Diary

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The Independent Online
This was going to be a quiet week in the country, a gentle organising sort of time between the shock of a family bereavement - death is surprisingly exhausting and time-consuming, as well as sad - and a three-month travelling stint. It has not worked out that way. First, my fax-and-answering-phone got struck by lightning (honestly). Such "storm damage" is totally irreparable and - being an act of an irresponsible God, apparently - not covered by the warranty. I identify with Teresa of Avila, half-drowned in a river, raising her eyes to heaven and saying: "If this is how you treat your friends, it's not surprising you have so few."

Anyway, damn. I feel Northamptonshire should be granted county-wide immunity in honour of Benjamin Franklin, who invented that life-saving bit of lo-tech, the lightning rod. His family came from round here, from the village of Ecton, where my son takes his riding lessons. Double damn because I never wanted the technology in the first place. For years I claimed answering machines were anti-social, soul-destroying modernisms unsuited to the rural bliss in which I wished to pass my menopausal years. I got one in a moment of weakness and find in less than six months that I am completely dependent on the nasty thing. Not just professionally dependent but, far worse, emotionally dependent. How can I be sure that anyone loves me if I can't receive auditory proof when I come home? Perhaps nobody rang, perhaps nobody wants to return my calls to their answering machines, perhaps out there in the big city they have all forgotten my existence.

They haven't actually. I have been sharing my rural solitude with a beloved friend suffering from acute "carers' burn-out" - an emotional, and I expect temporary, refugee from the Aids epidemic. Having him here has been nothing but a joy, but why, I wonder, should I be doing the job that managers are presumably paid to do: caring for the carers? Perhaps we need beautiful rural retreats with yellow roses over the door for the many people involved in the grinding emotional and physical demands of this foul illness.

Nature worked her gentle magic: we sat sunnily in a pub garden, and watched a 3ft grass snake, with only its head and a sharp arrowhead of water breaking the surface of the river, pursue some fluffy ducklings. We watched a fox hunting rabbits; a kestrel hunting mice, and owls hunting anything. We sprayed evil aphids off the tree-lupin; and sinister little black crawly things off every white flower in the garden.

All this made him feel much better. Odd about nature, eh?

Meanwhile, I packed my 13-year-old son off on a canoeing trip down the Severn. "Make sure you put me in your piece," was his parting shot. The horror and concern of my friends that I should hold his safety so lightly has upset me: not many organisations actually drown the children they challenge and teach. I am worried that we are telling our children the world is a horrible and dangerous place, rather than predominantly a beautiful and friendly one.

The figures that reveal tens of thousands of 16 to 18-year-olds with nothing to do and no money are truly scary. If we also teach them that negligent adults are constantly putting their lives at risk and they are therefore only safe at home (watching violent videos, playing barbaric computer games?), we should not be surprised by youth alienation.

My son has barely left when I discover that his dog has fleas. This is not altogether surprising as he has four-inch legs (he's a miniature wire- haired dachshund called Wordsworth), but further sours me towards "nature".

Rural retreat seems to have had an odd effect on the Pope, too. He popped out from his holiday home - the lovely Castel Gandolfo - on Sunday morning to expand on last week's peculiar letter to the "women of the world".

Yes, we should indeed be struggling for justice, political, economic and even ecclesiastical rights, which are the will of God. However, we are meant to achieve these within the context of our "feminine genius" (?!), and while recognising that our "fundamental duty" is motherhood. He knows that once we have understood all this we won't want to be priests. Tricky or what?

At this point my Guardian Angel got cross. Fluttering her rosy pinions - not a sign of an aphid - she started muttering about what did I expect: that he would pop out of Castel Gandolfo offering to resign in favour of a Christian Feminist Collective? Why were we churchy progressives all so unpolitical, so unable to use what we could get our hands on? The Holy Father had, albeit somewhat backhandedly, just explicitly endorsed feminism. Instead of grouching we should be using this marginal advance tactically.

I find it infuriating when angels, especially ones as iconically medieval as mine, start being wily as serpents.

Perhaps a bit spitefully I asked my Guardian Angel's opinion on Bosnia. I was slightly hoping to impale her perfection on this terrible dilemma. Just this week, perhaps for the first time in my life, I have become, or rather have found myself, interventionist. It was for this, or such as this, I thought, that I have refused always to declare myself a pacifist. But she refused to be drawn and just wept bitterly.

Shattered, I am about to crawl off to north Lincolnshire with my colleague, the writer Aileen la Tourette, to teach a women's creative writing course at the Hen House, a magical women's hotel. So short a time ago this would have seemed a wildly exciting and radical thing to do; now it seems charmingly quaint and old-fashioned.

My daughter has just rung and announced that she, too, needs to be in this diary: she needs all the publicity she can get. She is a stunningly beautiful, talented, stylish and witty princess-cum-would-be-film-star (will have Theatre Studies BA). Anyone looking for the millennium's answer to Marilyn Monroe should apply via this newspaper to her doting mamma. She is going to be 22 this week: the same age as I was when I got married.

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