Thursday 1 January 2009


I have been thinking how inevitably we must each go back to our beginning. Now, there is no way I could claim that as an original thought but I think I have found a few original aspects of it.
First, let's look at the unoriginal: hair, for example. We start with very little and end with very little. The colour of ones hair does that 'back to the beginning' thing, too. It starts off without much colour, once you have lost that primaeval mop you pop out with, and what's remains is left without colour as you prepare to spend your last days on this earth. Accessible, recoverable memory starts off in a limited way. Babies do have memories but not so much capacity to store them, so those they can reach are fewer than subsequently they will have the capacity for. I believe, wholeheartedly, that the birth experience memory is retrievable but unlikely to be consciously accessible even when we have learned to speak words to describe it. You dont need me to tell you that that is a very recognisable place for an elderly person to go back to: gaping holes in the memory with unreliable conscious access to them.

I have a very dear friend who is 95. She has every single marble, and a few more than most, but she is physically not very able any more, nor can she see very well. Life is hazardous. There are things to fall over, (just as there are for a small child.) Now, I have banged on interminably about the discrepancy between the inner 40 year old and the outer old lady who has to admit to 75, and I think my friend feels the same. What made us laugh together, though, is that she has an au pair living with her, now. As it happens, she and her husband could not have afforded to feed another mouth when her children were little and, anyway, they were for the most part, war time babies when there was no help available of any kind and, what's more, her husband was away fighting in it. But, toward the end of their childhood, husband back and prospering, she did take in the daughters of foreign friends who learned english at the expense of a little child-care and ironing. Well, she has such a person to look after her now and the irony did'nt escape us. Not that her au pairs are necessarily learning english: at 95 she doesn't feel she can spare too much time while she waits for them to be communicado - communicada? - so her helpers are drawn from a pool of Antipodeans, or from South Africa. They tend to go walk-about when it starts to warm up so there has to be quite a bit of changeover. She is sanquine about this. Telling each successive girl how she likes things to happen is, at least, more interesting than watching paint dry.

When I had little ones I was fortunate in this respect, and was in a position to have some help, at least by the time I had more than one. I do remember a distraught figure with a toddler under her arm, first day fright on her face, running to find me to ask me what was a potty and where she could find one. There were also some hiccups over mis- translation. I was informed, by a delightful Portugese young lady, that she didn't feel she should look after the children on one occasion, when I had rather hoped to go to work, because she was "constipada". Feeling as sympathetic as I could manage, I ministered a laxative. Next day, inquiring in my baby portugese, how she was, she said she was still constipada but also, she now had an upset tummy. And thus I learned the portugese word for a head cold.

So there is another back to the beginning: acquiring language. ( Strictly, this is not a true parallel with babyhood and old age. You can speak a foreign language with the skill of a toddler at any age, but since it came to me, I thought I'd put it in for your contemplation. ) I do find I am losing words, which may well equate with having not yet acquired them. A picture came to me of a very old man in an archive, pushing his ladder ever more slowly, climbing up it even more slowly and finally, when I have given up all hope of ever retrieving the lost word, with triumph, finding it and bellowing down to my inner ear long after I and my companion have moved on to another subject. "Derision" I shout while he/she has quite forgotten we had been talking about scornful laughter and thus feels confirmed in his/her belief in my madness.

Just another word about au pairs . A mistress may serve as au pair for a perceived as over -demanding husband! I am not the first to have thought of that, I must admit, not wishing in any way to plagiarise, but it's a good idea, isn't it and worth exploring. What do you think? See you soon.

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