02 November 2006


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 clean washing.

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.

Found wanting

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.

Eternal city

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 itself.

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."

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