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Pygmalion and the statue. Myrrha and her nurse. The death of Adonis. The torch, too, that he held, sputtered continually, with tear-provoking fumes, and no amount of shaking contrived to light it properly. The result was worse than any omens. While the newly wedded bride, Eurydice , was walking through the grass, with a crowd of naiads as her companions, she was killed, by a bite on her ankle, from a snake, sheltering there.
When Thracian Orpheus , the poet of Rhodope , had mourned for her, greatly, in the upper world, he dared to go down to Styx , through the gate of Taenarus , also, to see if he might not move the dead. Through the weightless throng, and the ghosts that had received proper burial, he came to Persephone , and the lord of the shadows , he who rules the joyless kingdom.
Then striking the lyre-strings to accompany his words, he sang: My wife is the cause of my journey. A viper, she trod on, diffused its venom into her body, and robbed her of her best years. I longed to be able to accept it, and I do not say I have not tried: He is a god well known in the world above, though I do not know if that is so here: All things are destined to be yours, and though we delay a while, sooner or later, we hasten home.
Here we are all bound, this is our final abode, and you hold the longest reign over the human race. Eurydice, too, will be yours to command, when she has lived out her fair span of years, to maturity. I ask this benefit as a gift; but, if the fates refuse my wife this kindness, I am determined not to return: The bloodless spirits wept as he spoke, accompanying his words with the music.
Tantalus did not reach for the ever-retreating water: Then they say, for the first time, the faces of the Furies were wet with tears, won over by his song: She was among the recent ghosts, and walked haltingly from her wound. The poet of Rhodope received her, and, at the same time, accepted this condition, that he must not turn his eyes behind him, until he emerged from the vale of Avernus , or the gift would be null and void.
They took the upward path, through the still silence, steep and dark, shadowy with dense fog, drawing near to the threshold of the upper world. Afraid she was no longer there, and eager to see her, the lover turned his eyes.
In an instant she dropped back, and he, unhappy man, stretching out his arms to hold her and be held, clutched at nothing but the receding air. Dying a second time, now, there was no complaint to her husband what, then, could she complain of, except that she had been loved? Stunned by the double loss of his wife, Orpheus was like that coward who saw Cerberus, the three-headed dog, chained by the central neck, and whose fear vanished with his nature, as stone transformed his body.
Or like Olenos , and you, his Lethaea , too proud of your beauty: Orpheus wished and prayed, in vain, to cross the Styx again, but the ferryman fended him off. Still, for seven days, he sat there by the shore, neglecting himself and not taking nourishment.
Sorrow, troubled thought, and tears were his food. He took himself to lofty Mount Rhodope , and Haemus , swept by the winds, complaining that the gods of Erebus were cruel. Three times the sun had ended the year, in watery Pisces , and Orpheus had abstained from the love of women, either because things ended badly for him, or because he had sworn to do so. Yet, many felt a desire to be joined with the poet, and many grieved at rejection. Indeed, he was the first of the Thracian people to transfer his love to young boys, and enjoy their brief springtime, and early flowering, this side of manhood.
There was a hill, and, on the hill, a wide area of level ground, turfed with fresh blades of grass: Among the crowd came the cypress, formed like the cone-shaped meta, that marks the turning point in the race-course: There was a giant stag, sacred to the nymphs that haunt the Carthaean country, which cast deep shadows, around its head, from his wide-branching antlers.
The antlers shone with gold, and the gems of a jewelled collar, around his polished neck, hung down onto his shoulders. A bulla , a silver charm, fastened with small strips of leather, quivered on his forehead, and on either side of his hollow temples matching pearls of bronze gleamed from both ears. Yet, above all others, he was dear to you, Cyparissus , loveliest of the Cean boys. You led the stag to fresh pastures, and the waters of the clear spring. Now you would weave diverse flowers through his horns, and then, astride his back like a horseman, delight in tugging his soft mouth one way or the other by means of a purple muzzle.
Tired, the stag had settled its body on the grassy turf and was enjoying the cool of the woodland shade. The boy, without intention, transfixed it with his sharp spear, and when he saw it dying from the cruel wound, he wished to die himself.
What was there Phoebus did not say, in solace, advising a moderate grief matching the cause! He only sighed, and begged, as the last gift of the gods, that he might mourn forever. Then, his blood discharged among endless tears, his limbs began to turn to a shade of green, and his hair that a moment ago hung over his pale forehead, became a bristling crown, and he stiffened to a graceful point gazing at the starry heavens.
The god sighed for him, and said, sadly: Such was the grove of trees the poet gathered round him, and he sat in the midst of a crowd, of animals and birds. When he had tried a few chords, stroking the lyre with his thumb, and felt that the various notes were in tune, regardless of their pitch, he raised his voice to sing: I have often sung the power of Jove before: I have sung of the Giants , in an epic strain, and the victorious lightning bolts, hurled at the Phlegraean field.
Now there is gentler work for the lyre, and I sing of boys loved by the gods, and girls stricken with forbidden fires, deserving punishment for their lust.
Yet he did not deign to transform himself into any other bird, than that eagle, that could carry his lightning bolts. Still, as it is, you are immortal, and whenever spring drives winter away, and Aries follows watery Pisces , you also rise, and flower in the green turf.
My father, Phoebus, loved you above all others: Forgetting his usual pursuits, he did not object to carrying the nets, handling the dogs, or travelling as a companion, over the rough mountain ridges, and by constant partnership feeding the flames.
Phoebus went first, balancing it, and hurling it high into the air, scattering the clouds with its weight. Its mass took a long time to fall back to the hard ground, showing strength and skill combined. Immediately the Taenarian boy, without thinking, ran forward to pick up the disc, prompted by his eagerness to throw, but the solid earth threw it back, hitting you in the face, with the rebound, Hyacinthus.
Now he tries to revive you, now to staunch your dreadful wound, and now applies herbs to hold back your departing spirit. His arts are useless: Just as if, when someone, in a garden, breaks violets, stiff poppies, or the lilies, with their bristling yellow stamens, and, suddenly, they droop, bowing their weakened heads, unable to support themselves, and their tops gaze at the soil: You are my grief and my reproach: I am the agent of your destruction.
Yet, how was it my fault, unless taking part in a game can be called a fault, unless it can be called a fault to have loved you? If only I might die with you, and pay with my life! But since the laws of fate bind us, you shall always be with me, and cling to my remembering lips.
My songs; the lyre my hand touches; will celebrate you. As a new-formed flower, you shall denote my woe, by your markings. And the time will come, when Ajax , bravest of heroes, will associate himself with this same flower, and be identified by its petals. Not satisfied with this alone, Phoebus he, indeed, was the giver of the honour himself marked his grief on the petals, and the flower bore the letters AI AI, the letters of woe traced there.
Nor was Sparta ashamed of producing Hyacinthus: An altar, to Jove the Hospitable, used to stand in front of the gates: What is their crime? Instead, let this impious race pay the penalty of death or exile, or some punishment between execution and banishment, and what might that be but the penalty of being transformed?
For this, because of her divine anger, they are said to have been the first to prostitute their bodies and their reputations in public, and, losing all sense of shame, they lost the power to blush, as the blood hardened in their cheeks, and only a small change turned them into hard flints. But, with wonderful skill, he carved a figure, brilliantly, out of snow-white ivory, no mortal woman, and fell in love with his own creation. The features are those of a real girl, who, you might think, lived, and wished to move, if modesty did not forbid it.
Indeed, art hides his art. Often, he runs his hands over the work, tempted as to whether it is flesh or ivory, not admitting it to be ivory. He dresses the body, also, in clothing; places rings on the fingers; places a long necklace round its neck; pearls hang from the ears, and cinctures round the breasts.
He arranges the statue on a bed on which cloths dyed with Tyrian murex are spread, and calls it his bedfellow, and rests its neck against soft down, as if it could feel.
The incense was smoking, when Pygmalion, having made his offering, stood by the altar, and said, shyly: When he returned, he sought out the image of his girl, and leaning over the couch, kissed her. The lover is stupefied, and joyful, but uncertain, and afraid he is wrong, reaffirms the fulfilment of his wishes, with his hand, again, and again. The pulse throbbed under his thumb. Then the hero, of Paphos , was indeed overfull of words with which to thank Venus, and still pressed his mouth against a mouth that was not merely a likeness.
The girl felt the kisses he gave, blushed, and, raising her bashful eyes to the light, saw both her lover and the sky. I speak of terrible things. Fathers and daughters, keep away: Or, if you do believe it, believe in the punishment also, that it brought. If nature, however, allows such crimes to be visible, then I give thanks that the people of Thrace , this city, and this land, are far from the regions where such sin is born.
Let the land of Panchaia , beyond Araby, produce its balsam, cinnamon, costmary; its incense, exuded from the trees; its flowers different from ours; if it produces myrrh: One of the three sisters, the Furies , with her swollen snakes, and firebrand from the Styx , breathed on you.
It is wrong to hate your father, but that love was a greater wrong than hatred. The pick of the princes, from everywhere, desire you: Out of the many, choose one, for your husband, Myrrha, but let one man not be amongst the many.
New storm on the way for Midwest, Northeast. Possible bomb materials in suspect's van: A mass murder in Mr. The latest from a mourning Pittsburgh community. Two winners in Saturday's giant Powerball lottery.
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Here's the news you missed this weekend Before you begin your week have a look back at the top stories of the weekend. Surveillance video shows alleged mail bomber at club night before arrest Sayoc has been charged with sending suspected explosive devices to politicians.
Officials The alleged gunman in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre used four guns. Fire stations recruit burn survivor dogs to help advocate for fire safety Clover and Ruby were adopted by fire stations in Florida. Officials Police responded to reports of an active shooter on Saturday morning. New storm to hit Midwest, Northeast with strong winds A fast-moving storm will deliver some rain on Sunday and Monday. What we know about alleged mass shooter Robert Bowers Police named Robert Bowers, 46, the suspect in the killing of 11 people.
Mail bombing suspect seen on surveillance footage night before arrest Cesar Sayoc was seen looking at clippings on surveillance from a club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Bomb suspect's van contained possible bomb-making materials: Sources Cesar Sayoc, 56, is the suspect in the suspected mail bombing spree this week. Reward for missing year-old Jayme Closs doubles amid funeral for slain parents Jayme Closs, 13, went missing Oct.
Trump calls Pittsburgh synagogue shooting 'wicked act of mass murder' Trump called for more armed guards at places of worship after the shooting. Pittsburgh synagogue shooting prompts wide outpouring of public support The shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in America. At least 8 dead in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Fast-moving nor'easter bringing heavy rain, gusty winds to Northeast The storm will be cleared out by Sunday.
Rapper linked to shooting investigation hours after court appearance Daniel Hernandez, known as 6ix9ine, was sentenced to probation Friday.
Florida man Cesar Sayoc arrested in 'insidious' mail bomb spree: Officials Cesar Sayoc, 56, faces 48 years in prison for the charges, officials said.
A look at the evidence that helped convict the killer Amy, Savvas and Philip Savopoulos and Veralicia Figueroa were killed in It may all be in my mind, but what a difference kindness makes!
When my son was small we had cats, tropical fish, and gerbils. I repressed my natural antipathy to caged animals, and we went up to an industrial estate in the suburbs to buy about 30 large Coke bottles to construct a run for the gerbils all around the walls.
Unfortunately, not only did they run around it, but also pooed in it, which meant that the structure had to be dismantled to give it a clean. As this was a major operation, we only did it every three months or so, so the smell was terrible. Oh, the guilt I used to feel when I left my cat alone at home! He was disturbingly pleased when I returned home. As for dogs, is it really right to pull one along, bound by a neck collar and chain?
There was a recent report that revealed that pet cats feel just the same anxieties as caged lions. They may seem contented and in charge, but actually inside they are gibbering wrecks. Until a few years ago, I always had cats. As we lived upstairs on the top floor of a crescent, he used occasionally to slip out of the window and visit every neighbouring flat along the continuous ledge.
Each morning he sat on the front step, waiting for a little boy who, on his way to school, presented him with a piece of sausage left over from breakfast. We sometimes took him round the block at night on a string, and on one occasion I even discovered him, on opening the lavatory door, sitting on the loo, ears back, and having a very dignified pee. My son promised he would say nothing. When Peter arrived and asked how the cat had lost its tail, my son replied: And yet — another cat?
I certainly never wanted another cat. Taking a break for a lie-down at a dinner party recently with a bad back, a very nice cat came in. She took one look at me, leapt on me, and settled down, staring into my eyes as if we shared a hidden secret he probably was wishing me dead so that she could acquire the house, but no matter. Have you met anyone over the age of ten who, at the beginning of December, starts rubbing their hands with glee and saying: How do I know all this?
Because I have been a prime mover in the anti-Christmas movement. My childhood Christmases were always spent visiting my school, hosted by the headmistress, my great aunt Rene. I remember receiving an improving book about Norman architecture two years running. Another year it was a small volume about Italic Script.
If they were lucky, my parents might have been given a tin of Assorted Biscuits. My sour-faced great aunt would preside over the Christmas lunch — consisting of one small chicken between six, accompanied by over-boiled potatoes and tinned peas — with a large jug of water beside her. There was never any wine or crackers. But having read recently that it is possible to decide to be happy I am planning to have a happy day even if it kills me. But I will not let this get me down. I will put up the decorations, despite the fact that my son has ordered me never to climb a ladder again, and that both arms are so arthritic that I cannot reach up above my head to pin up the garlands.
And if that ends in tears, I shall spend Christmas in hospital, taking up essential beds needed for more deserving cases. I will send out hundreds of cards and inside I shall insert an honest newsletter — describing the retinal detachment that went so wrong, the anticipated operations for new knees and shoulders, the disastrous run at Edinburgh and the plans for euthanasia.
I will buy extremely expensive presents for all my friends and when they look appalled and say: A time for giving! Not me, thank you but that this walking has to consist of no fewer than 10, steps. And as for walking 10, steps a day, I did it recently and I honestly had practically no time for anything else.
No time for lunch! No time for supper! I barely had any time to get undressed at night. What is it about walking? Some of my best friends walk. And, very occasionally, I have enjoyed a long walk over the downs.
A friend informs me that I can see so much more when I walk. Some people say they feel relaxed when they walk. With nothing else to distract me, my mind, when walking, is free to roam over the most gruesome thoughts known to man. Will we be overrun over by immigrants? What if Isis came over and blew up Lincoln Cathedral? And anyway, why am I wasting my time pounding the streets when I could, as my Scottish great-aunt, who was also my headmistress used to say, be doing something really useful?
But for no reason at all? Walking is what people do when they have no cars or public transport. Walking should be avoided, as indulgent as eating plates of cream cakes.
And what particularly gets my goat is how smug walkers are. On hearing the unexpected ring on the bell, Dorothy Parker was always reputed to cry: Phone calls are often welcome. Every time I hear the unexpected knock on the door, my heart sinks. I usually stagger down the stairs, shouting, like a mad old lady: Keep your hair on!
I have written in clear letters beside my bell, the words: After arriving at the door, usually gasping from having been summoned from the top of the house, I enquire coldly whether they can read their bibles. They always say yes. Then I point sourly at my sign and say: I always suspect that if you were to lean forward too close to examine their photographs, they might slip the things over your head, like a Thuggee and strange you.
Occasionally, however it is a policeman. Recently one knocked at the door and I turned at once into a welcoming and ingratiating helpful member of the public, bustling him in and offering him a cup of tea. This time, the building site over the road had been burgled. But it all reminded me of the terrible occasion my father opened the door to a policeman in Kensington.
They said their goodbyes and left. Ten minutes later, there was another ring on the bell. It was a man in grubby jeans and a stained teeshirt, who revealed he was an undercover plain clothes policeman who had stayed behind. If my father would go upstairs and keep watch out of the first floor window, he would go down the basement and check the garden again for the escaped villain.
I imagine these days most little girls would be thrilled if their mum made clothes for them in the latest fashion, encouraged them to wear their skirts short an midriffs bare, and sent their ten-year-old boys to school sporting fake hippy beards. But I found it something of a burden having a fashion icon as a mother.
Like most little girls I wanted to be like all the other little girls, and all the other little girls were wearing dresses with puffed sleeves and smocking in the front, with fitted tweed coats with velvet collars and most of them had an Alice band over their infrequently-washed hair. These days there is nothing more enchanting to my mind than the sight of a little girl in a tam-o-shanter hat over her gamin haircut, a navy blue unwaisted coat, long white socks and patent leather black shoes, preferably standing with a hoop in the Jardins des Tuileries.
But in the middle of smog in the heart of post-war South Kensington, surrounded by other children who look at her like something from outer space? Our battles were constant. Once I demanded, in recompense for some terrible favour my mother was trying to get me to do — probably be photographed for a magazine — to be bought a pair of grey divided shorts.
I have to hand it to her — she fulfilled her promise and I can only imagine how much it pained her to see me proudly jumping around in my Aertex shirt and grey shorts and plimsolls, just like all the other little girls. But those days were rare. Most of the time I was forced to dress as she wanted me to look. Two particular incidents stand out in my mind.
Without missing a beat, my mother immediately ran me up a small version of it — dark blue, with a white border grabbing me round the knees — and insisted I wore it for the concert. I was regarded by a freak by the other girls, but all the mums gasped with delight. The other occasion was when she forced me to walk down the catwalk at the Royal College of Art, where she was Professor of Fashion, holding her hand, both of us wearing identical versions of the same sundress.
Thinking I might have got over the horror of the catwalk, I agreed, recently, on a visit to Denbigh, to take part in a Vintage Fashion Show. It was all for a good cause. The sisters became carers to the parents and realised how stressed carers get, and the show was one of many events put on to raise money to help carers by giving them advice and support.
Accompanied, rather oddly, by my friend and host, who was dressed in an original teddy boy suit, with a wig being 75 he has no hair and with the music of the James Bond Theme blaring, we finished the first half and strutted up and down the red carpet. I thought I could pull it off. I felt like a complete idiot.
I became a year-old 8-year-old, shamed with embarrassment. When my name was announced I heard one large Welsh lady say to her friend: Never heard of her! What about you, Carys? But I thought she was dead! When I was a child, my grandmother used to take me to the theatre. Her choice of shows was impeccable. No, she took me to see a string of classic light theatrical productions. My grandmother had always wanted to go on the stage and she knew what was good.
For here, an outing had to be fun and to be fun it had to be professional. For my own part I took my son to see Elvis — a brilliant musical directed by Jack Good and featuring PJ Proby as the later Elvis; we also saw Blues in the Night and a never-ending succession of Ayckbourns, travelling to all corners of the suburbs to catch the latest.
The Invisible Man went down brilliantly. But recently a couple of outings hit the buffers. Who on earth ever thought that Edward Scissorhands would make an interesting ballet? My grandmother took me to see it originally, and then I, of course, took my son to see it. Recently I went for the third time, taking my older grandson. Before the curtain went down on the first act, the unpleasant Mrs Boyle had just been strangled and my grandson had seized my hand in terror.
During the interval he was on tenterhooks. We drank the drinks cleverly ordered at the bar beforehand. Even this small act seemed, to us, to be magic. Over some Pringles and an ice-cream, we discussed the plot so far. He was convinced the murderer was the owner of the guesthouse. But what about the Major? We went through every character one by one. At the end he was completely astonished at the denouement. Granny will take you when you get older. At dinner recently a guest declared, gloomily: Which they all seem to be doing as they age.
Sometimes I feel I need to make a list on topics banned from my house and get my guests to sign it before they step over the threshold. And secondly, where do we get by wringing our hands? Anyway, older people have been despairing of younger people since day one. And how they learned nothing at school.
And so, moaningly, on. Young people are far more frightened of death, in my experience, than old people. Their knuckles are white with fear as they contemplate the arrival of the Grim Reaper.
They are, rightly, pre-occupied with life and the living of it. Older people are much more realistic. It was Dylan Thomas as a son who wanted his father to go raging against the dying of the light, not Pa Thomas himself. Anyway, no one had told me this might happen, so when this green liquid started emerging, gushing like something from a Texan oil well, I was, quite naturally, worried.
The colour of the Jolly Green Giant. The colour of The Incredible Hulk. The colour of those blazing green health drinks that you find in Pret called Goodness. When we arrived, I handed it over to the nurse. And, more importantly, how long have I got to live? She put on some rubber gloves, sensible girl, shielded her eyes from the brightness of the colour, looked extremely anxious, and hurried away with it to get it investigated.
I was in the waiting-room, gibbering with fear. After a nail-biting half hour she returned, uttering the immortal words: And then I uttered those also immortal words: And she gave me one of those dumb looks that says: I stumped home and over the next few days everything calmed down and even now I have no idea what the green stuff really was.
But it happened again the other day. Not the green stuff, but another scare. Following retinal surgery, I had to have a further operation to stitch my eye to support the cataract lens that had slipped. It was extremely difficult — for two reasons. Firstly I saw completely different things through each eye — one showed me myself in the room quite normally, and from the other I was viewing myself in the room as if I were a fly on the ceiling, from above.
As I looked into the mirror I could see that the reason for this was obvious. The operated eye had shifted and was now staring, desultorily, at the ceiling. I looked like Quasimodo. I felt faint and breathless. Finally the phone rang and I explained the situation. None of this would have happened of course, had I been warned of the dangers of having cataract surgery at the same time as having with extremely short sight.
Apparently now they tell me these are sure markers for the likelihood of having a retinal detachment. Had I known this, at the first sign of retinal detachment I would have gone to Moorfields far earlier and could have been spared all this Quasimodo stuff in the first place.
Yesterday I dreamed that I had written my Oldie column but sadly it had been processed as an egg — the column had been encrypted somehow into this albumin inside the shell. I was about to bicycle to the Oldie offices carrying this egg when the egg broke all over the bicycle seat. Somehow managing to scrape it up, I got most of it back into the two halves of the shell — but I was worried if, having slid over the bicycle seat with bits still dripping down and hanging from the spokes of the wheels, whether the words, when they were processed the other end, would have got muddled up.
Now who could deny that this was a fairly unusual and bizarre dream? It is almost a short story. This is a dream constructed by a dull person. It is not a five star dream. But my dreams or am I just kidding myself? They are often directed by excellent directors and, if not Oscar-winning, would certainly make good shorts at the Sundance Festival. I think the capacity for dreaming may be inherited. It was old, withered and skeletal. Then he woke up.
And what is interesting is partly the way they can be induced. Larium, the anti-malarial drug that I took on going to South Africa, gave me nightmares of such horror that I would rather have stayed at home and missed seeing the giraffes and elephants and monkeys in a nature reserve than experience them again.
True, I have never made a scientific discovery while dreaming or, indeed, had the verses of a great poem revealed to me in a dream, like Coleridge after a dose of opium. Last week I dreamed I had met the most wonderful man. Unfortunately he was really the man of my dreams. And when my son was small I dreamed that I covered him with kisses one night.
As he locked the door of the gate behind us, he commented that my grandson looked rather dirty so was going to give him a bath. In the background I could see an enormous cauldron of boiling water…. I still remember my first dream. A burglar had come into my room at dawn and I had called for my father. He had rushed in in his dressing gown, and the burglar rushed out with my father in pursuit.
Stay there I did and, looking out of the window I could see my father in the garden, scouring the place for burglars. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder…. Surely no one in the right minds ever celebrate their 34 th wedding anniversary? And also, surely the celebration of anniversaries was anathema to the upper classes in the days of Downton? But when I pointed this out, my two friends turned on me: My problem is that I am hypersensitive to inaccuracies in films or plays. When, in a production of Rope set in the late twenties, the actors turned on a fake gas fire, my night was ruined.
They had fake coal electric fires in those days, gas fires with ceramic columns, but no fake log gas fires. It started with the numbers If the telephone number was wrong, then how could I believe anything after that?
Did Hawking really discover new things about black holes? Did he really fall for his nurse? This nerdiness, if that is what it is, extends to other areas of life. If a brilliant politician is caught cheating on the underground or sneaking a bottle of gin out of a supermarket, then can he really be a good politician? I had thought his judgement was good, but clearly it is absolutely hopeless. He may have claimed to have brokered some major peace deal, but suddenly his achievements seem like mere accidents.
Two boyfriends, in my youth, seemed perfect and I thought they might be Mr. Right until, on two separate occasions, they handed me a book that they said I must read because it was brilliant. It was The Snow Ball by the writer Brigid Brophy, a writer very popular among pretentious young men at the time. After a couple of pages, any thoughts of settling down with either of these two chaps and having their children immediately flew out of the window.
I was trying to describe unfortunate trait to a friend the other day and said it was as if you sat next to a sparkling guest at a dinner party and were being captivated by their wit and intelligence and then they suddenly removed a silver spoon from the table and, with a wink, popped it into their pocket.
Nothing would be the same afterwards. But my friend had a better image. He said no, it was more like sitting next to sparkling intelligent stranger you thought you could make a lifelong friend.
His glass is empty. Your glass is empty. When I was in my teens, I went along to a Billy Graham performance. It was stirring stuff. Although not in the least religious, I had to exercise great self-control not to rise from my feet and sign up to the Lord. The man was mesmerising. I knew some people who were in it and — despite the fact that they roamed London in black cloaks.
So I went for an initiation meeting in a room in a house in Park Lane. With the aid of a clock, a particularly good looking member of the Process in an electric blue cloak demonstrated it was no use constantly fixing the hands if it continuously went wrong. The only way you could make it right was to get inside the works. We want all your money and your commitment — NOW! I chewed my lip and dithered, but finally shambled out of the door, to cries of abuse and warnings that I was now doomed.
This is what I said to the smiling man at the door of the Apple store and he welcomed me in. And Andrew turned out to be very nice indeed. I just want to look at it. As I left I had the impression that a whole crowd of Apple employees were waving me off waving their handkerchiefs. I have to say that Billy Graham, Exegesis and, indeed, the Process, if it still exists, could pick up a tip or two from those guys.
However, many years ago, I applied myself. X runs a charity which helps the unhelpable and spends the rest of his time teaching kids for free. My people will talk to the palace people…have no fear. Finally I got my hands on the application. There is virtually no chance of a second application being considered except in exceptional circumstances.
But I went ahead. I read the question. On the website it was clear what the Honours department wanted. I was on benefits and depressed. Not sure I like it. And the ceremony itself!
The vast majority were white, elderly people — it reminded me of an audience from the Wigmore Hall. A string quartet played Classic fm hits through out and it was freezing cold.
Though perhaps after writing this piece my chances will be rather slim. This was regarded as very unfair, I was told. Indeed, the interviewer even asked me: Why on earth, I wondered, should I make amends? And as I was pondering this, I thought: Where they young at the same time as me or are they looking at the past through rose-coloured spectacles?
What is this myth that being young has any advantages to it whatsoever? Forget about living under the real threat of a complete annihilation — a nuclear war, with the Bay of Pigs. What about having to stay in waiting for the phone to ring — no mobiles then. Young people today can sit at home conversing face to face with other young people all over the world.
If they run out of bread and eggs on Sunday, they can go to the corner shop and buy them, not wait, eggless and breadless till Monday. And if they get ill they can pop along to their NHS doctor and get anti-biotics — unknown when I was very young.
Even their drugs are better than ours were. Makes my eyes water just to think of it. Television, refrigerators and even cars — those were only for the well-off. Even I as a young girl was sent to the fishmongers on hot days to get slabs of ice for our ice-box. Okay, it was easier to rent a room or buy a flat. And jobs were easier to get — for the few who were well-enough educated to get them.
And yes, we did get university grants. But apart from that, life was the vey pits. I spent most of my youth crying and trying to find out from the library no internet then ways I could kill myself successfully. The other day, as I left my house, I found my neighbour crouched on the pavement sorting through a bag of rubbish.
And second, I want to offer you a piece of advice. I have no religious faith at all, but praying to St. Anthony always works for me, and I am certain he will work for you. She smiled as she looked up. You must put down your binbags, close your eyes and say, out loud but in a whisper if you like: Anthony, will you very kindly find my keys?
All I could say was that St. Anthony has always worked for me. Recently I lost my purse with all my money and credit cards inside it. I came back again, looked through the car, under the seats, and turned my house upside down once more. Finally, and with a heavy heart, I realised my purse must have been pinched on my way to the newsagent, so I found the number for my bank and started to dial. Just then I thought: Why does the prayer work?
Well, of course, it could be that St. Anthony actually works miracles. The moment you hand over the job to someone else, your brain becomes free of the anxiety and you can immediately recall where it is. Anyway, when I returned home I saw that my neighbour had tidied up her rubbish and had gone back inside her house. I was just making a cup of tea when the bell rang. There was my neighbour, her keys in her hand. I have a friend whose answering machine message goes like this: This is , the Evans family.
Please leave your message after the tone giving the date and time of your call. First, I never know the date. And in my experience, answering machine messages, when played back, are usually preceded by a strange, often American, voice stating exactly what the date and time is. The moment I hear it , I immediately feel extraordinarily lonely. And it makes me feel like a sad old singleton, excluded and uptight, all on her own.
This is Virginia Ironside, single and free as a bird and loving it. Then there are the losers, the single men working on their own as computer experts or one-man businesses, who insist on their messages running: Or there are those single women whose messages run: She tries to be funny. Well I think it is. When I look in the mirror I see someone who looked like Chim.
Anyway, if I like you leave a message telling me who you are. If you know who you are that is. Have a look in the mirror and check. There are the efficient ones: Stay cool and funky.
Do pleeese leave a message. My late mother-in-law was an extremely eccentric Irish woman. Most of the time she was utterly charming and could talk about the old days in posh Anglo-Irish circles till the cows came home.
She told of hunting parties, kidnappings, under-age marriages, nobbled horses and drunken trainers. A great beauty in her youth, she still possessed the confidence of a fascinating woman, even though I remember her in the days when she was to be found shuffling round Notting Hill laden with Pekes and baggage, hair awry and lipstick rather smeared.
She was a walking Somerville and Ross, alternately fey, irritating, extremely funny and often just plain barmy. Every so often, however, she would lose it completely. She once rang me to ask me to sit in her flat while she went out shopping because she knew that the neighbours had drilled a hole in her wall. They were spying on her, she explained, and she was certain they were planning a raid on her flat once they discovered she was out.
To indulge her, I went round and sat for an hour or so until she returned; she was grateful for my assistance. It was my mother-in-law. There was no need to steal it behind my back! And certainly not a biscuit tin! But the windows of her flat were covered with big pieces of cardboard on which were written, in huge scrawled black letters, the words: I know who killed the Owl!!
When he arrived with my two grandsons my son looked in puzzlement at the table settings. When the phone rang I left the room to answer it, mumbled whispered excuses into it and returned to the table. I got down to peeling the mangoes. Indulgent laughs all round. Finally, after returning for a cup of tea, they left to go back home. Then one of them drew back. He paused and then he said, as his parting shot: I closed the door, tottered inside and put my head in my hands. I was bowling along quite nicely, with the satnav continually adjusting to add more time to his fearfully optimistic prediction of when I would arrive — these satnav people must drive like the wind in the middle of the night to be able to reach their destinations by the estimated time — when the traffic started to slow down.
We were all still revving up our engines in anticipation of being able to make our escape, but nothing happened. The noise of a fire-engine whistled behind us, so we all drove our cars into the hedgerow. We all still remained in our cars, hoping.
Then, down the empty space in the middle of road, an ambulance came roaring down between us, accompanied by police motorcycles. And at this stage we knew we were in for the long hall. Engines were turned off. Car doors were opened and people put their feet outside. About five minutes later some of us got out for a stretch, smiling and shrugging at our fellow drivers, looking ruefully at our watches and asking if anyone knew what was going on. Finally rumour got round from someone listening to local radio that a bus had burnt itself out near the lights at the top of the road.
We were in the for the long haul. The sun beat down and it was curiously silent. We looked around our new surroundings — rows of stationary cars nestling close to mountains of cow parsley. A perfect English country afternoon. The Chinese woman behind me remained in her seat and got out her laptop. A very amiable English gent and his wife, wearing expensive country jerkins, wandered up and down until they got too hot and started to unpeel their layers.
Down the centre of the road there came a mother, with her little girl and a tiny dog, taking a walk. As she processed down the avenue, everyone got out of their cars to greet her. They said hello to the little girl, patted the dog and asked its name.
The amiable English gent was walking down the hedgerow plucking flowers. One of them had been eighteen only the day before. A woman came up and said: At this point — drama. Cars up in front, getting impatient, started turning and driving slowly down the middle of the road.
I secretly admired their nous, but soon a resentful muttering went up. A woman in an orange jumper, who had relatives in the police force, rang the police to report the maverick cars. Within twenty minutes the police bikes were back at the scene giving the car drivers a good talking-to. Everyone cheered and clapped. The amiable gent presented his wild flower bouquet gallantly to one of the girls in front. Then he started pointing and explaining: Then the traffic started moving again.
We all got back into our cars, hooting and waving as we passed each other, never to see each other again. But then the Poles came. And the East European hordes that the Daily Mail had told us would over-run the country and alter our way of life for ever. And blow me, they did. When you asked if by any chance they could also fix a shelf in the bathroom while they were here, or get out that ceiling spotlight that seemed to have stuck, they would set to smilingly.
And there was always one particularly dishy young one who put you into a flutter when you met him on the stairs. The builders are back. Everything would have been fine except that these builders appeared to be old-style builders, dredged up from some fifties rock-pool. They gave me an estimate, asked for a lot of cash upfront and disappeared.
A week later they returned. Sean had had a bad leg, they explained. Half an hour later they disappeared again. A week later they were back. The van had broken down. My that cake was good! See you tomorrow Valerie! I would have believed them but when I went out shopping that afternoon I saw their van parked outside in another street with the back doors open.
They were clearly on another job. Eventually, after a great deal of money had exchanged hands twice the original estimate , the wall was put up but the garden was left like one of those battlefields in Verdun painted by Paul Nash. The rambling rose that had threaded its way through the undergrowth until it reached my kitchen doors had been cut back to the roots. The undergrowth through which it had threaded itself lay in ashes after a bonfire.
The cement that had been mixed on the lawn when Mike had forgotten their plastic sheet had set into a grey smear. The laburnum, the ceanothus — everything had been hacked back to the bare minimum. A pile of rubble — bricks, old mortar, broken fencing — lay on top of the hydrangeas.
I swear that no birds sang. Last week we decided — or rather I decided — to make butter with my grandson. I had a vague memory of my grandmother once putting some milk into a jar, screwing the lid on and leaving me to shake it for hours like Mick Jagger working his maracas, until finally a tiny pat of butter appeared. But it remained the same old white slop. What on earth was I doing, anyway, getting my grandson to make butter when all he was interested in was break-dancing? I might as well have suggested making a pen-wiper with blanket-stitch round the edges.
It probably consisted of an amalgam of trans fats, whale oil, products of nuts from several countries and whitewash. Despite the fact that it was clear my grandson had no interest whatever in making butter, I was driven by a crazy grandmotherly imperative to Make Butter Come What May.
We returned with the proper cream and, plastering a fresh and enthusiastic smile on my face, I said: We can finally get cracking!
Butter, here we come! Five minutes later with both our wrists collapsing, I said: Then my grandson looked at me. I could see an expression of sympathy crossing his face. Suddenly, a cheeky grin crossed his face. And after about ten seconds a thumping sound came from inside the jar. My grandson stopped shaking and looked, astonished, inside. And I felt like crying with joy. Every so often, my grandson opened the fridge to look at it and gloat.
From then on the whole of the rest of the day went with a swing. It was punctuated every half hour or so by my grandson saying to me, smugly: And of course albeit it ony buttered two small crumbs of toast, it turned out to be the most delicious butter we had ever tasted in our lives. Underneath a black and white reproduction of an oil painting were the words: If Babycham was the first drink aimed specifically for women, and Virginia Slims the first cigarettes, Aero chocolate was the first chocolate advertising campaign aimed at women too.
It was those bubbles. But what made this particular advertisement so striking for me was the fact that this oil painting was of my mother. Having spent the war years in Leamington Spa where my father was a camouflage officer, my parents had come up to London.
My father his own father had been a society doctor whose behaviour had been so appalling when it came to other women that my grandmother divorced him, almost unknown in those days was not one to embrace the new freedoms after the war. She longed to spend her evenings in pubs full of painters and poets and since everyone else seemed to be having affairs with everyone else, why not her?
Anthony Devas was a devastatingly attractive man — even my little eight-year-old knees used to wobble when I saw him — notorious for his effect on women. All I remember of that time is my mother returning from her sittings flushed and happy and my father filling the house with a disapproving silence. But the press office claimed no knowledge. So I forgot all about it until a few months ago when I was contacted by two inspired trainee archivists at the Borthwick Institute in York, where the Rowntree archives are filed.
They had uncovered 26 portraits of pretty women painted in the fifties for the Aero campaign and were trying to identify them. The array of portraits swept me back to another world, a world of Peter and Jane, of bicycle rides, paraffin stoves and junket. All those fresh-faced young women — they looked so innocent — and yet I wondered how many of those sittings had caused problems at home? Were all the artists as dashing as Anthony Devas? Viktor Lazlo certainly was, and with a name to go with it.
Norman Hepple was another jobbing artist who made a good living out of painting society portraits. But this was nearly the last generation of artists not counting the YBAs of course who actually made a proper living out of their paintings.
They were devil-may-care and debonair men all men with devil-may-care and debonair names — all straight out of a Mills and Boon romance. I looked at the picture of my mother. How troubled and sad she looked — you could almost predict her future: I was briefly tempted to whisk it under my coat and smuggle it home on the train.
But then I thought: Not only was it too poignant, but also, and I hate to say it, there was a touch of the chocolate box about it. In the past the older generation was usually shocked by the hedonism of the young, their loose morals, their lack of manners or knowledge.
But with some exceptions I do find Americans a bit too different, culturally, to be completely comfortable with them and I bet, in their turn, they find me pretty weird as well. Is it wrong to state this? Then again I recently referred to a psychiatric hospital as a loonie bin.
I can also wish my Pakistani shopkeeper a happy Christmas. I think he knows what I mean. Teaching children at a school recently, I incurred great disapproval for putting my arms round a crying child. Love me, love my shoes, I say. Do they have no compassion?
In the end it all boils down, I suppose, to the same thing. Old people dislike change. That is, if the health policeman in you will allow it. Someone should try to stop it! In the seventies, what I was doing instead of protesting was taking my small son up to the same local park. Hammersmith Park was one of the very few areas of green open space in our green-deprived area, and, like most people, I took it for granted that it would always be there for the use of local residents.
Little did I know then how vulnerable the park was. Because all over England, local councils are going round and spotting bits of green spaces and thinking: After the first planning application I applied for a Judicial Review which stopped work for a while. The diggers which had arrived a week early stopped digging and everything was in abeyance. That too has been passed but we still have a couple of ideas of how to stop the development up our sleeves. Who knows what the outcome will be.
All I know is that protesting and campaigning is incredibly hard work — and carried out, in the main, by a whole gangs of game oldies, the only ones with the time, the skills and the courage to fight iniquities like these. I hate very minute of it. I hate getting down and dirty in the grubby world of council politics, the wondering when to release the damning emails, the checking of the petitions to see if the signatures have been written by the same person, the scouring round to find kickbacks, if there are any, the endless rebuffs, the lies and the evasion.
When a doctor asked me recently if I ever got out of breath when I ran for the bus, I heard myself replying, in the style popularised by Lady Bracknell: But for some reason recently the drip-drip-drip of newspaper articles and medical advice got to me.
So I realised the only answer was either to get a dog or join a gym. Now I know there are some people who love dogs. Some people who are turned on by the thumping tail, the panting tongue, the adoring eyes. I feel sad seeing them waiting to be attached to their chains. I wince hearing them being ordered to their baskets: And they left them in a house and went out, when the poor animals never knew if their owners were ever coming back or not? So I joined a gym. Now, as you may have gathered, I am not a gym person.
I come from a family in which taking care of your body or, indeed, considering yourself in any way at all, was considered extremely low-grade. Showing tears, love, self-pity, compassion or taking to your bed if you felt rotten, were all things that were done on the sly and in private.
Would you pass me an orange? So instead of feeling a glow of self-satisfaction when I leave the gym, gasping and sweating, I come away not only feel ill with exercise but pervaded with a dreadful sense of guilt. I can almost see my great aunt pursing her lips and suggesting that, next time, I might prefer to sit down and read a good book on Gothic architecture. The only plus is that the machines at the gym all have tellies incorporated into their screens — the ones which show you the time, the heartbeat and so on.
Many people have told me what an impossibly unpleasant person Keith could be. But all I see is the darling in him. I have a feeling that at this rate the fitness jag is soon going to go the way of all jags. Goodbye Keith and back to Waitrose for my weekly exercise fix. I was eighteen in when I started writing my first book.
To be honest the plot was pretty thin. No prize for guessing whether it was semi-autobiographical or not. I was had no idea of how a book was published. The features editor — then Michael Parkinson — accepted it and, once it came out, I got a letter from a mysterious company called Secker and Warburg. Everyone wanted to know about them. It was called Chelsea Bird and it featured one of the first bed-scenes between unmarried young people.
A magazine called New Society even wrote an article about it. It was new, it was shocking and the life-style was, to most older people, incomprehensible. My jacket photograph was taken by the very scary Jeffrey Bernard who, I remember, sneered when I offered him a cigarette which, for some inexplicable reason, seemed to have turned from my usual trendy Woodie into a hopelessly unfashionable Craven A Navy Cut.
He left the photo session without saying goodbye. I suppose, when I think back, he as just as terrified of me at that age as I was of him. The book caused a minor sensation. I was interviewed and photographed by leering snappers who set me at the top of a ladder and photographed my legs. There was a glut of us young authoresses. Now my publishers have brought the book out on Kindle.
But before they launched it, a rather nervous young editor rang. Recently I was called up for Jury Service. And was I cross. Because as far as I remember it, Jury Service was petty unbearable. We potential jurors were ushered into a smoke-filled waiting room in a Willesden court. And there we waited, hour upon hour, until we were called. When we were finally called I found myself among a surly group I pegged as fuzz-hating strangers, all of whom had me pegged as some kind of middle-aged Sloane Ranger.
There was only one other person like me, a woman from Knightsbridge called, as far as I remember, Fiona. We heard that he was an impoverished single parent of a disabled child. Driving was his occupation. On and on it went, chapter after chapter of misery. The only problem was: At least Fiona and I thought he was. In those days we believed the police. We went back to our brown-painted jury-room to discuss it. By the time we returned we were the only two guilty voters left.
We were just about to troop back in with a majority verdict when the foreman, an extremely bright taxi-driver called Jim, stopped. He appeared to be doing calculations in his head. We all sat down again while he drew diagrams on a piece of paper in front on him. There six people in the car, three at the back and three at the front. Another one was taken on board entering on the passenger side — so he must be ruled out — and one of the men in the back needed to go to the toilet.
Divide the whole thing by seven, multiply by two, take away Man D and what do we have? Our man was driving! So he must be guilty! Slowly the non-guilty sayers were persuaded and, apart from a couple of grumpy women who said even if he was guilty they wanted him to get off we reached a majority verdict of guilty.
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