch on the kettle, and stifling a yawn I reach in the cupboard for a cup, and like a blind man the familiarity of the tea jar is soon under my hand as I feel the drug under my fumbling fingers, and drop the life-giving tea bag into the mug. No matter how I try, and I have believe me, I just cannot lie in bed. I feel so self-conscious just laying there. I try shutting my eyes, but cannot return to sleep when I know the accusatory alarm clock is there watching my every attempt at slumber. Does this come from years of work, no, I think not; it is somehow innate in me.
There are several ways you can divide people up, and one is that some are early birds while others are night owls. Edward strangely was more of the latter; he had no difficulty in dozing in bed until past ten at the weekends, and always affected surprise that I had been up for hours already, and had the dishwasher and the washing machine loaded and running, and often a small pile of neatly ironed clothes beside me, while had had been fast asleep. Conversely of course, I get that sleepy feeling coming over me as soon as the loud triumphant music of the Ten O’Clock news starts, often being fast asleep on the sofa by the time Hugh Edwards has finished reading the first item. I seem to have a natural watershed between 9.45 and a quarter past ten. If I can get over this hurdle I am fine, if something distracts me and I am still awake at half past ten I get a second wind and am wide awake again until twelve. But even on those rare occasions when in company or after a concert I am not in bed until one in the morning, as soon as the hands of the clock reach six-thirty, there I am itching to get out of bed and start the day. So even though weary and tired, some days I feel like staying in bed, there I am, up with the larks as usual. It is only when I have finished my tea, and surveyed the Breakfast news do I question my irrationality.
Thursday 22nd March
Ah me, I must be getting old – I have just been caught out by the oldest scam in the book. It happened like this, and of course I wasn’t expecting it at all, it came right out of the blue. I had walked through Hyde Park, and fancied a look at the river, so decided to cut through Knightsbridge and head down Sloane Street and to the Chelsea Embankment. I was ambling along, enjoying the early morning sunshine, and marveling at the outrageously rich boutiques inhabited by the super rich and wondering how anyone could really justify paying several hundred pounds for a rather ordinary looking pair of shoes. I crossed the road toward Cadogan Gardens just near the Carlton Tower and just a few feet in front of me a woman in her early thirties suddenly threw her hands up in the air, and bent down and picked something up, exclaiming, “A ring. A gold ring!” Of course I stopped and, intrigued, walked the few steps toward her. “How lucky,” I said, “I wonder who could have dropped it?” The woman, who I guessed from her accent was East European of some sort, was trying the ring on her finger. She suddenly turned to me and said, “it doesn’t fit me, you have it.” and shoved it into my hands. I turned it over in my hands, it was certainly chunky and had some sort of mark inside. “I will take it a police station, then.” I said, not really sure if I would because I suspected that most lost property is never claimed and will be taken by the police themselves. I was still in some sort of surprised shock I suppose, when I felt my sleeve being tugged quite violently by the woman. “You must give me some money, I have no food to eat.” And her hand went to her mouth as if putting invisible food there. I half-realised, but wasn’t completely sure that it was a scam, and maybe out of embarrassment, maybe out of conscience I opened my purse. Luckily I had no notes there, and I gave her some small change and a couple of pound coins. This of course, failed to satisfy her, and she kept repeating the gesture of hand to mouth at me. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I have no notes.” even though I did have some in the side pocket of my handbag all along. I walked off with this woman following me and tugging at my sleeve every so often, and putting empty fingers to her mouth. I knew by now she was just a beggar; well I had given her a few coins so please leave me alone. The gold ring was almost certainly made of brass, maybe a plumbers’ olive bought for a few pence in a hardware shop. Eventually she gave up the struggle.
At school there used to be a bit of a racist joke. What is the definition of perpetual motion – A Jew trying to get sixpence out of a Scot. Well, she had met her Scot in me, and I had won. And maybe as a souvenir, or as a trophy, and brass or not, I had kept the gold ring.