Wednesday, 28 July 2010


The first official event of the day was a blood test at the hospital nearby, I congratulated myself on remembering it - a mere post it on my computer & a note on the kettle! I had eaten so was banished until today. I had put the washing machine on and when I looked outside tere was a sizeable pond in the yard I poked at the drain with an old coat hanger, it was not impressed. My remedies for small tragedies of this sort are have a bath or make soup. In the past I would get roaring drunk but the hangovers now make this a dicey enterprise. My tap has needed a new washer for some time and i had turned it off so vigorously that it was now impossible to get any hot water. Then a chubby mouse strolled past me on its way to the cupboard under the stairs. I looked out of the window at the trellis with jasmine and clematis that had collapsed and was sinking into the pond. This had greeted me when i came back from looking at the wonderful Alice Neel's work on Sunday. Ok I thought I will work I had soem printing out to do so I got the documents organised turned on the printer and ..nothing except a green light but no action in the printing department. I investigated plugs and gave up. I was tempted to weep, instead I phoned a friend and offered to take her out for coffee.

I got the dog in the car and hit Aldi on the way.A woman with two sticks was staggering down the steep slope that is part of their 'challenge to the punter scheme' - any trolley is practically guaranteed to do a runner about here unless held at the correct angle.'Want a hand? I have a dodgy leg and that slope is difficult.' I thought I was being kind - 'I've got a BROKEN leg!' She retorted with an air of triumph and I marvelled at the competitive spirit of the human race.I withdrew.
I resisted any temptation to visit Waitrose, I lose all self control in there and find myself spending vast quantities on olives and cheeses and summer puddings and in the mood of today it could be disastrous and I would have to be surgically removed from their pattiserie counter.
I reached my friend's house and kept the whingeing to a minimum initially but after meeting some more friends in the cafe and sussing out plumbers it all came out, a great splurge of piteous bleating, focussed on the plight of the single(ish) householder. My friend made the very sensible siggestion that I flog my house and buy a small flat, in fact there was a block of flats with a view of the Itchen and the park just up the road. I could get prizes for procrastination but now I was on the spot and inspired - this is fate I thought.

You have to be sixty to live here and in fact I had been here once before to a session of the University of the third age in somebody's flat. The gardens are lovely, there is parking for everybody and the facilities are truly excellent. The flats are tiny but adequate and the residents are very friendly and there's the rub. I can spend several days without speaking to anybody though I telephone my girl once a day or more and I have friends. But I am essentially an outsider looking in, critically for the most part. A pisstaker who hates having the piss taken out of myself. A resident told us that the best thing about the place was the people. And my heart sank, a vision of people with the blitz spirit all helping each other flashed into my mind and was ejected at the speed of light.
'Do you allow dogs?' I asked. 'You could ask the management.' She said and we left it at that.
When I come home later in the day the water has drained away and the smell of mice restored,three of the seven kids next door greet me noisily: 'Hello Mo where's the other mummy?' which is what they call my girl. And the mummy is out with her latest baby and she looks pregnant again, I chuck their balls back after having the truncated rap that Nadia specialises in with every second sentence :'Why?' I go the hundred yards to get a beer and treat myself to the the Graun,( a sin after midday) am greeted six times on the way there and back and meet Sister Hannah who tells me the latest on her battles with the council, the neighbours and the world, we finish up roaring with laughter at the casual injustice of the world, as usual.
I don't think I will move just yet.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


I think that of all the words used to describe and to stereotype the older among us 'elderly' is the worst. It sounds far more derogatory than 'old'. To me it smacks of Zimmer frames and being ensconced with fellow aged ones in a room with the TV on ITV all day with adverts for stair - lifts and incontinence pads playing with ones mind. The word 'ancient' has style and grace and is altogether more classy. So I use that for my own self description. But really, while I am not in denial of my age, indeed I have begun to boast about it (a revolting habit and one that I swore I would never indulge in) I am definitely in denial of the limitations that other people put upon my age.

What does it MEAN when you say I don't look my age? What does my age look like? Is there an age gauge? Some stipulated appearance to conform to? Yet another rule for us all? I know many people, younger and older than me and they do not all look the same. And when does elderly begin? We all know where it ends. On the slab! And can you choose? Some people I know have welcomed old age while in their fifties and other who make no concessions to their age when they are ninety five and they rail against physical limitations, so I guess you can choose. In the same way that you are not always entirely responsible for what happens to you but you can choose how to react to it.

When people tell me that I am 'not like my (their) mum' I want to tell them that I never was - I am unique. (In fact we are all unique)
I don't bother to tell them any more, it doesn't go down well. And their words are meant as a compliment but it is stereotyping as much as is the statement that 'all the young drink to excess and are rude.' (discuss!)

The Nepalese woman who braids my eyebrows offers to cook for me and feels that I need somebody to look after me - because I made the fatal mistake of telling her my age - a year older than her own mother. This is a kind gesture but not one that I have any intention of accepting. Other people insist on telling me that I am far better on the computer than are their mum. I should hope I am I have been slogging away at it for years and am still a complete
technophobe. I have an eighty-year-old friend who is a computer whiz and I expect that all levels of competence are represented in my age group. Naturally, somebody who learned computer skills at an early age finds them more accessible. And in my own experience of running creative writing groups there is a serious lack of spelling ability and knowledge of words in people under forty.

I hear programmes on the radio in which people of sixty have decided they are old and if they choose to embrace age with fervour then jolly good luck to them. They look back to the past longingly. As we all do, to our own edited past that is. I sat in the doctor's waiting room a few weeks ago with some old flame, not remotely warm now, who I used to dance slow ones with thirty years ago at The West Indian club and we reminisced about the good old days and it was fun, but we lied, we tailored our tale to fit the policy of the old days, those good old days.

We spoke of a time when the blues parties were peaceful benign affairs and petrol and ganga were cheap. You could wander about on the way home at any hour with no fear of hassle. In fact I have no desire to be up at 4am and wandering. I only did it then because I was too drunk to drive. I also remember some pretty hairy scenes in the local shebeens but like I say; we all edit our pasts and that is healthy.

My brother in law who is a hero of mine mentioned in passing that he went to the public baths in the same road that we had an exhibition and reading last week. It occurs to me that the public baths are now an unknown adventure to most people, as were the wash houses, so I will share my memories: in the fifties many houses, especially the ones in multi occupation had no bathrooms. Some had baths in the kitchen and the covered bath would double as table, imagine the performance of removing everything from the table in a small kitchen to open up the bath. Boil up a copper and decant water into the bath, the family would share the water one after another. A very steamy affair! But not in a good way.

The public baths were mostly part of a pool complex and were called slipper baths. Nobody has ever given me a satisfactory explanation of this name and I should like one. We would go in and get a number and go inside a cubicle to the vast spotless bath, which would be filling with water courtesy of the lady in charge. You would shout out your number to ask for more water 'More hot in number four please!' and we thought it great fun to demand more cold in somebody else's bath so we tried to find out our mates' number and got up to other hijnks like climbing up and peering over the top of the wall, that were looked upon unfavourably. We were pests to this woman who we saw as a granny, probably in her early fifties.

The wash house was a place where local women met, scrubbed their clothes and rubbished one another. We, who lived with black men were singled out for a great deal of nasty banter, they regarded us as sluts. The fact that we appeared, and indeed did, have more parties and actively enjoyed ourselves a lot more loudly than they did was unforgivable. Even the ones among us who had been married for years with a rack of children were thought to be 'no better than we should be'. Which is another strange phrase.

So? How is it to be elderly?
I don't know. I have decided to be ancient and I am having a pretty good life thanks. The future is exciting. And we ancients are as variable as any other group in society and it is possible to choose the warp and weft to create your own old age.
Weave on and enjoy.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Under the boardwalk down by the sea.

Except in this case it is hardly sea at all, though there is seaweed that adorns the shopping trolleys that get pushed into the water. But it is still rather marvellous and very well built, though my dog finds it very dull I am afraid. She preferred the littered beach with its nice stinky mud, dead creatures to roll in and the ever present danger of getting trapped by the tide holds no fear for her.My dog is convinced that the more malodorous she is the better and to this end she misses no opportunity to roll with ecstatic expression in any noisome drek she can find.

There are many tales of characters I know lurching home from The Junction or The Dolphin , two excellent real pubs, now safely available. I have a friend who was trapped with her dog by the tide for hours clinging to the Budlea while trains shot by within inches of her back and water rose relentlessly. In the spring the tidal water nearly reaches the railway line so this must have been terrifying. She did the right thing and panicked but the water subsided and she got home soaked. In fact nobody has ever drowned in our bit of the river though two young boys nearly did last winter.
I have found a couple of dead mice but no more signs in the shape of turds and the stench has gone, however yesterday morning while washing up I encountered a miniscule mouse in the hot Ecover rich soapy water as I emptied the bowl. At first I thought it was a spud but vegetables don't move and once I got my glasses on I realised it was a frantic swimming baby mouse. I turned off the tap and as the water subsided it sat up and gave attention to its whiskers - it looked so sweet I was lost. I expect I should have killed it but how? I picked it up by its tail, it moved, I dropped it,I got kitchen roll, carried it to the back garden and released it - the cleanest mouse on the block. I expect it back some time soon bent on revenge.
The mice are not breaking and entering they are under the floorboards and carousing up and down the block. They are upstairs, a fact which freaks me out for some reason. I found a small grey corpse under my bed and it gave me the horrors. Obviously I will have to get a cat,I have spoken to my terrier about this and we are in consultation. I look forward to a time of adjustment and would welcome any advice on introducing a cat into the life of a very mature dog. At the moment she chases cats and subsequently gets beaten up.She will have to be reprogrammed and I feel we need a rather special cat taking into account the seven kids next door who are very friendly but unskilled in the ways of pets!
I had no idea that mice were such an influential force( or such a rich source of preoccupation)

Thursday, 8 July 2010


I haD been away for more than a week and I wasn't sure what to expect. The mouse massacre man came two weeks ago today and put down poison.But meanwhile the neighbours told me they have 'many mice' who no doubt make their way under the floor from house to house, so I thought my plants in tubs would be stone dead and the mice scampering round the house. In fact the house smells like mouse mortuary and the plants are excelling themselves.
I found the first small corpse on the stairs, it looked totally harmless, its eyes shut in death and regret began to enter my soul. MURDERER! The second one I found with my bare foot in the night in the lavatory nasty! My resolve returned. I left all the windows open all night but still the stench of death pervades. The kitchen is the worst and I will have to search under the cupboards, in all the corners, in the glory hole under the stairs. I hate mice again, fervently.
The event in London went very well (did you notice that? It is called diversion technique it doesn't remove the stench of death butit distracts the mind while I wait for the mouse man.) The director from Hollywood came along and was charming, many friends came and the publisher came along carrying booze and books in his back pack, which I found rather noble.
I think it an excellent idea to have readings combined with visual arts exhibitions. In Russia there are shows that combine all kinds of disciplines which reminded me of the 'happenings' in the seventies. Cross fertlisation is a possible and listening to ideas for a new project from a Russian artist has jerked my own brain into unexpected new activity concerning time.
The mouse man did not come in spite of promises to be here and now the dog is back and I just hope she doesn't find a dead mouse and eat it. I have banished her to the garden where she sits peering in at me in a pathetic manner - her abandonment issues restored along with my guilt at leaving her with a friend for so long.I wonder once more about why we have dogs and conclude that in my case it is for the guilt trip factor as well as non demanding company. Some people have dogs purely for somebody to yell at or order about, Sit! Stay! Heel! they shout and it is never the dogs that need a bit of control that have owners like this. These alarming dogs caper on the end of leashes bared fangs at the ready while their proud owners hold on to them and laugh about my dog being a breakfast.I am good humoured and apologise to my own dog for my disloyalty.
I am not good at waiting, especially for the council or for workmen. It seems to me that the everybody is of the opinion that because I work at home my time is insignificant. I can't just sit back and relax. I am a vigorous waiter. I rage.
I know I should dismantle the cupboards and fish out the dead 'uns but I can't quite face it and as I paid £46 for the pest control guy I reckon it's his job.
So, I wait. I also phone. The exasperation zings over the wire from both ends.
I just phoned the pest control people again, 'my' man is not working today they will send somebody between 1 and 5 tomorrow, so they say, all pest controllers are busy with wasps and bees.
I am joined by a blowfly, it can only be a matter of time until it becomes a swarm or a gathering, then the maggots...sometimes imagination is not such a good idea!