Words can lead one along fascinating paths. Scarborough lies on the cliffs not far from where I live. It is an intriguing coastline that has inspired great writers. Ann Bronte, the lesser-known Bronte sister, died in Scarborough where she had gone to be cured of consumption or tuberculosis. Fresh air was supposed to ease the suffering, if not cure the disease. It did neither, and the inevitable distance from family and friends may have made it more acute. When at school I was asked to write about the time in the past when I would have liked to live, I jettisoned the dream of being a contemporary of Shakespeare, Donne, Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, not to mention the explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh, who appears in my family tree, to choose the only wise answer – the present. Now the advances in medical knowledge give one hope of living longer and with less physical suffering.
What I miss is what must have been the intense excitement of life focussed on one’s own community, leavened by the tales of travellers. No radio, and especially no television – bliss? My grandfather recounted how he fought in the first world war, having joined the Canadian army while sowing his wild oats as a lumberjack. He had many a tale to tell of those times, one being of his stay with an older forester in a log cabin. They finished the meal and he offered to wash the plates. ‘No need,’ his host replied, ‘I put them outside the door and the dogs do it.’ Grandfather retrieved them after his host had gone to sleep and surreptitiously soaped and rinsed them under the outside tap. Those who had the means to travel frequently kept a diary to record their experiences to dish up to family and friends and savour again in their warm company. With the radio, sound conveyed news and one could freely conjure up a visual context created within one’s own kaleidoscope of lived experience. It was quicker and sharper than the written word, obliterating the timescale allowing the reader to look away from the page – or screen – to think. To absorb knowledge in the context of experience.
In these troubled times, I wonder whether values shared with family and friends cocoon one from the reality of other lives. All news is inevitably partial. I go on regular walks alone to try to think and fill the gaps and understand why others hold, equally tenaciously, life-changing convictions that I cannot share, convinced that they will harm us all. But still, relentlessly, I cannot believe that accepting a wrong decision – still wrong even if voted for by a narrow majority – should be something that I must now support.
Last weekend, during a coffee break in the local library, I went over to speak to someone who had been in the same book group until she had an accident. I wanted to find out how she was, my intention being to make light conversation. I can’t recall how it turned political, but she abruptly moved away saying that it was about time people showed some consideration for the Prime Minister who was always being ‘brushed aside’. Could anyone ever brush Boris Johnson aside? ‘Do or die,’ Boris charges on, heedless. He is known to have told lies many a time, but it seems to make no difference to him or his supporters. ‘At least he makes things happen,’ they say, even if it is not in the way he – or we – expect!