Thursday, 30 April 2009

Retirement 3

Things keep cropping up to crystallise this retirement business. The other day I went to visit some friends who are setting up a trust fund for one of their young. I was asked to witness their signatures. Aside from the honour, I was taken aback when faced, for the first time since retiring, with the space that asked "Occupation". There it was: Retired. Writing it for the first time was actually more traumatic than handing back to the kindly Post Office agent the usual little batch of envelopes he was wont to hand me to facilitate paying in my earned cheques: there will be no more need for those.
What's more, there is time to notice the growth of the 'one-of-these-days' pile of things to do which the sharp-eyed among you will remember falls in to the New Year's resolution category of 'verboten'. One of these days, I resolved, has to be NOW. This is a convoluted way of telling you that I have booked to see the Hygienist, I have had builders come to fix a leaky problem, I have started to sort out cupboards and to enjoy being at home. Of course, I have already told you about my re-discovery of domesticity. However, I have a secret. All my older life I have rather turned away from the activities enjoyed by the 'Third Age'; turned away in the sense of a kind of 'them and us' approach. I was certainly never going to be one of 'them': I was always going to be 'us'. I remember seeing a group of 'them' at an exhibition once. Related by hair, I thought, at the time, i.e. all grey and all curly. I am lucky. At 75 my hair is still mostly brown, though without the chestnut glow that gave it life in the past. Nor does it wave as it did, but shucks, who cares. It is good enough and stops me being one hundred per cent a cliche. (I'm sure the Guru would tell me there is a facility on this machine for putting an accent on that last e, but I don't dare ring and ask him. Please visualise it). Anyway, the University of the Third Age was outside my field of consideration. I like my groups to be mixed-gender and mixed-age. Indeed, those of you in from the start will remember my advertisement for a young rugby player with a nice bottom to help me negotiate the airport. A group of contemporaries is very unlikely to afford that particular pleasure.
Dear Reader, my view has changed. Last month I was invited to join a group of contemporaries who meet once a month or so to discuss, well, I think I must say Life. The themes are taken from a book of sermons preached by a late lay-preacher known to us all. He was an intelligent and extremely well-educated man and worth considering. There was an almost forgotten pleasure in listening to and contributing with like-minded people and I was happy to take a piece of humble pie with my post-meeting tea. However, I did notice, apart from the hair, I was also the only one wearing lipstick. The experience inspired me to look at the possibilities in the actual University of the Third Age which has a branch very near where I live. Advanced French Conversation - where you can't see if I have put the accents on or not - and Very Beginners German are on the probable list. Thank Goodness for the Guru otherwise I might feel as if I had moved permanently to Planet Third Age. C u l8r.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Eavesdropping 2

The difficulty for a professional eavesdropper, nosey-parker and interferer is summoning restraint. When I was talking about my Chinese retaurant experience last time I side-tracked myself in to the Japanese experience and didn't get round to telling you the most tantalising bit. At one moment, my three 'companions' were talking about the star sign of the man one of them was 'seeing'. He is a Libran. The ladies were clear that this was a good thing. It made him well-balanced and stable. Now, this is not the case. I have it on the best authority that a Libran does love balance. However, there is a sneaky caveat hidden in this statement. A Libran does not just love balance, per se, so much as crave it, therefore he/she has continually to engender chaos in order to be able to achieve the balance which is essential. With me, so far? In other words, the drive, the raison d'etre, is not in having straightforward balance, but in the achieving of it. Balance is actually the end product. If there were no mess you wouldn't have the satisfaction of clearing it up. Right? How do I know this? Because, as a life-long Libran, I was thoroughly confused by my seeming contrariness to this balance thing. Although I was for ever tidying up, my life was for ever defined by piles of this and files of that, most of them on the floor or waiting to be ironed. Anyway, fate flung an astrologist in my path and the above explanation, Dear Reader, saved my sanity.

Its relevance to the three ladies was that I was so strongly tempted to lean across and explain all this that I had to get up and take a pit stop to remove myself from danger. Invisible is one thing: too high a profile quite another. Still, there was some amusement in imagining how they might have reacted. What would you have done if a dotty old lady had suddenly felt impelled to make a contribution to your lunchtime conversation with friends? (I suspect I am always half waiting for' les blouses blancs'). There was a time when I did butt in. How to tell you succintly. Again in a restaurant: an elderly lady - another elderly lady - was seated at a large table clearly waiting for others, since she forbore to order. Presently, in came a young woman carrying a stunningly beautiful baby around nine months, I'd say. She was followed by a girl holding the hand of a three year old boy. The resemblance between the elderly lady and the young woman was such that no white-witchery was needed to identify them as Mother and Daughter, thus, Grandma to the littles. I should also say that, while Grandma was waiting, sitting as if next to me, I was seriously overwhelmed by her powerful scent. Mother distributed her party, assigning the small boy to a seat next to Grandma, although he expressed a wish to sit at the head of the table. At that place she put the baby, seating herself opposite Grandma and , incidentally, next to the baby. The young girl, who turned out to be an Englishless au-pair, she placed next to herself and opposite the boy, who was, thus, furthest from his Mother. The tantrum that ensued will not be a surprise to you. I was ready to pay and leave, anyway, but the noise was a meal-stopper of mammoth proportions. Mother threatened the boy with excommunication to the car and, indeed, eventually leaned over, dragged him right across the table from his place next to Grandma and transported him out of the door. I followed to see her standing, red -faced, beside a car in which a purple-faced little man was desperately trying to pull open the door. Approaching her, I said that she may hit me for interfering if she wished, but, before she did, I wanted to say that her small son had had to put up with a coup d'etat for her affection, without prior consultation with him, from a contender who had, literally, taken his place, a Grandma whose perfume he might find overwhelming and the frustration of not being able to say any of this, his only resource being a tantrum. Her eyes filled with tears, she said she had never thought of that and she didnt want to hit me. I made off, in case she changed her mind, but I did look back and see her lift the boy, tenderly, out of the car and carry him back in to the restaurant. My heart was thumping. I shan't interfere in a hurry, again, you may count on it, except, perhaps, in fantasy. But if you happen to know a lady who is going out with a Libran, perhaps you could warn her of the hidden danger.

Friday, 3 April 2009


For a dedicated gossip and want-to-know-all eavesdropping is a marvellous source of satisfaction. There is no need to ask questions, no need to read faces, all you have to do is get quietly on with your crossword if you are in a restaurant or looking out of the window if you are on a 'bus. The material is right there for the taking,or, indeed, for the not avoiding. Yesterday I was treating myself to lunch in a local Chinese restaurant - it has been a stressful week and, credit crunch or not, a girl has to have some light relief - which is normally quite sedate and full of oldies like me, muttering to one another sotto voce. On this occasion I was sitting not far from a group of three ladies all of whom must clearly have been deaf. This was not a masterful piece of deduction: they were enunciating particularly carefully and with considerable volume. In other words, they were shouting, sotto voce being out of the equation. I learnt so much about each of them that I could have filled in a job application form on their behalf. I was not asked to do that. I was invisible to them. But I did have a lovely entertaining time and had to keep reminding myself to fill in the odd clue in the crossword in case one of them, like-minded, noticed me noticing.
It turns out that it was the birthday of one of them. She was 83. I can tell you she doesn't normally eat twice a day and would have to make her husband dinner and watch him eat it having had so much lunch. One of her companions feels much better since she found this marvellous trainer who will come to the house for £45 and bring a table and all she needs with her. She would be willing to pass on her telephone number but, laugh, doesn't want her to get too busy to have time for my narrator. They quite understood. So do I. We have all had the experience of lending someone a cricket bat which they then run away with and hold on to until it becomes their cricket bat. But I was disappointed. I would like to have known more about this miracle worker. Not that I am good enough with numbers to have kept it in my head had she given it, although, I could of course, have disguised it as a clue and noted it on my newspaper. Someone's husband didn't hold with that and, having been such a great sportsman, kept nagging her to exercise out in the open instead of paying good money for a stranger to enter his home.
He is very demanding in other ways, too, and not very warm "except in bed". How I stopped myself asking if she meant thermally or sexually, I don't know, but be assured, Dear Reader, that stop myself Idid. As it happens, I think she must have meant sexually because the talk then went on to how long it was prudent to leave 'you know' without putting the man in the position of looking for 'it' elsewhere. It turns out that one of the ladies was not married but was "seeing someone". She answered 62 when asked how old she was but he thinks she is 55 so please could it be kept between them? This time, I did peek. I think she could pass for, say, 59, but less would be pushing it. One of them had to leave because the husband collecting her wouldn't be able to wait outside. I held my breath to see how the bill would be dealt with. They split it, letting the birthday girl off her share of the tip. I expected the remaining two would discuss the departee and so they did, but not unkindly. She was looking surprisingly well, "after all", but, although I could tell you what each of them and their families will be doing for Easter, I cannot say after what that lady is looking well.
I had had a lovely time. It was quite unlike another recent eavesdrop. This was what I will have to call a conversation between a young woman and a not so young man. We were sitting at a bar in a Japanese restaurant, they, just the two of them, around the corner from me. Picture it? Anyway, their communication was so threaded through with sexuality that I was border-line discomfitted. It is extraordinary how they felt able to behave as if they were alone when that was far from the case. She, on a cold day, was wearing not much leaving acres of stroking possibility for her companion. It seems he was "taken" but she was content to "borrow" him for a little while. They had been an item in the past and she rather regretted that that was no longer the case. Again, under cover of the crossword, I was invisible, but this time it didn't feel like fun and, indeed, a young woman with a little girl aged around 5 who was sitting next to me, asked if the staff could find her somewhere else to sit. I felt better. I was worried I had been ageistly prudish in my discomfiture.
The moral is: beware what you say and do in public. You may be within orbit of a professional noticer, busybody and/or old-fashioned nosey-parker.