In the past, I barely cried at all and certainly only at the cinema. At my mother’s funeral, listening to the minister, who barely knew her, going through the motions there was sudden moment where she quoted ‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes’ and I cried because, by coincidence, my mother had liked to sit on the couch in Corstorphine and look at the Pentlands in the distance; the minister had moved me, albeit accidentally. Irritated by the lack of …feeling…at that event, I ran my father’s funeral myself and I have to say it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. One old man (from ‘the dancing’) said, ‘Son, at the end there, I just wanted to get up and clap’ which pleased me. Still, much as I loved George Wyllie, I didn’t shed a tear that day and I worried a bit that people might see me as a chat show host flown in for the occasion.
But yesterday in Jackie’s paper shop I did shed a tear. On the front of ‘The Times’ there was a story about how a Russian prisoner-of-war aged 20 had been taken in hand by a middle-aged Ukrainian woman. This lad, one of tens of thousands being sacrificed by insane Putin, had been inconsolably homesick for his mother, so the Ukrainian woman FaceTimed her so she could talk to her son. She told the no doubt worried sick Russian lady ‘Natasha, don’t worry. We will look after him.’ This, since I do, it seems, have a heart, made me cry. Then later on – admittedly after half a bottle of nice chardonnay – I cried again watching the news. Lots of German people (I’ve always liked the Germans) massing at, I think, the airport holding signs saying ‘Welcome to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Accommodation for two people, long or short term’. A man shouted ‘six’, and several people came forward volunteering to have six strangers in their home. Amazing. Out of despair comes hope etc etc.
Of course I’m getting older which might explain all this crying. Indeed this post is part of a series which, when collected together in my say, fourth, book will be called ‘Daft Old Man’. And I admit that since I retired I’ve cried a lot more – actually I cried quite a lot while I was retiring, but I think the tears now are more to do with age and circumstance that with being retired – or maybe I just had to appear very butch when I was a Head (fnar fnar). Just to give you a picture, here are a few of the circumstances in which I have cried in the past year : listening to John Stewart sing ‘The Last Campaign Trilogy’ which is about Bobby Kennedy; several times during ‘Four Lives’; lots during ‘Belfast’ but particularly because of Judi Dench at the end; anytime Nanci sings ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’, particularly when I’m emptying the dishwasher – similarly with ‘My Back Pages’ sung by almost anyone, the great song about growing old; ‘West Side Story’; when one of my former colleagues sent me an nice message; etc etc; the end of the last episode of Season 1 of ‘Derry Girls’ which is, of course, a comedy. All very trivial stuff of course but symptomatic of the truth which is I am historically more affected by fiction (and its manipulative powers) than by reality. This terrible tragedy in Ukraine is very real. I suppose I thought I might get through all of my life (or at least my life with a working brain) before something like this happened in Europe again. Imagine: a world in which the word’ nuclear’ is being used in that way again. A mad despot seizes territory; a democracy, currently being run by an astonishing brave man who is a comedian (I will avoid the obvious Boris joke), is invaded by an army of hardened thugs leading teenage boys, boys who cry for their mothers when they are caught and then, amazingly, are shown compassion by the very people they are invading. I fear we will all be shedding a great many more tears at our paper shops before this ends. I have had a very lucky life thus far; I fear I must admit that, in crying about Ukraine, I am crying for all Ukrainians everywhere but also for myself. I look forward to the opportunity to show that the Scots too, can and will step up to help, awash with their tears.