The benefits of learning to read early are effortlessly apparent. It’s a powerful thing to be able to edify and entertain yourself. The merits of late learning are less obvious, perhaps invisible if you are in a literacy heavy school system.
Patience is eight, she has a good grasp of how reading works but she is far from fluent. To compensate she has developed heightened focus and discernment. Sometimes she sits still with her gaze fixed on the speaker, sometimes her eyes are down as her hands fiddle in her lap. A question is asked and she springs up with a pertinent phrase plucked from the reading or a reflection on how she sees the subject in her own life. The ideas are complex, her comments mature.
I asked her how she does it. She says as she listens she picks out words she thinks there might be questions on and she tries to remember them.
By comparison my brain seems sluggish, slumped on the print, never having to stand on it’s own.
Thanks to ruthless packing, the only toys that made it across the Channel were Sandy, the sand filled doll and a handful of cars. After a whinefilled day or two, the tots have proved contentedly resourceful, especially when making dolls and jigsaws from G’s castoffs. Inspired by Eve Arnold I show you the tiny hands responsible.
Everywhere we go, huge walls of logs are trustingly stacked up to dry, not simply for this winter, but for two more to come. Everywhere. G and I never buy wood in England but through resourcefulness and opportunism get fuel for free. I say “we” get wood but G finds the tree, chops it down, cuts it into rings, puts it in a trailer, drives it home, carries it into our back garden, hacks it into chunks, stacks it, fills a basket, carries it in and puts it by the fire. That he has laid. I am a feminist poster girl. Here everyone assured us such self sufficiency would be impossible. We would have to (gulp) buy some.
Being surrounded by wood left us feeling complacent and we were virtually out of the stuff before we went on a family stomp round the village to investigate who our local dealer might be. We asked seven people who pretty much responded the same way. With a befuddled frown they would look skywards, straining to recall anything that might be helpful. But no, they had no idea how to get wood. They knew it had to be bought, they undoubtably had some, but how to get it….
On June 10th 1944, German troops arrived at the village of Oradour sur Glane. The villagers were rounded up outside cafe Chez Compain. The women and children were taken to the church. The men were taken in groups to various garages and barns. Grenades, then submachine gun fire. 642 people died. The village was set on fire.
Apart from the burial of the dead, the village has been left untouched. The open topped ruins slope down the hill, looking like giant gravestones. We walked round, reading discreet plaques that gave profession first, name second. Oradour had two hotels, two blacksmiths, two clog makers, several hairdressers, more than half a dozen cafes, two accountants, a garage, two carpenters, a tiled butchers, patisseries, an undertaker, and about 25 cars. We saw little brass beds, ironwork tables and chairs and countless sewing machines. Whispered echoes of bustling life. Any emotion I paddled in was inadequate to the brutal horror of what had passed.
Only not really. In this moment someone is being separated from their family, someone is walking towards a barn, someone is smelling the smoke.
Before we left, various chums were saying goodbye and a young woman came up to wish me a nice time and say they’d miss us. She’s in her early teens, cheerful, slim, very fashionable. We are part of the same community, but several weeks may pass between hello’s. I felt proud that she’d noticed I was going and that she cared enough to break orbit.
When I was small, my mother had a friend that we would visit at least once a week. There were no toys, so my little sister and I would track the twirling stems on the Turkish rug, then hop from flower to flower. Mum’s friend would bake little madeline mountains, snowy with coconut, topped with a glace cherry that always felt like a chewy decadence. As I grew up she became my friend too, a steadying, calming hand of perspective and humour. In the changing allegiances and heightened betrayals of my youth, she and I were as we always had been. I visited her in hospital, I don’t remember why she went in but she caught a grotesque superbug which ate away at her. She lay in an off corridor room. No longer vigorous, but dainty. We chatted and after a while I said how grateful I was to her, how I had needed her and how much she had helped me. She looked at me astonished and said “Have I?”
A new friend, in her sixties is showing us a cine film of herself as a teenager. It’s of a wedding, she’s a bridesmaid. Suddenly on the screen appears another friend we know from London. I used to go to her house every week for eggs, chips, beans and buttered plastic bread. I would spend the evening with her and her daughter. Her husband liked to talk, I found this interfered with my liking to talk, so although he was kind and intelligent, I was never crestfallen when he toddled off early to bed. In time we left London. In time the husband died. But there he is on the screen with his wife and they are young and good looking and in their smartest clothes and her arm is through his and she’s holding her own hand, so the two of them are linked and I want to cry for a man I haven’t thought of in ten years. All this time I loved him and I had no idea.