Wednesday, 16 August 2017

2668 Memory Lane.

Nine hundred and fifty miles from San Francisco and I'm outside the house in Vancouver where I lived when I was a child. It's all coming back to me. The view of the bay and the mountains, the tree my brother and I used to climb from the deck down to the garden, the basement we played in for hours making brick towns on the floor, squashing the shiny black beetles that scurried about down there when they threatened to encroach on our game (in hindsight they were quite possibly cockroaches), the snails I used to gather in the garden and name and keep in jam jars on my bedroom window sill, the transistor radio my parents bought me for Christmas 1975 through which I first heard Abba's SOS and The Hustle by... who the hell was The Hustle by? No idea.

There was no plan, just a taxi to the address and then once disgorged onto the pavement I wasn't sure what to do next. "The house was blue," I tell my family as we approach from across the road, "but of course it might not be blue anymore." I peep round the hedge. It's not blue, it's grey, and it's even prettier than I remember.

I knock on the door on the off chance that someone is in and a nice lady opens it. "Excuse me," I say, "I used to live here in 1975/6 and..." I don't get to the end of my explanation before she invites us inside. No sooner have I crossed the threshold than I burst into tears. I had no idea that would happen. I didn't expect to cry but then I didn't expect to be invited inside. I don't know what I expected. I just wanted to see it again.

"Stop trying to recreate your childhood through us," one of my sons said a few days ago when I bemoaned something not being exactly the way I remembered it.

Is that what I'm doing? Maybe. Or maybe some places have a hold on us we can never shake off and this house is one of those places for me. No wonder, now I'm back here I understand its grip - it's beautiful, in a beautiful place, more beautiful even than I remember it, improved upon and extended with an additional storey on the back.

"Your parents probably had this room," the current owner says, showing us into the first room we come to on the right. "It's the den now."

"They did!" I say, and then I'm overwhelmed by tears. The whole thing is too incredible. To be transported back in an instant to another world, a world in which I am nine-years-old and living with my parents and my brother in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, 5000 miles from where I've spent my life since.

"I think you need a big hug," she says.

We walk on through the living room to the deck outside. Despite the smoke hanging over Vancouver from the forest fires burning in the east, you can still tell that on a clear day there's an incredible view, all the way to Vancouver Island. "Such a shame," says the owner, "that you can't see it today."

She takes us on into the dining room. Suddenly it's 1975 and my parents and brother and I are sitting round that table having Sunday lunch (we might have been living in Canada but we were still British) seagulls are flying down to the window, landing on the wooden platform the owners we rented the house from had erected for this purpose. Chairs scrape back as my brother and I rush to feed them with scraps from our plates.

After a comprehensive tour and swapping contact details with the lovely owner, we walk to my old elementary school using Google maps on my phone. "So," says one of my sons, peering in through a classroom window, "Canada, how many provinces?"

"No idea," I say. "They didn't teach us stuff like that. I was in a progressive classroom. I had to plan my own timetable so I wrote stories about witches and warlocks for nine months."

On the bus back to downtown Vancouver I hum The Hustle to Middle One.

"Van McCoy," he says.

Love E x


P.S. Ten provinces and three territories. I looked it up. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The tide is high.

I'm lying on a beach in Washington State near a place called Willipa Bay with my eldest son. As we drove here deeper into the wilderness across a vast bridge that spanned the inlet, with the setting sun turning the water silver and the forest black against the sky, I thought it the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. Now the sun has gone and the moon is high and the waves are lapping gently against the shore, and it's even more beautiful.

He builds a fire on the sand, expertly using cardboard pieces and bits of barbecue briquette he brought with him to the beach. Once these catch he adds driftwood lying nearby, selects music from his phone, and lights the spliff he bought earlier.

Buying cannabis from one of the many legal cannabis stores we passed along the highway in Oregon was one of the things he wanted to do on this trip, so when the rest of us were hitting Safeway again - for yet more food supplies for the RV - he asked if I minded him nipping across the road to a store he saw as we were parking. "Of course not," I said. "You're 21, an adult, and it's legal here, it's your choice." Then I added, half in jest, "I might even join you."

When dinner was over and washed up and the others hit the hay or quietly crept off to a corner to read, he called my bluff. "Do you feel stressed?" he asked. 

"I do, quite," I said, because driving hundreds of miles in such a short space of time in a hot metal box with four men was taking its toll. So he suggested I go with him to the beach to smoke the single joint he had purchased in the cannabis store for six dollars; called Pineapple Express. I haven't smoked marijuana since I was a student and I didn't like it much then, but I reckoned it would be nice to tag along and maybe have a few puffs.

There's no one else on the beach. With the fire flickering and the music playing he lights the joint, takes a drag, then passes it to me. My first puff is a baby one and the second, by the third I inhale deeply, and cough a lot. "You did it right that time," he says.

It has no effect at all. I will have to lie and pretend I'm stoned when I'm not, I think. Then I notice something. "Have you seen the waves?" I say, "they're almost up to our toes in no time. The tide is higher and it wasn't before."

"I don't think so, Ma," he laughs.

"No, really." I say, "look at the waves."

White waves are rolling towards us, whiter than they were before and fuller, much fuller, and a lot closer.

"Those waves are definitely coming right at us," I say, taking the joint from his hand and puffing away on it several more times. "In fact... they're quite sinister."

He laughs again.

I lie back on the sand and look up at the stars. They're so beautiful. The whole night is so beautiful -  the stars, the beach, the music, my son. It's all unbearably beautiful.

"How are you feeling now?" he asks, and for a moment I can't answer for the tears, which I wipe away quickly.

"Fine." I say, "I feel fine."

Later we walk back through trees to the RV and I stop dead in my tracks to look up at the sky. A buttery moon is silhouetted against spindly pines turning the whole wood into something like a scene from a Tim Burton movie.

"Oh my God, have you seen the moon?" I say, "and the trees, look at the trees! The moon is the mooniest moon there has ever been and the trees, the trees are so... treeish."

"You're high, Ma," he laughs.

When I get back to the RV, I lie on the bed in my clothes, not remembering that I was just lying on a beach and so getting sand everywhere and then when I get into bed properly later, unclothed between scratchy sheets provided by the RV rental company, it's like being exfoliated by two pieces of sandpaper.

I can't sleep. I'm wide awake thinking about the fire and the music and the spliff and the walk through the wood with my boy and most of all the waves that were coming straight at us up the beach, closer and closer.  

Love E x


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Hitting the road.

I miss most of the spectacular scenery on the zigzag mountain road west from Yosemite back down to Napa Valley because I have my eyes closed. I can hear a pathetic whimpering sound: it's me. I have my foot on the floor trying to apply the brakes and I'm not even the one driving, which is a good thing, given that I have my eyes closed. When I do gingerly open them I concentrate on my knuckles, which are white because they're gripping the dashboard, and on the Beatles album I'm listening to through my headphones, which is also white. At least if I'm going to die While My Guitar Gently Weeps will be the last thing I hear.

"Mummy is freaking out," I hear a boy say. This is true, I think, and a perfectly rational reaction to taking Italian Job turns down a mountain with a sheer drop to certain death to our left, in an enormous metal box on wheels that has such a long braking distance it practically needs written notice in advance. Thank God they drive on the right side of the road here.

Actually, just after I booked this trip I thought I'd got the route the wrong way round for this very reason. Going to Canada we'll be on the inside lane on the scenic 101 and not next to the ocean, I thought, so maybe we should do the thing in reverse instead and end up in San Francisco rather than beginning there? When we went to pick up the RV I changed my mind back. "Oh my fucking God," I said. "It's huge."

You might say I should have known it would be huge since I booked it. At least on the inside lane all the way north we won't career off the road into the sea. I hope. Or off this winding road down from Yosemite. Why did we even go to Yosemite on a road trip to Canada? you may ask, like my boys did. The answer is that my mother suggested it. "And are you doing everything to please your mother?" my boys said.

"Isn't everyone?" I replied, "and mine is quite bossy."

"Ours is too," they said, except for one of them, who said, "No she's not, our mother is a hippy

I like being called a hippy, even if it is a wildly inaccurate portrayal of my character. Perhaps he thinks I'm a hippy because I brought him to San Francisco and suggested we hit the road in an RV? The truth is that the RV terrifies me and so far I haven't driven it once, although it is true to say that I love the freedom it brings. It's a joy be able to go wherever you like with everything you need in the back, like we're a band of snails with the three baby snails actually pulling their weight for once because they're so happy. Attach the shore line, we say (that's the electricity cable), fill the water tank, check the propane, get the collapsible chairs from the trunk, and miraculously they do it all without complaint.

Of course we do make it down the mountain from Yosemite in one piece, and then we camp in a State Park in Napa Valley near a place called Calistoga. We're in woods with a creek at the back. At night there's no other sound but frogs and cicadas and nothing to see but stars. It's like Little House on The Prairie on wheels. The boys complain about the heat in the RV at bedtime so I say leave the main door open to the elements and just use the insect screen and they're horrified. "But California is full of serial killers!" they say.

"Like who?" I say.

"Like that Zodiac killer, with the code," says one of them, "they cracked it, and it turned out he was saying he wanted to hunt the most dangerous animal of all... man."

"That's great," I say." That's so going in my blog."

"I forgot about the blog," he says. "I take back what I said about you being a hippy."

Love E x


P.S. We're on the 101 heading north now. "I'm on the road I want to be on, going to the place I want to go, with the people I love the most," I say.

"Lame!" shouts one of the boys, smiling.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Retrieving my heart - in San Francisco.

I'm in the aircraft loo, changing out of my jogging bottoms back into my jeans, when we fly over the Golden Gate Bridge. "Epic fail," say the boys when I return to my seat, "you just missed it." I peer out of the plane window. San Francisco is sprawling beneath us: high-rise buildings, bridges, sparkling sea, dusty brown hills in the distance. Tears prick my eyes.

"But did you see it?" I say. 

They did. That's all that matters.

I've been reading my mother's journal of the journey we did when I was a kid, from Vancouver to Mexico. She mentions tears filling her eyes too, as we drove across Golden Gate Bridge into the city. I remember that moment and I was only nine. I want my children to have similar moments to remember, even if they are coming a bit late in the day, and are only a fraction of what my parents were able to give to my brother and me.

We're flying United Airlines, which we think might be a drag... but fortunately turns out not to be, in fact it's a breeze. I read a whole book, listen to two albums, watch a movie, sleep and eat. I don't feel remotely tired when we land, or for hours afterwards, and neither do the boys. As Eldest says: we're wired.

A friendly 70-year-old Iranian taxi driver speeds us into the city, weaving in and out of the traffic like he's Ayrton Senna on caffeine. Downtown skyscrapers loom before us, glorious in the Californian sunshine. 

Crossing a raised concrete section of highway that resembles the one in the opening sequence of La La Land, I feel like jumping out of the car and doing the dance routine right there and then. The boys feel the same: they're euphoric. They've seen lots of Europe - we left the Isle of Wight and Devon years behind some time ago, when we finally had funds to take them further afield - they've also been to North Africa and the Caribbean. They've visited the ancient ruins of Herculaneum in the shadow of mount Versuvius, a 2000-year-old Roman city where the charred bones of its unfortunate citizens still lie where they perished on the bay of Naples, which blew my mind, but nothing has enthralled them like this. "We're in America!" they keep saying, like it's the coolest place on earth. If anyone thinks the States is losing its grip on Britain's youth, one that began some years back with a love affair with rock and roll and Elvis, they're wrong.

Eldest rushes out the minute we hit the hotel to a grocery store opposite. "They look foreign but they speak English!" He informs us, returning with a Hershey Bar (which you can get in London). Then he declares it crap - "poor quality chocolate."

After showering at the hotel we head straight out again to eat, to Chinatown. The guy at reception suggests we try House of Nanking. The restaurant is lined with old wood paneling interspersed with tiles and buzzing with life. "What do you recommend?" I ask the patron. He says to leave it to him, so we do. Dish after dish arrives, the best Chinese food we've tasted, all piping hot - noodles with peppery watercress, tender pieces of beef with crunchy pak choi, battered prawns with fried apple (we think).

"Jamie Oliver came here," he tells us, bringing yet another plate and pointing at a framed photo of Mr Oliver on the wall. "He said the food here is pukka! Pukka! I thought he meant poker, like the game."

"It's an Indian word," we tell him.

"Ah!" he says. "He can cook and he speaks Indian!"

We walk on through North Beach. Eldest is beside himself. This is the best city in the world. This place is so cool. He wants to live here. 

He has his 1978 Nikon camera round his neck, snapping away. "Nice camera," says a guy walking past. "Nice dress!" shouts a girl out of a car window, at me.

We turn left heading back to the hotel before we get to Fisherman's Wharf - saving it for tomorrow - and start an ascent. There's a glimpse of view behind us, shimmering sea in the bay, an island in the distance with a building: Alcatraz. By now it's three o'clock in the morning (for us) and we're climbing Nob Hill in the sunshine, a 1 in 3 gradient.

"What's that movie?" I ask Eldest, "you know, San Francisco, that guy, the one who...."

"Milk," he says.

"Yes!" I say. It reminds me of that, and that reminds me to ask for milk at reception when we get back to the hotel, for our tea. They laughed when I packed that travel kettle and those tea bags. They won't be laughing when I can make a nice cup of tea first thing in the morning.

We hit the sack at 8pm local time, 4am for us. When I wake later the room is cloaked in darkness and the street below is silent. I'm back in San Francisco after 42 years, it's 4am local time. I get out my laptop and write: "retrieving my heart."

Love E x


P.S. Have a nice day.

The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly grey
The glory that was Rome is of another day
I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan
I'm going home to my city by the Bay

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air, I don't care
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me

Friday, 21 July 2017

What is a holiday?

What is a holiday to you? A holiday, in my book, is taking some books and going to Italy and doing not very much at all except reading and eating. A holiday is a flight and a hire car, hot sun and a cold pool, a lazy saunter to the village shops to buy provisions, which must include some of those giant creased tomatoes that look like they've been injected with steroids, then later attempting to cook those provisions for lunch on an unfamiliar hob, invariably one of those God-awful induction ones that require you to hold down the invisible buttons in a random sequence until something eventually starts to heat up and then the next time you come to do it you can't remember the sequence, because you stumbled across it randomly, so you have to go through the whole rigmarole all over again.

A holiday is taking the anti-mozzie plug-in thingies, then forgetting to plug them in on the first night because you were past yourself with exhaustion (as they say in Yorkshire) because you just did a 13-hour door to door journey (and you were only flying from Gatwick to Pisa) so you get bitten and spend the rest of the 13 nights with your arm under the table at dinner, scratching that bite on your ankle that swells up like a boiled sweet and leaves a welt that scars you for the whole of the rest of the year, as a souvenir.

A holiday is letting your younger kids have pizza and ice-cream and coke at every meal and your older ones drink alcohol and then not bothering to tell them to brush their teeth when they go to bed and leaving them to sleep until lunchtime, because you can.

A holiday is sitting on the sun lounger for so long reading a book that only the front of your legs get tanned.

A holiday is working out which place has the best bread and when the fried fish van comes to town, on the penultimate day.

A holiday is meaning to go and see that amazing thing in the local museum/art gallery/next town but never actually getting round to it and then on that last day saying, shall we go and see that thing? Nah, can't be arsed, we'll be travelling all day tomorrow anyway.

A holiday is using the barbecue precisely twice and then having to spend twice the time it took to cook the sausages scrubbing the thing clean and getting sprayed with burnt-on black bits, on the last night.

A holiday is the deafening sound of cicadas, church bells waking you on a Sunday morning, a row about using the sat nav ("either follow its instructions or turn the damn thing off!"), Boots Soltan Factor 30 you've had in the back of the bathroom cupboard for five years, fishing insects out of the pool with a net, the local market full of foreign tongue, both to listen to and to eat, a tatty old sun hat, a fancy pair of wedges you pack to wear in the evening and then never do because they're much too impractical, sand in the bottom of the bath when you get out, someone else's scratchy sheets and too hard pillow, buying salt and pepper then finding the rental supplied it already, supermarkets with whole aisles of lovely crockery you want to stuff in your suitcase and take home but you know that you can't so you just get one pretty bowl and when you get back home someone puts it in the dishwasher and most of the pattern comes off. THAT is a holiday. And is that what we're doing this year? No.

This year we're not going on a holiday at all, we're going on an adventure of a lifetime to the west coast of America to embark on a road trip because I once did something similar as a child and last year we came into a bit of money that will finally make it possible and if we don't do it now our kids will have gone off to live their own lives without us, for good.

This year there will be no house, no pool, possibly not a lot of hot weather because the pacific northwest is not exactly known for it, just me and my four males, of various sizes and degrees of smelliness, in a 30 foot metal box on wheels, travelling from San Francisco to Seattle then ditching the RV and going on to Vancouver by train, then hiring a car to take us into the Rockies, before flying back from Calgary. And am I complaining? Of course I'm not, I'm lucky as hell and I know it.

Love E x


P.S. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Seven years. 365 posts. 292,000 words. I began writing this blog on the 8th of April 2010 when the boys were 13, 11 and 7, and according to the blog stats since then there have been 365 blog posts, although I think that's including drafts that were never posted and posts that went back into draft. With each post taken as an average length of 800 words, although some are shorter and many are longer, I arrive at the approximate figure of 292,000 words in total. I could have written a novel instead, or two.

Those boys are now 21, 18 and 15 and I hope I haven't written things here that might mortify them, although I fear I will have. I remember attending a blogging event some years back where a psychologist recommended not blogging about one's children at all, with or without their permission, and certainly not after resorting to bribery. I hope what comes across is how much I enjoy spending time with them and how funny I find them; that they make me laugh every day. I remember as a teenager loving to hang out with the cool boys in the sixth form common room at school, the know-it-alls with their sharp minds and quick-fire banter, and now I find I have three just like that to call my own. People often used to commiserate with me for not having girls, my paternal grandmother in particular. "What a shame," she would repeat when her mind got trapped in a loop, "only boys, like me. You're a Campbell. Your grandfather was one of nine!" I didn't like to tell her it's the man who provides the Y chromosome and like all women I rocked up with the X part of the equation, and in any case I was perfectly happy to be the mother of sons. As Mrs Morel says in Sons and Lovers, "to be the mother of men was warming to her heart."

If nothing else I'd like this blog to be a record for them of some of the highs and lows of the last seven years: school days and holidays, birthdays and Christmases, weddings and funerals, exhibitions and gigs, broken bones, and irons, and ironing boards, sitting round camp fires in France with friends playing guitars, or just sitting around the dinner table with me as they do every night being told to eat their veg. Should they want them, all these memories are here. I've never printed any of it out so I'm rather at the mercy of Google to keep it alive in the ether. I'm taking a break from blogging now for a few weeks to concentrate on a work project but I'll be back with a travel blog in about a month.

I leave you with this - I was in York last week with my brother to watch my father lecture about The Beatles as part of the York Festival of Ideas, a lecture called Sergeant Pepper: Playing With Words, marking 50 years since the release of that iconic album.

He did so for well over an hour without notes and incidentally he's their longest serving academic, still lecturing in 2017 having joined the university way back in 1964. I am immensely proud of him, and it being still so near to Father's Day seems as good a time as any to say so again. Here are some quotes below from Beatles fans from the close of his lecture as he played Yesterday, an ending I found incredibly moving.

'The Beatles songs were the kind of songs which offered you a world of their own. I became totally absorbed with each and every song in body and mind. I would feel alive, centred, alert, sensual, and very real. You could forget everything and become part of the song.'

'Their music is practically orgasmic to me. I’ve heard every song they ever did at least 500 times and I still get a cold chill every time I hear them.'

'The Beatles changed so much and brought us so much joy. We grew up with them. They taught us about life and love, drugs, war, reality, and fantasy… They dictated our styles, moods, lives. They shaped usDidnt a whole generation feel this way, or am I wrong?'

My whole concept of love derives from the emotions I felt as I watched them sing and saw their pictures in fan magazines, as well as the words that vibrated through my being.'

'I am so glad that they were around while I was growing up. I place them right alongside my parents when it comes to my up-bringing. The Beatles, Mom and Dad were, and still are, very important people in my life.'

Love E x


P.S. And here's that first blog.

Thursday, 8 April 2010
Up and Out

I'm making pancakes and waffles. Youngest doesn't want a pancake or a waffle, says he's too ill for school and wants a pancake made out of waffle mixture. A wancake? Too rude. I name it a puffle. He has two puffles.

Eldest is accusing me - very loudly and from up two flights of stairs - of hiding his French text book. Middle One says his waffle isn't soft enough - freshly made, mind, using the waffle iron from Lidl (only £11.99). Shove toast into hands of Eldest and kiss him good-bye.

Juice, cereal, grab coffee, load dishwasher, wipe-round, hairbrush, toothpaste, book bag, shoes (where are the damn shoes) hats, bit of lipstick, turn down the thermostat, slam door and the three of us are spewed out onto the street shivering. It's not even 8.30 yet and I'm knackered.

Drag Youngest down the street with Middle One keeping up relentless monotone on the unfairness of life: "and the portions at lunchtime are really tiny." Dance the dog turd shuffle trying not to make eye-contact with the crazy-haired cat lady from over the road (you know her, every street has one).

Turning the corner into the High Street, it's like an icy Vodka luge (I only had one once at a wedding but it made a big impression) and we're blasted sideways by lorry fumes, brake fluid, and sirens. It's a cocktail for the senses. Middle One ratchets up the moaning to compete.

Joining the flow school-wards - Boden-clad, Orla Kiely bag-clutching mums - heading salmon-like up the High Street against the commuter current. I won't be diverted, overcome, or, heaven forbid, overtaken. Check the competition. She's on time, and that one, and that lot going the other way to the Catholic school. On schedule we can relax a bit and talk to that mum catching up from behind. Tit-for-tat, friendly, quick-fire banter. My screaming sub-text: so you think your life's hard? Just listen to mine...

Wednesday, 14 June 2017


Once a week I go to the nearest Age UK offices and ring old people for a couple of hours from a little windowless basement room. I hear amazing things talking to these old people, once we get past the usual 'so how are you feeling and do you have enough food in the house?' I like to get them to reminisce about when they were young because it's a free social history lesson. Albert tells me about being brought up in the slums near the Ram Brewery and describes sleeping with his six brothers top to toe in the same bed in the attic and hearing rats moving around in the wattle and daub walls just inches from his head. He tells me his father left his mother for another woman so she had to bring up nine children alone. She worked in the local candle factory six days a week and took in washing in the evenings in order to make ends meet. He had his first job when he was six selling newspapers with his brother outside Arsenal football ground. "But Arsenal's miles away," I say. "I know it is," he says, "and I used to walk there and back."

Doris describes the London Blitz to me in minute detail. She lived in Putney during the war while her younger siblings were sent away to the countryside; she was 16 so had to stay home with her parents to help in the family bakery. She talks about the fires that lit up the sky at night all the way from the East End to Putney, and tells me they used to keep their front doors unlocked in those days and pop in and out of each other's houses borrowing things, not like now, when you can't be too careful and someone came right into her house the other week and took money from her kitchen table. Sometimes the things they say make me laugh, we make each other laugh, to be honest, like the woman who told me it was her birthday so I sang her happy birthday and then checked her notes and found that it wasn't. And sometimes they make me cry, just quietly to myself, you understand, because I don't want to upset them. Like the woman who said she goes to bed with a hot water bottle as early as possible every day because she can't wait for it to end, the old man who told me he goes for a walk by the river and sits on a bench just to watch people walk by; he says it makes him feel less lonely.

I read that loneliness is now an epidemic amongst the elderly, with 1.2 million older people in England chronically lonely and the over-85 population set to rise from 1.3 million people to just under 2.8 million over the next 20 years. Many of the people I talk to were fine not so long back: fit and healthy with active lives and happy marriages, then something happens, a turn for the worse health-wise, a heart attack, a stroke, a fall, the loss of a beloved partner, and everything changes.

You might think it's nice of me to give my time freely like this when really it's not. I do it for selfish reasons. One of them is because I like the reaction I get from people when I tell them. "Ooo how lovely of you," they say, "that's so kind." Another is because it gets me out of the house when I'm working from home and going stir crazy. Mostly it's because it makes me feel better about myself. Surely if I do this, I think, and sit in a depressing little basement and talk to a bunch of elderly sad people then I'm not completely useless. When of course I can still be completely useless because I'm using those elderly sad people to make myself feel better, and then write about it.

When I was a teenager I had a huge row with my Sociology A'Level teacher, which went on for weeks, when he told the class there's no such thing as a selfless act. I desperately tried to come up with one: the member of the French resistance who risks his own safety for others. "Self-serving," he said, "because it makes him feel good about himself." The mother who throws herself in front of the bullet to save her child. "Her child," he said, "so in effect she's saving herself." Now I think perhaps he was right. When I mentioned I was writing about this to one of my sons, he said: "reciprocal altruism, look it up." So I did. So maybe that's why I talk to old people, perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I think it's money in the bank for my own future: what goes round comes round, do as you would be done by, tit for tat.

Whatever the reason, sometimes it's pretty thankless, especially if they're rude or cross and slam the phone down, which is rare but does occasionally happen. But mostly the thanks come in thick and fast and they're charming and so pathetically grateful I've rung for a few minute's chit chat it does make me feel perhaps I'm putting something back and the reasons I do it don't matter. The other day I had a long chat with an elderly Jamaican man about the jazz band he was in during the 40s and he told me "every day is a precious day," and another gentleman was listening to Mozart very loudly when I rang and I saw from his notes he's often difficult or too depressed to talk so I spent twenty minutes chatting to him about Mozart. I'm only meant to spend a few minutes talking to each one so I can get lots ticked off the list but I can't see the point of that and have favourites I like to talk to for longer. Sometimes they ask about my life and when I describe it to them it sounds wonderful, even to me. This week I got involved in the case of an elderly man, registered blind, who was moving house. All he needed was someone to put the food in his fridge so I put the phone down and got the relevant permission and went round and did it for him.

Love E x