It was with huge sadness that we learnt that one of our members, who had joined about a year ago after reading about us here, was now seriously ill in hospital and battling cancer. None of us had the first inkling... V always radiant and animated, a picture of health, but we reflected for a moment on some of the far-reaching discussions we have had over the last year, and how much courage it must have taken for her not to reveal that fight, or how it may have impacted on us a group and the freedom of our debates if we had known.
We all signed a card, but sadly V died peacefully the next afternoon.
So at our meeting this evening, (with the prior permission of V's husband and the hotel management,) we will be inscribing and quietly placing two of V's favourite books on the library shelves at Endsleigh, in memory of her love of books and reading, and her vibrant and enthusiastic contribution to our Salon evenings... those two books, chosen by V's husband, The Little Friend by Donna Tartt and The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer.
It took us a while to get going after that news and of course still unaware quite how near the end was for V so talking hopefully of sending her books to read, but we headed on into Plague and Pestilence and with perhaps one of the biggest plagues of our times at the forefront of our minds.
In a state of shock I kicked off to rather a lame and halting start with Always the Children by Anne Watts attempting, but possibly not succeeding instantly, to highlight the ravages of war and disease that permeate Anne's book. Thus I wasted my slot and kept piping up all evening '...'oh yes, well that's apparent in this book too.'
Rebecca added to the disease register with The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, delineating the history of cholera and its spread from the Broad Street pump which finally gave the clues to the origins of the disease.
Next up The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald for its portrayal of a young girl with TB and much debate about the scourge that was TB, and the scourge that it could yet become again as disease mutation and resistance to all and sundry seems to be a risk these days. The book had much impressed the reader and so we had a little eulogise about Penelope Fitzgerald while we could.
Jeannie then stepped in brandishing Angel of Death by Professor Gareth Williams, a history of smallpox... I'll bet you're wishing you'd been there now aren't you, things were getting scarier by the minute, because of course who knows who keeps a bit of the supposedly eradicated smallpox on the side for some illicit germ warfare. There was a flurried rolling-up of sleeves amongst the more senior members to reveal vaccination scars, all apparently now useless should there be an outbreak, which led to some disappointment amongst those of us marked for life at a tender age. Jeannie brought much-needed mirth to the proceedings by bravely revealing that as a four year old in the 1950s, she had played the starring role in a government sponsored public health film on the dangers of smallpox.
We were all incredibly impressed to be in the company of a Shirley Temple starlet, though Jeannie quickly disabused us of any notions of grandeur because sadly it was never shown to the public, and seeing it for the first time recently Jeannie was able to deduce why. As the fatally ill child actress is carried in the arms of her distraught mother and clutching the offending and germ-laden toy rabbit brought back as a gift from overseas, the prostrate, pox-laden floppy child lifts her pox-laden head and flashes a beaming smile of complete happiness at the camera....CUT.
This quite diverted us from too much in-depth debate about bio-terrorism as we really did all want a good night's sleep.
Next up The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner and I didn't write much because I was too engrossed in the Sylvia discussions, but something ravaged through that convent for sure. It's a book I only have in an edition with very dodgy tiny print and I have been searching for a better one ever since. I got as far as the tower falling down and gave up last time I tried to read it.
Then for our delectation The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen, which, set in a hospital coma clinic, felt plaguey and pestilentialy enough to make the cut and came well recommended as was Blackwater Rising by Attica Locke...I think... Rebecca will help me out here...
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis was a winning Sci-Fi combination of bubonic plague and a mutant flu virus with some time travel thrown in that involved Oxford in 2056 and Medieval England, and you probably still had parking trouble in the middle of the city. Our resident speech therapist wanted to know ' Did she have to learn medieval English to communicate?' I think it was an affirmative.
Poor Karen, fancy telling someone the topic is Plague & Pestilence and they say 'Oh I've got the perfect book for that' and lending you a copy of The Plague by Albert Camus...
Oh b%&*$%...her word not mine, but surprise surprise, readable, good story, beautifully written, not bleak and highly recommended, who'd have thought...
Last but not least Angela brings back The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer for the second time and reads us the Health chapter...something about flaying a fat cat and drawing out the guts, mixing in some bits of bear and then stuffing and roasting said cat and anointing ill people with the dripping... I might have got that slightly mixed up with something I saw on Hugh Fearnley Eatitall Whittingstall, but it was hilarious as usual and just what we needed, though we're all agreed, Angela's in trouble at any attempt at a hat trick to make that book fit three separate themes, tonight Immigration & Emigration.