Wednesday, 21 April 2010

When the flights go on again, all over the world!

I was transfixed by my first sight of a vapour trail in a week.
“Come and look at it, “ I squealed to the Partridge’s brother. The last time I had been so excited by such a mundane event was when the water suddenly surged through our pipes, having been cut off for over three weeks in 1983 as a result of the national water strike. Having to traipse up and down two flights of stairs in the midst of a severe winter to collect water from a standpipe in a neighbouring street made me, temporarily, appreciate the luxury of having a plentiful clean water supply literally on tap. Prior to arriving home, I had boasted to a friend that we had not been affected by the water strike. Once home I discovered the mains water pipe had burst in the cellar and although the water company had turned the water off, they would not turn the mains back on again for the duration of the strike. I was forced to collect fallen snow from my second floor roof and heat it in a saucepan just to have something to drink and wash in before I could make alternative arrangements the next day. Fortunately, local authorities still provided public baths where people could hire a bath in a cubicle to bathe in. Nowadays I imagine only showers in health clubs are available. It almost beggars belief but there was a time when my mother and I were living in a flat that did not have access to a bathroom. The nearest public baths were over two miles away and I needed to take a bus to get to them. I cannot imagine modern landlords would be able to get away with that. I came across an advert recently offering flats for sale in the very same house I had once lived in. Now even the tiniest studio boasts its own shower room.

My excitement at the vapour trail dissipated as quickly as it did. Not long afterwards, the sky seemed to be filled with the tell-tale sign of jet aircrafts. The noise they made seemed incredibly loud when normally I am scarcely aware of it. I find the incessant whine of helicopters far more irritating. I might mourn the resumption of aircrafts flying over England but it has come as a great relief to the Partridge. She has now booked a flight back from Germany for tomorrow morning. In order to get a refund on the Eurostar tickets she bought for this Sunday as a contingency plan, she will first have to relinquish these train tickets before she leaves Berlin, which means she is back to square one if her flight is cancelled.

I have used a Delia Smith recipe to make a pavlova, which I shall fill with whipped cream and strawberries marinated in framboise liqueur tomorrow if her flight is confirmed. I shall also roast a chicken for supper using fresh sage from the garden and bake some cardamom flavoured Finnish loaves to have with coffee when they first arrive. After all that effort, I hope they bring me back some German chocolates, otherwise it won’t just be the Eyjafjoell volcano erupting on an unprecedented scale.

Dual personality

For this week only I found myself commuting back from my Finnish class with a fellow student. He lives in Highgate permanently whereas I am only encamped here on a temporary basis. He used to live in Wimbledon and it seems he is acquainted with a friend of my friend’s. I knew the woman by name and reputation only and spoke out in her defence. It seems she had almost single-handily saved a local landmark from destruction many years ago and had set up a trust to enable the general public to tour the landmark from time to time as well as raise funds for its general upkeep. Now, according to my friend, this doughty campaigner was being forced off the very committee she herself had founded all those decades ago by a belligerent new guard, who seemed to have little time or respect for her judging by their callous treatment of her. It seemed poor recompense for all the years of hard work she had put in to not only to save but also ensure the continued survival of such an important landmark.

My fellow student knows the woman in question and her work for the Trust. He claims she was domineering and autocratic. She had been so used to treating the landmark as if it were her own personal fiefdom that she refused to countenance any opinions but her own leading to divisive clashes whenever matters of policy were discussed at meetings. Once, the majority of the Trust’s members had complied with her views without dissent. However, the simple passage of years had meant that most of her more ardent supporters had died or moved away from the area. The newcomers were not so quick to offer unquestioning fealty to her. Eventually her obstinacy meant she had to be sidelined as the Trust could not continue to operate under the old system of management, which had worked so well in the past but which was no longer capable of responding adequately to the kind of complex modern challenges facing it. Ironically, the woman’s very qualities of impassioned resolution and dogged determination, which had originally been so crucial for the landmark’s survival, were now jeopardising its very existence through her blanket refusal to compromise.

So is this woman a devil, saint or martyr? I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of either my friend or my fellow student. Either way, it is sad conclusion to such a fascinating story of one woman’s life-long work.