Saturday, 16 July 2016

Friendship and kindness and love.

As all the drawers are emptied, I take home each day small files and folders of papers. My mother kept everything. There are cards in wobbly childish writing saying: I love you Granny. There are notes from old friends, from her dear husband, even one from the Spanish Ambassador. (I can’t read the writing, so have no idea what that is about.) I can’t save them all. Sometimes I have to throw away things with words of love written on them. This feels like sacrilege. Do we find love so often that we turn it off the box?

In one of the piles, I find a flimsy telegram. It is typed in the faded capital letters of a lost time. It is very simple. It says: ‘You transformed a sad week into one S and I adored because of friendship kindness and love.’

I remember well the man who wrote that. He is one of the cohort of the great old gentlemen, the ones who remember the war. He was very sweet to me when I was a raw teen, doing the thing that the finest gentlemen do, which is treating me not as if I were a callow youth, but as if I were in fact the Spanish ambassador. (The father of the Beloved Cousin used to do the same thing. I think of it every week. It is one of the great gifts in life, and it leaves an enduring legacy.)

This particular gentleman had polio when he was young, so he was slightly lame. He and my mother used to go to the same dances, in those far-off days when people went to dances. My mother was very shy, and used to find them torture. The grand gentleman was not yet grand, but diffident and with a gammy leg. The more dashing girls found other partners. But Mum always danced with him. She did not care about the leg.

Thirty years after those excruciating social gatherings, he wrote her a telegram about friendship and kindness and love. Thirty years after that, I found the slip of paper, almost transparent with age, which she had preserved in a little leather case where she kept her most precious correspondence.

It’s not a bad epitaph. If someone ever wrote that of me, I should think that I had had a good life.

Not everyone chooses friendship and kindness and love. As the hectic news rolls daily off the presses, it is clear that these simple virtues are not at the top of everyone’s list. They seem so simple and so obvious, almost as if they fall from the sky like gentle rain. But they are not obvious to every human, and they do not simply fall. They, like all the important things in life, must be chosen. They are active virtues, more robust and stalwart than they sound. They are what Shakespeare meant when he wrote: so shines a good deed in a naughty world. They make a difference. They can transform something sad into something adored. I have written proof. 


  1. We just had a big bowl of pasta, fresh fruit in this quirky happy house of mine. Four horse hounds, me the most green by a mile. Names from childhood - Toby Balding, Ryan Jarvis, the word apprentice used repeatedly. Talk of the Palmer biscuit family, 19th Century pioneers who created altruism as well as wealth. An old dog and my kind dog. The reason for the lunch - one of the guests is having a torrid time, one is recovering from cancer surgery, one has emerged phoenix like from a rough three years and the other one is me who loves having people around my table, my door always open. Kindness. I love your shy mother and the gentleman with the gammy leg.

  2. That was lovely, thank you.

    I have been away without internet, so the preceding posts and comments were all read in one sitting. My goodness, what a time..

    Whilst away we had a deliberate media embargo to try to heal unexpectedly profound wounds and deal with divisive rage. We met many European people who are bewildered on our behalf and tried to change the subject as quickly as politeness would allow.

    Time with beloved dogs, crashing waves and blessed quiet has helped hugely. I avoid the Daily Mail assiduously, therefore have never read Sarah Vine's words and as a relative newcomer to this lovely space, had no idea about your history...for a balanced view I think we are judged as much for the quality of our enemies as our friends. If anyone insists upon judging that is. I come here to enjoy your words and feel your heart and soul pouring out of the ether. Once upon a time I would have had an inflexible hat on which would have prevented this privilege and pleasure had I been privy to your close association with a perceived enemy. Fortunately, nowadays my hats have all been sat on too and I just see you.

    I'm very happy that you're dusted off and back on your pony.

    "She worked hard and was kind" is surely the ultimate epitaph to aspire to.


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. That should read WE tried to change the subject...haha or else it seems that we were just going around making random Europeans uncomfortable with unsoliced Brexit blether!

  3. I'd be so glad to have an epitaph like that.

  4. This is so lovely. What a beautiful epitaph. x

  5. Friendship, kindness and love. The only things that truly matter.
    What a beautiful epitaph.

  6. Friendship, kindness and love. The only things that truly matter.
    What a beautiful epitaph.


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