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.

Weekend

So where did that weekend go then? It is my firm conviction that the days that make up the weekend have less hours in them than the days that make up the rest of the week. I also think days off go quicker when it is sunny and it has been sunny here – yasssss! Apologies if it is not sunny where you are but we have been up to our Arks in rain for the past fortnight and the whole country has been dark and soggy. (Obviously Australia you would, I suppose, give your eye teeth to be soggy. Sorry. Again. To be frank I’m sorry I even started this).

We have been quite busy for old people. We have visited Aged Parent in her new abode. Some days she loves it. Some days – not so much. For it is she and that is how she is. I have had a series of anguished phone calls telling me how unhappy she is – which was worrying. However, though an unrelated set of circumstances, I was chatting with the lady that leads her team of carers who casually informed me that AP was one of the more social people that she looked after and that she went downstairs for coffee everyday to have a chat. She was very surprised when I told her about the calls I was getting and offered to have a chat with AP. I think there may have been an element of “caught out” about this chat because since then, we have seen a bit of a change. AP has told me about her exercise class (seated obviously – my kind of exercise class) and demanded £50 to continue to play Bingo.

Me……Er £50? Who are you playing with? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

AP……Well I won’t spend it in one go obviously. That will keep me going for a while. One of the prizes is a mug with a dog on it.

At this point I am staring at a mug tree the size of a beanstalk in her kitchen but decide not to argue. It’s her money.

Then we had a very nice lunch with people which, as I said was lovely but left me amazed at how much a restaurant can charge for a pizza. I mean, they are on offer at Iceland for £1 a go at the moment. I know mine had spinach and cranberry sauce on but really. I think I am getting old because I am so full after something like that, I always think I will never eat again. However, not to worry, within a couple of hours I was giving due consideration to a small bag of Maltesers.

This morning, for reasons that are far too complicated to go into here, we found ourselves at a Wesley Covenant Service. After two weeks of “New Beginnings New You” nonsense, it was refreshing to think about the New Year being about committing yourself to something that had a bit more depth to it than losing half a stone or cutting down on the time you spend on Instagram. I’ve copied John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer below and the thing that struck me about it was how freeing it is. It’s not up to me – it’s up to you God. It seemed to be about letting go of striving, which is surely a good thing. Because striving takes its toll and we are all older than we think. Well apparently I am. Witness this conversation between AP and me.

AP……I’ve been to singing class.

Me……Excellent. Did you enjoy it?

AP……Yes, we sang all the old songs “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line” Do you remember it?

Me……(Affronted) No. I do NOT remember it Mum because it was WWII.

AP……You do remember it (singing now) “We’re going to hang….”

Me……(Rudely interrupting) Yes, I KNOW it Mum. I just don’t REMEMBER it.

AP……Oh you do surprise me. Looking at you, I thought you would remember it.

The Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Lady In Waiting

Anne Glenconner

I got this book for Christmas. I think there is every possibility that you might have got it for Christmas as well. The giveaway for me is that it is a hardback book. I need to either be obsessed with the possibility of the book to buy a hardback or it’s a present. (Apologies for rubbish photo with £3 off sticker etc. Must work on flatlays and photos more).

I dropped heavy hints about wanting this book when Lady Glenconner appeared on Graham Norton, telling frightfully witty and amusing stories about her husband – Lord Glenconner and about being Lady-In-Waiting to Princess Margaret.

I have to say first of all that this is a brilliant book. I couldn’t put it down but it isn’t what I thought. There’s a lot of money and a lot of privilege. When she talks about money worries, I don’t think it’s money worries they way that you or I would understand them. There also some really interesting historical detail – she was one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting at the Coronation. For those of you of a more salacious bent (i.e. me) there’s lots of gently gossipy stuff about Princess Margaret and Roddy Llewellyn. Bu, it isn’t packed out with the LOLS as the young people say.

I found the amount of family tragedy that she deals with through her life borderline shocking. It’s too spoilery to go into too much detail – her husband’s battles with mental illness are well documented but I had no idea about the extremes she was dealing with and life with her family gets to a point where it is one awful happening after another.

Yet she goes though life with stoicism and grace. She’s a good and faithful friend to Princess Margaret when the more mean spirited among us may feel that PM didn’t always deserve it. She moves heaven and earth to nurse one of her children and is very honest about her own shortcomings as a parent – mostly influenced, I think, by it “just not being done that way” in her time and social circle.

As I said, I thought it was brilliant – not for the reasons I expected – she is I think, an admirable person.

Just a quick note to recommend the film Jo Jo Rabbit. This is a very divisive film and if you saw it and hated it, I would completely agree with you. However, in that annoying way I have that I am always fair to me, I may be agreeing with you because you are probably right but I still loved this film. It is about a little German boy in the last months of the war. Germany are losing but the Nazis are keeping that under their hats. Jo Jo is a committed Nazi and Adolf Hitler is his imaginary friend. (I know, I know). He then discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house. I think you need to know that Taika Waititi – the writer/director/Hitler friend person is Jewish – it made a difference to me around the things that I found uncomfortable. But, it does that classic thing of scaring away the horror by laughing at it and it IS very funny and warm and dignified with acts of immense courage. It isn’t showing everywhere but see it if you feel you can. I thought it was excellent.