This is now, but once in the early 1950s when everything was black and white, or even sepia, my parents were holidaying on Skye,
"And we weren't even engaged then", says my mother, adding, "Do you still have our painting of Bla Bheinn?" (I think I could find it).
"It was a Saturday", says my dad, "And we were hammering down a long hill to catch the last ferry with seven spokes broken in the back wheel", (of the tandem),
"And we missed it", says my mother, "And we had to stop in an unmanned" (you could say that in the '50s) "youth hostel" (at Armadale),
"And", says my mum, "We had no food, but we bought some from a mobile shop and the man had no change, but he said, 'It's alright, pay me on Monday morning'", (because back then on a Sunday everything stopped for godness sake), "And we did".
My dad was sent away, aged seven, to Wycliffe Preparatory School, then known as Ryeford, and on to Wycliffe College. His two older brothers had been too.
I don't know if my own parents could have afforded it, they certainly hinted that affording it would be difficult, but at ten I was given the opportunity to go to Wycliffe and I turned it down!
Such schooling in most cases leads to unfounded confidence and a significant void in the empathy department, which is why, of course, most, or far too many, of our politicians, business leaders and royalty behave like the inadequate, desensitized fuckwits we know them to be.
George Galloway has been asking, Why can't we all oppose both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? It seems to me that a better question would be, Why aren't we kind to Everyone? (Closely followed by, Why aren't we kind to every sentient being?). An answer *might* be, Because we are nasty.
I wonder if we will ever conclude that almost all violence, aggression and nastiness, originates from fear, whether that fear be affecting still a violent 30yr old criminal who was beaten or similarly humiliated as a child, or affecting as now our increasingly poorly educated and unequal and mean-spirited island nation who have been told repeatedly that foreign people are going to steal our sweets, our females, our holiday money, our jobs, etc.
And come to think of it, aren't all nations island nations? And what reasonably could be considered kind or helpful about the process, and the result, of determining that we are us, and you are not? We are humans and you are animals; we are Catholics and you are Protestants; we are Christians and you are Jews / Muslims / Jains / Atheists; we are white-skinned, but your skin is of any other colour?
I don't think we are inherently nasty, by the way, but I do think we have acquired a long lasting and often non-specific distrust of strangers. And I'm pretty confident that ignorance is what causes most of our distrust.
Why? Because generally a stranger about whom we gain adequate knowledge can no longer be considered a stranger. Can they.
Recently I've read that a significant number of anthropologists now consider that human nature is not to be nasty, but to work for the common good, to be kind, to be helpful. When we are misled and ill-informed we fail in this, and then we produce and follow an excess of freaks, weirdos, Hitlers, fuckwits and Farridges.
On BBC Winterwatch they've just been talking about yew trees and I was reminded so suddenly and strongly of Miss Toomey, the dinner lady at my 2nd primary school (in Highnam, Glos). Very old but agile, woolly beret'd, fluffy coated, speccy, and thin as a stick, she'd have climbed up the bank from the dell and would suddenly appear from behind the trunk I'd repeatedly climbed to an enormous height and in an old-lady screech she'd shout,
Get down, Stewart, them berries is poisonous! [No-one else has ever called me Stewart, but realising quickly that it'd help me avoid further trouble, I didn't complain].
And again I remember - it'd be probably 7-8 years later - clouds of gnats dancing in the glare of the setting sun when one late autumn evening my dad and I were voluntarily doing surgery on the old yew trees in the churchyard at Cantref. And the chainsaw blunted so quickly on the steely branches. And we'd forgotten the sharpening file. So we left the job in a bit of a mess. And next evening it was raining and we had to come back to finish off.
And because we like things in threes
I'm wondering why it was that my dad, ostensibly a peaceful man, then a Liberal but nowadays Green-voting, a fourth generation vegetarian, chapel-going but later a Quaker, should enjoy so much and so often telling me about the bloodthirsty Battle of Crécy (and others), in which much killing of the French was done by the English armed with longbows of yew, when after all it was 280 years since the Norman Conquest and WTF were we doing being a bloody nuisance in someone else's back yard? Again.
Joanneand I have just watched The Grand Budapest Hotel on DVD. It's great, really very enjoyable and, because I haven't yet been any nearer to Budapest, it made me want to go back to Ljubljana (What a name! I don't know what it means, but it sounds so beautiful), and dodge the wasps around the fruit stalls on the outdoor market by the river, stroll across the bridge with the padlocks on it, eat outdoor cafe lunch and listen to real, no, real real gypsy jazz, then to stroll along photographing elegant bicycles parked in the sun for no other reason, I'm sure, than for people to take photographs of them.
instead of recycling old xmas cards from home, I thought I'd take
them to WH Smith. In full waterproofs (yes, a proper 100% waterproof
'70s-style Helly jacket, etc.), I rode the rusty steed into the
little city through some pretty good quality rain only to be told our
WHS hasn't done xmas card collections for 4 or 5 years, but that TK
Maxx were doing it. In TK Maxx I was told Boots were doing it.
Boots I had a good old natter about cycling, France, creaking necks,
etc with Ian
then the staff there wrongly suggested the photo department were
taking old xmas cards. It was busy, but a nice shelf-stacking woman
nearby said, No, Sainsbury's was the place.
I went to Ye
Olde John O'Gaunt,
once Lancaster's very best and busiest music pub, and drank a half of
some local beer and scoffed a packet of crisps. Around 2pm customers
numbered me, then three, then two as I left.
Sainsbury's I dropped our soggy xmas cards into a cardboard box for
the FSC (not knowing how responsible they are, but hey-ho), swerved
my trolley around great clumps of Chinese students, bought some
organic veg and some very heavy tinned stuff, man, and cycled home
mostly uphill in rain so wet you'd have thought it had come from
no harm done, and even though I've cycled about five miles only, I
feel as if I've almost had an adventure.