Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Reader, she married him

The bride dazzled, the groom grinned and both sets of parents looked relieved. In short, the wedding was fabulous. I say wedding, but it was more than just the ceremony on Sunday. The whole weekend was planned with military precision – there was hardly a moment that wasn’t pre-arranged. From Friday night dinner to a trip to the local art gallery to the rehearsal dinner on Saturday night. It was like summer camp, for adults. There was even a room laid on by friends of the bride’s parents, where guests could enjoy cake and coffee round the clock.

But I should start at the very beginning. I packed the case on Thursday night. After I’d zipped it closed I found the photocopy of my leyning [Hebrew text from the weekly Torah reading] that I was asked to sing at the Shabbat service. I had planned to carry it in my hand luggage. But then I thought that the American immigration authorities might be suspicious and wonder what it was. Maybe they’d assume it was some kind of terrorist tract or underground code. So I re-opened the case and packed the photocopied page in there instead. I felt like one of those women who used to visit refusniks in Russia under communism. Only, I was visiting the free west. Well, kinda free.

The journey to Gatwick was brilliant – Good Friday meant there was little traffic and I arrived 3 hours before my flight. Unfortunately, the flight was overbooked and even though I was at the front of the queue, the nice lady from BA told me she couldn’t guarantee me a seat on the plane. I resisted the urge to cry and I didn’t threaten to sue (I’ve seen Airline – the blubbers and the legal arseholes never get a seat). Instead I smiled sweetly (I can when I want to) and fibbed – I told the chap at the customer service desk that I was the best man and simply had to get on the flight. He upgraded me to world traveller plus (it’s the same as economy but you get a pair of socks and an extra movie).

I love the way aeroplanes are so unashamedly class conscious. First, business, club, world traveller plus, world traveller. Every class has its standard and every traveller knows his/her place. The airline forces all the passengers to board the plane from the front so that you have to walk through club and world traveller plus before getting to the cattle truck seats at the back. You are forced to see how the other half live before eventually finding your seat and fighting for a 10x10 inch space in the overhead bins. It’s like the airline are telling you “here’s what you can’t have”. Like Moses looking at the promised land from the other side of the River Jordan.

There is a certain routine that all passengers have to go through, as if by pre-arranged choreography. First, you walk up the aisle of the plane and tut loudly if someone blocks your way while they are putting their stuff in the overhead bins. (Why are they called bins?). Then, when you finally get to your seat, the shoe is on the other foot, and you resolutely refuse to let anyone pass until you’ve stored away all your crap (ah, that’s why they’re called bins) and are ready to sit down. Often, you have to get up at least twice before you can get comfortable. Usually so that you can get things from your hand luggage that you think you might need. Like the glossy magazines that remain unread, and the pack of cards that you won’t play with and will leave behind in the pouch in the seat in front of you. Then, when you’re comfortable, you have to blindly flick through the duty-free magazine, check that there’s a sick bag, press all the buttons, entirely at random, on the seat recline and the tv handset and finally, check out the other passengers.

I was sitting next to a young couple who unpacked all their things without saying a word to me, or each other, and began reading the bible the moment they sat down. The chap on the other side of me was also clearly a very nervous flyer. I was tempted to start doing the crossword and then lean across and gently ask, “Excuse me, how many ‘m’s are there in plummet?” But I resisted the urge.

Lunch was served at 11.00 am. (honestly – it’s like being in hospital) and the food was reliably grim. I didn’t order a kosher meal since I don’t really keep kosher any more. Which is faintly ironic. After years of eating kosher airline meals at university, it did strike me as odd that I shouldn’t order a kosher meal when actually on board an airplane. But I can’t face them. I still remember the feeling of acute embarrassment when my kosher meal, still on its airline tray, arrived at formal hall and all the other students would ask me what it was and why the hell I was eating it. And to make matters worse, the meals came in a double layer of heavy-duty plastic wrap which I’d roll into a ball and put on the table. Throughout the meal the ball of plastic would very slowly, and very noisily, unravel, getting bigger and bigger and knocking over the glasses and pushing the cutlery out of the way. Unbearably humiliating.

If revolting food on a plastic tray did not smack enough of being in hospital, after the meal the stewards turned the lights off so that we could all have a mid morning snooze. The air conditioning was so fierce that the cabin was freezing so we had to cover ourselves with the blankets. We looked like an airbourne old age home. Full-up on over-cooked chicken, sitting with blankets on our knees while we had a little nap and the nurses, sorry – flight attendants, brought us all cups of tea on a trolley.

But the heavy lunch (and the two glasses of red wine that I had with it) seemed to do the trick and I managed to sleep for a couple of hours. So I wasn’t too knackered by the time we landed and went through customs. For all the scare stories, it was not at all uncomfortable. My fingerprints were taken and a scan of my irises too. But nothing too invasive. There was a women in uniform at the front of the hall who walked up and down the queue of non-US travellers asking “Semen? Semen anyone? Any semen?” which I thought was taking things a bit too far. But it turned out she was looking out for naval personnel.

After a few cursory questions from the customs official - “what is the nature of your visit, ma’am”, that kind of thing, I was welcomed to the United States and invited to find my luggage. Which was waiting for me at the carousel. So no clichés about planes to Texas and luggage to Bangkok. Within minutes of walking through customs I was walking out into the Texan sunshine and on my way to the hotel and the first day of the wedding weekend. Of which, more later…..

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Just one day to go...and counting

So, the bags are packed and I'm ready to go. 'The dress' has been folded inside four layers of tissue paper and then wrapped inside a dry-cleaning bag. If it creases I shall not be a happy bunny. I have packed two alternative outfits for each meal - just in case I've gauged the weather and/or the dress code incorrectly. And I have made four reminder lists - things to pack in suitcase; things to pack in hand luggage; things to switch off before I leave the house; things to buy at the airport. I should possibly make a note to remember to read, update and action the lists. But that would be bordering on the neurotic.

This morning I did a quick Google search of Texas to see what was news. First I read that there's been a massive explosion at an oil refinery. 14 people killed so far. Investigators have ruled out terrorist involvement.Then I see that the state of Texas is one of three to ban a documentary about volcanoes because the film suggests that there might possibly be some validity in the theory of evolution. (What happened to 'the land of the free'?) So if the pollutors don’t get me, the bible bashers will. Good to know.

Still, it hasn't put me off. I am all set. I take off tomorrow morning and will land, 10 hours later, at George Bush International Airport. I had always thought that the terms 'George Bush' and 'International' were mutually exclusive. But that's what it says on my e-ticket.

If I don't manage to find a PC while I'm in Texas I shall tell you all about my trip when I get back. In the meantime, Happy Purim/Easter [delete as applicable] to one and all.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Because I'm worth it

This weekend saw the finishing touches to the plans for my trip to Texas. I made a list of everything I need to pack, printed out my e-ticket, booked the cab to the airport and, most importantly of all perhaps, went to the hairdresser.

I should have had my hair cut months ago, but I just couldn’t face it. I hate going to the hairdressers. I’ve always hated it. I just don’t ‘get’ that whole hairdressers thing. I know most women see having their hair cut as a real luxury. Something to look forward to. Something that they treat themselves to every week. But I can’t think of anything worse.

The thing is, I have pretty rubbish hair. It kind of looks okay. Never terrible but never fabulous either. It’s fine hair. In any other walk of life, ‘fine’ is a compliment. “How are you?” “I’m fine”. Fine is usually a positive attribute. But not when it comes to hair. Fine hair is terrible. It’s something to be ashamed of. Girls with fine hair whisper under their breath about having “flyaway” hair. But it’s not flyaway. It’s just rubbish. I get terribly jealous of girls with thick curly hair. Of course, they all moan about it. “It’s so uncontrollable. I can’t do a thing with it.” They should try standing in my shoes for a day. Or under my hat.

So I get nervous the minute I walk into the salon. The stylists intimidate me with their perfect hair styles, full makeup and tiny waists. (How do they manage to look so sophisticated first thing on a Sunday morning?) And they must be all of 17 years of age. And yet, despite being old enough to be their mother (well, some of them. Just.) I feel five years old the minute they start talking to me.

Hair stylists have three types of question. And they all unnerve me.

1. Inane Questions. These are the questions that I can answer without any difficulty. The problem is, I just can’t be bothered. These are the “Are you doing anything nice this weekend?” questions. Or the “Are you going on holiday this year?”. I could answer. But I figure, why bother? She doesn’t really want to know if I’m going somewhere nice. And I haven’t the heart to whitter on about Texas to my 17 year old hair dresser who has no idea where Texas is. So I just mumble, “no, not really” and pretend to read Glamour magazine. (Not easy, given the picture to text ratio.)


2. Girly Questions. These are seemingly straightforward questions that I should know the answer to, but don’t. They are questions that you’d think would be easy to answer, but totally flummox me. Like, “Is the water too hot?” or “Do you want conditioner?” All the other clients in the salon know whether they want conditioner or not. It’s a simple yes or no thing. But I don’t know if I want conditioner. I have no idea. I wonder if it’s a trick question. Should I be using conditioner? Is my hair too fine for conditioner? Will conditioner affect the colour? If I say yes and the answer is no, I’ll be rumbled. Exposed as a salon fraud. And so, while I faff about wondering what to say, the stylist just carries on regardless. She’s applied, lathered and rinsed out the conditioner before I’ve managed to collect my thoughts and garble some half baked reply.

3. Accusing Questions. These are the questions that on the surface seem straightforward, but in actual fact are hidden accusations. Questions such as “What shampoo do you use?” or “When did you last have your hair cut?” The stylist is not just making random small talk when she asks what shampoo I use. She’s brushing my hair, looking at the shocking condition it’s in and wondering, out loud, what the hell do you use to wash this?? As she’s cutting it, she’s staggered by the split ends and the uneven lengths and can’t believe my hair has had any contact with a professional pair of scissors in months. (The truth is, she’s right. I trim my own fringe and last had my hair cut properly some time in early 2004. But I don’t dare admit that. It would be hair-salon suicide) So, when she asks me “When did you last have your hair cut?” I just mumble again. And smile. And she knows.

Hair salons are a whole miniature world that I just don’t understand. They even have their own hierarchy. Hair salons are tiny feudal societies in microcosm. At the bottom of the heap is the girl who washes the clients’ hair and sweeps the floor. (I say ‘clients’, but that’s my terminology. In the salon, everyone is referred to as ‘my lady’, as though we are all starring in an episode of Thunderbirds) The hairwashing/floorsweeping girl is the general dogsbody, at everyone else’s beck and call. “Can you wash my lady’s hair for me?”; “Can you make my lady a cup of tea”. She hurries about the place all morning, rushing from the sinks to the reception to the ‘back’, constantly being called aside by one of the stylists for another chore to do.

Just above the hair washer are the stylists. They are graded in rank also. There are junior stylists and senior stylists. There isn’t a great deal of difference between them. Until you come to pay the bill. At which point, the difference works out at roughly £20.

Top of the pops are the hair colourists. They are the girls to smile at and keep sweet. They wield bleach and heated lamps and have the power to turn your hair a terrible shade of orange. Or worse, burn your scalp to blisters. (We’ve all seen the pictures in Woman’s Own). They, more than anyone else in the salon, have the ability to totally unnerve me. They can spot a salon novice at twenty paces. The hair colourist who did my hair on Sunday knew immediately that I was feeling like a fish out of water and within seconds, she’d gone in for the kill.
“Hi. Are you having your hair coloured for a special occasion?” (Inane question)
“Erm, no, not really”.
“Okay, so what would you like done? Highlights? Lowlights? Semi-streaks?” (Girly Question)
“Erm. Well. I think. Erm. Sort of. Erm”
“Okay, so blond highlights with a soft brown tint on the roots” Pause. Then, “So, who normally colours your hair for you?”(Accusing question. She knows full well I’ve dyed it myself)
“Erm, actually, I dyed it myself. With one of those home-dye kits. Clairol, I think”. There is a pause. Then a ‘tsk’. Admitting you colour your own hair is like claiming to perform a tonsillectomy on yourself. Without anaesthetic. Only a fool would try it. Hair dying requires the learned skills of a highly trained professional. The hair colourist looks at me with a mixture of derision and sympathy. She views home dye kits in the same way my GP would view an over-the-counter cure for cancer. She tells me that, as a result of dabbling with home dye kits, my hair is in terrible condition and that I need to apply a weekly ‘treatment’. She says the word treatment in a way that makes it sound like mafia code. I have no idea what she is talking about. Treatment? What on earth does she mean? I wait, hoping she’ll explain. But she doesn’t.
“Erm, when you say treatment. Like, what kind of treatment?”
“Oh, any treatment”.
(Any treatment?? Is she doing this on purpose? How unhelpful is that? Any treatment?? What, like toothepaste? Ketchup? Cilit Bang?)
She watches me squirm, then walks over to the reception and comes back with a small bottle of shampoo and a tub of conditioner.
“Well, I’d recommend a salon professional shampoo like this one. It has a nutrient building formula”.
It is £37.50.
“And this conditioner. You need to use the two together. They work in harmony with your hairs natural oils” (Did I say that, as well as its own hierarchy and social structure, the salon has an entire language which, in the real world, is utterly meaningless.)
The conditioner is £22.50. So basically, for salon professional hair, I’m looking at spending sixty quid.

I manage to resist the hard sell and tell the colourist that I will ‘think about’ the shampoo and conditioner. She gives me a look that says ‘it’s your hair’, and asks the floorsweeper to take ‘my lady’ to the stylist.

In the end, in fairness to them, the colourist and stylist did a great job. The brown tint and blond highlights covered the fading red of my home-dye experiments beautifully. And the cut the stylist gave me is, though I say so myself, pretty damn terrific. It was worth the hour and half of nervous tension to walk out the salon looking, and feeling, fabulous.

Next stop, Houston, Texas. Operation Oil Tycoon is go.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Love is in the air.

Love is in the air. Not the air I’m breathing, sadly. I’m still singularly single. But I seem to be the only one who is. Despite the statistics you hear about in the media – 50% of UK children born out of wedlock and a third of all marriages ending in divorce – Scrappino is one of only a tiny handful of kids in his school who have divorced parents. His school seems to be an oasis of the nuclear 2.4 in a wilderness of family breakdown. Of the 27 kids in his class, only one other child (let’s call her Child A – that’s how they do it in the news reports) comes from a ‘broken home’. (I use that phrase reluctantly. Our home may not be perfect, but it’s far from broken.) And in the year above him there is one other child (Child B) whose parents have split up.

But all that is about to change. The mother of Child A told me last week that she is engaged. Mazal Tov. I smiled widely (Too widely? Did I look like I was forcing it?) and tried not to look too selfishly disappointed. Of course I am delighted for her. But it’s hard not to see this from a personal angle. When you are one of such a small minority, you start to view other single women as allies. They help support your life choices in the face of all the smug-marrieds who constantly ask if you’re dating and make that awful “I can’t believe you’re not with anyone” comment. Or worse, tell you in those patronising tones, “I’m sure you’ll meet someone eventually. And he’ll be lucky to have you”. When you start to feel low about being alone (it doesn’t happen often, but there are moments) you regard other single women as members of the same club. You’re not alone. Lots of women are single mothers. There’s Child A’s mum. And Child B’s mum.

Oh yes, Child B’s mum. Barely two days after admiring Child A’s mums engagement ring, Child B’s mum tells me that she’s also engaged. She met a chap at a Christmas party and apparently he’s The One. I smile again. And do another quick mental calculation. How many are there of us left?

And then I realised. None. I am now the only divorced single mother I know at Scrappino’s school. And at work. And among my circle of friends. In fact, I think I might well be the only single divorced mother left in the UK. Even Kerry McFadden has got a new bloke.

There was a time when being a single mother was something to be proud of. My smug-married friends would tell me, when their husbands were out of earshot, that they were actually a little jealous. Being a single mother was a bit rebellious. It was different. It was cool. But not anymore. Single motherhood is over. Being a single mother is distinctly last season.

I wail to M that there must be something wrong with me. Everyone is getting married and I’m the only one left. I used to know loads of divorced mums, but now I don’t know any. They’ve all remarried. Except me. I’m the last woman standing. Or rather, I’m being stood up. I’m going to be left on the shelf. M tells me to stop feeling sorry for myself. At 32, she says, you’re hardly on the shelf. (Ah, how easy it is for 26-year-olds to utter these platitudes.) And anyway, she continues, even if you are on the shelf, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you get taken down and dusted once in a while. But this is a family blog so I'm not going to go into that now.

Monday, March 14, 2005

That's entertainment

I survived the dinner party on Friday night. I say dinner party, but that is perhaps overstating it just a little. It was not what you’d call exquisite dining. I can only sit six round my table in comfort – and two of those six have to sit on folding chairs. (If you lean back too far the seat flips up and you get snapped inside the folding mechanism.) So I just piled the food on serving dishes in the centre of the table and told everyone to help themselves. Or, as I explained to my mother on Sunday morning, I opted for buffet style.

As with so much in life, entertaining guests makes me very nervous. Especially where food is involved. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in my culinary abilities so decided to play it safe and buy most of the food ready cooked. Thank god for Marks and Spencer. All I had to do was heat it up. But even this is not plain sailing. In fact, I find cooking for more than two people a logistical nightmare. You need a maths degree just to work out when to put things in the oven. It’s like one of those old maths problems. If it takes 10 minutes to heat up one quiche and 7 minutes to grill one salmon fillet, how long does it take to heat up three quiches, eight salmon fillets and a bruschette. I got myself tangled in mental arithmetic – (is this what they mean by home economics?) - deducting length of cooking time from the time I expected to start eating divided by the number of guests. In the end, I gave up and just bunged the whole lot in all at once and hoped for the best. My friend D helped by bringing a side salad, advising what temperature to set the oven and telling me to get a bloody grip.

The thing is, entertaining at home is very tricky when you’re single. There is no division of labour to rely on. No “you take the coats darling while I pour the wine”. If you’re single, and hosting a party, you have to do the lot on your own. So my guests all arrived to find me flapping about like a frog in a box, darting from one thing to another. I’m half way to the cloakroom with someone’s coat when I start pouring wine. On my way to give the glass of wine to whoever asked for it when I start handing round crisps (desperately trying to avoid using the word nibbles). I never fully complete anything before randomly starting something else. By the time we sat down to eat I was exhausted and looking distinctly red in the face.

But thanks to D’s help, the food was all fine. The salmon was cooked to perfection, though I say so myself, and, more importantly, everyone seemed to have a good time. Being Friday night, I joked as to whether I should light the candles and make Kiddush. There was stony silence and then Dr P answered ‘of course’. Clearly, my guests were all expecting me to light candles and say kiddush. Frantic search for the candlesticks. I have a pair somewhere. Scrappino was quite bemused to see me lighting them. For him, candlelighting on Friday night is a bit like car accidents. Something that happens to other people. But seeing them on the table convinced me that I might just start lighting them more regularly. Why the devil not?

After first course – challa and dips – I served the main - salmon with quiches and salads. Everyone seemed to be helping themselves and enjoying the food so you’d think I’d be able to relax. But no. In addition to the mental logistics of when to put everything in the oven and the physical impossibility of being in eight places at once when guests arrive, solo entertaining also throws up the problem of keeping the momentum of conversation ticking along. You have to make sure that people are having a good time and that there is stuff to talk about. I usually try to make sure that I have the odd gag tucked up my sleeve in case there is a lull in the conversation. Nothing hilarious – just an anecdote or two to keep things flowing nicely. And a couple of times during the evening I found myself offering such a filler. But the response was not what I’d expected. The first time, I mentioned something about my recent bout of insomnia. “We know – you’ve already told us”, was the reply. Later, when I was whittering on about the dress I’m going to wear for Colin’s wedding the reply was the same “We’ve seen it already”. And then I remembered. All the guests have seen the dress on the blog. And read about the Nytol fiasco on the blog too. Suddenly I realised I had given them all a sneak preview of my best material of the past couple of weeks. Next time, I am going to have to plan things more carefully. I think I’ll decide who to invite well in advance and, if any of them read this blog, hold back a couple of one-liners or stories until after the party. Then post all the best bits (with audience responses already measured) on the blog for maximum effect.

Oscar Wilde had pretty much the same policy. He had a system of using a set number of jokes over and over again within a six week period. Whenever he was invited to a dinner party, he would ask who the other guests would be. If he’d had dinner with any of them within that six week period he would decline the invitation so that he could use the same jokes again. After six weeks was up, he’d stop using those jokes and start using a whole new set of one-liners for the next six week period. A clever system. But then, Oscar Wilde didn’t have to take the coats, heat up the quiches or light the Shabbat candles.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Blogging. Why?

You will have noticed I've not posted since Monday. I have tried to find something witty/moving/obscure to tell you about the past few days. Nothing comes to mind. I think this is the dilemma that faces most bloggers. Trying to dress up a distinctly average existence into something extraordinary. I'm just not that special. And I don't mean that in the PC sense.

When I started this blog (only a couple of months ago so it's still early days) I imagined it would be easy. Just go online, write about what I've been up to, and click 'post'. Simple. The part that I didn't consider was the reader. Almost everyone who visits this blog knows me. (Or thought they did, til they read it.) There have been a couple of random surfers who've popped in by mistake. But on the whole, people read this site because I've sent them the link. And therein lies the dilemma. Everyone I know can read every posting. I can't filter who reads what. I have to avoid anything too personal (about myself and others) and stick to general themes. The lowest common denominator rule. But it isn't easy finding stories that entertain both my friends and my family. And my colleagues too. Let alone those random strangers. So my colleagues are bored witless with tales of Grandpa's birthday - but my sister is reduced to tears. My mother is peeved that I've portrayed her as a parody of Maureen Lipman in a BT advert. But she's delighted that I've been on a date. And my friends are shocked to read that I am, by nature, a nervous insomniac.

I'm not the only blogger to fret over this. Most seem to worry at some point about why they bother. You'd be surprised at how stressful it can be. I sit on the tube most mornings wondering what I've done in the past few days that I can blog about. (After I've completed Su Doku, of course.) And I've checked out other blogs to find advice from fellow bloggers. I keep my eye on a couple of similar(ish) ones on an almost daily basis. I am rapidly developing blog-envy, comparing my site meter (doing very nicely, all things considered) to theirs and checking to see who has more comments. Most of mine are from my sister and a chap who I'm in email contact with almost daily. So really, they needn't leave a comment here at all. They could just call me. Or send me an email. But it's so gratifying to read a posting followed by comments. And to compound the silliness, I reply to them via the comments board too. Well, email is so passé.

So, while I've not been examining the competition and stressing about what to blog about, what have I been up to? The only highlight this week (well, lowlight really) was Wednesday. I was in court. (It went well. Thanks for your support.) The building has 7 floors with at least three courts on each floor, and the clerk on reception calls out the names of the cases over a tannoy and directs people to the correct courtroom. I was sitting in a side room with my lawyer when we heard the clerk announce, "Will all parties in the case of Piles please go to court number four. That's the case of Piles to court four". When you're waiting to go into court, anxiety and nervous tension can make a comment like that seem hilarious.

Meanwhile, tonight I'm making dinner for 11 people. Well, that's not quite true. I am having 11 people over for dinner, but I've roped a couple of guests into bringing side dishes and desserts with them. You have to sing for your supper at my place. One of the guests is a vegetarian (I will bite my tongue and resist the urge to ask "Do you eat fish?"). I think I'll make a quiche. Or maybe buy one.

Now, how's that for cutting edge blogging? Friends, family, colleagues, hear this. Tonight I will be eating quiche for dinner….

Monday, March 07, 2005

Happy Birthday

This weekend I had the honour, and that's not a word I use lightly, to celebrate my grandpa's 90th birthday. It was a really terrific occasion. Grandpa booked a table for 20 at a lovely Kosher-Chinese restaurant. I describe it as 'lovely' so that Londoners will be able to pinpoint which of the two London Kosher-Chinese restaurants I'm referring to.

Grandpa was there with his girlfriend. Yes, you read correctly. My 90-year old grandfather celebrated his big day together with his girlfriend. You can imagine how I felt: 30-something not-bad-looking still-in-my-prime and single, sitting opposite by 90-year old grandfather and his girlfriend. Mind you, she's just a slip of a girl at 70-odd.

Grandpa looked wonderful, as always. You'd never imagine by looking at him that he's 90. He's the healthiest nonagenarian I've ever met. He swims, plays golf, takes day trips to the seaside. And, of course, he plays Bridge. I asked him how the Bridge was going. He told me it was fine but hard work because he always has to make the tea. Apparently, of the four people in his weekly Bridge game, he's the only one who can walk and carry a tray at the same time.

There were four generations of my family at the party. And Scrappino was delighted to be the only great-grandchild present - the others were all tucked up in bed. On the way to the restaurant, we talked about what life was like when Grandpa was born, in 1915. "When Grandpa was born," I told him, "there was a massive war going on". "Isn't there a war on now, in Iraq" replied Scrappino. "Yes, but that's different. Kind of". It's hard to explain. "What else was different?" he asked. And so we discussed how Grandpa would have experienced being 7 and three quarters. There was no tv, no playstation, no burgers, very few people had cars, if you wanted to go on holiday to America it took 6 weeks to get there, by boat, and so the list went on.

As we were discussing how times have changed in the last 90 years it suddenly struck me. I've never had this conversation with Grandpa. He sometimes mentions the Second World War or life as a doctor pre-NHS. But generally, he is not a man to dwell on the past or talk about how things used to be. He's neither a "good old days" nor a "you've never had it so good" person.

And I realised that maybe that's why he's reached the age of 90 in such amazing health, both physically and mentally. He's spent his life looking forwards, not back. And I don't mean that in the Blairite sense. He's always moved on, with the times. He hasn’t hankered after a past that's been and gone, nor complained about slipping standards and rising crime. He's been much more interested in the future. He's kept up to date with new developments in medicine, long into retirement. He has retained an interest in current affairs, both globally and locally, when it would have been so easy to lose himself in the past. And on a personal level, it seems he was always more interested in what we are doing now, than in what he had done, then.

Even yesterday, as he celebrated his 90th, he was looking forward to his 100th birthday. "If I reach 100" he said, "and I get a telegram from Queen Camilla, I shall send it back!"

And so there he was yesterday, looking terrific at 90, with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And we partied like it was 1915…

Happy Birthday Grandpa!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Letters from (South) America

A message from H today - she's wondering why I've not posted for a couple of days. Either I must be too busy or nothing exciting has happened, she wonders. The truth is, both are correct. I have been ridiculously busy…doing utterly dull things. So I've had no time to write - AND nothing to write about. The worst of all worlds.

All around me, though, people are on the move, so I am vicariously experiencing foreign travel. P's travel blog is up and running. I will follow her course across North America. She starts off on the West coast and will make her way down to the southern states, party in New Orleans, trek round the grand canyon, fly up through Boston and Washington and then return home from NY. It will take her three months. In that time, I will no doubt get the train to Luton a couple of times and maybe a bus to Cricklewood.

Meanwhile, Mum and Dad have been on the move too. They're just back from another cruise. South America - Argentina, Chile etc. We received two postcards. The first had a picture of New Forest ponies. Apparently, Mum was worried that there wouldn't be enough time to buy postcards in Buenos Aries so she took some with her. You try explaining to a 7-year old child why the postcard he's just received from his grandparents, on holiday in Argentina, bears an uncanny resemblance to Dorset. Scrappino is now convinced that Buenos Aries is the home of Creamy Fudge and clotted cream teas. The second postcard had a fabulous picture of the Chilean fjords but was posted in Bournemouth. Mum was worried (why does she go on holiday if it causes this much anxiety?) that the postcards posted in South America would get lost in the international postal system. Their sorting offices are not as well organized as ours. She didn't want the cards to arrive weeks after she returned home. So she brought them back with her and posted them two yards from her flat. I'm seeing her Sunday. She should have just deliverd them by hand. Or better still, she could've told me on the phone what she'd seen and I'd have written them myself. Sorted. (Though not by the Argentinian postal service)