Adrian, Anne, Gerald, Leonard are about to set off on a short speaking tour. Before leaving, however, there is a chance for the Plasses to meet Leonard’s new girlfriend, Angels. Being a dancer, she might be useful on the tour, but what will she be like? The mind boggles!
Such a treat to have Gerald arrive home this morning. He still tends to treat me as if I was a very confused 93-year-old, but we love him dearly.
Wonderful to see him! I still find it hard to believe that this separate, grown-up, competent person is my son. He said how much he was enjoying the prospect of the tour, and how good it would be for me to have him and Anne to be there making sure my feet stayed firmly on the ground. Anne nodded agreement. Hmm…
He also offered to do a bit of speaking if I wanted him to, and said that he’d got a few pieces prepared if we wanted him to use them. Excellent! We’ve never really heard Gerald speak publicly before, not properly anyway, but with a mind like his it would have to be interesting whatever it was. We spent the afternoon going over plans for some of the speaking engagements.
All three of us got quite childishly excited this evening waiting for Leonard to turn up with his girlfriend. Lots of speculation from Gerald and I about her looks, how old she would be and the way in which Leonard was likely to conduct a relationship. Anne said we must forget about anything Leonard said to me about her over the phone and just greet her as a friend of a good friend. Gerald said he was ever so glad that Leonard had found a girlfriend, and deeply intrigued by the idea of him ‘turning into a couple’.
“Strange name, though, isn’t it?” he said. “Angels Twitten. I’ve never heard of anyone called Angels before.”
Doorbell went at exactly seven o’clock. Opened the door to find a lady I’d never seen before standing alone on the step. She was in her mid-30s, shortish, slim and quite pretty, but with big sad eyes, and dressed in rather vividly coloured, drifty, hippyish clothes. Her frizzy, dark-brown hair was pushed back in a headband, decorated with lots of little blue plastic flowers. She was holding a bottle of milk with a crumpled top in one hand. Soft, beautiful voice, nervous but full of resonance.
She said, “Hello, my name is Angels Twitten and I’ve come to dinner with my fiancé, Leonard Thynn.” “Right! Very pleased to meet you, Angels. Do come in. Er, when you say you’ve come with Leonard, he doesn’t seem actually to be er - ”
Interrupted by the phone ringing just as I’d ushered her into the hall and closed the door. It was Thynn. Well, of course it was.
“Hello, Adrian, I’m speaking from that phone box next to the Salvation Army Citadel up at the top end of town.”
“But why - ” “I’m ringing to apologise for being late.”
“But you’re not late. At least, Angels isn’t late. It’s seven o’clock now and she’s already here. I’ve just let her in.” “Oh, good, I’m glad. Yes, I was with her just now in the next street down from yours. The thing is, I will be late by the time I get back from here.” “Yes, but why did you go all the way up to the citadel?”
“To find a phone that worked.” Aware that the familiar headache was beginning. “So why didn’t you just come in and use our phone?” “Because it was you I wanted to call.” Felt like screaming.
“But if you wanted to speak to me, why didn’t you just come in and talk to me?”
“Because we were early. We were waiting round the corner for it to be time. Then I thought it would be a good idea to ring you to ask if we could come in a bit early, but the nearest phone had been vandalised and there was a queue for the next one, and by the time I managed to find a phone that was free and working I was so far away that it was too late to be early, so there was no point in phoning to ask about coming early, but it was too late to get back to your house without being late, so in the end I decided to ring to apologise for how late I’m going to be by the time I get back to your house.”
“Leonard! You’ve never ever worried about being early or late or coming on the off-chance or not turning up at all in the past. Why on earth should we mind if you come a few minutes early this evening?”
“Well, you know. It’s different because of - you know, because of…”
Sighed, and said weakly, “All right, Leonard, don’t worry about being late. Just come back now as quickly as you can and everything will be fine. See you in a few minutes.”
Put the phone down and turned to find Angels holding the bottle of milk towards me. “For you and Anne,” she said. I said, “Oh, thank you. Did we leave it on the step?”
“No, Leonard wanted us to bring a bottle as it was a dinner party, but we’d only got half a bottle of milk each and no money to get anything else, so we poured it all into one bottle and put the top back on. I thought it was a bit of a funny thing to bring, but Leonard said you really liked milk, so... ”
“Ah, yes, of course, thank you. A bottle of milk. How nice. Leonard’s absolutely right. We love milk. Thank you very much...”
Ten minutes later all was as it should have been. Leonard (rather nervous) sitting next to Angels on the sofa as if they were both being interviewed for a job. Angels seems a funny mixture of all sorts of things. Bright, confident, ill at ease, vague, practical, dreamy.
After all eating in an unusually wellmannered way we settled in the sittingroom again and Gerald said, “Angels, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I was wondering about your name. I mean, Angels is quite unusual, isn’t it? In fact, come to think of it, I can’t remember ever hearing of anyone with your surname either. Were you christened Angels Twitten?”
“I don’t mind you asking at all,” said Angels solemnly, fixing her big, dark eyes on Gerald. “I was actually christened Angela Pathway, but my father had a very bad time at school when he was a boy because some of the others nicknamed him ‘Doggy Paradise’ and he didn’t want my brother and I to go through that so he changed his name to ‘Twitten’, which is a word they use down in Kent for a narrow alley way that connects one area of housing to another. And I changed my name from Angela to Angels because a man at the council put his finger on the wrong key when he wrote to me and when I saw it I rather liked it, so I decided I would be Angels from then on.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” nodded Gerald, smiling, “the ‘a’ and the ‘s’ are next door to each other, aren’t they? Well, I think you were quite right. Angels is much nicer than Angela. But how did you get on at school with ‘Twitten’?” “Really awful!” Angels suddenly smiled. “It all sounds rather silly, doesn’t it?”
“No sillier than the things most parents do,” said Gerald, glancing at me for some reason. “Angels writes poems,” said Thynn proudly, “I made her bring one to read tonight.”
Statutory chorus of delight and encouragement. Joined in naturally, out of politeness, but personally my stomach always sinks when someone says they’re going to read one of their own poems. What usually happens is that either I find what they read impenetrable, and I haven’t the faintest idea whether it’s good-impenetrable or badimpenetrable, or it’s just plain awful, and I have all the strain of trying to think of something to say that won’t upset them, but will put them off the idea of reading the other 13 that they just happen to have with them. Braced myself.
Angels took a folded sheet of paper from her bag. A half-sleepy, distant look came into her eyes. “This one’s not really finished,” she said apologetically, “nothing I do is ever really finished, but I’ll read it to you. It’s called ‘Rainbow’.” I’ve copied it out.
With brazen modesty Sumptuous simplicity Unique normality We who fly with feet upon the ground Are plunged headlong into the vaulting sea Raised to fathomless depths of calm unsettled skies Crudely caressed by monstrous beauty Captured in the freedom of obscuring light The selfish gift of midnight suns Burned with ice Betrayed by loyalty Unfettered in our chains Shaken from the core Blistered by the shade We, the single ragged rich who lie in state Yearn for unfulfillment And the vibrancy of death Curse with joy the crashing silence Into which we have been tragically, fatally born
Sacredly profane Anciently refreshing Tediously new Such gargantuan minutiae Golden edged and dull Retreat towards us through the all revealing mist Until the rainbow, like a dream of war Glorious in monochrome Comes arcing, like the straightest arrow made by man Invisibly Into view.
A sort of echoing, puzzled silence descended after Angels finished reading. Heard Gerald murmur under his breath, “Retreat towards us? Unfettered in our chains? Sacredly profane? Hmm…”
Decided this was definitely one of the impenetrable variety of poems, probably impenetrable-bad, because, as Gerald said later, it seemed to be based on a sort of verbal conjuring trick where you make a long list of pairs of things that don’t belong together and then put them together anyway. On the other hand, the whole thing had a sort of grand ring about it. Quite a puzzle really. Asked Anne afterwards what she thought. She said it had sounded to her like the work of someone very clever whose brain had got scrambled by too much of something that wasn’t very good for her. Asked if I’d noticed how, most of the time, Angels was chatty and normal and smiley, but whenever she started talking about anything to do with the arts or any other abstract subject she seemed to go off into another world that didn’t make a lot of sense. Thought about this and realised she was right. Later on in the evening, for instance, Leonard had made another announcement about his new friend.
“Angels is a dancer, aren’t you, Angels?” “Well, yes, that’s what I - what I do.” “Oh, really!” said Anne. “How interesting. We know next to nothing about that. So, if you don’t mind me asking, what does dance mean to you, then, Angels?”
Similar far-off look came into her eyes, but there was something else there as well, a fear and an intensity. As she spoke she waved her fingers elegantly, but as the words came out of her mouth they were like dead leaves drifting randomly on the breeze.
“What does it mean? Well, for me dance is, in essence, about assessing the philosophical parameters of a specific creative process and then being brave enough to bridge them with artistically coherent lines of communication. I see it as a fundamental realignment of spiritual force, interlocking with the vision of a specific other, or within the landscape of one’s own selective imagery. It’s important for the dancer to feel both the flow and undercurrent of the human heart as a maker of waves and tides across the ocean of human experience. In artistic terms, that’s what dance means to me.”
Another of those echoing silences, and then Thynn said, “So it’s not about moving your legs around in patterns?”
Opening her eyes wide again, Angels nodded and gazed at him adoringly. “Yes, Leonard, that’s a very good way of putting it. You are a man of real insight.”
“Am I?” said Leonard, looking surprised and very pleased, “I’d always understood from almost everyone I know that I definitely wasn’t. My old headmaster told me that I was the most inchoate remnant of Neanderthal incomprehension that it had ever been his misfortune to encounter.”
He smiled with a certain wild-eyed pride.
“I learned what he thought of me by heart without trying when he made me write it out a hundred times after getting little white bits at the corner of his mouth because he wasn’t able to teach me something about a bath that was ‘x’ inches deep filling up in ‘y’ hours when ‘z’ amount of water came out every some other letter that I can’t remember minutes.”
“You know, this is marvellous,” said Anne. “We could do with a dancer for our tour, couldn’t we, Adrian, especially now that Barry’s made such a generous offer?” “Er, yes - yes, we could.”
Tried not to let Anne see how alarmed I was by this half-suggestion. I’ve learned to trust my wife’s instincts, but the truth is that I never have got on very well with dancers in the church at the best of times. All they seem to do is dress up in clothes that stop you from seeing any movements they make or what sex they are, and they use one of about four different ways to point upwards in a supplicating sort of way and gaze adoringly at the lampshades with one knee in the air. Besides, couldn’t help thinking that if Angels’ dancing turned out to be like her poetry she would probably be into moving forward at the same time as moving backwards, and throwing herself into the air in the same instant that she dropped to the floor. In the case of Angels it wasn’t even as if we were likely to have a chance to see her dancing before the tour began.
“So, Angels,” asked Anne, as if she had read the last thought in my mind, “is there anywhere we could come and watch you dancing in the very near future?” Angels looked at the floor. Her voice seemed smaller.
“I haven’t done much for a long time. It’s been difficult. I am going to do something for the elderly people at Clay House tomorrow afternoon, though.
It’s nothing much, but I suppose if you really wanted…” Arranged to go along tomorrow afternoon to watch.
“By the way,” said Angels, “what sort of tour is it you’re going on?” Thynn turned white and looked imploringly at Anne and I.
“It’s a Christian tour,” said Anne pleasantly but firmly. “We’re Christians. Adrian writes Christian books that people find - well, they find them quite funny as well as being helpful sometimes. The tour’s a chance to go and tell people more about Jesus.” “I see,” said Angels. She looked a little worried, then turned to Leonard. “So are you a Christian as well, Leonard?”
“Sometimes,” said Thynn miserably, “but not really - well, yes, I suppose I am.” Suddenly panicking. “But I could easily stop if that means you won’t like me any more! I don’t mind what I am, honestly! What are you? I’ll be one as well.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Angels, “I’m glad you’re one. I expect that’s what helps to make you such a good person.” Watched relief, confusion and embarrassment chase each other across Thynn’s features. “And how about you, Angels,” said Anne, “do you have any kind of belief?” That distant look.
“I believe in a sacred responsibility to reach out and receive the touch of otherness, and I think we should always strive to celebrate the ethereal strands that are woven into true humanness.” “A Methodist, then,” said Gerald. All laughed, Angels no less than the rest of us.
Asked Anne in bed tonight what she thought about Angels. “I like her very much,” she said, “and I love seeing Leonard so happy. I think she’s been through very tough times and has trouble facing some things. We need to make her part of us, don’t you think? She might be just what we need to add something different to our tour. Let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
Hmm! I like Angels too. Can’t help feeling a bit worried, though, that the ‘philosophical parameters of a specific creative process’ might boil down to a bit of wafty swaying about. We shall see.
Extracted from The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass on Tour, by Adrian Plass. Published by Zondervan and used with permission ISBN 000713045 7, £9.99 (hardback).