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each to his own

I once explained my theory of where we are heading as a society

to an intelligent friend- I said I thought there would be broadly speaking (I, who am wary of generalisations) two groups whom I called the New and the Old.  The New would continue to take on new for the sake of it, technology with all its spin offs.  In fact the only thing they would be interested in was the new – clothes, food, ways of living –  like a talisman, as if new had a magic charge that would somehow be better and stronger. (Interesting because psychology teaches that your past is part of your present, so to deny it is to pass up something essential.  Like mulch on a garden.)  The Old would adapt

– because if you don’t, to an extent, you don’t survive – but they would cherish memory, personal or general, stories, the derivation of ideas, the old ways if they work.  And I am an Old.

In talking to the Fire Fairy the other day (she is a decade younger), I apparently used the word old to describe myself more than once and she took issue.  She told me off fiercely which I countered from  my point of view.  First of all, the Bible says you’re allowed three score years and ten which I am beyond.   Second I had inspirational elderly parents  so a word which  seems to terrify many is part of my journey as I have understood it.   Old is.  It’s a one way ticket, to be respected and cherished, moaned at when your hair thins or your chin sags or you can’t lift something and have to ask somebody else, but nothing to do with the spirit. 

The spirit marches to a different drum.

I could make a list of all the other things of which people say “everybody does” – but I don’t.  How much of that is being stubborn, how much of that is personal choice and personal taste, I don’t know.  I can’t draw the lines.  And anyway, who would be interested.

What I know is that when I tried an own brand cream from Boots made with colloidal oatmeal, it is as efficient as easing the maddening itch of my (admittedly mild) lichen planus as the prescribed steroid cream. This all happened by chance but when I checked the Mayo Clinic website (often very good) it was mentioned.

Years ago, if your child had dry skin, you put porridge oats in a muslin bag and tied it round the tap where the water rinsed the appropriate secretion into a soothing bath. Old.

I watch people glued to their screens or their earbuds, to the exclusion of the world around them for good or ill but it’s not for me.  Living in the moment is hard work (it goes without saying that everything has a negative interpretation as well as a positive one) but I find it more rewarding .  Which is probably why I was so cross that the first episode of Tokyo Vice, once it has been followed by the second (three hours of tv is too much),

was apparently the last.  The Binge and Boxsets Cafeteria, the BBC.

Yesterday, the dark got in under the door.  When it wasn’t cold, it was clammy.  London was full of bodies in pre Christmas tourism or demo mode,  spread all over the pavement, noisy, indifferent.   Wal went up to the West End, I investigated a Christmas Market in Chelsea and we agreed we hated it.  It was almost comforting to be able to share a sense of invasion and displacement.  The purchase of Christmas goods is like folk magic as in “spend money –  and – if you spend enough of it, 

it will all be all right.”

Everybody I know is “being careful” – watchful of money, minding the electricity or gas, the water (supplies and heating), food to eat or stockpile.   So where is this money to come from ?   And why, if you can find it for warmth and food and light, would you spend it on anything but the simplest remembrances of a time when we entered the winter dark, in hope of the light to follow.  The tunnel beckons.  And I find the old ways, back far beyond this neo Victorian gorgeathon, more consoling.

strong shadows

I don’t very often remember my dreams. 

I read that we all dream and certainly there have been occasions when something has stayed with me, not to haunt me but so that I should pay attention.  Psychotherapeutically a dream is a safe place to deal with the big stuff we have to make sense of.  The other night was nothing like that

What lingered upon my waking was the face in the front of the frame, so to say,  a man’s, with a woman behind him,  his sister I think,  but all of this and where I was in it pales in the astonishing peace and joy and sweetness I felt for however long, much more important than them or me, what was said or what was going on.   Practically speaking this takes us back to the subconscious mind and memory

because I was quite sure when I woke that the group (about five in all) were the same kind of Jews I am, that is, almost but not quite, and that idea leads back to my father.

If I have a romantic idea about being a little bit Jewish (which sounds suspiciously like being a little bit pregnant), it is my mother’s fault.  My father’s youngest sister, almost professionally madcap with a Christmas pudding voice, had a married Jewish lover who was kind, funny, could fix anything and was generally delightful :  my mother adored Gerald. 

So between my father’s mother Julie Rosenbaum whom both parents loved deeply and who was a better mother to my mother than her own and Gerald, I had a series of positive ideas linked to that heritage from the very beginning.

And the feelings related to the dream were confirmed by the truck driver.  

There is a cement factory up the road and the drivers move out vast lorries from the early hours.  One morning, several years ago in the dark as I was going up the road to get my newspaper, a man got out of the cabin and said “Didn’t you used to be on the radio ?  Know that face anywhere …” which is a wonderful contradiction in terms though in essence true, because radio nudged me towards bits and pieces of television. I said yes, he beamed and I have smiled and waved at the truck drivers ever since.

So it was like a kind of blessing or a coda that, as I was off up the street to the post office, one of the lorries drove into view and the driver waved and grinned.

I don’t know very much about them, can’t drive anything, but I have always like the idea of trucks – big things, helpful.  Our Cretan friend George Vargas had a modern Japanese edition on which he used to transport the three of us through the island countryside

when my son was small and standing on the back flatbed, I sang for sheer enthusiasm.

And I remember hitching a lift on the milk wagon in the West Riding of Yorkshire with my mother, going to the wedding of friends. The wagon was high up, that I loved,  I could see further, but my eyes were really full of my mother, hair upon top in 1940s curls, earrings and a soft blue dress with a silver fox cape.   She was beautiful.

In a dream of myself quite other, I’d like an ex-military flatbed that you could make a home of the back of, everything boxed and fixed, and go anywhere with a dog.   The wonderful thing about dreams is that they are cheap, untaxed and if they are happy  – and fortunately mine mostly are – at worst they make you smile for the person you were – and sometimes still are.

I say and write over and over that my father was a big man with a big mind, wide vision, great generosity of spirit, a big voice, an enormous personality – “And you’re just like him” said my mother would say drily, surviving us both.  And this was in a big frame with a certain kind of density which I associate with safety, whether in terms of furniture, dogs or motor vehicles.  My son has it – “Of course” my mother would say wisely. “The rich have portraits and the poor have grandchildren.”    

who chooses?

Pam the Painter went to her local Sainsburys where paying is all by machine

with a sulky assistant delegated to help the customers when they can’t cope or the machine has a hissy fit.  She walked a distance to a bigger branch, thinking she was more likely to have a human to deal with there, and unfortunately it was the same story.  “I don’t like machines” she said “they always seem to go wrong, Or I don’t understand them.  I’d rather deal with a person. “   I told her the first time I thanked whoever for helping me out with a machine, deprecating my clumsiness, she said cheerfully “Oh that doesn’t matter – they’re always going wrong.” 

I don’t like machines. 

But nowadays you get what’s going.  I have used the automata less than six times where I shop.  I prefer people.  There is less and less choice and I want to know what will become of all those people when they don’t do that job ?

I am not looking for something to worry about and I know that things go in and out of fashion or become uneconomical in profit terms.  But these are people – probably attached to other people (partners, children, dependents), they will have to pay rent or mortgage, eat and equip themselves for the world.  As the pool of semi-skilled or hard labour jobs falters,

how to earn becomes a problem.  And as it becomes harder to get reliable information in a country once famed for the veracity of its news media, we are only just beginning to talk about unemployment.   Hand in hand with recession, I’d say.

Making a decision is one of the casualties of the 21st century.   Nobody wants to be wrong and thus unpopular.  Aaaaah.  But we have all made a wrong decision at some time or another.  It’s part of the learning curve of life.  Get it wrong, you admit you did, apologise and rethink.  This is rarely as  easy or comfortable as it is to write but delaying a decision unnecessarily just leads to confusion.

So, however much I recoil from Suella Braverman (nice line in suits) she is not responsible for the mess immigration has become.  It is a poisoned chalice she has inherited, it’s been coming for the however many years because nobody wants to make difficult decisions.

If we continue to take migrants of whatever stamp, we have to change the rules.  Incoming they have to be registered, given temporary papers for one year only and in that first year they must work at whatever they are given, while we found out about them.  And they learn clear, fluent, useful English.  Learning English is contingent upon getting the papers.  The present system is a mess.

By the same token, we have a whole lot of nationals who can’t work, won’t work, certainly won’t do what they are asked and all of them get far more play than the working poor who have kept the country going for many years.

Lighthouse in the storm

Having spent an alleged £9 billion on the Chelsea Power Station (most of it from abroad, but an unconscionable sum of money whatever way you look at it) the local property power brokers want to build something similar with lots of twinkly little stores, workrooms and restaurants.  I wonder who will have the money to spend in them ?  It will be a shopping mall by any other name and they don’t always succeed here.  You may have the unusual but you have to have the rest of the chains to keep going, a contradiction in terms.  Unused,

they become cold and unsightly, a refuge for rats, two legged and four.

The first time I heard the word “choice” in a political context it was with reference to abortion as in “a woman’s right to choose.”  And interestingly  this was the second issue in importance after the economy in the US midterm elections.  The midterms were not conclusive either way, rather works in progress but they did indicate that people could think for themselves and choose for themselves, and what they thought and chose was not necessarily what any politician waved under their noses.  Oh hooray.  More of this please.   

word power

Where I live has always been very good for street cleaning.  Rubbish is regularly collected , we have two street sweepers and damn the dumpers, detritus is contained.  In the autumn

we have a little sweeper van which goes round, with one or two men with blowers, shifting the leaves into the street  for gobbling by the bigger engine. 

We live in late Victorian purpose built flats, two to a building, individual step up into each fronted by a common area in which of course, the leaves pile up.  The council has to be careful that its employees collect from the street which is public, rather than trespassing on the front which is privately owned. And I’ve always been a bit sniffy about the van which is called a Scarab.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stand corrected,  I’ll explain.

I’ve waved and mouthed thank you, given the thumbs up, for years.  I don’t know if I see the same men sometimes, I don’t always have my glasses on.  I just thank them and this week the Blower was concentrating, so I waved to the man in the van who tooted and grinned and when the Blower turned towards me, I smiled  my thanks and without more ado and under my appreciative gaze, he cleared my area of leaves.   And we all beamed at each other.  Not a word.

Charmed, I looked up the Scarab and discovered that it is a sacred version of the dung beetle, which is one of those creatures that can shift many times its weight. Dung is not a word we use often nowadays.  I have an affectionate memory of it because my father once asked me if I really enjoyed the caporal cigarettes I briefly smoked.  Yes, I said, I did – “because” he said, eyes twinkling “it smells exactly like camel dung.”  Which he had smelt burning as fuel

in the villages of northern India when he was stationed there as a young man.

I can remember my father, a born teacher and a big man amazing light of foot, pacing backwards and forwards in a small house, and inveighing against a system which only introduced children to teachers  – to a background of school , college, academic discipline, training and other teachers – when a glimpse of the wider world might better hook them into feeling they could learn.

Both major political parties and probably all the others vow to put heft behind the education system  to help it recover and I want to write and ask them to understand that education isn’t just the passing of exams, the qualifying for work, but the ability to use words and talk.  

I want to ask them in their thoughts about education, to include speakers from every walk of life to talk how they were taught, what it meant and didn’t mean, where they went, how they got on and answer questions.  Of course I know there would be kids who wouldn’t attend unless it was on the schedule and speakers who wouldn’t be fascinating but at best, you would offer young people a wider and more generous idea of learning.  It’s all learning. 

And you’d offer them a more flexible informal way of using language – and you only get to use language by doing it.

It’s not a sin to use a word wrongly or to use a word others don’t know.  That’s how we all learn.    And you can’t most usefully fit this kind of general information into a class or a course.  I saw an item about a professor of philosophy who is teaching debate , the formal disagreement across the differently esteemed “names” in his discipline, rather than take the fashionable position of “this one is right “ and “that one is wrong” and there is no exchange. 

I wrote to congratulate him.

In life there is very little that is absolutely wrong or right, black or white. Life is endless shades of grey and much easier to bear if you can talk across the gap – not to persuade, but to understand a bit.  Moreover, if you know how to use words, you have dignity.  You might even like yourself better which would be a good start against the ubiquitous mental problems.      

 

GMAB*

No explanation from any of the terrestrial broadcasters about why the “pot” of reruns is so small.  And one man’s old favourite is another’s endless repeat. 

When I made my contribution to the National Sound Archive, my liaison there told me he found by accident at least as much as was formally offered to him.  He would drop into a radio station and find heaps of stuff being thrown out, ask to look through it and take the treasures, often more to do with continuity or the development of a theme than well known names.  I wonder if tv, impacted by the success of going on forever, has reused material or ditched it or finds it impossible or impossibly expensive to remaster. And doesn’t want to own up to being as suckered into the mirage of permanence as the rest of us.

All I know is not Fast and Furious every fortnight.  GMAB.

And not another silly quiz show or gut tearingly unhappy so called mystery complete with double mastectomies, depression, dubious neighbours and violence against women.  Wonderful actors, reduced to this? 

GMAB.

Do I have to describe Paul Newman as a film star, for clarity – easy on the eye and a very good actor.  His adored widow is deep in Alzheimers.  His two daughters (who presumably inherited a few bob and earn a living) discovered files of tapes and manuscript which Newman and a trusted colleague made as prep to a revelatory autobiography, more about why than winning.

In movies, looks help but they are not essential.  Talent too, but in film, that’s a big discussion.  The camera brings its own dimension.  But mostly you are either from money or rock poor so you can either wait out the longueurs or you’ll do anything because you already did.  And it helps to be unhappy – betrayed by one or both parents, disappointed in people to prepare you for the Hollywood cannibals, or shadowed by a dead sibling,

guilty at your shortcomings – just plain miserable.  It helps if you want success but not giving a damn is the beginning of wanting.  GMAB.

A midweek strap line on the BBC news channel advised 350,000 NHS workers being balloted re strike action.  A written piece 36 hours later quoted nurses as leaving the profession upon experiencing a 20 per cent pay cut in real terms.  Is it too much to hope that some of these nurses and/or doctors

will get together and found small fee paying clinics, not the Harley Street version at £150 a pop but £20 every time, where quite a lot of us would rather spend our money on than hairdressing? (Incidentally even expenditure proof Wal was taken aback by the girl in her 20s ahead of him at his longtime hairdressers, who spent £572 on cut, colour and blowdry.) 

And I met a woman on a bus, a handsome woman with a pretty voice who turned out to be Polish, had lived here a long time and was an accountant in the NHS for 8 years.  “Was?” I asked.  “Yes,” she said.  “I left.”  Why?  She said levelly “Five managers and two accountants.”  GMAB.  So while, God knows, we need a laugh, that hit where it hurts.

 

In the middle of trying to deal with all those big problems his predecessors left him – all too well known, I won’t list them again – could the PM start thinking laterally as to who is going to reform the institutions of Great Britain before they collapse like stale cake in the street?  My parents gave 30 years of their lives to state education because they believed it was the beginning, the foundation stone to what could follow.  Not just university for those who want it but the basics, the use of language, spelling, functional arithmetic, the development of talents.   And I thank heaven they aren’t here to witness the circle of postwar Britain come round again – hungry children who can’t concentrate in class – and that nice woman pregnant with her fifth child because family planning is a middle class concept, now gone out of fashion.  What about saving the planet ? 

Oh,* give me a break.         

what you think and how you get there

Never extrapolate from the personal to the general. 

If, for example, you see a child peeing in a public park, it doesn’t follow that all other children “like that” – now there’s a minefield – do it too.  Where we are now – Conservative Party in power though Conservative Party in pieces,  he says/she says/ I think (s)he means, The Blond hoping for a second go, not only rising costs for everything you can think of  but no point of reference, strikes and social disarray (on the railways, among nurses, midwives, teachers and others) –  is most unsettling because there are few facts and a great deal of opinion.

And of course if you are convinced of one of the candidates, you attribute The Truth to him or her.  Not sure about that.   But then I am not sure about any of the candidates.

Last night I watched a programme about the beginning of the BBC.  

I love compilation programmes, intelligent often unexpected bits of film and talking heads, faces put on names.   Better than the endless run of – all the other things I don’t want to watch.  And re the BBC programme, three things stayed with me. 

One is that at the beginning, broadcasting was being invented and they made it up as they went along with a bias towards radio.  (Pause for cheer !)  Secondly so emergent not to say homemade was it, that the assassination of John Kennedy (1963) was handled as badly as could be, special relationship notwithstanding, and thirdly, the BBC censored itself

– not in a “that’s not a good idea” kind of way but seriously, through liaison between the senior suits and the government, formal undertakings which remained in the bottom drawer unless needs must, when they could be invoked as binding.

We have ceased to talk about the man in the street, probably because that’s just one sex and we admit to several, and probably because the old image was tied to newspapers  and we are at the mercy of something more volatile and less reliable enacted by current technology.   If I sound dubious, it is because I find the BBC (setting aside honourable exceptions) horribly reduced in impact, Al Jazeera and Sky seriously often better, though I prefer written media because of my personality and age.  I don’t think it’s any more reliable but the format gives me time to think.  And this week an email I used was hacked

and I, who took a risk, got ripped off.

Generalisations are just that – broad sweeping statements on which arguments may be built like shakey houses, only to fall down

on the heads and feet of people who never understood or believed in them anyway.   The handsome 40-ish consultant on the prestige cosmetic counter in my nearest big store told me that she and her husband had done everything they could to provide for themselves and their old age, taken advice, invested and were now facing a mortgage increase from £1,000 to £1,600.   I could make a piece out of that but it would be unreliable because she is just one person and they are just one couple.  Though it is not till you hear it from somebody directly, that you realise just how destructive the last few weeks have been.

The spectacular Christmas department in a famous West End store is hundreds deep in Christmas tree decorations, streamers, lamps, toys and pretties – and has been for a couple of months.   But the prices are shocking.   And yesterday in a small specialist store I admired a jewelled tree about 4 inches high.  Was it £65 pretty ?          

I worked for years on one to one.  It is an old teaching trick  – if I can establish dialogue with one, and it’s interesting, all  sorts of others will listen and pay attention.  I am very wary of generalisations, they can be so easily manipulated.   “We all” is a phrase that makes me see flashing crimson.   “Them” we say meaning “not us.”   The cruelty of where we are is that, whether we believe in it or not, this has been done to us, wantonly, in the name of “we know best.”  Like hell they do.     

advice not taken

Some time ago, a woman wrote to annalog

and in her note she referred to the difficulties she had had with her two sons since her marriage broke down and I responded sympathetically.  She wrote to me and I replied for the next year.  Why ?  Because she was lonely and I had time. 

 Almost from the off, you could sense loads of other stuff lying under the emotional water.  

There was a great deal which preceded where she was up to now and that wasn’t what she wanted to talk about.   She was not, as far as I could work out, a liar or a fantasist, any more than many of us who wish to have things perceived as we perceive them.  

But why did she marry the boys’ father ?  And why after all this time was she so afraid of him ?  Why was his mother, like her own, disagreeable to her ?  And the sons were not children, the older was in his early 20s, the younger in his late teens.  And she meant it when she said she had had difficulties with them, from her parting with her husband years ago, who had a big affair, left taking every moveable cent and married the other woman.   The boys sided with him although by her account he rarely had them to stay and didn’t spend much time with them.  The sons never came to terms with her

or she with them

At the time of her writing, she had met someone and thought she might move in with him.  The older son had a girlfriend but wanted to be able to use the family home at will and her younger son, offered a room in the house of this new man, threw a violent tantrum, punched his bedroom door and broke furniture. The former family home was her settlement after the divorce.

There was a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing: her father wasn’t well, she worried about friction at her place of work, she mourned that the boys were disrespectful to her and disagreeable to the man, living with whom appealed ever more – himself divorced with children.  I never heard mention of anyone else.

The younger son’s school asked to see the parents but his father was unwilling to be involved.  The girlfriend of the older boy didn’t want to have him living with her.   It was wonderful to go away with Man Number Two  – but she had to come back.  And upon her return the house was foul, her sons had had friends in, they had got drunk, thrown up and left the mess.  What should she do ? 

Larry Preston’s painting

I said  talk to the police if they have time, or get a solicitor, I don’t know enough law to be helpful.   She wanted them out of there, she wanted to rent or sell the house.   But she couldn’t put the two pieces together.   She knew the house was her only real asset and that it was being devalued – but shied away from confrontation.

You see, you wouldn’t get this far in radio or on what used to be called the problem pages because you’d hear just so much, respond to that and it would be gone.  I opened a door but in order to have  got anywhere, I would have had to get further involved.   There were discrepancies,

tiny mismatches, that bothered me, and information I couldn’t get to.

So I took a position and made the kindest and most honest end I could.  You’d have thought I had at her with the kitchen knife !   But she couldn’t manage how could she , she never meant to misinform me, she was a truthful person, what was she to do ?   But I would say unkindly, she did know what to do.  She didn’t want to do it.    

She has written twice, once to tell me how terrible she feels.  I didn’t feel wonderful myself.  And once to tell me her partner is out of work, the house is being wrecked and so on. Predictably. Sometimes it is just horrible to be right.  

 P.S.  and how else to say – goodbye, good luck, get on with it.  That door I opened ?  It is closed.       

starting somewhere

Early

last week I had lunch, neither expensive nor vinous, with a woman I haven’t seen for 25 years or more, whom I had met only once. Her husband died sadly young, her life wasn’t easy and I heard of her very occasionally – we move in different circles.   But more recently, she wrote something of wonderous generosity about me which was drawn to my attention so I found a professional address and wrote in appreciation.  After her delay (Covid) and my delay (fall), and an exchange of cards noticeably warm and enthusiastic on both sides, we met.  And talked effortlessly for four hours over lunch, and later pots of tea, sometimes laughing, sometimes deeply serious, offering what the other needed to know to cross the considerable passage of time.  There was real care and real intelligence and real generosity.   “I’m getting this bill” she said firmly, “on the grounds that you do the next one and we don’t wait so long … !”  

In the street outside, she said “That was wonderful, I don’t now how to describe it ..”  “It was” I said “like two weeks in the sun, fresh orange juice and do what you like.”   And we have a date for November. 

When I came home, I sat in the chair and recalled and thought and when I told my mostly phone friend Denning about it, he said “Well, you deserved that.”   I did ?  Yes, he insisted, I did.  “You had the fall and the mess with edf, one thing after another, all to be negotiated and put up with, all energy going one way – out.  This was a real exchange

and it was good for you – I can hear it in your voice !”  “Uplift ?” I suggested and he cackled in agreement.  

That would have been enough, but there’s more.      

A divorce can be a good or a bad thing and is often both simultaneously.   But if you have got to that stage, then you want it to move forward so that you can, pain and all, rather than feeling stuck.

Amy Able upstairs works long hours, having furthered a specialised nursing career – so conversations are catch up and move on.  And when she came back from seeing her family at Christmas, she mentioned that her erstwhile husband wasn’t responding, papers were just sitting there, and she really suspected that her solicitor was more in sympathy  with him than her.  So she found herself different representation, only then to be becalmed by the legal go slow, which however justified, has pushed everything back a few more weeks.

Come Wednesday morning however, she rapped smartly at the door and struck an attitude with a formal document in her hands.   “Look !” she said beaming with relief and I did, hugged her and went off to buy her yellow roses

because as my friend Janet (annalog/Jiz) said, it’s not every day a girl gets her decree.   She has a new job, she’s booked a week away at year’s end because when she goes home, the family brings her its health problems which is great for them, but not a break for her. And she can breathe.

Buns has been trying to settle to buying a house in Ireland for the last several months.  The vendors, their estate agent and their solicitor haven’t done him any favours so he’s done the chasing till this last week when – as you know – the bottom dropped out of the markets and the money went up in smoke.   Which is easier  if you have a lot of it, but few of us do.    And all Buns’ decisions are made in a one off form of cogitation and fret known as Bunstime.  He’ll get there but you have to wait for him.  Nothing to do with Greenwich Mean Time.   So for the first time in our 25 year friendship, he asked for my advice at 1.00 and had acted on it by 5.00. 

And then rang me up again and told me he felt better.

Some count beans, some count blessings and this week, there were four of us with a share of the silver lining. 

disquiet

I slept well for years and mostly still do.  But like eerie soft toys,

I take to bed pictures of the Ukrainian war, some part of the troubled planet, the non-resolution of my edf problem (annalog/ghostbusters), concern about dentistry and eventually, on this occasion, rose at 3.00 or so, to heat milk.  Of course I know people to whom the mention of milk in any form is repellent, hot milk unthinkable and the jolly types who expect you to add spirits.  Hot milk helps me sleep.

Except that this time I managed to spill the milk

into my slipper, down the stove, on the floor – it’s amazing how far a small amount of fluid goes.  And it was so ridiculous, having to clear all that up, that I began to laugh at myself.  And the milk was not my usual, full of preservative and didn’t work.

Since then it’s been the downward road in the peace of mind stakes.  Wal has had a serious operation and the private hospital in which he is currently safe and through the worst thank heaven has wonderful nurses, good food and a switchboard system of glaring inadequacy.

I often read book reviews (they’re cheaper than books) which led me to the first person account of a handsome woman with a difficult childhood who managed to come to awareness of her alcoholism (good) but after having been a pain to all who knew and loved her for years. I have never forgotten the man, now dry, who told me “You drink to kill pain” and a bit like antibiotics, it kills other things too.

Offered pages by a woman who was John le Carre’s lover, I still don’t know why she wrote the book.   Or why anybody is surprised that someone who has been involved in what we used to call Special Services is odd.   Like many great talents, I would imagine le Carre was difficult and functioning unbalanced, causes partly familial, partly professional.   Sex takes your mind off all sorts of other things, leaving you free to go back to writing.  And writing is such a strange business, where you use words alchemically to make pictures and structures that other people can’t imagine.

The endless recital of somebody else’s sexual experience doesn’t do anything for me. 

Porn only works on the innocent or the addicted and I am neither.  I don’t want to see or conjure what you do.    Because the recital doesn’t teach anything except indifference.  

There was a time when I had a Marilyn Monroe library. I admire Monroe. The great director Billy Wilder said (approximately) she could drive you mad but give you something unique.  I am not sure which we have most trouble with in the present world, the idea that somebody is clever or the idea that the clever make mistakes too. 

But do I want to see her acted (Netflix) ?  Do I want to see that acted Monroe used all over again through the recreated savagery of her experience of the movie industry ?   No and no.  The idea that we can only appreciate the journeys women take into creative expression and a measure of success

(there’s a chimera) by talking about rape, beating and every other kind of unkindness is eerily fictive.

It can’t be right – or indeed helpful –  as in morally not right and socially not helpful – to be defined by what goes wrong as in “I know I have a career/ a tv show/ a partner/  my own house that I can afford to heat  – but I have painful periods.”  In years and years of talking to people, I don’t recall anybody who had it all.  We all have our difficulties and we choose, not always wisely, how to deal with them.  Moreover we choose – change our minds – and try another way. This used to be called growing up and for some of us it takes a very long time.  I can be patient with how long it takes, it has for me.  But don’t describe me as a victim because I have my troubles. Everybody does and most of the time, that’s how we learn.   Not by sweetness and light and roses round the door but by thought and disturbance and disquiet, and the balancing act between them.      

the backward glance

Walking up the road this morning for the paper, I saw the window of a house misted with  condensation and remembered ….

I was very young when my mother had one wall of the small bedroom on the front of the semi papered in a soft grey green figured with stylised fawns.

There was a dressing table from whose five sided surface hung a curtain.  Storage.   My books were in the smallest bookcase ever.  There was a lamp.

There was also a window looking out into the street and on this in the winter I woke to ice flowers, frozen patterns on the windows.  Everybody I knew was in the same boat – air con was foreign – and  I truly don’t remember being cold.   I had warm things to sleep in, layers on the bed, a hot water bottle.  And the patterns were beautiful.   I’d show them to one or other of my parents and we’d look for pictures in them.  

There was what then was known as a gas circulator in the kitchen, on low all time, popping up into a minor explosion when you used hot water.   The house wasn’t large, there were three of us in it, with open fires in what was laughingly called the dining room and the sitting room .   That’s where we sat when we weren’t in the kitchen, or in bed. 

From that bedroom window too, I used to watch as the lamplighter came

on his bicycle with a long pole over his shoulder, at the top of which was a glass shield he could retract, to put the flame to the wick in the lamp outside the house.  It was wonderful, like a fairy tale.  I loved watching the street opposite, people about their lives, my dog coming home.   When I told Pam the Painter, she scoffed “ Oh go on with you, you’re not that old.”   And I paused.   Memory is sometimes very selective.  You remember this, but not that – and it is true that the lamplighter was only in the youngest two or three years of my noticing. 

After that we had a fog piercing automatic light like everybody else.  And I was moved into my sister’s bigger bedroom  (she was in Prestwick, learning how to be a meteorologist) in which to do my homework and store my already “we know what to give you” library. Looking back is very seductive.   Warmer, sweeter, brighter

– we know it was cheaper.   Didn’t we all look better ?  But I’m sure not everything was better.  It was different.

You can get stuck in what was.  It’s not helpful.   You can rewrite history, but you can’t go back and live in your re-invention.   Currently bending my ear is a woman telling me repetitively the story of her miserable marriage, less how it affected her than the “children” who are both now in their fifties.  There was a complicated family history with issues of power and convention, but there is a kind of time limit on reinventing horrors.   It becomes a cop out.  And she left this marriage – with difficulty but she did leave – and after ten happy years with the love of her life, who sadly died – she returned to the marriage.  I can remember her telling me that she was going to do it and why.  Money.

I confess, I can get very sniffy about the matter of money.  In age, I have come to appreciate that I came from not very much.  Professionally I earned well though I had holes in my pockets,

and a late breakthrough to sense came too late for what is derisorily called wealth management – because of course you can only increase what you’ve got. And you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (thank you Joanie Mitchell).

Heaven knows what we can look forward to, less of it, worth less, but it’s done.  And I will feel the cold more this year than in that happy memory.  Children of the milkman leaving pint glass bottles with foil lids, we used to talk about money as “milk tops and buttons.” It’s too easy to be soured by the backward glance.  Face forward.