I have been attempting to read Lucy Hughes Hallet’s The Pike. I’m finding it hard going and were it not for a book group and chosen by a friend of mine, I would have abandoned it already. I am amused to discover after three attempts at it, that each time I give up on the same page – which reminds me how I was never able to read the Diary of Richard Crossman beyond page 46 despite repeatedly trying.


This makes me consider diary writing and I have to confess that mine is not what it used to be. Possibly I channel my energy more into blogs, but perhaps now I am older I am beginning to learn the art of discretion. I have ever been a woman well able to keep a secret, and have never been in the habit of revealing the whole of my thoughts, but when I was younger I used to write pretty much the unadulterated truth of what I thought on subjects I was prepared to commit to my diary.


But now I am older and can more readily see a time when I may be gone and my papers (if I preserve them) will be in the hands of others and that people I love may well be hurt by passing comments which amounted to no more than a rock of irritation in a vast ocean of love for them. When you love people, you look at them and think of them a lot, and it is only natural you will occasionally be irritated or anxious about them.


D’Anunzio, (the Pike) was very gifted and this can be a problem for the holder of the gifts – what is he to do with them? I have long suspected that ‘ambition’ – that quality held in such high esteem in the 21st century, is in fact of doubtful morality.


Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine (whose wise opinions are greatly valued by me) as to whether we should have made more of a mark on the world with our talents. He is a practical person, whose working life was one of dealing with practical problems, but he is also very clever and astute, insightful and reflective, artistic, gifted in many directions which are not immediately obvious. I thought about this a lot afterwards and I came to the conclusion that our measuring rod for success in life is warped and deceiving.


To have arrived at old age with wisdom, charity and dignity, able to support with unobtrusive love and affection the people around you; to be an elder of your tribe, able to receive their assistance graciously but standing like a great tree on their horizon, still holding on to all that you ever valued; to have seen something of life and to have enjoyed it and still be able to laugh at its oddities; and to have acquired some wisdom and humility in the process – how could you have accomplished anything more? (I do not include myself in this august body; I only aspire to this happy condition.)


So perhaps one’s accomplishments in life need not be measured in riches or honours or fame? For those who achieve these things, all credit to them, but the best heroes. the real ones, are almost always unsung.


As for D’Annunzio, he was not a pike. A pike is a fish with an honest interest in survival. D’Annunzio, despite his dazzling gifts, was a fraud and a leader of men to destruction, a cad and a bounder. In a well written biography, you have confidence in the integrity and judgement of the author but Hughes Hallet refuses to be ‘judgemental’ about her subject, despite his repugnance. The writing does not have an orderly flow. She opines that ‘the beginning is seldom the best place to start’. I think, madam, that you’ll find that it is.

So now I’m scrabbling about for my usual conclusion, but I can’t find one. Maybe I’m finally learning that there isn’t necessarily a conclusion? That there is always more to learn? That life just runs on like the Thames, whether you’re swimming or drowning?

My conclusion is that should I ever have another stab at Crossman’s diary I should start on page 47.

And The Pike? I’ll spike it.



I am, as must be apparent in every word I speak, a woman of Scotland. After almost 30 years happily living in the lovely South of England, I’m still a Scot and proud of it.


Many of our characteristics are world famous. We are a hard working, capable, practical, enterprising and adventurous nation. We are skilled in argument and war. By and large, we are good-looking. Our engineers, doctors, businessmen and anything that requires logic and argument are building bridges, running clinics, laying down the law the world over. With these positive characteristics, are some equally well known defects. We can be belligerent and quarrelsome, vengeful, unforgiving, vain, violent and drunk. These attributes, good or bad, are I suggest, well known.


You may not have realised however when you consider Scotland’s poor record on addiction to alcohol and sugar, that Scots (women in particular) suffer from an additional addiction – a dpendency on cardigans. I myself am a closet sufferer.


We have lived in the beautiful south of England for nearly 30 years, and I resist any suggestions of returning to The Frozen North by arguing that the weather is so much worse there. I appreciate the mildness of the climate in the Deep South and we no longer have to make an annual dash from The Frozen North to the shores of the Mediterranean, desperately longing for sun. So, mild weather is desirable. Hot weather is a different matter.


We recently spent over 3 weeks in France in which for longer than a week, the temperature edged towards the 40s. Cold may not be good, but if it were this hot all the time, life would be miserable. I should perhaps mention at this point that we are famously lucky with our holiday weather, to the extent that other people used to try to take their holidays when we did. (In part I think this ‘luck’ is just a willingness to accept with good grace whatever comes. We’re Scots. We’re unfazed by ‘weather’.) But when you wake up in the morning realising that you’re already in a slick of sweat and the temperature before breakfast is in the 30s, it’s not good. Then the noon-day sun is almost unbearable. There is a whiff of drains. The crowd is too stupid, too smelly, too slow and FAR too near you. Everything is too steep, too difficult, too much bother, TOO HOT! You can keep your air-conditioning on, and we did, but its constant drone almost cancels out the benefits of its coolness.


And the insects! I, who have boasted that I ‘never get bitten’ (I have a robust, though not an impenetrable, resistance even to the fearsome Scottish midgie) get horrible bites which linger, unsightly, itchy, hot and festering until we come North of the Loire, when over-night they all disappear!


So we return to England and cloudy, grey, cool skies, and I think, how absolutely lovely. You can keep your hot weather.


I realise my idea of a ‘nice’ day is one on which the sun shines; you don’t need to wear your hat and gloves, and if you find a seat out of the wind, you THINK about taking your coat off. And your cardigan? Like I said; it’s an addiction. You’ve got it firmly buttoned up under the coat. There’s no chance at all of your taking it off.



We’re just back from France, where we were for over three weeks and apart from one brief thunderstorm at Troyes, it never rained, and for the last week the temperature was in the 30s. I’ll tell some tales about it, but here’s a minor episode – but one I found charming.


We were exploring, with our friends Nan and Steve from Scotland, the hinterland behind the coast from Nice to Cap d’Antibes, and on this particular day about lunch time we walked through the hilltop village of Gourdon. It was very attractive; all tiny streets with beautiful ancient doorways surrounded by pots of flowers, pretty shops, just delightful. In addition although not tourist free (yes I know WE were there, but we’re travellers, not tourists!) it was blessedly light on visitors, unlike the more popular but in no way more lovely town of St Paul de Vence which we had battled our way through the previous day.


At the high point of the village were three tables of a restaurant, shaded by large umbrellas, and with an absolutely stunning view right down the valley as far as Nice Airport. Belonging to (or possibly owning) this restaurant was a large grey cat, handsome, and I guessed a Tom judging by the size of his head, his large paws and his powerful neck muscles. When our host came out to discuss what we might have (he spoke only in French and there was no written menu), Monsieur le Chat padded out beside him, and stood with his head on one side for all the world as if he too would have advised you on what was the best choice. He went to each table and listened while the menu was discussed. Our host went off to organise our choices, and the cat remained, studying the tables with intent (rather reminding me of Ewan wondering where to entrust his chocolate egg.) After a thorough consideration of everyone, the cat came back and sat down at my feet.


I said to him, Do you speak English? The cat didn’t deign to look at me, but the twitch of his elegant back clearly indicated, I speak ‘Cat’. So, I thought, Cat it is.


John and I had both chosen to have a fish called St Pierre, (which tasted rather like bream.) So I said to the cat, ‘Come back when they serve us the fish, and I will share mine with you.’ With a small flick of his tail he walked off and disappeared out of sight.


We had a delicious first course of Soup of Melon with tiny dices of cucumber in it. Lunch was slow, but we had time. Two hang-gliders took off just beneath us and went soaring past on the thermals. The dishes were cleared away. Monsieur came back with our main course, and all of a sudden the cat was back at my feet, still not looking at me. The cat and I ate the fish together. I did not give him skin or lesser pieces, but shared the best with him. I ate about two thirds and he had a third: he also got some of John’s. He ate daintily, slowly and silently. He never made any call, nor did he ask for anything at all. Eventually we came to the last morsel. I gave him the best juicy bit, and I said to him, ‘I’m afraid that’s the last of it, Puss. All done.’ With a small flick of acknowledgement from his tail, he finished his meal. When he had eaten every fragment, he raised his head and looked me full in the face for the first and only time, ‘squinged’ at me from his beautiful eyes, and then made a leisurely departure to a nearby sunny window sill where he cleaned his paws and settled down for a post prandial snooze!


Did he speak English or did I speak Cat?


Bon appetit to the subtle and lovely cats of France!


(I do have a photo of the grey cat, but at present he’s stalking the corridors of cyber space, and I am unable to set him free.   I’m working on it!)