“Better than birthdays”

 

Even if I think about it very hard, I don’t remember the specifics of birthdays as much as the emotions – clutching excitement, a great feeling of being important and cherished, candles yes, cake yes – images-12but overwhelmingly special.   I have friends older than me now who cannot enjoy birthdays any more. They are just evidence of time passing. Funny cards don’t make them smile and they decry presents as “unnecessary.”   And as you get older, especially if you live alone, and for very often for good reasons – getting enough exercise, eating properly, seeing somebody with whom you can exchange at least greetings and probably chat – life becomes ritualised, even as in this case the ritual of denial.

It took me ages to accept that I was so used to shopping for hordes, that I bought too much and it was a frightful waste.   And then I noticed that I was in danger of “it’s Monday, I must do …” whatever it was.   Why should every Monday be the same?18fde72   So I began to consciously welcome changes to routine.   A warm memory of my mother is when I welcomed her to the flat in which I was living with my first husband, deprecating my efforts to make her comfortable and she hugged me “Forget it. I don’t need all that.” As she got older, her needs became simpler. It was a good lesson.   And some of my friends live a distance away and some have schedules that are very demanding. So what we have come to is rather wonderfully that any day could be your birthday, any settled pattern can be thrown to the four winds.

I don’t see as much of LM who has been my representative and my friend for 20 years as I would like (she should be paid for living) but to her among other things I owe my introduction to Lord Dodo’s loose leaf cookery book, an enormous white hydrangea in a matching basket, the most beautiful flowers for Christmas/New Year/or any other excuse: care packages of salads, soup, bread and anything else that caught her eye, and the steps,cc579b3b-76e7-49bd-9aa5-941566e21264-jpg-_cb317968543_ the solid platform short ladders you need when you can’t stretch easily any more.   Definition of a friendship – when your friend arrives with something useful out of the blue.      You get all those feelings I described of myself as a child.

Pam the Painter came to lunch on Friday and handed me a small china mug with an English bullterrier on it (and it is, as my father would say “a good one” ie the right shape) and a witty comment and I got all wet eyed.   She found it in her parents’ house during monumental clearing out and thought I might like it. I do.

"meet Jimmy Choo"

“meet Jimmy Choo”

On Saturday Percy Snowdrop (a film academic who teaches in the north) came through and I went him to meet him near the British Museum. He has a small carefully chosen collection of drawings and pictures (he started at art school) and he showed me on his tablet his latest acquisition – a signed drawing, a wonderful drawing by Jean Cocteau.  2013_2_l_ange___jean_cocteau_textiles_coussin_1_det_pdf_ht As he is the only person I know who would want such a thing, I don’t know who was more excited.   And I know that he got ploughed over by his editor this year and consigned a book into limbo he had deeply believed in.   Part of my admiration for him is that he loves to teach and I cheer for the self belief that drawing embodied.

I go to the market most Saturdays, I pick up this and that in independent chemists, I do the laundry.   Not this week. I bought a book and a card and I sat and drank tea and ate apricot tart and told stories and heard stories and saw him off to Kings Cross.

When I was a kid, there was a song which began “A very merry unbirthday to you,” which became a family sentiment, if you forgot, were late or away for a birthday.   But I like this version even better.   I don’t give a damn about the years, they are going to come anyway.   I care about contact and thought and pleasure and joy, mine and everybody else’s.   The world is hard, it always was. Welcome to better than birthdays.sparklers-5

pause for breath…

Pause for breath …

Not plane, or train, or bus, or car

A book to take me far away

The centenary reissue of

The Eagle of the Ninth

By Rosemary Sutcliffe

Back on  the 21/22 September

Until then – take care and be well.

gentlemen of the chorus

Just before a young man hit me in the face I glimpsed a tall man with a golden Labrador

 seeing eye dog.  I always leave those dogs alone.  They are working.  I went round a group of three solid people to the lift and the son, the tallest, made a gesture with his right arm outflung which hit me square in the chops and I went down.  And began to laugh.  I who am self conscious in public, knocked to the ground.  They rushed to pick me up, the young man apologising.  I had seen his father going into the hospital with that close grained warm skin and asked as we all shook ourselves out, where was he from  ?   “Cyprus” he said, eyes twinkling, as he clucked at the boy.  “He didn’t do it deliberately” I said.  “I’m not so sure” his father said darkly and we laughed and parted.  

Three and a half hours plus waiting in the hospital this time because, I was told, “every doctor was ill, on holiday or on a course”.   Chinese trainee surgeon, Ethiopian nurse: the injection was A1 and they were both exhausted. 

 

Then the pressure in your eye is checked (see Music and the Tiger) before being allowed home.  Which for me means a black taxi.

In the meantime I had been approached by a man who recognised my voice and had listened to me when he was “away” (in prison).  After ten minutes of catch up I asked how things were now.  “Oh” he said “got over all that. Young and silly.  You having the injections ?   l’ve had 26…”  Good for you.  And I lost him in the clinic – nearly 50 people all to be seen several ways round and ministered to.

 

 

The last of two at the end of the clinic,  I was spoken at (rather than to) by an old man who has had 134 injections and believes in the NHS as Holy Writ “but you can help yourself  with eating properly, I don’t want to be dependent on anybody so I take care of myself” – well quite right too but all in that slightly hectoring tone  which takes no more notice of your reply than if you swatted a fly – on a roll, as we say.

The lift brought me to street level

 

and as I came up the corridor, towards me came the man with the golden Labrador.  The dog smiled and wagged his tail.  I smiled.  The dog pushed his head towards me.  “I wasn’t going to speak to you” I whispered.  “You’re working and I don’t want to make the boss cross.”  Appreciative wriggle and more wagging, licking of nearby fingers and the man began to laugh.  “He’s such a flirt” he said.  “He decides who he wants to speak to…” I was just glad it was me.

The taxi driver was a very good looking man who made it clear that a fare who talked made a change, said various nice things, we exchanged notes on the world until, less than half the way home, I asked if he was married and it was just like lancing a boil.  He had had two long relationships, had a son of 21 from the first, and two boys 13 and 9 from the second and both their mothers let him down badly. 

 

The second let the younger boys down too – kept them out of school. Falsified home schooling, stopped them seeing him.  And I itched to ask for the names and addresses of the women concerned because there is always another side to the story.  I couldn’t figure it out and he was pouring words, as I say, like infection from a wound.  

When we drew up opposite, I paid him and he kissed my hand. He looked at me and I looked at him.  “The years look good on you” I said “even if they’ve been tough.”   And I got out, went round and indicated he should open the window.  Whereupon I reached in, kissed his cheek and said “Listen to me.  You’re 49 and I am 77.  I’ve got thirty years on you.  Things will be better but they will only get better if you let them.  Carry that stuff around with you, it will poison you.   The boys will eventually decide for themselves and you must make it easy for them.  Go forward, not back. “ And walked away.

 

 

time (2)

Time moves all the time. 

 

by Chris Avis

As I say “now”, you read it later.   My father used to drive me mad saying “Don’t leave at 1.00 if you have to be there at 1.00.  You have to get there, it takes time …”  He was right in this (as in so much else) and as I was thinking about this week’s copy, I read a line from the widow of a man killed in the Twin Towers – “I have moved forward, I haven’t moved on … “  Time in the months of pandemic has been both  killingly slow and gone in a whistle.  September ?  How’d that happen ?  

Usually (suitably grateful to the Powers That Be) I sit down and write. 

 

I have the greatest respect for the subconscious mind which is obviously where a lot of my work is done and yes, of course, down the years I have learned to add bits in or cut back, change the order etc.  An old boss (newspaper editor) used to say bracingly “There is a piece in there, if we could just get past the introduction … !”  I learned.

But this week I have faltered.  

 

I have a whole piece sitting beside me and I am not sure.  Generally speaking journalists write in a framework – as politico, a reporter from a particular destination, star turn and so on.  Nobody tells me what to do and most of the time I think it has made me a better writer, sometimes better than others and sometimes I miss the boat.  This time I had a dilemma.

For all those years in radio I very rarely dealt with the news.  Everybody else did news. I did issues.   I have Linda Marks to thank for this.  And I still do issues.  There are the headlines, written or spoken, and there is life.  I stick to life.  It has seemed to me impossible, indeed an affectation, to ignore the pandemic which has affected so many people.   But in my life I do look for the silver lining,

 

for the small joy, for the bit that’s funny or touching or lifts the heart, because I don’t know how else to manage. I never falsify these things, to myself or anybody else, but I watch and seize on them with joy. 

I do not think that much of the coverage of the pandemic has been helpful.  It has been depressing and contradictory, confusing and relentless.  And a lot of this is to do with the presenters,  political or journalistic, and how the stuff been offered to us. But the counterbalance has been hard to find, until it comes along.

There are all sorts of ways to look at the exit from Afghanistan. I don’t feel you can ignore it.  The knock on is already beginning to be felt. America has been lied to by its elite for years.  Again. 30 years in South East Asia, 20 years in Afghanistan.  In the UK we followed 200 years of misdirected foreign policy – good enough for them, good enough for us.

 

jezail

Neither were true.

For us, at home, it is just one more thing alongside melting ice caps, fires burning out of control in all five continents, plastic blocking the rivers, waste in the sea, this ripped down and that thrown up, and something else, lying broken … You think of what you can bear to face, we all do.  But you’d have to be wilfully stupid to pretend that all is well.

While if you’re writing, you have to be careful that in trying to offset all the bad news with some small bit of something nicer, you don’t jar somebody’s sensibilities, over-egg the pudding, diminish either side of the story in trying to offset the one and the other.  Or just sound foolish.

“Time” says an old adage “heals all wounds.”   I haven’t believed that since I was about fifteen.   Time changes how we perceived things, because time changes everything all the time.  Some things never change, whether by luck of the draw or act of will.   And some things take their time to change. We call that history.     

 

by Narges Jabbari

 

turmeric

Last week I lost a watch.

 

  I was very fond of it but I can live without it.  I had been to three shops and when the bus broke down coming home, I disembarked and waited for a second, so I thought the chances of finding it were thin.  Nobody answered the centralised telephone number at John Lewis or the White Company.  So I left it 36 hours till I could go in, when the JL assistant was horrified and helpful and the White Company employees did all they could. Brora, the third shop, had already answered the old fashioned telephone and drawn a blank.  Transport for London now offers a sensible enquiry form.

On Wednesday Pam the Painter and I had a happy lunch for the first time in a year, at a Pizza Express where every single employee wasn’t English and was charming, and the food was good.  Pam’s birthday is upcoming (a mere snippet of 60) and like so many people, we have friends who are not well. 

One of her oldest pals has developed a very rare brain condition which will end in his fairly rapid demise.

 

  Inevitably, there are those who presume to tell you how to mark your friend’s passing.   I wish they’d stick to curtains.  Their advice is not sought and everybody makes up their own minds. Lecturing in such unhappiness just makes the recipient miserable.

On Thursday I discovered that you can’t have what you want, you can only have what they’ve got.  So I tried different shops.  I wound up a couple of tube stops from home, lost my Freedom Pass (dammit) and looked at my second watch.  No watch.   As we used to say at school when things went wrong – “God’s gone off me.” 

 

 

By now hot and cross, I sought hackney therapy.

 

The taxi driver listened to my woes and then told me his – his government allocated number for the payment they got during the pandemic has been hacked.  He has moved, which means that successive assistants cannot match up the details without a lot of tinkering so he gets his money after every kind of negotiation (“no point in losing your temper” he said wrily) but it’s several weeks’ late.       

I came home, put everything in the sink to wash and rang Wal with watch news.  He was taken aback.  The loss of the Freedom Pass is just inconvenient but why was I shedding watches ?  “It’s meant” I said helplessly, so we moved on to what he had cooked

 

last night and he confessed that – most unlike him, A for organisation – he had run out of turmeric.  He has two neighbours called Jane  – we call them Tidy and Untidy Jane – so he rang Tidy Jane to see if  he could borrow turmeric.  “Of course” she said “but don’t come over.  I’ve caught some sort of bug from one of the grandchildren – nothing to do with Covid – and I am hors de combat with the loo.  I’ll leave it on the step.” 

He expected a pinch in a packet but she left him a jar, which he brought home (next door but two), used and planned to return in the morning.   Only Tidy Bunny couldn’t find the turmeric. He checked the garden table, the cupboards in the kitchen, under things, behind things, had it fallen down, rolled somewhere ?  Eventually he went upstairs to the third floor to get dressed to go shopping and buy some – where he found it, on the fitment in the bathroom.  And he has no memory of how it got there.   “Why the bathroom ?” he exclaimed.  I said I couldn’t possibly comment

 

and we said goodbye.  

Then I walked from the living room to the bathroom – and there was my watch.  Which I must have taken off when I washed my hands, before I went out for the second time of asking and never put on again, never thought about, till I dropped the Freedom Pass and looked in anguish at it – and it wasn’t there.

We all do this, lose a word or a term and have that “Eureka !” moment turning over at  quarter past four, to mutter “that’s the phrase I wanted,  peristaltic action !”   I felt quite sentimental about good old peristaltic action, it had been gone for three weeks.  Now, that was a prolonged turmeric moment …

 

 

BANG

There is no magic method of sensing danger.  And you can sense it all you want but if the hostility facing you is armed, you are at a disadvantage. The gun may have been longer in coming to prevalence this side of the Atlantic but it is here.  

 

The morning after the Plymouth shootings, there were two young men in the convenience store where I get the papers.   Twitchy, muscular,

 

buying this and that, talking too loud in that arch way which is meant to draw attention, calling down the counter to me.  I really can’t see very well without my distance glasses and I don’t always wear them on this trip out.  I didn’t move.  The Asian shopkeeper served them, took their money and they left.  He said to me “Thank you for waiting.”  I looked at him.  He said “I know you were afraid.  Best to stay away from them. I never argue or engage with them.  I just get through it and they leave. “  

The problem is not what you call them, it is how you prevent them crossing the line from unpleasantness to killing.  You know that old saw about “a ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure ?” 

 

The problem about crime or injury is that the response is fine.  What about the prevention ?

In the past, all sorts of things – I don’t intend to go on a trip down memory lane about doors left on the latch, unfortunate people being better internalised into community, someone you could tell about what much derided old style police officers used to call “a wrong ‘un.”  And in those days they made a note and possibly used it.

We don’t know the background of this story specifically but some of the themes are horribly familiar.  Whatever care was open to this young man, it wasn’t enough to make much difference.  When people talk about a quiet area where everybody knew each other – does that mean the neighbours knew other people’s background, health, beliefs – or they knew them to say hello to in the street ?  So the shooter wasn’t “known”, in which case this might have been anticipated. He was recognised – stay away from him, something not quite right there, shut the door…  

 

And the voracious pressure of the internet which fills every gap in society including pulling together what we used to call “social inadequates” into groups, giving them a new name, inciting them to violence and most importantly, giving them someone to blame.

The main difference between men and women is still that more women turn their violence against themselves and more men direct it outwards.  In plain language, I am more likely to cut myself and an incel is more likely to shoot somebody else.  But the blame game is seductive, first cousin twice removed to “I couldn’t help myself.”  And if the mother or the mother figure was the goddess of the last century’s psychology, then it follows the mother must be killed. 

 

Each man kills the thing he loves – especially if she doesn’t love him back, exactly as he wishes.   And now with all these images we must look a certain way which is evidence that he or she will love a certain way.  Rigid, narrow, angry – I’d rather have my life than theirs. Gardening and crosswords sound like a doddle compared to this.

And it’s all got worse because the young haven’t had their expected social outlets under the terms of the pandemic.   Shut in with the pernicious keyboard and the greedy social media, you can see how whatever is wrong gets worse and festers.

People who know a lot more about young men who hate women [which immediately shades into  the predictable extremes of the right wing) believe this assault on women should be seen as a terrorist attack.   Call it what you like, we have to face up to the fact that, apart from all the mundane things we call police for, there are three vast areas of involvement: identity theft, abuse historic and current, and terrorism.  And they require thousands of hands and eyes and brains and millions of pounds.   And there will still always be mistakes and horrible accidents.  

 

 

the same but different

I heard her before I saw her, a young woman asking the bus driver

for a location he didn’t recognise. I put my hand on her arm and said “Come with me, I’ll show you.”  It was a short walk  and we talked all the way.  She said “Isn’t the weather dreadful ?” (stair rods) and I said I had seen that the UN had announced that global warming was moving faster than they had anticipated. 

She talked about false news on social media and said “But you can’t disagree with them” and I explained how I had gone back to reading the newspapers because television coverage was so stratified and unsatisfactory.  She said the pandemic had caused real suffering – she had been unhappy, put on weight, it had unsettled her relationship ( her terms). I said I was sorry, it was inevitable because it isolates us and we don’t know who we can trust.  I told her about the story of a US cop and his family adopting a boy

“Ronnie, his family and the adoption judges”

horribly burned by his father, who had already killed his mother and sister. I said “And that’s about as far as you can go … white family, black boy  …” She added “And a policeman.”  I shrugged “There are always decent people and that’s all that matters.. “  “And there always were , back in the day” she added.  I nodded.  “Could I have a hug ?” she asked.  “Of course you can” I said and there we were,

elderly white woman and young black girl in a laughing embrace in the middle of the street before I put her on the right bus.  

Way back when all this unhappiness began – and there are so many things running in parallel with the pandemic, the world is in upheaval and it feels like the End of Days – a woman putting her  shopping into her bag at the supermarket remarked (I leave you to imagine the tone) “I suppose this will make some people more thoughtful”  – “Well, I don’t know” I said, Lady Bracknell

well to the fore before I could stop myself.  “I never needed a pandemic to be polite.”

I realised the other day that I am on the one side turning into a mixture of my mother at her most acidulous, and Queen Victoria, and on the other hand – not unusual for the elderly – I have seized on the manners of my youth which were to greet people, to exchange remarks with them, if possible, share a laugh.  You can’t like everybody,  nor can you know their trouble. But some sense of companionship is important, with surprisingly long effect.  As Covid began to ravish the Indian subcontinent,

I asked a bus driver – was the family OK?  He nodded.  “I mean the people at home” I said. He looked at me quite differently – and we have greeted each other ever since.

We don’t have to be new best friends, we don’t have to pretend intimacy but we do have to do what dogs do – sniff and wag at every opportunity.  It is better for us and better for the other person, it’s the only way we can all fight to the next day, surrounded as we are with doubt and confusion.  It costs nothing, it takes little time, you don’t need technology, you can always bale.

It is apparently now cheaper to order online than to go shopping, supplies are marked up for footfall.  And I understand that if you lack money, or you have a family, or you’re trying to do several things at once, you will order on line.  I – alone and responsible for nobody but me – will continue  – masked on the bus and in the shop – to walk, talk, greet, choose for myself, walk some more, carry it home -just as I have done all the way through this.  I am not going to sit at home becoming a “mental health issue” because I have no exercise, no spontaneous social contact, no air. And I don’t know one single person among my small and cherished group of friends who hasn’t made certain personal decisions about how to respond – and we differ, not much, but a bit.

the nice bits

The other day as I came home, I passed one of the neighbouring young men, propped up against a wall, deep in his mobile and  I remarked that he was just posing there to show off his terrific legs and wonderful tan. 

 

He accompanied me up the street, telling me about a holiday that hadn’t quite worked out, but it would, and various other things.   When we had done that, I said “Now let me tell you something nice” and told him about something that had just happened to me.

“You’ve done that about six times” he said.  “I’m a bit pissed off, something is wrong.  You listen, there is exchange – real exchange – and then you tell one of these stories.  Do you go out looking for them ?”  I shook my head.  “But I am open to them.”  One of the best lessons I imbibed about journalism and indeed life was observation. 

 

Don’t be afraid to see what you see.  I am fascinated by what people can decide not to notice.  Good or bad, I am interested in it all (which isn’t to say there is always an answer – because sometimes there isn’t).  But you can put the interest down to my mother whom I asked when she was my age, what her secret was.   “Enthusiasm” said Ethel Maude Taylor (nee Burdett, known as Jane) “is worth 100 times any cream that was ever invented.”  And I would add – if you are open to people – and it doesn’t follow that you have to be open to everybody, or that you can’t change your mind – they open to you and the nice bits happen.   And, oh, we need them to.

Let me tell you about the opposite which is not so often mentioned.  I met a couple in a restaurant where I was having lunch and the man asked me to repeat a quote he had overheard, from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  I thought it was the nub of the book, now I would say the nub of the trilogy: “You don’t get on by being original.  You don’t get on by being bright.  You don’t get on by being strong.  You get on by being a subtle crook.”   Applies to women too. His partner asked me to meet her and when we did, I had a very strong feeling of invasion, that I was hearing about a third of what I would be asked to hear, and I didn’t like any of it.  It is impossible to convey in a few words, how repelled I was, I could do it with a gesture.  I didn’t want any of it anywhere near me so I summoned fire.  I am a fire sign and I visualised fire between us, trenches of it. 

 

And we worked to a polite ending.  He wrote to me, I burned his letter and I never heard from them again.        

But the other day (as I told my young neighbour) there was a woman on the bus shouting in an Asian language into her mobile.  I stuck three stops and then thought there was nothing so all-fired important waiting for me that I couldn’t take another bus, getting off beside a woman to whom I commented about people thinking that because they spoke a foreign language, they could do so at volume.  “I think she was pretty disturbed” she said.  “I saw her in the street before I got on the bus” and I remembered my sister’s loudly demented hostility.

 

 

So I got out at Hyde Park Corner where there are several bus stops. Along came one to the stop next to mine and I saw the driver – smack on my sight line – look into her mirror.  Struggling along came a very elderly Oriental, I truly couldn’t determine more, dragging a wheelie full of shopping.  The driver moved the bus with economy and elegance – I have such respect for anybody who can do that, those buses are heavy and awkward – to an adjustment alongside the kerb, lowered the entry platform and waited. She caught my eye and I applauded. 

 

She grinned.  The would be passenger got in, the driver made sure she was sitting down and gave me a little wave.  I blew her a kiss.  She laughed.  All dumb show.

To be disposed to the good, no matter how small, is a social imperative in a troubled world.  And no moral duty risks your soul.   

Tiger’s paw

 

 

the long way round

It was too early to go to where I wanted to go so (untypically) I switched on the television where in a terrific clip from a film about the wildlife of the Andes, I saw

spectacled bears.  According to the voiceover they are the only bears in the northern Andes, not true bears and I have never seen them before.

Then the phone rang.   My son.  Always a bonus.

And eventually I left the house and in walking up the Kings Road , I met a man my own age going in the opposite direction.  Probably Middle Eastern, maybe Sephardi, balding, bespectacled and eating (I caught a whiff of it) the savoury version of an iced bun.

  “You’re really enjoying that “ I said smiling.  “Have a bit “he said.  So I did.  “ More ?”  I shook my head, we beamed at each other for a few seconds and parted.  I can’t remember the last time I had that sort of exchange.   

The thing I missed most in the pandemic – forget nightclubs and pints and pings – was spontaneity.  I am more than willing to co operate in any way I can but there is an emotional impact about planning everything which leads to an emotional cost and you can’t really avoid it.  Which is what I see a lot of behaviour as trying to do  -“just do this” or “do it this way” and you’ll feel better.  And what happens if you don’t ?  

On Sunday morning Matt Rudd in his column in the Sunday Times magazine advised that if you want to feel better, you should ignore everything to do with wellness, delete all your wellness apps -I quote. I bet I am not alone in feeling that yesterday’s slimming industry is today’s world of wellness.

A lot of people will make a lot of money out of it without getting to grips with the basics.  Somebody wrote that the most effective diet was a slow rhythmic movement of the head from left to right.  Too much of wellness – itself a baseborn term – is based on exploiting the need to belong to a select group and that money makes magic.  Speaking as one who is open to all sorts of mind and body connections, it is the marketing of those possibilities, without understanding what they are really about, that bothers me most. 

My happiest moment of contemplation last week was watching a robin ablute in the shallow terracotta bowl

I keep filled with water for the purpose.  Ten minutes of avian self absorption while I watched and thought of nothing but what I could see.  No guru endorsement, no reinvention of self and positively no jade inserts.

Last week was all change in our street.  After several reinfections, and thus rolling periods of isolation, Suse finally tested clear for Covid and went home to New Zealand, leaving me a handpainted card and a magnificent samurai-esque wrap for the winter.  Annie had already left to meet her family in Milan for a deserved holiday with them in Croatia (she’s just done her Master’s).  The pleasant presence of the people opposite is no more – they have removed themselves and their two young daughters to the country and the new people are not yet incoming.

I met a young woman and her mother unloading a car, she has just moved round the corner from the main street (“too noisy”) and bought five doors down. Whether “for sale” or “to let”, there is movement: we shall see.   I overheard one of the estate agents explaining that people who had fled to the country were now returning to London.   Hope springs eternal …  though I always think hope is very expensive.

The heat knocked me sideways, though now I am beginning to think about who will take my books, about cleaning the shelves, about where I have put this or that – movement which seemed impossible under the pot lid of last week.  

I met one of my shopping acquaintance who had the most lovely line for her crumbling spine – “Oh well “ she said “I always knew I should outlive my skeleton.”  I’m not alone in feeling that the structure of our lives has changed and there is only one way – forward.  

connection

Even as I write it, I hear a soft trans Atlantic voice talking about connectivity.  Forget it. 

  What do you think of when I say bridge – Sydney Harbour ?  a game of cards ?   dental work ?   I think of Devil’s Bridge, a beauty spot local to where I grew up.  I think of being driven at 19 into New York City for the first time over the George Washington Bridge.  And I think of all sorts of connections I have made throughout my life with a few words, maybe a gesture and a grin. I thought the other day that if I had a gravestone, I’d like it to read The Last Bridge.

We live in a world of mixed messages.

When I was young,  I started out thinking about enduring emotional edifices and wound up knowing that emotional connection is something much closer to the gestures of the big cats I love.  It’s valid while it happens and it remains valid – unless supplanted by something equally truthful.

We talk about joined up writing

but much more important is joined up thinking.  And if thinking is disjointed, some of that may be to do with plain old human muddle or a missed opportunity,  and quite a lot of it is to do with reasons for keeping ideas separate, where they are  easier politically manipulated or used for commercial opportunity.

I do not listen compulsively to news coverage because I have always read middle of the road reliable national newspapers (under threat), local newspapers (as and when) and responsible journals.  My news listening is reduced because I haven’t found a tone I can commit to and that includes sound, coverage and format.  So I may have missed something.

But in amongst the ghoulish coverage of the flooding in German, Belgium and the Netherlands,  I haven’t heard one connection back to the floods we had last year and before.   Although hundreds of thousands of acres is on fire on the west coast of America, I haven’t heard any comment on how that will affect the global atmosphere.  If you cast your mind back, we didn’t talk about how the burning off of oil affected the atmosphere during the Gulf Wars. 

  We don’t routinely bring together these positives and negatives together for fear of panic in the population.  Though the population on present showing only panics about getting into a football match.  And what was Japan thinking of in going ahead with the Olympics ?

While if those three wealthy tosspots Musk, Branson and Bezos (which sounds like a firm of entertainment industry accountants) want to go to the moon,

then may I hope they do and that they stay there.

On this planet we need trees, to help absorb carbon.  We have to get the plastic out of the water systems before we foul the oceans irretrievably.   But sooner or later – certainly in the comparatively wealthy west – we are going to think about food.  Food distribution in the UK is by truck and we don’t have enough truck drivers.  Food growth, its production and harvesting in this country will push up the prices.  It’s July.  Winter will come.  And erratic weather will compromise food wherever it is grown.  We have no national plan to encourage people to grow food. 

And with regard to the weather, let me tell you that – whether the weather is down to God or man or a lethal mixture – last Saturday is the first time in 77 years

that my skin burned in the UK.  And no I wasn’t lying in a park like a worn out sausage, I was walking through it and I only stopped at the bus stop and for once, for less than five minutes.  Thank heaven for natural yogurt.   Takes the sting out.

“We are all in this together”

is a wonderful idea.  It challenges all kinds of ideas but mostly credibility.  Because if we haven’t got the information, the joined up writing, the connection – then we are still sectioned off into groups which can be used for various kinds of profit.  Actually the human race is both better connected and still widely dissonant – how long, oh Lord, how long ?  

look back in wonder

I suppose I like my recollections under control. 

Putting memory to one side, things like, say, school reunion? No thank you.  Book launch?  All those old acquaintances you thought you would never have to see again, in one room?  Hell.  The personnel of the radio station then as opposed to now?  Maybe half an hour …   Very few people shine back to back with stingy wine.  We all move on, some to better things, some to predictably stuck.   Is it an illusion that I am improved with age?  Maybe I am a pain in the neck….

Ever since I began having treatment on my eye, I have avoided (it’s as good a rationalisation as any) doing any big job at the computer.  The screen is very hard on the eyes.   But yesterday, I looked through the file I keep on annalog.

A middle of the road hoarder, there are things I can’t part with.  The edition of the Just So Stories

from which both parents read to me isn’t going anywhere, though dogeared and old and I may never read it again.  They touched it, it’s magical.  I can’t just give books away but I can thin them.

I do the same with clothes, with increasing severity.  I don’t keep what I don’t wear – much – except for odd things I am unaccountably fond of. 

I go through my few files regularly and throw things away, though the temptation of the desktop files is just to push things into them and forget it.   So yesterday I went through annalog.  I am very glad I did

because it made me grateful all over again, to Linda who pushed me into doing a blog and Dee who puts it up when I have written it and chosen the pictures.  Please don’t write chidingly to me about the technology.  We all have our weak spots, I have so many the soul is freckled.

Here I found the first person who ever wrote in response, against all the perceptions of who listened or read me.  There were the appreciations, the kind thoughts and enquiries, the comments on the substance of what I had written, the wishes that I was still on the radio.  And the heartbreakers – the people who wrote great big beautiful stories about their lives and their experiences and where radio fitted in to that, or why this idea or that image had so appealed to them.

You know that picture in various childhood stories – I am thinking of Aladdin – where the hero or heroine opens a chest of jewels – how they twinkle and shine!

   Jewels you don’t price, you just marvel at …    That was me looking at you and annalog yesterday and feeling enriched in a way that was nothing to do with money.  Kindness and consideration, and the wish to communicate them is beyond price or currency.

It has been a horrible couple of years.   And of course people vary in their different perceptions about what was the worst of it – or what is the worst of it.   The true and sparkling wealth of what I read yesterday is not to do with agreeing, it’s to do with the expression of individual opinion and the room for it.

Like the woman who rang in when we did a programme on being allowed to die, to say that her husband had, she had terminal cancer but she did not want life taken from her.  “How do you manage?”  I asked.  She referred to pain management, prayer and gin.  She was wonderful.

Or the man who heard me opine that loneliness might be something innate, a predisposition, and wrote to me about it.  I don’t think I persuaded him but he was interested enough to ask and at least we both called it what it was – a word which people shy away from – because, I think, it indicates that they fail – they can’t reach you.   If we were both boats,

perhaps for a few minutes I was alongside.

The most wonderful thing about radio audiences is their longterm fidelity.  Over and over in the jewelbox of memory, writers referred to 20, 30years – and not only did they remember, and stick with me – they transferred significant loyalty from one medium to another.  Yesterday was a day when you couldn’t make me feel broke.  You made me rich.  Thank you.