Sunday, 29 November 2009

Keeping up

It was all the hospital's fault that I havent been blogging. That's what I'd like to think and what I'd like you to think, but we all know this isn't true because, short of tying my hands or keeping me sedated, it really is not possible for a hospital, however technically advanced, to stop you doing much you really want to do - in the intellectual sense, that is: I can't see them allowing, for instance, kick-boxing or abseiling. Anyway, I have had a short stay in hospital without my laptop which, on a scale of one to ten unpleasant, where ten is the least pleasant, comes out at about four hundred and thirty four. (The stay, not the laptop) You don't want to know the details, or, if you do, they wouldn't add much to your pleasure in the blog, only spoil your supper, but, believe me, unpleasant is it. The problem was that the stay was followed by days at home when I suffered a sort of reaction. I had a high temperature and much aching with no sore throat or any other nicely identifiable flu-like symptoms. When referred to the G.P., bless his heart, the symptoms were diagnosed as the reaction of a very cross body. Quite. (Now, as you will have noticed, I don't really approve of non-sentences, but "quite" is what does it for me in these circumstances and I promise to be more forgiving of other peoples' slipshod sentences in future). Fortunately, nothing untoward emerged from the unpleasantness, so there the matter ends, Deo Gratis

When I finally got myself together to get up, stay up and put some proper clothes on, I was appalled at the accumulation of jobs undone. There was your predictable pile of envelopes to be binned or paid; nothing warm and friendly other than a flyer indicating that some friends would be giving a recital in a nearby church in a few days' time. How did I keep up with all this when I was also working, I asked myself? There's no doubt that there is a mathematical equation somewhere that expressess the distribution of time in ratio to brown envelopes. Perhaps, the busier you are, the more of them you can deal with: work expands etc., but I do believe it is more complex than that. There simply is more time, the egg-timer is bigger, the clock has more minutes when you have lots to do. I made a resolution to keep absolutely up to date with my desk and my life from now on. After all, at my age, you never know when 'WHEN I come out of hospital', may turn in to 'IF I come out of hospital'. Let's express it like this: a cupboard a day keeps chaos at bay. ( I swear, that phrase came totally unbidden from my inner voice so it must be true). Someone I am close to has spent a month in isolated retreat while all this was going on for me. Not so very different, spiritual or physical tidy -up followed by a difficult and busy period of re-entry. He hasn't come back to too many brown envelopes but SOMEONE HAS TIDIED HIS OFFICE and now he can't find a thing. So what's new. See you before long.

Friday, 6 November 2009


It is absolutely not good form to complain, I know, but, at my stage in life it is actually a rather scarce source of harmless fun. Indeed, I am, actually, a bit shocked to find just how much I enjoy that which I used to condemn in my Mother and her gossipy friends Anyway, the latest complaint: I was renewing something or the other. I don't even remember what, and I was asked to provide proof of residence and some photo identity. You have to be pretty well air-brushed to look anything like human on a photograph at 75+, never mind a passport-type job, but I took the medicine and posed quietly. It was the eve of Halloween which will probably explain why the machine condescended even to do its job without exploding. When it came to proof of residence, back home, I wandered down the stairs with a recent gas bill to use my fax/copier. It was out of ink so I did another wander down to the local Chemist shop to use theirs. So far, so sensible. However, I was not at all familiar with their model and, looking round for help, saw that both the Pharmacist and his assistant were deep in consultation with other callers. Alone, I pushed this and pressed that and lifted the other, all to no avail. Then, thanks to the Angel of Mechanics, who, unlike the Wizard of Cyberspace, does have some compassion towards those of us who feel pain when standing too long, a young boy came in, understood my predicament, lifted a huge lid that had looked integral to me, not at all liftable, and off to go, as we say in Wales. By the time the whole enterprise was over, I could have made a cake and even seen it come out of the oven. I was exhausted and cross. It came to me that I get so many damned bills that I needn't have bothered to make a copy; they could have had an original. I wouldn't have missed it.

If only it had ended there. A year ago, I put some money, in a fixed Bond, in to a Bank that shall remain nameless. I can't, now, remember if I have told you the following. I hope not. So boring of the elderly to repeat themselves. Anyway, I'll tell you again, in case not. This particular Bank was offering a very good rate until 3pm one Friday. A'financial' person filled in the forms on my behalf and sent them off. On that very Friday they came back to me with mistakes to be rectified. No way could such a form be posted back in time to catch the special rate. Well, Dear Reader, I filled it in , rang a mini-cab, (local car service, to those of you who kindly follow me from distant places) and dashed down to the office in the City listed on top of the form. Only, it was not an office; it was Head Office, with a locked door and no access without a pass key. I knocked, several times, I willed the Receptionist I could see through the glass doors to look at me. Nothing, nil, I did not exist, neither for him nor for the one or two privileged souls who had the pass-key to Nirvana and used it leaving me standing outside. Finally, I banged on the door with my walking stick. Now, an old lady banging on your door with her battered old stick is not a good look in the City of London. Within seconds I was let in and before you could say " and about time, too" a representative had come downstairs, with a second -" for Data Protection purposes" - and taken my cheque and my details and agreed I could have the special offer even though the branch I should have gone to was in Manchester. The preamble, long as it is, was necessary to give you the background to another bureaucratic Hell. I tried ringing them to find out how the account stood, now, at the end of a year. I was asked for my password. I dont have a password. I dont remember being given a password practically standing in the street in the City. I dont remember one coming in the post. I tried guessing. I got one letter right, one wrong. Stalemate: I could not be given details of my account without the password. I could, however, go to a branch of the Bank with photo ID and proof of residence and they could help me, there. That's where you came in. See you soon.

Monday, 19 October 2009


The inside of my head resembles spaghetti junction. I have been following this, that and the other path trying to work out the difference between defiance and rebellion. I have always seen defiance as: won't, shan't, can't make me. Rebellion turns up as a picture: for example, pulling a tablecloth from under the china and glasses, food, too, if I am feeling particularly got at. I sense there is a difference but I cant quite quantify it. For a lucid moment, there, I thought defiance may be seen as disobeying an injunction, and rebellion as resistance to authority. Is there, actually, any difference ? I'll give you a for-instance from real life. I have a condition which means I should not eat sweet things. I do - eat them, that is. Try as I may to analyse this, all I come up with is the above wont' shan't etc. In the same way, if I am having a meal with a friend who, as my Mother would have said, eats like a bird, I pile my plate high and eat as much as she should have eaten as well as my own legitimate portion. I catagorise that as defiance. Rebellion would be more like the example in the last blog post: throwing out the food- waste bin all together. Incidentally, someone whispered in my ear that I may be fined £1000 for not re-cycling food waste. Oh Dear: the choice seems to be between the Pied Piper, running the rats out of town, or finding £1000 of taxed money and throwing the scarlet swimsuit - see a long way below - out of the door since there would be no more money for holidays. (Should that have read "re-cycling the scarlet swimsuit"?)

There may well be an element of resistance to authority in rebellion: that is, one needs A.N.Other against whom to rebel. Defiance could be against perceived rules, either in society or in one's conscience. Is it that defiance is a feeling and rebellion an action? Then defiance may lead to rebellion. Oh dear,oh dear, clearly we do have a spaghetti junction scenario. I know that I have written pieces actually called Rebellion before. This seems a whole different semantic ball game. And, you may well ask, what does it have to do with being 40 in a 75 year old body, anyway. Well, the answer would be largely in the physical. I will keep trying to do physical things I would have done without thought when I was 40. Alone in the house I decided to move a couch in to a different position. It was defiance that kept me at it and back-ache that laid me low for two days thereafter. There was also some denial of reality: as in, 'I would have moved this piece of furniture without difficulty when I was 40. I will move this piece of furniture now'. If it were rebellion would it have resulted in throwing the damned couch out? I don't know. You work it out and then tell me. On reflection, it may be just that defiance is what is left to you in the crucible of life when you are 75 and have burned off all the more dramatic reactions. It takes less energy than rebellion and is more readily accomplished. You don't have to burn your bra: you can simply not wear it - or go on wearing it, depending which way your philosophy is taking you. You don't have to stop sharing meals with your anorectic friend, you simply have to go on eating more than she does.

You know what? I am going to go back to bed with the dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus and defy the world to interfere with my rebellion.

Friday, 9 October 2009


Samuel Johnson said, annoyingly in my view, if you are tired of London, you are tired of life. Now London, itself, can be pretty tiring, or, perhaps, frustrating would be more accurate. Anyway, coping with the everydayness of parking regulations and Congestion Charge and crowded underground trains and buses that start before you have sat down, would certainly drive the best equilibriated person to distraction and I am, at the least, frustrated if not exhausted by dealing with it. I wouldnt agree that I am tired of life as a corollary but the question I would like you to answer is this: what does it signify if you are tired of re-cycling? I am prepared to consider that that may well mean that I am tired of life because how can we sustain it if we dont recycle? I'll tell you what brought this heart-search to mind. In the borough where I live we have been issued with a number of different coloured bins in which to put our stuff to be recycled. So far, so worthy. Paper and bottles and cans and the like belong in the dark brown one and there is a green one destined for food and garden waste. Here is the problem: that green one is big so has to be kept outside, at the top of the path where it can be easily collected, but it is nourished, daily supposedly, from a tiny green one which lives inside in the kitchen. Get it? You fill the little one with potato peel and egg shells and uneaten greens and so on as things crop up and then go, no matter what the weather, and tip it in to the Grandma one which waits patiently to be cleared by the Refuse Collectors. Old ladies are not that keen on wet slippery walks up the garden path so daily is a bit of an ask. The Grandma bin is emptied only once a week. Food waste smells. Thus, you have a situation where the good citizen of whatever age is torn between saving the planet and feeding every rat and fly within whiffing distance. Dear Reader, I have given up. I am no longer recycling food, and, further to emphasise my rebellious disaffection with that aspect of saving the planet, I have put the little green bin inside a bin bag inside the black bin labelled 'miscellaneous' and thrown the b....r right out.

I do see that I have made a few complaints of the I-am-against-hassle kind in the last few posts. Perhaps the chronological me is getting a bit short of energy for the administrative side of life. Recently, I queried an item on my Bank statement. As a result, my bank card was stopped. All very fair and good for security. The replacement has not yet arrived so I am barred from holes in the wall and have to find a branch of the bank to withdraw cash. Innocently, I telephoned the bank to enquire what the card's status may be: had it been dispatched, had it been ordered, what about the current flurries of postal strikes? Fifty seven minutes later I lost my temper. I had been through security thrice, I had been cut off once and I still didnt know what or when to expect salvation. I asked for a supervisor and was told by one agent that they didnt take calls and by another that they were all busy taking calls. I shouted that I was a caller, too, and then hung up. I am certainly tired of that sort of scenario. But not tired of life, yet, because the story ends better. I dialled in again, pressed a different option and found a helpful person who offered to re-order the card ab initio, so to speak. I was back to waiting another between five and ten working days but I did have a bit of hope. It is hard to reconcile some things with the way they would have worked when I was forty. I was in St Pancras station, yesterday. At least, I think it is a station. It looks and behaves like a giant shopping mall. You cant see any trains at street level, there were no announcements to be heard while I was there and there was no recognisable staff. To my amusement, I was stopped by an Australian with a mountain of baggage and asked where there was an ATM. He and his brother could not even take a taxi to their hotel until they had some English cash. No staff, no ATM, no porters, what's a traveller to do? I hadnt seen an ATM but I had seen a Bureau de Change - now called 'Travel Money' in my local Post Office - so I was able to help. Why had he stopped me from the throng available? I looked like I'd been around a long time and, with no suitcase, must be a local. So there you are. I am not the only drawer of conclusions on the planet. But London, as typified by St Pancras had better look over its shoulder at past levels of service or I, and those Australians, will surely get tired of them both. G'day.

Friday, 2 October 2009


Now there's an irony: it came to me that it might be a good idea to talk to you about my old friend Tinkerbell, you know, the fairy who needed the constant reassurance of applause to affirm that she existed, when I realised I hadn't been here for just over two weeks. Obviously, the applause must have died down to the extent that I felt I had ceased to exist. I do exist and, as it happens, and as I think you know, I very much enjoy writing, communicating, via this blogspot. So, please, keep the comments coming and the SiteMaster clocking up and this particular Tinkerbell need have no fears of fading in to non-existence. You may say the whole Peter Pan thing is implicit in a blog called 75going0n40, but I don't really think so because 40, in itself, is mature enough. The predicament, as I see it, is not in the emotional discrepancy so much as in the physical. Eventually, it risks losing its funny sense when the Guru says he'll just go down the road and buy a parking ticket while I get out of the car.

The inspiration for Tinkerbell thoughts was actually my computer, or, anyway, its mouse. You will have noticed that the computer and I have, at best, an uneasy relationship. This very morning something locked so that I couldn't move the little arrow at all, in any direction and very often it is floating wilfully about, totally unresponsive to my attempts to give it direction. The Guru routinely insists I must have done something and I have determined to buy a video camera to record my time - and movements - while I am communing with the Wizard of Cyberspace, because, NO, I have done NOTHING. Things just happen. I have tried shortening its cable. I have tried lengthening its cable. I have tried picking the mouse up and starting again. I have tried setting The Cat on its trail. Nothing works. It does its Tinkerbell thing and vanishes off the margin of the screen up, no doubt, in to Cyberspace where it carves another notch on the bar of the Wizard's wand. At its most benevolent, it wanders off the line to one above. If, like me, you don't touch-type, you can, unwittingly, type a whole phrase bang in to the middle of a previous one without noticing. Example: uneasyCyberspeace becauserelationshipCat.

Now, I need to confess, that, as it happens, I do have a soft spot for Tinkerbell. Hers is a phenomenon I am familiar with, as are all of you, I suspect. It is to do with the difficulty of establishing, in such a way that there is never going to be any room for doubt, that you are a person capable of being loved. There is any number of reasons why this belief fails to gell. You may just have learned to trust that you are the centre of the universe when a little sibling arrives. How many people do you know whose search for perfect love and therefore security leads them in to serial relationships and permanent disatisfaction? Family, in the love and support sense, may never have occured for you. An early 'mistake' may have left you feeling worthless. You don't really need me to go on with the obvious, but, clearly, there is a way in which we all need reassurance from time to time that we are loved, therefore we exist and Tinkerbell's insistence that, for her, only the applause will provide that assurance and reassurance, is perfectly justified. Perhaps my little arrow does have a life of its own, or, perhaps it just knows that I cannot love it unequivocally...yet.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Have you ever noticed how some happenings turn out to have what one may call a mirror image? A dear friend of mine owned a rather lovely, valuable watch with a beautiful face and a blue leather strap. Her home was burgled and the watch was amongst the stuff that was stolen. This was a great sadness to her, as was the loss of other things handed down to her through the generations, Grandmothers, Aunts, Mother. You know, the sort of things one might not always wear but would always cherish. Except the blue watch: this was both cherished and worn. A few months after the robbery, her, by then ex, husband, delivered to her letter box on St. Valentine's day, a box containing the equivalent of a 'Swatch' with a blue plastic wrist-band, still bearing its price-tag, £22. He saw this as a loving gesture, assurance of his continuing fondness for her, his awareness of her loss and an attempt at restitution. She saw it as the most amazing cheek. How dare he attempt to replace her precious watch with a supermarket throw-away and what was appropriate about an ex, who had caused her enormous pain, sending her a Valentine's gift? She sent it back, price tag and all; to him a loving gesture, to her an insult.

There is an old joke - Jewish, I think - which demonstrates this mirror thing rather nicely. A Mother is talking about her married children. "My daughter," she says, " has the most marvellous husband. He won't let her lift a hand. She has a daily cleaner to do the hard work, he does most of the cooking and always does the washing up. He'll bring her coffee after dinner while she sits and watches the television. My son, on the other hand, has married a dreadful woman. She insists he pay for a daily cleaner, she won't cook, she won't clear up, he has to do all that, and, to cap it all, she expects him to bring her coffee while she just sits and watches the television." I have the feeling this is a phenomenon which affects all of us, one way or another. One man's helpful Mother is another man's busy-body Mother-in-law. I am guilty of this turn around, myself. During the return flight from continental europe I, because of my stick, was instructed by the personnel (human resources?) of THAT Airline to sit in the window. Now, I, because it is nice to walk about a bit and I do tend to need the'facilities' from time to time, prefer to sit the aisle and not have to keep mountaineering over my neighbours. I grumbled and pulled a face and generally embarrassed my companion, but had, of course, given in, when we heard another lady, similarly be-sticked, respond to the window seat injunction with "Oh. How lovely". Ouch .One man's meat is another man's travelling preferences, I concede.

Having started on this theme, I am overwhelmed by illustrations of it. But what comes at once to mind as I sift through them is the experience I told you about a while ago when I was making, gingerly making, for the Ladies down the stairs of a London Railway station. You may remember the kind lady who stopped to tie my shoe lace. She saw an elderly, doddery old bag, laden with bits and pieces, soaked through, unaware she had failed to tie her laces, in imminent danger of losing her balance and falling down some pretty hostile steps. I saw a sturdy, late middle-aged lady with a bit too much to carry, caught in the rain, whose shoe-lace, though firmly tied at application, had accidentally come undone, walking with some circumspection down some pretty hostile steps: the only point the pictures had in common. But then, that is really what the blog is essentially - in essence, that is - about: to me, I am forty. To the rest of the world, I am seventy five. Does that phenonomenon also explain why everyone's baby is beautiful? Oh dear: where will it end, I ask myself. What about you? What about your mirror images? See you soon.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


I have been away. I hope not too many of you have given up clicking on to thinking I had succombed to the difficulties of being 40 trapped in a 75 year old body. As it happens, those of you who are good at Maths may well have worked out that, by now, I must be at least 76 going on 41, but we shall gloss over that and maintain the status quo ante. Anyway, as I was saying, I have been away and am experiencing the usual re-entry hassle. One can appreciate the holiday, the real merits of the holiday, only via the in-your-face reality of what everyday life is like. For instance, I am back to " press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for the other and 4 for no-one will answer whatever you press". "We thank you for your patience and one of our assisitants will be with you as soon as possible". Now, I am not patient, I just have no choice and it is as inappropriate to thank me for it as it is to take me through a menu that has no bearing on what I want to know in any case.

All the people who have taken the summer off, and I mean part of June, all of July, all of August and the first week in September are back, on the roads, parked in the 'pay and display' bays and the Disabled bays, too. The road works remain impediently unfinished and nobody is working on them. School has started. This means you take your life in your hands if you venture out after 3pm because the little darlings are all coming out and their Mothers are lining up to be in good time to meet them. The roads around where I live are choked with People Carriers and the pavements with baby-sibling pushchairs. The queue in the only remaining Post Office for miles around wanders out in to the street again and the major part of the gift I have sent to a loved one in Scotland is the forty minutes I spent trying to dispatch it. A neighbour with two cars has come back after a time so long away I had come to hope he had left permanently. I will tell you why. Near our houses - much nearer to mine - is a one-off Residents' parking space, with no overhanging bird-mucky trees, that gives easy access to home for a lady with a walking-stick and cat-food to carry. Now he, although boasting a Residents' parking space right outside his house, prefers this space and will not move the car which is on it until his lady brings up the other car behind ready to slide it on to the space as he glides off it. I have watched this pantomime a thousand times but it still beggars belief. Anyway, for months they have been wonderously away and I have had the pleasure of parking there whenever it is, in the normal course of events, available. All that has to be re-contended with during the re-entry period.

Actually, part of the holiday was passed with above loved one. If you have been kind enough to be keeping up, you will remember that I did that last year, too. This year there was no ceilidh but lots of Scrabble in the rain. I am a fan of Scotland, particularly the part where The Loved One lives, but I end up wearing every item of clothing I have taken, all at the same time. Yes, it does occur to me to pack some woollies. I wear those, too. Picture it. A sometime elegant lady padded out with three cotton T shirts, a cotton cardigan and a huge woollen one with an anorak on top of it all. I had to buy some tights to keep the nether regions a bit warmer and a scarf for my neck but, don't get me wrong, I had a lovely time. I just underestimated the Girl Guide 'Be Prepared' thing. To round off the misery of coming back, there are all the unopened letters. There was one from my Bank telling me they had done something I didn't want them to do. That is, I wouldn't have wanted them to do it had I known they were going to. Apparently, under the pile, there found itself another one that said they would do it if they didn't hear from me in fourteen days. As luck would have it, I came back on the fourteenth day and thus began the press this, press the other saga while I tried to sort it.

There, of course, is your clue. In my use of the reflexive I have let on that I was in Continental Europe as well as Scotland. Those of you who will remember last year may picture the scarlet swimsuit once more in situ. It was even harder to walk in to the sea and not too much fun travelling on that well-known friendly Airline that charges one to check in at the Airport. Anyway, with the Guru's help, my young inner self had a lovely time in the ache-relieving Mediterranean sea. And coming back is not all bad news: there were ten minutes of purrs and leg rubs from my four-legged furry best friend and all night she slept where I could not have changed my position without disturbing her had I even wanted to. She is still keeping me closely in her sights and I love it - and her. There are friends to contact and music to hear. When the five loads of washing have been ironed, it will be great to be home again. See you much sooner.

Saturday, 15 August 2009


For reasons I doubt would interest you, I have had to pass on my email address rather too often of late: it's liz dot mountford at... I say umpteen times a week. It has reached the point where I am in serious danger of introducing myself as Liz Dot Mountford to any real live person who crosses my path. Now, would they assume my middle name was Dorothy, though it is rather strange to respond with all ones names when introduced, or would they assume, by a minor extension, that I actually meant Dotty? A convicted eccentric has to be very careful of dangerous implications, as you know. Anyway, there is the predicament. The Guru has four names and was annoyed because the DVLA wouldnt let him have them all on his driving licence, nor could he state them on the Electoral Register. (Incidentally, in case you are still keeping up with me in Australia or Canada and from wherever else you have been kind enough to log on to this blog, the DVLA is the authority which deals in this country with the issue of driving licences and related matters. Anyway, it would seem they are very choosy about names) .

It got me thinking - L dot .M, not the proclivitities of various authorities in the matter of nomenclature - about habits. Spending time with the Guru illustrates this rather well. He thinks technically: I think carrier pigeon. He thinks "Hi": I think "How do you do". He assures me my life would be better all round if I were to join the "Hi" brigade. But the habit of seventy five years would not be an easy one to break. (Would that were the only one). I write 'thank you' letters. I receive text messages, as in "thx 4 dinr. C u soon". Dont misunderstand me, it isnt that I am censorious of text messaging - at least, not by the young - its just that it doesnt even come to mind. If you have been offered hospitality, at the soonest opportunity, you sit down and write a note of thanks. That is habitual. I am in the habit of correcting the television's grammar. You'd be surprised how many "compared to's" and "different to's" you can pick up, even in the most erudite of items. Now this is of no concern to anyone else if I am alone, but, if it happens to coincide with a Guru visit it can be pretty annoying, I suspect. It reminds me that my Father had a television habit, too. He would referree every football match he watched and yell at the players to kick the b..... ball or get off the field and find someone else who could. Annoying? It is amazing he lived for me to tell the tale.

As I reflect on this matter, it occurs to me I should really draw a distinction between habits and habitual behaviour. I think there is a difference. Yelling at the telly is habitual, continuously wrapping the ends of your hair around your fingers is a habit. Biting ones nails is a habit. Having ones nails painted every week is habitual. Dont worry. I dont. I do them, myself. I would always rather spend money on eating than on treatments. I think the point I would like to make is that it is easy to get so used to a situation that it becomes habitual, as in "How do you do? I am Liz Dot Mountford", and it is easy to get in to the habit of cracking your knuckles even when there other people around to hear you. The other day, I came in to find the Guru in 'my' place, on the settee in the living room. Habitually, I lie on the settee with my elderly legs up and he sits in a large red armchair at right angles to me, with, if he wishes to converse with me, his legs swung over the arm so that his head is facing me. Seeing the lie of the land, I sat in the red chair and swung my legs over the arm so that I could converse with him. Dear Reader, he was horrified. He chose to ignore the funny side of it and told me this was not a proper way for an old lady to sit. Pointing out it was his habit so to sit was, in his eyes, totally irelevant and he would not permit me to get in to the same habit, as if I were actually young enough to get away with it instead of just internally so

Now I am thoroughly confused about habit and habitual and what is acceptable behaviour in any case. Do comment. I feel I need the help.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Keeping to the Subject

Last time, I suffered a crisis of conscience about whether my material was strictly relevant to my prime thesis: inside every elderly person hides a younger one struggling to reconcile him/herself with the inevitable changes that come with age. Now, I have an apposite story for you. The other day, I found myself creeping down some very steep, stone stairs at a London station in order to find the facilities. Alright, I agree, that is a bit precious: in order to find the toilets. Picture it: torrential rain, stick, umbrella, parcels and trailing raincoat. I was being very careful, indeed. Half way down, I heard hurrying footsteps behind me. In that situation I always stop and encourage the person to overtake, (except when the escalator at the cinema has broken down - see below) because they often have a purpose or are carrying trays or whatever and I do not wish to be responsible if they are paid by the hour. Anyway, there I was concentrating on my crawl and pointedly standing aside so that a young woman could overtake me. She stopped alongside me. "Your shoelace is undone," she said. I looked down. It was. Now, as I'm sure you will appreciate, falling over is not recommended for the elderly. Things get broken and take ages to put together, unless you do a Humpty and never come together again. "Would you like me to tie it for you?" Before I could respond - or bring my jaw back to its responding position - she was crouching beside me doing up my lace.

I was filled with a mixture of feelings: outrage, shock, gratitude, a bit of shame, relief. I did manage to hover over these feelings and, I think, thank her adequately and in time. I was left wondering what she had seen. She must have seen a tentative, not to say doddery old lady, burdened with paraphanalia, not savvy enough to notice her shoelace was undone, at immediate risk of a serious accident; out of control of her well-being. "But that isnt who I am," I wanted to protest. "I am Liz and there are little people for whom I tie shoelaces and I wear high heels and I help the elderly cross the road. And, what's more, I run down the stairs to the 'toilets'". But I don't anymore, only on the inside. It was a surreal incident and struck me as one that qualified without question for the 75 going on 45 phenomenon.

One of the sweetest happenings in an earlier life occured when I had the care of a seriously incapacitated woman I had come to love deeply. (To give you the whole picture, I should say that before her unfortunate predicament, I had found her rather hard to love. She had a robust personality and we clashed.) Anyway, came the first time I needed to help her shower. I, myself, was ready dressed and made up, too. I put her stool in the shower and prepared to help her on to it. Although she couldn't speak, she had certain noises at her disposal and she could still laugh. This she did, pointing at my face and my clothes. Her unimpaired intelligence had noted what I had missed: I was going to get very wet, indeed. So, I stripped off and joined her under the shower. Her delight was further enhanced both by the sight of my face, running with mascara and my dripping hair. I know the incongruity of what we had done gave her pleasure for all the months that remained to her and she would sqeeze my hand and point to my face and hair whenever it came to mind. Perhaps for her, in that situation, we were peers playing in the water together: both 80 -odd going on 17. See you soon.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Match making

I have been thinking about matchmaking and pairs and how they come about. Actually, the most recent reflections came about in a most prosaic way: I was sorting socks. The person for whom I was doing the sorting wears nothing but black socks. Now, this can be both an advantage because one could get away with the occasional mistake, and a disadvantage because patterned socks scream at you to be reunited and that generally makes life easier. Anyway, there I was, surrounded by socks and my mind wandered to marriage and other states of unity not necessarily blessed with benefit of clergy, nor with an easily recognisable pattern
There is such a thing as marital fit. Perhaps that ought to have capital letters: Marital Fit. People who work in the field see it all the time, apparently totally disparate characters nicely making a go of it. For example, you might find a mild-mannered man, the kind who wouldnt say" boo" to a goose married to the sort of woman who would make mince-meat of anyone who crossed her. The idea is that he carries the calm and peaceful part of her and she carries the aggressive part of him. Together, the parts make a whole. Jack Sprat and Mrs. Sprat, in the nursery rhyme, had the perfect situation. He would eat no fat and she would eat no lean. Between them they licked the platter clean but they came from diametrically opposite positions in order to achieve this. If you look closely, it is usually possible to discern why two very, very different personalities are sharing a life. I remember someone I knew many years ago who suffered badly from depression. In a pub he met a woman he rather liked who told him she was a teacher. Things progressed and they decided to marry. It emerged she was a psychotherapist but, because her experience had told her this profession was inclined to scare people off, she always said she was a teacher. Now, what mysterious force led the Depressive to find the Therapist? Age and knowledge sometimes attract the young. In that situation, the man, for it often is the man, can be a mentor and guide to the mature world, inner and outer. I wonder, though, what happens when the girl, for it often is a girl, feels she has acquired enough 'education' and may do better with a contemporary. Sometimes, a couple so resemble one another they are like a mirror image. I recall a University friend whom we, rather less than kindly, nicknamed "Rabbit", because that was what his teeth, and his ears as it happens, were like. Several years later we invited him and his new wife, whom we had never met, to supper. At the door I nearly fell over. There was this absolute replica, but with breasts. You could say they had recognised one another on the instant. Similarly, a girl, and it often is a girl, will marry someone so like her Father, you would have to be really close to tell them apart. To see the father of Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas together on the golf course, it would be necessary to hear the Welsh accent of the father to be sure which one had hit the ball. Familiarity can be reassuring.

What has this to do with 75 going on 40, you may well ask yourselves. Not a lot, I suspect, except one inevitably learns a great deal from 75 years of observing and analysing - with a small 'a'. It is also tempting to share (preach) the wisdom learnt. Anyway,the internal 40-year-old can still identify with that stage of life. However, to be really honest, I should tell you that, probably, the real reason is that I will not, can not, forget the teacher who told me never, never to forget the title of your essay. Whatever you write, wherever the inspiration takes you, it has to come back to the subject: in this case, what it feels like to be 75 going on 40. Thinking of that in terms of match-making, I wonder what my 40 year old self would have made of my choices had she had the vision and 'wisdom' earned over the subsequent 30 years. She might see that I havent got much right, but, damn it, I am still trying. See you soon.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


I have just had a delicious lunch with a newish friend. She is about ten years younger than I so rather on the cusp of the mores with which I grew up. We talked about these and compared them with the way the young live, now. Not a lot of scope for originality in such a discussion but we enjoyed it and our personal examples of kicking over the traces. I remember my first break away from "the way things were done" in the parental home. I put a bar of soap at the wash basin and another at the bath. Imagine: no more leaning from the basin over the bath to reach the soap in its little dent on the far side and no more converse leaning precipitously out of the bath for the soap- dish which was, as you would expect, on the far side of the basin. Goodness knows why my Mother did'nt think it proper to have two bars of soap. It may have been to do with the war and rationing, but, logically, one wouldnt use more soap if there were two bars; just use the same amount more efficiently. My first rebellion outside the home was much more dramatic. I don't know how old you are but you have to be quite old to remember the hooded prisons that served as hairdryers until, what seems to me, comparatively recently. The hairdresser, having rolled one's hair, while wet, in to tight ringlets around a wire holder, would then place one under one of these prisons. They blew hot air, very hot air, around one's head, neck and ears and, incidentally, dried one's hair. I say incidentally, because that didn't seem to be the purpose the longer one was under the grill. I know, now, that, in fact, this method is not very good for the hair and dries it out rather than just drying it. I, being well-brought-up, for which read unaturally obedient, would wait, meekly, until the 'stylist' deemed me cooked. My neck burned, my ears hurt and I may have been living isolated from human voice inside this roaring monster for ever, but move: never. Then came the day, I must have been twenty five at least , when I thought ENOUGH, and, gingerly, heart thumping, slid from under the damned thing, craned my neck to reach its works and SWITCHED IT OFF. I sat there waiting for Nemesis, heart still thumping, and all that happened was that a junior came up, moved the machine backwards,and said "Oh, are you dry? Mr Davies won't be long" and, with a smile, left me to cool off. Dear Reader, I never suffered a burned neck again. Now one just has to put up with the roar of the hand held monster blowing dry ones hair but not ones surrounding body parts.

Which brings me to another simplification of rebellion. "Mr. Davies": to this day I don't know what Mr Davies's first name was. When I am in my home town, which, as it happens, I miss very much since I managed to sell the seaside studio, (see below), I drive passed his Salon and think about him. He and the salon have long since vanished and I regularly play with the idea of trying, still, to find out what he was called. His wife was Sheila. I know this because he would instruct her to pass him things or "see to the phone, Sheila" and she would do whatever with a professional nod and "Yes, Mr. Davies". My lunch companion had similar memories although she did know her hairdresser's name because it was over the door of the salon, "Ivan Downes, Hair Stylist". Of course, she never would have called him other than Mr Downes except, she was too timid to call him anything at all. Currently, the young man who washes my hair calls me Liz and when I wished to send a Christmas card to the man who cuts it I had to ring the salon and ask his surname. My friend's first remembered rebellion was to throw away the white gloves her school obliged her to wear whenever she was in uniform outside the school. She was worried that it wasn't really good enough as an example because she did it only on the last day she was ever at the school. Her Mother was really cross having planned that the gloves would be perfectly good enough for church for years to come.

Sadly, in my experience, leaving rebellion too long can result in disaster. For instance, it can be quite hard on a partner if you start, say, married life bland and compliant and during the course of it become sassy and opinionated. My friend and I decided the current young were truer to themselves much earlier. Whether or not that makes them better relationship material it's hard to assess. There may be potential for great pain in the diminution of the duty and obligation, the doing-what-is expected -of-you factor. What do you think?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Shared love

Time flies when you are having fun. No, seriously, I hadnt realised how long it has been since I was at the computer, for nice things, like blogging, as opposed to nasty things like filling in forms on line. As I have told you before, it seems to be a favourite hobby of the Wizard of Cyberspace, stealing my posts before I have published them, but after I have got nearly to the end of writing them. It seems clear that he and I share an attachment to them. It started me thinking about what happens when more than one of you wants/loves the same thing in a way which is not compatible, Today's example is with my beloved cat. Now, she and I are in agreement that she is totally lovable and totally the boss; no dissonance there. To strangers, though, she is not always user friendly and has been dubbed "devil cat" by my son at whom she routinely hisses. The current problem is that we both like the same chair, or, anyway, the fabric covering it. I am very fond of its tweedy look and feel. So is she. However, while I am pleased by its feel and its appearance, she is pleased only by its feel and digs her claws in to it and kneeds and scrapes and tears and pulls and generally makes a meal of it. So, there are we, ad idem about the desirability of the same object but rather different in our approach to it. Indeed, her prediliction precludes mine: it now looks awful. Simarlarly, bed; we both prefer the same side of a bed which is easily big enough to accommodate me and her and several others. Naturally, if she is lying on the best side, I decamp to the other remembering to take with me a portable phone, a pen and some tissues all of which are readily available without moving or effort on THE side. Oh well, as someone once observed, all over the world people are undergoing extreme discomfort in order not to disturb the cat, so I am not the only one.

I can see that there are rather more painful examples of shared love. I think about women who, married for decades, peacefully - apparently - tolerate living in a situation where the husband has a second life/wife running concurrently with her own. I realise that it is comparatively modern in certain circles, for marriages to be based solely on love and for exclusivity to be expected. Previously, marriages had an element of expediency, didnt they? Like, my lands adjoin yours or, between us we have such good genes we ought to propogate. In -loveness was reserved for outside the marriage. In other spheres, as I understand it, it was thought manly to have affairs. This is hardly original thinking, but I do, often, reflect on the potential for pain in the 'run of the mill' relationships where exclusivity HAS been expected and is not forthcoming.

As those of you who have loyally been with me all along may have noticed, I am interested - very - in the effects of sibling rivalry. Now there's an example of a shared love, or a shared love-object, anyway. As I have observed it, it can be one of the most formative of human experiences and usually comes very early. I know a little girl who has scarcely slept since the arrival of her little brother about six months ago. Her frazzled parents have tried everything except the one thing that would do the trick, to send him back from whence he came. You know, even cats feel it. In another life, I had the Mother and two of her little ones. One was clearly the mother's favourite. That did leave me in a special position with the other one, who was timid and quiet and glad of a lap where she was welcome. After the death of the mother, my timid friend came right in to her own. No more quiet naps on my lap or sitting by my feet while the other two cuddled up together on the settee. She fought for her position where she had never dared to sit before and even stuck her nose in to her sister's food if she fancied it. I was totally bowled over by surprise. You'd think Nature had endowed a mother cat with all those tits just so as to avoid the necessity of sharing and consequent rivalry. That could be a good idea for genetic engineering in human Mothers, too. Do you agree?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


I am so excited. Looking at my site-meter, I see that someone has been along to the blogspot from Melbourne. I do hope they were interested enough to 'see a few below' and that they will come back for more. At this moment I don't know how many they read because I haven't the courage to move from here and have another look at the site-meter, and I was too excited to notice when I was there. Those of you who have been keeping up will remember my terror of the Wizard of Cyberspace. I know, and he knows I know, that the second I move he can swoop in and remove all trace of what I have been doing. Anyway, it is very exciting. It would be lovely actually to meet a reader from Down Under. Do you feel inclined to leave a comment so that I can find out how you fell on this particular blog? Not that I don't value all of you who bother to look at my view of life at 75 when you are quite definitely 30 years younger in your inner world. But I am old enough to see Australia as a very long way away; a different world. So please don't mind if I've been less enthusiastic in the past about, say, Clapham.
That dealt with, I want to go back to something I was thinking about in the last post: the beauty of the performer. There were several comments posted. One suggested that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is a factor, but it doesn't go far enough as I understand it. I have spent so many years as an acute but detached observer I think I may be able to take in to account the eye of the beholder. A thought I would like to add, though, is that it may be something to do with concentration. It may be that signs of wear and tear, personal sadness, worry lines, even fun lines, expressons, are erased in the cause of the intensity of concentration required in performance, be it voice, or instrument or motor vehicle or the giving of life to a group of evidently lifeless wooden puppets. I saw the particular performance of the puppet opera which has so impressed me four times in a row. The wonder was never dimmed. Each time, taking a bow with the singers, the puppeteers brought the puppets on and held their hands and gave them obeisance: I doubt there was one member of the audience who didn't accept this as normal: we were acknowledging all the performers. I recall the adrenalin shock I felt, back stage later, to see these bundles of clothes, wooden limbs and heads flopping all over the place, suspended on a rail waiting to be re-humanised another time.
Perhaps I am talking about magic. Perhaps the Wizard of Cyberspace knows all about giving life to wooden dolls - and taking my work from me. When I was little, I used a device I'm sure you are all familiar with. If Iwanted to forecast an event I would say to myself that if a) happened it would be a way of indicating that b) would, too. You know the sort of thing: if the light turns green before we get to it then the letter I have been waiting for will be on the doormat when we get home. Not to make it happen, you understand, just as prior information. Ok, I'll come clean; I still do it. No, I'm not going to give you the ratio of right to wrong and I'm not even going to mention the prosaic word co-incidence.
There was another kind of magic in my experience, yesterday. I had tea, formal English tea-time tea, in a famous London store. (Never mind which one. You'll all want to go and then there will be a queue and no magic.) We had it all. A cake stand with layers appeared, sandwiches - no crusts - on one level, scones on another and pastries on a third. We were invited to choose from twenty two kinds of tea and offered a glass of champagne. There is no experience to equal it. Had my Mother been there it would have been hats and gloves. She wasn't but it was her scene and mine, too, until we all reached the age of discrimination and weight problems. There was one hitch: my companion found a hair in her scone. Torn between the reassurance that the scones had, really, been hand made and the natural squeamishness she felt at its presence, she called the Manager. A delightful lady appeared and offered her all kinds of compensation, more champagne - she hadnt had any - more scones, more sandwiches, the store. My friend was mollified by the care and the attention. It was enough to know they were mortified. The magic of the occasion was ultimately ratified by the annulation of the bill. Not a sous would they accept. Now, I hope I've done the right thing in telling you. There will be a queue not only for a table but for a stray hair as well. I should have kept quiet. Now everyone is going to want one. Never mind. You are welcome and I don't suppose you are really going to come all the way from Melbourne just to find a hair in your scone. See you soon.

Monday, 15 June 2009


There is a problem. I am sufficiently computer literate to accomplish a number of things which seems to have deceived me in to thinking I can do it all. I can't. When I am not at home I have no way to publish a post on my blog because I wouldn't know where to start in an internet cafe or even in the warm and welcoming 'Business Centre' at an Hotel. The good news is that the Guru will spend some time here soon and it's 'teach me how to compute from elsewhere or go hungry'. Actually, threatening 'go thirsty' might make more sense: likes his tipple does my young guru. I know, I know, I am always making excuses when there has been too long a gap between posts, but they are always real enough to me. One of the things I enjoy most is writing this blog so over-coming technical hassle has got to be a priority. Last time the Guru observed me at the computer, he had a Damascan moment. It seems one of the reasons the Wizard of Cyberspace can get me is because I drop my wrists on to the front of the machine and cut off its blood supply, or whatever it is it needs to keep going. Instantly, I was transported back 65 years. "Wrists" would bellow my piano teacher. "Wrists; lift your wrists if you please". This would be followed by a sharp whack on the back of my hand if it were not the first time of telling. I swear my hands hurt even as I am writing this.

The gap occured because I have been away. I spent two days in Germany to hear my favourite opera conducted by my favourite musician. As those of you who have been kind enough to keep up will know, I do tend to find airports difficult. This time I was travelling alone and the journey required a change of flights, so, four airplanes in two days. That's an awful lot of manoeuvering and managing of bags in loos and so on, and so on This time, it was also in a foreign language so I was in constant danger of wrong- place wrong- time syndrome. I have, however, made a useful discovery. If one orders a wheel chair life becomes somewhat easier, even without a rugby player with a nice behind. (see beow) It is not unmitigated ease. The down-side is that one instantly becomes the subject of infantilisation. One's passport and boarding-card are confiscated, presumably on the assumption that, if one can't walk, then one's arms are too short to reach up to the relevant agents and hand over the documents oneself. Imagine: you have spent the best part of seventy five years managing yourself and other people very well, thank you, and suddenly you are not capable of managing two bits of paper and have to ask permission to go to the loo. The good news - and there IS, of course, good news, is that your bits and pieces are all looked after by Nanny while you deal with Nature's requirements and, a big AND, you can use the Disabled loos which are big enough even for Pavarotti and his carry-on baggage. In fact, I have taken to using those loos anyway when I have no baggage-guardian to help me. Now, you may have gathered over the blogspace that I can quite enjoy being in a 'special' position but it is certainly rough with the smooth if the stand-out quality involves a wheelchair and an airport.

Seriously though, there is a market niche for someone to train 'helpers' in the wheelchair world. I am humbled that this is not a permanent way of life for me but I still felt my gorge rise when two - yes, two -huge men strapped me in to a kitchen chair with wheels to wheel me from one section of airport to another. I did suggest, in the little German I could muster, that, even though this was not your conventional wheelchair, I was not going to fall out. I got a 'jobsworth' response that brooked no discussion. In the cold light of intellect I can see they had a point: their fault if the passenger fell out and, Heaven Forfend, might SUE the airline, but what has happened to discretion and taking circumstances in to account? It is fifty years since I worked for an Airline. What were the regulations then? Can't remember. Is it rose-colured glasses or were we more human, more flexible and less, well uniform, then? Maybe we just had more time.

Anyway, I am safe back having had a really good time. After the performance I was invited to the 'pub' with the musicians. There is this strange phenomenon I have noticed before. On stage you are aware of great beauty and aura. In the pub, they look like the rest of us, good- or not so good- looking, ordinary people, plumbers, teachers, whatever. Once, I saw a puppet opera where the puppeteers were all on the stage, part of the performance. I remember wondering how the director had found such without- exception beauty in the faces of his cast; how much auditioning both for talent and for grace and loveliness. Later, in the post performance restaurant, there they were, normal, some good-looking, some, downright plain. It is fascinating. On one extraordinary occasion, I saw the late Ayrton Senna in his car in the moments before his visor came down: transformed. What is this radiant beauty, what causes it where does it go? Discuss. See you soon.

Friday, 5 June 2009


Yesterday, a friend I have known for exactly 50 years died. She died in another country and it was her wish to be cremated quickly and with only her blood relatives to send her off. My head is respecting that but my inner self is confused never having seen blood as a necessary part of feeling related. I had been in daily touch, except for yesterday. This is both irony and, perhaps, fate, so I found out only when her son-in-law telephoned, this morning, to tell me she had died and had already been cremated. Poor man has had to deal with the reaction of countless people when they realised they were being told after the event. Clearly, this was the only way to be sure the family was not swamped by those who have known and loved her as long and longer than I have. I am having to face two apparently divergent aspects of friendship: to offer up in sacrifice my instinct to say goodbye, in view of her wishes, or to see a natural and automatic expression of love in attending her funeral.
Either way, this time, it was never a real choice, just a philosophical one. English was not her first language and we laugh often at her response to my then six-year-old son when he corrected something she had said;"Hm, there vas a time I taught YOU English." She was good and wise and other-worldly in the depth of her awareness. Hand on heart, I can say I never heard a malicious or ill-judged word from her. Her serenity shone through adversity I wouldn't have room - or courage - to tell you about. What can I say? We had her a long time. It makes it harder to imagine a life without her.
Her death set me thinking about friendship in a wider way. How would I measure it? For instance, looking at myself in the mirror as I dried my hair, to-day, I wondered how many of the people I think of as friends I could consider submitting to a sight of me wet and bedraggled and, worse, without make-up. An elderly lady without make-up is not a pretty sight. You should know that I wear very little, I add, hastily, just enough to even out the colour and give myself eyes. On reflection, (oops, pun just spotted), there are not as many people as I have fingers whom I would subject to the experience. The poor Guru is here so often it's unavoidable for him. He is so young I suspect he can't see any difference between 75-year-old me and Methuselah. Old is more than thirty, no degrees , no sub-divisions. Poor lamb: not much of a positive role-model in me with my creaks and wobbles, whatever age I may feel on the inside. Anyway, I came to the conclusion that greater love has no elderly woman than she may lay out a sight of her naked face for another. (I'm not sure of the propriety of plagiarising the laying down of ones life for another, but, myself, I enjoyed the allusion.) Anyway, should we meet in the street and I am not wearing make-up, you will know I love you.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

More Adapting

Those of you who have been loyally keeping up and are more numerate than I will have noticed that I had numbered my 'Retirement' blogs incorrectly. There are really user-friendly options for editing blogs so I have been able to rectify my mistakes and would even have got away with new readers not even knowing how stupid I am if the habit of confession was not so intrenched in my guilt-ridden character. But there you are; I feel obliged to acknowledge my failure of pagination and promise to do better in future. Indeed, I have taken the softer option of calling this blog "More Adapting" just in case I have already adapted more times than I can remember telling you. What comes to mind as I write, is the occasion I was driving along Knightsbridge in search of Blue Badge Holder disabled parking spaces. If you are on the other side of the Pond or even on this island but not familiar with London, Knightsbridge is a broad thoroughfare going roughly east to west. (I only know which is west if a route could be headed towards Wales. This one is.) It is always very busy, indeed, with Hyde Park Corner at one end and Harrods at the other. (Now, wherever you are, you can't pretend you haven't heard of Harrods). Anyway, I was driving east along this road with the Blue Badge spaces on the other side of the road. I was just toying with the idea of doing a 'U' turn in the road, as had always been my wont, to reach Mecca, when a young man, in what I am reliably given to understand was an open-top Porsche, did just that, but from west to east, so that he ended up cutting in front of me with just about enough room to avoid a collision. Giving me a very cheeky grin, he pushed on regardless, regardless anyway, of the effect on me of his audacity. The effect was life-changing: I was forced to see that it would not be a good look on an elderly lady in an ancient saloon to swing across the stream of traffic as he had done. For one thing, given sexism and ageism, I risked being dubbed dotty- in- charge- of- a- motor- vehicle and even losing my right to drive. So, Dear Reader, I proceeded sedately east to Hyde Park Corner, drove round it and continued demurely back west towards my goal, the disabled parking bays. Or, as my English teacher would have corrected, the parking bays for the disabled. You may not think an extra five or seven minutes of' 'comme il faut' driving much of an adaptation, but, sh, I have been known to drive much less than sedately in my youth, which lasted, in driving terms, pretty much until the day before yesterday.

It may be that this next thought is not so much an adaptation as a giving up. (Adaptation is tantamount to Giving Up: discuss). Anyway, I thought you would be struck by an irony that distracted me from my German for Absolute Beginners lesson. Next door to the room where the class is held is another class. Each week, during my class, I have noticed vaguely Eastern music which can be quite intrusive and definitely not Teutonic. This time I asked a fellow student: Belly Dancing: yes, really, Belly Dancing. Something rather optimistic, to put it mildly, to teach in the University of the third age wouldn't you agree? Although, as you know, I love to dance, my inner eye boggled. Since I am just about the youngest in this class, and, certainly in the Advanced French class, though probably less mobile than some, it was very hard to visualise the possible candidates for a class in Belly Dancing. Can one Belly Dance with a zimmer frame, I ask myself? Next week I am going to find the courage to peer through the door and give my inner eye some peace. I hope I can maintain a proper respect for what I see. No, seriously, I do not want to be tempted to mock or feel superior. I don't. My 40 year old self never saw herself as a Belly Dancer and it has to be too late, now. Hasn't it....... ?

Friday, 15 May 2009


You may well have had the experience. If you haven't, believe me, there is little stranger than walking in to a situation where there are 130 people you haven't seen for 55 years! I have been to a Reunion of my college year and a few years on either side. Dear Reader, unadulterated grey hair and stooped backs is not a good look nor did I relish the realisation that I looked just like that. To be fair, my hair is not grey, just mousie and I am fairly straight backed, but there is always the jolly old stick and the tell-tale humping and heaving if I want to get out of my chair. It was a solar-plexus- shock situation, I have to say, but I fixed a smile to my face and tried to recognise the better known by extracting the middle section out of their shapes and form and concentrating on that. It helped that we were issued with name badges, although not all the women had both their maiden names and their current ones printed on them. (I was one who didn't, but then, one of the reasons I married Himself was to acquire a surname that didn't need spelling: yes, really)
I have never been tempted to attend such a meeting before. That is, I have been tempted but never given in to temptation. There was always the excuse that I was working and not able to spare the time. Well, I am not working now and I have the time. I was also attracted to the thought of lunch on a Thames cruiser. It was a glorious day and the auspices all in place, so off I went. Bus to the nearest point to the pier and then a taxi. 75 year olds don't often walk briskly from Embankment Station to Savoy Pier and I was not about to set the record. Before long, I saw a known face; not a former student but the girlfriend then wife of one I knew well. Soon, my well-known friend appeared, too, and recognised me. Then, Dear Reader, I did something I would never have had the courage to do 55 years ago, I found out where I was placed for lunch and set about changing it! Without even asking my recognised friends I had myself added to their table rather than sit with the total strangers to whom I had been assigned. I knew I would have to deal with the guilt at some later point but at least I was not going to have to spend the whole cruise a foreigner on a table of those foreign to me.

We have all seen those films and TV programmes where an effect is created by the means of Flashback. Well, you may take it from me, this is a phenomenon which actually occurs. As gradually I recognised more and more past friends and acquaintances, so a vignette of something we had shared ran over the screen of my memory. There was potential for discomfort. Not all the recall would have borne public re-telling. Looking at an elderly gentleman, lean and good-looking, sparse grey hair brushed to one side, presumably to hide a multitude of no- hair, leaning on a stick, I saw us locked in a room in his Godfather's house, lent to us for a party, going "as far as young people went " in those days, with my future - had I but known it - husband invigilating outside. I had had no idea how he felt about me until we tripped over him when we opened the door. It was rather touching, then, and strange to remember, now, because I think he may have spent much of our life together punishing me for that episode. He had been a thousand times better known than I at college. He was President of this and Chairman of that. I spent much time giving updates about his life. It was strange to be remembered, to some extent, as an adjunct to him. My daughters would not have relished that; it's not the way things are for women now is it?

The screen of ones memory must be in black and white, ideally, because what struck me most about that afternoon, was the change of colours. If, with my inner eye, I recoloured the faces in front of me, making the hair blond or brown or dark, the cheeks pink,the eyes bright then I could truly see my friends of more than half a century ago. I needed, too, to carve a shape from the middle of the forms and to erase the flesh excessive to the jaw and cheek and there they were, as they had been. On our table there were no questions about certain ones of us who had been significant at the time. Several I knew had died. Others I didn't dare ask after. Some had found fame and some infamy. The river was beautiful. But it kept moving and changing, as had all of us. There were buildings on the banks new even since I fled from Neil Diamond on to the river bus with no ticket, as you will remember if you have been keeping up. Those of us who had been helped in to the 21st Century exchanged email addresses and those who hadn't ,exchanged cards. Will we keep in touch, now? What do you think?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Retirement 4

My horizons are expanding. I have managed to get to the University of the Third Age, as represented locally. It really did take some getting to. Apart from the lethal steps up from the street, all the doors have to be opened via an access card, which I hadn't received because I missed the first week when they were given out. There was much red face and embarrassed "I wonder if you could help me....." before I was taken in hand and escorted back to the front door to start again. A very kind and co-operative operative gave up some of her lunch hour to furnish me with what I needed, photograph and the card which I swiped like a pro and found myself in such a maze of stairs, rooms and doors which would open only with my sesame that I was very little better off than I had been without the damned thing. However, kindness was the middle name of this organisation of which the first name was jobsworth and I was soon in the right place for my "German for Absolute Beginners." That's the good news. The bad news is that there was no one else there; no other student, no instructor, nicht. It turns out that the class had been cancelled, which I, having started late, didn't know. Over the telephone, The Office chided the instructor in no uncertain terms. She should have alerted them. Oh Dear: I can't see that as a good introduction for next week. Still, I've made a start. I have done the familiarisation bit. It won't all be frighteningly strange next week.

There you are. I bet you didnt realise, young as you are, that nerves and lack of confidence may accompany you right up to your dotage. In some ways, I am more confident, wiser and less concerned - not concerned? - with how others see me, but deep down Liz has, sometimes, still to give herself a good talking to before approaching a situation with which she is not familiar. I may have told you the coming anecdote before, forgive me if this is so. There is no way I can risk losing this blog while I trawl through the others to see if I have. ( The Guru has a way to keep work safe, but then he is on the right side of the Wizard of Cyberspace. I am not.) Anyway, the story is about the violinist Nathan Milstein who is reputed to have said "You think I am a great violinist. I am not. I just sound like one". That's me and, I suspect, many of you, too. You think I'm a courageous and confident woman. I'm not. I just behave like one. No, I don't play the violin. That's not the point. Maybe some people are born confident. A toddler I know, (and love) came in to the world looking and behaving as if he had got off the bus at the right stop. I hope he continues on the right route for ever.

I did attend an Advanced French class. Not as challenging as I was prepared for but good discipline and I must not get above myself. We studied an article from a French magazine that was so anti-British I found myself positively jingoistic. I learned a new word: 'bigoudis'. I understand it means 'ringlets'. I dont see the Queen's hair that way, but there you are. "If we were all the same everyone would want my squaw", as the American Indian said, or is reputed to have said. You may recall, in the last post I said that I had doubts about a one-age gathering: it would feel more natural if there were a mix. That did prove to be strange. There were people even less mobile than I, seriously, and I shall have to deal with a wish to avoid confronting hints of things to come by losing sight of the individuals. I am also wondering, since my memory is failing in my own language, what on earth I think I am doing learning a few more. But there you are:" twp", as we say in Wales. A bientot.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Retirement 3

Things keep cropping up to crystallise this retirement business. The other day I went to visit some friends who are setting up a trust fund for one of their young. I was asked to witness their signatures. Aside from the honour, I was taken aback when faced, for the first time since retiring, with the space that asked "Occupation". There it was: Retired. Writing it for the first time was actually more traumatic than handing back to the kindly Post Office agent the usual little batch of envelopes he was wont to hand me to facilitate paying in my earned cheques: there will be no more need for those.
What's more, there is time to notice the growth of the 'one-of-these-days' pile of things to do which the sharp-eyed among you will remember falls in to the New Year's resolution category of 'verboten'. One of these days, I resolved, has to be NOW. This is a convoluted way of telling you that I have booked to see the Hygienist, I have had builders come to fix a leaky problem, I have started to sort out cupboards and to enjoy being at home. Of course, I have already told you about my re-discovery of domesticity. However, I have a secret. All my older life I have rather turned away from the activities enjoyed by the 'Third Age'; turned away in the sense of a kind of 'them and us' approach. I was certainly never going to be one of 'them': I was always going to be 'us'. I remember seeing a group of 'them' at an exhibition once. Related by hair, I thought, at the time, i.e. all grey and all curly. I am lucky. At 75 my hair is still mostly brown, though without the chestnut glow that gave it life in the past. Nor does it wave as it did, but shucks, who cares. It is good enough and stops me being one hundred per cent a cliche. (I'm sure the Guru would tell me there is a facility on this machine for putting an accent on that last e, but I don't dare ring and ask him. Please visualise it). Anyway, the University of the Third Age was outside my field of consideration. I like my groups to be mixed-gender and mixed-age. Indeed, those of you in from the start will remember my advertisement for a young rugby player with a nice bottom to help me negotiate the airport. A group of contemporaries is very unlikely to afford that particular pleasure.
Dear Reader, my view has changed. Last month I was invited to join a group of contemporaries who meet once a month or so to discuss, well, I think I must say Life. The themes are taken from a book of sermons preached by a late lay-preacher known to us all. He was an intelligent and extremely well-educated man and worth considering. There was an almost forgotten pleasure in listening to and contributing with like-minded people and I was happy to take a piece of humble pie with my post-meeting tea. However, I did notice, apart from the hair, I was also the only one wearing lipstick. The experience inspired me to look at the possibilities in the actual University of the Third Age which has a branch very near where I live. Advanced French Conversation - where you can't see if I have put the accents on or not - and Very Beginners German are on the probable list. Thank Goodness for the Guru otherwise I might feel as if I had moved permanently to Planet Third Age. C u l8r.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Eavesdropping 2

The difficulty for a professional eavesdropper, nosey-parker and interferer is summoning restraint. When I was talking about my Chinese retaurant experience last time I side-tracked myself in to the Japanese experience and didn't get round to telling you the most tantalising bit. At one moment, my three 'companions' were talking about the star sign of the man one of them was 'seeing'. He is a Libran. The ladies were clear that this was a good thing. It made him well-balanced and stable. Now, this is not the case. I have it on the best authority that a Libran does love balance. However, there is a sneaky caveat hidden in this statement. A Libran does not just love balance, per se, so much as crave it, therefore he/she has continually to engender chaos in order to be able to achieve the balance which is essential. With me, so far? In other words, the drive, the raison d'etre, is not in having straightforward balance, but in the achieving of it. Balance is actually the end product. If there were no mess you wouldn't have the satisfaction of clearing it up. Right? How do I know this? Because, as a life-long Libran, I was thoroughly confused by my seeming contrariness to this balance thing. Although I was for ever tidying up, my life was for ever defined by piles of this and files of that, most of them on the floor or waiting to be ironed. Anyway, fate flung an astrologist in my path and the above explanation, Dear Reader, saved my sanity.

Its relevance to the three ladies was that I was so strongly tempted to lean across and explain all this that I had to get up and take a pit stop to remove myself from danger. Invisible is one thing: too high a profile quite another. Still, there was some amusement in imagining how they might have reacted. What would you have done if a dotty old lady had suddenly felt impelled to make a contribution to your lunchtime conversation with friends? (I suspect I am always half waiting for' les blouses blancs'). There was a time when I did butt in. How to tell you succintly. Again in a restaurant: an elderly lady - another elderly lady - was seated at a large table clearly waiting for others, since she forbore to order. Presently, in came a young woman carrying a stunningly beautiful baby around nine months, I'd say. She was followed by a girl holding the hand of a three year old boy. The resemblance between the elderly lady and the young woman was such that no white-witchery was needed to identify them as Mother and Daughter, thus, Grandma to the littles. I should also say that, while Grandma was waiting, sitting as if next to me, I was seriously overwhelmed by her powerful scent. Mother distributed her party, assigning the small boy to a seat next to Grandma, although he expressed a wish to sit at the head of the table. At that place she put the baby, seating herself opposite Grandma and , incidentally, next to the baby. The young girl, who turned out to be an Englishless au-pair, she placed next to herself and opposite the boy, who was, thus, furthest from his Mother. The tantrum that ensued will not be a surprise to you. I was ready to pay and leave, anyway, but the noise was a meal-stopper of mammoth proportions. Mother threatened the boy with excommunication to the car and, indeed, eventually leaned over, dragged him right across the table from his place next to Grandma and transported him out of the door. I followed to see her standing, red -faced, beside a car in which a purple-faced little man was desperately trying to pull open the door. Approaching her, I said that she may hit me for interfering if she wished, but, before she did, I wanted to say that her small son had had to put up with a coup d'etat for her affection, without prior consultation with him, from a contender who had, literally, taken his place, a Grandma whose perfume he might find overwhelming and the frustration of not being able to say any of this, his only resource being a tantrum. Her eyes filled with tears, she said she had never thought of that and she didnt want to hit me. I made off, in case she changed her mind, but I did look back and see her lift the boy, tenderly, out of the car and carry him back in to the restaurant. My heart was thumping. I shan't interfere in a hurry, again, you may count on it, except, perhaps, in fantasy. But if you happen to know a lady who is going out with a Libran, perhaps you could warn her of the hidden danger.

Friday, 3 April 2009


For a dedicated gossip and want-to-know-all eavesdropping is a marvellous source of satisfaction. There is no need to ask questions, no need to read faces, all you have to do is get quietly on with your crossword if you are in a restaurant or looking out of the window if you are on a 'bus. The material is right there for the taking,or, indeed, for the not avoiding. Yesterday I was treating myself to lunch in a local Chinese restaurant - it has been a stressful week and, credit crunch or not, a girl has to have some light relief - which is normally quite sedate and full of oldies like me, muttering to one another sotto voce. On this occasion I was sitting not far from a group of three ladies all of whom must clearly have been deaf. This was not a masterful piece of deduction: they were enunciating particularly carefully and with considerable volume. In other words, they were shouting, sotto voce being out of the equation. I learnt so much about each of them that I could have filled in a job application form on their behalf. I was not asked to do that. I was invisible to them. But I did have a lovely entertaining time and had to keep reminding myself to fill in the odd clue in the crossword in case one of them, like-minded, noticed me noticing.
It turns out that it was the birthday of one of them. She was 83. I can tell you she doesn't normally eat twice a day and would have to make her husband dinner and watch him eat it having had so much lunch. One of her companions feels much better since she found this marvellous trainer who will come to the house for £45 and bring a table and all she needs with her. She would be willing to pass on her telephone number but, laugh, doesn't want her to get too busy to have time for my narrator. They quite understood. So do I. We have all had the experience of lending someone a cricket bat which they then run away with and hold on to until it becomes their cricket bat. But I was disappointed. I would like to have known more about this miracle worker. Not that I am good enough with numbers to have kept it in my head had she given it, although, I could of course, have disguised it as a clue and noted it on my newspaper. Someone's husband didn't hold with that and, having been such a great sportsman, kept nagging her to exercise out in the open instead of paying good money for a stranger to enter his home.
He is very demanding in other ways, too, and not very warm "except in bed". How I stopped myself asking if she meant thermally or sexually, I don't know, but be assured, Dear Reader, that stop myself Idid. As it happens, I think she must have meant sexually because the talk then went on to how long it was prudent to leave 'you know' without putting the man in the position of looking for 'it' elsewhere. It turns out that one of the ladies was not married but was "seeing someone". She answered 62 when asked how old she was but he thinks she is 55 so please could it be kept between them? This time, I did peek. I think she could pass for, say, 59, but less would be pushing it. One of them had to leave because the husband collecting her wouldn't be able to wait outside. I held my breath to see how the bill would be dealt with. They split it, letting the birthday girl off her share of the tip. I expected the remaining two would discuss the departee and so they did, but not unkindly. She was looking surprisingly well, "after all", but, although I could tell you what each of them and their families will be doing for Easter, I cannot say after what that lady is looking well.
I had had a lovely time. It was quite unlike another recent eavesdrop. This was what I will have to call a conversation between a young woman and a not so young man. We were sitting at a bar in a Japanese restaurant, they, just the two of them, around the corner from me. Picture it? Anyway, their communication was so threaded through with sexuality that I was border-line discomfitted. It is extraordinary how they felt able to behave as if they were alone when that was far from the case. She, on a cold day, was wearing not much leaving acres of stroking possibility for her companion. It seems he was "taken" but she was content to "borrow" him for a little while. They had been an item in the past and she rather regretted that that was no longer the case. Again, under cover of the crossword, I was invisible, but this time it didn't feel like fun and, indeed, a young woman with a little girl aged around 5 who was sitting next to me, asked if the staff could find her somewhere else to sit. I felt better. I was worried I had been ageistly prudish in my discomfiture.
The moral is: beware what you say and do in public. You may be within orbit of a professional noticer, busybody and/or old-fashioned nosey-parker.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Retirement 1

It surprised me so perhaps it will surprise you, too: to-day is the first day I have actually felt retired. Although I stopped work just before Christmas, so much has been going on that I have managed to avoid the feel, the essence, of the reality. What happened was that I found myself thinking about a book I first read when I was thirteen or fourteen, "Frenchman's Creek" by Daphne du Maurier. I know that it was my 'best book' for a long time and I have, I confess, read it again, several times, but not for what my Mother would have called 'donkey's ears'. (Cockney rhyming slang for lots of years - get it? No: she was Welsh). Anyway, there I was thinking about "Frenchman's Creek" when I suddenly realised that, now, there was nothing to stop me reading it yet again. For one thing, there was no longer a menacing queue of professional publications which I knew, from decades of experience, I would not get round to reading. Of course, the energy I had to find to ward off the guilt that I was not doing the required reading could have been better spent in picking the damn publications up and getting on with it, but such is human nature, as you will have noticed, yourselves, that truculence, defiance and laziness always won and the pile grew until it was clear, retirement aside, I was not even going to live long enough to get through it. The result was that I read neither the educative stuff nor, because of the guilt, anything else of any consequence. Nor, come to that, anything of no consequence, neither, because, as those of you whose middle name is also Guilt will know, that would have been out of the question, totally disallowed until one had done one's duty. Thank Goodness for hairdressers; at least one could read a magazine out of sight of the pile and out of mind of the guilt.

There is another problem. Since I retired people close to me, all of them erudite, worthy, intelligent people, have been giving me books saying "now you've retired, you'll have time to read this. I didn't give it to you before because I realised you wouldn't have time to read it". Unfortunately, the books are all erudite, worthy and intelligent, too, and to-day, it came to me that they were stamped with the same caveat as the professional stuff: read me or you risk being labelled as unerudite, unworthy ,unintelligent and not up even to a standard dinner-table discussion. I have had a go at a few of them. One is "The Lay of the Land" by Richard Ford. There is a dichotomy here; the outside of the book annoys me because I want it to be called "The LIE of the Land" and the inside, a fifth of the way in, seems to me so obscure, that I still don't really know what it is trying to draw me into. I trust the judgement of he-who-gave-it-to- me and, more,as you have guessed, would be ashamed to admit it was beyond me, so I shall persevere eventually, but you can, surely, understand how I have succombed to the cry of the user-friendlier, well-written, lovely, lovely other-era romance that is "Frenchman's Creek" and b.....r the 'literature' piling up where the professional works used to be.

Looking back, it is clear that that book had a great influence on me. (In case it is not on your shelves, briefly, it concerns a well-born, well-married 18th century lady who is tired of the louche life she has been leading in London's top echelon, behaving, out-of-century, like one of the lads, crossing boundaries and playing with fire, who flees to the country with her small children, to escape that self. Of course, she meets a man who has made a similar escape, a Frenchman, also well-born, who has taken to piracy as an escape. Not unlike the character in "The Thomas Crown Affair" which may be more familiar to you. Each becomes the love of the other's life, but, as you would expect, the call of her children and the impossibilty of them being together without creating more children and, thus, inevitable separation, intervenes and they part. Hurray for birth control you may say. I would find that a touch cynical.) Anyway, I do see that I was in love with the Frenchman, who had the confidence to wear his own hair and not the usual curly wig, and I wanted to be the Lady Dona, not only for the Frenchman but for her awareness of the disparity between her inner and her outer lives and her search for her real self. I'm having a wonderful time reading it and not even a squidgen of guilt. I'm retired. I can read what I like. So there, another dark secret in the life of Liz. I wonder if re-reading "Frenchman's Creek" qualifies as decadent. What do you think? Comment?

Thursday, 12 March 2009


There is a problem: one of my greatest delights, as you may well have picked up, is listening to music. Now, one can do that at any time at home. It must be control-freak Heaven. You select the recording, you choose the volume, the time of day, stop for a call of nature or a cup of whatever. There is something quite different, however, about actually going to a concert Hall and hearing a live performance. And there is the problem. I have, as we speak, been going to concerts for 69 years. This means I have heard a very great deal of music and a very large number of musicians. I don't set out to be critical but, inevitably, the critical faculty is pretty well honed and, without formally setting out to compare and contrast, I find that that process occurs automatically. The result is that I am, too often, underwhelmed and, thus, faintly surprised and even embarrassed by the enthusiasm in the audience around me for a performance that has struck me as being two cheers, not three . Not only embarrassed: ashamed, too. What gives me the right to be that judgemental? I am not a professional musician nor a professional music critic, come to that, but there it is; a feeling of been-there - done-that has come over me and swept away my innocence and wonder at more than a handful of the concerts I attend. I shall have to challenge the inner 40 year old to rediscover the miraculous joy that comes with the exquisite liaison of art and artist.

Now I come to think of it, there may be a hidden advantage in the dilemma: at least the inner and the outer age seem to be in the same place in this regard. I have been talking to a clinical psychologist/analyst about what she sees as the problems of the "last stage" of life. In some ways it was quite chilling to think of myself in those terms, but also very interesting. While my intellect was enjoying the discussion my inner self was listening from its own perspective.(Cloud Cuckoo Land?) I am very used to my usual conflict between the self that is as it was at 40 and the deteriorating external 75 year old shell - as you will know only too well if you have been keeping up - but to hear a woman in her fifties talk about it as a recognisable phenomenon in the psychological world was quite a complacency stopper. After a while, it seemed to me that a good way to resolve it, anyway for me, would be to go along with the instincts, the wishes of the inner me, which cannot be identified particularly by chronological age,( although, I do go on about 40, that's true). The lady was not concerned, really, with solutions, anyway not then, and it wasn't until I got home that I noticed neither of us talked about What To Do About It. The answer, if there is one, must be simply to accept the physical realities of age and carve them in to one's way of being in the world.

Anyway, physical or not, I must not let usage get in the way of simple pleasure in what has brought me joy and solace all my life. It is a bizarre thought, though. At your age, do you have any idea that it is possible you will come to be bored by your erstwhile most intense experiences? No, nor did I. Any more than I foresaw that I wouldn't be able to hire a car, apply for most jobs, run down an incapacitated escalator or do the splits when I reached my current age. But I didn't foresee the new joys, neither: a delightful freedom, and a sense of the ridiculous that I was much too po-faced to acknowledge when I was younger. (There are more, but I can't rush through them all just now.) Heigh Ho. I've taken to re-reading some books,too, silly when you think there can't be all that time left and there are so many books I haven't read even once, yet. But I think I must see it as the same as listening to music; one certainly listens to some pieces times without number so why shouldn't one treat books in the same way? What do you think? Is there a time when there just isn't room to take in anything new? No.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


Recently, I have stopped working. It may surprise you that I was still working, but I was in the kind of job where you could go on as long as your marbles permitted. Now, I am the last person to leave you with the impression that my marbles are no longer working: far too arrogant. Clearly, there will be other reasons why one may want to stop even if fully marbled. But first, it may make more sense if I confess what it is I have been doing. I was/am a therapist. Perhaps I should'nt have simply been dropping hints as to what I did. But there it is; you get used to a level of confidentiality, or even secrecy,and, on auto-pilot, I just did'nt spell it out. In a way, that was part of the reason for stopping. There is only so long you can go on living within a very tight framework, keeping to a rigid timetable where there is not much flexibilty to go to weddings, funerals, christenings and so on that don't take place at the weekend, because part of the therapeutic effect will lie in consistency and reliability. In the years that I worked from home I would, sometimes, have loved to answer the phone when I was aware it was ringing during a session. I never wore red to work: too intrusive. Now my red jumpers are on my back most of the time and I am enjoying a different kind of freedom. But, don't get me wrong, I also miss the work, and, particularly the people I was working with, very much. It is quite limiting to interfere with the lives only of ones friends. Stop. That was unnecessarily ironic and capable of misunderstanding. Therapy is not an interference. It is a contract freely entered into by both, with the explicit - or should be - understanding that the more you can discover about yourself the more effectual will be your way of being in the world. Anyway, the point of telling you this is that I have re-discovered domesticity.

Honestly, I have been baking. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. First, you have to find what you need, the mixing bowl, the baking tin, the whisk and so on and so on. Having found them, packed away for 19 years, you then have to do some serious scrubbing to bring them up to standard. Then , the challenging part: find a suitable recipe for a birthday cake for the Guru and translate the measures for the ingredients in to metric from imperial. Those of you who are more or less my age and brought up in the UK, do you know how many grams make 8 ounces? 8 ounces of currants, 8 ounces or raisins, 3 of mixed peel. (That's enough measures if you, yourselves, are not currently in the act of baking). The 'Home Baking' shelves were packed - not so much packed, as interspersed - with grams of the things I needed; it seems most cakes are bought these days. But I did collect all the gram/ounces I needed in the end and set off in to the past with much enthusiasm. (That should read "naive enthusiasm" I think) The last time I creamed butter and sugar with a wooden spoon and a whisk I was in my fifties with fifty year old wrists. It soon came clear that there would be no cream in time for the birthday nor, even, mine, which is in September. It transpires that there are now electric gadgets to do the creaming for you, so off out to buy such a thing. Three quarters of an hour after getting home, there it was, assembled and I set to work. Once mixed and the debate about brandy or whisky, not called for in the recipe, settled - no: there will be alcohol in plenty at any gathering at which this cake may be eaten - put in to a square tin, the only one I had found, and bake for an hour or so.

Dear Reader, it emerged TOO THIN. What to do? I went to bed to get over the shock and got up next morning determined to start again. Off to the shops to buy a round tin and some more grams of this and that and off to go. Confession: I hadn't been able to dislodge the whiskers (cats'?) in washing up the night before, so now I had to scrape off the dried mixture and wash the instruments without wetting the apparatus. But, practice makes perfect and I was soon back in business. The shorter version of ths tale is that I ended up with two delectable cakes, one thin and square and one round and fat enough. The latter I decorated, but only on top because I had to wedge it back in to the tin in which it was baked to send it off in such a way that it wouldn't rattle, and that left no room for decorated sides. Since the Guru, when last here, saw packets for the making of choclate cake, (destined for fail-safe in case I lost my domestic nerve), I have grave doubts that he will believe the Dundee cake wedged in to its sticky round tin, arriving in a parcel marked FRAGILE in fourteen places, was actually made at home and by me. Such is life.