What a Card!

Just as the sending of holiday postcards has [mercifully] almost completely died out, the sending of Christmas cards is a dwindling occupation, according to recent news articles. Reasons given include the cost of postage and the rise of popularity of social media.

In our household we still send cards, although in a true portent of how life will become in the future, the number of cards we must send has reduced.

Among those of us [mostly older] who uphold the tradition of sending cards there are various methods of acquisition, from those who manufacture their own-from family photos or recycling last years’ to my own preferred method of buying charity cards. The purchase of the cards is probably the most pleasurable part of the process, since many of the major charities’ cards are sold by volunteers in our local library along with wrapping paper, gift tags and so on.

I am sorry to say that my criteria for choosing are not altogether altruistic in the sense that I tend to choose by design rather than choice of charity. This year, for example I was much taken by a design featuring a shelf of books on winter and Christmas-related topics. Steering clear of anything religious I eschew biblical scenes such as the night sky over a fictitious Bethlehem, camels, three ships or whimsical stables. I also reject ‘humour’ in the form of comical Santas, reindeer or snowmen in cartoon poses. I don’t like glittery snow scenes either.

It must be tricky for card designers to produce originality nowadays. Old masters are acceptable, as is anything well drawn or a stunning piece of photography.

With a few exceptions the writing of Christmas cards is not a task I enjoy. The exceptions are the cards for people with whom I have little contact apart from this. There is a friend from student days, a friend from single-dom days [whose card, by tradition must be from one ‘Archers’ character to another; this year it was from Lilian to Justin-a story line only die-hard Archers fans will understand].

In an unprecedented effort, this year’s cards were written early in the month. This was in order to apprise those of a Luddite nature that we have moved house. There are few of them, now-friends and relations who do not use email, let alone social media.

As we begin to receive cards it is clear that the early writing formula has succeeded, with cards from the ‘once-a-year’ contacts plus a smattering of cards from our neighbours. Notable among these is a ‘home-made’ card from the single gentleman at number 2. He has already done sterling service as the basis for the character, Jeffery Marsh in my story ‘The Courtyard Pest’ [see last month’s posts for the story] and has much more potential for creative fact and fiction. The card, in a large manila envelope is shoved through our letter box. An autumn leaf has been glued on to a piece of gold card-clearly recycled from some packaging, although one corner of the card is missing as if torn off. There is some hastily scrawled writing ‘Happy Xmas’ in red, replicated as Happy New Year inside. Has he taken irony to an unprecedented level? We can only hope…

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There’s No Place Like Home…

So after a five week trip we were home. I’d looked forward to returning. I always do. I am always eager to see how the garden has junglified, what’s in the post, how everything looks.

After a concentrated and manic unpacking of the van, a small assault on the laundry mountain and a cup of tea we set upon the post. A bundle of foot-stool height letters yielded precisely 4 items as follows:

  • One communication from the bank regarding my granddaughter’s savings account
  • One communication from the bank regarding ‘changes to regulations’
  • One communication from the health service regarding national bowel cancer screening [largely irrelevant for reasons followers of this blog already know]
  • Several, scruffy, hand-delivered communications from ‘Keith-yer-tenant’

The bubble of anticipation that accompanied our return began to ebb. ‘Keith-yer-tenant’ [not his real name any more than Grace Lessageing is mine, although this rendering of it does contain elements of how he announces himself every telephone call he makes to advise us of a problem] and his partner are occupants of a small flat we rent out and have been our tenants for a number of years. During those years their tenancy has weathered some initial teething troubles, such as breeching the tenancy agreement, deciding he would prefer to pay rent weekly rather than monthly and ringing up to request changes of light bulb, help to solve the problem of the bathroom floor being wet after bathing, to express astonishment at learning that soaking in vinegar will clean a shower head and to claim forty nine pence for a tin of soup whose label got wet inside a cupboard.

This time Keith-yer-tenant has opted to punish us for having the audacity to be away by presenting us with receipts for items he has had to replace and inform us that he has deducted the cost of said items from his rent. We were just a little confused by the price of £2.50-which seems somewhat steep for a 13 amp fuse, but then remembered that he must have supplemented the price with some compensation for the shoe leather involved in going to purchase the fuse plus the trauma of having to a] suffer the inconvenience of the malfunction caused by a fuse blowing and b] having to actually replace it.

Still it should be acknowledged that Keith-yer-tenant has made a real effort to solve a problem all by himself, rather than seek assistance from Steve, the handy plumber neighbour we have asked to be on call while we are away. That K-y-t is not over fond of Steve is not something we can address. Steve is charming and accommodating and has changed K-y-t’s light bulbs on several occasions.

K-y-t is by no means the most problematic of renters I’ve encountered. I began by letting rooms in a previous life, when a newly single mum in my forties with a mortgage and a decrepit hovel to renovate. The antics of one or two lodgers are immortalised in my debut novel, ‘The Year of Familiar Strangers’ [available from Amazon].

Fiction Month 2014

It is November. Welcome to Fiction Month on Anecdotage. This week’s post features Part 1 of ‘The Woman from the Baker’s’, a short story from my portfolio. Any critique or comments will be most gratefully received, although it is my hope that readers will follow through to the denouement!
Margaret from the Baker’s
I was even later than usual last night. I take my time getting home, dawdling, unlike setting out in the mornings, when I rush off like a rat up a drainpipe, to use one of dad’s expressions. It’s not that I’m ever late. It’s that my workplace, well, that’s my favourite place in the world. I can never wait to get there. I love everything about it, from the warm, homely smell of the fresh baked bread, to the cackling laughter of my two workmates, Pam and Vi; from the noisy bustle and jangling shop bell to the colourful rows of regimented doughnuts and cherry Bakewells standing to attention in sugary limbo until bagged and ready for action.
Like I said, I was a bit late and as soon as I stepped into the porch I could tell he was rattled, as normally he calls out to me.
“Is that you Margaret?” he will say, which is daft for a start, because who else is it going to be?
If the BBC news at six begins in my absence my dad has no one to share his disgust and outrage with, no one to acquiesce to his views, nod in conformity and admire the wisdom of his analysis. I put on my cheeriest smile before opening the living room door.
“Alright, Dad?” I asked him, realising, of course, that he wouldn’t be. He was scowling at the TV set, a bitter cloud of resentment hanging around his Parker Knoll armchair.
“Why are you so late?” he growled, still fixed on the screen.
“We were short of a few things, so I stopped off at Palmers. I’m getting your tea now. A bit of fish do you tonight?”
Ducking into the kitchen before hearing the inevitable moan I grabbed an apron and began peeling potatoes. I couldn’t explain to Dad what had delayed my homecoming, because he’d be bewildered that the allure of the travel agent’s window could be more powerful than the contents of the six o’clock news, especially when accompanied by his own, insightful comments. Those advertised destinations stir me with their exotic promise; their glamorous names resonate in my mind: Goa, Madeira, Indonesia, Bali, Madagascar. Whilst there is no question that I will ever journey beyond the boundaries of this country I am at heart a traveller, voyaging wherever a travel guide, a brochure, my armchair or my dreams transport me.
An urgent ring of the telephone jerked me from my reverie, so that I dropped the peeler into the saucepan to answer it.
“Hello Margaret. How are you? Is Dad there?”
As usual I noted the lack of pause between enquiry into my wellbeing and the unnecessary query as to Dad’s whereabouts. I took the phone through, mouthing ‘Frank’ as I passed it to him. From the kitchen where I’d resumed supper duties I could hear my father pontificating on the failings of this government and the dreadful consequences of not reintroducing National Service. When I returned to retrieve the handset I was surprised to learn that my brother was still on the line, wishing to speak to me, an occurrence likely to contribute further to Dad’s displeasure.
“Yes Frank. What’s up?”

To be continued…

Failures-of Course.

Aside

                For an inexplicable reason which I now fail to recall, I considered, a few months ago, that it would be an inspirational idea to undertake a creative writing course. Of course, anyone who reads Anecdotage regularly will by now be scoffing and sniggering, since they will have acknowledged the necessity for my doing it from the first, but still…

                Above all, the timing could hardly be worse. We seem to be in the throes of a period of mad activity; a deluge of family, home, health and socially related issues.

                This is an online course. Week one arrived to the inbox. ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ was my approach, as I polished shoes, buffed nails, attended the salon and hoovered the carpets.

                During a five minute lull, in between making up beds and cooking lasagne I read one or two pieces of information and watched a couple of videos. Hooray! ‘This will be simple’ I thought.

                I resumed pre house guest preparations with a light[ish] step, given that, as I elaborated in a previous post, I am crippled with annoying foot disease. I mowed the lawn; de-gunked the lavatory. I found time to log back in. I completed a couple of quizzes, even successfully! It would be a slab of creamy gateau to complete this course!

                ‘Whoa! What was this? I had to write something?’ I logged out in disgust and went to scrub the bath and shine the shower screen. I had to keep a notebook.

                I am not against the idea of keeping a notebook, of course. It has been my ambition to keep one ever since setting out on the bumpy journey that is writing. My writing idol, Donna Tartt keeps one. It’s just that proponents of the notebook idea make it seem easy. ‘Take it with you wherever you go!’ they suggest. ‘On the bus, in the café, on the train, in the laundrette, whilst out for a walk…’ OK. How do I write notes whilst driving, in a café with Husband or Offspring, whilst our laundry is whirling in the kitchen or while cycling? [walking has been a no-no for some time].

                Worse-I had to write a paragraph. It must contain three fictions and one fact. For an inveterate liar such as myself, the fictions presented little problem. The fact was I was unable to conjure one single idea. Time was spiralling away down the week’s plughole with an ever louder gurgle. The weekend came-and went. Monday arrived and with it…Week Two. Horrors! The first week had passed without my submission so much as forming an amorphous cloud inside my head.

                On Monday I risked a cursory glance at others’ submissions, where hundreds of paragraphs scrolled down in an interminable roll. In a fever of humiliation I added my short, hasty contribution; an excuse for a piece of writing. I was not the only miscreant. Others had also missed the deadline.

                The end of Week Two is now starting to appear upon the horizon with an inevitability as stark as my enthusiastic intentions. Would that the course was good old paper and post-then at least the dog could have eaten my homework…

                I will keep you posted.

How not to Succeed in the Job Market

                I was surprised when Offspring requested that I look through her application for temporary work. This is because I am the least qualified adult on the entire globe to be able to make a judgement on such matters, since my track record on achieving interviews, let alone the resulting positions, is virtually nil.

                I do remember my first, halting steps into the world of work. My first position, whilst still a schoolgirl was as a Saturday girl working as a shop assistant in a toy shop, obtained for me by a friend who was well established there. The manager, a small, bald, bespectacled man was at a loss to know what to do with us, as we were in a constant state of excited hilarity, creeping downstairs from our lunch breaks to wind things up and set them off across the floor, or executing hopeless addition and calculation of change, or attempting to distract each other whilst serving-all very puerile and immature [which we were]. Eventually I was sacked.

                I was able to obtain work easily as a college student, by being prepared to do [almost] anything at all, including cleaning the local hospital or packing soup powder, [a night shift, and more hilarity as we dysfunctional students were all put at machines together].

                When the serious task of snatching a teaching post came up I had to scrub up and set off looking eager, trudging first to Croydon, where I did my best to appear confident and succeeded only in provoking the interviewer into asking me if I ‘really wanted the job’. Then to County Hall, London, where a representative of the Inner London Education Authority’s only question was ‘are you staying on for a fourth year?’ When I responded in the negative he said, ‘Right, we’ll put you down for Lambeth’. Job done. I was employed.

                Later, as I moved through life and around the country my applications were never a resounding success and such interviews as I was able to get never went swimmingly.

                No, all the teaching jobs I ever had were got from doing them already. I would do a casual day or two then get asked to stay on, then on for the rest of the term, then would I consider becoming a permanent member of staff. When I needed to move on the entire process would begin again, with my useless applications and my boundless talent for failing at interviews. The only successful interview of the latter years was for a temporary job, for which I had been, not only the solitary applicant but the sole interviewee. Of course my self esteem might have been a little dented had I failed-and sure enough, once I was doing the job I was offered the permanency.

                So no, I am no expert on applications and interviews. But I comfort myself that I can’t be all that bad at working…can I?

Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!

                Whilst there is an increasing distance of years between my [proper] working life and retirement, there are still situations and occurrences that remind me of it. My last years were as a first school teacher. Seven year olds. Children of this age and younger retain an egocentric personality. They want attention. They crave praise. They want to stand out, be heard. What they patently do not want is to be ignored, especially by the adults charged with their care. The skill of an infant teacher lies, principally in managing to give each and every one of the children in their care the conviction that they are infinitely special and unique-which of course, they are.

                And what is it about adult life that reminds me of this? It is Facebook behaviour. Why? Because without exception, every post you read, watch, appreciate, scoff at has been displayed for the purpose of nurturing the ‘friend’s’ ego.

                I once shared an enormous classroom area with another teacher. There were, at any time, between sixty and seventy small children in this area, all clamouring for attention, for their shrill, little voices to be heard. As teachers we learned to capitalise on this desire for attention; we harnessed it. We used it to enhance experience. We facilitated ‘speaking and listening’ sessions. In those days we simply called it ‘sharing’. Of course there were very many tots and only a limited slot available. It was over-subscribed. Certain confident, precocious, verbose children dominated the session. My teacher partner conceived the brilliant idea of issuing ‘sharing’ tickets, like library tickets, that, once used could not be re-issued until every child had had a turn…Naturally there were, besides those who monopolised the session, some who never uttered, who had to be coaxed and cajoled into issuing a few words.

                On Facebook everyone [I do not except myself from this] wants attention. There are some who feel moved to offer up every nano-moment of their day, from what they’re cooking for dinner to what they can see from their window. There are those who feel the need to change their profile picture with monotonous frequency and elicit a gushing flow of complimentary comments. There are those like myself who post up album after album of snaps, [although I do try to keep them to a modest number-nobody is going to plough through 200 photos, wherever you’ve been]. And there are those who, in the absence of any pearls of wisdom to impart rake up quotes and sayings to share, often accompanied by pictures-flowers, baby animals, rainbows. These missives litter the screen like the pavement outside MacDonalds.

                The fact is, just like a class of small children, everyone wants to talk but nobody really wants to listen. Social networking? More ‘personal broadcasting’ perhaps?