Another self-censored fragmentary.
My mind started racing just before we went to bed, and I scribbled some words down while M was brushing her teeth (in the downstairs bathroom, the main bathroom being out of action on account of the building work that’s going on). I am looking at them now, scrawled almost indecipherably on the print-out of yesterday’s post (I print them in 6-point font to glue them into my journal as all my output – except for a poem the other day – seems to be from this keyboard), and they seem sentimental, bordering on the mawkish, so I’ll consign them to the scrapbook of memories (dustbin of history) rather than write them here.
The thought often crosses my mind, and often almost jumps over into action, that I should go through everything I’ve ever written and burn/destroy all the material I think is inferior and useless, that I should censor all my work and pare it down to only that which I think is fit for publication. However, I never do anything about it. Perhaps I lack the courage, perhaps I have too much vanity, and think that scholars of the future will pick over my meanderings and find some meaning in my words that I haven’t been able to find. Only posterity will tell. A sign of old age, perhaps, thinking of posterity as something imminent rather than something that’s a long way off. I miss the sense of immortality my youth had.
Yesterday morning I had a text from our local GP practice telling me that many of their clinical staff were off with covid-19, and that they would have to run a reduced service for the rest of this week and for next week. I looked at the UK’s covid stats published yesterday, too. Fewer cases, thousands more in hospital, 250 deaths. If anyone thinks this crisis is over, they’re deluded. Politicians continue to lie to us. Lateral flow tests will stop being free at the end of March. Mask-wearing is no longer mandatory. The Health Secretary (the previous failed Chancellor) declares that 60% of those in hospital with covid-19 would be in hospital anyway. Waiting lists lengthen. Over 5 million operations have had to be postponed already. Covid-19 is rampant. I was meant to go to meet my day job’s auditors in London on Thursday and then go to a fundraising dinner, one of the few I used to attend before covid-19. I’d been conflicted about this for over a week, debating with myself over whether or not I should go, vacillating, making a decision one moment just to throw it over the next. After that GP text and those case numbers, and on reading that over 200k UK children are off school with C19 (up from just over 50k last week), I pulled the plug on the trip. Yes, I feel like a coward. Yes, I am gutted not to go. But I have to think about setting an example of common sense, have to think about my health, and the health of those around me. Being triple-vaccinated will not stop me from being a carrier of the disease (and it is a disease, not an inconvenience) and potentially passing it on to someone more vulnerable than I am who could become very ill. I have to live in the real world, which our politicians apparently do not. And after looking at myself in the mirror and giving myself a stern talking to, I know, I do know, this is not cowardice; it’s the exact opposite.
Schoolboy error – yesterday was so warm, I shut the heating off in the garden study entirely. The temperature dropped below freezing in the night. I forgot to turn the heating back on before I went to bed. It was not pleasant walking into here at 6:20 this morning. At least it’s not an unheated bomb shelter in Ukraine, and I didn’t have to run through a maze of bombed-out buildings, dodge falling missiles and broken bodies to get here. At least I am safe, for the time being.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 39
‘Would you leave bodies somewhere your home help can find them?’ Aggie says.
‘They may not have credited you with much intelligence,’ he says. ‘That accent and the bowing and scraping would do that.’
‘Another xenophobe then.’ She slaps him across the face, lightly for her.
‘What the hell was that for?’
‘For being a fascist misogynist.’
Zav rubs his face. ‘You’re mad. You measure every word for something that’s not there.’
‘It’s there whether you mean it or not.’
‘Complex grammar. Most English people get that wrong, and forget about the “or not.”‘
She raises her arm again, drops it. ‘Let’s go downstairs.’
‘I thought you’d never…’ He raises his hands. ‘Sorry. Automatic.’
‘Come on.’ She leads the way downstairs.
‘What about these?’ He points at the closed and locked doors of the reception rooms.
‘Unimportant. Just rooms to impress.’
‘Along with these fine imitations of fine art?’
He whistles. ‘Nice.’
‘Yes, but they should probably be in museums.’ She stands by the cellar door. ‘Ready.’
‘As ready as I’ll ever be.’ He pulls his gun from the shoulder holster.
‘I’d rather be able to defend myself.’
She shrugs. ‘I’m still going first.’
‘Fine. Be my guest.’
Aggie pushes open the door quietly, slowly. She smiles at herself, at her thought that in all those ridiculous films she’s seen, the main characters would now go down the stairs without turning on the lights, would make all those mistakes the audience would scream at them not to make, and then wander down into an unexpected (except by the audience) hell, holding their tiny flickering torches over their handguns with some sort of complicated contortionist’s grip, and strange sounds would echo in the dripping void, and the torches would fade and go out, and the beast or murderer or resurrected psychopath who was supposed to have died in the film a quarter of an hour ago would jump out of the dark and attack and kill the one character everyone had grown really fond of, but succumb in the final battle to the other slightly less lovable main character who would get badly injured but survive and possibly do it all over again in the sequel. She flicks the switch, and the bright lights come on, illuminating the dry dust and smell rising from the depths.
‘Good cellar,’ Zav says. ‘No damp.’
‘Money can do anything.’ She walks down the steps into the bright coolness of the vast space that underpins the house. Other than the well-spaced columns which do actually support the floors of the rooms above, there is nothing in here. ‘See,’ she says. ‘I told you.’
‘Impossible,’ he says. ‘It’s supposed to be a lair.’
‘They train you by watching ridiculous films, do they?’
‘No.’ He hears his whine, stops.
A narrow hallway leads off from here. ‘Come,’ she says. ‘Two more rooms back here. And they’re all empty.’
‘What a waste of space.’
‘Perhaps they had plans for it before they starting hating each other.’
‘They might never have loved each other from the start.’
‘A marriage of inconvenience?’
‘For one of them anyway.’ She pushes open the door to the first room, switches on the light. Bare walls. Not even shelves. No half-hidden levers to transform some unsuspecting piece of brickwork into a sliding screen that hides a secret passage.
Zav walks round the room, trails the palm of his left hand along the smooth wall. ‘This is all too normal.’
‘They were normal until yesterday,’ Aggie says. ‘Rich, posh accents, commuters, hardly here, driven people.’
‘Or that’s what you thought.’
‘That’s what everyone thought, thinks.’
‘And the neighbours?’
‘They were over a few times.’
‘And survived?’ Zav says.
‘And survived. The party went on till light, and they stumbled home along the little bit of pavement they needed to travel. I walked them home.’
‘How thoughtful of you.’
‘I didn’t want them to vomit on my clean floors.’
They reach the last room. Aggie reaches for the light switch. It doesn’t work.