Sunday, 16 March 2014

Letter to a Grand-Daughter - Bye Bye Babyhood!

Dear Small Grand-Daughter,
There's a twinge of sadness in bidding farewell to your babyhood, and a high level of joy in greeting your
all-singing, all-dancing, walking, talking, climbing, splashing, laughing, yelling, gleeful, totally interactive toddler-hood.

It all happened so quickly.
One minute you were lying on a sheepskin, sucking your toes, and the next you're mastering light-switches and door knobs........ and I'm not even going to mention mobile phones and touch-screens.

I have always respected your self-awareness, and now it's even more apparent. You assess what you can do, and then you do it carefully. A month ago you took some hesitant sideways steps, crablike, in my house.
How we applauded, and how you joined in the applause, knowing achievement when you felt it in the strengthening knees and spine.
Then you took your time, developed your skills. Now you march about, turning, carrying things, stamping in puddles, confident and skilled. But when you approach the steps down into the kitchen, or out of the front door you go into careful reverse-crawling mode.
Wise child.

Knowledgeable child.
How do you know so much?
How do you know that a cartoon giraffe in a book is the same animal as a giraffe photograph in another book? You've never seen a real giraffe, and it might be quite a shock when you do.
I know the theories of concept formation, and I must have witnessed it happening before in your father and his brother, but somehow, in you, it seems even more magical, more powerful.
Oh, the power of grand-parenthood, when somebody thinks you're wonderful.
Which you are.
Never doubt it.

You pick up my ultra-special silver pen (which no one else is allowed to touch) and you draw a spirited abstract in my ultra-special One-Sketch-a-Day book ( which, need I say it, no one else would be allowed to do). You draw in lively fashion but within the small confines of the space for the day. You study it for a moment, then give me back my pen. You take the pen again to check that you have clicked it off and then point out my ultra-special pen case, making sure I put it away properly.
You are sixteen months old.

Then we go outside and examine some very stale water in some discarded plant pots. Everything is interesting, everything is worthy of detailed examination.
You throw the water about a bit, you plunge your arm in and get soaked, you stamp in the water on the path. You shout and jig about because you are in need of music, a bit more entertainment.

We go back inside and after a brief skirmish over washing, you have a snack. Blueberries eaten one at a time, biscuits picked to bits and thrown to the cat, milk drunk boldly and gluggingly from a two handled mug, like a Tudor serving wench. You roar with laughter at my jokes, you screech with delight at the other cat who pushes his way through the cat flap. You struggle to get out of your restraining seat. You want to get through the cat-flap yourself.
I know you.
You are sixteen months old and many people think you're wonderful.
Which you are.
Always remember that,

With love from Grandma.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


                  Limbo as portrayed by Hieronymus Bosch - not very much peaceful waiting going on here.

It's that dance that involves shuffling under a pole held low and horizontally.
It's one of the frenzied images of morality produced by Hieronymus Bosch.
Most appallingly, it's the place where the Roman Catholic Church taught that unredeemed souls bearing the weight of original sin went until they could be admitted to heaven......a vast waiting room of unbaptised babies, crying in the darkness.
It's a state of waiting.
It's where I am at the moment.

It's an unexpectedly peaceful place for someone who is used to a fair degree of choice and control. I'm waiting to be told what degree of surgery I need and when. The decisions will be made by people I don't know, but in whom I must have the most profound degree of trust.

I find this extremely interesting because in this increasingly sophisticated world a great deal is expected of us in the two extremes of caution and trust.
Nearly every time I switch on the computer there's someone having a go at getting some money from me.
I often answer my telephone to someone who wants to help me claim the money owing to me through mis-sold insurance, or otherwise help me with all sorts of problems I may not even realise I have (and this is despite the Caller Preference system). There was a particularly nasty one the other day purporting to be following up an accident to a member of my family. Nasty, nasty stuff, and of course I don't trust any of it.

But then I go into a room where an unknown person operates a clever bit of machinery that apparently can see inside me. If that had happened to my grandmother she would have no more believed it than I believe I've bought an insurance policy without realising.

I meet a charming man who will cut me open and take out some bits. I say, "Thank you", and trust him to do exactly what he says. How illogical might that seem?
How illogical might it seem to put one's life in the hands of someone we have never met, will never meet, but who will hurtle us up in the air for several thousand feet and drop us down again on the other side of the world? Yet many hundreds of us do it every day
Life is dangerous, and we all have to accept the risks every time we take a step. Being born is the most dangerous thing we can ever do. Assessing risk is one of the most sophisticated things we have to do, whether it be crossing the road or eating prawns.

Then there is the situation where you can do nothing or very little, For me, this situation called limbo is a good place where I can take stock, tidy the drawers, do the paper-work, generally Be Prepared and have complete trust in others. We all need the occasional jolt when we realise we are not omnipotent and that our control of life is a fairly thin veneer.
There is no Hieronymus Bosch-type howling in the darkness going on here. There's a relaxing time pottering in the garden when the sun shines (and it DID, yesterday), admiring the daffodils nodding in the cold drizzle when it doesn't.
Limbo is all right.

Rhossili Beach, the Gower, Wales, added for Frances, who finds Mr. Bosch's Limbo a bit too much!