Friday, May 13, 2016

In which I go social, twice, although on a small scale and also reach out the hand of friendship to my Russian readers (whoever they are)

Two social occasions to write about, both small-scale, but both very enjoyable and crucially not a mention of the EU, my cars, phones, Macbooks or that bastard Erdogan in Turkey who is wrapping the EU around his little finger when he finds he has time so spare from locking up journalists who dislike him - or might at some point in the future dislike him - and is constructing one of the 21st centuries first democratic dicatorships.

The first social occasion was on Wednesday when I took one Sue/Susan Wharton out to lunch at the Sir Charles Napier in, I think Radnage. Sue (as I know her and as I have always known her) is very good company, batting 90, getting unstable on her pins and, for me at least, one of life’s joys. She is the widow of Michael Wharton, better known to some in the world as Peter Simple, the supposed author of The Way Of The World column which appeared in the Daily Telegraph for many years. (I’ll look it up - ah, between the late 1950s and around 1990). Michael, who I only got to know when he was in his late 70s, was a satirist and a very funny one. (Here is a list of his characters, which might ring a bell with some here in Britain, though I doubt it.)

He was widely regarded as ‘right-wing’ to ‘very right-wing’, but actually he wasn’t really. What he dislike and poked fun at was what he might have called ‘cant’. And ‘cant’ is everywhere, on every political wing imaginable. Sue was his third wife and the only one I got to know. She taught art at Wycombe Abbey school (a boarding school for girls) and still works as an artist. She is now feeling her age and, I suspect is, as are many widows and widowers in their late age, rather lonely. However, she is a lovely woman, though oddly enough assures me that she ‘can be quite nasty’.

She was down here in Cornwall in April, staying with my stepmother, when I accompanied here to two St Endellin Festival Easter concerts, and it was then, while we were chatting until quite late into the night, that she first assured me ‘she could be quite nasty’. Well, I’ll have to take her word for it. In fact, I was so surprised at the time that last Wednesday I reminded her she had said so and asked whether that was really true. Yes, she said. Oh, well.

I like her a lot and would be hard pushed to spot anything nasty in her, but I am, of course, obliged to take her word for it. I feel, being the kind of wishy-washy sort, rather guilty about the cost of the lunch at the Sir Charles Napier, because it was not cheap. I shan’t say how much it cost me, but many, many, many folk would be glad of the sum I paid to help pay off most of their quarterly electricity bill. And I am aware of that. But it was very much a one-off and, I trust, she enjoyed it. I know I did, both the food and the company. She does not have many more years left, rather fewer than me probably. Sue is one of those people with whom conversation just flows and she knows a lot about art and painters and the rest, and I always enjoy her company.

I had sent her a copy of ‘my novel’ - Love: A Fiction, still available on Amazon - and I was interested in her comments. She told me two interesting things. First, she admitted that she didn’t enjoy reading it. But oddly, second, she kept reading because she ‘wanted to find out what happened’. The first doesn’t bother me really, the second rather cheered me up. She has agreed to read it again. I shan’t here go into it, but it is both not quite straightforward as is not quite what you might expect to be getting, but also very straightforward, though in a different way. Let me just say that I still believe in it, and am quite happy with what I produced.

The second occasion was tonight when a long-time friend of one Seth Cardew, Nick H. and his wife Ann (or Anne, I don’t know) came around to my stepmother’s for a drink. I had only met him once before, a few years ago in Spain when I was visiting Seth at his pottery bolthole in wherever and had never met his wife before, but know here by sight because she was a teaching assistant at St Mabyn primary school which my two children attended.

Both were - are - very chatty and we had a good evening. She drank white wine, most of a bottle, although I was pouring the drinks, so don’t hold that against her, he and I were drinking gin and tonics and my stepmother had her usual whisky with warm water and two teaspoons of sugar. In
 time my stepmother went to her bed once her carer appeared, and the three of us sat outside. (I mention that because all too often ‘sitting outside’ is not necessarily an option here in Britain, even in late spring and summer. I did a dreadful thing, but I am not at all ashamed of it.

As I get older I find I want to drink less and less, but don’t feel I can make guests stint themselves. So Nick’s gins were strong whereas mine where largely tonic water with just a dash of gin. So he might have drunk rather a lot - about seven of those rather strong gins - but I didn’t. They left about 20 minutes ago to drive home, but I am sure they will get there safely. (If they don’t - or didn’t - Honest Pat will inform you and beat his breast accordingly.)

. . .

What I like about talking to anyone - and I do mean anyone, whether Sue Wharton and Nick and his wife Ann/Anne - or Paul at the Brewers Arms and Ray, the retired bookie, or, again at the Brewers Arms Chris and the retire Methodist minister who is always immaculately turned out though he doesn’t spend more than a penny on his clothes and buys everything at the equivalent of Oxfam shops - is hearing the small, tiny, tiny details of their lives. I hear them, vow to remember them, then forget - or seem to forget - most of them, but it give everyone flesh and blood. And I have, rather late in life it has to be said, discovered the virtues of shutting up and listening, only saying something, asking a question here and there, to elucidate more detail, though not everyone is interesting.

Chris, for example, who I still say hello to is dull, dull, dull. After being unemployed for many years, he finally, two or three years ago, got a job just outside Bristol doings something or other parking new cars. If you ever drive up the M5 past Bristol and look to the side of the motorway - left or right depending on which direction you are heading in - you will see several hundred if not a thousand of new cars parked, for whatever reason. It is Chris’s job to, I don’t know, move them from her to there. I know that because he told me, but when he told me, he went into chapter and verse in such excruciatingly dull detail about his various duties that I have since restricted social intercourse with him to a nod and a hello. I don’t want to encourage conversation. But, being the wishy-washy sort, as I pointed out above, each and every time I merely not and say hello and avoid conversation, I feel a tad guilty and hope he doesn’t notice that I am essentially giving him the bum’s rush.

Ray, on the other hand is far more interesting. Long since retired, he still does the occaional bit of bookie’s work at various local racecourses up and down the west of England. Other details I have elicited from him is that he is divorced and has a son living in Berlin (where I once lived) who was going out with a very nice Dutch girl, but that, eventually bit the dust, although that might in time be rekindled. Then there’s the ‘carpet showroom’ in Chard where he and Paul (since now died) used to buy their rolling tobacco. The carpet showroom was, in fact, a knocking shop which did good business until earlier this last year it was closed down.

. . .

I notice this blog is getting a lot of attention from a reader/readers in Russia. So chaps and chappesses, this is for you.

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