Tuesday 9 November 2010


What good practice it is to find a title that is succinct and pliable; one that will enable me to stick to the subject in hand but be not so specific that it will force me to run out of steam after two sentences. As I was saying, timing: I seem to have spent my entire life being too late to shop early for Christmas. Very little has changed this year except that I am even more aware that November is only just within the bounds of shopping early - my bounds, anyway. But I have made one purchase, that is, a real one, one that involved going in to a shop, asking a question, examining the goods, making a decision and paying, and, wait for it, going back out on to the street with a little package in my hand. I have also made two on-line purchases. (Stop it! This is no laughing matter. I bet your Grandmother isn't Christmas shopping on-line). I do not see this as a real purchase. I have touched nothing, exchanged words with no-one and certainly not wandered anywhere with a package in my hand. This is a cyber-purchase and if I ever see the goods no one will be more surprised than I: I, the pedant, that is. I am off on a little trip for five days and, who knows, perhaps there will be two tangible packages when I get back, or two cross notes from the postman saying he tried to deliver such and such without success and would I please present myself with all dispatch at an unfindable location at times which don't exist; oh, and bringing proof of identity. As if I didn't find it hard enough remembering who I am, myself, from time to time, without having to prove it to others. One other concession to shopping early: I have cut down on the number of presents I am going to buy.

However, the underlying inspiration for these reflections is rather more serious, I fear. I have left it too late to get it right. ' It' what? you may well ask. Life, actually, is the nearest I can get to it. At the weekend I went to a party, a mixed-age party. Present was a breast feeding Mother, her husband and, of course, the baby. At about eleven o'clock, having heard stirrings from the monitor, the young Mum slipped out of the crowded room. Moments later, the baby's Father followed her. I found the implications of this very moving. He was clearly going to take in the spectacle of his loved wife feeding their lovely small daughter. My mixed feelings, of pleasure and delight and, it must be said, sadness, were because it is now too late to have a Father for my children who would have felt able to do that. I must add, at once, that this would be largely generational. When my littles were little, going on for fifty years ago, Fathers would have been rarely seen and never heard of in the basic environment of child-birth and very early rearing. It is equally too late to breast feed them for as long as Mothers currently do. At the other end, it is too late for me to be better to my own Mother than I managed to be when it was right I should have been. Most of what was done was done from duty. Will she have known this as a child knows when its parent is only simulating love? There is even a lesson on this kind of verisimilitude from my above young friend: she speaks to her baby as if she were a fully cognisant human being. Sometimes, she even tells her the day has been difficult and she is feeling rather cross. What confidence in herself, her baby and their mutual understanding is shown by this way of communicating. How sad I am it is too late to be that kind of Mother. Now, I have the experience and the confidence and the ability to feel the tenderness for my own Mother I couldn't allow when she was alive, but, sadly, one can't re-do mothers who have passed on. We'll gloss over what kind of wife I was. Definitely too late to do that again and differently.

The order I put in for my life then, must, though I didnt know it, have been done on line. You type in what you want, furnish your credit card details and leave it to the Wizard of Cyberspace to deliver. You can't see the goods in advance, you can't question their viability and they often turn out to be very different, indeed, from what you expected when you put the order in. You can, of course, send them back, so there the analogy has to end. Happy shopping early for you-know-what.

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