Wednesday, 11 December 2019

On trying to look young, and actually being young

Every week I have a telecon meeting with my line-manager in the USA. Being the oldest oldie at work, I always try to disguise my age, chiefly by summoning the energy to walk briskly in front of colleagues, trying to stand straight, and not using a stick. I draw the line at racing up and down the stairs, though, which so many of them do in a mad effort to keep fit. There, I alsays have to take the lift, otherwise they might end up carrying me when I collapse in a panting heap on the stairs. I also wear a suit and tie when I have face-to-face meetings, to save the embarrassment of me pretending to look modern in fashionable garb - an impossible task, even when I was only twenty. I also make a careful point of not getting drawn into conversations about children, and at work I never mention having grandchildren, for proud as I am of them all, they do immediately class me as two generations beyond most people in the room.  So this week's telecon took me by surprise. Usually they are very professional, sticking strictly to a script of what's happening, what's gone wrong, and what's going to be done next week. Tonight, the woman suddenly became very personal, asking out of the blue, "do you have children?" and "how many?" and then unexpectedly, "Do you have grandchildren? How old are they?"

Most of my working life in the pharmaceutical industry, by bosses have been women, and they've had women in charge of them. Indeed – apart from in Japanese companies where they don't seem to have met women yet – I've never seen any sign that woman cannot succeed in science, as most of the people working in the pharmaceutical industry seem to be women. But none of them have ever asked me personal questions, and in today's woke workplace atmosphere, I would never dream of asking women I work with if they are married, or have children, so her questions took me completely by surprise. I have never met the woman face to face, so she only knows what I look like from the photo I supplied to go with my email profile, but this was taken a few years ago! She may simply be showing genuine interest in "the rounded person", but it is completely unprofessional, and I can only wonder if she has got wind of my age, and wants to check up on me. It is all very strange, to my suspicious mind.
A Portrait of Edwin

Edwin's partner is talented in many fields, and has produced a marvalous artistic picture of Edwin. Now he needs to retake his driving test to get a UK licence. This week, he passed his theory, and Edwin said he'll take him out. Today, our grandson Luke has also passed his theory, so his dad Ben may be going to take him out. Congratulations to both! I remember taking both Ben and Edwin out when they were learning to drive. I was a lousy teacher, but they each passed despite me. I'm sure they will both be much better teachers, and I look forward to a ride when the two 'L's each get their own car!

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Modern life

Watching Glenda Jackson's wonderful and all too realistic portrayal last night of a senile old woman in Elizabeth is Missing elicited a reminder of the excessive intrusiveness of modern gadgets in our lives. At one point in the play, she shouted out, "Sorry! SORRY!". At which point, Siri in the corner suddenly burst out, "That's OK!" leaving us uneasy about how much Siri was listening to all that was being said. We are going to relegate that gadget to the kitchen.

Long Melford Cross
Last week, one of the companies for which I work circulated an email announcing: "Changes in the EU PVIM SDM TCS membership". Apart from EU, I hadn't got a clue what any of the other initials meant, and the text of the email was even more baffling. I guess modern commerce is passing me by; I have continually to bluff, or nod agreement to some terms I don't comprehend, or else cheat with a suruptitious Google. Having said that, we received a report of unusual liver toxicity in the development program of a rival company, and asked a world-renown toxicologist for an opinion. He responded by saying he'd never heard of the term either, and had had to Google it! The only surprise here is his honesty; I always present my Google-drawn expertise as though I have some mystic knowledge of my subject.

We only have one table in our house, a large oak dining table which is great for large formal meals. But for some time, Ann has felt that it would be great if we could have snacks in the kitchen, instead of on our knees in the sitting room. Many shops and businesses in Long Melford have adorned their doors with huge red-ribbon bows to emphasise their support for local shops, and we spent the last two days doing the circuit of furniture shops, outlet stores and factory warehouses looking for a simple, small table to fit in our kitchen. Despite many recent adverts exhorting us to "Support your local shops" and the brave efforts of Long Melford retailers, in the end we had to order one on line. It was from Argos, but even their local shop in Haverhill has closed, so we had to collect it from their outlet in Sainsbury's, so I suppose it's a modern compromise to supporting local shops.
Celebrating our new kitchen table

The table and its chairs just needed assembly. That evening, Ann served a wonderful dinner to baptise it into service. We have also added a coal-effect fire rescued from relegation to the garage, and had a wonderful, intimate meal in the kitchen, the first in that room for a very long time. Our friends Rae and Malcolm have commented that there was nowhere to sit for a casual cup of tea in the day when they were dog-sitting. Now they can drink tea to their hearts' content. There are times when modern life is best when it's left just as it always was.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The last party

In the morning, I had an unusual message to contact the surgery. There, they said the hospital had contacted them to get my last blood tests repeated, but the receptionist couldn't tell me the results. I don't know if the earlier results were bad, or if the hospital had merely lost them, but WSH does have form on losing results.

This week, Ann had had a letter from her estranged sister Jane, agreeing they should not contact each other, and ending with a mournful lament that she would not see her sister again "in this life". Then another Jane, Matthew's ex, texted to ask for our address to send a Christmas card, adding that "this would be the last one", as it was best they didn't keep in contact now. Is the name Jane jinxed? There seems to be something about it that is determined to have nothing to do with us.

A long farewell to Pilot
Back home, Pilot our guinea pig, who is quite old, has looked to be dying all week, not emerging from his bolt hole nor eating his food. We cleaned his bedding, gave him big cuddles, and some tempting titbits, and today he seems more perky, but we feel he can't have many weeks left. Ann looked up information about dying guinea pigs, and discovered that when they are old, they may take weeks to die, with periods of inactivity punctuated by a sudden revival of interest in the trough. Very similar to old men dying then. Pilot is the first thing our dog Byron runs to each morning, and he always sits by the cage as though guarding him. He is going to miss him so much, we feel we may need to buy another one just for the dog!

Once a year
we'd exchange Christmas cheer
most other days
we did not know or care
what neighbours did
or how they were.
Now we are aged
weary of limb
struck by weakened flesh
widow-making death
and sit consoling
laughing as though untouched
by cruel wrinkled life
neighbours together
squeezing out pleasure
some partnerless
some burnt with radiation
one wheeled in adult pram
incontinent and weeping
with eyes that remembered
how legs and arms once listened
and were glad to do his bidding
We drank in sympathy
with quiet desolation
a requiem for lost health
and neighbourly consolation.

We threw a Christmas party last night - a simple wine and cheese evening as befits a Hundon party, for a few friends and neighbours. It was a party for oldies, for none of the children came, and almost everyone had suffered some form of loss or stress in the preceding year. Our next door neighbour came in a wheelchair following his stroke; the neighbour across the road was widowed earlier in the year, and brought another guest who had lost her husband nine months earlier, some of us had dealt with cancer, or advanced renal failure; others had stressful problems within the family circle. But somehow, all this did was to remind each of us how vulnerable life is, and seemed to drive us all to really let go and seize the moments. There was a lot of humour and good banter, backed by solid drinking, but even the few who took only fruit juice seemed to relax and enjoy time away from the problems. Ironically, the couple who were most staid were Paul and Cherry, a pair who'd recently moved to the area, and had no evident problems with health or family. They did not drink much, and left early because he had to visit his 100 year-old mother in the morning, but not withstanding which it was one of our better parties. However, it was hard work and exhausting, even though everyone had left by midnight, and it may be the last one we have.

The boys go partying
In complete contrast, Edwin and his partner went to a firm's Christmas party tonight in one of the Cambridge colleges. It was a fully formal affair, with food and booze laid on and, unlike ours, full of youngsters just beginning to make their way in the world and full of plans and ambition for the future. In contrast, for all its bluster, our party was filled with old people awaiting death. We all know it must come soon, on the timescale of years already run, yet everyone in the room - with the exception of David after his stroke - is capable of work of some type, no one has to use a stick to stand, and all are highly experienced in their diverse fields, but I am the only one still working. There is a lack of hope for the future, and the only forward ambition seems to be of downsizing. I'm not sure when the boys' party ended, but I wager it was a bit past midnight.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Finding joy in variety

Edwin and partner ready for Christmas
Zambia is in the news today after a court jailed two men for 15 years on a charge of homosexuality. News also that forty-seven men are in court charged with homosexuality in Nigeria, where Northern states under Sharia, the Islamic religious law, have the death penalty for people convicted of same-sex offences and other states carry a 14-year jail term. Altogether, the British Commonwealth of Nations has 53 countries, of which 37 criminalize same sex relationships. This was indeed the position of the UK when I was a child, and right through my early years in London, for it was not legalized here until 1967. In the USA, it remained a criminal act until 1991. I was brought up to consider it repulsive as well as criminal behaviour, and it has been hard to change my views. When Edwin told us he was gay, I was stunned for it went against my whole upbringing, but seeing him with his partner has opened my heart and my mind. They had spent the weekend at our home while we were up north, and were still there on our return, dressed in their Chrismas jerseys. They are so happy together, and clearly such close companions, it is a joy to see them. His partner is so bright, and can out-talk even Edwin, for it needs someone of great intellect to match his wit and loquaciousness. He is thoughtful and entertaining, and it is a pleasure to welcome him as a potential new son-in-law.

I am older now
wiser, for sure,
and more and more
I realise how tortured
most of us are
as we try to reach
the dizzy heights
that are coldly set
not by our loving God
but by our fellow men.

Knowing how far I and English law have come, from complete repression to active acceptance, one realises how far much of the rest of the world has yet to travel in terms of compassion, and one can't help but feel that all the petty protesters who gather for what seem like trivial "hate crimes", and vent their ire in vicious tweets, should focus the power of their anger against repression in other countries. Perhaps then the nations could move towards accepting neighbours as people of worth, and value their differences rather than fight to kill them. The Live and Let Live is a small pub in Cambridge, but its name should be a beacon for life.

Working at my desk I was greeted by a brilliant threatening sky, glowing bright carnadine in the early light over a heavy frost that lingered all day. There was no storm, but a bright cold day, and it was pleasant to stomp out on crisp white grass to walk the dogs. The climate of England is as varied as its people, and we are lucky to meet so much variety in one small region of the world.

Winter sunrise over Hundon

Sunday, 1 December 2019

The Great X feeds her foxes

I say goodbye to the old car
I picked up our new car on Thursday. The salesman was showing us the new car when I made an silly error - blurting out to him that unfortunately I had forgoten to put the parcel shelf back in the old car when I took it in for part-exchange. He had not noticed till them, but it came out too quickly for Ann to kick me, so we ended up having to travel north via Milton Keynes again on Friday to drop it off.

On Saturday we met up with Lucy and her gang, before going on for lunch in the village of Hart. We had just ordered drinks to celebrate our grandson's thirteenth birthday when the Great X came in to join us, accompanied by Lucy's brother Ben and his partner Caz, to everyone's surprise: they had travelled up from Telford the night before, and no one but the Great X knew they were coming, although Ann with her second sight seemed to have a fair idea. I then made a pig of myself trying to eat a huge dish of heavy, stodgy mushroom risotto, while everyone else had just a light sandwich. Ann thought the cook must have opened a tin of Ambrosia cream rice and tipped some chopped up mushrooms into it, it was so creamy and thick.  But all that afternoon I had a bad stomach, and could eat nothing else all day, even at the evening meal to which we were all treated by Lucy and Andy. This was held in the Great X's house, which she had decorated with banners and balloons, going to great lengths to make the day special. The only negative was an absence: Uncle Dan could not be bothered to turn up for his nephew's 13th birthday, even though he was staying at his holiday home just a few miles away. His hatred is so great he cannot bear to be in a room with me; anyone else would just appear but ignore me (and there have been plenty of such people!) He does not appreciate the hurt he causes in a family, to his mother, sister, brother, niece and nephew, through total ignorance and burning hatred. Despite this, everyone enjoyed the raucous get-together and reminiscing about their childhood together
The Raby Arms, Hart Village

The Great X is visited by a number of urban foxes, which she describes as being emaciated and starving, because humans are encroaching on their habitat. She is therefore in the habit of saving scraps for them, to help their fight for survival and to encourage them to rear their cubs. Tonight, she saved all the bits of curried chicken left over from the Indian takeaway to throw out for her foxes. She also has a cat which is old, and has grown very fat, so fat indeed that Ben wondered if she had got a new cat, before he realised that the cat was sneaking out and eating all the chicken. It did explain why her foxes always look so thin and ravenous.