Curious business being ill, especially in a place so full of activity as a boarding school where the sense of your own immobile hopelessness is so marked by comparison with the activity that surrounds you – and that you are missing out on. The flu lurgy confines me to bed during the day and to doing little but sleeping, half listening to Radio 4 and trying to be patient. In the evenings, I give way to the Christmas present box set of the Wire and start that journey – dangerously compelling, I have been advised. I soon see why – and it has an intriguing educational sub-plot.
Whether it is because my dopey mind is especially alert to past remembrance or the simple happenstance of what’s on the radio, but I find myself being drawn back into childhood memories.
Here is Joan Bakewell, talking about the Arts and her role in bringing discussion of them onto television. In taking the time to listen to her story, my mother’s admiration for her in the early 1970s as representative of a new kind of woman makes yet more sense. Then there are more Wogan tributes and I find myself back in my first study at school – which seemed to my 15 year old mind like a pasha’s chamber but was no doubt a horrid little box – listening to Radio 2 and loving the dry, suave Terry wit. And (here we go again), most poignant of all, now it’s the radio adaptation of The Forsyte Saga and I am back watching my parents watching the ITV series on Sunday evenings in 1967. I see some of it – very much over their shoulders. They are clearly transfixed and have mixed feelings about my interest: my 10 year old self can’t quite understand why on either score, but I am aware of their discomfort over something horrible that Soames does. The word “affair” seems to be around a lot, accompanied by many adults looking at their shoes. Hasn’t Eric Porter/Soames got an unnaturally lined cheek? And don’t those lovely women (Susan Hampshire and Nyree Dawn Porter) look far too nice for those opinionated men?
I think I read somewhere that you can only start to see your parents’ lives fully as history when both are dead – have ‘turned to past’, as that master of unrosy remembrance, Philip Larkin puts it. Having therefore been in that category since mid October, I can see the truth of that. I also suspect that we prepare our young people too little for the shut of loss that comes with losing loved ones – and here is a pledge to do more on that front at Bedales.
Which brings me to a little furry fellow I didn’t love but was fond of and has been a bit player in this blog – the small whitish West Highland terrier, Ailsa, who joined us shortly after we moved here in September 2001 and who met a peaceful end yesterday having just managed her morning constitutional and climbed the hill in Cobb’s Field for the last time. She has featured in my annual dog assembly every June for the past few years, most notably when I began the assembly holding her (freshly barbered and unnaturally white) up to the troops with the words “I do not love this dog!” My statement was met by sighs whose verbal equivalent was: “Keith you hard-hearted fellow.” I think the assembly was about the stretch in the word ‘love’ and a dogs’ role in helping us understand what and who really do matter.