You never know who's listening; it may be one of us.
Yesterday evening we were at a very nice dinner party with friends and, as usual, when the wine glasses had been topped up, stories began to be told. In the middle of the night I woke up realising what the connecting theme had been.
Our host and hostess told us about their experience at a séance with a ouija board on a three-legged table that wobbled convincingly (!) and Chris came out with his story about participating incognito in a spiritualist meeting, once, in Welwyn Garden City. He'd volunteered to report back to the Quakers, whose premises the spiritualists were using, coming to the conclusion that the practice was mostly harmless nonsense, best left ignored.
G's story was of the occasion when he had offered to infiltrate a meeting of one of the religious groups opposed to the Gay Pride movement, to find out what their tactics were. This was shortly before the vote in the Canadian parliament that passed the law allowing same-sex marriages. He said that the viciousness of the opinions voiced hurt and shocked him, but his emotions didn't prevent him from taking notes; in fact the avidity of his note taking was favourably commented upon. "If you only knew!" he was thinking. At the end, so as not to give himself away, he had to join a prayer circle on Parliament Hill, arms entwined with the people who sought to stamp out his way of life. He still shudders to think of that.
M has just come home from a trip to Saudi Arabia to visit her family who recently moved there from Syria. She wore the obligatory veils and was glared at for allowing some of her hair to show. On flights to Riyadh the ladies on the 'plane take over the lavatories for the last hour of the flight, changing out of their western into their Arabic clothes, although underneath the robes they wear skimpy shorts and T-shirts. It is so hot (50º) and dusty in that city that you simply cannot go outside. Even indoors, if you want to keep the house clean, you have to do the dusting twice a day, and everyone's eyes are red. You can't see out of the windows because they are small and high in the walls of rooms. M coped with the climate and with the rules for Ramadan by sleeping during the day till 4 p.m. and staying up all night, but soon felt terribly claustrophobic. She took a trip to Mecca and saw the Kaaba: she hadn't expected the holy site to be surrounded by towering modern hotels. She is glad to be back in Ottawa, where she can be herself again.
All of these spy stories "speak" to me. I've often felt like a close observer myself, both at home and abroad, only pretending to belong, and am often taking notes.