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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Always Laugh when you can-[Lord Byron]

Laughter, it is said is good for our health. There are also studies that show that sense of humour declines as we age [http://www.belmarrahealth.com/why-your-sense-of-humor-fades-the-older-you-get/].

During a recent programme on the radio a psychologist explained that laughter is fundamentally a means of communication that demonstrates a connection between people. It is true that once you are with someone like minded who shares your sense of humour there is an escalation effect. Years ago [in working life] I attended a drama course which required us to pair up for some activities. Whilst I’d never met my ‘partner’ before she and I became helpless with mirth within moments and continued in this vein for the remainder of the day, no doubt irritating the pants off the course leader.

While I understand the communication element there are plenty of times when I’ve laughed whilst alone. What does this signify? On occasions a book will make me laugh out loud. A particular sequence in a novel called ‘Are You Experienced?’ by William Sutcliffe had this effect on several of us as we underwent a group tour in India. The narrative describes a Bollywood movie showing on a bus and provoked me to tears of hilarity. I am also addicted to YouTube videos of funny animals-one of my favourites a compilation that includes a hen riding on a broom as it is utilised and a particular sweep causing her to lay an egg. For me, even watching alone, the comic effect is undimmed by repeated watching!

I could never have become an actor, since corpsing would be my downfall-was my downfall in working life; meetings were a special source of difficulty. I’ve never lost a particular weakness for slapstick and have an unfortunate tendency to dissolve into hysterics during Punch and Judy shows or anything aimed at children, often discovering I’m alone amongst a mainly po-faced audience.

Alcohol and of course, cannabis are well known to loosen inhibitions and elicit laughter. Years ago at a party I realised too late that I’d over-indulged and was lolling on the host’s lawn convulsed with a fellow reveller when I heard someone nearby asking what their companion would like to drink. ‘Whatever they’re having’ was the reply.

Making comedy is hard. Only comic genius can provoke mirth without seeming contrived. We all have our favourites; ‘Not Only but Also’, ‘Monty Python’ and ‘The Young Ones’ were some of mine, but the sit-com has had its day and many great comedies begin life on the radio. It is all subjective, but big failures for me are manufactured comedy panel games [with the exception of the wonderful ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ and ‘The News Quiz’-both radio offerings] and American rom-coms [my least favourite genre]. In these times of spontaneous video, YouTube and sharing on social networks comedy is becoming more difficult than ever. What is the future of comedy? And what tickles you?

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.

 

Tarring with the same Brush

I’ve just spent a week in foreign parts and I’m more convinced than ever that differing nationalities bear traits that identify them.

Observation of such characteristics is one of the strategies I’ve adopted to assuage some of the more tedious aspects of long-haul travel. On the plane I’m happy enough, these days to adopt the upright, confined posture required to utilise the seat, to pay attention to the cabin crew, to watch the movies, to get up and do my exercises, to mutely wait in line for the unsavoury joys of the lavatory, to eat and drink everything that is offered and hope to sleep.

Off the plane however there is the long, zig-zagging queue in the pens for immigration control, the stinging bark of the customs officers [no-we didn’t know we needed to complete the back of the form] and the customary thrill of waiting to discover if your luggage arrived too.

At the rear of the queue an unseemly stampede erupted as one or two of the tapes marking the lanes became unhitched, prompting severe and hasty action on the part of the officials. The couple immediately behind us [whose nationality shall remain nameless but has a reputation for somewhat self-preserving acts on holiday] spotted a gap and ducked under a tape to skip to the front, upon which stern officials corrected the error and they were returned to their place.

After we’d all shuffled along for what seemed hours [although in reality probably only about 30 minutes], a family with very young children were relieved of the stresses of jollying along two tiny tots after an eight hour flight and were ‘fast-tracked’ through to the front.

At the hotel we entered a jolly mix of races from both sides of the Atlantic [and beyond]. There are loud, garrulous types whose principal ambition is to be best buddy with every member of staff, to feel special and take selfies with all of these new best friends. Their conversations with companions are held publicly in order for others to share. A man at the bar told someone the other side of us enquiring after his holiday he had no complaints and smiled nervously when I said complaints were more interesting.

Meanwhile a gentleman with a keen interest in filming everything panned around the bar, the customers, his tiny son, the entertainment, the beach and the diners with abandon, using his mobile phone as if welded to it.

Then there are we British; reserved. We are polite. We say please and thank you-and sorry. I imagine we are held by most other nationalities to be cold and unfriendly. Our sense of humour can be difficult to spot, acerbic, sarcastic and cynical as it is.

And then one night my conclusions were overturned when we met a charming young couple of New Yorkers who initiated conversation. They were interested, interesting and wonderful company. Mea culpa. One should never generalise…

Laugh and the World Laughs with You?

An old man goes to a church, and is making a confession:Man: “Father, I am 75 years old. I have been married for 50 years. All these years I had been faithful to my wife, but yesterday I was intimate with an 18 year old.” Father: “When was the last time you made a confession?” 

Man: “I never have, I am Jewish.” 

Father: “Then why are telling me all this?”
Man: “I’m telling everybody!”

Is this religious joke offensive? It might be deemed by either Catholics or Jews to be so, although I doubt it-because all of those of Catholic or Jewish faiths that I have ever known have had mature, balanced senses of humour. All of them would be able to enjoy, share or even initiate a joke about their own religion and I believe people of the Jewish faith, particularly are fond of Jewish jokes.

The world has experienced a dispiriting couple of weeks. The ghastly events in France, more grim action in Belgium and Germany.

In Saudi Arabia a perfectly peaceful man who wished to share his views has not only been imprisoned for them but is to publicly flogged every week for months. Again in Saudi Arabia unseasonal snow has led many to commit the sin of having fun by constructing snowmen. The building of snowmen is now forbidden. If you were to read this in a satirical magazine it would be funny, but it isn’t-it’s true.

In Nigeria such horrendous atrocities have been committed in the name of religion that it is difficult to believe humans can have wrought them.

To me, a sense of humour is one of the most basic qualities of humanity. One of the fundamentals that sets us aside from the animal kingdom and makes us recognisable to each other. Aside from crying in order to address its most pressing needs, a baby’s first communication is generally a smile, followed swiftly by laughter.

The ability to be self-deprecating, to not only participate and enjoy in a joke against yourself, your appearance, your age, your gender, your disability or your race but to tell one; this must be one of the most engaging aspects of any personality.

Whatever has happened to the world? Have vast swathes of people had sense of humour amputations? Or has some odd mutation taken place that has resulted in them being born without it?

Nevertheless there are still many brave, balanced, intelligent people prepared to satirise religions, and still some who will joke about their own faith-even Islam.

For myself, I am an atheist. If anyone wishes to joke about atheism I would be delighted. I take my atheism very seriously, but not as seriously as my dedication to humour and to humanity.