WOTW: Baubosking

I was given a calendar of old forgotten words for Christmas, and this was the first one in it. It seemed oddly appropriate in the circumstances, as I shall explain momentarily.

Rosedale

Baubosking is an old Yorkshire dialect term for wandering about instead of staying at home, as in

“Sho war er reeight baubosker.”

“Sho’s awlus bauboskin aboot.”

https://archive.org/stream/mymoorlandpatien00bishiala/mymoorlandpatien00bishiala_djvu.txt

The reason this has resonance for me at present is that since my mother died just before Christmas, I have felt a tremendous sense of release from worry. I even went into the travel agent the other day to pick up some brochures, because I feel sufficiently free to be able to think about jetting away somewhere foreign. There are so many options: the Taj Mahal; the Northern Lights; the Icelandic volcanoes; the Rockies; the Alhambra; Casablanca….

Then I saw the prices, my dears, and thought again!

So what to do with this lovely, evocative word?

Well, how about this? Some people may remember Rarasaur’s series of Prompts for the Promptless, where she provided an unusual word or phrase to use as a prompt to write a blog. I wondered if anyone out there fancied doing some more, based on some of the words I anticipate discovering as my calendar shrivels the year away?

Assume no constraints of time, money, family, friends or phobias! Are you a baubosker, or a homebody? If you could travel anywhere, where would it be? (I may take notes here.) If you prefer to stay at home, regale me with the joys of that decision. Would you choose the blazing crater of Eyjafjallajökull or the blazing logs of an open fire in the living room? Another country, continent or world? Time and space is yours. Police boxes are optional.

Take me somewhere thrilling, my dears. It is cold, grey, January here and I yearn for something bright and shining.

And wherever you travel or rest, may it be beautiful to you.

Namaste.

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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.

The cruellest cut

This week’s Prompt for the Promptless from your friendly neighbourhood dinosaur, Rarasaur, is on the subject of Remaking.

To remake is to make anew or in a different form.

“Remake?” I thought. “That’s the problem with people today – they just keep remaking things instead of making up their own stuff. Leave my damn stuff alone and get your own! Boy bands. Bah, humbug.”

Then I had a cup of tea and calmed down.

As I sipped I remembered how I tried to remake myself once upon a time, in the flightiness of teenagery. I have been known by regular readers to mention that I have long hair and this is largely because (a) I had a crush on Mary Hopkin when I was six, and (b) my mother hated it and I still won’t give her the satisfaction of cutting it.

I have to confess that (b) is not strictly true. There was an occasion when I did cut it. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

When I was a fat, bespectacled and generally bullied teenager I was still foolish enough to think I could change my life and find friends by changing how I looked.  It’s a common error, made all the time by vulnerable, insecure souls, and fed by the insatiable greed of the cosmetics and glamour industries. Magazines airbrush their photos, models wear unfeasibly skinny clothes, designers cater for a vanishingly tiny (in every way) proportion of the market. As a result the rest of us are left feeling fat, ugly and unloveable – unless we spend money on a miracle. Then we may be worthy of love. Those great big bullies just keep feeding us the lie and we keep trying to please them until either we grow out of it or we find someone who persuades us we have achieved it. When you are a teenager, those few years of self-doubt are a long and bitter lifetime. Or perhaps it was just me.

Any road up, as we say in this part of the world, usually to tourists, I decided that I needed a makeover. Of course, that wasn’t how I thought of it because I don’t think the term had been invented in 1976. I just thought that I needed to make myself different, more acceptable, and that then I would be more popular. My mother, as I said, was always keen for me to have my hair cut and there had been a couple of incidents at school when one of the prefects had given me a hard time about it being too long and untidy, and threatened me with detention, which, unlike today,  was Very Serious Indeed. I was tired of all the nonsense and decided to be adventurous and win popularity.

I screwed up my courage and headed for the hairdresser. My mother arranged for me to see the man she liked to cut her hair, and who was known locally as an excellent hairdresser. I have to say that he was as camp as a seventies sitcom, and made Quentin Crisp look like Bear Grylls on testosterone. He walked, as a friend once remarked, very light on his feet.

Whatever his personal inclinations he was said to be a fantastic hairdresser. I had not been to a hairdresser since I was about 10, when my mother had my hair permed and it was a disaster. I simply refused and even then she could not make me. Do you remember when you first found out that your parents can’t actually make you do things? I think that was it for me.

I sat in the swivelly chair, already feeling unstable, and not reassured by its tendency to twist beneath me. Suppose it twisted as he was cutting? I’d look like David Bowie! Well, I’d look like a fatter, short-sighted, female David Bowie, but less hip. We’re all less hip than David, of course, but I was even less hip than other people, more Laughing Gnome than Ziggy Stardust.

“What do you want doing with this?” he asked, giving my hair that kind of sneer only the best hairdressers can muster.

“I would like it cut shorter,” I said.

“What style?”

I had no idea.

“Just make it look good,” I muttered gracelessly.

He wittered on about stuff I didn’t understand and I nodded and said “OK” in that sullen teenage sulk that comes from bewilderment and confusion and lack of confidence. He cut away, first removing my glasses so they didn’t catch on the scissors. I was blind.

At the end he gave me the glasses back and I was revealed in full horror. The haircut made me look like a Bay City Roller but more boy-ish. It may have looked fine until I donned the Deirdres, but with those on my nose I was a bona fide monster.

I was numb with shock. I paid and left, hurried home and cried for an hour. My mother arrived home from work, and ran upstairs eager to see my beautiful new hair. By now I was not only freakishly-haired, but red and blotchy and snivelling. No mother can be expected to react well to that. She didn’t. She cried too and kept telling me not to worry.

What did she know? I had to go to school next day.

And the day after.

And the day after that.

It took years to grow out. It’s still not quite back to full length in my wedding photos, seven years later.

So much for remaking my image. It may be at such times you find out who your real friends are. I already knew that, so it told me nothing except that hairdressers were a waste of money and indulged in child abuse for cash. I didn’t go back to one regularly for over 30 years. Even now when she suggests, tentatively, longingly, resignedly, that perhaps I might like to cut it short for a change, I shudder and say no. She sighs a little in sorrow, and trims it beautifully but still calls me one of “her ladies.” Finally I am accepted.

Namaste.

 

Which side of the fence are you on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I blamed Margaret Thatcher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste.

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.

The cost of painting a hallway

Time for the next edition of Prompts for the Promptless courtesy of Rarasaur.

True Cost is a term for the often-overlooked, comprehensive expense of something, including the time-related and emotional costs.

Example:  You can purchase a cat for money.  Let’s say $100.  That’s the basic cost.  The True Cost of the cat, though, is in the litter box, food bowl, cat carrier, food, vet bills, litter, the time spent on the cat, shirts that are torn by tiny kitten claws, the worry you experience when the cat is ill, and the grieving if the cat passes away before you.

Back in the closing decade of the last century, when running their campaign for an election, the Labour party accused Margaret Thatcher of knowing “the cost of everything and value of nothing”. The quote originated with Oscar Wilde as his definition of a cynic.  It was unsuccessful as a campaign but it is often still quoted when old fogies such as myself gather around the fire to reminisce about the Eighties and how terrible they were.

They were hard times, and we felt like we were living in a Dickens novel. Indeed, Victorian values were being explicitly quoted as superior to modern ones, to which those of us somewhat to the left of fascism retorted sniffily “What? Like children up chimneys and syphilis?”

I can tell you now, my dears, there is not much forgiveness for that woman and her policies in my shrivelled heart. They hurt me directly and painfully, and now “Dave” is trying to rehabilitate the party and appear cuddly, while underneath we see the sharks circling as the media campaigns rabidly against skivers and scroungers and people who don’t fit a mythical norm.

You will have gathered my tendency is to the left wing. I am a vegetarian, pacifist, feminist, non-profit-employed, hippy wannabee. What do you expect? It’s in the person spec.

So, moving on…

I am intrigued as to whether, for the purposes of this post, we can equate “true cost” with “value”. I think I know about true cost. I deal with it daily for my job. “It looks like the development of that functionality costs X,” I tell my bemused colleagues, “but in fact the true cost is Y once you factor in the implementation team, the support, maintenance, and staffing costs.”

At first I thought cost and value were the same. Then that old demon, the other hand, stirred, twitched and finally said, through mixed metaphorese, “Wait a minute, isn’t true cost just cost with everything included – gross, not nett? Quantitative. Value is all the touchy-feely stuff you tree-huggers go on about – the so-called qualitative stuff that’s a waste of time!” (My other hand is very much on the right.)

I hate to admit it, but on this occasion my right hand may have a point.

I am aware that given my busy life-style and fortunate financial position, I will sometimes pay someone else to do a job I could do myself but don’t choose to do because my time is more valuably spent eg blogging or writing village quizzes or visiting with friends or family. I might pay a decorator to paint the hallway so I am free to spend the weekend with a friend. Somewhere in my head I have calculated that (a) the cost (true and / or quoted) is acceptable and (b) the value is favourably weighted. To my right hand, I would say something like “The cost of paying someone to do this is less than the cost of paying me to do this because, while paint is paint, my time is more expensive.”

Well, how very dare I? As if I could paint the hall as well as someone who decorates for a living! Perhaps I also recognise, but do not admit (least of all to that snarky right hand!) that he paints better than I do so I get a higher quality result.

How do I put a cost to the pleasure I feel in a well=painted hall against the pride in a hall painted with blood, sweat, emulsion and tears? That’s where value, and personal priorities, both enter the equation. I might paint badly but feel the integrity of a self-painted hallway is higher. Or I might decide that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well, and so get a professional in to do it.

Yes, the cost of my hallway went up with paying Gary to do it. My satisfaction with the end product is the value, and for me that was greater by getting Gary in.

Thanks, Gary. It looks great!

Namaste.

Counterintuitive can be Counterproductive

Fiction is a mirror of the collective soul, and so the narratives we choose to tell and to read present an agreed version of reality we decide to share. Our shared version of reality becomes actuality, and we find it uncomfortable and inconvenient when other versions intrude. Sometimes those versions, underpinned by science, become submerged in the groundswell of opinion holding to our selected consensus.

In this week’s Prompt for the Promptless, Rarasaur suggests writing about counterintuition.

Counterintutition is a seemingly simple concept– it represents a truth that is contrary to common sense or the expectations of intuition.

Some examples of counterintuitive situations: You burn calories when you’re sleeping, flailing around is exactly the wrong thing to do when drowning, and beautifully speckled dart frogs can be poisonous to the touch.

On the same day, I read a guest post by Elizabeth Bear on Charlie Stross’s blog about how we think we know certain things, but it turns out we don’t. It was a prime example of how we have rewritten reality and made it counterintuitive as a result.

You probably think you know what a nuclear explosion sounds like.

You’re probably wrong.

The first footage released of hydrogen bomb tests was silent. A foley was dubbed in, using a standard explosion or cannon sound effect repeated to form the familiar continuous, ominous rumble. (If you think about this, it’s pretty obvious that the footage most of us are used to is dubbed, because audio and visual are simultaneous–and these films are shot from miles away from the blast site.)

Collectively we have made the world of known scientific learning one of mystery and furious, opinionated debate. It irritates my Inner Pedant that space battles on TV are chock-full of explosions. They claim in space no one can hear you scream, and they are right. They just don’t demonstrate it so everyone carries on thinking space and vacuums transmit noise just like air.

Equally it’s a guilty pleasure to watch a space battle where not all the ships are oriented the same way up.

More importantly though, if we make scientific discovery a matter of opinion instead of an accepted best description of reality (until we get a better theory – because that is how science works), then we end up with creationism and climate change deniers and all kinds of crazy.

Fiction is a fantastic escape. It’s a means of exploring other possibilities, of examining the human condition and sharing emotional connections. It is not a text book for how the world works. Demarcation, people!

So while certain truths may be counterintuitive, that may be nothing more than a failure of current understanding, When it is caused by conscious manipulation of known facts about the  ‘verse then I call it out as fabrication and mythologizing, and demand quality of imagination.

The universe is amazing enough, and has mystery enough, without us compounding our ignorance on purpose.

<Steps down from soap box and shuffles aside>

It’s a beautiful Reality. Enjoy it as it is, without the face paint.

Namaste.