Friday 28 February 2014

Granny's bath mat

This is my granny's bath mat. I've been using it ever since she died, back in 1972. I ought to get rid of it (it's not quite as horrible as it looks), but it must be over 100 years old, and there's still plenty of life (?) in it. She married in 1911, and it may have been part of her trousseau (do bath mats feature in trousseaux?). Anyway, I'm fond of it. I like to think of Granny's little wet feet helping to make all those holes. It's a kind of heirloom.

Ah, me. In those days,  things were made to last....

(B - if you're reading this - shall I leave it to you, as your special heirloom?)

Thursday 27 February 2014

The best policy... said to be honesty, isn't it. But of course there are occasions when lies are necessary (I don't think there's such a thing as a "white lie". We say we are telling a white lie in order to get ourselves off some moral hook). Thus, it's okay for me to say "I love purple, and a purple hat is just the ticket!" when I hate purple and never wear hats, but someone has gone to the trouble and expense of buying me one.

This week, however, I came across a refreshing piece of honesty, which made me laugh and admire in equal measure.

Picture the scene. Six friends, sitting round chatting. Anna says she has a favour to ask.

"Yes?" We are all willing to do favours, because we are nice people and she is a friend.

She explains that she is a handbell ringer, but one of their number is ill, so they'll be one short for their practice tomorrow. Can anyone fill in? My views on handbell ringing are...well, never mind (but - commercial  break - they can be found in Chapter 12 of my novel Dead Ernest). One after the other, we give our excuses/ reasons (I had a hospital appointment) for not going. Until we come to Jenny.

Jenny smiles and says that unfortunately she won't be able to come, because she doesn't want to. It's polite, succinct, not open to any kind of misinterpretation, and no offence is meant or taken.


Monday 24 February 2014

Things you learn from grandchildren

I've had two young grandsons staying for a couple of days, and as usual, we've all learnt a few things. They now know the expression "instant gratification" (as in, it's much better to have your bath before we all sit and eat popcorn in front of a DVD,  rather than leave it until later). They also learnt the NATO alphabet (we are fans of this as it helps with spelling things out over the phone). Little boys love that kind of thing.

I learnt that it is much more absorbing wondering how a chicken would get on in space rather than putting on your shoes to go out. I was also informed that in every hundred grams of American peanut butter, there are on average thirty insect parts. Also, that if anyone pees in a swimming pool in the US, it turns the water dark blue. "Embarrassing if you did it, but a useful warning  if it was someone else" said my grandson helpfully. Well you can't argue with that. Oh, and talking of peeing in swimming pools (which we were) I also learned that  one in five adults admit to doing it. I thought you might like to know that. The choice is now up to you (I'm ok. I hate swimming pools).

Group learning: qu is an acceptable Scrabble word (useful) and countless esoteric-sounding made-up words are not (warning to anyone thinking of buying a Scrabble dictionary: don't. It takes up far too much time).

Thursday 20 February 2014

Funeral (2)

"She's  lying upstairs, God rest her soul," whispers the woman at the door. "Please do go up."

On by one, they file up the narrow staircase, enter the shabby bedroom, where the picture of the Blessed Virgin takes pride of place above the bed. The faded curtains are drawn (of course), and the room is lit by a single candle, whose light flickers pale shadows on the walls.

"Ah! Doesn't she look beautiful?" they murmur, as they stand by the open coffin. And certainly she looks very peaceful, lying there in her white gown, a rosary loosely threaded through her fingers. A woman stifles a sob; another stoops to kiss the pale forehead; someone  places a single pink rosebud on the still bosom.

"Cut!" says the director. "Coffee break!"

The corpse sits up in her coffin. "Mine's white," she says.  "Two sugars."

(An antidote to my last.)

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Flash fiction


"I am the Resurrection and the Life".  Heads turn as the coffin enters the church, which is bright with daffodils ("they were her favourites"). The organ plays something quiet and respectful. People murmur safe little cliches; "a good innings"; "merciful release".  After all, ninety-five is a good age.

The service gets under way. A son reads a lesson; a friend give a eulogy; a small great-grandson plays a tune  on a recorder. And all the while, the grey heads turn, giving each other covert looks, and the unspoken question hangs in the air. Who will be  next? Will it be me? You? The brave cousin with her cancer?

Two weeks later, some of the same people gather for another funeral. There is weeping; more whipers: "hit and run";  "the driver never stopped"; "an only child, too".

The small white coffin is carried down the aisle. The little boy has his recorder beside him; he never went anywhere without it.

No-one wonders who will be next.

(I honestly don't know what got into me. It's my birthday, too!)

Friday 14 February 2014

Valentine roses

So. Did you get one (card)? Or any (flowers)? While I owe my first marriage (and therefore my children) to Valentine's Day (he wooed me with a heart-shaped arrangement of fresh snowdrops arranged on moss, sent through the post. Who could resist?), I'm afraid it's now what my mother would have called "a commercial racket".

I've just been blown back from Sainsburys, which is full of Valentine tat. Horrible stuffed toys, cards, chocolates and (to me), worst of all, Those Roses. They are unlike any other roses. They are tall and straight, stiff and scent-free, and very artificial-looking. Oh, and horribly expensive. Anyone who has ever been given this kind of rose will know what happens. You cut the stems, as instructed, add the "feed" (whatever is that stuff?), place out of draughts in a clean vase  blah blah blah. And guess what? In exactly two days, those stiff little heads just droop, as though ashamed (as well they might be) and you have to chuck them out.

Yesterday, when I saw someone reaching for a bunch of these things, I was sorely tempted to tell them not to waste their money, and to do what I did. Today (no, he didn't send me any flowers*) two bunches of daffodils for £1 each (I thought of you, GB). They are real, they are spring-like, they have that lovely faint green daffodil smell, and they will last for a week.

So it's not all bad. Happy Valentine's Day! Oh, and if you've received any of those roses, do let me know how you get on.

*I have to confess, we did send each other cards. Tasteful ones, of course. But we could have spent the money on ...daffodils. Sigh.

Thursday 13 February 2014

If you care about human rights, please read this

Okay. I'm on my soapbox again. And these posts are my least popular. But I feel so strongly about this, especially as I hear first-hand about the suffering of Irving, my death row correspondent. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has an awful lot to aswer for. And guess what? He's a committed Christian.

AUSTIN (The Borowitz Report)—Responding to the news that Washington Governor Jay Inslee had suspended the death penalty in his state, Texas Governor Rick Perry seized on the opportunity to urge Washington residents to “vote with your feet and move to Texas, where the death penalty is thriving.”

At a hastily called press conference this afternoon, the Texas Governor made an emotional appeal to Washingtonians who might be disappointed by the sudden suspension of executions in their state: “Come to Texas. The death penalty is alive and well here.”

Blasting Governor Inslee, he reassured Washington residents that if they move to Texas, “as God is my witness, no one will ever take your death penalty away from you.”

“That’s just not what we’re made of in Texas,” he said. “We believe in the sanctity of death.”

And here he is, defending his stance:

Tuesday 11 February 2014

News from death row

I had a letter from Irving today. He says:

We don't have acess to the prison laundry or even detergent. I wash my clothing in the state issue soap. Some guys wash clothes in the toilet, but I use my sink.....To dry I use my shoestrings. I hang one end on the light fixture and the bolt sticking out he back wall. I can only hang two articles at a time in order not to break the line. In the summer time when the wet air blows through the vents and the humidity is high, nothing dries.

He says he's no longer has access to the prison library and if he "doesn't get to read something, he'll go mad".

So. No work, no radio, no television, nothing to read, and no opportunity for redemption. And the US is supposed to be one of the most civilised countries in the world. Yes, I know this man committed (or probably committed) a vile crime. There are no excuses; not even his appalling childhood.  But he is a human being. What is any of this achieving?

I could weep.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Magpie 206

While waiting for Matthew in bed,
Katie sometimes gets bored. So instead,
With pursed lips, like this,
(As though blowing a kiss)
She  can blow her hat right off her head.

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Saturday 8 February 2014

After the clearout... is possibly time to plan my spring wardrobe. Ha. I have never, ever had a spring wardrobe, but this year, apparently, shorts with Wellingtons are in, as are flat shoes, smaller bags and...I've forgotten the rest.

Does anyone actually take note of all this advice? In my time, skirts have gone up, down and midway. Trousers have gone in, out (flares, then. How my children howled with laughter at pictures of me wearing those; until, that is,  they came back in as "boot cut". Boot cut were apparently okay) and cropped. Knickers have got smaller and smaller, until they reached the tortuous-looking thong (don't ask*), plus there are the naughty crotchless ones, which sound lazy and draughty.

And then there's the face. Now, apparently, Big Brows are in, and models are photograped with what look like two enormous black artoropods cawling towards each other across their brows.

None of this advice seems to be directed at people like me (Older Women); we are the lost, the forgotten, the ignored. I wasn't going to take any advice anyway, but an offer would have been  nice.

(PS the girl in the photo isn't me)

*okay, if you insist. No.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Work in progress

This is awful. I decided this morning to clear out our wardrobe. After fourteen years. How shameful is that? (Sadly, I am not like Meike, who posts wonderful photos of her organised wardrobe.) But I just can't bear to throw most of it away. There's that hat (worn years ago for a wedding), and the lovely top (foreground, on the floor, with turquoise sparkly bits. Not me at all) which I bought at hideous expense just because...I loved it. But I have hardly worn it (because it isn't me. See above). And denim. I LOVE denim. Anything denim. All those jeans. But jeans don't go out of date, right? And the rather nasty beige skirt (top left) which I've probaby had for more than twenty years, before most of you were born,  but which occasionally Comes In Useful, when I'm desperate (I rarely wear skirts). And there are hundreds of clattery skeleton-in-the-cupboard coathangers (will Oxfam want  those?).

And then there are the books, which have been heaped up by the bed, and badly need pruning. But I hate getting rid of books, even those I didn't  enjoy.

(The smudge, top left, won't stay. It's my finger over the lens.)

Time for a coffee break.

Monday 3 February 2014

Pain; out of ten

There seems to be a relatively new way of assessing pain. As I expect most people know, doctors now ask you to assess the severity of your pain by saying how bad it is by scoring it out of ten.

I have a problem with this. I suppose I know what a one is (a minor bump or scratch), but what on earth is a ten? Is it my own ten, or a general ten? Is a ten the thumb screw,  the rack, being eaten alive by hyenas? That kind of thing? I've  never experienced any of these.

And my own ten. What is that? Childbirth? Broken back (where I lay on the ground, begging for pain relief, watched in bewilderment by my son and daughter-in-law, who are, incidentally, both doctors)? Or the broken elbow? (You know that knobbly bit at the end of the elbow? Well, that came right off, and was rolling around inside my skin like  a ping-pong ball in a sock.) Or the large, full jar of peanut butter falling onto my bare toe?

Gentle reader, what is/was your ten? I'd really like to know.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Magpie 205

There was a young lady called Rose,
Who played Chopin etudes with her toes.
When they asked, "why your feet?"
She replied, "you can't beat
Them, when all of your fingers are froze."

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the photo)

Saturday 1 February 2014

The nature of grief

This is a strange time of year. Even 22 years on, I still go through the mental journey of the run-up to my husband's final illness and death. Cold weather, dark evenings, snowdrops...all these things remind me of that terrible time.

And yet we survived.

In thoses 22 years, I have learnt three things. Firstly, that grief is like labour (as in childbirth). The pain comes in crashing waves, but there are lulls in between; periods of calm, and sometimes even of optimism. At first, these waves come thick and fast; unbearable in their fierceness and their sheer physical pain. But gradually, they begin to tail off, become manageable, and while they never go, they are just a part of who I am. As for the lulls, I am convinced that it is the lulls that make grief survivable.  And while there's no baby at the end of it all, there is something like hope.

Secondly, as someone once said, over time grief turns from a wound into a scar; still there, still very much a part of me, but no longer so raw or so obvious.

Thirdly, love is love, in the present tense. You never stop loving someone who has died. I find it sad when people speak of their love in the past tense. I loved him, and I still love him. Why would I not? But my life goes on (in no small part, thanks to my wonderful second husband), and he lives on  in all of us, especially  in our children.