All My Loving

Lots of people seem to be participating in contests lately so I thought I would join in, But with so many options, which to choose?

Over at the marvellous Knocked Over By A Feather there was the contest beyond ll contests: write a blog based on one of the following Beatles songs:.

All My Loving

Day Tripper

Helter Skelter

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

This gets me back to basics – nostalgia. I used to do it better in the old days but such is life. Also Sigoth and I are both Beatles fans. Partly because I remember running around the playground yelling about yellow submarines, and partly because it is the Law.

This is therefore going to be an appropriate story of days of old. It includes life and death struggle, serial killers, fashion, drinking, music and twue twue wuv. It’s about how I met Sigoth, and it’s going to get soppy.

Picture the scene if you will; indeed, if you continue to read, it is a prerequisite.

It is 1980 in Leeds, a city n West Yorkshire with a long and noble history dating back to the medieval wool trade and earlier. That’s about all the wool you will get, but some of us are keen knitters so it had to be mentioned.

As I say, Leeds in 1980. It is October, cold and dark, and the beginning of a new academic year, bringing new and anxious students to university for the first time. They are to be ritually immersed in a proud educational establishment through the medium of Freshers’ Week. I am not sure if this happens elsewhere in the world, but the beginning of term has a pre-study week for new students to help them find their way around, meet new friends, sign up for societies (such as sports, music, politics, issues or general leisure activities), and get very drunk in the company of relative strangers. Somewhere in this heady mix you also pick up your course timetable and possibly start looking for text books.

Hall in snow

I was living a few miles out of town with a bunch of women in a single sex hall of residence. It is no longer part of the university but at the time it was a great old Victorian lodge which housed about 20 female students. We pretty much all got along very well from the first, and soon were meeting up for sandwiches and introducing each other to new people we had met along the way. In that first week I came across a boy called Sigoth who was in one of the societies a girl from my hall had joined. He looked a bit bemused by everything but gamely tagged along with the raucous mob.

Over the next week I ran into him a couple of times and we nodded to each other and went our separate ways. Then as the courses started picking up I found myself doing lab work on Wednesday afternoons, and regularly caught the same bus back to hall with him as he was doing different labs at the same time, and his hall was on the same bus route. We nodded a bit more but didn’t sit together. We were acquaintances only. I felt sorry for him in the same way I felt sorry for me doing labs late into the afternoon while everyone else was at home drinking hot chocolate and listening to music. He looked cold and sad in the gloom and mist and damp of a November evening.

That winter term was an eventful one in many ways. Firstly we were in the grip of a nightmare known as the Yorkshire Ripper. Although he was eventually caught, at the time he was still very much on the prowl. It was frightening enough arriving in Leeds, away from home for the first time, to be confronted by posters everywhere warning me to look out for a great big old actual murderer. Then a girl was killed just outside the flat where some friends of mine lived. Her body was found by a boy I was going out with (to be clear I wasn’t with him at the time – he lived in those flats too). Initially we were worried a student had been killed; then the police confirmed it was the Ripper and all hell broke loose. At the same time a man started hanging around our hall, and climbing on the roof at nights. The police said he was just after lead, but how to be sure?

I remember you always knew who the journalists were because they were the only ones prepared to be out on their own. The rest of us travelled in packs at all times.

By the end of term tensions were running high. The news was full of shootings: first the Pope and then John Lennon. (Well done, EBL, you’ve got a Beatles reference in at last!)

I had been feeling unwell with a virus caught inevitably from mixing with strangers from all across the country. Students are particularly sickly at this stage. However, it was so bad my room-mate called the doctor and she decided it was meningitis and whisked me off to the Infectious Diseases Unit at Seacroft Hospital. I stayed there five days and was given 2 paracetamol. They took a sample of spinal fluid and decided I was just a whinging student. John Lennon was shot the day I was sent home.

Bad Taste Party

It just so happened that the day I did get home, the rest of the Hall were having a Bad Taste Party. I stepped out of the taxi into a joyous scene, hugs and shrieks of welcome, alcohol in abundance and loud music. The party involved dressing up in anything that was considered bad taste – in my case I just stayed in my horrible dressing gown; others came as John Lennon or Mark Chapman. What jolly japes!

Naturally I had too much cheap booze and then discovered Sigoth also weaving unsteadily along the hallway to the kitchen. We sat down and started talking, mainly about John Lennon and life, the universe and everything. To be honest I can’t really remember what we talked about (apart from John Lennon, because that was all anyone talked about that evening) but it was deep and meaningful because we were tipsy. We spent the night together, and in the morning Sigoth found my guitar in the corner and started to play Beatles songs on it. He knew loads of them; he even sang me “Dear Prudence” but substituted my name instead. It was gloriously romantic for a shy, innocent 18 year old. (That was me, in case you are wondering.)

And ever since, to tie in with KOBAF’s contest, because apparently there are rules and stuff, he has had all my loving: when we were apart during university vacations; when we each went off to gatherings and trips without the other; when work or illness or external crises separated us; and every day we wake up together too.

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

I’ll pretend that I’m kissing
The lips I am missing
And hope that my dreams will come true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

All my loving I will send to you
All my loving, darling I’ll be true

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you

All my loving I will send to you
All my loving, darling I’ll be true
All my loving, all my loving ooh
All my loving I will send to you,

Every day I am grateful for my luck.

Namaste

the-princess-bride

twue wuv

Pearly King and Queen

There is a Cockney tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens. You can look it up through a search engine or on-line ‘pedia of your choice. My granny used to tell me all about them when I was small.

Well, on 1 October 2013 Sigoth and I will be a Pearly King and Queen, albeit not of a Cockney variety, and we will be in Copenhagen, not London, for we are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary by spending a few days in the land of top-notch knitwear and construction toys.

Hopefully if I have sorted out the scheduler you will be able to wish us “skål!” on the day itself (subject to the rotation of the earth and your own regularity with WordPress reader or whatever you use). To which we reply “thanks, my dears, and cheers to you too!”.

I met Sigoth at university in Freshers’ Week. I thought he was rather sweet and we used to cross paths every Wednesday evening as we both dashed out of the labs where we were doing practicals to rush for the bus back to Hall. Different labs, different Hall, but same general timing and direction, and friends in common.

Then there came the inevitable Christmas party, the day John Lennon was shot, and so we became an item. Cautiously at first, then more confidently, we grew into each other’s ways and have never yet grown out of them.

We got engaged on the night of one of the university Balls, in February 1982. We only told one friend in advance, confident she would have the news around the rest of the university before we had had our first dance. Imagine our horror next day when we wandered into the bar to meet up with the usual suspects for lunch and no one knew a thing! For the only time in her life she had decided it was a secret and told no one, so we had to broach the news ourselves, with great embarrassment.

The wedding was a home-made affair. The night before the great event my friends came over and we made sandwiches. Another friend made the cake for us, having practised the icing pattern on her mother’s Christmas cake, and it was beautiful. My mother’s friend, Aunty Sheila, did the flowers having taken a flower-arranging course.

On the day itself it was cool and a bit wet. I left the house in my best friend’s father’s car, with my Dad, windscreen wipers going, and worrying about the dress. It was my mother’s wedding dress, which we had cleaned and spruced up, and it looked fine although something happened to the hem in the cleaning process so it was a bit crooked. No one cared.

The rain stopped by the time we arrived at the meeting house, and during the meeting for worship a blackbird sang its heart out in the garden. As Quaker weddings were quite unusual we had a lot of Friends join us, almost all of whom we had never met, but they filled out the room and contributed their worshipful silence.

Meeting house where we married

The wedding vow for Quakers in Britain is a simple one:

Friends, I take this my friend Sigoth to be my husband, promising through divine assistance to be unto him a loving and faithful wife so long as we both on earth shall live.

Sigoth said the same thing, with appropriate amendments for name and relationship. After that we signed stuff and had cake and drank juice and took photos. In a Quaker wedding all those present sign a certificate, which contains the time/date/place and promises we make to each other, and may be either a poster sized document or a booklet (ours was the poster version, and is framed in the hallway). Then Sigoth and I went away to Germany while everyone else went to the pub.

We were young and a little insane. We had no money or jobs – it was 1983, so no one had jobs – but we decided to start a family straight away. Offspring #1 arrived 6 weeks before our first wedding anniversary.

The bare bones are not so interesting really. What makes it special is that my stomach still gives a lurch when I see Sigoth. My heart still beats a little faster while he sleeps beside me, and I feel the warmth of his breath and the beat of his heart. Every day he is there for me and will be so long as both on earth shall live.

I wish you happiness and joy in your relationships, whatever shape or form they take.

Namaste.

 

Which side of the fence are you on?

Rarasaur posts her Prompts for the Promptless on a weekly basis, but as I operate in a different space-time continuum I may appear to be out of step. It’s a challenge for those of us who choose to interact with you Earthlings.

Anyway, the other week the prompt was about the Litmus test.

The Litmus Test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive.  In other words, it’s a single question test, not necessarily related to the information that is gleaned from the test.

I knew what I wanted to write for this but then life got all inconvenient and it didn’t seem right. This morning the sun is shining and the birds are shouting and I have a spare hour, so I am throwing caution to the wind and writing what I wanted to write regardless of consequences.

The reason for the hesitation, my dears, is that my Litmus Test is Margaret Thatcher.

I left university in 1983 to unemployment, riots, IRA bombings, the miners’ strike and all kinds of social ugliness which I blamed on the government’s policies.  Indeed, they must take responsibility for much of it, although ugliness can only come from within. The provocation was extreme and we were all pretty ugly back then, whichever side of the fence we were on. I don’t think anyone was on the fence. It was a very polarised time.

I had a friend who was suffering from extremely serious depression and was suicidal. She had a few attempts to kill herself, which were clearly of the kind where she was asking for help. Her friends did their best, but the health services were in such disarray that they basically put plasters over here wrists and sent her home again. Three times. Finally she went around visiting each ofus to tell us how she appreciated us and we hoped she was turning a corner. Then she jumped off a multi-story car park and died.

I blamed Margaret Thatcher.

For years I planned to celebrate when she died in turn. I judged people by whether their view of her was that she was a decisive leader who made difficult decisions, or whether she was a divisive figure who split society in two when we needed to pull together, took us into war and taught a generation to worship money and consumerism over love and hope. You will have worked out, I am sure, which I think.

Then the inconvenient woman died, just as my post was starting to coalesce in my brain. Honestly, Maggie, give me a break!

I was surprised how uninterested I felt. The woman herself has been irrelevant for some years, and I feel a little sorry for her having seen her being manipulated in her turn by wolfish politicians trying to boost their own public approval ratings.

What I have realised is that it’s the Idea of Margaret that lives on, regardless of her particular tenure in this world. She left a legacy: and so she remains my personal litmus test, slightly amended, to how a person’s view of her and her ideology.

She remains my litmus test because she was divisive. You couldn’t be ambivalent about her policies or attitudes or achievements. You have to come down one side or the other. Whatever the subject, if unsure of how to respond, you can ask yourself “what would that bloody woman say?” and it will tell you which way to go.

Her behaviour, attitudes and actions made me sad, they made me angry and they made me choose.

Namaste.

Operation

I finally received an appointment for the second cataract operation.

Previously on ElectronicBagLady’s Blog….In case you don’t recall, or missed the first one, I am between operations to replace the lenses in my eyes. I don’t have fully formed cataracts yet, but I am myopic (“pathological myopia”, they told me) to an extreme level, so much so that the optician can no longer correct the problem fully. So they are giving me new plastic lenses in the eyes which should correct the vision and also prevent the further development of cataracts (they are beginning to form). The first operation in October was very successful but in the interim I have been suffering headaches and vertigo and nausea from having one eye very slightly long sighted, and the other so short sighted it’s almost looking behind me. And now the story continues…

There was a great deal of fuss involved in sorting out how to get to and from the hospital (not that easy from where I live), arranging the pre-op assessment (again a whole day to get there and back for a five minute MRSA swab – annoying but necessary) and many colleagues to calm down because it will be a week before Project Go Live and about 24 hours after I sign off Go Live, assuming that I do, in fact, sign off Go Live.

Well, that was all gobbledegook, wasn’t it? In English then, I will be going in for an operation at a Very Awkward Moment for everyone at work. However, being a Project Manager of some competence, I had recorded the possibility in the Risk Log and we all had agreed what to do if it happened (which is what a risk is). So there was no excuse when I held everyone to account, looked them in the eye down the phone line and said, “So you know what to do, right?”

Bless their hearts, they did. After the initial shock everyone admitted they might be able to manage, which soothed my ego nicely. I am sure they are cheering really because I have been so neurotic over the last few weeks they will be glad to get rid of me. The other item in our favour was that we finally signed off the documentation yesterday, by which I mean the planning documents, policies, joint procedures and so on, and have more or less finished running the Disaster Scenario tests.

Oh my dears, I will be so pleased to have this operation over. I hope the second eye will be as successful as the first (although it’s a different surgeon so I am a little nervous). They had said the wait would be 6-10 weeks, and that was a few months ago. God bless the NHS and all who sail in her, but they are lousy at timing, although in this case it has worked out better for my work life, even if it has meant a period of nausea and vertigo which was longer than hoped.

I don’t really have much to say tonight; I just wanted to share with you about the operation, and to say I am not sure if I will be able to see well enough to post for a while. If I do, I pray you will indulge the many typing errors (as opposed to the hopefully lower number that slip through during normal service).

I can’t touch-type. I wish I could now, but when I was more nimble pf brain and finger, my school took the attitude that we girls should not learn to type because that was what less academic girls did in order to become typists. We were destined to do greater things, attend university and marry well so we could entertain our husband’s business colleagues amusingly and intelligently. That was why girls went to university, don’cha know?

It didn’t work out. I fear I have let Sigoth down terribly. I am most ashamed. If he ever brought captains of industry home for supper, I shudder to think what would happen. Much would depend on their conversational ability, and the level of casual –ism of choice (racism, sexism, homophobia, which is an –ism really, or their position on hanging, which will have some –isms attached somewhere, probably by a reef knot).

On the other hand, if I bring home strays from work, as I used to do back in the day when we didn’t live in Ultima Thule, Sigoth can whip up demon veggie lasagne and we have a right good laugh. Even that time I invited my boss, we forgot he was coming and ate everything before he arrived. He enjoyed his Indian takeaway very much though so I think we got away with it.

Namaste.

Unique

We are all special, each in our own way. Some of us make the world a better place and some of us just cope with getting by. A handful of people contribute a net disbenefit, so to speak, but I am firm in my conviction that they are the tiny minority, even if they do occasionally seem to make the most noise.

Today there was some discussion of the child within, the unique person who can be seen emerging from the infant and growing into the adult, and latterly peeping out from the eyes of the elderly through their force of personality. We continue to feel much the same on the inside while our bodies start to ache and our brains become increasingly puzzled by the latest mobile phones.

My friend went on to propose that how we treat our children, by which she meant how society, as well as the actual parents or carers, treats its children, will create a secure child who feels loved or an insecure one who grows up with problems. I felt she was right. My own upbringing, while far from tragic, was also far from ideal and I am very insecure. The resulting chronic depression I live with is evidence in favour of my friend’s argument.

However, I decided to avoid that particular old chestnut today, and focus on the wonder that is a human being. This is probably because I watched my Cirque du Soleil DVD last night and am still in awe of what some people are able to persuade the body to accomplish. On the other hand I can touch my toes, so all is not lost.

Naturally, I cast my mind back to my youth in the green days of the last century. One text book I studied on Child Development had a poem by Aldous Huxley, which bizarrely I read the once and instantly memorised. My brain used to do that back then, just remember things for fun without me even asking it to do so.

“A million million spermatozoa,

All of them alive:

Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah

Dare hope to survive.

And among that billion minus one

Might have chanced to be

Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne –

But the One was Me.”

The Fifth Philosopher’s Song

There is a final response verse which is less uplifting, but don’t worry about that here. The point is the same: we are each unique. Some of us (not you, obviously) may be uniquely appalling, but most of us aren’t. My tutor in Child Development would make that point, adding “Children grow up to function well in society, usually despite their parents rather than because of them.”

So here I am, and possibly here are you, and here are all the rest of us, getting by, each in our own way. We cannot mourn the possibilities that never were, but can only make best use of the ones we have. Where individually we have weaknesses, together we have strength.

Who needs another Shakespeare anyway? As he said himself, you can have too much of a good thing:

“If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.”

Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1

Namaste

 

Smiles

I am sure you all know last night was Burns Night. I had had a long day of talking (back-to-back telecons from 9-5, no breaks more than 15 minutes) and so had run out of wards in any form. Instead, Sigoth cooked me haggis of the vegetarian variety (which is haggis reared only on heather and honey, and not fed any meat products; they are very sweet and tender but tend to be a little smaller than their meat-eating cousins) and we spent a gloriously companionable evening not talking, but watching DVDs and celebrating the bard by drinking Talisker.

Oh, I do enjoy single malts. Not very frequently and not much at a time, but when I have them I enjoy them. Recently there was a Whisky Fair in York, and Sigoth and I treated ourselves to a couple of bottles: 10 year Talisker and The English Whisky Company. I like peaty malts, which are supposed to be the boys’ drink. Us lay-dees are supposed to like the lighter whiskies, such as Jura. Don’t get me wrong – Jura is a fine beverage, and there are occasions when it is just the ticket. On the whole though, I like ‘em dark and smoky.

The Whisky Fair was great fun, and a little demanding as it was an afternoon event, which meant you really had to manage how many tasters you were prepared to take before your legs gave way. We agreed no more than four (they were not full drams!) and probably only three. So we went all the way round and chose the three we were most interested in. When in doubt, we asked for the flavour range to make sure we chose the right kind.

A-Guide-to-Whisky-Flavours

The people running the different stalls really knew their whiskies, my goodness, they did. But they were keen to tell you about them, rather than acting all snooty and stuck up about it. The best thing was learning how to drink the whisky to bring out the flavour. The English Whisky, for example, required an inhalation through the nose while the Talisker was more back of the throat.

This introduced me to the Talisker Smile. It’s an automatic reaction when you breathe in, as the peppery flavours  flood your taste buds, and the different accents begin to come through. You beam and a feeling of goodwill gusts through your system like the Breath of God (or is it just me?).

When I was a bright young thing, back on the dawn of time, one my lecturers at university told us about “transcendent moments”. It was probably to do with Jung, I can’t quite remember now. He described the feeling, and told us how he would experience it occasionally when sitting in front of the fire listening to Mozart and drinking a good single malt. The world just slips into place, like the final piece of a jigsaw, or flower in a perfect bouquet, and suddenly everything is right and at peace and as it should be. It may only last a moment, but it’s a vision of heaven.

Well, it may be that Jung was a whisky man too. I don’t know, but it certainly seems to help. It’s not the only way to experience a transcendent moment, but it is one. It might be the smell of cut grass under a bright blue sky; the gurgle of a baby you cradle in your arms; or the opening frames of Star Wars (the proper one, not the new ones) scrolling up the screen as the music plays. All of those have triggered my transcendent moments.

What are yours?

Namaste.

Lofty Ambition

I had a plan, as I have mentioned before, about how to spend my time rather than old-fogeying in front of the television. On the whole it has gone well this week, and I have been able to dig out my calligraphy books and write the alphabet badly with terrible pens.

I don’t rush things, you know. I was first introduced to the wonders of lettering very many years ago, back in the dawn of time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. They were terrible at calligraphy though; they just couldn’t hold the pen or brush in their stubby little fingers or beaks, and that was why mammals were invented. Opposable thumbs are apparently a Good Idea if you want to do nice writing (although I completely acknowledge that there will be artists out there who can do better with some of their toes than I can with all my fingers).

The great revelation about the writing-pretty happened at a creative workshop event back in 1991. That year I bought paper and pens and inks and did indeed practise the art and craft of writing very slowly, but carefully and mindfully, in wonky celtic script. The concentration required to produce even a wobbly line of text, to make it fit and to invest the care and attention it deserved, was completely absorbing and peaceful. Then I had 4th Offspring and started a Masters.

I always meant to go back to it and do some more. I meant if seriously and faithfully and nobly. It just never happened. Until this week.

The Plan, though, marches on apace and declares that this weekend I am going to work on Da Novel, get out and take some pictures, practise my classical guitar and revise my Anglo-Saxon. The Plan is full throttle, all-out mayhem, if followed slavishly, allowing no time for living, getting groceries, doing laundry or tidying up, and I think I meant only to do two of the four, depending on circumstances. So far, it is almost time to make dinner and I have achieved none of them.

It’s time to regroup. The reason for achieving none of those things is that, as well as the Plan, I also have a Project. Sigoth and I are now embarked on decorating the guest bedroom. We only got a guest bedroom last year when Youngest Offspring went to university. He and his brother still share it when they are home, for example at Christmas. We can only work on it during term times. So last weekend Sigoth and I sat down and devised a Project Plan.

Obviously I am the Project Manager; it’s my real job too, so I brook no argument. With great certification comes great responsibility. I have done a resource calculation, and estimated the time required for tasks. I am even going Agile on this baby and have time-boxed everything. This is because our last project evaluation revealed that the slippage was due to spending longer than planned (or needed, in truth) on some tasks. So we have learned and I have scheduled accordingly, as well as giving the team a pep talk.

As Project Officer, Sigoth is currently clearing out the loft.

Wait a moment, EBL! The loft? Didn’t you say you were decorating the bedroom?

Thanks for paying attention! Allow me to elucidate.

Have you heard that rhyme about the battle and the horse and the nail? You know, “for want of a nail, the shoe was lost” and so on. Go on, you know the one I mean.

Anything we try to do in EBL Towers turns out like that. In order to decorate the room we have to clear it, or at least have space to shift furniture about a bit. In order to make space we have to take out the boxes we put there while we decorated our bedroom before Christmas. That means we have to sort them out and decide what is going into the loft or to the dump. So we need to clear space in the loft for the things we want to store up there. Honestly, the painting bit is the really quick bit at the end.

I have to confess: Sigoth and I are hoarders. We have so much junk which we kept because it might come in handy. Or it used to belong to someone, like my dad, or Sigoth’s grandpa, and we don’t want to part with it. Or the Offspringses might conceivably want it one day. Or the putative grandchildren. Or it ought to be worth something on eBay. Or I’ll need it if I throw it out (this last is occasionally even true). Need I go on?

We kept our textbooks from university in case we had children who would find them useful. We graduated in 1983. One Offspring did indeed study one of my subjects. Unfortunately my textbooks were so out of date they were completely useless. They are still in the loft though. Just in case.

So last year we committed to the creed of William Morris and agreed to keep things only if they were useful or beautiful. It was a mighty change of heart, and we stumble often. But lofty ambition is what makes us human, and so we keep on trying. The text books will soon be gone. I might photograph them before taking them to the dump; it helps ease the pain. Declutter we must and we have set ourselves to learn the rules and by working hard we hope to pass the test.

What we have learned is the new-found delight of letting go. The all-new bedroom we now sleep in has space and light and only beautiful or useful things. The bed is useful, the blanket I knitted is both useful and beautiful. The pictures are pretty. The floor is clear. It takes no more than 10 minutes to clean, instead of over an hour. Every morning I wake up and fall in love with it again.

Letting go. It’s such an important lesson, but as said before, EBL is not fast. She is the tortoise, but the tortoise moves. Each day she moves closer to her goal, even if the route is circuitous and the goal also moves. Her ambition remains unwavering.

Each little success, each item taken to the charity shop or recycled at the dump or given to one who finds it useful and/or beautiful; each of these instances brings us both a little injection of peace. It is easy to learn a lesson that fits what we already think and do; learning to change is the hard part. Sigoth and I continue to learn, every day.

Namaste

Old fogeys

Sigoth and I turn into a couple of old fogeys some nights, when it is dark and cold, and the wolves are howling in the hinterland. To distract us from the fear of Grendel coming to call, or worse, his mother, we turn to the bright, shiny presence in the corner, and watch TV.

I have a plan for spending my time at the moment which is going well. At least, I thought it up yesterday on the train home and managed to do some of it last night. So it’s going quite well, by my standards anyway. The plan for how EBL Spends Her Time is to avoid watching the bright-shiny-presence-in-the-corner all evening and then kick myself for failing to solve world poverty, finish my knitting or some such frippery. It finally guides me as to which hobby to pursue most evenings of the week, and is designed to be manageable when away from home, as I often am; it allows me evenings off, because I know that there are other things that will get in the way such as School Governors, or even, Heaven forfend, social interaction.

Meanwhile, the other night the wolves were loud and we turned to the television for comfort. It was a Top of the Pops Special for 1978.

Ah, 1978, that heady year! My dears, I remember it well. I was 16, completed my O-Levels and went on a couple of great trips to Germany and to the Baltic. I saw drop-dead gorgeous Swedish boys, fjords, the Tsar’s Winter Palace and the Little Mermaid. The sun shone, the birds sang and I got good enough grades to study A-Levels that September. I wasn’t allowed to take Latin, despite getting an A, even though I wanted to do Classics at university; so I rebelled, dropped History and took Maths instead, along with English, French and German. That showed them.

I remember the careers advice I got too. Our careers teacher was the chief French teacher, a fearsome spinster, with an interesting approach to pedagogy; in brief she wasn’t happy unless she had at least half the class in tears by the time of the first bell. She only managed it with me once, and that was a day she had the entire A-level class fountaining en masse because we failed to translate her reading of a JB Priestley novel in English into French on the fly. Indeed, we were veritable scum.

I entered the careers room, a dingy attic space full of dusty books and broken audio-visual equipment, keen to discuss courses, and options and the advisability of working immediately vs studying for 3 years. No one in my family had ever been to university and no one in my family, apart from me, could think why anyone would bother.

“What are you reading with French at university?” she asked.

“I’m not reading French,” I said.

She ignored me and continued to talk about careers for language graduates. It was fairly pithy stuff.

“You could get a job as a translator in Brussels with the Common Market. You can’t be an air hostess; you’re too fat.”

She was right. So I rebelled again. At least she settled the question of whether I was going to university at all. I was going and not reading French. Oh yes.

She glared, and assumed I was reading German instead. She and the German teacher were sworn enemies. It was worse than Paris in 1940. When she found out I wasn’t even reading a language she sent me away, unadvised but resolute.

School, eh? Worst time of my life. As Evelyn Waugh says in Decline and Fall:

Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.

That was 1978 for me, a topsy-turvy time, making life-changing decisions in the midst of hormonal fire-storms and the strenuous opposition of teachers and family. It was a bit lonely and a bit exciting and it was the year I made some good friends.

Back to the TV in the corner though. Sigoth and I watched amazed as our youth was exposed for examination from the distant perspective of middle age and parental experience.

The music – quite extraordinary! I hadn’t quite realised. There was everything from old glam rockers to punk, Mannfred Mann to Sham 69, Abba to Kate Bush, Brian & Michael to Althia & Donna: pretty much you name it, it was there. I remember thinking at the time that I hoped disco would go away soon, and that this new-fangled punk was pretty good if hard work to dance to (we had to pogo, it was utterly exhausting!).

For me the highlight of the programme was The Boomtown Rats. Bob Geldof in his youth, New Waving across the decades at me with “Rat Trap”. Absolutely fantastic. And is it just me, or does it make you think of “Dirty Old Town”, just a little bit?

Two years later I met Sigoth. We fell in love. We were kids. I realised it for the first time seeing that. Who knew?

Now we are older and greyer and more in love, and I hope always will be. Somehow it seems appropriate, in memory of that dreadful teacher, to quote Ronsard:

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant :
Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j’estois belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille resveillant,
Benissant vostre nom de louange immortelle.

Je seray sous la terre et fantaume sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendray mon repos :
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd’huy les roses de la vie.

Ronsard was a bit of an ass, but I do like the poem.

Namaste.

Leaving the nest

So the kids are getting ready for the new university year. Two at once this time, with the youngest into VI Form. How very ancient I feel.

I remember the terrible stress and anticipation of leaving home for the first time, of getting away from the suddenly incredibly suffocating place I was in to discover a whole new life in a brand new place. Shiny and exciting, thrilling and exhausting. Keeping a smile fixed on all the time and meeting more people in one week than in my whole lifetime before that point.

So when I left home I went to university, the first person in my family ever to do so, and one of a small number of people privileged to do so. The university I went to was Leeds and it was 1980. Within a short space of time a female student was murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper and we were all living in a strange land indeed.

The young man I was going out with at the time claimed he found the body of Jackie Hill, the Ripper’s last victim. It was incredibly close and immediate, just along the road from where a number of my friends lived. I walked past the place whenever I went to see them, usually to watch Brideshead Revisited as they had a TV.

Suddenly we were surrounded by journalists, identifiable by their willingness to be out at night alone and ready cash for drinks. Even the boys were nervous. We girls all arranged to travel in groups, or to use a taxi. The taxi drivers were incredibly kind, never driving away until we were in the front door.

When Peter Sutcliffe was caught suddenly the world lost interest in us. It was like all the kindness and care vanished; it was still not always safe  for female students to travel alone at night but now no one was so keen to help and providing transport was seen as a luxury.

So I wave my children off to university hoping they will have fun and meet amazing new friends, and that they will be safe. They feel the narrow confines of their old lives, but who knows what the future will bring?