A Modest Memoir

This book was gifted to me by my husband the first time he went to England without me, when he was doing his post graduate work. It was published in 1996, so it must have been there abouts, he says he still remembers how it was advertised, rather agressively, in the bookshop on Charing Cross Road, and he knew I was a fan (yes, originally because of Star Wars, and he wouldn´t have liked that, but I have loved his other works too, dragged a friend along to "Dr Zhivago" and she thought it the most long and boring film ever...) and so got a copy for me. I attempted to read it then, but for some reason didn´t get into it, but now it was just perfect - or perhaps I was just perfect for it.

I´m talking about Alec Guinness´ diary/memoar "My Name Escapes Me - the diary of a retiring actor". It´s a very unpretentious thing, a lot of it is about his and his wife Merula´s (married since 1938) quite life in Sussex, trips to town (London), lunches and dinners with aging actor and director friends, memories of past times, outrage at some of the current politics, complaints of illnesses and loss of senses, like hearing and seeing. It ends with a lovely week on Lake Como at a friend´s house, a week that almost didn´t happen due to hip operations, vertigo and such.

Guinness is hardly the kind of honored actor that´s full of himself (he was knighted by the Queen as early as 1959), he has a kind of self-deprecating tone that´s typical of people (I find) that have not been loved as children. He loathes to perform as himself, making speeches and pr for films and books, often beats himself up the day after a dinner party for having been a bore, making his tales to long and never getting to the point, not allowing others to speak. He resents his wife asking him to tell a story and at the same time giving away the punchline, but he understands it as her way of asking him to be a bit briefer than is his nature. He is uncivil to his fans and later regrets it. He seems to have been a man not entirely comfortable in his own skin (he died in 2000 and his wife survived him by two months).

I like him a lot, of course, I have an affinity for old grumpy men and women. I like the unassuming chronicles of a simple, small, but rich life. There is something to be said for the joy of daffodils in spring, birdsong in the early morning, a piece of music on the stereo after a light dinner. No matter how exciting and prominent lives we lead, in the end, if we survive, that will be all, as friends die and our strength leaves us.

And why not be happy about the daffodils now? Mine have just started to bloom, and this morning I encountered the first hedgehog of the summer, busy on his way. He looked like a big, strong fellow. Or perhaps he was a girl, I don´t know. Summer will be here soon, even though at present, it looks rather bleak. Until then, the best we can do is enjoy being curled up in a sofa with a good book.

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