Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The first iPhone text

This is my new iPhone. Very new. I have received my first text on it:
How's that gorgeous girl today? K

(That's from my daughter asking after her 6-year-old Elsie. I have the honour of Elsie's company twice a week after school.)

Good, well done Granny: you managed to read it. Top of the class.

Next step, to reply. Here's how it went:
I can't spekil on this yet we did. Oloring in my god wo t a mess x
I know this will be a breeze within days. But day one of any new technology is inevitably humbling — even Apple. Fingers too big, don't know the controls, tantalised by the novel touch surface, and possibly even dazzled by the glamour after my humble brown Sony.

Meantime this is what I wrote before the pixies pixillated it. I did, honestly I did:
Gorgeous. I can't spell yet on this. We did colouring in. My God, what a mess. X.
Guess I'm not qwidA ready to send business texts afain yet. I'll stafg training tomootpwww.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today's body shape, yesterday's posture

I'm trying to remember if we had anything equivalent to today's body shape obsession when I was young.

Certainly our mother told us frequently to sit up straight, stand up straight and don't slump. Round shoulders were anathema. Posture seemed to be more a matter of manners than looking beautiful. Some people's idea of good posture was ill-conceived, too: they wanted us to look more like a chest-beating gorilla than a natural human being.

Nevertheless it was essentially good advice for beauty. Standing taller does improve the figure (and the morale), and it doesn't cost a cent.

We also paid attention to bust-waist-hip measurements, dreaming of the perfect (?) 34-24-34 hourglass figure. That's inches, of course. Very cute, but for me unattainable after the first pregnancy.

And I do remember in my teens being bothered by my hair. We used sugar and water instead of gel or foam. Yech, stiff and sticky. Three cheers for the pony tail, which required no control beyond a rubber band.

It's so crazy that women worry so much about beauty when we're young. I mean, almost everyone who gets three good feeds a day is breathtakingly beautiful when they're young. The young are gorgeous, they're all gorgeous, they can't help it. If only they knew it. But they look in the mirror and see not Angelina Jolie.

Nowadays I'm way past the point where plastic surgery could restore any part of my youthful beauty. But standing up straight still hints at an illusion of [comparative] youth. Thanks, Mother!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Aging rock star dog still rocks

Book review:
Hairy Maclary, Shoo! by Lynley Dodd
Mallinson Rendel

Now Hairy Maclary’s
more fun than a fairy.
But you couldn’t say
Hairy Maclary was neat.

He’s the silliest, willingest
busiest, fizziest
merriest, hairiest
dog in the street.

Now the playingest, strayingest,
rock star dog with millions of fans
has snuck inside a delivery van.

Parents and pensioners,
playboys and popes
all read about Hairy,
they all know the ropes.

Toddlers in rompers
and teenies in beanies
and mummies in gummies
and daddies in pinnies—

they shimmy and scrump
and jump and clap
to Hairy Maclary’s
canine rap.

And ticklish teachers
with flexible features
and pigeon-toed preachers
with polyglot screeches

and notable Nanas
in frilly pajamas
and unctuous uncles
with purple carbuncles

and clowns of all ages
are turning your pages,
and tropical birds
are pronouncing your words.

Maclary amuses and also confuses.
He gets in the brain with his sneaky refrain.
He tangles the axons,
collapses synapses,
And never gets out of the brain again.

So be off with you, old
Mister Hairy Maclary.
You’re now twenty six—
but you don’t need a fix.

We’re older too,
Mister Hairy Maclary,
and you make us feel tired
with your triplicate tricks.

We love your beginnings
we relish your ends.
but we’re so deep inside you
we’re getting the bends.

So off with you now
Mr Sociable Hairy.
Scarper, skedaddle,
get out of our heads.

We have budgets to balance
and projects to skewer.
We can’t stop and play,
we are far too mature.

We have menus to plan.
We have gardens to weed.
Your kind of madness
we just do not need.

So be off with you, books!
Get out of your boxes
and into the shops.
Go do what you do.

Go confuse, go amuse,
go cruise with the news.
Let the nation peruse.
Let the whole world schmooze.
You can’t lose.

Hairy Maclary, shoo!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Smiling sometimes still, with MS

It's easy for me to be happy, because not only do I have the happy gene but I'm a hugely lucky person.

Not so my friend Diana Neutze, who has been stuck with multiple sclerosis for 40 years. Every day can be a nightmare, and many are.

At a certain point, Diana made a decision, a strategy, a plan. She would always try to be cheerful and entertaining when friends called. Otherwise they would stop calling. So visiting her is stimulating and fun, on one level.

It's a tricky one, because sometimes she simply has to vent, and most friends aren't able to receive this. Our natural urge is to deny that things are as bad as she says. That's crazy talk -- because A. Diana knows best, and B. Diana was dealt a very nasty hand.

The photo shows her receiving attention from one of her army of helpers, who's stretching muscles that otherwise cramp painfully. Things are much worse for her now.

Diana inspires me because she turns the whole hideous experience into a spiritual journey. For years she has treated physical disability as a series of problems to be solved, and an opportunity for spiritual growth. It's unbelievable.

Even now, she writes poems, using a voice programme and editing by ear alone. Here's one.

Different Song
“Surely, there is a different song.”

Yes, but you need to be a different person,
change through and through.
Not like going to a hair dresser
with a fancy photograph
and expecting the new hair style
to smooth away flabby skin and wrinkles
with one sweep of the comb.
The change must come from the inside out.

Like the inhabitants of Plato's cave
fixedly watching the movement of shadows
you need to turn around and welcome
brightness and colour and light.

Then there will be a different song.

Diana Neutze, 18 May 2009

Ready for a wedding...when?

So, when's a good age to get married, then? Assuming we're agreed that the brain is immature until the mid 20s, any time before 25 is too young, right?

Not exactly. You might pick the wrong person in your teens, but before long, for all sorts of reasons, they become the right person -- at least for the first 20 years. I'm speaking for myself here.

That's me on the left in The Double Wedding painting above. Painted by my sister Lesley Evans, it (sort of) shows me and another sister, Deirdre, on the day of our double wedding. (Don't ask.) I was 19. Madly in love with my tall, dark and handsome fiance, and never doubting for a moment that we were a perfect couple.

Well, we weren't. We're so different that one of my sons is gobsmacked that we even chose to be friends, let alone got married. He's right: it's bizarre.

But Grant was tall dark and handsome and has always been a thoroughly kind, good and honest man. We shared many adventures and four amazing children. To say the marriage was a mistake would be outrageous, terrible -- because it had to happen, in order for our children to be our children.

So you could say I was far too young (though I sincerely believed I was frightfully grownup at the time) and I made a weird decision with my immature brain. And you'd be right. Yet in hindsight, I made a brilliant choice, despite the marriage ending inevitably in divorce.

When I look at younger people now, I'm glad I was blindly in love with the wrong man. I'm glad I married well before any possibility of making a mature choice. I'm glad I was a child bride. I'm glad I didn't try to find my true identity before bonding in passion. As it turned out, developing my true identity is taking an awful long time, so I'd probably still be a "spinster".

Instead, I am delighted that we married young. That way, we could divorce young, with decades to explore life independently. Thank goodness they didn't have MRI brain scans in our day.

Brain matures in mid-twenties? Tell it to the marines

So, it's official. The human brain does not fully mature until the mid-twenties.

I thought we knew this already. Previous studies in 2004, 2006, February 2009... they all say the same thing. They're talking about physical maturity of the brain.

So teens are reckless drivers and a bad judge of almost everything. Fair enough. They're also exciting and excited and in chemical chaos. Most people I know are happy to have left the chaos behind... although are we secretly wistful about the power surge of feelings around first love?

I'm far from convinced that I was mentally mature at 25. Or 35. Or 45. Or 55. Or 65.

I always thought I'd gain Wisdom and Perspective. Some professors thought my early poetry, written in my 30s and 40s, lacked Maturity. I was bewildered at the time. What did maturity mean? Being terminally fair and deadly boring? Losing passion?

I know, it's probably tragic that I still don't feel mature. But I'm happy that way. Not smug. Still puzzled. Still wondering. But right onside with Denny Crane when he says,

It's fun being me. Is it fun being you?

Now there's a chap who never did mature.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mysterious footpath blotches

Downstairs I have a second, small apartment which I rent short term, furnished. A recent tenant was a lovely old gentleman, Simon. Only old, not older, because he is younger than me.

He lives in Germany and some things here in Wellington mystified him.

"I've noticed blotches on the pavement," he told me in incredulous tones. "Some of them look a little bit like --- I don't know, could it be lichen? And some of them look like -- I don't know what. Could it possibly be... chewing gum?"

"Well now," I said. "It's most likely that some of them are lichen, and the others are chewing gum."

He was amazed. And I was amazed that he was amazed.

On the one hand, very likely in German cities the pavements are scraped and cleaned, so they don't have blotches. Blotches banned. Blotches deleted. Blotches despatched. Wellington underfoot may be disgusting to the foreign eye, for all I know.

On the other hand, how lovely that he could get so much fascination from a miniature quandary like this. He wasn't disgusted, he was charmed. So I was charmed. He could certainly summon up the daily smile.

Moreover, on the one foot, many old people walk heads down, staring at the pavement. That posture is one way you can spot an old person at 100 paces, even without your glasses. I suppose they've had a fall or fear a fall. It's tough when you walk like that, because you don't see the world or any of the wonderful things in it.

But on the other foot, if you walk around staring at the pavement, you may discover wonderful things there too. Like chewing gum and lichen. And by gum, down there, shimmering among the city blotches, one day you may spot an image of Elvis Presley or the Virgin Mary.

Then the boot will be on the other foot. And you'll be smiling.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Never too old to learn

Well, here's what happened at the ukulele concert. The glorious International Wellington Ukulele Orchestra gave me and 99 other people a grand total of 4 x 1-hour lessons in playing the ukulele. My brother-in-law Ben said naughtily, "I didn't know anyone had to be taught to play the ukulele." He's just jealous. (OK, he did spend 40 years as a professional cellist.)

But I did wonder how I'd manage as a rank beginner aged 69. The mythology says that older people find it very hard to learn an instrument.

Certainly, I was slower than others by a long chalk. Dexterity and orientation were hard to find. Even hanging on to the instrument the right way was tricky.

Our final session was a "concert" in which our "bands" performed to friends and family. All week I struggled with my three chords. I was rehearsing with the wrong rhythm! When I was corrected just before the concert, rhythm and chord changes made more sense, but too late for me to do much more than smile and hit C on stage.

Since the concert I practise a bit during the TV ads, once or twice a week. And little by little it gets easier. You can teach an old dog new tricks: it just takes longer.

I smiled when I read Linley Boniface's column recently. She'd attended the same workshop. She said learning to play the ukulele has given her more pleasure than anything else for a very long time.

Me too. Joining the millions who play a musical instrument feels like joining the human race. Even the ukulele. Especially the jolly little ukulele.

Too old to get swine flu

I'm too old to get swine flu (touch wood). So are you, if you're over 60. It seems that lots of us are immune (I keep wanting to add probably, hopefully, apparently, theoretically and touch wood) thanks to encounters with previous flu strains.

Isn't that great?

Last month I saw this guy in the street, an early adopter of the flu mask... masking his chin, so he could have a smoke. That made me smile.

Simple joys of writing

Something to smile about every day, I said. And there is. Every day more than one blog post pops into my head... but not on to the screen. Busy busy busy I am, just like you.

And yet the pleasures of writing are many and various and immediate and long-lasting.

Instant thrill as you jot down some special insight or memory -- and the instant-ness is intense when blogging, because you write, publish and distribute all at once. No waiting, not even for the printer to spit it out. And any time thereafter you can change what you wrote, fix all the errors, smarten up the style.

You're never too old to write. But if you have spent your life saying, "I could write a book," stop thinking about a book. That's too daunting! Just start writing bits and pieces. (And by the way, bits and pieces can often be assembled into something that bears a remarkable resemblance to a book.)

Many of my friends (including two of my sisters) have started writing down stories about their lives, and it's such a buzz. Some are great writers, some aren't: who cares? The thrill lies in getting important memories into words. Doing it, as opposed to not doing it. Sharing stories. Saving stories. Gifting stories to the next generation or two.

It is generous, because you know, after we die, the kids will say, "I wish I'd recorded all those stories Granny (or Dad or Uncle Fred) used to tell."

That's not what I'm doing here but I strongly recommend it. Personally I've got a lot of other stuff to write, just at the moment. And it all gives me pleasure.

Yesterday, for instance, I was struggling with cover art: I'm converting a manuscript into an ebook. That's surprisingly complicated, but a wonderful challenge. The book is called Rude Stories for Mrs Palin. It makes me jump up and down with glee. More later!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three score years and ten

Meet Celia Taylor in her youth: my gorgeous mother. (Notice: I didn't say in her prime. That came later. As it does for us all.)

In this blurry photo she's probably 19 or 20, and it's around 1934. Glamorous even after climbing a mountain -- and obviously fit. Rebellious. She had a dark, sulky beauty when young, and men of all ages relished her company until she died. And she had six daughters of whom she was proud.

Celia was always adamant that three score years and ten was quite sufficient as a life span. She quoted the Bible in support.

"If I'm going gaga and I'm nothing but a burden," she told us occasionally, "Take me to a beautiful mountain, take me to a glacier, take me to the edge of a crevasse, then turn your back." Yeah, right. But she meant it! She was sufficiently realistic (or ethical) not to make us promise, which is just as well.

Fiercely independent, and passionate about the pleasures and powers of her life, Celia's worst fear was of being a burden. She positively wanted to die at 70, latest.

And so she did, on New Year's Day in her seventieth year. Some people can do that, I believe. Of course she had to work up to this death, by smoking (considered daring and glamorous when she was young) and getting a degenerative disease. You can't make a stroke happen out of the blue.

Well, that was strange even in those days. Today's 70 is yesterday's ... 50? Yet her mother and grandmother lived into their 80s, all guns roaring until quite near the end, I believe.

Regardless of logic, 70 was her deadline. Maybe I started this blog because next year I'll be 70 and I never felt less like dying.