In this freewheeling Swiss village of the 1950s, the unconventional was the norm and monumental drinking commonplace, but the manners of the players were always impeccable. Yes, there were ladies of lower-class parentage and with a dubious past, but they covered it up with a grand manner and an affected aristocratic confidence they had learned through experience. That’s how things were back then. The slags that pass as celebrities today would not have lasted a minute.
In 1984 I was 27. Since leaving school I had done unskilled manual labour, when I could get any. Then l worked as a nursing assistant and then a trainee nurse in an 840-bed psychiatric hospital at Goodmayes in Essex, formerly the West Ham Lunatic Asylum. It was like a walled town. I ate, slept and socialised in there and became institutionalised and a bit mad, I believe.
In ordinary life, among relatively sane people, one becomes fairly confident about the parameters of so-called normal human behaviour.
Strangely enough, I was in the middle of writing an article about the tactics used by the RSPCA when another animal charity knocked on my door. A young man holding a clipboard was standing on the doorstep, grinning enthusiastically: ‘Hello! I’m from Battersea Dogs Home.’
‘Hello,’ I said, ‘I’m a bit busy.’ Exposing animal welfare charities for preying on innocent people. I didn’t say that last bit out loud.
‘I just need to tell you,’ he said, ‘that we’ve got a big fundraising drive because a lot of dogs are being abandoned at the moment.
Mrs Oakley returned from her latest book club with an uplifting story. The Mother Superior of an Irish convent was 95 and failing. On her deathbed she asked for a drink and a nun went for fresh milk. Espying the bottle of John Jameson occasionally used by the visiting Father O’Shaughnessy for refreshment, Sister Agnes poured a generous measure into the cup of milk. As the Mother Superior drank, one of the nuns asked her what piece of advice she would leave them with for their lives ahead.
As the holidays draw to a close, Italian newspapers have been reporting with perplexity and distaste on the outlandish behaviour of foreign tourists in Italy, by which they mean young people from northern European countries. One report told of a couple making love in broad daylight on a bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice, the Ponte degli Scalzi (which, as a commentator pointed out, means ‘Bridge of the Barefooted’, not ‘Bridge of the Bare-bottomed’).
I wouldn’t describe myself as a veteran of the summer festival circuit, but I’ve been to enough to have a theory about them. Or, rather, discuss someone else’s — in this case that of Matthew Taylor, head of the RSA.
For those readers who’ve never been to a festival, I will begin with a short primer. They usually take place in a muddy field over a long weekend, often in the grounds of a stately home or similar, and cost upwards of £200 to attend.
Some years ago, when the last Conservative government was limping towards defeat, someone published a book called 101 Uses for a John Major. It was cruel and fairly funny, the premise being that since he couldn’t run his party, there must be some other way he could be employed. Perhaps an Indian publisher is considering a new version after the country wilted in the Test series this summer: 101 Uses for a Duncan Fletcher.
Q. My neighbour is really lovely and always helps me chainsaw trees. He used to be the herdsman at the farm but was laid off last summer when they sold the herd, so now he is unemployed. Friends from London often borrow my cottage when I am away and I am sure my neighbour would welcome £10 a time to collect them from the station. He is now being paid a small monthly amount to keep the garden in order for the new owners of the Big House but I don’t want to seem grand or patronising by asking if he would be interested in regular taxi work as well.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: the city is full of glassy-eyed narcissists eating haggis pizza off flyers that say Michael Gove: Prick. I saw the Grim Reaper in the Pleasance Courtyard, of all places. Even Death likes an audience these days, has a media strategy, an agent, a gimmick. But this is not a review of comics — mating habits and most likely mental illnesses or ‘conditions’, plus hats — disguised as a review of the food that comics eat.
‘Our first priority,’ David Cameron said this week, ‘has of course been to deal with the acute humanitarian crisis in Iraq.’ One knows what he means, but isn’t humanitarian an odd way of putting it? If it had been a vegetarian crisis or a disestablishmentarian crisis, it would be one either caused or suffered by people who professed either of those schools of thought.
Humanitarians used to be people who followed the teachings of Pierre Leroux (1797–1871), who believed in the spontaneous perfectibility of the human race.
Forgive the figure curled like a question mark in the corner
no one speaks his language
He tried to read a newspaper and failed, print swimming
like tadpoles in a jar
At night he speaks to Napoléon of empires and dying horses
in the day-room he recalls his wife
She comes as ghosted as a footballer’s memoir, her face a jigsaw
puzzle he can’t resolve
In Occupational Therapy he’s made a basket, a crazy weave
to hold his ashes; he doodles poems
On toilet paper when no one’s around, the paper splits
words sliced and snowing on the pissy tiles.