Nothing is ever settled . . . (episode 54)

Garden snail.  Image by Simon Howden.

Garden snail. Image by Simon Howden.

January 1 1999

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet

My Dear Ralph

A New Year dawns pet and we must both hope for the best! I don’t know if the best is quite going to happen for the unfortunate citizens of Kosovo however, because violence is – increasingly – being reported on the radio and on television. I don’t know if you have been attending to these developments nephew? I don’t like to think of you continuing to be slumped in your armchair, in a state of existential despair, and concentrating only on the sustenance of your pet fruit fly. (At least if there is only one, s/he will not be able to breed!)

Now. Back to matters of more immediate political interest. The province of Kosovo, as you may or may not know, has been intermittently incorporated into former Yugoslavia and, in particular, into Serbia. The incorporation has been intermittent owing to the fact that a large part of its southern border is edged by Albania and the vast majority of Kosovan citizens consider their ethnicity to be Albanian. This then is a society in a state of ethnic and constitutional tension. The tension has recently greatly been exacerbated by socio-economic changes occurring within Kosovo. For instance, the population has increasingly had improved access to electricity, running water, health care, and schooling and – while these are all good things – they turn out to have had unanticipated consequences. The consequences which have finally tipped Kosovans into re-seeking independence from Serbia turn out to be a vastly expanded population and an unemployment rate of nearly 57 per cent.
This is very high is it not nephew? And it just goes to show that it is a weight of factors that tends to cause citizens to take up arms.

So here we are, at the start of 1999, with the Kosovan Liberation Army nose-to-nose with increasingly aggressive Serbian forces and the death toll – of both military personnel and civilians – is rising with no apparent end in sight. Indeed, under the leadership of the Serbian head of state, Slobodan Milosevic, it is looking only that the situation is going to accelerate in ferocity and consequential loss of life. What do you think should be done dear? Do you think the right of the sovereign state to non-interference in its affairs is sacrosanct? Or do you think that agencies such as the United Nations should use force to prevent large scale acts of killing of a state’s own citizens?

To lighten the mood somewhat, and to reduce what might have become a slight starry glaze in your New Year eyes, there has been a small development in my friendship with the Cosy Old Sock. While out perambulating the lanes of Outer Hamlet this morning, I chanced upon said personage walking his standard poodle, the Fonz. We were luckily near his own demesne and he invited me down the track to partake of some coffee. Well dear, he lives in a detached stone residence of quite commodious proportions. I particularly liked the antique metal bell pull and the electrically-driven chain of little red-and-blue men all chiming a repertoire of festive tunes, from its station on a mantelpiece. The house contains a lot of wood and terracotta tile features and I felt particularly at home with the muddy footprints of his menagerie marching across the armchairs. As you know, I myself do favour the rough-and-ready style of indoor living and the warmth that a lived-in look can create.

But, as usual, as I was leaving, he did strike a somewhat unfortunate note in his mention that his (deceased) wife sometimes used to ‘let him out’ to do other things. ‘Let him out?’ What does that mean I wonder? I did, rather incautiously, suggest that he might think all women to be domineering bullies and he retorted, ‘Quite right. I do.’ Oh dear pet. I, of course, am quite not in this category and I could – equally pertinaciously – have asserted that, in my view, all men are cheats and liars! However, you will be relieved to hear that, just in the nick of time, I managed to restrain myself from saying this!

I think tomorrow – if the weather continues mild – that I may embark upon some gardening in the home of some garden owners who have gone away on holiday. It is a very large garden and, who knows, I may well have the opportunity to lean on my spade and contemplate the innocent horns of a resident snail.


Aunt Evangeline


One thought on “Nothing is ever settled . . . (episode 54)

  1. josna

    Love this letter! It is so funny and warm, and in every way vintage Evangeline. She gives us that thumbnail sketch of the causes of the Kosovo crisis and reminds us that as little as 16 years ago the idea of non-interference in another sovereign nation’s affairs was a sacrosanct one. Her heart goes out to her nephew, she gives us a tiny bit of hope that there may be a gentleman friend again (however problematic) in her own life, and I love the image of her resting on her spade and contemplating a garden snail. But remind me: why would she be working in someone else’s garden at her age?


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