Sunday, October 12, 2008

things not to do

Went to visit the mater today. She and I have been on a roll recently, something I put down to her having gone just a tiny bit fuzzy around the edges – not that she’s letting up on the aerobics/pilates regime or anything, and she isn’t losing the plot so that anyone would actually notice. But she has definitely been showing signs of enjoying my company and we’ve had a couple of conversations where she has revealed things I hadn’t known, such as the fact that as a young child in Germany, before she was shipped over here on Kindertransport, she used to make up poetry. We were tootling along in the car after apple strudel in a local tea room when she began spouting some of it and you could have knocked me down with a feather because it was quite lovely. I have asked her to write it down for me. There is so much darkness and damage in our history, I would like to gather a few of the other elements to set alongside: there was a boy she fell in love with at school. She wrote him a love letter. Yes, but even this sweetness comes with its opposite because her teacher found the love letter in her desk (it was a secret) and read it out to the class, pointing out the spelling mistakes. My mother was pleased when the Nazis (but what did she know?) removed the teacher from the school for not being rigorous enough about national socialist indoctrination.

I looked in at her house today to say hello to an old family friend who was having lunch there. He has known me since I was born and is, I suppose, the nearest I have to anyone who feels remotely like father since mine died. In contrast to the greeting I usually receive from mother’s partner, who doesn’t suffer her offspring gladly or (given the choice) at all, old family friend rose shakily to his unsteady feet with a full sun-in-the-eyes smile and embraced me. While he enjoyed the rest of his roast bird followed by a cheese course with quince jelly, he asked me about my children, how they were and what they were doing. Then he looked up from the piece of stilton he had just speared with his knife, adjusted his spectacles and said, and what about you? What are you doing? He is a doctor, one of those it doesn’t pay to discuss M.E. with. If I were a patient of his he would be hell-bent on discovering what was really wrong with me. I can’t actually remember how I managed to cobble some kind of answer together. The mater seems to think I’m still teaching, even though I told her about my “sabbatical.” I could have said something about writing poems and stuff, but you know.

Actually, I am looking to cut down and do even less. This is, paradoxically, so that I can do more, or at least be more efficient with small amounts of energy. I’ll keep you informed obviously. Meanwhile, I’m singing:


cusp said...

What an apt diity my dear. I'll have this in my head all day now. Good rule to live by and I know just what you mean too ... letting in a little slack to make room for more intersting stuff.

I think your Mama might be doing the same in terms of what she is prepared to share. May be to do with her 'fuzzying edges' but think it coud also be just part of what is called 'Life Review' which can be conscious and subconscious: kind of putting your house in order before you 'sell up and move on' --- if you get my drift.

Thankfully I had a good relationship with my Mum on the whole and she always told me a lot about her past (the good and the bad) but I was still amazed by what she came out with in the last year of her life --- all sorts of much more personal stuff that she'd never have uttered earlier on: precious gifts and a peak into another side of one's parent, the side that's not just 'parent'. I think people of that generation found it much harder to share that side with their children than our generation.

Reading the Signs said...

Cusp, I do have the sense of a kind of 'Life Review' - and hope that she isn't quite ready to sell up and move on before we have some more quality time together.

cusp said...

No I'm sure she's not but I think people get to a stage in their lives where they feel freer to say what they want, not hold onto the secrets. It's a lovely stage to reach when they can 'wear purple'.

Kahless said...

Are you enjoying her company?

Reading the Signs said...

Cusp, wearing purple is altogether big in the world of Signs - me and Posie still wear our trousers with pride. But it's a different kind of purple from the one you refer to I reckon :)

Kahless, I've been enjoying her company when we're "permitted" to spend a bit of time alone - but that isn't often.

Gael said...

Have you heard of this
I went to see it last week, and at the time thought (in the most general terms) of you.
Lots about about different generations and about what we chose to amdit and reveal about our pasts (to ourselves, as well as to others.)

Nicola said...

Oh Signs, thank you for this clip - vaguely familiar through cloudy time, it evokes hilarity, poignancy,
and a certain truth.

I recognize the fuzziness around the edges. I've been putting it down to the effect of chemotherapy on my own mother but, no, it's more than that - something of a willingness, at eighty, to venture towards a point where we have never met before, requiring me to go at least halfway there.

Yesterday, during perennial sorting of bookshelves, I came across 'Das kleine Kinderliederbuch' and thought immediately of you. To me, the notes make more sense than the words.

That's So Pants said...

Hi Signs

I have a similar thing going with my mother. I really do seek opportunities to validate her creativity if at all possible but mine seems only to embarrass her. I have just been reading Germaine Greer's 'Daddy we hardly knew you'. If it's any consolation, Germaine's mother couldn't bring herself to acknowledge her daughter's creativity either. It leaves you just wondering why.



Anonymous said...

Ah the perfect song! Now I know what I'm going to be singing all day. It could almost ne the ME anthem ;o)


Yikes. What a starkly diabolical irony that your mum cheered on the nazis as they drummed the poor teacher guy out of school. That's almost funny.

I also find it a bit weird that "kindertransport" always manages to sound so benign. Do you know what I mean? It sounds like a happy kind of thing. Like a Kinder Surprise, say, only not. (Although, technically, I suppose, it probably was a surprise for the kinderlings - surprise! you're being uprooted! dumb folk have got it into their heads that you're trying to take over the world....again! - just not the good kind.)

Too weird that your mum doesn't acknowledge your creativity. I've nothing to say to that, really, except for the fact that I recognise the trait in my own mother, too. Bit depressing and baffling, although no longer crushing.

Hello. How are you doing? Sorry to have missed your birthday, by the way. Belatedly, then, Happy Birthday, Signs. Enjoy your teens (twenties? thirties? forties? fifties? sixties? seventies?) while they last.

Multiple kind thoughts from Ireland...


Reading the Signs said...

Gael, thanks - that looks ever so good. Didn't know that the Islington Pleasance was connected to the Edinburgh one - lots of good associations there. I would really love to see this with the daughter. I'll let you know if I do.

Reading the Signs said...

Nicola, I could swear I had that book too once. Actually, I had several German songbooks and loved them, would often sing them to myself instead of reading a story - and the pictures were always beautiful.

Pants, it's a bit of a funny one with my Ma. It isn't so much that she doesn't acknowledge my creativity but there are long, long periods (years?) when she has had a problem with acknowledging anything to do with me, whether it be creativity or anything else. And yet she needs me. There is, as I said, much damage, as one might expect from someone with her history. The sins of the father may be visited on the children, but the deprivations of the mother also.

Hi Rachel - it really could be, couldn't it? But beneath all the jollity there's a kind of passive aggressive element to the ditty, I feel: "we'd like to be unhappy but we never do have the time" - smacks a bit of "me, I never have time to be ill". I'm sure most of us have heard that one before. Nice to see you here.

Stallion of Nazareth? - I'll be back with you anon. Just have a chicken to roast.


Unbelievable. I tell you what, Signs, it had better be a tiny bird. I'm not hanging about forever waiting for you to roast stuff, that's for sure.

Okay, I am,but that's not the point.


Stallion of Clonakilty (and Nazareth, too, yes - quite right. Well remembered.)

Reading the Signs said...

It's nearly there, Ha Clonakilty, have just put in the courgettes alongside. Baked apple for afters - just so you know. Wait, wait! It will be worth it, I promise you. I've no idea why just now, but it will be, you'll see.


You'd better be right, Signs, that's all I'm saying.

But baked apple, you say? Hmm. You're not all bad, clearly, although it's a very close run thing.

Now get on with it.


All done?


Nope. Clearly not.

Man, this has turned into the worst day ever.

Reading the Signs said...

I'm back, Impatient hoof-pounder. Would have been here earlier but you can't rush a baked apple however much you try. It just does its thing in its own time.

Now for the inspirational thing I was going to say: no, but before that Kindertransport. If you call it Childtransport it immediately sounds less benign - more like slavery actually. Amazing what lives in the sounds of a word. In fact, the whole project did stem from the benign impulse to get a number of children out of Nazi Germany, away from the danger they might have faced. They came here with labels around their necks, just like evacuees really. Goodness knows what might have happened to my Ma else. Her own Ma and sister got out courtesy of a friendly Nazi who helped them, but it was a close thing.

As to matter of her ambivalence about me, my creativity and stuff - please see my reply to Ms Pants. I don't bear a grudge, I'm wonderful like that, just would like a degree of restoration before we all kick the bucket.

Which leads me to the question of my age. I'm definitely not in my seventies or sixties. I'm not saying I've hit the big five-oh either, though I'm also not saying I haven't. And I look younger than Mrs. Robinson did when Benjamin Braddock tried to kiss her in the hotel room, and much nicer, just saying. Well ok, she was a looker, but she wasn't nice like me. And this is the long and the short of it. Worth waiting for, yes?

Lovely to see you, McTeepee.


It is lovely to see me, isn't it? I often think that.

Yes, that's very true (about Kindertransport stemming from a benign impulse). I suppose I was thinking more of the reasons that this benign impulse was (so desperately) required in the first place, however.

But hmm, that's interesting - a "friendly Nazi"? The instinctive reaction is to view such a thing as being entirely oxymoronic (personally speaking). But why not, really? I bet national socialism seemed like a magic idea to a whole heap of friendly, decent people - and, again, why not?

The dark miracle, of course, is that so many people continued to find it as such even once it became clear where it was heading.

Still, a pat on the head for the friendly Nazi. (Now look here, I'm not suggesting we jump into lederhosen and start singing the Horst Wessel Lied, Signs, whilst Sieg Heiling with fruity abandon - no, that comes much later - merely that the friendly Nazi be temporarily acknowledged as one of the good guys.)

Got you. Okay. The last thing I read before writing here was the response from Ms Pants and so this was foremost in my mind. In other words, blame her. I still feel she brought up something v. interesting, though, with her mention of parental (or maternal, more specifically) indifference (or unease, perhaps) towards the creativity of their children. Baffling, maddening stuff. I wish you luck, though, in your search for peace and restoration.

But don't you be kicking the bucket any time soon, Mrs Robinson.

Yours etc,

B Braddock

Reading the Signs said...

You know what really intrigues me, Benjamin? You appearing as if by magic and leaving no hoofprint. How's that done? Tell Signsie.

Reading the Signs said...

Ignore what I just said, Benjamin. Just saw you galloping past.


But you didn't see me this time, did you? Watch and marvel, Signs, watch and marvel.....


Look, you'll be too proud and/or shy to openly admit just how utterly bamboozled you now are, Signs. But I know that you're stunned (and very probably even more attracted to me than you already were) - and this is enough for me. Don't worry, I amaze myself, too.

Good day to you, gawper.

Your uncontrollably handsome and invisible stallion,


Reading the Signs said...

No, come back! I am neither too proud nor too shy, ghostly Stallion, but want to know how it's done. Go on, just whisper in my ear, I won't tell anyone else. I have my suspicions about a certain Penguin and all, but mum's the word (and she wouldn't have a clue what we're talking about).

tpe said...

Come back? You make it sound like I've been away. I'm not saying this for certain, obviously - and in keeping with the modishly vague style you deployed whilst discussing your age, Signs - but I do believe you may have had some visitors from Denamark, say, and Germany, too. Not to mention Woodstock (Illinois) and India.

You see? I've been here all the time. So you can relax.

The mystery deepens.

(Although I'm in no mood for being serious today - no, really - is the man you talk about in your most recent post the same man you mentioned previously? The phone box guy? Either way, that is one hideously high-quality piece of writing, story-teller. More, please.)

tpe said...

I think you'll find that "Denamark" does not, in fact, exist. I meant "Denmark", of course. So just you watch it.

Reading the Signs said...

- and another thing, McEnglishman Teepee: one minute your Mr. Periodic and the next you're tpe. Can I be sure that both of these characters are you? No, we won't go there, it gets too metaphysical else.

What are you telling me - you are able to beam yourself to anywhere in the world sans Tardis? I knew it! You tried to pull the wool over my eyes before, but I spotted you as a Time Lord ere now. And guess what (this is really spooky) - a certain visitor from Finland has been ghosting around since we last talked, it's almost as though - but no, how could she have heard us?

The mystery does deepen.

(It is the telephone kiosk man, yes, and I drank your compliment in like a glass of wine - not Hirondelle btw - because I am as it happens incorporating him into a story, so thank you)

And believe me, I am watching it very, very closely.


Morning, Signs.

It is far too early for metaphysical anythings. I'm not that long up and you've probably still got sauvignon blanc for blood, so do let's try to keep this simple for once.

Time travel is easy peasy once you get the hang of it, don't worry. I'm so very bored of waiting for the physicists to catch up with me. It's all very well trying to marry zero-gravity with String Theory and coming up with M Theory - or whatever it is these people actually do. But Signs, they are still congratulating themselves for recognising and labelling eleven dimensions. Eleven? Are they stupid? They need to start thinking outside the box and get with the programme (I'm going for as many cliches and trite sayings as possible here - just to see what it feels like to be a football manager. It feels okay. I just need a team to manage now, I suppose, because everything else seems to be falling into place with suspicious ease. I've got you pencilled in for midfield, by the way, where you should feel very free to recite poetry and/or paint. I've heard loads of managers say that what they lack is creativity in midfield, so I'm thinking you're made for this. In effect, then, unless I can find someone else to play for me, we will be using a 0-1-0 formation. Hardly 4-4-2, I know, but we need to start somewhere.)

I digress, surely? So yes, time travel - piece of cake.

You've had the Finlander here? She's a bit quiet these days, isn't she? I imagine, given the time of year, that everything in Finland is pretty much made of ice and snow right now - cars, clothes, food, computers etc.

And Signsy, have you ever tried to connect to the internet with a computer made from snow? Messy business, let me tell you. This is why snowball fights developed, in fact, because people (in days of yore) just got thoroughly pissed off trying to send messages through their snow-computers and eventually realised that a block of tightly packed ice thrown at the head of a friend said everything they wanted to say and more. Just saves time, innit?

Right so, where was I? Hmm. I'm tempted to ask more about this story you mention but - and I'm sure I'm not alone in this - I sometimes feel that to speak of things before they are written can be to place a curse upon the project. Superstitious, I know, and I do try to avoid falling into this negative trap, but maybe you'll feel similarly uneasy?

Will you be sharing this noble endeavour with your fans - or is this something predominantly private?

Okay, I need to go and get on with stuff. Hope you're happy and skippy today, lovely Reading the Signs.

Bye now.


Reading the Signs said...

McTeepee, I have to tell you something: everything in Finland is not only made of ice and snow. It is made of liquorice, and I have an enormous parcel full of the fabulous stuff that proves it. This is the secret of the dark and frozen north and this is what must be powering the computers, snowmobiles and just about everything really. I have been warned by the one who sent it to to easy because it's powerful stuff. In vain, and tomorrow I may have morphed into something or someone else. If so, you will know who to blame.

Well you see, this story is something that has been brewing a while and much more than that I can't say because at the moment it keeps shifting and changing shape and I am going to have to do something drastic like actually make a plan instead of being the hippy that I really am and just relying on organic process and unfolding.

Perhaps I will put snippets up on blog now and then, but probably not. Really what I like is putting up whatever takes my fancy, so I just don't know.

Look, I'm very happy to be your midfield "main man" but please don't get technical with me ok, because I know from nothing. When I am in the middle of the field (because where else would I be?) I will be running around in circles spouting verse from Beowulf or the Kalevala (kindly brought to my attention by a certain Icemaiden) and setting freewriting exercises to anyone who looks as though they are not pulling their weight. If that's the kind of thing you want then clearly I'm you man.

ttfn Jesus,



Yes, your my man. No two ways about it. You seem to possess all the qualities I would need as your manager. I think you will be the best midfield poet ever.

Anyway, I think you have it right, Signs - do what you feel like, when you feel like doing it (talking about writing/stories etc). No point rushing, no point setting deadlines, no point trying to force creativity, and certainly no point being held to ransom about what you may or may not put up for general viewing on your blog.

I knew you were clever.

I hope you're having a lovely evening, Signs, on the back of a lovely day.


Reading the Signs said...

And they said I was useless at sports when I was at school, McTeepee. Hm. I won a poetry slam once - I knew that had to be good for something.