Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Votes for Women!

It is a perfect storm that the TimesUp and Me Too campaigns have coincided with the UK anniversary of Votes for Women. 
Those of my generation who were feminists in the late seventies/ early eighties are relieved. For a couple of decades it looked as if the battle had been abandoned long before it was ever won.
Now at last our younger sisters are expressing disgust that there is sexual harassment at work and pay inequality.  

It is time to take up the banner again.

And my friend Annabel O’ Docherty is doing just that.

In Newnham College, Cambridge, hangs a banner of azure velveteen and Indian silk, born aloft over a hundred years ago by alumnae of Newnham and Girton Colleges in several marches for votes. 

Although there were two women’s colleges, there was only one banner, and to mark the anniversary, Annabel is making a replica for Girton to keep.

She invited me to assist.
A team of three Newnham maintenance staff opened the special glass-fronted case.
We Aaahed.
Dr Lucilla Burn became the most overqualified person ever to hold a ladder, while Annabel teetered at the top and I scribbled down the measurements as she called them out.

We loved the stencils of irises for Newnham and daisies for Girton.
We appreciated the banner’s message: “Better is wisdom than weapons of war.”  Just as urgent now as then.
And we liked the idea that so many highly educated young women set down their pens to work together at stitching a banner.  Using traditionally female skills in order to produce a subversive artefact is very “now” (cf Tracey Emin and a number of others).

As Annabel sets about using her considerable expertise to produce the replica, I’m sure that all the women in the black and white photo below would be cheering her on. 
The battle for women’s rights must continue!


Friday, 6 April 2018

Family Holiday Fears

Emotionally, I am just not cut out for family holidays.  “Is it the catering?” you ask.  “Does your family bicker?”  “Is it tough spending so much time in each other’s company?”

No.  None of those.  It’s more….metaphysical.

You start the week with a sense that there are endless possibilities and that you will have limitless time.  You will play board games with your children and cook them their favourite meals. You will read the Booker Prize Winner, make watercolour sketches of the view from the window.  There are any number of historic properties and sites of natural beauty within reach.

Then, after a couple of days, one of the children returns home for a work commitment, soon to be followed by another.  By the end of Wednesday, you are more than half way through your week.  It becomes clear that you should have prioritised, should have pursued more single-mindedly the things you really wanted to do. 

Finally, there is the struggle to quell panic as the end of the break zooms up fast.

My problem is this: surely the family holiday is a metaphor for Life itself.

But as soon as I get home, I start looking forward to the next family break, whenever that will be.  And that really is the chief pleasure of a holiday – the anticipation of it.  It is there at the back of my mind, like Narnia at the back of the wardrobe - a land where time will stand still and all will be perfect once more.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

An intrusion

I’m at an age now where my poor old body is beginning to turn traitor.  I wish that in the past I’d regarded it more as a beloved pet dog – fed it a lean diet, taken it for regular exercise.

Recently my number came up for bowel cancer screening.  I’d heard nothing about this program and suspected an elaborate practical joke.  But when the enema kit arrived in the post, the joke was over.

As if that wasn’t enough, the wee infection I had before Christmas (wait a minute, am I really blogging about my own urine infection? Is disinhibiton another sign of old age?)… I said, my urine infection before Christmas led to my GP noticing traces of blood in my urine samples.  Next stop, a cystoscopy.

Yep.  Another camera where I never expected to find one.  Getting those bits of my anatomy to smile was going to be challenging.  

And although the two procedures were to take place in different hospitals, by coincidence, they were scheduled on consecutive days this week.

No wonder my end-of-term celebrations were somewhat muted.

I told Pascoe and he offered me a “bright spot” – under the data protection act I can demand a copy of the video footage taken of my colon and bladder. 

We could show them to our guests as after-dinner entertainment.  Thus trumping the whole holiday photo/wedding video experience.

So during the procedures, I twisted to assess the monitor.  My bladder was fine, although it did look a bit like an alien’s den in Star Trek.  But I actually felt quite proud of the journey through my pink, healthy looking colon.  Except where the enema hadn’t been completely thorough, which made me feel unaccountably ashamed.  I guess it’s not every day you get to watch a live broadcast of your own poo in a small room full of strangers.

So, bottom line (bottom line – ha ha) is that I didn’t ask for the video. After this week’s goings on I have just a shred of dignity left and I intend to hang on to it.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

CBT - my therapy of choice

Recently, there's been a lot going on chez nous: Nigel's father died and the twins moved out.
My normal therapy would be to strike out on long walks. But the operation which was supposed to fix my foot got cancelled just before Christmas, so I can only do short strolls.
So instead I'm seeking comfort in an old interest - bird-watching.
The kids say it's okay to be a nerd nowadays - even fashionable - I do hope they're right.
Caroline took me to see fluffy tree sparrows.
Angela directed me to a great place to spot green sandpipers bobbing in the stream.
I dragged Carol, Caroline and Diane on hawfinch safari in a breezy churchyard. 
"Where are you off to?" asked Perran.
"To see hawfinches."
"What? - You going to find them sashaying up and down the fence, trying to attract male finches?"
No Perran.  Not spelt that way.

In fact, I had always wanted to see these brightly coloured finches with a bill that can crack a cherry stone.  Luckily there were some reports  - on twitter of course. 

In the icy weather Caroline and I added siskin and redpoll to the list.

I don't know how to confess this:
I think I may have become a twitcher. 
I can feel my wrist making an involuntary ticking motion each time I spot a new species.

Of course it's not cool.
But when I'm down, it's the kind of CBT I need - Cute Bird Therapy.

Binoculars at the ready

Monday, 26 February 2018

Missing you

So the twins moved out. 
Some, although very definitely not ALL of their gear has gone with them.
Just like a beach during one of those especially low tides at Easter, parts of their bedrooms were exposed that hadn’t seen the light of day in months.

It stimulated in me a primitive urge to clean.  One that I am normally able to overcome. 

But perhaps cleaning would make me feel better.

Faced with the carpet under their beds, the hoover gave an asthmatic wheeze and demanded to be emptied.

It also became obvious that many of the shampoos/skin scrubs and cleansing products which STILL jostled for position on the bathroom shelf never were going to be used again, and could now be recycled.

But just as I had my sleeves rolled up and a black bag gaping, I heard a key in the door.

Perran was home.

“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve got a couple of days’ holiday and we haven’t got wi-fi connected yet.”

I think our central heating may have been an added attraction.
Although obviously I have been telling everybody that it was just that he missed me so much!

However, it’s the weekend and he’s gone again now, and I’m on my way upstairs once more to attack the ‘dust bunnies’ under his bed.
Actually, I’ve just had a good look at them – make that ‘dust rhinos’.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Making it better with sparrows

At the weekend a terrible accident on the M5 made my drive to my parents in Cornwall take 8 hours.  It is lovely to see my parents, but each time there are new challenges brought on by old age.  I was tired when I got back on Monday night.
I spent Tuesday doing my half term marking.
Then Wednesday my lovely friend Angela came to say goodbye before going with her husband to live in Scotland.
Wednesday night we drove to Northumberland, ready for Nigel’s Dad’s funeral the next day.   We arrived back Thursday night. 
And did I mention? - the twins had spent the week when not at work or funerals, gathering their gear in order to leave home and move into a rented flat at the weekend.
So by Friday, I may very well have been depressed and knackered. 
Actually I was mainly stunned.
But as I say, I might have been in a bad way.
Divining this, Caroline asked me if I’d like to go looking for tree sparrows. 
I had never seen a tree sparrow before.
We set off.
The gravel workings had been expanded, which made it difficult to figure out where we were on our elderly OS map.
But we saw a muntjac, and on the gravel pits shovellers, gadwall and a mass of herons.
Then finally, in a hedge, seven beautiful fluffed-up tree sparrows.
The only thing better than the sparrows was Caroline taking me to see them.
Thank you for a good thing in a bad week, Caroline.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Very Last Gift

My friend Carole Heselton writes:
“Perhaps the death of a parent is the last gift they give us.  It’s a chance to reflect on what we ourselves have become and to see the life of our parent led in its entirety, rather than a work in progress.”

Years ago, I heard the advice of the mystic John O’ Donohue that we must grow to know our own death and to befriend it, but I did not quite know what he meant.

Over the last ten days, my father-in-law Maurice has died slowly and comparatively peacefully after a long illness.  There has been time for his children and grandchildren to travel to his bedside and say farewell. 

There is deep sorrow for his parting, but gladness at an end to his suffering.

For a long time, as he was incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease, his successful career and his energetic charity work have seemed to lie in the unreachable past.

However, now is the time to get all these accomplishments out and admire them once more.

But at this time of stock-taking, I can see that Maurice’s greatest achievement is not his deeds in themselves, but that there are people who will want to recall them – people who loved him while he was alive and will miss him now he is gone.

In seeing this, it helps me to know more of the kind of death I would wish for myself and should work towards.

Thank you Maurice.