One of the greatest shocks I had in my life, following my vehicle accident, was to discover that things would not continue in such a smooth and happy manner in which they had previously adorned life and brought pleasure. What seems to be a very slight event – a simple fall, for some, is hardly a major catastrophe, until it happens to them – can have long-term consequences. We are suddenly faced with the prospect of having to learn how to do some things again, how to control ourselves, how to be patient, how to adapt to a major change we hadn’t expected. For me it is walking, which was always one of my greatest pleasures, and the fact that I can no longer manage twenty or thirty miles without pain, cannot even manage one mile without discomfort. We adapt, though, and that is one of the good things about the human: our ability to adapt and to learn to get by. Of course, many animals have this same ability, especially when their world is being changed, destroyed around them and they need to get out or die, but theirs is more the adapt to survive, whereas ours is an adapt to continue enjoying those things we have, intellectually and socially, become used to.
With letter writing it is a case of several people having to adapt to changes: you to the problems of holding and using a pen, and me to the change in hand writing when I receive a letter. Fortunately I have no worries about being able to read what you have written, so we have one small concern out-of-the-way, but my concerns are hardly of the greatest importance. And I can well understand your feelings of frustration at the changed circumstances but, from a distance, I would suggest taking your time and concentrating on the writing, and not the changes you have to work into your daily life. The changes will come naturally: you will adapt to a more comfortable position; you will adapt to different times; you will adapt to the idea that writing a letter might take longer than it ever used to. These are changes which have to be accepted, as there is no way around them; it is better to accept the inevitable, than to fight against it, increase the frustration, and still lose in the end.
I have been living and suffering in the heat too, and welcoming the relative cool of evenings and nights. The desk I sit at to write my letters, to sort through my books, to handle all of my business affairs, is on the west side of my house, and I have a massive picture window behind me so that, after noon, the sun falls directly across my back, my desk. The concentration of heat and light is wonderful for my plants, but not so conducive to sitting comfortably and reading or writing. On the few occasions when I have visitors – mainly younger students learning English in preparation for college – the sun falls directly into our faces, and we shift uncomfortably trying to find the respite of a shadow, a brief moment of coolness on our skin. I have even considered moving my work area to a local coffee shop or, at the very least, my talks and discussions, but for the fact that my library – a resource I cannot do without – would then be out of reach. And, of course, it is not the done thing to have a discussion with teenagers wearing a swim suit which, with this heat, is probably the only really comfortable clothing I can imagine. My neighbour’s lake remains green, and has begun to smell, as well as inviting all sorts of flying creatures into our living quarters which, before he completed it, had their own homes, and victims, in swamps and along the river banks.
Not that we have swamps here, and certainly not during this weather, but the ideal living situations, such as a small lake, seems to attract creatures you never imagined would find their way into your vicinity. It’s almost as if someone sent them a newsletter about new living quarters, new victims with fresh blood, and a holiday atmosphere. And while the grass goes brown from a lack of water, all the weeds flourish. Fortunately, as so many people have their vacation at this time of year, I have been able t leave my desk behind, take a good book in hand, and sit in a coffee shop in town, or in one of the nearby cities. The flea markets have continued to draw me at the weekends – on both Saturday and Sunday – and a different form of social life has grown out of this change. It has been pleasant to sit in the shade and read with a glass of red wine, or just to talk with people, make new acquaintances. Has been because the vacation period is drawing to a close now: the schools are open again, the new children have been introduced to their futures, and the hectic juggling of getting people off to school, to work and all the rest of normal life has returned. And with it the queries I get about organising things, about giving up my time to help, to meet, to discuss. But I switch on my answering machine and switch off my electronic mail, and enjoy my enhanced vacation as best I can, and that without any feelings of remorse or guilt!
My childhood vacation times are slightly different to yours. Mostly I stayed in London, which means I was sent out of the house in the mornings with or without pocket-money, and told to occupy myself. Television was not a thing we did, and all the modern gadgets and game players simply did not exist. In London I would spend time in the parks, in the museums, walking around stores, in the library. Eventually there was an agreement that I could stay with my paternal grandparents in a small town outside of the London area, and I was bundled off to a place called Beccles for the summer vacation. And here, too, it was a case of being sent out in the early morning, without any pocket-money, and told to occupy myself.
As I got older I was allowed to earn money picking fruit, not under my own name as I was still a child, but at least I received some money for my hard work. Later, when I could no longer suffer living with my grandparents for weeks on end, and the chance to remain in London wasn’t there, I went out into the world and explored the rest of the British mainland, staying in Youth Hostels or pitching a makeshift tent away from view in small copses and overgrown fields, derelict buildings, car parks and railway stations. No travelling by car, rarely by train, mostly on foot. Like you I enjoyed the beauty of uncompromised countryside, as much as the hustle and bustle of a strange city, and I am sure many areas are still as interesting, as exciting, but not in the same way. Going back would, in many cases, be a major disappointment as so much will have changed: not just your freeway from a two-lane road, but also the architecture, the people, the memories which have evolved over time being confronted by a new reality.
When I first arrived here in Germany, most people had cheques and used them, when they didn’t have enough cash, to pay for goods. I was used to this from England and Ireland any way, although they were not now chequebooks, but loose sheets of paper which you kept in a folder. They gradually began to disappear as the use of electronic payment became more normal here, as more people and businesses began to accept credit cards and then, as it is now, debit cards from their banks. I’ve seen two cheques this year – fortunately both made out to me! – but they are a rarity. Paying in cash is becoming a rarity. I was surprised to have to get cash from the bank to buy food recently, being so used to just handing over my card, typing in the identification number, and finished. There are limits, of course, as some stores and smaller retailers demand a minimum payment before they will accept a card, but that’s because the banks are still demanding fees hand-over-fist for their human-free services. Banking services without the intervention, or need, for people has become more expensive rather than cheaper, even though human resources – as they are so quaintly called these days – are the most expensive financial entry on any bottom line. It is more convenient, though, that I must admit. I rarely need to worry whether I have enough cash on ,me, or go to the bank and draw out more than I need, as the money is there, on my account, and can be transferred quickly and effectively.
Still, there is a need for cash. I haven’t met anyone on the many flea markets I attend who takes a card for payment, and suspect it will be many years before that starts to happen. I suspect this is a good thing, though, because otherwise I would spend far more at a flea market than I can really afford. Not that a lack of cash has ever stopped me: this last weekend I went to the bank twice to draw out cash just on Sunday, and had to transport the books I bought – with help – through two long trips to my car and back. And even then I didn’t get those things which I had expressly gone out to find – old photographs – but ended up with several sets of books instead, and an appointment for more books which, due to a lack of space in his truck, the seller hadn’t been able to bring with him this week. In all I bought sixty books on the Sunday, plus two albums of photographs (roughly one hundred and twenty pictures), about twenty loose images and twenty glass negatives. The standard question every single person who comes to visit me asks is whether I have read all of my books.
Nowadays all of my banking is done online, without any real need to meet up with anyone in the bank, hold a conversation, or anything like that. Now and then there could be the renewal of a credit contract or similar, but so infrequently I would hardly count it. I can pay cash and the occasional cheque into my account through a machine, I can transfer money from one account to another at home or through a machine and, what is even better, there is no live person there for me to shout at when things go wrong or too slowly. The major annoyance of online banking is that, in many ways, it is the same as personal banking but without people. All of my transactions, even though they are automated, are handled during working hours apart from my transferring money from one of my own accounts to another one of my own accounts. Otherwise if I pay my credit card, for example, on a Friday, they’ll action the transfer when the bank opens on Monday. Online banking is cheaper, there really are few other benefits.
On toleration, I was amused to see a person on Twitter who claimed to be female, Irish and twenty-eight years old – you can rarely tell how much of this is true – who insisted that there is no such thing as racism. People called out racism, she stated, to create their own industry, to bolster themselves, make themselves known and earn a living. Funnily enough, she also accused many people of being racist, even though there is no racism, and was convinced that the first country to countenance same-sex marriage was Ireland, in 2015. After it was pointed out to her that the Netherland were first in April 2001, and even Argentina and Uruguay accepted same-sex marriages before Ireland, she became a little quieter. My favourite idea is that I can tolerate almost anything except intolerance, but living up to such an ideal is almost impossible.