Wednesday, 18 December 2013

It's that time again.

If I have readers from different cultures, forgive me. The UK is drowning in Christmas.

It's almost here. The shopping nearly done, the mince pies cooked, the tree laden with presents.

Newspapers, once full of articles on what to buy Auntie Nellie for Christmas are now laden with advice on how to survive twenty-four hours with your mother-in-law. (Note to sons-in-law - please don't park  me in the corner with a glass of sherry and the television). In a week or so we'll read about what to do with unwanted presents and how to lose all the weight you put on during the festivities.

Whatever the papers say, it will feel as if the world has stopped for a day or so. And so shall I - I'm taking a blog-break for a week or two. In my house there will be eating and drinking and merriment, and then a few days to recover and read by the fire. There are worse ways to celebrate.

This season means different things to different people. I hope you have time with those you love, and who love you. That you share food and games and laughter. And that that you stagger into the New Year with good intentions.

I'll be back ...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

One small handshake.

In the middle of all the tears and the razzmatazz following the death of Nelson Mandela there was one small handshake that could change the lives of millions.

For Barack Obama shook the hand of Raoul Castro. (Why am I writing about this now - because I'm off to Cuba in the New Year, and so I've kept an eye or two on Cuban news in recent months).

There has been no official diplomacy between America and Cuba for almost sixty years ... and here's where I have a question. I understand that countries fall out, that harsh words may be said and even bombs dropped. I understand that it takes time for people to lick their wounds, to sulk, to huff and puff and generally declare everlasting loathing. But at the end of the day, conflicts are solved by talking.

I know Nelson Mandela was exceptional, that it took time for both sides in South Africa to understand that they were locked in a mutually destructive way of being and to set up Reconciliation Committees, to admit the horror of what had happened and bring people together. Countries in the Former Yugoslavia are now reconciled to each others' independence. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland continue to work towards peace. Americans are even, quietly, talking with the Taliban. The Syrians will, eventually have to meet around a table.

So how come it's taken sixty years after a silly scrap for Cuba and America to be brave enough to risk the one small handshake that might lead to some sort of reconciliation? Why did nobody sit them in the naughty corner till they both said sorry?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Now they want us to work till we're seventy

I know there's a pensions crisis. I know we're all living longer and it has to be paid for. But the suggestion we should work till we're seventy got me thinking:


Work till you're pushing up daisies,
Till the blood in your veins has run cold;
Till you've gone to - whatever the phrase is - 
To the madhouse that takes in the old.

Work till your eyes fill with cataracts,
Till arthritis has eaten your knees,
Till you're ruled by your urinary tract and
You never know where you last left your keys.

Work on till you hear the Grim Reaper
Ring nervously on your doorbell;
Tread gently, don't welcome that creeper
For he's after your pension as well.

Take work from the young and the healthy,
Leave them lounging around on the dole;
Know that you can be smug and be wealthy
While they can only grow old.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Do you really throw your knickers out before Christmas?

There was a snippet in the newspaper last weekend - apparently 'The average British woman will throw out eleven pairs of knickers in the run-up to Christmas in readiness of the new ones her partner will buy her as a gift.'


Are our black bins overflowing with pants every December? Do the bin men grin as they empty yet another sackful of undies onto the rubbish tip? Do women only throw out the knickers that have gone a bit grey with saggy elastic, or are they getting rid of perfectly useful ones as well?

And please, if there are men reading (I'm widowed and don't have a tame man to ask something so personal), do you really throw yourselves into the Christmas-shopping fray with nothing more original on your minds than pants? I know most women like a little bit of lace from time to time, but every year? Can you really not think beyond her nether regions and wonder if, for once, a nice thermal vest might not go down just as well?

Then again, those numbers - the average British woman throwing away eleven pairs. Well, not me, for a start. And not anyone I know. Which means - to balance us out and reach this sort of average - some women must be throwing away, say, fifty pairs of knickers in December. (I don't own fify pairs of knickers, but maybe you don't need to know this.)

I know, we shouldn't believe everything we read in the papers. And this strikes me as one of the silliest snippets I've read recently.

But doesn't it create a wonderful image - all those woman secretly stuffing their old pants into the bin and then pretending to be astonished on Christmas Day when they open another pile of pink and frillies.

(Can't help wondering if anyone will drop by admitting to throwing away her pants in December. If it's you - please comment. You are welcome here, even if I don't quite understand your family's commitment to Seasonal underwear.)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Oh heck, it's December already.

Someone asked me the other day if I'm ready for Christmas. It's three weeks away, I said.

So are you packed ready to go to Cuba? That's five weeks away, I said.

Even from here, I can detect a collective intake of breath. How can I be so casual? There will be no cards/balloons/tinsel left in the shops if I leave it one more day to buy them. What if I there are no mince pies left on Christmas Eve - and they speak as if the world will fall in for want of a mince pie. (I have no children sleeping in my house on Christmas Eve - I accept the possibility of the world ending in a home dependent on a mince pie for Santa.)

You must have lists, they tell me. Well, I have sort of lists - in my head. I know roughly what I need to think about when the time comes. Who needs presents, who needs to be fed and when, where I might be going and do I have a frock? (Yes, the same frock that has come out every Christmas for years. But you probably guessed I'm not into frocks.)

I'm not sure there's clear water between planners and last-minuters - between those who finish their shopping in September and others who do it all on Christmas Eve. Over the next three weeks I'll gather what I need, when I have time to think about it - for it does take thinking. I don't fall in with the panic-at-the-last-minute brigade. Neither do I spend four months preparing for what is, essentially, one day. I think there is a planning continuum, with the September shoppers at one end and last-minuters at the other and every range of planning pattern in between. And, while I sit towards the Christmas Eve end, I do leave myself time to think. For it is a day that needs thinking.

And Cuba - surely you're planning Cuba? Ah, Cuba. I'll talk about Cuba another time.

Meanwhile, I might make a list. And you - where do you sit on the planning continuum?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Books for Gran!!!

I can't quite believe I've used that title - but that was the title of an email I received the other day, with a list of books to buy Granny this Christmas.

I'm a grandmother. And I love books - so maybe, I thought, I could pass the link on to a daughter or two? And then I looked more closely.

It seems that grandmothers have limited interests: We may drool over scenic views, or flowers, or gardening, or knitting. We long to know about celebrities - older celebrities, of course: Cilla Black, Lawence Olivier, Joan Collins. We need a book about caring for an older dog. We long to remind ourselves of our time in the Land Army (my mother, who died almost twenty years ago, told great tales of her time in the Land Army).

Also included: just one novel set in Africa - presumably for the eccentric Granny in the corner who was a bit of a hippy in her youth.

Phew? Is it okay to include just one book for older women who might think outside the old-lady stereotype? Women who might be having a wonderful time before sinking into the corner with their cocoa?

No, it isn't.

And so here, Mr or Ms Book-link person, is my reply:

Grandmothers are wonderful: we are besotted with our grandchildren and will play hide and seek as long as our knees survive. AND - we are free-thinking, independent women who are interested in everything: gardening, animals, politics, the arts, theatre, the glorious possibilities of different cultures, poetry, travel, history, architecture, archeology, botany, astronomy, particle physics, the life cycle of the flea ... 

So how about replacing Knit your Own Britain (that's not a joke - check the link) with books that are daring and different and reflect the reality that OLDER WOMEN ARE AS DIVERSE AS ANY OTHER GROUP IN THE POPULATION.