But first, can I share a secret? It’s relevant. This is something I have never told anyone in my life
before, not even Ellie, who knows everything about me, because I always found it acutely
embarrassing. And here I am, about to say it out loud, in public. It’s a pleasure to be too old for
shame, too old for embarrassment.
The back story is from my last days at boarding school when I made friends with a school mate
about my own age. I admired him immensely, perhaps because he was everything I felt I was
not, but aspired to be: a rule breaker, an intellectual who played Charlie Parker and Dizzy
Gillespie loudly in the school corridor for everyone to hear; who drank his coffee black; who
boldly smoked cigarettes, and even boasted he smoked reefers; who was cynical and smart and
dismissive of everyone else in the school. I did everything I could to be just like him, but always
fell short. I had the gray trousers of my school uniform daringly tapered—but they were
corduroys, and looked slightly ridiculous. Wanting even to emulate his ultra cool short haircut, I
went to the barber and told him what I wanted; he gave me… a “Perry Como”! Totally un-cool!
So here’s the secret. My “friend,” my hero, my nemesis gave me a nickname. In his contempt
for my friendship, he dubbed me the Village Idiot.
So much shame! Such a secret, for so long! And now of course I realize that it only hurt as much
as it did because… my friend was right! He was smart enough to recognize that the piece of me
I so badly wished to hide was some part of my essence as a person. I know enough now, after
more than sixty years, to treasure it instead. That soft spot. The innocence. I was brought up in
a country village. The Village Idiot is the embodiment of the innocence, the guilelessness, the
sense of wonder at the strangeness of the sophisticated grownup world that remains buried
somewhere deep in my heart to this day. In all the clever scheming and hostility and squabbling
that surrounds us in the world we have foolishly built for ourselves, I am happy to occasionally
be able to find refuge in that familiar, comfortable, innocent place in my soul (okay, you soul-
less scoffers, my psychological makeup).
These thoughts were occasioned by two British movies we watched on two consecutive
evenings. That would-be lofty intellectual part of me felt almost guilty enjoying them as much
as I did. They were charming—and what’s wrong with charming? Both were set the rural
environment in which I grew up, both touched on that simplicity, that innocence I’m trying to
describe. The first was “Summerland.” In its opening scene, a crotchety old author is disturbed
at her work by a posse of unruly children. She shoos them away, yelling after them to “bugger
off.” Next scene, she’s young again. It’s World War II. She is working at the same typewriter and
jumping up, irate, to chase off another bunch of mocking kids. She’s a holy terror, an outsider, a
thorn in the village flesh; along with the whole rest of this tiny population, these kids are sure
she’s a witch.
Then an officious lady from the government shows up at her door, bringing with her a scruffy
boy, an evacuee from London’s Blitz, who is assigned to be billeted at her house.
She’s outraged, of course. Hates the idea. Despises children. Behaves horribly to the boy. But
then of course slowly comes to love him, and he her. He worms his way into her hidden
tenderness, her humanity. And through him rediscovers the wound that has made her so
bitter… I’ll not say more. I won’t act the spoiler. Enough to say that the film is totally charming.
And then there was “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” You may have seen
this. It’s an old one. We stumbled across it on Netflix and were happy we did. In this one, the
peaceful rustic innocence of one of the Channel Islands that lie between England and France is
shattered by the arrival of the Germans at the start of World War II. Their hated, brutal
presence lifts the veil of innocence and reveals many dark secrets that lurk beneath the surface
of village life. The protagonist of the story, a young woman, a promising writer from London,
intrigued by the “society”, arrives on the island to research the book club that proved a refuge
from the Nazi storm for a motley group of villagers—and ends up entranced…and of
course—this is a movie—enamored.
So yes, there’s an English country bumpkin somewhere deep in my heart. And these days I find
myself longing to be back where I grew up. Los Angeles feels noisy, with its constant roar of
press and police helicopters above and the unceasing wail of sirens on the streets. Its endless
traffic jams. It feels tense, as though always awaiting some imminent disaster. Try watching
those movies. You’ll see what I mean. You may even find that you too, like myself, are a bit of
an idiot. Which is a good place to be.