15th April ~ A huge Get Well card has arrived, signed by my entire cast and crew. It’s a picture of a crocodile in bed with a thermometer in its mouth. Not a very sexy looking one. My P.A. had written ‘Rest: don’t feel guilty about spending time in bed, you work too atrociously hard.’
I’m reading a book about the French Revolution but I can’t take it in; my brain seems to have shrunk to the size of an apricot.
Mum went around in a Police car today with a video camera, in an attempt to catch speeders speeding. The life of a J.P. (Justice of the Peace.) She absolutely adores being a magistrate. Having always complained about public lavatories, it gives her a title suitable for bullying people to do something about them. And, she always had an aptitude for prosecution. I can remember waiting at the traffic lights when we were little when Mum sharply informed a boy on his bike,
‘It’s getting dark, you should have your lights on.’
‘So should you lady,’ he answered back.
He was right; she hadn’t turned her own headlights on.
Alastair came to see me, leaving a trail of destruction. It comes naturally to him. In the last few years he has broken the dishwasher, sloshed coffee all over the Persian carpet and split open our pink bath. He stood in it. For some reason he got in without any water, which was just as well as Dad found a live electric wire running underneath. Rats had gnawed off the plastic insulation.
It’s sweet of Al to come over, but it’s rather enervating having him around. Like many high achievers, he switches from being frantically outgoing to being totally self absorbed. I just wish he could understand that we love him for who he is and not for what he can achieve.
I don’t know; he’s crazy about what he does; Alastair is even more engrossed in his work than I am. His great passion in life is birds and he loves, loves, loves making films about them. I once asked him what was the most important thing in his life, thinking he might talk about his faith or his family, his health or even perhaps me. He said, ‘Peregrine falcons.’
‘Oh. What’s the second most important thing in your life?’
‘White fronted bee-eaters.’
James says he finds it somewhat annoying; not the bird fetish so much as the desire to get up so early in the morning. Al says he’s sure everyone thinks he’s bonkers but doesn’t care. The great thing is that one is whisked along with his enthusiasm and where it takes you; out to see gannets on the
Farne Islands in sparkling sunlight and high seas or off to remote parts of to find the flamingos and egrets he last filmed in the Camargue. Surprisingly good fun. A group of us girls went out to Morocco one Christmas to see him when he was making a film on the white fronted bee-eaters with Simon King. Al was so focused on the project that when we returned from a long and adventurous journey to Kenya Lake Turkana he didn't even say Hello. Mind you, he was battling to complete a sequence with a mongoose. (They predate on bee-eaters.) It wouldn’t do what Alastair wanted at all and that can be extremely frustrating. I had the idea that Marmite might smell like a female on heat. They got a shot of the mongoose sniffing a bit but somehow the Marmite got everywhere. Under Alastair’s arms, on Simon King’s pigtail, all over the mongoose, and I was covered in it. Mongooses don’t smell very nice either. The idea of making wildlife films suddenly lost its charm.
16th April ~ My littlest sister Mary-Dieu, aged nineteen, has a baby girl aged one. She’s called Daisy, has no schedule at all and arrives with a huge pile of laundry. It’s pretty difficult looking after her as she normally sleeps in bed with my sister and objects to being plonked in a cot. But she’s come to stay because Mary-Dieu wants to go ‘Clubbing’. Night clubbing. The thought alone exhausts me.
Daisy is a delight. Her big eyes and curls make her look like a little imp with a question mark on top of her head. I really didn’t know what to do with her, but found Atalanta’s baby-walker behind the sofa. Daisy thought this was great and spent all afternoon whizzing about my room. I rather need a baby-walker myself.
Nicola, one of my best friends from school, came over. She looked at Daisy with horror and then said in a small voice, ‘I’m pregnant,’ sounding like a frightened sixteen-year old. She isn’t sixteen; she’s twenty-nine and has been married for two years. I think it’s exciting that she’s going to have a baby. I showed her the schedule, which is still hanging on the sitting room mantelpiece.
‘Oh, Sophie, I thought that was for you.’
‘Yes. I suppose it could be.’
‘Do you manage to keep to it?’
‘No, we’re always behind.’
Daisy is sleeping with Mum in her bed and my father has migrated to his study. I lie alone in my high four-poster, looking at the card of the crocodile. Mary-Dieu (Dieu as in mildew) was nearly four when we adopted her. I was fifteen. She was the sweetest little thing, easygoing, bright and extremely articulate. Our only problem, and it was quite a hazard, was that she was, and still is, radically outspoken. She could state the obvious at embarrassing and inopportune times. We all had to go to court for her formal adoption. Mum knew that the old judge only had one hand. The other had been replaced by a hook. We were all terrified that Mary-Dieu would declare, ‘You’ve got no hand,’ or something and had been drilling her frantically. Instead, she walked into the court, paused in the doorway, and when sure of everyone’s attention, looked at the judge, looked up at Mum and said, in her clear piping voice, ‘I no say anything about the hook. I just tell him to be careful of the crocodile.’
17th April ~ Mum came plodding upstairs to ask if I wanted Rufus Knight-Webb to come and see me. I looked at her a little oddly. I know that Jesus wanted the sick to be visited but I’m not sure I should have so many people in my bedroom. Rufus is the son of our old G.P. and I haven’t seen him since he was adolescent. He’s an artist and lives in
; I’m sure he won’t want to come. London
‘You’ve absolutely got to see his wife. She’s beautiful.’ I’d no idea they were downstairs.
Mum was getting impatient with me. ‘It’s all right, they live in a squat.’ She was referring to the chaos in my room.
Rufus’ new Yugoslavian wife is beautiful. Startlingly so. In the way she is, as much as how she looks. She speaks not one word of English. Rufus, in contrast, hadn’t brushed his hair for a long time and spoke without drawing breath.
‘I’m painting with ultra-violet in the dark,’ he told me. I could just imagine it. Rufus in Peckham, painting in the dark. I showed him the luminous stars stuck to the ceiling above my bed. His works of wonderment need to be illuminated by a black light or something. Weird. (How can you get black light anyway?) They’re going to James’ dance in May, when we all have to dress up as soap opera stars. I tried to persuade him to go as a carrot and represent The Archers.
My photos of
have arrived from the developers. Oh, how I wish I’d never come back. The horses look so beautiful. I’m sitting on a big black Friesian with a flowing mane and tail. There are shots of us riding with the game. Shots of us walking through the mountains. Well, me walking, Sarah-Jane striding. I must’ve known her for twenty years. She has a wild and free life. And I mean a life in the wild, where she has freedom. Strong minded and independent, she’s torn away from convention and does what she wants. And why not? About five years ago we drove down through South Africa Africa and, although she had no money at all, she decided to stay and start her own business in tourism. Rebecca was on that trip. I’m going to send her some of these photographs and persuade her to get out there. It’s very much her thing.
18th April ~ Syndrome worse today. Achy back. I can hardly do anything at all. It’s so frustrating; being unproductive goes against the grain of my essential make up. I’m not even much fun to talk to. But surely I’ll be better in time for James’ party.
I went to see my family’s General Practitioner. She peered down my throat.
‘Yes, well this is infected for sure, but tell me, do you always push yourself to the limit?’
‘In what way?’
‘Were you getting stressed-out at work?’
‘I was under a great deal of pressure, but I’m used to coping with that. It can be all quite exhilarating.’
‘How long have you been doing this job?’
‘I’ve worked for the BBC for about eight years, and have been in this particular job, directing stuff, for three.’
‘But is it a stressful job?’
‘Yes, it’s up to me to come up with the goods; the filming is pressurised,’ I admitted. ‘I work with children who are only allowed on set for a limited time, so I have to operate at a fair pace, directing with two cameras, but it’s not as if I was getting particularly anxious or worried. I enjoy it.’ I do, I love my work. I didn’t go into the details but it was the stupid recce that nearly killed me. These times of planning and reconnaissance are normally fun, but we had no time at all. I was going to have to film difficult sequences from a canal barge and wanted everything to be well organised. It was all rather difficult to envisage. Instead of delegating, insisting my production manager chose the locations, I’d spent a Saturday cycling miles up a gravely towpath and I think I pushed myself too hard physically. The only stress was on my muscles, which I’d thought would be good for me. But I was still on antibiotics and must have felt better than I really was.
‘Well, you have had two bad bouts of ’flu this year. I’d say you definitely have post-viral fatigue.’
‘How long can I expect to be ill for?’ I asked.
‘It’s hard to say.’
What I somehow never managed to explain was that while I was with Sarah-Jane I recognised the fact that I was badly in need of a long break; a proper sabbatical.
I staggered back from the surgery, sank into bed and spent all afternoon in a deep, hot sleep. Mum came back from
looking pretty exhausted herself. She told me that Mary-Dieu was still in bed when she’d returned Daisy at half past five. In the evening. Honestly, even I get up before then, and I’m meant to be in bed. Gloucester
‘Her basement was filthy,’ Mum reported, ‘so I set to, scrubbing away. Mary-Dieu just sat on the sofa smoking, and watching me.’ Mum hates cigarette smoke. ‘I don’t suppose the night clubbing was much fun.’ Mary-Dieu’s lived in
for two years but hasn’t many friends. She seems to lead a nocturnal sort of life that I suppose cuts you off from the world after a while. Gloucester
Mum, worried about christening her granddaughter, once asked Mary-Dieu if she had a church. ‘Yeah, I belong to The Church of Can’t be Bothered.’ It’s her choice but she must be so bored. Poor Daisy has to put up with all the muddle and smoke and the darkness of this ~ I don’t know what you call it ~ alternative lifestyle. Mum was quite funny though, going on about the mess; her own room is just as bad. The things she has on her windowsill alone: piles of letters, Agatha Christie books, wire coat hangers, one shoetree, empty boxes, her old specs (I bet she’s been looking for them for ages) and we are not allowed to interfere. Mary-Dieu knows this of course.
19th April ~ Woke up with a stiff neck, feeling turgid and somehow compressed. It seems I’m unable to do anything productive. I ended up sitting slumped by my bookshelves reading about a boy who was dying, called William*. I was completely caught up by the story. His mother, Rosemary Attlee, tells the first part. Now I’m reading the journal William wrote in the last four months of his life. He was nineteen. It’s a spiritual journal and so touching. All true and much better reading than the French Revolution.
This diary of mine ought to be a spiritual diary but I’m shy about what people might think. I mean, it’s very personal. I used to think faith was a private thing, but we’re not going to learn anything by internalising what we experience. Anyway, it’s exciting hearing about what God’s doing in people’s lives. I don’t know if what’s happening in mine will be. Where do I start? I’m in the middle of so much. Start where I am now. Not a good place because I feel that nothing spiritual is happening in my life at all. I feel clogged up intellectually (and can hardly spell. I’ve just spelt hour: OUR and her: HAIR).
Should people pray when they’re ill? Well, yes, I’ve so much time on my hands. I ought to try to get closer to God. He really is here the whole time. That I have noticed. It’s a staggeringly beautiful spring for a start. These last few days I’ve been sitting quite motionless for ages, just soaking in all that is around me. I look out of my bedroom window at the cherry blossom. It’s spectacular. In the past I’ve been so busy filming that I’ve missed this extraordinary sight for years. Now it seems as if it’s out just for me, undaunted by wind or snow. Do people just get so busy they fail to appreciate God’s presence in their lives?
20th April ~ Tried to pray. Can’t; too groggy. Must, must keep my intellect at least ticking over by writing more creatively. It’s essential to persevere. And take risks.
P o e m
If it wasn’t for all the mud and rain
Reality wouldn’t be the same.
Better try harder.
Try brain exercise. Must read newspaper. Reach for The Times. Ghastly news:
It says that an estimated 100,000 people have just died in
, killed by a cyclone. That’s an awful lot. But then you read (well, I read in Bill Bryson’s book) that 1,360,000 people in the Bangladesh are airborne (flying over it) at anyone time; that must be about 5,000 aeroplanes; more. Dad says unless a load of planes are in the air, there’s not enough runway space for them to park up. Can’t bear to think about it. Give up. I don’t think I’m very well. Perhaps I could write about being ill for the advance of medical science. USA
I was just beginning to feel dejected when Mum appeared bearing ten pairs of the most enormous knickers I’ve ever seen. Five pairs white, five pairs ‘flesh tone’. Tamzin, who claims to be my most down to earth sister but is really quite glamorous, had just sent them to her for her birthday. Being a housewife she doesn’t earn any money, so my brother-in-law Johnty had had to pay for them. What an hysterical present. Mum had asked for knickers and told her to get the biggest possible, but these are VAST.
Dad, seriously concerned now about safety aspects of handling garden machinery, is writing an article about his experience with the rotary cultivator for The Kitchen Garden Magazine. They’ll just think he’s nutty.
21st April ~ Nicola has kindly given me some emu oil for my skin. Real emu oil, all the way from
. The Aborigines say it has wonderful healing properties. The only problem is that it makes me smell like a roast chicken. Australia
I’d love to be married like Nicola, but it’s just as well I’m not. I can’t bear anyone touching me at the moment. You don’t when you have ’flu and I feel like one does the day after the fever has gone, only this day seems to be going on and on and on. I must thank God for all the good things. He is in control. Control over a sick girl smelling like an emu.
Dad came back from buying plants looking relieved as he learnt that he’s not the only one to have an absurd relationship with a motorised plough. The man who runs the nursery, who after all is a professional gardener, said he started his rotavator in the garage and for some unknown reason it leapt into reverse too. The thing pinned him to the wall, blades spinning frantically within inches of his person. Like Dad, he was all alone and there was no way of escape. He had to wait until it ran out of petrol, which took about forty minutes.
*'William's Story' by Rosemary Attlee (Highland, 1987)