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.

The Winter Flu-Jab

Wednesday 26th October

For years I never once considered having the winter flu-jab. I was young and pretty fit, and took ‘colds’ in my stride.  Occasionally I would be laid quite low though, with a dry hacking cough that would take weeks to shake off, but again I just put up with it; it was a cold, maybe flu – who knows, I never consulted a doctor.  I had been brought up to accept a winter cold as normal, and had rarely been granted a day off school; ‘soldier on’ was our motto, and soldier on I continued to march – as I say, I just put up with it, snuffling and suffering along the way.

Then when I got into my new circle of friends, ladies of some leisure for the most part, they talked to me of the winter flu-jab and they were amazed I had never considered it.  I suppose it had just never been on my radar, and what with having to make an appointment in advance with ones’ doctor it always seemed too much trouble.  But now I allowed myself to become persuaded to have the flu-jab after all.  And instantly regretted it!  My arm ached for days – it really felt like a lead weight pressing down on it, and I felt so under the weather, not exactly a cold, but those feelings of dread and foreboding that so often foretell the onset of a cold.  The jab is after all a mild form of flu, given to you in order to train your antibodies to fight the real thing when it comes along, but it is the learning to fight this little blighter that makes you feel so down.

Anyway I persevered with it, and every year I got my flu-jab, secretly doubting its’ efficiency – because I still got colds, a runny nose and sore throat, those two companions that always seem to herald in winter, admittedly never descending to their previous awfulness, but depressing all the same; I had had the flu jab, and I still got a cold, it didn’t seem fair somehow.

When Edward was no longer with me I stopped having the flu-jab; I just couldn’t be bothered to make the appointment, and even though we had the mass panic headlines of bird and swine and I don’t know what flu, I have been fine – no, really – the usual winter cold I always got, flu-jab or no flu-jab.

And now I seem to see the flu-jab advertised everywhere, and walk-in too, no appointment necessary these days, just hand over a tenner and it’s yours. And I am aware that I am torn between having it again or not, after all it will only cost me ten pounds and a sore arm, but by not having it will I really lay myself open to getting the ‘flu’, which despite many many colds, I am sure I have never actually had. So what to do, flu-jab, or no flu-jab? No, I think I will hold out – at least until next autumn.

Seven Deadly Sins – Pride

Tuesday 25th October

And the second Deadly Sin which Anna and her sister Anna encounter is Pride; for some reason Bertolt Brecht, who wrote the lyrics, set this in Memphis.  Famous now, of course, as the home of Elvis Presley and Graceland, but when this was written, in the thirties – well, who knows why Pride was chosen as its’ particular sin.

So why is Pride such a deadly sin? Surely a little bit of self-praise is harmless enough – and we all take pride in our appearance, making the most of ourselves, is that really so harmful?  What about pride in our country, except when this descends into football hooliganism, is it so awful to cheer on our runners or cyclists in the Olympics, or the hapless Andy Murray, following in the runner-up footsteps of our very own Tim Henman at Wimbledon. But at least we in Britain do not descend to the ludicrous flag-saluting that ensues in American schools, so maybe we can also excuse a modicum of pride in ones’ country, so what does that leave?

I think that the reason that Pride is considered a deadly sin is where pride overtakes one to the point that one looks down on all those who do not inhabit one’s own social class or milieu, and this is not restricted solely to those at the top of the social ladder either.  Working class pride is just as offensive; I first encountered this with Adrian, back in Hackney, where he would forgive the worst excesses of the lower working classes simply because they were ‘real people’, as he termed them.  I might have been inclined to forgive their lack of manners and filth as ignorance or lack of education and enlightenment, but Adrian saw them as somehow more honest and true than his own family or especially mine.  And this was a corrosive pride that burned like acid into our relationship; I could hardly help the background I came from, and I have always striven to understand people who have not had such a fortunate upbringing as I, though we had precious little money, so it was never about that.  And of course as I rose in the world after marrying Edward, I saw the other side of the coin, and came across the pride of the wealthy, and those who assume they had some god-given right to lord it over the rest of us; just as despicable and ignorant too I can assure you.

And where does it come from, this stupid pride; especially as it would seem that we are inevitably hurtling towards some sort of egalitarian middle-classness, where it really doesn’t matter where you started out, or who your parents were, or what your upbringing was.  So, pride, though a relatively old-fashioned concept should be confined to the rubbish bin of history, no longer a deadly sin, but an irritating, self-defeating and pointless pursuit.

Something for nothing

Monday 24th October

We seem to be living in a something for nothing society, which is I suppose slightly preferable to living in a nothing for something one. “Nothing for something?”  do i hear you enquire.  And actually that does happen quite often, not only when you are actually robbed or when something you have ordered fails to be delivered, or if you have paid for concert tickets, often months in advance, and then nearer the time realise that it clashes with another event which you cannot postpone, and there is no refund available. (but at least this is ones’ own fault)  More often you get nothing for something when things are not exactly as you expected them to be, and you are left with that awful feeling of disappointment; a Hotel which though advertised as four star would be awarded only two by anyone with a discerning mind; or a jacket which looked fine in the changing room mirror, but now you have it home sits awkwardly on your shoulders and hangs like a sack, so that you cannot possibly get any use out of it.

But what I mean by the something for nothing society is that it is being driven by the internet and a whole generation of young people who believe in its’ promise of free everything.  They seek out file-sharing sites where they obtain not only computer programmes, but music and films too, without paying a penny in royalties or anything, and they feel outraged at the concept that they should ever pay at all.  Quite illegal of course, but so many are now doing it that it is increasingly difficult to stop.  Added to this is the propensity for newspapers to ‘give away’ free CDs or DVDs in order to boost their flagging circulation, which is also encouraging this viewpoint.  You only have to observe the burgeoning pound shops where people are happy for any old substandard goods so long as it is almost given away.  So, more and more there is an attitude of “Why pay, when I can get it for nothing”.

But I do pay, and I do not mind paying a fair price to listen to my favourite artist or to hear new music, or to see an exhibition by new artists, or for clothes that are well made.  I appreciate the hours of dedication and sheer hard work involved in creating the piece of music I am listening to, or the paintings I am lucky enough to be looking at.  And if nobody is willing to pay for their hard work, do you really think that they will continue to do it just for the fun of the thing.  And it is the same with anything well made, unless the maker is rewarded, they will cease to bother making things.  Even Karl Marx acknowledged that; his gripe was not with the artisan worker, but with the Capitalist system for stealing the fruit of his labours, which is exactly what the pirate download sites are doing, not in the name of Capitalism but in the name of ‘Something for nothing’.

But seriously, this attitude of something for nothing is detrimental not only to the creative arts but also to the listener or the viewer; if they have paid for nothing then nothing has any value, and if they have no values then there is no appreciation or discernment and eventually there will be no choice and no amount of ‘something for nothing’ will then improve the paucity of their lives.

Credit Card fraud or something else?

Sunday 23rd October

I had an incredibly annoying and actually quite upsetting experience the other day, and, in my mind, completely unnecessary too.  I was in Waitrose, where I often shop these days, I had actually just popped in for some of those small tubs of Sheba for Puddy-Tat but ended up buying a few other items, as one invariably does.  Getting to the till, the amount was a surprising twenty pounds or so, and I knew I didn’t have that much in my purse, so without thinking I presented my credit card.  I don’t really use it that much; putting some more pre-pay on my Oyster card, or for any large-ish purchases and that is about it, I also have an arrangement to pay it always by Direct Debit, so they have never earned a penny interest from me.  I do get reward points, but they simply convert this into a small sum which is credited automatically so it is hardly an inducement either.  I was miles away and waiting rather impatiently for the transaction to clear and the message ‘please remove your card’ to appear when suddenly it said Transaction Cancelled.  I knew I hadn’t made a mistake with my Pin number, and asked the assistant to try again, but she said she couldn’t once a transaction had not been accepted, there must be something wrong with my card.  I was almost starting to panic, when embarrassment overtook any alarm I might have felt, I could almost feel the looks of slight derision from the small queue behind me.  Worse still I had no other way of paying; for some reason I had left my bank Debit card at home.  I checked my purse, about ten pounds only.  I quickly worked out that I could pay for the cat food and nothing else, so I asked the girl to take off the other items, which I hadn’t really wanted anyway, and left the shop with some sort of dignity intact.  Ten minutes later, yes, all of ten minutes, my mobile rung and a woman from a call-centre somewhere in the Indian sub-continent asked me if I had just tried to purchase items at Waitrose.  I hadn’t quite caught that she had said she was from card provider at the beginning of her garbled introduction, so I furiously demanded to know how she had obtained my number.  She repeated, and this time I understood, that she was from my card company; it was starting to make some sense now, but I was still angry and demanded to know why my card had been rejected.  Unbelievably she said it was a random security check, in case my card had been stolen or lost or cloned.  I told her in no uncertain language how embarrassed this whole palaver had made me feel, and how dare they just refuse a transaction I was making and just whose money was it anyway.  Actually it was still technically their money until I settled the account of course, but this only struck me later.  Then she tried to explain that this was a security procedure, entirely random so she assured me, designed to protect my card from abuse. I was beginning to allow myself to be placated, when she dropped the coup-de-gras, had I ever considered taking out insurance against my card being lost or stolen, and that they had very competitive rates etc:.  Fury again erupted, and after receiving an assurance that my card was still okay to use, I cut her off.  So, was this really a case of a random security check, or just a sophisticated way of trying to sell me insurance?

Celebrity Magazines

Saturday 22nd October

A you know, I quite despair of Celebrity Culture, the way it has of pervading and infiltrating its’ tentacles into every aspect of your life, from Strictly Come Dancing to items on the News, from late night chat shows to their very own Celebrity magazines.  Of course I never buy them, never even consider it, in fact I rarely, if ever, buy a magazine at all, let alone inhabit what used to be called newsagents, but are rapidly metamorphosing into convenience stores or Tesco Metros;  that old staple of Newsagent, Tobacconist and Confectioner disappearing fast.  I do subscribe to Paris Match, which I do not enjoy so much as I used to I am afraid, I just cannot quite let it go that’s all, and Elle (French version); I do like to keep up my with my French, but have little opportunity nowadays to speak it. Those, along with the Telegraph and the Mail, (though I am seriously consider stopping the latter which is sinking downmarket faster than the Titanic) and the Saturday and Sunday Times at weekends are sufficient for my needs.  I did try the ‘i’ when it first came out but realised that the précis they presented me with merely whetted rather than satisfied my appetite for news.

I find however that when I am on the tube I cannot stop myself from picking up a discarded tabloid, especially if it is the Mirror or the Sun, and I recognise Grandma in myself, as I tut-tut and shake my head in disbelief, as I am reassured rather than horrified, at just how awful they actually are.  The only good news of late is that they are suffering from a massive fall in circulation, even steeper than that of the broadsheets.

And in the Dentists I find it hard to resist glancing at Heat or Closer or whatever they are called; I say glancing at, because they are so full of photo’s and adverts that there is precious little there to actually read. Besides it is all an advert really, if not for products then for some imaginary lifestyle we are supposed to envy, and what I find particularly sickening is when these so called celebrities, most of whom I really cannot place, ‘invite’ the cameras into their pristine soul-less homes.  I mean, how vulgar, you might as well ask them to look at your lavatory!!!

Is this supposed to represent some sort of democracy, or is it like that silly little rhyme we used to recite at school – “Pigs will spill pigswill ‘coz pigs will swill pigswill.”   Not very nice I suppose, but then I have never pretended to be, which is more than can be said for these so-called celebrities.