MAKING my way through town the other day, I came across a lone busker apparently addressing a large, invisible crowd. “Thank you all so much for coming. You’ve been a great audience! Catch me again on Saturday. And now here’s one last number . . ., ” he was saying.
Feeling sorry that nobody had actually stopped to listen, I approached, only to realise that he was talking to the phone clipped to his music stand. He was live on Instagram. I left him to his presumably vast, but physically absent, fanbase and went on with my shopping.
I don’t know why I was surprised — as a writer, I do much the same thing, typing furiously to invisible readers waiting on the other side of a screen, but I think I would feel silly doing it in the middle of the marketplace.
I ENJOYED a domestic triumph this week: I cleared out the understairs cupboard. It had been full of odds and ends in doom boxes since our move in September (DOOM, I discovered on the internet, stands for Didn’t Organise, Only Moved — which describes far too many areas of our house). Now, however, the cupboard would be spacious enough to house a boy wizard; or at least to walk to the very back of it and hang up a coat. Henry Hoover no longer falls out on me when I open it.
There’s something disheartening, though, about spending all morning, during a heatwave, sweatily performing an arduous task that not a single member of the family would have noticed without my pointing it out to them. If a tree falls in the forest, it still makes a sound, but if a woman cleans inside a cupboard, it may as well not have happened at all. Whenever I walk through the front hall, I open the cupboard door and have a little peek inside, just to make all the effort worth it.
I HAVE been researching a character named Jankyn Smyth, in preparation for telling his story at the annual commemoration of his generous gifts to Bury St Edmunds, and St Mary’s, in particular. In the 15th century, the powerful Benedictine abbey imposed a pernicious tax on the townspeople at each appointment of a new abbot: a huge amount of money known as “the cope silver”, and universally hated.
Smyth paid the entire levy out of his own pocket three times in his lifetime, and then left sufficient lands and funds in his will for the town never to have to shoulder it again. The endowment was for any tax, local or national, imposed on the town, which was thus enabled to survive the Reformation and outlast the abbey; the remainder of the legacy was adapted into a charity that still supports almshouses today.
Sadly, almost all we know about Smyth comes from his will: an enormous list of property, seeming to comprise half of Suffolk. He goes down in history as a hero, and the abbey as the villain, simply on the evidence that, while Smyth was both rich and open-handed, the abbey was merely rich.
WHY is it so much harder to be an interviewer than an interviewee? I wasn’t warned: I went into filming a book trailer with the author Annie Try, thinking that it would be a breeze. Instead, I fumbled my questions, talked too much, and felt my face gradually turning to plastic. What are you to do with your face while you’re listening to an answer but still horribly conscious of a camera pointing at you?
My growing embarrassment was compounded by the fact that we were sitting on adjustable stools for the interview: Annie’s stool behaved impeccably, but mine had lost the bit that held the top in place; so, every time I gestured too expansively, I went whizzing round like a fidget spinner.
At least I don’t have to do the job of editing the chaotic result. If there’s one thing I like less than being watched by a camera, it’s having to watch myself. Thankfully, the focus will be on the infinitely patient Annie and her new book.
Rites of passage
WE HAVE reached the end of the school year — which, this year, is also the end of primary school for my son. At this point in the term, I cannot function without lists, alarms set on my phone, and notes scrawled on the backs of both hands. The boy came home last Friday and announced an forthcoming local history project, science fair, and Year 6 musical performance, for which I would need to provide a pirate costume — by Monday.
Parents are invited to all these events; so work is on hold for the next two weeks. Once I have created a buccaneer’s outfit, supervised the building of a Heron’s fountain, and thoroughly researched the architecture of 18th-century prisons, I shall be able to go and join all the other beleaguered parents in praising the results.
I have to admit, despite my grousing, that I will miss being able to be so involved in my children’s lives. With both of them in secondary school — and communicating in adolescent monosyllables — I’ll be wishing that I could be a fly on the walls of their days. Since, sadly, earthly parents are not all-seeing, I shall just have to trust them to the God who is.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.