Thank God For Cup-A-Soup

It’s a long time since I wrote anything and the bit of WordPress that I can see when I type stuff seems to have turned a loathsome shade of magenta-cum-chestnut. Nothing stays the same, does it? Turn your back and…

I only retuned the TV at Christmas, in readiness for Canadian Sister’s visit. Retuning a TV is a Man Job as far as I’m concerned, but since there was no Man I was forced to puzzle it out. Well, I thought – that’s that sorted for another few years, but no. This week my Freeview channels have started vanishing again. Already! So I had to detach the instructions I taped to the back of the TV last time. My eyes seem to have gone to pieces in the last few weeks. I can’t read any writing on the TV now from the sofa, but, I think, if I stagger forward and perch on the coffee table

On the coffee table I make the unwelcome discovery that things are equally out of focus from there, merely larger. I settle for larger and, squinting, start to follow my own instruction. I had to cancel my optician’s appointment because of the chest infection my Sister gave me. Not even an exotic Canadian chest infection but something she picked up in Stockport.

So her visit, much looked forward to, did not go entirely to plan. My sister’s visits never go entirely to plan but this time, since so much has happened in between, and she has lost her husband in the meantime, I suppose I was fondly imagining that everything would be back to normal, ie back to the way it was when we were teenagers, not that either of us were exactly normal then. But of course, it wasn’t. Much water under the bridge.

I mustn’t catch this, I was thinking, in between trips to the fridge to find her ice-cold yoghurts or trips to the kettle to make her honey and lemon drinks. I simply mustn’t allow myself catch this, I thought, as I marvelled again at how giant shreds of damp and germy paper tissue could have spread themselves over such a wide area of carpet and sofa, in spite of the Tesco bag supplied for their depositing. The Tesco bag kept disappearing. It went upstairs every few hours and then did not come back down again. But of course I catch everything nowadays, and once I’ve got it I can’t get rid of it. By the Wednesday evening I had the Throat.

There wasn’t much we could do, what with her being sick and me being sick and my friend from down the village – who had scared us both with a long hypothetical and never-to-actually-be-disclosed list of activities, all of which would involve her – being sick as well. So we sat at home and watched TV.

Poor Sister. What they don’t tell you is now cruel a dying spouse can be. Apparently, among other things, he told her that all she had ever done was sit at home and watch TV. I wonder why dying people need to be so brutal, however frightened they are of death, knowing that their words will echo on down the years until all that people will remember is not forty years of Who You Were but two weeks of What You Said.

So we watched TV. Turns out we both ‘fans’ (possibly not the right word) of Whiny Lady, who has long, perfectly coiffed red hair and lives on a cowboy ranch. Day after day, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, we had been tuning in to Whiny Lady, learning how she prepares Yummy Meals months in advance and saves them all in Tupperware containers in her vast freezer, and how she loves to cook up vast plates of Mexican style meat from all the huge, handsome cowboy men and beautiful, healthy cowboy children in her life, and how she loves her Mom, and her Mom in law, and her Father in law, and how she cooks up huge, wonderful chocolate Thingys for them…

As we watched, and choked and sneezed, and the soggy remnants of paper tissue rained down upon my sofa and living room carpet and cats, we tried to analyse what exactly was the fascination here. Sister has been somewhat more adventurous in the kitchen than I – when permitted in the kitchen, which wasn’t often – but not necessarily more successful. My cookery is more like Do I Have Anything That Might Fit Between Two Pieces Of Bread? Hers is more of an ongoing scientific experiment. At least now she can conjure up slightly wonky Buddha candles in her kitchen – something that also used to be on the verboten list.

We analysed what it was about our daily doses Whiny Woman that absorbed our attention. Sister decided it was lifestyle porn, ie we didn’t so much want to be able to cook like her but to have all those wonderful husbands and check-shirted sons and daughters and supportive relatives, and a great big kitchen separate from the Ranch in its own Lodge, and the bunch of flowers on the ledge and all those tops. Whiny Woman wears a different wonderful top over her cowgirl jeans to cook in every day. Does she store them a walk-in wardrobe the size of Texas? Does she throw them away after a single use? Are they supplied to her by manufacturers of wonderful tops? How does she fry up all that pork and beef and chicken and grits (grits?) and never attract a spot of grease?

I narrowed it down to Implement Envy. I do not want to cook like Whiny
Woman and I know perfectly well that I’d be as miserable as sin on a cowboy ranch and couldn’t possibly cope with all that sincere and syrupy wonderfulness with relatives, but…

Oh look, she’s got a pale blue saucepan that exactly matches her top…. and that frying pay – sorry, skillet – yesterday – so heavy, so perfectly designed, so lusciously expensive and – it matched her top! And a special shiny silvery thing for draining cauliflower.

So now Sister is gone, returned with some difficulty, first on the train to Stockport via London, and then to Canada. And here I have been, at death’s door, ever since, sleeping upright in a corner of the sofa for a week and a half, night turning into day, a curious pall of unreality covering everything. You only know you’ve got a Respiratory Tract when you get an Infection of some kind. It’s the bit (apart from your head) that hurts so much when you cough that you hope to fall asleep so as not to be forced to cough for a while. It’s the bit the penicillin doesn’t seem to make any difference whatsoever to. Thank goodness for Cup-A-Soup.

The Dark Christmas Of The Soul

I try not to be cynical, but when I see those Salvation Army adverts for those who are homeless, gift-less, cold, shivering or alone at Christmas, I can’t help but wonder things like…

Is the old chap in the armchair real, or when the cameras stop rolling (or whatever cameras do nowadays) does he get up from his shabby armchair, brush back his long, unwashed hair and start talking in ringing Shakespearian tones like Sir John Gielgud? And the poor young chap shivering on the street corner with snow falling all around and people pausing only to mock or kick him. Once the shoot is complete, does he stand up, removing umpteen toasty hot hot-water-bottles from beneath that snow-soaked duvet and suggest everyone repair to the café over the road for a cup-a-soup or cheese on toast? I mean, I know the lonely old chap, the child who won’t be being visited by Santa and the shivering youth exist in all their sad and multiple forms in real life, but are the ones in the adverts real? And does it matter either way?

This is the sort of thing you start pondering, when you are alone in a house for two or three days with only the cats and the TV for company. After this, I am going to look up Dark Night of the Soul. I think I may be going through it. Not dark enough, however, to merit a visit from the Salvation Army. Boring, misguiding and distracting the Jehovah ladies has consumed all my psychic energy. It has been quite fun, at times, but I can’t manage the Sally Army on top.

I went to visit Mum in the home a few days ago but discovered her, once again, asleep and corpse-like at nearly lunchtime. I was told it would be better if I made an appointment to visit her instead of “just turning up”. That depressed me. It says in the brochure that relatives are free to visit at any time. And yet I know that if I do call the Home it will ring and ring and no one will answer because the Home is just one of those places where phone-answering is no one’s specific responsibility and so nobody does it.

In the good old, bad old pre-and incipient dementia days, of course, I would have gone over to Mum’s on Christmas Day and we would have sat, mostly in silence because of her deafness and increasing unwillingness to read, or even look at, the notes I passed her. Eventually she would just toss them down on the imitation parquet flooring. We would knit blanket squares together for around three hours in her underheated living room. Poor Kitten (now rescued, and still alive at the human equivalent of 115 or thereabouts) would be crammed underneath the lukewarm storage heater, her nose tightly wrapped in her tail. The clock would be ticking loudly on the mantelpiece, and there we would sit, having consumed…

Well, for a while it was a cooked meal, though not a Christmas cooked meal. Towards the end it would be Ryvita with increasingly eccentric toppings. And then nothing. Shops, meals, preparations for guests or visiting daughters – all such had been erased from her mind.

Canadian Sister is actually in the UK but oop north with her late husband’s rellies. She flew over here solo for the first time – passport renewal, navigation of Schiphol airport, jetlag – the lot. She has texted me once or twice. I was teaching her to text, transatlantic fashion, soon after her husband died. She seems to have mastered that and has sent me several texts from oop north – mostly about underground trains – how many stops between Euston and Victoria – even though Victoria is closed between Christmas and New Year as I keep on and on trying to explain, to no effect whatsoever. However, it hasn’t seemed to occur to her to telephone me, as she would have done if she had been at home in Canada on Christmas Day. I did casually text explaining that it would be possible for her to call my mobile – sorry, cell – phone from oop north on her mobile – sorry, cell – phone – so as to avoid having to run up a bill on mother-in-law’s landline. But maybe the technology tutorials haven’t quite stretched that far. A phone call would have been nice.

By day I look out of the window and note the cars crammed into all the driveways, and wonder who is having whom to visit. By night I look out of those same windows and, up and down the hill, am treated to richly decorated and flashing council house façades. I know why this is. It’s because the Parish Council are offering three prizes of £50 each to the most festively-decorated houses. A few days ago they sent round pairs of judges – all of them couples, each couple with a borrowed dog as a cunning disguise. Disguise dogs… It seems to me it would cost considerably more than £50 to purchase so many fancy lights and keep them lit up with expensive electricity night after night – but perhaps I’m missing something.

My friend down the road had another great granddaughter on Xmas Day. She texted me, joyously. I can’t imagine what it is like to possess a great grandchild, but did my best to sound appropriately pleased, and decorated my reply text with what seemed like appropriate icons.

I listen to my neighbours playing video games. It seeps through the walls. I think they have got a new baby – at least, I can hear something very small and new crying at intervals – and she did get a trifle tubby for a while… But though the rock music marathons have mercifully ceased since the small crying sound started, the intermittent video whooshes and crashes have not. The child – if it actually is a child and not a figment of my imagination – will no doubt grow up to be one of these Pinball Wizards with the joysticks and clickety-buttons, slumped in a beanbag in front of a screen all day.

What else have I done? Now, let me think. I must have scooped out poop at least fifty times over the last few days. The moggies seem to be going into poop-overdrive for the festive season. And I have fed all nineteen of them twice a day, and washed all the dirty bowls up after. Not to mention the current outdoor moggie, Buster, a scary hissy-and-snarly ginger bruiser who has been turning up every day at dawn and dusk recently in the expectation of a whole tin of Whiskas and then waits round the corner or behind the bins, just out of sight, for maybe another 400g tin? It’s like that figgy pudding song – We all want some figgy pudding, so bring some out here!

I have watched a whole lot of Call The Midwife Christmas Specials – so many of those lifelike rubbery babies emerging – so many nuns – and a whole afternoon’s kind of box set on Channel 4 or something similar, of The Yorkshire Vet. I just got into it whilst knitting squares for my blanket and somehow or other couldn’t turn it off. Do you know, in every single programme he takes his top off and puts his arm up a cow? And in every single program at least one set of gonads are removed with a squelch – pig, dog, cat, ferret, polecat … I feel I could now castrate almost any living thing, from memory.

Not yet the flaky roses…

(Sofa In Multiple Occupation)

(Shadow: Sunday Morning Chillin’)

I just typed into Google Is ADHD the same as flaky? (should it have an ‘e’? why does it sometimes have an ‘e’ and sometimes not? distracting…) and Google reckons it is, sort of.

To be exact, Google opines that flaky seemingness (to one’s friends, employers etc) is in fact but one symptom of high-functioning ADHD. So whilst one is not technically or actually flaky (or flakey) everybody will always be convinced that one is. Furthermore, flaky-seemingness is but the visible tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to the daily struggle for survival in a world where 99 out of 100 brains are wired the opposite way to your own.

This is depressing, and the thing is, since I retired – or rather, since the world decided it could no longer be bothered to pay me for being bad at various kinds of work I really didn’t want to do – the ADHD, or whatever it is, has got distinctly worse. I used to be able to read, for instance. Spent hours engrossed, rapt, with my nose in some novel or some abstruse metaphysical text, trying to figure out how exactly I seemed to have missed Birmingham and been taken on to Crewe.

Oh Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I wanted to go to Birmingham but they’ve taken me on to Crewe.
Take me back to London as quickly as you can –
Oh Mr Porter what a silly girl I am!

Now I can read for twenty minutes, as long as it’s something lightly-ish and historical and I’m immersed in hot soapy water. My current in-the-bath read, by the way, is The Posy Ring by Catherine Czerkawska. It’s good, even in damp, twenty minute instalments. About antiques seller Daisy Graham who inherits an ancient house on a Hebridean island. She put a little publicity card in with Blanket.

Because, believe it or not, this is the same lady who, under a different name, sold me Blanket the rickety wartime blanket bear (or just possibly sheep) via eBay, and posted him to me in a shoebox from Scotland. I have now knitted Blanket a warming yellowy-browny scarf, by the way, and fastened it with a big yellow kilt pin. I would have posted a photo (as requested when he last appeared) but it is too dark indoors to take one at the moment. I will put it on my To Do list, which I very occasionally manage To Do something from. (Done)

(This is because it’s dark outdoors too, which seems to happen at intervals.)

The trouble is, you spend your life trying to appear not-flaky. Today, for instance, I agonised for several hours before texting a friend to say that I would not be able to come on a coach trip to Southend because I wasn’t feeling too well. The thing is, I am not feeling too well, so it’s a perfectly genuine excuse, this time. But I know she does not believe me. And if I were her I would not believe me either. But what do you do? The constant battle against flaky-seemingness results in a lifetime of ghastly events sat through with gritted teeth or perspiring brow. Boredom or pain, and no escape in either case because to flake out would be viewed as… flaky. Or flakey.

I think I reached some sort tipping point today. I realised I have to stop trying to explain myself, otherwise I am in for an Old Age as dire and dull as my Youth and Middle Age have been. Well, Bog It, I think, I just want to do what I want. Or at least not continually have to be doing what I don’t want.

And finally… another quote, this time from author Claudia Carroll, writing in an old Woman’s Weekly Godmother passed on to me on Friday:

When you’re in your 20s and 30s, life gives you things, if you’re very lucky. Love, a partner, maybe even kids. But you hit good old middle age, and that’s pretty much when life starts taking things away from you…

A cheering thought there, from Claudia.

It set me thinking, what Life did actually give me in my 20s and 30s. Certainly not children. It took away my husband and gave me a lover who was nice while he lasted, though he didn’t last very long. It gave me wrinkles round my eyes… and violent toothache… or was that in my forties?

But I suppose it did give me a few things. A giant(ish) healthy body inherited from my father, which has served me faithfully till recently. Now not quite so faithfully, but it’s doing it’s best, poor thing. Nineteen cats. I do believe the nineteen cats are my equivalent of the nine lives cats are supposed to have. Every time I lose a cat I lose one of my lives. Conversely, of course, every time I gain a cat I gain a life, but that can’t go on. Moggie Gathering Must Stop. And it’s given me a sister who, if not quite as flaky-seeming as me, is getting there. Or maybe equally as flaky-seeming, but a kind of variant. Same reason (backwards brain wiring) but different manifestation. However, it means that she understands me, and I understand her, and so we can love each other, which is a blessing indeed.

flaky1

The Blanket Has Landed

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bare teddy bear must be in want of a scarf, and so I have begun knitting him one in green speckled Aran. Blanket, that is. Something of a stretch, metaphorically, from Neil Armstrong to Jane Austen.

Blanket landed this afternoon from somewhere mysterious in Scotland, via Ebay and the Royal Mail. He didn’t cost much (I can’t afford bears that cost much) and was described as “All right as long as he is sitting down, like many of us”. I was half afraid to unbox him in case one of his legs should fall off. It didn’t, but his head seems quite likely to unless he is delicately handled, which he will be. If you didn’t know he was a bear you might think he was a lamb because he has very large floppy ears and a kind of sheep-like expression. But making that leap of faith and assuming he is a bear…

Poor Blanket, propped up among cushions in the corner of my sofa, who was in Scotland a day or so ago, then plunged into the suffocating bubble-wrapped darkness and encased in shoe-box cardboard, emerging suddenly at the far end of This Sceptred Isle, amongst a heap of cats. His expression has not changed, of course, but what must he be feeling?

His is described as Probably a wartime blanket bear. Apparently people made teddy bears out of blankets during the last war, due to a shortage of materials. There seems little doubt that he is wartime, but I query whether he is hand-fashioned out of blanket, or was made by some loving wartime Mummy for her little girl (or boy).

He is certainly made out of something vaguely blanket-like, not the usual golden furry stuff, but I wouldn’t say it was blanket. I had a coat made out of blanket, post war, and boy did it itch. I remember being taken for tottering toddler walks wearing this bright brown, be-toggled monstrosity, and being unbearably itchy everywhere the coat touched, which seemed virtually everywhere. And my mother had a dressing gown made out of blanket. A grey blanket with green woollen daisies embroidered, and green blanket stitch all round the edges. Must have taken her, or Nan, ages to make it. It weighed a ton, but was possibly not as itchy as my little coat. Nothing could have been as itchy as that.

And then there are his joints. They seem to be kind of professional, and interior. It is perhaps thanks to these joints, now badly worn, that Blanket is still, if tenuously, attached to his head and his four limbs. They don’t seem the sort of joints a housewife would have used.

So, not a forgery but a mystery, and likely always to remain so.

I seem to have gone a bit overboard on the bears. The original idea was to buy a couple of battered old bears on Ebay to model the bear scarves which I am knitting and which I thought to sell for a teensy-tiny profit. The trouble is, it’s difficult to resist. I seem to have accumulated quite a few 98p etc bears over a short period of time. Once you’ve rescued one you are kind of compelled to rescue them all, every last battered, lost and suffering one in the world. Which is of course why I have nineteen cats.

Not for the first time I wonder about the connection in my head between cats and bears. I first noticed it many years ago, in the first years of my marriage, when I had a whole series of nightmares about suffering cats – cats that I had forgotten about and escaped through the window, cats that lived in the arm of my armchair (don’t ask me – cats inhabit armchairs in my dreams) and got too near the fire and suffocated; cats that I seemed to have poisoned and was now observing as they died; cats that followed me across zebra crossings and through busy cities amongst the rushing traffic and were in imminent danger, and yet I did nothing.

It seemed to me at first that cats were an obvious symbol for babies, and it was probably something to do with thwarted maternal instinct, etc etc. But later I came to think it was sadder and more visceral than that, and that cats were an outlet for physical affection, a lonely child’s something to love. Hence the suffering cats when I married entirely the wrong man in that respect. I decided this after another dream, when kittens falling to earth on parachutes changed mid-dream to teddy bears, and came to rest in a cornfield, between the furrows. Of course there’s something about furrows and fertility…

Ah, as with my poor rickety, sheep-like Blanket, the truth will never be known, and nobody but me cares about either.

My mother gave my teddy to Oxfam and I never forgave her, but that’s another story.

Talking of metaphor, people seem to be unable to detect it nowadays. Either that or it suits them better to take some sort of manufactured umbrage. One Labour politician pleads with the leader of the Labour party to “call off the dogs” when yet another Labour MP is threatened with deselection for not following the party line. His deputy then takes grave offence because his esteemed Comrades have been insultingly referred to as “dogs”. Hunting metaphor, dear boy. Metaphor, not actual dogs.

Anyway, I will not brood on that, it will make my headache worse. This evening I have been forced to lie on the sofa in my darkened living room, playing Dire Straits to myself through an earpiece and something that was once called an MP3 player. I may be the last person in the world still using an MP3 player. This was to drown out the noise of my neighbours once again playing some kind of war game at full volume, for hours. I wonder how I am going to explain the intermittent cacophony to Canadian Sister when she comes to stay with me after Christmas, as hopefully she will. Perhaps she won’t suffer so much from it, knowing she is soon going to be able to fly off and leave it behind.

Update: by popular (well, one) request a portrait of Blanket has been added, getting to know his new little friend Whitstable. More of Whitstable later. Probably. Once coffee consumed and gigantic fish and chips and strawberry ice cream slept off.

My uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall

Canadian sister phones. I thought maybe once her husband had died she would stop phoning me, that I would be cast aside like some moth-eaten fur coat etc etc. This has not happened – just now she phones me at all odd times. Before she could only phone me when he was asleep. And then he would wake up. Always. I could hear the creaking of the bedroom door upstairs in their house, right across the Atlantic. Sometimes I heard it before she heard it. I could hear the change in her tone of voice. The worried note creeping in, the sudden summing up, the hasty goodbye.

She is all at sea without him, and yet, I note, she is surviving. She says she has just spent the two longest evenings of her life, alone in the house. ‘What do single people do in the evenings?’ she asks me. ‘Well, I say, hobbies tend to expand to fill the time available for doing them…’ I am aware that I am paraphrasing someone. ‘What did you do of an evening when he was still alive, and well?’

‘Mostly he was outside in his workshop. If he came inside I might knit while he watched TV.’

I resist saying that this seems to me as much like being alone as being alone. I remember when I was married, all those years ago. Being always alone, even when not.

‘You can call me any time,’ I say. ‘After all, nobody else does. I mean, it’s not like you’re interrupting a huge queue of my fans, all eagerly trying to contact me…’

‘Nobody?’

She sounds shocked. I would have lied, if necessary. I would have told her the above story so that she didn’t feel she was being in any way a nuisance phoning me at all hours, because at the moment I am one of her few fixed points in a radically shifting universe. I am good at making up tales on the spur of the moment. Sometimes I don’t realise they’re tales, till after.

And sometimes I don’t realise they’re true, till after.

So, today I have had a very stressful day. Stress exhausts me, so I tend only ever to schedule one stressful or unpleasant event per day, but today I thought, why not get them all over with at once, for once? So I set off, early, stopping off at the post office in the next village to post Canadian Sister a belated birthday present. Two books. The cost of the airmail is greater than the combined cost of the books. But that was OK, and I managed to get myself out of the tiny car park, with the parking spaces all at the wrong angles.

I went on to the Tip, in Town. I managed to get my car in and not have to sit drumming my fingers on the dash for three-quarters of an hour down the stinky alleyway that leads to it. I managed to heave out the six monstrously heavy black sacks full of used cat litter, pretending to be innocent household waste. I managed to lug four of them, one at a time, up the slippery metal steps to the skip and, with a muscle-wrenching effort, heave them over the rim of the skip. Then – that rare event – one of the men in high-vis yellow came to my rescue, and made off with my two remaining sacks – in the direction of the skip labelled Garden Waste.

‘Did yer want the bags back?’

‘Er, no…’

I knew I should have yelled after him, ‘Excuse me, my man, but I believe you may be under a misapprehension. That is in fact Non-Recyclable Household Waste’ (cat poo).

But I didn’t. I reversed, rather smartly, and exited.

And then I did a rather long and illogical detour to the petrol station, where an elderly idiot with a white moustache rather like the current transient US Secretary of State’s, nearly took my wing-mirror off in his selfish efforts not to let me get to the pump I needed, which was not the same pump he needed.

Ah, I thought, things are reverting to the usual dire pattern. I swore voluminously at him, but from inside my car so that he could see perfectly well that I was swearing voluminously, but we could both, upon exiting our cars, pretend it wasn’t aimed at him.

And then I drove over to visit my mother in the Home. This was number four (?) of Things I Don’t Want To Do Today But Am Going To Do Anyway. But Mum was asleep, with the curtains drawn. All the other residents were up. She looked dreadfully like a corpse so I tiptoed in and checked that she was still breathing. Then I went and found the Nurse – not in the Nurses Station (that was occupied by Someone Who Didn’t Even Work There) but in a cupboard. He said Mum was OK, but had been left to sleep in after one of her night-time rampages. I have never seen one of these rampages, and find them difficult to imagine, but apparently she shouts at other residents, and they shout back. She was never like this. Anything not to draw attention to herself, to stay in the background.

When I get home the Nurse will phone me again to say that after I left she wrestled another resident to the ground (where she happened to be lying) and was having a fight with them.

‘I wonder,’ I said, if it’s all the things they suppress during their lifetimes, when they are them, that suddenly start escaping when this happens?

The Nurse did not seem all that interested in my intellectual speculations.

After the Home I drove down to Ashford, thinking to stock up on black bin sacks in my favourite former supermarket, then drive home. Gridlocked.  When I finally inched my way there – instantly to be blocked in by a giant black-windowed vehicle that was going to make reversing out a nightmare – the woman behind the till tried to explain what was causing the gridlock. It’s the closure of the A2070 she said. I could not remember which of the many road around Ashford the A2070 was and hence, when trying to escape from Ashford some time later, got caught in two further lots of gridlock because I guessed wrong and headed straight for it rather than away from it.

You see that’s the trouble. Road diversions are signposted by men, and usually men who have GPS in their cars. I am a woman, and I do not have GPS. I do not understand Diversion signs and I navigate the sensible way, by Landmarks, not Numbers. If they had put up a sign saying Motorway Junction Absolutely And Completely Closed, well then I wouldn’t have gone that way, would I? I’d have wended my way up the back roads to Smelly Farm Corner and turned right towards The Place Where There Is A Pub I Once Walked Along The Grass Verge To With The Boyfriend With The Pointy Nose. Of course I would have got stuck in another lot of gridlock, but a smaller and more ultimately hopeful lot.

And how are you? my sister asks, eventually. It’s early morning in Alberta. She hasn’t already had a whole day of Utter Ghastliness.

‘Oh… a bit tired, maybe?’

phone tap

Featured Image: London street art by Banksy

 

“Words That Stung”

Yes, it’s come to this: in desperation I have printed off a list of Interesting Personal Essay Ideas. Sigh! And this was on there – the title, not the wasp, or wapsie as Canadian sister used to say when little, several millennia ago. I know why the current lack of inspiration: things have been happening in my life as usual, but for various reasons nothing I can actually write about here. This always stymies me, since my usual method is simply to ask myself What am I obsessing about/ ruminating over/ pondering/ remembering right this minute? And however unlikely the subject is, I sit down and ‘splurge’ about that.

I usually avoid internet lists of essay titles. They mostly seem to be aimed at schoolchildren and involve school, teenage crushes, dreams and plans for the future, lurve or parents – none of which I have, in any useful sense. Note of gloom creeping in here – buck up, do, you old misery!

Words That Stung – hmmm, we all have some of those, don’t we? And how not to turn a feeble attempt at an entertaining Monday Morning Post into All The Nasty Things People Have Ever Said To Me. Let’s just select a few, then over to you for your examples.

There was the time my mother told me I had to keep my face still when we were out shopping, because some lady had said What a pity your little girl has St Vitus Dance, or words to that effect. My mother explained that St Vitus’ Dance was when your face kept twitching, kind of grotesquely. I wonder who St Vitus was? Somebody who danced, obviously. Will have to look him up.

There was the time Canadian Sister and I entered a children’s writing competition in the local newspaper (Uncle Mac’s Corner). The title was something like Why My Mummy Is The Best In The World. I wrote it really, but sister provided some enthusiastic input. She was probably too young to write at that stage. I was so proud when it appeared in Uncle Mac’s Corner the next day, and expected Mummy to be pleased (chocolate cup cakes for a week, I imagined) but she wasn’t.

Instead she launched into a – to me, at seven or so – inexplicable and hysterical rant, to the effect that I sent that to the newspaper, secretly, for all to see and laugh at, and I could write all that but I could never tell her to her face. It was true that I had never told her to her face. It had never occurred to me because what kid goes up to their Mum and says all that sugary, embarrassing stuff? And anyway writing was my telling, my speaking, my confiding – was then and has remained so.

And then I had to walk to school, with my face all red and puffy, hiccupping, and get teased and stared at all day for the mess I was in. I maybe understood a bit better when I got older, but I never forgave her.

There was the time – no, I can’t tell you that one. Or…that one, either.

And then there was the time a supervisor told me the ‘bosses’ regarded me as some kind of slightly addled old hippy – nice, but vague – or words to that effect. I wasn’t actually nice, and I wasn’t actually vague, and if only I had been a hippy.

There was the time a visiting financial advisor remarked that of course the root of all my problems was a) insufficient income and b) all those cats. The sensible thing, he said, will be to dispose of all, or most of, these stray cats. I wondered whether he had children, and how many of them he would dispose of in times of financial stress, and which of them he would choose.

There was the time the doctor told me my bad back would get better if I lost some of the excess weight when actually I was just bundled up in an old winter raincoat with the belt bunched up funny round the waist (à la little Meghan’s posh white coat in her official engagement photo, but nobody said she could do with shedding a few pounds because it happened to be a chilly day and her belt was tied sort of funny!)

On similar lines, and talking of fat, these Stinging Words are not mine, but were related to me by a colleague. She said she had gone to the doctor one Winter’s day wearing a puffy anorak with her woolly gloves poked into the pocket, and he had asked her how far along her pregnancy was – when she wasn’t. Mind you, she was a bit chunky.

And one from my sister, when she and her husband were trying unsuccessfully for a baby, who kept receiving pamphlets in Air Mail letters from her mother-in-law, about female infertility. Her husband had been trying to intercept the post on his way out to work, to fish out any pamphlets before my sister saw them. But that’s not so much a Stinging Word as a Stinging Action or a Stinging Assumption.

Have any Stinging Words (not too painful to share at this distance in time) remained indelibly seared into your memory over the years?

Of sadness, shower-gel and intergalactic fire extinguishers

Here we are again…

(…Happy as can be / All good friends and / Jolly good company… as the song goes)

and it’s 2018. How did it get to be 2018 more or less without me noticing? Although I did notice a whole succession of firework displays on TV, starting with Australia – or maybe New Zealand – and wondered what all these successive fireworks-es must look like from outer space. Pretty impressive I imagine, though how a visiting Martian might interpret them. He might assume the planet was about to explode and train his all-powerful intergalactic fire-extinguishers upon us…

On my visit to the Home today I attempted to explain to Mum (goodness knows why) that it was the first day of 2018. Today I was the bringer of shower-gel and deodorant, which the carers inform me (practically every time!) that she has run out of, even though she has a constantly-replenished account with them for everyday expenses, which one might have thought would include shower-gel and deodorant. But they say the shops are not convenient for them to get to and so they ask the relatives.

I mentioned to a passing cleaner (again, goodness knows why – just for the pleasure of speaking to someone who could understand me, I suppose) that I had brought the shower-gel, and would have brought it sooner had I not been too ill over Christmas. She said she had noticed earlier this morning that I had brought it. But I had only just arrived, and the en suite bathroom shelves had been absolutely empty.  Seeing the look of bewilderment on my face, she must have realised her mistake. “Er, you’ve just brought them, haven’t you?” I nodded.

“I expect it was another room.”

What I reckon is, it’s a scam. They’re selling whatever they can inveigle relatives into bringing in that pretend shop of theirs on the first floor – it’s so that the dementia patients can feel that they have “gone outside” or “gone to the shops and bought something”. Or worse, at boot fairs on Sundays! God preserve us.

Mum didn’t understand about 2018. She didn’t understand why I was soaking wet either even though I pointed out of the window a number of times to indicate that torrential rain was, in fact, falling. She was quite talkative though, and pointed out things on The Simpsons to me. I think she likes that they are yellow and brightly-coloured. She said several times about the colours. She said she wanted a new calendar and I promised to bring one with me next time. So perhaps she does know it’s 2018 after all.

On the way out I had a chat with a lady about my age who had been with her Mum in the room opposite. She said her mother had been in this and other care homes for eleven years, and she had been visiting all this time. She disappeared into the deluge on foot, and I made a splashy run for the car.

I don’t usually write about sadness because I suspect I don’t often allow myself to feel it. Anger, yes. Exasperation, yes. Generalised Winter Gloom, yes. But there’s something about sadness, isn’t there? It seems to bring along with it a lot of things you don’t want to know, and you have to actually know them. Canadian Sister just phoned and something she said made me realise that English Sister and I really are estranged now, at least from her point of view. And I do feel sad, because I really don’t understand why and I suppose I always thought she would be there – we would be there – if not exactly thinking along the same lines or being much alike. You just assume, don’t you, that things will go on as before, and then one by one they all seem to have tiptoed out of the room…

Even the lady I was volunteering to chat to seems to have vanished. I got a phone call to say she had been taken into hospital over Christmas, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me why, or which hospital. Nothing to be done but to send a Get Well Soon card to her home address and wait to hear, if at all.

And so I say to you, keep hold of your family. Put the work in to keeping in touch even though there doesn’t seem much point. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time trying to communicate with my family, or at least making the most of their presence while they were still around – and less time trying desperately to cling to people (hah, mostly men, to be honest) who were never going to be worth the effort and who should have been ‘excised’ (redacted?) – ruthlessly or otherwise. But there, I suppose that’s the point of growing older: you can reassess, put your past life into perspective and finally let yourself feel what you feel.