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.”

Celebrations

I’m sorry to say I missed wishing you all a Happy Yorkshire Day yesterday!

Buy your bunting!

Buy your bunting!

Be assured the flag was hanging in the window at EBL Towers, and Yorkshire Tea Loaf (made with Yorkshire tea) occurred, if a little unsuccessfully due to a) a delay in acquiring all the ingredients, and b) the non-stick loaf tin failing to live up to its primary advertised operational parameter, namely being non-stick.

So the tea loaf fell apart but tasted very good and we ate it today while we played games.

We had intended to go and walk the Hole of Horcum, but it was too hot and some of us had slept badly and didn’t feel like a 7 mile “intermediate” hike in hot and humid weather with rain predicted to arrive just in time for the final scramble up from the bottom of the gorge to the top. Somehow, playing some games in the comfort of the kitchen was preferable; eating cake at the same time was merely an added bonus.

The Hole of Horcum, North Yorkshire Moors

The Hole of Horcum, North Yorkshire Moors

We did not on this occasion celebrate more lustily with the Yorkshire Anthem. However, I am reliably informed by the BBC that there is a new version out this year for the musical cognoscenti among you.

So, now it’s August and the nights draw in. Time to go out for bat walks in the greying evenings, and to finish the Pimms for another year. The horse chestnuts are losing some early, unripened fruits, early heralds of the new school term and conker fights in the playground. Celebrations of the turning of the Wheel, everywhere.

Namaste

 

Addiction with EBL

Humans see pattern everywhere, even when they don’t really exist. Usually there is no pattern, just coincidence. Sometimes the patterns collapse into meaning.

I am not prepared to say whether my experience this week was coincidence or some kind of spooky world consciousness kind of thing. I was feeling frazzled. I was tired and a little worried that by agreeing to take on a project on top of my existing workload (which is already out of control), I was losing the battle with my over-active God-complex.  I was open to a new way of looking at things.

I agreed to take on a project that is in an almost desperate state. One that is likely to fail. One that could be damaging to my mental equilibrium. I agreed to work extra hours instead of reducing the time built up during last year’s marathon effort delivering a major OJEU tender and system migration to unreasonable timescales. Yes, I agreed to take on a Death March Project.

I can’t resist being told that no one else can do it, that no one else has the skills / experience  / capability. How stupid am I? I bet you never knew people fell for that line of nonsense.

“EBL saves the world again!” scream the headlines. “Without her we would all be lost!”

It’s official. I am insane. But there are those words: almost, likely to, could be. I grew up watching too many superhero cartoons.

I got back home after being away for a hectic week at work, and decided to relax by catching up on some blog posts. First of all I found that Rohan7Things was expounding wisely on self-discipline and Internet use.

“That’s good stuff,” I thought, frittering time away by using the Internet. “That’s what I need to do – after all, I have cut back on my blogging, so that’s all good. Hah, this stuff is easy!”

Who am I kidding? How deluded can I be? Pretty deluded it seems.

Next I read Rarasaur, who fell off a wagon. Even the mighty Dino of the Blogosphere, the Blogosaurus herself, has limits. Who knew?

I looked at my life. It snarled at me.

There I was thinking I was doing well because I resigned from Governors. Already I have been told I am about to be asked to pick up some jobs at our local Quaker meeting, and already, without knowing what they are, I know I will say yes.

My reasoning is this: all work and no play makes EBL a dull girl. If all I do is work, then I don’t enjoy my life. I need to be involved in activities outside work for balance. So it’s good to take on those jobs, right?

We-e-e-llllll….

Let’s say a friend has given up some voluntary work because it was too demanding and she had been doing it for nine years and felt stale and tired and wanted a break. This is all hypothetical, you understand. This friend has a fairly busy job and is often away from home. She works quite long hours, although not excessive hours like junior doctors. No more than 50 a week. Quite reasonable really; usually only 45 in fact. Civilised hours.

Now she has been asked to take on a trusteeship and another role in her community, on top of her other voluntary commitments for fundraising.

Did I mention she is also a carer? Well, she is.

Then there is her desire to pursue, in a completely selfish manner, some trivial hobbies for her own amusement. She had a rota for those but it has fallen apart recently.

She has just agreed to take on a Death March Project.

I have to admit that looking at it, it doesn’t sound so clever. Even so, I suspect I will still say yes.

My father died of stress in his sixties. I need to take that seriously.

But I will still say yes.

Only the good die young. What’s the point in living longer if you do nothing with the time?

Perhaps the first step to dealing with addiction is to recognise the problem and admit to being powerless over it. What I need is a Twelve Step Programme for Workaholism, like this one here. I scored 15 / 20 on the test, which is a bit scary.

So that’s another project to do – dealing with it.

How common is this, and is it because of the period of change our societies are going through? Or am I just a hopeless case?

Namaste.

 

Together we are stronger

This month’s Bloggers for Peace topic asks us to consider our relationships. My brain ferments such questions. Today I uncork for you some early brewings.

You know how it goes: one minute in the privacy of your head you are thinking deep and meaningful thoughts; the next, someone else, outside your bony skull echoes them in public. It happened today.

To start at the very beginning: I am reading a book. I know, who’d have thought it? It’s about the Civil War, by which I mean the English Civil War in the 17th century. The book itself is a peculiar mix of history text book and historic fiction. It’s a bit peculiar but fascinating.

As you will no doubt be aware, there is nothing civil about a Civil War, and the English variety was no exception. It tore apart the country, respecting no person, destroying trade, harvests and cities, families and friendships. It was as uncivilised as war can get, with civilians being used as human shields or hostages, or just target practice. Your immediate neighbours, with whom you had lived cheek by jowl all your life, might suddenly mutate into the Opposition. One man was for the King, his brother for Parliament, and they were followed for better or worse by daughters, wives and children. Both armies, and their camp followers, slogged through ice and snow, rain, sun and mud, starved, died of fever, disease and trench foot (this war was fought in trenches in some cases, just like the calamity in the Somme in the early 20th century), as well as wounds and quaint medical practice.

At the end of it all we, the people, killed the King for treason. We had a contract, you see, where in return for his life of privilege and riches, we could expect his service through good governance and a dedication to our collective welfare. He believed he had a Divine Right, but it turned out he was mistaken, fatally so.

The execution of the reigning monarch would have sent shock waves through an already fractured society and across the Channel throughout Europe. As everyone returned wearily from the years of war to try and rebuild their lives, it would have been hard to trust their neighbours again. During this period a number of extravagant and radical religious groups flourished, in part by offering to replace the lost trust and sense of community desired by a shocked and stricken populace. Among them were Quakers.

It didn’t last, of course. In the end we brought back the king, a new one, whom we held to account. Well, it was that or give up Christmas, and as Narnians will tell you, that is not much fun. The English reserve as their inalienable right the opportunity to celebrate a mid-winter festival. It’s the long, dark nights, you see. You have to take your mind off them, preferably with alcohol.

In my more old-fogeyish moments I sometimes feel we are experiencing similar upheaval today, as communities fracture under the pressures of modern life. There seems to be a lack of connectedness which, I think, can result in the total lack of love for others evidenced by bankers, care workers and certain celebrities. Obviously, many bankers, care workers and celebrities are kind, nurturing people; it’s just we hear about the others. Equally these behaviours are not new.

Whatever the causes, or not, and whether it’s true, or not, people do like to feel part of a community. Some communities may be closer than others, but no one likes to feel alone always and forever.

So there I was, sitting in Quaker meeting and thinking about how we are the same as those distant forebears of the 17th century, when someone stood up and said:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Well now! There’s a thing. Because I had been brooding over Isaac Penington’s letter from 1667, which begins like this:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall

Isaac lived through a terrible period of history and he, like others, wanted to leave behind all war and occasion for war. He was a religious man, and saw love and peace and tenderness as a calling from God.

These times are not as religious as then, although it seems superstition is rife instead. We have learned so much and most of it is magnificent, as Professor Brian Cox likes to point out in excited tones.

Reason is a mighty instrument, but reason without love is empty. Reason does not soothe tears or smooth away bad dreams. Compassion and wisdom, as some might say, are the way to enlightenment. Or as Bill and / or Ted would have it:

Be excellent to one another

Namaste.

 

What I did on my holidays

Did you miss me? I know, I know, but I’m very proud of how you coped without me, and I’m back now.

Lindisfarne Abbey

I went on a little holiday, a few days up north on the Northumbria coast just opposite Lindisfarne. It’s one of my favourite places and we had a wonderful rest. We forswore the Internet for five whole days. Somehow when I got back home I found I didn’t want to go back on-line. The thought of all the blogs and emails and news and social feeds and stuff was just too much.

Sigoth felt similarly so we decided to spend more time de-cluttering when we got home and have made many trips to the dump and to charity shops with our un-necessities. I even resigned from Governors. We feel like we are entering a new phase of our lives; it’s an age thing I suppose.

In any case, here in the northern hemisphere the world is turning its face to the sun and the evenings are filled with light until bedtime and the birds are up and shouting outside my window before 4 am. In those circumstances my mood changes and I want to be doing different things, or perhaps similar things differently.

Does that happen to you? In the summer I like to work more with my hands. Even though it’s hotter (well, a bit; this is England after all) I still want to knit. Fortunately I seem to have numerous young colleagues procreating so baby items are the order of the day. I take the camera out and about to photograph yet more trees and fields and birds, fuzzily and with a tendency to a slope down on the right.  I bake scones for Sunday tea in the garden.

In the winter I read and write and spend time on-line. I knit still, blankets and chunky jumpers. It’s all about cosying up in front of the fire with the lights on as the sun teases me with a quick game of peek-a-boo for a few minutes around lunchtime, then goes off to play with the more popular clouds in the South. If it’s not too cold I take photos of frost on spider webs, or the snowy lane. I make soup and casseroles.

This summer the Internet just felt winterish. I can’t explain it any other way. So I took extended leave and did the other things for a few more weeks. Today I have spent a larger than usual amount of time reflecting on things, with a quick spot of meditation after waking up, some meditative circle dancing, and then meetings for worship and for business (these latter two being Quakerly activities). I realised that I don’t want to stop blogging and that I needed to ease back into it at my own pace.

So that is that and here we are. It felt odd not to miss the blogging but to miss the bloggers. I hope you are well. I don’t think I will have time to catch up properly with you all, but I have been thinking about you nevertheless, wishing you peace and joy and perfect happiness.

No doubt come the solstice as the Great Wheel turns again, I will find my way back to keyboard more often. EBL at her computer is as seasonal as the Canada Geese on the reservoir. Some winters they stay longer and some they leave sooner, but every year they return.

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.

 

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.

 

The weight of the world

I don’t like to crow about how brilliant I am – it would only depress the rest of you. However, over the past year I have been working on losing some of the stones I gained while I was suffering with mobility restrictions. Thankfully last year I eventually had a couple of operations which have improved the situation no end. There are still days which are hard, but on the whole I am pretty much pain free and able to walk gently, so long as I wear the right support apparatus and don’t over-do it. Or move about when there’s an R in the month.

So, the stones. I have lost about five of them since January 2012. For those of you reading in American that’s 70lbs. I have no idea what it is in kilos, but assume about 35.

I’m not here to gloat about that. I am still a little above the mid-way point on the BMI measure so I am just about right which is a very strange feeling because I haven’t been this right since I was in my 20s. Having children is fattening, both before they are born and after, as you finish off their leftovers.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to try out the Global Fat Scale that the BBC so kindly provides, and it turns out I am Gambian. Who knew?

The best bit about this little bit of BBC hilarity was this quote:

Did you know?

If everyone in the world had the same BMI as you, it would remove 13,630,341 tonnes from the total weight of the world’s population

I felt quite alarmed. If we all put on any more weight will the Earth break? Might she rip the space-time continuum with her porkiness and tumble through the resulting hole into another dimension?

What if she starts consuming pies directly? I envisage chomping Earth-mouths opening in the street outside Greggs the Baker, and customers tumbling into the crevasse clutching their pastry purchases and screaming, the sound dying slowly as they fall into the centre of the planet. “Noooooooooo!”

Suppose she decides enough is enough and goes on a diet? No more fruitful abundance. Oh no! It will be global famine on an unprecedented scale, and earthquakes at least three times a week as she tries to lose the blubber by shaking about. What kind of gym would a portly planet use anyway?

What if she goes in for cosmetic surgery? The Galactic Medical Aesthete would use a meteoric scalpel to carve humanity from her body surface and restore her to her youthful dignity. We would end up in the bio-hazardous waste.

I think I need some chocolate to calm me down.

Enjoy your dinners tonight, my dears. While yet you may.

Namaste.

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.