FINDING ISOBEL

I have not changed a word of this short story, written many years ago and strangely topical this week.

Everything changed when I met Isobel.

I first saw at her at a barbecue on my father’s ranch: she had come with the children of the Alvarez family who were our nearest neighbours – she was their nanny for the summer months.    She was younger than me by about five years and they all seemed to like her – she was cheerful, pretty and good fun.    Even Mrs Alvarez seemed fond of her, which given the woman-chasing reputation of the old man, meant that the girl was virtuous as well as good-looking.      She wasn’t really my type at all – my girlfriends had tended to  be blonde and willowy Americans, as unlike the dark native beauty as I could find.     Isobel Campina with her blue black hair, her tiny waist, her dark eyes which could be laughing and teasing, or, when you caught her unawares, full of a brooding sadness that there seemed no explanation for, was the epitome of an South American  beauty.    But what first drew my attention to her was the hunger in her eyes: she looked at me, when she thought I wasn’t looking, as if she could never get enough of looking at me, as if the very look of me confirmed something important she had always suspected but could never prove, as if I mattered in her very soul.     Of course this was flattering.   She was young and pretty and gay spirited.    But I was, I thought, a sophisticated young man – 25 years old, of an important family, the youngest of three brothers – and if I wasn’t as tall as my brothers it was generally agreed by all the family that I was the most handsome.     My father, still a fine figure of a man although now nearly 80, was everything a rich and powerful parent should be: indulgent, vigilant, protective.     My apartment in the city was a penthouse in the most expensive sector of town, my cars were as flashy or as understated as my fancy dictated, I went to Italy for my suits, to London for my shirts, and to Scotland for the simple cashmere I wore on cool evenings.      In return I was attentive to my father’s wishes.   When the wide-mouthed Texan beauty I had installed in my penthouse became too strident in her demands for a white wedding my father began to frown over her and to introduce me pointedly to the ladylike daughters of friends of his: I took the hint and shipped Willa-May back to Texas.    I was affectionate with my mother, Theresa, my father’s second wife.   I was her only child, a miracle she told me, born as she approached 40 after a visit to Rome, and I was the apple of her eye.     I ran my father’s extensive stables and I made his name famous on the polo fields.    Life was good: I was one of fortune’s favourites and I saw no reason why the lovely Isobel, who devoured me in secret with her jealous glances, should not with a little coaxing unveil her mysteries to me.

Isobel was not exactly the usual kind of hired girl.    My father, an honourable man, had been quite frank with me when he spoke to me of women.     I was to behave like a gentleman.   A man such as myself, good-looking, rich, of an important family, would find no shortage of women.     When in due course I would marry it would be to some beautiful daughter of some of his rich friends: the choice would be mine, nothing I did not want would be forced on me.   In the meantime I was to behave with discretion, be circumspect about choosing healthy girls, take responsibility myself to get no-one pregnant, make it clear that marriage was out of the question, be generous but sensible with money.   Avoid other men’s wives: messy, he said, and do not have as a girlfriend young ladies whom one might reasonably be expected to marry.   Texan beauties on the whole, with their modern ideas and their lack of local connections were ideal.    I had slept with some of our own hired girls of course, though I had to make sure I didn’t offend my mother, and that had worked out well: girls had set up their dowries on the severance pay I gave them and I always managed to remain on good terms with them as well.

But Isobel somehow did not seem to fit into any category.    Her family lived in one of the poorer districts but she was studying politics at our university.     The Alvarez family had taken her to their hearts, pleased that their children were in the care of such a graceful girl.   She seemed religious in spite of her education and went frequently to church with Susan Alvarez.     I would upset both my parents if I caused trouble there.   It all seemed rather a lot  of bother, and perhaps I should look elsewhere.     But somehow, I couldn’t just put Isobel out of my mind.    There was something about her that I couldn’t put my finger on … something kept drawing me back to her dark face, her strong mouth, her stubborn chin and her mysterious eyes.    And Isobel though completely circumspect, kept turning up before me.    Wherever I went, there she would be, modestly going about her business, not looking at me.     Well, a man knows when a woman is placing herself in his path … Isobel’s modest, averted eyes, her dogged presence, and her fierce face were a conundrum that didn’t add up.      I asked Susan Alvarez if I might teach Isobel to ride on her day off, in order that she might ride with her charges.     I had not asked Isobel first, though I did so in her presence, and I saw a look flash from her eyes that registered my arrogance and impertinence, quickly followed by a look of hopeful eagerness, and then all fading into a blank patience.   With many admonitions and arch finger waggings, my mother and Susan Alvarez agreed.

I shall remember those first innocent days with Isobel all of my life.   Her nervousness of the horses, my enjoyment of my role as instructor, calming both horse and girl flesh.     Her eagerness to learn, and her quick aptitude.    How small her waist was as I lifted her down, the firmness of her thigh if I allowed my hand to brush across it fleetingly as we settled her in the saddle, the shadow the brim of her hat threw across her dark face.    Other things – how her horse loved her and how jealous I was when she kissed him, the smell of herbs as we went up the mountain paths in the cool mornings, the smell of her, mixed with horse and a rose perfume that Susan Alvarez had given her, how capable and oddly familiar her hands looked on the reins.    We talked – how we talked, until it seemed there was nothing we did not know of one another.   I knew all Isobel’s family: her grandmother, her parents, how her parents had been taken away by the military police, how her mother had survived but her father had been lost, and how she as a baby had been smuggled to safety by her grandmother…   she talked of events in our country of which I had of course heard but had remained untouched by, whereas her life had been torn apart.   Her mother had remarried her dead husband’s cousin and there were two younger daughters.    And yet, for all we talked, I never came any nearer to uncovering that central mystery that was Isobel.     Isobel was all paradox: I couldn’t fathom the depths of her, but at the same time looking into her was like looking in a mirror and seeing my own soul there.

And for the first time in my life I seemed paralysed on the physical front.   I had decided on a softly, softly approach so initially I stayed my hand.   Isobel became less nervous of me as well as of the horse.    But I seemed unable to advance matters.      Mastering a woman is like mastering a horse: it is not best done with cruelty and violence, but calmly and gently, so that everyone knows who’s in charge and that the physical outcome is not only inevitable but right and proper and wholesome.        I’ve been described as a silver tongued lady’s man but when it comes to the assault on the target it’s not words that count, but action.   If you ask a woman if you can make love to her, she will refuse you (unless she’s one of those modern strumpets you have to restrain from indecent behaviour in public and hustle to a private place.)   But the well brought up young woman has had it dinned into her by mother, by the nuns, that she must refuse … so you don’t ask, you just gently take hold of her, movements all slow and sure as if you have every right, this is what she wants, and then in her reactions as you touch her you feel her true responses, whatever her words say to you.     In my mind I had done this with Isobel a hundred times.    I felt her, I could swear it, yearning and turning to me, and yet …

In the end it was Isobel who caused the incident.     She had been rebellious and spikily flirtatious, as nervously skittish as a filly, almost if I dared to think it deliberately provoking me, so that I dreamed as I rode behind her of seizing her off her horse and upending her across my knee and seeing where that took us – but as ever I couldn’t translate my thoughts into action and I was reluctant to begin with violence however well deserved.    We stopped for our lunch and Isobel was so unlike her usual self I was about to ask what was wrong with her.    She was playing with the sharp knife that was enclosed with the picnic for peeling the apples and I said to her, “Stop fooling about with the knife like that, you’ll hurt yourself” and reached over to take the knife and the apple and peel it for us when she made some sharp movement that I wasn’t expecting and she cut into my forearm.   It hurt, I yelped, and then of course there was the blood.   Isobel was instantly contrite, and dabbing at the scratch with her handkerchief and I was slightly annoyed for though it wasn’t of any import she had been careless – if I didn’t trust her as I did I’d have said she almost did it deliberately – and I suddenly thought what the hell, why am I pussyfooting around this girl and I put my uncut hand under her chin and raised her face up to mine and bent and kissed her.    Her mouth was sweet and yielding, I gathered her into my arms and explored her fragrant, unresisting mouth, my hands moving over her body.     I could feel her heart leap in response to me and her body moving to the rhythm that mine imposed  and then the cut-in of her mind and her attempted resistance, but she had drawn my blood and I was in no mood for lenience so I gathered her tighter so I could feel her breasts pressed against me and my legs pushed against her thighs and she was like heady wine and the feel of her was glorious and then I felt her go slack in my hands in a way that was not as it should be and I drew my head back to look at her and her face was diffused with shame and misery and confusion and she was crying.     This had never happened to me before and I was non-plussed.    She did not seem to be dissembling, her distress was genuine; yet I knew I was not mistaken for I knew womanflesh as I knew horseflesh and if ever a woman desired a man and was ready for the taking, so Isobel had been open for me.    I did my best to soothe her, attempting to wipe her tears with the bloody handkerchief but that seemed to agitate her and she put it away in her pocket and wiped her tears with the hem of her shirt.      I did not know what to make of it.   I thought perhaps  I had uncovered some trauma she had not told me of – for we live in violent times particularly for people of poor or dissident families such as hers.    Our country is not over-flowing with brotherly love.    I thought  that with time and patience I could unravel her pain and help her overcome her fear, I just assured her that she was safe with me, I would do nothing to hurt or distress her.   We packed up the picnic, I lifted her into the saddle – she did not flinch from my hands, we rode slowly home.   I held her hand as we parted – I no longer cared if anyone saw us – and made arrangements when I would next meet her – it would not be for a few days as I had polo matches to play in another city.     My mother fussed over the scratch as though it were a major wound but I did not tell her how I had got it.

When I got back from the polo matches I was saddling my horse to ride over and see Isobel when my father came to tell me that she had left the Alvarez ranch at short notice and gone back to her family.     Susan Alvarez wasn’t hiring anyone else – it was almost time for the children to go back to school.     Isobel was needed at home, my father told me.   He eyed me cautiously.     He looked very old to me.    “She was a lovely girl, Antonio, but perhaps it is better …”    I got on my horse without answering and thought I had got to the age when I should conduct my own life with less reference to my father.

My enquiries after Isobel got nowhere.    The address she had left with Susan Alvarez I couldn’t find.    She was no longer staying at the address the university had for her.    My father refused to use his connections in the police to help me.    I hung around the university for a  while but never saw her.   Nubile beauties starting appearing at every party we gave at home.

And then one day she turned up at a bar I often used near my city apartment.     I saw her come in and she looked around and came straight towards me.     She was wearing a red dress and high heeled shoes and carrying a large bag with her study notes in it.    The men drinking with me made room for her curiously.    She kissed my cheek and let me hold on to her hand.     She had grown more beautiful and thinner.   I had never desired anyone so much.      I paid for all our drinks and pulled her out into the street.    I hailed a cab.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“To my apartment right now,” I replied grimly.    “We have some unfinished business.     And I want to hear your explanation for why you walked out on me.   Don’t you know I’ve hunted all over the city for you?”

“That wasn’t a long time to search,” she said.     The taxi was waiting.    “Darling,” she said to me, and I realised it was the first endearment she had used and that she never called me by my name.   “I will do whatever you want; I swear to you, whatever you decide I will do – but first I want you to come to my home and meet my family.”

“Now?”

“Right now.”

“Won’t they prefer to invite me?”

“You’ve always been invited.”

“And afterwards, you promise?”

“I will do whatever you decide.”    I nodded, she spoke rapidly to the driver who did not seem very enthusiastic about our destination.    I held her hand in the car and she permitted me, but no further embrace would she allow only repeating, “Afterwards.”

Eventually the taxi refused to venture further into the hinterland and I paid him and we set off on foot.     These weren’t the poorest of apartments – they were buildings, not shanty dwellings, but there were rank smells in the hot valleys of streets, which were noisy with street activities and children playing football barefoot among the traffic.   Dogs nosed in the gutters for rubbish and people lounging in passages stared at us as we passed.     Isobel pursued her way doggedly and I followed grimly behind, feeling conspicuous in my Italian suit and conscious of how much money there was lurking in my wallet.   Isobel turned in to a passageway and we climbed several flights of stairs.    The landing was crowded with excited strangers who were evidently awaiting our arrival.

“He’s here.    He’s come.”

Isobel swept us through and closed the door of their quarters behind us, shutting the smell and excitement of them out.   The room was hot, clean and seemed to be where the family spent most of it’s life.    There was a sink and rudimentary kitchen area, a large table where they ate and where a sewing machine perched at one end like a permanent feature.    In the room, besides Isobel and myself were an older woman, grey haired, perhaps about 50, a man who reminded me of somebody I couldn’t quite place, and two attractive girls like Isobel only not quite as beautiful and younger.    I felt suffocated by the intensity of their interest.   They looked at me like I was the Messiah on the second coming.    Their faces were an extraordinary mixture of grief and joy.    The man crossed himself slowly and the woman began to weep.    The youngest girl said to Isobel, “Have you told him yet?”

I turned to Isobel.     Under her dark hair, her face was very white.    That sorrowful look I had often observed in her seemed to expand until it encompassed me as well.    I was afraid and angry at the same time.

“Francisco,” she said to me.   I am Antonio, I thought.    “You are Francisco Campino, my older brother, born of the same parents as me. “  She gestured at the weeping woman.    “This is your mother.    Your father died in the hands of the military.     Our grandmother was able to hide me when they came because I was a baby and asleep, but you were taken and … and given to the people you think of as your parents.    The woman you think of as your mother was childless and her husband was able to obtain you for her.”

“No.” I said.    “No.”   I am Antonio, rich and famous sportsman, beloved younger son of powerful parents.   I do not belong in this squalid apartment.  My mother is not this weeping, unfashionable woman, old before her time.   Isobel is not my sister.    I will hold her to her promise and take her back to my apartment, my expensive apartment, and show her the place of women who meddle with me.    I will do at my leisure all the things I should have done last summer and for some stupid reason did not.    This is a scam; they are in it for the money.   I will empty my wallet on their floor and leave.    But the sight of their extraordinary faces, flashing with joy and sorrow like an overloading computer, freezes me.    “There is some mistake, “ I say politely.

“There is no mistake,” says Isobel quietly.   “We had your blood tested for DNA.    There is a 99.9% certainty that you are the child of my parents and are my brother.”  My blood.   Isobel cut me for my blood.

I take her by the wrist.    “Come with me as you have promised.”   She stands quiescent but now that she has said her piece the spirit leaves her and she too begins to weep.     Her mother stands up.

“My son,” she says to me, and behind all my adult rage and fear I feel, to my impotent panic, a boy in me somewhere waken to the sound of her voice.    “Go in peace.     I see your – other  – family has loved you.     For all that they – “ her voice breaks and her husband puts his hand on her arm – “they stole you, I am grateful that they treated you so well.    We – we had to know what had happened to you.    I can see that poor as we are we are not – we cannot compete for you against your rich family.    We wanted to see you.”    She spreads her hands out and the tears fall down her face.    “I am sorry – it is embarrassing for a young man to see his mother cry.     You are so like your father, so handsome.”  She wipes her face on her apron and attempts a smile.   She does not look so old and done now, but like a courageous woman overflowing with love.    “We will always love you but we will not pursue you, and we will not embarrass you or harass those people who took you from us.    You love them, and you must treat them as you think best.”    I cannot bear it all, I turn to leave , my hand still on Isobel’s wrist and I suddenly confront a picture of myself but I don’t remember it being taken.

“It is your father,” says the man.   “I took this picture when he was about your age.”

The woman crosses the room and puts her arms briefly round me.    I feel like dissolving in her arms but it is not me who feels those things but some child who has hidden in the recesses of my heart all these years and who will now grow and destroy me.

“Go in peace, Francisco,” and my mother makes the sign of the cross over me.     My sister guides me out like a blind man on to the streets, leading me by the wrist that my fingers are still gripping.    I follow her, but I have no idea where we might be going.

3694

PAPAL CONJECTURE

PAPAL CONJECTURE

 

The puff of smoke came faster than expected.    Like the genie out of the bottle, the incumbent was not perhaps what was expected, and once let out, cannot be put back in again.

All the following remarks are without any proof whatsoever, and are therefore merely conjecture, but here’s my impressions for what they’re worth.    I observe, of course, from a point of view of detachment not being one of what the Roman Catholic church would call ‘ the faithful’.

My impression was that from the church hierarchy’s point of view,  the election of this candidate was a mistake.   I wonder if it turned out rather as Margaret Thatcher’s election apparently did, where no-one actually intended that she would be the final selected candidate but somehow things went wrong and they were stuck with her.   I wonder whether the opposing factions were balanced in opposition, and voted for the successful candidate as an exercise to buy time and regroup, choosing some-one sufficiently obscure that nobody thought he had any chance of winning.   Clearly God does work in mysterious ways…   I felt those officials whom one did see or hear were gob-smacked, unprepared and dismayed, for all their fair words.

Pope Francis 1’s appearance reminded me of the ambiguous scripture, (Isaiah 53:2) ‘(The Son of Man) hath no beauty that men should desire him’.    I hadn’t previously  considered that Popes John Paul and Benedict were strikingly handsome men, even in old age, whereas this man’s physical appearance would never draw a second glance.   He had, however, a powerful presence.   He has the look of a man it would be wise not to cross.   He looks merciful and fair, but not weak.   A formidable man in every respect.    It seemed to me that he had not desired the appointment, that it had come to him entirely as a surprise, and not by any means a pleasant one, and he was gathering his courage and resources for the task ahead of him.   He was calm, accepting of Fate.

The crowd was polite and welcoming and responded to him, but it was not overly enthusiastic.    They did not know him.

One could speculate that possibly when Pope Benedict received the report on corruption and malpractice within the Vatican, he felt that he  himself, having been a Vatican insider, was not the man to tackle the job, and possibly that age and infirmity meant he lacked the strength.   Did he decide I wonder that he would help a new incumbent, if his successor were so minded, to deal with the problem, so that the new Pope had an advisor, and did not face the difficulty of being a newcomer, and perhaps  rather like an incoming Cabinet Minister at the mercy of entrenched civil servants?   Already the Press, which sits in moral judgement on everyone though it lives in a glass house, is pursuing the aspect of his relationship with the Argentinian dictatorship.   I am not certain that outright opposition to the party in power in a country, with the result that your religion might be driven underground and yourself ‘disappeared’ would be the wisest action nor in the best interests of ‘the faithful’.   One has to suppose there is no shadow of sexual misconduct associated with him, otherwise  we should certainly have heard of it by now.

Pope Francis spoke well.   He reached out.   He asked the crowd to pray for him which suggests that he remembers that we are all sinners and have much need of blessing.    He said his blessing was for ‘all men and women of goodwill throughout the world’.    Even I, though the church would regard me as an heretic and apostate, could say Amen.

It is just possible that he is genuinely a man of God.    Merely a mortal, and subject to human weakness like every one of us.   But still, a stout-hearted man is certainly a blessing to be counted.

May he walk in the light.

BURIAL OF KINGS

So the body of Richard III has been discovered under a car park in Leicester, flung in a shallow grave without markings.   It was very odd looking at the bones and in particular his skull and realising that he had actually looked like the portrait we have of him.    I’ve often wondered, as we recognise long dead kings from their portrait, if they were really like that?   Well, it appears we can go on believing that Henry VIII had a fat face and a mean and vicious little mouth;   and that James VI and I may have been the wisest fool in Christendom but he may also have been the ugliest;  and that Charles I was so royal and majestic he couldn’t concentrate on mundane matters like keeping his head on his shoulders.

So what will happen to Richard III’s bones?   Not I hope the dreadful ignominy of having them displayed in a museum.   I feel anguish on behalf of every mummy, bog man, or one of the early native peoples whose bones are displayed for our instruction or entertainment.

If the royalists in this country hope to retain some vestiges of belief in the holiness of monarchy, they had better express some interest in the matter.

The bones appear to belong, beyond reasonable doubt, to one who once was king of England.   Personally I do not believe either in the sanctity of kings, nor of the legitimacy of one who has caused a clerical officiant to place a crown upon his head.   So for myself I would be content to bury him in any decent place set aside for the purpose, with a stone commemorating who he once was.   Leicester would be as good a place as any.

But if I were Queen?   Then, for all that the kings of England are descended from his opponent who dealt so ungenerously with him, I’d want him buried as befits a king of England.     His bones put in a coffin as befits his rank and lain in state for the usual number of days;  black horses and a military escort to carry him to Westminster Abbey, where we bury our kings.   I might not attend myself personally, but I’d expect the presumed future kings of England to walk behind his hearse in the procession, and the Ministers of the Crown to be in attendance.

The Russians, even after their bloody revolution, when it came to the burial of the remains of their murdered Tsar, buried him with full ceremony with the President, Boris Yeltsin, and his wife, in attendance.

If you believe in the dignity of kings, there cannot be exceptions.   Once you start deciding that the claim of one who was king to have the customary burial is no longer valid, you’re on a slippery slope where many things might be doubtful that you once thought safe forever.

There seems little doubt that here are the bones of Richard III, king of England.   The tale of how his body was disposed of does not reflect at all creditably on his successor.     In our century, let us bury him like a king.

We live in dangerous times for monarchs, for every man regards himself as a citizen with rights and entitlements, and not as a subject with duties and obligations.   There may not be many more kings to bury.

OURS IS NOT TO REASON WHY?

OURS IS NOT TO REASON WHY?

We’re all taught – and women especially are taught – that it is a virtue to be obedient.    I’ve never been entirely convinced of this.    Why should it be good to obey others, and follow their judgement, rather than one’s own?

Let’s be clear.   I’m not talking anarchy here.   Children need to obey their parents for their very survival.    When you enter certain institutions, or take up certain posts, you accept in doing so certain obligations which may include obedience to a certain set of rules.    Some occupations – the defence forces, the civil service – do require the job holder to adhere to instructions and only in very exceptional circumstances would one be entitled to resist, and even then the first option if one found oneself in an untenable position would be to remove oneself from those circumstances.        Good manners dictate that for example when you are someone’s guest you have agreed that while that status is maintained, their rules and customs will be followed.    There is also the practical consideration that under certain circumstances if you don’t follow the rules, you will be arrested and other unpleasant consequences will follow.    So I hope I am a good citizen, obey the rules (if I think them just), pay my taxes (well, John does it for me), have good manners, etc.    But I do those things because I want to live in a civilised society, and that is how I wish to behave.

When anyone tells me what to do (which doesn’t happen often these days), I think, who are you, what business have you with me,  do I want to do this, and what penalty or advantage will follow if I comply or not.

Some people however seem naturally disposed to obey instructions.    I once watched some silly competition where people had to collect certain items in a limited time.   Some of those could be obtained from a supermarket, and were in plain view, but  the aisle was fenced off with paper and a sign saying, This aisle is closed.   To my absolute astonishment, more than one team was brought to a complete halt by this flimsy barrier.   I’m afraid I’d have lifted the barrier and removed what I wanted without even pausing to think twice about it.   What did it matter, and what was whoever had put the barrier there going to do about it anyway?  If there was  some good reason, this ought to have been explained.

I thoroughly disapprove of any occupation where you swear to follow orders, regardless.   You have abnegated moral responsibility to someone else, who may be unfit to exercise it.   But even if their judgement is sound, it’s your own you should be following.    The action you take will be your responsibility whoever gave the order.

In the past, when I’ve occasionally said of myself, Of course there may be slight difficulties in dealing with me, I’ve always been slightly surprised when people laughed.  Because in my secret heart, I don’t really believe there are any.   Who could be more reasonable, more just, more generous even, than myself?   There’s just one small proviso.   If I’m treated right.    That is to say, not asked too many questions, given plenty of room, not told  what to do, left to my own devices, my cooperation requested but not assumed, all the known facts revealed, and no attempt made to manipulate the decision.      If these (unstated) requirements are met, I will be obliging if this is possible.   If I decide I can’t oblige,  I’ll politely decline and pass on my way.     When people do attempt to influence the decision or manipulate the outcome, I think, do they think I’m stupid, that I can’t see what’s happening?   It’s quite alright for them to state up front what they would like to happen, but not to attempt to influence the outcome covertly.

When I first wrote this, I thought, so what’s difficult about that?   But in truth I have to acknowledge that it’s not at all easy, and of course, none of this is declared, and some people are quite incapable of fulfilling these requirements.   Also although for myself the above would be my preferred mode of operation, and among those trusted by me is how I do behave, I certainly don’t invariably follow these rules.

I get along well enough with most people.   I am relatively easy going if my tranquility is not disturbed.     I’m also comparatively lazy.    If my aims will be achieved by someone else doing things, I’m happy for that to happen.   I don’t have to be in charge.   Where you run into difficulties is where people who don’t know you blunder into you.    And then I think, well, I didn’t initiate this exchange, so the outcome is their own look-out.

A woman once rang me up and asked if I was – the previous lady of the house.    I said that lady had moved elsewhere.    Oh, it doesn’t matter, she said.    Mrs X- used to distribute our material (for a charity) among her neighbours, and I’m sure you’ll want to do the same.   No, I said, actually I wouldn’t.    Why not? she asked.    I said, this wasn’t one of the ways in which I chose to contribute.   Well, she said, it’s just as well everyone isn’t like that.    I said, (giving her the opportunity to desist), that I thought I had misheard her, and she repeated the statement.   I paused for a further moment to see if she would reconsider it.   Then I said, you work for this charity?   Yes.   Well, I said, I think you ought to consider your position.   You are insolent, bad-mannered, aggressive and demanding, altogether behaving in a most unchristian manner, and you are actually damaging the reputation of the charity you work for.   You are not a suitable person to be employed in such a post.    She hissed and hung up.

Then I think, could have been kinder?   And I conclude, no.   You don’t have to do what everyone tells you, and I was reasonable;  she was not.

So.    One should of course endeavour to be kind and obliging, and behave as you would like to be treated yourself.   I like to think I’m reasonable and well disposed to other people.   Maybe not entirely predictable.   Probably not inclined to be obedient.

I don’t think automatic obedience is in any way a virtue.   We have intelligence and reasoning power in order that we can think for ourselves.