I’ve been reflecting recently on the kindness of my friends.

John had expressed anxiety about the length of time I sometimes spent alone when he was playing golf and was beginning to doubt whether he should go. I was quite horrified about this. I think it is very important that he continues to go. He really enjoys golf. It’s good exercise. He gets to stride out and not toddle along at my snail’s pace! He enjoys the masculine company (and occasionally some ladies.) He gets to spend time in a circle that is exclusively his own and nothing to do with me.

I manage quite well on these days. Usually my children telephone me for a chat. I have an emergency button should I require it. I have plenty of things I like doing. But I suggested to John that I set up an arrangement among my girlfriends that someone will come and have a coffee wIth me on these days. He agreed he would feel more comfortable if I had some company.

So now we have a group of 30 ladies who come and have coffee with me. I was gratified by the prompt and positive response to my request. Only two ladies declined and both had good reason and hope to join us later.

I send out a list of dates and people ‘offer’ for them as suits them. Often the dates are quite far in advance but if they find nearer the time that they have other demands on their time it is quite simple to find someone else who is available. I find it really enjoyable to see my friends one-to-one (although sometimes they elect to come in pairs and that is fun too.) It is good to have a quiet uninterrupted conversation, catch up with their news, enjoy their company. It keeps me in touch with everybody and I really enjoy seeing them all. I appreciate people’s generosity in giving up their time; in their encouragement of me; how they ask if they can do any small thing while with me; how they make me laugh and support me.

Surrounded as we are by the horrors of terrorism and cruelty, we have to make an effort to hold on to the fact that although there are dreadful things happening in the world, by far the majority of people are kind at heart and wish to do good things. Unfortunately, acts of kindness and generosity do not make very interesting headlines!


I’ve been reading a book called Parting Shots, edited by Matthew Parris, which is a collection of valedictory reports by ambassadors leaving their final posting and therefore approaching the end of their careers and free to say whatever they liked – which they certainly did. These reports were meant to be of very restricted distribution; but they were wormed out of the shadowy system by a cunning and knowledgeable journalist under the Freedom of Information rules. The government has had the last laugh however; it has since banned the writing of these reports.

They are often very stylishly written and well constructed. Some are amusing; some are insightful, and some are horrifying in their prejudices.

I’ve always regarded the Foreign Office with deep suspicion, wondering if it pursues its own direction ignoring the government (which from its point of view must just be a temporary inconvenience) and questioning if it represents modern Britain at all.

We went to dinner once with a Foreign Office couple on their ‘at home’ assignment. Their children, aged 11 and 13, were made to sit on the stairs and come in when our hostess rang a bell and clear the table (in correct formal mode). We were not at all comfortable with this arrangement and helped the children by stacking the dishes, and talked to them about their holidays. Their parents were quite resentful of this demonstration of disapproval, and asked us to desist, saying it was part of their education. (We did not desist).

I do however recommend the book!