Led by the nose
CHEESE (of the noisome variety) seems to be becoming a theme. A recent
house-guest brought the Beloved a present of a goats' cheese, in prime
condition. The grateful recipient, about to disappear to a residential meeting,
reported with satisfaction that he'd found the perfect place to store the
cheese until his return.
After he'd gone, led by a peculiarly pungent aroma, I discovered where he'd
left it: suspended from the laundry-airer, which was - of course - covered in
All our yesterdays
NUMBER ONE SON has left school. Thanks to a handsome scholarship, he went
away to board for his sixth-form career: he (and we) agonised over whether it
was the right step for him, but he has had two of the best years of his life.
They slid past astonishingly quickly - partly, of course, because the second
half of the summer term evaporates in study leave and public exams.
On the last morning of term, the school reassembled all its leavers for a
final chapel service - brief, but beautifully judged - and I realised how much
it mattered (to the parents, let alone to the leavers themselves) that there
should be some formal recognition of this rite of passage.
In the 19th-century chapel, its walls crammed with memorials, history cast a
long shadow. As Brit-ain commemorated the 60th anniversary of the end of the
Second World War, I thought of the mothers of all the other sons who'd gone out
from that place, full of hope, to face all too short a future. But it wasn't
just a nostalgia-trip: the thought was given immediacy by the terrible
carnage of the London suicide bombs, only 48 hours earlier.
THEN I was thankful as never before for mobile phones. Three of the children
were due to be making their way home across London by public transport that
day, and the fourth on foot: at least a mobile phone gives you the possibility
of direct contact. Or so I thought.
Phone lines were jammed (some of the capacity was reserved for the emergency
services). Text messages got through - eventually - though many messages were
of the "r u OK?" variety from friends outside London. (When a message came from
someone simply trying to confirm a social arrangement here next January, I was
so cross that I almost pulled the plug on the whole thing.)
We were among the lucky ones. Eventually, that evening, we were all reunited
and able to share our experiences of the day. It was clear that the
War of the Worlds-type stories that, fuelled by lack of real
information, had swept through schools were even more alarming than the truth,
however horrific. At Number Two daughter's school, pupils had offset
their sense of powerlessness by holding a prayer meeting in the playground.
"Thank God", I said, meaning it, "that you'd all got your phones."
Or not: it transpired that most of the calls had been made on phones
belonging to friends. Out of a total of four, one phone had been left at home,
two of the other phones needed charging - and the fourth had run out of credit.
THAT, of course, was only the beginning (and especially for the families and
friends of those who died. How do you begin to accept that a loved one was
simply obliterated in such circumstances?). Since then, we've had scares,
evacuations, and controlled explosions. (A particular highlight was when Number
One daughter was evacuated on to the street in her leopard-print dressing gown,
to the edification of the occupants of surrounding offices.)
The roads are busier, despite the school holidays and the increased
congestion charge: huge swathes of people have abandoned the Underground in
favour of cars, buses, and (especially) bikes. Ken Livingstone's promise of
free bus journeys for under-16s looks like an idea whose time has come. And yet
what you see and hear around you is solidarity, and imagination, and
resilience. I've never been prouder to be a Londoner, nor had a stronger sense
of what a great, global city this is.
In the beginning
TELEVISION reception here is temperamental, surrounded as we are by much
taller buildings. A recent episode of The Simpsons cut out abruptly,
and the picture was replaced by fizzing horizontal lines.
Number Two son (fresh from reading Bill Bryson's
A Short History of Nearly Everything) observed that two per cent of
the static on the screen is apparently made up of the radiation from Big Bang
Unmoved by this intelligence, I got up to switch off the television. He
looked at me reproachfully.
"You don't seem to realise", he said solemnly, "that I was just watching the
birth of the universe."