Monday, 27 June 2011

Thin lines

The other day, someone accused me of vanity. I was astounded. Old ladies who have long worked with and struggled to establish reality, whatever that is, are hardly likely to be vain. One might be 'D'-shaped, where one had had a good figure, straggly, where one had had nice hair and stiff where one had tripped the light fantastic. These things, amongst others too raw to mention, go a long way to preclude vanity in a realist - or anyone, come to that. It got me reviewing the basis for this comment. It arose when I insisted on a last minute change of clothes having noticed a disagreeable stain on the jumper I was wearing. This threatened to delay the departure and therefore the arrival at a concert: time sensitive, you might say. Intense reflection, during which I did see that there could be a modicum of vanity in an otherwise totally realistic approach to life, brought me to a revelation. This was not a question of vanity. It was a question of confidence. In order to go out in to a harsh and challenging world, a girl disguised as an old lady, will need her confidence. I was not prepared to face the outside universe with a dirty jumper, not even covered, as it would have been, by a clean cardie. I would have known. My companion of the delayed set-off would have known, and I bet the Wizard of Cyberspace would have known. Now, he is the last person in the world I would allow in to my habitual thin-skinned habitat, so you can see how seriously I am taking the accusation and the rebuttal thereof. I am, therefore, desperate to point out the thin line between vanity and lack of confidence. Now, there's a thing. A young man of my acquaintance who doesn't live in London is obliged, on occasion, to accept hospitality from me. I put it like that because he and I are inclined to prowl round one another somewhat warily. We have rather different ways of being in the world and I think that makes each nervous of the other. An instance: when asked to switch off the hall lights, he has been known to press a panic button near the front door. The bad news is that, before you can say "that's not a light switch" the alarm is ringing to wake the dead, the house is surrounded by police, the neighbours are banging on windows and the alarm company is ringing incessantly on the phone. The good news is that, before you can say "that's not a light switch", the alarm is ringing, the house is surrounded by police etcetera, etcetera. The system works. Anyway, this young man takes one hour and seventeen minutes in the bathroom. Uncharitably, I have been guilty of putting this down to vanity. Now I understand that he needs every hair in place - I assume that's what he is doing - in order to face a complex and barely fathomable world. This confidence building method works and, as a result, he is able to achieve wonderfully well out in a world he must see as designed for everyone but him. (As it happens, he does try to change it - the world, that is.)
Having got myself thinking, (Oh dear, a voice from seven decades ago: "Get is not a true verb. Don't use it") I was faced with another example; acceptance and conciliation. When I feel I have been treated badly I have options. I can accept the situation with grace and understanding or I can just appear to do so in a way which is, frankly, conciliatory, simply to avoid hassle and/or putting myself in a less than appealing picture frame. An example: I had expected to be invited to the wedding of a friend's daughter. I was not. I was full of empathy, the numbers, the distance the 'you know what the young are like' and so on, and so on. This was, as it happens, uber-conciliatory. I hope it sounded like acceptance. It wasn't, but it does underline the damn thin line between the two.

It reminds me of a story I may well have told you before. Forgive me if I have. I don't suppose you are inclined to re-read all the below, either. It is attributed to Nathan Milstein. " You think I am a great violinist", he is alleged to have said. "I'm not. I just sound like one." Me, you think I'm a confident woman. I'm not. But I behave like one". Prynhawn da

Monday, 20 June 2011


Now, Liz's duty is to amuse. However, life with three score and more than ten years on the clock will be bound to have dents and bumps and a few scratches on the bodywork and, more important, -no: important is correct. I refuse to adverbise it - on the inner workings. Yesterday, Sunday, a dear friend, whom I have known for fifty one years, slipped quietly away from this life. We had a conversation last Wednesday which I ended by telling her I was sending her some love. Thus, the last thing she ever said to me was "Oh! Then it will cross with mine on the way". She lived some distance from me and, at her daughter's suggestion, I went to see her on Saturday afternoon. It's unlikely she was aware of this, but I was grateful for the chance to say Goodbye and spoke to her as if in no doubt she could hear and understand. It brought to mind a story, told by another dear friend, of her husband's last days. His oldest friend was sitting at the end of his bed chuntering on about nothing much, simply keeping him company. He was trying to remember the name of a lady golfer who had them in stitches with her far from appropriate apparel and behaviour at a time when such things mattered and were noted."Was it Molly, Millie; what was it?" "Maudie" came a voice from the prone figure on the bed that had been silent for three days. So, we can't be sure of the degree of consciousness of those preparing for a journey we are obliged to let them take without us. What we can be sure of is the sense of loss, of the piece that is missing from the jigsaw of our own lives. In this case, the image is of a child's jigsaw with ginormous pieces. One would certainly be missed, may even spoil the sense of the picture. In a grown-up jigsaw, it could even be possible to be less aware there was a piece missing. No, that's rubbish. One would have a feeling of dis-ease, at least, and be conscious of something less complete than it should be and was. What a number of incomplete jigsaws there must be in the life-cupboard of the elderly.
Lose, loss, love: powerful words to be linked by a letter. The significance of History may be
underlined by these words. To lose someone one has known for more than half a century means one has also lost the common history. The slice, wedge, of life shared with her is unique and irreplaceable. When the Father of my children and I, who had met at University, became friends some time after our separation, I had a physical sense of recovery. A part of me, a far from obvious part of me, had been taken away and was, without even having been consciously acknowledged as missing, restored. He who had known my parents, my homeland, my growth, my babies had taken the incontestable element of memory of those things with him. Without his affirmation, I could no longer be sure of them. I had rendered them contestable. Crazy isn't it? I wonder if this has a truth for you, too, out there at the other end of the computer. A few posts ago, I said that change was the second cousin once removed of loss. I think they must be closer relatives than that. All change involves letting go what was. That's also loss. And all loss involves change. I have been used to ringing my friend just about daily. That has changed. She is no longer there to answer. I am coming round to seeing loss and change not as twins, but certainly siblings, even if not very close in age.
There is, however, music. On Sunday I went to hear the farewell recital of a singer I have enjoyed for many decades. I was not sure how good an idea it was in the circumstances. It was a very good idea. The programme notes assured us she was not giving up singing, simply stopping the exposure of solo recitals. A sense of relief rather too great for the situation came over me. Some things were not going to end, then; changed but not lost. Great and sensible Irish lady: she finished her otherwise serious and very moving recital with three encores from the Emerald Isle. The last was "Phil the Fluter's Ball" which had us all in hoots, singing along and letting her go with laughter and shared joy. Nos da.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Green Ink

Since the last posting I have been laid low with an infection that required treatment by antibiotics. I then went through the phase where the infection is less of a nuisance to put up with than the effect of the antibiotics. I do hope this is not in the category of more than you need to know. I offer it by way of explanantion as to why I have not had enough 'bother' to sit at the computer for a bit too long. From yesterday evening I've begun, anew, to feel I can be bothered, so here I am.

Mind you, it wasn't all antibiotic lassitude. I lay in bed watching "Roman Holiday" for the - I'm ashamed of how manyth - time. I desperately wanted to be the Princess who steals out of her palace, gets her magnificent, long hair cut off and has a day as a 'normal' young lady out and about in Rome. Since this includes falling in love with Gregory Peck, the fantasy could not have been bettered. Naturally, in that epoch of one foot, only, off the ground, their affair did not end, nor even middle, the way it would to-day. Duty and committment prevailed and each returned, intact, to his/her allotted life-slot. My enjoyment and identification with the film and the fact of television, prompted me to see the green ink effect in the last blogpost immediately below. For your elucidation, the green ink effect, or even the Green Ink effect is a term applied by someone close to me for what people of my generation called "Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells". Simply, someone who was always writing letters to the papers complaining about matters as serious as the continuing propensity of the 1127 train from Waterloo to arrive at TW one minute and thirty two seconds late. Something should be done about it. Anyway, below was a bit complainy and I feel obliged humbly to redress the balance, starting with television in bed when you are poorly.

When I was little, bed-rest entertainment consisted of someone reading to one, if they had time. You had time. You had twenty four interminable hours in which to be read to. What were they doing Down There? Had they forgotten you were all alone in an antibiotic- free Up Here unable to do anything for yourself? Enough, or we'll be back to Green Ink.
Take mobile phones. At a time when they were no more than a twinkle in some geek's ear, One New Year's Eve I was called upon to rescue someone else close to me from a situation she felt she couldn't handle. Over the telephone - landline, you'll bear in mind - and sotto voce so her host would not hear, she gave me the address. What neither of us realised was that the address belonged to a small row of houses on an unbroken street with a different name. Not clear? Well, let's say she told me she was at number 3 Elm Terrace. Elm Terrace then turns out to be part, without demarcation, of Southlands Road. (Some names and places have been changed to preserve anonimity.) Now, you can see where this is going. There was I, driving round and round more and more desperately and there was she getting more and more in need of saving. A mobile phone would have dealt with all that in a nano second. Washing machines: forty nine years ago I had to threaten my poor Mother that I could not darken her door again until she installed a washing machine. (Because we lived 200 miles apart, since you ask). The thought of the smell of a boiler full of soiled towelling nappies was enough to have produced an even more Draconian threat, if I could have thought of one. (As we speak, the Guru in his bachelor pad is living with a broken one. So what is happening about his washing you ask? Don't ask. You know). Of course the list of things to be glad about must be at least three bags full. More than even Pollyanna could have counted. I suppose, if I, grudgingly, allow myself a smidgen of honesty, we have to see antibiotics as counter-green-ink. Good Heavens, lying there waiting for the fever to break with no telly and no microwave to warm up a bowl of sick-room soup leaving no saucepan to wash up, this old lady is very glad, indeed, for the good things of the twenty first century. Prynhawn da