Everything turns away

About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters. Yesterday, walking down to the river on a delicious afternoon with FWB, we met Betty , a friend of both my mother and my mother-in-law, who had both known her separately in Karachi when they all were gels. Quite by coincidence, Betty also has retired to Saffron Walden. An exquisitely masked memsahib, with a pale, pretty face huge oval blue eyes and an expression of alien, bird-like curiosity and purpose. She must have been very dangerous in her youth. We asked how she was, expecting to hear details of a minor operation for which she was scheduled, but at once the ice gave way. Her daughter is in hospital with leukemia. Daughter is being frightfully brave. She makes jokes about her wigs. She has the top man looking after her. This phrase repeated three times in various contexts. One of the very top men. He’s very confident. (Since the diagnosis, six weeks ago, her daughter has spent only five days out of hospital). While Betty told us this, Freddie, her little dachshund, barked for attention spasmodically, drowning out some of the details. Then she remembered her manners, asked after the grannies, and even “Carolyn” — she’s a woman who always had difficulty with the names of wives — and took her leave, walking off very upright, with her shoulders squared and Freddie reconciled to her.

I gave some sententious speech to the FWB about the way that there is always an element of farce, like Freddie, in moments of excruciating horror: that’s how you tell they’re real. Then we walked on for a few miles, until we came to a magical stretch of the river where wild trout can be watched in shallew, clear water beneath overhanging trees. They were so completely satisfying and so beautiful that I wouldn’t have wanted to catch them even had I gone equipped, though I’d have loved to film them. And when we got home, and were asked what had happened on our walk, all we could remember were the trout. We talked about them for ages.

… how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure …

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