ok not knowing

This morning I took a rare, indulgent browse of this blog and scanned some posts from around a year ago.

All had a dour, fairly miserable, nervous tone about Christmas.  The walking into a lamppost thing was unfortunate and painful but I wouldn’t disagree now with anything written then.

Comparing year ago me with today me reveals marked changes.  Most significant is the fact that I am no longer as lonely and frustrated about humans in the most general sense.  There is now a special person who I am extremely fond of.  Oh go on then, who I love.  And, to paraphrase a romantic musical, that does quite considerably change stuff.

This year Christmas won’t be the same as last, because I’ll be with somebody.  Hopefully I shan’t be out drinking alone watching dour bottom of the table Premiership clashes or walking into lampposts.  Not that I can totally rule out those possibilities.

Indeed, the spirit of the loner remains and I doubt will ever leave.  I still regularly take solo trips to the cinema and walk alone with a camera for some distance.  I still hanker for a dog.  I still have many of the same professional frustrations, perhaps even more than a year ago.  I’m certainly in an even more uncertain professional place now, in that precarious blurry limbo between self-employment and unemployment, with little idea what the coming few months will hold.  I doubt I’m alone here.

But I’m also relaxed about everything; sporadically scared and fearful of the future, but a little more fatalistic.  Having a person who believes in you can help with that.

*

We took a cross-country roadtrip to visit her distant aunties this past weekend.  They are particularly close to her after she lost her mother several years ago, and her father a couple of years later.  The three sisters were very close.

It was a whirlwind weekend of different experiences, environments and people.  Much discussion, mostly about family and relationships.  A considerable amount about spirituality – it seems to me the need for such belief grows stronger with age.  Perhaps it gets harder with old age to admit that it might just be this life and no more.  I listened and smiled and learned the names of lots of dead people and disagreed with things in my head (anti-euthanasia, spirituality and reincarnation, three and a half thousand pounds on an operation for a dachshund).  I voiced nothing, remained polite, kept smiling.

After two days staying with one auntie we packed up.  Heading back west, we stopped to visit an old family friend at a chaotic but cosy house with large dogs and a deviant lingering cigarette scent throughout.  A 70 year old party girl had her 30ish year old affable goddaughter visiting, and our coincidental quartet worked agreeably well.  Two hours of weak champagne, bruschetta, tea, dogs and bawdy laughs, then we headed off again.

The final scene was a pretentious, dimly-lit ‘exclusive’ hotel where frantic James Bond scenes may have been filmed in the corridors.  There we met her mole-ish Scotland-based half-brother for discussions about their father’s estate.

It felt in turns like a film as we bickered loudly over SatNav directions and mock-fought at service stations, the glowing winter sun casting long shadows across car parks and motorways.  It struck me at one point like a specific film, 2009’s charming and funny Away We Go, where a young couple go on a north American road-trip looking for a place to live.

Though her employment seems more secure, my girlfriend is not particularly fixed to our current region; she’s open to the idea of exploring or moving away, however far.  Travel is particularly appealing at the moment but only a pipe dream.  I have little motivation to ‘work’ in the conventional sense of finding a regular office job – although that is exactly what I’m seeking out of pure obligation.

Finding each other in 2012 was enough.  Hopefully there will be more discoveries in 2013 and hopefully they will be equally pleasurable and not lampposts to the forehead.  Not knowing is kind of ok for now.

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Village standoff

The village pub ended up being a traumatic experience last Friday night.  I was chatting away to my favourite local, a sharp-eyed early sixtysomething with an enviably adventurous spirit.  He and his second wife of twenty years or so – herself equally sharp-eyed, sophisticated and elegant, despite apparently dressing exclusively from charity shops, according to my mother – were planning an extensive around the world tour.  Their house has been on the market for two years now.  They’re looking to sell and find somewhere smaller nearby they can shut up for however long their travels take them away for.

I really like them both and wouldn’t mind if they wanted to adopt me, although I suppose I’m too old for that now.

He was telling me about his passion for gardening towards the later evening hours when my mother, having a separate conversation with a pair of women to my right, abruptly rose from her chair.  She waved away the protestations of her friend: “No, no..  just leave it.  I don’t want to talk about it..”  I didn’t know what had happened.

Mum, Dad and I had all finished our drinks and were on the cusp of leaving anyway, but this was very abrupt.  Dad stood too.  Mum looked upset, so did her friend, whose apologetic jabbering didn’t make much sense and wasn’t having the desired effect.

Tears formed in my mother’s eyes as she bundled her way out between tables and chairs and people.  I stirred the sleeping dog at my feed and untied her lead from a table leg.  With confused, rushed goodbyes, we exited the small room, Dad looking chastened and Mum scuttling ahead, wound in a knot.

“She just won’t let it go!” she said, struggling to confine her upset, just about keeping it together then calming as we walked down the unlit, steeply sloping crescent.

I noticed again how the dog walks perfectly to heel when walking home from the pub; yet rarely at any other time.

She explained then how her neighbour and friend, a pleasant but none too switched on lady of a similar age, had stopped her in the road to ask about takings from the village fete, how it was all calculated, and why Mum had taken the cash away.  Mum said that it wasn’t like she’d been accusing her of anything, then suggested that it was.  It wasn’t the time to question her.  Her integrity had been questioned and she felt vulnerable, particularly without the emotional articulacy to discuss it openly and rationally.

She recovered her composure on the five minute walk back to our house but the evening’s relaxed boozy blanket had been well and truly crumpled with nerves and awkwardness.    When we got in Dad set about making himself some food.  Mum was still mildly afluster and troubled, but less emotional.  The dog looked at her, concerned, and wagged what looked like an empathetic tail.  I briefly lingered to see if Dad would offer a nightcap, as he usually does.  Too engaged in making his cheese and not evidently fazed by Mum’s upset, he didn’t.  So I went to bed.

The next morning Mum clearly felt there was outstanding need for an explanation.  As I munched distractedly on toast, half engaged with a small device, she set about describing her accounting processes for the village fete.

“Mum, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

What happened next was odd.

She crumbled again, in the blink of an eye, this time properly crying and sulking off to the other room.  “Oh I can’t speak to anybody, can I!  Everything I say is wrong!  No, just leave me alone!”

I called her back to the kitchen and said she didn’t need to explain anything because I trusted her implicitly; she was my Mum.  She returned immediately and accepted a hug.

Jesus, I thought, resting my chin on her head; she was a way flakier individual than me.  Add her to the crazy moodswings of my father, practically a lifetime on antidepressants, the punishing figurative King Kong dominance of my brother and it’s little wonder I’m how I am.  However that is: not hideously abnormal, but probably not quite normal either.  Perhaps my brother’s strategy of locking himself in his bedroom and subtly disassociating himself with the family was the most effective way of achieving loose normality.

But hey, what is ‘normality’ anyway?

Approaching lunchtime I was sat down with a coffee and the newspapers when the doorbell rang.  I knew it would be the jabbering woman, come to apologise after receiving a telling off from her more sensitive partner, a short, cheerful, yet potentially firy, bald man.  He had realised Mum was fragile after the initial interrogation.  They entered bearing flowers and apologies.

This time, it seemed that for some reason Mum was happy to talk about it and everything was fine.

time at the bar

The front room of our village pub is small.  People squeeze together along the one bench under the window, a few chairs line the three tables, and there’s standing space at the bar or near the open fire.  A handful of furry canines  skitter around on the floor, lapping up attention, compliments, spilt drink and dropped crisps. Tied around table legs, their leads twine over and under like maypole ribbons.  Eventually they settle and doze, our warmed feet acting as their headrests, their slumber invoked by that incessant jabbering rumble of human chatter.

In small doses the pub is different and interesting; exposition to the lives of significantly older people, those semi-retired in their fifties and sixties who account for the majority of the pub’s custom.  Time gives greater weight to everything.  All those years and experiences offer a respectable gravity to their words and stories, their beards and their baldness and their laughter lines and their flushes.  But the insecurities are essentially the same.

A couple in their fifties had just separated after most of their lives together.   He had run off with a younger woman, so the story went, leaving her broken and in pieces, yet brave and strong.  She sat there on the bench, her deeply carved wrinkles never more pronounced than now.  Her local friends sat either side of her, doggedly talking around the subject: the holiday her son had bought her, the Christmas show she was helping to organise, care of her spaniels.

Positive, positive, progressive, forwards..

I spoke to a relatively new pubgoer.  The couple seemed to be a recent project of my parents, particularly my Mum’s, getting them involved in the village community.  He was a talented wood sculptor who aspired to a Terry Pratchett kind of look.  He had a mid-life career change after working in refrigeration for a number of years.  He was ultimately less interesting than I anticipated.

I chatted to one of my favourite pub locals to my left: a kind-faced, dry-toned, sharp-minded old guy.  (Excuse excessive hyphens).  We spoke of travel, where he and his wife had been lately in their camper van, his relationships (two marriages of almost equal length), and briefly of age and age differences.  There was nothing fancy about his unhindered, carefree way of speaking.  It was that same style as many who appear to illuminate your own thoughts in their speech: thoughts you simply hadn’t been able to properly articulate.

Perhaps that’s what age and experience gives; a better equipped retrospective processing tool.  But nothing that makes difficult decisions any less difficult.  A main character in the brilliant “The Kids Are All Right,” played by the consistently magnificent Julianne Moore, gives a moving speech to her family apologising for a mistake.  She explains how marriages are marathons: extremely hard work, how you can get numb to your partner over time, through day-to-day routine.

My conversation with the old guy in the pub ebbed and I overheard my father, sitting to my right.  “Well I’m naturally quite a shy person,” he said.  What did he just say?!  I turned around and snapped back into that corner pocket of people, including the sculptor and his wife.  I looked at him with exaggerated confusion.  “Dad, you performed in drag down at the village hall in front of two hundred people a few weeks ago.”

Age baffles.  I’m increasingly convinced that nothing gets clearer with time.  Particularly relationships: new or old; those with partners, siblings, good friends or parents.  Years give a density of knowledge and experience which slowly creates a print.  But the opposing pressures which create that print are never fixed.  They can stop exerting altogether and they can be rocked by a meteor.

life, ageing and dying

Brain started morbidly riffing after the last post, so I’m carrying straight on…

Ageing in a certain way is utterly terrifying.  While the physical act of ageing can’t really be prevented and shouldn’t be massively worrying, the unpredictable loss of faculties is a horrible prospect.  Age imposes itself so arbitrarily, presuming you’re fortunate enough to make it to a stage one might reasonably call ‘old’.  When is that anyway? 

You see relatively sprightly 60, 70, even 80-somethings, both in mind and body, who never seem to have too much wrong with them, at least mentally.  Then one day, perhaps following a brief illness, they simply die. 

Then there are those who die in a sickening, long, drawn-out fashion, losing faculty after faculty, like pieces of machinery falling off a car. 

And then there are those, who miserably live on for a long time, not enjoying life and who have little to motivate or interest them.  Although they have their faculties and health, their zest for life has dwindled long ago, but basic tedious habit keeps them going, possibly even in the face of a private wish that something would pack up on them.

It’s easy to look fondly at retirement age through a comparatively young person’s lens.  All the things you could do, places you could go, time you would have to read, to think, to listen.  To not have to fret about work.  It’s a brilliantly, compelling tantalising prospect. 

But that’s through younger, less tired eyes.  It seems incomprehensible, but appetite for newness might dip as you grow older.  Not desiring new information – especially now, today, with all the media that saturates our lives – it seems an absurd notion.  How could you not want to know what’s going on? 

(Or WILL that actually change for this current Information Age generation?  Will there be a proliferation of laptops, games consoles and Wiis in the retirement homes of the 2050s?) 

Some, the really long-lived, will probably and understandably tire of life though; the way, after a while, it might just seem to be repeating itself over and over again.  The same basic human flaws exposed both in close family and on the global political scale.

Attitude is always shaped by experience, the people you’ve known and loved, or haven’t, and your basic outlook.  Those lucky enough to be surrounded by people they love at most stages of their lives might be more prone to transmit their affections and enthusiasms through those people. 
They can appear injected with a relentlessly buoyant spirit, which can be wonderfully infectious. 

While those without… if they learn to deal with it, with life and its sadness, loneliness, if it just becomes normal – then perhaps they just get insanely bored by it all.

Hrm.. there’s a cheerful thought…    : D