It seems the main trait of leadership has always been cowardice. Although, even if Putin was on the front line, I wouldn’t have any respect for him. Being able to lie is another great quality for leaders; witness the UK’s Prime Minister, and countless other politicians around the world. The greatest threat to the world, as always, is the dark side of human nature, and the misfortune of the world is that it has always been ruled and possessed by psychopaths and sociopaths. That’s something even revolutions won’t repair.
When I woke at ten to six and there was a sliver of natural light in the back window, part of me thought the whole world had finally caught fire. I can’t remember ever having seen light in February before 7 am. And the flames are being fanned, let there be no doubt about that, and not just from the East.
I do censor a lot of my life on here especially when it comes to the day job. That’s as it should be, because discretion and impartiality are important, and colleagues have to be able to trust me to exercise exactly those qualities (those of a true leader, he adds). I can, though, say, that the Ukraine tragedy is having an impact on all charities, directly or indirectly, and that I ended up being at my desk for over 13 hours yesterday, partly because of the crisis. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to be so close to something and yet so far away (I said this about Lockdown 1; that having a front-row seat but behind bullet-proof and virus-proof glass has a dislocatory effect on me – apparently dislocatory doesn’t exist as a word but I’m a writer so I’m inventing it, because I know exactly what I mean with it). Writing emails this morning and ending them with “have a lovely weekend” and nearly adding “while the world burns.” In some instances, it’s best to suppress an impulse.
Politics colours everything. I had a conversation with R yesterday (her initial reflection on the war is here) about the guilt that can come with pursuing personal creativity when earth-shattering events are going on. My view is that, whether or not we share everything we create with the public, all our creations carry in them reflections of the world around us, and that everything we create is in fact political in one way or another. It has to be, because however private we might be, we as artists will always have something to say about the human condition. And this time, this crisis, this murderous war, is part of that condition. As I’ve said before – the greatest art is not beautiful; it’s real.
Our youngest is 21 today. When she stopped being a teenager a year ago, there was a certain sense of grief about no longer having any teenage children. Today, last night, when I was writing her birthday poem, I had this sense of pride in her, in all four of them, for having come this far despite my parenting and because of my parenting, however contradictory that sounds. For all the mistakes (and some of them have been bad mistakes driven by my depression and everything around it) I have made, they have turned into good human beings, and for that I am inordinately thankful. Of course, the journey is not yet done, is never done.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 13
Aggie locks herself into her own room, upstairs, out of sound of what he may or may not do. She’s sure he won’t scream. And he won’t be able to get out through the barred window. If he batters the door down, so be it. Though she doubts he’ll be able to. It was always her job to make sure nothing that might be used as a weapon was left in the rooms when guests came. The water bottles are plastic, the mirror is plastic, the tooth brushes wooden, and the windows unbreakable. She used to think it was all about the art until some guests wouldn’t appear for breakfast, the room empty and cleared, Sir or Madam saying they’d had to leave in the middle of the night, unexpectedly, an emergency, a sudden remembering of an important appointment they’d forgotten, never spoken of again. The rustle of plastic sheets.
She sits down at her desk, drops the stiletto onto its flat surface, its tip perilously close to her books. Is that what they wanted, complicity? Something scratches her right thigh through her trousers. She puts her hand into her pocket and pulls out the key to their bedroom. Who else would have known about her pilgrimages to the cathedral, who else but Sir and Madam? Sir or Madam. She does know their names, of course, but has never used them. It would always have felt like an overfamiliarity, like an intrusion, like a different kind of betrayal. It doesn’t do, to get too close to people, even if they’ve helped you, even if they’ve given you a sudden sanctuary when you thought everything was lost, when you were running out of options of where to run to next, when the next road you turned into could be that one-way street, that dead end, there was no escaping from. She turns the key over in her hand, over and over again, its metal warm from her thigh, warm from her exertions with the wannabe beginner amateur assassin downstairs. He could be useful. She shrugs. On the other hand, he might not be, not when he was so easily overwhelmed.
Aggie sighs and looks up at the ceiling. Sir and Madam even paid for her Indefinite Leave To Remain. The key weighs heavily in her hand. But it’s the only answer. No-one else could have known she’d be in the chapel. And he was there before her. No point thinking of bluff and double-bluff. That’s not the way death works. That’s not the way killing works. It’s always straight to the chase, always the hunter stalking and striking. No deviation. Valentine and Cassandra Blackwood. Which one of you? Madam’s shrill voice on the phone, cut off. A distraction? A plea? Not to bluff. Just to mislead. Aggie doesn’t think so. The despair sounded real. There’s only one way to find out. She throws the key high into the air, so high it almost touches the ceiling, and waits to catch it until it’s almost landed on the wooden floor. Her socks make no sound as she lets herself out of her room and pads downstairs. He’s humming behind his door now, a song she vaguely recalls, a classical rhyme she forgets.
In front of their door now. He’s stopped humming. She closes her eyes, crosses herself, more superstition than faith. Puts the key into the lock, and turns it. Pushes open the door, feels for the light switch on her right, clicks it down. Opens her eyes.