Wednesday, March 22, 2006


A to Z in Sixty (Part 1)

Blimey, I just reached sixty and can’t believe how quickly I got there. A random selection of stuff, alphabetically arranged, goes something like this:

Angst, anger, alcohol and adverbs – First two have decreased, whilst consumption of the third has increased. As to the last one, I’ve belatedly, though grudgingly, completely accepted that I use too many, but I can't go cold turkey and give them up altogether.

Books - I could never have got through the entertainment-free zone of my childhood, the boring bits of child-rearing, good days, rainy days or bouts of melancholia without them. I still love my long time favourite Wuthering Heights but have found another desert island choice with the recent discovery of Maurice Paléologue’s An Ambassador’s Memoirs, which gives a wonderfully intimate account of his time as the last French Ambassador in St. Petersburg. Somehow, whether describing his meetings with the Tsar, confiding the gossip from the royal drawing rooms, or on Rasputin and his cronies or reporting the horrors of the war front, he gives the book an almost thriller like quality. I’ve read it three times already.

Clichés - I’ve become a spotter of them (it’s warmer than train spotting and you don’t have to wear an anorak) so I now avoid them like the plague, because at the end of the day, the bottom line is, that it’s not rocket science to be able to make your point without using them.

Duty –On a scale of 1 to 10 I don’t suppose my sense of duty would register higher than 5 at a push. I may berate myself, as I did recently for failing to visit my dying brother often enough in hospital, but I still choose guilt over the pain of doing something I don’t want to do – in this case watch a once forceful man whither away to a wordless skeleton. Though I know it was wrong, the truth is that given the situation again, I’d probably do the same.

Eyesight – It used to be excellent and I showed off by offering to thread the smallest needle for anyone. Now I can’t see the needle, but who cares, I don’t like sewing any more anyway.

Education – When I got a second husband, I also got a second, better education. He introduced me to art, architecture, Open University and that formerly exclusive and for me, unthinkable destination, the Mediterranean, encouraged me to write, where previously I'd been so inhibited that even my doodles were done as inconspicuously as possible in the corner of the page and taught me, in his delightfully subtle manner, how less can be more.

French - My schoolgirl flirtation with it became a full blown love affair, although hopes of mastering it are just as distant. I don’t really need a French tutor, but a psychotherapist – verre de vin, schmerre de vin - no problem, but I’m shy and unconfident, so I shop at the supermarket and that way I don’t have to talk to anyone. But now that I spend so much time in France, I get to criticise it in the same way that you’re allowed to criticise your kids – because they’re part of you and you love them.

Guilt –Dame Edna Everidge reckons that the English never go out without their haversack of guilt. The funny thing is that every time you acquire a new source, none of the old stuff falls out the bottom, so why isn’t there a point when entry is blocked by a notice saying “sorry, full up"? So, for all the terrible things you may have done to your children, your guilt lies festering, like non-biodegradable nappies, until you die.

Grudges - Ha, got a positive here cos I have stopped holding them - life really is too short.

Health – Luck seems to play a part in what kind you get, and despite having had my fair share of illness and surgery, I still feel lucky that I’ve always recovered quickly and feel fit and well. My poor, non-smoking, scarcely drinking, 34 year old son has not been so lucky and last year made the grim discovery that a persistent ulcer was cancer and needed the removal of his tongue.

Happiness – I visualise the set of things needed to make us happy rather like those graphs you get showing election results – hollow blocks that fill up with blue, red, yellow, green or other colour according to the percentages that each political party has won. Except that here, it's the more difficult to define ingredients of personal relationships, job satisfaction, creative fulfilment or acquisitiveness that fill up the blocks, but each block can only hold its own characteristic, so when full, can’t spill over to make up a shortfall in another. If you're lucky enough to have blocks with the right combination and proportions for you, happy days! I've still got some topping up to do on some of mine.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Gene pool reflections

Eyes, noses, mouths, cheeks, chins and hair. Poring over our photographs, marvelling at family likenesses, we readily acknowledge the contributors to our gene pool. But accepting just how many of the other myriad characteristics that make us what we are may have been forced upon us by these same contributors is a lot scarier.

We take delivery of our beautiful baby, believing that we can mould that soft helpless bundle into the child we desire. Full of good intentions and some loving guidance, we surely can’t fail to turn out a happy, honest, well-adjusted, hard working adult. And then we have another because we believe that an only child will be spoilt and never learn to share.

And then the straightforward bit ends. What’s happened to my nurturing when my four children leave home with such different values and quantities of ambition, drive and confidence, though I meant them to have the same? Two spend as much money as possible, one as little and the fourth somewhere in between and one rejects my advice on the clothes that flatter her most, in favour of the flashier taste of her grandmother. And has anyone done a survey to show whether an only child is more selfish, or that one with siblings less selfish?

I remarry and notice that, although my husband and his son are separated in age by more than 40 years and by as wide a gap in upbringing, they exhibit many identical personality traits. They’re not only bored by the same things, but in the time it takes to say boredom threshold they’ve reached it. Though they have a fascination and talent with words, they have difficulty at times understanding the simplest of them when they concern domestic trivia and how weird is that, that they both spell that word wierd. They also have the same unusual appreciation of the technical aspects of music and share the same shy nature that prevents them making too much eye contact.

So here I am, on the eve of my sixtieth birthday thinking that it may be a pretty small role we play in influencing the way our children turn out. Of course, the parents who produce the sweet tempered, well-adjusted and successful adult remain convinced that their brand of nurturing, rather than any similarity to their own character is responsible for their success, whereas those, whose dream ends in tears and bewilderment, begin to wonder if they were handicapped from the start.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Customer Disservice

About nine months ago I rang the mobile phone company O2.

Me: Can you tell me why I haven’t received a bill for the last two months, even though my bank statement shows that you’re taking money out by direct debit?

O2: Can I take your details……… oh, the address doesn’t tie up, it’s the wrong address.

Me: Well, apart from the last 2 months, I’ve been receiving bills for 2 years and as I don’t have the facility to change my details on your database, I think it’s likely that something’s gone wrong at your end.

O2: I’m sorry I’m not authorised to discuss this account with you as it’s a different address.

Eh! Is it me?

In desperation, I took my sanity in my hands a couple of months ago and tried again. I asked if there wasn’t someone ringing in, a little puzzled at regularly receiving my bills, but they couldn’t tell me, presumably because if they discovered that the name and phone number didn’t tie up, they’d have to tell the caller they weren’t authorised to discuss the account.

It took a while to find someone to agree that this wasn’t the most sensible way forward, but finally the address was changed and I was promised that I would now get my monthly bills. But what she wouldn’t agree to do was send me copies of the missing bills, because O2 didn’t provide that service. I asked if she’d describe sending me something she should already have sent me as an extra service, but she could only repeat the rule that they didn’t do that. I wasn’t capable of haggling any more so came off the phone relieved that at least I would now get my bills.

I received a bill yesterday - and I'm not making this up - it had the wrong name on it.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?