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.