The world is peopled by idiots. Sorry, that’s perhaps too much of a generalisation. But – I’m just home from taking A to work, and the number of people driving or walking like idiots with no spatial awareness or consideration for others was astounding. We talk about divided nations where the split is almost exactly 50/50 p this was more like 80/20, with the 80 being the idiots. Seriously.
One of those partially insomniac nights last night, so I didn’t go to bed till 1 a.m. And now I’ve just had my second espresso of the day, two and a half hours after typing the above, and four hours after my first. That will have to be enough. It is a glorious pleasure, though, I must admit. That bitter first mouthful of coffee unadulterated by milk or sugar is a luxury beyond compare.
It’s now six hours since I started this. It’s one of those days where the day job is of an over-riding priority (even in non day-job hours), and the harder I slog, the more emails come flooding in. I haven’t yet done any back stretches (partly perhaps because I fear I’ll fall asleep if I lie down on the bed to do them). I haven’t yet been for my daily minimum 2-mile walk. The weather is wearing in its extremes – one minute it’s warm enough for me to want to rip off my shirt and sit in the garden and pretend I’m Adonis and fabulously wealthy, the next it’s as cold as mid-winter, cold enough for me to want to wrap myself in even more layers of clothing even here in the study.
I have just finished Donna Leon’s 31st Guido Brunetti novel, and the sense of place (the place being Venice off the tourist routes) remains within me (and I miss it, having been there, off the beaten track, at least 4 times in my life, the most recent in February 2020 just before covid-19 decimated how we led our lives). And now I’ve just started Samantha Shannon’s The Priory Of The Orange Tree. I’m only 15 pages in, and I’m gripped already. I finished the Leon book just before I went to bed this morning (no screens when I can’t sleep; they make it worse), and started the Shannon book over 20-minute lunch, and both times I started comparing my writing to theirs (however different their styles might be from each other). But it doesn’t do, does it, to compare yourself to other writers. That way lies despair, in all honesty, because we all have unique styles. We just have the misfortune (if it is a misfortune) to be working in a very subjective medium. It doesn’t do either, like I did yesterday afternoon, to compare two of your own books. I spent a part of yesterday afternoon writing more of The Mortality Code, and spent too many seconds comparing it to Aggie which seems to be rumbling along almost of its own accord whereas TMC seems to require much more thinking by me. So I’ll teach myself my own lessons, which is to step away from comparisons, and just do.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 104
‘You avoided my question,’ Aggie says after they’ve quietly savoured the first sip of the Tokaji.
‘What questions was that?’ Robert says.
‘Why you can’t accept your own forgiveness or that of your faith.’
‘Oh, that.’ He nips at the liquid.
‘You’re a very challenging woman,’ he says.
‘And I won’t apologise for that.’
‘Nor should you.’
‘Stop delaying, and give me a straight answer.’
He laughs, catches himself being happy, and puts his hand on his chest to stop himself. ‘The thing is … the thing is that when you think you’ve entirely messed up your life, and that of someone else, when you look back at the sins you think you have committed, and the hurt you have inflicted through them, and you have never had a very high opinion of yourself, you lose the ability of forgiveness. Accepting forgiveness from yourself, or from others, and, what’s probably worse, the ability to forgive others. That’s what and why.’
‘But perhaps you haven’t committed any of those sins.’
‘Maybe not. But I’ve seen enough dead faces to know I have.’
‘An exaggeration, surely.’
‘Men like me don’t exaggerate. They keep their conversations and their actions to the entirely factual and objective. ‘He snorts at his own malformed joke.
‘But you exaggerate your self-hate. Constantly putting yourself down, constantly apologising, overthinking.’
‘I do it so that God can still feel superior to me.’
‘Ah, that sort of factual.’
‘I just say whatever comes into my head. I’m sure you’ve been able to ascertain that by now.’
‘I think I’d just about worked that out. With difficulty, though.’ She doesn’t smile at that joke of hers. It’s too sad.
‘Next thing you’ll tell me you trained in psychology and psychotherapy.’
‘I won’t because that would not be factual.’
‘You are a perfect conversation partner. Hard but fair.’ He leans back. ‘I’m almost tempted to offer you another drink, but it’s getting late for both of us. But I did want to ask you one last question.’
‘And that is?’ Aggie’s curious.
‘You know you spoke about this memory of shipyards and white flags with red writing, and Martin said it was impossible for you to have been in Gdansk and making memories in 1980?’
‘Yes?’ She teases the three letters out of her mouth as if she doesn’t want to let go of them.
‘Leaving to one side for the moment the question and idea of implanted memory, the like of which you and Anna and Katharina were talking about earlier, is it possible that you might have been at some shipyard somewhere else, like in Scotland?’
‘But I’m Polish.’
He lifts his hands defensively. ‘I’m not questioning that. I’m just trying to help you.’
‘Sorry. Sorry. I know. I’m just very confused, and I don’t know what to do with that confusion, or where to go next.’
He looks down at the church steeple he’s now made with his fingers. ‘There is another possibility.’
‘Of course. There always is.’
‘Less flim-flam,’ she says. ‘I’m sure it tires you as much as me.’
He raises an eyebrow. ‘More obscure language from the simple Polish girl.’
She waves his words away.
He clears his throat. ‘There is the Europejskie Centrum Solidarności in Gdansk. I wasn’t sure if you knew.’
She jumps at his perfect pronunciation. ‘I didn’t know, not really.’
‘It’s built near the shipyards, but it didn’t open till 2014. It’s a museum with a permanent Solidarity Exhibition.’
‘But that would make me too young.’
‘Well, not that young. You’d still be 25 rather than in your thirties. It’s not an impossibility. And they started building it in 2010. If you’d somehow been involved from the start, or just before, that would make you 29.’
‘It bears thinking about.’
‘Yes, my dear, it does. It’s all very odd, of course.’
‘What? The implanted or false memories theory?’
‘That, too. But mainly just that you seem to know very little about yourself.’
Aggie shrugs. ‘I’ve got used to it. Perhaps it’s a good thing I can’t remember much. Who knows what demons I might wake up if I did.’