There are few things left in life today that people understand as an acceptable excuse for not doing something, especially when it comes to not doing something they have expected – or demanded – be done and which, given the opportunity, they wouldn’t do themselves. Quite recently I was asked by a bank teller to give him my cell phone number so that the manager, who was busy at the time, could call me at his convenience and sort out a very minor problem. I told him that a telephone call wouldn’t be possible as, through the work I was doing at the time, I would be driving and do not use my telephone when driving. This didn’t seem to bother him too much – I should note that he was about twenty years old, and clearly had a completely different understanding of necessity and legal matters – and he suggested that I could simply pull over and answer. I had no answer to this, it really was a minor matter, and told him to check with the manager why this wouldn’t happen. I heard nothing else from him about the matter, and so can assume that the manager told him what I was doing at the time, and perhaps even gave him a hint that not everyone can, or wishes to, simply pull over to take a telephone call over a minor affair of little real importance.

I have the same experiences with letter writing and reading: if I am doing them in public I am an outsider; if I am doing them in a place where people know me it will be laughed at, as being eccentric. Regardless, other people will feel it is fine to simply interrupt me and begin a conversation, disturbing my writing or reading without a care in the world, because they do not consider it important, or have absolutely no interest themselves and, therefore, cannot imagine anyone else does. Of course, if they happened to be texting someone, or otherwise on the telephone, and I interrupted them, I’d probably be the subject of a hate tirade the likes of which the world has never seen. And if we happen to be holding a conversation, no matter how deep and involved it is, many younger people today will reach for their cell phone when it rings, and answer the call in the middle of a sentence without a second thought.

All this should suggest that I am used to being interrupted by people who consider what I am doing, be it reading or writing, not to be important enough to respect, which is quite true. However, it also hints, perhaps, at the fact that I have managed to accrue a good deal of patience and most certainly appreciate that there are those in this world, whether next to me or elsewhere, who have other things to do. There are those who have their own life, their own interests and, believe it or not, other friends. Aside from which, as you recall, you sent me an electronic message a while back – in the middle of September – so claiming that you have not written sooner isn’t quite right. No, my patience is abundant: I am used to people pushing in front of me in queues; interrupting when I am talking to someone else; loading their purchased goods into a trolley before even thinking of taking out their pocketbook and paying the grocery bill, despite a long queue of people behind them; having other things which are more important than writing to me. And I am quite happy with this state of affairs. I have never considered myself to be the number one in anyone’s life – well, perhaps occasionally, but only for a short while! – and having to wait a little longer for a letter, no matter what the reason, increases the pleasure. Aside from which: it is far better that you were occupied reading than in a lockdown, as has recently happened to another friend of mine.

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights: such a wonderful title, and so many exceptional stories brought together. I will admit to having read the Burton translation, and none of the others, even though it is considered a very rich and detailed text which, for many, tends to border on the unintelligible these days. If you could get your hands on a copy of this translation, I would recommend it above all others. The first translation that you mention, however, is that by Antoine Galland which is reputed to be one of the better foreign language versions – it is French – and the basis for many later works. If you are confident with you knowledge of French, then I would recommend this translation, as it is more complete than many others. Other translations tend to leave quite a few details out, sometimes even complete stories, as the Burton version included much that was considered lewd and which was, in later printings, censored.

The version by Scott was meant to be an original translation from a copy found in Turkey, but he gave this up, considering that the work by Galland was far superior, and translated from French into English. He also added a few tales from elsewhere, which shows you how much has been dropped from the original Galland edition, for whatever reason. Andrew Lang, a Scotsman, was very involved with folklore and fairytales, writing and editing many volumes over his lifetime and also translating some of the more classic – non-folklore – tales of the past such as Homer. His Arabian Nights version came out in 1898. And I am sure Robert Louis Stevenson is a name well-known to you, for his wonderful Treasure Island if nothing else.

Personally, although I have not read these versions, I would go for the Andrew Lang translation in preference, unless your French is really good, over the Stevenson unless, of course, you manage to find a version of the Burton translation which, for me, would always be the first choice. I don’t know whether it shows you this on your listing, but the Stevenson version could well be in two separate books, as he wrote New Arabian Nights in 1882 and then More New Arabian Nights with his wife – Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson – in 1885. None of the ones you’ve listed, however, are going to be Disney, and most certainly not the Burton original, with its erotic and exotic contents, which would probably have old Walt turning in his grave and modern executive palming it off to Touchstone.

The restrictions in Virginia and Arkansas are more than just chilling, I see them as a decided attack on the limited Rights and Freedoms of human beings, which we all remain whether on the outside or the inside. I can understand the thinking behind parts of what they have done, there is a massive drug smuggling problem, but know there are far better ways of combating the problems than this. However, we cannot see inside the thinking processes, cannot comprehend the minds which have come to these decisions or the information which they have been fed, and should leave the attempts to reverse what is clearly an affront to human dignity to those with a better chance of success, and far more legal clout than we have. In other words, be grateful for what we have, and hope that no one else does anything which could change or endanger it.

Having a pet is something I have always put down to Hollywood imagination, even though I have always understood the principle and likelihood of such relationships existing. On the one hand I can see how it would work and, to a certain extent, welcome it where one person helps another. Of course, that help is linked to services rendered, of that there can be no doubt, but would the poor indigent soul have a chance of surviving otherwise? By survival I mean on a mental health plane as much as a physical one: the stress of worrying where the next hygiene item is coming from, of knowing that there is no one else out there, of being completely alone and then, as so often happens for the weakened, susceptible to the attacks and vilification of others can take its toll very quickly. That she would be very protective of her position, as a pet or whatever one cares to call it, is clear: why take a chance of someone else moving in on your territory, taking away your Sugar Daddy? And, in her position, I can well understand why she’d want to scare off anyone else, regardless of whether they are a real threat or not. Still, it is a shame to lose a good contact, someone to talk to. Perhaps she, the donor, the pet owner, will come round eventually, see that a friendship is being destroyed, and rein her toy in a little? I know quite a few people here who are very protective of their relationships, extreme jealousy, and find it sad for the relationship itself, which suffers, and for the person who, clearly, has so little self-worth and trust inside themselves, that they’d risk losing everything in the mistaken belief that they are providing protection.

And sometimes the best way to win back a friendship is to firstly demonstrate that you wish it and, secondly, to show that you can live without if needs be. A person who is independent, shows her own will and intelligence is a far better prize than anyone else. There are some people it is a pleasure to be with, to be friends with, for their presence more than anything else. I would choose a good conversationalist without a penny to his or her name over someone who buys me meals, but cannot talk about anything below the surface of general understanding.

I, of course, wasn’t there. Living in Europe has its advantages as well as disadvantages, and so the eclipse passed me and millions of other people by. That said, we had a total eclipse of the sun back at the end of the Nineties, at a time when I was dating a French woman, and I travelled down to Strasbourg to witness the event. The whole thing, as you can imagine, was one great big party, with everyone taking the day off, beer tents and food stands all around the town. There was, as today in the United States, a special stamp issued by the French postal service but, sadly, not one which changed colours when a little body heat was applied. I stood in a back garden in France and watched the whole thing from beginning to end – it was quick, as you know – but with the added benefit of a glass of French wine in my hand, and plenty of wonderful French cheeses awaiting my attention after the spectacle. Yes, it’s something that you need to see once in your life, along with so many other things, and it was a most enjoyable experience especially having been able to share it with friends. For you, and I would have changed places with you for this brief moment of time, it must have been just as special, even if you could only catch the light moving across a window sill. Perhaps that is a more moving image than being out there, on the side of a hill, or in a garden, a suburban street, and still being able to enjoy one of Nature’s wonders.

There was a lot of talk back then about how Nature would be troubled by the sudden dimming of the sun, and how birds and bees would be confused, animals begin to rampage through the brief darkness and the end of the world as we know it… But none of these things happened. Everything – bird and beast – went about its business as if the darkening sky was merely a thick cloud which had wandered, for a moment or too, across the sky. I am constantly amazed at the propensity of some people to panic or, worse still, to claim they know the worst possible is going to happen. Today we call them internet trolls and fake news mongers and they can be a real pain in the butt when we don’t recognise them immediately for what they are. In the olden days, when I was still young, we had other names for them, none too polite and few which I can, or wish to, write in a letter! Nowadays we have the conspiracy theorists who, fortunately, confine themselves to the wonderful worlds of religion and politics and, as far as I am concerned, can stay there. It’s bad enough reading some of the real life stories without having to contend with all those which have been fictionalised, enhanced or sent out as propaganda from one faction or another, international or otherwise.

Storms are not something we have had too much experience of here yet. Tonight, as I write, we have had a good wind storm blowing across the gardens, uprooting a few trees and ensuring that the volunteer fire service has plenty to do. My neighbour’s fence has managed to survive so far, but his plastic furniture had been racing across the area for a while, and a few pieces are now bathing in his small lake. I get the feeling that one tree in my other neighbour’s garden isn’t going to last much longer, but it isn’t a danger to anyone, being far enough away from buildings to bring no threat of real damage should it fall. My own pear tree succumbed to old age and rot a few years ago, fortunately falling sideways rather than against the house. A few degrees further across and the crown would have been lying across my small balcony and in my bedroom, which would not have been likely to improve my mood. I have no desire to think about the level of damage sustained in recent weeks across the United States, although it is very clear where my sympathies lie and I wish there was some way to help since, as we have seen, certain factions in Washington appear incapable or, worse still, disinclined, if they have not been decimated by recent funding cuts.

I hope that all is well with your bees and the hives. Our letters are in crossover mode again, since I wrote about bees and beekeeping in my last letter, which you will have received just as I write this and was in reply to your electronic mail. I did, of course, take a look to see what the various sites and specialists have to say about bees and storms, but they get as far as attacks by bears and stop there. Perhaps they can imagine nothing worse than a bear attack, understandably, and the various tomes of knowledge will now be updated to reflect new experiences.