The Silverado train of thought

Until yesterday I didn’t actually know Silverado was a western – a revisionist, postmodern western in fact. There are quite a few craters in my cultural consciousness. Silverado came out in 1985. I don’t know what happened in 1985. I lost interest in most things round about 1980 and didn’t start taking an interest again till 1994.

It never occurred to me either that I could watch a full three-quarters of an hour of a movie starring my heartthrob Kevin Costner without once realising he was in it. Was that really him? Which one was him?

Until yesterday, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought Silverado was a unique, characterful little jewellery shop in a narrow street in Brighton where, in the company of my former friend Isobel (Made Up Name) one Gay Pride Day – it was a coincidence, honestly – we just used to go shopping – I once bought a pair of dangly silver earrings with exotic dark green oval gemstoney-things. The earrings are long lost. I think the hoover ate them.

I didn’t even know Silverado was a chain of unique, characterful little jewellery shops (I am so naïve). It occurs to me now that Silverado (established 1994) may well have named their chain of jewellery shops after the movie. How can I have lived so long and learned so little? I need to know this stuff. Nerdy. Can’t abide those missing details.

Isobel and I should never have been friends, really. We found ourselves working together as secretaries – she considerably more elevated, secretarially, than I – in an educational establishment. She kind of adopted me. I wasn’t aware of having made much of a choice or done any work to achieve Friend status. I have since realised that Only Children do tend to do this – home in on the loner, the drifter, the one without the social skills to wriggle out of it.

She also had one of those credit cards you can buy anything on, just because you feel like it, whenever you feel like it. This meant a lot of standing around outside shops when we went shopping in the afternoon, pretending to prefer watching passers-by to rifling through trays of exotic beads and silver fastenings and buying long cheesecloth skirts and expensive Jumpers.

She had Hobbies. At that time it was jewellery-crafting. Later it moved on to keep-fit and even – briefly, I suspect – belly-dancing.

She was very posh, the daughter and one-day-to-be heir of farmers. I was permanently anxious in case I said the wrong thing or exhibited working-class manners I wasn’t even aware of. She was also very well-educated and had charming, witty, kind intellectual other-friends. I was forced to mix with them too, at intervals. This made me even more nervous.

I don’t know what I did wrong in the end – something. I think I might have accidentally pointed at the door to the Ladies in a Pizza Hut. She gave me a Look, which of course I was completely unable to interpret except it was Not Good – so that might have been what it was. Well, she asked me where it was.

But until it all inevitably went pear-shaped we made a few good memories. We went to Brighton quite a few times. She had appointments at some New Age herbalist for her migraines. While she was consulting the man in the multi-coloured stripey jumper in the back room I would lurk obediently in the waiting room for what felt like an entire Ice Age reading little fold-out pamphlets about Aromatherapy, Reiki and Counselling, then reading them again. Wondering why these places were always so dusty and had that funny sweet smell

But then came the good bit. We would go to an Italian restaurant and have yummy stuff with names like Margherita and Tagliatelle. She showed me how to wind the tagliatelle round my fork using the spoon as back-stop so that it and garlicky, cheesy mushroom sauce didn’t slide all down my tee shirt. We had a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed the wiggling of the waiters between the tables. Waiters in Italian restaurants wiggle on purpose, did you know that? It’s part of their performance. And they make the effort to smile. They smiled as if they found us beautiful, and that is an art. Life was good, for a lunch-hour at least.

 

Metapawphosis

Back in November I posted an entry called Metempsycowsis and subsequently promised one of my regular readers never to perpetrate a bovine-based bit of writing again. Well, I have kept my word, sort of. The subject matter may be vaguely related and the title vaguely similar – but there are no moo-cows. Promise.

It just occurred to me that I may be turning into a cat. All that business with Franz Kafka becoming a beetle yesterday made me think. It wouldn’t be surprising, considering I share my house with thirteen of them and they, I am sure, do not regard me as a human being. I suspect cats have no concept of human being, any more than they have a concept of garden walls or ‘your space’ and ‘my space’. They will cheerfully roam across and casually anoint all the gardens in the neighbourhood. The entire neighbourhood is their territory and divided up in other, more subtle ways. Where they can go depends on other cats – how many? where? male or female? how fierce?

To a cat I am probably just another cat – giant-sized; female; not fierce; able to open tins. When I watch television there is often a tortoiseshell cat pushed up under my chin, obscuring the screen. Television doesn’t register unless birds happen to be flying about in it. When I read, there is often a cat sitting on top of the book or trying to climb inside the magazine. Words are just marks in paper. Literature is something rustly that gets in the way.

And when I curl up for a sleep in the middle of the day, and wake to find myself surrounded by cats doing the same, or when I bump noses with the cat on top of the fridge, and it breathes in my breath and I breathe in its, or at the surgery find myself listening to the cat rather than the vet, passing on its current health concerns – am I not approaching some sort of human/feline interface? The event horizon beyond which nothing more can be known, and nothing heard?

Some say animals have souls. I notice the ‘Michael’ channellings indicate separate souls for humans, ‘hive souls’ for animals. According to Shepherd Hoodwin (Journey of Your Soul) humans and cretaceans (ie dolphins and whales) have a complex, sentient soul, whereas most animals have ‘consciousness and feeling but are not capable of purely intellectual function, such as making or following a budget’. I do hope, if any whale-hunters are reading this, they will Just Stop Doing It.

Yesterday, by coincidence, this complex, sentient human soul spent many hours attempting to ‘make’ a budget. At the end of those few hours, pencil and calculator cast aside, it was forced to admit that its income was several hundred pounds a month less than its outgoings. That’s not clothes, books, cinema tickets or anything fancy. That’s baked beans, cat food and household bills. This explains the downwardly-trending bank balance, but not what to do about it!!!  Financially speaking this human is no better qualified than a tortoiseshell cat. If only she was a tortoiseshell cat – then somebody would feed her, man the calculator and sort out all the ghastly paperwork.

I do believe it is possible that we have both physical DNA and some kind of psychic DNA – something that links, not only humans to humans, but all creatures to one another. But now we’re getting a bit bells-and-flowers and weirdy-beardy. Best not go there.

I may well awake one morning, whiskered and furred, craving tinned who-knows-what meat masquerading as chicken. Maybe I will find myself smaller, and wondering why there are birds inside the TV – or might they be behind it? Maybe one of my cats will have to take over the remote control, and drive me to the vet’s.

Sort of purple and hazy

You know those anxiety dreams where you just miss the bus, or the train? Story of my life.

I just missed out on a lot of things. I just missed out on the War. I just missed out on rock and roll, I just missed out on being a hippie and I just missed out on all that New Age mumbo-jumbo: all the stuff I would have been interested in, all the stuff I really needed to know. Just my luck.

The War – I was born a few years too late. I arrived, and was instantly labelled a Baby Boomer, and the minute they give you a label you cease to be anything else. Worldwide, around eighty million human beings may have been lost between 1939 and 1945 during ‘the deadliest military conflict in history’. This estimate includes not just soldiers but civilians, those who died from war-related disease and famine and the prisoners of war who died in captivity. Post-war, young marrieds everywhere did their patriotic duty, whether they were aware of it or not, labouring (literally) to restore the balance. The result was a tidal wave of babies, a lumpy, unmanageable and now increasingly unpopular ‘bulge’ in the population stats, destined to become the hippies of the sixties and seventies. Through no fault of their own they are now, or will shortly be, clogging up our monstrous, overspent, inefficient National Health Service and forcing the younger generation to work harder and harder in order to generate enough taxes to keep everything going.

Like most women in those days, Mum and Nan were Housewives, totally dependent on their men for money; their role – to stay home, clean, tidy and replenish the house, do the cooking, washing-up, laundry and shopping, raise any children and Keep Young & Beautiful. This was in order that their husbands, coming home from a hard day’s work, should not – as a result of a spreading waistline, the odd curler still a-dangle, unshapely eyebrows or a lack of careful make-up – be tempted to Stray. However, I don’t think all the women in those days minded it all that much, and I can understand why. As a stay-at-home Mum you can exercise your creativity through cooking, crafts and childcare, quite apart from being able to take up hobbies, raid the library or write novels, if so inclined.

I find the idea financial dependence on a man – or anyone – pretty nearly unbearable, but that’s just me. Bit of a Wild Thing. I’m not sure what a Wild Thing is, but it sounds good. I’d rather be as poor as a church mouse (as indeed I am) than hand to a man the power to decide, arbitrarily and without any significant knowledge of grocery shopping, how much housekeeping I ‘deserve’ at the end of each week; then have to scrimp and save out of that to buy myself headscarf or a second-hand book, or see a film.  As you can tell, feminism was the one thing I wasn’t too late for.

That being said, I envy the way women in those days had at least leisure to chat, listen to the radio and generally be themselves. Had I been able to stomach the ‘kept woman’ scenario – or been able to bear children, in which case I would have had no choice – I might have written more, and sooner, but I doubt if I would have written well. I would have missed out on the lifetime of learning, loss, muddle, fear, friends, struggle, chance encounters, odd jobs, strange bedfellows – some of them very strange – weird and appalling experiences, Getting By and Making Do Somehow – I now have to write about.

I got to hear quite a lot about the War, via the conversations that went on over my head while Mum and Nan were sitting in the kitchen, knitting. It was lucky for me that they lived at either end of the same street and would meet up several times a day. Grown-ups forget about children, if the children can manage to be forgettable enough. Once – I must have been throwing a tantrum – my mother called me a Prima Donna. I had to ask her what it meant, and was actually quite pleased when she explained. It was a step up from Diffident or Unaffectionate Child, Impossible Baby to Cuddle, etc. Being Diffident etc etc did have its advantages: I overheard a lot.

I heard about having to eat horsemeat, and what you could make from a blackout curtain or parachute silk. I heard about bombed buildings, and babies sleeping undisturbed in their cots, found amid the rubble. Under the kitchen table, hugging my little scabby knees to my chest, I heard about Nan’s experiences running a NAAFI canteen in Swindon in the War, and how they put the cabbage on to boil at ten in the morning and it was like seaweed by dinner time (and she had to throw the rice pudding out). I heard about Mum being evacuated to Wales to live in a cottage with Miners, and being forced to empty the chamber pots by the grand family in a country house near Canterbury, while my uncle was given the job of filling the coal-scuttle. I heard about painting your legs with gravy-browning when you didn’t have stockings, and drawing a line up the back to look like a seam. Maybe everyone is fascinated by the decade just before they were born. I went on to read as much about it as I could, and devoured all the Mass Observation books, made up of contemporary diary entries, or ‘reports’ sent in by ordinary people.

And then I just missed out on the original wave of American folk music, blues and rock and roll. I was just too late for Elvis – or rather he was still around but I saw no point in him. I probably wouldn’t even have realised I’d missed out, except that I married a man nine years my senior. Suddenly I was listening to his records, and to him singing and playing the guitar. This was my introduction to blues, folk and classical music. And even then I didn’t fully appreciate all that I’d missed, musically, still being contaminated with The Beatles, The Stones, The Dave Clark Five, Freddy and the Dreamers and all that sort of stuff. Ironically, long after husband and I were no longer an item I began to listen to that music again on my own account, and take an interest in classical music.

And then I just missed out on being a hippie. Oh, my mother thought I was a hippie, but that was because I never evinced much of an interest in wearing make-up (particularly eyebrow-pencil) a Playtex girdle or frilly blouses, or having my hair nicely permed. But I wasn’t – not really. I was certainly a bit on the shabby side because my tiny Tech College grant meant I had to buy my couture at Oxfam, but I was a few months – maybe even a year – too late. It had all happened, somehow, it had all jingled and jangled its way off into the rainbow-coloured sunset. And I was timid. I never experimented with LSD or smoked a reefer; I never danced in the sunshine at a festival or went to San Francisco wearing flowers in my hair. But doesn’t it look fun? Why wasn’t I there, Oh, why wasn’t I?

As it was, Free Love entirely passed me by. I went steady with a Maths student, half-Austrian and several inches shorter than me. He went off to teacher training college and so, abortively, did I – in another town. End of.

In the common-room some Hendrix look-alike practised what sounded like pretty good riffs all day, but how would I know? In the refectory I was stridden past (I’m groping dimly for the Past Perfect Progressive, or whatever that tense is, of strode past – help me out, someone…) by skinny, long-haired art students in eccentric hats, uncompromising tee shirts, big boots and scarecrow jackets. I was filled with admiration but for some reason I couldn’t actually be one of them, and was as invisible to them as I had been to Mum and Nan under the kitchen table.

And yet I think I am a natural hippie. For me it has never gone away, a way of thinking and being that I never got to manifest at the time. The ‘eighties went, and the ‘nineties, and I began at last to hear about and – thanks to Amazon – obtain copies of books on particle physics, psychoanalysis, philosophy, Zen, mysticism – anything that caught my eye – that were being written as I was being born and labelled a Baby Boomer; when I was a child at school; a teenager failing to play table tennis with the boys at Youth Club; a student and almost a hippie; an unhappy wife. One book led to another – sometimes I read several at once – and I started to see the connections between things – the way one academic discipline morphs into another, the way New Age becomes, imperceptibly, Science – the way it all adds up – the way people far apart in time and space can be approaching the same conclusion from different directions. I also became addicted to Amazon and second-hand paperbacks, which was ruinous to my finances. The postman/lady turned up every other day with yet another cardboard package, jiffy bag or brown-paper parcel – or sometimes a stack of them held together with elastic bands. I made notes, I made connections, I wondered, I thought about Stuff. Without realising it, I was knitting my own degree.