B4Peace: Art, peace, memory

This month’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge from Kozo is about art. I am not artistic, but I do like to look at stuff.

“Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace, and the message will spread quicker than you think.”~Yoko Ono

For the month of May, we will focus on art. I believe that art has the ability to transform the soul. If art can change a soul, then it can change the world. What piece of art makes you a more peaceful person?

As I was growing up we had a most wonderful next door neighbour. In fact we had two, but mostly he was at work, so I knew her better. Auntie Brown was from Aberdeen and talked in a strong Scottish accent. She was bright and cheerful and very down to earth. She had a grandson about my age, who visited occasionally and played; he kept a rabbit at his grandmother’s but it was a mean rabbit which bit, so I didn’t like it very much. My friend Joanne had rabbits and they were cuddly and much nicer.

Auntie Brown would take me out when she went to the shops, just for the company. She listened to my stories and talked about all kinds of things and taught me to make cauliflower cheese. I would often visit when I came home from school as a teenager because we could share a cup of tea, and my own house was cold and empty with my parents both out at work.

Her husband worked at the local undertaker’s. Once when I was doing a school project on trees I went to see him at work to ask about coffins, so he took me and my friend into the workshop to see the caskets in various states of completion and told us all about how they were made. Apparently elm was the best, although this was before Dutch Elm Disease put paid to that. I remember worrying about how people would be buried without enough elm trees. I was a strange and introspective child.

One day Auntie Brown saw me coming in from school and called me into her house. They were planning to emigrate to New Zealand now Mr B had retired, to be closer to their family who had moved there some time before.

“I want you to have this,” she told me in her rather high-pitched voice.

198310 photo of painting

She indicated the picture on the wall. It was quite large.

“I love this picture, but it’s too big to take with me and I would like to think of it going to a good home. Your mother said she didn’t want it, but I knew you liked it…”

There was hope and desperation in her eyes, and her voice was all trembly. It was also true that I did really like the picture.

“Thank you,” I said. “I love it. It can go in my bedroom.”

And my dears, that is just where it went. My mother complained and my dad put up a nail for it and there it stayed until I got married. Then it lived with us for a long time.

It was not a high quality print, and was a little ruffled from the damp in Auntie Brown’s old Victorian terraced house. The frame was falling apart and all skewed, and the backing was warped.

I had always liked it and I loved it more as time went by. I loved it because auntie Brown had loved it and then had trusted me with it. I loved it because it reminded me of her. I loved to sit and stare into it and make up stories about what was happening off in the distance or to the side. We spent many happy hours, that picture and I, listening to music and dreaming teenage dreams and living adventures when the dull suburbs were too tedious to bear. It moved from house to house with me, hanging drunkenly in the living room or dining room, wherever there was wall space, until one day it simply became too old and tattered and worn to last anymore and we had to say goodbye.

It’s imprinted on my brain. It lives on in my memory, more clearly than some people I have known and more clearly than Auntie Brown’s face (although her voice and her love are still sharply in focus). I like the picture in a generic way because I think autumnal woodland scenes are pretty; I love it because of the people and memories it shows me, like ghost pictures within itself. When I look at it I see the trees and water, but I also see myself making cheese sauce on Auntie Brown’s cooker (always use a wooden spoon!) or sitting in her narrow garden with a tea cup and a biscuit, or walking to the shops in November fogs (hold my hand so you don’t get lost!), or shouting greetings over the six foot fence as we both went up our respective paths, or most ridiculously and desperately spooning whisky into my poor old catfish in an attempt to revive him (whisky will make him better; it makes everyone better!) or trying to make sense of Jane Porter’s “The Scottish Chiefs” (William Wallace was a great man, you know; they ought to teach you about him school, like back home!).

A picture can tell stories when words may fail. You know the quote. Sometimes we have no words for what we want to say (although I seem to have hurled quite a few in my attempt today. Yet still they don’t tell you half of it.)

Perhaps all I need to say is this: when I look at that picture I remember feeling loved, and peace is all around me.

Namaste.

For more, please read:

http://cardcastlesinthesky.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/float-upward/

http://fishofgold.net/2013/05/01/remaking-the-peace-symbol/

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/04/29/monthly-peace-challenge-art-thou-peaceful/

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

The Incredible Shrinking Man

When I was little I had one of those candlewick bedspreads. It was pink, obviously, because I am of the chromosomally advantaged gender. I liked to pick out bits of fluff from the pattern to make new patterns so after a while it looked pretty manky.

The other thing I liked to do was pretend the rows of fluff were paths or rivers and that the bedspread was a tiny country with tiny people I could imagine living in the countryside or towns. I would bend my knees to make mountains and marched an army to the top and back down, like the Grand Old Duke of York. That’s what soldiers were for, of course, marching up and down in peacock displays or else meeting mysterious old women by the road and obtaining magic tinder boxes and finding treasure. Otherwise soldiers were pretty useless and just part of the decoration.

The tiny bedspread world was less the result of a god complex than a rather over-active imagination from being read too many stories about cheerful ladybirds or adventurous ants.

When I was slightly older, my friend and I played wild games where the Earth was a living being and we were involved in all kinds of exotic adventures trying to put out forest fires or stop men in suits from building dams or destroying wildlife. Mother Earth would tell us about dolphins needing help somewhere and off we would go to help them. I suspect a teacher had tried to explain the Gaia Hypothesis to us before we were quite ready for it, so we interpreted it in a way that worked for us and rampaged about the playing fields and the riverside, getting muddy and breathless and feeling virtuous for saving the planet.

Meanwhile the miniature worlds I created started to turn into stories for Composition class or more complex games with models made from lego or plasticine (or sometimes, rather messily, both).

My dears, I am sharing this rather bizarre set of memories because they seem to have come to a point recently, as if Life has been leading me here. I know, I‘m a bit slow on the uptake. Bear with a poor old lady.

As I grew older still I discovered fractals. To be fair what actually happened was the kind of odd process by which children often obtain precious knowledge. I watched TV.

My teacher at school had recommended that I watch “Star Trek”. He was officially the Best Teacher Ever and I have written about him before. However, among his many fine qualities was his ability to work out what would inspire a child. For me he chose “Star Trek”. He was so right. I may regale you with my own personal mission to boldly split infinitives one day, but not today. Suffice it to say, I was a science fiction enthusiast for life.

So when good old Auntie Beeb decided to run a series of classic science fiction films later that year I was glued to the television. One of those films was “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and at the end of the film, where the eponymous hero shrinks to a sub-atomic level, I was introduced to the concept of cellular structures replicating macro structures. A cell is a tiny galaxy. Our galaxy might be a tiny cell.

My mind officially exploded. I went to talk to my teacher the next day and he started showing me fractals. Bear in mind I was only about ten at this point, so understanding was limited. What I understood was that the small bits of the universe replicated the big bits, potentially endlessly, like two mirrors reflecting each other.

I imagined the Incredible Shrinking Man falling forever through galaxy after galaxy, seeing civilisations rush past him, appearing as a massive cosmic cloud and reducing to human size over the years and finally dropping down into the next cycle of galaxies. It felt sad and lonely and exciting and thrilling all at once. My imagination kicked into overdrive again.

I also listened to music on the radio (or “wireless” as it was then) and heard all the hippy tunes, including, memorably, “Woodstock” –

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon…

So I grew up with the firm and clear perception that we were part of the universe not only psychologically and spiritually but also physically. We were all made up from the matter that created stars, and we dissolved back to star-matter after we died. We were immense and tiny all at once, containing cells containing galaxies containing cells….

I never doubted it, I never questioned it. I read about Mandelbrot when I was a teenager, and carried on reading science fiction, exploding my mind again and again with new possibilities.

Now I have started to try to meditate this truth becomes yet more self evident. I can see this erratic, stumbling, drunken meandering from childhood to middle age has led me to an inescapable conclusion.

We are everything and nothing, enormous and tiny, mortal and eternal.

We are legion.

We are one.

Namaste.

The Mind Unravelling

This weeks Rarasaur has prompted us to post about Saudade.

Saudade is a Portuguese word that describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something/someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.

It has been a trying couple of weeks and somehow picking up Rara’s latest prompt for the Promptless felt only too right. Some of my difficulties lately have been dealing with my mother.  I have mentioned before that she has dementia – vascular dementia in fact. Of course, she is getting worse. That is the inevitable reality. My feelings about this are mixed, because while it means trying to care for an irritating, demanding, sometimes slightly smelly and always confused old lady, at the same time I look at her and remember the mother-that-was.

My mother was not the greatest in the world. She made quite a hash of mothering in fact. However, she’s not a bad person and she deserves some respect, the same as anyone.

This week I had a Big Meeting with the managers from the carers’ company that looks after her and gets her up in the morning. They get her washed and dressed, and give her breakfast and drugs. Later they come and give her lunch and more drugs. They are patient and well-meaning, but they also get things wrong sometimes. We have now agreed some new rules for my mother’s care, which I hope will get over those last few glitches. One of the things I said I would do is write down a mini-biography of my mother to help the carers know more about her and try to prompt her to reminisce.

These are some of the better memories that I have left for the carers to use as prompts.

  1. She is a genuine Cockney and proud of it. She was born within the sound of Bow Bells, although the family moved away when she was quite little.
  2. She was a miracle baby, who was born weighing only a couple of pounds. They wrapped her in cotton wool, quite literally, and she was fed milk from the ink dropper of a fountain pen. Her Dad held her in the palm of his hand, she was so tiny.
  3. She is also very proud of her Dad, who was an Inspector in the Metropolitan Police. He had a white horse she used to pet in the stables.
  4. DON’T MENTION THE WAR. She finds it a frightening memory. If she talks about the sanitised version it’s fine but don’t ask about the Blitz. She got very upset when we went to the War Weekend at Pickering and we had to bring her home.
  5. On the other hand, Forties music and fashion are popular. She likes Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters (but never Vera Lynn – see (3) above). She used to like to jitterbug with American soldiers in dance halls. She got thrown out once for it.
  6. Other music she likes include: Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, James Last. Easy listening kind of music.
  7. She was a star pupil at the Pitman’s Secretarial College with advanced qualifications in typing and shorthand. She was very good at it.
  8. She married Bert in 1957 and he died in 1992, very suddenly. She only has one child.
  9. She worked as a PA at Petters where they built Hawker Siddeley aircraft engines, then at Siemans.
  10. She has been to Canada to visit relatives near Montreal a few times. They are dead now, sadly, but the trips were happy memories.
  11. After retiring she worked at the chemist near home for Mr Patel. She really enjoyed working there and meeting people. Particularly she liked teasing the young men who came to buy condoms.
  12. Her hobbies were knitting, embroidery and reading. She has some knitting with her now but I am not sure she would be quite safe with embroidery kit. Obviously she also gets books from the library. She likes family sagas best – Maeve Binchy, Catherine Cookson, that kind of thing.

There were sadder memories I didn’t leave for the carers as there is no point in trying to remind my mother about them.

  1. She was sent to a convent school where the nuns told her she was stupid and put her in a corner with a dunce’s hat.
  2. Her parents rowed and separated.
  3. Her mother died in her arms a few days before her 16th birthday.
  4. Her father remarried and she had a step-mother she disliked immensely and a step-brother she didn’t get on with.
  5. Her cousin, whom she was very close to, was shot down over the Med in 1942 and never found.
  6. Just as she was about to be married Dad was involved in a massive accident which left him disabled. Their entire future was rewritten. The wedding was delayed by years while he recovered.
  7. I am named after her best friend, who died of cancer at the age of 21.
  8. She had a miscarriage and lost her second baby; I am an only child.

My mother is not coming back.

The thing is, now that she is mentally absent, I have no family to share these memories with. Sigoth has a large and lovely family and they are the ones my children have known the best. I have happy memories of my family when I was young but no one else remembers those things now. I miss our own traditions – London working class traditions – singing the songs performed later by Chas ‘n’ Dave, doing the hokey cokey, mincing up the Sunday roast on Monday for Shepherd’s Pie, making jam, shelling peas, helping out in Dad’s shop….

I have many happy memories and I am nostalgic for my childhood, but I can’t share it with my mother any more. Neither can she talk about her childhood because she has forgotten it too. I know more about her childhood than she does now because she has unwound too far.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again

The memories, happy or sad, are only mine now, for just a little while longer.

Namaste.

Bloggers4Peace: Children

Kozo set the Bloggers4Peace challenge for April to focus on children.I will be honest my dears: I have struggled to write this post this month – because I can’t solve the problem. This is my fourth attempt and I have decided that time is running out so here it is. You see…

I know what I want to say about respect and dignity and broad horizons and love and hope.

I know I want to talk about children observing that the actions of adults are reflected in the words they speak; that my children see me walking the walk, or not; that those of us who claim to be for peace genuinely have to live our testimony to peace and justice and environmental awareness.

I know I want to quote helpful and inspiring people like the Dalai Lama on building world peace by teaching all children to meditate. (I think that’s right – if not, it should be.)

Oh my dears – I so want to say those things. But the hollow truth is that I don’t live up to those ideals, and all I can do is share my struggle. I have no answers to the difficult questions children ask about bullying and hitting and fighting and war. I can only say I don’t agree, and sometimes I can say why, but often I cannot even do that.

While the Offspringses were growing up we focused on peaceful actions and words, and attended Quaker meeting. We read about the awesome Ferdinand the Bull and avoided stories where violence was presented as a solution. We tried to live peace and sseriously explain war when they saw it on the news.

But school and TV and friends intervened. There’s a moment when your child leaves you to go to nursery or school and then returns a different person. Suddenly all the games are good guys vs bad guys and shooting and shouting; parental intervention is boring old news. I was glad of a classical education so that I could compare myself to Sisyphus. There were days it felt that bad.

Of course I don’t have to worry now. They have grown up and left home. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I still worry; it’s in the job description!

My children do not appear to be psychopaths, so that is a good sign. They are articulate and rational, so that is a good sign. As parents we cling to such signs of hope.

I believe they have to discover their own truths, not just repeat mine, but I have made clear they can pursue any career with my blessing except a military one. It’s my line in the squelchy, North Yorkshire ground. So even my love appears conditional, although I have tried to explain I would still love them if they signed up, yet simultaneously be very, very disappointed. I’d have the kind of disappointed face you see on a small child who discovers Santa is not real and the puppy he thought he was getting for Christmas is actually a pair of socks knitted by Aunty Gertrude, who appears to think he is bilaterally asymmetric. Imagine that face. It would be mine if one of the Offspringses announced their new career in the machine of death. Honestly, they could even be an estate agent, I could cope with that.

So who am I to teach children peace? All I can do is admit it’s hard.

I’m just not sure where that gets us. Read these other posts for more constructive ideas!

Namaste.

Ludo ergo sum

On a more cheerful note from yesterday’s moan, I can also report to anyone still reading that I played many games over Easter with the Offspringses and Sigoth. My goodness, we do like games in this family. I don’t mean those boring video games either, I mean good, solid, frequently German, board games or card games.

When Sigoth and I were young sprouts playing about with this new-fangled notion called “home computing” we played some of the early games available: Donkey Kong was a favourite along with one involving running about in corridors being chased by a dinosaur. It was a ZX Spectrum game and may have had “Escape” in the title; it certainly had it in the raison d’être. Often Sigoth typed the game in directly, which was more interesting than the game itself, but such is life. The journey may exceed the destination.

One weekend a friend came to stay with us in our appalling basement student flat. It was genuinely appalling. There was a toad living in the bathroom under a fungal growth, and mice in every nook and cranny. It was cold and dark and damp. I was ill with bronchitis and had to sit up all night in the armchair for two or three nights because I was unable to breathe if I lay down. Feral dogs wandered the backyards, and one day we were trapped indoors by one which had decided not to allow us out into its territory. But in compensation there was also a kestrel hunting on the waste ground behind the terraces next to the little shop where the pints of milk were frozen solid in winter and rancid in summer. Oh, my dears, the views across the valley at night made constellations and rivers of light!

We therefore had to distract our friend when she visited because she was (and is) a gently bred soul. Mice and toads and feral dogs are not her beverage of choice. So we introduced her to Donkey Kong and she played it for hours, jumping in her seat every time she jumped a barrel on screen. It was more entertaining to watch than playing the game.

The same friend also loves board games and we play every time she visits, even though we no longer have a toad or a feral dog, and the mice only visit briefly in winter when the fields are frozen over.

There are a very wide range of games now available. We don’t play the old classics so often now the Offspringses have grown up, games like Monopoly or Scrabble or Cluedo. We play games like one of the Catan series, or Seven Wonders, or Carcassone or Alhambra or Inkognito or Dominion or Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot. Some of these games are co-operative games, where you play together to beat the game itself, for example by curing a deadly virus before it wipes out the human race. They require thought and discussion and strategy. They are, as young people nowadays are wont to say, mint.

We played, my dears, and then we played a computer-based game. Normally, as I have intimated, I find these quite boring when I don’t have a friend to watch bouncing in her chair with frustration. This one was a networked game though, called Artemis, and we piloted our starship across the known galaxy in a simulation that was completely unlike, for reasons of intellectual property, Star Trek. There were stars and nebulae and aliens and space stations. Otherwise hardly any similarities at all. It was hilarious fun.

Why do we do it? Not just this family, but humans? Why do we play? Honestly, humankind are all just big kids who never grow up. We drink milk (often) until we die instead of moving on to adult food when weaned, and we play like babies. Other species use play as a tool to learn. Humans use it as a tool to do anything but.

As a family we enjoyed pretending to be other people in another time and place, on a starship in a galaxy far, far away instead of being ourselves together. The escapism and shared enterprise (if I may call it that) allowed us to be one big happy family without having to work hard to be one big happy family. Real families and relationships take effort, but game play is easy, so long as it isn’t Diplomacy and everyone plays the game for its own sake rather than to win. We are British game players and it’s the taking part that matters.

Taking part – that is crucial. We play games to build our sense of community, society even. Sports replace war, as Desmond Morris liked to claim, and sports fans recreate tribal behaviours. When we beat South Africa 25-17 (I was there!) or when we place the final card that defeats the Evil Sorceror / cures the purple virus / completes the mission, we feel triumph and a rush of excitement and love for our fellow game players / fans. Even when the game is competitive, if it was well played we can all take some pleasure from something well-executed or nimbly done.

I love playing games. I love that they have no real point, and that somehow that is the point.

Namaste.

Eleven Questions

Fish of Gold recently posted eleven questions, should you choose to answer them. Well, they were kind of fun questions, so I thought I would give them a pop. The alternative was to rant about Beeching, seeing as yesterday was the 50th anniversary of his report’s publication and the devastating effects are still crippling people in rural communities today. Ut it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

So take a deep breath, and here we go with something more convivial. Brew up some tea and relax for a while with me while I ramble.

  1. Do you remember what it was like to be short? I don’t mean adult short, but kid short, like 2 feet tall. (I don’t that’s why I’m asking.)

This is probably why I decided to take these questions. I have a freakish memory, and my earliest is hanging onto the fireguard because I am wobbly on my feet still. I know that might apply to any age where alcohol or drugs are accessible, but in this case I was also quite tiny and not at all like Alice down the rabbit hole. I remember gazing up at the giant furniture and letting go of the fireguard, and then my mother whooshing in and grabbing me and I flew up into the air and all the furniture was below me. It was a bit like the feeling on a swing when you go really high and your tummy gets butterflies. My mother says I learned to walk when I was 14 months old.

  1. How tall are you?

I am only a few inches tall when lying down.

  1. What is your favorite genre of movies?

I am old fashioned enough to enjoy plot, character and good scripts. However, exploding helicopters can make all difference. I would often take “The Princess Bride” as one of my top films, but also “Casablanca” and “Die Hard”.

  1. Do you drive to work or take public transportation? How long does it take you?

I work at home (smug face). Otherwise I use public transport to get to Head Office which takes about 2 or more hours. Until the last few months I have not been able to see well enough to learn to drive. If things go well maybe I will.

  1. What is your favorite moment of an average work day? For example, mine is getting home to see my dog.

I like it when either I finish a thing or get given a new thing. I like to feel the satisfaction of completing something, or the excitement of a new project I can start planning out. I do actually enjoy my job! It has its moments which are a pain, but on the whole, it’s scary-fun, like going high on a swing.

  1. What was your favorite candy as a kid? Is it different now that you’re an adult?

There were horrible sweets when I was little. People get nostalgic about Fruit Salads and Bootlaces and Black Jacks and Flying Saucers, but I shudder now. At the time I knew no better and the sugar rush was fab. Now I like little pieces of fancy chocolate – just one small piece a day is fine, although I might take a second in extremis.

  1. If you could pick one food item to eat as much as you want without any health consequences for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

Fancy chocolate is a contender, for sure, but I do love cheese. There are so many types and tastes! When I was little a delicatessen opened in town, and my Dad would buy a new cheese every Wednesday for him and me to try out. It was fun, although some of them were disgusting!

  1. What actor or actress would play you in the story of your life?

I’d like Meryl Streep but suspect I would be best with Jennifer Saunders.

  1. How far do you live from where you were born?

About 242 miles, according to Google. However, the hospital was 9 miles from where my parents lived, and their house is 241 miles from my house now. Do I need to triangulate? I only did Geography O-Level, and that was mostly colouring in. I thought these were going to be fun and now I’m orienteering!

  1. I’m going to write a check to your favorite charity. To whom should I make it out?

Well, I should think so after all that geography! Thank you kindly. Make it out to Mind, please.

  1. Do you like your first name or do you wonder what the H your parents were thinking?

I absolutely hate my name. With. A. Passion. My mother was going to call me a sensible name, until she had a dream about her dead friend and I was named after her. She had a freak name. So I got a freak name, which meant I was teased at school, and I was named after a woman who died aged 21 from cancer. Way to go.

Well, that ended badly. Apologies for that; perhaps I should have stuck with Beeching. If you are thinking of naming a child, I recommend a plain and common name, and then they can find their own unique soubriquet themselves, if they want one.

EBL – educating the nation’s parents since 1962…

Thanks to FOG for a great set of questions!

Thanks to everyone for reading.

Namaste.

 

Future Bright

What did you want to be when you were fifteen?” asked the avuncular presenter on Radio 4; he also pointed out that while he knew he had a few listeners who were not yet fifteen, nevertheless the average audience age was 58. I felt younger for a moment, when being below average seemed OK, then chided myself for ageism. The article was related to a survey of teenage aspiration which had proven to be mismatched against predictions for future labour market demand.

“Since when did that matter?” I wondered. “Surely most of us wanted to be something extraordinary, but knew deep down it may never quite work out>”

What I meant was, I knew. I didn’t mind either. I always saw something honourable and even desirable about being ordinary.

When I was fifteen I was torn between options. I wanted to get married, have six children and live in the country baking bread, keeping hens and raising artists.

The other option was to be a teacher. I understood I would need to make myself a living, that I was unlikely to get into astronaut school, given that I was too fat to be an air hostess and also decided to take German instead of Physics. Xenolinguistics would be brilliant but I am still waiting on NASA discovering (or admitting to) more than evidence of water on Mars billions of years ago implying that there may have been organisms there once, or fossilised nanobacteria in meteorites.

Teaching appealed to me on a number of levels. I had had a happy experience at primary school, and thought teachers were great. I liked keeping an eye on younger children. Finally primary school teaching did not require specialisation in a single subject. You didn’t become a maths teacher or an English teacher or a biology teacher. You just were a teacher, and taught everything. That suited me completely because I was what the call an “all-rounder” (and not just because of my endomorphic propensities).

So there I was being a sensible teenager, a thing of vanishingly small probability. But I listened to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” on the radio and knew that in an infinite universe anything was possible, and indeed could even be extrapolated from a fairy cake. So I also knew it was possible, if improbable, that dreams could come true.

I wanted to be either a full time mum or a teacher because they were realistic options that I thought I might achieve. What I dreamed of being was different.

No one asks you that, though, do they? They don’t say “What do you dream of being when you grow up?”

I dreamed of being a time traveller, or the first person to walk on Mars of the Moons of Saturn or an as yet undiscovered planet out past Alpha Centauri. I dreamed of being a famous explorer, a starship captain, of discovering the cure for cancer in the Amazon rain forest, or the cure for war at a Tibetan monastery high in the Himalayas. I dreamed of saving the rhino and the giant panda and the Siberian tiger. I dreamed of being a witch who could cast spells to bring people to their senses, solve murders and thwart evil villains in their lairs. I dreamed of going back and stopping Hitler. I dreamed, you see, of making a difference.

Some days I still do. Mostly I encourage other, younger, folk to dream. “It’s too late for me,” I try to tell them, “but you can still do it. You have time.”

Pathetic, my dears. Absolutely pathetic.

Why should I give up just because time and gravity have ganged up on me? In the end someone has to beat the odds. “Look at Catherine Cookson,” I tell myself. “She only wrote her first novel in her forties.”

Well, we haven’t had any poetry in the Bag o’ Bits ™ for a few days now, so I’ll let Milton chip in. In his poem, “On His Blindness”, particularly appealing to me given my own struggles with visual decline, he wrote:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.

Milton was a bit of a bore to my mind, but my dears, he was right and sometimes we must be patient. It’s a pain, I know, and I detest it. I am not a person with great reserves of patience. It’s as well that I became neither a full time mum nor a teacher. I can see I am not suited for such things. Milton knew what his talent was, and was frustrated at not being able to use it fully. I am yet to discover mine, and so am frustrated at not using it fully. Life, eh?

Today I remembered that bright, hot feeling I had at fifteen when the world lay before me to be plundered for experiences. I plundered a little. I am glad of that. I didn’t choose a path and follow it, but came adventurously by winding, unexpected roads. That has been the fun. I’m keeping a blindfold on, because knowing what comes next would be too dull.

It seems a bit of a paradox that a bright future is best seen with a blindfold, but that’s just the way it is, out here on the Moons of Saturn.

Namaste.

Modern Music: a shocking revelation

Yesterday I listened to BBC Radio 6 and was pleased to find out they were going to play tracks from the latest albums being released that week. I was then surprised to discover that I was already very familiar with the latest musical heroes. After all, your faithful EBL is a person of middle age and now that the Offspringses have moved out (mostly) she is no longer required to pretend to like the latest caterwauling foetus that allegedly represents the height of musical sophistication.

The heroes in question were Bowie and Hendrix. The presenter also played the delicious Marc Bolan and T Rex with Get It On, so good for them. I was happy, probably deluded into thinking I was not much more than a foetus myself. Marc Bolan was my first big pop star crush, and my first ever single was Children of the Revolution (which I happen to think is a pretty good first single to quote when asked as part of an ice breaker exercise in another ghastly corporate scenario). He was on screen the first time I warmed up the cathode ray tubes to watch Top of the Pops and I was utterly blown away by his voice and hair and make-up and in fact his whole performance. It was one of those moments when your world suddenly expands in a whoosh! and you realise there is so much more than mum and dad have ever admitted.

Meanwhile back on Radio 6 I was pleased to hear some new-to-me bands which I enjoyed, and two of which I liked very much: Elephant playing Skyscraper and Jagwar Ma playing The Throw.

All of this wild experimentation began because I recently spotted the fact that I never listen to music nowadays. So that’s dealt with that. Tick. Move on.

But Bowie and Hendrix? Come along, you youngsters, surely you don’t need our beloved old fogey music?

It was class, though, even mint. Especially the Bowie, which was at least new, as opposed to the Hendrix which was obviously not. Oh, but the sound took me back!

Namaste.

For the love of grandparents

I have a scar on my left forearm where I burned myself on the bathroom hot tap when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, as Grandpa Swallow used to say.

Grandpa Swallow was a lovely grandpa, although of all the grandpas I had he was not one of mine. He was my uncle’s wife’s father, so technically not related at all.  This is him and my aunt, in 1963.

Aunty M and Grandpa Swallow

Grandpa Swallow taught me about growing tomatoes. He lived in Canada, with my aunt and uncle, and they had a huge garden backing onto the Canadian Pacific railway line. We visited them when I was two and again when I was seven. The second time was in the summer and tomatoes were growing, along with corn and squash and carrots and runner beans and all sorts of goodness. The thing I remember though is the smell of the tomatoes. There’s nothing quite like it. Every time we try and grow them in our garden, in the sullen English summer, even the slightest hint of that smell wafts me back to that Montreal sunshine.

He showed me how to pinch out the tips of the plants, how to tell when the toms were ready and let me pick them and eat them straight away, squirting juice every which way, tasting the sunshine on the warm flesh, feeling the fuzziness of the plants in my hands.

He was a lovely man who lived so far away I only met him twice. Still he made an impression on my little life.

He did not, however, give me any outward scars to remember him.

The scar on my forearm from the hot tap was caused by an act of love towards my grandmother. She used to have a nap after lunch and then have a wash to freshen up when she got up. Every day she followed her routine. One day I heard her getting out of bed, creaking and hobbling, and I decided to help. So I rushed into the bathroom to run the water into the sink for her wash.

This is what the sink looked like.

Young EBL cleaning teeth

I was quite small and the taps were quite hard to reach. The hot tap was the old fashioned kind that became very hot to the touch, and as I ran the water it burned my arm. I was like the frog who boils to death; I didn’t notice it getting hot at first until it became so bad that I yelled.

It seems that I discovered a cure for old age and rheumatoid arthritis that day. I should get a Nobel Prize, not a scar. Grandma absolutely galloped into the bathroom to rescue me and we cried together over my poor arm. I think I cried more for upsetting her really, once the shock wore off.

Every time I see the scar I remember her and I’m glad I tried to do a kind thing for her. It’s quite hard to see it now, after almost half a century, but it is still there.

Grandma

I hope you all had somebody in your life you loved and who loved you too.

Namaste.

Slippery thinking

I don’t know what prompts certain memories. It’s a bit like getting a tune stuck in your head all day, but without the music. For no good reason my thoughts have been sliding around sliding, and ultimately why butter is bad for you.

Out of the blue I started remembering about the tea tray game from when I was little. My friend and I would dare each other, successfully I’m afraid, to slide down the stairs on a tin tea tray. We only did it at her house because (1) her mother didn’t seem too worried about it and (2) she had the tray. Both of these were critical success factors. Also her stairs were straighter and the hallway a little bit longer. It was the perfect combination for successful tea tray related activity in a semi-perpendicular (yet stepped) environment.

Obviously this led me to also recall the other sliding we did as children, down the side of the flyover on cardboard. If we were lucky. Otherwise it was grass stains and grazed knees, and on one memorable occasion a broken collar bone for a boy who got carried away with how clever he was at sliding down backwards. We would hurtle down the slope into the ditch at the bottom, and you had to aim just right else you hit the nettles. The drivers going over the flyover seemed less concerned than my friend’s mother did about the tea tray.

SlideI suppose it all started when I was even smaller and we used to play on the slide in the park. It was a very high slide, built a bit like the watch towers at a prisoner of war camp. There was a wooden platform surrounded by wooden planks that were too high to see over unless you were at least seven, and the slide itself was taller than our parent. We went down it forwards, backwards, tummy side down or up, in pairs (although not all of those things at once). Sometimes the slide was not very slippery so we greased it with butter (or marge, in extremis) to make ourselves go faster. We took it in turns to steal the butter for home.

There was a crater at the end of the slide where we all shot off and landed, occasionally feet first. If it was raining it turned into a large, muddy morass, and landing in that was definitely too slimy for words, so on wet days you had to be able to build up enough speed to jump over the crater as you came shooting off the end of the slide.

I cannot begin to tell you the trouble we got into for the state of our clothes.

And that, my dears, is why butter is bad for you.

Namaste.