Being polite

RAF portrait small file

kilt portrait croppedUp to London, then up to Edinburgh, all in one week. I had no conversations on the train, at all, which disappointed me. I cut cheese for lunch on Tuesday 12th, and the man next to me gave me a wet-wipe to clean my penknife. “Be prepared is my motto”, he said. Well- I lifted the knife. He had thought of getting one, but they are £19. Several people helped me with my heavy case, going south.

I wrote that on my last leg, then a man sat opposite, and we chatted. He is a chemical engineer from Ohio. His daughter is 13, and wants to be a writer: at the moment she is devouring books, hundreds of pages a day. He adopted a child belonging to a neighbour, and the child thereby avoided a life of crime. Despite this, I found his talk boring, perhaps for lack of affect.

I had wondered why I had not been subjected to a medical for my ESA yet- but I saw the GP on Monday, and she told me that it was time to put some structure in my life. Then, perhaps my face fell, perhaps it was my bereavement, she gave me another three months. Stopping being on the sick does not put structure in my life, it makes me sign on every two weeks, and possibly get sanctioned. Possibly SEMA expect GPs to put us off the sick, rather than doing it themselves.

I got the 9.20 bus, and my sister picked me up at Waverley at 4.10. As I thought, we were polite to each other. That evening, we could have talked but I was finishing off my draft minutes for AM. Then we could have talked, but she was watching soaps. So, rather than getting drunk, and weeping together, and sharing our feelings, we were polite, and went to bed around ten.

The next night I watched her daughter, who continues her Architecture course, design a building by CAD, loving the way she manipulated it. She creates disabled access, and the principle is that the disabled person’s experience of the building should be the same as that of the able person. No going round the back for disabled access. I looked through Dad’s photographs, and my nephew looked too.

And- I just passed them to him. We did not discuss them. I did not point anything out to him. So while I resented how polite and flat of affect we were, as I predicted, here was I at least taking my part in creating that. I don’t know whether we could have expressed real feeling. It could be worse, fighting and blaming each other would be worse than mere politeness. We refer to when I will next be in Edinburgh, but I do not know if I will ever see them again.

The funeral was beautiful. We started in St Vincent’s church, where Dad worshipped for years, and where the presbyter Rodney, 87, was his good friend. Rodney celebrated the Eucharist, and preached, then preached again at the crematorium.

It had been suggested that I not share the funeral car with Dad’s wife, but I did, and six of us drove in a silent dream up the hill through new town and old town. Beautiful city. Past the Liberton hospital, which is a happy memory for me.

The crematorium is being renovated, so we had the smaller chapel, which seats fifty: we had people standing at the back. Rodney spoke of Eternal life, the life with God, more than once saying “Which Alec is now experiencing” and I thought, I do not believe in that; but his voice is beautiful. The family wore black, which I had not thought to do, and Dad’s wife asked me to the line at the end, greeting everyone, which surprised me. Form’s sake, or sympathy, I do not know. Bomber Command Association and dancers and walkers and Piskies and friends: none I really recognised.

Next day, my sister went back to work and her daughter lay in bed as I scanned those photos. I had nothing to say to her, hardly even meaningless expressions of good will.

6 thoughts on “Being polite

  1. My dear Clare

    Are you alienated from your family – they can no longer be bothered to make the effort either to fight or to be unkind; or is it that they are coming round to seeing you as you would like them to acknowledge you? It is a slow process, but in the face of your neice’s toleration and your nephew’s silence – rather like that of all boys – perhaps the old guard can no longer be bothered to maintain hostility to someone who is not being hostile….

    I hope this marks a thawing. If it suggests that you simply have little in common, at least that is a comfort of sorts. A tree cannot be a star.

    You are a beloved friend to me.

    XX :-))


    • We were polite to each other, which is preferable to rage.

      I noticed that I was limiting interactions to politeness. So, my niece told me she was wearing an angora cardigan which my mother knitted- my mother died in 1996. I just blinked at her. The opening was hers and the rebuff mine. I have seen myself as a victim in this, and now find myself contributing to binding the chains.

      I don’t know what “deepening” these relationships would involve, and I don’t know what pain would surface. Dad told me that my sister thought I had created the distance, rather than the other way about. And I don’t know what to do about it.

      Your love enhances me.


  2. It is sometimes – just – possible to maintain politeness, which is indeed better than rage, and is the best we can do. You could, maybe, write about it and throw it out, if you felt you might want to invest in these relationships sometime in the future.


    • I don’t know if there is any rage, now. There might or might not be. I might have gone through a process of “seeing things from the other’s point of view” or “forgiveness” (whatever that is) or sublimation of anger, or mere denial of it. I don’t know.

      I don’t know what investing in them would look like.

      Today I saw a couple have a wee power struggle to themselves. They were walking in the park, ahead of me, and when I passed them they were stopped at a fork in the path. I heard the woman say “You can go the way we always go if you like, I” (I can’t remember what she said precisely, will/ want to/ would like to are very different in expression) “go this way”. At that precise moment they were at loggerheads, and for all I know may be ruminating on that conflict still. And if she had said, a wee way before the turning, “I would like to go that way, for a change, if you don’t mind” there need have been no confrontation at all.

      Being polite may be better than being fiery. But when I talked to the man from Ohio I found him boring because I detected no change in his face or tone of voice when talking about US use of roundabouts at road junctions, or about adopting a child and turning his life around. In all these ways of being there are advantages and disadvantages.


  3. Dear Claire, Not your usual post, but I was on the squadron when your father was. I seem to recall the faces but not all the names. The pilot likes look like George Rayment. My skipper was F/O Maxwell RAAF. If I knew your fathers name I could help you identify your fathers pilot and put some names to the photographs. Kindest regards, Reg.


    • Welcome, Smudger, and thank you for commenting.

      Indeed it is not my usual line: new age spirituality, navel-gazing, LGBT stuff is more my thing.

      My father was Sgt. Alexander Maxwell, of 218 squadron. From the 1990s, he went to squadron reunions, until they were discontinued: he met a pilot whom he had seen bailing out over Germany.


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