When I got back home late yesterday afternoon, it felt like I’d been away for 30 days not 30 hours. Seriously exhausted, stomach not right, I couldn’t wait until the time came for me to drop into my familiar bed, turn the light out, and for M to follow the age-old ritual of stroking my back until I fell asleep which started even before we got married. For once, this morning, I wished I could just sleep all day. But I had to get up at 5:45 to deal with all sorts of things and get A to work for 7 (by which time she’d been up for 3 hours).
When we left the old village and the old house last May, I thought I wouldn’t be able to love another house again. But I felt like that when we left our house in Norway for the last time in April 2006 (and must admit that it is still probably my favourite house of all the houses I’ve ever lived in). But here, now, this 1930s semi on the outskirts of Norwich, is where I like to be, where I feel like I am coming home. Walking through the streets of a city is, for me, somehow more of a homecoming than driving up the main street in the old village.
Before I left London yesterday, I did make enough time to meet with our London children (O, C, and K). We met at Embankment tube station, and then walked along the Embankment, past Cleopatra’s Needle, and all the shrapnel wounds the city still bears, until we got to Millbank, then cut back into the city, and ended up sitting outside a café right next to the Royal Opera House, and talking about this and that and everything. They all have their own troubles (earning a living being top of that particular list), and all I could say to them was to keep going, that something will come right sooner or later. There is nothing else a parent can say whose funds are not unlimited – and even if I was fabulously wealthy I’d still want them all to be financially and mentally independent from me; that’s what growing up is all about. It was a wrench to leave them when I turned left for Holborn, and they turned left for Covent Garden on their search for bookshops (that, in itself, is the greatest parenting success I can think of, this love for books they have, in the main).
Home. Yes, this is where my heart is.
It is now a radio show and hours of work later…
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 89
‘Yes, quite,’ Martin says, his English accent ever more incongruous. ‘Let me tell you what happened.’
Robert shakes his head. ‘Here we go.’
‘You said they should know,’ Martin says. ‘And, anyway, it’s a good story. Puts you in a good light.’ He leans back to make room for the waiter putting his main course down in front of him.
‘Irrelevant,’ Robert says, stares at his food, bends towards his waiter, whispers something in his ear.
‘Anyway,’ Martin says. ‘There I was, waiting for the Tube at St. James’ Park station, approaching my mid-thirties, Cultural Attaché or something or another to the Russian Embassy…’
The waiter returns with another napkin for Robert who gleefully tucks it into his collar and makes sure it covers his shirt front. ‘Never can be too careful,’ he says, his eyes bright.
‘The creamy sauce with the mushrooms was more dangerous,’ Martin says.
Robert laughs. ‘There’s more of this. And the mustard sauce is especially messy and delicious. You know what I’m like.’
‘Yes. Too well.’ Martin cuts a small sliver from his steak. ‘Excellent. I must be the only one who comes here and orders blue steaks. I swear I can hear the chef jumping for joy every time I order one.’
‘You were meant to be reflecting on me, not on you and your vice for meat that’s still kicking when it gets to you,’ Robert says.
Martin raises an eyebrow. ‘Yes. Forgive me.’
‘Go on,’ Aggie says, not really interested in her Caesar Salad with chicken in it. She wants to hear history, spears some lettuce and a crouton to be polite.
‘Yes, well, where was I?’ Martin pretends to be flustered. ‘Oh, yes, St. James Park.’
‘The Tube station,’ Zav adds.
‘Quite. So I wasn’t particularly interested in what I was mean to be doing for the Motherland, and it seemed a nonsense for that country to send us to the decadent West anyway, after all the decadence our rulers had exhibited in the past, were still indulging in. It would just infect us further. And we’d never manage to persuade anyone here to change ideology. If they betrayed secrets to us it was only because they expected even greater reward behind the Iron Curtain. Burgess and that lot; all they wanted was more money and fame; it was never about Communism.’
‘They claimed otherwise, of course,’ Robert says, his mouthful.
‘They would, wouldn’t they, from their tiny flats in Moscow with 1960s furniture and the eternal cold,’ Martin says.
‘Have you ever told this story concisely?’ Marit says.
‘My, my,’ Martin says. ‘You are like your mother. Impatient. Aggressive. Never still.’ He smiles benignly. ‘A good anecdote takes its time.’
‘I think she’s after information, not an anecdote,’ Aggie says
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Are you young people not interested in anecdotes anymore then?’
Robert laughs out loud, drips some of his mustard sauce on the napkin in the process. ‘Stop pretending to be an idiot, my friend.’
Martin sits up straight. ‘I suppose I can try.’ He gesticulates with his fork. ‘So there I am supposedly looking for Englishman who wants the glittering prize of moving into a one-bedroom flat in Moscow. Oh, and we used to keep them especially for these people who would proclaim so loudly that this is what they wanted; to support the people’s cause.’ He shakes his head and chuckles. ‘And I saw this young man in a pin-striped suit, carrying an umbrella and wearing a bowler hat who looked exactly, or I thought so anyway, like the contact I was supposed to make. So I followed him onto the train, as packed then as they are now, or were anyway the last time I was in London, although that was years ago, I suppose. And I stand as closely as possible to him, pretend someone’s pushed me, and bump into him. Well, no time like the present, is there? I pretended to stumble, muttered a few Russian words, including the password, into his ear. When he answered in perfect Russian, I thought I had my man, didn’t I? And he sounded like he knew exactly what he was talking about.’
‘We got out at Embankment,’ Robert says. ‘Just like I assumed had been agreed, and wandered down to Cleopatra’s Needle and sat on the closest bench. And I told him what he wanted to hear, all that stuff about the fascist shrapnel, and how England was wasting away under its decadence, blah, blah.’
You took me in,’ Martin says. ‘Deliberately or not.’
‘I think we’ve established by this stage in our friendship that it was inadvertently deliberate,’ Robert says.
‘The rest is history,’ Martin says. ‘By the time we’d walked back to Embankment, he’d turned me.’
‘Not that it took very much,’ Robert says. ‘I could tell by the way your clothes were hanging off you that you weren’t exactly having a fine time.’
‘And not that I was a great prize,’ Martin says.
‘No. Just another lost soul I felt I had to save.’