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Diary

Diary

Susan Hill opens her diary

1 July 2009

12:00 AM

1 July 2009

12:00 AM

Some friends home-school their three children and hats off to them. I was the sort of cruel, wicked mother who required hers to be out of the house for three full terms a year and could never have taught them round the kitchen table. They do it because their children are bright and have inquiring minds and were held back by the misplaced egalitarianism, poor intellectual diet and political diktats of their state schools. They are not socially isolated, as they enjoy a merry-go-round of sports and arts clubs and classes, but they are streets ahead in their learning and not subjected to a strident PC agenda that also regards the acquisition of pure knowledge as elitist, to be replaced by that of assorted ‘skills’. So they read with trepidation of a government threat to subject home-schooling to a new regulatory regime requiring strict compliance. In my leftie youth I marched to Aldermaston and to abolish capital punishment. I would do the latter again. I would march carrying a ‘Hands off home-schooling’ banner too.

An ancient Chinese sage (whom even Google cannot identify for me) said that there was nothing more delightful to watch than ‘two kittens playing in a bowl’. Five kittens playing in a wastepaper basket come close. We are rarely without puppies and kittens here, and this lot, Iolanthe’s children, were born in my wardrobe, where they remained tucked up with her for four weeks, at which point they realised that, though Narnia could not be reached from the back, an interesting world awaited them out front. When three kittens fell out of the wardrobe, I removed them and they rampaged in my bedroom, which was when they found the waste-paper basket and all climbed in. It rolled. They froze. But panic soon gave way to glee and they rolled about for the delightful half-hour I spent watching them. At five the next morning they learned to climb on the bed and pad across my face and were banished to the spare room. I do miss them.


Swallows nest in our barns but one year they failed to re-appear. ‘Ah, swallows,’ said a knowledgeable friend, ‘they’ll be back.’ They were and they are this year. Swifts are not. The nearby market town always has swifts screaming through the streets, soaring over town hall and church tower, and Stratford-upon-Avon, 12 miles away, is famous for them. This year I have not seen one. I peer hopefully into the sky willing them to appear, and remembering a dear friend who said their return to Stratford every May made her heart soar. Though we still miss Shirley, I am glad she is not alive to see swiftless skies, for that would surely have broken her heart. Why they are not back is a mystery. Speculate as you will but I pray next year sees their return or I fear for my own heart.

Beating the recession, our local builder is employing many new workers, thanks to three huge projects involving a former rectory, two farmhouses and some moneyed folk. Modest dwellings which nestled appropriately in folds of this beautiful landscape are being tripled in size, clock towers and indoor pool edifices added right and left. I daresay they will mellow, and as they provide work, it’s an ill wind… We have not enlarged or gentrified our shabby old stone farmhouse. We can’t afford to and we love it as it is, but I don’t begrudge the rich their toys, though I do question the need for imposing new gateways, with vast stone pillars, overwrought iron and tons of scrunchy gravel. What is wrong with a modest grassy track, wooden gate and old stone yard? I would ask one of the new owners, but they all live abroad and do not plan to be here much. Local rumour has one owning five other properties round the world. I couldn’t sleep at night.

When I signed up to Facebook certain people jeered. Apparently it was only for the young. Well not any more. Some use it to promote their work, others collect Facebook friends like stamps but never post anything, which seems rather pointless. I have simply made some good friends whose cyber-company I enjoy a couple of times a day. Many of us are writers who work alone and enjoy a social moment with our coffee. And no, Facebook is not just for sad people without any flesh-and-blood friends — its function is different. I have American friends whose posts about their daily lives and opinion, weather, families and localities are endlessly interesting. It has expanded my horizons and introduced me to some delightful people — so, as jockeys say when interviewed after they have won the Grand National, ‘I’d just like to say hello to: Josa, James, Malcolm, Richard, Carol, Philip, Simon, Josie, Jenny, Davina, Eugenie, Victoria, Maureen…’

Yesterday, I saw a hare and its leveret, a deer and its fawn, a rabbit and about a thousand children, a fox and cubs, plus a flycatcher, a buzzard, two painted ladies, and a field ready to be cut for hay and full of poppies, ox-eye daisies, wild mallow, buttercups, cornflowers and more — and all within a quarter of a mile radius of the house. It felt as if we lived in the wilderness, not a long stone’s throw from the village, and seven from the London train. Laudate dominum.


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