Saturday, 15 August 2009


For reasons I doubt would interest you, I have had to pass on my email address rather too often of late: it's liz dot mountford at... I say umpteen times a week. It has reached the point where I am in serious danger of introducing myself as Liz Dot Mountford to any real live person who crosses my path. Now, would they assume my middle name was Dorothy, though it is rather strange to respond with all ones names when introduced, or would they assume, by a minor extension, that I actually meant Dotty? A convicted eccentric has to be very careful of dangerous implications, as you know. Anyway, there is the predicament. The Guru has four names and was annoyed because the DVLA wouldnt let him have them all on his driving licence, nor could he state them on the Electoral Register. (Incidentally, in case you are still keeping up with me in Australia or Canada and from wherever else you have been kind enough to log on to this blog, the DVLA is the authority which deals in this country with the issue of driving licences and related matters. Anyway, it would seem they are very choosy about names) .

It got me thinking - L dot .M, not the proclivitities of various authorities in the matter of nomenclature - about habits. Spending time with the Guru illustrates this rather well. He thinks technically: I think carrier pigeon. He thinks "Hi": I think "How do you do". He assures me my life would be better all round if I were to join the "Hi" brigade. But the habit of seventy five years would not be an easy one to break. (Would that were the only one). I write 'thank you' letters. I receive text messages, as in "thx 4 dinr. C u soon". Dont misunderstand me, it isnt that I am censorious of text messaging - at least, not by the young - its just that it doesnt even come to mind. If you have been offered hospitality, at the soonest opportunity, you sit down and write a note of thanks. That is habitual. I am in the habit of correcting the television's grammar. You'd be surprised how many "compared to's" and "different to's" you can pick up, even in the most erudite of items. Now this is of no concern to anyone else if I am alone, but, if it happens to coincide with a Guru visit it can be pretty annoying, I suspect. It reminds me that my Father had a television habit, too. He would referree every football match he watched and yell at the players to kick the b..... ball or get off the field and find someone else who could. Annoying? It is amazing he lived for me to tell the tale.

As I reflect on this matter, it occurs to me I should really draw a distinction between habits and habitual behaviour. I think there is a difference. Yelling at the telly is habitual, continuously wrapping the ends of your hair around your fingers is a habit. Biting ones nails is a habit. Having ones nails painted every week is habitual. Dont worry. I dont. I do them, myself. I would always rather spend money on eating than on treatments. I think the point I would like to make is that it is easy to get so used to a situation that it becomes habitual, as in "How do you do? I am Liz Dot Mountford", and it is easy to get in to the habit of cracking your knuckles even when there other people around to hear you. The other day, I came in to find the Guru in 'my' place, on the settee in the living room. Habitually, I lie on the settee with my elderly legs up and he sits in a large red armchair at right angles to me, with, if he wishes to converse with me, his legs swung over the arm so that his head is facing me. Seeing the lie of the land, I sat in the red chair and swung my legs over the arm so that I could converse with him. Dear Reader, he was horrified. He chose to ignore the funny side of it and told me this was not a proper way for an old lady to sit. Pointing out it was his habit so to sit was, in his eyes, totally irelevant and he would not permit me to get in to the same habit, as if I were actually young enough to get away with it instead of just internally so

Now I am thoroughly confused about habit and habitual and what is acceptable behaviour in any case. Do comment. I feel I need the help.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Keeping to the Subject

Last time, I suffered a crisis of conscience about whether my material was strictly relevant to my prime thesis: inside every elderly person hides a younger one struggling to reconcile him/herself with the inevitable changes that come with age. Now, I have an apposite story for you. The other day, I found myself creeping down some very steep, stone stairs at a London station in order to find the facilities. Alright, I agree, that is a bit precious: in order to find the toilets. Picture it: torrential rain, stick, umbrella, parcels and trailing raincoat. I was being very careful, indeed. Half way down, I heard hurrying footsteps behind me. In that situation I always stop and encourage the person to overtake, (except when the escalator at the cinema has broken down - see below) because they often have a purpose or are carrying trays or whatever and I do not wish to be responsible if they are paid by the hour. Anyway, there I was concentrating on my crawl and pointedly standing aside so that a young woman could overtake me. She stopped alongside me. "Your shoelace is undone," she said. I looked down. It was. Now, as I'm sure you will appreciate, falling over is not recommended for the elderly. Things get broken and take ages to put together, unless you do a Humpty and never come together again. "Would you like me to tie it for you?" Before I could respond - or bring my jaw back to its responding position - she was crouching beside me doing up my lace.

I was filled with a mixture of feelings: outrage, shock, gratitude, a bit of shame, relief. I did manage to hover over these feelings and, I think, thank her adequately and in time. I was left wondering what she had seen. She must have seen a tentative, not to say doddery old lady, burdened with paraphanalia, not savvy enough to notice her shoelace was undone, at immediate risk of a serious accident; out of control of her well-being. "But that isnt who I am," I wanted to protest. "I am Liz and there are little people for whom I tie shoelaces and I wear high heels and I help the elderly cross the road. And, what's more, I run down the stairs to the 'toilets'". But I don't anymore, only on the inside. It was a surreal incident and struck me as one that qualified without question for the 75 going on 45 phenomenon.

One of the sweetest happenings in an earlier life occured when I had the care of a seriously incapacitated woman I had come to love deeply. (To give you the whole picture, I should say that before her unfortunate predicament, I had found her rather hard to love. She had a robust personality and we clashed.) Anyway, came the first time I needed to help her shower. I, myself, was ready dressed and made up, too. I put her stool in the shower and prepared to help her on to it. Although she couldn't speak, she had certain noises at her disposal and she could still laugh. This she did, pointing at my face and my clothes. Her unimpaired intelligence had noted what I had missed: I was going to get very wet, indeed. So, I stripped off and joined her under the shower. Her delight was further enhanced both by the sight of my face, running with mascara and my dripping hair. I know the incongruity of what we had done gave her pleasure for all the months that remained to her and she would sqeeze my hand and point to my face and hair whenever it came to mind. Perhaps for her, in that situation, we were peers playing in the water together: both 80 -odd going on 17. See you soon.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Match making

I have been thinking about matchmaking and pairs and how they come about. Actually, the most recent reflections came about in a most prosaic way: I was sorting socks. The person for whom I was doing the sorting wears nothing but black socks. Now, this can be both an advantage because one could get away with the occasional mistake, and a disadvantage because patterned socks scream at you to be reunited and that generally makes life easier. Anyway, there I was, surrounded by socks and my mind wandered to marriage and other states of unity not necessarily blessed with benefit of clergy, nor with an easily recognisable pattern
There is such a thing as marital fit. Perhaps that ought to have capital letters: Marital Fit. People who work in the field see it all the time, apparently totally disparate characters nicely making a go of it. For example, you might find a mild-mannered man, the kind who wouldnt say" boo" to a goose married to the sort of woman who would make mince-meat of anyone who crossed her. The idea is that he carries the calm and peaceful part of her and she carries the aggressive part of him. Together, the parts make a whole. Jack Sprat and Mrs. Sprat, in the nursery rhyme, had the perfect situation. He would eat no fat and she would eat no lean. Between them they licked the platter clean but they came from diametrically opposite positions in order to achieve this. If you look closely, it is usually possible to discern why two very, very different personalities are sharing a life. I remember someone I knew many years ago who suffered badly from depression. In a pub he met a woman he rather liked who told him she was a teacher. Things progressed and they decided to marry. It emerged she was a psychotherapist but, because her experience had told her this profession was inclined to scare people off, she always said she was a teacher. Now, what mysterious force led the Depressive to find the Therapist? Age and knowledge sometimes attract the young. In that situation, the man, for it often is the man, can be a mentor and guide to the mature world, inner and outer. I wonder, though, what happens when the girl, for it often is a girl, feels she has acquired enough 'education' and may do better with a contemporary. Sometimes, a couple so resemble one another they are like a mirror image. I recall a University friend whom we, rather less than kindly, nicknamed "Rabbit", because that was what his teeth, and his ears as it happens, were like. Several years later we invited him and his new wife, whom we had never met, to supper. At the door I nearly fell over. There was this absolute replica, but with breasts. You could say they had recognised one another on the instant. Similarly, a girl, and it often is a girl, will marry someone so like her Father, you would have to be really close to tell them apart. To see the father of Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas together on the golf course, it would be necessary to hear the Welsh accent of the father to be sure which one had hit the ball. Familiarity can be reassuring.

What has this to do with 75 going on 40, you may well ask yourselves. Not a lot, I suspect, except one inevitably learns a great deal from 75 years of observing and analysing - with a small 'a'. It is also tempting to share (preach) the wisdom learnt. Anyway,the internal 40-year-old can still identify with that stage of life. However, to be really honest, I should tell you that, probably, the real reason is that I will not, can not, forget the teacher who told me never, never to forget the title of your essay. Whatever you write, wherever the inspiration takes you, it has to come back to the subject: in this case, what it feels like to be 75 going on 40. Thinking of that in terms of match-making, I wonder what my 40 year old self would have made of my choices had she had the vision and 'wisdom' earned over the subsequent 30 years. She might see that I havent got much right, but, damn it, I am still trying. See you soon.