Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

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The dead are with us

One of the things about getting to be seriously middle-aged is that you read the obituary columns with more interest than you once did. There are people whose work you seriously admired - like the comedian Dave Allen - and you want to treasure those half-forgotten moments of laughing out loud at things he said. There are writers whose work you seriously dissed - I wrote some horrid things about Jack Chalker and I more or less stand by them, but I enjoyed some of his books, especially the non-genre one about the atomic bomb, and everyone says he was a nice guy - and you want to think about the balance between disapproval and approval everyone strikes when talking about the end of a career.

And then there are the people you actually once knew.

It's different when they are people whom you went on knowing right up to the point when they died. The death of Lorna Sage was an event in my life, right down to the fact that two days before she died, we were on the phone discussing the introduction she was going to do to Reading the Vampire Slayer. Through Lorna, I got to spend serious time in Florence staying in her gorgeous apartment with the back garden that led up a hill where you could see the town from a high viewing platform. Through Lorna, I got back some of the critical confidence I had lost during the rows about the Encyclopaedia. Lorna is one of the few people I knew who may end up featuring in a biopic - they keep talking about a film of 'Bad Blood'; I don't know how I will feel about that, because I freaked a bit in 'Iris' and John Bayley, Iris Murdoch's husband, was someone I only knew for a term or so when he was doing a seminar on short stories - Bonneville and Broadbent were really good at being him, though.

No, I am talking here about people who passed through your life and you knew quite well for a while and then grew away from. Alice Thomas Ellis - Anna Haycraft - was one of those in my life; she was a literary grande dame of the kind I hope one day to be and for a while, shortly after I transitioned and during the period of ill health that followed my surgery, she was very kind to me. She and Caroline Blackwood would ask me over and feed me hot meals or vodka - I learned some of my better manners through sitting at dinner with the ultra-montane Catholic Anna and her passionately Tory husband Colin and finding ways of disagreeing entirely but politely with the nonsense they talked much of the time. Anna made great vegetable soup and their house was not impossibly tidy.

As my life moved on, I got less interested in spending time with them and there did not seem room in my life for both them and the young SM dyke crowd I got involved with in my mid thirties and the crowd of SF and comics writers I was hanging with. As the Thatcher years wore on, it was harder to be tolerant of Anna and Colin and I let things drift - also, I was worried that my fondness for them was cupboard love. Then Colin got sick and there was less oppurtunity to see them casually, and after his death Anna went off to live in Wales, by which time we were no longer close enough that I stayed in even tangential touch bar the odd phone call.

About which, in retrospect, I feel vaguely shamed - I was old enough not to be cruel as if I were a young person. On the other hand, they also sort of let me drift out of their lives, so it was probably mutual.

Reading Anna's obituaries, I found out something which makes me think slightly differently about all of this - I knew about the son who died mysteriously as a young adult, but I didn't know about the daughter who died in infancy. Called Rosalind.

I don't know whether this is relevant: I fear it may have been: in which case I was crueller than I knew in drifting away.

There are some things that I need to say every so often irrespective of my complete agnosticism, and one of them is 'Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.' We all have roles in other people's lives and we don't know what we are, and some of our sins come from that.

People are fragile and we need to be ever more considerate.
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