Monday, 28 November 2016

Nemesis Day

How utterly exhausting it is to get tangled up in politics for weeks on end; it’s draining, physically and mentally. True, we need to get angry when we, our lives and our Earth are threatened; we should act on that anger if there is the smallest chance that our action matters, but for far too many of us there is little we can do to change things in the short term; we might as well continue with our day to day life and make what we can of it. Dreary, dark November is a joyless month anyway, looking for added misery only exacerbates the gloom.

I would love to believe in the truth of this quote by Lord (George Gordon) Byron 1788-1824, that most notorious and flamboyant Anglo-Scottish poet. :

“Time and Nemesis will do that which I would not, were it in my power remote or immediate. You will smile at this piece of prophecy - do so, but recollect it: it is justified by all human experience. No one was ever even the involuntary cause of great evils to others, without a requital: I have paid and am paying for mine - so will you.”

Were he living now he might vulgarly call it Payback Time.

In ancient Greek religion, Nemesis was the goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the gods). Another name was Adrasteia, meaning "the inescapable”. The Romans knew her as Invidia.
Alfred Rethel “Nemesis"

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about retribution, in the shape of the Goddess Nemesis it was a recurrent theme of many Greek tragedies. Nemesis was to be feared and a sure and inevitable reward for arrogance and conceit, self-importance and egotism.

I came across Nemesis in a very much more modern setting, in one of the short stories by Saki (HH Munro). Clovis complains that there are remembrance days throughout the year which persistently harp on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other: we have Christmas and New Year, Easter, Birthdays and Anniversaries, when we are encouraged by convention to send gushing messages to all and sundry; to pretend optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom we can scarcely abide in reality.

Clovis continues:” There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe.”

Does he perhaps have a point?

Would a recognised Nemesis Day be such a terrible idea? Would we all wait for it impatiently and look forward to taking much pleasure in the settling of old scores and grudges being “gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured list of people who must not be let off” ?

Or do we turn the other cheek by responding to injury without taking revenge?

Questions questions, problems, problems. I am not one for turning the other cheek, but neither am I a great one for openly seeking revenge, openly being the operative word. Besides, nurturing grudges is such a waste of precious time. I only learned that lesson in the second half of my life and have thereby saved myself a lot of heartache.

There may be a third way of coping with a world we find hard to understand and that is to take to heart the words of Wendell Berry, a poet whom I love and admire more and more:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Liar Liar Pants On Fire

In the era of Donald Trump and Brexit, Oxford Dictionaries has declared “post-truth” to be its international word of the year 2016.

US election and EU referendum drive popularity of adjective.....
.......defined by the dictionary as  “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, editors said that use of the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year. The spike in usage, it said, is “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”.  

Well, there we are then, it’s official. Telling lies is the new normal,  accepted if not acceptable. Morally defensible? Maybe even that. The end justifies the means. And so on.

What will we tell children?  Tell the truth or each lie will make your nose grow longer? If you tell lies nobody will believe you when you tell the truth?  Even if you shout ‘fire’ and there really is one and you are in danger of burning to death? (It’s called ‘putting the fear of God into children - I hope we don’t really do that to them anymore.)

When I was in junior school our teacher encouraged us to put on a play about Saint Nicholas, the one who brings good children presents while bad children are threatened with the cane wielded by Ruprecht, Nicholas’ servant. I was a bit of an uppity know-all, not only did I make up the play, I also appropriated to myself the role of Nicholas, dishing out praise and admonishments as I saw fit in my misplaced enthusiasm and infantile eagerness. Most of my fellow class mates received mild praise, a few I told off for minor (imaginary) misdeeds but for just one girl, chosen at utter random, St Nicholas, i.e. me, had a serious face, a slow and ponderous voice and the ultimate accusation: “you tell lies”.

The girl instantly dissolved into floods of tears, sobbing that she never lied, that lying was bad and a sin and that she would never do that. Teacher cradled her in his arms, trying to calm her down, saying how the whole thing was made up and not true and nobody believed that she lied. He threw me a very filthy look, told me to say sorry, to go away and be ashamed of myself for being so unkind. I was crushed, indeed feeling ashamed and guilty and very disappointed that my grand play had come to such an ignominious end. I got carried away, as they say, didn’t know when to stop.

I had accused a class mate of lying; not in a playground rough and tumble way, but seriously, on an important occasion, with teacher and the whole class being present. The poor child’s pitiful sobs took a long time to subside. The fact that I remember it so well all these many years later shows how deeply memorable the incident was, probably not just for me.

Today we know that the Brexiteers led by Johnson and Farage in the UK and election campaign Trumpism in the US have made lying into an art form; the more they lied the more people applauded them. One day after Brexit Farage was asked about that repeatedly promised extra 350 m  for the NHS. His answer? Oh well . . . . .

And  "post-truth" nobody holds them and their cronies accountable. The sensation is not the demise of truth but the fact that we already have a word for it. Oh Brave New World.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

A Canadian Visitor

There are some bloggers whose blogs you like so much that you think you'd love to meet them in real life. If you’re lucky they like yours too and soon you find yourselves looking for any new posting, commenting, emailing and sharing snippets that have no place in a blogpost, stuff you don’t want to tell the whole world about, but you trust this blog friend enough to open up, in the comfortable knowledge that you won’t ever meet them, so intimate information isn’t going to come and bite you on the bum. Even skyping is safe. You have enough good sense, you hope, not to lay yourself open to ridicule, you only choose to respond to the kind of close questioning you can live with; - actually, somebody who asks too many close questions isn’t going to remain my friend for long.

It’s all lovely, there are oceans between you and your friendship is never going to be tested in the cold light of day.

So you think.

And then you find you’re wrong. Canadians and Americans think nothing of emailing: I’m going to be in your neighbourhood next week/month, can we meet?” It’s happened three times in the past and last month it happened again.  Three times in the past I agreed to meet individual bloggers, Pondside from Canada and City Views Country Dreams and Prufrock’s Dilemma from the US. All three ladies were delightful, as delightful as their blogs and very quickly initial slight wariness became genuine warmth.

Last month it was the turn of onegoodsentence, another Canadian who spends half the year in Canada and the other half in the South of France. It’s a tough life for some. Hiding behind onegoodsentence, a blog which has seen no input for exactly a year, is Deborah, an excellent writer who doesn’t write but has promised to apply herself again when the muse moves her.

Emails went to and fro. "Pierre and I are going to a pickleball tournament in Stratford in October. It doesn’t look all that far from Ludlow on the map, so let’s meet, shall we?" There was a time when we emailed and skyped regularly, but lately our contact had come to an end. I was a little surprised.

                  Why had we stopped our conversation?
                  How much had I told her about myself?
                  Did I want to start all over again?
                  What on earth is pickleball?

Answers:   Don’t know.
                  Can’t remember.
                  Hm, not sure.
                  No idea.

There is such a thing as over-thinking. After a few false starts regarding meeting-places we decided upon a restaurant close to Deborah and Pierre’s hotel and not too far from Valley’s End, The Clive, named after Clive of India, and part of the Earl of Plymouth’s estate.

Deborah and Pierre were seriously impressed with several items on the menu, which had been sourced from the Earl of Plymouth’s piggery and Lady Windsor’s garden. Deborah took menus home with her, with permission, naturally.

So there. Deal with it, Colonials. No aristos for you. Serve you right for breaking the sacred bond with the Mother Country. Mind you, you probably wouldn’t want to put up with very friendly, but also very slow service. We were there for hours, which suited us.

But, to start at the beginning:

We drove up on a rather chilly, slightly misty October evening. While shutting the car doors I looked over towards the hotel entrance and saw another couple just stepping towards it. Have you ever felt this bolt of instant recognition? It was dark enough not to be able to distinguish much but I knew that the tall woman about to enter the hotel was Deborah. She must have felt exactly as I did, because she stopped dead, peered at us in the gloom, marched over and said my name, adding a question mark to it. Feeling a little insecure I made a joke and asked: “Do I know you?” We grinned at each other and Deborah instantly folded me into a bear hug, real Canadian stuff, strong enough to crack my ribs.
I knew then that everything would be all right.

We were shown to our table and from the moment we sat down to the moment we got back into our cars four and a half hours later we never stopped talking. We ate and talked, ate and talked, doing full justice to the menu and each other. None of this: "Well, if it doesn’t work, if we don’t like each other or our husbands, we can always cut the evening short and make our excuses". I believe we were the first people to arrive and the last to leave the restaurant, asking the sweet young waiter to take our photos. Deborah, tall, slim, elegant Deborah was a wonderful dinner companion, as was her husband Pierre, Deb’s FB in blog parlance, her favourite Belgian. I hope and trust that the two of them liked us too, surely they would otherwise have said: “early start tomorrow, sorry, must be off.” We found that we had so much in common that we could have spent another four hours talking, except eventually, from sheer excitement and the rush to get everything in, fatigue sets in and you have to give up and hope that you will have the great good fortune to meet again.
Deborah and Pierre were off on a whistle-stop tour of several other touristy areas in England in the morning, I would have loved to enjoy their company in Valley's End the following day, seeing that we were both now certain that it was safe and there was absolutely no need to find excuses for a quick getaway.

I also found out what pickleball is: an indoor racquet sport, a thing between table tennis, tennis and badminton. I think.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Keep Breathing

on this grey and dismal day. That’s about all we can do.

“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'

I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. *

We had Brexit not so long ago, Although, in the scheme of things, Brexit isn’t on a par with what happened yesterday, the immediate impact on this side of the Atlantic was tremendous. Even for the winners. Impossible things seem to happen more and more and leave more and more people shell-shocked.

‘What I tell you three times is true.’ **

The morons are on the march everywhere.

Which reminds me of a story my foot health practitioner told me. She also works as a telephone operator for the WM Police - privatised, of course - and takes calls from sometimes desperate, sometimes urgent but mostly daft callers; some get passed on, for others there’s advice, yet others make no sense and are beyond help. This story is actually quite sad, as well as hard to believe, but true.

“Hallo, my car seems to have disappeared from where I left it.”
“Oh dear, I am sorry, may I take some particulars?”

Particulars, like name, address, car registration etc, duly taken, the operator continues.

“You are certain the car was parked in front of your house?” The caller is a lady in her 80s, the assumption that she might have been mistaken is not completely unlikely.

“Yes, I always leave it there. I had come in from shopping. A friend called and we chatted and when she left I saw the car was gone.” It was in the evening - grocery  shops are open late in the UK.

The operator remains calm and friendly. “I take it you heard nothing. Presumably the car was locked? The thief had to break in?”

“Oh no,” the old lady said, “I always leave it open. That’s what I do. It sits just in front of my house, you see.”

“Ah, you might have a problem with your Insurance then. Where was the key, did you take it in?”

“Oh no, I always leave it in the ignition, that’s what I do, you see.”

There is no way the operator could say 'you silly old bat’; she has to remain calm and concerned and keep breathing. And probing.

What else was in the car, anything else that could identify it as your property? I will be putting a general call out right away and the more details we have the better.”

“Well, there was my shopping, I hadn’t had a chance to bring it in. And, of course, my handbag, on the seat in front. Where I left it when I came into the house with my friend. I’ve done that before and nothing happened."

The operator remained totally professional. “And what was in the handbag, your purse maybe . . . . “

“Oh yes, my purse with some cash, my cards and bits and pieces like that.” The old lady paused and repeated what she had said several times before. “It’s what I do, you see. It’s what I do.”

*Alice in Wonderland
** The Hunting of the Snark

by Lewis Carroll

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Instead of an Excuse

So many posts unposted, so many blogs unread, so many comments ignored or not left, so many emails not replied to, so much writing left unwritten.

I don’t really know what happened, why I have barely glanced at my computer for the past two plus weeks (really? yes,  I just counted 17 days). I have been feeling rather tired, am I simply under the weather? A bit depressed?

There have been days full of sunshine,

gloomy, foggy days,

working days,

snapping sparrows bathing in the dog bowl
during idly looking out of the window days,

and days full of magnificent autumn colour.

In other words, nothing out of the ordinary. Now that it’s November, most of the leaves have gone and the nights have turned mildly frosty. There’s a bitter North-Easterly blowing and Millie’s walks are ever shrinking in length. She’s not too unhappy about it, she has started to limp after strenuous exercise; I am not going to ask more of her than she can do.

The sad thing is, I miss writing, blogging and visiting blog friends. I feel guilty for not replying to emails, which is a bit silly. I throw half an eye at the blank, dark computer screen, sigh, then sit down with a trashy thriller for an hour.

My attention to detail appears to have gone into hiding too. I ordered a new printer+ on the internet and when the thing turned up it was massive, far bigger than the space allocated for it. It was an office printer, wide format, with  facility for legal papers, large and small sizes, envelopes etc., as well as a fax machine. I have no fax number and no need of a fax. When ordering I forgot to look at the specifications and, most importantly, the size of the gadget. Printers have gone down in price since I bought the previous one and as I couldn’t be bothered to pack the thing up again and return it, it now sits in a different room, staring at me, balefully, every time I pass it, accusing me of sloppiness.

Sleep is hit and miss too. No wonder I am often tired. I love to go to bed late, get a book ready, wriggle into a cosy position, and feel grateful for having a warm, peaceful and comfortable space to put my head at the end of the day. Sometimes, just when I am at my most snuggled in, my mind suddenly insists that sleep is a waste of time, and how I could much better spend my time thinking, dreaming, reading, going over the past day and organising the next one. Fatal! I might have allocated anything from five minutes to an hour for this state of being between waking and sleeping but, once I am embarked on this route, sleep flees. Two, three, four times I rise again, for a drink of water, a visit to the loo, a sleeping pill, another sleeping pill. I do eventually fall asleep to wake to another complicated day and, given half a chance, I grab a nap after lunch. But then again, I could be reading instead of napping?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

All Or Nothing

Clematis Tangutica in October

The phone rang: “Sorry, Mrs. Friko, I have rammed a chisel into my hand. It doesn’t look good, I’d better go to A + E.” So said Paul, aka New Gardener, five weeks ago. He required surgery and a long process of healing.

The phone rang: “Sorry, Mrs. Friko., I can’t come on Thursday, I’ve hurt my back. I’ve an appointment with the Physio.” So said Old Gardener three weeks ago. He was unable to move without pain for two weeks and unable to bend for another week.

The mind of the gardener is, in a way, the mind of the chess player.
He makes a move after having thought out what the ultimate effect
of that move may be. He visualises the end of the game.” *

Late September, early October, after the long hiatus of high summer, when gardeners take a well deserved break and spend a little time glorying in the fruit of their labours and admire the ravishing colours of their borders, it is time to pick up the pieces and continue the game. It’s actually a busy time in the calendar, pruning, tidying, clearing paths, transplanting and planting, clipping rose bushes, dividing overgrown clumps of herbaceous perennials, generally planning the coming spring's changes. 

No help for it, I had to knuckle down myself. Except, I seem to have become strangely feeble, lacking not just energy but also strength enough to dig holes, transplant small shrubs, do serious weeding. It’s hard to get down on my knees and even harder to get up again. As for pruning fruit trees, forget it. How did I ever do all these things myself? What happened to me? 

Sitting down, going for gentle walks, snipping here and setting in the earth there, I forget how old I have become. The disparity between spirit and flesh springs to mind. When I can’t fall asleep I now-a-nights spend a lot of time gardening in my mind. Having Austin and Paul has made a huge difference and I’ve rediscovered my pleasure in creating an outdoor space that’s worth looking at.

Then, last week, the phone rang: Hi Mum, I’ve got a bit of time to spare. Would you like me to come for a couple of days and catch up on jobs round the house? How about from Monday to Wednesday?"

“Yes, please.”

Then Paul rang.: "My hand is much better, would you like me to come back next week? I can make Tuesday."

“Yes, please.”

Then Old Gardener rang: “The Physio has helped, I could come over on Tuesday and give you the morning.”

Goodness me, no. Absolutely not. How would I cope with supervising and ordering about three of them? “No, please. But if you can make it Thursday, that’d be great.”

Which means that between Monday and Thursday my garden has been in intensive care, with operations being carried out at a tremendous pace. Old Gardener left just before lunch today. He’s coming back on Monday, Paul is coming back on Tuesday. At this rate I shall run out of jobs by the end of this month. They know of each other, could they be making themselves indispensable, each in his own way? My son won’t be back for three months, he’s out of the running. It was lovely to have him, even better to have got through a list of tasks which needed urgent attention, but having busy people around makes me want to get out of their way and take a nap. As that was out of the question, it being politic to show willing to chip in occasionally, I feel as tired as if I had done the work myself.

The unmistakable smell of autumn is the smell of decay, shot through with the bitter fumes of smoke. With the help of my son Old  Gardener was deprived of one of his favourite activities, namely lighting bonfires. He is a bit of a pyromaniac, bringing with him a supply of spent oil just on the off- chance. I believe it might even be illegal to use spent oil.  Watching a large pile of prunings, both of trees and shrubs, growing to unmanageable proportions fills me with dread. The last time Austin took it upon himself to set light to such a pile, immediately upon arrival and before I could give explicit permission for the deed, there was a massive fire going in a wooded part of the garden. He badly scorched a branch of the beech tree which is clinging on for dear life anyway, a yew hedge and  one side of a yew pillar. I wasn’t keen on a repetition. When I remonstrated he said: " they’ll grow again, they’ll be back next year.”

Solon, my son, took it upon himself to break up, cut and even saw through each bit of pruning, stuffed what could be stuffed into the green council bin for collection and otherwise filled two huge builders’ bags (the sort they deliver sand and grit in) and took them to the tip. It was a boring and repetitive job, but the stuff is all gone. And I am inordinately pleased. Austin was quite downcast this morning when he saw the empty space where the raw ingredients for a fire had been. “I see you’ve got rid of my bonfire,” he said.

*Richard Wright:  The Practical Book of Outdoor Flowers 1924

Monday, 10 October 2016

Some Cultural Pursuits

Did you know that? Do any of you live in or near one of the Stratfords mentioned here?
Do these Stratfords have theatres similar to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the original Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK?

I had no idea of any of it until we went to see King Lear the other day. Isn’t that a splendid Bottom?
Titania isn’t half as grand.

Every time I see King Lear I hope that this time he isn’t going to fall for his conniving, dishonest, fawning daughters’ flattery and that he sees them for the grasping, treacherous witches they are. No, Lear remains blind to reality and favours appearances over truth. Cordelia is silent and he throws her out. Goneril and Regan are free to pursue their evil machinations. Lear goes mad, Gloucester has his eyes gouged out and lots of people die.  That’s the trouble with Shakespeare tragedies, once they’re written they stay written, no matter how many centuries pass.

Tristan and Isolde with the Potion (1916) by John William Waterhouse, oil on canvas

As for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the whole disaster hinges on a love potion. If Isolde’s handmaid Brangane hadn’t swapped a poisonous tincture for a love potion the whole five hour music drama would have been over in less than one. As it was (again, once written, a thing stays written), misunderstandings, secret trysts, honour and skullduggery abound and are thoroughly demonstrated by thunderous music and dramatic voices. Practically everybody dies here too. If Brangane had at least come clean a bit sooner rather than at the end when death was but a foregone conclusion, Tristan und Isolde might have lived happily every after.

Okay folks, seriously. Both King Lear with Antony Sher in the title role, one of the greatest parts written by Shakespeare, at the RSC in Stratford, and the transmission of Tristan und Isolde from the Met in NYC were experiences I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Beloved didn’t come to Stratford, he’s seen King Lear many times; he finds the journey tiring now and will only undertake it “if it’s worth it” for him. Although it was sad that he stayed at home it was also a bit of a relief for me. For once I could enjoy a theatre visit without having to have half an eye on his wellbeing.

Wagner was a different matter. The transmission came to the screen at a small local theatre, which takes less than twenty minutes’ drive. He sat through the five hours’ performance without a murmur.  Actually, that’s not quite true, he once snorted a loud ‘Nonsense’ and another time he complained that the interviewer made it look as if the English horn solo in Act III was to be played by a cor anglais. But he had nothing to complain of in the orchestra or even the singers. Not many can do these roles justice but the Met ensemble did their very best. Although he detected a slight wobble in Isolde’s voice he praised her accuracy. That’s the trouble with musicians who have spent their life playing at the big houses, for world famous conductors and have had the privilege to hear the greatest voices for over forty years. They do tend to have an opinion!

Luckily the audience was small, seating was ‘cabaret style’, that is small tables for individual parties, wine, cake and hot drinks were served during the two intervals and, in spite of some minor niggles, the music was simply overwhelming. We are lucky, almost the entire Met season is to be transmitted; Wagner was only the season’s opening.