Everybody wants the same thing – to see another Birthday

Saturday 31st December

I heard this line on Radio 2, and my clever DAB radio told me it was by The Finn Brothers – who ever they are, and a song called Edible Flowers, so thank you Radio 2 (and the brothers Finn) for another title for my blog.  And how true that line is, so obvious we do not even think about it, but underlying all our petty hopes and fears, ambitions and daydreams, the stark reality is that we simply want to be around for another year.  And it has set me thinking about my parents, and how old they both are getting; not that they are poorly, quite the opposite I would say, a sprightly couple, though of course, a couple they never really were, or are likely to be again.  But the grim reaper can come calling at any time; and I am resolving (at this time of resolutions) to see a bit more of them both.  My father lives in Brighton, and it is only an hour on the train, so there really is no excuse.  I am planning a monthly visit, and to see my mother at least once a week from now on.  I have the time, so I just have to get on with it.  Really I truly don’t know what I do with my time anyway, waste it mostly like everybody else.  Having my mother over at Christmas reminded me that she had me when she was only eighteen herself, “Far too young” as Grandma used to say, as if this would explain everything, my mother’s moods, and almost desperate state she got herself in over the slightest mishap.  I look at her now, and realise that in eighteen years, which is no time at all, I will be her age myself, and it isn’t a very heartening prospect, is it?

So what will I do with my time left,  I think I might try to learn a new language at evening classes, Italian maybe, and I know a smattering from the years we used to spend there, so it shouldn’t be that hard really.  Barbara tried to get me along to Salsa classes, but I never was any good at dancing, no natural rhythm I think, I was always listening to the melody and the harmonies, using my head rather than let the music move my body I suppose.  And anyway I think that maybe I need a few new friends, all of my friends were really Edward’s friends who by association became mine, and I am not that sort of bubbly instantaneous person who can start a conversation with a perfect stranger; I need to almost size them up first, get to know a little bit about them before I take the plunge.  Rather like my only two relationships, I need to feel safe before I can let go of the handrail and skate along with them.  And you never know I might meet a man there, though hopefully not an Italian Stallion. Hahaha

Headache gone – Clear Blue Skies Ahead

Friday 30th December

Thank goodness the headache – a bad one – has gone, and another bout of (self-inflicted?) perjury is over.  And it wasn’t as if I over-indulged this Christmas; my Mother doesn’t drink at all now, yet I can remember her enjoying both wine and brandies with Grandma in years gone by.  Even when I opened a rather nice bottle of Mumm’s for us on Christmas Day itself, she politely refused, having an apple juice instead, I had to finish it myself. (over two days I must admit, but it was delicious)  The bottle of Vintage Port I bought has hardly been touched either, but that I don’t mind, as I will enjoy this myself over the chilly winter evenings.  I took my mother home yesterday, it was quite pleasant, but not quite as I had hoped. She is so reticent and undemanding, she didn’t even have any preferences for the television, I almost felt that politeness was going to kill us at times.  We did chat a bit about Grandma and Putney and the old times we had together, but it was all rehashed stuff we seem to talk about every Christmas.  In a way I suppose I was hoping that she would open up a bit and tell me some more about Cyprus, although for me, that book is already written; I was just curious I suppose.  But no, my mother and I have settled into a pleasant and unchallenging pattern which neither of us is really prepared to disturb, and as Grandma herself would declare “But my dears, it is all such a long time ago now, we don’t want to go over all that again, now do we?”

So now it is clear blue skies ahead.  That is my new motto, despite today being overcast and pale grey clouds as far as the eye can see.  Behind them I can assure you the sky was blue.  No more miseries, but a new me.  I have decided to stop writing the second book, it was like the  curates egg I am afraid, ‘good in places’, and I had written myself into a sort of denouement, a bit of a blind alley, and on re-reading I find it wasn’t that much different from “Catherines Story”.  Different female lead, but a bit too tragic and sad a heroine. (again!! Do I hear you mutter) No, I am going to start a new book.  I am not really sure what about yet, but I feel I need to write in a different genre completely, maybe a crime thriller.  We’ll see, and if this one doesn’t work out; why, I’ll just try something different again.  The important thing is to write, and not to worry about how good it is, or if it will ever be published, but just enjoy the writing of the thing.

A Migraine Headache – Now, Please Go Away

Thursday 29th December

Although I never had a brother or a sister, or indeed many friends as a child I did have a companion who though uninvited and never-expected, was never far away.  I have been a lifelong sufferer from migraine headaches, of course as a child I didn’t recognize them as such and when I used to complain of a headache I would get short shrift, “Go upstairs and read a book” or “I really don’t know Catherine, you are always complaining about something or the other, now buck yourself up child.”  It was only as I got older and read up about them did I realise they had indeed been very bad headaches and not just something I had made up to get out of swimming at school or to avoid doing the washing up.

There is supposed to be, or often is, a trigger which starts the headache, but in my case I have never been able to identify this; all the favourite suspects such as cheese or chocolates do not seem to apply, and it can be summer or winter spring or autumn, the season makes no odds.  Sometimes sitting too long in the sun can start one off, but then again so can a walk in a stiff cold wind; but mostly neither of these extremes seem to be present.   One thing I have found is that I usually know I am due one the moment I wake up, it is a sort of fuzziness, almost a premonitory state, and befuddled it takes me a few moments to catch on, and then it is hope against hope fighting the inevitable as the pressures rise and the wave finally breaks.  They are usually accompanied by some sort of tummy upset too, with horrid tasting belches to boot, so I wonder if it might really be a bad tummy which triggers the migraine, I also find I am extremely tired, even after just waking up, and trying to go back to sleep doesn’t really help either as the headache will out no matter what I do.

I do take Neurofen, which sometimes manage to take the edge off, or dull the grinding pain somewhat, but nothing I have found will cure them.  They have to run their course, and I usually have to retire to my bed where in the dark and huddled up in a little ball, or stretched out with my wrist on my forehaead trying desperately to stop the throbbing pulse of pain, or with a wet flannel on the back of my neck, I go through the hours it always seems to take to die down, and become at least manageable again.

I used to wonder why me, why was I the one who got these rotten headaches, but apparently they are really quite common.  One wonders why headaches occur at all, and I have never heard a really good scientific explanation for them, there simply seems no point, except to make one suffer.  But I have learnt over the years to bear with them, because they do go eventually, only never quite fast enough.

A Bargain is not a Bargain – if it wasn’t what you Bargained for

Wednesday 28th December

What is this craziness that seems to infect a certain part of mankind at the thought, the mere mention of a sale?

I have been watching the news and reading the ‘i’ (the only paper left for some obscure reason) and am never less than amazed at peoples’ gullibility.  Or are they in their milling, queuing, pushing frenzy the ordinary ones, and I, cool Catherine, sublime in my observing of this throbbing gasping melee, the unusual, the odd one out, the woman with no desire for a bargain?  It isn’t that I enjoy paying ‘Top Dollar’ for everything I buy, or that I object to buying marked down goods; I often pick up something in the ‘reduced’ section, but it has to be the right thing.  I invariably know what I am looking for when I go shopping and that is what I invariably end up buying, discounted or full price – sounds obvious doesn’t it, but you would be amazed how many girlfriends I have been out with who wander around the stores with glazed eyes and an air of bewilderment, and when I ask what they are looking for, they say “I am not sure, but I will know it when I see it”, or some such nonsense.  And it isn’t as if they are referring to a particular style of coat, or a pair of trousers they haven’t spotted yet, their vagueness encompasses the whole gamut of female attire – they simply have no clue what they came out for in the first place, is it a skirt, or a blouse, or jodhpurs even, maybe a poncho  my dear, you know that they come back into fashion at least once every twenty years.

And I am sure that these are the very same people who flock to the sales at this time of year, I say this time of year, but actually it used to be January, then slowly December was encroached upon and some stores have even started their annual post-Christmas sale before the twenty-fifth itself. And they even started queuing on Christmas day, which whether you are religious or not, it is surely sacrilegious to go out on the one guaranteed non-shopping day of the year and start queuing for a sale that will not start for twelve or so hours.  And one cannot blame the stores; anything to get those tills ringing I suppose.  I read once that in Retailing it is throughput of stock and continuing cash-flow through the checkout that are the keys to success, not maintaining ones margins, once breakeven point has been reached it is all about volume of sales.  In any case I am certain that though there must be a few lost leaders to entice people in to the sale, the majority of goods are not really that discounted at all, the selling price has been so inflated pre-Christmas that a 25% reduction will simply bring the item down to the price you should have paid all along.  But for me, it isn’t even the price of the thing, bargain or no bargain, but simply why buy something you wouldn’t have bought had it not been for the crossed out amount in small numerals and the big amount below, oh, and the six feet tall letters ’S A L E’ across the entire window of the shop.

A bargain is only a bargain if you were particularly in need of, or had been planning to buy anyway, the object you see in the Sale.  If it just happens to be something that catches your eye, and the words ‘but it’s only £…….. .99’ flash across your eyes and blanket out all reason, you will undoubtedly get home and unwrap something you hadn’t really bargained for.

Women who let their children call them by their Christian names

Tuesday 27th December

Visiting my hapless friend Barbara, her Barrister husband Martin and their children Julia and Erica yesterday I was struck by this modern habit of getting your children to call you by your Christian names.  My generation would never have considered it, I knew that my mother and Grandma were called Margaret and Hilda but those were for other adults to use, not a child like me. It would have been seen as a sign of disrespect; the very denomination Mummy or Grandma conferred on the owner some position, some sense of achievement in the hierarchy that we, small children, would one day aspire to, and even if we became Mummy ourselves we would still refer to our own mothers as Mummy and they to us by our Christian names.  You may not think this is important, and possibly in the grand scheme of things it ranks quite low, but it is unfortunately another symptom of the state of things today.  I would never have dreamed of losing my temper with or raising my voice to Mummy or Grandma, but today’s children think nothing of shouting at and even swearing at their mothers.  But this is really my point you see, by conferring on your children the equal status of being on first name terms, there is no distinction between Barbara or Erica or Martin or Julia, they are all equals, and so when it comes to a disagreement no holds are barred and any respect the children had for their parents has long since gone with the granting of first name equality.  Poor, poor, Barbara has suffered terribly at the hands of those girls, they think nothing of telling her to F…k off, and even in front of guests.  Barbara just shrugs it off as teenage belligerence but I think there is something deeper going on; her children, because they call her by her Christian name all the time have literally forgotten that she is their mother, the person who not only gave birth to them, but raised them, has sacrificed and continues to sacrifice for them, cooks and cleans up for them, lends them money which will never be repaid and chauffeurs them around at all hours of the day (and is there to be sworn at, screamed at when they don’t get their own way, or when she occasionally says no to them).  To the girls she is just an older woman who lives with them, but is not in any way an equal like their girlfriends are, and so they treat her like a doormat; she might as well have Welcome or two footprints tattooed on her forehead.

And I find it so disconcerting when I am there, as did my mother yesterday when they shouted down the stairs “Barbara, have you ironed that new T-shirt of mine?” or “Barbara, have I got any clean knickers?” or “Martin, can you lend us a tenner, I’ll give it back to you next weekend, promise.”  Who are these ungrateful people.  And Barbara is my friend, not theirs; I can call her Barbara but you are her children, not her friends.  And yet Barbara will tell anyone, “Oh, I get on famously with my girls, we are just like sisters you know.”  Well, I never had a sister, and if I had, I am sure I wouldn’t be speaking to her in this way.  It might be considered at least democratic if Barbara spoke back to them in the same thoughtless and unkind way, but she is kindness personified, and just seems to lap it up in a way, the worse they treat her the happier she seems.  And so it will continue, until they have children of their own and wonder why their thirteen year-olds do not respect them at all and scream and hurl abuse at Julia or Erica, because you can be sure they will not revert to having themselves called by such an old-fashioned term as Mummy.

Reflections on Christmases Past

Monday 26th December

Well, Christmas is over for another year.  As a child I always seemed to enjoy Boxing Day better than Christmas day.  There was no anticipation, and of course no disappointment, though looking back, was I really so disappointed; for a few years I harboured the secret wish that under the tree might be a gift from my father, and as the pile of presents slowly dwindled the fears began to take over from the hope, and when the last one was gone I knew what I had known all along, that there never would be any surprise present for me.  Grandma had made sure of that, and the door seemed so well and truly closed shut that I would get annoyed with myself for having such silly ideas.  In a way though, I was also a bit disappointed with the gifts from Mummy and Grandma, they never seemed to have any idea of what a young girl might like, they did once get me a bicycle, well it was second hand, but had been re-sprayed and the chrome all polished up a and a pretty pink saddle, so it looked all new and sparkling but mostly it was cardigans and brooches and ear-rings that made me look far older than I really was, or silk scarves, handy but hardly young girly.  I suppose that they were out of touch themselves, and they had no relatives with young daughters to compare, so I got what I think Grandma secretly desired for herself.

And once the ritual of Christmas presents was gone through there was the even worse palaver of Christmas Dinner.  Grandma used to cook this for a few years, but then when the television arrived this was delegated to Mummy, who was, if anything a worse cook than Grandma, and we would wait at the table while she struggled with serving it all up, and inevitably half way through she would realise she had forgotten the gravy or the sprouts.  So on Boxing Day we could just relax, enjoy the programmes on the television, no anticipation, no feeling that you have to look ecstatically pleased as you unwrapped your presents, no secret worries that Grandma’s face would drop as she opened the little ornament or soaps I had worried so much about buying and no fears for the state of the famous turkey.  We could happily tuck into cold turkey and mashed potatoes and Picallilly and Branston Pickle to our hearts content, and settle down to watch Morecambe and Wise on the television, safe in the knowledge that we had successfully gotten through another Christmas.

It is Christmas Day

Sunday 25th December

I am having a rest today, so just a short little piece today,

Just to wish everyone a wonderful and Happy Christmas, who-ever and wherever you are, I hope that you are at peace with yourselves and the world at large.  And please raise a glass with me to absent friends too,

That’s all for now.

Love from Catherine

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Saturday 24th December

“ ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. “

I used to love that poem as a child, and apparently could recite it complete at only five years old, even remembering the names of all the reindeer, Donner and Blitzen and all. Grandma had taught me to read, and to speak French, of course.  I had the poem as a picture book with nineteen-fifties, big bold splashy colours and images of clouds and rooftops and Santa’s boots dangling into a fireplace as he descended a chimney.  I lost it when I got to my teens, and by then it was tattered and torn and drawn over, and anyway, I no longer believed in Father Christmas, and along with a few battered and bald limb-less dollies and all my old Bunty and Blue Peter Annuals it was thrown out ceremoniously as Grandma decided to have a spring clean.  But I wish I still had the book, I have seen more recently published copies over the years, pretty and glossy no doubt, but I have never seen that old early fifties version.

And the night before Christmas was magical for a child in the fifties, before the universality of television made us all aware of the commercialisation that was to follow.    You had no idea really that everywhere around the world children just like you were hanging up their stockings or looking forward with such anticipation to the day ahead.  There were presents for a start, and maybe it is hard for children of today to appreciate just what presents meant to us.  We had very few toys to start with, and it was unthinkable to just buy children something at any time other than their birthday or for Christmas.  And there were very few toy shops around; it wasn’t as if we spent our daytime hours gazeing at things we might expect to receive on the big day.  There was, most importantly, no television, so no adverts, so no desire for the latest toy or game or book.  In fact, unless we saw these at a school-friend’s we had no idea they existed.  I can still remember the surprise when I was eleven and received a Monopoly game; I had never heard of it, and was fascinated by the pieces, the wooden houses and the silver top-hat, and spent almost all of Christmas and Boxing Day reading the rules and then playing out the game with two dollies and a teddy as my game companions.  I am not even sure if the idea of winning or losing had yet been engrained in me, it was the playing out of the thing that was the game for me, and the names of the streets – Mayfair, Northumberland Avenue and Old Kent Road that was fascinating, and the idea of renting out houses and hotels and people landing on them paying rent which I found fascinating; who eventually won was unimportant.

And on the night before Christmas we dressed the tree with shiny baubles and paper lanterns and we had a set of little pink and lilac and purple reindeer which hung like coat-hangers  in a sort of chain which I particularly liked to place on the tree.  And then we had the ritual of the first mince pies, and Grandma and Mummy would have a glass of Sherry, and I a milky Horlicks, and then making sure we left a mince pie on a plate for good old Santa, off I would trot to bed, with the words of the poem ringing in my ears as visions of sugar plums danced in my head.

Just Another Trip on the Tube

Friday 23rd December

Yesterday I was out doing some last minute shopping, and though I had travelled to Knightsbridge by bus, the journey had been so tedious down Park lane, the bus caught up in traffic for ages, that I decided to come home by tube.  I suppose that everybody had the same idea, to do a bit of shopping in the last few days before Christmas, but I had rarely seen so many people about.  Are we not in a recession? I asked myself, or is it just that here in London we live in some sort of isolated bubble of prosperity.  It seemed as if everyone had taken the day off work; there were whole families, Mum and Dad and children, pushchairs everywhere, and even a few elderly grandmothers taken out for the day.  And it was warm and sunny – a change from the cold weather of a few days ago. There was a huge crowd at the barriers to go down to the Piccadilly line; it was taking even longer than usual to get to the gates and then I realized why.  Parents with young children totally unused to the unwritten etiquette that prevails on London Underground were both perplexed by the hardly complicated tap-in Oyster card system, and were letting every little Louis and Sacha work it out for themselves, and even though the yellow tap-in emblem was too high for some to manage, there was Daddy to lift the little one up so that she could tap-in all by herself.  The fact that they were causing a log-jam by their ridiculous overweening attitude to children too young to understand or remember their experience seemed not to occur to them,  After all, young William and Sarah must be allowed to have their own tickets and the family shopping trip would be spoiled without their being treated completely as young adults.  Which, I can assure you, they are not.

Well, we eventually got through the gates and onto the escalator.   Here again these holiday users of the tube have no idea that one is supposed to stand on the right to allow those of us who still retain the use of our legs to walk past on the left, despite signs in several languages telling them to do precisely that. So yet another log-jam as people blocked the down escalator completely.  Oh well, another delay will make little difference I suppose.  The trains were slow and the 1 minute on the display board lasted at least five, but eventually a train limped into the platform.  Packed, as usual, but I took my chance and forced my way on, experience has taught me the next one will be even worse.  I really do not expect young people to leap up to let an older person sit down nowadays; those ideas of chivalry have long gone, but I do get a bit annoyed when mothers insist that their little ones, hardly out of a pushchair, sit by themselves and take up a whole seat.  Have they never thought of picking them up and carrying them on their lap, so freeing up a seat for an adult; obviously not.  There were the usual suspects on the tube, the Chinese girls, with immaculate hair and nails and Mulberry bags and Pierre Cardin spectacles , the black woman from my own generation laden down with bags of food and shopping and struggling to stand, the young lad in hoody and jeans at half-mast, showing a whole bottom full of designer boxer shorts, the gaggle of young girls all a giggle and showing each other texts and pictures on their mobiles, the smartly dressed business man with the gold tie-pin and cuff-links trying to read his minutely folded  FT amidst the crush, and me, squashed and too short to reach the hand hold on the roof of the carriage, and just two fingers touching a side pole trying desperately to keep my balance and not rub up too closely to anyone else, though through the multiple layers hardly anyone would have noticed if I had.

Democratic the tube may be, but so unpleasant, I really wished I had returned by my usual bus journey, but then I wouldn’t have had the subject for today’s little blog would I?

I’m having my mother over for Christmas

Thursday 22nd December

Edward and I always used to have my mother over for Christmas, but the last few years I have preferred being on my own rather than with people and I don’t really know why.   I do enjoy company and being with friends, but the thought of it, the anticipation, fills me with some sort of dread, whereas the actuality when it arrives is never so awful.  Christmas itself, though never overly celebrated as a child was still looked forward to by the young Catherine, not that I ever had that many presents really, certainly not compared to today’s over-spoilt children who tell their parents not only precisely what they want but also that it is only 99.99 – television’s pernicious influence I fear.  I used to get a box of pencils with my name printed on them in gold and a small tin of toffees from Aunt Maud and an encyclopedia or maybe a Bunty Annual from our cousins, and jewelry or clothes from Grandma and my mother.  When I was still quite young and only for a few years after we had moved to Putney I would run down the stairs to the hall when I heard the clatter of the letterbox as our Postman delivered cards during the week before Christmas.  I was only interested in the stamps and the postmark, but no, no foreign stamps and especially none from Cyprus.  Grandma told me years later that my father had written to me on my birthday and at Christmas, but I never saw the envelopes (or the contents either)– maybe Grandma had some secret magic way of spiriting them straight into her hands and so by-passing the one who they were truly intended for.

And so after four years without my mother I have decided that she is to come and stay for a few days, and I am almost having fun changing sheets and putting out new soap and towels for her and thinking about the food I will cook and the wine we will drink.  She has insisted that I needn’t bother on her account, and of course I need not, she is only my mother, but somehow I am making a real effort this time.  I am even having a few neighbours in for drinks this Friday and I have bought a copy of Radio Times, which is the first time in years, and highlighted one or two things I particularly would like to watch, in some ways it is almost like old times.  And this brings me to the real meaning of Christmas, it is the making of an effort, the sharing with people, the being with people that is important – not the presents and the food (most of which is wasted if not thought about carefully) but the simple act of sharing your time with people.

So, no more moaning about my mother, or what I often perceive of as a somewhat sad little childhood, but which in all probability I enjoyed as much as any child, I am going to be happy this Christmas.  I am going to fetch her tomorrow, and though she has told me not to go to the expense of a taxi, we will be travelling in style, after all, what else do I have to spend my money on.

So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun, as someone once sang.  Hahaha