Monday, 28 February 2011

Odd- bods out and about

Wednesday 23rd Feb.

Managed to get to the St Martin’s church coffee morning at the Greek Taverna near Ealing. This is Father Bill’s “new sort of church,” an off-shoot of what he calls his “Vicarage tea party movement.”

He arrived late as his motorbike had broken down. Under his leathers he was clad in h is usual pink corduroys, Icelandic sweater and hand-knitted socks. The clothes of many middle-class, middle-aged arts graduates on their day off. He told me he wasn’t reading my blog anymore as he is never in it. The vaunting pride of some vicars!

He seemed a bit depressed, or perhaps just stressed. “I used to be a Parish priest spreading the word of God,” he said, “but now I am just an administrator and handyman. I spend my time clearing drains.”

Bill says this group has replaced “the old women’s group,” which long ago replaced the, “young wives group,” as there is no such thing these days, at least they are not at home with time on their hands.

There were plenty of old women still around, including one lady in her 90s who has the same name as my mother, and like her was in the ATS in Scotland during the war. She used to drive “top brass” around in staff cars and eventually married a handsome Pole.

She has been driving for 75 years, and she says has only been stopped once, “for no reason.” She sometimes offers me a lift, but I am ashamed to say I always turn it down.

She has been doing a computer course but has given it up, as it gave her “a bad back.” I asked if she was going on holiday this year. She said she usually visits a daughter in the USA but won’t be going there anymore as, “there is no oxygen in America these days, none at all.”

She had been in touch with a local councillors called Faisal Islam. “He really liked hearing about my war time experiences,” she said. But now she is worried that he is Colonel Gaddafi’s son. We reassured her, but who knows these days, when London is replete with riff raff from all over the planet. I didn’t say this to Fr. Bill who reads the Guardian and has a signed photo of Yassir Arafat in his study.

On Friday I was sent by the Daily Telegraph to interview a young boy who has had his Disability Living Allowance withdrawn. A very topical issue as the government is about to shape-shift all our welfare laws.

He was football mad as a boy but diagnosed with bone cancer just before his sixteenth birthday and they amputated his leg a year later. He was clear for two years but now, aged twenty the cancer has returned, in one of his lungs.

After agreeing to do this story I was apprehensive. I wondered if I might throw a wobbly, how apt that horrible expression has become, especially if he was in an oncology unit surrounded by other young people. I just can’t cope with too much grief at the moment. As it turned out he had a room to himself in an adult wing so it wasn’t too sad.

I don’t know yet if my feature will do him any good, but he certainly has had a good effect on me. His courage sewed a tiny seed of acceptance in me that wasn’t there before. Today, Sunday, I tried hard to hold onto this feeling and some joy in the good life that I have.

After Mass I went to meet Eve, my friend I have recently got to know again after twenty years separation. We had lunch and I find that I can remember so many things she said when we knew each other in the 1970s when we were both teaching in Poland, even people she knew and I never met. I can remember photos of her friends at UEA, names of her school teachers and tutors. I must have had an incredibly receptive brain back then – but I think it’s because until I met her I’d never met anyone so well educated or of that background before.

Her family lived in Paris where her father worked for UNESCO. She said she just wanted to live there and have “nice breakfasts with her friends.” I felt so vulgar in comparison as I wanted to move to London somehow, and have a good career, to be what I became, one of Thatcher’s children.

We pottered around the National Portrait Gallery ending up in my favourite room which is based around paintings from 1918 to the late 30s. She liked a portrait of EM Forster by Dora Carrington. I like the loosely worked portrait of Churchill by Sickert. He captures Churchill’s childish envy of the better painter.

Eve’s father was at Oxford in the 1950s where he knew a few famous people and became friends with Richard Hoggart. Her daughter has recently graduated from there. She says it’s not so much an intellectual community now as a commercial enterprise, and they keep writing asking her for money.

Despite the cold and drizzle it was a good Sunday. I like showing people round. “You seem to know London well,” she said. “But then it’s your home.” I suppose it is, although I never think of it like that. Perhaps because it’s my home I keep thinking of how best to leave it.


  1. He's a good chap when you get to know him. But terrible toupe!