Life is not a fairy tale. If you lose your shoe at midnight, you’re drunk!

Nothing keeps you on your toes like grandchildren.   They have a directness about them that one’s contemporaries don’t have.   None of my friends have ever asked when I’m going to die of if they can have something of mine after I’m dead.  They also have a fairly hazy concept of time – I was asked the other day if women had the vote when I was young and I didn’t think I was looking that old.   Most children are fond of their grandparents and mine certainly have a much more relaxed relationship with me that I ever had with any of mine.  They chat about anything and everything with me and as a result they, I hope, think of me as more of a human being than I ever did about my distant grandparents.    I saw a photograph of my paternal grandmother the other day and judging by my age in the photograph she must have been about the age I am now.  There she was, walking with a stick and leaning heavily on my father’s arm.  She was dressed top to toe in black including a hideous black hat.   We certainly had to mind our Ps and Qs in front of her.  

Children want to know about everything but as we get older we seem to lose that curiosity.   Perhaps it is time to start questioning things a bit more.   How things change with every generation.   I don’t think my grandfather would have contemplated life without a chauffeur, my father claimed never to have cleaned his own shoes, and my husband had never used a washing machine (and I very much doubt that he had ever washed his own clothes by hand!)   My son came through school without there being any ‘trans’ children there – although it may be that some have transitioned by now.   My grandchildren talk about people being ‘non-binary’ and ‘gender fluid’ and I only have the vaguest idea of what they are talking about.   As for people using the pronoun ‘they’ – that seems to me to add even more confusion to the issue – although I do appreciate that ‘it’ wouldn’t be a good alternative. 

Every day is a mystery to me nowadays – perhaps that is what is meant by second childhood.   Today there was an article in the newspaper saying that we should no longer have wisteria in our gardens as it is a symbol of colonial oppression.   FFS – Don’t even ask me what that is short for!   Children look at life with awe and wonder and joy – who doesn’t smile when they see a small child splashing in a puddle.  In my second childhood I look at the world in confusion, despair and anger most of the time.   There are things that I love about the modern age – Google is splendid.   I have an entire set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (not unfortunately the rare and valuable 11th edition) and it is rather wonderful.   It takes up an entire shelf on the bookcase and was out of date the moment it was printed.   Google is on my mobile and therefore the size of a cigarette packet (if anyone can remember what those were!) and has (mostly) up-to-date information on absolutely everything.  And then there are the things that I hate – where to begin?   Scammers – the feeling they give you that you simply can’t trust anyone on the telephone – time was when the telephone rang you could expect a friend on the other end.  Bad news came in the form of brown envelopes and were usually bills – genuine bills and not from people purporting to be from the Inland Revenue or HMRS as they are now or demanding £1.65 to deliver a parcel – it doesn’t seem like much but they get such a lot of information from that tiny transaction.   Sloppy language is an irritant as well – ‘Like’ ‘Whatever’ ‘Me and John’ ‘Very unique’ a particular bugbear of mine.   Mumbling – this could of course be due to my hearing but the sooner someone invents and app to deaden background noise the happier I will be.   Celebrities – time was when a designer showed his clothes people looked at them and took notice now it is the ‘super model’ they are looking at as the parade on the catwalk wearing an eye-wateringly expensive and often hideous outfit that only someone size zero and under twenty five could get away with wearing but of course someone like that is very unlikely to either be able to afford it or even want to wear it.   I was looking at the photos from Paris Fashion Week recently and one can only assume that the designers are either on hallucinogenic drugs or desperate for a laugh.   Speaking of which I took my fifteen year old granddaughter shopping in Zara and other shops of that ilk and we searched amongst approximately 200 identical tops to find the exact one in a size six – the assistants were incredibly helpful and ran round finding these tiny scraps of material – I was awfully tempted to ask if they had one in a size twenty – but I thought that it might induce mass panic in the store.

Another of my pet peeves about modern life is the unwillingness of people to accept responsibility for things – of course everyone should be able to go freely wherever they want and at whatever time of the day or night, but is it wise?   Very few men are rapists and monsters but some of them exist and they do live amongst us where their relationships probably comprise of looking at porn and exposing themselves and worse!   Until they invent an app so that we can recognise them we have to be careful without being too fearful.   And it’s not just men, there was a woman in the paper today who turned up at court with a ‘support dog’ and she was convicted of hacking into Alexa so that when her ex brought a girl back to his flat a disembodied voice shouted ‘Get the whore out’.      Sometimes it does feel as though the lunatics have taken over the asylum!

The Ascent of Man

The summer isn’t the best time to write – at least not while coming out of a pandemic. Or maybe that’s just me – the joy of seeing friends, of going to restaurants, shopping, travelling (at least within this country – I’m not sure I’m ready for abroad yet because I find the rules far too confusing.) However, I am now trying to pull myself together and write something as I feel more and more admiration for journalists who have to write a weekly column.


I’m an intrinsically lazy person so perhaps in my next life I could be a research scientist. Before I get any hate mail, I know that this is far from the truth. On the other hand it often seems to me that most of the ground-breaking research they come up with is stuff we already know. It must be quite nice to sit with your feet up reading books and making a few notes and then after a few years announcing to the world that your research has shown that eating a lot makes you fat or that elephants live longer than mice. But, one bit of research I saw recently did interest me – apparently the ascent of man is not as we have always believed – it is far more complicated than that. Take Homo Neanderthalensis (or Neanderthal man) for example. It appears that he is not our distant cousin but our direct ancestor and that people today have one or two percent Neanderthal in their make-up. Frankly I have known men who have been at least twenty-five percent Neanderthal. You must have met them too as they walk amongst us – or more often drive cars – ready for a punch up at all times. Our other ancestor, Homo Longi (or Dragon Man) seems to have rather disappointingly, been distinguished only by a very large head. It would be nice to think that Dragon man had invented fire. Three others are now extinct – Homo Erectus who died out 100,000 years ago – may not quite Erectus enough! However, Homo Habilis (or Handy Man) who used stone tools and is supposed to have become extinct two million years ago is surely still with us in the form of DIY man, recently resurrected during the pandemic and to be found in B & Q any Sunday. And then there is Homo Floresiensis (or Hobbit Man) who was five foot tall with very large feet and became extinct 50,000 years ago. I’m not sure that I believe that as I’m pretty sure that in my youth, when I was already 5’9” at thirteen it was their descendants who always asked me to dance at the agonisingly formal children’s parties we went to in those dark and distant days and my toes frequently had the bruises to prove it. In any case in the interest of science I have done some research of my own and I believe there are several other homininds. Of course, I use the word Homo to represent mankind meaning humans as a whole and not man per se. The following definitions are a mixture of Google translate and cod Latin.
I give you:
Homo Kardashian – a branch of humans who were addicted to self-improvement, body modification and decoration. Skeletal remains can be found clutching a rudimentary comb made from the teeth of a sabre toothed tiger, a polished stone which scientists believe was used as a mirror and several hollowed out stones containing remnants of woad and other vegetable dyes.
Homo Obesis – the chubster – these ancestors spent their time in their caves waiting for their partner (see Homo Venandi below) to bring home the goods. This was before the written language but I think we can safely assume that they were capable of expressing the sentiment ‘What do you mean, you only brought back one mammoth? What are you going to eat then?’ even if it was only in grunts.
Homo Herbivore – these very pale skeletons have been found next to the remains of some roots with bits of grass between the teeth and an unnervingly smug expression and can be confused with Homo Perfectus whose remains have been found in spotless caves with a pile of bones neatly stacked outside the back door together with a twig broom doubtless made by Homo Habilis (see above).
Homo Venandi – these skeletons found beside primitive spears mostly show bones that have suffered breaks in the past presumably from encounters with Woolly Mammoths and Sabre Toothed Tigers and piles of bones from a large variety of species many of whom are now extinct – possibly as the result of Homo Obsesis munching their way through plenty of substantial meals.
Homo Martyris – Skeleton often slightly singed from the metaphorically burning flesh, inside a cave that appears to have been dug out by hand with traces of broken fingernails and prehistoric blood embedded in the walls.
Homo Maleficis – The bad boy who was the one all the cave women loved (or sometimes the bad girl that all the boys loved) judging by the number of notches carved into the stone bed.

Homo Testimonium and Homo Nostis Omnia – The bore and the know it all distinguished by the fact that all the caves nearby have been deserted indicating that their neighbours gradually moved further and further away.

I’m sure there are many more and when I get time I’m going to research it more thoroughly and who knows I might publish a paper and end up getting a Nobel prize for original research or am I just descended from Homo Fantasist!

Paradoxically Speaking.

According to the dictionary the definition of a paradox is: a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.
And: A two word paradox is an oxymoron. Got to love an Oxymoron for the name alone!

***************


A classic contemporary paradox is the situation with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who apparently left the UK in order to get some privacy from the press only to appear on one of the most widely watched television programmes in the world.
Closer to home the pandemic has encouraged many others to imagine that if they leave their busy lives in the city they will have a quieter and more enjoyable life in the country. A vision of the countryside as seen from a perfectly appointed holiday let is somewhat different from the noisy, muddy and often violent life they will find when then become full time residents. Farm machinery is loud and farmers start early in the morning. Soil produces vast quantities of mud and nature survives on kill and be killed. Quite apart from the gory road kill that decorates most country lanes there are the remains of sparrow hawk or fox kills to found on almost any country walk. And of course newcomers immediately want to change the many things they don’t like. The poverty stricken farmer down the road wants to convert his dilapidated barn into a house but the incomer wants to enjoy the view of this tumbledown building. Of course, if the objection is upheld the farmer may well sell to a rich entrepreneur who will use his clout and money to obtain planning permission for a hundred houses and in no time at all the beautiful, secluded idyll will be in the centre of a housing estate. A paradox indeed.

Another paradox a bit closer to home is the curious fact that I can sleep like a log on an uncomfortable sofa for hours with all the lights on and the television blaring but once I wake up and take myself off to my extremely comfortable bed I can lie in the dark tossing and turning for hours completely unable to fall asleep.


But all this pales against the madness of ‘woke’. As a society we prize free speech but now with the caveat that it has to follow what I refer to as ‘Islington’ guidelines. JK Rowling expresses an opinion – she is immediately pilloried on Twitter and in the media because she doesn’t conform to current ‘woke’ thought. Julie Burchill makes a joke but because it refers obliquely to George Floyd she is sacked by the Telegraph. GB News is a new television programme and I don’t know a great deal about it but apparently it claims to be right of centre – hardly in league with the BNP – however windy advertisers are pulling their ads. This could backfire as, although I have personally never been to Ikea, most of the people I know who go there have probably never even heard of Twitter and would be very unlikely to notice that GB news is being boycotted. Added to this is the modern custom of filling the media with the names and photographs of people who have been accused (however spuriously) of some historic sex crime. The cases are frequently dismissed as being the figment of a disturbed mind but not before they have irreparably damaged the lives of those they have accused. The paradox being that the so called ‘victims’ are permitted to remain anonymous but not so the ‘suspects’ who appear to be guilty until proved innocent.


And finally for the paradox that follows hot on the heels of Me Too and women demanding equality and respect – there are websites springing up all over the place where women can post ‘adult’ content for money. For example, OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media platform where users can sell and/or purchase original content—typically of the pornographic variety. When utilized as an adult site, users will post NSFW* videos and photos to their accounts, which are protected by a paywall. (*In case you are as innocent as I am NSFW means ‘Not Safe For Work’ – in other words DO NOT download on to your work computer!) I read in the newspapers this week that Kate Moss’s younger sister has signed up for one of these websites and as one of the ‘extras’ she is selling her knickers. I won’t go into any details (mainly because I neither know, nor do I want to know) but I think we can safely assume that she is not buying a multipack of sensible cotton briefs from M & S and selling these on! Poor Emily Davison throwing herself into the path of the King’s horse for this!
And before I go let me touch briefly on the paradox’s close friend the oxymoron. Surely, I’m not the only one who knows the sound of the deafening silence after dropping a terrible social brick. The first time this happened I was on the swing at school and I announced that I hated Miss Rogers for reasons now lost in the mists of time. Unbeknownst to me she was standing right behind me and I will never forget how the girlish chatter stopped abruptly and in the deafening silence that followed I knew that she was there. I continued to swing desperately as if the very act of swinging could make it all go away. Needless to say I had to stop eventually and apologise and the punishment can’t have been too bad as I remember nothing about it – only the deed itself.

Why do they call it beauty sleep when you wake up looking terrible?

I hate beauty products – they are expensive and they lie.   Apparently, beauty is only skin deep but what do people want – a pretty pancreas, an attractive appendix, a stunning spleen, a lovely liver?   I’m a very shallow person,  so skin deep will do for me.   Unfortunately (for my bank balance!) I’m one of those people who tries to walk surreptitiously and unnoticed through the cosmetic department of a department store but I’m always spotted.   ‘Let me through’ they cry ‘I’m a beautician and this is an emergency!’    In the blink of an eye I am sitting in a chair with some make-up plastered harpie lecturing me on skin care.   ‘What is your regime?’ they ask.   My intention has always been to have a regime but somehow life gets in the way and by the time I have watched yet another episode of Catfish it is really late and I just about manage to brush my hair and teeth before falling into bed.   However, after a stern lecture from the harpie and the promise of fresh, dewy skin I part with an exorbitant sum of money in order to buy a miniscule pot of wonder cream.   I will apply this religiously for a couple of days, but when the fresh dewy skin fails to materialise – I am all about instant gratification – the tiny pot gets thrown into the drawer of broken dreams.   Of courses during lockdown we haven’t been able to enter department stores so unless we want to browse skin care on-line where, without the pressure from the beautician I am able to resist temptation, there is not much we can do about it.   I once wrote an ad campaign for a skin care company – this was in the dark and distant days of press advertising.   The amount I knew about skin care could be written on a postage stamp but nevertheless by judicious use of the library (remember them?) I was able to write an apparently successful series of advertisements – I don’t believe that this had anything to do with the company’s sad demise a short time later.   As far as I know nobody sued because the miracle cream, that I promised (on behalf of the client) would transform their appearance,  failed to do just that.   Anyway, this experience has made me much better able to resist the written word.  It is when I am being held captive by a real person that I am putty in their hands.   Also during lockdown we have had far too much time for introspection coupled with a renewed desire for youthful dewy skin!   As a result I have been having a trawl through the drawer of broken dreams and resurrected many potions and lotions of yesteryear.   I applied one the other night and in the morning I discovered that it was called ‘First Defence’!   ‘Last Resort’ more like.   Why do these advertisements say that they can improve the appearance of wrinkles – what’s the point of improving their appearance – just make them go away!

We are constantly exhorted to buy these expensive unguents that claim to be recommended by dermatologist, although they usually fail to say what they are recommended for – greasing the front axle of your car perhaps?   Clinically proven, but proven to do what – to be an effective grouting for your bathroom tiles.   All these claims out of context are  meaningless!  However,  I think that I might have cracked it – my skin may not be youthful and dewy but it is plumped up and with fewer lines – and I have achieved this at minimal cost and with a great deal of pleasure.   Eating an enormous amount of comfort food during lockdown has made it more like a fully inflated balloon as opposed to the sagging half inflated pre Covid one!  

Make up gets increasingly difficult as one gets older.  I think drag queens are rather splendid but not sure that emulating one in a quiet country village is quite the look that I am after and trowelling on the make-up to cover the lines and blemishes can give one a rather startling appearance.  When I was going through the menopause I suffered terribly from hot flushes and my make up frequently just slid off my face.   I hunted the internet and found a product that promised to stop my face from sweating.   It was a clear lotion that you applied with some cotton wool and allowed it to dry.   I made for quite a good, if temporary, face lift as the skin became sealed and taut – but I was somewhat surprised on reading the instructions to see that it said ‘Apply to face, allow to dry and then apply false nose as usual’.   It was then that I discovered that it was a product meant for actors who were working under hot, strong lights!  

Why do we even bother?   It’s not as if I want to attract a man – at my age most of the available men want you for one thing – Nurse or Purse.   I think I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to be anyone’s nurse and if there’s anything left over in the purse, I’ve got plenty of grandchildren!   In any case there are no creams,  products or surgical procedures that would transform me into a young Venus – I have a terrible feeling that if I took my clothes off any man who wasn’t actually registered blind would stagger off as fast as his Zimmer frame would let him!

I AM A DINOSAUR

It didn’t happen overnight, but the realisation that I am a dinosaur has crept up on me over the past few years.   I was brought up in what now seem like prehistoric times.  My mother wasn’t around very much and we were in the charge of  Nanny and our territory was the nursery and anywhere outside in the garden or on the farm.   We were scrubbed up and put into our best clothes to be presented to our parents only at tea time.  If there were guests there I had to curstey!   For the rest of the time we lived feral lives where we ran wild with never a thought to health and safety.   We played in the dirt, rode bicylcles with dodgy brakes at breakneck speed, climbed up trees and all over farm machinery.   The only things that my father concerned himself with were that we turned up for meals on time and that we spoke nicely.   Education came quite a long way down the list for me – I was a girl and was destined to marry a rich husband!   I do understand that it was a bit of an anachronism even in those days!   By the time I had escaped from the home counties and was living in Chelsea it was the beginning of the Swinging Sixties.     Being an intrinsically frivolous person I was more drawn towards being a flower child than a feminist.   I didn’t worry about burning my bra – why bother to wear one in the first place.   Make love not war – that was our motto.   I was more interested in Mary Quant and Biba than Greenham Common.   We were a pretty hedonistic generation – it wasn’t long after the war and the world had changed radically.   There were restaurants serving exotic (i.e. foreign) food and teenagers appeared as we listened to music that our parents considered a hideous noise and probably a corrupting influence.   In those dim and distant days we wore (mostly) pretty dreary clothes until the advent of the mini skirt when the rule seemed to be that the girls with the worst legs wore the shortest skirts.   Men on building sites whistled at us and for the most part we were quite flattered.   How disappointing was the day that you walked past some builders thinking that you are looking pretty hot but got no response.  

But today – looking at photos of celebrities and film stars at red carpet events and in magazines exposing acres of flesh with no possibilty of any underwear.   This seems to be sending out very mixed messages – is it to attract men – you can look but you can’t touch – there won’t be many surprises on the wedding night – but then again who wants a surprise on their wedding night?   But if it is for women it must make most feel inadequate until you get to my age when my immediate thought is that that they’re going to catch their death of cold as they’re not wearing a vest!!!   But it is a depressing thought that so many girls today would rather be a ‘celebrity’ than get a university degree!   

Part of being a dinosaur means that I am an uber-pedant.  I like regional accents, but can’t bear so much of today’s lazy speech.   ‘Very unique’ sets my teeth on edge.   The glottal stop – ‘Men’al Health’ – one of today’s biggest ‘issues’.  When did ‘issues’ arrive?  They certainly weren’t there in my childhood.   We were just told to pull oursleves together and if that failed take an aspirin.   After any news story reporters swarm like locusts to ask anyone in the vicinity ‘how they feel’?   Not surprisingly people who have just witnessed an horrific accident are in a state of shock and tend to say things like ‘I’ll never forget this’.   As if!   I’m perfectly sure that our revered monarch did not say that Prince Philips’s death would leave a ‘huge void’ in her life.   That’s a bit like saying ‘when I wake up, the first thing I do is open my eyes’.    A friend of mine said that losing his wife was like walking around with a limb missing – as a widow myself that seems more apt.  

As a dinosaur I am shocked to read that ‘dogging’ has become even more popular since lockdown – for those of you lucky enough not to know what dogging is I’m going to spoil that by telling you that it is the practice of having sex in cars and encouraging other people to watch you.  As so often I ask myself why?   The very idea of having sex in the back of a Ford Fiesta, let alone anyone having the misfortune to see me doing this is the stuff of nightmares.  New Forest ponies are not that skittish but there are limits.  

Appropos of gyms, I couldn’t resist this cartoon!

When I was young gyms used to be for athletes not people like me!   We were forced to use them at school.  The hated wall bars where we had to practice climbing up them and then vaulting over a wooden horse.   Rushing about getting incredibly sweaty with our smelly teenage hormones all over the place and then after that we just had to change – there were no showers.   Being a school for nice young ladies I presume they believed that we didn’t sweat but merely glowed gently.   Not true – we ponged like polecats.   My memory may be inaccurate on this but I have a feeling that we weren’t encouraged to use deodorant.

Food is another area that has changed out of all recognition– vegans, vegetarians, lactose intolerant, gluten free -we’d never heard of any of those things.  If you really couldn’t eat something you could be a ‘non’ at school.   I managed to persuade my father that I could be a ‘non’ for fish which was boiled within an inch of it’s life and the smell permeated the whole school making me gag.   Other than that we ate what we were given and we were given pretty basic stuff.   I don’t think broad beans were considered edible until they were so old and tough that the skin was like old leather and the beans themselves were cooked until they were grey.

Communication too has changed out of all recognition.   In my youth my father turned on the wireless twice a day for the News.   And he read a newspaper in the morning.   We didn’t get a television until I was nine and then it was only turned on at specific times after careful perusal of the Radio Times.   Today we are bombarded by a plethora of ‘news’  twenty four hours a day.   With so many outlets and the need to fill so much screen, air and print space the tiniest piece of tittle tattle becomes ‘news’.   Hold the front page – Beyonce broke a nail  – nail technician is flown in to avert an emergency.

LP Hartley famously said ‘The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there’.   In sixty years my children will be dinosaurs too and like them we have opposable thumbs, but our brains are bigger – so I suppose the trick is to stop them shrinking too much with time.  

It’s a Topsy Turvy World!

When Shakespeare wrote about the seven ages of man it seemed quite clear on the surface but when you look closely it is more like the seven ages of contradiction.   No sooner do you learn a new skill than it is all change.   When a baby burps the parents ooh and aah and congratulate the little mite.   But fast forward twenty years and see how popular it is now.  Likewise baby’s first attempts at walking and talking are roundly applauded.  They are encouraged to speak and toddle and turn somersaults whenever they feel like it.   No sooner have they  mastered these skills than they are being told not to show off   And so it goes on.   There is much praise when little Johnny first sleeps through the night – his parents boast about what a good sleeper he is.   Hit the teenage years though and those same parents are now complaining that much bigger Johnny won’t get up.   Music is another bone of contention – the tunes (or not) that the teenager loves are played at the full volume to a chorus of parents demanding that the sound is turned down, but a few years later and those same parents are being asked by their children if they need to have their music on so loud.   A nice clean plate is something much desired by parents and often rewarded with a sweet or an icecream.   Then suddenly, with puberty, food can become an issue.  Some parents are desperately trying to persuade their borderline anorexic child to eat whilst others are hoping to prevent their chubbier offspring from a lifetime of weight problems.  Tiny children are easy to dress – they don’t hold much power in either having an opinion or a financial option but surprsingly quickly little girls develop strong views and based on current trends seem to be aiming for the junior prostitute look.   Parents desperately try to persuade them into clothes they consider to be more suitable but young girls want a look that they feel is more likely to feature on the cover of a magazine.   We don’t want them to look too old for their age and yet it won’t be long before children are begging their parents not to appear as mutton dressed as lamb.  

Every four year old will tell you firmly that they are four and a half or four and three quarters, but in the middle years people tend to be a bit opaque about their age until they hit the final furlong.   I’ve heard old ladies say about a recently departed friend ‘I’ve no idea why she died, she was only 86.   I’m 88’.   My mother used to say that as you got older you should add years on in the hopes that people will think you’re marvellous for seventy (as well they should if you are in fact only 60), but it can be disappointing if you add ten years to your age  but fail to get gasps of astonishment at how amazing you are for your years.

Babies aren’t worried about making friends they are completely indifferent to other children until they start to totter about and gradually it becomes a learning curve about how to make friends.   They have to learn to share their toys and play nicely.   When people get towards the end of their lives I have noticed that they (and I include myself in this group) become much more intolerant and quite selfish.   I’ve done my bit of sharing my toys and playing nicely now I’m entering, what is rightfully called, my second childhood, I can see myself becoming more and more difficult.   This could, however, be a family thing.   When my grandmother was in her eighties she was going on holiday, but the friend she was going with had to cancel because she fell and broke her hip.   Instead of being sympathetic my grandmother was furious and never spoke to her friend again and she justified this by claiming that her oldest friend had always be a terribile hypochondriac.   Similarly, my mother fell out with an old friend who develiped pneumonia while they were on holiday together and had to be flown home.   My mother was livid and maintained that her friend had only pretended to be ill in order to draw attention to herself.   I don’t think they ever spoke again!  My gosh, my family and friends have got a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

Possessions are another thing – children are incredibly careless and forever leaving their sports bag on the bus or their shoes under their bed and then claiming that they have no knowledge of where these objects are.   Then there is the period of adulthood when one seems to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for other people’s things.   But I have now reached the age where my own things disappear.  I decide to do the crossword so I find a pen and make sure it works – I live by myself so I have no idea who it is who replaces pens that don’t work back into the pot!   To continue, I find the pen and go to do the crossword,  then the telephone rings.  After a brief coversation I go back to the crossword only to find that the pen has disappeared.   I search every room in the house – even going to the attic in case a poltergeist has mysteriously whisked it up there.   Finally I admit defeat and find another pen – I then return to the crossword to discover that the original pen is on the table but now the crossword has vanished.  That is the point when I decide that it is time to write down any important information for the family while I can still remember it.   I go to get some paper to write the list but when I come back – guess what – no pen.   I think I need a drink.

If only closed minds came with closed mouths!

Sex education at my school was a diagram drawn on the blackboard of rabbits mating.   I was brought up on a farm so I had some idea of what went on, but my generation were incredibly ignorant.     It took me years to work out what  lesbians could possibly do, although I did have a fantastic crush on a girl, but that was because she played Mr Darcy in the school production of Pride and Prejudice and in my wildest imaginings I only dreamt that we might walk hand in hand while I recited some moving poetry to her whilst gazing into her eyes.   Along with most adolescents I quite fancied myself as a poet, but as my poetic efforts owed more to William Mcgonagall than Sylvia Plath the chances are that that the emotion that I would have stirred in her bosom would have been mirth.   As teenagers we were all unsatisfied with our bodies and my dream of looking like Rita Hayworth was wildly unrealistic – I was 5’ 9” at the age of twelve, wore thick glasses and had braces on my teeth.  I was built more in the Charles Atlas mould (he was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day) who advertised that upon receipt of a sum of money he would send you an exercise regime that would transform you from a seven stone weakling into a magnificent specimen of a man.   Apparently, the fear of every seven stone weakling was that, whilst on the beach, a larger man would kick sand in his face, but presumably once you had the exercise book you could hurl it into his face if all else failed.   But as usual I have digressed from my point of the bliss (or otherwise) of ignorance.  There must have been transgender people around in my youth, but we knew nothing about such things.   I had no idea that there was any chance of my changing to become a man – despite always playing the male part in school plays and only ever learning to dance backwards as a boy!      It was just as well, because, although at the time, I might have jumped at the chance of altering [SS1] my gender – I was the archetypal tomboy – later on, once I discovered ‘love’, I wouldn’t have changed for the world.   I adore the company of men, but not the idea of being one.  

I was at an all girls’ boarding school and all the staff were female.  I imagine that some of them were lesbians, certainly several of them lived together in shared accommodation.   What they got up to behind closed doors was up to them –  we had no idea.   The only member of staff I remember being married was the German mistress because, to our huge delight, she referred to her husband as Farty.   She must have noticed that whenever she talked about her home life she was surrounded by sniggering girls, but she never gave any gave any indication that she knew how much hilarity the name caused. I really can’t believe that knowing anything about our teachers’ private lives would have improved the quality of the teaching.   We didn’t know anything about their political affiliations’ either, although I imagine that as I was at a private school there weren’t many communists amongst the staff – although contact with some of us, horrible entitled snobs that we were, might have turned the truest, bluest Tory red.  

We didn’t know much about the world either.   We’d just come of a war with Germany and Japan and our relatives had seen and done terrible things, but they didn’t talk about them.   Jeremy Clarkson’s father-in-law won the VC (Victoria Cross) but his own daughter didn’t find out about this until after his death.   It is impossible to imagine that happening today.   Not only would it have been all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. but he would have been offered counselling for PTSD whether he wanted it or not.   Presumably he didn’t feel that his family needed to know about his war. 

My mother was an endless source of scurrilous gossip about the goings in in society both before and after the war.   People behaved extremely badly with drugs and strange sexual goings on.   Rumours abounded, but for the most part nothing was made public and most people did not know about their idols’ feet of clay.

Today we have an almost insatiable desire to know everything about ‘celebrities’ – via the Facebook/Hello culture?    Kim Kardashian is in many ways a remarkable young woman – she has given vast amounts of money to charity and worked on prison reform, added to which she is incredibly hard-working.   Just think of the effort it must take to look the way she does.   And yet if I see an article about her, I confess I am most interested in her bum and what she has done to get it to be that extraordinary shape.  I despise myself for this interest in trivia, but I cannot be alone judging by the plethora of magazines and massive on-line presence of ‘celebrities’.    It is still true in Hollywood that ‘coming out’ can be death to a career of any actor wanting to play the romantic lead or an action hero.   However, one good thing to come out of the pandemic is that we don’t seem to have quite so many actors giving us their opinions of political matters.   Instead, we are exhorted to follow the science which is a bit like trying to follow Medusa and end up completely entangled in the serpents’ heads as the science twists and turns.   Perhaps the minutiae of celebrities’ lives does add to the gaiety of nations in these troubled times and Kim Kardashian’s unreal figure may lift our spirits.   But, do we need read of actors opining about their family dramas where they haven’t (along with thousands of other people) been able to see their relatives but maybe we prefer this to seeing photos of celebs sunning themselves on golden sands whilst sipping a cocktail as we look out on to mud sodden fields.  In that case ignorance would definitely be bliss.


 [SS1]

Are you a town mouse or a country mouse?

Are you a country mouse or a town mouse or do you have a foot in both camps? 

QUESTION        A         BC
What kind of car do you drive?                      Latest spec 4 x 4Five year old 4 x 4Ancient Land Rover Defender
What’s in the warming oven of your Aga?The instructionsMeringuesAn orphan lamb
What do you shoot with?My new iPhone has a marvellous cameraMy godfather left me quite a decent pair of shotgunsDepends what I’m shooting.  
When you don’t want to cook what do you do?Does Deliveroo deliver outside the M25?Take a casserole out of the freezer.Pop down to the chippy.
What colour are your wellies?Navy and tan DubarryGreenNo idea – too muddy to tell
What do you do if offered a brace of pheasants?Refuse – you’ve no idea how to cook them.Ask if they are oven ready.Accept with thanks.
What do wear on Sunday?Tomato red cords with blue jumperSuit and tie – must look tidy for churchOveralls
What do you wear during the weekSuit and tie – must look tidy in the cityTomato red cords with blue jumperOveralls
How do you get on with your neighbours?Fine – don’t know them.Fine – they know my children.Fine – they knew my grandparents.
Do you eat seasonal vegetables?No idea- is asparagus in season?Always get mine from Waitrose and try to buy British.Get mine out of the garden.
What eggs to you buy?Burford Brown Free RangeLocal Farm ShopFrom own chickens
DogsLabradoodleLurcherSeveral Labradors and a brace of Springers.
Go to London (or other major city)During the weekOnce a monthNever
Holiday destinationCaribbean and/or VerbierLodge in ScotlandDay trip to Country Show
BeltGucciOld school oneBailer twine  
MagazineCountry LifeThe FieldFarmer’s Weekly
Do you wash your hands after touching animals?AlwaysSometimesOnly if they look dirty
What is QuornHealthy Meat substitute  Laboratory created vegetarian optionA hunt
How many birds can you identifySwan, peacock and probably a robin.About 30 with the aid of Collins book of Garden birdsThose that are legal to shoot, when they are in season and if the are good to eat.
What do you do for cultural stimulationGo to the operaGo to the theatreGo to the pub

Mostly As – You are definitely Tommy Town Mouse.   You like the country from a safe distance.   A luxury country house hotel or staying with friends who have efficient central heating and rooms with en-suite bathrooms.   A nice walk on a sunny day in the dry – otherwise it is better seen from behind glass.   The countryside is very noisy and draughty.

Mostly Bs – You straddle the fence on this.   You are keen to be part of the country squirearchy – but wouldn’t want to give up all ties to the city.   Where would you get your hair cut for one thing?   The countryside would be improved if there were more people like you living there, then it wouldn’t be quite so muddy and disorganised.   You will probably stand for election to the Parish Council so that you can try and sort things out

Mostly Cs –  You are a dyed in the wool country person.   You don’t approve of change and resent these incomers who are only here five minutes before they are trying to improve things.   What’s wrong with the old ways – they were all right for our ancestors.   Too much health and safety putting notices up everywhere to state the bleeding obvious ‘Danger Deep Water’ ‘Now Wash your Hands’ ‘Beware of the Dog’. Just leave well alone.

Life is far too important to take seriously.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me to learn that I was a bit of a rebel at school.   In fact, I got expelled.    I was caught one evening in the Japanese Garden after I had persuaded Terry, the boy who delivered the meat, to come there and teach me how to French kiss.   I was a very tall girl and he had to stand on a log which didn’t add to the romance of the occasion.   Suffice to say I told my friends that it was completely disgusting and that Hell would have to freeze over before I did that again!  Adding to the failure of the evening was the fact that I was caught and our headmistress, a monumental snob, was furious, I suspect that had I been caught with a duke’s son rather than the butcher’s boy I would have been forgiven, as it was, I was expelled.   At the moment it does feel as though we are all back at school with the Government acting like bossy teachers.   ‘Rules are rules and whilst most of you are obeying them, there are some, and you know who you are, are not.   If you don’t start obeying these rules the whole school will be punished.’     Of course, there must be rules to get us out of this dire situation, but maybe it would be better to enforce the ones in place already than to crack down on innocent old ladies stopping to catch their breath on a park bench, or someone daring to take a cup of coffee on a walk. 

In any case we need to get through this, and they say laughter is the best medicine.   Having a really good laugh does wonders for the spirits and if there was ever a time when we needed a good giggle it is now.   I’m hopeless at remembering jokes but one of my all time favourites is the old Bob Monkhouse one – ‘I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my father, not screaming and terrified like his passengers’.   So why does that make me laugh?   If you analyse it, there is nothing funny about it.   It is describing a tragedy, albeit a fictitious one.   But analysing humour is impossible.   When people tell you a joke and you don’t laugh they sometimes make the terrible error of trying to explain it to you.    Everyone likes to think they have a good sense of humour – apparently on dating websites one of the most desirable qualities is GSOH – but rather like no one ever admits to being a bad driver, no one is ever going to put NSOH (No Sense of Humour) as part of their dating profile.   Just for the sake of interest/research and general mental well being I looked up the ten funniest jokes from the Edinburgh Festival in 2019 and they’re listed below.   Obviously, I have a fantastic sense of humour, but some of them mystified me – didn’t even produce a smile.

The winners were:

1.)  “I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.

2.)  ”Someone stole my antidepressants. Whoever they are, I hope they’re happy

3.)  ”What’s driving Brexit? From here it looks like it’s probably the Duke of Edinburgh”

4.)  “A cowboy asked me if I could help him round up 18 cows. I said, ‘Yes, of course. – That’s 20 cows’”

5.)  “A thesaurus is great. There’s no other word for it”

6.)  “Sleep is my favourite thing in the world. It’s the reason I get up in the morning”
7.)  “I accidentally booked myself onto an escapology course; I’m really struggling to get out   of it”

8.)  “After learning six hours of basic semaphore, I was flagging

9.)  “To be or not to be a horse rider, that is Equestrian”

10.)  “I’ve got an Eton-themed advent calendar, where all the doors are opened for me by my dad’s contacts”

I thought the first one was quite funny.   I thought 2, 5, 7 and 8 were OK and 9 was clever.   Being a bit thick, I didn’t understand 4 to begin with – have got it now!   Didn’t think 3, 6 or 10 were funny at all.   Doubtless other people will have a completely different point of view. Also, it has something to do with they way you tell them.   We all know people who can make you weep with laughter telling you how they got a parking ticket and yet others who can make your jaw ache from trying not to yawn when they tell you ‘a funny story’.  Always a bad sign when someone says ‘I’m going to tell you something really amusing’ – I think I’ll be the judge of that.

What a delight it is when you meet someone who shares your sense of humour but equally how disconcerting when you meet someone who has absolutely no sense of humour.   Do you think these people recognise each other and naturally gravitate together?

Inappropriate moments to laugh include funerals and during sermons and lectures.   I once had the terrible experience of having to attend a long and, in my opinion, extremely boring talk, on health and safety at work.   I was sitting about four rows from the front, but everyone else (who must have been forewarned) went much further back so I was in the direct line of fire.   I fell asleep quite early only to be woken by the speaker asking loudly,  ‘Am I boring you?’ I think we all knew the answer to that one, but I lied and denied it.   I then sat digging my nails into my palms to try and keep awake.   He ended his talk with a series of slides that he had taken whilst on holiday and I got the most appalling giggles as I imagined his wretched wife posing in front of an ancient church,  waiting patiently for her husband to take a snap of her while all the time he was busy taking a picture of some scaffolding that infringed health and safety regulations.  There was a shot of the inside of a luxury hotel with a sofa blocking the fire exit and another one of a man smoking while re-fuelling his car.   Hardly your typical holiday pics.   I had the feeling that while his family leafed through brochures to try and find a resort with beautiful beaches and atmospheric little tavernas he would be looking for somewhere with a lot of re-development going on so that he could seek out building sites where he might find workmen contravening regulations by not wearing a helmet or a high viz jacket.   I have just discovered, to my delight that there is a website called Safetyphoto which features endless photos of Hazards in the Workplace.   Probably not many other people would find this funny, but then I’ve never laughed at clowns. 

The wonderful thing about laughter is that it is infectious.  Seeing out takes of actors ‘corpsing’ is enough to set anyone off.   I’m not that interested in cricket, but I defy anyone to listen to the clip of Brian Johnson and Jonathon Agnew dissolving into uncontrollable mirth over a stupid remark about someone getting their leg over.   It is so silly, but so entertaining.   We are lucky to be living through this pandemic in this computer age – at the touch of a mouse we have access to some of the funniest moments on television, radio or the written word.   Whatever turns you and whatever makes you laugh.

COVID BRAIN

My son used to say that I had the concentration span of a goldfish – I think this might be a bit unfair to goldfish.   Particularly at the moment.   I have noticed things getting far worse during Covid.   The plots of television ads are about the most challenging things I can manage.   There was one on this Christmas about a carrot that runs away and meets a hedgehog in the snow (why wasn’t it hibernating?) And then Father Christmas finds the carrot and takes it home – where presumably it will be chopped up and eaten – they are hardly going to keep it as a pet!   I found the plot quite difficult to follow so bang goes any chance of my finally finishing all seven volumes Marcel Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past.   When my son was born my friends and I lamented our ‘baby brains’ – we couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, but at least we had our little bundles of joy as an excuse.   Now I have Covid Brain and all I have to blame for it as those harbingers of gloom, Hancock, Whitty and Johnson.   OK – it might not be their fault, but we always like to shoot the messenger.    If I try to read a newspaper or listen to the news for any length of time I become like the character played by John Laurie in Dad’s Army who went round saying “We’re doomed, we’re doomed”. 

I only hope all those learned lawyers who are supposed to be poring over all 1200 pages of the Brexit deal aren’t suffering from the same thing.   Like most people (I imagine) I always tick the box that says I have read the terms and conditions when I buy something – of course I haven’t – has anyone, ever?     However it is probably quite important that this document is scrutinised fairly carefully – we don’t want people skim reading it going  ‘Yada, yada, yada…that all looks fine’ only for us to discover in the years to come that it is now illegal for us to send cheese to Europe unless it is flavoured with pineapple or that all our lambs have to have been fed on human excrement.

In any case the result of Covid Brain means that I half read things and half listen to things and as a result half know very little about very little.   My conversation is getting even more boring than, it was before – even the dogs start yawning when I talk to them!   On the bright side I have learnt some things (on the basis that a little learning is a dangerous thing I am presumably the equivalent of an Exocet missile).   Amongst other things I have found out that you are more likely to get a virus on your computer (not Covid obviously) from visiting a religious website than a porn one and that a lot of murderers look up how to kill their victims on the internet.   We don’t know how many people get away with murder because obviously the successful ones don’t get caught, but some of the ones that do get caught must be as dumb as brushes.   Even someone with an IQ in single figures must realise that if you Google where to put a knife into someone to make sure they die, you are likely to get found out.

My butterfly mind flits from subject to subject so that many stories become a jumble of words.   I can read Shakespeare – his language is still comprehensible even if I don’t use ‘Forsooth’ or ‘Prithee’ very often but now it gets more and more impossible every day.   There’s BLM, Me Too, Trans and Cis (I know, I had to look that one up!) and LBGQT+ not to mention LOL and other text words.   ROFL I knew but KPC I had to look up – just so you know apparently it means ‘Keeping Parents Clueless’, obviously Grandparents come with built in cluelessness!   With some of the more important stories of the year such as Black Lives Matter, transgender issues and Me Too – there is so much information out there – is it real or is it fake news?   I just get increasingly muddled and it doesn’t take much to overload my brain.  

And don’t get me started on Radio 4 – I used to have that on all day long – not anymore.  Marks and Spencer – bastion of knickers for those of mature years – has over the past years tried to attract younger customers.  That’s never going to happen – none of my grandchildren want to buy a skirt from a shop where they might bump into their grandmother looking for a bra!!!   It’s the same with Radio 4 – surely the vast majority of their listeners are the over fifties.   Many of us are retired and at the moment forced to remain at home.   I am the only person in my family, whose ages run through three generations, from 12 to 76, who listens to Radio 4.   I used to listen to it all day long – I wasn’t interested in everything, but I often learnt things and I was frequently entertained.   Recently that happens less and less.   First of all, poetry.  I like poetry but I can hardly ever listen to it on the radio – what is it with the ‘poetry’ voice?   Then there are bodily functions – at my age I know about menstruation, the menopause, stress incontinence, wind – trapped or otherwise, and it would be interesting to have a programme dedicated to medical matters, thus giving the listeners a choice.  However, if I’m just sitting down to a cup of coffee and a biscuit, I’m don’t want to have a full description of the symptoms of endometriosis!   Likewise transgender issues are interesting, so is  different sexuality, race is an important topic as is feminism, but most of the time listeners just want to be entertained – drama, with plays that some of us can understand, book programmes ditto, travel, the arts, science.    Just don’t get me started on the Archers.   Hideous storylines at the moment more suited to East Enders.   Happily, I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue is still with us – can’t think why it hasn’t been culled long ago for not being PC.   Unfortunately, The News Quiz has been taken over by people who confuse insults with humour.   Of course, Donald Trump’s appearance has been a topic of mirth – but still!      

However, I shall soldier on – don’t fancy the alternative – and once I have finished the Mr Men books I shall graduate to Peter and Jane and leave Marcel Proust for later – much later!   In the meantime, I spotted this cutting below in The Oldie!   I hope it makes you smile as much as it did me!

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year.