Kindness

February is a weird time. Just far enough away from Christmas to have lost all the twinkleyness and we are not seeing March on the way anytime soon. Here in the UK, we are in the middle of Storm Dennis (Stop naming the weather)! It’s raining – a lot and we are all on the verge of running out of British Bulldog spirit. To be fair though, all we are having to do is put a towel down at the bottom of the French windows but some people are seeing their whole lives sinking under the water. I did put my Cary Grant coat on (big old coat – bought from a vintage fair – difficult for the wind to get up it) this afternoon and braved the weather for a walk. We spent more time than is probably healthy pinned against a pub wall but, other than that – all is well. I broke my tooth and despite having a cavity so big that I got a prawn stuck in it on Thursday – I shouldn’t worry because my “emergency” dental appointment is February 27th. I think it’s in 2020 although I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

Has anyone been watching the Agatha Christie on Sundays? The Pale Horse? I know that these BBC adaptations are meant to be different and challenging (I think we all needed counseling and support after watching John Malcovich as Poirot) but I do not have the faintest idea what is going on. And bear in mind that I re-read the book a couple of weeks ago. Although I didn’t pay much attention to the re-read – I remember not liking it originally because a chicken or something met a nasty end.

Much better in my humble opinion is the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” I wrote about the documentary about Mr Rogers a few weeks ago but this is the Tom Hanks film. (Or Tam Honks as he is forever known in our house) It is really quite brilliant and moving but very complicated and human. It was very moving to see him kneeling by his bed, a small notebook in hand, praying for people by name. Just their name – nothing else. Made me think about how worked up we (well – let’s be honest – me) get about prayer – about how we have to explain how it works to God and go into details about the whole thing, otherwise he won’t understand. Yet, here was a man with enough faith to just say a name to God. It gave me plenty of pause for thought.

I am writing this as the news about Caroline Flack taking her own life is coming through. I’m not sure that I have anything to say except that everything – everything is recoverable from – there are no exceptions. No pit is too deep as Corrie Ten Boon used to say and I wished she had heard that and also that she appealed for kindness because I suppose she knew in her soul that that was what she needed and it wasn’t forthcoming. We blame social media but social media is inanimate – it’s the people on it that are cruel. We are a mess sometimes and no mistake.

For those wondering – Aged Parent is getting a bit more settled. There are activities every day – The Music Man every Thursday seems to be a particular favourite and she eats her lunch in the dining hall every day (except when it’s batter or vegetables or cheese or pork – she can’t be doing with pork)

Anyway, always looking to be helpful she told me about her helpful remarks to the lady who sits opposite her – a permanent wheelchair user.

AP – So I told her – A word of advice my dear. I have been told that if I don’t use my legs I will lose the use of them so I am trying to walk on them as much as I can. Something for you to think about in that chair love no?

Me – Mum she’s paralyzed!!

AP – Really? Shame. Nice girl. Pity I didn’t get to speak to her earlier.

Noooooo! Have a good week.

Lowborn

Since we moved, I have started to walk to work a different way. (Why, yes I do walk to work. Thank you for being impressed. I’m averaging about 8000 steps a day to and from work since you ask and yes I am quite pleased with myself. Thank you).

I walk down quite an “interesting” street and, if someone was glassed outside Boomerngs last week I don’t let it bother me because I am well away from there by 5.30 pm. In the morning, I walk alongside a stream of secondary school pupils, on their way to an establishment that is never going to give Westminster Prep a run for its money in the results department. The girls are noisy with those wobbly hair buns on top of their heads and beautifully applied make up. They are carrying school bags which are just big enough to hold their phones and their fags (FOW 2s observation) but they seem happy and boisterous and you don’t really fear for their futures.

Occasionally though, you see a child and they are a little bit different. Their clothes aren’t good – especially the shoes and they don’t look that clean. Their parent/carer doesn’t look great either – usually pushing a trolley which has seen better days. These days, poverty can be easier to cover sometimes. With the advent of fast, cheap fashion – people can sometimes be turned out better than they would have been able to be in the past, without handouts and the like. I myself have known what it’s like to go to Dorothy Perkins with clothing vouchers – I know a little bit of how that feels. (On a side note – fast fashion is complicated. I know that sometimes it is made in terrible circumstances but you may find that the poor in this country appreciate the availability of clothes that ordinary people wear that stops them standing out as deprived. Like I said. Complicated). When you see these children, it gives you pause, You wonder about their home life, their friendships, their future.

Lowborn by Kerry Ann Hudson is a book about that kind of a life. As a child of an absent father and an alcoholic mother, her early life was marked by a succession of homes, various “dads”, school uniforms from charity shops that made people laugh at her and the need to grow up much sooner than a child should. More often than not she was her Mum’s rescuer rather than her child. In her teenage years she “went astray” drinking and sleeping around. There was a brief time at an evangelical church but she doesn’t seem to have made any contact with God. It was just a place to meet young people like her. It is so well written – brilliantly evoking her life and times. The book jumps back to her childhood and then forward and she visits the towns of her youth and tries to deal with the feelings these visits stir up.

Hudson is still trying to come to terms with her past. She is a successful novelist but still feels affected by the things that happened. Her young life was one lived at the outer margins. I think that many of those who live in poverty may not have the back story that she had but it is still shocking. At the end of the book she leaves us with figures that are meant to stir us up

“we live in the world’s sixth-richest economy but one-fifth of us live in poverty”

Sometimes this is a really difficult read and it makes no apologies for that. She is, however, a walking talking beacon of hope that people can recover, albeit with scars. Recommended.

London

I am a little train-lagged so please forgive spelling mistakes/unedited swearing/bad sentence construction etc. (That is, if you notice any difference)

We went to London for the day yesterday which means a 5.50 AM train which followed a 4.15 AM get up. As usual, when the alarm goes off, one of us always says “We are NEVER doing this again.” But we always do.

We had a lovely time. We mainly went to see the British Museum’s exhibition on Troy. I used to have an English teacher who said that there was a lot of inverted snobbery when it came to “Classical Literature” and that mythology and Shakespeare and the like are basically rattling good stories but you just have to work a bit harder to get into them. I think he was probably right and I would say that if you fancy going to see something like this, then you should go for it. I mean, honestly, I am not the brightest button in the box, but I don’t let my ignorance or people saying “Oooh get you!” put me off.

I wanted to see the exhibition after reading Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls which was a brilliant book about Greek Mythology and the way that the women who were the spoils of war, never actually say anything so we have no idea how they felt. Having ignored my English teacher and I did not have the faintest idea about Homer, The Iliad or indeed The Odyssey. This did not stop me standing too close to two awfully posh men and nodding sagely as they chatted about whether Achilles and Patroclus were lovers or just “terribly attached to one another.” Apparently there is no suggestion of them having gay jig-a-jig in Homer if you were wondering.

Anyway, it’s a marvelous exhibition and you don’t have to be a Greek scholar to enjoy it. There’s the mythology and the archaeology and then more modern representations of the myths in art. I couldn’t get over the age of the stuff. Vases and friezes that were over 2000 years old.

We had a wander round Oxford Street which is a challenge on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you. Then we had our tea at our favourite Italian on the South Bank, did a bit more pootling and then we got the train back. That was, as usual, a joy.

There was a time when a train journey was a lovely addition to a holiday. I mean it was never like a Japanese bullet train or anything and realistically no-one ever expects the toilet to flush first time do they? But other than that, once you sat down with your coffee and those little biscuits in packets, and read a nice thing about pensions in Good Housekeeping it was lovely experience. (Did I ever tell about the time I was just undoing my jeans when the door to the train-loo suddenly flung itself open. Five seconds later and I would have been facing the entire carriage looking like someone from those 1970’s Confessions movies. If you get the chance, ask HOH about it. He won’t be able to answer you because he will be crying laughing about it. Again. And Again.)

Anyway, back to the journey home. On arriving at Paddington we learnt that a ten carriage train had been reduced to five carriages so you don’t have to have a huge imagination to picture what went on. We were OK, we had seats but further down the train, people who had booked were standing up or in the wrong seats. And the train manager was getting a total pasting. I think I have said before that it is my conviction that to sell seats on a train and then not provide them – expecting to keep the money – is fraud. Try this sort of thing in any other walk of life. I will be complaining. Again.

It’s this sort of thing that makes me worry about HS2. Apparently, the North of England won’t see it open there for twenty to thirty years! So what sort of state do we think the rest of the rail infrastructure will be in by then? Those of us who live in the South West of England are already ducking under the seats as we go through Dawlish in case the sea throws up something unpleasant against the dodgy windows.

Anyway, we got home safely if a bit crumpled. As I lay in my bed I thought “I’m too old to do this again.” But I probably will.

Have a good week.

Birthday

Et voila the Birthday Parent! We wondered if some of you would like to see Aged Parent and this was her yesterday on her birthday. (Quote as we walked through the door “I’m not 84 I’m 83 so that’s good isn’t it?” I have no idea). And before any of you decide that I have been a little hard on AP – looking at how happy and bright and cheerful she is here, I would like to let you know that this photo took more arranging than a Royal Wedding Album. She doesn’t normally like laughing (her quote not mine) but she made an exception for her birthday.

Also we had rejected a photo taken just after she moved in on the grounds that it looked like a Panorama documentary and was likely to earn us a visit from the social.

Our plans for Power of Attorney have hit a snag. There are two separate bits – one for finance and one for health and welfare. I sent them off about six weeks ago. The finance one came back because the signatures hadn’t been signed in the right order which I suppose is fair enough. However the Health and Welfare has been returned because I mistakenly wrote the date as 20 19 2019. Not only has it been sent back but we have to do the whole thing again and pay 50% of the fee again. Yup. I wouldn’t mind so much but there are spelling mistakes in the letter they sent me and they sent it to the wrong address.

We are thinking of just doing the finance one – all AP is bothered about is that she has enough money for the Bingo and the charity sing song. Has anyone had involvement with a Health POA? Are they worth it? I’ll be honest, I cannot see me making life and death decisions that fly in the face of medical advice. I can’t see AP vetoing any decisions ether. The only thing she has vetoed so far is an £860 bill to have a solicitor do it.

In an uneventful week, I am just going to leave you with an old hymn that we sang this morning. I haven’t sung it for years and it felt like the return of an old friend and I was a bit emotional.

But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”

It’s a direct lift from 2 Timothy and when I was a young person all lush and lovely, an old lady in the church said it was a very important hymn because it was about “Knowing” which is head knowledge and being “persuaded” which is your heart knowledge. And I was always taught that they were like a pair of scissors and you couldn’t have one without the other. And even now that I am old and withered and even though a lunatic hairdresser has left me with a haircut that means that I could easily be mistaken in the street for Vera, this hymn can still make my bottom lip wobble with the truth and loveliness of it all.

Have a great week

Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout

In the interests of not breaking the habit of a lifetime, I am, once again late to this party. This is a winner of The Pulitzer Prize For Fiction no less. Not entirely sure what that is to be honest. I mean, I know it’s very good to win it and hurrah and all that but couldn’t give you details of what it actually is. If this were a proper blog, I would go off and research that and we would all learn something. Unlucky. However, what a book. Sometimes, when people write well, in my ignorance, I read things and I think – well it seemed a little overwritten. Lots of descriptive stuff can make me think that that authors are trying too hard to, well, win the Pulitzer Prize. This, however, this genuinely is beautifully written. It’s a quite ordinary story of an ordinary woman in a small town in Maine. She’s imperfect, kind, sharp – I believed that she is a real person. I think the phrase is a “properly fleshed out character”. In a way not much happens but actually things do happen in this small town. Some events, she is on the periphery of and others have her at their centre. Olive is a retired school teacher in a 25 year marriage to a lovely man. She has a problematic relationship with her grown up son and, as I said, things happen. I loved it – very very much. It’s going on my (much reduced) keepy bookshelf. A few years ago I bought HOH the DVD of this story with Frances McDormand because it had won a lot of awards I think. When we moved I found it at the bottom of a pile with the cellophane still on. (ingrate) so I Ziffited it. I’m a bit sorry now – would have liked to have seen it.

Did we talk about Little Women? I expect lots of you have seen it. My opinion is here. I will not be taking questions. I cried more or less all the way through. I loved the book as a child and the film is just beautiful. The relationships between the sisters are wonderfully played and I also liked the way Beth doesn’t get altered to be the youngest which happens in the films sometimes. (This is VERY important. Amy is the youngest. Why change it)? Florence Pugh’s Amy is fantastic – just the right mix of peevish and sympathetic but for me the stand-out was Saoirse Ronan as Jo. (I had to look spelling her name up – you won’t be surprised to learn). She is so brilliant playing, in my humble opinion, one of the great literary characters EVER (No. No. No. I said no questioning. I am correct). She won’t win anything for it because all the prizes go to people doing impressions of other people so the Judy Garland impression will win. But I loved her so much. It’s a great film.

HOWEVER. (Crashing symbols for effect) The film isn’t perfect. The Professor is too young (and beautiful for that matter but I don’t really have a problem with that) Also Greta Gerwig (who directed and adapted and may be a bona fide genius) has changed the end ever so slightly. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and I say unto you again WRONG. Again. I am taking no arguments. I feel very strongly about this. (Can you tell)? Otherwise. Quite brilliant.

Lastly and briefly – promise. If you have Netflix do yourself a favour and find “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?”. It’s the documentary about the character Tom Hanks plays in the upcoming “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.” It’s about Fred Rogers whose programmes revolutionised American Children’s TV. It is so lovely. I cried a few times. There is an interview that Mr Rogers conducts with a young boy who is a wheelchair user about his spinal surgery and how his life is. It is honest, non-patronising and just full of goodness. When they sing “It’s You I Like” together, you almost feel the world might make it. A bit.