The funeral, of course. We were all OK until the lone piper, yes?
As Westminster Abbey filled and the cortege made its way from Westminster Hall to the service, then on to Windsor Castle, I found myself mentally tabulating all the times I have sat and watched this strange family go about their pageantry-filled business. The Queen’s silver jubilee is one of my earliest memories – you don’t easily forget seeing Catford covered in bunting, because it jars so much with the gun shop. I remember Charles and Diana’s wedding. I kept a scrapbook of their engagement and big day, because she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen.
I remember my mother and her friend Janet exclaiming in dismay when she got out of the carriage because her dress had been so crushed. Dad had gone on holiday for the duration to escape it all. I remember William and Harry being born, their christenings and, of course, their terrible walk behind their mother’s coffin, nowhere near enough years later. I remember Fergie yomping up the aisle, the Queen Mother’s funeral, Prince Philip’s, of course, and the boys’ weddings to Kate (I was 300 weeks pregnant at the time, and that and some crisps filled in a few hours nicely) and Meghan. Now this.
From there, naturally, I started to remember all the “normal” weddings and funerals I’ve been to over the years; the people I have loved; the people I have lost. That’s what this strange family is for. To force the occasional stillness, to commune with the past, realise how long you have lived and what a blessing it is.
I went to a friend’s book launch this evening. You know her, in fact – it is the Saturday magazine’s beauty columnist Sali Hughes. She has written what is basically a modern-day version of Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management, called Everything is Washable and Other Life Lessons. And she wrote it, I discover from a glance at the acknowledgements, for me. Because I ask her so many questions about – well, everything, really. Clothes, cooking, child-rearing, how to work these modern smartphones, you name it. And now it’s all in one handy volume for me to consult at my leisure.
My family is convulsed with derision. The news that someone has had to write an entire book to bring me up to normal adult human function has delighted them like nothing else. They are buying it for everyone they know so they can share in the joke. Now everyone is happy.
Vladimir Putin has issued a warning that Russia is prepared to use nuclear weapons over the conflict in Ukraine. I’m just thrilled by how many of my childhood dreams – and by “dreams”, I mean “nightmares” – are coming true.
We have floods (the building of the Thames Barrier ironically undammed that particular latent fear in my childish brain) as part of the bounteous fulfilment of the greenhouse effect about which we heard so much in the early 1980s. We have – or have had, to use the government’s preferred wrong tense – plague. Now nuclear war. Ah, how well I remember telling my mother through hacking sobs, after I’d just learned about the four-minute warning, that I wouldn’t be able to run home from school in time if it went off. “There will be a buildup to a nuclear war,” she said soothingly. “And I’ll keep you home so we’ll all die together.” Soon, I will be able to pass on the same comfort to my son. Isn’t the circle of life – or agonising mass death – wonderful?
I went out again this evening. That’s twice in a week. And I think it may have been for the last time. I got to about 9 o’clock and just … stopped. It was like hitting a wall. I could not go on. Quentin Crisp used to leave dinner parties fairly abruptly, saying, “I’m sorry, I must go, I’ve reached the end of my personality”, and it was like that, except I’d reached the end of everything. Energy, basic motor function, higher brain function – the lot. My focus had narrowed to the single goal of getting home, NOW.
It was nothing to do with the people, I should stress. I’m plenty old and wise enough to only ever spend time with people I adore, which as there’s only two and a half of them, normally leaves me plenty of time to recharge.
But clearly, even this tiny capacity of mine to socialise is now shot to hell. I’m going to miss my near-trio, but I think it’s out of my hands. I think I’m done.
“We need to do the garden,” announced my husband. It is the marital “we”, which is the opposite of the royal “we”, because it means “you”.
I look down at my daily to-do list. It has 47 things on it. I look at my medium and long-term lists, which are hosted on a special server in the Arizona desert.
“What do you mean by ‘do the garden’?” I ask, interested always to plumb the depths of his obtuseness.
He gestures. “Put grass here, instead of the gravel.”
“You mean – lay the driveway to the lawn?”
“Yes. We could do it on Saturday.”
I just left. I may go back; I may not. I think I’ve hit another wall.