Friday, May 17, 2013
Today is May 18th – well, it is here in New Zealand. Everywhere else it's only the 17th. But here, where I am, it's the 18th and it is my birthday.
Today – memorable or slipping by? Who knows. All together now: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Opening a book in this house is to find surprises. Inside there are book marks, and marks in books. Cuttings from newspapers and magazines, not necessarily relevant to the books they inhabit. Reviews of the books themselves. An obituary of the author. An advertisement for a concert now long past. A strip torn off the edge of a magazine page with a note scribbled – no, AJ never scribbled – written on it because there was nothing else handy at that moment when a marker was needed.
Forgotten photographs of people, looking too much younger, slip out unexpectedly when disturbed. Postcards – remember them? They used to arrive from friends and family travelling overseas, before emails and skype made them redundant. Here is a postcard from my brother in Hong Kong, another with a picture of a gracious old ruin of a castle from Northumberland, and here a card from a poet in New Caledonia.
Other memories hide in our books. I found a home-made card from the grandchildren, full of hugs and kisses and hoping that Grandad would soon get better. Another treasured card for me, with a clip-art cartoon on the front and a message saying that they had heard about old people losing their marbles – little monkeys! – but never one that kept losing the dog she was walking. There are bookmarks I've cut from old Christmas cards – colourful, glowing ones – and some of them still have fragments of sentences on the backs: ... remember the ... happy Chris ... to send you ... the view fro ... always kno ... be back ... There are old mugs containing such bookmarks in several places around the house – anywhere that I might settle to read something and need to keep my place.
It's not just bookmarks that I find in our books. AJ would have killed anyone who turned down a corner of a page to mark a place, but he often wrote in the margins. With a pencil, naturally, never in ink. He declared himself to be a member of the Lead Pencil Club, an "informal, international organisation concerned about the influence of computers and assorted electronic inventions on our lives".* AJ's notes and comments were short and often pithy. Even when they were simple marks – a tick, a vertical line, an exclamation point, a question mark – they were his reactions to what he read. I come across these marks all the time as I pick up this book and that, and sometimes add my own – in pencil of course. You can tell which are AJ's and which are mine. His marks are small and neat, mine are big, careless and sloppy. AJ would not have been surprised about that.
* from the back cover of "Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club" edited by Bill Henderson, Pushcart Press, N.Y. 1996
Sunday, April 21, 2013
The list of my prospective next husbands is growing. And my friend and my other friend – who don't even know each other – are squabbling about which one of them is to be my bridesmaid and which my flower girl. That is, when they aren't rolling their eyes. They will have to wait quite a while because the choice has become bewildering.
|Cottage Garden Mix|
They wander through the house and measure things or mend things, they climb onto the roof, they peer into cupboards, they walk round the garden examining the ground, shake their heads at the drunken fences. They are unfailingly charming and kind – really, I can hardly believe my luck. They have set me quite a dilemma that expands as time goes by, although I haven't yet got around to enquiring about their dancing abilities. To slightly misquote from The Beggar's Opera, "How happy would I be with either, were t'other dear charmers away".
The list of required qualifications has grown too. I'm getting more discerning. Ignoring the trifling impediments of currently attached wives or girlfriends (and most of them don't look old enough to have acquired either, but then nobody does to me these days) I tell my friend and my other friend that I have decided on one fellow because of his Paul Newman eyes, only to tell them a week later that he has been superceded by the next candidate because he has absolutely the most enchanting smile and also fixed the TV aerial. Or that the man who came to examine the sopping carpet in the spare bedroom was The One because – oh I don't know, I can't remember now, there have been so many. If it was legal I would marry them all.
To add to the dilemma, now that New Zealand has, with a resounding majority, just passed a law allowing same-sex marriages, the field of potential husbands has doubled overnight. It is now possible – and legal – that my next husband could even be my wife.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Why write a blog? Why indeed. Sometimes, when the mind is blank or the spirits are low, ideas seem hard to find. Most writers know that they are everywhere, teeming, insistent, bossy and in-your-face, but hunting for them is the surest way for them to scoot under the nearest stone, only to emerge in the middle of the night to thumb their noses at you.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
As an unreconstructed pedant I sometimes get embroiled in matters of grammar and literary style. And it can happen on-line, with strangers. Take, for example, a recent discussion about the word ladies. Which of course got tangled in a to-and-fro about the f-word: feminism.
Few still grimly insist that we always refer to female persons as women, or the horrible wimmin. Yes, language and its uses change over time and no, I'm not a dinosaur, trying to keep language intact and archaic. Try reading Chaucer or even Shakespeare to see where that would lead us. I'm just glad that we now seem to be accepting the word ladies again – surely a sign that we have grown out of the dummy-spitting era of the sixties and seventies.
There are no right or wrong words, only appropriate or inappropriate words. And it depends a lot on context. Someone talking to a room full of women would probably call them ladies if addressing them formally, as in "Good morning ladies." Later she might ask "all the women who work full time" to raise their hands. If it was time for a break she could lighten the tone and say, "right girls, coffee's ready!" Same session, same speaker, different context.
The terms lady and gentleman were once used, even officially, to indicate social status. Not so now. My mother used to say, with raised eyebrows, "ladies don't!" It was shorthand for don't do that, it's bad manners and not ladylike. Ladies and gentlemen behave in acceptable ways – acceptable, that is, for the times and circumstances. To describe them as such is to bestow a particular kind of compliment, one that acknowledges style, dignity and good manners: they don't eat peas off a knife, they stay upright when plastered, and wouldn't dream of dancing on tables at a golden wedding party. Women brawling outside a pub at two in the morning are not ladies.
We know what people mean when they say that someone is no gentleman. He is a man who barges through the door instead of holding it open, or watches his partner struggle with the heavy shopping. A tramp can be a gentleman, a lord can be a cad and therefore not a gentleman. A man wanted by the police cannot be described on television as a gentleman if he is violent and should not be approached.
We pedants are an endangered species. Soon no one will be left to care about the proper use of language and grammar. We will be carted off to our graves still squawking about apostrophes and brandishing our red pencils. In the meantime, and for the record, it's ladies and gentlemen, men and women, guys and gals, blokes and sheilas. But not ladies and men, ladie's and guy's, gentlemen and sheilas.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Today this is a women only page – men should probably go and read another blog (but come back soon). Today is a day to venture into the section of a department store that displays lingerie and makes men shy like horses at a paper bag in a ditch. Today we are going to discuss bras, and more specifically the choosing of new bras.
The rest of us – the vast army of the rest of us – must make more, um, weighty decisions. And our choices are much more limited. For us, the joke goes that there are only four types of bras: Catholic (supports the masses), Salvation Army (lifts the fallen), Presbyterian (keeps them staunch and upright), and Baptist (makes mountains out of molehills). There is also, for the secular woman, the German (holtzemfromfloppen). We must paw through those endless racks of pretty little bras looking for the few, usually near the floor, in black, white or that horrible fawny pink, that are the only ones in our size.
The alternative is to admit defeat, summon a hovering salesperson and ask her to find three or four 18DDs in white or black, no underwire, and bring them to one of the cubicles so we can try them on. Ah yes, the cubicles: searchingly bright lights and huge mirrors that make us look like dugongs the moment we strip off. I think that right there is what makes the experience so unnerving – the mirrors at home are so much kinder. The saleswomen, however, probably know that and don't bustle and poke unless asked but hover outside the cubicle listening for squeaks of distress. Then she can offer help, suggest that she could find more possibilities, or send for reinforcements in the form of the corsetiere.