Published in January 1997 issue of Prospect Magazine
April may be a cruel month, but can it be the cruellest? There is an old Jewish joke about the man who died and whose relatives and the usual obligatory mourners gathered, in accordance with custom, for an evening of prayers and-as today’s cant would put it-“coming to terms with” the loss. On such occasions people usually stand up and pronounce a few words of eulogy. On this particular evening, however, when the rabbi called for someone to speak well of the departed, no one stirred. He chided the company for its reticence, but still no one moved. Finally, he became vexed: he reminded them that a member of the community had died and that it was their duty to find something good to say in his memory. Someone, he insisted, must have something to say in favour of the dead man. After another protracted period of reticence, an old man at the back rose, with great reluctance, and said: “I’ll say this for him. His brother… was worse.”
u u u
this year at least, December is worse for us. We are selling a house we have lived in for over 34 years. It is a death of a kind to have to gut it in order to give vacant possession to the pleasant young persons who will, literally, take our place. We have been stuffing wads of memories into black plastic bags, noticing how cheap things were in the 1950s, and regretting the bottles of spoiled champagne and Chablis in the cellar. The most poignant trash contained the change of address cards from when we moved into The Wick in 1962. The most uninteresting relics were of press cuttings from days of optimistic ambition when I subscribed to a service which clipped every mention of my name. In 1967, when I got a little bit lucky in the movies, Jack Lambert, the arts editor of the Sunday Times, said to me at a party, with one of his characteristic sniffs, “Your books will never again be treated according to their merits.” I asked if that was a threat or a promise, but he remained unsmiling. There is a certain grace, I have since discovered, in being dispensed from hopes of praise. What resentment is more comic than the down-with-all-critics rage of fortune’s favourites when they are very slightly disappointed?