Not That Ancient!

There are some nasty tricks played by ageing. They creep up in unexpected ways and follow you around waiting to remind you at inopportune moments, peeping over your shoulder into the mirror in the changing cubicles of women’s sections of department stores and mocking you as you attempt to run for the bus.

A couple of weeks ago, whilst waiting in a queue to gain access to the auditorium hosting a Christmas concert by the inmates of my granddaughter’s nursery I was spotted by an acquaintance who told me I looked ‘sprightly’. Sprightly? I am a woman in her [still relatively early] sixties. I am not ready to be called sprightly-a term I feel is reserved for anyone in their eighties or above who has not yet resorted to a Zimmer frame.

Then there was the occasion when I followed a bus-pass wielding woman on to a bus and got waved through by the impatient driver who clearly needed to make up some time and must have assumed I was another pensioner, despite my brandishing the cash in his face.

The fact that I am a pensioner does nothing to alleviate the shock of incidents like these.

I use a strategy to dull the injury of each passing birthday. It is thinking of myself as being the next age number months before it arrives. I call myself ‘old’ or ‘elderly’. I acknowledge arthritic jabs and aches as part of the decadent process. I’ve adopted ‘Granny’ as a grandparent pseudonym in order to brazen out the image it creates. And yet, when the perceptions of others bear it all out I am taken by surprise!

This is the well-known paradox of getting older; the mismatch of how you see yourself v how others view you. What is to be done about it? A friend called before Christmas to tell me she was scheduled for a face-lift, that she ‘should not be so wrinkly at her age’. She, like me is in her sixties. Admittedly she has suffered the indignity of being dumped by her husband of 40+ years [a blessing for her, to my mind] but what if she feels no better after the procedure?

Myself, I think I simply have to do my best. I can scrub up alright if an occasion demands, struggle through a dance-exercise class and get up and down the stairs. I can do basic things on a smartphone, manage to communicate on social media, follow a conversation and even contribute. I won’t pretend I know anything about contemporary music [is there any?] but I have a reasonable grasp of today’s cultural achievements and try to keep up with events in domestic and world politics. I like to think I’ve kept a sense of humour, particularly as it relates to my own state-in other words I don’t get offended by gentle mocking of my ageing state.

BUT- I’m not ready to be called ‘sprightly’. OK? Save it for twenty years time.

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Living in a Cultural Desert

The time has come to finally accept that summer is now over for this year. We managed to extend it by a month or so by nipping off to warmer climes, but even there autumn is nudging in. I tend to go through a period of mourning at this time-not being a fan of winter, the cold or the dark. We also have to turn our attention to all the outstanding chores that are necessary when one takes up residence in a new abode-a list that is lengthening as I write.

In our absence an invasion of a miniature sort has taken place in that the outside and all its mini creatures has invaded the space. Chez nous has become spider haven, with a spindly arachnid lurking in every conceivable corner. Going to the study to get a pen [with which to redirect a pile of wrongly addressed mail-some of which had already been redirected here] I made the mistake of reaching out only to find I was plunged into an Alien-like scenario, my hand ensnared in a gargantuan, cloying candy floss of gossamer. Ugh!

Outside, much of the stalwart inroads that had been made before departure in taming the rampant ivy, brambles and unwanted interlopers is now rendered inadequate by their enthusiastic return. October is the month I’ve allocated for planting the climbers I’d brought with me when we moved so time is of the essence. Accordingly I’ve now crippled my back and various other parts with a marathon session of planting. Re-acquainting myself with the garden has only served to demonstrate how much work there is to do in it.

This is also the time when I turn my attention to cultural life and begin to cast around for entertainment to fill long, dark evenings. Those who’ve read these scribblings before will know how much I abhor musical ‘shows’ and how much I love a good play. Here in the provinces, however we are not well served. My own small, local theatre has a programme of events that includes a few broadcast screenings but is dominated by tribute acts, mediocre musical soirees and the odd has-been. The venue is run by volunteers, is a cosy and welcoming space with an art deco façade. It should be a magnetic powerhouse of activity.

A little further afield, in the seafront, tourist metropolis only a bus ride away there are two large concert venues, both touting…yes, tribute acts, has-beens and performers I’ve never heard of. There is nothing for it but to go to the movies. The critics have done a hatchet job on ‘The Girl on the Train’ [a novel I enjoyed] so I may have to try Woody Allen’s latest offering.

After much searching I discovered that Nina Conti-a comic genius with puppetry-is on at the end of the month; on I went to the seating plan. Nothing in the circle except for single seats or restricted view. Nothing in the stalls except for single seats or restricted view. It’s no surprise. I’m not the only person starved of quality live entertainment!

Last Laugh of the Laughing Gnome…

What a lot of insincere garbage has been spewed about David Bowie this week! I suppose the press is having an orgasmic moment at the gift his death has given them. We’ve been treated to scenes outside his New York apartment, scenes outside his Brixton flat, scenes outside the place in Berlin where he stayed; what next? Scenes outside a hotel in Llandudno where he might have had a holiday as a child? If he was anywhere now he’d be laughing his multicoloured socks off like he did in that unmentioned-in-the-reports early single, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyQxTWDLZ8o]

We’ve heard how he ‘changed my life’, ‘changed the face of Britain’, ‘changed world politics’. What next? Changed evolution? Changed the climate? –Oh no-that’s managing to change all by itself.

Of course everyone has had to leap onto the grief bandwagon-from the PM to astronaut Tim Peake. Interviews with ‘grieving’ fans have included a vast number who can surely barely have heard of him, having been born in the 90s. ‘You’ve got your own style icons and musical heroes!’ I want to shout, ‘Leave ours alone!’

But who are they, the world famous, ground-breaking musical geniuses of today? I suppose I am as guilty of ignorance regarding current musical talents as my parents would have been about Bowie, but how many of them span the decades as he did? Ed Sheeran? Justin Bieber? Heaven forbid! Sam Smith and Adele may have produced songs for James Bond movies but I doubt their catalogues will endure forty years.

I was a student when Bowie turned out what I consider to be his best albums, ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’. These were the upbeat, optimistic, rocky tunes that I still feel were his best; not for me the introspective, brooding ballads that came later. In truth I am probably just a little too old for him to have been a hero since I had cut my teeth listening to rock and roll and came to student-dom from teenage years as a fringe hippy, already having attended Chicken Shack, ELP, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd concerts. I arrived to my hall of residence with Carole King, Cat Stevens and Tyrannosaurus Rex LPs to play on my Dansette record player. I adored The Rolling Stones and became obsessed by The Faces. Later I did buy my two favourite Bowie albums, but only these.

Glam rock was already underway by the time Bowie reached a pinnacle. We all bought into it with platform boots, satin shirts and colourful ‘loon pants’, much to the bewilderment of our parents, a generation who were scandalised daily by the appearance, behaviour and culture of the young. Little did they know that Punk was just around the corner and was about to erupt in a grungy rash of piercings, abusive language, noise, snot and vomit.

Now there is too much horror in the news for anyone to be shocked by the culture of youth. Perhaps that’s why music, fashion and popular culture has become so commercial and sanitised? Or is it simply that there is nothing new under the sun? Ho hum…

 

T-shirts. Casual or Culture?

If you were looking for a barometer of trends in politics, culture, fashion or social status you could do worse than study T-shirts.

Few garments have stood the test of time better. You might say jeans have lasted as long, but apart from altering in shape [from straight to flared and back, for instance], getting a few strategic rips and patches or sequins they don’t vary much.

The previous generation to my own [ie pre-babyboomers] were not T-shirt wearers. My father got up and put on a proper, ironed shirt-collar and all-and unless he was going outside to dig the garden he would add a tie, considering that he was not suitably attired without one. He continued to adhere to this dress code until poor health condemned him to pyjamas.

The T-shirt, according to Wikipedia originated in the 19th century from undergarments worn by factory workers then became a staple for US military personnel before becoming glamorous in its plain, white form pasted on to the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando in the 1950s. Who could not fail to admire the rippling white fabric stretched across young Brando’s chest as he reared over Blanche Dubois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’?

These days T-shirts fall into various categories, sometimes getting adopted as high fashion on a designer’s whim, proclaiming which side of the stadium a fan shows allegiance to, which rock band is beloved by the wearer and which festival tour they’ve attended, being used as a vehicle for showing off a ponsy holiday destination-as in a map of The Galapagos-, or to inform company that the wearer is up for it [eg inscribed with ‘Angel’ or ‘Hot’]. This last is as alluring as driving around with a personalised number-plate such as the ‘I5EXY’ I spotted once and it is tempting to add ‘not’ to it somehow.

There are also the ones that climb on to a droll slogan or idea and overstay so long as to become wearisome, such as ‘Keep Calm and …..’ or pictures depicting the ‘evolution’ of pursuits like cycling.

The best T-shirts are ones that are laugh-out-loud funny, although they only have this capability for the first sighting, like hearing a joke. Husband, whilst holidaying in Tenerife once was much taken by one that read on the front ‘The Older I Get’ and on the back ‘The Better I Was’. A recent favourite of mine was worn by a male passenger climbing on to the bus to Bridgetown, Barbados and read: ‘Six Pack-Coming Soon’.

My own T-shirt wearing is limited to plain colours except that I am guilty of wearing a New Zealand [black with a white tree-fern leaf of course] only when temperatures plummet at night and something extra is needed under the duvet [no-I am not a nightwear fan either!]

Reading the Years

Janet and John

Janet and John

I learned to read with Janet and John; that is to say-I was taught using the reading scheme, Janet and John, not alongside 4 and 5 year olds with those names [although there may well have been Janets and Johns in my class]. The prose was simple, repetitive and tedious but did the trick. I recall that the satisfaction of achieving the decoding of the words was enough to motivate me. I believe the time taken to learn to read was very short, as I was very quickly moving on to the likes of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ which I was soon able to quote long chunks of, so familiar did I become with its enchanting story line.

Janet and John was of its time, the 1950s. The family was standardised mother, father, boy, girl and dog. They were white and middle class. Janet was pictured helping mother in the kitchen while John and his father did manly chores involving the garden. These were not riveting tales. Most sentences ran along the lines of ‘Run, John, run’. He would not be running to avoid the attention of the police or to save the planet but in some vague notion of play.

By the time I was myself teaching children to read, the Ladybird scheme had arrived, although the cultural and socio-economic portrayal of the characters was not a jot different. This time the children were called Peter and Jane, the dog Pat. I feel I should apologise, here and now to the children in my class in Stockwell, London who had no option but to use these books with their white, middle class nuclear family. They must have seemed as alien as the bar in Star Wars for children whose cultural backgrounds were African, West Indian or Asian and who lived in tenement blocks in 1970s London.

Later still, my own children were given ‘One, Two, Three and Away’ books, which at least had story lines-albeit surreal. There were the beginnings of some kind of diversity, with deviant ‘Percy Green’ portrayed as a naughty boy-the character small children loved the most.

When I returned to teaching after an eight year child break there was a bright, shiny new scheme. Political correctness was burgeoning and the books went some way towards addressing it. There was still a white family with a dog [‘Floppy’] but there was the addition of Wilf and Wilma, Nadim and Aneena and their families. Everyone continued to be middle class, with no depictions of unemployment or single parents, but this is to be expected since nobody wants children to learn to read using material based on dispiriting circumstances.

Since the early 90s subsequent governments have meddled with increasingly heavy-handed interventions in the teaching of reading-each new education minister eager to make their mark and overturn the previous ‘big’ idea, regardless of what teachers know and have always known. Normal well supported children can learn to read from the back of a cereal packet but get their richest experiences from real, proper books. Those from homes with little language input and impoverished bookshelves cannot.

Who can resist the lure of children’s books these days? They get better every time I visit the book store!

My My Generation, Baby…

The amiable Dutchman in the reception office beamed at us as he rose to increase the volume on his ipod. “I LOVE this”, he said, in the expectation of our immediate affirmation, or at least the knowledge of what it was. Catching our blank faces, he enlightened us with a ‘how could you not know?’ expression. “It is DEEP PURPLE!” he boomed-“My wife got it for me. Fantastic!” Husband murmured into the ensuing pause-“Now if it had been Led Zeppelin”, and I followed with, “Well-Deep Purple was never a huge favourite of mine, but I know ‘Smoke on the Water’”… The Dutchman shrugged, grinning and eulogising over the music of ‘our’ generation; a strange remark, since he was at least twenty five years short of ‘our’ generation.

                Each generation feels its culture to be the best, the most creative, the most brilliant, the most enjoyable of all time. Despite the Dutchman’s love of Deep Purple, he is certainly not of the generation that spawned them, although it is common for non-British Europeans to be fond of rock music’s dinosaurs.

                The older I become, the more remote I feel from today’s music and culture. I begin to understand where the phrase ‘generation gap’ [much used when I was a teenager] came from, and even those fads which have themselves become ‘old hat’ have passed me by. Bands that are now doing ‘comeback’ tours hail from after my time. That [old] boy band, Take That inspire a feverish tsunami  of middle-aged-housewifely hysteria from thirty and forty somethings, yet to me the likes of Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams still seem like teenage upstarts!

                I admit to having given up on what is new, other than coming across occasional eulogies in arts and culture supplements. At least I can say I’ve read about an up and coming artist, or seen their name. During my Pilates class I was even able to put a singer’s name [Ellie Goulding]to a song recently. But mostly it passes me by. And in an even more startling turn of events, it is all beginning to pass my children by, too.

                In the wondrous van there is a music player, filled with the kind of music beloved by Husband, a fair number of songs we both like and a few things I enjoy listening to but attract derisory comments from him. Amongst these are several numbers by Coldplay [deemed middle-class pap- a label that may well be true but nevertheless does not impair my listening experience]. I still think of Coldplay as ‘new’, although I read that Chris Martin is 39. Thirty nine! He is tipping into the wastelands of middle age-and separated [or whatever they are calling it]-a sure sign of middle age.

                My father ignored contemporary music trends altogether, preferring [allegedly] classical, or ‘serious’ music, as he called it. He was fond of asserting that I would grow out of popular music to adopt his [adult] tastes. How wrong could he be? It was a disappointment he took to his grave…

Lost in the Fog of Incomprehension

                I think I may be turning into my mother. It is an unnerving thought. Why do I suspect this? Well, in a somewhat painful acknowledgement I have to confess there are many aspects of today’s fashion, culture and lifestyle I simply do not understand at all, and this lack of comprehension elicits the same pitying expression and incredulous remarks from my offspring as I once presented to their grandmother.

                There are the same, mismatched conversations about film, TV or music; the same confusion over technological issues; the same enquiries of ‘you mean you’ve never heard of…?’

                I remember breezing in from school as a thirteen year old, slinging my satchel [yes, reader, a satchel-and not the current Fiorelli or Mulberry type] down and delightedly regaling my mother with a seedy tale about a girl who’d been yanked out of class for flaunting a necklace of love bites.  The sad truth for those of us in thrall was that we all wished it was us, since it was indisputable evidence of a steamy encounter with a member of the opposite sex…! There was no possible method of self inflicting these fetching, purplish-blue bruises even if one was gifted with a talent for contortionism. My mother’s reaction? She was bewildered.

                “What? Biting?…Why would anyone bite someone?”

                I told her. I explained that it wasn’t a bite, it was a suck, but she remained resolutely mystified-and somewhat disapproving that I’d related the incident. At least, in this respect I differ from her, that is I am reasonably shock-proof. How can I be anything else? I was a teenager in the sixties.

                The following is a random sample of some things that mystify me.

 

Puffa Jackets.

I don’t get these. For anyone who is not anorexic they render the body obese. To wear one is to resemble the bulbous ‘Michelin Man’. I don’t doubt they are warm-but then so are bedsocks, and balaclavas.

 

Teenage Vampires.

I’ve read ‘Dracula’. It was great. I enjoyed the Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. But the plethora of viewing of ‘Twilight’ ilk is all total bilge…[to me!].

 

Rapping

I should probably not include rapping in this list, since it has been around for so long-but it still does not pre-date my musical tastes. I have never understood its appeal, being neither poetry nor music.

 

Shots

As far as I can make out, this is simply a way to get strong alcohol down the gullet without tasting alcohol, hence the bizarre flavours. You only ever see people tipping them down their throats, as if imbibing nasty medicine-which it might just as well be.

 

Tattoos

I agree there is a modicum of fascination about someone who is covered in inky pictures, but I’ve yet to see how they enhance anyone’s appearance. It looks eccentric to the point of farcical to sweep up the red carpet towards the Oscar ceremony in a Balenciaga gown with a lurid tattoo on the bare shoulder or exposed leg-and a related body decoration-

 

Piercings

Yes I do have pierced ears, although only one, discreet hole in each. The worst are those studs in the indentation of the nostril that simply look like a nasty boil on the nose, or dangle from the nose like snot. Similarly, I can’t see anything attractive about those HUGE cotton reel things that young men wear in both ears, forming a large, gaping circle in each.

                I could go on, except that it may well turn into a rant, which would be unseemly. It’s not, you understand, that I disapprove of any of the above, more that I can’t see the point of them. But hey-each to their own. [oh and I know how irritating old people can be!]