Upstairs one of our visitors is playing one of the pianos. It’s a cousin’s
sixtieth birthday and our house is hosting the overflow. We all had dinner
together yesterday, a full table. At this age conversation focuses less on how
to change the world and more on cataracts and strokes. For this I blame aging
and decay. Also the Leader of the Free World, who makes changing said world
seem both very important and very hard to imagine.
I don’t have a door to my office so nothing prevents people wandering down
while I’m trying to write. If this piece seems more fragmented than usual it
may be because I’ve answered questions about where someone’s glasses are and
whether or not now would be a good time to walk the dog. Why they don’t ask
Hamish, I’m not sure; it’s always a good time to walk the dog. He played with
a young border collie earlier in the week and discovered he’s not quite as
fleet as the wind.
Now they’re singing, “Sunrise-Sunset.”
Reading Alan Bennett’s letters haphazardly is also a fragmented experience;
life is reported as a series of postcards from a world distant from mine in
time and space. Often I enjoy this but the downside is that if a day or so
after I first read something I want to find it again, I remember only that the
words came before the photograph of the filming of “The Lady in the Van” and
after that bit about the secret life of cows. Today I had trouble finding a
poem Bennet quotes, one by Francis Hope about the end of summer. Hope
describes the rituals of closing up accommodation in the south of France and
heading back towards autumn’s weather.
If not exactly kings
We were at least francs bourgeois, with the right
To our own slice of place and time and pleasure,
And someone else’s things.
Leaving the palace and its park
We take our common place along the road,
As summer joins the queue of other summers,
Driving towards the dark.
You can find the full text here:
Why do I want this poem now? I’ve never rented a home in the South of France,
but I was just there. And the poem is elegiac, made sadder yet by the fact
that Francis was killed in an air crash. But there’s also the fact that my
father is declining and I’m trying to decide whether to return to Britain.
I hate, “Sunrise-Sunset.”
Finally, chickens. No doubt there’s a literature on the way bird songs change
from place to place. Possibly geese honk differently when they land in the
Arctic? My small contribution to this literature is to report that I heard
from fowl in Switzerland sounds our hens don’t make. It was clear what their
intent was—inquiring into my state of being—but the interrogation was quite
different from hens hereabouts.
I mentioned this and other tales of travel to the girls.
Mimo, “Don’t know why you go off wandering when there’s everything a being
could want right here.”
Appenzeller, “Foreigners want watching.”
Pecorino, “Yes, yes.”
“Especially foxes.” I told them I’d met one at my father’s house.
Appenzeller, “And how did she behave?”
“The fox? Polite enough.”
Pecorino, “Yes, yes.”
Mimo, “Horrible beasts.”
“How do you know? We don’t have foxes in our neighborhood.”
Mimo, “We don’t have crocodiles, but they're horrible too.”
“Is there any animal beyond your ken?”
Perocino, “What’s a ken?”
“Is there any animal that hasn’t turned up in your news feed?”
Pause. General whispered consultation.
Mimo, “No, no. I don’t think we’d like that.”
Mimo, “A Gnu’s feed.”
Appenzeller, “Grass, we suppose, which would be O.K.?”
Mimo, “But with lions hiding at the edge of perception.”
Pecorino, “No, no. Don’t like that idea at all.”
“So for you…no Gnus is good news?”
Mimo (stage whisper, to no one in particular), “Off his chump.”
Mimo is reaching towards a status beyond the top of the pecking order. In the
morning I put scraps in three separate piles. She rushes from one to the next
to the next, “This one’s mine, and this one’s mine, and this one too.” Before
you know, she’ll be in the running for Leader of the Free World. Which could
be an improvement.