Reading Aloud


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Claude d’Esplas

Reading Aloud

A concert

Aldous had agreed to having another concert in his grounds. He has a useful barn with good acoustics which can be turned into a concert hall of some description, holding about a hundred people. It had been quite a success last year. A lovely venue in a rural setting. Fields, woods.
Somebody said Glyndebourne. It must be nice having one’s property likened to Glyndebourne, if on a different level obviously. Let’s try and be up to it.

The village people were notified of the forthcoming event, asked to book early and warned that numbers were limited. No harm in exercizing a little pressure… It was no good anyway.
Hardly anyone booked. People had to be chased up and made to buy their tickets. One can’t really say “no” to somebody one is supposed to be friendly with. One can’t say “no” to somebody one works with. One certainly doesn’t refuse a free ticket – Aldous himself had bought up quite a number to give them away. Sometimes it was difficult to make people pay on the spot. It upset Aldous’ wife. It happened to me twice that people couldn’t pay £2 or so, because they had to “go to the bank in the morning”. I let them off, saying they could pay at the door. Aldous’ wife thought they were naughty and wrote “to pay” on their tickets.

Aren’t people sticky where money is concerned? How much had I taken so far, Aldous’ wife asked. I was afraid, not much. Anyway, it all helps. The organizers were apparently going to great trouble about providing refreshments. I heard they had paid out so much already. Just for food! Should they not cut down on that and let the musicians have more, Aldous’ wife wondered. She was glad it wasn’t her business. She had enough hassle preparing the barn. She was quite exhausted and started thinking was it worth it. She in fact might not have it again next year. She hadn’t asked me to help her, she kindly told me, because she knew I was busy doing good deeds. I was grateful for her consideration.

People would expect concerts in such venues to be in aid of something. Last year it happened, much to the organizer’s embarrassment, that in fact the question was asked: “What was the concert in aid of?” Really it had mainly been to support a few competent young musicians. The question of charity had not been considered. There was no evidence of it on the programme. Fortunately, somebody had had the foresight of making a donation of £7 to the Church, £7 that were left over, towards the restoration of the roof more exactly. So there was the answer: in aid of the Church. The person who told me chuckled. They’ve learnt their lesson for this year’s concert and printed on the invitation: “proceeds after expenses to charity”. It looks good, meets any honest citizen’s expectations and what is more, means nothing, being totally non-committal. The organizers decide about expenses and any amount left over depends on how well tickets sell. Everybody should be happy like that. To do things absolutely correctly, the name of the charity benefiting was printed on the programme. Very appropriately a charity supported by musicians.

Some time after the concert, Aldous’ wife told me they had received a number of letters from people who had much appreciated the music and even made donations. “Or for the kitty,” Aldous’ wife suggested. “It would be nice to have something in the kitty.” Is she thinking of next year?

Anyway, the concert was a success, and how about a report about it in the local newspaper? Aldous’ wife was all for it. The men would have to do that of course. Aldous was a little tired, but willing to contribute. Things that go on in a small village, in his grounds! He could write a report together with somebody else. However, this person was more than a little tired. Always willing to oblige, it is true. Had Aldous had the energy to grab him, he would not have resisted. As it happened, Aldous couldn’t be bothered, and his wife tried in vain, so she told me, to push him. Nothing came of it in the end. What a shame.

Aldous took the opportunity, on the night of the concert, for a little advertizing. What a chance having a hundred people in one room who wanting to sit down have to remove a slip of paper from their seats first! Because that was what he had done. People were bound to take notice of a slip of paper on their seats. What was the best way psychologically speaking of putting the message over to them? By making them aware in friendly terms of an important meeting. It concerned the future of their parish – much debated for a long time – and he was going to be one of the main speakers. At the end the reader was told in large print to take the date of the meeting down in his/her diary NOW. No harm in telling people clearly and helping them not to forget…

After the concert a lot of these papers were found left on the seats. “People didn’t even bother to take them with them,” somebody complained to me. I told him I had left mine, too. I had no use for it. The other person looked surprized and then laughed…

Reading Aloud


I had a sore throat. When Aldous noticed it, his face lit up. He was dying to cure me. He knew what to do. Would I accept his therapy? How could I turn down a good friend’s therapy?

He proposed to prepare some gargling mixture for me. I was relieved to hear “gargling”, because that’s different from “swallowing”. Also I was naively thinking of taking it home and then to do with it as I pleased. Not so Aldous. He made sure. He returned from his house – I was staying by their swimming pool where my daughter was enjoying herself – with a glass containing an opaque mixture. I had to use it in his presence! Also it turned out that I had to gargle first and then…swallow the liquid! I kept smiling while enquiring what the components of the mixture were. I felt that since I was to take it, I was entitled to know. He as a scientist should have a lot of sympathy with my request. He, too, kept smiling, not saying a word.

I looked back at him, waiting. His wife was getting uncomfortable. She said in a slightly reproachful tone: “Maybe there is a bit of Zn in it” meaning that I should have known. I suppose I should. I inquired about a possible disinfectant and he said: “There might be a bit of sodium in it…”, smiling expectantly all the while. I decided I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and demonstrated my ability to gargle. My daughter thought I was very good at that. Then I swallowed it as told. I repeated this several times until the glass was empty. I remarked that after a while I had tasted some sort of bitterness. Zn no doubt.

Aldous said this was very interesting. He thought to himself that, maybe, I wasn’t Zn deficient after all – I knew he had considered this as an obvious possibility – and said aloud that my taste buds had been activated through the mixture. Perhaps this is a scientifically sound statement – he should know being the expert. Anyway, I had the impression that the lubrication did my throat good and he was pleased to notice an immediate effect. Next day I was much better which he noted with great satisfaction. Of course, he knew why, whereas I didn’t. He offered me another gargle – I don’t know whether jokingly or seriously – which I turned down jokingly.

I knew he had been worried about my state of health. I lost a little weight recently and was feeling tired. I couldn’t hide it from him and couldn’t very well tell him the reason for it either. He would have been shocked!! I looked a bit the “anorexic” way, I suppose, and you know what the remedy for that is. Zn! Of course, when you’re Zn deficient you’re not supposed to taste it!

Reading Aloud

Clothes make the man

Did you watch the royal wedding? My daughter spent nearly all day in front of a friend’s TV screen. Quite fantastic, all this royalty together. My daughter thought the Queen didn’t look too happy. Nor did her other daughter-in-law. Maybe she was a little jealous? Who should get the most attention? All these beautiful dresses! The Queen’s according to a national newspaper particularly tasteful.

Aldous and his wife were coming back from somewhere on that day and stopped at some friend’s house to watch the Royal Wedding. An event not to be missed. Colourful, gorgeous, glorious, lovely and loving, enthralling, beautiful music, too, and the Bride elegant and self-possessed, conscious of her duties and patiently, like the rest of the family, waving to the cheering crowds from the Balcony. They knew what they owed the Nation!

“Did you like the Bride’s dress?” the dentist asked me next day. I told him I did and he approved. Aunt Maisie whom I saw in the afternoon did not: the neckline was too low. She showed me pictures of other royal brides from earlier years. It was true, their dresses went up to their necks. Aunt Maisie shook her head about the immorality of our time.

I told George and his wife about Bob Somebody, the great fund-raiser, who was knighted recently. He was dressed for the occasion in a suit presented to him by the Royal Tailors and worth £1000. The Queen had paid him a compliment and actually said: “You look nice.” This had been reported in all the media – the Head of the State herself confirming the popular proverb that “clothes make the man”. George and his wife weren’t sure whether to laugh or not. “This is not what he’s been knighted for,” she pointed out to me, visibly impressed by the enormous sums of money he had raised. I must give him he’s good at that. By the way we don’t have a word for “fund-raising” in my language.

George was looking down my legs and noticed that I had some “pretty sandals” on… I was glad I could please him.

New Friend told me that before he actually knew me he had often seen me on the road – in always the same clothes. Not that it mattered, he said, he was just struck by it.
The children told him that I could look elegant if I wanted to. He readily granted me that and paid me compliments when he saw it. He in fact thanked me for putting on new shoes or a “glamorous” dress or pretty earrings. He liked earrings for girls. He didn’t like girls wearing men’s clothes. It’s nice of people to take notice of one’s clothes and praise them. It is so reassuring. One likes to feel that one looks right.

Like the Bride on the Royal Wedding. Aldous’ wife gave her comment: she had never seen such a beautiful bride before. So lovely and friendly and relaxed. And her dress. Quite extraordinarily beautiful. I threw in again: clothes make the man. The subject of dresses was dropped. I wonder who looks best without clothes?

Reading Aloud


My eldest daughter, Jean, sixteen at the moment, is a great believer in clothes. In the clothes others wear. She must have the same. This covers everything from underwear to overcoat and headgear to footwear. In addition it is make-up. All shades of all colours. I don’t know why she doesn’t use nail varnish. Perhaps it isn’t used widely enough. My sister had a shock when she saw her recently – at least that was Jean’s impression. She had turned up with full “war paint” so to speak in a pair of trousers that looked like pyjamas, high-heeled shoes, enormous earrings and I don’t know what else. My sister would never have thought that of me!

Jean had brought some money with her to spend during her holiday on the Continent. When she came back home, it turned out she had spent it all on clothes. We persuaded her to do a little parade for us and had a presentation of present day fashion.

That’s what it is: fashion, things the others do, the majority, no matter what, most manifest and visible in clothes. Jean who is naturally shy tells me she doesn’t want to stick out and puts on the most daring clothes. She hesitated very much to parade them at home.
She hates humorous comments on her clothes. In the end she was showing the tightest and shortest mini-skirt imaginable. I deliberately sent her to switch off an electric point underneath the desk. I was wondering… And then said aloud: “How will you do that?”
I shouldn’t have done, because I had hit a sensitive spot. She turned round before having done the job and with a red face marched out of the room. Later I found her in tears, furious tears, in her bedroom. She was most angry with me for being so nasty. She had known from the beginning that I would tease her and had dreaded it. I told her she could wear this skirt whenever she wanted to. She said no, she wouldn’t, she had torn it up already, she had realized it was impossible, but why did I have to do it in this way, so unpleasant and downright hurtful. She accused me of taking delight in poking fun at her. That’s where fun stops. I had not been aware of saying nasty things to her. I hadn’t even criticized her skirt, just asked a question… She wouldn’t hear.

I had to think of something to restore peace. Putting on a stern face I expressed my disgust at her most untidy bedroom. All the things I had found under her bed, cupboard and chair during her absence! She stopped her tears and looked sheepish. I left her room to return a few minutes later proposing a deal: I would forgive her, if she forgave me! She accepted, smiling. “At last you’ve stopped laughing,” she said and kissed me good night.

I read this piece to her twenty-four hours later. She said: “If you don’t mind me being like that…”

Reading Aloud

Problems when writing

My husband is still the same. He can bear seeing me write for a certain time.
Then he cannot restrain himself anymore. Walking past me for the fourth or fifth time, he eventually stops at my side wondering when the living room was vacuum-cleaned last. I give him an honest answer: I have no idea. Then I have a good thought: What’s the point of cleaning it, if he keeps on walking through carrying wood and tools, his clothes and sandals covered in saw dust? He cannot answer that. Next time he comes he leaves his sandals on the doorstep and goes through barefooted.
I have a few minutes respite. Then he remarks: what about our bedroom? When was that done last? I can’t help smiling and saying: “You will find something for me, won’t you? He shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t know what to say. I’m glad he doesn’t show any bad temper and feel I want to show my good will. Which I do. He smiles.

In bed, at night, I cannot sleep. Too many thoughts in my mind. It might be safe to jot them down while I remember. My husband is downstairs still, and I go to my daughter’s bedroom to borrow pen and paper. She is fascinated and says: “I like your way of writing books.” My husband is anything but fascinated.

He comes to bed and finds me half asleep. I seem to keep him at arm’s length and he is disappointed. My mind is filling up with thoughts again. How can I go about jotting them down? I don’t feel like leaving my warm bed, pen and paper are right next to me on my bedside table. Can I dare switch on the torch? I notice he hasn’t gone to sleep yet and speak to him. He is in fact wide-awake and seeing that I am, draws nearer hopefully. I ask him in my most diplomatic manner could I switch on my torch — I can feel him stiffen a bit — in order to write down a few ideas, not much.
Oh dear, this is more than he can stand. He lets go of me, withdraws an inch or two and says: “I do object to that.” And again making it quite clear: “No!”
I ask him why not. He says: “Do you want a discussion now?” He turns over making the bed squeak. I take the opportunity to grab my pen and paper and withdraw into the bathroom. It doesn’t take me long and I return to bed without having roused suspicion.

Reading Aloud

More problems

My husband keeps having problems with me. If it isn’t the housework, it’s something else. He likes to play the piano in the evening. Sometimes I join him with the recorder. He tries to get that over and done with quickly. I must give him that he is patient with me most of the time, explaining things, playing tunes and phrases for me on the piano so that I can hear which way they sound nice. I certainly try hard to oblige. He made me laugh last night when he played my part with feeling, sort of leaning towards the piano, raising his shoulders and really putting himself into it. I’ve never seen him play his own pieces like that.

I tend to be tired in the evening. Having done music with me, he goes on playing his own music for quite a while. This stops me from doing anything – a grand piano fills a room. When he’s finished it’s nearly bedtime. I hang around another half hour or so before retiring to bed.
He comes half an hour later, mostly at a point when I’m about to go to sleep. He likes a cuddle and puts out a hand or a foot to see how I react. I don’t want to be anti-social and snuggle up in his arm for a few minutes. Then it’s time to go to sleep.

I came to the conclusion lately that I’m wasting my time. I should go to bed early and get up early. I must go early enough to make sure I’m asleep when he comes. I tried it out last night. It worked except that I woke up on his arrival.
I was determined not to be disturbed any more, and when he put out his big toe, I moved away very gently. He left off, but was noticeably not at ease. Something was wrong. Tossing and turning, back into the bathroom, re-arranging blankets, a hand coming near me now – I had hardly any room for further movement and had to be very careful not to hurt his feelings. Eventually we must have gone to sleep. He woke up again after a while and I, too, I don’t know why. He paid another visit to the bathroom. I went back to sleep and woke up at about 5.30 am, lingered in bed a little longer and as I was about to get up he, too, contrary to all habits, woke up, his arm stretched out for me straight away. I stayed another few minutes and then said I was getting up. He seemed unusually wide awake and must have got up soon after me to go for a run – I could tell by the way the dog was chasing up and down the stairs.
I showed my face in the kitchen before he left and he said to me: “What are you doing? Writing?”

I tried it again next day and it worked very well. I was asleep when he joined me. I didn’t notice a thing. He was fast asleep when I got up, not noticing anything either, so he said when I saw him later in the morning, adding that he hardly knew he had a wife…

The other day he said admiringly I was a born “manager”, i.e. somebody who “delegates”. It was holiday time and he was just having the meal the children had been cooking for him.

We were walking through the woods, I hanging on to one of my husband’s arms, our daughter to the other one. “I feel like a prisoner,” he said.

Reading Aloud


He claims I helped him a lot when he was feeling desperate. It was in my power, he told me, to ruin or to rescue him. So I did what I could for him. As a consequence he called me a repairer of spirits, a plumber attending to spirits, or Beautiful Monday, because that was the day I normally went to see him.

At the time he was revelling in his own worries. He didn’t want to come out of them. He felt like trapped in a circle. He indulged himself in the fact that he was a prisoner of certain unfortunate circumstances. Of course, a prisoner of circumstances… “I want to break the circle, “ was one of his favourite sayings. He felt mighty sorry for himself.

He loved the therapy I tried on him. He couldn’t get enough of it. Then I called on him to break the circle. He refused. Instead he said: “You’ll have to do a lot of work on me.” He liked me to do work on him as long as it was the kind he appreciated.

He went to see somebody who deals in spirits professionally and came back having wasted his money.

He didn’t mind calling somebody “a nice lad” – apparently a brilliant scholar at Oxford University – who had misjudged and underrated me totally. “It was only words, ‘nice lad’ “, he said shrugging off my query. “Empty words,” I added. I know somebody else who when taken at his word says he was only joking…

He likes to see me once a week and give me lunch. “I bet you only come for the lunches,” he said on one occasion. He normally stands in his living room waiting for me when I get there, and receives me with a solemn face. He missed me when I was away on holiday and gave me to understand just how much… “Let me show you,” he said and didn’t notice my reluctance. Why sit on the bed when there was his nice new kitchen furniture? However, I did not like to hurt his feelings… “Did you miss me?” he asked. I said I had often thought about him. “That’s not the same,” he remarked. I pointed out that I was in a different position. He had to accept that. “Anyway,” he continued, “you have a place in my heart.” I assured him he had one in mine. “I hope so,” he said. I told him I normally mean what I say.

He is hooked on me. I shall have to shake him off. It’s a weight, a burden, something unpleasant, somebody pulling, tearing away on one…

He said we should have met many years ago. I’m not sure I would have liked that. He said he would like to spend a holiday with me, devote himself to me entirely during a holiday. I think I prefer my husband.

He had a holiday recently with his wife. In spite of her state she had insisted on having a change and on going away. Only a three-hour drive to the West Country. She would be watching Wimbledon there, whilst he could go riding. He had found a nurse to take with them. She would look after his wife’s needs. It turned out that she wasn’t really fit for the journey there and certainly not fit for the journey back – she had to be transported in an ambulance. Asked after their return whether they had enjoyed themselves, he said yes, it had been a change for his wife. She said with a stern face she had been ill all the time, but it was nice for her husband who had been able to do a lot of riding. He has already booked a holiday for next year in the same place.

His daughter is going to be married soon. She’s not the youngest any more and everybody seems very pleased. The whole day will be spent at his house, he explained. About sixty guests who will attend a full-scale religious ceremony performed in his living room. Afterwards a celebration and all the food you want in the marquee he was going to put up in his garden. It sounded interesting. “Mind you,” he said, “I’m not into all this religion as you know. But I shall have to wear one of these funny little caps. It bothers me a bit.” Anyway, not to worry really. He would like to invite me, I gathered, but his daughter had so many friends – they were forced to limit numbers.
I quite saw his point. At our next meeting he told me there was a surprise for me. I wondered was it a good or a bad one. “A good one,” he said, “you’ll be invited to the wedding. And your husband, of course, plus a few more people from the village.” Then he added: “My way of paying you back a little…” I understand he will be completely broke after the event.

He asked me could I do him a favour. How can I say “no”? “Not a big one,” he said, “just drive to the hospital in Jeena, six or seven miles away, and turn on my wife’s T.V. set for her.” He would be on a wedding in Paris on that day. In fact he had already bought the air ticket and was looking for somebody to do the job for him. I was not delighted, but said I could do it. He rang me later saying that he might be able to spare me the journey, if his son committed himself to helping his mother, in which case he would let me know. I didn’t hear anymore. Somebody told me that people tend to take advantage of one.

What would I have to wear for the wedding I wondered. “A nice dress,” he said, “and you’ll have to do your hair”. He had just dishevelled my hair properly with both hands, something I detest, “I don’t mind,” he laughed, “but other people will be looking and wondering who this person is.”

I normally visit him and his wife on a Saturday afternoon. Once, quite unexpectedly, they were not in. They had been staying with friends in Oxford, I heard later, and had forgotten to let me know.

I offered to transport chairs for their wedding guests in our van. They seized the offer eagerly. It would be by far the cheapest way.

He very much liked the therapy I gave him in the early days of our relationship. He wouldn’t expect it to go on forever, of course, although he gave me looks much later meaning “let me have it again”. However, as he put it himself “he didn’t like to push me.” “Good for you,” I said. In later years, he mused, when we were both old and grey, we would meet at village coffee mornings, maybe, and with a laughing eye exchange meaningful glances, things we did when we were younger, a laugh…
I shrugged my shoulders — a laugh indeed. No doubt he doesn’t need me at all.
I certainly don’t need him. Why do I keep on seeing him?

It was Saturday. I went to see them. He greeted me with his usual effervescence, which for the first time I cut short. He looked surprized, but I engaged him in a conversation immediately and moved into the room where his wife was. He went into the kitchen to make tea while his wife told me that he had had a not very pleasant day in Paris. I was informed that he didn’t like the Parisians. I didn’t quite see what he could have found out about these people in one day spent as a tourist. Well, a dreadful shop owner came out of her shop to tell off a poor American lady who had endangered a window by pushing a pram too near it. A torrent of words, French of course, and the lady not understanding a thing. Disgusting. How rude! Asked for further evidence against the Parisians, she told me that years ago when they were both in Paris, it happened that in a bank the man behind the counter refused to lend them a biro to fill a cheque in with. I was sorry about their bad experience and told them that personally I had good friends there.

George was still in the kitchen. I asked his wife what the wedding had been like. “Which wedding,” she asked back utterly surprized. Oh dear, I was embarrassed. She hadn’t been informed. I asked her, was George in trouble now. She gave a sweet smile as she was saying “no” and resolutely pressed her buzzer, thus producing a persistent noise in the kitchen. George appeared, the “genius of the buzzer” as he describes himself, and was called to task. What about the wedding? He hadn’t told her anything about it. He seemed bewildered, swore that he must have told her and protested he had not been at any wedding, because he had returned home on the day it was taking place. He had only spent the day prior to their son’s friend’s wedding in Paris. George’s wife was satisfied, especially since he gave a detailed account of what he had been doing. He had told me a different story a few days ago. Perhaps he had wanted to show off. Attending a French wedding – all the people involved were English, I heard later – is supposed to be something extra special. He did look tired, if not exhausted. His wife told me he had been sleeping most of the time since his return. I have no idea what he had been up to…

Anyway, Paris is a beautiful city of course, he said. But the prices! Nothing that he could have afforded. A meal at £25 which he would have expected to pay in a fashionable restaurant. But what he got for that! And the hotel room on the Bd. St. Germain. Every room was called after a painter. Rousseau Room his. £50 per night.
No, he thought everything was too expensive in Paris and he was glad to be back.
Yes, he was glad to have gone. An experience. Makes one appreciate all the good things at home…

When I left them I gave him a quick kiss. He whispered to me “See you Monday”, but I told him something had cropped up to prevent me. I didn’t have to explain more, because we were in his wife’s hearing. He shook his fist, I don’t know who at and I went in a hurry. He tried to follow me to the car, but realized that I wanted to be gone.
He left off. I waved to him as I was driving away and he returned to the house, head down. Back home I decided it was time to turn over a new leaf.

A year ago, when he had read my first book, he reckoned he had “got off lightly”. He commented on Aldous, though. “Doesn’t he look like a fool,“ he had said to me, “and of course he is”…

Reading Aloud

George’s wife

I visited George’s wife in hospital today. I hadn’t seen George since I cancelled lunch with him and wondered how he was. “Fine,” she said. And after a while: “…but lonely.”

I knew she had let other people know about this predicament of his. She thought he was alright during the daytime, doing as much riding as he could. Not at the moment, alas, because he had a lot of work. His job. The worst was, I gathered, coming back from hospital and facing the evening at home, alone. He had told me himself that this was what he dreaded. “He is used to having people around him,” she went on. “We always had the house full of people, and now it’s quiet.” He hates being on his own in a quiet house. He doesn’t like it on his own in general. He didn’t enjoy walking round Paris museums. He would have liked somebody to “share his experience with”, he had said. “Of course you need company,” he insisted, “it’s human.” And he takes his wife out of hospital twice a week, although it’s a great strain for him, he complained about it bitterly more than once.

I asked his wife what she thought could be done for him. She said people should invite him to their houses. I pointed out one could do it occasionally, not as a habit. He would have to return home in the end in any case; no getting away from that.

“Yes,” she said, “but not facing a whole long evening.” I told her that I felt tired in the evening, after a day’s work; my husband came home from work late; I had to provide a meal for him, and by the time everything was cleared up and put away it was 8.30 p.m. She smiled sweetly saying that this was exactly the time George came home from hospital… I said I didn’t feel like entertaining when I was tired.

Quite a long time ago I had spent an evening with him. He had after all decided to tell his wife about it. He showed me a film I had wanted to see and was wearing a tie for the occasion. We sat in two armchairs side by side. He held my hand and kissed it from time to time. Then he noticed I had become involved with the film and left me to it. Eventually my husband came to collect me. He had some of the grapes we had left and tried to watch T.V. – we don’t have it – while George was talking to him.

I have whiled away time for him on a great number of occasions. I had numerous lunches in his house… His wife is by no means supposed to know about this. He talked about his problems most of the time. His schizophrenic life spent half in hospital, half out of it. The fact that his wife wanted him in hospital all the time.
That he couldn’t possibly accept this. Life passing without him doing anything worthwhile, a maddening idea. She had changed into a different person, a very egocentric one, under the impact of the disease, and while he was perfectly willing to look after her, he didn’t want to miss real life. He didn’t want to be ordered about by a sick person all the time, and yet he was bound to her. She had accepted his horse in the end, even giving him riding-tack for his birthday. However… Poor man!

His wife said he wouldn’t leave her now in the evening. “I want to stay here,” he had said to her, “I don’t want to go home.” “Good for you,” I laughed. She smiled.

Reading Aloud


He was full of bugs, he said, when we saw him last, at the house of some friends who had invited us for the evening. Only just recovered from flu or something.
His friends couldn’t help pulling his leg about the medication he had probably had. He must have been not only full of bugs, but full of…that trace element which according to him practically everybody is short of and the administration of which works wonders with a malfunctioning nervous, metabolic and any other system. He has no hesitation to prescribe it from a distance to anybody suffering from depression. One case unfortunately was terminal cancer. Of course, he couldn’t know that. No harm in trying.

He told us they had been to a concert and forced to listen to Henze’s 7th symphony. How outrageous. And there were people applauding. He was totally out of sympathy and called them cranks. That wasn’t music. There was no harmony. Had it been called “chaos” he would have understood. But there wasn’t even a name to it. The first movement was supposed to be a dance. There had been no trace of rhythm in it. Just as there are no tunes in Wagner’s works which send him to sleep.

What is music, somebody asked. The definition given by the OED was read aloud.

How about Benjamin Britten, somebody challenged Aldous, knowing full well that Aldous loathed this composer. The answer was surprizing: Benjamin Britten is heaven!! Is it all relative then, was the next question. He answered there was absolutely nothing aesthetically pleasing in Henze. A cacophony of weird sounds. Hurtful more than anything, so hurtful, he couldn’t have borne it much longer. Is “aesthetically pleasing” part of the definition of music? Personally I have no idea. It might be a subject for an interesting discussion. In a larger context. Art in general… For Aldous things were clear. He knew what music was. Anybody with a different view, like those applauding youngsters, must be an idiot. He looked determined and we dropped the subject.

Aldous’ wife passed onto the Royal Wedding. Asked for my opinion, I told them it had made me laugh, because everybody had taken it so seriously. Aldous’ wife certainly remained serious, saying with rapture it was the most beautiful bride she had ever seen! Having discussed the Bride’s dress and one or two others, we passed on to the real people. What a wonderful Royal Family we have! Not terribly academically inclined, I learned. They did have one son in Cambridge at the moment, however, people say… There was a tactful silence. Somebody asked: “Not very intelligent – is that what it means?” Nobody answered the question. Aldous and his wife thought “academic inclination” is not even desirable for them. In their job, I heard, they want to be down to earth, relate with the people.

Aldous’ wife made a few patronising remarks about the groom united with the previously mentioned beautiful bride. She obviously didn’t care too much for him, but put this in a nice English way. To me the person in question looked like a monkey. His younger brother, Aldous’ wife said, looks nice. And his elder brother! Aren’t we lucky to have such a marvellous future king. So serious. So involved. Making known his ideas. He had pleased Aldous very much by criticizing the proposed extension of the National Gallery. “A hideous place of architecture,” Aldous complained. Apparently nothing pleasing about it at all. The Prince had prevented these plans from being carried out. Good for him. A good man. I reminded Aldous that the Prince was also into organic agriculture and alternative medicine. Did he still approve of him? Aldous made no comment.

Instead he professed his lasting disgust of the new address for ladies : Ms.
This had been in use for some time and most people have accepted it, because used to it by now. Not so Aldous. He refuses to bow to habit when he doesn’t like it. What about the new pound coins then? People had accepted them in the end. He said he wanted the pound notes back, looking at me invitingly. But I didn’t take the bait. Somebody commented it wasn’t juicy enough.

Reading Aloud

New Friend 1st July

I had an early start this morning. At 6.30 am I left the house to go for a walk, so I told my husband, and went to see New Friend. I had things to sort out with him.

He received me in his dressing gown. I had warned him by telephone and he had already made tea. I kissed him good morning briefly and we settled down at our usual place, the settee. He took my hand and we began our discussion. No, he wasn’t surprized at what I had to tell him. He had in fact anticipated it, little signs that I had given apparently and which he had interpreted, he could see that, in the right way. Men are different from women, aren’t they. He had always accused me of not understanding men. They react differently to women. Women, I gathered from him, were happy with things that weren’t enough for a man. However, no need for me to worry about him.

At his age nature sets limits. It might not be good for him… He had never had any illusions about my motives for kissing him in the first place. It was a kiss given out of charity, a charitable kiss. He had accepted what I had given him, enjoyed it – it had lifted him out of his depression and made him feel young – and now it was finished. All good things come to an end. Why not have an intellectual relationship from now on. In any case it would make practical life easier: no need to hide from anybody, beautifully clear conscience all the time. Nothing wrong with him holding my hand, is there? Arab men walk about holding hands – a gesture denoting affection, togetherness. Rather nice. He had told me that before.

I had to avoid his caresses. Perhaps he sensed it was his last chance. Then I gave him my reasons. He agreed that certain things are over-valued on close inspection. A man apparently forgets them even more quickly than a woman – his wife had always accused him of that. Oh yes, the novelty accounts a lot for the thrill.
Repetition tends to be disillusioning, quite true. What sort of a fellow was Don Giovanni? As to the egoistic nature of all our acts, he couldn’t quite accept what he called my “pessimistic” view. Anyway, in the end he agreed that the thing wasn’t worth having. What was it but working up a climax and then coming down again, he said. Who likes to come down, I added. I suggested to use a different way, one that goes up all the time – quite a climb probably – but staying up, not coming down again. He was thoughtful and admitted one could look at it that way. I got up to take my leave. “Allow me to be a little jealous of your husband,” he said. He followed me to the door. I could see regret in his face. I waved bye-bye, and he stood there, forlorn. I whistled to him from the road, and he whistled back.

I had a lot of fun with him, it is true. My husband had been away on holiday and I alone at home with our youngest daughter. I knew he hadn’t been eating properly and decided to have him for a meal every day. The weather was fine and we could eat in the garden. There was a high chair and a low one. He didn’t know whether to look up to or down on me. He opted for the high chair in the end. He is an easy talker and always finds subjects of conversation. He had “weighed me up” pretty soon, he thought, although there was a great deal of enigma left. He could see I made demands on my partner in marriage and felt sorry for my husband. He was glad to be only a “part time what-do-you-call-it”.

It amused me at the time. Certain overtures kept creeping into our conversations. At one point he admitted that all this business about – I forget which term he used – was really a load of bravado on his part. I congratulated him on this remarkable piece of self-recognition.

He told me his sister had rung up to find out how he was in his new position of a widower. She wanted to invite him to her house, take him to concerts, etc.
“I’m fine really,” he said to me, “I’m having a lovely time. But I can’t tell her that. I’ve to keep up a bit of a show.

I, too, must watch my reputation and told people that I looked after him a bit, gave him a meal occasionally, took him to a concert or for a walk. Mrs Rivers who is nearly blind had been informed by a friend that I kept him company at the concert she attended. She thought it was very good of me. How good of him, too. Not refusing to be cheered up. Somebody said what would the village do without me.
Nobody is surprized to see me look after people – my image. My husband himself had told New Friend during my absence that I do this all the time, go round the village and help the old and infirm. New Friend didn’t like particularly being categorized like that. He didn’t particularly enjoy being involved with my reputation as described above, clenched his fists inwardly and said “So you’re stuck with a decrepit and incapable old something”. I laughed into his face, saying that he’d have to bear that and anyway I knew better. He was happy with that.

Taking him for walks could be a bit embarrassing, because people asked how he was, asked in a subdued, compassionate, I suppose, way. After all, he had only recently been through a traumatic experience and was not supposed to laugh.
He normally kept his stiff upper lip on such occasions, not knowing what to say really. People were perfectly sympathetic and relieved when he managed a “not too bad, thank you.”

It was village festival in Checkburgh where he had been a teacher before retiring, well-known and well-liked. He hadn’t been back for a long time. I took him there and we went to see our friend, the Farmer, whose milk parlour was open to visitors. The Farmer was pleased to see New Friend who had taught his children. New Friend noticed he had put on weight which the Farmer was unable to explain. He didn’t eat very much and was still doing the same amount of physical work, he said. “It doesn’t matter,” New Friend reassured him, “as long as you feel alright.” The Farmer was very tanned, he looked as though he’d been on holiday in Spain or Greece. Or done a lot of golfing. However, I remembered it must be his job. His wife wasn’t there, much to New Friend’s regret. A very nice girl, he called her, who, with her husband, had been a great supporter of the school. “They used to come to my office, all the young women from the village, and discuss their problems with me,” he mused. Times gone by.

He had several lady-admirers, I gathered. One in particular seemed to be quite hooked on him. He told me he found it tempting and flattering – she was much younger than him – but on the other hand: how ridiculous at his age! Apparently he had assured her that she would grow out of it. “She didn’t like to hear that,” he said with a grin.

He admitted being somewhat hooked on me. Did he think he would grow out of it? He thought he probably would in the long run.

Reading Aloud

2nd July

He rang up this morning. Steve answered the telephone. Some piano music that was waiting to be collected. As we were passing his house, he was outside cutting his hedge. We couldn’t avoid calling in, and Steve played a piece of music for him, one his wife used to play. He brushed past me gently and said on which days of the coming week he would be free. We had to leave him because we wanted our breakfast; it was mid-morning “I trust you’ve had yours,” I said to him. “Well, I’ve had some,” he replied, being evasive and craving for sympathy. We said bye-bye and I promised to see him “some time”. I don’t know when that’ll be.

Reading Aloud

3rd July

He rang this morning. Against the rules before 9 am. I wasn’t going to answer the phone, having more important things to do. Unfortunately, my daughter did. I could only whisper to her that I wasn’t in.

He rang again an hour later. I was still out and he told my daughter he wanted a word with me tomorrow. I certainly have nothing to say to him. Doesn’t he realize he’s making a nuisance of himself?
He once said to me that I probably quite enjoyed having men hooked on me. I told him I most definitely didn’t. How unpleasant to be pulled down by sheer weight. He said with concern “I don’t do that?”. He also told me I had a streak of steel in me. I shall have to prove this now.
He has given presents to all members of my family, except that the piano music for my husband is on loan. He presented my eldest daughter with his old and still very good hifi-set. She was utterly delighted. “You know why I gave her that,” he said some time after, “to please you. And her, of course. ”I was not really interested in his motives. It certainly didn’t please me particularly – maybe I should have told him.
He gave me a small item of jewellery which I liked and therefore accepted. I had no qualms about accepting it. He also gave me his wife’s second best watch which came in useful because I didn’t have one at the time. However, I think I shall let my husband provide for me and will return these things.

Reading Aloud

4th July

He rang this morning and I said, if he wanted a word with me he could come. “Nothing in particular”, he answered, “just a chat. The parting last week (1st July) was a bit abrupt. Or was it a complete brush-off?” I assured him that this would be a total misunderstanding. He was relieved and said he would call in after having done his shopping. Shortly afterwards he was on the phone again, apologizing for interrupting my work and saying that he would have to stay in until the telecom people had been.
I told him to come afterwards. He said he had no idea when that would be. Certain problems solve themselves…
I had interrupted my work and was ready for a cup of tea when he turned up, showing distinct withdrawal symptoms and craving for sympathy. I invited him to have a cup of tea with me which he gladly accepted. He seemed unsure of himself and at a loss what to say. Just a chat, he had said; but what was there to chat about? Fortunately my daughter was there, too, who having returned from a holiday on the continent, helped to find subjects of conversation. While I was making tea, anyway.

When we were on our own, in the living-room, he on a chair and I on the settee facing him, he began to unburden himself. Ever since he had last seen me, that morning when I had come early, he had been feeling “jaded”. I didn’t know this word, but the dictionary put me in the picture. So that was what he felt like.
He kept on explaining his symptoms. Listless, sad; his wife, of course – he hadn’t had time to think about this event since I had made my appearance – and then this uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach, almost like – well – as if he was about to sit an examination, some kind of nervousness; he couldn’t explain what it was, but there it was. He could easily see, taking exams was no problem for me, he said.
So self-assured, so confident – where did I take it from? “Anyway,” he continued, “you look very attractive in your red tee-shirt.” He couldn’t see much of it, since I was wearing a long-sleeved white blouse on top of it, open, it is true. I said nothing.
“Red suits you”, he kept on. “But you know that, don’t you?” I still said nothing. He looked away and started complaining about his son and his family who being over for a visit didn’t seem to have much time for him. I reminded him that they were due to stay with him later on. “That is true,” he conceded.

He started chuckling suddenly. “Do you know what the telecom people did?” I had no idea. “Put in another plug or point or something for the telephone so that it can be moved from one room to another.” He didn’t understand what was happening technically and how this could be achieved: disconnect the phone, plug it in elsewhere and not lose the call. Did I understand how it worked? I certainly didn’t. It struck me as magic. Anyway, he had felt the need for this when his other daughter-in-law was staying with him a month ago. He seemed to be receiving plenty of telephone calls from one or two ladies, or ringing them up himself, and his daughter-in-law wouldn’t move away while he was on the telephone. It had annoyed him a bit, I wondered why because he had declared more than once that he couldn’t care less what others thought about him. However, I didn’t interrupt his account.
Then he said abruptly “I don’t need that thing now, do I”, smiling at me for a second or two and turning away again. He had to try and justify his new installation. Firstly, it hadn’t been expensive, only £20. Secondly, when his son was there he might like to do business calls from another room. Thirdly, in any case it might be useful. I couldn’t agree more.

Then I asked him to reach me a small parcel from behind the typewriter. It contained the presents I wanted to return to him. I must admit I had a bit of heart beating, never having done such a thing before, but managed alright in the end. They were only trifles he had given me, nothing of any importance, he said, but he would take a little offence. It was a bit much really. He looked hurt. What did his feelings have to do with little material things of no importance? He found this difficult to answer. Did he like me much less now?

He said he still liked me. I told him, what he had given me was for a little girl. I had grown out of it. He should give it to his granddaughter. He said I should have refused it in the first place. I pointed out I was delighted at the time and taken by surprize. Why should I not have had it – I liked it. Also I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to hurt his feelings. He bravely accepted the blow. I told him it would make me freer not to keep it. Better for him, too. He seemed to understand this and didn’t know what to say. I reminded him of what we had said at our last meeting. It would be better to go in for a relationship that worked its way uphill steadily rather than reach some sort of a climax quickly and come back down.
I had him in tears now. He took off his glasses and sobbed “you still have a little affection for me.” I reassured him that I had more than ever. Why should I go to all this trouble, if I didn’t. He looked at me blank. Then he got up saying that he would have to leave me to my work, now. I stood before him and smiled. He melted.
I was uncertain whether to kiss him or not, but decided that I had to revive him. I kept my eyes open and he looked at me in utter amazement. He was hesitant after that.
I put my hand onto his shoulder and said jokingly “go on.” But he didn’t move. “A kiss” , he whispered, I could hardly hear it. I gave him another one and he said “I must go now quickly.”

Reading Aloud

5th July

He telephoned this morning, but rang off before I could answer the phone.

Reading Aloud

17th July

New Friend rang me up. He had a reason. He wanted to make sure he didn’t miss my parents who were due to see us and whom he was interested in meeting. “I was wondering,” he said after a while, “whether you were still friendly with me.” I asked him to remember what I had said to him when we last met. He obviously didn’t have too much confidence in my words. He will have to find out for himself then.

Later I sent my daughter round to him with plants from our garden. He said to her: “Is your Mum cross with me? She hasn’t telephoned for quite a while.”

I went to see him a few days after, before he was due to join us for lunch.
He was relieved to find I was still the same person. Same smile – he could hardly believe it. Same ways, same manners – he shook his head, incredulous. Same ease as well – asking him for a cup of tea. Why should she want to see me?? He didn’t say this, but I could sense the question…Anyway “nice to see you” and what should he wear when he came to lunch? Would my father wear a tie? And what sort of a shirt? He was wearing a yellow casual shirt which suited him, and I suggested he wore that.

He didn’t. He turned up in a blue shirt and tie. After a while when the conversation with my parents had become a bit easier, he took his tie off, because my father wasn’t wearing one. I didn’t like to think of his tie getting creased in his trouser pocket und suggested to put it into a bag for him. He now told my father that I was “bossy”, enjoying “bossing” people around. He had brought me a little present, a tape he had made from one of his records: “Il Seraglio”. I was pleased to have it, because I like this music, too. During lunch I took the opportunity to ask New Friend would he be willing to help me and take over the shopping for Mr and Mrs Orms. I found it was getting a bit too much for me and was feeling a bit run down in fact. He gave a questioning “yes” and I said he could think about it and then let me know. After the meal we sat in the living room and he asked my father questions about the last war. My father was treading carefully, after all he was in “enemy country”. Also my father claims to have had enough of all these happenings. They were history now, according to him. What’s the point of digging it all up again? I’m sympathetic with this view and was surprized to find him read a book with a racy title about the last war.

New Friend left us eventually. I said to him “see you some time”, thinking that I needed to know about the shopping job I wanted to give him. My father thought New Friend was quite a character. Very male, I suppose. He wouldn’t sing in a mixed choir, he once told me, because that wasn’t “male enough”. He is fond of rugby songs and was delighted when I recited one to him that I had learned from my husband. He didn’t have much to say to my mother. He did say to me I was very much like her. My mother was no doubt thinking of all those letters I had received while on holiday with them and asked me had he settled down in the meantime. I reassured her there was no more I could do for him. She was happy with that, evidence certainly pointing this way.

Reading Aloud

Good deeds, etc.

I have decided to give up my good deeds. Shopping for people. Taking them to hospital. Visiting them. Whiling time away for them. Doing jobs for them.

I expect my reputation will change now. “Public benefactress” somebody called me. “We love you for being so kind to others” somebody else said and kissed me. One person actually gave me flowers for having helped a sick lady. And a lot more flattering things. People looked at me benevolently. “What would the village do without you?” “Don’t wear yourself out.” “Don’t do too much.”

People are kind and caring. It is true, they don’t like to commit themselves. Words don’t cost much.

I think I shall give them a chance to acquire a good reputation, too. I shall call on them to actually do something. Nobody seems to have had that idea so far. I shall let them do my jobs, so that I can get on with more important things. Chasing around on other people’s behalf is time-consuming and tiring. Why don’t we take it in turns.
Anybody can do that.

I approached New Friend first of all. I asked him to shop for Mr & Mrs Orms once a week. It wouldn’t take more than an hour altogether. I gave him a few days to think it over. Then I rang him up for his answer. It was “yes, but…” He is away quite a lot, he said, and it would be good to share the job with somebody. I suggested to approach a certain benevolent organization who might be helpful. He left it with me and we rang off. A few minutes later he rang back. I knew it was him before answering the telephone. He was obviously feeling bad about not having given a more positive answer. He suggested that he could ring the Vicar and leave the whole problem with him. Surely it was a vicar’s job to attend to matters of this kind. I said the Vicar was a busy man. Why not try and find somebody ourselves. Not the Vicar then, he said, the Vicar’s wife – she seemed a nice enough person. I told him that some people considered her a “dangerous woman”. “Oh, I like dangerous women,” he said. “Not the kind of danger you might like,” I answered, “gossip and so on…”Oh dear,” he said, “perhaps I’d better keep away from her.” My thoughts had wandered from the Vicar to the Church and to the Churchwarden. Why not ask the Churchwarden? New Friend said, why not, “he’s quite a jolly fellow, isn’t he?” New Friend’s wife had known him, not he, New Friend. He wouldn’t be one to contact the Churchwarden about this shopping business. However, he knew one Miss Soandso, a retired teacher with a car. Maybe that she…
New Friend hesitated. I said: “There you are. It’s an unpleasant job asking people to help. We don’t like making a nuisance of ourselves.” New .Friend answered “I leave it with you. Let me know how you’re getting on. By the way – would you love me for helping others?” I had told him what sort of comment I had received concerning my activities…

I imagine people will change their minds when I stop doing good deeds…

Anyway, I have approached the above mentioned charitable organization, the professional people, who received me in a warm and non-committal way and am now waiting for them to let me know whether they can do something for me.
My husband was pleased to hear that I was giving up chasing around for other people. What would I do with the time and energy saved? He turned to the children expectantly. We were having our evening meal, the usual simple meal. I thought I’d filled them all up, when the question came “What’s for pudding?” I didn’t have one.
Just like “good deeds”, I told them. My husband sighed, saying he didn’t suppose there were more puddings for them now that I had more time…

Reading Aloud

New Friend’s neighbour

I was cycling one way, New Friend’s neighbour the other. His neighbour’s wife more exactly who he is on speaking terms with. A funny girl, he called her, grandmother age, peculiar features, peculiar way of speaking, they talk across the garden fence, and the other day he took her a cauliflower his daughter-in-law had bought without having use for it. New Friend is not on speaking terms with her husband, a strange character apparently. He told me a few stories to illustrate what he meant.

Much to my surprize, his neighbour’s wife whom I knew by sight without ever having talked to her, got off her bicycle when she saw me, forcing me to do the same. She wanted to say something. “Are you the lady who pays visits to Mr New Friend?” she asked me. A rhetorical question! I had a mild shock. Goodness me, how did she know? He had been right about his neighbours being nosy. I had to live up to my reputation, now, and together we poured what sympathy we were capable of over the poor widower. What a shock! How suddenly! It doesn’t bear thinking of! (She moved her hand to her chest dramatically.) How awful! How sad! How worrying! The poor man! Do you think he is coping? She worried very much about him, she said, you can’t help it. Mind you, she informed me, his family are with him at the moment. She must have noticed I hadn’t been since the arrival of his family!! “Oh? Are they?” I said, pleased about the information, “very good of them, isn’t it.” “It’s nice to see people care,” she said. “I’m always there, of course; he knows he can come any time or ring me when he isn’t well. But it is good to know that other people will look after him.” She couldn’t get any more out of me, and we parted. “See you,” she said. Maybe she’s a tiny little bit…sweet on him?

Reading Aloud


I dreamt about Johnie last night, telling him I wanted to do better things for him than that. He replied in his Irish voice “that would be lovely”.

He had been to see us the previous day and brought us a large marrow out of his garden. I didn’t hear him knock on the front door. He came round the back having seen my husband through the living-room window. My husband was “snoozing” – a new word for me – in his rocking chair. Johnie apologized no end for having woken him up. He then came to the kitchen to put down the marrow and we bumped into one another. It was nice to see him. My husband joined us, and we stood by the kitchen door exchanging holiday adventures, he smuggling wine – quite by accident, of course – into this country and I telling him about my recent problem when travelling to Switzerland. He was relieved to hear it hadn’t been his company’s fault. My husband contributed his share by telling a tale of heat and mosquitoes encountered on a Greek island. For a week, however, he concluded, it had been bearable. Asked whether he had enjoyed himself, he said “yes”, asked whether he would go again, he still said “yes”…I offered Johnie a cup of tea, but he refused, being in a hurry, so he said. He lingered another minute or two and then left us. In the evening his wife was on the telephone inviting us to their house next day. Aldous and his wife were there, too. Johnie made us try his smuggled wine – a nice fruity Muscadet from the Loire – and nuts from the Persian Gulf. Aldous tried to engage me in arguments and voiced his disappointment about not being able to. Johnie concluded that the baits he had put out for me were obviously not juicy enough.

Aldous never misses an opportunity to ask about my book. I had prompted him this time by warning him to be careful with what he was saying – I was going to write it all down! He shut up for a second or two while Johnie wanted to know more. My husband, with a smile, informed everybody that I was busy writing number two. He had them alarmed, now. Johnie expressed interest in my writings. I shall have to satisfy him some time. Presumably he likes being amused like everybody else. He told me when he was flying to Paris next, but it was too soon for me. I asked him to keep me informed about later possibilities. He said he would. Somebody told us about Tolstoy, the great writer, not an easy man to be married to, just like Soandso and Socrates – and it’s the wives who get the bad reputation. Because who would criticize a genius! “Aren’t we all terrible to be married to?” Johnie asked with a sweet smile. The evening passed quickly and I suggested to my husband it was time to go. We took our leave, promising we would have another meeting, in our house, soon.

Reading Aloud

Johnie again

I had invited him and his wife to my birthday party. I bumped into him the day before at the village coffee morning and he asked me how old I was going to be. He didn’t wait for an answer, but suggested a figure himself: 21! He looked at me expectantly, chuckling a little. I thanked him for the compliment, but thought I couldn’t allow him to believe that. I whispered I would let him into a secret. The real figure was…33! I had him laugh, now, and I wondered with disgust, why. He passed on to another subject. I took revenge on my birthday when I told my visitors what had happened to me: a courteous gentleman – I wouldn’t give his name – impudently inquiring about my age. One of the wives present recognized who was meant, because he had told her the story already. At the end of the evening he came up to me paying me a mighty big compliment on how young I was looking and kissing me sweetly on my cheek. I returned his kiss and said he had made up for it, now.

Reading Aloud

An Irishman

He said to my daughter that he was “getting on a treat” with her Mum. I was pleased to hear it. It’s nice to get on well with one’s neighbours. I have no sympathy with people who claim to have problems with their neighbours. We did have one tiny little incident years ago when I found out that they had been feeding our dog against my wishes. His wife had caused the problem, and of course he had to stick up for her. However, we managed to settle things and have been on the most friendly terms ever since.

He called round yesterday, having seen a lorry in our drive which he thought might have been destined for him. It wasn’t, but we took the opportunity for a little chat. I asked him to put me in the picture about his family, how everybody was getting on and how the horses were. I heard he had something like an accident that had caused him bruises all over his body, nothing broken fortunately: he had fallen off his horse, the animal wanting to go past a tree on one side and he on the other. He readily admitted it wasn’t the horse’s fault. His wife had kindly suggested to wrap foam rubber round all the trees he was passing in the future. She is a lovely person who believes in feeding everybody well.

He had another accident, stepping onto a nail in solid shoes and the nail penetrating his foot! He has a firm step. An energetic man. A good family man who believes in traditional values. Like marriage. It cannot and never should be dissolved! He was glad the referendum in Ireland had confirmed this. Anybody getting married should think twice! All the people advocating divorce had a vested interest. Didn’t the Church have a vested interest, too, I wondered. Yes, it did, he said, but then, it’s been like that for centuries. Why should religion be watered down by politics? I remarked the Church must be pleased to have asserted its power. Very pleased, he said. Divorce shouldn’t be allowed – it’s immoral or something to that effect. Should people not be allowed to make up their own minds, I wondered. “Well,” he said, “you have to follow the right teaching. Why give it up?” The priests bring pressure to bear, of course, to ensure we do the right things. Pressure…I insisted: how about people making up their own minds? “Oh yes,” he said, “you can vote what you like – nobody sees you.” And then jokingly “Anyway, who would be in favour of divorce. It makes a fellow poor in this country. Fancy, having to pay for two women!”. I reminded him that he had spoken of pressure, people were voting under pressure. He didn’t follow me, and I changed the subject, having heard enough to write about. We turned to a lighter topic, horse-riding, and he inquired when “this pretty daughter” of mine was coming back from holiday. I understand she is excellent company when they ride out together, not like that other girl who is altogether shallow with “nothing but horses in her life”. He looked bored. He informed me that he could have jokes with my daughter about all sorts of things. He cautiously said “I even wind her up about her Mum sometimes!”. I took it with a laugh and he was satisfied. I had to return to my cooking and he left me not without taking regards for his wife back with him. My husband was dismayed I was so far behind with the cooking. I told him it was a good idea to keep up good neighbourly relations. We might want his builder’s services some time…
Our neighbour seemed to be in raptures. I don’t know what he was looking at. It was only me passing on my bicycle. Perhaps it was my skirt and matching sandals.

Reading Aloud

Yan in retrospect

I had known him for years without taking any notice of him. One of the few men attending village coffee mornings. Sticking out tall. One of the circle of people looking after George and his wife. A figure of a certain importance, being a member of the Parish Council. Believing in social community. Helping organize village affairs. Always friendly to everybody. In a bit of a non-committal way? I wasn’t sure. Never at a loss what to say. Evenly tempered. A bit pally. Putting his arm round ladies’ shoulders. Insisting on kissing them on their cheeks. I disliked that. He didn’t excite me one bit. Nothing spicy or striking or definite about him. I had no interest in any man, except one. It was the time of Nessie. He held my attention entirely.

After that I became aware of Yan. Why? I have no idea. He was the image of a respectable gentleman. Behaving correctly. Complying with the moral code. I, too, was considered a very respectable and trustworthy person. How could I dare set my eyes on him?

The first stage of our relationship was somewhat stormy. He and his wife invited us one evening, the object being to introduce us to a composer. He and I were the only ones really interested. It was the coffee morning next day. I was helping with the coffee behind the counter and he came up to me to discuss my mother’s British citizenship – she was born in Singapore – and events of the last war with me, subjects he was interested in. I heard he had never hated my country. He didn’t notice he was making a nuisance of himself, stopping me from working and being in the way in general. One other helper, my mother’s age, pushed me aside gently thinking “I have to do your work, child!”. It was then that I first took interest in Yan. I found it quite fascinating to look into his eyes with a new kind of openness.

Three days later I was due to see him at a party. I could hardly wait, sleeping badly and indulging myself in all sorts of wild fantasies. The evening came and was utterly uneventful. I sat next to him, but he certainly didn’t give me any particular attention. I looked at his wife thinking “how can I possibly hurt this woman” and at my husband, thinking the same. We had a tiny bit of well-defined flirting, like a bye-bye kiss somewhat nearer his mouth than usual and he calling me “sweetheart” which I didn’t take very seriously – he had done it before. After that I discarded him from my mind.

Nothing happened for two or three months. I had started writing down my memoirs and had come to the stage where I paraded my collection of Englishmen. Wondering who else I could write about, he was an obvious choice. He came to see me, I don’t remember why, shortly afterwards. I read two or three of my little portraits to him, including his own – nothing but complimentary things in it, I didn’t know of anything else, and we had a good laugh together. At one point he held out his hand to me which I eagerly and naturally took. When he got up to leave I went to him and put my left hand onto his shoulder looking into his face and thinking would he kiss me? He did and it was wonderful. He said something about me being a “very, very special person” – I wondered what he meant by that – and left. I felt marvellous for the rest of the day and couldn’t sleep at night. He came again the week after to bring me a book he had promised. I read to him my latest literary output inspired by his last visit, and he was shocked. I imagine he felt responsible. I had prompted him, it is true. He told me there could be nothing more of any kind, absolutely impossible and in fact inconceivable. I smiled all the time, asking him not to worry. When he left I felt a sharp pain.

I didn’t see him for another 3 months and had put him out of my mind a second time. Somebody asked me to translate a text dealing with a musical subject into English. The only person who could help me with this in a sympathetic way was Yan. I had started considering asking him – without any hind thought – when I bumped into him at George’s. He still had an impact on me, I noted, most amazing in fact. How come that he roused all these sensations in me? I seemed to look at him from a certain distance, quite cool, and yet I couldn’t help responding. He agreed to seeing me a few days later. I saw him even before, at a concert in a local school. During the interval he explained to me the view we had out of the window. He stood very near me – I wondered why. His wife hastened to come up to share the view with us. Then he bent down to me and asked: “What time was it you wanted me to come on ….day?” He came on …day and greeted me with a kiss, saying “you’ve been waiting for this for a long time, haven’t you?” Strictly speaking that wasn’t true. Perhaps I should have said so. However, I was enthralled by the power of the moment and said “yes”. He kissed me a second time. I could hardly believe it. We went into the living-room where we had a lovely time sitting next to one another, also doing a bit of work. At one point he said “what have we landed in?” I couldn’t care less. He couldn’t stay indefinitely and the work was not finished, much to my delight, we had to make a second appointment. He duly came and played it cool! I couldn’t believe it! Had he not been enthusiastic only two days ago? Had he not paid me all sorts of compliments, including the one of being an “excellent writer” – I certainly hadn’t asked for that. Now I had to tell him to put his arm round me! I didn’t want much. A bit of a cuddle, a bit of comfort…He was so reluctant. He talked about the village. Imagine the scandal! Imagine his wife! What would she think of him coming to see me all the time, supposed to do translations! And then at his age! He was too old for “that sort of thing”. He shook his head and that was it. He failed to impress me. It felt like being hosed down with cold water and I didn’t like it. We argued a bit either way. At one point he said hurt “why do you say that to me?” I don’t remember what it was. When he left me I must have looked desperate, because he said “don’t look at me like that, especially not in the company of other people”. It was a most terrible blow! I was in despair and had to relieve myself on the spot by writing to a dear friend. I don’t know what he thought…I wrote something about sleeping for a long time and forgetting. That was what I felt like. However, it was unpractical and I had to pull myself together,. I spent a few days philosophizing about life, things we can have and things we can’t. I had obviously hit an obstacle and had to accept it. I felt I was called to make a sacrifice, give up something I dearly wanted. So that was what it felt like – a sacrifice. I had only known the word so far. I put Yan out of my mind for the third time and for good, I was determined.

I took a week or two to come to terms with the new situation. I managed and as a reward, I thought, bumped into Yan in a shop. What an excellent opportunity to make sure he wasn’t hurt. No, he wasn’t, he said, and what a pity he wouldn’t see me tomorrow at some friends’ house, because he and his wife would be away on holiday. I told him he had done me a great service last time I saw him – he was looking at me politely – and wished him a nice holiday. I was much easier now and perfectly willing to accept things as they came along.

Some time later there was a concert in the village. I transported chairs in our useful van and had a helper – Yan! I said to him “fancy driving you” when he turned up and started developing a bit of a heated face, but feeling cool inwardly. We stopped to drop some tickets in somebody’s house and I forgot to disengage the handbrake when we set off again. “I’m un-nerving you,” he said. We took the chairs to the concert hall and tried out the various types of seats. The chairs were close enough together to be called “cnoodling” chairs, I heard. Did I know what that meant, he asked me. I hastened to tell him that we had a verb sounding just like that and it must mean the same, because he demonstrated the English meaning to me. After that we tried a very soft settee. We liked it best of all, except that his back hurt when he got up again. Then I took him home with me, because that was where his car was. He looked around to see, if the children were in sight, but there was only the dog wagging his tail – he wouldn’t mind! “Will that do for a little while?” he asked me. I rashly replied in the affirmative, thinking that “a little while” will soon be over. Little did I know Yan then!
A few weeks passed. I was thinking about him most of the time. Every morning when I woke up I thought I must see him today. I didn’t. I told myself not to be silly. I relieved myself by writing down my feelings and experiences. I had a paper ready in my desk to give him when the time came.
Then we saw him and his wife socially one evening in our house. I produced a little essay about the event with all its secret little happenings. He found it amusing and maybe a little alarming. He told me he had wondered how far I would go having managed to join his fingers under cover of my stole. His remark surprised me, because my impression had been that he didn’t want to let go of my fingers, making me wonder in fact how far he would go.

A few weeks later we had our first musical meeting. He had brought his records and we kept the music going all the time. “Poor composer,” he said. Before he left I gave him the paper I had prepared. He appreciated it and thanked me, pointing out that one passage allowed identification of the people concerned. I eliminated this from my copy and he hid his, so he said, in the depths of his garage.

We had more or less regular meetings from then on. Once he came in a very poor state of health and I administered him homeopathic drops. He had them, kneeling in front of me, from the bottle straight into his mouth. “If my wife saw me like that”, he said. Of course being so tall, I had to get to his mouth somehow. He converted his feet and inches into centimetres for me, so that I had a better idea of his height. It impressed me mightily, nearly as tall as my son in later years.

I could have kept it up with him, dillying and dallying, for a long time. However, he was a busy man and obliging husband. It happened more and more frequently that he had no time. I was disappointed, but didn’t take it too hard in the long run. The only thing that exasperated me were his empty promises. I wrote a little essay about this which I passed on to him. As a result he doesn’t promise me anything any more.

The next village concert came round. Again we transported chairs. His wife was with us this time. He was grateful for my help and I pleased to be useful. His wife was best at stacking a maximum of chairs into the vehicle.

Having one or two things on my mind, I really had no time to think about him much, but was confident he would turn up again. He did. It was lovely to see him. An old acquaintance. Somebody one knows well. Somebody one has a secret understanding with. I didn’t waste time by offering to make tea. It would have reminded him that he had to go home. We talked about our daughters and how best to look after them. I also told him I knew why he didn’t see me more frequently: it was in order to avoid providing me with material to write about! He laughed. It was a remark to his heart! When he left he said we would have some music again, but wouldn’t promise when. I told him I was free any time, being only a housewife. Then I watched him out onto the road – we live on a nasty bend.

Reading Aloud

The Vicar

I keep on unfailingly friendly terms with him in spite of the fact that I have nothing at all to do with the Church. Of course, we never touch that subject.
Our friendship goes back to the time when I was a member of the church choir for the simple reason that I enjoy singing. The old choirmaster and organist retired after a year or two and the new one came, together with the new vicar, my present friend. I stayed on long enough to be taken in as a familiar face. Then I left. Various circumstances made us keep in touch. We frequently see him on a Sunday morning, my husband and I walking one way to fetch the newspaper and the Vicar coming the other way in his car, going to work. We always wave to one another. Sometimes he is accompanied by his wife who also gives us a friendly smile. The Vicar has a dog similar to ours, a bitch, and somebody told me once he had his eyes on our dog as a possible mate for his. What an extraordinary combination! I was all for it. However, nothing came of it. A misunderstanding after all – the Vicar’s wife having heard that a lady in the neighbouring village was looking for a suitable dog for her bitch had apparently recommended ours – that was the true story. I was disappointed.

At Christmas time we had a tin of biscuits given for which we had no use. Aware that the Vicar has to do a fair bit of entertaining, I passed it on to him. His wife was grateful and rang me up to say so. A little later we had to ask him for his services. Our daughter needed a passport and various forms had to be filled in and signed, duly witnessed by a local or professional person of consequence. How convenient to be on good terms with the Vicar! He saved us the trouble of going further afield. When I rang him up, he answered the phone in French to which I replied in the same language. However, he couldn’t keep it up. He had us round and did the necessary without delay.

I wonder if I annoyed him a little – he never said a word about it – when I had a letter published in the XDM – a “diocesan magazine” – recently. I don’t normally read this magazine, but somebody had brought an article in it to my attention. It had been written by quite a young lady ardently supporting the view that a husband has “God-given” authority over his wife and that the wife must do what she can to make his life easy for him. This was supported by a number of quotations from the Old and New Testament. I asked my husband for his opinion and thought I should not withhold it from the Editor : It had made the day for him, my husband told me, only too pleased to hear, at least in theory, what life should be like for him. He couldn’t understand why an institution with sound views like that didn’t have more support.

The Editor must have felt the same, because he published the letter with my full name and address. I hope the Vicar didn’t think I wanted to take the micky out of his article – I believe his views are similar. He reads the magazine first before putting it at everybody’s disposal in the church. Somebody borrowed it there and let me have it, asking me to take it back to the church afterwards. I didn’t want to be seen in the church and sent my children down, but the place was closed. I went myself later, and much to my embarrassment bumped into the Vicar’s wife who was sitting in the porch. She never sees me there nowadays and she knew what was in the magazine I was bringing back. I tried to behave casually and with the most innocent tone asked her where to put it down, because I had no idea. She did it for me with a set face, calling me “dear”, it is true, which encouraged me to sit on the bench with her for a few minutes. I hadn’t seen her for quite a while and knew she had had health problems which she readily informed me about. Then, talking about the problems the former organist and his wife were faced with, she divulged such a wealth of details about the latters’ lives and circumstances that I couldn’t take it all in. Considering they had arrived in the village two years after us, I wondered where she had learned it all – his greedy son who was after the house; his mother who was called the “mad” woman of the village; and a lot more. I entertained my family with it coming home.

The other day I saw the Vicar at the organist’s house. I was helping make up their bed for them and the Vicar was sort of supervizing. All these eager ladies rushing about the house, making themselves useful – it must have been a pleasing sight. As I passed him yet again he thanked me for the postcard I had sent him from holiday. I had never sent him any, but was pleased to know he thought me capable of doing it and acknowledged his thanks with a smiling “that’s alright”. Good for him! Better to thank too much than not enough.

He went on holiday himself recently. The day he came back he was on the phone to me to hear what news there were about the old organist. I felt duly important and put him in the picture. He thanked me for looking after them. Had the holiday been beneficial for him, I wondered, once the official part was over. Yes, very much so, was the answer. The weather was not quite perfect, but otherwise very nice. Some beautiful places in England. He was quite taken by what he had seen. I suggested the break must have been welcome. That’s it, he said, the break has done us good. Nice to hear you, I said, see you and bye-bye, Dick. Bye-bye, dear.

His name is Dick which strikes me because it means “fat” in my language. He is as thin as a rake…

The Vicar is a controversial man. Two people had told me about an article he had contributed to the Church Magazine. It was about the position women hold in life according to the Christian view. At the time there seemed to be great uncertainty in this matter. As far as the Vicar is concerned there can be no doubt but that woman is subordinate to man. Quite absurd for her to be ordained as a priest. A dangerous proposition in fact which has to be resisted. New Friend pushed the magazine aside, so he had told me, utterly disgusted and determined never to look at it again. A lady friend of mine – I heard this from her husband – had to be “scraped off the ceiling” – she was so upset by the article. She called the Vicar to task and in spite of his wife’s loyal support she managed to make him give way. He in fact said that his sole subject had been to stimulate the discussion about these things.

Reading Aloud

The Butcher

I hadn’t had any fish from the butcher for a long time. Fish for our dog that is. Slightly old. Alright for an animal. I pay a nominal sum and have whatever there is. The other day his assistant, fat young Aedan, offered me some fish. Aedan is a clever salesman and I wished I could have seen the quantity to decide whether it was worth spending the nominal sum or not. I said in the end I would have it, and Alan put it on my bill. I saw it was 10p more than I normally paid and queried it. In fact, the Butcher himself was nearby and I turned to him. “Aedan must have forgotten,” I said, “it used to be 50p, didn’t it?” Surely he would remember. He did. But…had I realized that fish was getting dearer all the time? He, the Butcher, had to watch his pennies, too. I didn’t quite follow, because this was fish unfit for human consumption, to be thrown away in fact. I asked what would he do, if I didn’t come for it? He shrugged his shoulders saying there were always people wanting fish for their pets. Knowing his customers, I could have told him that nobody pays out money for smelly fish. He knew that as well as I did and I paid my usual 50p.

Now, I take care to shop there when Joe is in, my elderly friend. He always serves me well and saves huge packets of fish for me, slipping them into my bag quickly after having made sure that nobody watches. Too much fish. I have to sort it out at home and throw away the most smelly pieces.
Joe also gave me a lesson on different cuts of beef and sold me the most delicious shoulder of lamb. He doesn’t charge me for bones for our dog. I suppose the butcher reckons I’m not a good customer of his. I don’t know why Joe does this for me. Accomplices of some kind. I normally bring him a postcard after having been away on holiday. Matterhorn last time. He said it looked like Austria where he had been.

Reading Aloud

Aunt Maisie

Aunt Maisie made me laugh today. She wishes to be cremated when the time comes, she said. We all have to go; that’s a fact. She had told her younger sister about her intention and had met with disapproval. “If my sister puts me into a box, I shall jump out of it and into her face,” she exclaimed. She seemed to find the idea of the box disconcerting, and I could hardly keep a straight face. She went on “Why can’t I have the same thing as my husband. He was cremated and his ashes scattered on a field where he used to work”. She made a vague movement with her arm, a dramatic expression in her face.

I couldn’t suppress a smile and she looked at me questioningly. She then told me what she thought about “the box”. “Fancy maggots eating their way through the wood and into my body”. She looked horrified and seemed to be curling up as if getting away from something. Certainly this shouldn’t happen to her. I burst into laughter and reassured her: she wouldn’t feel a thing! She produced a little smile and wondered would her soul witness it. After that she resumed her straight face and told me about a sad case. A lady she had known from her whist drives. Seventy-seven. She didn’t come one day and the next thing Aunt Maisie knew from the newspaper was that she was dead. “Seventy-seven!”. Aunt Maisie gave me a meaningful look. I calculated that Aunt Maisie was older than that. Five years older in fact. “Not a bad age,” she said. “They say three score and ten – that’s what we get.” The allotted span, Nessie used to call it. “Anything else is borrowed time”, she went on. Of course, “I’m nearly eighty-three”. She looked pleased with herself. I told her she was doing well. She smiled and said she was living on borrowed time. I encouraged her to enjoy it. She would, she said, and started telling me the story of her bungalow. I had heard it before.

She lives in a little Council bungalow, one in a row of five or six, and several people had wanted it. Of course, my doctor saw that I got it. A very good doctor.” She was most grateful. Mrs Zenc had wanted it, too, she kept telling people at the whist drive she was going to have it. Aunt Maisie’s neighbour and a few others round about had wanted Mrs Zenc to come and live there. Aunt Maisie was sick of hearing this every so often. “Why do they keep telling me that?”. Anyway, Aunt Maisie got the bungalow and not Mrs Zenc. The Council knew who needed it most. Mrs Zenc must have been upset when she was turned down, Aunt Maisie thought. She would have to wait for another chance. Aunt Maisie was safe where she was, she didn’t think anybody could turn her out, she was going to stay here. She didn’t say until when. Mrs Zenc had been offered several other places in the meantime, but hadn’t accepted any. Aunt Maisie couldn’t see at all why not. “You see, she had set her heart on the one at the corner, the one I have. But she couldn’t have that.” Aunt Maisie looked satisfied. She went on: “They’re building more bungalows out in Crossread.” She made a vague movement meaning far away, not nice and central as hers, obviously. Mrs Zenc could go there for all Aunt Maisie knew. But what had the old girl done? Aunt Maisie was trying to rouse my interest. She had accepted an upstairs flat in a building nearby, and of course, who would be surprized to hear as she had done this morning: Mrs Zenc had broken her ankle! Aunt Maisie thought it was probably the stairs. “She should never have accepted this flat.“ She was quite out of sympathy. “What a silly thing to do!” Aunt Maisie would have known better. But then she was lucky – she had been assigned the bungalow on the corner. “Why do people keep talking about Mrs Zenc?” she complained. “I don’t gossip, but they give me all the news about her.” It nearly made her miserable, but only nearly, for she was safe where she was.

When I had to go, I told her it was nice having a laugh together. She smiled and said she was looking forward to seeing me next week.

Reading Aloud

Evening at Aldous’

We regularly meet with Aldous and his wife – once a fortnight at least. I don’t know what keeps them interested. We don’t have all that much to offer. Not to an academic of his calibre. However, he doesn’t seem to mind. He has interesting things to talk about and strongly makes his views known on all kinds of subjects with the inborn authority so characteristic of him, repeating himself if necessary – he has great patience with his listeners.

We were at his house last night, together with Yan and his wife. Aldous was in excellent form, I could tell when he opened the door. A model of politeness – he wanted to relieve me of my stole, but I preferred to hang on to it. He was less attentive at the end of the evening – Yan had to search for his coat on his own. From the beginning the conversation sparkled. The first thing we heard was that Aldous had been indulging himself in…roes. Cod-roes, hard, cooked and fried, so utterly delicious apparently, he was shuddering with delight in his arm-chair. What about soft roes? No, he couldn’t bear the idea and shuddered with disgust. Their neighbour, a doting old lady of eighty-five, had brought him home-grown peas at lunchtime. “My goodness, these peas”. He shut his eyes and intensely remembered their flavour. The most heavenly peas, he thought. A plateful of them and he wouldn’t need anything else for a meal. It sounded just like him. He is so enthusiastic. And easy to amuse, his wife, too, of course. They told Yan the little story of when we were in Stratford with them and looking for something to eat. It was my husband who had caused them amusement by talking about Sauerkraut. They would have loved him to have some, I don’t know why, but none was available. “Do you know what he had in the end?” Aldous’ wife asked giggling. “The same as Aldous, steak and kidney pie!” They both split their sides with laughter. We joined in politely. Pity there was no garlic. They know my husband loves it. Aldous loathes it. “How about Sauerkraut and garlic?” Aldous asked. My husband said this was possibly not a good combination. However, Aldous would not accept this and accused him of having a closed mind. More laughter.

Then Aldous told the story of how he had to dance cheek to cheek with a lady friend of theirs in order to avoid the smell of garlic… After that he switched the conversation from food to sex. Some people establish a link between these two, he told us. How do they do that, I wondered. I leave it to your imagination, he answered. His wife hadn’t heard and asked again. He still refused to be specific.

Anyway, to come back to trace-elements: All of Aldous’ friends know how best to treat a certain condition in young girls, but would you believe it, Aldous was disgusted, some people make abnormal sexual behaviour of the parents responsible for the girls affliction. Everybody present joined in his indignation.

My husband was still pondering about the connection between the two above mentioned phenomena and made the interesting contribution that there was a restaurant in Paris associating each dish with some sort of sexual idea. Like banana with a dollop of cream. Ladies were supposed to eat this in a certain way. Aldous looked incredulous, if not impressed whereas his wife did the shuddering for once, saying she would refuse to go there. She was wearing quite a low-cut jumper in a large lacy see-through pattern, by the way, I was surprized to see it. I suppose she can afford to do that with the fullness of her figure. The neckline tended to slip down the front, but not beyond a certain point. She adjusted it from time to time. The immorality of our time! A restaurant! There were professors of “sexology” in a certain country, Aldous told us. He had us interested now, but wouldn’t say any more.

The rise of feminism and the decline of woman, another subject dear to his heart. I referred him to the teachings of the Church, there was something he could agree with. However, he is not a church-goer any more. Not the thing for him, he said, but why not good for others? Better go to church than hang around, it won’t do you any harm and might improve you spiritually.

Then he started talking at length about the concert he and his wife had been to recently. I should have gone as well, but had declined the invitation. This wretched modern composer. A cacophony. Beauty, harmony, tunes – totally absent. A madman’s view of the world – that’s what he called it. We had heard it all before, but Yan and his wife hadn’t…Pity there wasn’t an instrument “cacophone”. We laughed. I asked him why he kept on talking about something which according to him was worthless? I don’t remember what he answered. I think he passed on to another subject, or his wife did.

She informed us that her brother had had the most miraculous operation performed. As a consequence he was going to be in a medical book, an outstanding case of a successful b…cancer operation. So successful – she and Aldous were delighted. We had heard it all before. It was three years ago, and the patient absolutely fighting fit without a trace almost to show what had been done. All the people they had seen in the hospital at the time. Disfigured. Having lost parts of their faces. Some of them having artificial faces put on. A nephew of theirs having an artificial palate. Mind you, she said, you don’t notice that at all.

We passed on to the next subject. Biological warfare. Damn worse than nuclear impact, Aldous said. People would be well advised to think about that. A bit of light on his horizon, he went on. They had just received so many thousand pounds. I was wondering how they had done that when I heard it was money for his professional body which would enable them to go on researching into ways and means of tackling one of our dreadful diseases. They had already made some interesting discoveries. The problem was, I gathered, to find competent people. Many good ones went to another country and they had to fill up with Iranians, Iraqis and so on. Together we deplored this state of affairs.

What will be the outcome of the Cwealth conference, somebody asked. I hadn’t heard about it and was informed they were going to take to task an unruly member, one who had a great problem and refused to tackle it. I managed to put in a question: Why doesn’t this country, the one we’re in, tackle its own problems first – I knew they had one with an unruly island – before helping other nations tackle theirs ?It turned out that for once the Prime Minister’s views coincided with Aldous’ and in fact he agreed it might be economically disastrous to become involved. As for the unruly island he couldn’t see any solution to that problem. Maybe they should let the R…s invade it, thus forcing the opposing parties into union. Quite an original idea. Maybe the Prime Minister should be the agent of some foreign power. He would then be able to arrange the necessary. “Don’t write about that,” Aldous begged me. I reassured him. I don’t write about Prime Ministers. Anyway, the Cwealth member in question was in for a bloodbath, Aldous’ wife thought, and she was glad not to live there.

The conversation became a little shallower, the subject being other people’s houses and how badly designed, constructed and maintained they were. Aldous and his wife marvelled for weeks how a lady-friend of theirs could have moved into a house that carried a great name, it is true, but had absolutely nothing else to show for it. They were sure she would be disappointed. She wasn’t when they saw her once or twice after the move. Next time, though, she apparently insinuated she didn’t know how much longer she would stay there. Aldous and his wife could have told her…She had sold her former house at a profit, they knew that.

Their next door neighbours’ house was on the market again. After only two and a half years. The previous owner had wanted a large sum of money for it, but had to come down because of faults in the construction and there was no foundation. “It used to be a hen-house”, Aldous’ wife exclaimed. “Fancy living in a hen-house.” They had never liked these neighbours much who snubbed them on the occasion of the last concert in their barn: they had refused to buy tickets – claiming to be musical as well !- on the grounds that they wouldn’t be at home. Everybody could see on the night in question that they were.

Aldous and his wife were also highly critical of their neighbour’s dog who barks a lot and seems to be kept in an objectionable way. Their own dog runs around loose, keeping people at bay, their son had taught him that. The dog bit Johnnie once. I don’t know whether I can forgive him for that. Anyway, they weren’t sorry to lose their neighbours. Had we seen the house advertized? Asking an incredible price. They had improved it quite a lot, it was true.

After that we heard about a young man who had paid them a visit the night before. So self-confident. So determined to make the most of life. And absolutely no sense of humour. How can one go through life without a sense of humour? Her mind “boggled” at the idea, Aldous’ wife said. “He probably wouldn’t notice”, I suggested. Anyway, Aldous had tried to probe and prompt him by asking, “how about going into…….newspapers?” Do you know what the result was? Aldous said, showing comical despair, “he embarked on a talk about Fleet Street for fifteen solid minutes. I couldn’t get a word in !”. I wished to myself I could have met that young man.
“You are quiet,” Aldous said to me after a while, “why is that?” I assured him I was listening. He didn’t like that either. Somebody said “book”. Aldous sighed, the idea made him uneasy.

It was time to go home. Aldous and his wife had enjoyed the evening. Yan who is an easy talker had kept the conversation going. Yan’s wife hadn’t said much, my husband hardly anything, and I, well… On the way home my husband said: “I didn’t like that evening.”

Reading Aloud


My husband and I weren’t in when he brought the music. He had a chat with our youngest daughter instead. She told me she had found him very shy and that she didn’t like him. Not much later she came again saying she had been telling a lie and really she liked him very much, but was worried I might pass this on to him next time I saw him.

I saw him again at the concert and we talked during the interval. My husband was away at the time and his wife was busy with other people. We paid one another compliments on being tanned and discussed our respective holidays. Then he told me he had enjoyed reading my “brilliant notes”, I obviously had a gift for that. I asked him had they made him laugh. He said “yes” and I had the impression it was a little half-hearted. He managed to think of a book and a tape I might be interested in and promised to let me have them. When, I asked. He suggested the weekend, but I was busy with other things. How about Monday night? He seemed hesitant. I told him he didn’t have to commit himself. “I will drop them in,” he said. I promised literature about a famous place in return – he and his wife were planning to go there.

As expected I haven’t seen him since. I have passed my travel books on to his wife, though. She was grateful.

A few days later Paul was given tickets for a box in a large concert hall. I heard this from his wife who rang me up to offer me one of them. Two had gone to Aldous and his wife. She was sorry about not having one for my husband who might not be back from work in time anyway. I was not tempted at all. I dislike going into town and had also been doing gymnastics of some kind, following a dear friend’s advice. Therefore I hid behind my husband saying I wouldn’t want to leave him alone, it was depressing coming into an empty house and I had to cheer him up since he was having problems at work. Paul’s wife thought my husband would be cross with me for declining an invitation of that kind. As it turned out, he wasn’t. “What would Paul’s wife have done in your place,” he wondered. I boldly suggested “let’s see who has the best wife!” He looked at me sideways: “For a change…”

Reading Aloud

The Chimney Sweep

I hadn’t seen him for one and a half years and he was as familiar as ever. He had two hours solid work with three chimneys, doing them all from inside the house, not from the roof as on the continent. My children were fascinated watching him at work – they had never seen it – and as a special treat, on having reached the top of the chimney, he sent them outside to see his brush appear – it came up with a jerk, disappeared and then up once more, like somebody raising his hat.

While he was working in the living room I heard his family were all well and one of his daughters was getting married soon. He didn’t seem to mind becoming a father-in-law. I asked him about his holidays and surprized him by remembering that he had been to Jersey. He went elsewhere this year, he said, but wasn’t sure whether he would go there again. Portugal in fact. Having never been to this country, I was eager to hear more. “It was far too hot,” he said and shook his head. They had been for a fortnight in June, and all their tan was gone now, he said with a little regret. What did he do all day, I wondered. He said he wasn’t a “beach man”. He got up early in the morning, went for a walk, found himself a drink or two and something to eat, wasn’t too specific on what he did for the rest of the day – time seemed to pass – didn’t mention his family were with him – got changed in the evening and went for a meal and a few more drinks. Did people speak English? They certainly did in the shops, I hear, and whenever they wanted money out of one. However, when in trouble, one had a terrible job to make them understand. He had brought three brand-new tee-shirts with him, from M&S actually, washed them through before putting them on and hung them out on the line. Next thing he knew: they were gone. He had to report this to the police so that he could claim on his insurance. The police just wouldn’t understand; but he didn’t give up and must have managed to impress them in the end. In fact eventually they did understand English. He shook his head thinking about all the trouble. He even knew who had taken his property. Children! He wondered whether they were trained for that sort of thing, because they came back to see if there was more! However, he discovered them in time and frightened them off by shaking his fist. His insurance still hasn’t paid up. I comforted him by telling him about my adventures with Swissair.

He passed on to the next chimney after having had a cup of tea, and couldn’t make his brush come out at the top because there was a little owl in the way. As he was starting on the Rayburn he remembered I was making bread last time he called. However, he had forgotten why he helped me taking it out of the oven. I told him. “O yes, a broken wrist, that’s what it was,” he smiled. He had his second cup of tea and told me what happened to him last week while working in a house in Jeena. A boy, fifteen years or so, home from boarding school, gave him coffee which tasted vile. He was sure it had been salted instead of sugared and refused to drink it. He didn’t see what the boy did with it, chuck it down the drain or what. He was offered a second cup which still tasted unpleasant, perhaps a little less salt in it, but he appeared to have recovered while waiting. “Lousy boy,“ he said, “something to talk about when he’s back at school!”. He didn’t seem to think much to boarding schools.

I noticed he wore a mask for some of the work. He didn’t use to, he said, but does now when he’s “on top of it” – whatever he meant by that – supposed to be better for you.

The children liked him. Casual, something funny, something to laugh. He asked them had they enjoyed their holidays. Our youngest daughter gave him a glowing “yes”. He charged a modest sum for his services and left us. “See you next year.” He always brings his own vacuum cleaner. After he had gone, my kitchen looked cleaner than before.

Reading Aloud

At Mrs Rivers’

She opened the door with her usual welcoming smile. “Pleased to see you,” she said, and “will you have a cup of tea?” Then we settled down to our weekly chat. She loves company. She attracts an amazing number of people, sometimes several at a time. When she was in hospital her ward was like a beehive, people coming and going and she holding court from the height of her bed. In a see-through nightdress, I hear it shocked one of her visitors.

She needs company. She lives and thrives on it. She forgets her ailments when she has company. She briefly mentions what’s wrong with her, always with a laugh. She never asks for sympathy. I saw her through all her dental troubles. Now she has dentures and no more problems.

Her visitors provide her with a subject matter for conversation. She must have paraded most of her friends and family to me. I don’t know what she says about me to others.

She is used to a certain circle. Her parents-in-law were Sir and Lady. “Poor old Lady Kate”, she says, referring to her husband’s mother. I forget what had happened to her. She knows all the titled people within a certain radius. Lady Frances Mould for example who at the age of seventy-eight – a mere chicken, Mrs Rivers says who is eighty-six herself – decided to give up driving because she doesn’t always “feel the ground under her feet”. Sold her car to a ninety-two-year old lady, would you believe it, Mrs. Rivers exclaimed. Lady Frances won’t be able to provide transport for Mrs Rivers anymore, that’s for sure. She will move around by taxi – money no object, I heard – and may not see Mrs Rivers much in the future. A peculiar person, Mrs Rivers said, who will consult a doctor at the slightest provocation. She used to take Mrs Rivers, who is a doctor, to one side and ask her opinion on a number of odd subjects concerning her health.

Mrs Rivers adjusts easily to people of different circles. There is Sibyl who does clerical work for her and has at last been admitted to an almshouse. Mrs Rivers was very pleased when she heard that. She thought the good old soul deserved that after a long and difficult life. Sibyl had even managed a holiday, for the first time ever, I think she said, and she was delighted.

She then gave me news about her son and his family who were going on holiday. I was relieved to hear that other families, too, split up for that purpose, her son going sailing in this country and his wife swimming and sunbathing in Greece, hoping to improve her back.

Her brother was very ill, I heard next. She had had a telephone call from her sister-in-law, this hard-hearted and selfish creature. They were married late in life, first time for him, second time for her. He couldn’t do enough for her, I gathered, and she was all set to enjoy herself, expecting him to drive her even when he wasn’t feeling well, insisting on moving from the country into town, because there was more entertainment for her, going out on her own, if necessary. Anyway, Mrs Rivers felt she shouldn’t talk about her and left it at that.

She then asked me how the Orms were getting on. I gave her the latest news. She said “o dear”. I told her it was almost getting too much for me. She said she wasn’t surprized with all the things I was doing. The Vicar and the Doctor should work out a more permanent solution. Surely it was the Vicar’s job to do these things.

What about the Georges as well. Didn’t I do too much there? I said I was going to cut down on time spent with them. The trouble was, I said, that people take one for granted and ask for more all the time. What about their family? I pointed out that they had done a lot. Of course, Mrs Rivers said, George’s wife has been spoilt by all this attention he has given her for years. I told her about the impending wedding of their daughter and that George’s wife was most worried about what she would wear on the occasion. Her speech is so bad now, that you can hardly hear her, but she wanted to discuss the menu with the caterers. When I went one evening to switch on the T.V. for her – George was in Paris – she expected me to come in time to give her her evening meal. Relief for the hospital staff. I suppose she likes to do what she can…Mrs Rivers thought this was exaggerating and was pleased to hear that I had declined the request. She was hoping she wasn’t too much of a burden for me. I assured her I quite enjoyed my cup of tea and a chat with her. “See you next week.” “Bye-bye.”

Reading Aloud

Mr Hackitt

I hadn’t seen him for quite a while. He is not one of my closer friends, but I shall have to take notice of him as long as our children are at his school. From time to time we have to ask him for his services. I prefer my husband to do it, because something gives me the feeling that he takes gentlemen more seriously. However, this time it was unavoidable. It was my turn to face him.

I had come in a delicate mission. We objected to one of the teachers our youngest daughter had been assigned to. Mr Hackitt knew about this from a telephone call my husband had given him prior to my visit. He received me in his usual way – extremely polite and pally at the same time – no doubt wondering how I would go about tackling my problem. As I was busy bringing forward my request in the most diplomatic manner, full of concern for his difficult job, not giving any names nor being too specific in any way, my daughter innocently carrying the blame and responsibility for the change requested,
– the expression of his face matching my words –
– a smile gradually giving way to a more serious, highly competent and professional look of earnestness –
– solidarity with himself and his staff – they were all teachers after all –
he did what I had expected him to do: he tried first of all to simply reject my request. No harm in trying, I suppose. After that he pleaded my daughter’s welfare. Would it be good for her to leave her usual registration group and join a different set of pupils? Then he pleaded his time-table. Then he pleaded other parents who might make the same request. How could he possibly…Then he looked at his time-table again.
I assured him of my sympathy, having been a teacher myself. No names had been mentioned so far at all.

Suddenly he said I should leave it with him. He would discuss it with the relevant head of department. With a fresh smile he assured me he would do what he could without promising anything. Unfortunately I now remembered there was yet another teacher we would not like to be involved with and thought it safe, if slightly unpleasant, to inform him of this. I did have to say a name and it shook him a little – the impact of a name said aloud – it was like trespassing against a tacit agreement – but I passed over it quickly with a particularly nice, I hope, smile, and he accompanied me all the way to the main door, opening it for me and saying “bye-bye”. I had forgotten I had left my bicycle right next to the door and had to come back after a few steps, still thinking with a certain amusement about this – shall I say: typical – meeting. He saw me from inside, opened the door once more and said cheerfully: “Don’t forget your bicycle!” “That’s right,” was all I could think of. Until the next time!

Reading Aloud

The Churchwarden

He looks Church personified when officiating, but is quite a jolly person really, especially since he retired. More relaxed, enjoying life, his wife told me. More time, and certainly they would pay visits to the Orms when somebody mentioned the case to them. Neglected for too long, it is true. In fact they paid them a visit immediately and another one soon after. “So that’s what it is…And he doesn’t know. How awful,” the Churchwarden’s wife said, “my husband went again. Mr Orms was down.” Then the pleasing news that “he cheered him up”. “And how is your daughter getting on with her little job?” My daughter had started working for Miss Felix. The Churchwarden cuts the grass for Miss Felix and knowing that she was looking for somebody told her he knew of a suitable young girl.

I was surprized to hear the little story when I had a chat with him recently. I didn’t know he was quite so friendly, he never showed it. Recommending my daughter, with me having left choir, church and all…However, he said my children were friendly and polite, one of them even waving to him – so he said to Miss Felix she might like to try that girl. He was very pleased to hear the deal had come off. You want to give these youngsters a chance, don’t you. Another friend of mine, a lady-friend this time, had also recommended my daughter to Miss Felix. My daughter owed her good luck to this lady in fact. It turned out Miss Felix couldn’t remember the Churchwarden having said anything about her. It doesn’t matter. It’s the good intention that counts.

Aunt Maisie isn’t very keen on the Churchwarden. He used to collect the rent. “What a rude person,” she complained, “no manners. Keeping his hat on all the time he was in my house.” She didn’t care twopence for him.

Mr Orms who is back from hospital remarked that the Churchwarden does too much talking. “He makes me quite sick and tired,” he said, and Mrs Orms added: “Staying too long, too, keeping us from having our meal on time.” She did give him that he was well-intentioned…

Reading Aloud


It bores me a little writing about Aldous so often. He doesn’t change at all. He told me he had observed a change in me. He, his wife and my husband were discussing all sorts of hypothetical things they knew nothing about. It bored me terribly. What is the point of speculating?

I told him I had lost interest in the “occult” and related subjects, and he said he had indeed noticed a change in me. I had a little heart beating, a feeling of exposure, I suppose, and asked him to explain. He had observed, he said, a tendency away from “exposed views”. I told him my everyday life held all my attention and kept me busy, I had no time left for anything else. That was his impression, he said. What with my family and responsibilities as a mother and wife, I had probably become more…earthbound! I don’t know what he meant by that, but said the opposite might be true. He was quite willing to grant me that, too!

I know what he has observed: I’ve stopped talking about food, alternative medicine, dangerous chemicals, etc. In fact he finds it difficult these days to have an argument with me. Perhaps he misses that. He said recently that a lot of what I had said in former years was quite right! Pity he didn’t acknowledge that at the time. I’ve grown out of it now. He’s just a bit behind.

He talked about their own mushrooms, how good they were, how exquisitely flavoured, grown in the field on natural cow-manure. Did we know what terrible chemical treatment mass-produced mushrooms get? He and his wife raised their eyebrows at the thought of it and I shuddered duly. They don’t grow their own cabbage and therefore don’t talk about the chemicals mass-produced cabbage is getting…Pointless putting oneself off…

They then had us spellbound by discussing the new terrible disease which was able to spread due to “immoral” behaviour. Fancy the Church not speaking up and showing people the right way! Keeping up the practice of communal chalice as well! They were indignant and I bored. I yawned, and he must have thought I was exhausted and maybe Zn deficient after all…My husband says he’ s very perceptive…
After that they told us about a TV programme: a murderer who had two different personalities; a woman with even six or seven different ones – reduced to three for the purposes of a film that had been made about her, etc., etc.

My husband said, was it time to make tea – a ritual meaning that the end of the evening is near. I brought in the tea and the conversation became more lively.
Aldous complained about the sloppy use of language, people using words without being aware of their meaning, using meaningless words in fact. Like “anticipate”. The meaning it has and the meaning American usage has imposed on it. A degradation of the language. Not being a native speaker, I could only say that the supposedly American usage was the only one I knew which means it must have been around for quite a few years.

Accusing people of sloppy use of language, on the other hand, using meaningless words, using words lightly without meaning them— what about him saying with a laugh: “If such and such an ‘evil force’ offered me to make me younger by twenty years, I wouldn’t want it.” Why mention ‘evil force’? Aldous turned this way and that, looking for a way out with a joke, offering far-fetched explanations, questioning other people’s intelligence, becoming entangled with the grammatical structure of conditional clauses – all the time valiantly supported by his wife, like an echo – until in the end he was pinned down mercilessly, much to my husband’s delight who declared relief at seeing “somebody else at the receiving end”. Aldous answered: “You have it all the time, do you?” Anyway, all Aldous had wanted to say, I understood, was “If he could have twenty years of his life back…”. He thought this was rather a dry way of putting it, therefore he had chosen a more “flowery” expression.

I asked him about the meaning of “In the beginning was the word…” I shouldn’t have done, because he said “word” means “purpose” and then indulged himself for the umpteenth time in a talk on his favourite idea: the universe being governed by purpose. I yawned again. It was nearly midnight. They left us thanking us for a lovely evening.

Aldous was due to see his doctor next day to have his ears syringed. Full of wax, his wife explained, he could hardly hear…

Reading Aloud

Aldous’ wife

She told me the other day how much she loved me for being so good to other people, like the Orms. She even gave me a kiss for that – I couldn’t avoid it. She had just heard that I had fetched them from hospital and taken them home. I don’t know why she keeps inquiring about Mr Orms. I suppose we want to activate our potential of good feelings, feeling sorry, glad, happy for someone. We can do that best by hearing about somebody, discussing him. Nothing we can do. It’s incurable. How are they going to cope? Isn’t it awful! Have you seen the pretty flowers in my field? We’re going to dig some up and plant them in the garden. And do you know that the president of the W.I. is going to move away? After thirty-three years in Green Hamlet!
Aldous’ wife thought this was wrong. Silly in fact. Fancy leaving all one’s friends and retire into the West Country. Imagine something happening to one of them? Who’s going to look after the other one? “Anyway, we have to give her a present”. Aldous’ wife had to arrange for a special meeting to decide about this question.

I told her I had seen their neighbours’ dog recently, a very handsome animal, I thought, slim and shining and good-natured. A bitch. “Oh, it’s alright and friendly with me,” she said, “it just barks a lot and is kept in this horrible place.” A concreted place, it is true. But a large area. Then she bent down to one of her dogs – a bitch, too – who was ill and needed attention: “How are you, my girl. Oh what a delight for mummy to see you are better.” Then to me: “She was so ill, you know. I couldn’t visit George’s wife, because I had to take her to the vet’s. And I take her for walks in my shopping caddy.” “What did the vet diagnose?” I was informed that he didn’t know what it was. “How can he give her treatment then?” She had had an injection and tablets. I heard that the injection of antibiotics was just in case it was an infection. Apparently it would enable her to get over it more quickly. But it might well be poisoning from agricultural chemicals. Anyway, she seemed better, that was the main thing.

Reading Aloud


Of course we know money is not important. Love has nothing to do with money. Aldous’ wife has a book entitled “The most precious thing”. And that’s not money to be sure! She looks determined. Have you seen Soandso’s house advertized, by the way? An unbelievable sum they want. It must be the four acres of land with it. Their own house has nine acres with it…

And somebody else, Commander Soandso, selling his house, too. You never guess what he wants! For his little place! It seems as though he has a buyer. Nothing in writing yet. Good old Commander Soandso! If he sells his house at that price, what’s the value of ours?

I hope you’re selling tickets. We count on you! How much have you taken? Is that all? Never mind. It all adds up. We’re all trying.

Her grandson has started saving money. So much in the bank. Other children have a lot more apparently. She thinks he’s doing well. He says he’s saving up for his honeymoon. Isn’t that cute?

I tell her that my little daughter dreams about a large house with a bathroom for each member of the family. She remarks, she’ll have to marry a rich man for that. They all want to be rich these days, don’t they.

As long as we get by on the money we have.

Switching on the immersion heater without worrying about the electricity – a pleasing thought to her. She’s heard somebody describe this as being rich. Quite original, isn’t it. Of course, some people are millionaires. Nessie’s brother is and Nessie himself must be. Very wealthy, very well off.

They went yachting with some newly acquired friends. My goodness, their house. Filled with antiques. All inherited. I don’t know why she said that…

Reading Aloud


I teach him German, together with his wife. He is a retired mathematician and physicist who works part-time as a liaison officer between industry and the education authorities. A very interesting job, putting him in touch with different industries on the one hand and schools on the other hand. Workshops with pupils and workshops with teachers. “Learning style research” was one subject he covered. It is advantageous to know in which way one learns best. I expressed interest and he brought me a copy of a test he had done in a workshop with teachers. He explained in detail what I had to do. I listened without taking it in. It bored me a little in fact. It would be nice to know how to learn in the most economical way. After all I want to study Italian. Couldn’t somebody find out for me?

Jeremy promised to do the test with me – only a matter of minutes – once I had answered the questions on the first sheet. The day before they were due to come I thought, dear me, the test. I ran through it, put crosses in what appeared to be the relevant places and presented the sheet the next day. He took a look at it and said: “No, this is not right.” I was embarrassed, but he gallantly said he had probably not explained it properly. It turned out that I hadn’t read the introductory and explanatory notes and had therefore not completed the test. He smiled at me from under his dense, blond eye-lashes as I declared my intention to do my homework properly for next time and went on to explain about the possible results of the test. He had me interested now, because he talked about the general tendency towards “self-discovery”. One type of learner – he in fact belonged to that group according to the test – is “primarily interested in self-discovery”, a term used by the psychologist to whom we owe the test. I understood from Jeremy that this group of learners is really the one to be encouraged. What about the teacher who finds out he is inclined to “self-discovery”. This was a question beside the point, because all we’re interested in is how to transmit knowledge to pupils in the most economical way. We have to know which way pupils are inclined and for the best results we should teach them accordingly. I was still intrigued by “self-discovery” and a possible recipe for it.

Next time I saw him I had completed the test and was disappointed not to join the self-discovery group, but the one that was interested in “personal meaning”. Unfortunately it turned out in the course of our discussion that “self-discovery” did not mean “discover oneself”, but “discover by oneself” which made me lose interest altogether…

Reading Aloud

The Greengrocer

I have come to know him quite well over the years just by seeing him once a week.

I found out that he is musically inclined, playing the accordion – by ear only, it is true. His wife has a nice singing voice, I heard. I invited them both to the first village concert. Unfortunately they had to attend a twenty-first birthday party on the same night and were therefore prevented.

Next year when another concert was coming round, I mentioned it to the Greengrocer’s wife. She said: “Oh dear, it’s balancing night (a Friday); we won’t be able to make it. The next thing I knew was that Aldous’ wife had sold them two tickets. How had she managed, I wondered. She had entered the shop, she said, having heard that I considered them potential customers – this was before I had spoken to his wife – and chance would have it there was only him present. She brandished the programmes saying: “Here are your tickets, dear.” He hardly knew what they were for, asked how much he owed and paid her on the spot. Aldous’ wife was pleased with herself. On the night of the concert I was looking for them, but didn’t see them until the end. He called out to me as I was passing: “Hallo, my dear, didn’t you see us?” And we shook hands. It’s nice bumping into friends.

He told me he was a coach driver at one time, doing tours to the Continent, driving up and down the Austrian Alps. Grossglockner particularly memorable because of the inadequate brakes his vehicle was equipped with. Vacuum brakes. He gave me a long talk on how they worked. The gist of it was that the rarefied air at an altitude of 12,000 feet or so had a negative impact on their efficiency. Quite risky up on top and especially coming down. Of course the situation improved as one lost altitude. He was young then and had good nerves. I paid him compliments on his knowledge of technical processes and his ability to explain them. He pointed out with modest pride that he had been a car mechanics and maintenance teacher at a college of adult education at one time.
He has pleasant memories of a breakdown he had with a coach in Southern Germany. He pronounced the name of the place he had to stop at well enough for me to recognize it – quite a complicated name. How nice to hear I knew the place, in fact I had lived not too far from it. He praised the hospitality of the locals and their efforts to help.

He is one of these marvellous English all-round-men who can do any job indoors and outdoors. In addition he runs a shop and looks after people’s pension books. Like Mr and Mrs Orms’. He keeps them for them, because the Orms are in hospital.

The other day the Orms sent me to collect money from him. Mrs Orms had given me a letter of authorization which she had forgotten to sign. She had also not thought about signing the pension book. “I’ll let you have the money, of course,” the Greengrocer said to me, “but it’s not the way it should be”, and he made me sign on the back where it says “agent’s signature”. He had to do without Mrs Orms’. When I collect Mrs Rivers’ pension, I always sign on the front for her. This goes back to the time when there were no books because of a strike. Everybody had to sign on a large sheet in the post-office. When the books came back, I kept on signing for her, on the front. My friend remarked after a while it wasn’t quite the right way, but agreed to accept it as long as nobody else objected to it. This saves me the trouble of running after Mrs Rivers’ signature every week – he quite sees that.

Our little chats cover a wide range of subjects. When Valentine’s Day was coming I asked him had he ever received a card. He said “no” and I thought to myself I would have to do something about it. I wonder whether he could read my mind…I went back after a few days to look at their Valentine cards. I had bought some elsewhere and needed one more. Not for the Greengrocer, his was already done. I didn’t like their cards in the end, but didn’t want to tell them. I said instead: “He doesn’t deserve one after all!” and left the shop without buying one. I never heard anything about the Valentine card I had sent him. One day much later he pushed a stamp through to me, underneath his security glass, by means of a paper. I didn’t recognise the vehicular function of the paper immediately and asked jokingly: “What is that? A love letter?” His wife said from the background, also jokingly: “I beg your pardon!” The Greengrocer beamed out of his friendly eyes and I couldn’t help asking had he ever received a Valentine card. He said he had. He never thought it was from me, because having heard me say “He doesn’t deserve one”, he had assumed I wouldn’t send him one after all. I was amazed to be quoted so long after the event and remembered I had put three XXX on the card. Only on paper, I’m pleased to say. I wouldn’t like to cause ill feelings for nothing.

He and his wife went for an outing once with a group of people. In a mini-bus which broke down. The Vicar and his wife were there, too, and very good, the Greengrocer said, because they managed to keep everybody in good spirits.

They’re not church-goers really. They don’t have the time. It would be nice, though, to go to church. It makes a nice Sunday: get up leisurely, enjoy breakfast, do what one fancies, go to church, come back and have lunch…a pleasant day. The trouble is, it takes time. It takes a big chunk out of the morning getting ready for it, going there, coming back, changing into old clothes again…This business of changing clothes! You have to look right when you go there! The Greengrocer’s wife was very critical of this: “How important is it really?” She made more scathing comment: “Most of the people going there are…”I don’t like to repeat the word. She told me it was our every day life that counts, and certainly non-church-goers could be very good Christians, couldn’t they? I hastened to agree. She told me when her father had died she was very upset and asked a clergyman, had he gone to heaven? The clergyman apparently asked back, was he a church-goer in his life-time? Hearing that, no, that wasn’t the case, he said: he won’t have gone to heaven then. The Greengrocer’s wife thought that was very naughty. It had put her right off. Fancy coming for comfort, and that’s what you get!

The Greengrocer didn’t seem unduly impressed. He smiled as I said bye-bye and remarked that we’d have to find another subject of conversation next time I came.

Reading Aloud


I had my parents over for a fortnight and acquainted them with a few of our friends, if they didn’t know them already. Aldous and his wife came to see us briefly within twenty-four hours of their arrival after having tried in vain to entice us into visiting a local bird-farm. They were going with two of their grandchildren. “ A very interesting place, a lovely place, good fun even for adults.” They recommended it strongly and I felt bored by the very idea. I asked them to see us after having visited that place without us, which they did.

Aldous’ wife complained that Aldous went to sleep at one point when they were sitting down somewhere at the bird-farm. Their grandchildren were also tired and sat on the grass next to us – this was in our garden. We were exchanging compliments about the merits of our respective countries, except that the weather in England…but we all knew that…when our dog suddenly growled and made a jerk towards the child who was next to him. I saw that this child had almost been creeping into the dog and seemed to have his hand somewhere under the animal’s body. We all started and the child cried. Aldous’ wife took him onto her knees and I felt most uncomfortable, something must have gone wrong. For Aldous’ wife the situation was clear: “He is such a nice dog normally. What has he done to you?” The boy had a mark on his cheek, a kind of imprint which could indeed have come from a dog’s tooth. She pointed it out to me. “Good job he hasn’t drawn blood,” she said when I showed my concern. “Never mind,” she then added turning to her grandson, “Our dog has been on to Steve (my husband)!” Tit for tat. Aldous’ wife insisted that her grandson was particularly good with animals. I didn’t know whether to believe her, just looking at the little rascal who soon forgot his tears and was made to stroke our friendly animal. When they were gone my mother told me spontaneously that she hadn’t liked the look of that little rogue. I certainly don’t believe that our dog snaps without a reason. However, you can’t tell people that.


I know now why they don’t like their neighbour’s dog. Aldous himself told me. He had had an encounter with a dog of the same breed – the most nervous breed you can imagine, I gather – in a different country. As soon as he, Aldous, entered the room, the wretched animal fled into the furthest corner. How absurd. Aldous tried to befriend it, but the effect was even worse: the animal started trembling and showed signs of real terror. A ridiculous breed, Aldous concluded. He had tried in vain to talk his neighbour out of having one like that. His neighbour wouldn’t listen to reason and Aldous had had to give up. He sighed, frustrated.

Not like our next-door neighbour who told us on which occasion he had heard a rabbit scream. When he was a young boy living in the countryside, he once noticed a stoat chasing a rabbit. The fleeing animal was in great danger, and as a last resort made straight for our neighbour at whose feet it collapsed with a mighty scream. The stoat left off and ran away, whereas the boy picked up the rabbit and took it home with him. Soon after, it had recovered and was able to join its mates.

Aldous and his wife asked my parents to tea, together with some “very elderly cousins” of theirs and Yan’s wife. The cousins were presumably in their seventies; She fat, richly made up, especially her mouth, plenty of rings on her fingers – one of these admirable talkers about nothing, useful company with any party; he big, fat, bald, gaps in his teeth, jolly, inquiring about Yan’s wife’s address on hearing that she was without her husband for a few days. His joke was received with a polite smile. Tea was poured and it turned out that I was the only one who hadn’t been served. Totally unintentionally, of course. Aldous’ wife said she was sorry and I helped myself – after all we are on easy terms. The usual jokes were cracked – people seemed to appreciate them, judging by their laughter. After a while my children came in to return the key of the barn where they had been playing ping-pong, and we all went home. Next day as we were having tea Aldous was on the phone. I had my mouth full of food which I had to push into either cheek in order to be able to speak. He inquired whether we still had the key to their barn. Our children protested that he had taken it from them with the words “Thank you very much”. “Of course I would say that,” he said. I suggested he looked in his trouser pockets, and he said he had not yet searched properly. I hope the key has turned up in the meantime….

One evening we had Jeremy and his wife round. They are my language pupils and welcomed the opportunity of meeting my parents whose English is not bad by English standards, just a little weak. They brought me a pretty plant and greeted me with kisses – I didn’t know she was that kind – and we spent a pleasant evening with them without touching controversial subjects.
Next evening Yan and his wife came to see us. They apologized about the English weather. We discussed the last war – it’s difficult to find subjects of common interest for people who are strangers – and the masses of rosebay willow herb which had sprung up on ruins in London, a plant hitherto unknown. I told them that certainly it can be found everywhere in the countryside. Yan’s wife thought it must have been present in England before the war. Yan reminded us, it had been “pontificated” – a new word for me – in Aldous’ house that the plant was now in this country and that was it. We laughed. Yan’s wife had brought us a cake as a present. Without any additives, Yan pointed out to me. Maybe he wanted to please me or pull my leg or both. I answered I didn’t ask about these things any more and he informed me that indeed somebody in Aldous’ house had noticed I had changed. I was interested to hear this. When they left us, Yan said to my father that on their return home the sun would no doubt be shining. A few days later I could give Yan the sickening news that the first thing my parents did on their arrival was to put up…the sunshade! Apparently it was very warm…It had been raining non-stop in Southern England on that day and we had the electric fire on.

Reading Aloud

Village life

Aldous’ wife telephoned me. “Listen, dear,” she said, “I’m having a W.I. meeting and Mrs. Soandso has just arrived. She came past Mrs Rivers’ house and saw a dubious looking character with a few scruffy children go into there. I tried to ring Mrs Rivers, but couldn’t get through. I wonder what’s going on. I thought I’d give you a warning…” Mrs Rivers lives near us and what Aldous’ wife meant was that I should go and have a look. I told her I would. She said: “Let me know anyway…” I answered I won’t bother, only if something’s wrong. “Alright, dear,” she said, “and see you Saturday at the party.” I sent my eldest daughter to see how Mrs Rivers was. She seemed to take a long time coming back and I was getting uneasy, interrupted my baking and put on shoes to go there myself. Before I could set off, my daughter came back reporting that there hadn’t been a soul around, in- or outside the house. Later that afternoon I telephoned Mrs Rivers. She had indeed been out and was upset about the news I gave her. I almost wished I hadn’t said anything, but, no, she was grateful for the information, she said, and rang off, noticeably disconcerted. A few days after I bumped into her. She had calmed down and the police were keeping an eye on her house. She had asked them to. It seemed as though there were people going round trying to pick up things from unlocked premises, garages mainly. Mrs Rivers knew the Vicar had lost food out of the deep freezer in his garage which he never used to lock. Miss Felix with whom she had had lunch was another victim – garden tools this time. And one or two more people. She concluded it was best to lock up everything which she did anyway. The lady who had seen the dubious character in her grounds was Mr and Mrs Orms’ neighbour, by the way, acting president of the local W.I., a very busy person with the excellent ability of taking in at a glance what’s going on in other people’s houses, not holding back her opinion, making useful comments, putting people right on various issues and improving wherever possible.

On the Saturday of that week there was a party at Aldous’ house. Neither Steve nor I felt like going and Steve volunteered to fall ill, mainly because he didn’t want the job of ringing up and apologizing for me being ill. Aldous answered the phone when I rang up to give the news that we couldn’t attend. “How sad,” he said, “and why doesn’t he try Aspirin? It always does the trick with me.” Somebody else had fallen ill, I heard. When I told Steve, he started speculating about that person’s illness…Unfortunately that gentleman was still in bed three days later. Aldous’ wife rang up a few days after to find out how Steve was. “As right as rain,” I felt inclined to say, but refrained. She then told me someone was going to see George’s wife in hospital later on. She also confessed she was feeling very naughty about this, because.…she didn’t feel like going! “What an effort. Driving all these miles, not knowing what to say when you’re there. And the petrol.” Didn’t I feel a bit like that, she wondered. I told her I had decided to give it up altogether. “You never,” she said. I told her that through the help of a charitable organization I had found somebody to replace me. “You didn’t!” she exclaimed. I explained that the effort invested was not worth the result achieved. She gave a sigh of relief, because she couldn’t agree more about the effort. She declared herself totally sympathetic with me and that certainly we had done our share, and she was going to do the same thing. She seems to follow me – first into the job and then out of it. As for a replacement, what a jolly good idea! She would do the same. She knows a few members of the organization in question through the W.I. and would contact them. “By the way,” she said, “can I drop in some time to bring you a poster about this debate Aldous is taking part in. Maybe you can put it up on your gatepost.” They obviously thought that leaving slips of paper on the chairs in a concert hall –“Little Glyndebourne” – wasn’t enough. I felt like saying she could keep her poster to herself – we don’t have a gatepost anyway – but didn’t dare. She then added she hoped that Steve and I would be present at the debate. I put it the English way and said “we might well be”.

She came in the afternoon with the very latest news. “Do you know how much our neighbours sold their house for?” And she threw all sorts of figures concerning prices past, present, future about me. Bought for so much, invested so much, sold for soooo much! Isn’t it incredible! She said in fact it was wicked!. I said “good for your neighbours”. She said, yes, she would like to do that. Sell their place – larger than their neighbours’, of course – for a lot of money and then live a life of luxury. She had found her dream house, near her sister’s, near where she was born, and would be happy to go back there. But Aldous wouldn’t. A real city-person, she said, who wouldn’t go away from here. Of course, she smiled, they wouldn’t want to leave all their friends. I said it would be a big change. To come back to their neighbours, she informed me that money was no object for them. He’d been made the top man of such and such a company, in a foreign country. The expense of moving him and his belongings there! And his son who is having difficulties with his A-levels here will be able to read architecture there straight away! “And do you know where they stayed when they first came here?” She gave the name of a well-known ten-star or so hotel in the vicinity. She shook her head and I could see that her mind boggled – she told me why, because I had no idea. “We were taken out for a meal there once,” she said, “only four of us and it came to £100 without drinks!” “I love you, dear,” she laughed, “but I wouldn’t invite you to a cup of coffee there. I would come out broke.” I asked had she met her new neighbours yet. She denied and said she didn’t expect anything from them. Too young. A coloured musician with his family who probably wouldn’t be interested in people of her and Aldous’ age. I said, you never know, and she confided that Aldous had told her to keep an open mind. Their present neighbours, the ones who were leaving, were alright. I was surprized to hear it. Not that they had a lot in common, she said, but they were a similar age. They had had drinks together and that was about it. She couldn’t come to terms with the lady. The gentleman, on the other hand, was “delightful”, I understood. No problem with the dogs apparently. “It’s a female, their dog,” she said, and with a smile of some sort “a foregone conclusion”. Aldous’ dog is a male and I gather they “kiss” every day.

Our next topic of conversation was George’s wife. “I’ll tell you all about her,” she said, looking important and bearing in mind our chat by telephone earlier on. She had been to see her and, of course, was questioned about me immediately which was a slightly tricky situation after the disclosure I had made to her in the morning. However, she had managed alright. George’s wife, I heard, was worried about me, not having seen me for a few weeks; she could only hope I was alright and missed me “terribly”. Aldous’ wife had been able to tell her that I had been feeling tired lately – “you do look tired, dear,” she said, interrupting her account – and that Steve hadn’t been well on Saturday. I approved. “But how are you going on?” she then asked, “aren’t you going any more at all?” I said I wouldn’t. She looked incredulous. “What are you going to tell them?” If George wants to know, I’ll give my reasons, I said to her. “You’ll tell him what you told me?” I nodded. What’s wrong with that? No feelings involved of any kind. She said: “We’re probably flattering ourselves by thinking we do them good.” And then: “I won’t let them down. But maybe I can cut my visits down to fortnightly ones. That would be a help, wouldn’t it?” I couldn’t agree more. She left me soon after, urging me to look after myself, to have a rest and try and recover in general. She got into her car without kissing me bye-bye; but maybe I wasn’t too forthcoming in that respect. Last time I saw Yan he said to me: “You look well.” And he didn’t understand why Aldous and his wife had remarked to him I didn’t…

Coming back from the dentist on this day, in the morning, I went to the post office to collect Mrs Rivers’ pension. I saw my friend, the Greengrocer, and his wife and bumped into the lady who had taken over the shopping for Mr and Mrs Orms. I asked her, had everything worked out satisfactorily. She said, yes, she hadn’t had to do any shopping after all, but they wanted her this week.

The Greengrocer’s wife had been monitoring our conversation and said: “I think their neighbour is trying to get them to do more shopping here. They already get quite a lot from us.” I thought to myself “good for you” and remarked about meat and toiletries which they don’t do. I didn’t tell her that cat food and a few other items were more expensive here than elsewhere. She must know that anyway. The Greengrocer’s wife said: “Yes, of course, we don’t do everything.” And that was the end of our conversation.

George was on the phone to me, wondering first of all how Steve was. Aldous’ wife had told him, so he said, that he wasn’t well. I was able to reassure him on this matter. Secondly he told me that they missed me very much, his wife missing me even “terribly”.

I didn’t see why she should, because asked once whether she found it boring always seeing the same people like myself, she had answered: “No more so than seeing all the other patients.” I said, would you like to come down for a cup of tea? He hesitated and informed me he had his wife at home. Of course it was Wednesday – I had forgotten. Could I come up and have a cup of tea with them? I told him I couldn’t, having lots of things on my hands. “What shall I tell my wife then,” he asked, “when will you see her?” I was at a loss what to say and he helped me by suggesting: “You’ll see her when you can?” I jumped at that and said that was exactly what I felt. We rang off.

Aldous and his wife dropped in two days later as they were walking their dog past our house. Aldous came in on his own to pay us for some concert tickets, his wife staying outside with their dog who doesn’t like ours. “How is Steve?” Aldous asked first of all. I think the news of Steve being unwell must be around the village and told him so. He shrugged his shoulders. I then enquired about his own well-being. His wife had told me a tale of asthma, inoculations and frequent visits to the chemist’s. He looked surprized. Nothing to worry about, he said, a kind of wheeziness early in the morning which stopped him from sleeping through. However, he had improved recently and managed without drugs, now. He wished, though, Steve would try Aspirin for his headaches. Aren’t people obstinate! Just like George! Imagine he, Aldous, might be able to help his wife. There was a friend with new resources in their immediate surroundings! There could be hope for her!

Aldous’ wife whom we had joined outside interrupted him and informed me that two people in the North were being treated according to Aldous’ ideas. Aldous just couldn’t work out why George didn’t want his help. “But there you are. You can’t force people.” He looked frustrated. They had at long last had a letter from a friend who had spent a lot of time with them, they told me next. The friend was well, I heard; happy also with his wife and family, now – Aldous’ wife looked pleased about that. She had told me months ago that they had been on the brink of divorce. He was full of new projects. Fancy him going to China to study acupuncture! Always things going on in his life. An interesting person. Aldous’ wife had called him “naughty” for never writing to them. After all they had been together quite a lot – he a stranger in this country, too. And all the musical evenings. He told them in his letter what pleasant memories he had of them. According to Aldous and his wife he was always hovering on the brink of financial breakdown which made me wonder who was paying for his stay in China. Would he get a grant or something? Aldous laughed a little pained: “That’s why he wrote the letter, really. He will get a grant, but needs…references!” I expressed my hope that Aldous would write a nice reference for him and asked, didn’t he know that people only come when they want something. He said: “Yes, that is so. Poor Kate! She’s never had a single line from him”. I said: “He doesn’t want anything from her!” He said: “Indeed not.”

Aldous’ wife remarked: “He was willing to be driven around by her when he was over here…” To inform the reader, the lady in question is about sixty and quite attractive; lively, anyway, and always well-dressed. And Aldous: “Poor Kate! She feels he was the only lover she wanted and won’t consider any other man, now. She could do with a man. She needs a man to stop her from doing daft things!” Aldous was serious, if not concerned, rolled his eyes a bit like Othello and emphasized the important words, while I was listening quietly. Then he addressed me: “A sexist remark, I suppose, but you, in your new-found reticence, won’t argue that!” I couldn’t help smiling – he wasn’t frustrated again, was he? I said “doesn’t a change make life more interesting? Always the same thing – that’s boring!” He said: “Well, when you see me turn up as a red-haired punk, you will know that I’ve taken your remark to heart.” “Which remark?” I asked. “The change,” his wife pointed out. I was surprized, not being aware of having invited Aldous to change into a “red-haired punk”. As they left they said we had to make travel arrangements for the next concert. Was it their turn to take us? I said Steve wouldn’t mind using our car and didn’t tell them I preferred him for a driver. “See you before then, anyway..” “Bye-bye.”

Reading Aloud

Mr Orms and his wife

He lives in the cottage his parents had lived in, his place of birth. He has lived in this area all his life – three score and ten, now, plus a few years of “borrowed time” according to Aunt Maisie, his cousin.

He remembers our cottage when it was half its present size with a large family living in it. There was a joke about them in the village, he told me: people wondered how it was possible for everybody to sleep in the tiny place and came to the conclusion that all the children must have gone into their parent’s bed to be removed from there a few hours later and stood up against the wall once they were asleep, thus making room for the adults.

He played the organ in the village church for sixty years. He composed music for the service. He was the choirmaster when the choir was founded shortly after our arrival in the village. The Vicar arranged a celebration to honour him for his long years of service, and the local titled lady, Lady Brender, officiated in the presentation ceremony. He had done work for her, too, in his time: repaired her clocks for her (he was a carpenter by trade). He collects clocks himself, beautiful and really valuable ones, two to three hundred years old. Soon after the celebration he retired. It was an important change in his life, if I believe his wife. He had been forced to retire as an organist, his eyesight not being too good. He had felt he wasn’t up to it anymore. The new organist came. He wasn’t pleased with the way his music was being treated. Very wrong, the new man’s approach, Mr Orms thought and didn’t hide his feelings.

He stayed at home depressed. Something missing in his life. Complaining about pain, too. He didn’t budge from his chair, except to walk his dog. He had all the music he wanted in his house and an organ. He rarely played it. I heard from his wife he was a red-head originally – all silver, now. Fiery kind o’thing. Perhaps that accounts for certain ways. He is quite capable of flying up against people. He makes his displeasure known!

I took them shopping once a week. They welcomed it, because they were taken into the village and bumped into people they hadn’t seen for a long time. Mrs Orms took the opportunity once or twice when he wasn’t around to complain bitterly about his selfishness. She wasn’t very strong and he didn’t stop making demands on her. He was ruined, she said. She had to do everything for him. He relied on her totally. He didn’t like to decide on anything before having asked her. She had to tell him what to do.
Then one day when I was shopping with him, I had to take him into hospital very suddenly – the pain was unbearable. The doctor admitted him as an emergency case. Nothing was found during the week he stayed there, and he was discharged still feeling pain. People in his surroundings thought he was “putting it on”. All psychological. Certain things from his past asserting themselves, who knows. Missing his job at church as well – he’s never come to terms with that – it all adds up.

Then Mrs Orms was taken ill into hospital. When I saw him during her absence he complained that she never let him do as he wanted. Always told him what to do. Treating him like a child in fact. I told him he would have to use his own initiative when she was back. He seemed to think I didn’t know his wife. She came back and he was still in pain, so he said, grumbling away at their doctor. The Vicar and his wife visited them, dispensing the comfort of the Church. The Vicar’s wife, an excellent needle woman herself, was much impressed by Mrs Orms’ knitting and bought one or two things from her. She could assess the value of the work. Mrs Orms had knitted for the church bazar and for the W.I. On one of these occasions, a large stole she had done disappeared altogether. No idea who had it and how much it had fetched. Mrs Orms was most annoyed and wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. It was just as well the Vicar’s wife had bought the cardigan before it went into the general sale. Mrs Orms donated the money she received to the Church, she told me.

Mr Orms was more depressed than ever and Aldous, whom I informed about this, thought it was high time to give him a good dose of “you know what’s good against depression”. I could bring it to him, he suggested. Why wouldn’t he do it, I wondered. They had been on friendly enough terms with the Orms to the point of inviting them to their house once. Aldous’ wife hadn’t visited them for a long time, it is true, and whenever I spoke of them she claimed to have a bad conscience. Aldous sighed and said he would send his wife. She came back full of good intentions about seeing them every week from now on, poor souls; neglected for too long, etc. etc. She only went once.

Some time after, his disease was diagnosed. Everybody knows what it is except him. His wife reckons he wouldn’t be able to bear it. “He’ s like a baby,” she said, “no good telling him. He would go to pieces.” And she complained a little about the demands he makes on her even in hospital. They’re both there, now, in the same ward, she with a bad back and he recovering from an operation, a minor operation which will make no difference to his state at all, pain relieving with a bit of luck.

People have started rallying round them: a son who had never taken much interest in them, the neighbours who have been very good indeed – “thriving on it”, somebody said, one or two kind ladies from the village, even the Churchwarden, a retired man with time on his hands, accusing himself of having neglected them. Nothing we can do for them, obviously. Aunt Maisie asks after them regularly. He’s always been a bit of an odd character, she told me; she knew him as a little boy. Spoilt by his mother. Hard on his son. Spoilt by this wife. What can you do?

They came out of hospital, because no more could be done for them. I gather they could always return there, if they find they’re unable to cope. So far they seem to manage thanks to friends, neighbours and the Vicar. “A liability” the Vicar’s wife called them, perfectly unable to fend for themselves. No modern sanitary facilities in their house, no telephone. “But surrounded by expensive clocks,” she said. “Mind you, he sold some of them lately and asked my husband to keep the money in a safe place. He invested it for them; so they’re alright there. Do you know, their son came to find out what his father had done with the money! I don’t trust this son. Awful character. After money all the time.”

They’re going to spend some money on improving their house. No drains anywhere. They have building permission for a bathroom and are waiting for grants to help with finance. Mrs Orms complained bitterly, because everything seems to take so long. Last week she was soaked twice when she had to go to their outdoors toilet. Wasn’t it up to the Vicar to push things for them? However, he hadn’t even called in for quite a while. They felt deserted, she said, at people’s mercy and not knowing what was happening to them. “Of course, they should have had these things installed many years ago,” the Vicar’s wife pointed out when I contacted them in this matter. And the Vicar sighed: “I shall have to go and see them. It’s a wearing business.” I agreed with him and was informed there were ten more like them!

Mr Orms seemed in his usual spirits when I last saw him. Still the same, his wife assured me, staying in bed until his breakfast is ready and objecting to “meals on wheels” because they’re not as nice as home-cooked ones. At least he plays his organ from time to time. “Everybody seems to be keen on me playing it,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. Why do people like him to play it? “Maybe music does something for us,” I suggested. “I suppose so,” he said. He was very sick at the weekend, his wife told me. She had to call the doctor. How did she do that, I wondered. She can hardly walk. He can, of course, but was not to know about the doctor. Her neighbour was cutting his hedge fortunately and she managed to make her way to him. They’ve got by without a telephone so far. Why should we have one, now? Think of the expense! I looked at their calor gas heater. Incredible, she said, having to use a heater in the summer. No doubt the bottle would soon run out, too. Did they have a spare one in store, I inquired. No, she said resolutely, this one will be good for a while yet. Why can’t their son get them one, so that they have it in just in case, I insisted. She doesn’t like to see this son, I know that, she called him upsetting once. She said he was bound to call in sooner or later and she would give him the job. I hope she will, for my sake… The Churchwarden, I hear, hadn’t been to see them anymore, I told her I felt like treading onto some of these good Christian people’s toes. She agreed wholeheartedly.

The Vicar’s wife was on the phone to me in the evening. They had been to see Mr & Mrs Orms in the afternoon and “sorted things out for them”. I told her it was good of them. She said she wasn’t feeling very well, suffering from a bad back. I wished her a good night.

Next morning I had New Friend on the phone. “Just to inform you,” he said, “I had an unexpected visitor last night.” The Vicar. New Friend thought he knew why he had come: to discuss the Orms with him. He had said so to the Vicar and was given full information about everything. Why had the Vicar chosen to visit New Friend of all people, I wondered. “Didn’t you tell him I was prepared to help, but not on my own?” New Friend asked. I certainly hadn’t. “Is it coincidence then?” he wondered. I told him I didn’t believe in that.

I saw Mr and Mrs Orms again to tell them that somebody else was doing their shopping in the future. An elderly couple had been found, living a stone throw away from them – they even knew them – who were willing to shop for them every week. I was delighted and Mr and Mrs Orms accepted the change willingly, all the more so since I promised to visit them from time to time to have a chat with them and to see how they were. Mrs Orms wasn’t too well again. Mr Orms was having his organ tuned when I arrived and surprized his wife by all the things he could suddenly do. Lifting chairs, handling the stove, discussing the organ with the tuner for hours apparently – having forgotten his trouble altogether. He hadn’t been so good at lunchtime, refused to eat his “meals on wheels” – she had had hers and called it nice – and insisted on having something prepared in his own kitchen for him. She had been obliged to cancel “meals on wheels”, she said, and would now have to worry about lunch every day. She told me the Vicar had been since I last saw them, making a lot of bones about all the things he was going to do for them. However, she hadn’t heard any more and wasn’t too hopeful. She didn’t sound half as enthusiastic as the Vicar’s wife who had already informed me about their visit to the Orms.

Mrs Orms had started knitting a jumper for one of Mrs Rivers’ grandsons – Mrs Rivers having provided the wool – when they were suddenly overcome by all their health problems. Was Mrs Orms able to get on with the knitting, Mrs Rivers had inquired and I promised to keep an eye on it. After a few weeks Mrs Rivers asked again, “selfishly”, she said, putting on an air of embarrassment: “How about the knitting?” I told her the knitting was next to Mrs Orms’ chair and I should think she was getting on with it. It turned out that for some reason Mrs Orms didn’t feel like getting on with it, and a friend, also a very good knitter, had taken it from her, she told me, to finish it. I asked her what she was going to charge for it. She didn’t know and I suggested what I considered a minimum figure. She thought it was a lot, bearing in mind that Mrs Rivers had supplied the wool. I told her the opposite was true and she more or less left it to me. I shall have to hand over the jumper anyway. Mrs Rivers will be pleased. She thinks the new jersey will come in handy for the glacier skiing her grandson is proposing to do.

I left the Orms promising to have a cup of tea next time I come.

Reading Aloud

Aunt Maisie

My daughter likes working for Miss Felix, serving teas, selling cakes, washing dishes. She even managed to meet Lady Brender, the proprietress, a stately lady of eighty-two who still goes on cruises in the Mediterranean. “And she’s only just come back from Switzerland,” my daughter told me, full of admiration. Aunt Maisie was mighty impressed. How did my daughter meet Lady Brender? Through somebody called Miss Felix, I explained to her. It turned out, Aunt Maisie knew Miss Felix. Having worked in a gentleman’s house for over twenty years, I suppose one meets people. Lady Brender was one of them. “I enjoyed serving the gentry,” Aunt Maisie said, “everybody praised me for speaking well.” Aunt Maisie likes her visitors to turn up in big cars. She can see mine is old and rusty, but “it’ s huge, isn’t it” she says admiringly. I used it the other day to see her. I was in a terrible rush, but wanted to let her know that I wouldn’t be able to pay her the usual visit that week. She was surprized to see me at an unwonted time and I sat down for no more than a few minutes – such was my intention anyway. However, I didn’t even have to stay that long, because Aunt Maisie turned on her radio to listen to the weather forecast – probably a matter of routine, it was lunchtime – and I felt justified in leaving her on the spot.

She remarked to my daughter who brought her a birthday card a few days later, that I had barely stopped. My daughter laughed knowing full well why not. “Your mother is sweet,” Aunt Maisie then said, “not being a member of any charitable organisation and remembering my birthday, coming to see me. And she has the Orms, too”. Not like the Vicar. He hasn’t been once to see her! I had given him her address and reminded him twice. Keep on reminding me, he said, but I left off.

When I saw her next, she told me her neighbour was a “nasty old cat”. She looked most indignant at the thought of the worthless person and was waiting for comment. Here is what had happened. Her neighbour had told the Warden that Aunt Maisie’s drains … smelt! And not only that. She had also maintained that Aunt Maisie did her washing in the bathroom sink – hence the smell. “You know how big a bathroom sink is,” Aunt Maisie said, “I couldn’t wash my sheets in there. In any case, all my washing is done by my nephew’s wife.” Aunt Maisie shook her head, not knowing how to express her anger in a dignified way. The Warden had mentioned the problem to her. They had had a good laugh about it and her nephew had put a strong dose of disinfectant down her drain. “I’m just waiting for the wind to come from the East,” she said gleefully “and all the smell from the disinfectant will be wafted to my neighbour’s door! Funny old woman – she’s eighty-six or eighty-seven. Irish, too!” I told her these matters couldn’t be taken seriously enough. She laughed.

Reading Aloud

The Dentist

I have decided once and for all that dental problems are a mere nuisance, no more, and cheerfully went to see my dentist. He greeted me with a friendly “how are you” and I told him that I had dreamt about him last night. “O dear,” he said, “amazing how many people dream about teeth.” I once read in a clever book, “Psychology of Dreams” or similar title, what the deeper meaning of dreams about teeth is, but am glad to say that I have forgotten. All I knew was that in my dream my dentist had made new teeth for me. He laughed and then proceeded with the inspection of the trouble spot. After a little silence he said: “Well, it’s an old problem…” I understood straight away. No doubt he thought, removing a crown would be painful, and who knows, the tooth might have to be pulled up, and he was probably trying to sell me…an injection. I said: “You mean, an injection?” O no, it wasn’t that at all; but I was on the right track. It was something else, he said, which he knew I disliked. “How would you feel about …an X-ray?” I hastened to reassure him that I wasn’t against X-rays on principle. He then reassured me that I was by no means obliged to have one. I could in fact tell him flatly, so he said, to get on with the job without having one. It might mean unnecessary trouble, trouble that could have been avoided, had he had knowledge of the condition the tooth was in, and he patiently explained his view to me. I said with my most casual smile: “Have an X-ray, then,” and he was satisfied. As it was, he took two. No doubt it was part of his policy not to have told me this earlier on. He knows how to handle me, I must give him that. I had to support the film for the X-ray with my finger, which probably means that my finger was x-rayed, too, and he didn’t put any protective covers onto me, either. I don’t suppose it matters much at my age…

After that he explained to me the various possibilities, depending on which treatment he would have to opt for. A new crown, out of steel to make it cheaper, providing the tooth was good enough, or else there would be the problem of finding a replacement, fixed or loose. Nobody likes it loose, he informed me straight away. For something fixed, there was the problem of the adjoining teeth which in my case…He cleared his throat and tried to look cheerful. I smiled at him and said “Not to worry”. He smiled back saying “No”. Anyway, he said, we could think it all over while waiting for the result of the X-rays. “I let you off for now, milady,” he laughed. I laughed back saying “See you then” and made the next appointment with his assistant.

I telephoned two days later to be informed about the X-rays. It turned out that the dentist still didn’t know whether it was worth keeping the tooth or not. He would have to see with his own eyes, now. In other words it was “worth the trouble of taking off the crown”. I was pleased with the result and presented myself the following week. I also brought my son for a check-up which was a matter of a minute or two. When I came in afterwards, the dentist remarked that normally he would have taken x-rays of my son’s teeth, being the age he is, but knowing I didn’t like them, he hadn’t bothered. And he laughed a little. I asked was there anything to be seen on the surface that had aroused his suspicion. He said, no, but he takes x-rays if only to “cover” himself. He then spent the best part of an hour on my wretched tooth. Miniature art, his job. He took off the crown, drilled out holes with all sorts of frightening looking utensils which were at different speeds, into different depths, making different noises; some of them terribly long, thin and pointed; he poked a very sensitive spot once which made me start, and he apologized; he discussed prejudice against root fillings with me; seemed to be hesitating what best to do, filled it all up in the end and put the old crown back on.
His assistant had the x-ray ready, a matter of routine, I imagine, but he brushed it aside saying: “She doesn’t like that,” and adding after a few seconds: “It won’t make much difference anyway.” I was delighted. He said the good news was that the old crown could still be used, and the bad news, that the tooth underneath was “a mess”. Had he done a root filling, I inquired. Much to my pleasure he said, no, the tooth was too far gone, hardly any substance left – I was glad I didn’t have to look at it – certainly not worth the trouble of filling the root.
He had put in a provisional filling which would be replaced by a permanent one, if the tooth behaved itself, and with a bit of luck I might have the use of it for a few years yet. He looked reasonably happy. I certainly was. When I left, he said to me: “You have been very patient.” Of course, I hadn’t had an injection. He didn’t think I wanted one, but had told me to “yell” in case I changed my mind.

Reading Aloud

Stamps and what they mean to us

I went to see my friend, the Greengrocer, and bought the latest stamps from him. They were about the “Battle of whatever” and designed to remind the Nation of the heroes they had produced in days gone by. A set of five stamps representing, each of them, the bust of a gentleman with his respective aeroplane, like a little toy plane, in front of him, against a background of clouds of various shapes, sizes and colours, some of them looking like these mushroom-type clouds as produced by the explosion of powerful bombs. I suppose this would fit into the context. Four of the gentlemen are Lords and one a Sir, the latter one best known in my country for having scored a tremendous success against a strategically worthless but overcrowded place. Just looking at them, I was reminded of the Sea Dogs. I suppose the gentlemen on the stamps could be called Air Dogs, boxer-like, something smooth and sleek and determined about them. Pretty uniform looking, too. Three of them moustached, two clean-shaven, three with a hat, two without. I expect little differences break the monotony. The three with a hat look most imperially devoted. It must be the hat with its gold ribbons and gold crest. It gives them a look of importance, steadfastness, irresistibility, determination and all the other qualities we appreciate in such men who are prepared to do I don’t know what. The two gentlemen without a hat look slightly less significant, I find, although they would appear to show their military decorations which the other three don’t – again this is possibly an attempt on the artist’s part to introduce individual features. On the whole I would say, a pleasing set of stamps.

Reading Aloud

Village life (contd.)

Mr Orms came to see me last Friday evening. A surprize visit totally unexpected. It turned out he had taken choir practice that night, his successor as an organist having given up his post and no replacement found so far. It’s all makeshift, now, odd people like the headmaster of Green Hamlet School, the organist of a neighbouring village and somebody else taking turns in performing the musical duties in Green Hamlet Church. The Vicar had prevailed on Mr Orms to have a go, too. “He talked me into it,” Mr Orms said who might not have accepted the offer of his own accord. However, he had loved it. Transport had been arranged. A lady from the choir had collected him and would take him back. On their way home they called at our house, because Mr Orms wanted to deliver a bag of…plums to me. Straight out of his neighbour’s garden. Beautifully ripe and blue. They would make a delicious plum pie. Mr Orms knew that I liked plums. “I went to ask my neighbour for some,” he said, “I told him who I wanted them for, I don’t know whether he knows you, and he couldn’t very well refuse.” He looked pleased. Something he had done for me at last. I was delighted.

The lady from the choir whom I hadn’t seen for a long time came in with him. Just for a few minutes. They had never been in our house, and the lady took everything in with a keen eye. She is a well-known figure in Church circles and informed about most things. They sat down and Mr Orms, after having greeted our dog, inquired how I was. The lady looked interested. I said I had nothing to complain about, except it was evening, the end of the week as well, and I was feeling a bit tired. But that was perfectly natural, wasn’t it. Of course, he asked me, because I had given up shopping for them on the grounds that I felt a bit run down. Which I did at the time. Pointless telling them that I wanted to spend my time in a more interesting way.
Mr Orms was pleased to hear I was better. This didn’t satisfy the lady, though. She bent forward with a compassionate expression on her face and said I did look a bit drawn, a bit pale etc. She made me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps there was something wrong with me. However, I managed to shake it off, saying that probably one can do too much and I might have been overdoing it somewhat. She didn’t seem to worry much after all. According to her we all go through different stages from time to time. I don’t know what they talked about in the car when she took him home shortly afterwards.

Mrs Orms certainly gave me a concerned and scrutinizing look when I visited them the following week. “How are you?” she asked and told me that her husband thought I was looking poorly last time he saw me. I have no idea what he could have seen much with his poor eyesight in not very strong lamplight. I assured her I was alright. “Has the Vicar been to see you?” she asked next. I had a mild shock. Why should the Vicar want to see me? Well, she said, she had mentioned it to him. Couldn’t he pay me just a friendly visit, see how I was, etc. Wasn’t that what vicars were there for? Getting me plums, arranging for the Vicar to see me – I was overcome. Didn’t I want to see him, she asked. I said I wouldn’t know what to say to him, not having anything to do with the Church. I didn’t mind a kind of working relationship, but apart from that…She seemed to think she’d done the wrong thing and I hope she’ll let the Vicar know. His wife is fully informed about my state of health, so it appears anyway.

Mrs Rivers telephoned in the evening when I was busy washing a lot of iodine out of a skirt – I had emptied a small bottle onto it and was delighted to see the stuff yield to soap and brush. I wasn’t prepared to interrupt this activity for the sake of the telephone. My daughter answered it. She came back laughing. Mrs Rivers who had seen me only the day before was wondering how I was. The Vicar’s wife had told her I was…poorly! I expect I shall get a few more calls in this matter…

Mr Orms was fine, on the other hand. In different spirits altogether. Preparing breakfast, his wife told me, and making himself useful in house and garden. “He is feeling wanted again, you know,” she said. “They want him to play the organ more frequently. He played at a wedding last Saturday – mind you, the congregation, about a hundred of them, wouldn’t sing, the Vicar had to tell them half way through that hymns were for singing – and again on Sunday. He won’t be playing this coming Sunday, because the headmaster’s wife wants her husband to do it, so that he’s out of the house!” Mr Orms called this quite an eye-opener. “These women! Up to all sorts of things!” and he laughed a little, trying to see the funny side of things…He still doesn’t know what it was when he was so sick two weeks ago, Mrs Orms told me. Apparently he had even said he was “ready to go”. However, this has passed. “Getting better steadily,” he said to me and seemed reasonably happy with life.

Mrs Orms is in the middle of knitting her husband a short sleeved shirt. He wanted it dearly and in order to please him she gave up knitting the jersey for Mrs Rivers’ grandson and started his. The colour is a bit controversial, but it was his special choice. Absolutely bright red. It was this colour or none, as far as he was concerned. Mrs Orms is apologetic about it to everybody who sees it. Mr Orms is undeterred. Won’t it look nice with his grey trousers? What an excellent combination – red and grey. And one of the prettiest parrots, the African Grey, what colours is he, if you please?! Mr Orms can’t wait to see his shirt finished and Mrs Orms is hurrying up.

They’re on the telephone, now. The Vicar had managed to talk them into it. Things the Vicar can do! Of course, he’s an authority. If he wasn’t, who would be? He made Mr Orms play the organ again and it was a huge success. “Nobody plays it like him,” the Vicar’s wife said to me. Having him stand in when necessary must be quite a bit cheaper than employing a full-time organist. And it boosts his spirits at the same time. Why did he ever give it up?

Mr Orms telephoned me for the first time to tell me, Mrs Rivers’ sweater was done and finished, ready to be handed over. My daughter collected it – a superb thing to wear in icy Swiss mountains, I’m sure – and took it round to Mrs Rivers. I went to see her next day about payment. She was delighted and thought one couldn’t grumble at the charge made. I told her it was a price between friends and she wondered was it enough. She also had more wool, she said, in case Mrs Orms was prepared to do any more knitting. I said Mrs Orms was feeling tired at the moment. Poor dear, Mrs Rivers said, and could I give her her thanks.

Another lady from the Choir came to see me. Somebody had told her I was poorly, she said. I reassured her it had only been an excuse for giving up shopping for the Orms. She would be willing to do the shopping, the lady said, except that she had a poor back and can’t lift very much…I hastened to inform her that an elderly couple had been found; not in excellent health, but still, they thought they could manage. “Oh good,” the lady said and invited me to come and see her for a chat next Monday. I accepted the invitation wondering who else would be there, but she didn’t say.

I did hear from the Vicar in the end. He got his wife to sound out how poorly exactly I was and whether it was really necessary to visit me. She rang up as I was busy making pancakes, causing one of them to be badly burnt – fit to be thrown away. “How are you, my dear,” she said, “I’ve heard you’re poorly.” We are on remarkably friendly terms really, considering… I told her I was very well and gave her the usual story. She approved of my good deeds so far, she appreciated I wanted to give them up, she agreed altogether that somebody else might as well take a turn. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but had the distinct impression that she would have agreed anyway. To finish that part of the conversation, she extended her thanks to me, she said, for all the good I’d done to the Orms. I didn’t see why she should thank me for that and said so. She replied: “Well, you see people like to be thanked. It doesn’t take much to say ‘thank you’; yet so few people ever do it.” The Orms certainly thanked me profusely every time I saw them. I couldn’t very well accept the Vicar’s wife’s compliments without returning them. So I hastened to thank her for all the good she’d done to the Orms. “Oh well,” she said, “I have to do it. Seems to be my job.” “You do it professionally,” I said. She laughed and said she’d done so much, she didn’t know how she had managed it all with that bad back of hers. How was she then, I asked. Nothing special, she answered, just waiting to see the specialist and eventually there would be most likely an operation. She felt bad for not being able to stand about much, thus forcing her husband to do a lot of chores in the house on top of all his other work. She would have to cut down, too, on her activities. People would have to cope without her. Her doctor, though, was an excellent young man. The same who looks after the Orms. So kind, so caring. Reluctant to go on holiday, because she was in all this pain. She had told him he had done what he could. In fact, she exclaimed, he had done more than he could! What a lovely person! I congratulated myself quietly on being enrolled with the same doctor. He had come to church last Sunday, she continued, and had heard Mr Orms play. He was delighted and much impressed by Mr Orms’ spirits. “And do you know what happened in church?” she giggled, “we had a bat! It was flying around and causing a stir. People were shrieking and trying to avoid it. I’m not afraid of bats. They’re lovely animals. Very gentle and soft. Sharp teeth, though.” I told her that the German name for it related them to mice who are rodents; maybe, they belonged to the rodent family. Then the idea flashed across my mind that bats were flying most of the time with probably not much chance for gnawing, and I added hastily: “Or partly, anyway!” She would have accepted anything from me and agreed regardless. Then she continued: “The bat even flew round my husband’s head as he was standing in the pulpit! Wasn’t that fun! Everybody was laughing. And he greeted it with “hello, dear”!” She seemed most amused at the thought and I wondered would it be worth trying to introduce a pigeon into the church some time. A white one preferably. But then, of course, one can’t be sure that the animal will behave the way it is expected to. She said bye-bye eventually, urging me to look after myself, and I said the same to her.

Then I dashed into the kitchen to save the pancake, but I came too late. The children who had heard me speak to her asked why I had said “how dreadful” so often. I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I should have said that and was therefore unable to give them a juicy piece of news.

I went to see my lady friend from the Choir who had also asked one of our neighbours, a lady I knew vaguely, because our dog is friendly with hers. She took an interest in me, her husband’s ex-wife having been my nationality. This compatriot of mine had also re-married, a lawyer this time, I was informed, in order to indicate the social status, I suppose, and has two daughters from her first marriage who my informant is on very good terms with. The two families, I gathered, were getting on excellently, hence this lady’s desire to learn my language. They have a huge alsatian, she looks huge at the side of our dog, anyway. However, the lady who keeps her in order to deter burglars – she’s a lot on her own – is a little worried. Her twelve-year-old son apparently doesn’t like the dog and teases her. The dog doesn’t like him and leaves the room whenever he comes in. “You know what sort of a reputation alsatians have,” she said. “False. You can’t tell what they’re going to do.” And she is worried there might be an accident one day. I could only share her concern. Our little meeting was friendly, uneventful, non-committal and totally insignificant. I suppose it’s useful to keep in touch.

Reading Aloud


Yan came to see me. I was delighted and fell straight on his neck. He said first of all I looked well and secondly that he had heard I was being hard on people. He was referring to George and his wife, of course, whom I’ve stopped seeing. I explained my reasons and he said he didn’t blame me one bit. We agreed that all we did was whiling away time for them. Once we’d left them, they were back with their old problems: lack of attention, lack of company. They would themselves have to come to terms with that, now – they were old enough. I had come to realize that I couldn’t give them any help and therefore wasted a lot of physical and nervous energy which could be spent more satisfactorily. I have acted accordingly and am now being called “hard”. I thought my reputation would change…Yan said he felt guilty for not seeing them more often. However, that is his business.

What had I done all this time he hadn’t seen me, he wondered. I had seen him last when my parents were here, and he told me he had found my mother “charming”. I had done some translation work in the mean time, poetry which is normally known in a musical context only. As a rule, people are more interested in the music than in the words. I showed him the cycle of Schumann Lieder. He wasn’t too sure what they were about. “The ideal man,” I said, trying to put it in a nutshell, because there wasn’t time for more. He sighed. And then the other pieces. Words and music composed by the same person. Of course, he knew the music well enough.

We passed on to another subject. Yan’s daughter was having a year in Iceland. Jeremy and his wife had been there, too, for a holiday. I had heard a lot about it. Yan hasn’t been, neither have I. My husband has and found it dreadfully cold. I didn’t think I would ever be able to get him to go there again, I said to Yan. “Why don’t the two of us go?” Yan suggested. His wife has also been. “Why not at all!” I said, “no harm in making plans.”

My eldest daughter came home from school and joined us for a little chat. I managed to send her away after a while, saying there was a piece of cake waiting for her in the kitchen. Yan couldn’t stay much longer. We would have some music some time, he said. I smiled without looking at him nor making any comment. He added cautiously: “If it’s alright with you.” I said: “Guess!” He said: “Very soon!” I was interested to hear that. I know what “soon” means for him. It means an “indefinite length of time”. What would “very soon” mean? A “very indefinite length of time”? I shall find out in due course. When he left, I watched him out onto the road as usual.

Later, I asked my husband, would he consider taking me to Iceland? He said “Why not” much to my surprize and I learnt what the attraction was: the Brown Trout in one of the lakes which he had been prevented from sampling when he went for the first time.

I went to bed thinking about another Schumann Lied: Loreley. And who were Circe and Calypso?

Reading Aloud


His wife was away in Italy and it had been arranged that he came for a German lesson on his own. I had never seen him without his wife before. When he arrived, I was busy hanging up washing. I waved to him casually and we entered the living-room from the garden.
We sat next to one another on the settee – the number of people this settee has seen! – and I showed him an interesting book I was reading. Jeremy is a scientist, and the book’s title was “The Decline and Fall of Science”. The author, a clever lady from Oxford, claimed that humanity hadn’t changed since Galileo, only their dogmas have, and that the majority of scientists, if not all, moved within the well-defined systems of their personal beliefs, all the while claiming to be the true authorities on most issues, in particular deciding which issues were worthwhile and which not, always conscious of the importance of the approval of society at large, because where would finance come from otherwise? And a number of other points. Jeremy took a polite interest and tried to read the notes about the author. But he had forgotten his glasses and his arms were barely long enough. He did manage to read one of her aphorisms and rashly professed disagreement. I begged him to look at it more closely and he couldn’t deny, there was a certain truth in it. As for her description of marriage being a “painful way of committing suicide”, he was surprized and we didn’t pursue this point.

After that we began our language studies and by means of a brochure and a few postcards he told me about their holiday in Iceland. We then looked at his homework which he had done satisfactorily and I gave him more work for next time: write a story about a series of pictures in one of his books, a love story in fact, because that was the heading for the pictures. He laughed, and I said his wife could do the same; but I wanted two different stories altogether. Time was up and we stepped out onto the terrace. He looked at me from under his dense blond eyelashes, thanked me for the lesson – it had been a good one, we both thought – and kissed me on my cheek. I kissed him back and said “Pleasure!”. “See you next week.”

It was interesting to see the two essays they had produced the week after. There were nine pictures, the main characters being a young man and his girlfriend, separated from one another by means of three hundred kilometres. The young man, in the middle of a university course, has received a letter from her as a result of which he defies his professor, braves the worst weather imaginable and hitchhikes to where she lives, greatly to her mother’s surprize who opens the door.
Jeremy’s wife’s essay culminated in the observation that the young man must love his girl very much indeed to have gone through all this hardship.
Jeremy turned out to be more practically-minded. In his view, the girl must have said something important in her letter, like agreeing to marry him. This would make him undertake this tiresome journey. Arrived at his destination, the girl’s mother might well agree to the young people’s plans on condition that he first finishes his university course properly. Jeremy’s wife laughed when he had read out his essay. They have two daughters themselves, but he doesn’t seem to be able to have his way with one of them.