I've just read Phillipa Gregory's "Three Sisters, Three Queens" about the tumultuous ups and downs between Henry VIII’s wife Katherine of Aragon, and Henry’s two sisters Margaret, Queen of Scotland & Mary, Queen of France. It’s one of her best books and I really enjoyed it ~ though if I'd ever watched the Kardashians I'd have found the twists and turns of life at Tudor court easier to follow I think. They seem very similar except with less plastic surgery and more executions.
Anyway, at a particularly fraught moment when Margaret is trying to escape her second husband, the power seeking Earl of Arran, we have this paragraph written in the voice of Margaret:
“They all write to me: Harry, Thomas Wolsey, Katherine, Mary. They all deplore my divorce. Harry threatens me with the damnation of adulterers. Katherine begs me to think of the legitimacy of my daughter, and says that I am throwing her down as baseborn. Thomas Wolsey tells me that Harry's outraged rant is a true copy of his spoken words, and Mary tells me that gowns are being cut slightly off the shoulder.”
And that made me laugh. The determination of Mary (at least in Phillipa Gregory’s mind) to carry on as if everything was normal and her reluctance to commit anything to do with the situation to paper reminded me that the default position of some people when faced with an impossible dilemma, is to say and do nothing of any consequence.
And that reminded me of the friends I had when my own storm of emotions was at its height who steadfastly continued on as normal and took me along with them. Friends at work who discussed lesson plans and teaching styles as if my input was as important as it always had been, friends at home who took me off for a coffee and talked about their niece’s first steps and the merits of the new plans for the city centre, and new friends who had no idea what I was going through, who chatted in a friendly way about the weather and the price of milk. Each conversation as inconsequential as whether gowns were being cut off the shoulder or not and each conversation giving me a blissful ten minutes, half an hour or whole afternoon free of the intensity that usually ran through my head.
When every piece of communication you have is with a court official, a counsellor, a solicitor, a family worker, a doctor, a crying relative or an estranged ex-partner, it is just such a relief to have an ordinary conversation with a friend. Notice the emphasis on ordinary. When every conversation is deep and painful or manipulative and threatening it is a huge relief to have a conversation that is quite simply unimportant. And when every encounter from everyone you know starts with a concerned “How are you?” (that difficult question so impossible to answer) it is such a relief to meet a friend who opens with “Did you see Downton last night?” (For Downton substitute ‘Stenders, Spurs, X-Factor, the racing, Bake-off, Made in Chelsea, the Bourne Conspiracy, darts, cycling or anything else at all, as long as it’s something that’s not going to shake the world.)
Yes, it’s good to talk things through, yes it's necessary to let out what’s on your mind to your friends but every now and then it’s wonderful to have the relief of the normal.
I hear they’re wearing dresses off one shoulder this winter…