From Esther - I Once Met a Man Who Wanted Everyone To Wear Rubber

I once met a man who wanted everyone to wear rubber. He said the Fairies had told him to cut rings through the bark round the trunks of trees. He hadn't got his pension book because someone had offered to 'look after it for him' and he'd let them. And he was homeless. At least, he had been homeless until he'd been given a place in a house for men coming off the streets - men who didn't want to live rough any more and might have a chance to settle.

I was staying in that house for a few days, visiting a friend. That's how I met him. The room I was sleeping in had no windows and there was a hole in the concrete floor by the door - so you had to be careful if you got up in the night! It was the first place I'd visited where fleas were as much at home as the humans who lived there.

The conversations I had with him were worrying. Not because of their content - but because I couldn't see the difference between him and Hitler. I'm not wanting to cause offence by saying this. What I mean is that although Hitler was clever and had a philosophy and would never have given his pension book to someone else 'to look after' - he was only able to wreak the havoc he did because other people let him. What if they had found him a place to live instead of making him their leader . . . had cooked for him as they did for the man who wanted to cut rings round trees. No-one called the man I met 'evil', however disconcerting his manner or unpleasant his views. But neither did anyone put him in a position of power so he could put his ideas into practice. Who is evil? Who is not?

I was once stranded in Berlin. I'd gone to a student conference and was planning to go from there to Czechoslovakia to visit a friend in Prague - but it snowed. The Norwegian delegates thought it was hilarious that the trains had stopped - but stop they had . . . and I was stranded.

I'd been billeted with an elderly lady who was organist at her local Church and she let me stay on. She fed me. She took me to her Church with her. She introduced me to her elderly friends. They came to visit - and we slipped and slided together on our way to visit them.

One evening, she talked about her brother. He had been a pilot during the second world war and had been shot down and killed. She was younger than him and had been part of the Hitler Youth. "We all had to join," she said. Then she paused - and changed it. "We wanted to," she said.

She talked about what was, by the time she was speaking to me, the situation in Germany. Students were protesting because society was too strict. When the police intervened strongly, the students protested more - so the police got tougher . . . . It was a vicious circle. "What we need," she said, her eyes brightening and her voice growing deeper and louder, "is for someone to say 'No!' ". And, with the 'No!', she brought her fist down with a smash on the little table where we were eating. She was shouting. It was winter (obviously is was, with the snow) and the room was lit with candles. I'd learnt a new word 'Gemutlich' - cosy, homely, warm and pleasant. It wasn't gemutlich any more.

Then she subsided. "It's hard for you British to understand," she said. "We aren't used to democracy. Sometimes we just want someone to say 'That's enough!'.

I don't know. I don't know how many people thought like her. She was lovely. I still remember her with warmth. She housed me and fed me when I had little money and no-where to go and there was lots of snow outside. She would have liked someone to say 'No!'. She would have liked someone to take control; someone she could follow, who would protect her, who would break the circle, stop things getting worse.

I've been thinking about these people - the man to whom the fairies gave unpleasant instructions and the woman who was trying not to want a dictator . . . because I'm re-reading 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier.

(If anyone doesn't know the story and doesn't want to . . . you'd better stop here because I'm about to give a summary.)

. . . . A young woman, little more than a girl, marries a much older man (Max de Winter). He is handsome and wealthy but harbours a dreadful secret - that he murdered his very unpleasant (though strikingly beautiful) first wife - Rebecca. Overawed by him, his house, his servants, his wealth, his age, his fame . . . the new Mrs de Winter allows herself to be bullied by Mrs Danvers, the sour and dour housekeeper who harbours such a morbid devotion to the dead Rebecca that she sets out to destroy the new wife. In the end, she destroys herself, along with the house and a way of life which could have been gentle and fresh and full of country air and sea breezes. And, in the process, she comes to symbolise female obsession, jealousy and evil for book readers and Hitchcock fans alike.

(I'm talking about a symbol here. How 'female' emotions come to be perceived and stereotyped is a separate matter. Symbols are symbols.)

I don't usually re-read books and, with this one, it's not much fun; I don't know why I'm putting myself through it. (Maybe to prove I'm not a wimp?) All the time, I'm wanting to shout 'Don't wear the dress. Don't wear the dress. Whatever you do - don't wear the dress!'. (You have to read the book to know why.) And all the time, I'm thinking - I don't think Mrs Danvers is the villain here, whatever the tradition. It's Max de Winter. Why didn't he sack the housekeeper? Why didn't he tell his new wife he'd murdered Rebecca? Well, he couldn't have done that - but he might have mentioned that, in his opinion, she was terrible and cruel and not all she was cracked up to be; that he'd stopped loving her long ago. That way, the poor mouse of her replacement might not have tortured herself by thinking (the poor mouse) that she was a gauche failure in comparison.

Not very deep thoughts. But you've got to think of something while you hack back your garden because it has become a forest instead of a glade. I don't think I would vote for a man who wanted me to wear rubber. But I might be weak enough to let politicians take more power than is good for them and then blame them for the result. And if I were to have a society beauty as an ex-wife, instead of an extra-terrestrial as a husband, I might be half pleased with the memory, hang on a bit to the glory which had rubbed off on me, even if she had been the kind of person best not to marry in the first place.

This isn't a post. Not a regular one. I'm in the middle of a gap. It's just that I'm feeling sorry (and grateful) for (and to) people who have this blog in their sidebar despite the little note underneath which says it hasn't been updated for five weeks. And I thought, I bet I can come up with a better headline than 'WEDNESDAY WORD AND HOUSEHOLD NOTES - ON A THURSDAY' so I've changed it to 'I Once Met a Man who Wanted Everyone to Wear Rubber' instead.

I suppose I could add 'Gloves' - then it might count as boring.

I Once Met a Man Who Wanted Everyone to Wear Rubber was first posted on Esther's Boring Garden Blog. To add your comment to those left there - click HERE