Today the news is full of a story about a man who shot his wife, her sister and her niece at a New Year drinks party. People in the small town in which the shooting took place are stunned. Police are trying to make sense of the incident.
I remember a Christmas about fifteen years ago, when my mother was alive. We were talking about a friend of hers who used to pop into our house on a Saturday afternoon when I was growing up. She was a bright, lively person, full of laughter and jokes and I always enjoyed it when she made an appearance. But she never stayed for long.
The reason she invariably hurried away, my mother informed me, was her husband, a tall, menacing man who seldom spoke, but whose smouldering eyes were filled with a barely suppressed violence that even as a child I recognised though I could not explain.
'He was terribly jealous,' my mother went on. 'She always told him she was just going to the shops. If she was gone too long and he found out she'd called into our house there would have been terrible trouble.'
'But why?' I asked, naively. 'I mean Dad was out of work. Who was he jealous of?'
'He just wanted to be in control,' my mother said.
My daughter, whose grandchild I now look after two days a week, was fifteen at the time. She had been sitting in a corner half-listening to this conversation. Now she spoke. 'But why did she stay with him?'
'Well,' I said, searching for an explanation that might make sense to her, 'marriage was a different institution in those days.'
'It certainly was,' my mother said. She spoke with feeling.
My daughter shrugged. 'I would have just left him,' she said. It seemed so obvious to her.
I was pleased by her clarity but also a little daunted. The past is such a difficult thing to explain to the present.
On the mantelpiece of my sitting room there is a photo of me standing amid a group of children in somebody's back garden. I am about two years old so it must be 1956. I'm holding a ball and gazing seriously at the camera with an air of faint bewilderment. Since that time the world has changed so much I sometimes think there is nothing the child in that photograph has in common with my grand children growing up today. Nothing except bewilderment.