Saturday, 28 June 2008


Good Morning. I would have been here the day before yesterday but, just as I was about to click on Publish Post, the entire post disappeared. I tried everything, I promise, from backward arrows to 'drafts' to shaking the laptop, plus things I'm not prepared to tell even you; anyway, lost for ever. So, if any of you is wandering about in cyberspace and sees a post entitled "Coalesence" looking rather aimless, please scoop it up and return it to Liz. I promise not to be cross, although I was very cross when it went awol. I shall have to re-write it before the subject matter goes passed its sell-by date so it will just have to deal with the sibling rivalry.
I am not sure about the title . On reflection, 'coalescence' is probably more about the coming together of eggs, oil and mayonnaise than fits what I have in mind. But there has been a coming together: of my 75 year-old self and my 40 year-old self . I went to hear Neil Diamond. He said "I have been doing this for nearly 4 decades" and I can certainly testify to that because I've been there through them all. Neither of us has changed all that much - in a way, she added, hastily. I had feared he would sing mostly new songs, to promote a new album, but all the oldies were there, too. And yes, I did stand up when he asked us to, and I did jig about and wave my arms and even sing along (my companion turned away, slightly at that point. I wonder why). My current 75, in essence, reacted to him just as my 40 self had done. He was on stage, non-stop, for 2 hours and 10 minutes. Only 8 years younger than I. I have difficulty sitting down at the dinner table for that long. His kindly, American voice-over marshal had told us Mr Diamond would perform without"remission", which I took to be a Freudian slip for "intermission" What he meant, I supose, was that Pit Stops would be at our own risk and on our own time. If ND could go through, then so could I, I vowed, but I couldnt, so I have to confess I did miss 90 seconds of the performance.( 'Remission' also makes it sound like he was inside for something for which he wasnt going to get remission: murder? of the English language, perhaps, because his rhymes and images are not always without query - see Carol King, for example. But I don't care; I don't need my idols to be perfect.) I might have missed one last song, too, because, after the third encore, I began to feel a huge daunt at the thought of leaving the O2 Arena, which is not too far from the end of the Thames in London, with 19,998 other people, all heading for the same underground station at the same time. I dragged my seriously reluctant companion away to find that several thousand others had had the same thought and were all wasping towards the station, which mollified him. On a whim, we turned the other way and ran - picture it, old lady, stick, propelled by excitement and her companion's decisive arm - to the quay where we just caught the water bus back to Waterloo, running past the Jobsworth trying to stop us, ticketless, while he tried to work out whether to run after us and lose some other prey or put it down to experience. My heart was thumping, not only with euphoria but also from an atavistic fear of authority shouting. But it was all worth it. (We must talk about Jobsworths another time).
Lovely, and, yes, since you ask, we did pay on the boat.


Saturday, 21 June 2008

Singledom 2

You may well have been asking yourselves where I have been for the last week. Well, I have had visitors and I have'nt yet mastered the art of doing all the work that requires and keeping up with the blog, too. I have been speaking sternly to myself and I promise better time management in the future.
During my time slaving over a hot stove, I saw a newspaper article about life as a single woman,( actually, I may have told you that, already) one of my areas of expertise, as you may have noticed. The writer said quite a bit about how men behaved, the upshot of which seemed to be that the entire undertaking, dating, dining, whatever, was geared to bed. Now, having exchanged my eyelashes for a walking stick as a tool to achieve what I want, bed, in the sense of sexual activity has become something of a desert, a desert, with no sign at all of any charted oasis. Which is not to say there is no experience of the mirage effect, neither.You will remember from your geography lessons being taught how people, dying of thirst, lost in the desert, IMAGINE they have seen an oasis, just over there in the distance, always just over there, in the distance. Well, mirages of oases in the desert of the 'physical life', (she said, coyly), there are in plenty; it's the reality that's just as the geography books warned you. By and large, however, there are advantages to being a demand-free zone in that respect: it is possible, now, at my age - external age, that is - actually to have friendships with men, and to take liberties that would have been unthinkable earlier, of which more another time.
That is not where I experience the problem of being a single woman or out with another woman. This area of passionate interest is in the way restaurants treat women on their own. There is a whole book in that, never mind a single blog entry, but I will do my best. Think near the kitchen, think near the lavatory, think invisible, think can't get a table in the first place and you are beginning to get the picture. Now, in fairness, I have to say that there may be something in the presumption that a woman on her own is not likely to eat as much as a man and, in my case, may drink less and, Heaven forfend, even tip less, (tip less: moi? I don't think so), but that must not serve as a reason not to give her the benefit of the doubt before you have even found a table for her or even decided not to. Having been told there was no room at a local inn one Saturday evening when I rang, I prevailed upon my male companion to have a go, himself. "Ah yes, Mr B. Would you like a table upstairs or down?" I wish, fervently, that were a unique example.
You may have gathered I live in London. I went in to a renowned fish restaurant at twelve noon recently, not one where I was known. Fully booked. I could see the reservations book with several bookings for 1.45 and 2pm. It was not beyond the bounds of possibilty that I, starting just after noon, could have been out by then. Adamant, still no room at that inn neither. The manager, maybe sensing a potential 'issue', hove as I was putting that option to the brick-wall young woman keeper-of-the-portcullis. "I'm writing an article on how restaurants treat women on their own", I said, to him. "Of course, Madam. Come through. Here's my card, ask for me any time you want a table and remember to ask for table 40: it's the best, by the window." At a much humbler level, I wanted a quick lunch at a French bistro look-alike. Hidden behind a pillar I had to get up THREE times in search of service and, finally, for the bill.
"I'm writing an article etc etc" You know what? The bill was cancelled. But it's hard work and I deplore the effort and rarely enjoy the hard-won occasion. I have been known to use the name of He-to-Whom-I am Married when booking. That works to procure a table, but changes nothing when you turn up without the Mr. bit. Think kitchen, think lavatory,etc. See above.
A handful of restaurants where I have been going for many years does treat me beautifully, and I am very grateful to them. (The gratitude, in itself, is highly politically incorrect , I know). I have no idea how they treat other women on their own.
Incidentally, I have it on the best authority that children are even more despised than women on their own. They drink no alcohol, not much is ordered for them to eat and most of what is ordered ends up on the floor, along with the sticky contents of their glasses. A waiter's nightmare of time-consuming, no- profit clearing up after them. Goodness me, I am talking myself in to the privileged position of being a woman alone in a restaurant.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Russian Dolls

I was thinking about how hard a baby works. Every waking moment something has to be noted, something has to be understood - or mis-understood; interpreted, made sense of. At the other end, with age, there is so much information in the memory that taking in something new feels like pouring water in to a bowl that is already overflowing, fitting a quart into a pint pot, or decanting perfume in to an antique scent bottle - they have a name, but I've forgotten it! Inevitably, there has to be spillage in order to make room: a piece of information relinquished. Call it a 'senior moment' if you will, but it is really just overflow. Perhaps a more positive image would be of a suitcase stuffed to the brim; if anything were to fall out, it could be recovered, picked up, put in a safe place in case of future need, after all, we do get some thought-to-be forgotten knowledge back. Rescuing spilled perfume and putting it in another bottle, less full - I dont think so, so it has to be lost forever.

The other day I watched a baby dealing with his first solid food, some baby rice on a spoon. No surprise, he tried sucking it. Did'nt work. He tried again. The rice remained external, his hunger internal. He stared hard at the circle of fans around his high chair, all with their tongues out, making loud num num noises. The encouragement was palpable. There must be something he didnt know, a missing link. Suddenly, light shone, his tongue came out, too, and he licked the spoon. Such a look of triumph as he tasted the food and exalted in the cheering of his adulators. However, the next day when offered food on a spoon, again - rebellion. No question of a talent to amuse, to-day. We had had our fun and it was back to the breast or else.

I tell you this because it seems to me we are like Russian Dolls, all the people we ever were incased inside one another, so that baby will, later, be nestling inside the next doll which is nestling inside the next one and so on and so on. The scenario becomes more complex if one of those trapped people needs some attention, let's say about a situation that wasnt effectively dealt with when it should have been. We shall have to wait to see how my baby friend reacts to rice in later doll incarnations, but it could explain MY current Wont, Shant, Cant Make Me when confronted by The Right Thing To Do: it is my inner fourteen-year old who, at the time I WAS fourteen, was what you might call 'bland and compliant'. ( In that case,the mind boggles with the struggle to imagine what the forty year old is currently trying to sort out.)

I do try to inhale the scent of now but, it seems, it has to be at the expense of lost drops of the scent of then. It's not that I am just geriatrically forgetful.
Anyway, that could be the true explanation of what you may come to see as my preoccupation with the young: letting some air into the tight chambers of those Russian Dolls.

PS. I've retrieved the word for a perfume bottle: atomiser! There you are. It was on the floor behind the suitcase all the time.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Sod's Law

I did say I would tell you about Sod's Law in case you were new to it.
"The co-operation of factors which are random and fortuitous operates in inverse ratio to the urgency of the need". A simple example would be that, on a day when you are walking virtuously home, with no thought that you have earned a taxi after a hard day's work, six roll by, free. When it's raining chats et chiens and you are wearing your Jimmy Choos and have just had your hair done, nothing, niente, nada, rien, nicht; indeed, more like: taxi: what's that? Useful law, is'nt it? I have patented it.

Another problem with taxis is that they have got higher than they used to be, further from the pavement. I find that with stairs, too, steeper and more of them than erstwhile. I was making my way down a flight of them to the Ladies in a restaurant, recently. I discerned a drift of heavy humph behind me and turned round to see a young(ish) woman pretend-patiently coming down behind me. You may have come to expect my sweet old lady smile by now. I smiled it and said " I used to hate getting behind an old lady like me when I was your age." Bright red, she did manage, "Not at all. Take your time". I did.
Rather worse, since I was not the only one affected, was a time when the down escalator from a first floor cinema was broken. With my long-suffering Godson's support I started gingerly down. "Just let these people pass" he said, ever the gentleman, after an eternity of ice-pick crawling, holding on to me. After the first thirty-five had done so, I decided that was enough good manners and resumed our painstaking, courageous dealing with this treacherous escarpment, almost off- piste in its treachery, as if we were alone on it. We made it to the bottom, turned round to see what was going on behind us and saw the escalator black with people, double-parked, on the steps and queueing right back in to the cinema. Now that is
mortification, in spades, if you are twenty-one, or any age, come to that, but in a nano second he - and I - saw the funny side and laughed all the way out of range of reprisals. Since you ask, it was "Sex and the City";audience all 40s, except him, and me of course.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

singledom 1

I doubt if you have stopped to wonder why "singledom 1" . In case you have, it's easy: there's more than can possibly be said in one blog. It seemed a good idea to start tackling it to-day, though, because a columnist in the paper, yesterday, asked for readers' views on the subject. Since there was a real possibilty that she would end up feeling really sorry she had asked if it were I who complied, I thought I would keep my observations to myself - and to you, of course.

Where to start? The Airport would be a good place. In these days of high security nothing can be left unattended anywhere. Take the need for a Pit Stop. Now, a coat, an overnight bag a stick and a sizeable handbag have, therefore, all to be fitted in along with your good single self in a cubicle designed for someone the size of a slender man (or woman) with a wife (or husband) sitting in the concourse keeping her (or his) eye on all your bits and pieces. Don't even think of putting it on a trolley. Get the picture? I do not joke when I say that I have to plan my travelling equipment with due consideration for whether it will fit in to the lavatory or not. Similarly, on arrival; going to the Ladies before your baggage arrives whether you need to or not, means that you wont have your coat, your overnight bag, your stick and your sizeable handbag AND your checked-in bag to deal with when the urgent need to go develops just when you pull the bag off the carousel, as, according to Sod's Law, it surely will.

When I imply I pull the bag off the carousel, myself, I lie. I position myself next to what looks like some rugby-playing youngster, reach out lamely - a second or two too late - squeek "oh Dear" with a careful measure of despair and helplessness as my bag rolls insouciently passed and wait for the "let me do that for you" which, thank God, almost always follows. If it doesnt, I just have to change rugby-players and try again on the next circuit. For the use of a trolley in those circumstances, see above. (It gives me great pleasure to write "see above". One of the difficulties for me,actual age 75 etc., writing in cyberspace, is that all that went before is now below. After seven decades of writing "see above, " or "all of the above" , I have to think in terms of "see below", or "all of the below". The world has been stood on it's head: there is no more room for doubt.)
Travelling with a companion is, thus, such a joy that it's tempting to hire one: " wanted, strong and vigilant male person to navigate dotty old lady through airport hassle while she admires your behind. Rugby player preferred but quiet old gentleman would do. Forget the behind." Dont get hurt in the rush. (That ad now looks border-line sexist but I'm not really so impressed by female behinds.)
Sod's Law next time - did you think I had assumed you understood?

Friday, 6 June 2008

Helping Hands

Last night I went to a performance of "Der Rosenkavalier". As you will know, the opera is about an older woman and a young man. The Cavalier of the title is only seventeen - and a half - and the Princess a grand old thirty four or so;( seems not without advantage to me). Was maturity measured very differently then? The Cavalier, in the same day that we hear him declare his life-changing, undying love for the Princess, falls in love with the girl his own age to whom, as 'ambassador', he has presented the silver rose which was the engagement present of the elderly and somewhat gross nobleman her social-climbing Father had bought for her. This lad who would, these days, just be doing his 'A' levels, thus becomes, himself, the young woman's intended. Can't think of a current seventeen-year-old who would be ready for marriage and all that; well, maybe, all that .

Anyway, to tell you about the helping hand; I was seated at an aisle, much easier for me than having to creep past umpteen people with stick, bag, picnic and so on: (long Opera, early start before dinner.) However, not so easy for me when the rest of the row is having to creep past me to get in, and out in the intervals, of which there were two. The first time, I swung my legs in to the adjoining gangway and smiled bravely. Standing is not so comfortable so I repeated the tactic when they all came back, not so smiley. The second interval I did my bit stoically although I am in a position to tell you, people who like Opera generally have pretty big feet. Thinking they were all through, I had swung my legs back in front of me when two more ladies appeared, threatening to want to get out. With a very bad grace I was making a huge show of the difficulty of putting myself out to accomplish this when one of them asked if I would like her to bring me back an ice-cream. Mortified, I declined, indicating my as yet uneaten suitable picnic - nothing frivolous, you understand - but thanking her, profoundly. I felt thankful. Instantly, and still, I regret that decision, so, if you were at the Coliseum in London last night and offered to get an ice-cream for an elderly and static old lady, she is very sorry for the refusal (declension?)and would have loved an ice-cream so don't let it put you off offering again.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

21st century living

As I was saying, what does he mean by 'archaic'? Well, I say " how do you do?" when introduced to someone. The correct 21st century response, according to this styling guru, has got to be "Hi" or, at a push, "nice to meet you". The 40 bit of me is quite happy to be dragged in to the current century, but it doesnt seem to have particularly good manners.
Thinking back to clubbing I remember that I have been dancing, recently. At the wedding of a young friend, I was quietly drumming my walking stick along with the beat when I was yanked on to the floor by a cousin of hers, a gorgeous, sexy yorkshire lass. I was having a whale of a time, jigging about, bouncing the old knees to rest my behind on my ankles, as you do, and got within a few feet of them, too, showing off, when she asked me to show her how I would have danced when I was her age. "Can't do that ", I said. "Need a man for that". She thought it was the strangest thing she'd heard since the Immaculate Conception. Why would you need a man to dance? Made a note to find out her birthday and send her a DVD of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Showing off is all very well, but is it worth how the back feels next day? This was one of the biggest shocks of being old: how it actually feels to have non-bendy, aching joints and stiff muscles; not an intellectual concept anymore but the impossibilty of running for a bus or picking up a sliver of something from the floor - thick is easier. Rain is the Devil. Try managing a stick, an umbrella,your handbag and your shopping. A conundrum isn't it? For a person who values elegance and grace, I have to see the funny side of the spectacle of me, determined, (obdurate) not to succomb to a plastic hood, catching my death, as my mother would have said,by abandoning the umbrella in favour of seeing where the Hell I'm going. Hair, as a result? Don't ask. Sometimes, people do stop and ask if they can help. "Thank you", I say, sweet old lady fashion. But the inner voice is telling them to buzz off and come back later, when I am older. However, I accept graciously and make them laugh all the way to my gate so that they can see I am just incapacitated; I have'nt had a humourectomy, and actually, it is quite a funny situation.

Sunday, 1 June 2008


I suppose in a way I AM a zimmer-frame-clubber, since, in case you were not absolutely clear from my profile,, I have been alive 75 years, it's just inside that I am 40 and would love to go clubbing. Anyway, I dont actually have a zimmer frame (yet) and I dont - often - go clubbing. The last time was two years ago in a town which shall be nameless where, at 9.30 pm the only place to get some food was a gallery above a night-club, where the DJ was stationed. I was with my then 19 year old Godson, strange enough picture in itself since he certainly qualified for down-stairs. The order for food had to be written down and the most urgent need was for a teacher of sign language. The inside of my head was taken over by the outside and I couldnt even hear my inner voice: my constant and faithful companion. Lovely food, though, and when we'd eaten enough just to survive we stood up to go. The DJ apologised for the noise - to me, not to the 19 year old, at least, I thought that's what he'd said, so with a presence of mind that astounded me, I suggested he turn it up so I could hear it better next time.

What more about me? More incongruity: I am married, but not married. I've been married, twice, to the same man. Now we dont live together - he has other arrangements - but we've been in one another's lives for 56 years and are very good friends, relatives, you might say. I live alone, but not alone. My beloved companion has two legs more than I have, with lots of tortoiseshell fur and a loud purr. She is not a happy friend when I want to turn over in bed and she has just got comfortable on top of me. (Bed things are definitely an issue if you are 75 on the outside and 40 on the in.) Three children, but not children, all middle-aged, no grandchildren but several surrogates. Said Godson says I am archaic. How can that be when you are really only 40?