Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

NZ Xch

Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

NZ ducks

The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.

 

 

 

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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.

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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Will we Stay or Will we Go?

So-this is the week. We are to discover if we will stay or not. We have very little control over what will happen, a state that leaves us feeling powerless, impotent and often frustrated. There is too much information or there is not enough. The information is poor quality and we have no idea what to believe of what we hear. Will we be moving? Or will we be staying? We have waited sixteen weeks to find out if we’ll be moving house…

I remember the first EU referendum in 1975. I was barely out in the world of work and grappling with juggling first job, first live-together relationship and first home, none of which endured much longer than two years. With little information or experience I voted not to join, based, I recall on the fact that the price of butter had gone up.

This time of course we are bombarded from both sides with ranting, supposed statistics and naked self-advancement dressed in thinly veiled national fervour. ‘All you need to know’ is broadcast every day in every facet of the media. ‘Facts’ are paraded as if they are true. Debates are held in a constant stream on all channels, Everywoman leaping to her feet to declare her opinion; Everyman springing up to shout her down.

And this is the problem. Exacerbated by the tabloid press, ‘debates’ whipped up into a frenzy by shouting, screeching, pointing members of the public and raft upon raft of dodgy statistics and made up facts, the entire situation has become a hate-fest; an excuse to vent negative feelings and exploit bitter sentiments. Some of it is disguised with ‘reclaiming Britain’ as if the UK had somehow floated away from its inhabitants and some of it is just streams of invective. Most is aimed at immigration so that you are left thinking that people from countries other than ours can enter but we cannot leave. Not so. 1.3 million British people live abroad in Europe, most in Spain, which houses very many retirees. They are not working and contribute little to the Spanish economy except in purchases of alcohol [this I have seen for myself]. Should Spain kick out these layabout pensioners?

Now that the ugliness of the campaign has become beyond hideous with the murder of a young, talented Member of Parliament we can only hope that those pedalling inflammatory, bombastic rhetoric will temper their rantings into something more rational and reasonably argued. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But you have only to look at social media to see that the ‘hate immigrant’ campaign has opened the door to right-wing organisations; organisations whose misplaced fervour appeals to loners, misfits and those with mental health issues. The killer of Jo Cox was one such individual. Let’s hope he’s the last.

 

The Dark Screen of Ignorance

You have to chuckle at some journalist’s ideas of we older folks. They consider us to be bumbling techno-phobes who cannot fathom the mysteries of computer-thingies or cope with new-fangled technologies such as mobile phones. ‘Older people’ are often cited in articles or programmes about how portions of society are ‘missing out’ owing to their circumstances. Their bills are higher for not being on line; their inability to surf leaves them stuck with High Street offerings.

It is true, however that there are still substantial numbers of people who, whilst having some access to computers via libraries and so on continue to be stuck in a time warp where developing technology is concerned. I hope some members of my lovely writing group will forgive me when I say that communication has become tricky without the facility of email and that access to information, sharing of work and ideas has never been easier than it is in this age of the internet.

Take social networking. Since Facebook became, much to the annoyance of the young, mainstream, many of my peers adopted it, irritating the young to a point where they all left in disgust. Those who didn’t cited worries over security, concerns over boring content or fears that it is somehow irrelevant or not intellectually challenging enough as reasons. Of course all of these things are true to an extent, however facilities exist to eliminate them. You adjust the settings on security, you scroll past the boring or the mundane. A great deal of the sniping over social media, I feel is fear disguised as snobbery. Who wants to be caught looking at a friend’s holiday snaps? It might make you appear to be interested. Horrors!

Keeping up with developing technology is tricky. As soon as we grasped the fundamentals of email and Google there were Smartphones and apps to deal with. ‘Don’t you Skype?’ ‘Don’t you do Instagram?’ ‘Don’t you use Dropbox?’ The relentless inundation of innovation can leave you flailing with inadequacy; but rather than shrinking in horror at the idea of adopting new technological developments we need to try and apply our ageing brain cells to it.

Of course all this is very well when your children are on hand to assist. Once they have flown the coop though you may find yourself adrift as I did yesterday, making a nail-biting trip to PC World and steeling myself for the fifty pounds fee to repair my laptop, which stubbornly refused to illuminate its screen when unplugged. The cheerful assistant offered me a jaunty smile as he pressed a button on the keyboard, restoring light to the screen. Little wonder-he can dine out [if his PC World salary allows] on the tale of the geriatric ignoramus.

Facebook: Friend, Foe or Farce?

Have Facebook and Twitter changed the definition of friendship? And have they altered the way we view and approach friendship?

A quick look at some of your Facebook friends’ friend lists will reveal that some have literally hundreds of ‘friends’. How many of these would have been termed friends before the advent of social media? Before the likes of Facebook a friend would have been someone you met up with, if not frequently then on some kind of regular basis. Even the couple you met while on holiday in Gran Canaria would only be your friends if you maintained face to face contact with physical visits or repeat holidays. Unless you’d exchanged addresses and phone numbers the holiday friendship would disappear into the photograph album along with the memories.

Is it some kind of competition? As in, “I have five hundred friends and you have six, therefore I am infinitely more popular and a social butterfly whereas you are a sad, lonely individual”.

Is there a need for a new set of rules, an etiquette for social media sites? I’m wondering because besides the well documented episodes of Facebook bullying there is a boulder-strewn precipice of a path to negotiate where social media friendship is concerned.

What should you do if invited to become a friend by someone to whom you do not wish to expose your life? And what of those to whom you’ve extended ‘friend’ invitations and have received no response? I must confess here, reader that I have experienced both these occurrences during my few years of Facebook. Does the pleasure of ‘friend’ acceptance outweigh the pain of ignorance? It is worthwhile considering, here, the nature of the friendship-if the ignoring ‘friend’ is from a mere, fleeting holiday encounter it can be dismissed. If, however it is your childhood best buddy, the inseparable companion you grew up with, shared your innermost secrets with, laughed and cried with, it is understandable to feel a degree of rejection. But it is worth remembering that these names on the screen are not really real friendships; they are mere digital contacts.

Among my own friends, old and new, a number do not participate at all in social media. Their reasons vary from ‘not knowing how to use it’ to ‘it’s boring’. There is an element of truth to the second complaint, in that we all have FB contacts who spew out the minutiae of their daily lives like effluent, although I point out to those who criticise that there are ways to avoid seeing tedious posts [eg turning them off or scrolling past them]. And unlike many, I do enjoy seeing photos of the places others visit-I may well want to visit those places myself.

So are social media sites overall a good thing? I’d say yes, providing you treat them as the shallow, cursory level of contact they are. But Facebook friends are not a substitute for real, talking, moving, laughing, gesticulating, sharing-experiences people.

Is the art of conversation dead? Discuss!

                No one can dispute that the way we communicate is changing. You don’t need to leave the house to know it. Our homes are full of screens of various types. Unless you live in the Amazon rainforest or a village in Papua New Guinea you will have access to some means of electronic communication-and even then I don’t doubt that whilst they are celebrating their hunting trips, dancing around a totem pole and performing gruesome initiation rites the younger members of these jungle communities will be texting or playing ‘Angry Birds’.

                Science and technology forecasters assure us that in the future almost everything will be a screen; smart fridges, washing machines…even our clothing. We’ll be able to shrug on our Mulberry raincoat, walk to the bus stop and text onto the pocket as we go, or talk to the collar…or just talk. We are already used to seeing people walking along gibbering animatedly. Once upon a time they’d have been thought to have been a little strange and you might have crossed the street to avoid them. Now though, they will be talking to someone else; imparting valuable gems of information such as ‘I’m in the supermarket’ or ‘I’m on the bus’.

                But what, in the midst of all this wonderful development, is happening to conversation? And what is happening to social interaction? Many [I suspect younger] folks consider screen based communication a boon. I do myself. I do the Facebook thing. I email. I text. I rarely chat on the telephone. There is one peculiarity, however that I exhibit that draws pitying looks or exclamations of amusement. I do own a smartphone, but I keep it turned off. Yes! I know how strange this is. What if someone texts me, or sends me an email, or posts something new on to Facebook? What will I do? Well the answer, reader is that I will see all these vital snippets of news or information later-when I switch the thing on [which I do, in an idle moment, about once each day].

                Am I alone in considering it antisocial to be staring at a screen in the company of others? It is an increasingly common sight-a group of individuals seated around a table at a pub or in a restaurant, all staring down at their phones. Why did they come out together? And what are they doing? Reading texts? Watching ‘Youtube’? To me this is like ignoring the person next to you at a dinner table to speak to someone at the other end. Are they playing games? Why?

                I’m predicting that within a couple of years whatever government is in will be hurrying in emergency initiatives to combat lack of speech in children, and dictating that the art of conversation be taught in schools-beginning, perhaps with teaching ‘eye-contact’ skills in Key Stage One.

                Or maybe it doesn’t matter if no one speaks to anyone else face to face in the future. Kay sera sera.