Talk, Talk…

Someone introduced me to somebody else recently. Now, who was it? Oh yes, my village friend (I am trying to resist using quotation marks here). We were up at the hospital, drinking that particularly sour brand of coffee perpetrated by the elderly ladies in the Volunteer Shop, whilst waiting for the basement canteen to open for business.

This friend of hers came up – friends of hers are always coming up – and my ‘friend’  introduced me. I did what I thought was the perfectly usual smile and the Hi there! and my ‘friend’ said “Don’t mind her, she’s Quiet”. In what sense, I wondered, did she imagine I was quiet?

It is true that I spend days – sometimes weeks – on my own, in my house with no one to talk to apart from the cats and the radio. After twenty-three years or so, I am used to silence. Sometimes I sing, but it comes out flat. Sometimes I recite poetry to myself. If I am angry about something or other I can have heated arguments with myself, out loud, playing both the parts. But mostly I am silent. In my head, long conversations continue – academic debates; love letters to those long lost, or not so long lost; chats with God, or the Universe or whatever might be Out There. Sometimes I get a word or a phrase stuck in my head and play it over and over to myself, like music. Sometimes, in silence, and without aid of pencil and paper, I write.

I had a great aunt once – Auntie Daisy. Auntie Daisy was stick thin, wore black, had once been a teacher. She was what people then called an Old Maid. It amused her to sign herself Tante Marguerite in birthday cards, which mystified us all since we hadn’t yet started learning French. Coughed up juicy five shilling postal orders every Christmas. I was a greedy child.

And I was a silent child. I had this trick – I could make myself invisible to adults. I would sit there with my hands neatly clasped in my lap, earnestly studying the pattern on the curtain or a tiny speck on the skirting-board, waiting for them to forget I was there. Then I listened in. I learned quite a lot of things that way. I learned, for example, that once Auntie Daisy started talking you Couldn’t Get A Word In Edgewise. I also learned that Once She Got Her Feet Under Your Table There Was No Getting Rid Of Her.

Poor Auntie Daisy. She lived on her own, like I do, and she suffered from the same syndrome – Intermittent Motormouth or Spinster’s Gabble, ie she had no one to talk to most of the time, but occasionally, unpredictably, finding herself in company and with an audience, started talking and simply could not stop.

Daisy could talk for England and so, when the mood comes upon me, can I. People tend to laugh – perhaps because they expect me to be po-faced and miserable and suddenly here I am, cracking jokes, telling endless long-winded stories, forgetting what I was saying, remembering, starting up again…

But it must be so tiring to be on the receiving end of. I can hear myself talking when I get like that, and it exhausts me. I am sending out a silent SOS – Please Shut Me Up Now. But nobody ever does. Eventually I run down of my own accord, like a clockwork robot.

I have had a whole couple of days like that. Yesterday I met English Sister at the Home and we travelled up in the stinky old lift to visit Mum. The smell in that place just hits you. Mum doesn’t speak, really, any more, just looks at us, kind of puzzled. Her white hair – always so short and carefully permed – has long since grown out and grown long. Now they gather a little wispy bunch of it up on top of her head to keep it out of her eyes. She looks like a ninety year old schoolchild. So, we sat there with her, but talked amongst ourselves. The Manageress came in. She says she thinks Mum must still know we are something to do with her – vaguely familiar, otherwise she would have attacked us, violently. Good to know.

Afterwards we drove off in our separate cars, to meet up again at the garden centre café for coffee and more chat. By this time I was in full flow. My sister, I happened to know, voted for the other side in the 2016 referendum. She and her whole family are quite passionate, politically, about the thing I voted against. I assumed she must know that, since our Canadian Sister tends to tell everyone absolutely everything. Unfortunately it began to be obvious from what she was saying that she didn’t. Oh God, I thought, now we are going to have That Conversation. So I took a deep breath and told her how I had voted.

You did WHAT!! she shrieked. How COULD you? The café was quite crowded but it suddenly went quite quiet.

Don’t hate me, I whispered. She has only just re-adopted me.

But anyway, we managed it. We dipped our toes into You Know What. We disagreed, but politely. We wandered off towards something we could agree on – the utter ghastliness of President Trump. We wandered back to the scary muddle the Government had made of the whole Brexit process – something else we could agree on – and our worries about rationing. Unexpectedly, we found ourselves disagreeing about Boris Johnson, so veered off in the direction of climate change. She said she was glad she would not now have grandchildren, her son being gay and her daughter being too frail to risk a pregnancy. Maybe, she said, the world would hold together long enough for them to be all right, but beyond that… For the first time I thought, maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t have children. Maybe in my infertility I was being kind of prescient and noble, unwittingly.

And so the horror of our radically opposed political views was diluted – as Godmother summed it up today (oh, and that was another long, exhausting motormouth session). My sister and I, both passionately convinced, both furious – she with my unbelievably stupid friends and I with her unbelievably stupid family – did at least agree on our fury. We agreed that we could both bear to listen to it no longer, and turned off the radio the minute the subject came up. She said her children did too. I said I had taken to listening to music all day rather than turn on the news.

It does seem to me that that is what we will have to do, all of us, afterwards. We will have to shriek in horror at the betrayal each of us has perpetrated upon the other; we will have to whisper in supplication. And then will have to sit around for hours in cafés and talk, preferably whilst eating half-melted chocolate eclairs and getting sugar all round our mouths, and so much chocolate on our fingers that it is beyond licking off politely. We will have to talk about it, fishing delicately around for the few items we can agree on, diluting the pain and the awkwardness with mugs of tea . Try and see the funny side.

I think I may need to lie down for the rest of the weekend.

How not to make an origami crane

I just discovered that I have been folding my origami cranes wrong all this time. Oh woe, and did I not include one of the mutant creature in my crafty Canadian sister’s birthday card thinking There, that’ll show her. I can do it too! She politely didn’t say much about it in her next telephone call. Now I know why.

I was just folding my nine-hundred-and-seventy-second (well, seems like) origami crane. The light was going and I was squinting at the instructions – yes, I need the book open in front of me even now – and spotted a tiny arrow around the bottom of the bird. Why would there be an arrow there? You didn’t need to turn it.

Or did you? Frantically I leafed through the book squinting at every single photo of an origami bird within it – still not turning the light on – and realised all this time I had been making the wings into the head and tail and vice versa. No wonder it had been so difficult to fold that head and tail down. No wonder they looked so mutant. They were mutant, and how could I not have seen that?

My only consolation is that others have failed the origami crane test too. This is Chelsea Cain writing in “The Hippie Handbook”.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • A square of paper (a different color on each side)
  • Approximately 20 hours

It pains me to even see the word origami. As a child I spent days on end holed up in my room trying to fold tiny pieces of colored paper into so-called peace cranes…

Oh, I am mortified, especially as apparently Japanese children learn to fold these tiny creatures in school. When I think of my craft efforts at school – the loathsome papier maché ball that went brown because all the poster paint just kind of mingled into one – the painfully stretched piece of cross-stitch – that awful thing with the cardboard igloos and the cotton-wool snow – telling my needlework teacher I couldn’t thread the needle of the sewing machine because I was left-handed, and it turning out that she was left-handed too…

However, I must try to look on the bright side since, according to the BBC news app, it is a Scientific Fact that cheery souls tend to live longer. Looking on the bright side, therefore, I have just made my first anatomically correct origami crane. I wondered what to do with all the mutants and have discovered – cheerily again – that the cats rather like them. They don’t get outside to massacre real birds so a paper one is a treat.

Cranes have very long life spans. In legends it is said that they can live for a hundred, or even a thousand years. There is an old tradition in Japan, of folding a thousand paper cranes and presenting them to someone to convey sincere wishes for health and long life. They are given as get-well or wedding gifts, often strung together so that they can be suspended from the ceiling.

In my origami book (A Thousand Cranes: Origami Projects for Peace and Happiness) Florence Temko tells the story of a little girl called Sadako. She was born on January 7, 1943. When she was two years old the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, which was only a mile away from Sadako’s home. The house she and her family lived in was burned down and they had to move to another district.

Sadako grew up healthy and energetic, but when she was twelve she fell sick and was diagnosed with leukemia, a result of the radiation from the atom bomb. In hospital, she and a group of her fellow patients began to fold cranes. Within a month she had folded her thousand, but she did not stop. She carried on folding paper cranes until she died.

Nowadays there is a statue of Sadako in the Peace Park in Hiroshima, holding a crane above her head. Children from Japan and other countries send paper cranes to Hiroshima every year and they are heaped around the statue as a kind of prayer for peace.

So, I am encouraged to keep on folding, one or two a day. And now with their wings and their tails the right way round.

peace monument

 

Eat, drink and be merry – or not?

Funny how one passing thought leads to another, and another, until you end up with something completely divorced from the original thought. Especially now, with the internet. You can whisk through any number of random associations in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

I can’t believe I just typed ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’. I have never said that in my life.

I was thinking about my garage, and how it seems to be inhabited by tins nowadays, mostly cat food. This is because I am nervous about Brexit, or rather apprehensive as to the incompetence of civil servants in managing the transition from – oh, you daren’t even discuss this nowadays – from the way we were to the way we will be.

That lead me to think of an old episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier (before I gave up my TV licence) in which there was an earthquake. I have never been through an earthquake and it didn’t look much fun. The root cellar of one young couple had been badly shaken and much of the foodstuff they had worked so hard to gather/make over the short Alaskan summer had been thrown about and ruined. To please his wife the husband, ever practical, set about building shelves out of second-hand timber, with high boards at the front and sides. The idea was that in any future earthquake, supplies would be contained on the shelves rather than smashed on the floor.

And then I got onto, accidentally of course, the Parable of the Rich Fool. I knew there was a thing about a man smugly heaping grain up in his barn, then dying overnight, but I couldn’t remember what it was called or where to find it. There’s a bit in Matthew 6:19 which starts:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in…

The parable itself seems to be Luke 12: 13-21. A rich man has had a bumper harvest and is rejoicing over all the excess crops he has. There is so much, he hasn’t got room to store it all, yet he means to save it and be able to live the good life for many years, eating, drinking and being merry, which must be the origin of the saying Eat, Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you die.

He makes a plan. He will tear down all his old barns and build much bigger ones in their place…

Now, here is one of those logic holes. I just love logic holes, which tend to leap out at me. Star Trek is an excellent source. If were the rich man, and didn’t yet know that God was about to thunder at me “You fool! This very night your soul is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

If I were that rich man, I would be saying at this point: what a waste of time and assets it would be to pull down all the barns I have already got. Why don’t I just build a number of additional barns? Then I can store my grain mountain and eat, drink and be merry etc till the cows come home.

I can’t believe I just typed ’till the cows come home’. I sound like my Nan.

But then of course God would commence his Thundering and I would realise that all my crops and possessions were of no use to me. I should have been concentrating on storing up ‘treasure in heaven’ instead.

I did come across a children’s bible ‘translation’ of this story, that began something like:

There was once a very rich man, and he grew fruit on his farm. We don’t know exactly what sort of fruit, children, but he grew so much of it he was beginning to wonder how he would store it all…

What was with all this mysterious fruit? There was no mention of fruit, surely. So I checked it back in the King James version. What it actually says is:

The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

And he thought within himself, saying. What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits and my goods.

And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

The writer of the children’s translation has taken this literally. What ‘fruits’ actually means is crops, ie ‘the fruits of his labour’. Fruits are crops, and goods are possessions, as in ‘all my worldly goods I thee bestow’. 

But to what extent was the parable itself mean to be taken literally? Should I not be storing cat food but trust in the lord not to let my nineteen cats starve. Should people not be saving some of their earnings, if they can afford to, because in the event of some financial crash Jesus will provide?

I am still thinking this one over. Where is the line between blind faith and fecklessness? Surely if you don’t worry a bit about the future and try to provide for yourself, you will end up in the gutter, or with other people having to take care of you, or unable to look after anybody yourself? Surely it is a person’s responsibility, as a member of society, to at least try not to be too much of a drain and a nuisance?

It all hinges on time, and predictability. The Rich Fool was called foolish because he decided to horde his excess crops (crops, not apples, pears, cumquats etc) against a future that, in the event, he was not destined to have. But he didn’t know that. If he had known it, maybe he would have made a different decision. If he had known it, maybe he would have given it all away to the poor and needy, and then sat down happily to await his transport to the next world.

Can we live as if there will be no tomorrow? What happens if there is a tomorrow after all?

Taken to its logical conclusion, if we brooded constantly on the thought that we might die at any moment, wouldn’t we all just curl up on the living room carpet and do nothing at all, ever again?  Isn’t everyday life only possible because the future is unknown?

‘Went fishing with Sam. Day wasted.’

When I came across this story it was attributed to James Boswell in his Life of Samuel Johnson, purporting to be something the great man himself had confided.

The story goes that Samuel Johnson’s father took him out for a day’s fishing, and this was the first and only time it happened. Samuel was so very happy that day, he wrote in his diary that he had had the Best Day Ever. Many years later he came across his late father’s diary and couldn’t resist looking up the entry for that day. His father had written:

‘Went fishing with Sam. Day wasted.’

This little story had an immediate effect on me. I found myself back there, in that dusty loft or study or whatever, inhabiting the body of the young Samuel Johnson, feeling his sadness.

I suppose you automatically relate these things to your own experiences. I was linking the Samuel Johnson story to a tiny conversation I had with my mother, maybe ten years ago. We didn’t really realise then that she had dementia: one of the first things to go in her case was empathy – oh yes, and tact – but then the two are intertwined. It seemed safe enough, at this great distance in time, to say that I always assumed my youngest sister had been her favourite. I expect I was hoping she would say ‘Oh no, my dear, we loved all three of you the same.’

‘Yes, she was’, she said, ‘and your middle sister was your Dad’s favourite, always’. Why did she have to add that always? Salt in the wound.

This sort of thing is not supposed to matter as you get older, but of course it does. It just seemed to me that the equation didn’t balance, it was one short. There needed to have been three parents – one to favour each of my sisters and one to love only me. It occurs to me now that this could be one of the ground rules for Brave New World – precisely as many parents in a family as there are children.

Fishing around the internet a bit more (oh dear, a pun) I discovered the same fishing story was said to have happened to virtually every father-and-son combination including some 19th Century political chap called Charles Frances Adams and his son Brook Adams. I also found short stories purported to have been entirely imagined by not-very-good amateur writers. I think it may be one of those urban myths that everybody ‘remembers’ or swears to be true, or ‘knows someone who knows someone who knew the person it happened to’.

I was trying to think of some others. There used to be one about a poodle accidentally cooked in a microwave oven, and one about a man with a bloodstained axe lying low in the back of the car whose mad visage suddenly rears up and appears in the rear view mirror. The classic is the one about the hitchhiker, picked up on some dusty highway and then mysteriously vanishing, often while the car is still moving.

I also found some modern day computer-based ones. There are a whole lot of translations computers are supposed to have made of sayings and book titles. For example:

Angry Raisins (Grapes of Wrath)
Blind & Insane (Out of Sight, Out of Mind)
The Vodka was Good, but the Meat was Rotten (The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak)

I suppose the thing is a good story is a good story, and why let it go to waste? Embellish it, change the names, pass it on and take the whole credit for it, why not? I expect that’s how the human race has been functioning since ever it first began to talk.

More Comething and Wentething

Further to my previous post. I should link to it, but I’ve forgotten how. It’s just… diddle down a bit.

The Maths Book Cometh

Sometime today. At intervals throughout my life I have attempted to fulfil my fantasy of Being Surprisingly Good At Maths. I did eventually get an ‘O’ level in Maths, many years ago in my twenties. I was quite proud of myself, since I was the one at the (very) bottom of the class who got 12% in one yearly exam, which the teacher informed me was for spelling my own name right at the top. Forced to re-take it, I achieved 7%. Presumably I had even got my name wrong this time. I was humiliated.

Perversely, ever since I have been fascinated by famous mathematicians and physicists, by unintelligible blackboards covered in chalked formulae, by genius. Even more perversely, I have been convinced that I am really a mathematical genius, or was destined to be. Something just went a bit wrong. It is a dream that won’t leave me alone.

So, in the spirit of crossing things off the bucket list of ongoing Lifetime Annoyances, and after spending most of one afternoon covering old envelopes with laborious pencil sums to compare one putative dual fuel tariff to another prior to switching  – yes, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing – I was quite proud of myself – I decided to send for a maths book and study it throughout the forthcoming Winter, a bit every day.

Partly this is to fulfil my inner conviction of being an Einstein or Hawking manqué, partly to fend off dementia. I read somewhere that the best thing you can do to Fend It Off – apart from eating vegetables a lot, jogging cheerily round the park and drinking several gallon of water a day – is to challenge your brain. Maths is the thing that challenges me most, but yet – I have noticed whilst wrestling with the calculator and the well-chewed pencil, that I am totally absorbed in the struggle. Sudoku (taught myself, still bad at it), comparative electricity prices, desperately creative household budgeting, whatever – I am lost to the world. This seem to me a good thing. This seems to me exactly the thing to generate new brain cells and forge new connections between them. The maths book should be arriving later today. Suppose I will have to start at fractions again.

Rationing Rumoured To Be Comething

It is as I suspected. Because of Brexit – sorry, should have said ‘The B Word’ – there are now rumours of rationing after we leave, due to possible hold-ups at customs points in this country or on the Continent, long queues of lorries on the motorways, etc., etc. I knew it, and have been stocking up on tins of cat food for some time. And I have other strategies, which I shall not reveal, for fear that others will copy me. Failing even these, I may have to go round the village knocking on doors, offering to swop one hour of ironing or dog-walking for a single tin of Whiskas. Failing that, I would have to let them out, to mouse as best they can, in spite of having had very little practice. Even the blind one, and the three-leggety one, and the one that’s so old it’s hard to believe she’s still alive… Sob!

Not bothered about me. I can live on bread-and-marmalade and the odd dish of microwaved porridge if necessary. (So much for the dementia-avoiding diet.) But bothered about the cats. It seems to me that if they are going to ration cat food, they will be doing so on the assumption that nobody has more than one or two cats. Stupidly! And of course, I have nineteen. I have visions of the cats and I starving together, slowly, with no way through the bureaucracy, no way of obtaining more of the life-saving Tins.

How ironic, that I should have been born soon enough after the last War for rationing of some items – sweets, I believe, and sugar – still to be in place – and here I am at the other end potentially rationed all over again. All the same, I have been fascinated by rationing all my life – bit like the maths – for no obvious reason. I read that whole series of books of correspondence to Mass Observation – people rejoicing having chanced upon an ancient tin of peaches in a corner shop – people triumphant after a three-hour queue in the rain had yielded a bunch of watercress or some spinach. I even found myself fascinated by the Potato Peel Pie in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (do read, of you get the chance) which consisted of mashed potato with an artful garnish of potato peel. I just loved all that, and imagined myself making do. And mending.

Funny how it always seem to be the awful things that most fascinate you the most. Almost like you are willing them to happen.

PS: I think there was supposed to be a Wentething, but I have forgotten what it was.

Stuff Cometh and Wenteth

The Iceman Cometh

Since the sixties I’ve been bothered by the title of a play by someone called Eugene O’Neill – The Iceman Cometh. Who was this blasted Iceman, and why was he cometh-ing? I could never quite be bothered to find out. In those days it was not that easy to just Find Out. You had to go to the library and order books and stuff, then wait three weeks. And in any case, I knew the answer would be dull.

And I was right. It’s some sort of 1939 American play about a group of hopeless drunks and dreamers awaiting the return of a salesman, a charismatic chap who is likely to “get the party started”. Eventually he does turn up – unlike Godot, who never turns up in spite of all the wordy Waiting actors have done for him over the years.

But who is the Iceman? The Iceman is apparently not the charismatic salesman. No, after exhaustive further Googling I can reveal that the Iceman is, on one level, a kind of joke. The Iceman is the man your wife is most likely being unfaithful with – he’s the American version of the Milkman. But on another level, the Iceman symbolises Death. Death cometh to all men, etc., etc.

Did you really want to know that? I’m not sure I did either, but it’s one of those things you just have to – cross off, finally, from a bucket list of lifelong minor annoyances.

The Mosquito Cometh

One of my current annoyances is Mervyn the Mosquito. He/she lives in my living room and materialises somewhere on my leg, ankle or foot whenever my attention is distracted. Try to swat him/her and he/she vanishes – poof – leaving behind a trail of little red bites, some of which metamorphose into blooming great swollen, infected and fiercely itchy areas necessitating visits to the doctor and yet more antibiotics. I have to be careful of stuff like this, nowadays. My immune system is not what it was.

The Fence Man Wenteth

So, one of my fence panels fell over in a strong wind. Yes, in August when there aren’t supposed to be any strong winds. It fell into my neighbours’ garden. It is their fault it fell because they viciously slashed away all the lovely shrubbery (on their side) that had successfully held my fence panel up for the last ten years or so. I went out in my dressing gown and dragged the broken panel through to my side. It disintegrated into a further two parts. I regarded the six foot empty space that represented My Privacy. They have been progressively invading My Privacy, the neighbours, since they arrived. And now I also had to pay, money I hadn’t got, to replace this lump of wood, since the boundary is mine.

I thought it would be easy enough, if not cheap. I would call a fencing firm and they would come, with splendid fence panel, and manoeuvre it into the hole. Many visits by men in shorts, big boots and dangly tool-belts later; many non-materialising emailed quotes and non-returned phone calls later, and I was disabused of this simplistic notion. Nobody, basically, could be bothered to replace my fence panel. It wasn’t a big enough job to warrant them coming “all the way out here”. Not worth the petrol. In any case, the concrete supporting posts had moved over the years so any panel, I was told, would have to be custom-made in situ, ie even more expensive.

Next Door were all away in Tenerife or Barbados or somewhere. Two whole families of them, plus screaming baby, plus mountains of luggage – all mercifully, if temporarily, gone. Before they came back I was going to have to come up with an alternative solution. In the end I ordered the fence panel from Amazon. It turned up in a lorry next day. It turned out that I would have to treat it with two coats of preservative stuff – even though it was advertised as ‘dipped’. I ordered a big plastic tub of the ‘stuff’ from Amazon, plus a paintbrush and a paint kettle (I do not decorate, so did not have them). The expense was mounting.

I spent some time out in the back garden in a pair of old leggings and the top half of a redundant nightie, slopping the stuff on. Then I phoned a local all-purpose gardening couple. They arrived – very large and scary in matching green tee-shirts – and within half an hour the panel was in place. All they had done was wrench the concrete fence posts apart and slide the panel down in.

Life is just full of these dull little dramas, isn’t it?

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night…

Readers may recall – though probably not – that I recently gave up my TV licence as a protest against the Government/BBC’s plans to remove free TV licenses from the over 75s next year. Annoyingly, the BBC mentioned on their radio news programme this morning that TV viewing figures are falling drastically, especially among the young. I imagined I was rebelliously depriving myself of something for the sake of a principle – now I discover I was conforming to some mindless Younger Generation.

Staring mournfully at the gap where the TV set used to be, I realise I used to use it to switch off, ie to become part of the mindless Older GenerationNow I am finding being at home all day quite hard work – all that thinking about stuff – all that What should I be getting on with now? TV was an excuse to sit still and do nothing. Or knitting.

I’ve been managing quite well with my collection of radios, each tuned to a different station – not being much of a re-tuner of DAB radios. I have one stuck on Radio 4, for the News and Woman’s Hour. I sampled The Archers (‘an everyday story of countryfolk’), in the hope that, being older now, I would suddenly be able to stand to listen to it.

I still hated it, apart from one episode when a character called Hayley was going round frantically demanding money from fellow villagers in order to solve her mortgage shortfall problem – telling them she was entitled to it. She was being so annoying and so manifestly and counter-productively foolish in her approach, and all in a fake rural accent, that I just wanted to slap her. I suppose I was gripped, but not enough to make me tune in to the next episode.

One of my other radios is tuned to something called Mellow Magic. I have always resisted anything with the word mellow in it, along with the words heart-warming and epic – but I tried it and was hooked. Basically they play all the songs you remember quite a few of the words to, that whisk you back to your past.

Another radio is tuned to Scala, which advertises itself a classical music station with a modern twist. I use this as background music for reading. I used to use Spotify for this, but was always worried that by listening online I might be using up a lot of data, whatever that is.

Most of the time it’s fine – film scores, sad tinkly piano music – but occasionally you are jolted back into the living room by something unexpected and truly ghastly such as the Dam-Busters March or Mars, the Bringer of War. It’s even worse when you’re trying to get to the end of a popular physics book which is proving beyond your comprehension. I used to read books that dealt with string theory, multiverses and spooky action at a distance, but I think my brain must have atrophied since then.

So, I just migrate from one radio to another. Now what I need is some kind of hooked pokey-stick, or series of long pieces of string tied to all the radio like reins – to take the place of the TV remote control.

Then there are the TED talks. Someone stands on stage somewhere in the world – Iceland, Toronto, whatever – and records a short talk about whatever they happen to know or feel strongly about. These talks are free to listen to and are useful if suddenly craving the sight of a human being moving about and gesticulating, as opposed to disembodied voices. You have to be selective – no point watching fifteen minutes of someone enlightening you on how to sell a million pink plastic water-jugs in one day.

That’s how I came to be watching a lady psychologist talking about deathbed visions. I think she worked in end-of-life care or similar. She was saying people attending at a death should not be surprised if the dying person was able to ‘see’ other people in the room, or even reached up to them. One person had regular visits from an old dog who had died many years before, and which slept curled up on a chair. The psychologist lady explained that visions would usually be tailored to the person’s cultural background, so people in different countries might see angels, or the Buddha, or the Hindu god of death. And children tended to see visions tailored to them – so one child told his parents that the children’s train had arrived at the station; it was time for him to go.

People also see dead relatives or friends, and have the sense that they have come to greet them from the after-world, and help them across. This set me to thinking – who would I want to come and meet me? At first I thought, nobody.  What dead person would be willing to go to the trouble of struggling into human form again, and go and lurk around at some windswept crossroads waiting for me to turn up? And then I thought, well it would be the ultimate poor sad me thing, wouldn’t it – turning up at the afterlife crossroads and nobody – not even the Devil – who I gather has a tendency to keep assignations at crossroads-es to collect the souls people have sold to him – could be bothered to be there to say ‘Hi’.

So I settled for Nan, who would probably be wearing her cardigan and her flowery overall; Sophie, a long-lost and much loved black and white ‘tuxedo’ cat, and Godmother. Godmother isn’t actually dead yet, but she’s ninety, so presumably she would be by that time. Unless, of course, what probate solicitors often refer to as The Under The Bus Scenario were to happen fairly shortly. I even considered Ex but then I thought no, he’d be tapping his watch saying You’re three-and-a-half-minutes late! Don’t you know that you are Low On My List of Priorities?

Who or what would you want to crowd around your deathbed, or be waiting for you at the crossroads?

rockabilly

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night
Are you gonna be there?
(Well I got my invite)
Gonna bring your records?
(Oh, will do) …

Mott the Hoople, Roll Away The Stone, 1974