This morning is disappointingly cold and grey. It looks and feels and smells like it’s going to rain. I will need to go and change into some long trousers and socks before I start the radio. The temperature in the office is down to 23C. All very sad. I know that compared to what’s going on in the world this is nothing. I know that yesterday’s heat is because of climate change and that it’s a dangerous sign, just another step to the world heating up beyond what it can bear. But I can’t help liking, no not liking but loving, the heat, that I like nothing better than to sit in the shade when it’s hot enough to lounge around in the shade wearing shorts and t-shirt, being able to actually relax without worrying about my back, without thinking I need to steel my body against that insipid dampness and indifferent climate the English call temperate. That’s the thing here – the English complain about any climate that’s not their temperate. Heat – horrible. Proper cold – horrible. Fog, mist, damp, trees dripping with the unwanted moisture of the English weather – that’s all fine, delightful and lovely. No, no, no!
Today in 1928, Roald Amundsen disappeared and was never seen or heard of again. Disappeared in the frozen Arctic, trying misguidedly (and perhaps in an attempt to resurrect his fame) to help search for Nobile and his crew who had themselves disappeared in the Italia airship on their way back from the North Pole. Amundsen’s back story is interesting and mysterious, and one of these days I might release the parts of Dead Men I was asked to excise to make it more manageable for my publishers, those parts that try to shed a light on Amundsen and his love affair with Bess Magids, and his fight to escape the bankruptcy that threatened him, the bankruptcy he sought to escape from the day he boarded that Latham 47 prototype seaplane he disappeared on. The history of polar (and most other) exploration is full of the marginalia of forgotten and ignored women. I gave a lecture on this on board Amundsen’s Fram in 2012, about how the patriarchy has tried to besmirch the women involved with Amundsen and Scott, how the polar establishment tried to expunge them from the histories of their dead men (no pun intended; I just wrote that out of my head, but maybe that’s really where the title to that novel came from, from this sense of society defining women by their dead men). Those excisions totalled about 40k words. By the way, I’m not bitter about those excisions, because the book is snappier without them, but they deserve to have a place somewhere other than just on the margins of the story.
And that’s where this grey morning has led me to, with 40 minutes to go till I’m on air, to once again reflecting on how women’s power to influence history has over and over again been airbrushed almost out of existence by men, reflecting on how (and all generalisations are false including this one) history and the world could have been entirely different had men not been able to grab for themselves this unassailable position of power to run things, how the world might have been a much kinder place had women been involved more without having to pretend they were men. Because, look at powerful women in history like the evil Thatcher and the warring Cleopatra, and they have imitated man’s unquenchable thirst for power and destruction rather than following the instincts of empathy and peace.
What tangled webs humankind weaves. Webs it no longer has the capability of escaping from.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 123
All the fake police cars have gone, and the square in front of the house is nothing but a quiet half-lit collection of old cobble stones. The only light visible besides the street lights is the light over Robert’s front door. Aggie stops the car, turns off the engine, takes a deep breath.
‘Why’s he not making any noise?’ Lilibet says.
Aggie shrugs. ‘No idea. I don’t really care. I’m dreading telling Robert the truth.’
‘He needs to know.’
‘Yes.’ Aggie unfolds herself and gets slowly out of the car, scanning close and near for any signs of danger. She shakes her head. Nothing. She walks round the car to Lilibet’s side, and opens the door. ‘I think you were the last of them,’ she says. ‘Valentine’s last broadside. For now.’
Lilibet stretches, her face a confusion of strength regained, of guilt, of sadness, of joy and being alive again. ‘That girl, she’ll want me to give myself up, won’t she?’
‘Maybe we won’t even need to cross paths with her. Come on.’ Aggie reaches out her hand, and pulls Lilibet out of the car and up. ‘All these weights other people’s manipulations put on our shoulders. Just because they don’t want to do any of the heavy lifting themselves.’
‘That doesn’t make it easier. Nothing ever makes anything easier. It’s been difficult enough since the kids’ father up and left.’
Aggie looks at Lilibet in surprise. ‘I didn’t realise.’
‘I didn’t say. I just didn’t mention him.’ Lilibet shakes herself down. ‘Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. Better like this. Once he’d gone I did realise that I didn’t much care for men.’
Aggie smiles, and doesn’t know why. She steps through the gate, tries the door. ‘Why the hell hasn’t he locked it?’ She opens the door quietly, walks into the hall, and locks the door behind her. The light from the music room is as welcoming as before. She likes this house, this feeling of comfort, of being at home, of creative spirits living in its walls, the settledness of it, the solidity of it. They walk into the music room.
Robert looks up at them, a cup of coffee in his hands. ‘What are you doing here?’ he says. ‘You’re supposed to be on the way to Montrose.’ He puts the cup of coffee onto the small table next to him. ‘I was sitting up waiting for Martin. Where is he?’
‘In the care,’ Aggie says. ‘In the boot.’
‘He tried to shoot Lilibet,’ Aggie says. ‘I managed to stop him, and a lot of things came out when we had a little chat, things you should know about.’
‘What kind of things?’ Robert says, still sitting still, rigid, his eyes spheres of worried ideas and fears.
‘Like the fact that he’s been betraying you all along, since Day One,’ Aggie says. ‘Things like that.’
‘That can’t be true. He was having a laugh with you.’
‘I wouldn’t call rolling around on the ground avoiding his fists a joke between like-minded people,’ Aggie says.
‘I was wondering about the scratches.’
‘I do bleed, apparently.’
Robert stands up, stretches his long frame. That slight tremble again, in his legs and in his arms. He obviously doesn’t realise Aggie can see it, has seen it since they met. ‘I’ll go and get him. I’m sure we can clear this up.’
Aggie puts her hand on his chest, realises by the touch, again, how strong he must have been when he was younger, remembers that Cassie is back together with him now, and registers no surprise, just a slight tinge of envy. ‘I’ll get him. You sit down again. I think you’re going to need to be sitting down to hear everything he has to say.’