‘My mutt Maggie because she gets to spoon my eldest daughter ‘Ripley’ every night.’ Thandie Newton, in My London, last night.
‘Come away, oh human child?/To the waters and the wild/With a faery hand in hand,/For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.’ Yeats
Alex, our son, sometime, in the eighties.
I thought I’d never have anything to blog again but Thandie Newton’s answer in the Evening Standard coalesced my inchoate thoughts. (People keep asking how I have the time to blog; slowly the answer has come. It’s my new hobby. Somehow, writing into the ether and not knowing who might find it, is the incentive.) It has become addictive. Not the writing but the intriguing processes of inner observation as to what it will be, outside of myself, that provokes me into writing again when I feel empty.
Newton’s answer inspires more thoughts, which include that two of my ‘luxuries’ have become the foundations of this blog. My first luxury is to read the dreadful Evening Standard Friday Magazine because it evokes such envy in me through its miasma of ‘easy’ success, beauty, money and the good life. I can allow myself to envy youth without doing any harm. ENVY by Giotto ( Envy emitteth some malign and poisonous spirit which taketh hold of the life of another…For he that cannot possibly mend his own case will do what he can to impair another’s.’ The essays or counsels, civil and moral, of Francis Bacon.)
But, I genuinely love the cosmology of souls and their tastes that are served up onto its regular platter My London.
Taking minicabs, and it’s minicab drivers – with their amazing salad bowl ethnicity – rather than black cabs – that delight me, is my second luxury. I don’t care how rickety the cab is (ideally, I should like one of those Charing Cross rickshaws to pick me up from work). I hop in and surrender to what is often appalling driving without a murmur, which is not like me. I’m a dreadful back seat driver, due to some hefty car accidents in which, whoever was driving our car, was not the offender. I never put on the seat belt in a cab, or grit my teeth at some of the narrow red-light escapes, I just let it all be, which is my third luxury.
I almost never take the tube, the thought of being suspended with strangers without oxygen in a tunnel petrifies me; the rare exception is when I’m accompanied by a friend that I am willing to die with, if not for. When I’m avoiding luxury, I’m keen on buses and it’s then, when I’m on the 189 – which goes in a straight line from Baker Street to the Abbey Road – I sometimes witness affecting human interactions.
I identify with Newton’s ‘spooning Mutt’ because Lucy also spoons every night, except she’s as hot as I am on a crowded tube.
What ‘gets me’ about Newton’s choice is that it expresses her love for her child, through her nostalgic observation that it’s become more appropriate for Mutt Maggie to spoon than mother. (That is, if you are OK with letting dogs into beds.) Newton tells me what I already know: there are some mothers, though it’s not true of all, whose lives are transformed by their intense love for their children, in unimaginable ways which continue evolving forever. (Some fathers, too.)
There is a debate to be had, which is as fascinating to me as the medieval courtly debate about which is the more inspiring role: to love or to be loved, and the more commonplace nurture/nature debate, which is: Is it possible to be as devoted a partner as a parent, or does one inevitably dominate? In a cliché, come seven o’clock, is it the canapés or the children?
Back to the 189. It’s become a bus route that as I pass the turning for Bell Street market I expect the odd tethered goat to clamber on, or a basketful of cockerel. Last week an elderly and artisanal-looking couple clambered. I think they were both close to eighty, which when multiplied is 160 years of life. The man, who had once been tall, must have fallen because his chin was strapped in plaster and if one looked closely, which I do, there was a leaking scintilla of ruby blood. His clothes were as worn as his face but what made him precious was his energy. His wife, as fat as he was lean, was wearing trainers and it was too easy to imagine that walking had become a chore. She was exhausted and I started to imagine her arriving home and sinking into her favourite chair, with a sigh. Perhaps, forever.
There was nothing particular about them except for the man’s energy and his brow, beaker full of intelligence, which still carried intimations of an inner child. His hair was lank-stranded and his watery eyes, although faded, were blazed with ancestral pride. He was carrying a child. His wife turned to me and started to complain about how hot the buses had become, except I thought that it was she who was hot and very tired. Soon, she found another seat at the front of the bus and left her husband to entertain their grandchild. A divine boy, maybe eighteen months, but he was, for certain, beautiful and with perhaps an oriental slant to his ivory skin and shiny beetle-glee eyes.
He was learning to talk and his long, unintelligible, sentences of cadent sound bedazzled his grandfather. (And me.) Together, along with whoops of dancing joy and recognition, they commented on everything that took their eye. The man held his grandson aloft as if he was a diadem. No, not as if, he was his diadem of joy.
Sometimes, the child’s delight at a passing dog, or the onset of rain was so effervescent that he bellowed down the bus to his grandmother for her confirmation, but she was slumped and still too exhausted to reply.
I thought, ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress.’ Yeats.
Snapshot of a Daughter – spooned – in 1973