Thursday, 30 September 2010

The sadness of old age

This week, I visited my uncle in the nursing home where he is now a resident. It's a nice enough place, the staff are kind, and the care perfectly adequate. But I find these visits hugely sad. My uncle - David - is 93 (he keeps telling me he's 100, and that's probably the way he feels), and terribly confused. I have no idea what goes on in his head, but he seems to drift from one world to another, as though through a series of diconnected dreams. Some of these are sad, some not so bad. Sometimes he's chairing a committee (he's chaired a lot of committees in his time), or staying in a hotel, and at others he seems lost, and begs to be taken home.

He knows that he knows me, and enjoys a big hug (perhaps the only language he can now fully understand), but not always who I am. Thus, sometimes I'm my mother (his sister), older than he but long-dead, and he reminisces about how I used to take him on outings from his boarding school. At other times, I'm myself, or someone completly different. His hearing is all but gone, making his world even lonelier than it would otherwise be.

This is a common situation. There are thousands of elderly confused people, living out their last days in institutions. I have nursed some of them. But I find it quite heartbreaking, watching this vital, energetic, highly successful man reduced to confusion and incontinenece and (often) sheer bewilderment. Twice,he has nearly died, only to be rescued by antibiotics. Pneumonia used to be called "the old man's friend", and with good reason, but not any more. We may have defeated pneumonia (often), but not the wretched half-life that so many of its survivors lead towards the end of their lives.

So I shall continue to visit David; to write him messages in thick marker pen in the hope of getting some kind of message through to him, and to give him hugs. And to hope that his ordeal will come to a peaceful end sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

To keep, or to give away?

Apparently the greatest number of books donated to Oxfam shops are by Dan Brown.

Does this mean that more books of his are bought, or does it mean that people don't finish them, or that once read, they're considered to be disposable? A kind of literary fast food? I keep books for diferent reasons. I'm not good at getting rid of any of them - even those I haven't enjoyed - because I love just possessing them. But I'm just about to get rid of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, because I couldn't finish it. So maybe keeping books I haven't finished reminds me of my own failngs (after all, one should finish a book in order to form a proper opinion, shouldn't one)? Whereas keeping books I've read but hated (eg A Line of Beauty) reminds me that I have at least some staying power. And keeping books I've never read at all, and probably never will, (the entire Pepys Diaries, for one) reminds me that all things are possible...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Back to the past

The Globe Theatre; well-known, authentic, popular. Covered seating (benches, actually) for the luckier few; standing room under the stars (or rain) for the rest. It sounded rather romantic, and we were looking forward to it. It would be fun, interesting. And Shakespeare - who could fail to enjoy Shakespeare?

But it wasn't fun at all. It was extremely uncomfortable, and had it been raining, a lot of people would have got very wet. The performance was (we thought) mediocre, and many of the words gabbled. The benches were hard (that's what benches are. We should have known), and most of them had no backs to lean against. I'm afraid we left during the interval. John (glass always half-full) was perfectly happy to leave; I (glass half-empty) thought of all the money we'd wasted and all the expectations dashed.

What I don't get - really don't get - is the attraction of having things 'just the way they used to be'. Hard seats and open air and all that. (I feel the same about original pianos; they sound tinkly, and it's for good reason that the piano has been improved over the years, and yet many musicians love them.) If we really wanted authenticity, presumably we would all have been peeing in the gutter during the interval, and no-one hankers after that.

I'm sure lots of people enjoy this back-to-the-past thing, but I like my creature comforts. There are many things about the 21st. century that I don't like, but modern seating and roofs and warmth are not among them.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Writing to death row

As I think I've mentioned, I write to a prisoner on death row in a USA prison. Nothing particularly special about that. But - and here's the real difficulty - what do I write? My life is on the whhole happy and fulfilled. I have lots of friends, a lovely family, a good life. I am, above all, free.

Danny, on the other hand, is banged up, probably for many years, pending appeals (his first isn't due until he's been in prison for 8 years), and quite possibly for a crime he didn't commit (I've read the reports of the court case, and it sounds extremely dodgy). He is fed on reclaimed turkey meat, because (presumably) it's cheap (he says it's disgusting, and I can well believe that). He is in his cell virtually all the time, and is regularly placed under 'lock down', when he doesn't get out at all. This is usually because prisoners in another part of the prison have rioted or misbehaved in some way. It's never the fault of the death row prisoners as they have no opportunities to riot, even if they want to. He rarely has visitors, for although he comes from a very large family, only one sister vistis him. He has a daughter whom he never sees. His life is, in short, pretty hopeless.

So - what do I write in my letters? It's hard to find interesting things to say which don't also emphasise that my life is so much better (understatement!) than his. I reply to the things he says in his letters, but, sadly, he rarely writes now as he can't afford the stamps. And when I sent him a money order for his recent birthday, it was returned, as money orders are no longer permitted.

So, while my letters aren't especially long, I find them very hard to write, and I find myself scratching around for any little disaster or misadventure which might make him feel that my life isn't all sunshine and roses. Maybe this is the wrong thing to do. Perhaps he really would ilke me to rave about new babies and lovely visits from my family, and, like today, a trip to London to the theatre. But I think not.

I'm about to write to him now, and I've no idea what I'll say. But I do hope that whatever it is, it's the right thing.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Writer's guilt

I suffer from something I can only call writer's guilt (note the position of the apostrophe; I'm not attributing this to anyone else!).

Having spent nearly all my adult life looking after people - nursing, bringing up children, counselling - I feel I should be doing something less self-centred than writing. Writing used to be a luxury; something I fitted in around all the other things I had to do. Nowadays, I can spend much more time on it (that I often don't is due to sheer laziness), and when I am writing, I often feel I ought to be doing something more "worthwhile". My husband says I suffer from "oughtism", and he's probably right. But even now - especailly now - as I spend (waste?) time posting this, I know that there are less self-indulgent activities in which I could (and probably should) be indulging.

If I were terribly successful, and made shedloads of money from my writing, I'd feel much more justified in doing it. After all, I could spend it on magnificent treats for people. That would be worthwhile, wouldn't it? As it is, I often feel quite uncomfortable about being writer.

Am I alone in this? Or am I just in the wrong job?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Dragons and house points

My grandchildren seem to get a huge amount of homework, much of which seems to be done with the aid of the internet (I think this is cheating, but apparently everyone does it). Triplet-sitting last weekend, I had a distraught Phoebe, who couldn't download a Welsh dragon for her homework on Wales, because the printer wouldn't work.

No problem, I told her (we'd had enough tears for one day). I would draw one (I'm a hopeless artist, but needs must etc). So I copied this dragon off the internet, and Phoebe painstakingly filled it in with bits of red sequin, and bingo - a sparkly red dragon. We were rather impressed with ourselves.

Yesterday evening, Phoebe phoned to say that we had been awarded not one but TWO housepoints for our dragon. I feel quite chuffed. Who needs to publish a new novel when they can get housepoints for Welsh dragons? (I do, actually, so back to work...)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Favourite books

Aliya has recommended some of her favourite books, and invites others to do the same. Here are ten of mine:

Brothers (Bernice Rubens)
A Fine Balance (Rohanton Mistry)
Doctor Thorne (Trollope)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee))
The Black Prince (Iris murdoch)
The Tin Can Tree (Anne Tyler)
How Many Miles to Babylon? (Jennifer Johnston)
Strange Meeting (SUsan Hill)
Small Island (Andrea Levey)
The Road Home (Rose Tremain)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Sticky-backed plastic and burglars

I've spent the week-end looking after the triplets, which was great, except for the prodigious amount of homework they have (they're only 9) and the covering of books with sticky-backed plastic. I had never met or even heard of this awful substance (if you haven't either, think big selotape), but all their exercise books had to be covered with this stuff. By Monday. We managed to borrow some, and get help. And then just before bedtime, third child anounces that she too needs her books covered. So - we get out the last of the SBP, and roll it out, and it sticks to everything; hands, clothes, the worktop and, worst of all, in the best selotape traditon, itself. I managed to cover two books, badly, and there was no SBP left.

Then there were the meltdowns over the homework itself, and everyone - including me - managed at least one tantrum. By bathtime, I was reminding myself that no-one had died, on the whole it had been a lovley week-end, and nothing lasts for ever, but I never ever want to see SBP again.

And burlgars. On the way home, I heard the startling statistic that 84% of burglars are deterred by a house alarm. What I want to know is, how did anyone find this out? Presumably if you're a successful burglar, no-one knows you're a burglar at all, never mind gets to interview you.

Also on the way home, I heard someone using the word "premiumistic". What is the world coming to?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The agent replies...

Well, she's read it, and she likes it, but but but...

Apparently it needs "moving up a gear", and I know exactly what she means. And all those little things I thought she'd overlook? Well, she noticed every last one of them. Damn. But that's what an agent is for, isn't it? Therfore I can't really complain. So it seems that the WIP is a WIP once more. Didn't I say I'd miss it? Well, I shall be seeing a whole lot more of it before I'm done (Alis, I guess you were right to be shocked at my lack of rewriting. Next time I'll listen to you!).

The biggest problem is that I am lazy. I'm bad at getting down to writing at the best of times, and this is going to be hard. But at least she didn't tell me to bin it.

I'm writing this while waiting for her to phone for a chat. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

New year's resolutions revisited

An odd subject for September, but I thought I'd have a look at the resolutions I posted in January, and see how I've been doing. The news is not good.

1. Write every day - no (unless I include this kind of thing).
2. Write to death row prisoner every fortnight - yes (almost).
3. Do one horrible job a week (clear out drawers; that kind of thing) - no. I just couldn't face any of them. Though I did wash all my jumpers today Ready For The Winter. I've never done that before. Must be an end of WIP thing.
4. Stop wasting time on the internet - no.
5. Cut down on alcohol. Hmmm
6. Keep a notebook to jot down ideas - no. Never even bought the notebook.

I'm rather disappointed, actually.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Bad writing

While awaiting the (first) verdict on the exWIP, I have been wasting rather a lot of time, and I came across this, the winner of he Bulwer-Lytton (?) prize for bad writing. It it is by Molly Ringle, and describes a kiss. Here is a tantalising exerpt:

"...a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Now, what I want to know is (a) how did that get past an(y) editor (Will most certainy wouldn't have put up with it)? and (b) if that kind of writing is publishable, how come some of our own worthy literary works have fallen by the wayside? I feel quite insulted. I will never be a great writer, but I hope I would be hard put to it to write such tosh (ok, I may sound a tad bitter, but the argument still stands).