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Clerical life: Playing in injury time

Ponzi Scheme

Clerical life: Playing in injury time


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As a child I had a horror of death. Lying in bed at night, I would contemplate my end. From the age of three or four there were two sources of night-time dread for me: the -vastness of the universe, and the inevitable annihilation of the self. “Imagine the end of the universe,” I would think. “Now, put a fence there. What’s on the other side of the fence?” And so on through the vastness of space. As for death, the thought process went like this: “each year you have lived is a quarter of your life. Next year it will be a fifth. And the year after, a sixth. Until, by the time you are twenty, and wearing high heels and cherry-red lipstick, you will be rattling downhill at speed.”

If lying in bed became impossible, I’d get up and walk down the hall to the living room, where my father would be reading. “I am afraid of death,” I would say, and he would reply, “so am I,” which somehow made it less awful. My father’s late-night reading was The Book of Common Prayer. Secure in his Enlightenment Judaism, he never thought himself in danger of conversion. Years later he remarked to one of his granddaughters: “you can teach yourself anything. You can even teach yourself not to be afraid of death.”

When I was 22 and in the high heels and cherry-red lipstick stage of life, I met and fell in love with the man who became my husband, the poet Geoffrey Hill. Just writing that, I see the mocking,…

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