It’s No Joke

The news that Terry Jones is suffering from dementia is terribly sad. What a miserable, cruel illness dementia is-swooping down on anyone from any lifestyle or walk of life. In Terry Jones’ case, [as in Terry Prachett’s], targeting a giant of an intellect-a genius with words and humour; a person who made his living from the spoken word, from comedy.

I was a teenager when Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit the small screen. The humour was fresh and surreal, unfathomable to our parents, which made it even more irresistible to me and to my friends. There had been a few attempts at this kind of bizarre comedy before, with shows like radio’s ‘Round the Horn’ and ‘The Goon Show’ or TV’s ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in’ although it was American, but nothing that resonated with us on the scale of Python; nothing as zany, dreamlike, weird and downright hilarious.

In our teenage get-togethers, alongside gathering to listen to music albums we re-lived episodes of Monty Python, crying with laughter again as we recalled each episode and able to recall every sketch word-for-word. I adored ludicrous sketches such as the two frumpy women in a launderette earnestly discussing John-Paul Sartre or the cheeky ridiculing of Morris dancing where the dancers slapped each other with a dead fish. Then there was the device of bringing parts of one sketch into another. A scene outside a bank would include a long queue of people in rolled up trousers wearing knotted hankies from a previous sketch [‘I’d like to tax people what stand in water’].

Later shows sought to emulate the alternative angle. ‘The Young Ones’, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Little Britain’ followed in the footsteps.

Otherwise, since that time, apart from one or two, longstanding, notable radio comedies [‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’, ‘Just a Minute’] there’s been very little laugh-out-loud comedy on offer. Sit-coms become ever more tired. The channels churn out contrived panel shows featuring the same worn-out comedians peddling the same, stale, clichéd patter.

I still laugh at slapstick comedy and am easily able to enjoy the humour in a children’s entertainment such as Punch and Judy, which probably explains what a simpleton I am.

Each generation has their own set of beloved, cultural icons from music, film, literature and comedy. My grandparents had Charlie Chaplin, my parents had Arthur Askey and Bob Hope. I’m sure there are young comedians around who understand the challenges that today’s young generation faces. I know there are new sit-coms and every season a whole raft of new comedy movies, although as I’ve written before, the genre of American rom-com does nothing for me at all.

I’d say we are ready for a new, fresh approach in comedy-to distract us from all the nasty world events, if nothing else. But in the meantime I’d like to thank Terry Jones for all the sheer, unadulterated pleasure he’s provided over the years. Bless you Terry-you are a genius!

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The Muddle that is Memory

As I grow older I realise more that memory is a capricious servant and not to be relied on. It unnerves me, this haphazard facility, as it would anyone who has more years behind them than in front. We joke about senility. ‘He makes new friends every day’ we say about close relatives suffering from Alzeimers. But it is a state to be feared as we age, even though research turns up new developments in treatment all the time.

We have travelled down the west coast of France more times than I can either count or care to admit-certainly, during the last twenty five years or so far more times than to London. And yet it takes re-visiting to stir my memories. I am as unable to grasp the gist of a place from Husband’s descriptions as I am able to recall what I went upstairs to get when I’m at home. ‘You must remember’ he says, ‘there was an Irish couple’ [there are many Irish couples] or-‘there was a small bar by the entrance’ [true of so many places].

We visit old haunts, reluctant this time to be intrepid adventurers, having done enough pioneering on the house move front this year.

We find a site, new to us. We cycle out along the salt marsh, a wide, flat expanse of watery fields criss-crossed by irrigation channels. Grey eels undulate along in the water, darting from one clump of weed to another. It all looks eerily familiar then we approach an oyster farm and there, there is the little sea-food shack and bar where I took Husband’s photo on our anniversary-memorable in that his chin rests on his hand and his expression as he peers over the top of his beer is nothing short of grumpy.

We did remember Pornic and eventually the site we’d stayed in. We’d walked there last time and caught the train back. I had a sudden recognition; a path over a deep, rocky cove peopled with dozens of naked men-many in couples. Such sights are not unusual on French beaches. I’ve long since adopted a ‘seen one, seen ‘em all’ strategy for them.

We travel further south to another small, seaside town I’m sure we’ve visited before. The large town square bordered by the post office and the town hall seems familiar, as do the narrow streets lined with bars, ice cream parlours, ‘churros’ counters and stalls selling bracelets, hats and keepsakes. Here in September there is a throng of tourists-many our age or older-wending their way along and pausing to browse the proffered nick-knacks as they chew on sugary, doughnutty churros or tuck into mountainous ice cream cones.

So the memories are there-not readily available as a neat, annotated and dated time-line but in a jumbled, half-buried pile in the cobwebby cupboard of my brain. When one is prompted to surface it is a pleasure. The offspring jest, as I myself would have done when stories are repeated or exaggerated, but this will happen to them, too at some unspecified future date.

I’ve Seen the Future-Now What Was it Again?

I was standing in the middle of our garage. I am normally competent at looking for items but this time I was at a loss. During my autumn 2014 incarceration [which is documented in a previous post] a number of objects have made mysterious moves to different locations. My beloved kitchen steps, purchased by myself as a tailor-made solution to being vertically challenged had undergone a change for a different set. Husband’s initial response to an enquiry as to the whereabouts of said steps was that ‘These are better’, but a pursuit of the subject revealed that my own, preferred steps had found their way into the camper van and been replaced by these, unsuitable, usurper steps. Hmph!

To continue, I had a small hand brush in my hand and was searching for something. What was it? I could not say. I knew what it looked like. I also knew that I would need to ask Husband, who has undertaken some item location changes, where it was. But this presented a problem. How could I ask him? Because, reader, I could not think of the word for it. Horrors! I stood. I thought. The word was there, within my clutches but just out of reach, taunting me. It was no good. I would have to succumb to the humiliating act of describing the object I was seeking.

Husband was outside on the patio. We’d been removing the tiny, Brussel-sprout shaped Christmas tree that has survived its third festive period inside the house and whilst being removed to its outside home had dumped large quantities of soil en route-hence the search for the ‘thing’.

I waved the brush at him as an opening gambit.

‘Where’s the…thing?’

‘I don’t know what you mean. What are you looking for?’ This was my question. What was I looking for?

‘The thing. You know.’

‘I don’t know. What do you want?’

I sighed. I would have to describe it. ‘The sweeping-into thingy. It goes with the brush.’

He straightened. ‘The dustpan.’

Dustpan. The word streamed into my brain like a flood. Of course. How could I not have known it? Dustpan. I was horrified. The words ‘senile dementia’ flashed in alarm where ‘dustpan’ should have been.

Words constantly flee from my mind like this, provoking a combination of pity, laughter and derision from those who share my home. I also repeat myself, a trait which elicits frustration. Both of these habits are symptoms of dementia.

One of my hit reads of 2014 was Emma Healey’s brilliant ‘Elizabeth is Missing’, narrated by a very elderly woman, Maud, who suffers from senile dementia. The book is both tragic and comic and I alternated between laughter and near tears while reading it. The long suffering carers who make daily visits to Maud’s home are unerringly kind. If a long, slow plunge into senility is to be my fate I do hope those whose misfortune it is to care for me are as humane as they are!

Ageing Part 1-The Experts’ Way

                Once you get beyond what can reasonably be called middle age [although I realise it stretches to a further point the older you get…], you might think it would be helpful to know what we all need to do to grow old and keep your health. I read an article in the Guardian newspaper recently which did just this thing-with useful, informative suggestions from ‘experts’. It is interesting to note that few of the ‘experts’ are themselves beyond middle age. Fair enough. Perhaps one needs to begin on their regimes early; forward planning, you might say. In this case I am, in all probability, too late. I was still interested as to what I should have done:

1 Weight Lifting

Jerrald Rector, from Birmingham University explained that apparently it is all down to a virus like Herpes and that we can stave it off if we all go to the gym and heft dumbbells around. Jerrald, a PhD student, is 26. He is also toned and beauteous. I’ve tried weight lifting more times than Jerrald has cleaned his teeth and never found it to be anything more than unutterably dull. Boredom is stressful. He may be right about the virus. He claims it is triggered by stress. Ok, stress is ageing. No surprise there!

2 Friends

There is no mention of Dr Anna Phillips’ age, but she looks to be in her twenties. Stress, she says, can be staved off by having a strong social network. Bereavement is particularly stressful. Who’d have thought it? We should all be happily married. [I must make a note to tell Husband this]. Dr Phillips also hails from the University of Birmingham. She could pair up with Jerrard and put forth the idea of married couples’ weight lifting. Weddings could even take place in gyms, with guests attending in vests and shorts and the ceremony being conducted whilst bench pressing.

3 Running

Professor Janet Lord [Birmingham] is 56 . Hooray! At last there is an expert in the appropriate age range. Of course, Janet, we all know that running is good for us. Can there be anyone left on the planet who doesn’t? I spent more than twenty years doing it. It was wonderful for all kinds of reasons-keeping weight at bay, keeping stress at bay, keeping heart healthy etc. If you are lucky you may get to run into old age; there are some who do. But most of us who used to run have had to hang up our running shoes due to the joints having given out. Lucky Janet, if she is able to keep running throughout old age.

4 Fasting

In a nutshell, Dr Sandrine Thuret wants us all to deny ourselves food in our dotage, in order to do good to our brains. Dr Sandrine [not Birmingham] eats ‘every other day’. She goes on to say she has cereal bars and apples on the fasting days. Hm. How is this fasting, Dr? Pity the poor Alzheimers sufferers. Not only have their brains failed them but they must also starve.

5 Learning languages

This is the idea of 52 year old Thomas Bak [Edinburgh this time]. Why?

                You have to wonder why they’re all expending their energy and time on these projects when the most expedient thing would be to eradicate the world of wrinklies-the expensive, difficult generation!

Next post is going to be Grace’s ideas for a healthy, happy old age, without starvation, boredom or conjugating verbs. Watch out for ageing part 2…

                 

I’ve had a few-but then again-too few to mention-

                Regret is an interesting emotion. As you get older you might be forgiven for having accumulated a net full of regrets that you’ve trawled along behind you all your life. But then the net would get heavier and more onerous to haul in with time. Better to release the captive disappointments somehow and allow them to drift away.

                Of course some regrets are entirely trivial, and the wrong decision can be rectified in a short time. Ill-advised haircuts, that last glass of wine, holidays with family members, vitriolic emails-the repercussions of all of these do not last for long. Last week I regretted my lack of speed in capturing a pine marten crossing the road with a limp stoat dangling from his jaws! More serious decisions like career choices, partners, buying a home can be a source of regret for ever.

                Twenty years ago I made a momentous [for me], life changing decision that had a profound and lasting effect. At the time someone very close warned me I would regret this decision the whole of my life, and yet I have always considered this one choice to be the very best decision I ever made. Sometimes you just have to take a leap into the unknown, take a gamble-and then accept the consequences, whatever.

                Amongst the circulating emails and Facebook spam that floods on to our screens there is often a set of images of historic products-items you might have used as a child. There is a fleeting, misty nostalgia to these pictures, prompting you to say, ‘Whatever happened to ‘Spangles’, or ‘Do you remember ‘Loxene’ shampoo?’-but we don’t seriously want to turn back the clock. ‘Loxene’ shampoo was little better than washing up liquid, and if ‘Spangles’ still tasted good they’d still be on sale-as Mars bars are today.

                I don’t doubt that some aspects of life were better fifty years ago, like children playing outside, not getting obese, less cars on the road etc. But who would want to go back to that time? There were no machines to do all the dirty work. My mother had a ‘copper’ that she boiled the washing in and then put it all through a mangle! I don’t think we had a fridge for some years. There was a cold slab in the pantry and a ‘meat safe’ like a cage to keep flies off.

                So I believe it’s ok to wallow in a touch of nostalgia now and again, but better on the whole to look forwards, live life to the most full you can and do the ‘carpe diem’ thing. Then one day, [if I should live long enough to be immobile or even more demented than I am already] I shall be able to look at photos and dwell on memories with nostalgia but without regret-that is if I am able to recognise anyone or anything by then!