Sunday, 6 July 2014

Asking favours, begetting furies

Just back from London where I was tutoring a poetry class at the National Gallery on Saturday. Clarissa came on a later train and met Steph, a good friend, and our son Tom. After the class finished - it was a lovely session, the writers mostly very talented - the four of us met in the Portrait Gallery cafe just as it was closing, then  parted from Steph and, having wandered a round a little, had supper at a Persian restaurant not too far away then returned to Tom's in Stratford where we watched the second half of the Netherlands - Cost Rica game, extra-time, penalties and all, some thirty minutes of stalemate followed by close to an hour of frantic action. Sad to see Costa Rica out, partly because they were such underdogs and partly because their spirit - and defence - were admirable. Sleep was hard after that, but it came eventually.

But maybe it was hard because of something else.

I had asked a poet friend for a favour, not for myself (I don't believe I have ever asked anyone for a personal favour, being deeply shy of such things, maybe even a touch proud of never asking) but for a cause in which I am involved. It's a very noble cause for the good of literature in the country generally, one that is currently raising money to establish a stronger base. The head of the project had bumped into my friend at some affair and they had spoken about the cause, the friend apparently enthusiastic. The friend had a very wealthy philanthropic contact and the head of the project wondered if my friend might approach the philanthropist to arrange some kind of introduction. Could I write to my friend to enquire?

I am wary of such things for the reasons given above (shyness, pride) but the cause is excellent so I agreed to write a letter, and the project enclosed some of the publicity material.

After a couple of days I received an email from the poet-friend rejecting the idea of approaching said philanthropist but also criticising the publicity material and doing so, in what seemed to me, a rather lecturing, morally superior way. Asserting moral superiority is something the English are good at doing - there are times you can practically see the eyes swivel so as to look down the nose. I suddenly felt ashamed of myself for daring to ask anything. It was horrible. I felt hurt and angry. Surely if the friend disliked the PR material (what do I know about such things? - it's PR material, in other words information couched in whatever terms publicity tends to use) he could have graciously refused and added something to the effect that the publicity brochure might not be the kind of thing to appeal to the philathropist in any case. That I would have understood.

I can be quite impetuous. Why would a friend want to humiliate you? I wrote to the poet-friend, whom I have known for several years, and told him so. So that's one friendship finished, I thought.

Am I sorry? No, I am too old to care about it. Do I regret it? Not even that. The incident spoke a truth that had not had occasion to surface before. It clarified a relationship. My impetuousness is as nothing to B S Johnson's whose biography by Jonathan Coe I am still reading on and off. BSJ was convinced of his own genius. Me? I just dislike being patronised, especially by friends.

But one goes on.

This morning to the Museum of London for the first time. There is an awful lot of London, an awful lot of history and a great deal of water under the bridge, in fact right under the soil.

Tom is marvellous. Lunch in a pub in Farringdon then the walk to King's Cross, the farewell, and Clarissa and I home, rather tired.

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