Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Yesterday, a happy telephone conversation with an old friend.
We knew one another over forty years ago, when we were Bright Young Things in an exotic situation.
Many years later a number of serendipitous events led to our meeting again, and now we write (on good paper, with proper pens) and send one another books and other things of mutual interest, and we compete by telephone.

We compete over who can walk upstairs without hauling themselves on the banister rail, who can rise swiftly from a chair without using the chair arms, who can read without spectacles and over other such accomplishments which become increasingly significant when one is over seventy.

It is very good to be able to ask someone of the same age if it's normal to feel tired at the end of the day, if it's acceptable to feel timorous about motorway driving, if it's usual to be reluctant to leave one's comfort zone.
When you're this sort of age there seem no clear guide lines on what is all right and what might be the beginning of a decline, mental and/or physical.. There is so much promotion of youthfulness in mind and body, so much emphasis on activity and so few people who are prepared to be really honest about their fears and failings.

I look back over the distant views of my life and marvel at my physical energy and creative strength.
I'm so grateful that I was once, long ago, a Bright Young Thing, skimming around with two simultaneous jobs and doing up houses in my spare time. What spare time?

What spare time do we have now, my old friend and I?
Now there is nothing to spare and everything to value; the warmth of the sun through a window, the pleasing patterns of pens and papers on a desk, the smell of wood in the log pile, the morning walk along basically the same route which looks completely different every day.

We live quite a distance apart but our lives are so similar, our huge appreciations of minutae, our love of our respective homes, our respect for the young and our complete lack of envy for those who have it all to come.

I ask him, "Is it all right to feel exhausted by nine o' clock at night?"  He says," Of course it is. What on earth can happen after nine o' clock to make it worth staying up?"
We might both have answered very differently a few decades ago, but now if I want to know what's happening I go to bed with Radio 4..
"Is it all right to feel timorous about motorway driving?" I ask, and he says, "I'm never going to drive on a motorway again."
My life is not quite as simple, but I feel that it's all right to express reluctance, although I buy a SatNav and do it. But the feeling that I'm not alone in being suitably reluctant is a good one.
"What about leaving the comfort zone?" I ask. "Why do it?" he says, which is a good point. Of course I will do it, but I make sure I know why I'm doing it.

My youth seems long, long distant, and I can (mostly) appreciate the gentleness of ageing. As the looks go, so does the eyesight. As the strength declines so does the urge to use it. The more one slows down the more there is to appreciate in the finer details. As one faces the sadness and losses that death brings, so much more does one value the remaining friendships.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Letter to an Eleven-Month Old.

Dear Small Grand-daughter,
In a house that is silent but for the ticking clocks and the faint hum of electrical things at work I sit near to your alarm. The red light glows steadily, and the green lights do not flicker. You are sleeping upstairs and your parents are out, celebrating their wedding anniversary.
Their third wedding anniversary, nearly your first birthday.

Your first birthday, the seventh anniversary of my husband's death, and very sadly I am your only grandparent.
In this quiet house I sit and think, and promise I will do my best; my best to be the sort of Grandmother found in traditional tales, who makes and bakes and creates and reads and writes for you.
The sort of Grandmother who encourages growth, and who can watch you for hours, developing in your own special way, becoming such a strong little person.
The sort of Grandmother who can say 'no' when necessary for your safety and 'yes' when necessary for your growth. Who can stand back as well as step in.

A few months ago I thought you would hurt yourself in learning to crawl. You didn't. You just got on and did it when you knew you could.
Now you are so nearly walking, but doing it with considerable care, testing hand-holds, checking reaching distances, lowering yourself carefully back to ground level if you're not sure.
I respect your judgement, your self-knowledge, which may seem a strange thing to think of someone not yet one year old.
But I do.
I respect your baby dignity.

I enjoy your company.
In the morning we let your parents have a lie-in, and you and I enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the sunshine.
Very leisurely, as you select fragments of toast and fruit and breakfast cereal one at a time, commenting on each, occasionally passing scraps to me and looking for my reaction.
I realise that your father may not have been given this level of relaxed individual attention when he was your age. I had to multi-task, providing for several others, working to a tight time schedule. I would probably have mopped at his buttery hands and cleaned up the high-chair tray if he was taking too long and I had to get his big brother to play-group.
But you and I can take our time and appreciate the fact that no two squares of toast are the same, each being worthy of examination and exclamation.

Eventually we move into another room when there is a large coffee table, exactly the right height to support you in your standing practice.
Round and round you go, your hands, still buttery I realise, making a pattern of perfect prints on the glass surface.
Any other person doing this might have their prints wiped off smartish, but a week later yours are still there. It is right for you to imprint this house, just as the rest of the family has done. So I photograph them........then I wipe them off, because not all my visitors would appreciate their significance. But I want a record of your imprints, just as I have your growth record notched into the kitchen door frame (and you're already twice as tall as the late dog. All family members get notched here).

I may not be able to run about so much these days, but there is the happy realisation that we can explore and chat and read books, listen to different sorts of music and do so many, many other things because what I can really give you is my time, my listening, my hearing.
And my respect.

Happy, happy exploration, Little One,
With love from Grandma.