Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Tales from the Grave

Am I interested in writing a book on blood pressure? Can I replace an accompanist who has let a choir down? Tonight. Neville, a writing student who bombards me with frantic emails about trivial issues that consume him, knows I am on holiday. Despite that, he sends me four emails agonising over why I suggested he should make his right hand margins ragged rather than block them to the margin. It can play havoc with your editing isn't satisfactory and he has already phoned umpteen editors and agents who tell him they couldn't care less what he does. A fifth email, almost short story length, says he knows I can't advise outside the 20 assignment reports he receives but he wants to get his novel finished and it's urgent that I help him with his structure and...I avoid reading on and log off the site. It isn't my job to help him develop his novel, nor would I get paid for doing so. And no, I'm not interested in writing about blood pressure. Mine is permanently high. Neville sees to that.
Instead, I go with my cousin to the graveyard to look for my grandmother. We take our umbrellas but the sun's rays beat down upon our heads. If I'd dressed for a heatwave you can be sure the little fat man who jumps up and down with glee at my misfortunes in a corner of the ceiling, would have provided a monsoon. We trudge up and down crumbling rows of stone and rubble until we find the 1937 aisles and there she is, sleeping peacefully among the weeds. We wash the stone and weed the grave and shower it with silver angels. She wouldn't know me. I was born after her death but I would like to have met her. We can find no record of my grandfather but we suspect that he returned to their home in Austria-Hungary, (later Poland, now Ukraine) where he died in his 30s, having sired 10 children, one of whom died in infancy and the last of whom was born after his disappearance. On a whim, I search my great-grandfather's surname on Facebook and come up with one hit - a distant cousin in Buenos Aires. He's family and we're overjoyed to email and exchange photos. The internet can be a curse when it showers you with neurotic Nevilles and choirs wanting last minute accompanists and publishers thirsting for words of wisdom on topics you know nothing about but it can bring you untold joy in other ways. I don't speak Spanish but I can recommend for free translations from and into any language and in this way my distant cousin and I get to know one another.

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