Serena was born at lilac time.
Now that the lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
Ever since I was a teenager I have delighted in bowls of lilacs. All because of TS Eliot. Planted lilacs in many places where we have lived.
Looked out of the window at them waving congratulations the morning we woke to find a miraculous, serene, golden little dayspring baby in a wicker cot by our bed all along with the sunshine.
Where did that come from?
In our next house, the wing of the eighteenth century vicarage where Shaun was curate, I took cuttings and put them in all the flowerbeds, and they thrived, miraculously, like little Serena of the fairest white-gold-dust bubble-down hair. The park opposite, where I took our small children often – and where someone in a mac flashed at us when I had little Bink and Alex with me and the poor man! for once the police were there in under a minute and caught him, poor wretch what harm was he doing, really? – was full of multi-coloured lilacs – mauve and pink and white and soft blue and dark, dark purple – until one year some municipal saboteur took them out for bedding plants.
How I mourned those beautiful lilacs!
I planted this one, the variegated purple, in our new garden for Serena… along with several more.
“Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you who hold it in your hands”;
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
And this is the time of year when our house starts to fill with young people.
We let it out on Airbnb, this lovely home which we bought with the so-inadequate compensation from the church in Oxford which treated Shaun so badly, now that he has no work for us to live off, and from lilac time onwards they come flooding in, the happy laughing crowds, every weekend. Hen parties and stag parties and mixed “sten” parties, engagement parties and celebration-of-anything parties. Lawyers and doctors and vets and film-makers and young people from the City.
This weekend, a joint thirtieth-birthday-party. We get quite a few of those, too. It’s my girlfriend’s, my boyfriend’s, and I want to arrange a surprise for him, for her. Sixteen of us, twenty of us, for the weekend. We’re very respectful, all professionals. Is that all right?
They brought a couple of tents, these ones.
“You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
And smiles at situations which it cannot see.”
This weekend’s couple, just back from honeymoon, both had their birthday yesterday, same day, thirty and thirty-one both, and their one-year-wedding-anniversary today (working too hard, when they got married, to honeymoon a year ago) with twenty and more and twenty-two of their delightful, young, cosmopolitan and successful friends.
She, as a surprise for him.
(What on earth are we doing, he said when he arrived at the doorstep, going to someone’s house? Not the first to have said this, on being given our home as a surprise.)
One of the group arrived early and sat not-working at the kitchen table at teatime yesterday, trying to concentrate with Horatio in her face. She loved him: they all do. She is just changing Chambers and has much to do before back to London on Tuesday. The lawyers often bring work and need the WiFi code.
When we got in late last night they were dancing on the table and Horatio was barking that it was dangerous and they fêted us and introduced us and poured me a vile-coloured and surprisingly refreshing Prosecco with Aperol.
And asked my age and said gosh my mum’s younger than that and you look fantastic.
I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea.
Thirty. By the time Bink was thirty she should have been doing all this.
She is with her very kind friend, who – bless him – sent me the briefest of texts yesterday morning, to say she had been through a bad patch but seems to be recovering, and he is encouraging her to talk to us again.
Every time it happens I think: I mustn’t forget this. How much it hurts. How angry-making it is. How unbearably horrible to everyone. I must tell her. Why would Bink want to treat us all so vilely?
And every time there is the slightest hint of the possibility of her talking to me again it all melts away again in sorrow and tears for her and I only want to help her, to love her, to want her well.
So I never tell her how much it hurts us, after all.
“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful, after all.”
I was in Paris in the Spring before I went up to Oxford. Bink was never well enough.
I must stop writing, go into the garden and mark out the tennis court on the lawn. Round the tents. First time this summer. Forgot to ask our gardener last week, and they all brought racquets.
I sang in a concert last night, in the beautiful mediæval Moot Hall in the countryskirts of Bedford. My favourite concert of the choir I sing in: Elizabethan madrigals mostly, which is all I really understand, musically; our English late-flowering Renaissance. (I can’t do the modern, German stuff. I read the notes, but I never really get it.)
Kept thinking of Bink. Thank goodness not weeping uncontrollably, as I have been through so many concerts in the last few years.
But wanting to, in a way. The pity of it.
Kept thinking of her. Kept thinking of my poor, dear Bink.
Our penultimate song, set by one of the basses as a cappella close harmony. If only I could do this for you, Bink. If only I could.
Not nearly as sad as the last one. The soprano who sings next to me, the voice of an angel, heartbreakingly lovely, said she wants this at her funeral. You can’t, I said. We sang at your wedding eighteen months ago: far too happy and long a life ahead of you.
(Not your funeral to choose, she said. Not really yours either, I pointed out, since you won’t be around to insist.)
Bink almost could though.
Bink could almost, legitimately, have us sing this at her funeral.