Slightly less humid and thank goodness for that. Three delightful walkers – two young women and their Mum.
The last mile was a chore for the greedy toad of a farmer had ploughed up the path, and you know how hard that can make walking.
Our friend David Cook turned up, which was a real treat.
True friendship is a considerable gift. But of course, not all of my friends survive happily in this difficult world.
Requiem for a Friend
Whenever I see someone begging, I give them something. Why? Because it could so easily be me.
A few months ago, I attended the funeral of one of our oldest friends. He died alone – from a massive heart attack – in a cold, remote cottage in Ireland, alienated from his family and friends.
The Short Way Down
He started out so well. Good looking and charming, he went to a top public school followed by Oxford, then he worked in a famous bank. He seemed to make excellent progress, managing to forge friendships with leading politicians and bankers who appeared to be genuinely fond of him. Then he married a well-connected and lovely woman. What could possibly go wrong?
Lots. Drip by drip, the wheels started to rattle and then grind. The bank “let him go” and he was forced to make deals by himself. But they were always the smaller types of deals, the dodgy ones that the banks didn’t want – the deals you have to make, whether good or bad, to keep the bailiffs away. Of course, these are the deals most likely to fail. Optimism shredded as confidence drained – and then the best of the deals that had to work somehow just didn’t.
At first other people were to blame, but as the list of failures grew, his buddies began to smell failure and backed away. Then the phone stopped ringing and his calls went unanswered. Money grew tight and my friend started to drink. His realisation at the size of the gap between what he had hoped for and what had come to pass hurt, and he wanted to dull that pain.
He was caught out in some scam or other – probably someone else’s fault – and he found himself in the nick for a six-month stretch. His wife left him for another man, and his adult children grew ashamed and became alienated.
His friends kept him off the streets… just. But you can’t live people’s lives for them, and pride made him strongly resistant to advice.
It’s a tough life. In The Magnificent Seven, the leading bandit, played by Eli Wallach, says to the character played by Yul Brynner about the vulnerable villagers he was exploiting, “If God didn’t want them fleeced, he wouldn’t have made them sheep.” Some truth in that. And “dog does eat dog” – it is only the winners who get the prizes. Laugh and the world (does) laugh with you; cry and you (do) cry alone. All these sayings can be validated in this harsh, cold world.
That’s why my friend died sad and alone. And “there but by the grace of God go I.”
A Matter of Taste
There is a Welsh saying that the harp should be played with a smile on your face or a tear in your eye – or not at all. I like that. It’s not just the harp: what about our response to poetry, paintings and music?
I have stood before the painting The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. It evokes an acute sense of awe in the face of a genius that I could never hope to emulate in a thousand years. I can feel the same way about the glories of Handel’s “Messiah”, Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, or after watching Shakespeare’s King Lear or reading one of his sonnets.
The late American cartoonist Al Capp sums up abstract art when he wrote that it is “a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”
So when I see an unmade bed littered with fag packets and condoms, a cow’s intestine pickled in brine, a baked bean tin suspended from a skeleton’s neck, or an old sofa covered in women’s underclothes – and read the tripe uttered by the art experts – I wholeheartedly agree with Al Capp.
I am sure that there are some who genuinely find modern art wonderful – and good luck to them. But I want to encourage all who may not be confident in their own choices not to be bullied by the “experts” into an affection of admiration.
We all instinctively know whether or not something holds meaning for us. And forget what is fashionable – you don’t need a three-year degree in art appreciation to know if you like a piece or not.
So why not be like the boy who announced the “emperor has no clothes,” and believe in your own good taste? It’s good because it’s yours.