The last two weeks were spent in the UK visiting family and friends. Apart from the less than wonderful weather a good time was had as we toured southern England.(An honourable exception for Plymouth where we went knocking on doors in the sun campaigning for a friend who is the candidate in a by-election, although there was something of a wind.)
As well as seeing friends and family I got to see and exhibition ‘Becoming Picasso‘(One of the pictures from the exhibition is shown left) at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House and The Villagers play in Brixton. A trip to ‘The Sound Machine‘ saw me more than a few quid poorer but with some more records to take home and listen to and then convert to MP3 files. A visit to a fantastic curry house in Whitechapel and taking refuge from the storm in the fantastic The Hope – and sampling the 9% Human Cannonball, which wasn’t even the strongest beer there! As well as all this I sated my magazine habit. Since the demise of The Word I am still looking around for one magazine that provides me with the music and cultural information, interviews etc that it used to, to no avail. As a result I have been buying a different one for music and trying out others for lifestyle, cultural information etc.
Now I am home I am working my way through them. Yesterday I sat in the glorious sunshine on our balcony reading Esquire. To be more precise I was reading an interview with an American writer, James Salter,(Pictured right) and they were talking about his time as an aviator in the American Air Force. He is talking about his time in Korea:
“I finished with one [enemy plane] destroyed and one damaged….When I returned to domestic life I kept something to myself, a deep attachment – deeper than anything I had known – to all that had happened.” Later, his feelings hardened. “I felt I had not doing what I set out to do. I felt contempt for myself, not at first but as time passed, and I ceased talking about those days, as if I had never known them. But it has been a great voyage, the voyage, probably, of my life.”
To me he says: Those years of flying have a brilliance for me that is of a different order. The feeling of coming back from something memorable, landing with your wingman, it’s a feeling of having out-sailed a storm.
“But that isn’t my life. I have said many times I don’t want to be considered one who flew fighters. That’s not who I am. I devoted the subsequent 50 years -more – to writing.”
It made me stop and think about my life. For me, my years active in politics have a “brilliance that is of a different order.” Working to achieve something and seeing it happen, working to get someone elected – especially when they are not expected to do so – has that “feeling of having out-sailed a storm.” I too felt that I had not achieved what I set out to but I was lucky. I had ceased being an individual, active myself but I was still very active in working in politics. It had been my ambition to work for an MP and I now was. It meant that I could throw myself fully into that now that I was not having to balance it with being a councillor. So when it finished I did not feel contempt for myself. Then my work for the MP ceased and my life changed, first in London, working close to politics, then moving to France and discovering and learning teaching. My involvement in politics was a “great voyage” but, for me, there are other voyages to come that could still be the voyage of my life, who knows where? Talking of voyages, towards the end of my time working for the MP I really discovered the joy in travelling which led to the project to visit all the European capitals. Subsequently I discovered the joy and thrill I get from acting, this part of my life seems to be about standing up in from of people and talking, a lesson or lines I learnt. So, I don’t want to be known as someone who was previously in UK politics, in however small and humble a role, that’s not who I am I’ve devoted the subsequent 8 years to living and hope for there to be many more to come.
I don’t think much about what happened but concentrate on what’s coming and where to go next. So I don’t think about my time in politics too often. So it was strange that after an occasion where I had thought about it, it was brought back almost immediately again.
When I worked in Westminster I would join some people at the end of the day for a drink before walking home. This mainly happened in the Stranger’s Bar and I would often have the drink with MPs or other assistants working in MP’s offices. When I left I didn’t keep in touch with any of these people, they were social acquaintances whose company I enjoyed rather than friends. This was not strictly in the same party. MP’s, whatever party, work under the same conditions, suffer the same difficulty in getting to speak or initiate debates. They all have constituency parties full of ‘swivel-eyed loons’. For assistants, working for an MP is pretty much the same, you have to do the same things in the office, have the same battle with the Parliamentary Authorities to get what ‘your member’ wants. So often the people whose company I would enjoy would be Conservative as well as Labour. There wasn’t much mingling with representatives or assistants of the smaller parties, there was less of them around for a start and the one thing people from Labour and the Conservatives can usually agree on is the awfulness of most Lib Dems.
Even so it was shock to find that one person whose company I enjoyed had died. She lived alone with few remaining family. It was only in April when she stopped turning up to work, without any excuse being given – something she would always have done – that a couple of colleagues went round to her home. They got no answer and called the police. The police broke in and found the person dead. She had had breast cancer but had not told anyone about it. Colleagues had thought she had increasingly had not looked good but had not asked in that very English way. I am working in the UK this Summer and had already bought my ticket. It means that I will be able to go to the Cremation in Mortlake and then on to a service in the Chapel in the Houses of Parliament. I am pleased to have a chance to pay my respects to Claire.