Tuesday, 27 April 2010


A dear friend has had a sudden sharp attack of empty-nest syndrome. It's not that her young have just left home. One of them more or less left seven years ago to go to school in another country. He went back only for holidays and has now made his home overseas. The other left to go to University abroad, and that's where the emptiness has crystallised. Son number two is about to graduate and seems not to have plans to move back to his home town. His Mother has, thus, had to face up to the loss even of the 'Oh -well, he'll -back- for -the- holidays' comfort. As I was doing my best to help her deal with this and even to identify what it was that seemed to be pulling her down, I had an unexpected revelation of my own. I am suffering from empty-diary syndrome. There you are, I've said it. Don't misunderstand me: it was the right time to retire and there are many advantages, but there is no getting away from it, my life is not an ideal shape for retirement given how habituated I had become to a life of work.

In an ideal world, a retiree needs a retired companion. Sometimes, when I have occasion to go to a busy railway station, I see couples of a certain age, each with a small wheely bag, anxiously scanning the departure boards and I suffer the tiniest squeeze of envy. Other than the phenomenon of the single woman and the restaurants, (see below - ad nauseam, no doubt), when I was working, singledom was much less intrusive. Indeed, the over- wheening nature of the work actually became one of the 'good' reasons to stop it. The responsibilty to be where one had said one would be, when one had said one would be there, was getting weighty. Weddings were missed. Latterly, funerals were also missed and life was constantly lived with one eye on the watch. Those things obscured a different slant on reality, id est, without the work, there may well be hectares of unused space in the diary. Feast or famine, that would cover it. When you are permanently in a state of being busily 40 the only way a blush of another reality impinges is when running for a bus starts to take longer, bits of paper fallen to the floor constitute a back hazard and you have to ask people to repeat what they have said. Otherwise, there are few externals to remind the internals that something has to change sometime. I spent the first months exploring freedom and making a lovely, tidy house. However, there is only so much re-organising a small house can take and only so much of organising I can take, too. (Though, I have to tell you, an old air-raid shelter at the back of the garden has been cleaned and damp-proofed and made in to an ideal storage area for all the stuff my young will throw out the moment the undertaker's back is turned).

That having been done, (gerund?) what shall I do now? Music, books there are in plenty. What I hadn't noticed was how few people were around in the to-play-with sense. My friends are either young enough to be working while I am still alert and awake enough to play, or as old as I am and not keen to trust themselves to the evening air and certainly not to public transport in the evening air. While I was working strange hours and evenings, too, I somehow fell out of some of the circles of which I had been part. All these add up to a need to get out there and do something about it if I want the kind of diary that allows for new entries a minimum of three weeks ahead of the time of being asked. But do I? I would, as it happens, like to make time to go back to the Casino to which I was introduced at the week-end. (No, I am not joking. I'll tell you next time) My inner 40 can't wait for that. But my outer 75 quite likes supper in bed, my cat waiting for me to move the tray away from what she considers her lap so we can watch television together. There is a vixen and her two cubs in residence in her garden so she is scared to enjoy the spring sun newly out there. I have had to grow some indoor- cat grass to fill the garden gap. We'll both be delighted when that nest empties. Maybe the emergence from winter, as nature and man wake up, will help the empty diary syndrome, too.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Keeping house

When I was small, there were intractable rules about keeping house. Beds must be made with sheets taken from the bottom of the pile or, in better regulated households, sheets fresh from the wash must be placed in the airing cupboard underneath those already there. At some very early point in the household's rule-setting, a decision must have been taken about which. Heaven forfend: if both methods were used, however inadvertantly, the same sheets would be constantly in use and wear overall would be seriously uneven. There is indisputable sense in this, but the nice lady who comes to help my arthritic hands with various tasks that require a degree of flexibility I am now rather short of, gives me one of those 'I've -got- a right- one-'ere' looks when I explain this proceedure, and, I suspect, puts the sheets where it is easiest to get them out of her hands. Why do I suspect this? Because there is one sheet with inky evidence of my having done the crossword in bed that keeps coming round far more often than its real rotation should allow. Another test is to do with humidifiers. It is built in to my way of being in the world that dry air is bad for you. (I guess that the Welsh have to believe this. By and large, the ambient air in Wales could not be described as dry). Anyway, with the advent of central heating, largely from what, in those days, we accurately called "the Continent" and from our American cousins, dry air became an ever present concern. The remedy was to append a humidifier. In case you are quite prepared to live with dry air and don't need truck with such a thing, a humidifier is a sort of jar with a hole at the top of it for a hook. Filled with water, you append this contraption to your radiator. The water evaporates in to the air and there you are, saved from the unmentionable effects of dry air. The test of good house keeping is whether or not all your humidifiers are consistently filled with water. Many an hotel in a cold climate has been crossed off the five star list because the humidifiers were empty.

One of the - many - difficulties about being 75 going on 40 is in reconciling what was with what is. I am unfailingly self-conscious when I say "continental Europe", obediently bearing in mind that I am also, on my island, living in Europe. Few people have time or inclination to furnish themselves with humidifiers, let alone traipse around with a jug filling them up. (I hasten to say I did do this even when I was working, so there.) The other Mother-proof test is light bulbs. Do you dust yours? No? Well, you would be more ecologically sound if you did so, since more light will get through, than if you use those don't-get-me-started-on-them energy saving bulbs. Hygiene is another issue. I have what is politely called a galley kitchen. As you know, this actually means there is room for only one person and a cat in it. If you are very fond of another and he/she is slender, you could manage two at a squash and worth the contortions if you would like him/her to mash the potatoes or drain the spinach while you make the gravy. There is totally and absolutely no accommodation for a bin dedicated to food waste. Even if there were room to change things round for it, in less than a day it would smell like a ripe durian. I know it risks showing off, but the stench of that Eastern fruit sampled when I, in another life, wandered through Malaysia trying all the delicacies offered, comes back to me in every evil nightmare my mischievous inner world dumps on me. As it happens, if you can hold your breath and swallow at the same time, the durian tastes very nice; it's not exactly nectar, but the diametric opposite of its smell. What enemy it is conditioned to ward off, I can't imagine, but it must need that smell for something. The point of this is to express my horror that I am going to have to separate my food waste from the rest and keep it in a bin of its own until the ONCE FORTNIGHTLY refuse collection. Is this good house-keeping, I ask myself. In my childhood home the rubbish was collected daily. Things are'nt what they used to be. I'll be back.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Sea Air

In my experience, those of us brought up at the seaside at regular intervals suffer from ozone deprivation. This may occur at the sound of a pigeon or a Canadian goose, masquerading, to our starving ears, as a seagull or, simply, when the sun shines long enough to remind us that it isn't always cold, damp and grey in the U.K. Though, to be fair, my sea was in Wales so I should, more realistically, be reminded of the sea when it is cold, damp and grey. Anyway, I was overwhelmed by this longing a few days ago, so the Guru, who had a day off, kindly offered to take me to the sea second nearest to London. Why not the nearest? Well, that would have been Southend. Don't ask. I would have to bear in mind the law of Defamation. Brighton is where we made for. I have good feelings about Brighton. My best ones are of participating in the Brighton Run in a life I led a long time ago. (For those of you over the Pond or in the Antipodes, the Brighton Run is a challenge, never a race, to Veteran cars to travel, successfully,the road from Hyde Park in London to the Pillars, which denote the borough boundary of Brighton; a distance of some 60 miles. These old ladies - the cars, not me and my friends - were pre 1900 for the most part. The one I had the honour of driving in was built in 1902). It was a lovely outing, starting at 7.30am on an inevitably cold and misty November morning. I should, of course, have said in my explanatory note to 'outsiders' that the whole idea was to commemorate the date when it ceased to be illegal to drive a car without a man with a light walking ahead of it, thus, November, the nearest Sunday to the relevant date. What did one wear in an open top carriage with an engine on an unforgiving November morning? Think skiing. Sometimes it rained. I sat beside the driver wiping his spectacles which were not equipped with windscreen wipers. On one occasion, we were accompanied by a V.I.P. He sat with the driver and I sat in the back with his lady wife. This time I was assigned to baling out the rain so that her shoes would be only marginally ruined. From time to time, the driver passed his specs back to me and I stopped baling and wiped. Yes, we got there. All credit to the driver that my children were not left parentless, through disaster or pneumonia. The roads were always lined with cheerers-on. I loved it. It was great to arrive at the sea-front in Brighton and smell the sea and shelter from the wind in makeshift tents and feel the tingling in your skin calm down and wring your gloves out, although, it didn't always rain, of course; sometimes there was hail.

That was then. Now we struggled out of London in more or less ordinary week-day traffic and made our way sedately down the Motorway forbidden to the Veterans and in any case, developed since my voyages. (Perhaps, sedately is not quite the word since the Guru was driving). We indulged, first in a delicious lunch, but the pull of the sea became irrisistable so no coffee, only a pit stop and off to go. There was a strong wind, really strong, strong enough to make it seriously difficult for the external me to make any useful progress. The Guru insisted and urged me along with reminders of how I was here for the smell of the sea and nothing in life was easy, as one would persist when it looked as if the witch with the flying coat you had in tow was going to keel over and be an embarrassment to you and a hazard to others. My ears were so cold I ceased to hear his exhortations,but we made it to the seafront and started to walk along it. As it happens, the first sight of the sea, when I was able to forgo my concentration on keeping upright, was disappointing: it was gringe coloured. As a life-long seaside dweller, I was able to understand and explain to Guru that the wind was whipping up the sand underneath and discolouring it. The semi-safe habour of the pier loomed and soon we found ourselves in a sort of fun fair with all the games and screams you would associate with that. Not quite the exalted experience I had fought the elements for, but we emerged on to the walk- way and prepared to do a Scot of the Antarctic with the wind again. And the smell, the ozone, the raison d'etre of the expedition? Fish and chips, that's what it smelled of, or doughnuts, depending on which side you were being battered on. Not a whiff of the sea, not English nor Welsh: frying, that's what we could smell. Ah well, that's not the only disappointment I've had since I was really 40. So it's Cymru for me as soon as I can work out how and when and it was nevertheless, a lovely day out. Diolch yn fawr, Guru.