Thursday, 23 June 2011
I am indebted to The Writer's Almanac for the following: 'On this day (June 23 - ER) in 1801, Samuel Taylor Coleridge sent a letter from his house in Keswick, in Cumbria. He wrote: "O that you had now before your eyes the delicious picture of Lake, and River, and Bridge, and Cottage, and spacious Field with its pathway, and woody Hill with its spring verdure, and mountain with the snow yet lingering in fantastic patches upon it (ER's emphasis)'. Really ?? On June 23?? It was chilly yesterday both in Moffat and later on when I got to London, and met a friend for supper at a restaurant where we were able to sit at a table outside on the pavement. I wore my woollen jacket most of the time, although for the first hour or so the sun was warming my back. My friend and I both worked for Thomson Newspapers in Cardiff in the 1960's, before she went on to a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent and author. Yesterday, she was mulling over an invitation to repeat a visit she made in 1957 with another journalist to what was the then newly-opened (under Nikita Khrushchev) USSR. I urged her to consider accepting, because I enjoy reading accounts of return visits especially one so long - it would be 55 years - after the first. Another topic of conversation was an absurd attempt by the Human Resources department of an academic institution where she still teaches to cost her contribution by breaking down her job into segments: student contacts, correcting work, time in class etc. As my friend said, it is like asking a surgeon to try to break down the component aspects of his job, apportioning lesser cost to 'patient contact' compared with time spent actually wielding the knife. I am adding this anecdote to my new 'Austerity Diary' where I am recording instances of how the cuts are biting. So far, entries range from the existential : the despair of young neighbour, contemplating the prospects for her young family as she struggles to complete a professional qualification to entitle her to a decent salary - to the practical e.g. the station room at Lockerbie was closed all day yesterday 'due to staff shortages'. My beady eye will be kept on the size of chocolate bars and other such indices of national decline, or 'belt tightening'. My supper companion and I were remembering how, in our early travels, in countries like Italy and Spain they used to give you sweets instead of change because small coinage in the currency was worthless. On an entirely more cheerful note: my Swedish friend emailed to say he has dispatched a jar of 'gramskottmarmelat' - a seasonal delicacy as prized as Beaujolais Nouveau, a spread or 'jam' made from new spruce shoots.