A brittle iced-over puddles and frost-snapping twigs day. Rain in torrents, low cloud, hint of snow. WordPress wants me to have an improved posting experience but I am not ready for that and like my settings to stay the same for as long as possible. My small white heart dog Chloe has taken to obsessively licking her front paws and I am not sure how to discourage this. Scolding her makes everything worse. Her twin dog sister The Chub is no longer OCD, according to the vet who likes to use human psychological tags, but she has sand fleas from rolling around in dusty patches and scratches noisily at night.
It is the Feast of St Augustine of Hippo, the African Berber saint, who once said, ‘Make me good, O God, but not yet.’ All the medieval and Renaissance images of him show Augustine with imploring blue eyes and golden curls and a pink cheeked face, rather than dark-skinned and woolly. This reminds me of my shock on being told at the age of seven that my sky-friend Jesus did not really have soft blond ringlets or a trimmed light brown beard or walk around the shores of Galilee in a long snow-white robe with bare pink feet. It made me feel the artists had not bothered to read the Bible or met any real live people from the Middle East.
Earlier this week, my faraway sister sent me scanned copies of my father’s and mother’s birth, marriage and death certificates. Such a fine cursive flowing copperplate handwriting people had in the 1930s! Even in the 1960s. Legible, no spelling errors, fluent, the handwriting of government officials and civil servants who wrote many letters and filled in many forms and sent off personal bread-and-butter thank-you letters on embossed notepaper several times a month. A vanished world of accomplished literacy and skilful written communications across a fading Empire.
Perusing (another charming and mislaid word) my parents’ marriage certificate, I discovered that they were married in a registry office five months before I was born. News to me, that I was — what is that old phrase? — conceived out of wedlock. It means nothing to me now of course, although back then it was probably the reason the marriage was rushed through before my mother began to show, or even the reason why the registry office marriage took place at all. Was there resentment, panic, bitterness, entrapment? I have a vague memory of hearing from an aunt that my parents went off to honeymoon on a tropical island in the Mozambique channel and found they were completely and utterly incompatible. Awkward silence all day seated in deck chairs on the beach under the palm trees, followed by loud tearful arguments behind closed doors in the hotel bedroom each night.
‘A dreadful mistake,’ my aunt said. ‘A mistake right from the start.’ There would be four more children, however, and no divorce. It was an outwardly charming and accomplished society with hidden conflicts and cracks in the plaster. No respectable woman wanted to be a ‘gay divorcee’ as it was called without irony back then.
And somewhere in this troubled creative combination of an unwanted pregnancy, a hasty marriage, a failed honeymoon, gritted teeth and compromise, all the thank-you letters and detailed forms and quirks of human desire, despair and surrender, I had my beginning. So curious, so human, so mysterious.
“…. we must look back over our lives and look at some of the accidents and curiosities and oddities and troubles and sicknesses and begin to see more in those things than we saw before. It raises questions, so that when peculiar little accidents happen, you ask whether there is something else at work in your life. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an out-of-body experience during surgery, or the sort of high-level magic that the new age hopes to press on us. It’s more a sensitivity…. the concept that there are other forces at work. A more reverential way of living.”