Three Marriages. Part 2.

Part one of this story can be found in last week’s post:

I keep my head down as we step outside into glaring, unforgiving daylight but as I begin to make my way along the path to the gate Solange grabs my arm, preventing me from escaping. “Wait Mum. I’ve got us a lift to the reception. Emilia’s uncle has room in the car for us.” I’m about to reply, to tell her to go on and I’ll see her at home, when Sonya appears. My old friend stands in front of me, blocking my way, clutching my hands in hers, her face wreathed in a wide smile.

                “Claire, you look wonderful!” she cries. “I’m so happy you’re here! The day wouldn’t be the same without you and Solange. You are like family to me.”

                Her eyes glisten with tears that threaten to follow those she’s shed in church, judging by the faint channels down her cheeks. We hug and I’m crying too. “Emilia looks beautiful”, I tell her. “You must be so proud.”

                She nods. “I want us to sit down together and have a glass of champagne later; just the two of us. It’s all been so frantic I haven’t had a chance to gossip with you!”

I pull away. “Actually, Sonya I wasn’t planning on coming to the reception, but Solange will. She can be my representative.” I give her a weak smile. From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of rust-red curls amongst the guests milling about on the grass. The throng has thinned out as people make a gradual move towards the road to find vehicles and make their way to the wedding feast.

Sonya’s face puckers. “Oh, but you must come, Claire! We’ll have a dance together, won’t we? It’ll be like the old days! And I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you about Giles, but I really didn’t know! Nobody did…” Someone is plucking at her arm now. Mother of the bride is in high demand at a wedding.

“Yes! Come on Mum, you can’t wriggle out of this. And our lift is waiting!” Solange is looking stern, parenting again. I’m sighing, bowing to the inevitable. I follow her to a car and climb obediently into the seat beside her. As we pull away I catch a glimpse of them, of Giles and his wife, standing on the grass a little apart from the other guests, her hand on his arm, his blank face staring out into the distance.

There is a melee at the hotel as guests flood into the foyer, taking glasses of champagne and drifting into groups to chat while they wait for photographs to be snapped. I hold my glass and stand with Solange, glancing around for them. I think as long as I know where they are, I can avoid contact. Now and again, one or two of Sonya’s friends and relatives come over to chat to us and I know Solange would like to mingle with her own set, the friends she shares with Emilia but I’m clinging to her like a drowning woman to a life-raft so she stays.

“I’m going to find the bathroom”, I tell her, disciplining myself not to ask her to stay put until I return and she nods and smiles, looking over my head for someone she knows. I make my way to the Ladies and when I get there I stand at a basin and lean my head against the cool glass, eyes closed. A woman enters behind me and goes into a cubicle. I wash my clammy hands and blot my lips, straighten my skirt and adjust my hat. I can’t stay here in the toilets. I must go out there. I only have to get to Solange. I must hope that she’s in the same place I left her.

I re-emerge, hesitate as I scan the crowd. Solange is nowhere to be seen. I begin to make my way towards the throng, taking a second glass of champagne from a proffered tray as I pass the waiter. I scan right and left as I move between the groups, searching for my daughter or for Sonya then a hand grasps my arm, halting me and I turn. I’m staring straight into Giles’ face, a few inches from my own. His eyes are burning into mine with a strange intensity, then he barks my name,

“Claire! There you are! I’ve been looking for you! Where have you been? I want to go home! Please, take me home! I want to go now!”

She’s there, his wife, on the other side of him, pulling at his sleeve. “Giles!”, she hisses, “Sh…shush now.”

I’m frozen to the spot as she makes ineffectual attempts to pull him away and he yanks his arm from her. “Get away from me! I’m with my wife. Leave me alone!”

The surrounding guests have all turned to watch us now, where we stand, the three of us like a tableau, glued together. A small trickle of moisture is trickling from the corner of Giles’ mouth as he begins to pull away from her, his agitation growing. I try to speak. “Giles”, I say, but he is too disturbed to listen, shouting and pulling.

I’m aware of a presence at my elbow. Sonya’s husband, Marcus is there, his voice low and soothing. “Alright Giles? Let’s go and get a drink now, shall we?”

On my other side Solange has appeared, her face aghast. She mouths at me. “What’s happening?” and I shake my head. Marcus seems to have persuaded Giles to let go and leads him, stumbling through a corridor in the surrounding crowd. A space opens between Giles’ wife and me and I look into her eyes and see a myriad of emotions; shame, fear, despair. The spectators have lost interest and begun to drift away. Solange puts an arm around my shoulders. “Let’s go and sit down, Mum. We’ll get another drink.” In the scuffle my glass has plummeted to the floor, the contents spilling into a champagne puddle like a teardrop.

“I’m sorry”. The red-headed wife is still there, alone now.

I stammer. “Oh, please don’t apologise, there’s no harm done.”

“I’d better go and find him.” She bites her lip, looks away.

Sonya comes to find Solange and me, perching on the arm of the sofa we’re occupying. Are we alright? She is so sorry for what happened. Marcus has offered to get them a taxi but she, his wife has insisted they’ll be fine and she can drive them home.

“How long have you known?” I ask Sonya.

“Goodness! I only found out this morning when they arrived at the church. Giles didn’t seem to know who I was. She just said he’d been unwell but that he’d be ok; he’d enjoy the wedding, she said. I didn’t like to ask what the problem was but it’s obvious now, isn’t it? How are you feeling, Claire?”

“I don’t know-numb, mostly.” It’s too soon to analyse my feelings.

At last we follow everyone into the dining room, where the tables are bedecked with flowers, glasses, sparkling cutlery and place cards bearing our names. The fellow diners at our table are friends we share with Sonya and Marcus and their friendly chatter is soothing. I can listen and smile without contributing much. During the speeches I’m lost in thought. How should I feel to discover that Giles, my husband of twenty-five years, who left me for a young girl my daughter’s age, has developed dementia? When he left I fell apart for a while, as if he’d taken my life away with him; all the best years. Then I’d begun to discover the benefits of not having him around; the joys of selfishness, having the house to myself, choosing how to spend my time. What to eat. When to eat. What to watch, who to see.

If Giles were still married to me I’d be caring for him, just as she is having to. I wonder how long she’ll feel obliged to look after him, since she is still such a young woman? What will happen to Giles when she decides to quit? I look around me at the guests, their attention rapt as the speeches continue, ripples of laughter, smiles and nods ensuing from them. Life is fragile; increasingly so as we age. Solange has a whole life of opportunity ahead of her and I have, if not a whole life, then a great deal of it. What do I feel? Lucky.

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!

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!