I find a great lethargy has stolen over me.    I just feel like sitting, not talking, not thinking, not reading, not doing.    Just letting the stars turn overhead and the wind blow over me while the planet revolves through time and space.     It’s not an unhappy place.    Presumably, eventually, I will feel like picking myself up and walking on, but I have no sense of urgency yet.      I’ll just sit here and BE, I think.       Being is good.




I am  very fast reader, and along with this go some bad habits.

I was surprised recently to discover how idiosyncratic people are in their reading habits.   It’s a  private activity – you just tend to assume that everyone does as you do.   This is not, however, the case.

For example, I do not read the book literally from cover to cover, beginning with what’s written on the inside of the dust jacket, through the ISBN number, to the end.   I do not identify the middle page of the book.   I do not count the pages and divide the time available into a so many pages per day target.    I am not compelled to stop reading only at the end of chapters.

When I read a book, I start with the opening words of the work.  I don’t read forewards, introductions, later qualifications by the author, learned expositions from experts, HRH Prince Philip saying what a wonderful book it is.    I want to form my own opinion.  I’ll read all the above later, if I’m still interested in the work.

I’m hard to please and easily bored.   If I find sections tedious, I fast forward through them, just slow enough to establish where the plot changes.    You can come across whole chapters on the delights of hunting in novels by Trollope where the relevance to the plot is our hero fell off as he jumped the hedge and broke his collar bone.   And I defy anyone to have read all the lack lustre poetry in A S Byatt’s Possession.   Sometimes I  abandon books altogether in despair or irritation, and quite often I read the final page to see if it’s worth the bother of proceeding.

But if I read a book I really enjoy, in my mind I give it a Double Star rating.   This means I will have read it at my usual breakneck speed.   I will have read it in between tasks, last thing at night, early in the morning.   In these books  I don’t read pages out of order or fast forward.   When I come to the end, I close the book and I don’t read anything else for a day or two.   Then I start again from the beginning, reading every single word slowly and carefully.

Very few books are in receipt of this award.   There are certain books I regularly re-read (perhaps once every decade.)    These would include the works of Jane Austen, anything by J R R Tolkein, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, Thackery’s Vanity Fair…   but the Double Rated books are rare;  perhaps once a year I might come across such a one.    They have included:  Bird Song, by Sebastian Faulks;   Falling by Colin Thuberon;  A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton;  The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst (Warning: Not to everybody’s taste).

This week, another winner.   Ann Patchet, State of Wonder.   I recommend it.



I have often wondered why a person in disfavour is ‘sent to Coventry’.    Well, now I’ve been there and I know why.

Firstly, it has the worst traffic management system I have ever seen in any city – with the possible exception of Cairo.   Basically it was a fast and terrorising free-for-all with traffic doing whatever it liked and weaving about in all directions.   Even the drive-like-Jehu John became silent and white knuckled in concentration and I felt I should be grateful if we escaped with our lives.

Secondly, it was ugly.    It was a neglected, rotting 1960s experiment in brick and concrete which certainly did not work now and in all likelihood never did.   The famous cathedral was a menacing, hulking monolith, with rondels attached to it like (to quote our own dear prince) monstrous carbuncles (except not on the face of a much loved friend.)   The older cathedral, ruined by bombing, did not seem to have had any especial merit other than it was large.   I could see no connection between the old and new cathedrals.   They just sat in  enforced proximity scowling at one another.

There were vast open  spaces surrounded by crumbling concrete, which were filled by diverse youths either hanging about with apparently nothing to do, or else skateboarding under signs that told them not to.   It felt neither safe nor pleasant.

There are some cities which you visit, take one swift look at, think, oh, no, definitely not and flee, never to return.   Coventry is one of those.

We went because I said to John I had never been to Coventry.     We concluded that when you get to our advanced age and you haven’t visited a city only a few hours from where you live, there’s probably some good reason why not!

NB   I am sure the people of Coventry are absolutely fine.   They didn’t design the architecture.


Having foolishly remarked last week that I liked wearing black and looked good at funerals, I found myself this week on the island of Arran attending the burial ceremony of a much loved friend.   The lady had led a long and fulfilled life, and had said to me some months ago that she was content to go, yet we who remained felt grief and sorrow that she had not been granted a few more years or months (in comfort) amongst us.

As you become more mature, you pass through stages of your life.   In your youth, you attend weddings.   Later, perhaps, christenings.      You progress to the weddings of your own children and the children of friends and relatives.   Regrettably however as your years accumulate, you attend more funerals.

While obviously funerals tend to follow a set pattern which ends with the committal one way or another of the body, they are also surprisingly diverse.   The person almost invariably dies as they have lived, and their funeral (if it was directed according to their wishes or those of persons who knew and loved them) reflects their lives in ways both obvious and subtle.

The funeral on Arran had I think been directed by the deceased lady specifically to comfort and console every mourner and it was one of  the most uplifting rites of passage I have ever attended.   There was a sense in which each and every mourner, from the chief to the most minor, was warmly welcomed and appreciated.

Sometimes one attends funerals when the organisers have scores to settle; or use the occasion to display their wealth, power or talent.    ‘We will be the chief mourners and everyone will be looking  at us,’ as someone once said to me.     I appreciated that apart from a brief mention of the widower, no particular mourner was named, no list of relatives;  and although it is sometimes good to hear contributions from various persons, on this occasion only the minister (a lady) spoke, and this was soothing.   She spoke sincerely and warmly of the deceased, and certainly so far as I was aware, every word she said in praise of our friend was true.   I had always been aware that the lady possessed a deep and vibrant personal faith, and her choice of hymns was reassuring and faith affirming.

There was a suggestion, slipped in so swiftly and briefly that you might not have noticed it, that this lady had forgiven anyone who might feel in their secret heart that they had anything to be forgiven for, and that they should now go on their way in peace.   All this was conducted, as the lady’s own life had been, with modesty, tact and grace.     Each member of the family was warm and giving, and you realised that not only had they inherited their parents’ generosity of spirit, they had benefitted from having such a lady as their mother.

The minister conducted the service, the full burden of which fell on her, with competence, sincerity, a proper Christian spirit, and with all her personal feelings suppressed so that it was only as she drew her remarks to a conclusion that you could see that she too had loved the departed and what an effort the occasion had cost her.

I felt grateful for having had the privilege of knowing our friend, and that in her leaving us she enfolded each one of us in a loving embrace.

May we all depart with her grace.


My mother died on Tuesday 2 October 2012, at about 4 pm.

I have in my time written eulogies on friends and family which their closest relatives have always been generous enough to receive kindly.   I find myself, at this point anyway, quite unable to analyse my mother’s life and transform it into a word picture which is in any way accurate or does her justice.

She was my mother.   May she rest in peace.