To the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead this morning, to see their Spring/Summer Exhibition. Some good, some bad. Some bloody awful. As my old friend, David, and I were studying one of the better pictures, a woman in her 80s approached him with the ineffable line . . . “Do? . . Do you? . . Do you come here often?” Foolishly, he replied Yes and she then chatted to him for about ten minutes on the subject of a particular picture which she couldn't find on the walls. I hope he learned his lesson. One can be too nice.
Mind you, I went one better at lunch in my mother's condominium, where I was button-holed by a 93 year old woman who told me she'd been a midwife, that she'd been elephant-riding in Sri Lanka in her 70s and riding to hounds at 80. She also confided she'd been out driving in the snow and ice this morning. When I asked how often she had to have her capacities tested – as you do regularly in Spain – I was rather surprised to hear she merely filled in a form every three years. Can you see the car in front of you? Yes; Do you still have the use of your legs? Yes. etc. etc. Can this really be true?
Another old friend has lent me Norman Lewis's book Voices of the Old Sea. This is a wonderful account of the adjacent Catalan villages of Farol and Sort in the late 40s and early 50s – one devoted to fishing and the other to cork farming. Both dirt poor and riddled with bizarre customs and superstitions. Some extracts:-
- Whenever a dolphin was taken in their nets, it was not killed but wounded and then let go, as an example to its fellows of what their fate would be if they continued to damage the nets.
- Once in a while a falcon would get entangled in a hen coop and when this happened, the fishermen would wire up its beak and release it.
- They claimed that both the dolphins and the falcons suspended their attacks when one of their number had been treated in this way.
- “Suckers of lambs' wool” was the derisive title imposed by all those who suffered from the Fascist bureaucracy on the officials who sucked their blood.
- A party of fisherman passed. Each man, seeing [the village priest] fumbled quickly to touch iron or, failing that, his testicles.
- No one in Farol liked the colour yellow – possibly because it was associated with magical practices, this being the colour of the eyes painted on the boats.