Men Don’t Make Passes… full stop.

When I was a mere slip of a girl in the 50s and 60s there used to be this horrid, patronising, sexist saying: “Men Don’t Make Passes At Girls Who Wear Glasses”, and in my experience this was true. Of course, it may only have been true in my experience. It is possible that other girls with glasses were having a whale of a time.

At least part of this may have been due to the ugliness of glasses in 50s and 60s Britain. From 1948 to 1985 there was a phenomenon unique to Britain – the National Health Spectacle Frame. Apparently these were the envy of other countries, who had neither a National Health nor its spectacle frames, but they were loathed in this country. The range was – limited – to say the least, and what there was seemed to have been designed, either to discourage you from availing yourself of their extreme cheapness, or to advertise to the world that you were too poor to be able to afford anything else. Which of course, you were.

I remember a little boy called Steven Savage (forgive me little Steven, if you are still alive). All the kids used to call him Steven Sandwich, since it sounded like that. Poor Steven Sandwich had National Health specs, and worse, one of the lenses was permanently covered in pink sticky plaster. I believe this was a technique to strengthen a weak ‘other’ eye, by forcing it to do twice the work. Either that or the glass was cracked.

And glasses or not, I had other issues. It wasn’t just the glasses that failed to attract men to me, but me being taller than all of them and possessed of what a doctor once (erroneously, a it turned out) referred to as “child-bearing hips” or was it “child-bearing thighs”? My Dad was 6 foot 4 inches tall and all my female relatives on his side were Amazonian in build. I had an aunt and a sister both pushing 6 foot, and another sister 5 foot 10. I was actually the lucky one – I was the shortest.

And I didn’t know how to talk to them. I grew up with sisters. I went to school with girls. Boys were – alien. They guffawed a lot. They patronised. They obviously felt themselves to be superior. And the advice then was not, under any circumstances, to appear to be cleverer than them. Men liked clever girls even less than they liked girls who wore glasses. So I tried to be stupid but could never quite pull it off.  Unable to speak my actual thoughts, I was left with nothing at all to say. Banter was beyond me. Giggling – just couldn’t manage it. Flirting – never quite got the hang.

Eventually I managed to bag a man or two, but only by signalling my availability really, really obviously, and how I even did that I can’t remember. And even then these chaps didn’t exactly rush to take advantage of me. Special Offer, and all that. It was more like an unenthusiastic amble.

And then I didn’t fancy them anyway, because:

Premise Number 1:

Who would want a man who only ambled? I wanted my Hero, my Knight on a White Charger, that man who would pursue me desperately to the ends of the earth; somebody driven frantic by my very presence in a room. I wanted romance, I wanted passion.

But even if there had been a Mr Darcy I would have instantly lost interest in him, because:

Premise Number 2:

If he was the sort of man desperate enough to want me he couldn’t be a proper man. He needs must be wimp, a total loser; there had to be something seriously wrong with him.

Premise Number 2 is the killer because there’s absolutely no way around it. For an entire lifetime your logical mind can argue the self-defeating ridiculousness of Premise Number 2: some primitive, damaged part of your subconscious will continue to know it is true.

At one point I had an inspiration. I could be a Lesbian! I wasn’t sure, to be honest, what Lesbians did with each other, but I knew I was already built for the part. All it would take was one of those shaven hairdos and perhaps a silver stud through my tongue. My niece – she of the pink hair, the Doc Martens, the many exotic tattoos and, sadly, now, the failed kidneys, once shared a flat with a gaggle of Lesbians and it didn’t seem to do her any harm. In fact my exotic niece seems to have had an awful lot more fun in her life than I ever did.

Anyway, so I looked around at women and attempted to find at least a few of them attractive but, inconveniently, could not. (My old friends Rose and Daisy will be relieved to hear this.)

And now – well, now things are better. I don’t feel obliged to attract men at all, and certainly not in that competitive, trophy-hunting, 1960s kind of way.  I like men – mostly and I like women – mostly. And mostly people are just people to me nowadays. I treat them alike, whatever they are.

And – bonus – the National Health Spectacle Frame is no more – abolished, I believe, by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I can wear any specs I like. I can send for them through the post, I can try them on at home and send them back if I don’t like them. I can have three pairs. I can have purple ones, or tortoiseshell, or knicker-pink.  I can go Dame Edna or John Lennon. I can – what else can I do…? Oh well, you know what I mean.

nhs

Of cats in cupboards and head-banging to Rita Ora

This is not the most genteel of areas, and the many cats I have rescued from it do seem to reflect that. They are… delinquents.

A few days ago Henry climbed onto the back of the sofa behind my head and sneezed, voluminously, all over my face. Of course, then I got a sore throat, sneezes, snuffles… I thought cat viruses were not transferrable to humans but Henry’s seem to be. Although of course I could just as easily have picked it up from some unhygienic surface at the hospital whilst waiting for my appointment.

Then there are the fights between Nicholas the three-legged cat (aka Hoppity) and Snoots (aka Snooty-Poops). For two practically identical black and white cats they don’t seem to like each other at all and it was one of their yowling, snarling, rolling around sessions that resulted in a savagely bitten hand for me, and a whole unpleasant series of subsequent events.

Last night they engaged in another of their seven-legged wrestling matches leaving the living room floor ankle deep in black and white fur ‘feathers’ – which of course I had to clear up.

And then the TV started acting spookily – nothing to do with cats you might think. It was off, but then suddenly it was on, and then off. And then strange menus started appearing on the screen and scary choices being made on drop-down menus. To avoid stress and confusion I never touch anything on a remote control apart from Channel Change, Volume and Up & Down. I get by perfectly well with those. But of course cats are more adventurous. One of them was standing on it, and paddling about randomly with her great, furry feet.

And then there are the piles of sick hidden behind sofas – anywhere you might not look for a few days – or right in the middle of the landing where you cannot help but tread. There are the ripped net curtains (I have now thrown out all net curtains and use decorative plastic film instead) and the shredded water-bottle tops, the taps with teethmarks on them, the spectacle arms that suddenly become rough and scratchy where someone has had a jolly good chew when I wasn’t looking.

I have a cat who – with great difficulty and much contortion of his flexible feline self – stoops to drink from the toilet, when there are two large bowls of fresh water right outside the door. I have one who leaves piles of aromatic poo on top of the kitchen cabinets, too high for a human to see. It’s a process of elimination. If you can’t see one in any of the usual places get out the telescopic mirror and run it along the top of the cabinet like a periscope.

I have cats who turn the taps on when I am out, meaning I come home to gushing (expensive) hot water. I now have to remember to tie the two taps together with a child’s elastic hairband, before I go out. I have cats who turn on the cooker gas taps, so when I leave the house I have to cover them with a plastic box.

I have a cat who tries to help the iron to do the ironing, and one who sits on the mouse mat and tethers the mouse and its cord to the desk. There she sits, mournfully, reflecting upon life in general. Sometimes for a change she comes and sits in front of the screen so I can’t see what I’m typing.

I have a cat who jumps into the food cupboard every time I open the door, and cannot be removed without scattering tins and packets all over the place. Usually all that is visible of her is the rear end, tail defiantly aloft, and all that can be heard is the sound of her licking the top biscuit of an open packet of digestives.

This morning, driving cross-country round twisty country lanes, it suddenly occurred to me that since I stood no chance of beating the moggies at their little games I might as well join them. I decided to become – gradually – a Delinquent Pensioner.

All my life I have modified my behaviour, shall we say, partly so as not to be a nuisance to my fellow human beings but mainly so as not to be conspicuous. That was the overwhelming theme of my childhood:

Do not draw attention to yourself!!!

We were taught to walk quietly, eat quietly and with our mouths closed, never put our elbows on the table (except for Dad, who could do whatever he liked) – hell, even think quietly. We were taught to keep our opinions to ourselves. We were taught to laugh discreetly and never, never raise our voices to the level that other people were forced to overhear our conversations. We were little mice, and I was the Arch-Mouse.

So, ever since I have been driving – since 1980 or thereabouts – I have tried to resist the temptation to dance to the car radio. Know what I mean – that jiggling about, head-banging activity when your favourite song comes on? Not enough to sing along to it (quietly, tunelessly, missing out most of the words, getting out of breath) – you have to dance. Whilst driving.

Now, I have always tried to suppress my natural in-car jiggly-ness because people behind might laugh, or people behind might think I was a dangerous driver, or people might think it inappropriate to be singing at the top of my voice and head-banging along to Rita Ora:

Over the hills and far away
A million miles from L.A
Just anywhere away with you…

But this morning I did.

Think you can misbehave, Moggies?

toad3

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Flash Fiction: When the alarm sounded…

When the alarm sounded we knew it could only be a minute or two so I took the tea-towels out of the tumble-dryer and folded them neatly (somehow I couldn’t enter Eternity without that being done) and

Pete went down the garden with a bucket to dig up the spuds for Sunday Lunch because that’s what he had been just about to do, and it wouldn’t be Sunday Lunch without new potatoes. Not that we’d get to eat them.

I thought about that Clause I’d put in my Will aimed at Cousin Julia who’d stopped talking to me in 1978 (or was it ’79?) but realised it was too late to have it taken out since all the solicitors would be down the shelters by now and anyway Armageddon was upon us and Julia was about to be toast along with the Will and all the rest of us.

Just time to let the canary out of its cage, poor dear, for one last flap around the living room.

Pete had been a very long time getting those potatoes.

new potatoes

Ah well…

(180 words)

Star Voyage: 1 and 2

1.

You find me becalmed here
Adrift and alone
My star voyage fated to fail – 
He that I loved was my anchor
He that I lost was my sail.

2.

Now I am the sailor and I am the helm
And the wind’s blowing fierce in my sail;
And I am these timbers both seasoned and salty
And I have no reason to fail.

I cut them adrift and they took their own courses,
I cut through the hawsers that bound them to me;
One went to the westward and one to the eastward;
One lost in the sea-foam behind –

But I never looked back, and from island to island
From here to horizon, through sun-scorch and rain
I sailed on untrammelled and rarely companioned
To barter my wares on each new shining strand.

Trumpitty-Bumpitty / Bumpitty-Trumpitty (you decide)

Several things have happened today. Well, several things happen every day but you know what I mean…

President Trump has decided against visiting himself upon us this February in order to ‘cut the ribbon’ on the new US Embassy. The new US Embassy is rather an incredible building, but apparently he hates it and it’s all President Obama’s fault for selling off at a ludicrous price prime real estate in central London for such a monstrosity in an ‘off’ location. He hates it, so he’s not coming to cut the ribbon.

Everybody here breathes a sigh of relief and tears up lists of possible things to throw –

rotten eggs – always popular?

yellow paint, maybe?

flour bombs?

or maybe umbrellas. Maybe we could litter the road in front of his car with unfurled yellow umbrellas. I just thought of that, but of course he would probably see it as a tribute.

UK Citizens showering me with golden umbrellas. Local custom I believe. ‘Nice’ of these peasants, but Sad!

Now we won’t get the chance, which is a bit Sad (though also a Relief) because we have a long creative tradition over here of being Gently, Incredibly Rude to people we regard as crass, common or beneath us in some way. Just read Jane Austen. Possibly Trump has been warned of this but by now he will have forgotten.

At least the Old Horror won’t be coming on the informal visit, but there is still the State Visit to contend with. Why exactly She rushed to offer him a State Visit – an honour American Presidents are usually only accorded in their second term of office – trade deal or no trade deal – so soon – at all, even – nobody knows, but now we are stuck with that dire event, looming on the horizon.

Admittedly both sides are doing a very good job at the moment of something I believe they call “kicking it into the long grass” or “kicking it on down the road” – in other words, failing to set a date, procrastinating, making no firm plans as yet…so we may escape.

If he does have to come over here (in which case rotten eggs, unfurled umbrellas and flour bombs will be the very least of his problems, protest-wise) I think the Queen herself may have supplied the answer.

She has recorded a TV programme about Coronations, which I believe is going to be shown tonight. I just saw a clip. There she sits, and they bring in the great Coronation Crown from the Tower of London, and place it reverentially in front of her. She leans forward, curiously. This is the first time she has seen it herself, up close, for many years.

She talks about the Crown, how heavy it was, back in 1953 when she was a mere 27 years old, and how lucky that her deceased father and she ‘both had the same shaped head’ so it more or less fitted her. She explained that it weighed such an awful lot – so much, in fact, that she had to remember to lift her speech to eye-level to read it, for if she had leant forward the weight of the Crown could have broken her neck.

She also talked about the Golden Coach. It was very uncomfortable, she said, and she was driven all round London in it – at least five miles. The coach had only leather suspension, which meant the occupants were constantly jolted about and felt every bump in the road. And it went on for ever because the horses could only go at walking pace – the State Carriage was far too heavy for them to do anything else.

So it seems to me that, if and when our civil servants (famed for their numerous and subtle delaying tactics) finally do run out of excuses to “kick it on down the road” and he really does insist on a Visitation of Himself upon Us, the best response would be to be All Smiles and Obsequity and arrange for him a very long sight-seeing trip around the many wonderful sights of our capital city.

He could visit our beloved Big Ben (whose ‘bongs’ are currently silenced due to a lengthy maintenance programme) and be driven around – and around and around and around – Nelson’s magnificent, pigeon perch of a Column. He could be taken to see the London Eye and Tower Bridge, and maybe that historic old ship they run past on the Marathon – even some of the outlying suburbs – ideal sites for new golf courses – and then there must be quite a few other historic buildings, plus of course that splendid new American Embassy…

embassy

Probably he doesn’t have piles – he looks pretty healthy for a man of his age, in spite of the fast food diet – but you never know.

Maybe we could arrange for it to also to be raining on the day of the Golden Coach. That really wet English rain that drives in through windows and soaks you to the skin. Almost certain to be raining, in any case…

Maybe he might even be allowed to wear the Coronation Crown, in the very uncomfortable coach, in the extremely wet rain, all the way round the sights of London and Greater London. He’d love to be the first American President to wear a Crown – can you imagine the tweets?

And with any luck it might just slip his mind about the hazards of that mighty jewel, and he might just forget and bend forward for a tiny moment…

The Poemworm

I have to confess that though overblown imagery and gothic, post-romantic medievalism are out of fashion at the moment (they are still, aren’t they? or have they snuck back in again?) I just love Alfred, Lord Tennyson and particularly cherish The Lady of Shalott. And this is despite the fact that he named her after a type of onion. I wonder why he did it. Perhaps in late Victorian times shallot didn’t mean a type of onion?

Well – I discover, belatedly checking it on the internet – that’s not strictly true. The Lady of Shalott has one L and two Ts, whereas the onion’s cousin has two Ls and one T.

According to my battered copy of The Everyman Book of Victorian Verse: The Post-Romantics, Tennyson’s story corresponds to the death of the Lady of Astolat of unrequited love for the oh-so-beautiful Sir Lancelot. Why didn’t he stick with Astolat, I wonder? It’s easy enough to rhyme.

The other linguistic peculiarity is one of which a sheltered late Victorian gentleman like Alfred, Lord Tennyson was probably unaware – that, to English women at any rate, The Curse is code for a very specific event. So when ‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried / The Lady of Shalott – it can tend to produce a wry smile of sympathy.

It just shows you, though, how brilliant the poem is, that I can read that particular verse again and again, and still enjoy it:

She left the web, she left the loom,

She made three paces thro’ the room,

She saw the water-lily bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look’d down on Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried

The Lady of Shalott.

 I have not yet found a way of forcing this particular off-the-peg WordPress website design to do single spacing when it comes to poems, so I won’t go on quoting. No doubt if I was a Techie Tinkerer with Code and Stuff I could do so. Life is too short for Techie Tinkering. It falls into the same category as Mushroom Stuffing, Filing Old Paperwork and Rearranging Living Room Furniture.

The Lady of Shalott will keep buzzing around in my head at the moment. Not so much an earworm as a poemworm, although music is tangentially to blame since I have also been binge-listening to Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt  on Spotify, and one of her songs is – guess what, set to music? Yes, The Lady of Shalott. I am haunted, by this lady imbowered on her island.

‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said

The Lady of Shalott…

And of course, if you love the poem you have to love the art too. I revel in those lurid colours, the weird twilights and, I’m afraid, all that wafting ginger (sorry, Titian) hair. It’s the luscious excess of it all. It’s because of cigarette cards, and Sunday evenings.

When I was a child I spent every Sunday with Nan and Grandad along the road. As I have written before, those Sundays were my childhood-proper, my respite time. Along the road was where I belonged, safe with N and G, by a roaring fire, in a fug of tobacco smoke, with Sally the fat, cream-coloured labrador asleep on my feet; waiting for my newly-washed hair to dry, and consuming crumpets passed to me from the tines of a brass toasting-fork, by Grandad.

Anyway, in those days cigarette packets were smaller and – as an incentive to buy them and ruin your health – contained small, rectangular, brightly coloured cards. Children collected these. There were famous footballers and famous Shakespearian characters –  and Grandad had a collection of these, in an album. It was there I first saw the picture I called – just inside my head, thankfully, not aloud – The Floating Green Lady (who is actually Ophelia, by John Everett Millais) and all unknowingly became hooked on the Pre-Raphelites for ever.

ophelia

And looking at her now, she’s not even green, is she?  Everything else is green but she’s kind of dampish silver-grey. But it was the green-ness that made an impression on me – and the chilly wetness, and the floating flowers, and the tragedy of it all; the way she was floating with the weed, the way her dead hands rose up out of the water, as they would in real life, or real death. I used to practise the Green Lady Floating Hands in the bath.

Do you have any Guilty Pleasures, art or poetry-wise? Any Poemworms? Any guilty bathtime memories?

He’ll be there waiting for me

Quite a while back I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post which I called Sleeping With The Gingery Gentleman. Hopefully WordPress’s Similar Posts miraculous algorithm thingammajig will pick it up and put it at the bottom of this post, but if it doesn’t I will go looking for it and link it, if I can remember how. That’s the thing about growing old – if you don’t use it you tend to lose it, at least when it comes to computers.

The post was in fact about sleeping – or rather, finding it somewhat difficult to sleep – with an ancient but fiercely determined ginger gentleman cat called Rufus. If I remember, I whimsically depicted him as plucking at the duvet like an importunate old man, wheedling for just five minutes of ‘making the two spoons’ on a cold winter’s night, which would greatly ease his arthritics. It was an extended metaphor. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I can even do those.

I recall I was nervous about calling it Sleeping With… but assumed that the picture of a ginger cat at the top would sufficiently give the game away in advance, which it did, to all but one of my readers, and there then ensued the most entertaining exchanges of comments and answers I have had. God love him, that gentleman, he was so nice, and the highlight of my week!

Rufus was very old when I first took him in. He had one of three cats belonging to Ruth, the disabled lady over the road. When Ruth died I took in two of them.  Unfortunately Felix, the elegant black-and-white boy I really longed for, was allocated to Charlie, my rival cat-person. Grrr…!

Poor Rufus, his “Mummy” was so badly disabled she could not even raise her arms, so he and the other cats had been fed by Ruth’s sister Amy. At least twice a day I would see Amy, very elderly herself by this time, picking her way slowly  back and forth along our treacherous little bit of unmade road to visit Ruth and feed the cats, even though at the time she believed she was allergic to cats.

So though regularly fed, neither cat got much of a fuss; but Rufus was always out the front on sunny days and other neighbours, like Charlie, would bend to give him a stroke in passing. But Rufus did have an unfortunate habit of vigorously attaching himself, tooth and extended claw, to the hand of the unwary stroker. He didn’t have much of a life, little Rufus, but people did what they could for him.

And so he came to me, and for two and a half years has been tottering around upstairs, like a little gingery skeleton, and occasionally managing to get under the duvet for a cuddle on cold winter’s nights. He was also somewhat incontinent, or wildly unpredictable, shall we say, in his choice of location. Another reason I was reluctant to allow him under the duvet (although of course I did).

He had got to about twenty-and-a-half in human years when, on Christmas Night/Boxing Day Morning, he passed away. There was nothing I could do to help him in the process – everywhere being closed – so I just bent down and gave him a little stroke every now and again in passing, and this time he didn’t make a grab for my hand. Then there was the business after Christmas, of arranging for the stiff little body to be cremated.

Anyway, I rarely see Amy nowadays so I left a message with her neighbours, and later that evening she arrived at my door. She came in for a brief chat, older than ever but as beautifully made-up as always, and I wondered again if she had been an actress or a model in her younger days.

She said she had been expecting for some time to hear that Rufus had gone, and thanked me for doing the best I could for him at the end of his life.

“Don’t be sad,” she said. “He’ll be there waiting for me.”

 

Featured Image: The Great Cat by Gu Yingzhi (1945 – )