A fabulously energetic phone call with older son this morning crashing about in Monty Python, renaissance literature, 1970s TV shows, medicine, politics, snatches of song. We mongrel between languages and time frames, clash and roar with laughter as we expound theories and I elaborate on my latest road to Damascus moments after another sleepless night.
A Welsh actor I knew couldn’t pass a messy farmyard without wanting to order the chaos. I approach life at times wearing the same wonky glasses, am slowly learning it inevitably means schism, intolerance, assumptions, incoherence, stupidity, greed, pettiness, missed opportunities – all dashed with great moments of love, humour, joy.
In court on several counts of corruption and conflict of interests, our local mayor was nevertheless re-elected recently, with 2011 votes (in a town of almost 15,000). Yesterday a court found him guilty on several counts including “passive corruption”, arrogance and “harmful actions”. Sentenced to prison, fined 20,000€, stripped of all powers, my faith in justice systems has been partially restored.
I’m reading a book that’s engaging me utterly, body and mind, transporting me from a burnt garden in the south of France to the Warwickshire I knew when my sons were small, green rolling hills, ancient woodlands and quaint villages, to worlds Shakespeare created, arguments about art and politics. A muscly read, I don’t remember being this physically and mentally bound up in a book.
Shakespeare crammed the whole of human experience into his plays and the whole gamut of emotions, from swindlers, kings, windy old fools and Windsor housewives to love, usurpation, banishment, jealousy, betrayal and loss. He mixed fairy kingdoms, royalty and local workmen, judged no one, simply held the mirror up to nature.
With casts of witches, sycophants, soldiers, wanderers and brothel keepers, Shakespeare’s plays conjure worlds as far apart as Scotland and Egypt, Athens, Venice, desert islands and his own beloved forest of Arden. He appropriated stories, was steeped in classical texts. Titus’s daughter, raped, hands cut off, tongue cut out, uses her severed stumps to flick through Ovid’s Metamorphoses and point to Philomela’s rape.
Shakespeare’s poetic insights into the nature of families/society show us stumbling through separation, rejection, passion and treachery to our inevitable conclusion, being eaten by worms in the grave. Inclusive, unfrightened, the playwright shows life as it is, in all its absurdity, terror, wonder and confusion.
Idolatry surrounds Shakespeare, who’s been hijacked, claimed, sanitised. A lie is put about he’s for the educated, elite. When the plays were first performed, prostitutes, pickpockets, hecklers, porters, cony catchers, apprentices, orange sellers and pimps all tightly packed into the Globe to hear plays that were by turn declamatory, exquisite, clumsy, poetic, enlightening, terrifying, wonderfully entertaining, real.
The great long political shadows of my childhood were the Cold War, threat of nuclear war and, much closer to home, “The Troubles”. There were constant IRA bomb threats. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought to an end decades of sectarian violence, a monumental deal. Which Boris Johnson is dangerously about to trash.
Our loos don’t flush. They run off well water. The wells are empty. Temperatures that were in the 40s last month are still in the mid 30s in mid-September (93°F-109.5°F). Our heatwaved garden is exhausted, cracked, dying. I’m waiting for a plumber to give me an estimate to connect our loos to the town’s water supply.
I’ve often regretted leaving the Bay Area, though not now that it’s reduced to an orange-skied Hollywood-style apocalypse. Trump denies scientific realities, says “Global warming – Give me a break!” tweets it’s just a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
One lasting memory of our time in Berkeley is the man who cycled around in pink lycra, bending his pinky, cheerfully shouting “Pink on!” And child-friendly, affordable restaurants. And Alameda, a real life modern-day 1950s Truman Show seaside town. I also miss the signs people put in their front yards, political messages that stopped you losing all faith in human kind.
California, 1999: Cycling home with son on the back of my bike – our usual mode of transport in that small, flat, university town – when a woman yells at me from her car. “Shame on you! How dare you jeopardize your child’s life? You have no right to risk your child’s life, cycling through traffic. I have two children and I would never put their lives at risk! Shame on you!”
Last night good-humoured crowds gathered in a field and barn to raise money for local charities set up to help immigrants and unaccompanied refugees in France. It was extraordinarily cheering to see the faces of people who might be anywhere from rural Scotland to Somerset or California, people who themselves have remarkably little, but who work to share food and ressources with those worse off.
With the charlatans in office heading for a no-deal Brexit, I’m applying for French nationality. The citizenship test has questions like “who were France’s allies in WW1 & 2?” Staggeringly, the French government’s answer is ANGLETERRE. No mention of the Commonwealth or British Empire. My Scottish grandfather fought in northern France all through WW1. His oldest son was blown to bits in June 1944 on a beach in Normandy.
Another question is “Who built Versailles?” The official answer is Louis XIV, not the army of artisans and future sans-culottes who toiled away between 1661 and 1715 transforming a former hunting lodge into a 2300 room palace set in 800 landscaped hectares, where frolicking wigged and de-frocked aristocrats cavorted gaily among the fountains.
To become French I need to know about French culture, be able to talk about my favourite Brigitte Bardot film and sing a song about slitting throats and watering fields with impure blood written when France was at war with Austria. The white in bleu-blanc-rouge symbolises the king, though the French decapitated him.
To tell children the world is a secure and logical place is to lie to them.
It’s left to courageous, huge-hearted, hard-working international volunteers to feed migrants and refugees camping out in northern France. The official Calais camp was bulldozed. Authorities have now banned community kitchens from distributing thousands of desperately needed meals daily, on grounds of health.
I knew the mosquito was there but was too engrossed in eating an oatcake I’d loaded with salted butter and local mountain honey to set my usual, generally effective trap. Which I now regret. Somewhere there’s a mosquito flying about with a quart of my blood in its system. And my legs are an itchy, swelling mess.