I wish I could think something useful

I have had a moderately thought-free day today, Praise Be. I have been sat sitting – I was sat sitting there – a colloquial, northern British expression though why I’m suddenly using it I don’t know. I don’t know much today. I probably know even less than Missy (above) who is possibly the world’s least intelligent cat.

So, what have I been doing today? Well, mostly cutting out hexagons for patchwork. This is my kind of work, I have discovered. Stuff that you can do – industriously, obsessively, even – that leaves your brain absolutely free to think of what it wants to think of. Or to listen to the umpteenth repetition of Pink’s Beautiful Trauma on Heart. I’m not averse to a smidgeon of Pink but you can have too much of a good thing. As that male hairdresser said – the one who cut my hair very short and then donked me most painfully on the head four times with his extra-long phallic black hairdryer – Oh, Pink – she’s got a belting voice – and I could tell he actually couldn’t stand her, belting or not.

pink

Or perhaps he was just wishing he could be working on her hair rather than mine. More scope for his creativity.

(Sigh! This is one of those post you just keep writing in the hope it will eventually make sense…)

(So far it hasn’t.)

I was thinking about Stephen Hawking, who died recently. I was thinking several things, the oddest of which was that our one and only Guardian Angel just got up walked out the door – at the very moment when we could do with more than one Guardian Angel. His Guardian Angelness did not occur to me while he was alive. Three cheers for Stephen Hawking, who finally escaped his bone-bound island and is now floating free in the universe he imagined better than anyone else since Einstein.

Beyond this island bound
By a thin sea of flesh
And a bone coast,
The land lies out of sound
And the hills out of mind.
No birds or flying fish
Disturbs this island’s rest.

Dylan Thomas: Ears In The Turrets Hear

The other thing I was thinking about Stephen Hawking is this: that he had the best job in the world. One hour or so a day teaching, and the rest of the day being allowed to Think. In Peace! He had the sort of brain that made Thinking worthwhile, of course. He could concentrate on the nature of the universe for hours – for days, maybe – whereas my concentration span, even when it comes to laboriously cutting out paper hexagons (tongue clamped between teeth) and tacking tiny hexagonal bits of cloth to them, is a microsecond or two.

I was thinking how odd it was that it has taken me all this time to realise that the only sort of work I am capable of engaging in happily is precisely this sort – the sort I once despised. I remember once telling a tutor that I wanted to be a writer, and him kind of snorting (politely) and saying in that case I would be better advised to give up the worthless Sociology ‘A’ Level, the worthless Commercial French ‘A’ Level and his own worthless English Language & Literature ‘A’ Level, and go and get a job in a factory. And he was right. But I was a snob. I was an intellectual, right? It was one of those road-not-taken moments. One of many.

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms…

Stephen Spender: I Think Continually

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…

You can either make people feel better about themselves, or you can make them feel worse. Some people excel at the former, some at the latter.

About six years my then-desktop-computer was clanking and spluttering its way to the end of its life. My then-computer-engineer broke the bad news and advised me to buy a new one. So I did. For me it was a huge expenditure, but I was so kind of involved with the computer, for email, for surfing the jolly old internet, and for writing my endless bits and pieces that I decided to go ahead. I went to one of those computer warehouse places; some nice lady in a blue suit came out, as if by magic, from wherever she had been lurking, and sold me one.

You see, I know about as much about computers as I do about TVs and cars. To me a TV is a box that lights up and brings me news of the outside world and the occasional half hour of entertainment. I do not know what is inside a television. It runs on electricity, that’s all I know. Similarly, a motor-car is a box with a steering wheel that takes me wherever I need to go and helps me lift and carry a lot of stuff. I would be lost without my car but I have very little idea what’s inside her. She runs on petrol, that’s all I know. And a computer is another box, usually black. I would be lost without it but have no idea what’s inside it. Furthermore, I have very little idea how the programmes it runs are put together. Something to do with zeros and ones. Terribly logical. Not my scene.

So, I was forced to act upon the recommendation of the nice lady in the blue suit. I was at her mercy. The computer cost me a lot of money, but at the end of the day it worked, it looked impressively big and black and shiny, and with any luck it wouldn’t make with the coughing and spluttering for many, many years.

When my then-computer-engineer saw it he stared at it, speechless. Then what I can only describe as a restrained explosion. What did I need such a mega-machine for? Did I have any idea how many mega-whatsits it contained? Why, I could… do this… and that… and… (I can’t even remember what all the this’s and that’s were – probably streaming fifteen movies simultaneously whilst calculating the Meaning of Life). I laughed it off at the time, but I felt really bad about my Computer Blunder, and have continued to feel really bad about it at intervals ever since.

How could I have been so foolish? What would a middle-aged woman want with this (I now discovered) hideously expensive Ferrari of a computer? What would a doddery old dear like me be doing with this Stephen Hawking of a computer, this HAL 9000, this…? Unbeknown to me I had been fooled into purchasing something Albert Einstein might have used, if he’d been born a bit later, and all I needed it for was word-processing, a bit of surfing, a bit of email and some internet purchases. I felt embarrassed. I felt bad.

Recently my now-computer-engineer came and took the humiliating purchase away with him and brought it back with Windows 10 installed. He had apparently rebuilt it. Rebuilding is another one of those mysteries. I was so pleased with his handiwork, so relieved that this was one fearsome task I wouldn’t have to attempt on my own, that I became quite confiding. I told him the story of having bought the computer, and the silly mistake I had made.

He looked at me, aghast. But don’t you see, he said, in buying this computer you have future-proofed yourself. This computer has enough memory to take any programme they are ever likely to invent for it. You will probably never need to buy another one. And then he said:

He was probably jealous.

And in that moment one weight at least fell from my shoulders. I had not accidentally done the wrong thing in purchasing a machine more sophisticated than anyone of my advanced age, inferior gender and limited intellect could possibly have a use for. No, I had accidentally future-proofed myself!

Things don’t go right for me very often. Life’s pleasures are small and increasingly infrequent: but this, I do believe, was one of them.