About Grace Lessageing

Writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. Leader of a creative writing group. Ex infant teacher. Living in Christchurch UK.

Missing Persons

In an idle moment, whilst Offspring 2 was visiting last week we delved into the small archive of family photos I managed to salvage from my parents belongings before Sibling 1 ditched the entire caboodle into a refuse bin.

This did not happen recently, you understand. My father shuffled from the mortal coil nearly 10 years ago; but it is only now that Offspring has indicated an interest in constructing some kind of family tree and has enlisted my help in annotation. The help is limited, since my knowledge of our ancestral roots is woefully lacking.

My mother had 3 siblings and my father 6. I am able to detail my mother’s sister and 2 brothers plus their offspring [my cousins]. On my father’s side, where he had 3 sisters and 3 brothers I can name my uncles and aunts but am flummoxed by all but the nearest in age cousins. As my father was the youngest of 7, the age difference between he and his oldest brother was so great that he and his nephew [my cousin] were almost the same age, prompting my grandfather to call my father [at around age 4] ‘Uncle’.

I never knew my paternal grandparents, who had a smallholding on a modest farm plot in a Wiltshire village on the edge of The New Forest. But I know that my grandfather, Harry was a ‘character’ who took the produce to market in Salisbury twice a week on a cart pulled by a horse called Ginger. Harry, [according to my father] was inclined to squander some of the proceeds of his market stall in the local hostelry before he returned and was regularly brought back to the farm [much the worse for wear] by Ginger, who knew the way.

But I love the photographs; small, grainy monochrome snapshots of smiling subjects who seem always to be having fun, always to be in the sunshine or always enjoying a day at the beach, a picnic, a dog-walk. Often they are smoking a cigarette and appear to be sharing a private joke and I long to know what it is. These are their ‘selfies’, the difference between them and the social media equivalents being that they were not shared instantly with all and sundry and were left for us, the curious descendants to unravel their mysteries.

I wish, now that I had plundered my father’s memories before he departed. There are a few pencil annotations in my mother’s elegant, sloping hand on the back of a few, often with question marks, indicating that she, too was mystified by the photographs.

Yes, we could pay to discover our ancestry, but it’s not a route I want to travel down. Offspring, perhaps may do so in the future. But I have employed some of the characters in a story, published on this blog in 2015, an extract of which can be read here: ‘Caught’

 

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Graceless Ageing

At the beginning of a New Year I’m taking stock. I’ve documented my feelings about ‘resolutions’ before but there is never any harm in reining in consumption after the monumental over-indulgence of Christmas. A new year is also a time to do a little stock-taking on the health front and to consider any goals and plans as winter dwindles.

For those of us in older age, this article: ‘Age Against the Machine’ 

provides an excellent checklist for anyone wondering how to cope with ageing.

But it does pre-suppose that you have no health issues and are financially secure. I agree with almost all the suggestions for coping with older life except that for me, continuing work would have been the death of me.

Offspring 2, who’s been staying for a few days over the festive period asks me if I’d ever want to live with either of my progeny in [even] later life. I tell her an emphatic no, although this conviction comes from the standpoint of happiness and [relatively] good health. At this moment I am independent, not alone and [arguably] still of some use as childcare etc. I tell her I want them to remember me with a degree of fondness and not with the irritation that can arise from continuing close contact with one who has become forgetful, pathetic and dependent. It must be left to professionals in an efficient, non-smelly care home where physical and mental abuse is out of the question.

Until then I have my own, personal checklist of ways to live out retirement, which goes like this:

  • VALUE IT. You’ve worked hard and long. The job may have been stressful [it was]. Value this wonderful freedom by carrying through on long-held ambitions and desires wherever possible. Don’t fritter away the time wondering what to do and waste it by not following through on ideas.
  • Keep as healthy as possible without stressing about it. For me it means undertaking such exercise as I enjoy [dance exercise and walking] as well as eating sensible, home-cooked, vegetable-laden meals. Keeping the brain exercised is also important. I like to read and write.
  • Plan long/medium/short term activities that can be looked forward to; a holiday, a meal with friends or the next dance class at the gym.
  • Be interested in world events and prepared to learn. Learning is great at any age.
  • Try ‘out of comfort zone’ things sometimes. Eat something new and different [within healthy limits]. Go somewhere new. Listen to some new music. Read a book you wouldn’t normally choose [my book club helps with this].
  • Take in some culture. For me it’s theatre, film and music [although not together!]. While we live outside of London we are not too impoverished here. I like to take advantage of our local, volunteer-run theatre when possible and consider that we are lucky to have it [as well as a wonderful library!].
  • Let it Be. I wrote an entire post about leaving behind negative ‘friendships’ and giving up pointless contacts. I keep up with those who put the same amount of effort in as I do and forget the rest.

There is a lot more-using public transport [again we are fortunate to have bus passes and we make great use of them], cycling, travel, groups, gardening, wildlife. I could go on-but of course I don’t have time…

 

 

2018. Farewell or Good Riddance?

2018 is drawing to an end. Here in the UK I would imagine that most would say it hasn’t been their finest year. Personal lives differ, of course but unless you’ve spent the year locked in an underground bunker without access to media you’d have to have formed some kind of opinion about our squidgy little country’s disarray; about the mountainous mess it finds itself in.

There were a few pockets of hope here and there. A large manufacturer of crisps [that’s ‘chips’ to US friends] is offering to recycle its discarded packets. That is if you are prepared to get into your car and travel to your nearest crisp packet recycling point, which may be some miles away. So far I haven’t noticed fewer crumpled crisp packets amongst the litter on the streets or in the countryside, but hey-it’s a start.

What else? In India homosexuality is no longer a crime, which is positive-although no doubt discrimination will continue for some time in less enlightened communities.

The EU has banned insecticides that are harmful to bees, which is great-except that we, of course, that idiotic little scrap of a marginal country that is the UK has opted to get divorced from the most progressive collective the world has ever seen. Presumably UK bees can continue to be poisoned to death with abandon then…

A fair number of people [around the world] have begun to eat less red meat in response to the impact beef and lamb farming has on the planet. Here at Chez Nous, Husband and I are making our own attempt at less meat consumption, trying not to consume it more than half the time. This, however is made more tricky by my conversion to dairy-free produce, making cheese-based meals a no-no. A ‘Free-From’ cheese sauce mix was deemed an unmitigated failure. A visit to Pizza Express to try a vegan pizza, however yielded a not-half-bad result. You win some…..etc. The Australians, apparently are the greatest meat consumers, followed by Americans, so maybe we British are not all bad…

Women began to stand up against abusive behaviour [Hooray!], renewable energy became the most economical, a few species of animal returned from the brink of extinction.

Am I alone in thinking this is not the most impressive list of positives? If I were to begin on the gargantuan wave towards populism, the evil, cynical assassinations, the oppressive cruelty that still exists, the gung-ho waste of resources and widening gap between obscenely rich and desperate poor that persist there would be little worth celebrating.

So here comes a new year. You have to hope, because there’s not a lot else to do. And so I wish you, readers the happiest and most optimistic of New Years. And see you in 2019!

 

 

Mistletoe and Whine…

By the time this post is published I will have heard Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’, Slade’s ‘So Here it is, Merry Christmas’, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, Wizard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ [a nightmare scenario in my opinion], Shakin Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, Band Aid’s ‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’ and all the rest of the sorry, repetitive regurgitation of Christmas musical tat that is on a loop everywhere at this time of year, about 1000 times.

You have to feel some empathy for the hapless shop assistants. Not only must they pander to the whims of increasingly irritable customers whilst wearing ‘amusing’ festive jumpers, hats or elf outfits but must also suffer the incessant caterwauling of the aforementioned Christmas songs; an assault to the ears, a type of audio Chinese water torture.

I am not so much of a Humbug. I like the lights and displays. I like the food and drink. I love bestowing gifts [especially to my grandchildren]. But there are about 100 Christmas ditties that have remained to try everyone’s mental health over the years.

Among the dross, though there are some gems. They are played less often are, perhaps more obscure; or they have fallen into the past to be forgotten by my own [ancient] generation and unknown to later generations. I’ve no clue at all as to contemporary Christmas offerings but I suspect that the Christmas-themed song has become redundant now and that a Christmas Number 1, while being a desirable ambition for a musician will have no relevance to Christmas whatsoever.

So here, in no particular order are some of what I personally consider to be the better ones, the Christmas songs that don’t make me wince.

  • I Believe in Father Christmas [Greg Lake].

Greg Lake’s gentle, winsome melody is a balm to the more abrasive and tedious dross thudding out in each and every store but the lyrics have a little edginess with ‘the Christmas you get you deserve’

  • Fairytale of New York [The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl]

I can’t listen to this without picturing Shane McGowan’s oily, toothless drawl in contrast to Kirsty’s ‘girl-next-door’, fresh-faced persona. But it works.

  • 2000 Miles [Pretenders]

This continues to be my favourite Christmas hit, although it is rarely played. Chrissie Hynds’ voice is unconventional and has that punky twang which makes the song sound plaintive and mysterious. The words could hardly be simpler, with phrases such as ‘it’s very far’

And the worst of the worst?

For me, the ghastly ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ [Cliff Richard] hits rock bottom, with its doggerel lyrics, boring melody and attempts to be quirky- ‘wi logs on the fire’. Really? ‘wi’? 

Honourable mentions should go to Dora Bryan’s ‘All I want for Christmas is a Beatle’. And while novelty Christmas songs had almost died a death in the last fifteen years or so, this year’s ‘We Built this City on Sausage Rolls’ is hard not to like.

If you’ve made it to the end of this highly subjective post you may have your own preferences. If so I’d love to hear about them! In the meantime-a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS to all readers, visitors and especially Anecdotage followers. Have a wonderful 2019. See you next week…

 

 

 

Gym Tales

Last week I documented my first steps in the Land of the Dairy-free and described the differences I’d noticed in my own health after what was a very short space of time.

Since then there have been more developments, surprising and welcome, such as less joint pain and an increase in energy. So far so good. I’ve continued to become accustomed to dairy-free milk and yoghurt, [opting for unsweetened almond milk and soya yoghurt] but I admit to failure on the cheese front.

In a parallel improvement I’ve returned to the gym, partly due to less painful joints. [I am now able to bend my right foot] and partly due to winter weather [walking in a deluge is not always a pleasant activity].

In my absence of about 18 months there are changes at the gym. Julia, the previous Friday morning yoga teacher has left and in her place is Michelle, a kind, enthusiastic mentor but one whose moves and poses are beyond me, both in difficulty and in pace. After one session of attempting to keep up with the downward facing dogs and sun salutations I spend the following few days crippled and feeling advanced in years by around 20 [taking me to 85, reader-not an uplifting experience]. The second session, while no easier, rendered me less incapacitated.

Encouraged, I reserved myself a place at ‘Easy Aero’ [in other words, aerobics for the ancient, the crippled and exercise virgins]. Ten years ago I was still leaping about in the exercise studio with gay abandon. Surely ‘Easy Aero’ wasn’t about to trouble me?

How wrong can you be? In the pre-class throng of the changing room there was a crush of greying, primped, powdered and blue-rinsed ladies clad in pastel lycra, chattering animatedly in front of the lockers. I stood back to wait for a space. They continued to chit-chat as they queued for the water machine and filtered into the exercise studio and I headed for the back in a bid to lurk unnoticed. In came Carla, a wisp of a girl with a broad smile, whose classes I’ve attended in the past.

Music on [a heady mix of 70s disco classics], Carla proceeded with the warm-up, when I realised this was not to be the gentle easing back into gym activity I’d expected. Ten minutes later, having undertaken a couple of routines I was not just warm, but perspiring. Hmm…

The dance routines were followed by some step-aerobic work and some core exercises, culminating in a ‘plank’ to finish off. I felt a glimmer of hope in still being able to hold a plank position for one minute, but overall this was a hefty enough workout for now.

Here’s a thing though; aerobics, like bike-riding is an activity that lingers in the mind. With the instruction ‘grape-vine’ I went instantly into that step side, step behind step. With ‘box-step’ I knew what to do. It’s heartening that even when you’re out of condition and struggling the brain cells can cope.

And the ladies? They are amazing! All power to them…

The Dairy Discovery

During November, while Fiction Month trundled along collecting some new readers of ‘Anecdotage’ I made an interesting discovery.

Of course we should have been pootling merrily along the Rhine on a swish, indulgent river cruise boat swigging German beer, scoffing wurst and carousing. We should have been exploring hitherto unvisited [by us] cities, wandering cobbled streets, photographing, sampling, learning. We should have been undertaking what was to have been our very first cruise-type holiday. But this was not to be.

After the long, hot, dry summer of 2018, the mighty Rhine has not sufficient water to float the cruise boats down it’s length. We could have continued the trip using coaches but what would have been the point? We have a perfectly beautiful road vehicle of our own.

At the beginning I was stunned. This was to have been Husband’s celebratory birthday treat and felt I’d failed him. We booked a short break to Vienna, missed on our spring jaunt [detailed in a previous Anecdotage post]. Then the evening before our departure Husband became ill with a virus. We cancelled. Ho hum…

Now I’m on a different journey, exploring, having made a discovery. In an idle moment, whilst reading an article about raising infants as vegans I learned that I may have become allergic to dairy products.

Now for a number of years, [since having been diagnosed with UC-another story] I’d come to assume that the skin disturbances I’ve battled were associated with the disease. But the article suggested that dairy products could be the cause.

Hmm… I consume a lot of dairy items. I’m a fan of natural yoghurt, take milk in tea and coffee, love cream and am pretty much a cheese-aholic. I cook with cheese, milk and yoghurt and I am inclined to whip a chunk off the Cheddar for a quick snack. Becoming dairy-free was going to be a major undertaking!

I started with milk. I began that same day by trying ‘Koko’, a coconut based milk on the vegan shelf in the supermarket. In coffee it was palatable. In tea it was overwhelming, rendering the tea most un-tea-like. As an addition to soup it was fine.

I moved on to soya milk. In coffee it was creamy and delicious, adding a chocolatey taste. That it also added a chocolatey taste to tea was less encouraging. Soya yoghurt, however was a triumph and  possibly more delicious than dairy yoghurt. The next test of almond milk proved the best solution for tea [although it can’t match soya milk for creamy coffee].

I turned my attention to cheese. Tesco provided a small range of vegan cheesy options and I went first for a cheddar-like block [Violife]. It was bland and rubbery-a little like processed cheese; neither disgusting not delicious. A lump of ‘stilton’ tasted quite nasty and smelled like dung, pervading the fridge with it’s noxious aroma. It had to go. But it is early days and I am continuing my quest.

…and the results? Startling. Within 48 hours my skin looked and felt drier and clearer, and continues to improve. My hair, which was oily enough to need washing every day has become drier and my digestive system [sparing details] is altogether calmer. It’s enough to keep me on the dairy-free path, but I’m in mourning for crisp, nutty, tangy, roof-of-the-mouth-tingling Cheddar. Any suggestions?

-Oh-and just think-if we’d been on the river cruise I may not have been idly reading the news and found that item on raising vegan children and still not have known about dairy allergy-so there you go…

Fiction Month 5 [the add-on]

This year’s Fiction Month is extended with a flash fiction short. Two elderly rock musicians meet on a sunny afternoon…

Drum and Bass

Two elderly men are sitting on a bench in the sunshine. One pulls his T-shirt up and over his head.
‘Christ, man! You shouldn’t be exposing yourself like that! Think of the public!’
Badger chuckles, casting a rueful glance down at his pasty, bulbous belly. ‘Ah Jez, you’re not seriously expecting anyone to recognise us, are you? They’d hardly have known us then, let alone now.’
His companion grins. ‘I wasn’t thinking of recognition-who is ever going to recognise a drummer and a base player? I’m just trying to save innocent holiday makers from unpleasant sights.’
Jez is tanned, wiry. He pulls a tobacco pouch from a pocket of his leather waistcoat and begins to roll a cigarette. ‘Want one?’
Badger shoves his sunglasses up and rubs his eyes. ‘Gave up fifteen years ago. One less vice! Still have a few though’
‘Let me guess’ ventures Jez, blowing out a plume of smoke, ‘Beer and women’.
Out on the beach a group of scantily clad teenagers is arranged on towels, listening to hip-hop, exclaiming over their phone messages, snapping selfies.
Badger tugs at his once luxuriant pony tail and grunts. ‘Probably not women so much these days. So how does it feel to be back in blighty? Like you’ve never been away?’
The base player sighs and flicks his cigarette end to the sand. ‘To be honest I’m thinking of giving up the bar, selling up and coming back, except I don’t know if we’ll get a buyer. Trade isn’t so good. Nobody’s heard of ‘Satan’s Spawn’ these days, let alone Jez Jarwood. People in Spain don’t have the money to spend boozing like they did. They’ll come in, buy one beer, nurse it for the whole of a sports fixture then go and drink at home.’ He coughs then begins pulling more tobacco from the pouch, yellowing fingers still string-hardened. ‘Then me and Paulette haven’t been getting along that well since the profits dropped. How about you? Still enjoying marital bliss?’
Badger’s face is turned up to the sun, his rounded belly glistening under it’s heat like a tight, sweating marrow. ‘We broke up. The lifestyle of a session musician doesn’t lend itself to family life. I see the kid sometimes-not as often as I should. Do you ever hear from her, from Jillie?’
Jez has his elbows on his knees, squinting, smoking like he’s facing the firing squad. ‘No. You?’
‘No. I thought she might turn up though. First gig for twenty years.’
‘We don’t know if she’s even alive, Badge; or where she lives, or if she knows about the gig or cares! She might be married, have kids-grandkids, even!’
Over on the sand two of the teenagers have returned from swimming and are chasing each other with handfuls of wet sand, screeching with laughter.
‘Did you-?’
‘No. Did you?’
‘No. I wanted to. We all wanted her, didn’t we? The other two.’
‘Yes. They did. Christ, it was messy, wasn’t it?’ He launches into a throaty coughing fit, bony shoulders shaking then he spits on to the sand between his boots.
Badger sits up and begins to struggle into his T-shirt. ‘They were good times, Jez, back then; even the fights. I’d go back and do it all again, wouldn’t you?’
Jez straightens up and flicks a few specks of ash from the faded denim covering his skinny knees. Who were they trying to fool with a ‘comeback’ gig? There was no trace, now of the taught body and blond curls he flaunted as a twenty something. Badger’s trademark white streak of hair amongst the black was lost in a mangy, grey comb-over. And Jillie, their brilliant, beautiful constant, their shared muse, she’d have aged, gathered weight, be mired in domestic life.
‘I don’t know, mate. We’ll see how tonight goes.’

Jez takes his case from the boot as Badger heaves his bulk from behind the wheel of his battered Audi and lumbers, wheezing around to make his farewells. He takes Jez’s yellowed fingers in his huge grasp and pumps. ‘It was a gas wasn’t it?’
There is only a slight nod in answer and a small smile. ‘Come over, Badge when you get a break. Bring the boy! Constant sunshine and all the paella you can eat!’
Badger grins. ‘Yeah. I might do that. Keep in touch, brother. See you at the next gig!’
He watches as Jez trundles the battered case into the gloom of the arrivals hall, where he turns one last time and raises a hand before joining the queue, then he squeezes back behind the wheel, selects Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’, turns up the volume and drives away.