A Vacant House Falls Quickly Apart
I can well understand how a person who has been deserted or ignored for much if not all of their lives would suspect, after a very short period of time, that nothing has changed, that this relationship – in whatever form it might be – is going to go the same direction as all the others. Once you have experienced a certain way of life, it is hard to imagine any other, or you imagine that the better way belongs to others, to their world of Happy Ending films and romance novels of the cheaper kind. In one respect, though, I can put your mind to rest and assure you: I don’t give upon people quite so easily. I seem to have an infinite level of patience for some things: old ladies at the cash register, counting out their pennies; a bus delayed, a train a few minutes late; children’s imaginary tea parties. I have little or no patience with myself, in most things, but can almost always find an excuse for why someone else has not managed to complete a task, or has not been in touch. That is, until I know that person well enough to tell when they are playing games, and when things happen which are beyond their control. In this case I know that you are sending your letters through a third-party, and your reasons for doing so, and so a letter written on 5 November is going to take a few days longer to get here when sent than one which has been sent direct. And my level of patience with myself means that I tend to write back on the day I receive a letter or, at the latest within two days.
I am constantly amazed at the level of neglect which goes on in our civilised world. At times it seems to me as if what we call the third world nations, those with a lesser level of society, those without all the riches and wealth, the education and social facilities we have, are better managers of their own lives and those of the families than we are. Of course there are constant stories of abuse, of the caste system in India, for example, or the destruction of a complete race, a people, in Myanmar simply because they are of a different religion – and that under the government of a woman awarded a Nobel for being a Human Right’s fighter. And then I think about some of the things we hear about in our own, advanced society, and wonder how far we have come since the days of caves and hunting animals for food. We are a society where privilege rules the roost, where money has power even where it should take a second or third place in the rankings, where justice is constantly abused, ignored, thwarted.
I read about all the women, and no one can tell me this is a new thing, who have been sexually abused, harassed, raped by those around them, by those in a position of trust, and who are only now able to tell their stories and reveal society for what it is. White male privilege in a society of theoretical equals, although we all know and accept that there is no equality so long as those in power see their own advantage being threatened and dampen or damn any attempt at change. And how can a society function when those who get to decide the punishment for wrongdoing, are those who must be tried for breaching the law, for abusing and molesting those in their care, within their sphere of trust? Perhaps this is the one single advantage of the internet: it allows those who have been pushed back, who have had no voice in the past, to air their grievances, and forces those who have abused their position out into the open and, hopefully, towards justice for their victims.
On a night the wind loosened a shingle and flipped it to the ground. The next wind pried into the hole where the shingle had been, lifted off three, and the next, a dozen.
Until, taking it further than John Steinbeck did in The Grapes of Wrath, the roof is bare and there is no more protection. The shingles are the individual people coming forth now, telling their stories, prying off the roof of respectability, of protection so many have used to shield their wrongdoings from justice. And one day, hopefully the house these people inhabited, the society they built on injustice and illegality, will be no more.
The houses were vacant, and a vacant house falls quickly apart.
You may well say that this movement now does not help us, that our history cannot be changed and we will carry the burden of our memories for the rest of our lives, and that is true. But, with our experience, don’t we want to protect our children and future generations from experiencing what we have? This is the answer I give to all those who shout back and claim that the problems, the accusations go back too many years, that they are all in the past and should be forgotten. Time has moved on, they say, but we know society has not and so we must speak out, and we must take action, and we must exhibit our pain and embarrassment to prevent the pain and embarrassment of our future selves. We do not humiliate ourselves by exposing the criminals who abuse children, who rape and molest women, we gain strength as more and more people come forward and reveal the truth.
Although I do have several awards for different things that I have done over the years, the photograph I sent you is one where I was presenting a metal shield to our town for display on the May Tree each year. The ‘medal’ I am wearing around my neck is not something we are awarded, but a symbol denoting which Lodge we belong to, each one, like a British Lord or other high and mighty with a title, has its own badge or coat of arms or trade mark, if you like. Mine, at the time, was for the Lodge I helped to found and build here, and is one of several I have had the privilege to wear over the years. I now get to wear no badges of the sort, having moved on and – some would say – up and being the designated person watching over a district with several different Lodges. The medals I have received, for military service, I do not wear: they are kept safe in a small drawer hidden away somewhere, or perhaps in a box of memories, I’m not sure.
I’m not sure whether there is any one particular country I would like to go back to or live in again, each one has its own innate beauties and attractions, and each one brings back one memory or another from a time long ago. Going back would also not be the same, as times have changed and all the people I knew back then, those I shared my time and the many experiences with, have moved on t new things in their lives. We are none of us the same as we were. There was a time when I could have given up everything and settled in Central America, and been quite happy in a shared wooden house, near a canal, without running water or any form of water-bound facilities, sheltering from hurricanes now and then, going out to parties in a nearby garage where the alcohol was home-made, and the music too. Then I think of the times I had in Belfast, spending hours with musicians and artists. Or in Cyprus, exploring the history of the country as much as the pleasures of brandy sours. Or any of the countries I have visited here in Europe with their histories and traditions and the differing cultures to be explored and lived. I’m not sure that I want to be out in the desert in Saudi Arabia again, that was a completely different form of life. And, again, going back to live in something we knew in the past? I’m not sure that it would work out.
I’m often asked why I left London, why I don’t want to go back and live there since, for many people, it is the centre of a cultural world almost without compare. It is difficult to explain to them that London is wonderful, as are so many other cities around the world, but it is also a pleasure to come home at night and have peace and quiet around you. It is also a pleasure to be out on the streets of your own home town – as this one is now for me – and know people, greet them, and be able to pass the time of day with them. I have the advantage now that I can travel easily anywhere within Europe, and there are three major cities with all that a person interested in culture and an intellectual life could desire within driving distance. While I was still in England, I discovered I was seeing more of the cultural life of London after I had moved out, than in the many years when I lived there, within the city boundaries. I hadn’t even seen those sights which were directly in my neighbourhood, and I lived in the very centre of town, within spitting distance of Buckingham Palace, for many years.
Nowadays, with all my cultural interests, I am often asked why settle in such a small town in the middle of nowhere? And my answer is that which I gave above: I’ve seen more of the cultural life since moving out of the city, than when I lived in it. I take the bus into Bremen regularly, and visit the museums – yesterday being one of those days, when I went to a new exhibition on Japan. If I want to stay out a bit longer, go to the theatre or something similar, then I take my car. If I want to have a few drinks there too, then I pack my sleeping bag in the car! I am, you see, at that age where I don’t automatically think I’ll be able to find a bed for the night through the use of my charms and good looks. Those days are also long gone.
As to my favourite place, that is an impossible question to answer. I enjoyed Venice, but could have stayed on the beach in Rimini longer. Berlin was fun, but Magdeburg draws me too, as do many of the other, much smaller, towns and villages in the former East Germany. Paris, fine, no comparison. Nicosia, Belize City, London, Munich, Turin, Madrid, Gstaad, Hamburg: so many choices, so many good points, so many reasons not to pick them and to continue and explore as many more as possible. But there is always something around the corner, something new, potentially exciting, which draws those who are awake to the possibilities of the future away from re-living the memories of the past. Memories, for me, are when life is at an end, or just about, and movement is no longer possible. Regaling my great great great grandchildren with tales of the good times that were, and raising their own interests to the good times they will live in their lives, if they get off their butts and leave whatever technologically advanced games are on sale in their times alone.
And, yes, my backyard is beautiful in many ways, but what is on the other side of the fence has much to offer too. Bearing this in mind, I tried something completely new last week and went to see a performance of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew by the Bolshoi Ballet. It is said that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks but, as I seem to be proving with experiments on myself, this old dog seems to be quite keen on learning new things. I hadn’t imagined that sitting for over two hours watching a few people dance across a stage with no words of explanation or text would do anything for me, and I was wrong. It seems strange to watch a play, which is the essence of words and dialogue, being performed to music and without those sounds we have come to expect, but the dialogue was there nonetheless, just through gestures and symbolism instead of words. So I have now discovered, in late years, an interest in ballet which, fortunately, can easily be satiated each month with a new performance of some play, musical or drama. The Christmas performance is, naturally, The Nutcracker which, for ballet, is the Christmas story and then, in January, a brand new interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. I’m not yet sure whether I will go the whole hog and try listening to opera as well, although the offer is there and I can get to performances at the Royal Opera House in London with no problems whatsoever – at the moment. Whether that will be true after the United Kingdom has left Europe remains to be seen, but there are other opera houses, as well as many suitably large theatres which can host ballet performances. Strange the twists and turns life brings with it.
And as if that wasn’t enough, there is always letter writing and literature to fill the darkening evenings, the cold nights. And, of course, the promise of spring is lurking in the air, just around the corner. Perhaps this is a surprising thing for someone to write just as winter begins, as we are looking forward to the first snow, as temperatures plummet and my neighbour’s pond freezes, but I was awakened this morning by the flutter of mini wings on my window pane, on the inside, which brought the thoughts of warmer weather to my mind. Although it isn’t the season, not by a long shot, I will be sharing my house not only with a cat for the winter months, but also with a butterfly.