On my way to the village this morning - on foot, the first time I've attempted this half-kilometre walk since doing my back in July - I met T., whom I hadn't seen for some time. She kindly stopped her car to talk to me. What she had to say turned out to be a recital of the woes that had beset her since the last time we met. While wholly sympathetic, as misfortune piled on to misfortune I found it very difficult to keep a straight face. To her great credit, T. could see the funny side of the sheer bare-faced quantity of adversities too.
I was reminded of a short story by, I think – if any reader knows better, please tell me – by Emile Zola, about someone, maybe Zola himself, who found himself on a bus sitting next to a stranger, an elderly woman who started to tell him about her sons, one of whom had been recently gored to death by a bull: Zola tut-tutted in sympathy.
Another had been swept away in a flood, never to be seen again: Zola agreed that it was very sad.
A third had fallen to his death from a hot-air balloon: Zola was conscious that the rest of the bus was now listening fascinated to this catalogue of woe.
By the time the fates of a fourth (decapitated by a madman), fifth (swallowed a tarantula in a green salad), sixth (mobbed by weasels) and seventh (accidentally transfixed by a circus knife-thrower) had been described, the other passengers were rolling about helpless with laughter, into which the old woman, at first uncomprehending, eventually joined.
(I hasten to add that no such tragedies befell T.)