Friday, 30 March 2012


It wouldn't be surprising if funerals were to come to mind from time to time at my interesting age. Well, I find age interesting. I am living with a monkey on my shoulder with a degree of interest which borders on compulsive obsessive. He watches my life as if it were his sole source of nourishment. For all I know it may be. (I can just see the fellow, with his bright, intense eyes, and he is clinging to me as if his life depended on it). I have already planned my funeral with great care. Actually, I planned it some time ago and it may be that the details will need up-dating. Indeed, the nice Welsh minister I had in mind to conduct it has retired and gone to live a long way away. Recently, I attended a funeral other than my own. It was a lady I had met but not really known. One of her sons is a friend of mine; a good friend, a friend in need. When a drain is blocked or the downstairs is flooded, there he is, six foot in all directions and equally strong. (His is, of course, help in addition to the Guru's. In fact, I didn't know how nuch the Guru did for me, outside of Cyberspace, until he moved out and stopped doing it). Anyway, I went in order to support my friend. Before the interment, there was to be a service at the Chapel in the grounds of the cemetery.The day was foul: driving wind and rain and really cold. What's more, finding my way is not what I am best at. Even having, eventually, found a Chapel, I couldnt be sure it was the right one.But, I spotted a group of men and women, each one six foot in all directions and hoped this may be a reliable clue. Indeed, I had stumbled on the right Chapel and was soon being interrogated by the largest and clearly the lead quizzer of the bunch. After a few questions, which I was beginning to find border-line cheeky, I realised I had been mistaken for the lady- friend they knew my friend had recently acquired whom none of his family had yet met. Since he is in his forties, I was seriously flattered. Having clarified my role, we all relaxed and chatted like old acquaintances until the hearse and other family cars arrived.So far, so ordinary.

I found the service touching and effective. Three huge sons, a sister of normal proportions, and assorted relatives I had no way of placing assembled and prayed and sang and listened and gave what had clearly been a good and worthwhile human being a fitting send off. There were no surprises and, in due course, the Minister invited us to bring our cars and follow the hearse to the burial plot which was some distance away. At this juncture, it seemed prudent, having done my duty by friendship, to slip away. No point in exposing another old lady to the vicissitudes of wind, rain and mud when my presence had been noted and my respects paid. Therefore, I took the opportunity to find the door to the Ladies at the back of the Chapel and attend to a need which had become rather urgent given the extended length of my journey there and so on. Duly found, I got on with my business, tidied my weather-blown hair, taking my time, and prepared to leave and drive back home. Dear Reader, to my horror,emerging back in to the Chapel I realised I had been waited for. Hearse, Minister's car, kin cars and kith cars all waiting, just for me. Up there with the most embarrassing moment of my life, it was. Anyway, no hope of retreating for home and a hot bath. Back in my car and meekly follow the procession miles and miles round the cemetery to the interment, like a good girl. Naturally, I was last so last in a long line of cars on a single lane road. It was clear the way out was ahead and around so there I was trapped, hopeless. The shorter version of this sorry tale is that I, following the example of Another, backed down the approach road and managed to get away before the assembly had an opportunity to berate me for holding them all up and what- did- it- matter- what- my- hair- looked -like anyway? I promise to have my funeral on a dry, windless day and I'll forgive you if you miss the actual interment because of Nature's needs. I'm sure my friend's Mother would have, too. Nos da

Friday, 23 March 2012


If you think that Marriage can be dealt with in a single blogpost you are probably not married. If you think I would have the temerity to cover it in one post I must have misled you, grossly, about who I am. At any rate, I do intend to make a start on a subject I have avoided up to now although it exercises, often, my mind and because, yesterday, it leapt in to focus in a rather unexpected way. To begin at the beginning: the mores of marriage are amongst the greatest changes observable in the years between age 40 and 75. Obviously, one great change is what might be called 'non-marriage'. Two people of opposite genders living together without benefit of clergy, as the saying goes/went, in the 70s when I was in my 40s, were regarded as Living in Sin. The woman was no better than she should be. The man was on to a good thing. The waterfall of reasons, ideas and philosophies inherent in that and, more important, in the acceptance of the current status quo, would take a dam of unimagineable proportions to control and exploit. At risk of drowning, I shall, nevertheless, approach and hold a jug under the flow to analyse just a litre or so. Marriage must have seemed the only solution which would both protect a woman and give her an acceptable role in a world where she was largely excluded from professional gratification. This solution would have lost its attraction as women gained more and more freedom and stature in the world of work. I have watched this erosion with mixed feelings. I am both pleaased for and envious of women who are currently 40. But I am also concerned. I do see value in tradition and containment. Whatever went on behind closed doors, men, women and children, too, for that matter, knew what was expected of them and, more or less, how to carry it out; no bad thing, surely.
Yesterday, I took part in a discussion which was, loosely, about comparative religion. The significance of woman was raised. An idea was put forward that there may be an intrinsic fear of women, of their power. A power that may be implicit in their fundamental and essential faculty to feed the young. From Nature's point of view, before the arrival of teeth - and Formula - civilisation could not survive without the milk of the Mother. The fact that without the man there would have been no conception in the first place got swallowed up in the overwhelming awareness that things would have progressed no further if there had been no means of nurturing the new-born baby.The point being that this dependence on the woman for survival made her threatening beyond tolerating and, as I see it, led to all the sublimation of that gender that we know about. Simplistic? yes, indeed. What it incontravertibly (?) shows is that there is essential necessity for both genders. Does equality follow, I ask myself: I ask you? Anyway, this may well prove to be quite the wrong forum to raise the matter. I suspect the Guru switched off a hundred words ago. Why should a man for whom a mobile phone is as ordinary and accepted as are his ears, his hands, be caught up in the mind-blowing development of the role of marriage between the time when his Godmother was married and the present day?
The story may have a happy ending. A couple, married 62 years, attended this meeting having travelled by 'bus. The lady got off first, at a particular stop and walked through a passage to reach the top of the road where the venue was. The man continued on the same 'bus, up through the village and down again to a stop at the bottom of the venue road. This was done with complete unanimity and acceptance. No argument about efficiency, no marital sniping, no "I told you so" by the first to arrive, just the independence each to do what he/she thought worked better. Who would want it any other way? Prynhawn da

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Just a Minute

Yesterday, I took the minutes for a meeting of my Doctor's General Practice Patients Group. There were about a dozen people there. Now, I live in a community that is highly articulate, educated and political. The latter not necessarily in the sense of allegiance, more in the sense of involvement in what's going on in our community and in the country. Proudly, I drew a little map of the table so I could note not only the names of those who attended, (absolutely not: I refuse point blank to call them attendees, so there), but also where they were seated, to make it easier to ascribe comments. This is an occupation in which I have indulged before, however, not for more decades than it would be decent to remember. I tell you this because I was under the impression, when I offered to stand in as a one-off for the appointed Secretary, that my earlier experience of committee note-taking and my ordinary student experience, when the notes of the Professor became the notes of the student without passing through the head of either, as the old saw goes, would be all I needed to keep the pen on the paper. I suppose I was also thinking of my later professional need for note-taking. Crazy: the making of headline notes in a 50 minute consultation when 45 of those minutes consisted of a profoundly constructive silence has nothing in common with a room full of jabbering interested parties falling over one another in their eagerness to be heard. No, I don't do shorthand. I did attend a Secretarial School for Young Ladies sixty years ago when it was the thing for well-brought-up young Welsh girls to do if they wished to leave the Principality (Wales, if you are over the Pond)and set themselves up in the Smoke (London, ditto). I left on the third day and managed to resucitate my offer of a University place and embark on quite a different path. All this would be of little interest if I were as young as last I was in this situation. I am not. I don't hear as well, I don't write as fast and I don't, after all, remember those things that seem so obvious they don't need writing down. To cap it all, when I made my egregious offer, I was unaware that there was to be a guest speaker.
Thereby lies the rub. A youngish, prettyish woman, a highly qualified medic, buzzing with enthusiasm, energy and evangelism arrived to address us on the part she, the practice Doctors and we were to play in the re-organisation of our National Health Service. Dear Reader, she dived from a height straight in. I was utterly drowned in her words. I have hung on to a few of the Pitman shorthand symbols, learnt in those three days, (Does Pitmans even exist now, I ask myself; I ask you?) and the improvised shorthand I used for lecture note-taking - no vowels, for instance - but none of my resources was equal to the flow of fact-packed, urgent and essential information emanating from this gifted and unstoppable person. What to do? I put down my pen, wiped my fevered brow and decided to fall back on my facility for recall to fill in the gaps at home. But I couldn't. My mind is/was a blank. I have suffered the guilt, the shame and the inevitable. I could tell you what she was wearing to the last button but what she said is mush in my ears. It is Phillip Glass where it should be Mozart. I ask you to pray with me, that the Practice Manager is in a good mood, on good form and with a good memory when I report back to her on Monday. Otherwise the minutes will simply have to read: "there was a guest speaker." Nos da

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Yesterday, I attended a Focus group organised by a huge and very well-known clothing manufacturer and retailer. The subjects were knickers and bras. With a degree of mischief threatening to become unmanageable, I found my inner voice chanting "vicars and tarts" to itself as I did the bustling necessary to arrive on time. I'm sure my Mother would have been as horrified at the thought of a forum discussion on knickers and bras as she would have been had she been invited to a party with a theme of vicars and tarts . My naughty response will suggest to you that my own mindset is also not that far behind. Since I am, however, really only 40, I did feel equal to what I expected to be quite a challenge. The system was for some fourteen women to sit around a table with a Focus group specialist, a designer, a structural engineer and,in the morning, a knicker expert and, in the afternoon, an expert in bras. As it happens, I have attended one of these gatherings at this institution before. It was led by a man. He, having written the email of invitation, was unwell and, therefore, not in. Very sensible, I thought. Schoolgirl giggles could have been the only possible outcome if the ensuing process had been led by a man; even this man who seemed unlikely ever to watch a woman dress and undress. The instruction was to say which of our knickers we liked best and why and which had disappointed. Purchase from another source was to be acknowledged along the lines of ' what are they doing better than we are?' I was sitting where I was second in the round. (This matters, as will emerge). Now, Liz wears what I can describe only as 'school knickers': fitting round the backside, over the bulge and up to the waist. I love them. I have progressed, through the years, from this firm's pretties to this firms sensibles. My comment was that, pure cotton as they may be, they had shrunk. Time had been spent in selecting a pair that had and a pair that hadn't, to prove my point. Dear Reader, the entire team was round me like a piece of elastic. My undies were photographed, felt and recorded and the upshot was that my address was taken with the promise that I should receive replacements at their expense. Of course it matters, silly. If they shrink they are no longer capable of covering the bulge. They rest in an uncomfortable squeeze in the middle of it. This dilemma is meaningless to you young ones, but it is jolly disconcerting to the elderly aspirant to some degree of elegance - the line, silly, the line. You have probably guessed, but the relevance of being second emerged as we went round the table and the most frivolous, lacy, racy bits of nothing were displayed and examined, in colours I had walked passed with eyes averted when I was in the shop. I would have slunk out leaving my sample behind had I been any further round the bend...double entendre intended.
The afternoon was even more of a challenge. I was forced to confess I didnt buy their bras. I tried and they don't work for me. Expecting to be thrown out, I suffered even greater shame: the attempt to persuade me to have another go. If you have been at the receiving end of a concerted campaign by expert marketeers to get you to buy their product, you will have some idea of what I went through. Charm, discretion and a brickwall politeness finally exhausted me to a point where I agreed to a new fitting and another try. Well, you would wouldn't you when they are half the price of what I had bought and there are so many to choose from? But, actually, no. There were so many to choose from I was quite overwhelmed.....and exhausted. What kind of a world do I live in, I asked myself, that I can spend a whole day focussing on my underwear when the outside world is as the outside world is. Death, destruction, cruelty, tragedy: what can it possibly matter? How can a group of women, a group of experts and their employer call this Focus? But when I had run out of green ink, I realised that this particular employer gave work to more thousands of people world-wide than my imagination could encompass. So, drown your scruples and focus on that. Bore da
PS Mountain View, California. Do, please, put me out of my misery! Who are you?