Last Laugh of the Laughing Gnome…

What a lot of insincere garbage has been spewed about David Bowie this week! I suppose the press is having an orgasmic moment at the gift his death has given them. We’ve been treated to scenes outside his New York apartment, scenes outside his Brixton flat, scenes outside the place in Berlin where he stayed; what next? Scenes outside a hotel in Llandudno where he might have had a holiday as a child? If he was anywhere now he’d be laughing his multicoloured socks off like he did in that unmentioned-in-the-reports early single, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyQxTWDLZ8o]

We’ve heard how he ‘changed my life’, ‘changed the face of Britain’, ‘changed world politics’. What next? Changed evolution? Changed the climate? –Oh no-that’s managing to change all by itself.

Of course everyone has had to leap onto the grief bandwagon-from the PM to astronaut Tim Peake. Interviews with ‘grieving’ fans have included a vast number who can surely barely have heard of him, having been born in the 90s. ‘You’ve got your own style icons and musical heroes!’ I want to shout, ‘Leave ours alone!’

But who are they, the world famous, ground-breaking musical geniuses of today? I suppose I am as guilty of ignorance regarding current musical talents as my parents would have been about Bowie, but how many of them span the decades as he did? Ed Sheeran? Justin Bieber? Heaven forbid! Sam Smith and Adele may have produced songs for James Bond movies but I doubt their catalogues will endure forty years.

I was a student when Bowie turned out what I consider to be his best albums, ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’. These were the upbeat, optimistic, rocky tunes that I still feel were his best; not for me the introspective, brooding ballads that came later. In truth I am probably just a little too old for him to have been a hero since I had cut my teeth listening to rock and roll and came to student-dom from teenage years as a fringe hippy, already having attended Chicken Shack, ELP, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd concerts. I arrived to my hall of residence with Carole King, Cat Stevens and Tyrannosaurus Rex LPs to play on my Dansette record player. I adored The Rolling Stones and became obsessed by The Faces. Later I did buy my two favourite Bowie albums, but only these.

Glam rock was already underway by the time Bowie reached a pinnacle. We all bought into it with platform boots, satin shirts and colourful ‘loon pants’, much to the bewilderment of our parents, a generation who were scandalised daily by the appearance, behaviour and culture of the young. Little did they know that Punk was just around the corner and was about to erupt in a grungy rash of piercings, abusive language, noise, snot and vomit.

Now there is too much horror in the news for anyone to be shocked by the culture of youth. Perhaps that’s why music, fashion and popular culture has become so commercial and sanitised? Or is it simply that there is nothing new under the sun? Ho hum…

 

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Who’s Volunteering to Die Before they Get Old?

‘Hope I die before I get old’ sang The Who’s Roger Daltrey in 1965, belting out the lyrics to ‘My Generation’ like he really meant them. ‘Why don’t y’all f-f-fade away?’ he queried, the rhetorical question snarled from his lips, curled in a sneer-a provocative, taunting line in a song that celebrated youth as being the only tolerable state.

Tousle-haired Rog was twenty one when ‘My Generation’ was released. Now he is pushing seventy. He has retained a lithe, nimble appearance but is bespectacled, greyish, ‘good for his age’. You have to wonder what he feels now about the song which reached number 2 in the UK chart [their highest charting single].

In one of my first blog posts I wrote about the next generation’s anger at us, the ‘baby-boomers’ for hogging all the money, having houses and retirements, getting free education and generally acting like evil rip-off merchants.

And what is more, now we have had the audacity not to die before we got old. We are hanging about, growing ancient-still living in our too-big houses, using too much of the health and other services, having bus passes, dithering in cars, getting prescriptions free, clogging up cruise ships, taking too long fumbling at cash machines, telling the same stories over and over-and telling the same stories [you get the image] and generally being a nuisance. We obstinately refuse to croak and release our easily gotten gains to our progeny.

Idly watching an election talk programme involving pensioners I listened to an eighty two year old saying how tired he was of feeling he was a nuisance.

The fact is, life expectancy is climbing. Perhaps many of us felt like Rog when we were twenty. I don’t remember. When you are twenty old age seems an impossibility; a state that only others attain. But we are all programmed to cling on to life, so unless there are specific conditions such as chronic, debilitating, life debasing illness we feel less inclined to ‘die before we get old’ as we age. We can cope with dodgy knees, failing eyesight and deafness as long as life continues to be better than the alternative. There was a delightful news item only this morning about a 103 year old and a 92 year old who are planning their wedding.

A recent article in The Guardian newspaper suggested that sixty should now be considered middle-aged [http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2004/aug/01/features.review37]. The writer makes a good case. As we age we often push the boundary of what we consider to be the middle years.

And just as new parents begin to reflect on how annoying/frustrating/expensive/ exasperating/uncommunicative/rude/faddy and tiresome their offspring are capable of being, everyone discovers, on their way through life that no, they have no wish to terminate, to step into the void, thank you very much.

On being Granny

Aside

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A little over a year ago I wrote a post entitled ‘It’s not that we’re not Interested, but…’ There it is still-March 3rd, 2013, a slight rant about the way people eulogise over their children and worse, their grandchildren. I hope I made it clear enough that this is not a grudge or a phobia regarding children themselves. Indeed, I have been fortunate to have two children of whom I am in awe regarding their achievements. They have made it to respectable adulthood and [almost] gainful employment. I am duly proud and delighted to know them.

In addition to all this, I made my living from attempting to stuff skills and knowledge into the little sponge-like brains of numerous children from the seventies to the noughties, so I am not in any kind of position to harbour a hatred of the young. I somehow gained a reputation for cynicism during those years-more a reaction to new initiatives than to the bright and bushy tailed little ones in my care.

I have also now become a fully paid up member of the grandparent club. As a granny I am as doting, besotted, amazed and devoted to my granddaughter as any grandparent anywhere. She is, of course the most beautiful, talented, cute, lovely and intelligent being that ever appeared on the Earth, just as all the other grandchildren are. But the wonderful event that was her birth was actually six months ago and I have refrained, until now from pontificating on the joys of her existence. Why? Because, reader, I don’t wish to become a hypocrite on the matter of grandparentage, having made my opinions on the matter clear in March 2013. I simply don’t want to morph into a drooling baby-bore, starting every conversation in a desperate bid to lead it onto the subject of my progeny. They can speak for themselves [or will in the case of GD].

What I do feel, however is some concern in respect of the world she is to grow up into and the fact that all the problems it has faced in the past remain with the addition of extra difficulties such as climate change. She will need to be intelligent, sociable, knowledgeable and educated to deal with the challenges of the future and luckily is getting ahead already. She is lucky. She is born to educated, loving parents and getting the best start anyone could wish for.

I hope I can be the kind of granny she will remember with fondness. I am excited to think of all the activities we will be able to do together as she grows. I wish for her to grow up with a respect for the environment, a love of nature and tolerance and friendship towards fellow humans of any nationality, religion and philosophy.

That’s all I’m going to write about the personal side of being a grandparent. Her achievements will not be mine. Got to be true to my principles!

Spring Chickens and Tough Old Boilers

                Some years ago I was invited to a hen party as a colleague of the bride-to-be. In recent times, hen ‘dos’ have become more elaborate affairs, as have stag parties. They often consist of an entire weekend of activities-even, as in the case of one of our neighbours, a whole holiday of sailing around the Greek islands. For women there will often be some kind of ‘pampering’ like nails, massage or facials, followed  by something more active, such as ballet, followed by cocktails, followed by a meal, followed by getting extremely drunk going clubbing and tottering around on spindly heels/falling over/throwing up/stripping off/lying in the gutter and generally having a great time. The whole of this may be undertaken in some kind of themed fancy dress, or simply the tartiest get-up that can be assembled.

                For a number of reasons I consider rites of passage such as these to be the realm of the young. If you are of more mature years and get invited the best policy is to select the part that is most appropriate [in the aforementioned case it was the cocktail and the meal]. As the meal drew to a close, the two of us who had opted out of the clubbing part waved their taxis off with a shared sigh of relief. I must add that not all the older women had opted out of clubbing-indeed one or two threw themselves into both the late night revelries and the taxis with an excited anticipation that appeared a little incongruous alongside their younger companions; still, no matter.

                Subsequent feedback during coffee with one of the [thirty something] married revellers of that night only served to reinforce my theory. Had she had a good time? ‘It was ok’, she replied. ‘but you know-however young, fashion conscious and fit you may be, there is always going to be someone younger, more fashionable and fit than you are’. This, I might add was from a beautiful, intelligent and witty young woman. No surprise then that she has risen up the career with meteoric speed.

                It is currently Red Carpet Season. Consider the likes of Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. They are held up as shining examples of older women who are ‘still gorgeous’-and yes, they are, though the unspoken phrase ‘for their age’ lurks in the background of the chatter column like an eavesdropper.

                So what are we ancient crones to do? The answer, I feel is to do nothing. We can continue to scrub up the best we can for the sake of our own dignity. We can be good conversationalists, good listeners, constant learners, entertaining, interesting, interested, fun, witty, wise, creative. But we cannot, and should not attempt to compete in the sexual arena, for there will always, always be younger, lovelier beings; such is life.

Nudity Laid Bare

                In the developed world the cult of worship of lean, youthful, beautiful bodies continues. The evidence is everywhere-on posters, adverts, TV, internet and on the street. Here in France there is a move to ban child beauty pageants, a move all our countries should be making. We should not be soaking our children in the idea that looks are the most valuable, the most important quality they can possess, neither should we be ‘hyper-sexualising’ them [to quote the French minister responsible for the action].

                Yet here in France, nudity is not only acceptable, but positively celebrated. I’d like to say that on the many naturist beaches, camp sites and resorts that exist in France the nudity is natural, innocent and innocuous, but when we’ve encountered them, traversing them during bike rides or walks [it is difficult not to in some areas], you cannot help but suspect there is an element of ‘display’ to the exposure. It is tricky, as a clothed person, not to look, when crossing a beach where everyone is unclothed. This is no discreet sunbathing amongst the sand dunes. Many [men especially] stand in the sea or at a vantage point, as much to be seen as to see.

                I was a teenager of the sixties and a young woman of the seventies, when hippie-dom, flower power and ‘free love’ were the mantra we all followed. In this era of what our elders termed the permissive society we became unleashed from the previous generation’s prudish attitudes. At music festivals kids frolicked naked in the mud, made love not war; anything went. There was an innocence to this behaviour. Then there was AIDS, conservatism, an end to free university education and ultimately the big recession.

                It is always said that in an era of boom hemlines rise, then plunge when times are tight. Nudity these days is not the innocent muddy frolicking of the early seventies, but a cynical exploitation seen in music videos or advertising. Outside of the media there has been a return, even on UK beaches, to the wearing of clothes, no ‘topless’ sunbathing, longer swimming shorts, more of what my mother, who was constantly shocked by the notion of ‘free love’ and all that accompanied it,  would have termed ‘modesty’. In the USA there has always been a more conservative approach to beach wear, ‘topless’ in my experience of US beaches, being against the law.

                Years ago I accompanied two friends on a 48 hour trip to Dieppe, the idea being to have a look round and collect some spoils from the supermarché. It was a warm day. We sat on the pebbly beach with ice creams. A large group of mixed middle aged singles and couples appeared and trudged down to the water’s edge, where they stripped off without the need for towels for concealment and donned swimwear. This was all undertaken without a scrap of self consciousness or awareness of anyone’s eyes. They then plunged into the sea as if no one else was there, simply to enjoy the swim; refreshing in more ways than one…