Richard Pierce

Life, Politics, Writing

Day 113

Imagine my surprise and delight when, last night at just before half past nine, I saw an email come in from my local Conservative MP, Chloe Smith, finally responding to my email asking her if she still supported Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the UK, and asking her if it was acceptable for him to lie to Parliament. Now, either she and her team were working really late, or they had just scheduled emails to go out after they’d left the office so that they wouldn’t have to respond to the flood of responses asking why the email did nothing but repeat a blog post they’d put up at half past two yesterday afternoon. Naturally, I have respectfully replied to her this morning, telling her that she is entitled to her view, and pointing out that in no way does her email/blog post address the issue of the Prime Minister lying to Parliament. I also pointed out to her that no MP who supports a liar will get a favourable hearing at the next election. I sincerely hope she will get voted out in 2024 (although I have to admit that the great British public has a very fallible memory). Enough of this.

Trying to rebuild some strength in my back to support the 5E acupuncture treatment I’m having, I went for what, in view of recent history, could be interpreted as a quick walk yesterday afternoon. By yesterday evening, obviously weakened by my astonishment at getting a response from Chloe Smith, my legs felt heavy and weary, and my back was aching a touch. Just goes to show how out of shape I’ve got in the last four injury-ridden weeks. I have doubled the number of back stretches I do twice a day, and am constantly trying to think of new back strengthening exercises – and considering going back to Pilates classes for the first time in over 25 years. It is a constant source of disappointment to me that bodies wear out so easily with age. Roll on the age of body transplants. Not really.

Grey and overcast and windy this morning. The English weather always manages to enthusiastically take with both hands what it has grudgingly given with one hand. The more pessimistic amongst us may well say that we’ve had our summer now, what with, miraculously, having had a warm and sunny Easter weekend. For there not to be rain on two successive bank holidays is indeed an unexpected and unusual miracle for this insipid island we live on. And how typically English of me to write about the weather. At least I didn’t start with it. Someone once said to me that the English talk so much about the weather because otherwise they’d have nothing to talk about because they’re so repressed they never talk of anything of significance. My depression is obviously borne of aeons of English repression. Maybe that’s why I always feel better mentally and physically when I’m not on this septic island.



‘You met Valentine before you met Mum?’ Marit says.

‘No,’ Robert says, gets up, pours himself another glass of sherry, doesn’t even ask the others if they want any. ‘I told you I wasn’t very good at monologues.’ He sits down again, takes a sip, licks his lips, puts the glass down. ‘Nor am I very good at chronology. Never was. The puzzles are a bit of a different shape in my head. Composing, now that was always easy, because it just falls into place. All those notes fitting together to make a glorious sound. Anyway … And there is never any guarantee that any of you will believe what I say to be factual.’ He runs his hands through his hair, looks haggard, haunted, regretful. ‘Your other started a few months before Valentine did. She was just one of the many women who came to us from the universities. She came in and did things in a very busy but almost invisible way, fetching and carrying like women were expected to in those days when the make powers that be didn’t think of them as people of importance or consequence. I did notice her, and write my own fictional music for her – well, music is fiction in note, isn’t it?

‘There was not meant to be any fraternising between the troops in those days, although of course it went on all the time. I left work late one evening, at home for once, not conducting some concert in some godforsaken crumbling concert hall in East Europe listening out for the bum note being played by some violinist to let me know he or she was my contact and whom I’d have to find later to get important information from, and when I got to the bottom of the stars and went out into the light of evening, there she was, next to the door, wrapped in her coat, staring at the ground, and then staring at me, and asked me if I wanted to have a drink with her. And that was that. We kept it secret, of course, starting arriving at work at more and more disparate times, even made a show of hating each other beyond anything, making complaints about each other, denigrating each other’s work, refusing to co-operate, until someone moved her into another part of the firm.’ He stares at the closed door, his eyes sad. ‘And we’d find more and more secretive places to meet. I even bought a flat with cash, somewhere off the beaten track, somewhere away from all the CCTV springing up, just so we could spend weekends together safely, and go back to hating each other when we got back to work on Monday. And of course I was away a lot.’

‘But?’ Aggies says into his reminiscence.

‘But nothing changes It never does. And when Valentine turned up to replace her, I was relieved, reall, because I could stop pretending. And he seemed to know everything about everything, and was so dedicated. A total anti-Royalist, of course, like most in the Service really are, but so committed to trying to force change into the way things were done, so committed to saying we were doing all this spying and lying and manipulating not just for the good of this country, but for the good and for the future of the world. That we’d manage to eliminate nuclear weapons if we did our job right, that despots would soon have no place on this Earth.’ He looks at her, so close to him. ‘And what’s your interest in him, my dear?’

‘I’m their maid, Mr and Mrs Blackwood’s.’

‘Is that so?’ he says. ‘Only a fool would believe that.’

‘Valentine seems to believe that,’ Zav says.

‘Well, he turned out to be a traitorous fool,’ Robert says, his face hard and angular and motionless, just a sliver of anger in his eyes along with the reflection of the flames of the fire. ‘But I guess I was a fool to believe he was what he said he was. We were all fools to believe a single word of what he told us.’

‘And then?’

‘Oh, and then Cassie told me one weekend she was sure he was batting for the other side. I misunderstood her at first, thought she meant he was homosexual. She laughed at me then, said she meant she thought he was spying for the Russians. We’d lost a few people in the East by then, and had been wondering why. No trace of a leak anywhere. We checked and checked and checked. And she told me what she’d discovered. That she’d been following him, that he’d been meeting people where he shouldn’t have been meeting anybody. I told her to stop, of course, because I didn’t want her in any danger, but as usual she wouldn’t listen. I got angry, but she forgave me.’ He turns to Marit. ‘And nine months later you were born.’ He shrugs. ‘It seemed the joy went out of us soon after that. I didn’t do anything about what she told me, to my eternal shame, and she took an indefinite leave of absence. From the Service and from me. Disappeared from the face of the earth.’

‘She wouldn’t talk to me either,’ Katharina says. ‘And a few years later she reappeared and asked me to look after her 3-year-old daughter. And disappeared again.’

‘That would be about the time she told me she’d married him,’ Robert says, his mouth set in a firm line. ‘Because that was the only way she could keep an eye on him, she said, limit the damage.’

‘Why didn’t she just kill him?’ Anna says.

‘Because I’d told her not to,’ Robert says. ‘That was my biggest mistake.’

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