A pen in my hand or keys under my fingertips?

Wednesday 21st December

Does it make any real difference, I am still not sure.  I had always written with a pen, (both at school and my neatly copied out poems) this used to be a fountain pen, or actually a whole succession of fountain pens which never seemed to last too long, Parker or not, before biros became universally adopted as the writing implement of choice.  The very feel of the thin stylus in ones hand is always so comforting I find, remembered childhood I suppose, but also there is hardly a day goes by without my putting pen to paper at some point.  I still carry a little notebook around with me, it is the first thing I place in my handbag and I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house with it.  I write quite slowly though I find, in a neat and uniform hand, one of the few attributes I left school with, but I find that if I try to speed up my writing so that my written words begin to catch up with those spinning out of my brain, my writing goes all over the place, the consonants melting into one another and longer words remaining unfinished – a start and then a blurry squiggle, as if I have invented my own form of shorthand.  All the neat loops and uniform slant of my handwriting begins to dissolve into a mush which even I struggle to understand; I can either write slowly and neatly or illegibly, there seems to be no middle way.

In a way though, simply because I am only able to write legibly at a certain speed, I find that this means that I have time to select the apposite adjective rather than the one I first thought of, or to attempt to construct my sentences properly rather than meandering with no commas or full stops.

When I transcribe my handwritten missives to my laptop I am really just copy-typing the text whole, making only the occasional punctuation correction, which more often than not I revert back to the original on re-reading.  I know that I have to commit it all to Word before it can be sent to the internet but I cannot quite get used to typing directly.  I wrote most of ‘Catherines Story’ by hand and then typed it up the next morning and got myself back into the story by this act of repetition, but the creative bit was written with pen and paper. But occasionally I do write straight onto computer, then I find the words are forming far faster than with a pen, but so are my errors and I find I am constantly misspelling even the simplest of words and having to go back and correct all the time.  And as there is less time between thought and finished words the sentences are half-formed and it doesn’t actually flow as well as when I took a bit longer and wrote it all out by hand.  Agreed I do not have to copy-type it all out again, and can see the spelling mistakes and what the computer thinks is bad syntax, which I often ignore (at my peril maybe).

So, although it takes longer I think the old-fashioned way suits me best.  It may take twice as long and is tedious and repetitious and eventually it all disappears into the vast maw of the blogosphere and may never resurface again anyway, but in a way I feel I am keeping a slightly outmoded tradition alive too, which is no bad thing.  So yes, while the keys of my laptop are quite familiar to me now, it is the pen and notebook I reach for first.

Rosemary’s Baby

Tuesday 20th December

A friend has just posted on Facebook that they have just watched Rosemary’s Baby.  I am not sure if she watched a DVD or saw it on Sky; there seem to be so many channels on Sky that it is quite possible that every film ever made is being shown on some obscure channel at some time.  And it reminded me just what an amazing film it was.  It was another of those films of the late sixties that like ‘The Graduate’ seemed to define a new era in film, and also in some way too define what the sixties was all about, and maybe it did.  I have watched it since a few times, usually late at night on BBC2 or Channel 4, and it always scares me.  It has such an aura of unease about it, you just know it is all going to end up badly for Rosemary and it is as if everyone, except Rosemary knows it.  But in another way Rosemary knows it all along too, and we are somehow complicit with her, and in the end I think that she is so determined to have the baby anyway that she disregards what is so obviously happening.

It was directed by Roman Polanski, at the height of his ability and early fame; he later of course earned notoriety in a different direction completely.  It starred Mia Farrow as Rosemary and John Cassavettes as her husband who is of course part of the conspiracy against her.

I won’t tell you the story, except that it is so believable and convincingly told that you find yourself believing it as much as Rosemary does, and yet nothing is really spelled out for you, and it is one of those films where the tension is beautifully ratched-ed up slowly and surely, layer upon layer, and it never quite topples over.  It is also one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen; disturbing but you just cannot stop watching it either.  The performance by Mia Farrow is superb and so harrowing you could just cry for her.  And it is of its’ time, nobody would make a film like that now, they would have to have lots of quick scene changes and tracking shots and cut-up camera angles that would ruin it.  It is the very slowness of the film that works so well.  Films today are generally far too long and complex and far too fast, as if they daren’t let you actually catch your breath long enough to start enjoying it, and you end up being bored and not caring about the characters at all.  And it was a landmark film in so many ways, Mia Farrow never seemed to make anything half as good again, it was almost as if the film had taken so much out of her that she hadn’t anything left to say.  And Roman Polanski was always judged by Rosemary’s Baby too.

So, if you are still stuck for a Christmas present for me, I wouldn’t mind the DVD.

The way things work – I’m not sure anymore

Monday 19th December

I used to think I was reasonably intelligent, reading newspapers, watching the news and generally interested in what went on around me.  And I thought that I had some sort of a grasp of what was going on, it all seemed to make some sort of sense.  But more and more I find it harder to see the wood for the trees, or rather I see both but have no idea who planted this particular forest or where those little saplings over there have sprung up from.  Is it that the world was actually simpler a couple of decades ago, or have I just lost the thread and slipped out of touch with what is really happening.  I think that computers have a lot to do with it, there is just so much more information out there.  We are actually being bombarded with data all day long, from the moving strap-lines on the news channels to adverts on everything, to mobile texts and tweets and face-book notifications, it never stops.  You see people glancing at their mobiles while talking to you, speaking on the phone while boarding a bus, reading their kindle or i-pad while listening to music on their i-pods.  So how do you keep up with it all, or do you just blank out loads of stuff and try to concentrate on what you think might actually matter.

Well, loads of people seem to manage perfectly well on complete drivel, and if the entries on face-book are anything to go by there are far more of them than of me.  More people I am sure are prepared to ‘vote’ on X-factor or Strictly than to actually go out and vote.  The latest by-election had a miserable turnout of less than 28%, so how can anyone think that the result has any validity; and this in the middle of economic turmoil and the euro melt-down too – it isn’t as if there is nothing to think about.  But maybe that is the key, to think of nothing – well nothing that really matters, and by some sort of Magic the world will get fixed.

We seem to be living in a rapidly emptying bath-tub, where the once settled waters are now beginning to swirl dangerously as we are all threatened with being sucked down the plug-hole.  Meanwhile more and more rubber ducks and other toys are presented for our distraction.  Maybe I should stop worrying and just soak in the last few suds of luxury while I still can.

But who is controlling things these days, what mechanisms are making the wheels go round and round, or are we, as I suspect, drifting into chaos – a chaos where nobody is in control, and what is more nobody has any idea who even thinks they might be in control.  It may be the bankers or the city traders but it certainly isn’t the politicians and even the commentators have no real clue.  And I too, who used to feel that I sort of understood what was happening am lost.  Lost in too much information really.

Maybe I should just switch off and stop worrying, everyone else seems to have.

Angel in a T-shirt

Sunday 18th December

This being almost Christmas, I have been reflecting on Angels.  They are as old as religion, and maybe as old as God himself; they certainly feature in the lexicon of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.  I think that the original meaning was messenger, this would tally with the idea that God resided in heaven and would from time to time send his Angels to earth to communicate with mankind.  An Angel was supposed to have told Mary that she was carrying God’s son, but by now it seems that the Angels were more like Lieutenants in God’s Court than mere messengers, and as time has passed the idea of Angels, as individual characters, both good and bad has grown up around the whole idea of religion.  Maybe this is some sort of hang-back to both the Greek and Roman pantheon of major and minor Gods, as if we couldn’t just be satisfied with one and one God only, and we had to back this up with a boardroom of Angels and a whole army of Saints, popes and martyrs to boot.

In western Art, Angels have developed from the earliest wingless but halo-ed icons to the rennaisance paintings where we begin to see those white draped be-winged and usually female creations.  This is now the standard image and is instantly recognizable from posters of famous paintings to Christmas cards.  And we all, old and young know exactly what is meant by the word Angel, even if children sometimes confuse them with Fairies. Not that there is that much difference really.

So, how to reconcile that with the similarly common use of the word Angel as a term of love or endearment – ‘Just be an Angel and help me out’ or ‘A teenage Angel’ where the mixing of worship and lust starts to become worryingly obscured.

Yesterday I was walking along and was brought up short by the sight of an Angel in a T-shirt.  Not a real-life messenger from God I hasten to add, but a walking piece of post-modern irony.  She was in her early twenties and quite chubby, I would say a definite size eighteen, and had bright chestnut curly hair with big ear-rings, short white skirt and footless tights (hardly the best combination) and a luminous pink T-shirt emblazoned in silver with the single word ANGEL.   A vision further from that depicted in all those religious paintings down the ages could not be imagined.  Not that she was ugly or particularly unattractive or in any way unsavoury, it was just that she definitely wasn’t angelic looking.  But this just demonstrates how far and how quickly language can mutate.  Everyone knew exactly what the T-shirt was saying, and it couldn’t be further from the original meaning either.

So, amidst all the Angels in Christmas lights and on top of trees and made of silver foil and tinsel with cotton wool wings and plastic halos, a modern day Angel in a T-shirt doesn’t raise an eyebrow where only a few years ago such blasphemy would have been hounded out of town. A change for the better I think and I am sure that an internet search for the word Angel would throw up even more outrageous images than I would like to imagine.  A strange and wonderful world we are living in, is it not?

So, do be an Angel and share this with your friends.

Seven deadly Sins – Envy (the last and deadliest too)

Saturday 17th December

Thank goodness this is the last of the deadly sins; what started out as a bit of a wheeze has ended up a slight chore.  And so Anna and her sister Anna the dancer arrive in San Francisco to discover Envy – the worst surely of all the deadly sins.  Envy eats you up from the inside, and is never satisfied – there is always someone who has more than you, and you will never catch them up, but just look behind you for once and you will discover that there are far more who have less than you do.  And they will never catch you up either.

The whole of our economic system works on envy, that most insidious of sins.  And the motor for this is advertising, without advertising how would we know what others have and therefore what we might not have known that we desired.  Try to imagine a world only a couple of hundred years ago if you can; if you were poor, as the vast majority would have been you either worked on the land, like your fathers and mothers before you, and would have known little of the world, and even if you had money you almost surely knew your place and just how far you would be allowed to rise up the ladder – and how far you could slide down too.  You would have seen the rich pass by in their grand carriages and big houses, but no seeds of envy would be germinated; how would they grow if they were without advertising to fertilise them.  Then as commerce and communications improved, so too did envy, until during the First World War large numbers of working class lads saw at close hand how the rich disported themselves, and revolution was in the air, driven no doubt by a degree of envy.  And now with advertising everywhere, every minute of the day bombarding us with envy, feeding our sense of entitlement – why should we not have all these gadgets and clothes and jewelry and cars and happiness that these other people all seem to have in abundance.   Well, the reason is my friend that the having it will not make you any happier at all, but getting rid of envy certainly will.  It will be like a weight off your shoulders when you stop worrying about what others have, and just enjoy whatever you have yourself.

And after coming back home after seven years of travel and discovery, the sisters Anna have by a combination of hard work and employing some of the sins they have seen, succeed in earning enough to buy the little house back in Mississippi, but as a result Anna the dancer begins to be resentful of all those who engaged in the sins which she has deprived herself of (she left the sinning to her sister Anna), and the epilogue ends in a sad reflective mood, with Anna’s resigned response to her sister, “Yes, Anna.”

I have never really understood this much loved cautionary tale, no doubt the seven sins did enrich but corrupt the first sister Anna, but the pure untouched sister Anna was not satisfied either.  Is this the message then; the human condition means that whether we experience the deadly sins or not we will still remain unsatisfied.  Anyway, no more sins – it will soon be Christmas, which would surely have to have been invented by now if it wasn’t here already.  How can we possibly face the coming winter without this annual cheering up?

I hope you have enjoyed my interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins, now go out and buy the music – there are several recordings but I still like the one by Marianne Faithfull the  best.

Fantality or Realasy – I never could decide

Friday 16th December

Though I live and always have in a world of unrelenting reality I also inhabit another realm altogether, that of fantasy.  From as early as I can remember I would dissolve myself into this world, much as one lets a cube of sugar on a teaspoon absorb as much tea as it can before collapsing in on itself as reality resumes control and tea becomes sugar and sugar tea.

One can never be sure of other’s thoughts and thought processes, but I suspect that we are all made of much the same stuff in the end, and so I hope that this is not a solitary pursuit but one we all partake of at some time or another.   However I seem to spend as much of my time in a world of my own choosing as the one I wake to find myself in.  As a child, maybe especially because I was on my own so much, I sought refuge in this nether world of fantasy, where I was a different Catherine completely.  I would always, for a start, have masses of friends; I who was diffidence personified would be surrounded by girls of my own age or slightly older, who would chatter and gossip and exchange compliments with the very beautiful Catherine who took the place of the very plain-Jane I undoubtedly was.  And this would be a world of stunning visual beauty, colours gleaming and sparkling while all around the grey skies and rain of drab London pressed down on me – inside I was walking through crystal halls with glittering chandeliers of pure ice lighting my way.  Maybe I read too much, up their locked in my cupboard of a room, maybe Grandma’s sensibilities were netting me down to earth too tightly, maybe my search for the memory of my father’s face in the folds of a napkin or the lines on a map of Cyprus had driven me just a bit crazy.  The need to behave, to observe decorum, to be  a good girl, to be perceived as proper at all times had created this other Catherine, this secret Catherine, who was alive while the shell I inhabited in reality was like a shroud blanketing out any of the secret world from view.

And so I have continued, outwardly a model of propriety and normality, never daring to disturb the contours of a settled existence, while inside I was a raging torrent of discovery, a splendid person altogether different from the Catherine you see before you.   Here I could soar, here I was a concert pianist, who unlike Sparky, really could play the piano, and oh with what subtlety I played, as I caressed and moulded the notes out for my very appreciative and knowing audience.  Or a painter I would be, yes me who could scarce draw stick figures, would create works full of sunshine and dark dark shadows, human emotions splendidly captured in oil and varnish, I could almost smell the turpentine as I cleaned my brushes while doing the dishes or tidying my bedroom.

And so, once again the person you see before you is not the real Catherine at all, another lurks just beneath the surface.  Only trouble is I get confused, and memories blur, and reality drifts into fantasy, and fantality becomes realasy and I find it difficult to know which is which.  Even when I am walking along a crowded street I sometimes slip from realasy into fantality, or even when talking to people I am miles away really – and the strange thing is that nobody seems to notice – maybe they are in between worlds too not sure if they are actually in fantality or realasy either.

A Christmas Concert – delightful

Thursday 15th December

Since being on my own again I have hardly been out really, a couple of small dinner parties, but no real events.   It isn’t the meeting people I fear but the inevitable questions, that sympathetic look in their eyes, which I really do not know how to react to.  I know they are only being kind, but in a funny way I would rather they simply said nothing.  What can you say when they ask “How are you?  How are you coping?”   All you can say is “Not so bad thanks” or “I’m alright thanks”.  They do not really want to hear that you are unhappy, and likewise they would be appalled to think that you have gotten over it completely, so you cannot win either way.  Better to say nothing and let them make their own minds up.  They will anyway.

Last night though I went with a few fiends to a Charity Christmas Concert at St. John’s in Smith Square, Westminster.   And actually it was delightful.  I had almost forgotten how good live music is, and we had wonderful seats, three rows from the front; so close you could see the delicate fingering of the first violin and almost reach out and touch the cello’s.   The orchestra were in fine form and actually seemed to be enjoying themselves as they rattled through a wide selection of fairly short and varied pieces, a clever choice as many in the audience would not be great fans of classical music anyway I suspect.  They even slipped in some film music in the shape of The Magnificent Seven and The Dambusters Theme, so there was really something for everyone.

A children’s choir performed a few very prettily arranged pieces, their voices gentle and soft and harmonious,  and the whole evening was rounded off with the Twelve Days of Christmas – with the audience singing Five Gold Rings in ascending volume with each roundel.

It really cheered me up, and put me at last into a Christmas mood.   I had been struggling to get in any way even interested in Christmas for weeks, almost becoming irritated at all the commercialism in the shops, the tawdry street lights and the senseless rush and bustle of Christmas shoppers.  It made me realise that life can be sweet, if you just let it be.  I have re-read a few of my recent blogs and I do sound a bit of a moody cow, don’t I.  I could even put some of those Grumpy Old Women to shame.  So for a few days at least I will try to be more positive.  A bright and cheerful Catherine, if you will. I hope you appreciate what I am doing for you, dear readers – being cheerful does not come so easily to me I am afraid. My default mode is quiet reflection with a dash of pessimism, as I think you must know by now.

Hey ho!  Let’s try happy for a bit.

My Mother may be getting Alzheimers – it’s hard to tell

Wednesday 14th December

I am not really joking either, I am quite concerned about her.  I am not sure how I would cope if I had to have her living with me.  Maybe it’s just old age and her being forgetful – she was never the brightest of women, or if she was, she was pretty good at keeping it to herself over the years.  Or maybe it was more that Grandma always dominated, she had to be the star, the prima donna, the centre of attention, the one to always get the last word in and undoubtedly the fount of all knowledge.  And maybe my mother had just learned over the years not to argue, not to insist, not to get in Grandma’s bulldozer way.  And unfortunately that was how I reacted to her too, I followed Grandma’s lead in ignoring my mother, or rather by-passing her.  I always ran to Grandma with a grazed knee, it was Grandma who insisted on checking my homework, and it was to Grandma I handed my school report each term.  Grandma was literally in loco parentis; both my parents conspiring to absent themselves in different ways.

After Grandma died I shared the house in Putney with my mother for several years, but it was as if we were both camping in the house really; my mother spent all her time in the kitchen and conservatory while I kept to my bedroom and made the sitting room my own too, but neither of us really lived there as if it were our home, it felt more like a staging post, a rest-stop between different destinations.  And even then my mother was absent-minded to the point of distraction, constantly running out of basics like milk and bread, heaps of old newspapers which she kept meaning to do something with, a whole collection of empty yoghurt cartons sitting on the draining board next to a pile of unopened letters.  We seemed to be living separate lives, and though we would sometimes eat together it was more often in silence or a forced attempt at polite conversation.

In a funny sort of way although I knew my mother very well, I was always looking at the symptoms rather than the cause; I never really got to know what made her tick.  She has always been a bit of a mystery to me, one I admit I was never too bothered to unravel, preferring in a way to keep my own distance from this woman, who though my closest relation was so unlike me.  She had always been absent-minded, or other minded really, as if her real self was elsewhere, and it is this which makes it hard for me now to recognize if she is just being her usual muddled-headed slightly forgetful self, or if there might be something more serious going on.

I suppose I will just have to keep a closer watch on her from now on, we have settled in the last few years to just seeing each other about once a month, so maybe I will just pop in on her a bit more often.

I know you will think me selfish, and of course I will be there for her, but I just dread the thought that if she loses her independence so do I.

Tuesday always seemed a fateful day

Tuesday 13th December

I cannot remember the day of the week when we left Cyprus – it may have been a Tuesday.  But for a child the actual day of the week seems to matter little, except for that freedom from school which a Saturday brings, and the quiescent boredom of Sundays, with Grandma burrowed deep into the Sunday Telegraph and my mother busy in the kitchen spending all morning on an inevitably boring Sunday roast, consisting of a cremated piece of shoe leather masquerading as beef, potatoes that achieved the singular distinction of being slightly raw in the middle and yet almost black on the outsides, chewy sprouts and lumpy gravy.  Ah, happy memories all.  For some reason though Tuesdays seem to  bring with them some augury of the fates; it was on a Tuesday that my 18th birthday fell, that fateful day when Grandma apprised me of the fact that my father, whose memory I had difficulty in keeping alive after years of no contact, had in fact written to me.  Grandma in her wisdom had destroyed the unanswered letters he wrote to me, and had kept any chance that he could maybe retain a place in his heart for me well and truly bleak.

We always seemed to have sport, or gym on a Tuesday, and I can remember the dread I felt eating my lunch, knowing that in less than an hour I would not only be expected to swing from ropes and jump over a horse, but worse almost would be the ritual of the communal changing rooms, where the true cattiness of young girls had full rein.  I was a late developer, not that this bothered me much at all, but seemed to be a source of derisory laughter for some of the more buxomly gifted.  I was always a bit reserved, and felt quite embarrassed taking my clothes off even in front of my classmates, where those more confident like Jenny and Gwenny would almost delight in strutting around in knickers and trainer bra.

It was on a Tuesday that Grandma died; and so was finally laid to rest too my fateful relationship with Adrian, I can remember that day so clearly, and the knowing look in his eyes as he too realized that this was it, the show was now over, and I would be returning to Putney.

An even now, I don’t know why, I seem to suffer a small sigh of desperation as I wake up and realise that once again it is Tuesday.  Mondays for most people are the depressing day, when the working week begins anew, though I had always enjoyed going in on a Monday, and a new start, a new week, and full of resolutions of finally clearing the backlog I was quite jolly really.   But Tuesdays seemed to always hit me like a brick, that realization that actually the same old problems were there to be confronted, that Mondays confidence was somehow misplaced.  I always seemed to have some sort of review of my work on a Tuesday, usually because the previous weeks results had been worked on, and I was expected to have all the answers as to why we were under budget for Sales and over for Expenses, the usual story.

And even now, when there is no work to go to, even now Tuesdays seem to depress me.   And it is so irrational, why on earth should the day of the week affect me so – or maybe it is more in retrospect, when for whatever reason something un-towards happens, or I receive some bad news, I nod inwardly acknowledging the fact that, of course, what did I expect – it is Tuesday after all.

Christmas Shopping – No thanks

Monday 12th December

Reluctantly I had agreed to accompany my friend Barbara to go Christmas Shopping, and almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth I began to regret them.  I had already done my own, well what little I was prepared to do; I only buy for a small circle of friends, and my Mother.  I have a habit of buying early and inevitably by the end of November I am done.  But Barbara is one of these quite disorganized people who seem to muddle through life despite leaving everything until the last minute.  Two weeks to go and she hadn’t bought a thing, no presents, no cards (where mine were all posted a few days ago), no tree, and no food either, not even the almost obligatory Christmas pudding which I have stashed away in my cupboard from the previous year.  One thing I learned from Grandma, a Christmas cake improves with age.  She had seemed almost desperate on the phone, almost pleading with me, and I felt I couldn’t refuse.  How I wish I had.

As she lives in Docklands we went shopping in the underground mall at Canary Wharf, and even though I had travelled to her house by Tube she insisted on driving the short distance and we parked two floors lower in a claustrophobic concrete car park.  I hate shopping malls at the best of times, and two weeks before Christmas is far from that.  I thought it was packed, but Barbara insisted it was quiet; apparently the Westfield effect .  It may have been that as I was not needing to buy anything I was a bit jaded but somehow nothing I looked at was appealing; was it me or did everything look tatty and literally old-hat.  I literally saw nothing I would have wanted to buy; we seemed to spend an age in tired old shops like Boots and Marks, where not only the assistants but most of the merchandise looked bored.  Especially those box sets of perfume where you get a tiny bottle of eau de cologne and a silly tube of shower gel, which nobody really wants (it is shower gel, so why perfume it, it will be washed off in any case, so you are only making your plug-hole smell pretty not yourself) in a shiny gold cardboard box that is three times bigger than the perfume and at least twice the price.

And so many of the shoppers were literally dragging themselves around the shops, desperately picking things up, shaking their heads, showing their partners who invariably would shrug their shoulders or nod approval, just to get it over with and out of there.  And kids, kids in pushchairs, kids being carried, kids with face-paint, kids queuing to see Santa, kids grizzling, kids being cheeky to their parents, kids whining for a balloon, kids being pampered and pandered to, and parents at their wits end.

And Barbara, sweet but chaotic Barbara, hadn’t a clue what to get people, or even who she had to buy for.  Never heard of a list my dear?   So, we ended up spending a whole afternoon slapping in and out of shops and buying very very little.  At least we had a Starbucks, and I sat in my armchair sipping my latte and watching in amazement this ritual, no doubt being played out all over the country at this very moment, people desperately doing their Christmas shopping,   we have 365 days notice of Christmas, but it still seems to come as a shock to most people as they wake up two weeks before the magic day and realise “Oh my God, only two weeks to go,”

So, Christmas Shopping, no thanks – I’ll give it a miss if you don’t mind.