Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a bird’s eye view of things. Of a school classroom, for instance, so we could see how much more enjoyable the whole learning experience is compared with when we were young, cowed into brain-numbed submission, or a crowded station platform to observe the lengths some people will go in their desperation to shove to the front.

The idea of squinting down from on high occurred to me last week when I was at the fabulous Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern. My sister had spirited me there, and treated me to lunch, for a super-grade birthday outing. I was thrilled by the whole day, and especially thrilled to be able to see such a large and impressively broad body of work by one of my hero modernist painters.

The exhibition was shown in several rooms, about a dozen in all, spanning the years of O’Keeffe’s long and productive life, which ended at the age of 98 in 1986.

We had tickets for a timed entry, enabling us to side-step the long queues for this very popular exhibition. By about Room 3 I was aware that to get a proper view of any of the paintings I was finding I had to show immense tact and sidestep, duck, hover and sidle around others with the same intent.

It was an elaborate, rather tiresome ritual, a curious choreography performed by bending bodies and tilted heads, nimble feet and indrawn elbows.

If I could look down on this, I thought, I’d be able to learn a lot about human behaviour, about the politeness of so many, the boorishness of the few.

Anyone clever enough to annotate the ceaseless flow of fancy footwork into proper choreography would, I feel sure, be able to create a most interesting piece of modern ballet, perhaps set to a souped-up version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. You read it here first.

While in Room 7 I witnessed a bit of a verbal tussle going on between a uniformed attendant and a taut, fraught mother whose daughter, I was able to gather, had apparently been admonished for lunging towards a painting with a pen in her hand.

The mother was raising her voice in defence of her daughter, assuring the attendant that the child had had no evil intent. The attendant calmly responded that he wasn’t to know that and he was only doing his job.

Instead of smiling an apology for causing him concern, the mother became even more stroppy, her anger causing her daughter, aged about nine to stare at the ground, willing it to open up and remove her swiftly from the scene. The woman’s son, probably aged about 11, disowned the whole messy ensemble and disappeared to the other side of the room.

I moved on, hoping the attendant would win the day. In Room 9 I suddenly encountered them again, the woman’s penetrating voice again unmissable. Things had obviously taken a new turn as I heard the luckless attendant reporting through his intercom: “A complaint is being made against me.”

People turned from the paintings and stared, their concentration shattered, their choreography now all out of step.

Oh, how sad, I thought. How utterly unnecessary, and what a dismal, horrible experience for those children, who were probably there under sufferance anyway.

Their mother should have not just a lesson in how to be reasonable but a bird’s eye view to appreciate how a minor incident can affect crowd behaviour.

It must have been four months ago that Geoff asked me what I thought about going to Bristol to see a musical.

“Are you completely and utterly mad?” I asked, not really needing an answer since I knew it. “We don’t go to musicals. We’ve never been to a musical. What’s put this into your head?”

He explained he’d been reading reviews of Guys and Dolls, which was about to tour the provinces after a triumphant run in London. The reviews were sensational. They’d enthused him and caused a radical thought to take root in his head. “What do you think?”

I could only think what a lot of good it would do both of us to step off our straight lines and experience something for the first time that so many others were enthusiastically recommending. We’d be mad not to, and anyway it was months away so we didn’t need to think about it now.

“Let’s do it,” I said, so together we booked the seats – after hours of indecision over which would give us a good view – and then promptly forgot all about it.

Suddenly our chosen date popped up on the calendar and we headed to Bristol’s lovely old Hippodrome last week.

Many years ago, Geoff had lived and worked in Bristol and so he was sure he could remember how to get us there and was even confident of finding his way around the city.

I should have known. Yes, he got us there, but only with the help of Susie Satnav, and as for the finer detail of reaching the theatre from where we’d parked, we might just as well have been virgin explorers on the Moon.

Every time we turned left we should have turned right, every hopeful glimpse of the quayside somehow morphed into a dead-end behind an old warehouse, and when we finally, mercifully, spotted the Hippodrome across a very crowded street, we almost became swept away on a tide of humanity heading in the opposite direction for a festival.

Against the odds, therefore, we made it to the theatre and settled into our seats to enjoy that lovely buzz of anticipation pre-curtain up. “You can blame me if it’s awful and you don’t enjoy it,” Geoff said generously, filling me with confidence.

I assured him I wouldn’t let him forget it was his idea but said again how good it was for us to be out of our comfort zone. A musical! Us!

Of course it was absolutely wonderful and we were both completely transported. Sure, your brain doesn’t feel taxed by having to follow the nuances of a complicated plot of, say Shakespeare on stage, but your soul feels buffed and burnished into a happy glow after being exposed to all the exciting elements of a musical.

This was pure escapism, heady and happy and hugely infectious with its energy and wit, its songs – some familiar, some not – and its dance routines lifting the whole audience into a place of the purest delight.

Four months ago, when we’d hurled away all our silly prejudices and booked, we could hardly have known just how much we would appreciate the opportunity Guys and Dolls gave us to escape the world around us.

For almost three blessed hours nothing else mattered, no Brexit fallout, no bickering politicians, no global horrors. Only the niggling concern about where on earth we’d left the car.

This is the oddest of times. Whether you’ve been for In, Out or even Shake It All About, there’s no escaping we’re in the midst of a seismic period.

Waiting for the dust to settle is interesting, to say the least, and I’ve had my nose firmly in the news trough, lapping it all up. Digesting the situation before it morphs into the next instalment – I hesitate to say crisis – has been, and continues to be, challenging, but it really is fascinating to be living through such a momentous period.

It’s the sort of nation-rocking that features in history books and you wonder what it must have been like to be there at the time. Well, here’s the thing: we are right there, now.

Perhaps it was this instability, perhaps it was just a family weakness for slightly losing the plot from time to time, but whatever the reason, we’ve had a notable week that could best be filed under Take It or Leave It.

In the Take It section we have the normally super-organised Geoff checking out of a hotel and, hours later and many miles away, finding the room key in his pocket.

Two things prompted me to take over at this point: relief mixed with a smidgen of schadenfreude that it had had nothing to do with me and, for once, I was entirely blameless, and the certain knowledge that as Geoff does not do queues, and certainly not steamy, malodorous Post Office queues, it would be down to me anyway to ensure the key was dispatched back to its proper home.

I packed up the key and I stood in the queue and ensured the key went merrily on its way.

I could not know that only a few days later I’d be back in the Post Office, back in the queue (an even longer one this time), but now with the task of posting an iPad to my daughter-in-law.

She’d left it behind after a family get-together on Sunday. With our son and two grand-daughters, she headed home and various text messages and calls while they were en route made it clear how vital a part the electronic gadget plays in family life, not least for the contentment of deft-fingered little Poppy on long car journeys.

So I did some more packing up, some more queueing, and for about the cost of a couple of gallons of petrol, sent off the iPad fully insured and guaranteed to arrive within less than 24 hours.

It was all good stuff on the mother-in-law points chart, I felt.

What I hope was the final Leave It situation of the week involved a nappy bag, which somehow materialised in our car boot after the family gathering. You can imagine Geoff’s horrified reaction when the discovery was made. He held it out at arm’s length as if it contained something that was about to go off.

Little did he know, something had gone distinctly off a little earlier, but it had been dealt with. Wipes and disposable nappies wielded by deft hands are good at that.

Since no-one knew how the bag had ended up in our car, we agreed it must have been dropped by a passing unicorn. Things like that are always happening.

We managed to deliver the bag to a convenient point where the baby whose bottom would benefit could instruct her parents to collect it.

After so much Take It and Leave It, I’m braced now for a bit of Shake It All About.

I’ve been wasting far too much time this week trying to establish some Welsh bona fides.

Just remembering to say “Yaki da” from time to time and addressing Geoff as “Boyo” does not, I feel sure, entitle me to share in the euphoria over Wales’s progress – well, certainly progress compared with England’s pathetic effort – in the 2016 Euro football tournament.

It would be disingenuous to claim “We’re all Welsh now” so I’ve avoided chanting that and upsetting those with a genuine claim.

I pinned my hopes on my research mining a relative out of the foothills of the Black Mountains, or at least from a small village in, say, Pembrokeshire.

No such luck. I know I had an uncle by marriage who was in the Welsh Guards during the Second World War, sadly long-dead in only his fifties from the terrible toll that gas took on his lungs. I met him twice, when I was very small, and all I can remember of him is his bristly moustache, which frightened me.

No other relatives would seem to have hailed from the other side of the Severn Bridge or Offas Dyke. Large numbers from Scotland, but that’s no use at all this week (or ever, I’m fairly safe in saying).

We’ve plenty of friends living in Wales, know plenty of people who’ve been students in Wales, but they’re not strictly Welsh. We also know a great number of people called David, Hugh and Gareth. No Blodwyns, though.

So if no people-centric Welsh connections, what else could I dredge up? Only this: I lived in digs for a while in Cardiff, a memory I prefer to blot out than dredge up with any joy. It was a long time ago, before any EU money (remember the EU?) reached anywhere in the UK but especially Wales.

Cardiff was on its knees, run down and, certainly in the area in which I had the misfortune to be staying for several months, dirty, lawless and deeply depressing.

The digs were close to a railway line and frequented mostly by theatrical types. The noise of trains during breakfast had to compete with the astonishing sound of a contortionist’s cracking bones as she moved around and sat down. It certainly put me off my toast (one slice, halved), margarine and Silver Shred.

There was one loo for the whole household and it was outside. One night I fumbled my way down there in the darkness and, to my great surprise, sat down on a cat.

It’s difficult to forget an incident like that, and difficult not to bear something of a grudge against Cardiff and Wales as a consequence.

I believe word gets around in the feline world and cats and I have had an uneasy relationship ever since. When two or more are gathered together in my presence I fancy I can see them nudging each other and exchanging looks that say, “Yes it was her. That one, you know. The Cardiff Incident.”

That horrible middle-of-the-night experience, coupled with such a notable lack of other bona fides, leads me to conclude that I was never meant to have any allegiance to Wales at all. This is a huge relief. I can’t be bothered with embracing all that dragon stuff and the enthusiastic, if mournful, singing in the valleys, not to mention eating seaweed for pleasure.

I’ll stick with being English: downtrodden, achieving nothing and in a leaderless state of confusion and ignominy after exiting the Euros. And Europe, come to that.

What an awful, heart-sinking thing it is to lose a purse. I can say this with authority because the trembling horror of it is still with me after my purse went AWOL on Saturday.

I imagine it’s the same if you’re a chap and you lose your wallet, although according to Geoff that’s something that just doesn’t happen. Wallets behave, purses like to go walkabout. It’s a gender thing, then, this unfortunate sense of adventure.

It was certainly very unfortunate when my purse broke free and absented itself from my custody.

Oh, how my heart sank when I reached in my bag for it … and it wasn’t there. Of course it was, it must be … but it wasn’t. I rummaged again, trying to keep the panic out of my voice as I called out to Geoff, “Umm, have you seen my purse?”

“What does it look like?”

“Like a purse. You know, with a zip. It’s a light colour with a pattern, I think.”

It’s strange how the mind – well, this mind, at least – turns blank and mushy when under such pressure.

I decided to go into town and retrace my steps from when I was shopping earlier and from when Geoff and I had had coffee together in a cafe.

The greengrocer hadn’t seen it, the baker hadn’t seen it. This was getting serious. Perhaps I hadn’t just mislaid it but someone had rootled in my cross-body bag (how, exactly?) and taken it.

As I went back into the cafe I could hardly breathe I was so nervous. So much hinged on this: no purse would mean reporting its loss to the police and a great palaver of phone calls to cancel cards; finding it would mean none of that and a vow never to let it out of my sight again.

Pathetically, I had a vision of it waving at me from the table where we’d sat. Our cups were still there, not yet cleared away, but, devastatingly, there was no sign of the purse.

I trudged home, full of despair. I checked every possible hiding place a further 18 times. I just couldn’t believe this was happening because I truly am careful about my belongings – just not quite careful enough, obviously.

For the final time I consulted my memory for a re-run of the morning’s activity. Hang on, I’d forgotten that bit in the cafe where Geoff had persuaded me to move from the table I’d first chosen. Let’s sit round the corner where it’s quieter, he’d suggested. I’d picked my things up and followed him.

Had I, oh please, please, had I abandoned my purse at that first table? I remembered now that I’d had it in my hand because I was going to pay when we ordered our coffees, but Geoff had insisted it was his treat.

Off I went back to the cafe again, this time at high speed and with hope rising in my thumping heart. I screeched to a halt at the table. No purse! I looked underneath and on the chairs and on the adjacent tables. No purse!

This time I did what I should have done when I first returned to the café: I asked a member of staff if anyone had handed in a purse.

“Is it this one,” she asked, holding up my orphaned vagabond.

“Yes, yes!” I whimpered. “Oh, thank you!”

I delivered an embarrassing speech of thanks while I stuffed the blasted thing into the depths of my bag. My relief knew no bounds – and indeed still doesn’t.

THERE are some things that happen in 21st century life that give me cause to wonder where we are all heading. If not to hell in a handcart, then somewhere very close to it, certainly close enough to feel the heat.

I’m sure we all have our own views on what provokes such dismal thoughts, but suffice to say that Progress, with a capital P, sometimes has a lot to answer for.

At other times, though, a little bit of sanity creeps back into life, enough to make one pause and realise that things really aren’t that bad.

This happened to me last weekend, when I briefly entered a world where it almost seemed the clock had been turned back so that neither the 21st century nor Progress existed in their less welcome forms. Instead, everything was benign and even the occasionally menacing clouds failed to deliver.

I was staying in Devon with my son, daughter-in-law and two grand-daughters, aged three and one. We packed a picnic and drove along lanes made almost impassable by billowing, bountiful hedgerows flushed pink with valerian and foxgloves.

We passed through neat, well-loved villages and a small town bustling with shoppers patronising a newsagent, a greengrocer and a baker on its main street. The whole journey was like an animated 1950s Ladybird book of the country life.

Our destination was an open day at a miniature pony centre on Dartmoor. The cynic in me would normally anticipate a serious exploitation of captive families and my purse-strings would begin to twitch, but here, mercifully, there was no such thing.

There was no admission charge this day as it was a 30th anniversary celebration. The generosity vibe continued as we found that a pony ride for Poppy cost only £2 (including, to her utter joy, a rosette), five minutes of riotous fun on a bouncy castle was 50p, and a child-friendly locally made proper ice-cream was £1.20.

We could picnic wherever we liked around the well-kept acres although there were plenty of picnic tables in the open and under cover. Those who hadn’t brought their own food could eat in the cafe or choose from the barbecue menu, where the most expensive item was £2.50.

The animals – pint-sized ponies, horses of all types and a few dotty donkeys – were in stables or stalls, and a large field contained a score or more of miniature Shetland mares and foals.

Everyone was allowed to wander around in this field and stroke the ponies, often so tiny it seemed they’d almost fit in a handbag. We were all enchanted. Some people even lay in the grass cradling sleeping ponies and obsessively taking selfies.

I kept looking around for the health and safety brigade, expecting orders not to walk here or there, not to touch and not to let the children get too close. But no, there was nothing to mar our pleasure and everyone respected the animals and each other.

I feel sure that the atmosphere of benevolence translated itself into visitors’ donations. Other ‘family venues’ please note: a hard sell is not always necessary. Even cupcakes came free, offered as a share of the 30th birthday cake.

So our day trip back to the past, to the way things used to be but are now too often not, came to an end, but not before Poppy had drawn pictures of her new love, Harry the tiny grey pony, and Clemmie had had her sister’s ice-cream washed out of her hair. A perfect day indeed.

It was wonderful to hear Mary Berry, the nation’s favourite baking fairy, guest-editing Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 this week.

Forthright and articulate, she totally belied her 81 years and provided entertaining, thought-provoking content for a programme that held my interest on a long car journey.

Mary is, as we know, a flawless being, utterly right in all she says and does. It is impossible for her to put a foot wrong or say a word out of place. To me, she’s the female version of another of the nation’s treasures, David Attenborough, only she has a whisk and a mixing bowl in her hands while he has snakes and frogs.

When Mary isn’t turning out a belter of a tray bake, writing a book or filming another Bake Off series, she can be found playing tennis (which she does every week), taking part in an exercise dance class (while looking at her watch and willing it to end, she admitted) and helping maintain a fabulous, family-friendly garden.

What an active life, and what a grateful soul she sounded when she thanked her good fortune in being fit and healthy enough to enjoy it to the full.

Two of the topics that she chose, with her editor’s hat on, for further exploration on the programme were modern Girl Guiding and the benefits of gardening.

She credited her membership of the Guides with teaching her practical skills that she has used throughout her life. Yes, Mary! Me too!

Couldn’t agree more, I nodded, as I inched the car past roadworks. Apart from lighting a fire (no fire-lighters in those days, Mary pointed out) and cooking on it in billy cans, she (and I) learnt about flora and fauna in the wild while hiking.

Best of all, I was thrilled to hear Mary mention how learning to tie all sorts of knots had been helpful to her through life. Yes, Mary! Me too!

Knots are in the same sort of category as Latin vocab and verbs. You can’t imagine what use they will be to you but then, bingo, you can’t imagine life without them.

Many is the time I’ve been grateful for the reliability of a quickly executed reef knot, and, of course, the invaluable quick-release slip knot. The Latin has been a trusty companion in many ways since schooldays but especially in the learning of Italian in recent years.

The gardening part of the programme was equally inspiring, concentrating as it did on the physical benefit and the spiritual high that it can offer to participants of all ages.

All states of health, too, as GP Dr Sam Everington made clear when he explained the ‘social prescription’ of gardening that benefits many patients in his practice in Tower Hamlets, east London.

Who wouldn’t feel better for a spot of gentle digging, sowing and tending in a small corner of God’s acre?

One woman interviewee, a mother of six from Sheffield, told how her life had been changed by being ‘prescribed’ an allotment. The story of her turnaround was a perfect vindication of Mary Berry’s argument that we’re all, young and old, better off being busy in a garden. And if not a garden, then get growing with a window box, she urged.

She’s not just a keen gardener herself but is president of the National Gardens Scheme, which organises open gardens around the country, so she knows about these things. Anyway, Mary’s always right – that’s one of the things that makes her such a treasure, in and out of the kitchen.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers