I had lunch yesterday with a friend I'd not spent much time with since last Spring. Oh, we'd said hello several times since then, but we'd not set up a one-to-one day together. Now we had. We had a long and enjoyable lunch at a pub down on the coast.
My friend (I won't name her) confessed to feeling tired and somewhat weighed down by the demands made on her from all sides. She had a family to think about, and never ceased to keep them in mind. She had been writing poetry and giving readings on stage in Brighton and London for at least three years. Lately she had started to make a mark in film-making, as an actress, involving travel to Prague and elsewhere. 'Only walk-on parts,' she hastened to add, deprecatingly. And yet, when I pressed her, she admitted to saying yes to a speaking part in a film to be made. The producer had been so impressed with her persona, and her self-expression, that she had landed the part of an Irishwoman. Nobody else would do. It will be a drama dealing with a social evil. I was typically flippant about the Irishwoman bit.
'Bejasus!' I jested.
'Oh shut up, nobody says that in Ireland.'
'But look, you haven't got an Irish accent.'
'I won't need much of one. Anyway, my family do have an Irish connection, even if I'm all Sussex. I can be genuine enough. They want me for my particular appearance, the way I move, and what I can say with my eyes and my face.'
And so a star is born. I shall certainly be keen to find out how she handles the part. No fears, anyway, about her not showing enough sensitivity for the role. She is now busy researching first-hand accounts concerning the social issue that will be explored in the film. (It's vile, and it's now past ignoring it as a topic to bury, so you may guess what it is; but I promised not to be specific about the issue - nor the plot - at this stage) She wants to really 'know' about the malpractice that is the subject of the film; to really understand what the precise social context is; why mothers countenance it for their children; and if possible to get an emotional grip on how it must feel to be personally affected. For although she has been aware of this bad thing for some time, it hasn't come within her own experience. No blame to her - not many ordinary people have yet been face-to-face with it in this country. But it's clearly essential to delve, and get some raw facts from real people, and not just read about it. Filming begins in a couple of months. She hasn't got a lot of time to prepare.
This could of course be the start of a fresh and time-consuming career, whatever the outcome. Her name and face will be kept in mind. She could easily get further offers.
What about the existing stuff - the poetry, the performances? I wondered whether those things might have to recede, and even be abandoned. You can't do it all. You need a little time time for an ordinary social life, anyway.
She said she had come to a crossroads. She'd had a few years of hectic fun, very little of it regretted. She had made many connections, and was well known as a Brighton personality. But some background issues in her life had not been settled. It was time to reorganise. To address some fundamental matters. She was going to move her main home out of Brighton, retaining only a cheaply-rented room as a pied-à-terre so that she could keep up some kind of regular presence in the city without having to live there expensively. She'd miss the constant buzz of Brighton - certainly a city that never sleeps - including the after-midnight nightlife she still treated herself to three times a week. But she missed the simple pleasures of out-of-town life too, such as songbirds twittering at dawn, and the rustling of tall trees in the wind. It wasn't quite the Ca' o' the Cuillins, but it was at least the sunny call of East Sussex, where she retained a large house.
She would not say that the clubbing and bright lights were altogether behind her. But she wanted to go back to living in a proper house with a garden, an upstairs and a downstairs, and many rooms; to regroup, to have her family around her; maybe to buy a small caravan like mine, and do what I do. To get away, now and then, from the pressures of her life and just disappear for a while. In the past she'd seen much of the world, for months on end. She needn't be absent so long in the future. She'd try to see places like Australia once more, but realised also that much of this country was unknown to her, and demanded to be visited too.
I felt good about that. Her wanting some basic things again, which might resolve many problems. And her moving away from the fickle and hard-to-satisfy Brighton spotlight. It would however be ironic if she left the dazzle of one spotlight (the poetry scene in Brighton) only to step into another (the film world).
At any rate all this was her own idea, her own decision, an exercise of free will. Egotistically I hoped that my own history had counted in there as a possible example of how another person could - post relationship trauma, post crippling financial loss - build an entirely new life that clearly had some good points.
Maybe it had, maybe it hadn't. At any rate, my friend's enthusiasm for enjoying the wind and sea at Cuckmere Haven was undimmed. She was so cheerful. And how little she complained. She valued all her family, despite the lack of recognition for good deeds done, and the unkindnesses, sleights and perverse misunderstandings that had come her way from some of them. It made me ponder as never before the pointlessness of family feuding, and how wrong it is to erect walls and barriers between family members.
All of us grow old. All of us will grow frail in the end. Many of us will become bitter, if only from the knowledge that our time is almost up, with so much left undone and beyond doing. And bitter all the more if we were proud and principled and stiff-necked, and thrust offered love and affection far away in disgust, leaving it to wither and die.