Friday, 11 April 2014

Dignity

A day or so ago I was standing at a kerbside in the centre of busy London waiting for the taxi I had decided to treat myself to. (Never mind the syntax, even I can find myself too pedantic at times: 'to which I had decided to treat myself?' I don't think so.) The decision was taken on the grounds that I was carrying a stick and three heavy shopping bags and would have needed two buses to reach home from where I was, with a good walk at the end of it. Anyway, there I was, waiting for the kind of taxi for which I have a Pensioners special rate when a young man came up and asked me if  I needed help to cross the road. He said he had been watching me and thought my hesitation was because I was afraid. When I could speak I explained I was quite alright, just waiting for a ComCab. Since many other free taxis were passing all the while, it was not surprising that his manner then changed to one of fear for his own safety at the hands of this obvious madwoman. Dear Reader, I assure you I was politeness itself and thanked his retreating back profusely for his thoughtful kindness. However, I'm not sure I am safe to publish what my inner voice was saying. (I am sure: I can't).  I'd be glad for some input as to how long it takes to adjust to this business  old age. The other day, I stood up on a crowded 'bus to offer my seat when an elderly man with a crutch got on. Naturally, the person next to me, who had arisen to let me out, believed I wanted to get off and was decidedly nonplussed when I sat down again having realised the pot had been calling the kettle black.

The nub of the problem seems to be the need to see oneself as others see one. Here, there seems to be a dichotomy between how  others perceive  ones inner world, ones way of being in the world, and ones actual, physical appearance, in the external world. I think I have reached a Nirvana of harmony and balance. What you pick up from my inside is what  and who I am. What I look like standing by the kerb of a thundering London street must be very different. Sometimes, the pain in my back and legs is such that I crawl up the street taking twenty minutes to do the erstwhile five minute walk  home from the nearest 'bus stop. During this journey I am clearly invisible - is this physically possible, can one be clear and invisible? - as people jostle passed me on the inside. Just now, a leadless, (leash, if you are in Mountview, California), collarless chocolate labrador nearly nearly tripped me up. I asked him if he were with anyone. A voice replied "It's she and she's with me." That was it. No apology, no smile, just umbrage because I had got the gender of her beloved wrong. I read of a lady so disillusioned by the lack of humanity in the current technology which governs our world that she decided to end her life. She did so under the auspices of the Swiss clinic, Dignitas. I was overwhelmed, not only by her courage but by the serendipity of the name of the organisation. Perhaps this deserves a post of its own. Until soon....Bore da

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

In Memorium

On Remembrance Day a couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the unstructured, unexpected, surprising even, vignettes by which we remember those who have died before us. Since then,   many more examples have come to mind, all of which seem to leave an imprint rather more meaningful than a headstone or an obitury. Many years ago, our GP friend told how, coming back from the seaside with a car full of tired and sandy little ones, he came upon an accident. In spite of the need to get the children home, he stopped to attend to the injured. In moments, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a voice say "Stand aside. I'm a ,  Doctor". Quietly, he stood up and drove his family home. The other day, someone came up to me at a 'bus stop and, addressing me directly, asked whether all the 'buses from that stop turned left at the top of the road. From further down the queue, a voice piped up "Oh no. One of them turns right". The voice went on to explain   at great length, all the routes from that stop. There was our friend, firmly in mind again, though I doubt I shall ever see where he is buried or where there may be a formal memorial. A friend from childhood  once pointed out that I must be rather impatient. This is not at all how I see myself and, indeed, had patience enough, when I was working, to do the kind of work that was, necessarily, slow and painstaking. But every time I wish that something would happen more quickly than it seemed to be, I hear his observation again and he, anew, lives for me for a moment.

Naturally, there are some people who provide lots of little  film - memories  When I was very small, I had the habit of  trying to kiss and hug my Father when he was at table. "Never interfere with a man when he is eating" was his contribution to our little ritual. I swear that my cat says exactly the same thing when I bend down to stroke her while her   nose is in her feeding bowl, and I am five years old once more. I have the feeling that I may have told you before about a person very dear to me who kept rather a messy household. When, in her absence, I gave her home a thorough turn- out, her comment when she came back was that it would take her ages to get it back the way it was. Over the decades, that episode has stopped me interfering with someone else's effort a thousand times with her voice in my ear. A casket with her ashes or a rose bush on her grave would have much less impact in memorium. Every time I come across a case of sibling rivalry, I hear the voice of my lovely Mother-in-law dismissing my analysis of children squabbling with the succint words "People have been having brothers and sisters for centuries". I wonder what small movie might recall me in death to those who have been close to me in life. There was an occasion when I described the new wife of a family friend whom I had just met as rather eccentric. All the young, in unison, shouted "You, calling her eccentric." The thing speaks for itself. Nos da.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Education

How lovely to watch the little ones as they try to make sense of the world. It is something which I have always done but, retired, I am giving it even more time. When you think of what has to be learned in order simply to function in an every-day life, the mind has to boggle. How much has to be learned and how much can be known through instinct? How long does it take to be sure that someone will come if you scream? How do you acquire that skill? How fortunate are those whose carer will take the trouble to interpret the screams. (I resisted the impulse to write 'Mother'. I am aware of the obligation to watch out for political correctness though I am not brilliant at it.) I remember taking the risk of approaching a young mother who dragged her three-year-old son from the restaurant where we all lunching because he threw a tantrum when she obliged him to sit, not next to her where she had installed her baby, but next to his Grandmother whose perfume had already caused me to break out in a fit of sneezing. When I came up to her she was standing by her car with the child inside. I expressed the hope she wouldn't hit me or call the Police and pointed out how limited were her son's resources. He couldn't say "You've gone and got another baby instead of me and I can't stand the way Grandma smells." He could only produce the kind of tantrum that makes the fondest parent wonder what on earth they had done in the interest of procreation. Her eyes filled with tears and she said that she had never thought of that. This interfering old lady went on her way with  intervention neither from the law nor the fist.

I see the little ones eyeing my stick as they are pushed passed me. Do they think some big people have three legs? I believe I have told you before about the little one on his Father's knee outside a cafe who was staring at a neighbouring dog. I waited for as long as I dared for Father to say "That's a dog. Say 'hello' to the nice dog". It didn't happen. I am in awe of the expedience babies use in cracking this-business-of-living code. Someone I knew as a child has a French father and a British mother. He solved the two-language problem by speaking French to men and English to women. One baby I knew would say "Carry you. Carry you" because that's what was said to him each time he was about to be picked up. What process did he go through to learn he needed the second not the third person? For a long time, a little boy of my acquaintance called any food he could hold in his hand 'apple', because a segment of that fruit was the first thing he was aware of feeding to himself. I watch my cat intently because she has even more complex communication skills than a baby. If I am at home when she deposits solid matter in the litter tray she scarcely covers it up. If I am out it is very thoroughly hidden. This can be only because she has learned that, if I am on hand, I will clear it up forthwith. For those of you in Mountview California, I should explain that London taxi drivers have to undergo what is called 'The Knowledge'. Every street, every building of interest, every station has to be committed to memory. Can you imagine, in a city that size? It beggars belief. Still, if a baby can do the equivalent, so can they. Bore da.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Luddite-ism

You may have been wondering where I have been since the last post. Last post is actually more accurate and ironic than I expected: it feels as if I have been listening to the trump of the last post while I have been trying to access the account that deals with 75 going on 40. The Wizard of Cyberspace has instructed the Powers That Be to send me, in red, a notice that my email and password are incorrect. I do have two accounts and have changed the passwords  of each several times. No combination  worked until, suddenly, it did and now I have forgotten what the successful combination was. I really shouldn't be struggling with the 21st Century. It's not safe.for me. I clicked the 'back one page' and found the email address I had used. The password was just a series of dots. Of course, you knew it would be.

 The other day I did a round of a good many electrical suppliers trying to find an old-fashioned light bulb that wouild give these tired eyes the lumens they longed for. If you feel you'd like to know, by my bed, on the side  where I sleep, is a lamp with a 150 wattage bulb in it. I know, I know, I just have to hope that none of the many people of my acquaintance who is ecologically aware is going to read this particular post. I do feel horribly ashamed, but then, at my age, it comes to lumens or literature. Anyway, I exhausted myself and suffered increased pain in my dodgy back all to no gain. When I complained to the Guru he asked why I had not tried online. Hours of traipsing round a city battered by rain, hale and wind produced no 150 watt light bulbs. Five minutes online and I had sourced and ordered some, warm and dry as well.....me, not the bulbs. 'Online' would simply not have entered my head by itself. Anyway, they duly arrived: ten of them. Sourced I may have done. Understood the illustrations, I did not. The good news is that I feel free to leave the light on while I run - I wish - downstairs for whatever reason. I don't have to conserve every moment of its useful life. They are marked "for industrial use" so I suppose that if I do the crossword with the light on that would represent the required industry.Were that the only denial of the here and now, I would be a very happy person. It is not only my clumsiness in the 21st Century, when I do remember its conveniences. It's that I so rarely do remember them. I have not been to the cinema for a very long time, much as I love films, because the weekly magazine that provided the listings for films, plays and music which was my can't-do-without reference book, stopped publishing and resorted to a website which I can't find and  couldn't follow even if I could find it. Up until very recently a website was where a spider made his home. I fear, for me, it still is. Nos da

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Deja Vu

 Last night the Guru's Swing Band had a mammoth gig which I went to with some trepidation. Why? Well, apart from me, the oldest person there must have been all of thirty. I went on the 'bus which meant that I approached the door from the end opposite to a snaking queue the end of which was not visible to the be-spectacled eye. Taking my courage in both legs I advanced straight up the couple of steps to the Doorman in control of things. Not unreasonably, he pointed me to the far west where there was evidently an end to this queue. Firmly, waving my stick at him, I said that old ladies with incapacities were not about to line up in the wind and the cold. He must be fond of his Grandmother because he let me in and this post testifies to the fact that I was not riven by those still waiting in the queue. I knew that the band's first set was not until 9pm but there was a great deal going on before that. It turned out that the main opening event was lessons in jitterbugging and related dances from circa the Forties and Fifties. Imagine my excitement: I must have been the only person there who danced those dances the first time around. The girls were mostly wearing the waisted, full-skirted dresses of the time, with trainers, but even a pedant like me was able to accept the practicality of that. My poor feet were itching to get in there and threatened rebellion as I sat, decorously, on a chair provided by another young man who must have loved his Grandma. I honestly think - is there another way to think - that, had I seen a place to pose my stick, I would actually have joined in.

I remember an attempt at a parental embargo because of the risk of underwear-showing as one twirled and pirouetted without caution. The solution was to sew weights in to the hem to hold the skirt down. That didn't work, of course, largely because I took them out away from parental observation. My seamed stockings and ladylike knickers, colour co-ordinated, were, therefore able to enjoy and be enjoyed by the lovely freedom of the boogie. When I told the Guru of my retrospective identification, he nearly fell over. He looked at me as if I had dropped from Venus. Clearly, there was no way to associate the ancient with the modern, in the past and on the present dance floor. ( I have some reservations about the personification of various non-person references above. Please forgive me. I am really carried away by last night's events. But I agree: I don't like 'arch', either.) Memories I didn't realise I had stored swam about in my current consciousness; people, too. I have been here before, I knew, different county, different companions, replicated experience. With my inner eye I could see, clearly, the young me swung around a boy's back, thrown about at the end of his arms and coming to rest in an elegant curtsey at the end. There were no mobile phones - Good Heavens, what else was there none of - so I had to keep looking at the time to be sure to be ready for the parental pick-up. 'Nice' girls did not go home with anyone else, especially not A BOY. Oh Dear, where are the snows of yesteryear? Melted by the hot Chinese herbal pain patch I have to wear to sooth the chronic pain in my back. Prynhawn da

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Communication

In the newspapers recently, I have seen comments about the importance of talking to babies and little children so as to encourage their loquacity and hone their vocabularies. Goodness knows why it has taken so long for 'official' comment to draw our attention to the obvious. It won't surprise you that I am fascinated by the attempts of the young to make themselves understood. I have a little heart-sink when I hear that babies have been 'good' because quiet and 'naughty' because of crying. For \Heavens sake, how do we expect them to draw our attention when they are pre-verbal. (Rhetorical). Someone I had a great deal to do with growing up was being fed when it was clear that she was storing up the food in her hamster cheeks. As the surplus spilled out the feeder kept shaving it up and trying to put it back in to the child's mouth. After a while of this in- out exchange, the little one suddenly said "Hello". "Hello, has nothing to do with it" the feeder responded. Thinking about it, it came to me that this little thing had spent a good long moment reviewing her miniscule vocabulary and had decided that the nearest she could get to "Let's call it a day with this food business, if you would be so kind" was 'Hello', regarded as a friendly and connecting word in most people's world. I have a friend across the Channel whose neighbour came to her one day and asked whether her visiting Mother were alright. When asked, the reason for the query was that she had been observed actually to be talking to the baby she was pushing in  the pram.

Irony is a tough one. We Brits seem to go in for it extensively. I overheard a conversation where someone was describing a less than happy restaurant experience. The light was poor, the food appalling, the service indifferent and the toilet facilities a disgrace. "You would'nt recommend it, then" said the addressee. A non-Brit, on the fringe, spoke, with some irritation, "Haven't you listened to a word he said?" A perfect communication between those used to irony: a lapse of manners to the rest. When I was rather ill a while ago, talking was too great an effort. I was aware that loved ones were keeping vigil but had no words to let them know I was grateful and comforted. My inner voice, never at a loss for words, even in those circumstances, kept worrying at the problem. Eventually it came up with a solution. Give them a smile. Communication was thus restored, to everyone's relief.  I was still in there somewhere. It made me realise, again, the essential nature of communication. Perhaps it is right up there with the previous post: .Love and Communication equal life's blood. Why not?  Bore da

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Love

Of course, you are right. That's an extremely presumptuos title. But I shall presume only to cover a smidgen of the subject and that, I trust, with humility. It started after I had written a guest blog for Gransnet. Under 'comment' I found one from the features department of a National Newspaper asking if I were prepared to do a piece for them. Actually, yes, I could find the energy to do that. A day or so went by until we finally spoke when, Dear Reader, with rue and irony, I realised there had been a break in frequency and our wavelengths differed. The young - sounding - lady at the other end had read the guest blog and my thoughts on love being easier at the three score and more than ten than at the forty end of my experience. She had pictured a stream of enlightened romances. I was talking about 'caritas'; the kind of love which sits in the solar plexus and usually doesn't relate to the physical side of things although it is not a written rule that it should'nt. I meant compassion, and warmth and an encompassing alrightness. I find it very freeing and enabling. In the every day sense, it often means that the slings and arrows of this and that slide off me, leaving me positive and whole. For Heaven's sake, I can just be nicer than I was. Stupidly, I told the lady this  - not the' nicer' bit - when a cannier old lady may have said "That's fine. I'll send you a piece about my latest four romances." and had a lovely time making them up. Now I have scuppered my chance to be known in the world and even invited on to 'Woman's Hour'. (This is a daily  UK radio magazine programme if you happen to be in Mountview, California).

The working reality of the question of love was brought home to me in spades yesterday evening when I was speaking on the telephone to someone I have loved dearly for fifty five years. He is widowed, now, after a remarkable marriage of many, many decades. An amazing man, brilliant, experienced, fluent in many languages, well versed in politics and sport but not particularly emotionally intelligent. At least, that's what I had the temerity to assume over all those years. Last evening he suddenly said " You know: love is the most important thing. Nothing else matters where there is love." He misses the touches, the tiny kisses, the walking passed and giving a little stroke. He is seriously old but totally himself in what he gives out and how he sounds. I suppose that sort of love nicely covers all eventualities; the imaginings of the Features editor and  the 'truth' of caritas. Personally, I thought a piece based on the crossed wires of that lady and me would have been a delicious riot of misunderstandings with the polarisation of our different ages. Bora da