All posts by adrian

The way we look after our teeth

Saturday 5th November

Grandma had false teeth, I can remember as a little girl laughing as she pulled faces at me and made her top teeth slip forward and almost out of her mouth, then back in again, quick as a flash.  I had almost forgotten this, except for the fact that Grandma could never eat apples or toffee “because of my teeth, my dear”, until, when she became poorly, and I was brought up short by the sight of her dentures in a glass on her bedside cabinet.  They looked so sad, half floating in their little glass, and Grandma’s face had collapsed in on itself a bit as she lay half asleep on the pillow.  It was quite common for her generation to have all their teeth out and false teeth fitted, and my mother had a small top plate with about four teeth, two on either side which she would sometimes leave in the kitchen in her own glass, with a tablet of Steradent fizzing away.  So my mother’s teeth were in a better state than her own mothers, which was not really the case with me.

Although I was rarely indulged with sweets, and visited our dentist regularly every six months, the policy seemed to be one of intervention, intervention and even more intervention.  Every possible crack or hint of a crack, every tiny hole, every small blemish in the enamel, was attacked with the fervour of a zealot, and my poor teeth were drilled hollow and stuffed full of enough mercury and amalgam to sink a small battleship.  Consequently, in my late fifties and sixties I have suffered from a succession of broken teeth, with huge chunks calving off like glaciers approaching the sea.  One piece even came out as I was eating a soft croissant, I was horrified to find a hard lump in the croissant, and at first thought it was a small stone left in the flour.  My tongue isolated it and as I spat it into my palm I was even more horrified to find that yet another tooth had cracked, leaving a jagged sharp shell which I knew would soon be giving me trouble.   And so I have had a series of crowns and bridges fitted, and now my dentist is talking about implants, where a whole new artificial tooth, root and all, is imbedded into my jaw.  At over a thousand pounds a tooth I might add.  So we have nearly come full circle, and I really feel that I prefer to have the crowns and at least a few bits of my own teeth, even if they are only stumps, than a whole new set of inevitably plastic implants.

At least today’s children with a lifetime of fluoridated water and a much better dental regime should stand a better chance of retaining their teeth.  But with life-expectancy reaching ever more lofty heights will these new centurions still have a full set of shiny white teeth, or will we all end up with implants, as more and more bits of our bodies are replaced as we live ever longer.

My only surprise is that people are surprised

Friday 4th November

Well really, what did we expect, we have been blindly walking into a cave with no light at the end, and the way back out obscured too, for years and years.  Did we really think it could go on forever; ever and ever higher house prices, more and more consumer goods filling up the empty spaces in our homes and lives, and an ever increasing standard of living, when for most of us we already had far more than any generation before us could ever have dreamed of.  And it was driven by a sort of collective greed that overrode any social conscience or common sense we might once have possessed; everything is allowed as long as we just keep getting richer and richer.  Well, the roundabout has juddered to a halt, and those that haven’t been thrown to the ground must simply cling on and hope that somehow the wretched thing can be got moving again, though the signs are not so good.  Oh, the rich will prevail, no danger there, they are already investing heavily in the economies of the East, China, India and the rest, and the poor – well, who really cares about the poor, it is the middle classes we must try to protect.  But just how, nobody is sure.

The world has only limited resources, even with advanced technology there is only so much food that can be grown, only so many tons of iron and coal and oil extracted from our tiny planet, and the third world nations we used to ignore in our madcap grab for wealth are now demanding not only a fair price for the goods we used to practically steal from them, but also their share of our affluent and comfortable lives; consumer goods, computers, mobile phones, meat on their plates, fashionable clothes and nice houses.  And who can blame them.  It was as inevitable as that other staple of Economic Historians, the dissipation of Wealth, where despite the rich getting ever richer, first the middle and then the working classes demanded and got a slice of the cake.  The trouble is that the cake is only capable of being sliced up into so many pieces, and we in the West are going to have to get used to thinner and thinner slices, or just go hungry.

I think that it is only just dawning on our leaders too.  I always thought that one was supposed to learn from History, but not this time it would appear.  The last World Depression in the thirties went on for quite some time before FDR decided to create the New Deal, which was basically printing money but channelling it towards consumers to give them confidence again.  All the remedies which our leaders are advocating are not only crumbling confidence but are positively scaring the patient to death.

We have to somehow inspire the middle classes to believe in the future again, without encouraging them to get into massive debt again.  Maybe we have to re-invent money, or as every country has done before to devalue our currency so that everything becomes affordable again.  J. K. Galbraith told us on television in the nineteen seventies that economic policy was like pulling a brick on a piece of elastic along a table top, and bending down level with the table trying to watch it move.  What is so surprising is that nobody realised that it was bound to wallop us right between the eyes sooner or later.

Older Women with Long Hair

Thursday 3rd November

Is it just me, or are more middle-aged women wearing their hair longer these days. Not just those straggly haired eccentric old ladies who one suspects have very hairy legs and underarm hair, and refuse to wash and give off an aroma of a crustiness one normally associates with the homeless, but normal middle class women too.  I certainly seem to have noticed it more and more often; there was a time, of course when almost like clockwork, as women approached their mid-thirties they would start to wear it shorter.  Grandma always had fairly short hair, as far as I can remember; she used to have a woman in about once every six weeks. This travelling hairdresser, for want of a better term, would arrive by car, and would set herself up in the front sitting-room, or ‘drawing room’, as Grandma would poshly announce to visitors and tradesmen alike.  She would have a hairdryer on a stand, you know, one of those big conical ones you used to see in Salons everywhere, and a small suitcase full of large plastic bottles and literally hundreds of curlers. My mother and I knew to make ourselves scarce, my mother remaining in our large kitchen and I in my bedroom, for the duration.  Grandma and her hairdresser, whose name escapes me, if I ever knew it, would disappear up to the bathroom, where Grandma would have her hair washed, and then swaddled in a large fluffy towel they would descend to the ‘parlour’.  Grandma would emerge a couple of hours later with her hair neatly and ‘permanently’ curled, and sprayed with so much hairspray that it positively glistened.  As she grew older though, she stopped having ‘perms’ and would just have her hair cut and ‘set’, I think this actually suited her better, a looser more relaxed style, than the almost rigid and tight perm she wore in the fifties and sixties.  My mother has worn her hair in a boyish side-combed style since I can remember, I am not even sure where she used to go to get it cut; the travelling hairdresser was only ever for Grandma.

Shortly after I broke up with Adrian I got my hair cut, before this I used to wear it in a neat little bun, it was actually quite long, past shoulder length, but I always trimmed the ends before it got too long.  I have worn it short-ish ever since, once or twice toying with the idea of letting it ‘grow out’, but I could never get past that straggly in-between stage, so always gave in and had it styled again.  I am sure that I am far too old now to have long hair, though I think that the long and bouncy style favoured by some older women such as Jerry Hall has encouraged far more older women to try it.  I find it really quite disconcerting when you see a woman from the back who has a full and flowing head of hair, then they turn around and you almost gasp as you realise that what you naturally assumed was a thirty-something turns out to be approaching seventy, or even older; almost as weird as those men with wigs that make their hair look like a twenty year old with all the craggy wrinkles and myopic eyes of a pensioner; and you know that underneath this ridiculous appendage which is as precise and well combed as a mannequin’s the man is actually as bald as a coot.

Memories of my time in Cyprus

Wednesday 2nd November

In my book I never really described any memories of my life in Cyprus, I was seven when we left but can still remember a few things.  They are more like tiny ‘viral’ (I think the terminology is) video’s, short little scenes that I replay again and again in my head.  The most common one is of course the day we left, this was traumatic enough for a seven year old, leaving what had been my home and the only place I could remember, without the added anxiety that I knew in the back of my mind that I was also leaving my father.  I had escaped the awful dead atmosphere in the house and run down to the beach, the place was almost deserted, just a small white haired boy who was more interested in charging into the gentle surf than in me, well I didn’t care either.  I can remember sitting in the dunes and holding my two hands in an open square through which I looked, I suppose I was imitating the taking of photographs, and I kept adjusting my view, capturing segment after segment of the horizon. I crept back into the house and Grandma, visibly irritated by my absence scolded me, “Oh there you are, Catherine, where have you been, and today of all days.”  Chastened, I glared back at her my silent accusations.  There were suitcases and packing cases all around us and despite the heat Grandma had on a tweed suit and a white fox fur, with its’ glass eyes staring out at me, and as if she knew what I was thinking she confirmed my worst fears, in French, I might add, presumably so that the servants, who actually knew everything, would not understand.  AndI knew and understood nothing.

Another memory was having my photograph taken by an official photographer.  I can remember wearing a very pretty tartan dress and being perched on a really high stool, at least three feet off the ground.  The photographer wore a white suit with a red flower in his lapel, he told me to look at it and say cheese, and then there was an almighty flash and a loud phut sound, and startled as a rabbit caught in a hurtling car’s headlight beam I attempted a toothless smile.  I can remember this so clearly as Grandma used to quite often bring the photo out for visiting relatives to laugh at, “Oh just look at the poor child, she looks terrified.” And I was.

And then there was the day with my father on a nature trail of our own, a ‘lizard hunt’, and we actually saw a few that day too.  We were like two conspiring thieves, stealing time away from Grandma’s beady eye.  I loved that day, crawling flat on the ground among the sand dunes, or running along the beach like a pair of children, what am I saying, I was a child, but running like this with an adult was unheard of.  That day I felt my father was all my own, no mother hovering around behind his chair, no Grandma engaging him in small talk at dinner, just me and him, the way we were supposed to be.  And never were to be again

And then, lying awake at night listening to the arguments, first my mother’s raised almost hysterical voice, then Grandma’s short snappy one shutting her up, then my father’s exasperated shouting and the slamming of doors and retreating footsteps. And I never knew why.

And that is about it, those four memories, for me at least, because try as I might I cannot remember anything about Grandma and me that makes it specifically Cyprus; my memories of Grandma are really all the same whether in Putney or Cyprus I cannot distinguish at all.

Halloween – a nasty American import

Tuesday 1st November

Halloween really is a nasty little invention, which thanks to our American cousins has become an industry in itself; the supermarkets have been full of costumes, masks, witches hats and at the last minute pumpkins, carved and ready to carve, and even tubs of sweets with which to regale the little monsters when they appear at your door.  Well not at my door; when the inevitable charade begins, almost as soon as it starts to get dark it seems, and carrying on far too late into the night; you are confronted with usually two or three young people, sometimes with parents in tow, in masks and costumes bought with those same parents hard earned cash, screeching at you “Trick or Treat”, I quietly say, “Not at this house, thank-you,” and close my door. I don’t suppose for one moment that I am the only one, or that it will mar their fun for a moment, but I don’t see why I should join in this American nonsense, I didn’t ask for these unwanted visitors and I refuse to encourage them.

And what sort of a lesson is it teaching the children; to pester people into giving them sweets which will rot their teeth (with the veiled threat implied if you refuse), to dress up in macabre outfits and paint their faces like skeletons and devils which will either give them nightmares or encourage a fascination with all thing supernatural; not a good idea, evidence the incredible success of vampire television series and films, with their undercurrents of sex and death which are hardly the best ingredients to fill young minds with I would have thought.  But the real reason that I dislike Halloween so much is that has almost totally eclipsed our own Guy Fawkes’ night.  Our young children have no knowledge of their own history, instead they are being force-fed an American cultural import which has no real historical basis, just some nonsense about witches on the last night of October.

I can remember how it used to be on the few days leading up to Guy Fawkes, when small groups of kids would be seen pushing their guys, home made from pillow cases and stuffed discaded clothes (no mass-produced masks and cheap bright orange and black costumes in our day) in old prams or pushchairs and asking for a penny for the guy.  This was ostensibly for them to buy fireworks, but I suspect that they might have ended up buying sweets too, but there was a real community feel to Bonfire Night that with today’s organised firework displays is completely missing.

Maybe I am just a grumpy old woman but I am quite fed up with the way our culture is being swamped by MacDonalds and KFC and Hollywood films and cartoons; I may be fighting a one-woman war but despite what I really would like to say, I will continue to politely state “Not at this house, thank-you.”

The clocks going back

Monday 31st October

So, another year and the clocks going back; spring forward, fall back was how we were taught to remember it.  And yes, it is lovely to escape those cold dark mornings but I wonder if the loss of an hour in the evening is really worth it.  Of course it is a complete misconception that any hours are either lost or saved, there are the same twenty-four hours as there ever were, and I am sure that the sun neither notices nor cares as it continues its’ hurtling path through the universe, as we continue our own around the sun; it is this trajectory and the angle which any point on our humble planet happens to be tilted towards it that dictates the hours of darkness or light.  In any case the mornings will continue to get darker earlier and earlier, and that hour ‘saved’ will soon disappear.  I can remember, when I worked, and how depressing it used to be travelling to work and home again in the dark, especially as most of the offices I worked in were in windowless  basements, or large open plan affairs where my desk just happened to be on the furthest wall from the windows and any hint of daylight.  There is actually a medically accepted syndrome called SAD (seasonally affected disorder) which I believe affects us all to a greater or lesser extent, though some people become really ill ; I only know that I hate the early drawing in of the evenings, so putting the clocks back seems worse than leaving things as they are.

Every year there are lengthy letters in the Telegraph explaining at great length the advantages or not of this quite old-fashioned system of adjusting our clocks to try to correct what some perceive as a problem.  I believe it was initially introduced to facilitate building and other outdoor workers who traditionally started at eight in the morning and because of the still encroaching darkness couldn’t start until it was light enough, I just wonder what happens now as they have to stop working at five, then four-thirty and so on, or have floodlights solved the problem somewhat.  And then there is the whole issue of Scotland and as they are so much further north the problems of darkness are always exacerbated by any changes.

And now there are reports in the papers that the Government is considering changing over to Western European time, which is an hour earlier than our summer time anyway.  I can simply warn them that though many will complain at any change, very few will thank them for it.  We are a nation that really dislikes change being imposed from above, but in a strange way the public are often far ahead of the politicians.  Most people would welcome some really Green policies which successive governments appear to shy away from, whether because of the powerful big business lobby or just lack of will I am not sure.  And the smoking ban which the last government so tentatively proposed was welcomed by a nation sick and fed up with having meals and drinks and even trips to the theatre ruined by the bitter stink of tobacco.  So, maybe the government should actually ask people what they would like for a change, they might be surprised, there may be a large consensus out there. I think most people would opt to not go through this charade of changing the clocks every six months.  But I may be wrong.

I had a birthday the week before last

Sunday 30th October

I am not telling you the date – I must preserve some dignity during this process.  And I am definitely not looking for cards or presents; my charity shop must be heartily sick of the discarded toiletries and scented candles I seem to get given these days.  “Oh how lovely, just what I needed” I fib without a moment’s thought; at least I try to find presents that my few friends might like, books or music that I know they will enjoy but may not have found for themselves, but I am always amazed at the inappropriate gifts I am given in return, especially chocolates – I mean, say what you like about me, and I am sure plenty do, but I am most definitely not a chocolate person.

So, another year older, and yes, the mirror doesn’t lie, Catherine, those are wrinkles around your eyes, and the veins in your neck are looking more and more scraggy each year, not bad bone structure though, those good old high cheekbones have served you well over the years.  I don’t really mind getting older, or looking it either, far better than those who try to hide it with make-up and clothes twenty years too young for themselves. There is nothing worse than ‘mutton dressed as lamb,’ as Grandma might have said.  At least today’s older women seem to have stopped dying their white hair ludicrous shades of pink or blue, as I seem to remember a few year back.  I now have to confess that I do touch up my grey tresses with hair dye these days, but I have kept to my light brown colour without giving in to the temptation to go blonde, as a few of my friends have, so just a small deception really.  I am always amazed at those advertisements which seem to dominate the commercial channels for anti-wrinkle creams and potions, I am sure they do not really work any better than the ‘slap’ foundation most women opt for – it is all just so much polyfilla really isn’t it, smoothing out the pores and creases.  Or maybe they do work, in the sense that the adverts are highly successful and shift loads of product, as more and more gullible women (and some men too, I understand) rush out for the latest age-defying cream with some unpronounceable and dubious-sounding new scientific ingredient that none of the others have. And they always have this rider that results are visible after only a few weeks application, knowing so well that most of us will have given up long before then, and the expensive little heavy bottomed glass jar will be consigned to the bottom drawer of the dresser in the spare room, the one where all of those equally expensive medications are kept, equally redundant, but you just cannot bring yourself to throw them away; that verruca might just return, and you never know when you will need that mosquito repellent or that nasal spray again.

So, another birthday has passed, largely uncelebrated, as I prefer them these days; I had seen my father a few weeks ago down in Brighton, and my mother did phone and ask if I wanted to go out for a meal, but I said not to bother, we would be meeting in a weeks’ time anyway, we would have a meal then. I just curled up with Puddy-Tat and re-read most of my book again.  If only I had the chance to re-write some of it again, but no, that is finished now, and I really should get back to writing book number two before yet another birthday overtakes me.

Autumn finally here then

Saturday 29th October

So, after all that sunshine we have had a couple of days of cold drizzle, and suddenly the streets are filling with dead leaves, dry and scrunchy at first and then disintegrating to a slippery sludge, and we know that at last Autumn is finally here. Well, it couldn’t last forever, but it certainly was a delightful almost Indian summer, a welcome end to a rather flat summer.  And now we must hunker down to dark evenings and cold misty mornings and piles of wet leaves in all the parks as natures begins to close up shop for the winter.  Not that I really mind Autumn at all, the parks are less crowded for a start; some days in the summer they are literally littered with picnickers who just love to leave their rubbish about; plastic bags, sweet wrappers and crisp packets, and, worst of all, those disposable barbeque foil trays just discarded wherever they might have cooked their cheap burgers and sausages.  At least now the parks can get back to some sort of normality, even if there are already park workers out with those big blowing machines, like reverse Hoovers, strapped to their backs as they attempt to marshal the renegade leaves into piles for packing into large clear bags.  And even the squirrels are scampering about with ever more fervour as they too realise that the good times are over, and hadn’t they better just harvest those acorns and cobnuts as quickly as possible.

There are a few dog walkers braving the intermittent showers too, usually the ones with big Labradors; the owners of those chi-chi breeds like Shi-tzus or Pekingese are too scared to let their little dears run around in all those dirty wet leaves and so restrict their ‘walkies’ to the pavements these days. I really like the freedom these lolloping loose-limbed large dogs seem to relish, as they bound around, crazily changing direction as they are distracted by a thrown ball or a glimpse of squirrel tail. I wish I could just run around as I did when I was a little girl, kicking my way through piles of leaves and watching them scatter in the wind, and jumping in puddles and splashing everything and everyone in muddy water.  But hold on, where do these memories come from, were there ever autumn leaves in Cyprus, not that I can remember, and by the time we got to Putney I would have been seven and would have had to hold Grandma’s hand if we ever walked through the park.  So, what am I remembering; maybe it was with Jenny or Gwendolene when I was a few years older and allowed out to play on my own.  More probably I had seen other children, less self-constrained than I running through leaves and puddles and had momentarily imagined I was doing the same, and maybe just because I never did indulge in this behaviour that I am feeling as if I would love to be that other little girl, not the quiet obedient one I was, but the rebellious fun-loving free spirit I have always hankered after.

And why does the arrival of Autumn bring on these reveries so, is it that above all autumn is a time of reckoning;  summer and another year have passed, and as we prepare for winter, maybe, like the squirrels, we too are quietly husbanding our resources, instinctively assessing how we are to deal with this Winter.  In earlier times it would certainly have meant death for some of the older people in our tribe, and of course both of my parents are getting older and if anything will carry them off it will surely be in these parsimonious wet and cold months which always follow the damp mellowness of Autumn.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Friday 28th October

I have just finished reading it and felt the need to write all of this down at once, while the bright ferrous is still smouldering, and before a degree of rust starts to set in, so to speak. I read the book, not because it won the Booker prize last week, but completely co-incidentally; it was on my list anyway.  I had bought the book before I even knew he was up for the Booker, I bought it because it was by Julian Barnes and I had so loved some of his earlier books; ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’, ‘A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters’, and of course ‘Arthur and George’ for which masterpiece he should have won the Booker and every other prize going, hands down, and not for this lightweight novelette.

Oh, where to begin – well then, the very shortness of the book for a start, whose meagre 160 pages seems a thin reward for paying over twenty pounds for my hardback edition; this may satisfy the dilatory casual reader but I must say I actually like a bit of a read. I need a good few pages to get into the characters and the voice of the book, and actually quite some way before the ending I began to lose interest, whether this was because I could feel the ever-thinning band of pages between my fingers or just that I didn’t care about the characters enough I am not sure.  This is a pity, as it started off so well, I quite liked the idea of just two chapters, separated by forty odd years, and I particularly liked the way he dealt with memories and our uncertainty as to what is remembered , or what one remembers remembering, a subject I touched on in my own book “Catherines Story”.  I also felt the co-incidence of the central enigmatic character ‘Adrian’ being the same as my own ‘Adrian’ was a good omen.

But as the book progressed I found I liked none of the characters, especially Tony, the narrator, who wallowed in a self-denigrating whingeing slew of self-pity.  Elegantly written, and with an ending that you only guessed almost at the ending, this should have been a triumph, but I am afraid he got the Booker for the wrong book.

I usually end up buying the Booker winners at some point in any case, it is after all the best recommendation there is; sometimes I have been delightfully surprised, (Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre) or rediscovered a favourite but recently neglected author, (The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood) or puzzled and almost didn’t finish them, (Keri Hume’s The Bone People) or discovered a writer I would enjoy for years to come, (Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner) but rarely have I been so disappointed as with this one.  So for ‘The sense of an Ending’ only four out of ten I am afraid, Julian.  The phrase ‘should have done better’ springs to mind, and of course he has done, several times already.


Les bicyclettes de Londres

Thursday 27th October

Ah, I remember eet well, as Maurice Chevalier might have said.  Les bicyclettes de Belsize was a lovely little film about ironically enough, bicycles in Belsize Park; I cannot really remember the film at all, except that it was very very French, I have used it only as an introduction to my subject for today, the cyclists of London.

If only they were as romantic as the film portrayed them, idly drifting by in the sunny traffic free roads of North-West London.  No, the reality is somewhat different; what was once a leisurely pastime has now become a thriving bustling new industry with whole superstores dedicated to the cyclist’s needs; where once tucking your trousers in your socks and donning a cloth cap sufficed as adequate clothing for the amateur cyclist, now they are lycra-clad from head to toe in figure hugging day-glo specialised clothing, with ultra slim carbon fibre highly expensive bikes to match.  And cycling now is serious business; no longer a bike for life that your father may well have ridden before you, with its Sturmey Archer 3 speed gear lever and uncomfortable bone hard saddle, today’s bicycles are super-fast and become old-fashioned and need changing almost as often as laptops do.  All very well, you may say, and I am not at all opposed to progress, I just cannot bear the behaviour of this new breed of cycle enthusiasts.

They seem to think that the normal rules just do not apply to them; red lights simply being an opportunity to make up some ground on the faster moving traffic ahead, and woe-betide you, if as a humble pedestrian, you happen to get in the way of a cyclist.  I have been sworn at, swerved past and actually clattered into, by these self absorbed maniacs, who seem to think that not only the roads but even the pavements are there for their own exclusive use.  Anyone who foolishly thinks that a pedestrian crossing was created for enabling them to cross the road, and that traffic should and of course will stop to allow you to do so is very much mistaken; if a cyclist happens to be coming up fast on the blind side, you had better hang onto your heart and hope for the best as the last thing they will consider is stopping for you, let alone slowing down to give you time to cross.

I had a bike as a young teenager, a pink Raleigh, with a big white pannier on the front and a wide comfy white sprung saddle, on which I would meander up to the high street shops, or leisurely spin my way through the many nearby parks, but in my wildest dreams riding a cycle on today’s busy roads would never feature.  So I am more than happy to leave this pastime to the young and energetic, I just wish they would leave me some space on the pavement at least, let alone the roads.