The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on
Not all your piety nor wit,
Shall have it back to cancel half a line.
Not all thy tears wash out a word of it.
The Rubaiyat. Omar Khayyam.
Rummaging in the cave of the villa outside Nice where we both once lived I came across some of the dairies of my mother. How they were salvaged from my ruthless destruction of so many of her papers, letters and photographs, the endless paraphernalia of her effects, and all the chipped china cats I cannot imagine. I am you see, not a sentimental person.
However this struck me as an extraordinary re-enactment of a scene in my novel, Casino Café written when she was still alive in 2013. In it, the protagonist finds her mothers dairies and these give her the key to unblocking the impasse she has reached in her own attempts at novel-writing.
The first page I opened contained the above quote. The earliest surviving diary dated from 1960 the latest 2002, the year she arrived to live with me in France. The extracts are a poem in themselves, a portrait, almost an echo of her presence. Her favourite war poet, Rupert Brooke wrote The Great Lover in Matiea in 1914, the year of her birth. This poem famously lists his own great loves, the things he guards as treasured memories of life. In writing he wishes to preserve these things that others, in turn beholding them and loving them as he did, might remember him and thus he might perhaps outwit the intransigence of all life.
As a fellow Diarist, a lifetime habit, perhaps inherited from her, I have here recorded a small collection of the things she loved.
Plants and gardening tips: Wanted. Choisya Ternata ( pungent flowering shrub) Japonica, Weigelia, Daphne, Cowslips and Grape Hyacinths. Instructions for planting Honeysuckle, propagating, taking cuttings,trimming, pruning etc. I learnt Hemp Agrimony with both the pink and white flowers grows wild in Dorset streams. This plant that has been used in herbal remedies for centuries having anti viral properties would have been known to her as she briefly practiced as a dispensing chemist before and during the beginning of the London Blitz in the second world war.
Poems about Cats. Amusing version of William Blakes poem Tyger Tyger that ends with the lines,
Shining orbs that pierce the night,
What Immortal hand did make
Me and also William Blake?
1960 October 14th. Docked in Southampton. Queen Mary from New York.
Several recipes for fruit cake followed, interestingly the instruction to tie a double piece of brown paper around the outside of the tin then cook at 140 degrees for 2 1/2 – 3 hours.
Poignantly, before her deafness set in at the end of the 1980’s lists of wanted tapes, a Music List including Schubert Symphony n 5 in B flat minor. Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody Theme from Paganini Opus 43. making me more appreciate the terrible cost she paid for the loss of her hearing .
A scattering of dates recalled, April 5th 1998;Lily returns from India. It was the return to propose my leaving India, for her to consider eventually living with me in France and her joy at seeing me again in England. Wednesday 29th May 2002; Left England for France.
That year the dairy had been faithfully kept, recording her first impressions and gradual settling into life in France, still semi-independent at 85. Reassuring to note how happy she really was and excited and enthralled by all her new experiences and discoveries. July 3rd 2002. “Thought so much of Lily all day. That tiny scrap, now she looks after me.”