Santa made me cry

Saturday night in front of the telly and my evening’s viewing was disrupted by a noise outside. I put my glass of wine down carefully and tweaked back the curtain. It was the Lions’ Christmas float, cautiously inching past the cars on the bend in the lane and blaring out carols while people in high-vis vests ran about with buckets to collect money. There were lights and music and cheery greetings, and goodness me, there was Father Christmas, taking time out from his busy schedule to parade through our hamlet. The elves must have everything under control back at base while the wily old gent scouts out the terrain ahead of the Big Night. Mind you, the elves are pretty experienced and the wily old gent has been doing the rounds on floats for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes he sub-contracted.

If you are a big devotee of Father Christmas and write him imploring letters every year, do not read further. It may be distressing. If you are not sure what to do, check with your mum or dad and take their advice.

Meanwhile, all I can tell you is one of the sub-contractors was my own dear papa, and in fact this is why as a child I never believed in Father Christmas (although I do believe, perhaps more foolishly and childishly, in peace on earth and that Christmas tree smell; my eyes are still full of tinsel and fire).

Rotary Float in 1967

My Dad was the local Rotary Club’s Santa. His costume would be hanging up to dry in the kitchen throughout December and I knew that Dad was all there was (it was more than enough) and other kids were deluded. I didn’t tell anyone though; it would have been unkind.

So he would go out on the float at night, and when I was a little older I was allowed to go too and help with the collections. I always got a good haul because people were sentimental about a small child lisping her way through the spiel about raising money for the poor and elderly of the locality. It also meant I got to go on the annual coach trip to the seaside with the old dears, who spoilt me thoroughly with toffees and boiled sweets.

me as santaI even wore the costume on Christmas Day to hand out the presents.

It might help to explain what happened when I saw the float on Saturday if I tell you a bit about my week, or rather my Thursday. Recently the nurses found that my mother’s blood tests were indicating a lack of iron. As she has a good and varied diet the doctor decided she was bleeding internally, although he didn’t know why. She seemed well and was eating and drinking without problems. So we stopped her anti-coagulants, which would be exacerbating any bleed, and waited a bit. Her blood results have been improving steadily so she is no longer bleeding. Excellent news.

Except she is no longer taking her anti-coagulants, which means she is at increased risk of stroke and as she has vascular dementia, at increased risk of more vascular incidents which will further melt her brain.

The doctor and I talked it all through on Thursday. The bleed may have been a temporary problem highlighted by the anti-coagulants thinning her blood; it may be caused by some disease of the bowel; or it may be bowel cancer.  To find out would require difficult, uncomfortable and potentially inconclusive investigations, which she would find inexplicable and terrifying because she can’t understand what is going on. Even if they found the cause, which is not guaranteed, we would then be faced with a decision around whether she is strong enough to take any treatment, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. She isn’t, and even if she were, the trauma could be either damaging or fatal by stressing her too far.

So I decided we would let her alone. We’ll restart the anti-coagulants when her blood tests indicate she is back to normal, hoping she doesn’t have a stroke or vascular incident in the meantime (it should only be a couple of weeks). If her blood tests then get worse again, we will have to decide whether to risk stopping them or not.

So it had been a stressful Thursday.

There I was 48 hours later looking at a Christmas float pass by and waving to Santa, who waved back and boomed out a “Merry Christmas!” and I fell apart at the gate, in the dark and cold, where no one could see.

Because last year my mother saw the float and we remembered how Dad used to be Santa. She cannot now.

Because I wanted my dad here to help me. He cannot now.

Because whatever the blood tests tell us, nothing will be good or beautiful or gentle. Yet I must choose.

So I cried silent self-pity in the dark and cold where no one could see, then wiped my eyes and went back into the warm house and sat with Sigoth by the fire.

Because I have joy as well as sadness.

On Joy & Sorrow

Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Namaste.

The grown-ups speak again

I recently shared with you some of my family’s verbal peculiarities in the form of odd sayings that became part of the very fabric of life. Since then of course my brain has been bombarded by other sayings jostling for attention and asking me why I hadn’t picked them and saying it wasn’t fair and slamming doors. Some of the sayings have had to go to their rooms and think about what they did until they are ready to apologise. I explained to them they were letting the family down, they were letting me down, but worst of all, they were letting themselves down, somewhat like the inflatable child with the sharp pin. But that’s another story.

Time for more sayings I think. On the whole this batch of child-terrorising phrases probably helps to explain the damaged psyche that is EBL today. Allons-y!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/3670504.stm

Don’t pull that face or the wind may change

Grizzly toddlers everywhere are subjected to this kind of verbal and psychological abuse. They are threatened with the prospect of a deformed and ugly face just when they most need a hug. Well, that’s the way it can sometimes seem.

I do remember that I was occasionally interested to see what kind of face I could mould, but never managed to keep it long enough to set, no matter how long I stood in the garden like a determined miniature gargoyle, chin thrust defiantly into the prevailing breeze. As a result I quickly uncovered the duplicity of this particular piece of adult intimidation, and also learned the implicit message that no one loves you if you are not pretty.

EBL is many things but you could not accuse her of prettiness.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-beard-sailor-image29213076

Enough blue to make a sailor a pair of trousers

Another top saying from my grandmother, this particular phrase was utilised to acknowledge breaks in the cloud cover of England when bits of blue sky could peep through and make the end of winter seem a viable proposition. I don’t think it was intended to convey anything more than appreciation for a bit of decent weather, something of great significance in our soggy isles. At least, I never understood it to mean more. Who knows with grandmothers?

I never quite understood why sailors got the nice blue sky for garments, but it sounded pretty darn cool.

http://1hdwallpapers.com/amazing_stormy_sky-wallpaper.html

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a bit black over our Bill’s mother’s

Conversely my mother used this one when the sky was getting ominous with dark cloud and rain looked like it was on the way. And by rain I mean the proper stuff, not a puerile drizzle or heavy Scotch mist, but real, honest-to-deity-of-your-choice solid coat-soaking feet-squelching shoe-drenching hair-dripping pocket-filling neck-freezing rain.  The kind that, to coin another phrase, comes down in rods, possibly with cats and/or dogs implicated. Real English rain. It can go on for weeks like that. The phrase was employed with a certain degree of relish, as without such calamities we English have nothing to talk about and conversation while waiting at the bus stop can be terribly stilted.

Of course, I knew that one of my not-really-an-aunty Aunties had an attachment called Uncle Bill, and as our house looked out across a field to more houses I was convinced for years that his dear old mum lived in one of them. But we never visited. Probably because the wind had changed.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/brian-lee-recalls-unusual-traditions-5811698

It’s not the cough that carried him off, but the coffin they carried him off in

This one was one of my Dad’s, and he would trot it out whenever his delicate little flower was hacking her lungs out with that lovely catarrh-ridden, phlegmy liquidy noise only available to single-digit-aged children or heavy smokers; not mutually exclusive categories of course, especially in those days when as a six year old I could run an errand to the corner shop for my mother to get a pack of 20 John Player’s No. 6. You couldn’t do that now. It’s health and safety gone mad, I tell you.

So I’d cough up, my Dad would chirp up, and I’d be traumatised with thoughts of death until the cold cleared up, about three years later on average.

bedtime

Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and down Sheet Lane

Ah, the cosiness at the end of the day, that put right many of the preceding traumas. Bath done, teeth brushed, nightie donned, it was time to say goodnight and go to bed.

I didn’t go to sleep easily as a small child. When I was five I caught the measles and had three weeks off school because that was the quarantine period you had to go through. My grandmother was distraught as her own daughter had died at a similar age from measles and diphtheria. She sat up with me all night and every night and scared me half to death as a result, because clearly I was very ill, despite feeling quite feisty and rather bored because I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends.

After that was all over she stopped, but by then I couldn’t get to sleep on my own so my poor father had to sit with me every night until I nodded off. Usually he went first and started snoring very loudly, so I would climb over him and go downstairs to get my mother to come and wake him up again.

reading in bed

If possible I preferred to read in bed instead.

What bad stories did your parents use to try and pull the wool over your eyes?

Namaste

Half a century of inspiration

I know, I know, serious minded individuals have been poring over the meaning and legacy of the Kennedy assassination for days and weeks. It was important I am sure. I was a toddler, so I don’t remember; it’s all history to me and to be honest I find the impact of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand more distressing. It may be sacrilege but I suspect the Sixties would have panned out pretty much the same regardless of JFK.

Forgive my vacuous frivolity but I was more interested in a different 50th anniversary this weekend. The Doctor’s. Again, I missed the initial broadcasts, for the same reason as the Kennedy event, and didn’t really watch until Patrick Troughton had appeared. Even then it was tricky because my mother was determined it was unsuitable and turned it off if she could. My best hope was that she was making tea while she thought I was still watching Basil Brush. So it wasn’t until Jon Pertwee that I really was able to establish a regular liaison with that most British of heroes (and most heroic of Brits – albeit with dual Gallifreyan nationality).

If you don’t like Dr Who, I suggest you go and do something else because this post is unashamedly a fangirl production.

And yet I will try to leaven it with some pop psychology, in the time-honoured tradition of the amateur blogeuse, because otherwise I could simply reduce this post to tweeting “OMG! LOOOVE DR WHO! #savethday”, which is barely comprehensible even to me, and I wrote it. Already I can see John Hurt quirking an eyebrow and stirring impatiently in his War Doctor persona.

So, what’s the pop psychology then, EBL? Get it off your chest, love.

I’m glad you asked! It’s about Inspiration.

The reason I am talking about inspiration is that yesterday was not only the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, but also our local Quaker Area Meeting (a geographical cluster of local Quaker groups). Obviously it pales by comparison, but Sigoth and I attended for the day because (a) it had an important item to consider on the agenda, and (b) we knew it would be over in good time for Doctor Who in the evening. I hesitate to suggest that in a tussle between Area Meeting and the good Doctor, Area Meeting may have come second. It’s hypothetical. Nevertheless I think I know which way it would have gone.

The important thing in the meeting was about increasing the number of people in our local meetings who also take part in the Area Meeting and take on various jobs and responsibilities. It’s not a new problem either for Quakers or other church groups. Things are kept running by tireless volunteers who are predominantly elderly and frail, and whose numbers inevitably are decreasing without the next generation taking up the strain.

Essentially we discussed the purpose of the Area Meeting and as a starting point took away the idea that it is there to nurture our spiritual life of our members. It was exciting to be part of the mighty Quaker Business Method in action. I’m sure you can google for more information (or read about it at the Quaker website here); this is not a public service broadcast for Quakerism. As I said, it’s actually about Doctor Who. Nevertheless, when rightly held Quaker business blossoms before your eyes, it is a bona fide miracle. It is, to me, inspiring.

So, feeling inspired I went home to watch the TV, and reflected that it had been a good week for inspiration. There had been a WhoFest of mega-proportions, and Sigoth and I revelled in every lovely second. Our people have risen and had their say. Most impressively there was a whole Culture Show dedicated to looking at Dr Who as a cultural phenomenon. The presenter, Matthew Sweet, interviewed important people about why it was all so significant, with serious music and references. But the bit that struck me was when he was speaking about a time he and his friend were about to be beaten up by school bullies and he shouted out Patrick Troughton’s catchphrase of “When I say run, run, …. RUN!”, and off they dashed to safety. The Doctor gave him permission to run away and deal with the problem differently. I know this sounds a little anti-climactic, but I think for a child to know it’s OK to run away when confronted by overwhelming odds, rather than either getting beaten up or feeling a coward, is actually positive. Boys in particular need to know there are alternatives to knocking seven bells out of each other.

Doctor Who had a profound impact on his young and impressionable fans, dealing with difficult situations in creative and predominantly peaceful ways. Although to be fair he was also fond of Venusian Aikido and blowing up Daleks, preferably in large numbers.

In the 50th anniversary episode there is a key scene (if you haven’t seen it yet look away now – spoilers, darlings, spoilers) where Clara reminds of the Doctors present of why those chose to take on the name and role of the Doctor.

Clara: You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise?

Tenth Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly.

War Doctor: Never give up, never give in.

But the Doctor has been inspiring children with more than running away for far longer. When I was a a mere Electronic Bag Bairn, this is what my Doctor, the Third Doctor told us:

Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.

It was something I understood, and watched him live up to (albeit as a television story). I don’t always succeed in following his example, but I try my best. When I am nervous of speaking up or standing up or facing up to bad things, something like Jon Pertwee’s voice will often run through my head reminding me of the meaning of courage and give me a push. For such positive early influences on my life, I am grateful.

I also learned all my science from Star Trek, but no one’s perfect.

What influenced you as a child to make you who you are?

Namaste.

 

Talking like a grown up

Did you ever find, as a person of limited years and growth, that the Big Folk talked above your head (literally and metaphorically)? For those of you who have the luck to be parents, did you do that to your Offspringses? I can assure you that Sigoth and I employed such techniques on a regular basis. Life is complicated enough without having to try and explain it to children, especially when you can’t even explain it satisfactorily to yourself.

There are plenty of websites out there if you want to learn about the various differences between dialects in spoken English. In my part of the world there are also numerous books dedicated to trying to interpret Yorkshire dialect for foreigners, such as anyone from London.

In fact I once took a colleague from London to her hotel in York, where she was asked for her passport. She was quite discombobulated. “I’m only from London!” she wailed. The receptionist looked at her sceptically. “It’s true,” I confirmed, “and she’s going back tomorrow.” So they let her in anyway.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I wanted to talk about some of those odd phrases adults use when talking to each other. The kinds of phrases that, as a small child, tend to make you stop and say “Whaaat?” and scratch your head.

some feet on stairs

I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!

This phrase I had never experienced in the actual eardrum until sitting on the top of a double decker bus hurtling down a very steep road in Sheffield. It was in my green and growing youth when I was exploring various universities to decide on courses I might want to study. I was visiting Sheffield, had wandered rather far, and decided to catch a bus back to the railway station. Largely this was because I was lost and a bus with a destination of “Railway Station” seemed a rather neat solution; plus sitting up top meant I got a good view of the city as we travelled.

A couple of middle-aged women came up after me and sat down just behind me. They started chatting about something or other, involving a lot of “She said..so I said” and “Well I never!”. As we started down an especially steep hill, and I gripped the rail in front of me to keep firmly on my seat, as opposed to being pressed like a distressed mime act against the front window pane,  I was delighted to hear one of the women exclaim “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!”

“Foot of our stairs?” I thought to myself, clutching grimly to the rail, “it’ll be foot of the bloody hill in minute, without the bus!” However, miraculously we made it in one piece, and I found my way safely back to the sunny shires of southern England before midnight, with a richer appreciation of our island’s cultural tapestry.

The translation for anyone unsure is roughly “Goodness me, how very surprising!”

fur_coat_1910

All fur coat and no knickers

My mother used to use this to describe a woman who lived down our street. To be fair the woman in question, who was a very kind lady and free with the distribution of sweets and drinks of orange squash to local children, did often wear her fur coat, even in the summer. As a child I assumed this was because unfortunately she had no knickers and was therefore too cold and/or embarrassed to go out without her coat. I felt very sorry for her and wondered how she could afford the squash and sweets if she couldn’t afford knickers.

Later I learned it really meant she was perceived to be a woman of easy virtue. It certainly explained the variety of people you met coming and going from her house, given that grown men rarely enjoyed sweets and orange squash as devotedly as the rest of us.

goldwatch

Cough up chicken, it’ll be a gold watch next time!

When I was suffering a coughing fit, for whatever reason, my mother would say this.

As a child I was naturally concerned about the possibility. True, some coughs, induced by swallowing the wrong way, could make you feel like you were about to cough up a substantial part of your insides. On the other wrist, so to speak, the option of a gold watch was appealing. I got my first watch once I learned to tell the time in Miss Weatherill’s class (I must have been 5 or 6) so I was very keen on getting a shinier one to flash about in emphasis of my academic superiority. Sadly I have yet to achieve the feat of coughing up an actual gold watch, no matter how hard I hack my lungs. The phrase itself must be from her childhood as my mother still says it dutifully every time she coughs and splutters at us. Still, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

My family used strange phrases and sayings all the time, but the strangest was one I have never quite got to the bottom of. When I was a grizzly little toddler, having a particularly moany and whingey day, my grandmother would try and cajole me out of my soggy sullenness by saying:

Lcdr_badge

Cheer up for Chatham, Dover’s in sight!

The confusion this provoked was itself sufficient to stop the grizzling. I believe it may refer to an old railway line, the London, Chatham and Dover, but beyond that I can’t tell you any more I’m afraid. I wonder if there’s a connection with hop-picking…

dogsinboots

Even my dog wears boots!

Last but not least is a local nugget of wisdom. “Even my dog wears boots” is a legendary, and possibly apocryphal, response made by a builder who carried on working with a fractured ankle. When pressed to go to a doctor or A&E or somewhere of a medical nature because he had fractured his ankle, it is said that this was his answer. Apparently it is intended to indicate that the person in question is so hard that he will not be inconvenienced by such a triviality. That’s Yorkshire Grit, tha knaws. Aye.

Every family has their odd phrases and sayings: I’d love to know yours!

Later, alligators…

Namaste.

800px-AmericanAlligator

How long we live, how long we take to die

One of my hobbies is researching my family tree. I’ve been at it since I first saw some old sepia photos of forebears when I was a teenager and my Dad was looking for something in a cluttered bureau. For once he was willing to talk about his family history and I scribbled names on the back with a pencil in my flowery teen-girl handwriting.

My family came alive to me. The great-uncles who died in the Somme suddenly became faces of real (albeit antique) people, gazing solemnly into a camera. My own grandmother, wrinkled, toothless, crippled by arthritis, was a beautiful young woman in a lacy Victorian blouse. Her fiancée looked like a film star. My very serious uncle was a tiny baby kicking his feet as he lay on a rug. My Dad’s sister who died when she was seven, and whom my grandmother occasionally mistook me for, stood clutching a teenaged Great Aunt Lettie’s knee and looked like just like me.

Lettie with Alf and Winnie Tricker

In this way my family still lives on. I never really knew them. They are my inherited ghosts. But from then Armistice Day did have meaning.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them

So life goes on, and we all carry our ghosts with us, some more than others, some gladly, some sadly. Yet still they matter.

My dad died very suddenly on 26 September 1992. This week was the 21st anniversary of his death and my mother missed it more utterly than ever before. Even last year she was vaguely aware of it, and I was able to remind her so we had a few moments together remembering that kind and gentle man before her melted brain turned back to the weather as a topic of conversation. Dementia robs the person and their family of memories, including memories of those no longer with us.  In this way it exterminates the sufferer and their family line. There is a Maori concept of whakapapa which relates to the identity of a person as part of a cultural heritage, and I feel that remembering our predecessors is important to us in a similar way.

I remember my Dad. I have stories about him, some buried in this very blog, which I tell my children. He died the weekend I went home to visit and tell him about his latest grandchild, due to be born the following Spring, He was so happy with the news, but still he died a few hours later, after he got home from work and before my mother and I got back from a concert. It was unexpected.

Twenty one years is a long time. The grandchild is now at university. His wife is fading slowly and excruciatingly.  His only daughter is still misses him on a daily basis. It feels like he is in the next room, or about to phone. We were very close, and in a sense still are. He has been dying for twenty one years, in a sense, and will not completely pass away until I, and possibly the children, can no longer remember him.

What will become of more modern generations? How long will my blog be archived after I am no longer around updating it? I’ll be a wispy little ghost in the machineries of the Web. Every now and then my shade will whisper to you…

“Namaste.”

B4Peace: Music and the brain

Each month I try to contribute to the Bloggers for Peace topic, and this month we are asked to think about music.

Let me start with the death of a brain.

My mother has dementia. I have mentioned this before so some of you will be nodding along at this point, thinking, “Oh yes, that’s right, EBL’s mother is the one with dementia” and so on.

To be fair she is not as far gone yet as she will be, but further along than anyone would really like. This means she knows roughly where she is, who we are (although on her bad days it takes a moment or two), and how to do some knitting. She likes to look at the pictures in the newspaper and read out the headlines to whoever is there. She likes to read books, although several at a time because she can’t really follow the story and forgets which book she was reading last. She likes to have the TV on so there is light and movement in the room, and to have the light on the electric fire on, so it looks like coals are burning in a friendly, comforting way, even in the heat wave we have just had.

The other thing she likes to do I have also mentioned before; she likes to sing. She sings to herself throughout the day, usually “Que sera, sera” over and over. It was a favourite song of hers when I was little. When she is singing it I know she is feeling OK.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, I am led to understand, that a dementia sufferer who becomes distressed can be calmed and soothed by music. There is a growing body of research to indicate that music therapy may be helpful in overcoming the loss of language production and comprehension in advancing dementia. Google it – there are lots of studies out there.

According to one researcher:

‘We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.’

Music is with us throughout our lives and plays an important role in maintaining our mental health and well-being. It can reach the lizard brain, by-passing the logical bits that get in the way of feeling and experiencing the world. We hear a tune and we are absorbed, sometimes in a memory, sometimes in the joy of the moment.

The other week I watched the BBC Prom with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as well as his Coriolan Overture.

I like a bit of Prom on a Friday evening to finish off the week and settle down for the weekend.  I like Beethoven, in part because I grew up listening to a lot of it. My father loved Beethoven and played him frequently. I could identify the Symphonies before I knew who the Beatles were. I liked Beethoven because he was deaf but still wrote incredible symphonies.

My dad would have loved the modern world. He was a geek of the first water. He would have loved computers and digital TV and streaming radio and downloadable music and digital cameras and Netflix and Skype. He would have loved the Proms on BBC4 on Friday evening. We would have sat and watched them together in some kind of cosy family cocoon. We always watched Last Night of the Proms; it was the only time I was allowed to stay up late when I was little, and we both conducted furiously to the Sea Shanties and Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory. It was better than Eurovision.

So as I sat and watched the Prom the other week I felt a great sadness because there was Beethoven’s music and I wanted to turn to dad and ask what he thought of this conductor, Runnicles. Dad was a big fan of von Karajan until he discovered Barenboim; he was always open to new versions.

I felt such a sense of loss as I realised I couldn’t have that conversation, yet the music made my dad feel so close to me, twenty years after he died. I suspect he may have retained his allegiance to Barenboim, but he would have enjoyed the performance nonetheless, especially the Coriolan Overture.

Thinking about dad brought home to me why music is such a comfort for my mother. That effect of reaching into your heart and soul means it is connecting to pretty much the only thing left when dementia has taken away the superficial veneer of speech and rationality. In this way it brings her peace.

May music bring peace to you and those you love, wherever they find themselves.

Other blogs on music and peace include:

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/08/01/monthly-peace-challenge-one-good-thing-about-music/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/

http://mylittlespacebook.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/a-joyful-noise/

http://sarahneeve.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/august-b4peace-i-dedicate-to-my-dad/

http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/august-post-for-peace/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Namaste.

One with everything

My dears, last week I acted completely selfishly and took the opportunity of having a training course in London on a Friday to grab a weekend with a friend whom I had not seen for a while. I abandoned you all, but such is life. Now I’m back from melting in her garden over a jug of Pimms and sharing the latest of the highbrow jokes in The Independent.

From British Classic Comedy website

For example: A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says: “Make me one with everything”.

Boom, as Basil Brush would say, boom. The old ones are the best.

Possibly the heat melted more of my brain than I realised. It’s hotter than the Med for goodness’ sake. I blame the Government. Seriously, I do. If they had manned up and dealt with climate change we would be enjoying the usual drizzle and English hobby of muttering about the weather. Now we have to go around saying things like “Well, it was never this hot when I was young!” which is completely not how it should be. I’m not confusing weather with climate; don’t get me wrong. But too many weather exceptions have been achieved over the last few years to make me comfortable.

So anyway,  I drank Pimms, came home, and packed immediately to go to work away for the week.

Now I am back home again after a week from hell, where I have had to pass on some brutal truth and try to pick up the pieces of both the thing that was wrong and the impact on the person in question. Which is a convoluted way of saying I got to play Bad Cop because no one else would do it. It’s my speciality. I’m good at the Headteacher Voice: you’ve let the school down, you’ve let your teacher down, but most of all you’ve let yourself down…

Sigh.

I’m not very good at it really, not in a constructive, caring, development opportunity way. I’m just good at the Voice which makes people stop and hear, rather than ignore and carry on doing what they were doing. It’s not pleasant, either as a Voice or as a recognised ability.

More sighs. Not many jokes there, I can tell you.

If we are all one with everything, my Voice, the special capital letter one, is either the equivalent of self-harming, or it’s the immune system fighting off infection. I’m not sure which at the moment but I hate upsetting people. Really I do. I know people may think I don’t because I am always the Bad Cop, but I do.

One with everything, though. It’s come up a few times over the week. Firstly in the jokes in The Independent, most of which I understand but not all. Then thinking about the project which is having problems – well, we need to get it right for the good of the company and the customers. Finally today, a friend was talking about a bereavement. Sharing the memories of a person we have lost and the grief of those left behind is important for everyone. We are all one.

I keep thinking of the point made by Stephen Jay Gould about the miracle of Life. He talks about how Life has been constant on this world for so many billion years from the first bacteria and single-celled organisms up to the complexity of today. There has not been, in all those countless eons, a single break. Not for one fraction of a nanosecond has Life ceased to beat; if it did it would have to start all over again from the beginning.

It’s not like a heartbeat which can stop and then be restarted (Defibrillator, nurse! Clear!) and return the person to their whole, gloriously complicated self. If Life stopped that would be the end of it. To start again it would go back to first principles. It’s more like a soap bubble, expanding and expanding, reflecting the light in rainbows (and possibly unicorns for all I know). Once it bursts you can take the raw material and create a new one but it’s completely new and different in its own complex, wonderful way.

For us to exist, there has been a pre-requisite of soapy water if you will (and I can stretch a metaphor until it screams, people), stars have been born and died. We stretch back to the immeasurable past and into the immeasurable future.

We are one with everything.

Namaste.

The Knitted Monet Mind

Ah, Monet – the go-to artist for the ocularly-challenged. I love Monet; everything is fuzzy and uncertain, just like life. I like Turner too; these are my people!

Rarasaur’s latest Prompt for the Promptless introduces us to the phrase “a total Monet.”

“A total Monet” is an expression used to describe someone or something that looks good from far away, but up close is a total mess.

My mother always knitted. She knitted my jumpers when I was little, right up until I started secondary school, when you had to wear school uniform and contend with raging hormones that required you to fit in by wearing something more fashionable. She knitted her own jumpers after that, rather sadly, but understanding a girl’s need to be accepted. I suspect in fact it was a relief as she had also gone back to work and had little time and my treason meant she could concentrate on her embroidery.

Still, she always had some knitting in progress and as time went by, and she began her slide into senility, this at least did not change.  She moved into sheltered housing near where we lived and started knitting granny stripes, sewed them into small blankets for keeping old ladies’ knees warm, and gave them to the Age UK charity shop where they became a local hit. As time went on and dementia ate her brain she still knitted; she still does, although now without knowing what she is knitting any more.

I was clearing out some of her cupboards a while ago and discovered a haul of knitted strips which she had never sewn up, so I decided that as she had made the effort to knit them I would make the effort to sew them. I took them all into my living room to sort out and emptied them from their bags into a big heap on the floor, anticipating an enjoyable hour of choosing colours to put together. It was as if the 1960s had landed in my living room. There was every kind of colour rubbing shoulders with every other, all just being loud and happy and a bit manic, wanting to provide love and hugs through woollen embraces.

An acre of knitted hugs

An acre of knitted hugs

 

Oh my, oh my! It soon turned out that dementia had eaten her brain earlier than I had realised. The stripes of knitting, so eager and cheerful and bright, were horrendously muddled, all in different lengths, and different weights of wool. In some places she had run out of wool mid-row and joined in wool of an entirely new colour and weight there and then. Piecing them together took me and Sigoth an entire morning, by which time we had turned an acre of knitting into six or seven sets of approximately similar sized strips to be sewn up.

The mad kaleidoscope of woollen strips seemed a perfect reflection of her poor, muddled head. I’m sorry to say the analogy ends there. I have restored some order to the wool; her head is beyond us all, a total Monet in its own right.

She may have lacked the ability to do the deed, but her intention was good and kind. Perhaps that is what matters most.

Namaste.

Aunties, aunties everywhere

I seem to be in a real wallow of nostalgia at the moment, as the last few posts demonstrate. Never mind, it was part of the reason I started this blog anyway, to note down some memories before I lost the will to tell them or the means to share them. Nowadays I am assuming the old folks’ home will have Internet access as standard, but who knows?

The other day I wrote about my memories of Auntie Brown and so unsurprisingly she has been uppermost in my thoughts. She kept on writing to my mother for years after she moved to the Land of the Long White Cloud. She was certainly still writing after my mother moved up north to be near us, back in 2000, and must have been well into her eighties. At some point she may have died, but I don’t know because my mother will not have remembered to tell me (if she knew, but I think the family would have been in touch). My mother was already getting more forgetful than I realised, even in those days.

I felt a bit sad about that and thought about my other aunties. What you need to know at this point is that the term “auntie” is more an honorific than a genealogical title. These women were simply my mother’s friends and neighbours. There were associated uncles but in some cases I don’t think I even knew their names. They did not feature in my young life because they were out winning bread, while we women and children lived in a separate, parallel world.

Auntie Brown was also called by her first name sometimes, Auntie May. However, the woman on the other side of our house was never an auntie. She was a Missus: the subtle clue that we did not get on. She was often very nice but liked to show off all the time, and as we were not very well off it was usually at our expense. On the rare occasion we were allowed into her house, she would literally be plumping up the cushions in the sofa as soon as we stood to leave. It was unnerving.

The next few paragraphs are probably for the girls. Chaps, you may wish to skip them. They involve lady stuff. It’s entirely up to you. To skip, look for **.

One time my mother and I went to see her because they had just had a new boiler installed to provide central heating. This was pretty uncommon, although we did have a coal-fired boiler in our house which had been a major bonus in the winter of 1962 but was pretty inadequate to the task of heating radiators. Nevertheless there was always hot water. Anyway, Mrs Next-Door proudly showed off the clean new boiler, all white and shiny and not coal-dusty at all.

“So how do you burn rubbish?” I asked, in my innocent child fashion.

By rubbish I was not really sure what I meant but I knew we did sometimes burn additional items on the boiler. We had no open fires in the house, so it was a handy means of waste disposal. What I didn’t understand, although later I learned and was very pleased, was that mostly the rubbish consisted of sanitary items. Let me tell you, girlfriends, when I went to university I had no idea how to dispose of such items as there was no incinerator in the residence. I soon got over the rather quaint prejudice the teachers at school had instilled about ladies not using tampons. Honestly, when I left home it was like I moved centuries as well as geographies!

Mrs Next-Door cottoned on to what I was talking about and she and my mother went red. I soon got a nice drink of orange squash and a biscuit to shut me up. So she wasn’t all bad.

** Welcome back fellas. You only missed some menstruation chat.

Anyway, aunties.

Realising that I have probably missed Auntie Brown’s demise, I quickly catalogued the other key aunties to make sure I knew their current status. This brought about the realisation that I was blessed with aunties even though my actual family was pretty small. I also realised that mostly they are now dead.

Auntie Peggy was a marvellous, hearty woman who always complained about her health, I learned the word “hypochondriac” before I was 10. It eventually turned out she was an undiagnosed coeliac. She died of cancer. She was bright and beautiful and always talked to me like I was a human being. She didn’t have children but she had a real niece she doted on and she spoiled me too. She had a huge laugh and dressed like a film star, usually in cherry reds or something bold. She spent her life helping other people, caring for elderly neighbours, growing and giving away vegetables on an allotment, volunteering with an old folks’ day centre. She was always honest and cheerful, even when the cancer was over-whelming her.

Auntie Sheila is living in the West Country now; we wrote to each other at Christmas. She and my mother met in maternity hospital and she had a son my age, and later a daughter. I loved playing with one or the other of them but as they always fought I couldn’t play with both at once. She was a kind, intelligent, creative woman who did the flower arrangements for my wedding. I spent a lot of time at her house in the holidays, although sometimes we had to be very quiet because Uncle Ian (there was an uncle here, and he was great to me but strict with his kids) was asleep after night shift as a policeman.

Auntie Marjorie was like a person from an old novel, like in an Agatha Christie story, a real lady in the old-fashioned, quiet English way (only not murdered or murdering of course). There was Uncle Malcolm too but I didn’t see very much of him, although he had a cute little white moustache and dressed like a proper gent. I don’t think he was, it was just their era, and everything was smart and tidy and lovely. The house was chintzy and had very thick carpets and heavy oak doors. She taught me how to make toad in the hole. After the first Offspring was born we went to visit, and I was shocked to discover Auntie Marjorie had had two sons; they both contracted measles and died when they were 5 and 3, the elder catching it at school and infecting the younger.

Auntie Betty, I fear, was an exception in the pantheon of Good Aunts. Whenever someone uses the word “waspish” I think of her. She lived on her own with her cats for company. The cats scratched, inevitably. One was Siamese. When she came to our house she was incredibly nosy; she went into my bedroom and looked in the drawers and rearranged things. I was livid, of course, and even my mother ticked her off. Dad and I would hide when she was coming, and one weekend I went to stay over at a friend’s to avoid her. We spent the morning making each other up with glitter and stars and all kinds of glam rock goodness. Then I realised I had forgotten something and had to pop home to pick it up. Auntie Betty nearly fell off her chair and shrieked when she saw me, and my parents nearly died laughing at her. The poor old dear, she was sad and lonely, but she didn’t help herself. My mother eventually didn’t let her know her new address because she couldn’t stand the complaining. I’m sad Auntie Betty ended up that way really.

Big Auntie Kath was another loud, funny, extrovert auntie, like Auntie Peggy. She also died of cancer, and it’s hard to tell you more about her because she was a force of nature, and how do you describe that? She was lively and happy and kind and boomed into the house when visiting. She did exciting things like going abroad for holiday or colouring her hair.

Little Auntie Cath was a school teacher and the sister of my mother’s best friend, after whom I am named. She used to test me on spellings and times tables, but she also took us to the zoo and the seaside in her terrifying jumpy mini. “I put a kangaroo in the tank!” she would yell cheerfully as we lurched along the road and my mother sat in the front seat white-faced and gripping her handbag in terror. I thought it was hilarious, of course.

Having two auntie K/Caths was educational in its own right. I learned two different spellings, which was one way to tell them apart. Fortunately they were also physically inches apart in height, hence the nicknames.

There were also all the aunties who were the mothers of my friends: Auntie Meg, who used to tell my friend to behave more like me but let us watch Pogle’s Wood, which my mother thought was too scary; Auntie Hazel, who took me to church to save my soul and wouldn’t let us ride bikes on Sunday, but also took me out all the time and gave me tea and meant well; Auntie Grace, who gave me pocket money to buy sweets and let us ride tea trays down the stairs for fun.

There were very few men involved in our children’s world. Reading Kozo’s post the other day also reminded me that my aunties were wonderful, for the most part, but that I missed out on uncles along the way. Perhaps they too missed out on us.

So here’s to uncles Dick, John, Bill, Ian, Malcolm, Pat and the rest: thanks for the go-carts and kites and lifts to and from parties. Thanks for the bread you won, the days out we shared, the fireworks and bonfires and the footballs and punctures repaired. You were an important part of our lives, but we didn’t see it clearly enough then.

Namaste.

 

Families and other stories of the imagination

I only met two of my grandparents: my father’s mother and my mother’s father. My Grandma lived with us, so I saw her every day. My Granddad lived in Croydon, caring for his step-son and daughter-in-law. His step-son had learning difficulties (we used a different term in the 1960s which wouldn’t be acceptable today). He dribbled but was really nice and taught me to play chess.  His wife, who was disabled from polio, was mentally very able indeed, and she made sure he was safe and secure. However, she was quite bad-tempered and not fond of children, so she didn’t really teach me anything except that being disabled is no excuse for being bad-tempered.

However, I heard lots about my other grandparents, so they were quite real to me. It felt like I had just missed them; that they had popped out for a minute but maybe I’d see them next time.

My dad had mementos of his father which he occasionally showed me. There was his medal, for a start. I used to think it was for being a hero in the war, but it turned out to be a tug of war team medal. He was quite sporty, it seems, because I have photographs of him on the football team and cricket team. However, he lost an eye in the war, so was definitely a hero.

My mother’s mother died terribly young, of cancer, in my mother’s arms, just before my mother’s 15th birthday. It was awful. Her photos show her was young and beautiful, although she was 50 when she died so I suspect they are a little misleading, like Mary Queen of Scots who was old, wheezy and rheumatic on the scaffold rather than the young, beautiful heroine people like to think. Not that it matters. Death is death, and usually early.

I started researching my family tree because I wanted to know more about my family, the ones who had just popped out as well as the ones I knew in person. It turns out that family history can reveal polite fiction or cherished beliefs as the shams they are. I have found out a couple of truths by looking into the records over the years.

One of them I didn’t share with my father because it would have been a bit of an upset for him. My grandfather had lost an eye, and my dad always thought it was during the war (I am talking about the 1914-1918 war). One day I managed to unearth his military records and discovered he already had a growth on his eye when enlisting, and that he was discharged because he needed an operation and lost his sight. Given that my grandmother lost a number of brothers to the trenches I don’t think anyone in the family was upset by this. It must have seemed a fair price. But what do you tell a small boy about his daddy during the war, when he wants to know?

The other thing I discovered about my grandfather was that not only was he interested in bell-ringing (I knew that from day one, as my dad used to listen to church bells and tell me about his father), but he had a couple of plaques for ringing a peal of Stedman Triples, and a peal of Grandsire Triples, with his friends. All I can add is that over 5000 changes were involved for each. It sounds a lot.

The bell-ringing fascinates me. I happen to have some friends who are keen on it, and they are all computer geeks. They claim it’s common for that to be the case, something to do with the patterns and sequences being like code. I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know when one of them showed me the pattern for a Stedman Triple it made total sense immediately, and apparently not everyone has that reaction. On the other hand coding bores me to death; I’m a hardware girl. Give me a router or server, and I’m happy.

Still, I like to think of my grandfather, the lesser known, shadowy one, as a computer expert born a couple of generations too early. That is where myth starts to intrude on truth again.

Once people are dead they have defence against our prying. I suspect a black hole of documentation will follow our generation as computerised records are deleted and the faded, dog-eared old accounts of births, deaths and marriages fade away. We may yet be more shadowy and harder to know than our own grandparents; and if family stories are anything to go by, our blogs are as unreliable as our stories for children.

My grandfather was illegitimate; I am not sure anyone knew. I don’t care about such trivial detail, but somewhere my grandma is spinning her ashes into a storm over my casual reference to it in public. If she has her way I’ll be in trouble tonight. Likely I’ll be sent to bed without supper.

My grandfather’s father, apparently unaware that he had a child, died regretting that he never had a family. He married late and they didn’t have children of their own. It is of course possible he wasn’t actually the father, but as his name is a little unusual it was probably true, or, if not, one of his brothers was a conniving bastard (also possible). It is equally possible he did know but had to maintain another polite fiction for the sake of the missus.

Some things paperwork cannot tell you.

It is even less likely that the Internet is a reliable resource.

But least reliable of all are fond memories which may have been created to paper over cracks and shore up esteem.

My family weren’t psychopathic liars; they just had to cope with the values and morals of the day. They did nothing unusual in protecting their good standing, and in giving the next generation self-respect and pride. How far do little white lies stretch until they become recorded truth? They portray us as we want to be remembered. Even what I have told you here is circumscribed by my perceptions and interpretations.

In making peace with ourselves, do we inadvertently do so with smoke and mirrors?

Namaste.