Tuesday, 29 July 2008


Titles are sometimes elusive. It's not as if there haven't been examples in the blog, already, of my having to adapt my 75 year-old self to my 40 year-old aspirations, but it came to me that there is a number of devices I deal with on a daily basis that I have come to take so much for granted that I scarcely notice them and they deserve an airing. For instance, I have been making a Kaftan, as you do if you are going to spend a few days near water and have to make your way there via public spaces. There is a sensible limit to the amount of space and time when your actual swimsuit - however red - should be witnessed by A.N. Others and a full-length Kaftan will hide any number of sins. Anyway, I have been busily stitching for a day or so and am pleased with the result; (also red, dots and shapes on a white background, if you must know). I had to convert two and a half metres of fabric into this garment. That's quite a lot of back-stitching; all the way up two sides, two hems hemstitched and hemstitching around the neckline cut from the top. As I stitched, two forward one back - I think: it is hard to picture without doing it - it reminded me of the way I have to tackle stairs, right foot on the stair, then left foot on the same stair. I can't always walk up them one foot after the other, as in what you might call running stitch. Silly, isn't it, but it amused me.

It also sent me to the stairs to do a bit of practice. I can't be seen backstitching up the stairs in some slightly glamorous hotel at the sea-side, a converted ancient mansion, without the lifts (elevators, if you are over the Pond) which would ruin its integrity. I have to report, Dear Reader, that practice has made perfect and I can now reliably do stairs in the way I didn't even notice when I was your age. I am also slightly ashamed, though pleased because I may yet be able to improve my performance on broken-down escalators (see earlier post!) Ashamed, because Someone-Who-Knows has been telling me for ages that it just needed practice and perseverance to conquer the stairs and strengthen the legs.

Opening things requires ingenuity, too. I use my teeth. I told you about the lovely B and B where I stayed in Scotland, didn't I? At breakfast, cooked while you wait and in any permutation you can think of, conserves were served in little packets. Impossible for arthritic hands so, teeth, mine own, as it happens. Can't think how the dentally challenged arthritic would manage. Anyway, there I was tearing at my honey pack like a dog with a bone, when I realised I was being what you might call, if you were kindly disposed, supervised by an elderly gentleman at the same table. "I'm so sorry, " I tried, helpfully, "no strength in my fingers, to-day". "You did that, yesterday, too". Oops, hadn't even been consciously aware of it yesterday, it seems so natural. Take ring-pulls. Well, I can't. I have to use a tin opener. My cat sees that as a huge advantage. She wouldnt be able to hear me tug at a ring-pull. I have to ravish an envelope to get to what is inside. Often I don't open them if they don't look worth doing time for. Don't even think of trying to change the sim card in your mobile phone if you are me. I have to keep the same one whatever seductive offers come my way rather than keep stabbing the little door that would let me in to its intestines to transfer them to a new one even if the new one will do everything except make tea for me. But I must be honest. I really love my little phone and that's really the reason I don't operate on it. It was one of the first objects I owned in the struggle to join the current world. And, though you haven't actually, asked, I thought you would like to know that I do have a sewing machine. The geography of my house is such that I can't watch television and sew unless I do it by hand, and I have the sort of conscience that prefers to do something while passively watching television, having been brought up to see entertainment in which one wasn't participating as rather decadent. Archaic, or what? See you soon.

Thursday, 24 July 2008


Before I tell you what inspired this particular title, I have something rather exciting for an elderly, computer-illiterate blogger to report: someone in Canada and also someone in Australia has been reading 75goingon40 ! I am so excited, but my Guru is totally unmoved. I got the words of one syllable treatment about World Wide Web and all that and where had I thought my readership was coming from, Goring-on-Thames? Now, I think Goring is a delightful place but it is probably more Home Counties than Where-It's-At. In other words, like me, well-behaved and decorous rather than dare-devil and cosmopolitan and therefore, less, or not likely to do blog reading. ( In case you are still reading this out there in the 'foreign' world, Home Counties may be used, in politically incorrect company, to suggest unadventurous and conventional).

But, of course, there is, nevertheless, a link, if a bit stretched, between what came to me to write to-day and the above. That is, I had to learn from said Guru, how to find out where people were who were logging in. You will have guessed, no doubt, given my transparent ignorance - I was tempted to write 'innocence', but that would be just sympathy seeking - in all matters computer- related that it was the Guru who set all this up and who monitors it and tries to negotiate with the cyber-wizards to minimise my losses and mistakes. He, himself, is not in the UK; he is only a channel or so away, but it had never struck me as miraculous that he was able to read it. There was, however, something more magic about Canada and Australia. Anyway, if you are still out there, Hello and welcome and please go on reading the posts. ( I hope you started at the bottom. If you are in Australia, you probably did, since you will be used to things being the wrong way up!)

To business; I was noticing how influential apparently throw-away, non- lessons could be. About half a century ago, I arrived very late at the point in Paris where buses left for the airport. (Les Invalides, if you must really test my historic memory) Hurriedly, in dodgy but optimistic French, I asked a porter to which desk I should report. I followed his waving arm if not his spoken instruction and presented myself at the wrong desk. Re-directed, I came, seriously late, to the right desk. Words rushing over themselves with relief to be uttered in their Mother tongue, I explained that it was the porter's fault for mis-directing me. " There is always someone who's fault it is" came the response. Dear Reader, I have never forgotten. It was my first lesson in taking responsibility for myself. Well, the first time such a lesson went in and lodged where it was needed .

One of the people whom I have loved most in my life was untidy and unhouseproud almost to the point of slatterliness. Taking my little first-born to see her, I would bring a cup and plate and spoon for his use so he wouldn't be exposed to the unnamed deathly horrors in residence in her kitchen, among her cups and plates and spoons, making up some story about how they were the only ones he could be persuaded to use. I doubt she was deceived for a moment and it will tell you something about her lovely character that she accepted this with grace and good manners. There came a time when she went away . I advanced upon her flat with dusters, polish, abrasives, vacuum cleaner, (you've guessed; she didnt have one), disinfectants, rubber gloves and my pinny and set to work to clean it within an inch of its life. I brought her back from the airport and stood back as she walked in and looked around. " Thank you dear. It will take me ages to get it back the way it was" she said. I think it sank in at last that we are all different and that there is more than one way to peel an apple. (You wouldn't expect me to use the more usual metaphor, would you now?) I don't think it necessarily interfered with my capacity to interfere, though.

One more 'lesson-by-default', for this time, anyway, shorter, less portentous and, in many ways, most useful. Advice from one who knew, about what to do with doubtful left-overs: put them in the freezer until you don't feel guilty about throwing them out. Think about it: the reverberations are without limit. See you soon.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Making demands

Demanding: moi? Of course not. The problem - perceived by others as a problem, I mean - is that I find I am able to ask for and do things at 75 the 40 year old would have dreamt not of. However, the combination of age and singularity (I have noticed the ambiguity) seems to invite a level of patronising and, sometimes indifference, I was rarely shown as a younger woman and that's what really causes the so-called demandingness: I am not so prepared to put up with it, now. If I have asked for my steak rare or my lamb pink and it turns up disguised as undyed leather I send it back. I am rather Victorian in my manner, and in my manners, too, but I do send it back. (By the way, have you noticed that, often, when you are having chicken and you companion has ordered beef, only one jug of gravy turns up?)

If I am trying to sell a tiny sea-side studio and my carefully chosen Estate Agent seems not to be on my side, I keep after him. I feel him sigh when I announce myself on the phone, but I still keep after him. Now, to be fair, I haven't made his job any easier because, in the living room of this small space, I have installed a bath. Yes. Dear Reader, a bath. It's not that the room is poorly furnished in other ways. It has armchairs, even a rocking chair, and a couch all facing the sea. But you can lie in the bath and watch the sea crashing on the rocks below or, should you have left your bath until dark, you can watch television and soak at the same time, with bath salts and candles and the whole seductive scene. Decadent or what? (Not, I suspect, if you are actually 40, but at my age?....) However, this is not customary in the region where the flat finds itself and the agent saw it as a really serious disadvantage: "not to everybody's taste." I requested and then instructed him to describe the bath in a positive way to viewers: eg" You can watch the sea etc etc." Not a quiver of response; just another of those 'I've-got-a right-one-here' looks to which I am, after more than seven decades, becoming rather accustomed. I wondered if I could reasonably take his silence for assent. It wasn't. How do I know? I have a confession. I asked a local friend to pose as a prospective purchaser to find out what he would be told. "There's a bath in the living room. Not to everybody's taste". Perhaps it was short-sighted to indulge myself with this bath. When I took the place over, I asked a plumber to come and work out how it could be installed; you know, pipes and things. With his head under the sink in the kitchen bit, he asked "where are you going to put it, then?" " Here", I replied, indicating a space occupied, as I spoke, by some rather awful 'L'-shaped cupboards. Out came his head from under the sink and I got ' the look', but, also, this time, a pronouncement. "You're not from round here, then, " he said, and went back to his pipes under the sink. As it happens, I am from round there, but I didn't feel it would be right to disillusion him with regard to his powers of deduction. And in case you are worried, there is also a conventional shower room,with basin and lavatory, behind a door as it should be.

However, I see that when it comes to it, I do feel better if I can be project manager, with my hand on the wheel, since, at the time, I seem to be the only one who can count to ten . The trouble is, most situations need someone who can count to twenty, at least, and no one could accuse me of being able to do that. What I do seem to be good enough at, though, is seeing around corners and working out alternative ways of doing things, sometims obvious and sometimes, admittedly, a bit off the wall, but, surprisingly, effective.
At this point, you have my permission to add arrogant to eccentric and demanding when making your check list about me. Oh dear, is it too late to reform? Perhaps we should just call me difficult and leave it at that.

Sunday, 13 July 2008


Where have I been? Well, I have been in Scotland, visiting someone close to me two trains and two ferry rides away. I came back two days ago but by the time I had persuaded the cat I was here to stay, sorted the post - mail, that is - done the washing, got over the shock of travelling eleven and a half hours, all in the same kingdom (queendom?) to get home and moved back in to my everyday handbag, much time has passed.You know what I mean about the handbag. Even on holiday in the UK, if you take a special hand bag to travel, everything has to be taken out and sifted when you get back so you are left with only the rubbish you carry as a matter of routine and can dispense with the 'in case' bits and pieces you were sure you couldn't do without even in darkest Scotland.(Mind you, there are magnificent National Trust places in Scotland and I had managed, with all I did take, not to take my membership card: costly mistake). The whole re-entry thing takes so long you are tempted to wonder why you left home in the first place.

Which brings me to something which fascinates me. I don't know what all of you would call it. I call it transitionism. It's the state you are in when you haven't yet left where you are and haven't arrived where you are going. It can begin quite a long time before the first stage, the leaving, but doesn't necessarily last so long at the arriving end. It is very discombobulating; a sort of otherness. It is a place that is just in your head. People are talking to you but there is not the relevance of the 'Im-still-here-state' so they may find you absent from yourself. Things are happening around you but your inner self is not participating even if your outward self believed you were deceiving everyone, no difficulty, and you seem to be participating normally,( or what passes for normal if you are normally seen as eccentric by those around, as I am). I am finding it quite hard to put into words so I do hope you know what I am talking about, have even experienced it. A good, fairly universal, example would be boarding an aeroplane. You have left where you have been but you are not where you are going. The journey, itself, has not the same significance; it is a phenomenon in itself. The state I am talking about is how it feels when you know you can no longer be said to be where you are, whatever the eyes of the others might see, and are palpably not in the next place, however strong the imagination: pre-occupation might cover it; pre-coccupation in no-man's land. It can seem noticeable to everyone else who may wonder if you are depressed or fed up with them or related states. The further end of the condition is called re-entry. Thus you have presence, absence, re-entry = transitionism. Got it? Anyway, if the truth be told, that is also part of the reason why I haven't been back to my blogspot until now.

As to the trip itself, it was really lovely. I went to a ceilidh! Those of you familiar with my clubbing experience won''t be surprised. But it was Gay Gordons and Tripping the Willow all over the place. There was a delightful moment when a tiny thing, not more than two, burst throught the door and immediately started jumping up and down in time to the music. "Is this where it's at" improvised my companion on her behalf and we were all laughing so hard it was not easy to hear the caller calling out the steps. If I tell you it was 9 degrees and blowing a force 9 gale outside, that might not surprise you either. But the weather was not all bad and we sat outside with lunch on the island off the island, watching the sheep safely grazing beyond the low wall. Getting me on and off what wasn't so different from a cockle shell boat - such a boat is called a coracle, I believe - was something else, too, and I am tempted to gloss over that, but you do deserve the whole truth. Trains are fine. There are people to help. Big, grown-up ferries are fine too. (You will no doubt remember rugby players with fine bottoms; well, the same principle applies. If you don't remember, see below!) It is the little ferry that presents the problem, the boat with St Vitus Dance. This creature is boarded via a slippery slope, or, worse, slippery steps or, worse yet, both, and disembarked the same way. The stick was no help. It was slipping more than I was. Dignity and aplomb have to be left on the shore. The best a 75 year old going on 40 can hope for is simply to accomplish it. I did, Dear Reader, I did and lived to have a wonderful time in that special other world.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Dressing Humpty Dumpty

Ok, so the time has come. I have rather dreaded it, but I've decided to be brave and face up to one of the more significant problems - I don't really do issues - about being 75 going on 40: clothes. Now, if you are female and in to noticing these things, you will have registered that for the last six years, five months and two days, at least fourteen 'seasons' that is, trousers have all been designed to end on the hip, at the top, that is. They still end at the foot at the bottom. So what, you may ask yourselves. Well, hipsters look lovely if you are slender and actually 40. I look like Humpty Dumpty. Picture it. No, don't, if it is a meal time, but, seriously, an egg in an egg-cup is not a good look for an elderly lady with aspirations, not even to elegance, suitability would do. But I have evolved a style, I think, which comes pretty close to satisfying the going on 40 bit without causing toes to curl in the young people in my life who believe I am entirely 75.

The problem is finding the clothes to do the job. Think no waist no ankles and upper arms that can be viewed only by those that are medically qualified. That means trousers which come up to the waist and shoes that are designed, basically, to be neither seen nor heard and forget cap, short or no sleeves. A young person of my acquaintance recently asked me what I missed most about being young. To my surprise, my inner voice - always the first on the you've-got-me-there scene - supplied "my figure". And I was surprised. I might have expected " dancing with a man". (It cropped up at my friend's wedding, see 21st Century Living, below) or even other things involving a man, like mending fuses, or bringing in the heavy cat litter and taking out the rubbish when you are too pregnant to do those things yourself, or even contributing to getting you pregnant in the first place.( I see you have just remembered, when I was young, before the re-balancing of the genders, men did those things for you even if you were neither pregnant nor lazy nor incompetent) But, no, my figure; I missed my figure. It was easier to dress it. Things fitted and hung well, and supremely important, looked good sideways.

Mind you, I was never much in to what everyone was wearing. I preferred to go for what you might call 'outre'; a nod in the direction of fashion but nothing that wouldn't do next year because it would be a)recognisable and therefore a bit of a bloomer and b) not good value for money. Anyway, as I was growing up there was a war on and clothes were not high on anyone's agenda. Nor was there a teen or young peoples' fashion market. We dressed as our Mothers did. Come to think of it, that look might do me nicely, now. Twinsets do have a habit of covering up the arms and I still search out wide-legged trousers. I know, I hear you groaning," wide-legged trousers that come up to the waist". Thats right; think Katherine Hepburn if you are old enough to have heard of her. But if you can picture Humpty Dumpty in narrow-legged trousers you may stop groaning and envisage an egg in an eggcup, with pipe- cleaner legs.

Yesterday, inspired by the thought that I may actually be going to a place with sun and warm -ish- water later in the year, I went looking for a new swimsuit. The last ones were bought about a stone ago, (14 pounds if you are in the USA, roughly 6 kilos if you are in continental Europe), and cant be got away with one swim more. First, I went to a specialist lingerie shop; lovely 'fitters', lovely try-on cubicles, air conditioning, perfect. Nothing; all for 14 -25 year-olds weighing 7 stone (you do the maths this time if you are in the USA or continental Europe.) I looked at the bikinis and grieved for the time when I would have looked quite the part in one. In fact, when they first became popular, I was a married lady who had had three children, but, catching sight of myself in the mirror in the bathroom one day in my bra and pants , I thought,"I could do that bikini thing. There's life in the old cat yet". And, Dear Reader, there was.

But back to yesterday: Finally, we all gave in and I was waved sadly out. I crossed the road to a large - very large - department shop that was having a Sale. I know, Iknow. Younger, stronger women have been known to stay away but Desperate was, by now, my middle name. How often can one woman take off her shoes, her top, her trousers and her bra and creep and heave herself in to an elasticised sausage prison? Forty three by the last count. But this time I was successful! Not 100%, but then little in life is 100%. There was an arrangement of mirrors so that one could see one's back and front and sideways, too and what a fright that gave me. So I took what I think is the bravest decision of my life: I bought a scarlet bathing costume on the basis that the colour would have such an impact that no-one would have the temerity - nor the incentive - to look at any of the lumps, bumps and bulges it was straining to contain. So there: I just hope none of you is going where I'm going and I urge you not to approach an elderly lady in a scarlet costume in case it isn't me.

Finally, for this time, should any of you know where I can find, routinely, clothes with high waists, wide legs, sleeves at least to the elbow and necklines not too decollete, with jackets not too nipped in at the waist - what waist? - in lovely lady-like fabrics, i.e. not too bright and not too patterned (and, here, I am quoting my Mother, can you believe it. What have I come to?) I would be for ever grateful to find names and addresses under the comments bit of the post. .Although, I should warn you, I have already managed inadvertently to delete a comment. The Good Lord knows how. Unless it was the Wizard of Cyberspace, of course. (Go on pressing older posts until they give in and stop, but only if you haven't been keeping up already of course).

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Between the Centuries

I would like to start by inviting you, if you are new to this blogsite, to move down to the bottom and keep clicking the 'older post' button until it stops appearing. The thing is, there is a sort of theme to what I have been writing and some of it won't make sense unless you've read them all. Goodness knows how that is going to work if I get to 95 and am still writing, thirteen and a half yards later. Oh well; there must be a way. Currently, I am on post 9, I think. That should'nt be more than you can chew in one go, and, by the way, last is first in the upside-down world of the blogsite.

Now that is one of the ways in which I am between the centuries; in the 21st century I am writing to you on a blogsite. In the century in which I was born I would have kept a diary and, had it involved camels and long-distance travel, all alone except for a few bearers and a ream of paper, it would have been published as a book and gathered dust in antiquarian bookshops ever after. (Mind you, better that than lingering in cyberspace in a file marked "older posts").The more serious aspect of this is that I am in a sort of no-man's-land where I can turn the computer on, find my way to my blogsite and start to write, but, and it is a huge but, I can do very little else with any confidence. The other day I tried to book train tickets on-line. Try not to laugh. In the time it took me to persevere and then give up I could have taken a slow boat to the nearest main-line station and bought the damned things over the counter. Undeterred - determined is more like it - I tried, today, to re-insure my car on-line. Twenty two 'pages' later I was faced with making a decision: to go for it or not to go for it. I went for lunch. I know I shall end up ringing my last insurer who wants the same money NOT to insure my 21 year-old co-driver as the on-liner has suggested to include him, too.

Again, don't imagine I can't see the advantages of emails, but last century during which, amongst other things, I was 40, people wrote letters to each other. You could tie them together with pink ribbon - and then confine them to a file marked "older posts"! But the truth is, my little heart still leaps to see a handwritten envelope on the doormat along with all the brown or windowed ones that have either to be binned or paid. Actually, I can't truthfully see all that much advantage in emailing. I have to print things off if I want to feel sure that they can be safely kept.

I work really hard to think myself in to the minds of the young, where they certainly, were they to realise it, would'nt want me with my torch and my inquisitiveness, but the current world is nearly as inaccessible to my 75 year-old self as my "there's-a-war-on/put- that-light-out" world must be to them. Hang on:" Put that light out" is equally pertinent to them; ecology and all that. Don't you just love the arc of it?
Anyway , how it feels to be straddled between the centuries can be summed up by the way people address you these days. "Hold on Liz" I get from the 12 year old on the phone in accounts whom I've never met and will end up never wanting to meet. "Mrs. Mountford to you", hisses my inner voice . You can feel the grit in my teeth. Even " Elizabeth" would show a bit more respect for an elderly stranger in a new world of familiarity.

I can see that "between the centuries" is far from exhausted, but I am, what with the worry that the Wizard of Cyberspace will steal my post before I click 'publish', indeed, has already stolen eight of them, and the fact that it is 28 degrees out there and I DONT LIKE THE HEAT. See you soon.