Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I Squeeze Two Oranges

I have a new habit.

No, I have not entered a convent,  although as a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl, I did offer 'Nun' as a reply to a question a careers teacher put to me once.  I forget what the question was.

My new habit is to squeeze two oranges each morning - for the juice of it.

Orange juice is best straight from the orange.  Ever since my mother taught me this, I've been spoilt for the bottled / canned / cartoned varieties, though I've mostly made do until recently.

No more.  I begin my mornings these days by taking two oranges from my constant supply, using the pleasure of my new sharp knife to cut them in half, before turning them this way and that on the ridged dome of an orange juicer, and then tipping the collected juice into a glass.

After all this, I'm too wanton and needful to sip the half glassful, so, still standing, I down the lot in a few sweet, crazy mouthfuls.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

I Cause A Stir

Three weeks ago, young Tim turned up at badminton. 

I'd met Tim in an idiosyncratic  pub which serves excellent beer.  I had been chatting in Poets' Corner with a friend from badminton about putting up shelves, motorbikes and whether he was going to play at the next session.  Tim overheard our conversation and asked about the badminton club. 

"This is Tim," I said to Hollie the following Tuesday. "I met him when I was out with Paul."

The next Tuesday, Chelsea asked me who the new guy was with Tim.  It turned out to be young Jack.  "I hear you met Tim when you were out on the pull," said Chelsea, "I'm impressed." I was momentarily perplexed, blushing.  "Oh! No!" I insisted. "I met Tim when I was having a drink with Paul," adding, by way of explanation, "talking about badminton.  And shelving."  This suddenly sounded highly implausible.

This week, Tim and Jack turned up with young Raj.  When Chelsea arrived, she winked at me.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

I Puzzle Over Significance

A friend came round earlier in the week and saw the half-completed jigsaw puzzle my Younger Son and I have been tackling.  "I didn't have you down as a puzzle person," he said. "I'm not," I replied.

I didn't have myself down as a Mahler person either, but what I've learnt, seven symphonies and 1000 pieces later, is that listening to rousing music whilst searching through barely distinguishable tiny bits of blue card can make me behave like a different sort of person from the person I imagine myself to be - I become meticulous, methodical, patient, single-minded: satisfied in passing by the finding of a piece that fits.  Looking for Lego pieces, my son reminded me, used to produce a similar, almost forensic, effect in me.

I have also discovered that, when looking for missing pieces, shape matters more than colour as in indicator of fit.  I've learnt that if I keep looking, the piece is always there, somewhere. I am pretty sure this is a metaphor for something significant.

I am less sure whether it is significant, or merely a coincidence, that I came across the puzzle, a reproduction of a painting of Mount Lefroy, for sale in a shop in Presteigne when looking for a birthday present. Or that my son saw I'd bought it and asked to open it before I could give it away. I do know that the puzzle has provided the backdrop for several hours of gently concentrated conversation, some of it about Mahler, some of it about shades of grey, and also has resolved the problem of what to give my co-named relatives for Christmas.  It's also set me thinking about taking a trip one day to the place my Canadian grandfather was born.

The next symphony coming up on our playlist, no. 8, is known as the Symphony of a Thousand.  And next door in the charity shop, a thousand piece puzzle is displayed in the window, going cheap.  Now there's a thing.

Friday, 26 August 2016

I Get Into Mahler

I have always liked the name Gustav.  When I won a panda (a toy one) at the Gothenburg Funfair in 1982, this was the name I chose.  However, I have held a prejudice against Gustav Mahler until this evening.

Kahlil Gibran says of children that you may "give them your love but not your thoughts".  This is a great sentiment, and I try to live by it, but it's not exactly true.  I'm pretty sure my thoughts about Mahler came from my parents - he's conspicuously absent from their vinyl collection, which I treasure.  For as long as I can remember I've assumed him to be too grandiose for good taste, too ostentatious, loud and long.  So I have avoided him, though I made an exception once and listened to Das Lied Von Der Erde because someone told me it was good.

This evening, I listened to Mahler's symphony no. 2 for what I think must be the first time.  And I listened to it loudly, because my younger son put on his new CD and he was therefore in charge of the volume control.  We listened to symphony no. 1 earlier in the week.  There are 8 more to go.

I listened to Mahler whilst drinking some of my brother's home made wine. It would seem that home made wine is an excellent antidote to prejudices, including those about home made wine.

Mahler's work seems to have been written to keep musicians gainfully employed - including 4 flautists, 10 trumpeters, a choir, 2 (two!) harpists and "the largest possible contingent of strings".  It lacks restraint, and it is known as The Resurrection.  

I found The Resurrection just as implausible, grandiose, ostentatious and long as I'd been warned - and I found it to be absolutely wonderful. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

I Hear A Story

I am in the middle of reading Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery.  It's a series of short narratives in which neurosurgeon Henry Marsh gives insights into what it's like to operate on brains and spinal cords - on a patient's essence and function. 

I have learnt, more than anything else in my time working in the human services of social care and education, that it's important that stories told for learning from the truth of someone else's experience are listened to.  There's a power in the telling and a power in the hearing and the being heard. 

In Marsh's case, amongst the horrors of and wonders of tumours, speech gain and loss, recovery and death, he needs to tell us about the humanity of his doubt in the face of many of the decisions he has to make.  He hides neither the necessity for confidence-verging-on-arrogance required for cutting into brains with a steady hand, nor the humility and sense of inadequacy he has accumulated over a lifetime's experience of mending, curtailing - and sometimes worsening - the injuries caused by disease and accident.  He writes of the conversations, the impossible conversations, he has to have with patients and families - of the importance of being straightforward whilst not extinguishing all hope.

I'm finding it hard to put down this book, so when I woke early on Sunday, I began to read where I'd left off, heavy-eyed, the night before.  Then I remembered with irritation that I needed to get up to move my car before the traffic wardens' round began.

The morning was clear and scattered with clean sunshine, and I was suddenly glad to have been forced up and out.  There were two other people in the street - a council employee bent to the task of sweeping up after the night before, and a man walking towards me, pushing a bike.  I didn't recognise the cyclist, but as soon as I saw him, I knew he had something to tell me.

As if stepping from the other side of Marsh's pages, he began the story of how his son had been involved in an accident the day before, how it had happened, how he'd been rescued from worse, and how, even now, he was being prepared for an operation.   He told me what the doctor had explained about paralysis, how he'd had to keep it together since everyone else in the family had been so upset.  The story was so new to him, so much in need of telling now, right now, that it spilled out as if he were crying: his son's life saved, but broken in an instant.

Today, I am still thinking of the chapter of the cyclist's story - his telling it to me in the quiet, bright streets of a summer's morning, how he may need, in all weathers, to tell and retell the story of his son as part of the way in which he can try to make it into a shape that is easier to carry.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

I Tick A Box

I was have been asked by  to rate my recent experience of New York City.  Apparently, this will help other people to decide whether or not to travel there:  Did you like NYC?  Please tick Yes or No.

In my day job, I am often asked to write references.  This is a responsibility I take seriously, and it requires me to use my judgement and to be truthful to my experience.  But when asked to do this by ticking a series of boxes, I find myself flummoxed. 

Consider the following example:

Please assess (to the best of your knowledge) the applicant’s qualities and abilities :






Not Known/Comments








Faced with recommending a candidate I've known for a couple of years, but only in one context, I don't know which box to tick. Is Excellent Honesty the default position, or starting point, from which someone can only slide towards Poor as occasions for Dishonesty arise, or do I assume Poor Honesty until opportunities for deception have arisen and not been taken, or opportunities for Honesty been taken?

What, I wonder, is the definition of Good Honesty and could it be better than Excellent Honesty (too brutal in some situations) for this particular job?   Is my definition of Good Honesty of too high or low a standard?  Who says?

Is Average Honesty acceptable or the sign of moral deficiency?  And when working out Average Honesty, am I required to use the mean, mode or median?  And should I show my workings?

Does Honesty which could be described as  Poor become Dishonesty?  Unreliability can't be a synonym for Poor Honesty as there is another assessment to be made about Reliability in the row below.  But I won't take you there.

As it happens, I liked New York City.  Yes I did.  I liked it a lot.  And I mostly liked it because I went there with my son.  But there's no box for that.