Spending the day in London yesterday made me realise how much I miss the world, how much I wish things were back to normal, and how much things aren’t back to normal and never will get back to normal. M and I went down on the train to have lunch with L and L, very dear friends of ours from the US whom we haven’t seen for five years. I first met L at work in 1997, so I guess the Silver Anniversary of our bromance must be some time around now. If I’d kept a journal at the time, I’d even know the exact date. Being the man I am, I cried when I gave L a big hug as soon as I saw him.
Private conversations are best kept private, but suffice to say that L and L were astounded that the laws covering mask wearing in England were lax in the extreme, especially in schools. And this is the thing – M and I were in a small minority of people wearing masks on public transport. I did a rough calculation of mask-wearers on the escalator at Liverpool Street – only about 1 in 20 people ere wearing masks; that’s a ridiculous 5%. Is it any wonder that covid-19 still rampages through the population?
The weather was glorious, and after M and I left L and L, we walked round Kensington Gardens for a while. It was good to hear so many different accents and languages, but there were fewer of them than in the past. Some of this may of course be due to the pandemic, but I really feel much of it is down to Brexit and the unwelcoming face Britain now presents to the world. Walking round that park, I felt angry and betrayed by a country that ascribes so much value to the monarchy (the park is in essence only there for their amusement) and whose government feels it is appropriate to exclude much of the world, and mainly its immediate neighbours, from the country, and which unilaterally decided to deprive us of our freedom of movement t live and work in Europe. All the lovely scenery and greenery couldn’t distract me from the basic injustices that are being inflicted on the majority of this country’s citizens.
The words have been difficult to find this morning. These are rough notes, unedited thoughts. Sometimes it’s better just to live and not to write it all down. The sun has burned away a lot of the cloud. I felt leavened yesterday. My life has been blessed by meeting so many extraordinary people, a few of which have become extraordinary friends. Just like other memories best not held captive in photographs, they are best held in my head rather than entirely on paper.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 72
‘You will,’ Katharina says. ‘You have to.’ She’s close to tears. This is her daughter he’s talking about.
‘Bravery doesn’t mean avoiding death,’ he says. ‘It can’t save you. And she’s prepared to die for what she believes has to be done.’
‘I can’t change anything. Not from here. I never could change anything,’ Robert says. ‘I failed in what I had to do because I was blinded by this ridiculous concept of protecting one country rather than the world. I was full of these pictures of enemies who didn’t even exist, who I thought were the enemies of this place. Caricature villains. Real life isn’t like that. It never could be. Cut and dry; that doesn’t exist either. We live in the grey all the time, all of us, with ill-defined emotions and actions, without the ability to make instantaneous decisions when we need to, and making impulsive decisions when we don’t need to.’ He takes a deep breath. ‘We have to let her do whatever it is she’s going to do, wherever it is she is. I am just a composer now, and the beauty of the music does what it has always done. It disguises the ugliness of real life, and its inconstancy.’
Aggie has the urge to reach out to this old, disillusioned man next to her, this white-haired gent who should be enjoying his retirement from the fields of death whether he’d ever trodden them or not. She knows he can’t be telling the whole truth, senses there are more scars on his soul than he’d like to admit, notices for the first time the slight tremble down along his arm, and the perpetual motion of his leg, the occasional uncertainty of breath and motion. She thinks, too, in those split seconds of memory that span years in less time than the turn of a phrase, about the mentor’s rooms, about that whole charade of chess and exercise and mock battles and intentional hurt and death, and can’t recall, one single time, hearing any music in those rooms, in that hall, in those wood-panelled corridors, no angel’s voices nor violins to illuminate the sunlit days they watched from behind the window panes. If there had been any joy there, it had been in the faces of the other girls when they managed to pirouette mid-air, when their legs had been above their heads in mid-somersault and they had suddenly somehow realised that their willpower could outstrip whatever failures they had endured before, until they landed again solidly on both feet and after glorying in the perfection of the manoeuvre realised that they would have to face the mentor again, would have to endure the endless games of chess, would have to listen to themselves being picked apart, every single motion analysed and dissected, and the slightest error in flight punished in increasingly macabre and cruel ways. Is that where bravery came from, glorying in adversity, keeping that one small part of oneself private from each and everyone you met?
Robert takes another deep breath, and the trembling stops, and his left arm moves away from its closeness to Aggie’s right hand. ‘You must stay here tonight,’ he says. ‘There’s plenty of room. This place is a bit deceptive from the outside. Six bedrooms, would you believe. And only me here most of the time.’ He gets up, reaches for his glass, brings it to his mouth steadily, unshakeably, drains it. ‘I must play something for you first. And then I’ll show you something special that very few people get to see. The Minster at night, with hardly any light. The way it must have been when it was first built.’ He smoothes down the creases in his jacket. ‘And then I’ll take you all to dinner. You look like you haven’t eaten for a month.’