Tuesday 31 March 2020
Talking to myself, again . . .
I have spent large chunks of time with small and larger children, my own and my own’s own and my own’s owns’ own. A constant barrage of ‘Why?’ and ‘No’ from earliest toddlerdom is followed by years of ‘How do you spell . . . ?’ and ‘What does . . . mean?’ and Where’s . . . ?’ interspersed with my homilies on subjects ranging from the inadvisability of wearing four-inch heels and bare legs in the middle of a cold snap to the wisdom or otherwise of sailing in a Force 9 gale.
There have always been animals around as well, mingling with children of various ages and sizes so of course they must be included in conversations. I reassure the birds as I set out their food and ask the fish if all is well in their watery world. There used to be frogs but they have disappeared, possibly having fallen prey to the rats, which in turn fell prey to Barry’s air rifle and, latterly, the cats. However, we still have newts, though we don’t often see them. The plants and trees are given encouragement and I marvel at the bees and congratulate them on their pollen-collecting skills. I even talk to spiders to ask them to please keep their distance. The dogs and cats are always with us and both of us talk to them all the time, probably more than we talk to each other.
There is little wonder then that I talk all the time.
Our children are grown and flown and when they visit everyone talks at once and no-one listens. The dogs and cats listen intently until they have been fed, watered or exercised, then they sleep. I know Barry hears me but often doesn’t listen (or register) for he inhabits another planet entirely so usually my words fall on deaf ears, or at least ears that are selectively deaf.
I can never understand people who say, ‘I didn’t know I’d lost my voice because I hadn’t seen anyone to talk to.’ I would know instantly and then ask myself why I was whispering.
Sadly, I don’t talk now, so much as mutter, as I complain about whatever or whoever has upset me. I am becoming – am already – a GOW. When did the muttering take over from the talking? I can’t put a precise date on it though it may have coincided with Barry retiring from work and spending more time at home. He always has at least three projects on the go at any one time and each activity requires a different set of tools/instruments which must be left out, ‘So I know where they are for the next time I need them.’ The ‘next time’ may be some days, or even weeks, away and meantime the stuff remains in place to gather dust and join the animals in the obstacle course that is ever-present, ever-shifting in my home.
Monday 30 March 2020
Talking to myself
In a bid to exercise what’s left of my grey cells I am revising some old posts. Here is a reworked version of something I wrote 11 years ago, ‘Talking to myself’.
Until I retired, I spent a good deal of my life talking to myself. Occasionally I disguised it as teaching. Usually, I taught older children, who had already learnt to conform to the conventions of school life (translation: ‘do as they were told’) but sometimes I was called on to work with younger children.
The most testing times were when I was with the youngest children, then called ‘Nursery’, now known as ‘Pre-school’. It could seem that the little children sitting at my feet were drinking in every word when what they were really doing was wondering who made the cracks in the ceiling, or why my hair looked young when the lines on my face clearly indicated that I was extremely old, just like their mums or, worse yet, their grandmothers. Sometimes a small child would touch the polished surface of my shoe to see if it really was shiny or just wet. Once in a while an infant would whisper shyly, ‘I like your blouse’ or even, touchingly, ‘I like you’.
Children can be devastatingly honest when young and unhampered by conformity. One day a little girl of about 4 put up her hand to indicate that she wished to speak and when acknowledged, said politely, ‘Excuse me, I don’t like you.’ I cannot remember my response - I may have said something like, ‘Oh, that’s a shame, because I like you.’ Cringe-worthy, I know.
Often actions spoke more piercingly than words. Couching instructions in the form of requests – ‘Would you like to . . . ?’ could be answered by the child looking straight through me or shaking his head vigorously or turning his back and walking away. If the instruction/request involved three-dimensional items to be sorted, built, placed, the answer could be an eloquent gesture sweeping the items to the floor, or, if already on the floor, far and wide across the room. Nothing could be plainer – the child did not want to cooperate. If the instruction/request was repeated a little more firmly there were several possible outcomes:-
1: the child acquiesced and did as he was
told asked. Result!
2: the child burst into noisy sobs and demanded her mummy.
3: the child repeated ‘NO’ with increasing vehemence until my ear drums were ringing, he had turned purple with rage and ended up having a full-blown tantrum, maybe even succeeding in making himself sick.
3: the child threw the items at the nearest adult (me) and possibly aimed a kick at my shins.
4: the child wet herself, indicating at the same time, by the volume of the flow, that she had not emptied her bladder since the night before.
5: the child soiled himself, indicating at the same time that he had consumed far too much fruit the previous day.
Any of these outcomes could happen very quickly but fortunately not often, though sometimes coinciding with a prospective parent/visitor being shown round ‘our family-friendly school.’
None of them was quite what was intended at the beginning of the ‘lesson’. As every parent knows, young children can be exhausting. Twenty or thirty of the same age can be a small but intimidating army.
I believed then, and still maintain, that the hardworking teachers of very young children deserve more generous pay than their colleagues at the other end of the age range, when students attend lessons (now known as lectures) voluntarily, can concentrate for more than 5 minutes, (all right, that’s debateable) are usually articulate and toilet-trained, can dress themselves and use a handkerchief and know that writing on walls is unacceptable. Pause here, while I consider this last statement – okay, they know it’s unacceptable but do it anyway, arguing the right to free expression.
Saturday 28 March 2020
Cling – to hold tightly, be emotionally over-dependent, refuse to let go
The following piece is based on something I wrote 11 years ago.
I don’t use cling film, that thin clear self-adhering plastic material – I gather it’s one of those things that is frowned upon these days. I have tried to use it in the past, but generally without success, for when I did, I could never rid myself of the thought that cling film had got it in for me, recognising an enemy it could easily defeat.
Perhaps it recognised in me a person who secretly longed to be enfolded in strong arms and held close till, breathless with passion, I begged for release? Well, I think not.
Maybe it was the kitchen equivalent of the playground bully, teasing and taunting me as I wrestled with it. Possibly it was a lonely thing, the wretched wrapping clinging to itself and to me as if scared to let go.
Whatever the motivation of this inanimate matter, I muttered and cursed as the film tightened and thickened, eventually managing to reduce it to a sulky pellet which I wanted to hurl into the rubbish bin but could not as it still seemed loath to leave me.
Thus, the contents of my fridge were left unwrapped, tainted with onion and curry, the chicken carcasses dried out to firewood consistency, the lemon halves shrunk to husks, the cabbages wilted, and everything that was once fresh and crisp drooping into unappetising decrepitude.
Did I hear malicious laughter from the drawer the cling film lived in, or did it plead to be allowed just one more chance? Too late, cling film was no longer welcome in my home.
Friday 27 March 2020
The 25th blog of Augustus Lazarus Cooke, (Gus) aged 10½.
Hello everybody. It’s been such a long time since I blogged that I hardly know where to begin so I’ll just dive in and hope for the best.
Susannah and Frankie and the cats – Lenny, Solomon and Zula – moved into their new house last summer. Roxy goes for sleep-overs now and again but she can’t go at the moment because of ‘the virus’.
We animals are quite curious about ‘the virus’. Lots of things have changed because of it. Frankie doesn’t go to school or to tennis, or swimming, or gymnastics and he can’t have any piano lessons and no-one goes out to work unless they are Qui workers. I think the ‘Qui’ means ‘Who’ and that’s the question a lot of people are asking, along with ‘Why’. For instance, no-one is supposed to go near anyone else but the Qui workers are still crowding onto the Toob trains and children whose parents live in different houses can travel between them, but friends can’t go and see friends or even meet them outside.
Lots of people who can’t go to work are worried about money and everyone is worrying about shopping. Mr and Mrs H don’t go out shopping anyway and always do everything ‘online’. What does ‘online’ mean? Is it like walking a tightrope? Anyway, the talk now is about getting ‘a slot’. Apparently, ‘slots’ are almost impossible to find though we see them sometimes in the woods. (Deer slots are easy to see in the mud after it’s been raining.)
Susannah and Frankie come to see Mr and Mrs H every day to see if they need anything but they don’t come into the house and we can’t say hello to them. Instead, they stand outside and shout at Mr and Mrs H and they shout back but it’s all quite friendly. Frankie doesn’t do much shouting – he’s finding it all a bit strange.
When people come to deliver shopping to the house they do a little dance. First of all, the person delivering rings the bell or knocks on the door, then speeds away so when the Humans open the door, the person is miles away and does a bit of shouting. Then the Humans shout back and everyone smiles and says ‘thank you’ and ‘take care’ and then the Humans come back in and wash their hands. They wash their hands a LOT. It’s very interesting to watch.
Everyone is talking about ‘the virus’ but it hasn’t affected us much, apart from Roxy not being able to visit Susannah and Frankie and the cats. She loves going there but Lenny and Solomon shoo her off the bed so she’s always pleased to come home and take up her rightful position on Mr and Mrs H’s bed, along with Herschel and Jellicoe.
We were sorry to have to say goodbye to Isambard before Christmas. He had spent a long time looking after Mr H when he had newmoania and then he got very ill and died. The vets were really upset and sent the Humans a lovely card to say how sorry they were. Jellicoe had been really ill, too, and we all thought he was going to die, but he didn’t, so Isambard’s passing was a great shock to everyone. Jellicoe and Herschel seem to have taken over the responsibility for looking after the Humans. That was always Isambard’s job before.
Today, the sun is shining and the birds are busy and all is well with the world, apart from ‘the virus’, that is.
Hwyl fawr am nawr! (That’s Welsh for ‘Goodbye for now!’)
Thursday 26 March 2020
Life in the time of Covid-19 and other things
Being part of the ‘vulnerable’ cohort, we have had to give in and ‘self-isolate’, much to our children’s relief. Delivery drivers are being punctilious in their manner of conveying items to us.
At present, all is bonhomie and I really cannot complain. We go out in the early evening to walk our four dogs. It’s quieter then and because we drive to the woods we do not risk breathing on others or being breathed upon. Susannah lives close to us and calls by every day to see if we need anything. She keeps her distance and we are becoming accustomed to shouted conversations that the whole neighbourhood can enjoy, though, to be sure, they are fairly banal. Frankie stands by, looking a little bemused. His routine has been severely affected, as school has closed for him and all his activities have been suspended. Susannah says the local shop is empty of many things but full of people ignoring the oft-repeated mantra to maintain a 2-metre distance from others. Why? Some people appear to be treating the current lockdown as an impromptu holiday. In some instances, police have dispersed gatherings of more than two people.
Gillian, our eldest daughter, told us of an incident in sleepy Blandford, when police were called to a supermarket to arrest a man who had punched another man because he wanted his block of cheese! Dear me, whatever happened to self-control?
I am enjoying the peace and quiet. It’s never horrendously noisy here but currently we are free of over-flying helicopters and other aircraft, apart from a very occasional airliner. Is it my imagination or are the birds singing more joyously than usual? They are certainly very busy, meeting and mating, nesting and brooding and keeping Herschel and Jellicoe entertained. Their brother, Isambard, died very suddenly last October. Barry had been confined to bed with pneumonia and Isambard had been keeping him company and developed a respiratory disease that killed him in 24 hours, despite the best endeavours of our lovely vets. Very sad. However, he left a little of his soul behind in his brothers, who have both become much more attentive and demonstrative. Jellicoe had also been very ill with pancreatitis and we have found that nursing sick animals seems to make them more affectionate.
The last few days have been glorious, sunny and bright. As spring matures, Nature continues to awaken and dress herself in fresh green and flowers. I saw my first butterfly yesterday. It was yellow, perhaps a Clouded yellow. I’ve just discovered that a yellow butterfly symbolises hope and guidance, and was the symbol of the soul in early Christianity. We certainly need plenty of hope and forbearance at present.
To occupy the hours, I am practising the piano, attempting to improve my playing – long way to go there! – doing jigsaws and tapestry, reading, writing, and trying to remember how to crochet. Crochet is not like riding a bicycle – once you fall off the hook it’s not so easy to get back on!
We are only in the first week of lockdown – I think some folks are going to get mighty tired of it long before the initial three weeks are over. I do feel sorry for teenagers and also glad I haven’t any to contend with. Someone suggested that the divorce rate would increase and/or there would be a ‘baby boom’, the resulting infants possibly becoming known as ‘Coronalists’.