Saturday, 27 February 2010


Don't laugh: I have been sitting at the computer for ages, thinking about how to start a post on 'communication'. It might have been wiser to write it on 'irony'. Anyway, communication has an unending fascination for me. For decades I earned my living through it, understanding, interpreting, translating, so you may well be treated to the occasional return to it. I'll never get it all said in one. Take my cat: she presents the greatest challenge in communicating. She knows exactly what her orders to me have been. The problem lies with me: can I understand and carry them out? One of her favourite things is to have me sitting down, preferably with my legs up but even a legs -down lap will do, and then to sit on top of me. This is all very loving and seriously warm during this horrible winter, but it is also incarcerating. Anything that is not within paws reach is out of bounds.There is no question of answering the phone or getting a drink or finding a pen to do the crossword. You are as trapped as if bound by chains. Lately, she has taken to non-stop meowing soon after breakfast. When I say meowing, I really mean whining. It goes on through changed food, changed litter, strokes and nibbles - her of me, that is - and it is not until I take up one of the above positions and she is installed on top that the whining stops. I was never brilliant with whining children; how do I do better with my cat? 'It's time to get up' is not difficult to communicate. You just jump on the 'two-legs' hidden in the bed you recently slept on yourself, and then jump off again. Repeat thirty four times and, miraculously, there is food in the dish and water in the bowl before you can say"mouse". Scratching: antique furniture or any fabric are best to convey you are really cross and impatient. You have to endure some loud calling of your name and even the lightest touch of the paper on your behind, but 'she' gets what you are on about and sees to it at last. Less subtle but useful in an emergency is the hiss. Don't touch me, don't touch her, get out of my space, get out of my house can all be communicated by a hiss so protracted the breath control would shame many a robust soprano.

However, what triggered the impulse to discuss the question of communication, now, as opposed to then and from now on, was actually a comment from a two-legged one. Coming out of the kitchen the Guru started me straight in the eye and said that the dish-washer needed to go on. I was left not knowing whether this was a declaration of intention or an instruction to staff. It turned out to be the latter. What would you have done? I put the dish-washer on. Excusing my self to the angry inner me, I decided that my compliance must have been an unconscious wish to communicate my warmth towards him. I know, I know: there doesn't seem to be a polite word for the response I can feel you all communicating through the ether. I am thoroughly spoiling both the Guru and the cat.

I am having difficulties with this post and thus the irony continues. My head is reeling and my thoughts tumbling with examples, no, experiences, of communication, through words, signs, movements, music , but, for the moment, no coherent frame in which to express them. Perhaps there are too many or the subject too all-encompassing. I am passionate about it which may well explain the problem. It is notoriously hard to keep clear-headed when consumed by passion, wouldn't you say? I might just have to leave it there for now, lie down and let my cat lie on top of me. By implication, I let you know I shall be looking forward to communicating with you again, soon.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


"Boredom" is hardly the most alluring of titles for a post. Anyone who has experienced it may run a mile from a dissertation on it and anyone who hasn't will find the prospect, well, boring. I feel moved to write about it, however, for a few reasons. First, there can be only about half a dozen variations on the theme of what it is like actually to be 75 when your inner world reacts as if it were 40. The'run after a 'bus, climb up a ladder, sweep the snow off the steps' theme; the' I can no longer go to the ball' theme, the ' turn over passed the fashion pages' theme, the experience of going alone to a restaurant theme, the what the H... has the Wizard of Cyberspace done now' theme, and so on and so on. The blogposts were in danger of becoming a bit of a moan along limited lines. You may all lose interest. What to do? Give up writing them slid across my creation screen. Find some new themes - obvious, but not followed by inspiration. Face up to it. That's what I was left with and that's what I shall try to do.

Further, consultation and observation convinced me that most people my age are troubled by boredom, particularly after retirement. Retirement is more demanding than work and the expert is the one who has been planning for it ever since he - or she - left school. Someone I know well has a specification for retirement that can actually bear the description " idyllic" not to say, ideal. A home that couldn't be more central to where it's at if it were poised on top of the Eros statue in Picadilly, constant companionsip of like-minded people, a lively mind unaffected by anno domini, a younger woman friend who adores him and enough money to support all that. Whew, I wish. There are, of course, levels between that and the low -grade depression which elderly boredom may well masquerade as. (That ending with a preposition still leaves me with a feeling of guilt and a red mark in the margin. Nor do I feel any happier with the 'up with that I will not put' alternative which those others of you educated in the 30s and 40s may well remember). That's another strand of depression masquerading as boredom: guilt. The acts one neglected, the kindnesses one eschewed, the relationships one lost. The weight of this may well turn in to a can't- be- bothered way of living. The get- up and- go needed for a fuller life has a real struggle with the can't- be -bothered, my research tells me. Sometimes it is clear from a gathering that the participants are there for want of better. It takes some courage, though, to turn up at a literary reading, a lecture, a reminiscence of diplomatic life in Outer Mongolia simply because the alternative is a book that cant hold your attention or an extension of your relationship with the characters on the telly you have come to know only too well. At least you will have overcome the can't be bothered factor. Given the present cold, damp dark winter nights, it does, indeed, take courage. But it is hard to stop the impulse of my young inner self, when she sees someone under 5o at such gatherings, to look him/her straight in the eye and say "get a life, for Heaven's sake". The remark being intended, of course, primarily, for that very inner self fighting the good fight to reconcile herself to the boundaries of 75 year old possibility.

However, I have learnt much in all that time. I might try little homilies on you, based on wisdom gained. I shall continue to find the humour in the predicament of the elderly with a stick, an umbrella, cat food, human food and a raincoat she hadn't bothered to do up to contend with when the skies have opened. Humour there is, too, in remarks overheard along the lines of "where's her zimmer frame; don't get behind her, she'll be ten minutes fumbling in her purse; shouldn't be let out without a keeper". I have devised a sign to wear hanging down my back as well as my front: I am old, not deaf. There you are, useful occupation for the under-occupied elderly: sandwich man/woman. But should I advertise an elderly/single woman friendly restaurant or an erudite lecture on troglydites? And what about my aching back? Keep reading: it's not all a bore.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


There has had to be some serious thought given to the title of this post. Driven by retirement, I have been tidying. I have a small house. At the moment it houses two people and the belongings of three. The third, non-resident, lives in what is virtually a garden shed on an island off an island: not much capacity for storage, then. The only objects over which I have control are my own, so that is where the tidying has been focussed. I hoard. This is not a good basis for a tidy-up. I am sentimental: even less helpful, but, Dear Reader, I am courageous, so I and my rubbish bags set out to do their best...worst?

I started with my desk. Picture it: on the right are papers that need urgent attention. On the left is stuff that needs seeing to one of these days. In the middle is anything which will have to be kept safe and, certainly, dealt with, but not just now. Three days later, I found myself with a black rubbish bag full to the brim and a glimpse of green leather that hadn't seen daylight for a very long time. It has all been burnt in an iron wheelbarrow, my shredder having gone green, too, at the thought it may have had to deal with disposal all by itself. I started with the desk because, with papers, I thought I could be less influenced by sentimentality. This was a mistake. They seemed to have the same charisma as photographs and school reports. When I saw that the 'keep' pile had outgrown the 'throw' pile, I did have to call on all my resources ruthlessly to redress the balance. What did it was thinking that my nearest and dearest would have it to do eventually and would do it, no doubt, without even reading the stuff. ( Some long time ago, I answered the phone to a dear-one as I was in the middle of a similar tidy-up. Referring to one of my young, I said that, after my death, before ringing the Undertaker, she should first order some skips to accommodate all the paper rubbish. He suggested that having ordered two skips, she wouldnt need the Undertaker). At some level there is a fear that I have thrown out documents essential to a smooth-running life. I shan't know until called upon to produce something that is, at this moment, a pile of ashes at the bottom of the garden. My Mother came to mind. Shortly before her death, she had had just such a tidy-up. Sadly, current insurance policies, unpaid bills and other hassle-ridden documents had bitten the dust. With pride, she showed me her impeccable desk, totally unaware that I would be months, years chasing the written evidence that she had existed, never mind insuring herself, her home and its contents. Nor that she would obsessively pay every bill on the day it arrived before she lost touch with the niceties of an orderly life. I ask forgiveness in advance if I have put people in a similar position. It is worth it just to see that streak of green leather.

Clothes drawers and cupboards are different. A kind of ruthlessness I don't possess is required to move clothes along. I have items from a stone ago, (about 7 kilo, if you are in continental Europe, 14 pounds for kind readers in the States). They are part of my life. I am so used to the sight of them that I could no more challenge them than I could challenge the sofa, the carpet or the oven, nor the pictures on the walls. So drawers and cupboards will have to wait for another burst of energetic courage. However, perhaps the first task is to train myself to disimbue objects, whether paper, cloth or whatever material from their emotional element, from my habit of personification, from the profound inner world belief that an old jumper has feelings and wouldn't want to be thrown out. And, yes, the new washing machine is in no way as user friendly as the old I was forced to throw out - see below; its programming is less efficient and so on and so on, but I have been refunded the delivery charge because the deliverers were nasty to me: so there: a happier ending.