Chapter 1. Henry – A Fountain Pen, a Computer and a Car

Henry – Chiswick, London

It’s high time I put it all down on paper. I’m not getting any younger after all. None of us are. But at least with age you can see things in perspective, and you also have a calmer view of everything around you. “All passion spent” I suppose. Yes, that’s it. “All passion spent”. Milton, I seem to remember. We did it at school but that was years ago. Little things still stick though. You always remember the poems you had to memorize at school. Thomas Hood’s ‘I remember’ was one. It’s been with me all my life. I’ve always enjoyed reciting it. I hope I haven’t bored too many people!

Here I am in Chiswick with my life of routines that become quieter as the days go on. There’s nothing really to struggle for anymore, although I do give myself little goals. I have no great ambitions to achieve now, no promotion at work to aim for, no more cvs to send in. That’s one good thing about getting old! There are no more cvs to send in! Thank goodness for that! How long I used to spend on them! Then I would walk down to the pillar box and post them.  And then I waited. And I waited.  And usually there was no reply at all. None. What does it take to just send a standard letter? ‘We thank you for your application but regret to have to inform you that…’ That is better than nothing. Anything is better than nothing. “No man likes to have his best ignored, be it ever so little!” Who said that? Was it Johnson? It may have been. Everything worth saying has been said by Johnson. Or Shaw or Wilde. I may not have Johnson’s words quite right, but I think I’ve remembered the gist of them. 

When you’re old, you still have to work towards something. You’ve got to have aims, however small they are. Just getting up and getting dressed is objective number one, and that seems to take long enough. In fact, I need a coffee and a rest when I’ve made myself ready for the day ahead. And I used to be up and off to work in 20 minutes! 15 minutes sometimes! But, anyway. 

When I say I must put it down on paper, I really mean that. I still use paper. And I still have my old fountain pen. I was thirteen when I bought it, and the man in the shop said it would last a lifetime, and so it has.  I have had several nibs since then, of course.  A couple of nibs ago I changed to ballpoints, but then I changed back again.  There is nothing like ink.  Did you know that Victor Hugo used exactly one bottle of ink to write ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’?  He opened the bottle when he started the novel, and that bottle lasted him to the final sentence.  Think of all the other bottles of ink in the shop where he bought that one.  What happened to them, I wonder?  I suppose that some were used for a few schoolboy exercises, some were half used and then thrown away, some were left on the shelf and simply dried up, and some were tipped over and spilt on the floor.  But that one bottle just happened to be bought by Victor Hugo and taken home and put on the desk, and look what it produced! In fact, he thought of calling the novel ‘What there is in a bottle of ink’, but then he had second thoughts.  Thank goodness.

Well, my pen has lasted me almost a lifetime! I prefer pen and paper. What I want to talk about is too close to me for using a computer. When you’ve got words on paper, you know where you are, don’t you! You’ve got control. But with a computer I always have the feeling that the words will fly off somewhere and then I never know if I can get them back. It’s like a racing pigeon. Off it goes into the deep blue yonder, and you’re never absolutely sure if you’ll ever see it again. And pigeons have a far better homing instinct than a computer text! I have never lost any pigeons but I’ve lost plenty of words, I can tell you. 

I am always told that I bang the keys on a computer. Well, I always used to use a typewriter, and that is what we had to do in those days. We gave the keys a good bang! It is hard to change, and we carry our habits through to the next invention. My grandfather had been brought up with horses. Horses pulled the plough and they pulled the hay wagon and they pulled the trap to church on Sundays. Nothing on the land was faster than the horse. The horse was king. And then one day my grandfather bought his first car. I remember seeing him turn from the road into our yard at a tremendous speed, violently pulling the steering wheel towards his chest shouting ‘Slow you brute! Slow down there! Slow down, won’t you!’ Then the car would crash into the barn door. It crashed into the barn door almost every day, I remember.

As regards Anne, I can only talk about what I saw and what I heard, of course. It’s not the whole picture, you can be sure of that. Of course, it never is the whole picture, but it’s something. ‘Algo es algo’ as my friend Carmen would say. I’m taking you back now, back to Somerset in the early 60s. The swinging 60s! But Somerset, at least as far as I can remember, and my memory does play me up a bit nowadays, Somerset did not swing much in the 60s. That was all in London, I suppose. Life in the village and in the gardens of the village and in the fields round about the village went on much the same as it had done in the 50s and as it had done in the years well before the 50s as long as you take out the war. The runner beans came up just the same, and so did the potatoes. The sweet peas bloomed and were cut for the vases in the dining room. The Bramley trees blossomed and gave apples just the same. The same as they do now really, if you go back to see. The church tower is still there just as it always was, Sunday after Sunday.

But, it’s her that I really want to talk about. This is Anne’s story, not mine! I’m just in the wings, just here in case I’m needed! I’ve known her all her life. Now she’s a barrister in Bristol and I’m very proud of her. She’s doing very well as far as I can make out.