Bonphobia

I was going to call this post C’mon Baby, Light My Fire. It would probably have attracted more clicks but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.

I was a Girl Guide, actually, for about a week. Having miraculously escaped being drummed out of the Brownies for landing in the middle of the Toadstool and crushing it to death I became a Girl Guide but my new blue uniform hadn’t even arrived before I left of my own accord having been instructed to light a fire in a puddle round the back of the Junior School.

I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t so much the fire, at that stage, it was the ridiculousness of it.

I have never before tried to light a bonfire, to be honest. All this time and I left it to men. It was one of those men-tasks. Ex was very keen on starting fires. He was a man of many talents and in spite of being an artist worked for quite a while as a miniature steam train driver. As they chugged along – he and the Guard, who shovelled in the coal – they frequently set accidental fires all along the track. He loved doing that.

Later on he used to hold Bonfire Night parties and invite all the neighbours, and he personally would have built that gigantic bonfire down the bottom of the garden, and the elaborate Guy Fawkes. He personally had set up and would rush round setting off every single firework. He personally would have cooked vast trays of sausages and he personally would be dishing them up, in between rockets. I did nothing. All I saw of him all evening was this demonic shadow, leaping about, running the whole show. Something of a control freak.

Yesterday I was forced to try to light my first bonfire. I mean, how hard can it be to set light to some stuff in a bin? Too hard for me, evidently.

I was having to have the bonfire because I can no longer afford to drive my car. Seventeen cats means an awful lot of damp sawdust minus poo, sacks and sacks of it, and the Council only collects once a fortnight. Hitherto I had solved the problem by loading the car up with black sacks at intervals and driving ten miles or so to the tip where Council employees might or might not help me to drag the (leaking) sacks up the steep wooden stairs to the skip and heave them, somehow, over the top. Over the years as I have become weaker this has become more difficult.

I did ring the Council. I explained about the not driving and asked whether it would be possible for me to hire a second green bin, though really I couldn’t have afforded to.

No, she said.

Then would it be possible to class, say, paper bags full of sawdust as garden waste and hire one of those brown bins?

No, she said. Could you perhaps bury ten bin sacks full of damp sawdust in your garden every week?

Not really, I said.

I obtained all the stuff. The dustbin with the chimney, the red fireproof gloves, some little sachets called “fire starters”, a poker. I checked online when I was allowed to have fires and which weather conditions to avoid. The sawdust mountain was taking over the garage and I knew the day had came when I had to actually Set Light To Stuff. I hardly slept the night before. I don’t like to draw attention, you see. I don’t like to be seen. Setting Light To Stuff and causing a lot of smelly smoke was the equivalent, for me, of the casting off of the Seventh Veil.

As an afterthought I filled a large bucket of water to throw on it if it got out of hand.

I had no idea how to begin.

I realised I couldn’t just tip the sawdust in because there were air-holes in the bottom of the bin and it would just fall through. I thought I might have solved that problem by bagging the sawdust in paper bags. I put quite a lot of these in the bottom, and a bit of garden waste, and one or two of those little sachets of what looked like damp sugar, took a deep breath, lit a match and threw it in there.

Fifteen matches later, most of the bags had kind of singed through and blackened cat litter was trickling out of them. There had been a small amount of smoke but scarcely any flame, and what little flame there had been had died, repeatedly.

So, what did I do? Well, I did what I usually do in such crushing situations, of which there have been many in my life, I hid and trembled for a bit. Luckily in the corner behind the garage there happened to be plastic chair. No one could see me. Could they?

After a while I gathered myself together and went indoors, leaving the mess, temporarily. I went upstairs and turned on the computer and watched several YouTube videos on – How To Start A Fire, My New Garden Incinerator etc. Twenty minutes of watching some man throwing one log in after another and then putting the lid back on. I thought I would die of boredom but it was better than dealing with the mess.

I decided I had missed out several stages. I should have scrumpled up paper in the bottom, and on top of that I should have placed something called ‘kindling’ in a kind of horizontal lattice pattern on top. I searched for ‘kindling’ on Amazon and ordered some. Oh God, more expense. I should have set light to that and then introduced the cat litter once it was really hot. But how to introduce the cat litter, a mountain of which was currently bagged up in large brown paper bags guaranteed to kill any flame?

Then I found a video made by some bearded man with a pipe in a garage in America. It was about making fire-starters out of sawdust. He gnawed on this pipe as he melted down wax candles and mixed them with the sawdust in a bucket. Something about him was…soothing. Maybe it was the sound of the rain hammering on his workshop roof. I’m gonna work indoors today, he said, because of the rain. I wondered what manly, competent thing he usually did outdoors.

And then, he mumbled, around the pipe, you transfer the mixture still warm to these here muffin tins. Don’t use your wife’s (your wife?) best muffin tins because she will not be pleased. You press it down hard, like this and you put these here muffin tins in the fridge for twenty minutes or so to harden off and then you knock them out, like this, and…

So that’s what I’m going to try next, just as soon as the candles arrive.

Pensioner in Crumbling Cliff-top Plunge, Almost

Did I tell you I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school? I was sent to see the Careers Advisor and confided in her my secret ambition. She looked very depressed, but she smiled. I have some pamphlets here about the Women’s Army, she said, eyeing my not inconsiderable height and sturdy skeleton. And there’s always Woolworths…

That was it, and truth to tell it would have taken less than that to discourage me. Some kids, unfortunately, need a great deal more input than their surrounding adults are prepared to give them; they will only flourish when bathed in the sunshine of positive and persistent encouragement.

But onwards, to that cliff-top: I’m sure you’re desperate to know all about the crumbly and her plunge from dizzying heights – almost.

Yesterday I decided to experiment with catching the bus. It must be twenty years since I caught the last one and I was nervous. How would I cope with being away from home without my car in which to beat a hasty retreat if necessary? Could I really use the Bus Pass the Council issued me with a while back and which has been mouldering in the bottom of my handbag ever since? Which way up did it go? What happened if it was invalid now? Would I be ejected from the bus in disgrace?

However, I managed it and spent the next hour hurtling around narrow country lanes, jolted this way and that whilst clinging to the seat-rail in a howling gale from the driver’s open window. That was why all the passengers were sitting on the left hand side. During one of the bus’s brief stops I shuffled across to join them. I saw villages, hamlets and straggly clumps of houses I had never seen before. I swept past field after field of bright yellow oil seed rape. I never thought a bus could go so fast. I never realised that speed bumps mean nothing whatsoever to a bus driver. In a way it was quite enjoyable, a bit of an adventure.

By the time I was waiting at the hospital bus stop to come back I felt almost confident. I had read the timetable affixed to the stop. I at least, unlike the brace of old persons waiting with me on that hard metal seat, knew when the next was due. Do you know when the next one’s coming? the old lady asked the old man. Search me, duckie. I’m a Londoner. Last time I was sat ‘ere over an hour.

A bus arrived ten minutes early, a bad sign which I failed to recognise at the time. But it had the name my home village on the sign on the front. What could possibly go wrong? Is this the one for Town? asked the old lady.

No, I threw back over my shoulder as I mounted the step with the air of a seasoned hippie-world-traveller, this one is going the other way.

Well, it was going the other way – from Town. Unfortunately it was also going another other way that I hadn’t even thought of. After three quarters of an hour of jolting through fields of this and that, a lengthy detour to the prison, where we picked up neither prisoners nor visitors, and a tortuous negotiation of country lanes too small for a small car let alone a large bus, the bus came to a stop at what I recognised to be the top of the cliffs, close to but far, far above where I lived. The bus driver and her bus driver apprentice turned and regarded me – the last remaining passenger – interrogatively.

I – I believe I may have got on the wrong bus, I murmured, and they agreed. In front of me a red and white sign saying Dangerous: Impassable to Motor Vehicles!!! or some such.

Um, I believe that road joins up with the top of my road? They stared at me again.

There’s no way I can get the bus down there, the lady driver said. She actually thought I was asking her to drive the bus down there, for my sole benefit.

No! I mean – I meant – I can surely walk it, if I’m careful? I’m only about fifteen minutes away from my house as the crow flies. They had obviously never heard that expression.

So I got off the bus and set off down the path, doing that confident, bibbety-bobbity Bugs Bunny walk I tend to do when I know I am making a complete idiot of myself. The bus did a several point turn and disappeared. The silence as I walked was deafening. Nothing but the odd cricket chirping. I was old, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a warm spring day, and quite alone.

Now, if it is possible for an old person on foot to screech to a halt, that’s what I did. A few inches in front of me the clifftop sheered away to nothing, in fact there was an overhang. I was standing on a thin overhanging shelf of mud whilst far below me the cold spring sea churned and tiny ships went back and forth on the horizon. It’s like Breughel’s Icarus, I thought. All I will be is a leg disappearing into the water, spotted by a ploughman.

I reversed, carefully, and walked back along the path, still cheery-looking and bibbety-bobbity. I know where I’m going, my jaunty walk proclaimed as I examined my options. I had overheard the bus driver and her accomplice saying that the bus only came up here once a day. Maybe I could call a taxi. Would my mobile phone get a signal up here? Maybe I could walk to the nearest house and plead insanity.

easter bunny

And then a horse came alone – not on its own, I mean there was a human being perched on top of it in a riding hat. May I ask you something? I asked the lady on the horse. The creature reared back several paces, or maybe the lady pulled it back. I suppose a wild-haired, panicking pensioner must have been the last thing either of them expected to see.

I’ll stay back, I heard myself saying, ridiculously. I wouldn’t want to frighten the horse.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Horse Lady pointed out another path, one that looked for all the world like the entrance to a holiday camp but wasn’t. Follow that right round, keep going and you’ll end up in the right place. It was a bit pot-holey – in fact very pot-holey. Very muddy, but luckily dried mud. Very quiet. I began reviewing the likely headlines:

Pensioner Found Dead on Remote Pathway

Pensioner Tumbles into Giant Pot-Hole

What Was She Doing There Anyway? Enquire Grieving Relatives

I felt quite smug once safely indoors slurping tea and munching on a cheese and pickle sandwich surrounded by cats. The hip would be playing up tomorrow but I had learned a valuable lesson (not ever to get on that bus again) and escaped unscathed, unplunged etc.

The relatives would just have to grieve another day.

When is a drill not a drill?

My sister up in Stockport has a drill! Canadian brother-in-law informs me reprovingly. She put up all the new shelves in the garage.

Some of us don’t have several garages full of Northern clutter that we need to put up new shelves for. Some of us ladies have an instinctive aversion to drills, chainsaws, Stanley knives – in fact anything that makes a noise and goes round and round or that might accidentally kill, spear or amputate us. I have never met this competent Oop North sister-in-law once removed but have taken an instant dislike to her. I imagine her stiffly permed, sensible-shoed, twin-setted, impressively-bosomed and sounding a little like Les Dawson.

However, now I must buy a drill. The plastic planters I ordered for the garden have turned up not only twice the size they appeared on Amazon but with no drainage holes. Why have they no drainage holes? How many people are there who buy a plastic planter for anything other than planting plants in?

I look at drills on Amazon. What exactly is a hammer drill? Why would a drill need to hammer? Don’t you use a hammer to hammer? What is a drill bit? What is a chuck? What is a chuck key? And what is a torque setting? With a shudder I recall Ex’s longest ever Aspie-type monologue during which, for over an hour, he explained torque to me in minute detail with particular reference to helicopter blades. I thought torque – that dreaded substance – was safely confined to helicopter blades but no – apparently drills have it too.

I don’t want a drill, but I do want holes in my plastic planters. I decide to swallow my pride and phone Ex. Occasionally he will speak to me. I telephone and get My Replacement instead. Instantly flummoxed, my mind still running on DIY equipment, I make a mess of that too. Er, how are you? I ask, remembering that there’s an order of precedence and normal people enquire about one another before demanding advice about drill bits.

But that was wrong. She’s had cancer. It sounds like I’m eager to  hear the worst, though in fact we’ve known each other for a long time and I feel somewhat less animosity towards her than towards that paragon of a Northern sister-in-law. But it sounds wrong. Oh, you know, she says, sounding weak and croaky, So-so. Yes, that was wrong. Why did I phone without working out the conversation first? I can’t do spontaneous.

He’s not available just at the moment, she says. (I can almost hear her thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s another one, as if he wasn’t bad enough’.) He’s sharpening the chain-saw and if he stops…

Oh no, I say, please don’t interrupt him in the middle of his sharpening…

It’s just that if he stops in the middle he’ll have to start again from the beginning and then he’ll be…

Angry, I say.

Yes, she says. Someone has given him an apple orchard and he’s cutting it down.

Turns out the orchard is many acres of apple trees. The farmer is getting out of the apple business and has donated the many acres of apple trees, though not the many acres, to Ex provided he will cut them down. The work will apparently take five weeks and I can imagine Ex, well into his seventies now, out in the midday sun madly cutting down apple trees with the vim and vigour of a twenty year old. Do be careful, I say, when I finally get to speak to him. Is that fatal heart attack worth it for a lifetime of free firewood, I wonder. But Ex has a logic of his own, absolute and unfathomable.

I need a drill for drilling holes in plastic planters, I say. Can you tell me what sort to get?

He starts off then and half an hour later he’s still going, about the price of drills in Aldi  – Aldi? I thought they were a supermarket – as opposed to the price of drills in Tool Station or Screwfix. I need a step drill, apparently, which adjusts from 4mm up to 20mm. Will I need to make holes bigger than 20mm?

I have no idea what 20mm looks like? Frantically I reach for the tape measure. It’s in inches.

So a step drill – what is that exactly?

It’s a step drill, of course. It drills in steps.

So a step drill is an actual drill?

No, a step drill is a bit you put in a drill.

So why is a step drill called a drill and a drill called a drill too? (Now I can hear myself annoying him, just like I always did.)

And you need to set the torque to a low setting…

Torque! He’s lost me. Nothing more goes in.

Next day, in a DIY store that neither Screwfix nor Tool Station (which I have been unable to find on the industrial estate despite Ex and My Replacement’s detailed instructions) I am listening to a young man with a strange black earring in his ear, in the centre of which a hole so big you could thread a rope through it and lead him around. He is a strapping young man but I am careful not to appear to have noticed that. It wouldn’t be appropriate. I also try to avoid looking at his poor maimed ear, which is making me feel quite queasy.

He is disarmingly honest, this young man, if not a good salesman. Don’t buy one here, he says. The branded ones here are good, but expensive. You don’t want to be wasting your pension on a drill you’re only going to use once a year to drill holes in plastic pots.

(Pension? Rats!)

We do sell cheap ones, he says, but they’re rubbish. Never known anyone to keep one more than a few weeks before bringing them back and complaining. What you need is the lower range of one of the main brands like Silverline, Bosch or (something else) which you can get on Amazon or second-hand on Ebay. You don’t need a hammer drill just a battery-operated standard drill – starter DIY level. And you don’t need to worry about voltage or amps, whatever it say on the box.

It’s a miracle. I am understanding him!

A step drill is a bit, he says. Forget the drill word, it’s confusing. Think of it as just another bit.

Do I need more than one bit? Will I need to get one of those plastic kits full of bits?

No, he says. You just need the step bit and one smaller bit, to get the hole started. The step bit isn’t meant for starting holes, it’s for making them bigger, and we don’t sell those here in any case. Get one off Amazon.

So there it is. I’m not entirely stupid after all. It depends who’s doing the explaining.

In praise of contraptions

What is the difference between a contraption, a gadget, a device, an apparatus, an invention…?

To me a contraption needs an element of eccentricity, a fair amount of ingenuity and a sprinkling of creative overkill.

This morning on the news there featured a gentleman in Bristol – like Banksy – not Banksy, presumably – disguised in an all-enveloping jacket with the hood up, his voice muffled: the anonymous Grammar Vigilante. He goes around in the dead of night, often in fear and trembling lest he be discovered, inserting apostrophes into words on shop and business signs where apostrophes have been sinfully omitted and removing apostrophes from words into which they have been equally sinfully inserted. But people might say, says the news reporter, that what you are doing is illegal. You don’t have permission to correct stuff.

It’s not right, he says simply. Someone has to put it right. I’m proud that it’s me. And good on him. I’d do the same myself if I had the nerve.

What struck my eye, though, was his special gadget. His contraption. He called it “The Apostrophiser” and it was a wonderful thing – with one end he could apply, at some height above his head, the apostrophe, carefully matched to the original sign for colour and font. The apostrophe started off as a blob and was carefully, expertly, smeared into the proper shape by a small wheel. On the other end was a gadget for blanking out superfluous apostrophes. The Apostrophiser worked a treat but was so big he had to carry it openly about the night-time streets of Bristol. I did wonder as to the necessity of the hoodie etc for a man with a giant wooden Apostrophiser dangling from his right arm, but…

Life is so much more interesting for contraptions, isn’t it? Nan and Grandad didn’t have a fridge, which was a problem on Sundays when they bought a block of Raspberry Ripple ice cream (my favourite) to go with our Sunday Lunch. Grandad dug a deep, square hole under the bathroom washbasin – it must have taken him at least a day – and made a kind of dumb waiter to lower the ice cream into. It seemed to work. It don’t remember it melty. He also made what he referred to as a dibber out of the handle of an old garden fork. Sawed it off and sharpened it. I think the idea of a dibber was to make a nice neat hole to settle seedlings into.

I recently spent ages combing the internet, trying to find a contraption I had imagined, in my head (sorry, it would have been in my head, wouldn’t it?). I could see the thing but nobody seemed to be selling it. Ridiculous. There’s somebody selling everything. It was a thing for squeezing every last drop of meat out of the cats’ Felix sachets. I’m a vegetarian. I hate getting gravy all over my hands and I hate waste. Some poor old horse or chicken or whatever has perished that my moggies might eat and it just feels iniquitous to waste its precious little chunks of flesh.

The thing I had in mind had two prongs, or two somethings – like hair-straighteners? For flattening the pouch. At last I found one, and a very good one. In fact I bought two in case one of the precious items should go missing. Why can’t they call things by sensible names? Like, the sort of description you might type into Amazon when searching?

Dad did try with contraptions, but he didn’t have Grandad’s flair. He once made me a T-shaped thing for reaching down into the hole that the water-meter is in, outside the house, and kind of twisting the handle. Actually, an arm with a hand on the end works rather better, but I keep Dad’s gadget anyway, like the walking stick he bought me and which I am not yet incapacitated enough to use, the rusty screw-driver and the ancient ruler, because he gave them to me.

My boiler speaks

Many decades of bitter experience have failed to teach me their lesson. I am still unable to shake these linked illusions regarding household appliances:

  • household appliances cannot possibly malfunction, stressfully and expensively, just at the wrong moment;
  • should such an incident occur it will be dealt with by either my (dead) father or my (ex) husband;
  • they will not bother me about the malfunctioning household object since I am a lady and a poet and exist on a higher plane;
  • they will not try to explain to me in mind-numbingly tedious detail the reason for said household object’s malfunction;
  • they will fix it, which will take five minutes rather than three hours, and will not expect money for having done so.

However, in the real world, first my electrical wiring collapses in upon itself, live wires start interacting with one another (and blah blah blah…) so no central heating or hot water all winter. Then my loo seat breaks and has to be replaced by a novelty dog-reading-a-newspaper loo seat – in Latin, I notice, with English headlines. Then, the wiring having been fixed and long, deep, hot baths with wilting paperbacks once again a delightful prospect, the boiler starts making hideous clanking noises and goes out. I restart it numerous times. Same thing happens every time. Would you believe it?

Dead father and/or ex-husband inexplicably fail to materialise in my kitchen bearing spanners and boxes of tissues/consolatory chocolates. I am forced to call a plumber. Sacré bleu! The plumber explains it thusly:

‘Well, yer boiler is ‘eating the ‘ot water. Right? And the ‘ot water is getting up to yer pump in the cupboard on the landing. Right? But yer pump’s not working. Right? ‘Ence it’s getting red ‘ot and ‘umming and the landing smells of ‘ot rubber. Right? Then yer pipes set up a dreadful clatter because the water’s not goin’ on round the system. Right? It’s stuck at the pump.

‘At which point yer boiler says ‘Ere, thassnot right! and closes ‘imself down, ‘ence all the red lights. Issa good thing really. Safety mechanism.’

So – my boiler is male and can speak, and he has a Cockney accent. Who knew?

blue boiler

Playing Elvis to the Buttercups

There’s something very sad about a rusty car; sadder than a tiny teddy bear growing soggy in the gutter; sadder even than a child’s cheap bracelet glittering in the hedge. To me, things are people and I grieve for them in their lost, forgotten and discarded endings.

I think maybe the sadness of a rusty car is that a car is made to shine and made to move. Its great purpose in life is to whizz round corners, to gleam in the sunlight. It is speed made manifest, distance, travel. A car is A to B. It is not A, year after year after forgotten year, whilst its tyres deflate and the weeds grow up around it and mice make a home in its upholstery. It is not this view, this rain, this snow, this burning sun. It was meant to be there, always there, eating up the miles, heading for the horizon. It was never meant to be here. I suppose I see me in rusting cars. I see the future vanishing, without me.

But enough of the rusty gloom. Something very strange has just happened. The rusty car in Krusher’s front garden has been taken away. A low-loader came, two days running. Its strenuous efforts to execute a three-point turn into various unsuitable driveways were worth the risk of a peer round the edges of the net curtains. The first day it got sent away: maybe Krusher couldn’t quite bring himself to let his beloved go. The second day the wreck got loaded onto the low-loader – they had to use the crane – whilst Krusher circled around, wringing his pasty hands, zipping and unzipping his windcheater. It was a torment to him, this final goodbye, the sight of those two bare forever gashes in the mud of his front lawn.

The car was there when I moved in, abandoned at an illogical angle as if someone had just screeched in home one boozy 1980s night, maybe a few pints worse for the wear, and left it where it happened to end up, not even bothering to lock it. ‘Shtraighten it up in the morning, maybe.’ And there it sat forever after, already orange going more orange, its go-faster stripes barely distinguishable from their background. There it sat, annoying all the neighbours, decade after decade.

Something had happened to Krusher. Something had gone wrong with him which meant he could no longer drive his car. He was in a lot of pain. It was his back, some said. His lungs, others said, or maybe it was his heart. On morphine for the pain, someone said. Sits up all night playing on the computer, someone else said. Can’t sleep for it. Krusher became small and bitter and wispy. He shrunk, but then don’t we all? Krusher, you might say, was krushed, but his car was not. They suffered together, he indoors in the dark illuminated only by the lonely blue flash of his computer screen, it outdoors come wind and storm.

It’s strange the things we grow to love, supposedly inanimate objects we just can’t let go of, that have become an integral part of us. Sometimes, driving along, I pat my little car’s steering wheel. “Good girl,” I whisper. “I had you from new and I’ll look after you, don’t you worry. Whatever it costs we’re going to see each other out.” Each time I renew my secret vows to her and put aside those treacherous, ever-present fantasies of a massive olive green four-by-four, a capacious white van or even a slick black Cadillac for cruising down quiet spring lanes or under the lush green canopies of summer trees, playing Elvis to the buttercups or Motown classics to the cows.

The beauty of the morning

On the 3rd of September 1802 William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were both moved by the sight of London spread out before them as they viewed it from Westminster Bridge. Dorothy recorded her impressions in her diary:

“…the sun shone so brightly, with such a pure light, that there was something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand spectacles.”

And William was inspired to write one of his most famous sonnets:

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

It seems to me that there are two sides to every coin, two faces to ever view. Wordsworth saw the majesty and beauty of his capital city from a famous bridge and yesterday we saw the strange fruits of terrorism strung out along that same bridge – men, women and children mown down by a stranger in a hired car.

It seems to me also that for every hate-filled, lone revolutionary who somehow concludes that his political beliefs make it OK for him to kill or injure a random group of people who just happened to be crossing a particular bridge at a particular moment in time, there is an unarmed policeman willing to be stabbed to death to prevent him from entering the Houses of Parliament. I think of the blood-smeared face of an MP trying unsuccessfully to keep him alive until the ambulance came.

I think of all those bodies on the bridge but also of the doctors running out of hospitals and along the bridge to help the wounded. I think of every injured or dying person on the pavement surrounded by a crowd of passers-by whose instinct was to stop, try to help, reassure or just keep them company in their hour of need.

I think of the police giving first aid to the terrorist they had just been forced to shoot, and of the medics who afforded the same care to him as to his victims.

And it seems to me that for every wound inflicted there is a great flowering of fellow-feeling and human kindness, and that compassion will always overcome, in the end.