My mother, due to her superhuman powers, was let out of hospital at the weekend. Her health, at 94, was so good, that she was given an epidural, not general anaesthetic, when they pinned her broken hip. (She described the op as ‘like a party’).
She is now at home with a rota of carers in attendance. Being my mother this meant that, on her first morning back, she got out of bed in the morning to make herself some tea and toast (which took her hours, but she’s nothing if not bloody-minded), before hobbling back to bed so that she could graciously wait for the carer to arrive to help her get out of bed.
So she’s on the mend. But this is what fascinates me. Before she was allowed home she had to show the physios that she was capable of making a cup of tea. In fairness, I suppose getting a brew on does combine several skills. But I’m reckoning that nowhere else in the world is your tea-making ability evaluated by health professionals.
I mean, do you get points knocked off for not warming the pot, or putting the milk in last (or first, whatevs, ed) and does your inability to open a biscuit tin count against you? Do they want to see your fine motor skills evidenced by one lump, or two? And what happens, if like my mother, you can’t stand milk and ask for a lemon and a sharp knife (actually I know the answer to that; the aforementioned, and rather fazed health professional then allows my highly amused mother to play ‘lets pretend to make the tea’).
What happens in other countries? Do Italians have to rustle up an espresso? Are the French asked to uncork a bottle of wine? And do the Aussies have to pull open a tinnie?
Picture courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cup_of_tea,_Scotland via Creative Commons
This is a story for Tara, who asked to hear about the adventures of Mr Muscle, and so now I will tell you the story of him and his high deeds. Far, far away and long ago Mr Muscle was famed for his bright soul and his clean mind. He rode a plumy white horse and ventured into the lands ruled by a Dirty Durty Knight. Everywhere he went he sang like a meadow pipit and all the maids would come out to sigh over his love spots, and all the thrusting young men would admire his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse.
The maids loved him because he would go into their houses and, with one flash of his smile, all their pots would shine, and with one keen stare, the vegetables would cut themselves up and go into the pan, which meant the girls could spend much more time reading and singing and playing football with the young men.
But the young men weren’t so keen on this. Because the girls sometimes beat them at football, and laughed cruelly at the young men’s ineptness in the penalty box.
‘We must do something,’ said one young Man. ‘We must stop these girls from having so much time to practise their ball skills. They beat us 3-2 last week.’
‘It’s all the fault of that Mr Muscle,’ the other young men shouted. ‘He must leave this land, and take his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse with him.’
But Mr Muscle wouldn’t go. ‘The girls all love me,’ he said. ‘And besides, they’re brilliant at football. Did you see that goal that Princess Mellicent scored last week? From the half-way line? It was on Match of the Day.’
And so the young men narrowed their eyes, and turned their backs on the shiny Muscle Man and his brilliant smile and his plumy horse, and went to see the Dirty Durty Knight, who was known far and wide for his black-hearted, dastard magic, and generally mysogynistic behaviour.
And the Dirty Durty Knight lolled on his stained chair, and picked his fingernails and listened to the woes of the thrusting young men.
‘Yes, I will help you,’ he said. ‘I hate Mr Muscle. I hate cleanliness, and I can’t stand that feller’s shiny teeth. I can reduce him to a pasty mess. But you won’t like it.’
‘Do it,’ said the men.
And so the Dirty Durty Knight tempted Mr Muscle to clean his scummy, cobwebbed castle, and Mr Muscle strode through every revolting room and sprang up and down every slimy step in his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse, smiling and smiling until his cheeks hurt. And everything that he smiled at shone in return; even the Dirty Durty Knight’s fingernails. And at last, when the castle was glowing like a flushed pearl in the sunset, the Dirty Durty Knight asked an exhausted Mr Muscle to sit down to a dish of tea.
‘And there will be cake too,’ said the Dirty Durty Knight. ‘Which hasn’t got my thumbprints on it anymore, now that you’ve smiled at it.’
‘Oh rather,’ said Mr Muscle, ‘I love cake.’ And the poor, innocent, handsome lump downed his tea and ate his cake, which the Dirty Durty Knight had poisoned. And before Mr Muscle could say ‘Bang!’ he was gone, turned into goo, the whole shiny lot of him; sliding off his chair into a silent silver puddle on the floor.
‘That’ll teach you for smiling willy nilly in my house,’ snarled the Dirty Durty Knight, and he scooped the goo into a spray bottle, and flipped the lid to ‘off ’.
Loud was the wailing of the young girls at the news. And the rending of the garments and the heaping of the ashes upon their heads was terrible to behold. For now, instead of getting Mr Muscle’s favours for free, the young women found they had to pay £2.99 a pop (or £9.76 for the washroom cleaner, available on ebay).
And they had to go out to the corporate jungle to earn the money to afford his services; and the thrusting young men were left to play football by themselves and, on odd occasions, even to do a spot of cleaning.
The Dirty Durty Knight had been right. The young men didn’t like it at all. They missed the girls with their careless hair and their silky ball skills. But Mr Muscle was gone forever, along with his gorget and his bevor and his cuirasse.
And what happened to the plumy horse? The Dirty Durty Knight painted him black and rode miserably about the countryside, not wanting to go home. He had not managed to scoop up all of Mr Muscle, you see, and his dirty, durty, days were over. His castle and his fingernails were doomed to be forever clean, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Picture courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_of_the_Swan via Creative Commons
A long time ago, probably about the time dinosaurs roamed Hyde Park, way before the evolution of mobile phones and social media, I took my mates to The Ritz for dinner. I was living in a slum at the time; a three-room flat on the first floor of a decaying house in Westbourne Grove. I was sharing it with a budding composer and a medical student. It was the kind of place where you had to go out of the front door to get to the bathroom (which was mostly unspeakable) or the kitchen (ditto).
None of us had any money. So when, one day, I got a large cheque for some work I’d done, I decided to treat my four best friends to the greatest evening ever. These particular people had kept by me through the break up of a long-term relationship. They had listened, without complaining, to my tales of woe; had refrained from giving me any in-depth advice, had let me sleep on their sofas, and had given me free access to their fridges (not that there was ever anything much in them).
I planned therefore, that we would kick the evening off at the Savoy’s American bar, and then go to the Ritz for dinner. For once in our lives we were going to live High on The Hog. With this in mind, I bought myself a white taffeta cocktail dress with a boned bodice and and a fishtail skirt; it made me feel like a million dollars and, after ten minutes struggling with a pair of pliers, I managed to do up the zip.
The night came and off I went to the Savoy. And there were my friends, Beth, Cheryl, Margaret and Tony, all done up like dogs’ dinners too, all of us beaming fit to bust to be in such a place. Okay, so The Dress meant I had trouble sitting down, but I managed it without rupturing anything vital.
We ordered daiquiris because I’d seen them in a film; there was a pianist tinkling away in the background, and everything was all right with the world, when Beth put down her drink and handed me a parcel. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘We’ve bought you a clock. To mark your new life.’ I was slightly nonplussed by this. I don’t know why they thought I needed a clock. Especially a pink china one. But, hey, a present is a present, and I was touched. We ordered another round of daiquiris, and then off we went to the Ritz. That’s such a simple sentence, but to get in a black London cab on The Strand on a rainy evening, and say, ‘The Ritz, please,’ knowing you are going to have dinner there, gives you all kind of fizzy expectations.
The dining room at the Ritz was like something out of Versailles; the walls were lined with mirrors and the ceilings were painted in blue and gold and decorated with gilded knobbly bits, and there were chandeliers like upside down golden trees, and stiff white linen on the tables and crystal winking in the lamplight. If Louis XIV had strolled in at that moment with Mme de Pompadour on his arm he would have felt absolument tout at home. The only bum note for his majesty being us, the giggling serfs, struggling with their menus at a centre table.
We ordered everything that looked expensive, or sounded gorgeous. We confessed frankly to the waiters that we had no idea what to drink with what, and then ordered two of everything they suggested. Other diners were indulging in light chit-chat, and stretching out elegantly to each other as if they were auditioning for a Noel Coward play. I heard one woman say to the man she was with, ‘What he really wants, darling, is for me to divorce him and live with you in New York.’
There was a little band on the dance floor playing show tunes. The four of us grinned at each other, drank more champagne and then put our heads down, and ate. And ate. It was our first decent meal for months. Actually, decent doesn’t begin to describe it. It was heavenly.
None of us had ever experienced anything like it. Waiters didn’t bring the food, they seemed to shimmer in with it. They were like holograms. Silent, helpful,and mostly invisible. You just had to look slightly puzzled, and pffft! there was a bloke in a penguin suit and a cummerbund refilling your wine glass, before dissolving silently away.
The waiters wafted in unending succession to our table with plates loaded with oysters, and then pan-fried steaks (how else do you fry something, except in a pan?) and then sorbets, and poire belle Helene, and coffee and petits fours, and little minty chocolates. They cracked open the bottles of claret and champagne and brandy until we sat back, all of us, flushed, happy and full.
We danced on the little dance floor. We drank more champagne. Everything was mostly perfect, except for my dress. It was now life-threatingly tight, and I began to wonder, if I went for a pee, how I was, a, going to undo it, and then, b, do it up again. I had not brought my pliers with me. If it wasn’t done up all the way, it would fall down. Which was Not An Option.
However, it was now about midnight, and we were the only people left. It was time to go. Relief from the torture dress was in sight. And then I remembered the clock. I had left it at the Savoy. A waiter, sensing a minute disturbance in my neural pathways, materialised by my chair.
‘Madam?’ he murmured.
‘Do you have a telephone I could use? I’ve left my clock at the Savoy.’
Looking at me sympathetically he nodded. ‘I shall telephone to them immediately.’
And with a perfectly serious face, he added, ‘Are you resident at the Savoy?’
‘Not really,’ I said.
And off he went. This is what having servants meant, I realised. They do everything, but everything for you. A few moments later he rematerialised by my side.
‘I am afraid there has been a little difficulty, madam.’ He paused. ‘Was it a pink clock?’
He nodded. ‘Yes, the American bar was evacuated this evening when guests found a bag on the floor. The Scotland Yard bomb squad were called in. They were going to carry out a controlled explosion, I believe. And then they noticed a small pink clock, inside.’
There was silence around the table. ‘My God,’ croaked Beth. ‘We’ll all be arrested.’
But the waiter was unmoved. ‘If you would care to call at the Savoy on your way home, madam, I have instructed them to give you your clock.’
‘What, just like that?’ I asked. ‘And they’re all right about it? I mean, the police don’t want to… interview us, or anything?’ The idea of spending the night in the nick, after an evening at the Ritz, was appalling.
He looked affronted at the idea. ‘Certainly not, madam. I have explained everything to them.’ He paused. ‘Will that be all?’
‘There’s just one more thing, actually,’ I said.
‘You don’t happen to have a pair of pliers, do you?
Pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2227257
On Saturday my mother fell over in the bathroom and she was not able to get up. Being 94, she has an alarm button on a necklace, that she can press for instant help. Being bloody minded, she doesn’t wear it. So she spent the next hour or so crawling the 20ft to her bedroom to get the necklace.
Bedroom reached and panic button pressed, the rest of the world swung into action. A passing paramedic came by, followed by two others in an ambulance, I was called by the council’s panic people (I’m sure they have a proper name, but it probably doesn’t mean so much), and soon she and I were off to A&E.
I wasn’t very optimistic about what was going to happen to us. We’ve all seen the national news about how hospital A&E departments in England are at breaking point at the moment. Two in the Midlands this week could not accept any more patients and one, in Stoke, according to a paramedic interviewed on TV, got to the point where it locked its doors.
At University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire there were people lining the A&E corridors on trolleys, (perfectly conscious, and not looking in a huge amount of pain, it has to be said, although we weren’t in the George Clooney part of the department) and the staff had that kind of controlled calm that you get in a place that is really, really busy. One of the doctors was gripping her hair, and pulling it up, up, up, as if it would make her think better.
I had expected that mum too would be on a trolley in a corridor, and was astonished when we were met by a nurse who knew all about her, and who had been told to take her to Room 18. (It was the nurse’s third day on the job and she had no idea where Room 18 was, but she was cheerful and bright and kind, and she found the correct little side-room in two ticks). Mum was X-rayed (broken hip); put into a hospital gown by two other nurses, one of them African (I point out his nationality because all nurses should have African accents, it is the kindest and jolliest voice in the world); given pain relief; and seen by an anaesthetist and an orthopaedic surgeon. Okay, so we had to wait around for several hours while this all happened, but it wasn’t much of stretch, especially not for mum, who once the morphine kicked in, started playing Candy Crush with the ceiling tiles. When she was taken up to the orthopaedic ward, I left for home, knowing that she was in kind and good hands.
In the last three days my mum has had her hip fixed, she’s been given a special vibrating bed to stop the build-up of any blood clots, she’s had physio-therapy, nice meals, and a handsome doctor blowing in her ear at 3 am (apparently it’s the standard way to wake someone up) to check her over. And nothing has she had to pay, except the National Insurance payments that she has contributed through her taxes, all through her working life.
The only quibble I have with all this is that she has a phone by her bed. And the company that installed had the bright idea of making all outgoing UK calls free (while charging a fortune to call in, mind). This is not a good idea, NHS people. Not with my mother. She has rung every single person she is related to.
Yesterday, when everybody else was probably unavailable due to ear exhaustion, she rang me and asked me to bring in a pencil. As she was not wearing her hearing aids, you can imagine that the conversation that followed was rather difficult. Something on the lines of,
Her: ‘I’d like a pencil. You’ll find one in a jar on my table.’
Me: ‘But I can bring you a pencil from here.’
Her: ‘Cardboard? I don’t want cardboard. What are you talking about? ’
Her: ‘Pencils, of course I want a pencil. I told you that. You’ll find one in the jar. I want to do the crossword.’
Me: ‘But I’ve got pencils here.’
Her: ‘That’s no good to me, is it, though? I need one here.’
She’s definitely on the mend. Thank you, NHS, you are a marvellous thing, and long may you continue. But, please, hide my mum’s telephone.
Picture via Creative Commons from http://www.geograph.org.uk
There’s one more thing I have to say about Charlie Hebdo, before I shut up. It was at times silly and offensive. It wasn’t that popular; in fact it closed down for a while because of lack of funds. But it is precisely because it was so silly and offensive that the attack on it is so important to think about, while the inevitable debate on press freedom cranks up again.
People talk a lot about the freedom of the press, and we are all led to believe that journalists spend their days toiling after The Truth. Some, maybe. I can think of very honourable examples of these, such as Paul Foot and John Pilger, both of whom had a hard time when they took on the British and Australian Establishment.
Most of us, though, not so much. If some extremist twit with a Kalashnikov had stormed the newsrooms of any of the tabloid newspapers where I worked, he would have been murdering people who were probably just about to press the send button on headlines such as ‘Drink’ll wrinkle your winkle’, or ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster.’
On the face of it, those journalists at Charlie Hebdo weren’t doing anything particularly noble either when they were murdered. They were having a morning meeting, drinking coffee, and probably doodling Francois Hollande doing something unmentionable. To picture them being murdered, is surreal. Did they, in those first few seconds, think it was some kind of a joke? Is it some kind of appalling irony that these satirists were killed by men with no sense of humour?
The difference between Charlie Hebdo and most mainstream newspapers, though, is that it took a shot at every religion going. It published cartoons which some found extremely offensive. But, why not? I read a blog post yesterday in which the blogger stated that he wouldn’t get away with writing about the Queen having oral sex. And yet he demonstrated his liberty to do so, simply by saying that. Has he been arrested? I don’t think so. Has he been torn to shreds by the corgis? No. He was free to say what he damn well pleased. And other people were free not to read it. Same with Charlie Hebdo.
Obviously, we cannot malign people simply because of the way they are (he must be bad because he’s a catholic/protestant/jew/muslim/jedi knight), but if we cannot take pot shots at institutions, if we cannot allow ourselves or others, however outrageously, to question them, then we might as well buy kalashnikovs and shoot ourselves.
Whatever we think of the content of Charlie Hebdo, we have to remember that its office was fire-bombed in 2011, and that the police took the death threats to the editor Stephane Charbonnier seriously enough to give him protection. And yet he and his staff still went on bringing out their mag. If those terrorists hadn’t arrived on Wednesday morning, probably only three men and a dog would have read it.
Not many people like reading offensive material. Charlie Hebdo’s normal print run of about 60,000 (in a country of 66 million people) proved this. In a free society we allow free speech and ignore what we don’t like. But we still make space for it; we respect other people’s opinions, because we want people to respect our own.
Next week Charlie Hebdo is bringing out one million copies. Its cartoons, that the terrorists didn’t like, have now been given much greater coverage than their murdered artists could ever have dreamt of. I didn’t much like some of those cartoons either, but today, Je suis Charlie.
cartoons via Creative Commons available at http://960thepatriot.com/blogs
A year or so ago, after Fusilier Lee Rigby was butchered on a London street, the English Defence League (or bunch of fascist bastards as they are more commonly known) marched on a mosque in York. The muslims met them with tea and biscuits, and they began to chat, and then they had a game of football, and the riot police went home.
I thought of that last night after the news of the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. I thought of all the millions of muslims who are, in effect, our brothers and sisters in this world, who are bracing themselves to pay the price for the atrocities that extremists commit in their name.
Ordinary muslims all over the world are suffering terribly at the hands of extremists at the moment; 200,000 are thought to have died in the civil war in Syria. Thousands more have had to leave their homes. Isis is marching across the Middle East. Young men and women in the west, seduced by the sham ideology of ‘freedom fighting’, are leaving their homes to join the chaos. Some are ending up as suicide bombers, and western governments fear some will come home as terrorists. Maybe that is where yesterday’s killers came from.
We, as the general public, can do nothing, really, to stop these random acts of murder. But we can do everything to show our solidarity as human beings. At the end of some Christian church services, the people in the congregation shake hands with each other. Let’s start going out of our way to shake hands, in reality and metaphorically, with people who don’t share our faith. Let us show that we can stand together. Bugger extremists with guns, let’s show the power of people with pens.
Cup of tea, anyone?
Top picture by Ann Czernik, at http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/may/27/york-mosque-protest-tea-biscuits .
Second picture via creative commons, courtesy of http://dpdpksmedan.org/category/download/page/9/
So that’s it. Eleven days of national blow out, all come to an end. The party’s over, the socks made from recycled toothbrushes, a present from your auntie, have been shoved under the sofa, waiting to creep out in August. The bizarre half drunk bottle of orange brandy that your father in law brought round because he thought it might come in useful, has been stashed in the farthest recesses of your larder, waiting until you need to clean the drains. One or two pine needles litter the carpet, all that’s left of the tree, and there is a tiny piece of stuffing with fluff growing round it at the back of the fridge.
Alarm clocks are going off at unmentionable hours, bills are arriving, and the voices of the solar panel telephone salespeople are once more heard in the land. Truly they are cold calling.
All is gloom and ordinary.
Can you tell that I’ve given up drink for January?
Picture via creative commons, courtesy of http://fc00.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2014/081/9/f/pony_meme___get_me_a_cup_of_tea__by_twistermon-d7b84vr.png