love and care
every book has a history and a hinterland…
SPOILER ALERT 1
What follows is a kind of scrapbook, with extracts, pictures and sound designed to be read, seen or listened to, after reading the book…
authors should never blow their own trumpets, but with the backing of a brass section like these wonderful writers, well, I just had to give them each a solo…
French locations you’ll have read about here in the first chapter, and later…any peeking in advance of reading I think constitutes a commitment to buy the book. Deal?
Sitting down to write about the day my father died, I found I could not recall what we did after the hospital. So I wrote a mail to my sister in Vancouver. She sent me back this:
My grandmother and my mother around the time they came on holiday to England from their home in Alexandria in Egypt, and never went back:
The handsome couple only four years later, now with a new addition, me…Growing up was pretty quick in those days.
Polzeath, Cornwall, summertime, but we went in the winter too, happy days…
My new home in the burbs…Dad loved his bungalow and they both worked all their lives to afford it.
Just in passing, this is the boat I had in mind when wanting to fish off the side and escape a dreary existence in the suburbs…I personally think my ex was a little hasty in her veto, though to be fair, she has never expressed her regret in so many words.
My eldest on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, and me…the two of us running away to France together only days before we would sit at the ‘Soulmates’ table in Phil’s farmhouse and discover GreenGenie.
Dante met the love of his life only twice – once when they were both children, and once a decade later when Beatrice, or Bice, happened to walk past him in the street, accompanied by two older women, and acknowledged him with the merest wave. This simple act caused the nineteen- year-old Dante to swoon with love, a love that would dominate his thinking and his writings for the rest of his life.
This painting is by Henry Holliday, 1883
I hear Guardian Soulmates is no more, unable to compete with the plethora of platforms available to those in search of love or companionship, a hook-up, or a virtual relationship conducted in the aether.
It was a good one for oldies who, back in the day. ‘Fings ain’t wot they used to be,’ as Lionel Bart so memorably put it.
The Decameron begins on the night of Maundy Thursday, April 7th AD 1300, shortly before dawn of Good Friday, and Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales set off at the beginning of April, roughly the same time. In the medieval world, a story at that time of year quite deliberately spoke to hope and expectation.
It may only be fortuitous that I am sitting at my father’s desk, scrolling through profiles on a dating website at exactly the same time of year and with much the same excitement, but I choose to see it as an omen of good fortune.
In passing, The Decameron is based on the conceit that ten people, seven young women and three young men, escape the Black Death then ravaging the city of Florence by retiring to a villa outside the city. There, they self-isolate and tell stories of love, evidence there is truly nothing new under the sun.
This is how I picture the policewoman taking my call about a missing body and wondering if policing is really her thing…
Homecoming Day. I took these photos – not my best, I confess – on the actual day and this is the actual orchid.
‘There’s something special about having that intense personal connection as part of the care, alongside the professionals, and the arrangement works like a dream, most days. Only Claire prefers that I don’t sing as I’m doing it.’
Unfortunately, my impersonation of Jack Lemmon from Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is rather lost to my audience because it is not a movie well known to most of our carers, including Claire.
When I pretend to be draining spaghetti using a tennis racket as I hand over a fresh pad and hum ‘la-ti-ti-dah,’ (the scene is just after Miss Kubelik has attempted suicide), I get only blank looks in return.
The Apartment is perennial because it tells a love story rippling with humour and limitless humanity, but also walks a line bordering pathos and even the tragic. Jack Lemmon’s character, C.C Baxter, and Shirley Maclaine’s Miss Kubelik, star-crossed as they are, have become for me, the Romeo and Juliet of the sixties. My daughters and I can recite lines from memory, enlivening out text exchanges.
Ceret and my new artist’s garret, a former cowshed, but home from home, a chance to write my book…and recover from divorce.
‘…while any similarity between Genie and Audrey may be mere coincidence, it matters hugely to me, because Audrey Hepburn looks like my mum. You think I exaggerate. And you’re right, of course.’
‘The truth is, both were much the same age at much the same time when everyone adopted much the same style in hair and make-up and wardrobe. But if I associate my mum with Audrey Hepburn, and in turn associate Audrey Hepburn with Genie, perhaps that’s enough to create meaning, and a sense of longing, at least for me.’
I like photography. It’s one of the interests Ellie and I found we had in common. I like taking photographs and I love the images created by artists like Willoughby, André Kertész and Jacques Henri Lartigue, all of whom share an ability to capture the contingent and the fleeting with incredible intimacy. I often wonder if I don’t prefer to look at a photograph over a painting. I like the democracy of the photograph with its infinite capacity for reproduction thwarting the silliness of the rich and powerful cliques that scrabble around the fine art market. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is valued at around $70 million, the Mona Lisa at $850 million. I can get a print of Bob Willoughby’s Audrey or Lartigue’s early muse, the supreme narcissist, Chou Valton, or Kertész’s wonderful Winterscene, timeless and spiritual, for a few thousand dollars. Not that I have ever had a few thousand dollars to spend on a photograph.
…and one day,
I too will own a Leica Q or an M8 or M9…
All I’m sure about is that Bob Willoughby had genius. He has been dubbed, ‘the man who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion picture still,’ an incredibly dull epithet for a photographer who could see into souls. He worked with stars like Judy Garland and Dustin Hoffman, and jazz musicians like Chet Baker and Billy Holliday. But Willoughby said his favourite subject was Audrey Kathleen Ruston, Audrey Hepburn to us. The peculiar fact about the particular photograph that mirrors Genie’s photo is that it is only half a picture. Rosemary Clooney, auntie to George, is in the other half of the original, but is often edited out.
‘Although there is no record of my mother’s letters to my father at this time, or at any other time come to that, it is possible to find something of her in his words.’
‘He sympathises with the pressure she must feel over their wedding arrangements, the distress and even doubt caused by their being apart, and he is achingly tender, writing twice or three times a week…’
‘My Dear Little Pud,
It was very nice to hear your voice and to hear you laugh the other night, and it made me wish you were here … I know things have been hard, but I do love you in every way, and very soon I shall prove this to you. You are my friend and my lover…’
SPOILER ALERT 2
If you haven’t read the book, now’s the time to stop reading this webpage…
‘Uncle Pete is Mum’s brother and one of my personal heroes, a man with qualities I have always tried hard to emulate. ‘Measure twice, cut once’ is a favourite phrase of his. He inherited his own father’s stoicism, enduring what cannot be changed and changing what must be changed, both usually involving a cup of tea and a toolkit. He cared for his own mother, my maternal grandmother, visiting her daily for fifteen years or more, taking her calls in the middle of the night, risking the wrath of his own partner to meet her often unreasonable demands.’
‘Statistics vary, but according to Carers UK, there are more than seven million carers in the UK – that is one in ten people – which, when you think about it, means there are a huge number of ordinary folk performing extraordinary feats of love and care every single day, and paying an enormous price themselves. Shocking, really.’
Given that family carers are unpaid, untrained and often unsupported, you might be interested to learn the estimated economic value of their contribution in the UK is calculated at £132bn a year. Don’t ask me how the authorities get to this figure, but we can assume one measure might be the cost of providing similar levels of care through professionals and institutions.
Those hundreds of billions are equivalent to all the healthcare services put together, including all social care and the National Health Service, or two and a half times the UK’s annual defence budget, or one and a half times the nationwide education budget, just by way of comparison. That’s a lot. And enough. Statistics can cause dizziness.
‘In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez wrote that ‘Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love.’ Okay, Gabriel, I’m with you, because I think I might be doomed to see out my days in solitude. Must I cease to hope? Or live on in desire? And where the hell is my consolation?
Like Theresa, the lovely Irish lady from the care home, I feel like shouting out to anyone who’ll listen, ‘Nurse, Nurse, what should I be doing?’
The illustrated manuscript features the gluttonous in Canto six, but here’s Botticelli’s vision of what the whole of hell looks like…
‘I’m thinking about Marie, about when she came to visit me in France. Far away from home and our responsibilities there, we had a golden couple of weeks, swimming naked in the cool waters of the Vidourle and the Vis, gorging on the late-summer fruits of a love that had been battered by the elements but could still taste as sweet as ever.’
I have to confess I saw a glimmer of hope in Marie’s one line reply to wish me a happy birthday. Marie had always had a soft spot for my mother. Their birthdays were only two days apart and whether because of the stars or not, they share in common many characteristics as fellow Aquarians. Not that I think I’m alone in such acts of madness. Many of us experience a love that becomes overwhelmingly influential in our lives…
…It may not last long or feel significant at the time, it may not even be wholesome or happy. But in retrospect something about that particular liaison colours everything that comes after and may even make changes to what went before. There’s unfinished business. Pieces that don’t fit. It’s exhausting and in my experience fruitless. But it’s also addictive. A first love can do it. An affair with tragic consequences can also do it. My relationship with Marie has certainly become one such for me.
Written in 1966 by the incomparable Neil Diamond, probably my favourite sixties hit
I bought the audio cassette, (…long time ago), of Peter Coyote, an actor with a wonderful voice, reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, when I was looking for something, anything, that would get me through the confusion of a marriage falling apart. I’m not sure I really understood very much, nor was I ever very good at meditation, but I picked up one precept…
Sounds so simple doesn’t it? But what I think it means, bear of little brain that I am, is pay attention to things as they are, not as you wish they were or as they ‘should’ be, but simply as they are.
This seems to me the right starting place for the Buddhist notion of ‘right thinking, right action’ – an idea that the world needs, daily.
Michel de Montaigne was a sixteenth century French statesman and author who wrote “Essais’, essays or ‘attempts’, to translate literally, and is often credited with inventing the form. In 1571, he retired from public life and for the next twenty years or so, wrote on any subject that took his fancy, sitting at a desk in the round turret room of his chateau. “I am myself the matter of my book” he said…
…true to his word, his writings reveal much about himself, not least his failings and contradictions and absurdities. In 107 chapters, he also explores his views on an electic range of subjects, from sleep to romantic love, friendship to cruelty, sadness, vanity, anger and idleness, often with lengthy digressions, dismissive of authority and conformity, unconcerned with what others might think. Remarkable enough, but he does it all with humour and irony and self-deprecation.
‘When I was thirteen or so, I spent a year at a boarding school; not the posh sort, but a shape-up-and-stand-tall kind of place run by a former military man along military lines, designed to take children who were not thriving in the state system and give them a chance to flourish in the countryside.’
The picture is of the boys’ dormitories at Sheephatch School…75 girls and 75 boys, all aged around thirteen and away from home for the first time. You could only attend for a year, but it was a good year.
I believe I got a place – I think – because I was preternaturally, painfully shy and a horrible underachiever. I seemed to be bright enough, but couldn’t pass an exam to save my life. I took the Eleven Plus exam three times and failed each time. It was clear, that in sending me away, there was general hope I might improve my life chances.
If I was having a soft drink at the last chance saloon, to everyone’s surprise, I thrived, not because of the discipline, which was frankly a pain, but because we created a world of our own and had the autonomy of being away from our parents. Oh, and because of the girls, too. Our education systems don’t stretch to such experiments in social engineering these days, more’s the pity.
…but speaking of social engineering and all things nostalgic, now I am a frontline carer, I long for that apocryphal time when district nurses on sit-up-and-beg bikes with medical kits in their wicker baskets and the special skills of a Shaman, would rescue folk before they even knew they needed rescuing, bringing comfort over a cup of tea and effective treatment to the home.
Now, partly pandemic-driven, the drift is to online consultation, more vulnerable people will fall through the Zoom gaps, when localised, person-to-person care in the community is both simple and effective, and potentially – assuming responsibilities and skills can be delegated down, as they should be wherever possible – cost effective. Devolution is always revolution, because those at the top feel threatened.
This is the actual caption from Wikicommons for this photo, discovered like so many others on this page, in this wonderful resource.
Invasion Village- Everyday Life in Orford, Suffolk, England, 1941
District Nurse Baker pushes her bicycle out of her front gate as she leaves her home on a call. Nurse Baker is in charge of the local First Aid Post and is also on the Invasion Committee.
‘I’m okay. I really am. I’ve just had a shock, that’s all. Remember I told you about Genie?’
‘Uh-huh. This is GreenGenie, rhino lady, right?’
‘She’s moving to Africa. She’s going there to save rhinos.’
‘Well, that makes sense. But that’s a good thing, no?’
‘If you’re a rhino. But I guess it means she won’t be saving me.’
‘This is a woman you’ve never met.’
I make a noise that, for all I know, may well sound like a very distant rhino in distress.
‘Are you laughing or crying? I can’t tell.’
‘Nor can I.’
SPOILER ALERT 3
You’ve already had two spoiler alerts, so don’t blame me if you begin to suspect that I didn’t get rescued ’cause I’m not a rhino in Africa, and, in a double-whammy, more bad news…nor have I become a rebel in the mountains of Cuba…
A photograph of the happy couple, taken in the Escambray Mountains in Cuba, probably in 1958, the year I was born. Their attachment to each other and their dedication to something bigger than themselves, namely the revolution and the poorest people of the island, continued right up to Morgan’s end in front of a firing squad, and Olga’s twelve years in prison, both branded as traitors by Castro’s regime.
But there are consolations…this is Frank’s cover of That’s Life, recorded in 1966…I’ll let him take it from here…
‘We’re told that life is loss. For me, a marriage has come and gone, Genie – who I know was never really there – is going, Marie has gone, even Maisie has gone. But it is also true that were it not for all I’ve lost, or squandered, along the way, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would Mum. I would never have learned lessons from her in what it is to care, in endurance certainly, in letting go of the past and the future and living in the moment. And I would never have had this time to reflect.
I would have missed so many lessons in love.’
The Maeander river was so celebrated in antiquity
for its numerous windings, that its classical name “Maeander” became,and still is, proverbial…
It also inspires me to ramble a bit in love and care…that’s my excuse anyway.
so…what is this thing called love?
Cole Porter claimed that ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ with its innovative alternating major and minor key changes, was inspired by a Moroccan native dance.
It is also my inspiration for the book. Essentially the sentiment of this wonderful tune is the theme of love and care simply stated.
…this is one of the great interpretations by the incomparable Dinah Washington recorded in 1955.
Listen out for the instrumental that concludes the track, technical virtuosity with a perfect arrangement.