The premise of Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good was fantastic — self-congratulating North London liberals get stuck when ‘Being Good’ suddenly demands more than the occasional donation to UNICEF.
The book wasn’t fabulous, but I thought about it this weekend while entertaining three of my favourite people — one of whom (the well-read, funny, kind, intelligent, irreverent one) is an army pilot. His son is a sensitive boy who loves to read, and his wife is now the proud owner of all my retired riding jackets — because she’s tall, gorgeous, and looks like a Vogue spread on equestrian chic in them.
Our pilot friend is too discreet to say what he thinks the West may or may not be accomplishing in Afghanistan. But unlike the rest of us with opinions, he’s been there for two or three tours of action. The little he describes sounds hellish.
We’ve sent him coffee and books and whatever else we can think of to remind him that we’re thinking of him when he’s out flying missions, and we worry about him a lot. We get a very sketchy sense of what it’s like: Paranoid, boiling hot, boring, chaotic, morally dubious.
‘Civilians get in the way,’ he says simply, when I ask about the leaked casualty statistics in the Sunday papers.
And we make him more pancakes, and try not to think about how complicated life is.