On Monday night my husband and I, along with most of the world I guess, watched in stunned silence – punctuated only by religious and profane expletives – as fire swept through Paris' Notre Dame cathedral. Here we go again. Although not comparable in terms of history and architectural significance, it brought back the pain felt witnessing the two Mackintosh fires at Glasgow School of Art.
It is rather difficult to explain precisely why the loss of historic buildings, with no loss of life (although a firefighter has been seriously injured at Notre Dame) can be so affecting. In those first hours, a litany of clichés were used to explain why the loss of a building is felt so keenly: it is a cultural icon; it is the beating heart of the city; think of all the ordinary artisans who built it. Such heartfelt descriptions are not very enlightening despite being true.
There is something about the very oldness of the building that is significant. Timbers in the destroyed interior of Notre Dame are over 800 years old (and cannot be replaced because we don't have trees that size any more). Why does that matter? I think it matters for the same reason that one's memories matter. Dementia is a terrible affliction in part because the identity of the sufferer is effaced with each memory lost. Your sense of self is undermined. A similar loss applies to social groups, communities and nations. A nation or culture, say, that relies on the living memories of its current members, with no awareness or physical manifestation of the experience of previous generations going back centuries, is a kind of collective dementia which is both deeply saddening and unnerving.
As France grieves, she will be determined to rebuild. Of course, Notre Dame is irreplaceable, despite every tech-savvy procedure which will be brought to bear on the rebuild, alongside contemporary heritage and architectural experts. But something is obviously wrong with the modern approach to renovation. If the Notre Dame conflagration turns out to be another avoidable disaster, international safeguards must surely be agreed, with statutory force, to protect these precious cultural icons from careless renovators.
Perhaps that's an unfair assessment. Perhaps the occasional destruction by fire is the price we need to pay for fast, modern technology. If so, perhaps a return to 19th-century style renovation is the answer? Painstakingly slow (we wouldn't see the completion in our lifetimes), and expensive no doubt, a much more traditional approach would ultimately return to future generations that which we destroyed by modern means – by accident.
On a happier note, on Sunday, I was invited to a wonderful lunch organised by the new charity 'Befriending Food Experience', a project founded by the inspirational Annie Morgan and her partner Santino 'Sonni' Sanda. Their laudable aim is to have a meaningful, sustainable and measurable effect on isolation, health impairment and issues compounded by malnourishment in the community of Greater Govan. The 'Experience' has a two-pronged approach: the hosting of a seasonal 'Dining Out' for people usually isolated due to their age and/or disabilities, and 'Dining In', a weekly home-cooking operation which will take place in homes where the inhabitants are unable to go out or prepare good, nutritional, tasty food.
On Sunday, the Italian-themed Primavera lunch, 'Italian spring in Scotland', was held in Elderpark Community Centre where the hall was decked with glorious spring flowers, tables set with checked table cloths, and a truly marvellous, nutritional three-course meal prepared by Sonni himself, an Italian cook. After lunch, Italian music and singing music completed the joyous afternoon. We sang along to Dean Martin's 'That's Amore', and I must admit, I didn't realise how funny the lyrics are: 'When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool. That's amore'!
The room was buzzing with good nature and humour. I can't wait to help organise the 'Summer Ball' with these wonderful people, who plan to organise ball outfits from charity shops in preparation for an evening of dancing to music from the 50s and 60s. A delightful prospect for an excellent cause.
Line of Fleabag
Other than attending the lunch, I spent the weekend binge-watching the highly-acclaimed series 'Fleabag' and waiting with excited anticipation for the latest episode on Sunday night of the excellent drama 'Line of Duty'. Both shows are the best of British drama in recent years. But I can't help noticing that 'Fleabag' has come in for criticism for being 'posh middle-class'. To be sure, it certainly is, but didn't ruin my enjoyment of this bittersweet comedy whose characters are beautifully drawn. The performance of the nameless main character (played by the brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge who also wrote the show) is electrifying and likely speaks to many young women, regardless of class.
The riveting police drama 'Line of Duty' on the other hand, is quite clearly a depiction of a working-class milieu, but I don't see it being criticised on that basis. One of the main characters, DI Kate Fleming, is played authentically by the excellent working-class actress, Vicky McClure. Here is my 'spoiler' prediction: like 'Fleabag', Kate Fleming is also nameless (not her real name). It's probably Helen, or some other name beginning with 'H': the high-ranking bent copper who cannot spell. Sorted. One of the things I love about 'Line of Duty' is that impatient viewers cannot wait for the box-set with the satisfying result that millions of people return to a pre-digital age of watching episodes together at 9pm on a Sunday. I like that.
On a personal note, our beloved daughter Joan has announced her engagement to her wonderful boyfriend, David. The wedding next year is being held in Spain. How exciting! There's an old saying: a parent is only as happy as her saddest child. I am brimming with joy.