Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I have an old godfather – I may write this freely as he does not have a computer, let alone read a blog – who is of a tremendous age. ‘The doctors ask me how old I am, and I say either eighty-six or eight-seven,' he says. 'Doesn't make much difference.'
I have been worried about him for a while, because his health has not been good. I had been meaning to write or ring, but had kept postponing on account of deadline madness, and then post-deadline crash. Finally, this morning, I picked up the telephone.
No answer. Terror gripped me. It was too late. I had not written the bloody letter to say what a marvellous, splendid godfather he had been to me, and how lucky I was to have him. I had not made the call (how could I not spare five minutes from my busy schedule?) to make some jokes and ask him how he was and offer any practical help he might need. I was useless and feckless and pointless.
I was absolutely certain that he was either in the grip of fatal illness or had been carried off altogether. (Actually, if he were to read this, I suspect he would not think it indelicate. He is straightforward and robust about death. ‘You’re coming south in November? Well, if I’m still alive, I’ll give you lunch.’) I felt a sudden acute despair.
The plumber, one of my favourite men in the world, had arrived to deal with a leak, and I was almost unable to smile at him for fear of breaking into tears. I thought of my dad, whose great friend the godfather was. I thought: I can’t lose another of the great old men. I suddenly could not bear it.
I left a few panicked messages with mutual friends. Then I tried to concentrate, rather fruitlessly, on work. At noon, the telephone rang. ‘Hello,’ said the godfather, in his formal, Brigade of Guards voice. ‘Who is this?’
He had done 1471, not recognised my mobile number, and was ringing back the mystery caller.
I burst into laughter of relief. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I’m so glad to hear your voice.’
He is not well. The doctors are prodding and poking. The food in the hospital he had been in was indescribable. But he is still sharp as a needle. He told me stories of my grandmother from the 1950s; one hellish boat trip in particular stood out in his memory. I have heard this story before, but always make him tell it, because it is so funny.
‘They made me sleep in a cupboard,’ he cried, in indignation. ‘With the fishing nets.’ My uncle was arrested by the Corsican police, who demanded vast sums of money to let him out (some bogus visa violation); my father was mostly drunk; my grandmother waxed lachrymose, as she was escaping from a dreadful third husband; and there was a near shipwreck. ‘We were drifting, drifting, towards the rocks, and no one did anything.’
After half an hour of anecdotes and occasional naughty asides (‘she really was the most dreadful woman I ever met,’ he said, of one of my old relations), I said: ‘Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you? You know, logistically?’ He has some writing to do, and finds it difficult now; I offered to come south and be his stenographer. But the old man is made of doughty stuff. He fought in the war. He is used to doing for himself; I think he prefers it that way. He graciously declined my faltering offer.
I put the telephone down. I said, out loud: ‘The godfather is alive’. It felt like a present, as unexpected as a shooting star in a clear midnight sky.
I know that, as the old gentleman himself says, he may not be here for very much longer. He is eighty-six or eighty-seven. Although I think of him as a national monument, someone who has always been there, since my earliest memory, I know that he cannot go on forever. But he is here for a while more, and I made that call, the one I would so have regretted not making, had it proved too late.
He said, at the very end: ‘Oh, I do feel cheered up now.’ My dad used to say that, in very much the same kind of telephone calls. I thought now, as I thought then: there is not much I can do, for the old people, but I can ring them and cheer them up a bit. It is not much, but it is not nothing. I am more passionately glad that I can say that I got through, and heard his ironical old voice coming down the line.
I know this. You all know this. And yet, sometimes one needs to be reminded. Make the call; write the letter; say the thing. I write that sentence not as admonition, but as a pour-memoire, for myself.
Sometimes, with the old people, I think: oh, they won’t want to talk to me now, or they will be tired, or feeling ill, or just creaking and cross. I think, perhaps it will be the most tremendous bore, having to chat. It isn’t. It’s important to call and make a joke and pay a compliment (‘you are a watchword for elegance,’ I told the godfather), and express the love. I almost missed the boat. I felt the bashing regret.
Make the call, I tell myself; write the letter. Say the thing.
Now for your pictures. The sun came out today, after four days of unremitting dreich. That felt like a present, too.
My little Japanese cherry is the reddest I ever saw it:
Moss on the wall:
The honeysuckle is still going:
Beech avenue, dazzling in the sunshine:
Light on the hills:
The philadelphus is still green as green:
Cotinus, with lime tree in the background:
The view over my garden gate, to the blue hill beyond:
Someone was looking quite perfectly ravishing today:
Oh, my lovely Pigeon. She is a present too; so that's three in one day:
And the hill, having been quite invisible in the cloud, burst back into view in all her pomp: