Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chickens and eggs.

Have just got to the part in the new "Harry Potter" book where Dobby, the house elf, has been killed. He was an unlikely hero, but he actually saved Harry's life and sacrificed his own. It really made me sad - I remembered how grateful Dobby was to Harry when he was freed. What a wonderful and complete world J.K.Rowling has created. I have loved the stories, the characters and the films from the start, and the fact that the books are so fat is great. It's like being given a huge and delicious cake - you want to eat it but you can't manage it all at once. The trouble is, I only seem to have time to read when I go to bed, so it's never very long before my eyes start closing and I have to put the book down. Consequently it is taking me ages to get through this latest one. And I still haven't been to see the latest film. I must do better.

I spoke to Grandson this morning on the phone. He and Daughter are on the Isle of Wight having a holiday with the boyfriend and his daughter, at Nanny Daisy's house. This sounds like a lot of fun, because she lives in a cottage with a big garden, and keeps chickens. So the children collect the eggs every morning and have been doing things like baking cakes and feeding the chickens, as well as going to the beach and to the circus. I heard the cockerel crowing over the phone this morning. He was very loud, and Grandson was imitating him, so it was double bubble.

I wanted to phone Son this morning, but am aware that he has been having a very trying time, what with the move and sleeping on the floor surrounded by boxes and black bin liners. Apparently their friends' furniture arrived yesterday, so they now have actual beds to sleep in. I feel both responsible and guilty somehow, because I have not been able to move mountains and sort out his flat sale. This particular mountain has been a very slippery customer to handle - sorry about the mixed metaphors - but it has kept sliding out of my grasp every time I thought I had it
sorted. I enlisted the help of my Feng Shui guru a couple of months ago, and that did seem to help. He gave us a 'goodbye ritual' to observe, and various things to do, one of which was to roll up a set of the flat details, tie them with a red ribbon, and throw them off the end of the Pier when the tide was going out. Heaven knows what the onlookers must have thought, but I didn't care. If it was guaranteed to work, I would strip naked and run through the streets of Brighton - well perhaps not naked, but you know what I mean...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Precious Children.

I was reminded this morning, while listening to Womans Hour, about late pregnancy and testing for Down's Syndrome. As I was an 'elderly primagravida', I had two amniocentesis tests at 16 weeks, one for each child, and was sure that it was the right thing to do. I just knew that I would not be the kind of mother who could sacrifice everything for a disabled child - at least I thought so at the time. Of course then I was in what I believed to be an absolutely secure, loving relationship. As it turned out, I was left on my own to bring up two children anyway, but at least they were (thank God) sound of mind and strong of body. The decision as to whether to terminate a pregnancy didn't actually present itself - but I was reasonably sure that we would have made that decision. Now, if I look at Son and Daughter and think that they might have been considered damaged or "unnacceptable", it's quite unthinkable that we might have ended either of their lives.

I have an old friend who decided against the amniocentesis test when she was also considered an 'elderly primagravida'. The decision was made on financial grounds,
which I found quite extraordinary. They, the then couple, were unhappy about paying for a private test, and weren't offered it on the National Health because she was borderline (35 I think). Of course, it turned out that her baby did have Down's Syndrome. Sod's Law. And they decided that they couldn't cope with such a burden, so the baby was sent for adoption. They went on to have another baby, a healthy boy, but never told him that he had a living sister who was disabled. The marriage foundered, of course, but the son, now in his twenties, doesn't know to this day that he has a sister somewhere. Just another of life's little tragedies.

My precious Daughter and Grandson are on holiday this week on the Isle of Wight. It's strange not seeing them every day, but something I have to get used to because they will soon be moving on, leaving Brighton and getting on with their own lives. This means that I will have all the time in the world to walk, cycle, write, read and paint - all the things I was looking forward to doing before they landed on my doorstep nearly three years ago. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." And somehow, I know that 'life' will be much quieter and rather lonely without that little boy running towards me, arms outstretched, shouting "Nana"...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Such a Perfect Day.

Oh God, another Bank Holiday. Yesterday, Sunday, wasn't too bad because I went to a Car Boot sale in the morning, with Gay Friend. It was a lovely morning, warm and sunny. GF phoned me at about 9am to say that he would like to come with me, but that he was very hung over and needed to be picked up. Fine, so I did. He came out of his flat in shorts and a very battered Panama hat, carrying a large plate on which was one piece of buttered toast, one boiled egg (peeled) and one piece of toast and honey. Eccentric or what? Then he sat comfortably, while I drove, and ate his breakfast. We both felt better for that.

At the Car Boot we found some wonderful bargains. I picked up two lovely, large blue and white spotted teacups with saucers (the sort you dip your croissant into), a wooden shoe-rack, a heavy wooden cutting board with a handle, two blue and white delft pattern bowls for Son, an asparagus cooker (without basket) and another butter dish for Daughter (the last one was smashed by a falling plate). I spent £5, so that was very good value. GF bought a vintage Harvey Nicks black sequinned dress for 20p, a piece of vintage fabric for another 20p, various other bits and pieces and a terrific working Lightbox for £15. We were well pleased with our purchases and came back to sit and gloat and drink coffee on my balcony.

Later, a couple who are friends of GF came to stay here as B & B guests for the night. They turned up with two other women friends, all dressed to kill (and made up to kill), and made me rather long for my London days, when I did the same. (I mean a heterosexual couple; the husband, of course, was not made up - being rather more frog than prince-looking.) After I had settled them in, I went off to a barbecue with friends, taking some Damson Cheese I had made, some Dolcelatte, and some bread to go with it. Rather a good combination. It was a lovely late summer evening, with good company, good food and soft rose wine.

This morning I got up to cook breakfast for my guests, only to discover that the husband was not feeling well; he had had a really bad toothache last night, and was still in a lot of pain. So breakfast was not a great success. I had to whizz off and pick up Hon. Grand-daughter, so couldn't stop to commiserate. I cycled off, towel and cosie at the ready, and we had a lovely day. It was warm and sunny and we swam in the sea and built a stone dam to try and stop the tide advancing. What a good game. Then we came back and did some painting - the watercolour variety - had supper and watched "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Quelle day!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday Live

Heard on my trusty radio this morning an interview about lone twins. In fact, I am a lone twin, as my identical twin sister was born dead. My Mother told the story, though not in great detail, and I understood that my twin was born dead because my Father "knocked (my Mother) from one side of the room to the other" when she was eight months pregnant, killing the baby. Now my Mother could be a drama queen and I have no way of knowing if it is true, but this knowledge just sticks in my head like the first pancake in the pan. I know that my Mother was pregnant with me when they married, and that my paternal Grandmother did not approve. She did not think that my Mother was good enough for her Son, Jasper Stanley. (So what's new?) And I know that they had a very rocky marriage. It wasn't helped by the fact that my Father was an alcoholic (as defined), and a philanderer, and that my Mother, probably as a consequence, was very neurotic and would, today have been considered depressive. It can't have been much fun. And they lived through the 2nd World War. So having one baby born dead when you have only been married six months, and there is a war going on, might have been either a curse or a blessing. Certainly, neither of them ever showed any emotion about it, and since I can't remember the moment when I was told, I seem to have no feelings about it either. (My Sister came along 18 months later, but I don't know if she was made aware of the dead twin, and I don't think we have ever talked about it.) Because of my Parents' various characters and behaviours, we must have had a rather strange upbringing, Sister and I. But of course, we thought it was normal because we had no other experience. I may be wrong, but I don't suppose many other people have the memory of their Father slowly sinking down in his chair at Christmas Dinner until he slid, quietly and drunkenly, under the table. We may have giggled, but that was normal for us. Consequently, there were lots of fights, many of which I remember quite clearly. I recall my Mother throwing the iron at my Father (though I think she missed), and I also vividly remember her hitting him over the head with our frying pan. This was never to be forgotten, because we continued to use the frying pan which had a dent the shape of my Father's head ever after. It was quite funny I suppose, because eggs always slid round the dent and settled into this strange, curved shape. As I tell this little tale, I can see that it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it has become so much part of the vintage patchwork of my life, that I simply accept it. And anyway, I can't change it.

Going back to the dead twin, I'm aware that I have resisted re-birthing at various times in my life, as a form of therapy, because I have this horror of reliving my birth. Of course this is not an actual memory, but somehow I know that I had to fight my way out into the world, past a dead baby. I don't know how I know this, it's pure instinct. But I have never been sure that I could actually do it again successfully. There is no way that I would put myself in that situation again. What if I didn't make it?

And now for the good news; apparently Doctors have stopped drinking themselves to death. They have come to their collective senses at last,and are taking their own advice about drinking and (hopefully) smoking. That's great news indeed. I do remember reading, about 5 years ago, that Doctors had the lowest life expectancy of any professional group - around 37 years! I thought then, don't ask advice of a Doctor. What does he (or she) know. So have they maybe increased their life expectancy to 40? It would be interesting to know.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It is Moving Day.

Every time I log on to Blogger, I tick the box which says 'remember me', but it never does. I always have to type in my password - not sure why? Am I particularly unmemorable?

Yesterday and today have been rather frantic, and I have felt both stressed and worried. Mostly because I can't just make things happen for Son and Daughter. The blooming flat sale has been holding everything up, and I just feel powerless to help.
Because we are victims of a broken chain, and because it is August (during which the whole world seems to be on holiday), we have been twiddling our thumbs and waiting for something - anything - to happen. Today Son had to move out of his dreadful flat in London (a curse on his bastard Landlord), and has nowhere to go. Well, in fact he has somewhere to go, because some good friends have just bought a house and are thankfully letting him stay for a while. But it's not his, and it can only be for a short time. He will be homeless again on his birthday, and there's no way round it. Today he will be driving that van probably until midnight, loading and unloading his and other people's stuff. And his mobile phone is broken (so he has borrowed mine). And he's got no bed to sleep on when he finally does get finished! At least I managed to feed him and his friend before he drove off again. Daughter, too, is stuck until the flat sale completes, because she and Grandson can't move on until it goes through. So we are all wading in treacle, or so it seems.

And yet, this evening, after Son drove bravely off in the hired white van (having deposited yet more stuff in the storage we have been keeping for the last year), I did suddenly feel more hopeful. Somehow, I felt that everything would be alright. The flat sale will go through soon, Son and his friends will find somewhere really nice to buy in London, Daughter will move on with her Boyfriend (who adores my Grandson, so that's OK), and I will be able to relax and think of them all being settled and happy.

If only I could wave my magic wand, just like Harry Potter (or rather Hermione, who seems to get all her magic spells right), and make it happen now. We do seem to have been waiting rather a long time for things to go right. Perhaps that's how it's meant to be, but I think they deserve a lucky break, God. How about it...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Football Commentary

I absolutely love the way Son uses language. I looked at his Facebook profile earlier this evening, and saw his comment that he was "somewhere between passion and apathy". Maybe because I am/was an english teacher, and love both literature and language myself, I really appreciate it - and perhaps that's why he does too. I'm not taking the credit for it, because he is his own person, always has been. And he has always followed his passions. I just enjoy it when he uses words in such a fresh and distinctive way. And he could always write. His degree in Sociology may have helped (though he would probably disagree). I was certainly impressed with a lot of the stuff he learned at Sussex, and which seems to have stuck. He knows about Psychology, Cognitive Therapy and many things which are a complete mystery to me. I remember a while ago I sent him a text message quoting something from Jung (which I've now forgotten), and his reply was "Yeah, but Jung did go completely mad!" It's that lovely combination of knowledge and wit that appeals to me. And the fact that it's Son saying it is just the icing on the cake.

Watching the England game this evening also reminds me of Son. He has been playing
and watching football since he was knee-high to a goal post. (Our team is Tottenham Hotspur, The Spurs, courtesy of my Mum who grew up in Tottenham, round the corner from White Hart Lane.) He played first for the school team in primary school, and then for the Cubs. This was a disaster because the Cubs had a terrible team who always lost their games - very disheartening. Then we discovered the Cherry Hinton Lions, and he played for the under 8s, right through to the under 17s. What a team! They were in a Sunday League which played, come rain, shine, hail or snowstorm,every week, and was very competitive. Everyone (except the manager's son) had to fight for their place in the team. And they won all the cups and medals, year after year. Son was a very good player, who scored a lot of goals, and loved his footy. It was always very exciting to watch, and I became a Sunday Football Mum, shouting encouragement from the touchline in all weathers. On one memorable occasion (I think it was Under 13s), the Cup Final was played at the Cambridge United ground, and Son scored the winning goal. The excitement was almost too much to bear, and that tinny old stand echoed to our ecstatic cheers. At the end of each season, when they took home the League and Cup trophies, we used to drive home, covered in mud and glory, singing along to "We are the Champions" by Queen. It was wonderful. And we have those medals and miniature trophies still. Tucked into a box of memories for Son, along with stuffed toys, vintage Spurs kits, old school books and his collection of football programmes. I kind of hope he always keeps them, but who knows..

Late result: England 1 Germany 2, in a Friendly (Ha Ha) game at Wembley. No comment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In Sickness and in Health.

Wiped out by a sick bug - it serves me right for going on about buttered buns. I woke up yesterday feeling so sick that I couldn't move. I was worried to death in case the food I had cooked the night before, for me and Gay Friend, had caused it. But when I phoned Gay Friend to confess, he was fine - so that was a relief. However, I was feeling so bad I couldn't even read, which is rare indeed. I lay in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, and I think Daughter appeared at some point to ask if I needed anything. "No", I groaned "I already have two kinds of water, boiled and sparkling." It was strange to lose a whole day, but I couldn't keep awake.
Daughter came back, with Grandson, this morning, and I was feeling a bit better, so managed a cup of tea. Nothing else passed my lips until this afternoon when I had a piece of toast. And now, I feel fine.

I looked at my Facebook and found a message from another old friend, met during a holiday on Skyros in 2001. We have kept in touch, but Facebook seems a very easy way to do something more immediate. I guess it's like a chatroom - though that is something I've never tried, and at least with Facebook it's people you know already. There was also another connection from Skyros on her Facebook, so I contacted him, in Vancouver, and now have another Facebook Friend. It sounds a bit Barbie, I know, but I really am enjoying it.

Thank god I turned down the last German student, because I wouldn't have been able to stand up, let alone prepare breakfast and dinner for her. It has only happened once before that I was ill when I had a foreign student. He was from the Italian Navy and stayed with me for 8 weeks. All was relatively fine until the last couple of weeks of his stay, when I got the 'flu, which really wiped me out. His english wasn't too good, so I had to leave him notes, and relied on friends to shop for me. I was so ill that I couldn't come down to feed him and had to give him food I'd prepared earlier! At one point he left me a note, which I thought might be a commiseration for my state of health. What it actually said was "Salt is finished."
So much for the sympatico Italian.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Buttered Buns I have known

Listening to the radio this morning I heard a chat about tea trolleys and offices which brought the past back in a flash. My first job, at 17, was in a City bank in Bishopsgate: The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. How exotic that sounds today. I used to travel on the commuter train from Romford to Liverpool Street, being an Essex girl, and always bought a lovely buttered bun on my way to work, to have with my morning coffee. Those buns were wonderful. They were fruity, yeasty and had crystallized sugar on top. And they were generously buttered - with real butter. I think they probably cost one penny, and I mean old pennies, because this was before decimalization. As our Luncheon Vouchers were for 4 Shillings (this was a very good deal) I'm sure a bun couldn't have been more than that. Lunch was usually taken in the upstairs Dining Room of one of the local pubs, and they all offered a two-course lunch for 4/- then. We could have something like Steak & Kidney Pie with three veg, or a Curry with rice , or a Ham Salad, followed by a Syrup Pudding and Custard, or tinned Fruit Salad, and a cup of tea or coffee for our four shillings. That sounds like an incredible bargain now, of course, especially when you consider that four shillings in old money would now be twenty pence. Makes me feel very old.

I remember working in that bank so clearly. We were very privileged, because it was considered a great plum to get a job in a bank then. My Mum was so proud that I worked there. It was rather like an extended version of the Grammar School that I had recently left (without taking my A Levels!). There was definitely a rather jolly old school atmosphere; work was mostly conducted at a steady pace, except for the excitement when the Bank Rate was changed (just like today). And we had a Sports Club which everyone used at weekends. Ours was at a place called "The Wilderness", somewhere near Hampton Court, and we all played either hockey or tennis for the Bank. (Rugby or Soccer if you were a bloke.) The Bank was your life, really, and people then expected to work there all their lives and retire on a Bank pension. How things have changed. When I left the Bank, Mr Toynbee, who was Deputy Manager of Inward Bills where I had worked for four years, said "Well done, Lassie!" (he was very Scottish) "You've never given us a moment's trouble." I distinctly remember being rather surprised and yet pleased at his remark. It would never have occurred to me to be any trouble anyway - we were all very law-abiding in those days - but I did wonder what might have happened if I had stepped out of line. Anyway, I have always hankered after those buttered buns, and can't seem able to find them now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Domestic dramas.

Alas, this morning I felt rather mean when my departing German lady teacher presented me with a lovely miniature rose and a paperweight in coloured glass which she had carefully chosen to match the gorgeous African Violet on the dining table. These were very thoughtful presents, and she was very generous. I still felt a huge relief when she left, though. Probably because I have had a very heavy week, emotionally. The fact that I had Son and friend staying, and was looking after my grandson this afternoon didn't really count. Family and friends are easy because we all fit together comfortably on the whole, without too much effort. It's just a question of making space and feeding them at regular intervals - and this is something I enjoy, and always have. When they all left this afternoon I felt rather lonely. And since the weather has since turned foul (wet, wild and windy), Sister will probably not be coming to do the Car Boot Sale. This is a real disappointment, because although I hate getting up early, I was looking forward to the catching-up, and to the general camaraderie of a Car Boot. It's always a bonus to make some money, but I just enjoy the social interaction. Ah well, we'll have to save it for another (non-rainy) day.

Grandson managed to upset my cup of tea into my lap this afternoon. It was pretty hot and caused an exclamation, which alarmed him so much that I ended up comforting him rather than changing my clothes. Poor little scrap - he was devastated and kept asking me if I was alright. We were watching The Railway Children and playing the keyboard at the same time, so an accident was bound to happen!

Son and friend have headed off to London, Daughter has finished work for the day and gone home, and I'm here in solitary splendour. Having had a houseful, it feels odd to be on my own again.. sounds like a cue for a song!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Foot in Mouth

I read my horoscope far too late today. If only I had read it this morning, and paid attention, I wouldn't have reacted as I did to the woman who was looking at our flat, possibly to buy it. My horoscope said "Be diplomatic instead of blunt", and I was blunt, to say the least. Daughter said I was being defensive, probably right. Anyway, I only wish..

Selling this flat, which actually belongs to my son, has been a bit of a nightmare, when we all thought it would be easy. We 'refurbished' it to within an inch of its life and put it on the market too late in the autumn last year. Took it off again for Christmas and New Year, and then put it back in February. It finally sold in June, to a very nice lady who has now lost her buyer, so we are victims of a broken chain. This is my first experience of chains, and in particular broken ones. In the past I have bought and sold houses with dashing confidence and amazing speed. This time it's different, and I can't say I'm enjoying it at all. Poor Son is at the sharp end in London, watching prices go up (still) and unable to do anything about it. Here, the market seems to be at a standstill. So I should have been on the ball today, with this new possible buyer, instead of my old, blunt self. Talk about speak first and think later.

My German lecture this morning was about housing in Munich. Apparently there are very few flats or houses for sale there, and you have to be a millionaire to buy one. This is OK, however, because there are so many rich people in Munich that they can all afford either to buy somewhere, or to pay the exorbitant rents which are charged. She, of course, lives in a very nice part of Munich (is there any other sort?), and can afford to pay the high rent because she has a good job as a teacher. My German lady is quite astonished that there are so many flats and houses for sale in Brighton, and that they are so cheap!! (Try telling that to the local young people who can't afford to get on the housing ladder.) We then got onto the subject of how young people in Munich can afford these high rents. Of course, many of them can't, but these tend to be the feckless young women who choose to stay at home and look after their children, rather than working their balls off outside the home. It's very unfortunate if they don't have husbands rich enough to keep them. And often, of course, these young women don't look after their children anyway. This is said with a knowing, twisted sneer - and I really want to reach across the table and tweak that smug nose. But of course I don't - and there is no point in arguing, because she has that Margaret Thatcher habit of simply raising her voice and carrying on talking over anything the opposition might have to say. I am so pleased that she is going home to Munich tomorrow. And I am sure that the smug, self-satisfied burgers of Munich will welcome her back with open arms.

Another smile from Terry Wogan's programme this morning - and I really needed it.
Man in Indian restaurant (in Bradford) who feels he would like to identify with the Indian waiter says, conversationally, "I've been to Delhi." The waiter looks nonplussed and replies, in a thick Yorkshire accent, "Delhi?"..."Where's that?"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Life is just a Bowl of Cherries.

Not sure how to put the words together today, because I have spent most of it feeling very sad for a friend who is having a very hard time. It does, however, put everything else into perspective. I feel very fortunate that I have a happy, healthy family, and that I don't rely on any other person for my well-being. It's often hard to be on one's own, but on the whole I think it's preferable to being in a dodgy relationship which isn't happy and requires endless compromises. And it's really quite unreasonable of me to moan about my foreign students, after all they do pay the bills.

I did actually turn down a student today, because I am going to have a house full of family and friends at the weekend, and it was just too much to think about yet another person to feed and water. In fact, she was another German lady, so perhaps it was wise. I have had a surfeit of Sauerkraut this last month! My lady from Munich is due to go home on Saturday, and has not really stopped lecturing me on the various superior aspects of German life. I did get my own back a bit by asking her why there were no famous German restaurants - to which there was no reply. And she devours my food with such gusto that I wonder if she ever has home-cooked food at home. I did ask her, but she replied that she is too lazy to cook when she is at home. She went today to the Brighton Pavilion and had to admit that it was stunning -and that there is nothing like it in Germany!

I was reading another Blog this evening, and couldn't help identifying with the writer, whose children are going on holiday with her ex-husband. I recall that my ex-husband was always reluctant to take my two away on holiday. (It cost money, and he liked to keep it all for himself.) He did, however, take them away once - to Butlin's - when they were about 7 and 9, I think. It was apparently the most awful place - damp mattresses, mice (if not rats) and terrible food. And the weather was awful. Thank god they were only there for one week. When they came home, they were so glad to be back that they didn't argue with each other, or me, for about a week. I had missed them so much, and a bit of free time was not really a compensation. The difference between me and the blog-writer I was reading, was that I didn't think lovingly about the past at all. By then I knew how mean and selfish my ex was, and I just felt a fool for not having realized it sooner.

Anyway, I was the lucky one. I got to see my children grow from little toads to big toads, with only a few hiccoughs on the way. We got through the dramas, the tears,
the scares, the exams, the first hangovers, the first loves (in that order) and all the stuff life throws at you. So what if we didn't have the money, the 'lifestyle', the cars and the posh holidays. As far as I'm concerned, we had the best of everything.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Cruel Race.

Talking as we were yesterday about my German 'student' visitors, I was reminded of another fairly disastrous encounter, this time with a Japanese man. Before he arrived, he announced his forthcoming visit with a two page letter telling me his life history, with photo attached, and itemising his travels. None of this was terribly interesting, as he appeared to be a retired teacher with no children - only a wife who was also a retired teacher.

This was my first close encounter with anyone from Japan, especially someone who was old enough to have actually been alive in the War. He was, indeed, inscrutable. His face gave nothing away, but he obviously didn't think much of either me or my house. And his first act was to give me a sealed envelope which contained another two foolscap pages listing his infirmities and ailments. I am not a nurse, nor am I inclined to become a Nursing Home, so I queried this list. He insisted that he was, really, quite ill. So I asked, not unreasonably I thought, why he was travelling so far from home on his own, and for so long. (His proposed absence from Japan was 6 months!) This did not go down well. Neither did my food, which he picked at and finally left on the plate. (This was a first - usually my food disappears fast.)

After one night, and various complaints which I won't bore you with, he apparently asked at the Language School if he could be accommodated somewhere else. I learned,
some time later, that he had told the school Host Family co-ordinator that I 'frightened' him because I was an independent woman! Dear God. He was a 65 year old man, and I had scared him off, presumably because I'm not the subservient type he is used to. I was glad to see the back of him, and felt rather sorry for the wife. Though on second thoughts, she probably deserved him.

Speaking of the Japanese, part of my chat with my sister last week was about Japan, where she worked on a film a while ago. I said that I had no experience of the place, and had only seen it in the film "Lost in Translation", which had left me with the impression that Tokyo is clearly Hell on Earth. Sister agreed, and said that although it was a fascinating experience, she had not entirely enjoyed her time there. She told the tale of travelling on the underground where the crowds are unimaginable, and conductors with white gloves push people onto the trains. As she is 5'8" tall, she stood head and shoulders above the Japanese men, who all appeared to be reading comics. When she looked more closely, she saw that these comics all featured explicit porn. Huge penises and other unmentionable body parts were evidently the subject of great merriment to these specimens of manhood, because they all laughed hugely as they read their comics. God help the women of Japan. And god help us if they ever win a War! I'm with Bridget Jones's mother.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Don't mention the War.

I really have had it with the German invasion. To listen to my current lady, who is from Munich, Germany is the perfect place to live, with Munich taking first prize for perfect city. Apparently there is no crime in Munich! (I know, I found this hard to believe, but was assured that it's true!) There are no social problems, no gangs, and no poor people!! Everyone is rich in Munich, so that's OK. (And even if there are poor people, they get a lot of help from the state.) There was no point in arguing or disagreeing with her, she was unstoppable. After this lecture over breakfast, I had a severe case of indigestion. And the fact that she could see nothing untoward in this diatribe was very worrying indeed.

Let me describe this woman: she is a very solid, heavy-set woman of 59-ish.
Her face is set in downward lines which still turn down even when she cracks a smile - which isn't very often. She has a large appetite and absolutely no dress sense. (Bitch!) So, middle-aged, self-satisfied, German woman with minimal sense of humour? That is until yesterday evening when my lovely, gay male friend called round unexpectedly just as I was cooking supper. I invited him to stay and eat with us, and was astonished by the change in my German lady. She became positively flirtatious, using body language I certainly hadn't seen before, and twisting the granite face into never-before-seen contortions, which I took to be simpering smiles. It was horrible. I wanted to tell her not to bother, but I don't think she had ever encountered a gay man before (they certainly don't exist in Munich!), so I let her get on with it. It was very funny, and my gay friend was enjoying it too - though for different reasons, I suspect. Anyway, she got quite pink with the effort, and my friend's laughter grew louder and more uncontrolled. It was a pity to break it up, really.

This morning, I finally finished making the ill-fated crab apple jelly, which is a gorgeous dark pink colour, and tastes very good. It was worth the effort. And this evening I came home from a visit to an old friend with pounds of damsons, apples and plums from her garden. Lovely. I'll have to get busy making jam and stuff again - this time I'll try not to get it all over the floor.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Payback Time

Bugger, this morning I have a burgeoning cold sore which has given me a top lip like one of the Simpsons. Thank heavens I don't have a blue rinse too. My Mum used to get these (not blue rinses, cold sores) and told me that when she was a girl they called it 'the kissing disease'. Now I don't get a lot of kisses (especially the full-on sort), except from Grandson, Daughter, and Son, when I see him,so I was racking my brains for the cause of this eruption. Then I remembered that my friend's husband had given me a real smacker when I arrived on Friday for dinner. This was surprising, because we usually exchange polite air kisses. I did wonder why at the time, but only fleetingly...

I also have a nasty, angry-looking red graze down my right leg (plus a number of bruises which will obviously turn blue, yellow and green in time) after falling into the paddling pool yesterday. Altogether,the look is not very attractive. Not my best.
Perhaps I'll put a brown paper bag over my head, or just stay indoors today. I do feel that this is probably cosmic (or is is karmic?) payback for my nefarious nocturnal activities with the hydrangeas. Someone up there was watching.

Speaking of bad language (see bugger, above) I have now managed to teach my grandson to say it. He cheerfully says "oh bugger" if he trips up, just like me. And if I ask
him "What did you say?", trying to look shocked, he just gives me the cheeky grin and says it again. I did this a few years ago with the daughter of one of Son's now distant girlfriends. The daughter was only two when I first met her, and is now nearly nine (she became part of the family, so I suppose she is an honorary grand daughter). She used to come and stay with me in Cambridge, where we had two cats. The elderly one, called Tigger, was so cantankerous that we used to call him the old Bugger. Well of course you can see how it happened. And now it's a family joke. Hon. grand daughter still comes to stay (she lives in Brighton with her Mum anyway), and she thought it very amusing that Grandson has now learned the family swear word. Sorry to impose this on you, especially on a Sunday morning. Perhaps I'll go to the Car Boot sale after all. Now where did I put that brown paper bag...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Auf wiedersehen, Pet.

Goodbye to my gorgeous German girl, who left me a lovely note this morning. She said that she hopes we will keep in touch, and that it would be "jolly super". I'm ashamed to admit that she learned this phrase from me. Of course she appreciates that it's a joke, but it will probably spread around Frankfurt like hot cakes, or even berliners!

When I surfaced at 8.45 am, to do breakfast, I found that I had acquired some rather fabulous hydrangea blooms, which I must have arranged in a vase at around midnight last night. I suppose I must have picked them on the way home from my friends' house, but I have no recollection of this. I know that I had drunk rather a lot of champagne, followed by rather a lot of white wine. I staggered home, but must have stopped on the way to nick the flowers! Lord, what a terrible example I am. Later on, this evening, I was also reminded by another friend of some things I supposedly said at our dinner last week. I had to admit that I really couldn't remember the conversation! Either I am turning into a terrible drunk, or I am losing my memory. I can't decide which would be worse. Definitely more fun to grow old disgracefully, I suppose.

Today was another glorious, hot day, which I spent looking after my grandson while Daughter was working. We had a great time at the paddling pool, which was totally rammed with freefall children and stressed-out parents. We paddled, splashed, dug in the sand and ate our picnic. I managed to fall over on the edge of the pool and was helped up by a charming young man (who may have thought I was drunk, come to think of it!). Then we walked back home, stopping on the way for Grandson to have a game of football with a group of young men we happened to meet on the Lawns. He just barged in and got them to play with him - don't know how he does it, but he is just irresistible. He has blue eyes and blonde hair, and dribbles like a young Beckham. And as he is only just 3, this is pretty impressive.

After I delivered grandson back home, I cooked for my remaining German lady (who looks set to eat me out of house and home), and then collapsed into my armchair, only to see that Sir Terry Wogan was on Millionaire. I have to say that I like him best on the steam radio. When he's on TV, I'm confronted with the syrup question. Does he or doesn't he? And do we care?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pissed again.

The drama this morning was that my gorgeous German girl lost her purse on Brighton beach last night. She had also lost her voice this morning, so could barely squeak to tell me the details. I telephoned the local police who were very helpful, but hadn't had the purse handed in. As it contained her identity card, a credit card and her driving licence, she had to phone her Mutti in Germany so that she could cancel the credit card. Mutti was obviously quite cross, which I gathered from the second-hand conversation. And I also learned from my student that a fellow student had lost a mobile phone last night (not his, but one on loan from his host family). Apparently he was so drunk that he couldn't explain to anyone how, or where, he had lost the phone. As I listen to this, I'm so glad that my children are not teenagers any more.

Today was my sister's birthday, and for the first time for years, I phoned to wish her a happy birthday and to have a chat. It was good to talk, and to feel that my family, though small, is still intact. I remember that years ago when we both lived in London (she still does, but I don't), we used to meet most days for lunch or a drink. Or we would meet up in Kensington High Street at the weekends, and pop into Biba to see if there was anything we fancied. Back then we both worked in Advertising, and didn't have families of our own to complicate matters. We were great girls, footloose and fancy-free.

Tonight I have been to a dinner party with friends who live around the corner. It was lovely to sit in their garden and drink champagne in the pink sunset. It was also great to eat food I hadn't cooked myself. I met a dramatic, strange and interesting Russian woman (who had a dense accent and was hard to understand), and her partner who was a completely ordinary English bloke. Her fingers were literally smothered with diamonds which I imagine were supplied by her partner. Fascinating. We ate and drank more than was strictly necessary, so I'm more than a bit pissed now. Tomorrow morning my gorgeous german girl is leaving at 5am - I won't be awake to wave her goodbye. And I will be making breakfast for my other German lady at 9 am. Time I was tucked up in bed.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why are we blogging?

Having an online diary is a mixed blessing. I feel I should have something interesting to say, but what is interesting to me could be total frozen boredom to someone else. Courtesy of Sitemeter (which by some miracle I managed to install) I discovered this morning that four people in America have been reading my blog! Four completely unattached people, one in Texas, one in California and two in Nebraska! (I suppose the two in Nebraska could be friends.) How did they find it? This is a mystery, because I often can't find it myself..

Last night a lovely dinner with friends made me realize, yet again, how important
friends are in my life. When the children were growing up, we had very little in the way of family. All four grandparents died within 2 years of each other, and as I was an 'elderly primagravida' when Son was born, I was even more elderly when Daughter came along 2 years later, which meant that the usual cousins and relations were that much older too. I only have 1 sister, and my ex had only one brother, so it was 'slim pickens' as far as family parties were concerned. I'm sure it's true these
days, when many of us have separate and distant actual families, that our friends become our families.

Most of my friends are also single women - though most of them have been married once or twice and do have children. I have about half a dozen real friends: the sort who would drop everything to help if I needed it. But I did actually manage to lose a friend a couple of years ago, and still don't know why. She was someone I had been close to for thirty-odd years, and she simply dropped off my map. I have, of course, tried to discover why she doesn't speak to me any more, but she isn't letting on. At first I was really worried about what I might have done to cause this, but after a year or so of trying to find out and sending cards, letters and messages, I decided that it was actually her problem, not mine. Very sad though, because we worked together, and had fun, in advertising for years. Our friendship had outlived our marriages. Our children had grown up and spent seaside holidays together and I know my children really thought of hers as family. We used to spend Christmasses together and lovely London weekends. We have so few real friends in our lives, so I regret this loss. But sadly, I can do nothing more about it.

Describing my friends isn't easy, because I know them so well. We've had our ups and downs, our divorces and affairs, our husbands and boyfriends. They are as familiar to me as a comfy old jumper, and when I talk to them on the phone, I have this image of them which doesn't really change. We know each others secrets (and we keep them). We make each other laugh. All I know is that without them my life would be sad. When one of them goes away and we can't talk every day, I miss them terribly.

The saddest thing of all is really losing friends - and this happened to me three times last year. Two old friends, from twenty or thirty years ago, died most unexpectedly. One had been a smoker all her life, and had also been very beautiful. She was blissfully married to a lovely man who had literally dropped dead a couple of years before. I don't think she ever got over his death, and I hope they're still holding hands somewhere. The second friend had been a shit-hot Fund Manager in the City of London until her husband got very ill. He had one of those dreadful wasting diseases and she nursed him for years. When I got the phone call from her daughter, I assumed that her father had finally died. But no. It was my dear friend, whose strength and stamina had finally given out. The third friend was a famous writer whom I had the great good fortune to meet on a holiday on Skyros 7 years ago. She was so talented, so funny, and such a lovely friend. We enjoyed cocktails and lots of laughs together on that holiday, and kept in touch. She discovered that she had ovarian cancer five years ago, and battled with it - refusing to give in - but in the end it got her.
Three lovely ladies,three wonderful friends, have left us. Richer for having known and loved them, but so much poorer without them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

That's another fine mess.

I had grandson here to stay last night, for various complicated reasons, and because I have two students at the moment, he can't sleep in his usual room. As he is just out of nappies, I put him in the travel cot first, and then in my bed. I did this amazing thing of lifting him up (still fast asleep) and holding him over the potty to do a wee. Which he did, and then was instantly fast asleep again. Bless the boy.

Sadly, it was I who couldn't sleep. I went to bed at 10pm, missing my "Life on Mars" repeat, thinking that would give me loads of sleep before he woke, which is usually at 5.30a.m! At 12.30, 1.30, 2.30 etc, etc, I checked the clock and grew ever more desperate for sleep. Alas, it eluded me, and I think I had about 2 hours max before he woke at 5.30 on the button.

So, by the time I was doing breakfast for two hungry Germans at 8 o'clock, I was past caring. Unwisely, I decided to continue with the crab-apple jelly making I had started the night before. It was just at the stage where you pour the mushy cooked crab-apples into a jelly bag which is hooked over a frame, poised over a large bowl. As I was deciding to pour the remaining mush into the bag, I had a moment's indecision, but poured anyway. Oh no! Too late. Too heavy! The bag dropped from the frame, plunged into the bowl, and splashed all the lovely, red juice everywhere. The language was terrible - and grandson retreated into the dining room with the students
who continued their breakfasts as if nothing had happened. The next hour was spent mopping up. Crab-apple juice coated the kitchen floor and gave it a lovely red sheen.
It was very difficult to mop up. And it had splashed everything in sight - including my laundry basket which was full of clean, fresh bedlinen ready to iron.

My darling grandson was an absolute trouper. At three, he is just getting to grips with polite conversation, and he entertained my two ladies superbly, chatting away and giving them a summary of the action next door in the kitchen. I was feeling so exhausted and so grumpy that I didn't care what they thought - but he kept the show going. After that, we sat (I collapsed) and built things with bricks for a bit. Then we watered the garden. By the time Daughter came to collect him at 11.30, I was so tired that I could barely put two words together to tell her what had happened. I had already washed the bedlinen again and hung it out in the sun, so as soon as they left, I dived back into bed and slept for a couple of hours. And I can't bear to even look at what's left of the crab-apples.

Son, fresh from the Big Chill yesterday, has gone to a Prince concert in London this evening. His life is one long round of pleasure, or so it seems from my perspective. I can't recall a time when I did stuff like that. My high point was a Stones concert at Olympia several centuries ago, after which his father and I drove down (or is it up?) to Gloucester for the weekend, singing all the way. It's a nice memory.

Monday, August 6, 2007

That old Deadwood Stage.

So lovely to have Terry Wogan back on radio 2. My mornings can get back to normal. I have been surfing the radio stations for the last two weeks to try and find anything that appeals at 8 am and there's nothing else really.

In the news this morning was the fact that students can now get their A Level and GCSE results either online or by text message. Surely this means that parents will have a job getting the information out of their children. It was bad enough getting A level results the normal way, but if the results are bad, they'll simply be buried I suspect.

It took me back to when Daughter was doing her A Levels. She got her own back on me wanting her to succeed by going out every single night of the two years that she was supposed to be studying. She had to drop one of her subjects (Psychology) because she was doing so badly at it. She managed to fail General Studies, and then ended up with two (just) passes. This, however, was enough to secure her a place at University. With hindsight (that trusty old friend) I should have said "Know what? Just forget it. You obviously don't enjoy studying, so why bother." That would have been the sensible thing. But because her brother was at Uni, and I felt that they should both have the same opportunities, I encouraged her to go ahead and take up the offered place. Given that time again, I wouldn't bother - because they were, and are, different people. As it was, Daughter struggled with Uni for 18 months and then walked out on her degree. She got a job, fell in love, moved in with the boyfriend and got pregnant.(That's the shorthand version.) So at 22 she was a mother and I was (surprise, surprise) a grandmother.

This morning's discussion over breakfast was also about schools and students, because my new German lady is actually a teacher. The two Germans were telling me about "Hauptschule", which is apparently the german equivalent of a "sink" school for the lowest level of students. Our discussion was about the fact that these students know that they have no hope of succeeding in life, getting good jobs etc, so
they opt out and end up either fathering or producing babies. They seem to see this as a way out of their no-hope existences. Of course we have similar parallels; teenage mothers (and fathers) are a problem here too. But it made me think, of course, about my daughter. Did she feel a failure? Was it my fault? Probably.

On a lighter note, the fact that someone called Debbie Reynolds is government spokesperson in the current foot and mouth crisis did not escape Terry Wogan this morning. He remarked that surely Doris Day would have been a better choice since, as she was a very convincing cowgirl in "Calamity Jane", she would have had more affinity with our bovine friends! It's that light touch that I love. And it reminded me that Daughter adored that film. She knew every word of the script, and every song, by heart. If only she could have done an exam on the subject...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Such sweet sorrow...

Yesterday morning one of my foreign students left. She has gone back to the Czech Republic in floods of tears. She had such a wonderful time here in Brighton that she really didn't want to go home. Three weeks was obviously not long enough. In the end I forgot to give her the recipe for Toad in the Hole, but we are going to email, so I can send it to her.

My other student, the gorgeous German girl, is also having a great time now. She has recovered from her home-sickness and is having fun. She spends her free time either on the beach or going out to pubs and clubs with her newfound friends. It was very touching to see the two girls saying goodbye - strangers only three weeks ago, and now bosom friends. Aah.

Daughter came over today with my grandson, and with her boyfriend, his daughter, another friend and her small son. It was quite a crowd. I somehow managed to barbecue enough food (on my balcony) to feed the five thousand. We all sat on rugs in the garden, under the shade of the cherry tree. The little ones had a great time eating sausages and pouring water over each other. And we grown-ups downed a couple of bottles of lovely cold rose wine with the chicken, lamb burgers, sausages and salads. On the whole, it was just what a family summer Sunday should be. My daughter's friend is also a single parent, and was so pleased to be included in the party. Of course she was welcome. I remembered that watching other families at weekends was very painful when my two were young. It was so hard because one imagined that everyone else was a complete and happy family. Probably not true, but that's how it looks when you're on your own. When I think of it, everyone who was here today could have been spending this lovely day on their own with a small child. And that, I know from experience, is a very lonely place to be. It was so much more fun for all of us to get together.

Anyway, in the middle of all this family jollity, my next Foreign student arrived.
She is a very different kettle of fish. German also, but a fifty-something school teacher on a course to improve her English. Poor woman, she walked into a garden full of strangers, naked children and the debris of a barbecue picnic. No wonder she looked nervous. She is now installed in her lovely clean room, and will no doubt relax a bit once she realizes that we are not all foreign monsters. Apparently her daughter warned her not to hang around at Heathrow, because it is very dangerous!
That can't have been a good start. And she is quite thrown by the hot weather - not what she was expecting either. I do hope that we won't be a complete disappointment to her. I shall hope for a bit of rain in the next few days to make her feel more comfortable.

Not a word from Son at the Big Chill. (Not that I really expected to hear from him.)I'm sure he will be having a great time. No news is good news.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Computer illiterati

God above, I've just spent I don't know how long trying to add a list of my favourite blogs to my page. I must be a complete idiot, because I just don't understand the instructions. Whose name do they want (they already have mine), what is the url, and why oh why isn't it simple?? Please, someone, produce an idiot guide to what should be a simply process. How clever you all are to have done it already. I'm impressed.

Waved goodbye to Son this glorious morning as he set off with a friend for the Big Chill Festival. I had got the old picnic basket out and hosed it down, cooked a chicken, and bought wine and nice stuff for them to take. Of course, Son took one look at the totally uncool and ancient picnic basket and said "I'm not taking that!" Silly me - wrong again - of course he's not. Finally arranged food, wine and essentials in an acceptable bag, and off they drove. I was really envious. He told me that there is wonderful organic food, as well as good music, and he had booked a special camping area called something like the "Tangerine Tent", where everything is supplied for a luxurious camping experience. He had obviously booked the weather too.

This morning early I heard David Puttnam on the news talking about how we really have to change our energy-guzzling habits if we want to leave a half-decent world for our children and grandchildren to inherit. I'm allowed to call him David rather than Lord Puttnam because I knew him years ago when we worked for the same Advertising Agency. He was a rather scruffy, but definitely upwardly-mobile, bloke in those days, and I was a very junior creative person. He certainly has come up in the world. Alan Parker (sorry, Sir Alan Parker) also worked in the same Agency then, writing commercials, and I remember him saying that his mother-in-law at the time (I think he has a different one now) kept asking him when he was going to get a proper job. In those days, when Creatives were dogsbodies, no-one wore smart clothes (except the Account Execs), and she obviously thought that anyone who went to work in old jeans and holey jumpers couldn't be earning much. How wrong she was. And how she must have eaten her words. Alan used to let me write the odd trade ad. when he couldn't be arsed. It was great. Never a boring moment. I forget who said it, but it was certainly true that working in advertising was the most fun you could have with your clothes on.

Back then, we had ideas; we produced creative concepts that were often exciting, funny and relevant. That was what we were paid for. These days I believe that most advertising campaigns are produced on computer. I don't know how because a computer doesn't have ideas. It can't think. Which brings me back to that bloody list...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Terry Wogan and me...

My mornings are just not the same without Terry Wogan (who is on holiday at the moment). He has been making me laugh and playing good music, that is to say music I like, (the Beatles, the Eagles, Norah Jones etc..) for twenty-odd years. When my children were very small and I was very lonely, he made me feel cheerful even though I'd had broken nights and had been awake since 6 am most days. Without him, my days would have been very bleak. He's also very professional compared with the people who sit in for him. This week we have Johnny Walker, who is highly regarded by some people I'm sure, but I don't want to listen to him. Also, he doesn't seem to enjoy life on the radio in the same way as dear old Sir Tel. He plays two records in a row, presumably while drinking a cup of coffee, and then slips in the name of a tune and disappears again. It's just not the same. We know when Sir Terry is eating a bacon sarnie, or spluttering with laughter, because he shares it with us. Whatever it is, his listener feels included in life and the jokes. And he never plays two tunes in a row just to get a break.

At last, summer has arrived, so I have been either at the paddling pool or at the beach for the last two days. Odd, isn't it, that as soon as the weather changes for the better, it seems as if it has been hot forever? No-one is complaining yet, of course, but give it a couple of weeks and they will start saying that it's too hot!
Not me, I'll be lapping it up. I went in the sea twice today, and it was freezing cold, but wonderful because I had a chance to cool down.

I have tried to push the cannabis question to the back of my mind, but it surfaced again yesterday with a snippet from the news which told us that smoking just one joint causes five times more lung damage than one normal cigarette. Apparently the effects are five times more toxic because people who smoke cannabis tend to do so without using a filter. This is bad news indeed for all the young people who believe that smoking cannabis is perfectly harmless, because they won't discover the truth until their lungs collapse!

Is there ever any good news? I recalled that a friend of a friend, who was suffering from depression recently, was told by her doctor (quite seriously) not to buy a newspaper, watch television or listen to the news. He recommended this instead of prescribing anti-depressant drugs. This is a novel, positive and forward-thinking approach. Until "they" produce a "Good News" newspaper or programme, let's all boycott the bad news. After all, there's enough of the gritty reality stuff in our own lives and those of our friends and family. Maybe that's why I like Terry Wogan so much. When I listen to him, I start the day laughing, and laughter has been proved to be very good for you.