i owe you two

Last week, or some time, I promised my takes on Transcription by Kate Atkinson and Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.

World War Two is still getting attention, but the focus has moved from the battlefield to backstairs - Intelligence. I guess the spotlight shifted with Enigma,the giant puzzle (how to break the Germans’ secret code) solved not only by Alan Turing but also by anonymous, dedicated women working as secretaries (secret secretaries) behind the behind the scenes and living on after the war never allowed to say what they had been doing.

Both of these new books play out behind the scenes with similar , elaborate safeguards against detection. Atkinson is sort of funny in her approach. Everyone seems sort of half-baked, unbelievable, unenthusiastic,casual and befuddled. No one seems to know what he or she is doing. And yet things happen, people are arrested, progress is made. Somehow we seem to have won the war.

Ondaatje’s protagonist is a young boy, taken over the years of and after the war. At first I wondered was it semi-autobiographical; it reminded me of John Lecarré’s relationship with his strange father. But “Viola” (her spy name) or Rose, is a dangerous, endangered, dedicated spy over the years, with no time for her neglected son and daughter. there are adventures in which the boy is caught up with cohorts of his mother - or are they his appointed guardians? One, The Darter (nicknames and pseudonyms foe everyone, it seems) takes Nathaniel with him on smuggfing excursions - importing greyhounds - bringing them in by boat on the canals off London. Ondaatje’s research is always fascinating (remember the winds he described in The English Paitent?), and exhaustive but the canals wore me down. However, when he got to rooftop surveillance, that’s when I got interested. In fact, I haver ordered one of his references (The Roof-Climber's Guide to Trinity: Omnibus Edition).

As confused as Nathaniel is about his past (and present and future) I was even more so. Ondaatje doesn’t fill in the gaps so much as he leaps from one time frame to another. My favourite book of his remains In the Skin of a Lion.

are you having fun yet?

Not yet.

My son Matt is my favourite, that is, only travel companion. When I don’t go alone I go with him, usually to Boston (Quincy) to visit my daughter, his sister, who is very good to him and so is Jonathan, her husband, who is his favourite brother. Matt is wonderful to travel with: he is patient and never complains, no matter the delays, and you know what they’re like now: the line-ups, the kiosks (and I never seem to punch the right buttons and have to do it again), the boarding passes (scrutinized), the passports (ditto), t he shoes (off), the bags (open), the shaving cream (confiscated), the water bottle (abandoned), on and on and on. It’s an obstacle course and as we traverse it, Matt says “Are we having fun yet?”

Not yet.

But it has become a standing joke and it comes in very handy when we run into a real delay, in fact a set- back , like a cancelled flight. Are we having fun yet? Not yet.

Shortly after I was widowed I got involved with a Dream Group: only four women, not frequent, so not onerous. We had to report our dreams, of course, for shared analysis. I usually do not remember my dreams, the REM or moving pictures of the final stage of sleep; most people don’t. They vanish the moment you wake up, with some exceptions, but that’s another discussion. While I was hanging with the Dream Ladies I recalled my dreams - and quickly recognized the pattern, the story-line. One way or another they were all obstacle courses: going some place by various vehicles but always with obstacles, some of them quite forbidding and dangerous.

That’s what travel is like now. Life, too.