At Seventeen

A seventeen year old boy has died at the Reading Festival this year. This is a tragic event for him-his young life ended just as it was beginning-and for his parents, family and friends. It set me thinking back to my life at seventeen.

Seventeen is an ‘in-between’ age, at once awkward, daring, angst-ridden and thrilling. You’ll be on the verge of leaping from childhood into adulthood, preparing for university or employment, marriage [as my mother was] or parenthood. Janis Ian’s heartfelt ‘At Seventeen’ describes the longing and the turmoil involved in being the age:

‘And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone’

As a seventeen year old and the youngest in our family I appeared to have been granted a lot of freedom for the time [the late 60s]. The hippy period was underway. I had a suitably Lennon-esque, guitar-playing boyfriend with a car. We roamed the county in search of music gigs, getting to see everyone from Fairport Convention and Family to John Heisman’s Coliseum and Chicken Shack. I wore long, trailing skirts and often went barefoot out of school hours. I went on camping trips in a group that consisted of all boys, trusted by my mother because the boyfriend and all the others were choirboys! Little did she guess…

We experimented with weed, drank more than we could cope with, spent long nights listening to entire albums [LPs as they were] by our favourite musicians. When I was left at home for many weekends while my parents went to help out with caring for my sick grandfather I either spent the days at the boyfriend’s, lolling about in his bedroom while his mother made meals for us, or holding impromptu, drunken parties in my own parent-free home. The aftermath of these drunken and weed-ridden bashes meant Sundays attempting to clean up and formulating explanations for broken items, aromas or stains.

At the watershed that was end of school and start of student life, Boyfriend and I went our separate ways, figuratively and literally-he to Sheffield and I to London. When I announced to my mother that a subsequent Boyfriend and I were to share a flat she astounded me by being outraged, spluttering ‘You needn’t think you are doing that in this house!’ Could she really have had no idea at all about my activities as a seventeen-year-old?

My own, post-Aids era offspring were of course more circumspect, more grounded and less wild. They grew up in the Margaret Thatcher, shoulder-pad years and without the benefits of student grants; with 80s music, Rubik’s Cubes and Angel Delight.

Parenting is tough. Kids can’t be sheltered forever. You have to arm them with common sense and knowledge of the facts, be there when needed and then let them go-with fingers crossed tightly behind your back. You might be horribly unlucky, as were the parents of the boy at the festival or you might be fortunate, as were my own, blissfully ignorant parents.

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‘When You’re Sixty Four’…dum-de-dum…

I’m about to be 64. ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, the song was written by Paul McCartney when he was sixteen-an age at which you could never imagine becoming sixty four and at which you would think it to be a very old age to be.

Like everyone says, most days my body does feel ancient, but inside my head I don’t feel much different, or old. Every day some part of me aches or feels stiff. I forget things. Words escape me. I’m not au fé with some of the more contemporary aspects of technology [I can’t tell my mega-bytes from my giga-bytes]. Some of the ‘classic’ acts at Glastonbury seem newbies to me.

But I keep abreast of current affairs, I like to try new things and I know it’s best to keep moving regardless of what hurts.

I’ve just reached another age threshold by officially becoming a state pensioner. I’m one of those women whose birthday falls between two dates that have been used to equalise the genders so that men’s and women’s retirement ages are the same. Fair enough. I’ve no quibbles with it. But most delayed pension age women are upset not to have been informed sooner [not until a year before the previous state pension age [60]]. I’ve been fortunate to have paid into an occupational pension scheme, but for many of those who have not there was no time to plan for a later retirement date and many have suffered huge financial losses [with the loss of their home for some] due to the lack of warning.

I’m also about to apply for that Holy Grail of retirement benefits- a bus pass. For the last few years I’ve been trailing behind Husband as he hops on to the bus, flicks his pass on to the scanner and slides into a seat while I scrabble for change or apologise for presenting a note. There have been times when I’ve been the only fully-paid-up passenger on a bus.

I’m also being offered a winter fuel payment and have received a [so far] small amount of state pension payment-at the same time as the announcement that due to a tax adjustment my occupational pension is reduced.

We are constantly being reminded that we have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy; to eat a sensible diet, not over-indulge, not imbibe an excess of alcohol, count steps, not have sugar, do this, don’t do that. Nobody can argue that we should not over-burden our already beleaguered and precious health service.

What a pity, then that three appointments I’ve had to have a scan on a relatively minor problem in my foot have been cancelled because I ‘don’t meet the criteria’ for help. Were the problem to be sorted I could get back to doing my thousands of steps, exercising and doing my bit to keep out of hospital wards and GP surgeries.

Sixty-four eh? However did that manage to creep up on me?

What’s in a Name?

Giving someone a name is a weighty responsibility. Parents-to-be could do worse than wile away the months of waiting by pondering which names will give their new arrival the best start in life. They should take care. It may be tempting to follow trends or get carried away with the idea of using the name of your favourite footballer, actor or rap artist; the allure of an invented name may be strong, or perhaps the use of an iconic place, weather condition or season. Research however suggests that names carry a heavy influence in the lottery of life’s successes and failures. Want your child to attend a prestigious university? Name your son James or Simon, your daughter, Eleanor.

A fiction writer building up a character can convey a great deal in the selection of their name. Gender, age, social class and nationality can all be carried in this one word. Hilda, Ivy, Albert or Fred? You know which generation they are from. Gillian, Susan, Peter or Colin? You know these too, although of course some names ‘come back’ into fashion [‘Alfie’ and ‘Stanley’ are two of these].

Teachers who become parents have a more difficult task in naming their offspring. The pool of possibilities will be shallower, since most names will carry connotations. The classrooms of my past are littered with negative memories of ‘Jasons’, ‘Waynes’, ‘Sharons’ and ‘Traceys’. For some mysterious reason, as soon as I went public with my firstborn’s name, proud of having selected something neither outlandish nor too ubiquitous, there was an explosion of the name-the hospital nursery bursting at the seams with them so that my son was destined always to share his name with thousands across his peer group.

Teachers are also used to bearing witness to parents’ inabilities in the field of spelling. Many children begin school [and life] saddled with an eccentric and misspelt name. Parents-bear in mind that your child’s teacher will have to begin the school year by compiling numerous class lists for a wide variety of purposes. If you furnish your little one with a long, hyphenated and complicated moniker this is going to be both time consuming and aggravating for their teacher, especially coupled with double-barrelled surnames, which consistently fail to fit into any sort of grid.

I loved the recent story of the research ship that was the subject of an on line competition to find a name. One wag’s suggestion of ‘Boaty McBoatface’, though not meant to be taken seriously became a clear favourite and attracted more than 18,000 votes, an endorsement that serves to show the British sense of humour is alive and kicking, even if the instigators of the competition are intending to overrule the choice.

 

Pass!

One of the phenomena I’ve noticed in the process of getting older is the process of things passing me by. Some of them pass by from my not having noticed them, some from my not liking them and some from my not knowing about them in the first place.

Is this a natural part of ageing? In his dotage my father took impressive steps into the world of new technology when he not only mastered some elements of word processing but also managed email [albeit in a somewhat antiquated manner, beginning all mails with ‘Dear’-letter fashion, unable to quite take in the informality]. He never got to grips with surfing the net, fearing the exposure of his personal details, perhaps his previous role as secretary to the parish council or membership of the village history society.

The phenomenon of ‘Things passing me by’ has crept upon me despite efforts to keep up. I feel it is the tip of a large iceberg, the top of which is visible, the underparts carrying a mass of culture, technology and who-knows-what-else I cannot even dream of. But here are some of the items on the top-the visible-part of the obstacle:

  1. I know what a smartphone is. I own one. But aside from texts it is rarely used, or even switched on, except for an occasional look at internet, as long as it is not too onerous to access. Most of my smartphone is a mystery. I don’t use the camera. It took me over a year to be able to swipe to answer a call [my call-answering is still not reliable]. I haven’t been able to memorise the number. It has passed me by.
  2. I understand that apps are applications. I just don’t use them. It seems that as soon as I have made the effort to acquire one something else has superseded it. ‘WHAT?’ friends and relations cry, ‘You don’t use ‘Picsnap’ or ‘Instabomb’? How do you manage to live? Surely everyone does ‘Smype’? No, they don’t.
  3. Hit TV programmes. I like thrillers. I like corny, old-fashioned cop detective shows, [like soon-to-be-axed ‘New Tricks’]. I can’t get to grips with ‘Game of Thrones’-nor do I want to.
  4. Talent shows. X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent et al. Contrived, hyped and wearisome. The only exception I make is for ‘Strictly’. I recognise few of the ‘celebs’ but I like the dancing, although the programme, with its padding, pretend humour and feeble, contrived banter is nowhere near as good as it was in the beginning. I do not, however feel enslaved to watch every episode.
  5. Contemporary music. By which I mean Rapping [I know it is all social comment/poetry and all that, but I can’t conceive of the likes of Tiny Someone, Master Monotony or Kanter East as actual music], Plastic pop [of the ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ band kind] and that monotonous, thrumming, repetitive techno you are so often assaulted by in European bars. Give me a blast of Eric Burden delivering his stark rendition of ‘Bring it on Home to me’ any day of the week.
  6. Piri-Piri chicken, Nando’s etc. Where and when did Piri-Piri spring from? I went into a Nando’s for a coffee once.
  7. Dresses worn with leggings. No. Pass by. Please.

If all this sounds curmudgeonly it is probably because I am becoming a curmudgeon. Kay Sera.

Not Keeping Up

In July 2013 I wrote a post titled ’To Keep up or not to Keep up’ about the tricky business of making yourself presentable and the relationship between age and length of time taken on this activity.

So how is this developing now that two years have elapsed? I must confess, reader that interesting developments are taking place which indicate to me that ageing is truly underway. Why do I think this? Is it because the length of time has elongated further? Is it because failing eyesight disguises many of the defects I previously sought to conceal? No. It is chiefly because I am ceasing to be bothered.

                Allow me to explain. If you consider appearance versus comfort to be on some kind of sliding scale, then as you become older you are more interested in comfort than appearance. This is where ‘couldn’t care less’ begins to kick in, for example:

  • Footwear. Never having been a fan of ‘stiletto’ type heels the search for acceptable occasion shoes continues to be a problem. In everyday life I resort to any kind of flat shoe that will accommodate the soft gel pads I am obliged to wear in order not to be crippled by mere walking.
  • De-hairing. I am both increasingly short-sighted and clumsy. Leg shaving in the shower is a haphazard and often gory affair, the results of which are less alluring than the au natural, hirsute look.
  • Clothing. The sliding scale is graphically illustrated here. Close-fitting, skimpy and diaphanous, once slung on with casual abandon gave way to wider straps, loose and opaque then sleeves and roomy. Bikini became swimsuit became avoid-the-water.
  • Make-up. I have never been prone to leaping out of bed in the mornings and setting to with a bag full of cosmetics, preferring the ‘scrub-up-ok’ approach of saving make up for outings of the evening kind. Once we are underway in our camper van on an extended trip I rarely glance into a mirror. I can heartily recommend going for weeks without looking at yourself-it is totally refreshing and relaxing.
  • Hair. Aha! Hair is possibly the one area where I’ve continued to hang on to any shred of concern over appearance. I still cling to the illusion that I have colour in my locks, to the point where I actually have no clue as to how grey I’ve become. I’ve made the concession to become blonde-ish. The overall effect is of ‘mouse’. When I turned 60 I posed the idea of succumbing to grey to Husband, who rubbished the idea [although he sports his own grey topping-an example of distinguished for men versus frumpy for women].

It remains to be seen how ‘couldn’t-care-less’ progresses. What next? Forget hair-brushing? Give up on the need for a daily shower? Stick to nightwear? [I must qualify this by mentioning that I don’t own any nightwear at present]. Stay in bed? Ah yes-of course-death…

Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

Punctuating the Years

I began as the third of three bullet points, like this:
• Child 1
• Child 2
• Me
Life continued in a small way, but developing, gathering commas, growing, learning, shuffling, crawling, walking, attending school.
School was a series of quotations. ‘Don’t be late’ ‘Do your homework’ ‘Read this’ ‘Take notes’ ‘Write that’ ‘Line up’ ‘Don’t talk’ ‘Sit up’ ‘Wear this’ ‘Don’t wear it like that’ ‘Too short’ ‘Too untidy’ ‘Get changed’ ‘Get ready’ ‘Sit down’ ‘Stand up’. Sometimes the orders were exclaimed: ‘Stand!’ ‘Sit!’ ‘Quiet!’ ‘Girls!’ Sometimes they were questioned. ‘Where’s your kit?’ ‘Where’s your book?’ ‘Where’s your homework?’ ‘Why are you late?’ ‘Why are you early?’ ‘Have you practised?’ ‘Have you finished?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’
I became a student. Student life was all about ellipses… We stayed up all night… We got drunk… We tried various substances… We got up late… We skipped lectures… We went on the pill… We had unsuitable liaisons… We had suitable liaisons… We shared flats… We somehow managed to stay the course…
The world of work seemed, initially to be a place organised into neat brackets. I rose [early], went to work [walk, train, tube, walk], taught my class [reprobates], went to meetings [tedious], received a salary [a relief].
I became a married woman, at which point I was hyphenated-a mere adjunct-even more so when motherhood occurred-. “What do you do?” I was asked-but before a reply was supplied-“Oh of course-you don’t work, do you?” They were the wilderness years-the 1980s-my ten years of hyphenation-stagnation; but punctuated with babies-[!]
They grew older. I returned to work, [brackets again] but harder {{{{more stressful}}}. There was ‘accountability’. There were computers [!] There were inspections [!!!] But there were also colleagues…who became friends…I took up running…and exercise classes…
I became an ‘unmarried woman’! … Moved house…Ellipse life returned… with interludes of exclamation! I was happy-or unhappy-by turns.
I met Husband, moved house again, changed job, settled, waved goodbye to the offspring, said hello to them again, [by turns]. Then a grandchild made an entrance! Grandparenthood was embraced with some bemusement-. Where had the years gone? Why so fast? How had all these events occurred [behind my back]?
Older age was here- The bonus-the consolation was retirement. I travelled. I read. I wrote. I followed pursuits I’d always wanted to. Bits of me hurt more when I exercised. I gave up running [for walking]. The return to work came back to haunt me in the form of chronic disease. I was diagnosed: it was all about the colon; which had deteriorated into a semicolon; somehow, for now it survives; even if-in the future-the colon gets discarded-after all, what is life except one, long series of ellipses?…