Thursday, 21 May 2009

More Adapting

Those of you who have been loyally keeping up and are more numerate than I will have noticed that I had numbered my 'Retirement' blogs incorrectly. There are really user-friendly options for editing blogs so I have been able to rectify my mistakes and would even have got away with new readers not even knowing how stupid I am if the habit of confession was not so intrenched in my guilt-ridden character. But there you are; I feel obliged to acknowledge my failure of pagination and promise to do better in future. Indeed, I have taken the softer option of calling this blog "More Adapting" just in case I have already adapted more times than I can remember telling you. What comes to mind as I write, is the occasion I was driving along Knightsbridge in search of Blue Badge Holder disabled parking spaces. If you are on the other side of the Pond or even on this island but not familiar with London, Knightsbridge is a broad thoroughfare going roughly east to west. (I only know which is west if a route could be headed towards Wales. This one is.) It is always very busy, indeed, with Hyde Park Corner at one end and Harrods at the other. (Now, wherever you are, you can't pretend you haven't heard of Harrods). Anyway, I was driving east along this road with the Blue Badge spaces on the other side of the road. I was just toying with the idea of doing a 'U' turn in the road, as had always been my wont, to reach Mecca, when a young man, in what I am reliably given to understand was an open-top Porsche, did just that, but from west to east, so that he ended up cutting in front of me with just about enough room to avoid a collision. Giving me a very cheeky grin, he pushed on regardless, regardless anyway, of the effect on me of his audacity. The effect was life-changing: I was forced to see that it would not be a good look on an elderly lady in an ancient saloon to swing across the stream of traffic as he had done. For one thing, given sexism and ageism, I risked being dubbed dotty- in- charge- of- a- motor- vehicle and even losing my right to drive. So, Dear Reader, I proceeded sedately east to Hyde Park Corner, drove round it and continued demurely back west towards my goal, the disabled parking bays. Or, as my English teacher would have corrected, the parking bays for the disabled. You may not think an extra five or seven minutes of' 'comme il faut' driving much of an adaptation, but, sh, I have been known to drive much less than sedately in my youth, which lasted, in driving terms, pretty much until the day before yesterday.

It may be that this next thought is not so much an adaptation as a giving up. (Adaptation is tantamount to Giving Up: discuss). Anyway, I thought you would be struck by an irony that distracted me from my German for Absolute Beginners lesson. Next door to the room where the class is held is another class. Each week, during my class, I have noticed vaguely Eastern music which can be quite intrusive and definitely not Teutonic. This time I asked a fellow student: Belly Dancing: yes, really, Belly Dancing. Something rather optimistic, to put it mildly, to teach in the University of the third age wouldn't you agree? Although, as you know, I love to dance, my inner eye boggled. Since I am just about the youngest in this class, and, certainly in the Advanced French class, though probably less mobile than some, it was very hard to visualise the possible candidates for a class in Belly Dancing. Can one Belly Dance with a zimmer frame, I ask myself? Next week I am going to find the courage to peer through the door and give my inner eye some peace. I hope I can maintain a proper respect for what I see. No, seriously, I do not want to be tempted to mock or feel superior. I don't. My 40 year old self never saw herself as a Belly Dancer and it has to be too late, now. Hasn't it....... ?

Friday, 15 May 2009


You may well have had the experience. If you haven't, believe me, there is little stranger than walking in to a situation where there are 130 people you haven't seen for 55 years! I have been to a Reunion of my college year and a few years on either side. Dear Reader, unadulterated grey hair and stooped backs is not a good look nor did I relish the realisation that I looked just like that. To be fair, my hair is not grey, just mousie and I am fairly straight backed, but there is always the jolly old stick and the tell-tale humping and heaving if I want to get out of my chair. It was a solar-plexus- shock situation, I have to say, but I fixed a smile to my face and tried to recognise the better known by extracting the middle section out of their shapes and form and concentrating on that. It helped that we were issued with name badges, although not all the women had both their maiden names and their current ones printed on them. (I was one who didn't, but then, one of the reasons I married Himself was to acquire a surname that didn't need spelling: yes, really)
I have never been tempted to attend such a meeting before. That is, I have been tempted but never given in to temptation. There was always the excuse that I was working and not able to spare the time. Well, I am not working now and I have the time. I was also attracted to the thought of lunch on a Thames cruiser. It was a glorious day and the auspices all in place, so off I went. Bus to the nearest point to the pier and then a taxi. 75 year olds don't often walk briskly from Embankment Station to Savoy Pier and I was not about to set the record. Before long, I saw a known face; not a former student but the girlfriend then wife of one I knew well. Soon, my well-known friend appeared, too, and recognised me. Then, Dear Reader, I did something I would never have had the courage to do 55 years ago, I found out where I was placed for lunch and set about changing it! Without even asking my recognised friends I had myself added to their table rather than sit with the total strangers to whom I had been assigned. I knew I would have to deal with the guilt at some later point but at least I was not going to have to spend the whole cruise a foreigner on a table of those foreign to me.

We have all seen those films and TV programmes where an effect is created by the means of Flashback. Well, you may take it from me, this is a phenomenon which actually occurs. As gradually I recognised more and more past friends and acquaintances, so a vignette of something we had shared ran over the screen of my memory. There was potential for discomfort. Not all the recall would have borne public re-telling. Looking at an elderly gentleman, lean and good-looking, sparse grey hair brushed to one side, presumably to hide a multitude of no- hair, leaning on a stick, I saw us locked in a room in his Godfather's house, lent to us for a party, going "as far as young people went " in those days, with my future - had I but known it - husband invigilating outside. I had had no idea how he felt about me until we tripped over him when we opened the door. It was rather touching, then, and strange to remember, now, because I think he may have spent much of our life together punishing me for that episode. He had been a thousand times better known than I at college. He was President of this and Chairman of that. I spent much time giving updates about his life. It was strange to be remembered, to some extent, as an adjunct to him. My daughters would not have relished that; it's not the way things are for women now is it?

The screen of ones memory must be in black and white, ideally, because what struck me most about that afternoon, was the change of colours. If, with my inner eye, I recoloured the faces in front of me, making the hair blond or brown or dark, the cheeks pink,the eyes bright then I could truly see my friends of more than half a century ago. I needed, too, to carve a shape from the middle of the forms and to erase the flesh excessive to the jaw and cheek and there they were, as they had been. On our table there were no questions about certain ones of us who had been significant at the time. Several I knew had died. Others I didn't dare ask after. Some had found fame and some infamy. The river was beautiful. But it kept moving and changing, as had all of us. There were buildings on the banks new even since I fled from Neil Diamond on to the river bus with no ticket, as you will remember if you have been keeping up. Those of us who had been helped in to the 21st Century exchanged email addresses and those who hadn't ,exchanged cards. Will we keep in touch, now? What do you think?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Retirement 4

My horizons are expanding. I have managed to get to the University of the Third Age, as represented locally. It really did take some getting to. Apart from the lethal steps up from the street, all the doors have to be opened via an access card, which I hadn't received because I missed the first week when they were given out. There was much red face and embarrassed "I wonder if you could help me....." before I was taken in hand and escorted back to the front door to start again. A very kind and co-operative operative gave up some of her lunch hour to furnish me with what I needed, photograph and the card which I swiped like a pro and found myself in such a maze of stairs, rooms and doors which would open only with my sesame that I was very little better off than I had been without the damned thing. However, kindness was the middle name of this organisation of which the first name was jobsworth and I was soon in the right place for my "German for Absolute Beginners." That's the good news. The bad news is that there was no one else there; no other student, no instructor, nicht. It turns out that the class had been cancelled, which I, having started late, didn't know. Over the telephone, The Office chided the instructor in no uncertain terms. She should have alerted them. Oh Dear: I can't see that as a good introduction for next week. Still, I've made a start. I have done the familiarisation bit. It won't all be frighteningly strange next week.

There you are. I bet you didnt realise, young as you are, that nerves and lack of confidence may accompany you right up to your dotage. In some ways, I am more confident, wiser and less concerned - not concerned? - with how others see me, but deep down Liz has, sometimes, still to give herself a good talking to before approaching a situation with which she is not familiar. I may have told you the coming anecdote before, forgive me if this is so. There is no way I can risk losing this blog while I trawl through the others to see if I have. ( The Guru has a way to keep work safe, but then he is on the right side of the Wizard of Cyberspace. I am not.) Anyway, the story is about the violinist Nathan Milstein who is reputed to have said "You think I am a great violinist. I am not. I just sound like one". That's me and, I suspect, many of you, too. You think I'm a courageous and confident woman. I'm not. I just behave like one. No, I don't play the violin. That's not the point. Maybe some people are born confident. A toddler I know, (and love) came in to the world looking and behaving as if he had got off the bus at the right stop. I hope he continues on the right route for ever.

I did attend an Advanced French class. Not as challenging as I was prepared for but good discipline and I must not get above myself. We studied an article from a French magazine that was so anti-British I found myself positively jingoistic. I learned a new word: 'bigoudis'. I understand it means 'ringlets'. I dont see the Queen's hair that way, but there you are. "If we were all the same everyone would want my squaw", as the American Indian said, or is reputed to have said. You may recall, in the last post I said that I had doubts about a one-age gathering: it would feel more natural if there were a mix. That did prove to be strange. There were people even less mobile than I, seriously, and I shall have to deal with a wish to avoid confronting hints of things to come by losing sight of the individuals. I am also wondering, since my memory is failing in my own language, what on earth I think I am doing learning a few more. But there you are:" twp", as we say in Wales. A bientot.