Monday, 2 September 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name.

The other day, on an Internet forum, I found out that the National Flower of America was the Rose.

Now it's not the fact that this, to me (who has, after all, never set foot on their soil) seemed, of all the flowers in the world to be the most incongruous of any symbols I would ever associate with America that had me gobsmacked.

It was the fact that, since around the mid 1400's, the Rose has been the symbol of England.

  Actually it is the flower chosen by, I think, about 4 other countries back in the mists of time: but it was the rose of England that the first colonists  in North America would have been familiar with.  The fair flowers of our womanhood (some of whom took ship and sailed off with never a backward glance) are known as English Roses.  We had, - prior to the departure for the Colonies - gone through the infamous War of the Roses; Juliet had immortalised the rose for generations of sulky schoolchildren; and the great Tudor dynasty (you know, those nasty symbols of Royalty at whom the Americans had turned up their noses) was symbolised by the Rose.

Indeed,  one of America's Founding Fathers had been so homesick for the fragrant flower of his old country that he had caused various species to be transported to America and spent all the time he could spare from framing the Constitution, industriously propagating the damn things and spreading them all over the New World.

So at first I thought it was all part of some Machiavellian plot: something equal in intricacy to those ever-popular books about secret societies and abstruse symbols, that were all the rage a few years back.  Perhaps continuing to use the rose as their symbol was a deliberate ploy by some of the early colonists to secretly signal their allegiance to England after all? Perhaps, by choosing the rose the conspiritors, if they lost the war to gain independence, would all creep out from under the bodies and declare their allegience to the country they had left behind.  Hell, perhaps it was set up with some master plan to re-take the colonies?  I was well on my way to a plot that would rival the Da Vinci Code and make my fortune.

Until I found at that the rose (our bloody rose!) hadn't become the flower of America until 1986! Wotha?  Nineteen hundred and eighty six?  Americans had been sneering at the Brits for a couple of hundred years by then. They had been celebrating their uniqueness and their independence and their superiority over the "Old country" every 4th of July practically every year since they threw all that (Chinese) tea overboard into Boston harbour.  But in 1986 they suddenly decide they want our national flower?

Today I walked through Rudyard Kipling's garden. His house was still slumbering in the sunshine as it did when he wrote the Just So stories and Kim there.  Croquet was being played on the lawn. The serious of walled, interlocking Sussex stones still divided the spaces into herb garden, deciduous garden, kitchen garden and rose garden as they have traditionally done in English gardens for centuries.  Fat, gaudily striped bumble bees still wobbled around intoxicated in every lavender bush and, over it all the rich, heady, English scent from the rose garden cast its peaceful, almost unbearably beautiful perfume, as it has done on English poets and priests, farmers and soldiers, mothers and children, for centuries.

In the narrow streets of the village which was there before the Normans arrived a thousand years ago, before The Colonies had even existed, and before Coca Cola and chewing gum had even been dreamed of, old flint cottages with uneven roof lines and doors modern men and women have to stoop to enter, slumbered in the late sunshine.  Roses crawled across the ancient flint of lintels and walls, of bowers and windows.  Roses burst in sensuous luxury from cottage gardens and twined round centuries old pubs, and stretched the roots down into the rich black soil which Picts and Angles and Jutes and Saxons have dug for centuries. Carved wooden roses and stone roses on ancient lintels and church spires; painted roses on china plates; enameled roses on house signs; paper roses in a children's playroom; plastic roses in the greengrocers; bunches of fresh roses in the shops; and velvet  rose petals blown from gardens underfoot - the symbols of England were all around.

Even standing on the white chalk cliffs overlooking the sea, where the green seaweed-strewn rocks thrust upward and guarded the ancient tunnels of smugglers and druid, pirate and prelate, there was that English sea-side village smell that brings the soft wisp of perfume to to the stringent, salt-laden air.

How could anyone  think of England and not think of roses?

Which is when I realised something: 1986?  Well.  There's your answer. That's what happens when you  let movie stars run your country for you: roses become all glamour and expense and grow pre-wrapped in cellophane to be handed out at Premiere's and Awards.  They lose their scent when competing against Chanel and Dior.  They become ramrod straight and perfect and symbolise money and red carpets and 5 star hotels and luxury.

So let Reagan declare his American roses the symbol of whatever he wanted them to symbolize and bloody good luck to him.

As far as I'm concerned a rose is a rose is a rose.  It is England.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Genteel Poverty

It was a perfect August Bank Holiday Sunday yesterday.  Skies were blue, seas the regulation sparkling aqua marine, sunlight sparkled, ice-creams were consumed in copious quantities as 50,000 people tried to ward off the hunger pangs that might strike if forced to walk more than a few metres through Brighton without fuelling up.

I sat on the beachfront by a pub listening to live music, watching bronzed bodies sashay past, and thought:-
"Now.  If I can get a glass of Cider for 2 quid, I might be able to afford it: - if I buy the washing up liquid at Poundland and do without the Lime Marmalade till next fortnight...." And then, surprisingly, I thought. "Wotha??  It's the face of Genteel Poverty."

Genteel Poverty, I know now, is just ordinary poverty but you're just a little more repulsed by it than others.

Its finding out that anything you can afford to buy new will fall apart within the month, so it's better to buy second-hand.  Everything. Rather than buy flour sifters that rust the first time you wash them; dishwasher liquid that doesn't raise the pallid ghost of a bubble until you've squeezed half the bottle into the bowl; towels that get damp before you've even done a full circuit of all bits that need to be dried. And not lets even get into the whole subject of toilet paper.  Who even KNEW there was such a thing a 1-ply loo paper? This is one of those sordid little facts which, in an ideal world, nobody would ever need to have to learn.

But it goes further, of course.  Like the first time you are crossing a road and holding up the traffic...and you realise that, from now on, you will ALWAYS be the one crossing.  Not the one sitting in their car sending our Dark Thoughts to bloody pedestrians.

Or, as you are watching a movie on your lap top where people are sitting in real restaurants with thick carpets, and a discreet band, and soft-footed waiters, you suddenly think: "OMG! I will never use a linen napkin again in my entire life."

It's like dying, a little bit.  You go around, swimming through the usual layers of your life and sadly, nostalgically, bidding them all good-bye. Never again will you stay in a good hotel; ride in a boat, wear shoes that smell like shoes instead of like plastic,

You'll probably never see any other place for the rest of your life where the sand is white and squeaks as you walk on it; or swim naked in the moonlight; or go to a Live Show, or buy fruit that you want as opposed to fruit you can afford.

When people take pictures of poverty its of people wearing anoraks and looking depressed who have dirty hair.  Its never of women with real leather handbags (50p from a church fete); well cut clothes (Fill a Bag for One Dollar day at St. Vincents de Paul.); who are post-Graduate educated, extensively travelled; and who would, of course, have made a killing from  Divorce and widowhood.

The world just isn't supposed to work like that.

I should like to write a book one day: - "Being Poor for Dummies". For all those people (there might even be one close-by you at this moment) who didn't start off poor.  Who got the deck shuffled just one time too many and ended up going from Up to Down and whom we find just a tad embarrassing.

If they have any sense of decently left at all,  these Genteel Povos would gradually, with dignity, remove themselves from the purlieu.  It is, after all, very difficult to find anything one has in common any more.

Yeah.  I sat in the sun and thought about all this stuff yesterday.

But hey, today I woke up and thought "Fuck 'em all".

Maybe something'll turn up.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Being English in England

I've been here eight months and the entire time I've spent in England has been almost as unsettling as my first eight months in China.

But the sum of the experiences I've had to date pale before the effect of having one's Nationality questioned.

It seems I haven't paid enough tax to be English.

Which makes me what? A nomad? A refugee?

I may have been brought up overseas – and travelled around - but I and a dwindling band are relics of a by-gone age, you uneducated gits. Born in the dying days of what it meant to be part of the British Empire. Living still – in rather chastened state – pretty much all over the places people either regard as exotic or strange. We are the English Expatriates.

We were many things in many places, but we were always English. I was bullied at school, (and probably scarred for life) for Being English. And I bore it like a stalwart British woman, by god.

The stories of my childhood, and the poetry, and the history of it, is my history. If I am not English, where am I 'from'? Whose history is my history?

So if you thought the Colonial System vanished with the worlds of Hercule Poirot or Jeeves and Bertie, then let me tell you that that kind of life continued well into the 60's (,and still does, in a watered-down version, to this day)which actually means during my lifetime. I never knew of any other way to be more damn British than I was.

I was British as all the people around me were British: we all lived lives in places like Malaysia and The Pacific and Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea and China, and in India like SIR Cliff Richards' (Sir Cliff? Really? Sounds rather like addressing a sheer mountain)and other acceptably English expatriate English people: we lived our lives in the Colonies.

 But we all went “Home” to England on our Long Leaves. And because boat travel was largely in use during my childhood and into my adulthood, travel took time. Which was rather good, as people slowly adjusted to the different temperature changes. For while people often need a break from relentless heat, being swathed in insect repellent and eating local cuisine, plunging overnight into temperature changes by aeroplane as we all do now is rarely a stimulating experience.

Expatriates worked in The East, The Far East and The Tropics. Those categories sometimes often overlapped but did not include those who worked in Europe, who were rather often regarded as somewhat sybaritic. Those who worked in the aforementioned shadows of a dying Empire, would serve 21 month contracts and then take three months leave. So everyone went Home for three months at a time. Or changed postings. Or never went Back.

We never felt any-the-less English.

After a certain tenure, one can take a 6 month break in many cases. In which one would 'travel' home via a few stops along the way ( no matter where you were living in The Tropics, these stops nearly always included either Hong Kong or Singapore for a few days) .

We would go on touristy trips all over the British Isles on our Leave, weaving in visits with family.

We would always have a couple of M & S, or more exotic or iconic shopping bags in our plastic-bag stash when we got Back. (Back was very rarely Home).

So we stayed English.

In fact I myself, unlike the children of many English children at Home, was absolutely steeped in Englishness.

I specialise in Englishness even now: English women writers. Of the 16th century and forward, no less. I know more about being a woman in England than most of the technically-educated people who are waving my Englishness above my head in a somewhat tantalising way, just to see if I am worthy.

So yes, I am bloody English. Just like most of the English people I have known throughout my life, I've lived in pockets of England all across the globe. We all come Home for weddings and funerals and holidays and visits and sometimes for school; and then, when all the contracts and the postings are finished, we all come Home for good.

And ….(lets get this out of the way)....we've all lived with household help. Gardeners, Maids, Nannies, Cooks and people to wash the clothes and iron the clothes; and to sew buttons back on and stitch up a falling hem in the process. In various degrees and computations.

We all went to boarding schools because, unlike in the days of The Raj, we could now fly Back for all the holidays. Sometimes, in the Summer Holidays, we could even fly Home.

We often married people from other parts of the Expatriate world and went off to live a lifetime together going Home for holidays and making plans for when we go Home to retire.

That was normal. That was part of Being British for those who didn't go for the twin-set and plastic mac option. It was a completely legitimate, quite widely recognised, and fully sanctioned Other Way to Be British. It dates back to the time when we once had more options. Its was a viable, alternative way to live as an Englishperson.

Now, I find, I am of an unknown genre. I am an aberrent anachronism and the interpreters of Her Majesties Law in Government offices across the land, deem me and my ilk not as Historic Monuments, nor Living Time Capsules, nor even Wise Guardians of Historic Traditions, but as Not English. Our existence was not revealed to them when they sat for their A Levels.

Now is the time I could quite legitimately start declaiming about the ashes of my fathers and the children of my sons; or my fathers historic war efforts, or the bones of my ancestors making up this good rich earth. But that would sound as though I wasn't aware that the Victorians hadn't beaten me to it, rather thoroughly, in the maudlinly patriotic stakes.

Instead I shall confine myself to saying: 'aving a larf then, or wot?

If you strip my Englishness away from me there isn't much of me left.

How dare you, you nasty little Government men!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bye-bye Triple J?

I've wondered for most of my adult life, if there is some trigger switch; or is it a gradual progression to the point at which, at the flick of some genetic switch, one wakes up one morning, switches on the radio, listens to the first three syllables which are uttered and says “Here and no further!”. And  from then on listens solely to the BBC?

But it hasn't happened to me yet.

So I'm sitting looking out at the most incredibly, over-the-top clouds (as indeed are all clouds). But these are even gilt-trimmed. Against the kind of blue sky I've only ever really seen in, but now which makes sense of, every English painting I've ever seen. And gulls are craarking around, and people are walking their very English dogs (good grief! You should see what some of these mutated 'designer' creatures look like!); and I'm listening to Triple J.

As I've always listened to it since I left Oz. The six years in China and now in England. I often hear them greeting people listening in America or other countries, but I wonder how often they really think about what it means to people who are living in other environments to switch on to cultural references; music you actually know - performed by groups and artists you're familiar with; presented by people who sound just like the world you left behind? Especially to those in China.

In China you realise that everything you ever knew – including what you thought  immutable – is of no use whatsoever. Every aspect of one's life – from going to the toilet, to getting breakfast, to the very bed you sleep in – is unfamiliar. Except Triple J. In Triple J-land the sun always shines; while droughts and hurricanes are happening. In Triple J-land people are already taking off for The Big Day Out. Or setting out on two-day or more, road trips for their work. Radio competitions have questions that you actually know the answers to. And people who think, and have acted upon the fact, that MSG is sudden death are all brown skinned and glowing and have perfect teeth. And a minimal percentage of halitosis.

Listening to Triple J is probably responsible for stopping many people from throwing themselves from the 26th floor apartment building in some Chinese compound; one that is full of similar blocks as far as the eye can see. Hey, take a bow, TripleJ, you sunburnt little possums, you.

But to-day I got to wondering if this is my “Switching to BBC” time? So to speak. Because, after all, I'm a 62 year old who has just ingested a huge Reality Bite (yes, those capitals were necessary); who has learned to come to grips with the fact that she is, from now until the end of her life, past her use-by date. Extraneous. Surplus to requirements. An OAP in other words!

O!M!G!.........I've come out!! I have at last acknowledged it in public. Bared my shame to the world. I'm being sensible! (I'm dying inside.) I've reached the last phrase of the “Three ages of Women” (as opposed to men, who accept Shakespeare's contention that there are quite a few more Ages for men). Women get “Maid. Mother. Crone”...and that's it for the ladies. I'm a bloody crone!

Given the above: what the hell am I listening to sunburned Aussies for? This is my life now. The pallid pallets of the English body. Including my own. And the Big Day Out? When did I ever have enough money to get to a Big Day out, anyway? 

And who the hell even knows/cares what you mean when you say that one of the Bee Gees was your first boyfriend? (Hey, I was 14. I went to a Convent boarding school. Our respective mothers took us for the summer to the same place on the Goldie. It was a (slightly) upgraded Caravan Park. It was, in its own leaflets, a “Family Resort'. It was not the stuff of which thousand-dollar deals are made with magazines.) And seriously, who gives a rat's arse if John Lennon helped me with a school project? The man was born right here, faccrisake. People who benefited from his homework skills to an 11 year old are probably legion.

And hey, did they even have radio stations when Lennon was alive, anyway? Or when all of the Gibb brothers were alive at the same time?... Which brings us back to the Coming Out thing. I'm officially past all that now. I am at the age when all my contemporaries won't play music in their own back gardens on a Saturday afternoon because it might disturb the neighbours. I have no doubt that a rousing chorus of The Sloop John B wouldn't get a few rheumy old eyes a-twinkling though. Or a Hendrix riff bring out all those creaking old air-guitarists in amongst the petunias and the insecticide-free tomatoes, to the hilarity of their cardie-clad, elbow-nudging, cronies.

Oh ye gods! Is it time I joined them, there amongst the neatly-trimmed, sensuously-soft and yielding, English grass?

I haven't played much music since I got here. My roomates have been: a suicidal depressive who was taken from a jail-cell to The Bin for an indefinite time. The next was a 22 year old mini-crim who hadn't the sense to be good at it. There was the really great Italian chick that packed up her things and went back to Milan after 10 days. There still is the 18-year-old. Who actually turned 19 recently. Who is a semi-Goth recluse. And a 22 year old Spanish cook who works such hours that our shedules do not, ever, coincide.

I get the feeling that they, one and all, think I'm trying to be one of the guys by playing the radio station I do. But hey, poor ole thing, she inadvertently plays one which no-one has ever heard of, full of music that no-one's ever heard a great deal of the time. Poor ole thing. Once it was determined that a) I was not actually a 25 year old wearing a Halloween mask, and I didn't know, of course, any of the commercial radios or presenters – let alone 'artists or DJs, I feel like I'm expected to turn it off.

(O!M!G! Bradley Manning is a girl??? Nah. It's National Let's-Take-The-Piss Day really. Yeah? Or a comp I missed out on? Where the winners of the Funny Headline competition get their entry read out? Or some soap writer testing out ideas for the next season? It is very, very delicious. No doubt my contemporaries will expect me to rejoice because they always knew there was something wrong with that commie-bastard.)

But there you go again:- a) I've left Australia. b) I also have to face up to the fact that I turned old. I have to put away childish things. Nothing makes a wrinkly look more pathetic really (unless its
that thing about them always having a blackhead or two in some random place, because no-one ever looks at them that closely any more. Or thinks that squeezing their blackheads is an act of love. In fact it carries quite a high rank on the Yuk Factor rating.) Nothing, apart from that, then, makes some daft Senior Citizen look even dafter than Trying to Keep Up. Just think all those over-made up friends of your Mum with a couple of provocatively (and titter-worthy) named cocktails down them, advising people “Oh all the young ones think I'm so with-it” and rolling out the decidedly downward-turning floppy cleavage.

So no. Seriously Tom and Alex  an' Nina and Co. are not my contemporaries. Songs of rebellion and angst should no longer resonate. I'm past all that shit. I should be writing furious emails about filthy language and acting like drugs are Humanities Curse, and how talking smut on the radio is corrupting. I must stop referring to people as arseholes and pretend I was born without one. And that at least one other orifice healed itself up without a trace back around the DreamTime.

And I have to accept the fact that I'm old. Most people have at least 20 years to wrap themselves around that. I've had 8 months. I stepped on a plane as me, Cireena. And got off it old. Its time to turn off Triple J and reach for the BBC.

It sucks.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Good Friday

It's rather peculiar that it's after 2 in the afternoon on Good Friday and I, a single, white female (should that be in inverted commas, one wonders) am finding it impossible to relax.

There ought to be a name for that: it's akin to being insomniac. You really do suffer the same kinds of symptoms...and others that are just off-the-wall; while the health problems ranging from the physical to the mental, are well known and documented.

Now, back in the day, Good Friday was the longest, and the most boring, day of the year. Nothing happened.The whole world died. We sneered at the misnomer "Good" Friday.  There was nothing good about it all. But the Catholics were the strongest, and wealthiest, power in the land, or at least in Brisbane - the biggest-little-Country-Town-in Australia,  and at some point in the legislative procedure and the mists of time, they had prevailed. Even unto the next few generations.

Not content with forcing every shop, office, shopping centre to close down, they shut down all the pubs,  clubs, amusement parks, public swimming pools and most of the transport system as well. They even invaded the media with live broadcasts of all manner of arcane rituals but with hymn singing taking over from the usual public holiday afternoon movies, or insane telethons, or interminable sport. (No sports on Good Friday in any way, shape or form).

It was thereby the one day of the year when all one could do was relax.  Unless you were interested in taking a long, hot. voyage of discovery to try to find an Indian or Muslim shop. No matter how busy anyone was, for that one day the Catholic church ruled the nation. We relaxed or we didn't survive it. (Unless, of course, we were the Indian or Muslim shopkeepers who stayed open.)

I experienced two of those kinds of "Good" Fridays in the course of my life and they have remained my lasting impression of what the day meant in the West.

Which is why I was surprised to see, yesterday, no perceptible panic at the tills.  This was a phenomenon I'd discovered  much to my amusement - and sometimes despair - in most countries. Let it be known that the shops will be shut for one whole day and the crowds go wild.  Every shop has long lines snaking out from the tills; people who usually walk are now taking up all the taxis as they can't walk home with all the loads of emergency provisions that will be needed for a day without commerce; and shelves go bare with unbelievable speed.

So I started to look around me more carefully and started spotting numerous signs on windows and doors announcing that for a lot of venues it will be business as usual.  Probably because of the 50,000 or so people who are coming for the 2nd Brighton Food Festival. It's fiesta time!

However, I'd mentally prepared myself for a day of somnolent indolence, and I was going to have it.  Despite the flurry in the streets, businesses wouldn't be open.  Schools will be closed. I don't have to go online.  Neither is it probable that my flat-mate is even going to notice if I don't take the garbage out, or clean the bathroom.  And no-one in the world is going to see if I don't make my bed or put my washing away.  As for the seeds I was going to plant? Is there are chance at all those seeds are going to crumble to dust if I plant them tomorrow?  Or next week, considering the weather?

But I can't do it.  I did manage to talk myself into staying in bed till 11. But I read Richard Dawkins instead of Dean Koontz because I felt better learning things than wasting all that daylight, productive time reading a novel.  And then I ran a bath.  So checking my email over that long-drawn-out process was the logical thing to do.  Hardly the time to settle down into the world of golden Labrador Retrievers and people that call each other 'hon'.That would be better savoured in the bath.

Only I had to clean the bath first because I've discovered that having other people's pubes floating round in the bubbles is not conducive to relaxing.

When I got in the bath it suddenly struck me that, while one flatmate was away, the other hadn't yet surfaced and would probably do so at any time.  How I could I have a long relaxing bath with him jumping up and down the passageway trying the squeeze that morning pee back inside? I decided I'd better get on with it fairly briskly.

But at least the bath had warmed me up so this was the prime opportunity to go out and clean up the verandah now that the outside workmen, who swathed the whole building in scaffolding and blue mesh several months ago, but only appeared to do things- at great speed - a few weeks ago, have finally gone.  Once it was sorted properly I could go out there with my plant pots and potting mix, which was rather practical.  I'd done it inside last time and had to sweep up all the soil and bits of plant on my hands and knees with a dustpan and brush because my flatmate (the peeing one) broke the vacuum cleaner.

When I finally I'd finished on the verandah and lost so much body heat my fingers were numb, it became obvious that the only way to warm them up was to wiggle them as I am doing right now.

Now I know the preceding  diary of the day  reveals nothing new.  One of the biggest indicators of how wrong we are going, is the rising number of people who have lost the art of relaxation.

I however, am not one of them.  Relaxation is a skill with which I was born. It led to my being named Serene.  

No, it is not inability to relax per se which is confounding me. It is the inability to relax in the middle of the day.  A day in the working week. While being unemployed. And it is at the feet of The Nuns, corn-plastered feet and encased in sensible black lace-up shoes, that I place the blame.

 For as anyone who has been either brought up Catholic, or been schooled by nuns will tell you:- Catholic guilt is as pernicious as one of those internal viruses which, once contracted, may lie dormant for long periods of time, but is never eradicated.

Which is why, for every hour of this day that the sun has been up, I have been consumed with guilt.  Oh, sure, guilt is the default position for all Catholics.  But there's always those untapped layers lying dormant that are ready to be wheeled in when the really big guns are needed. Even if you aren't, or are no longer, Catholic.  I think all nun's habits used to be impregnated with the substance when I was a kid.  Not only is it highly toxic, but its highly contagious.  Just  being in the vicinity of those damned, guilt-soaked women is enough: much more highly efficient than any plague-bearing fleas.

It's now 7 and finally dark.  I can feel all those tendons and sinews losing their rigidity. The voices in my head are finally conciliatory.  I am not, I hasten to add, referring to the kinds of sound which cause dramatic actors to stagger round clutching their temples and crying "The Voices. The voices. Tell them to STOP."  I mean the ones that say that the rules that govern the rest of the planet no longer apply to one.  This might be a holiday for everyone else, but all is rendered null and void if one is a transgressor.  And being unemployed is, next to being gay or being a feminist, one of the biggest transgressions of all.  It renders one Guilty.

On Good Fridays in Brisbane they may, these days, have naked gay parades through the centre of the city.  All the parks today might be full of people engaged in Bacchanalian pursuits for all I know. And unemployed people might quite freely mingle with the joyful crowds.

But not for me.  The Catholic Church might not be wielding the same big stick as it once did, and its power in political circles may now be negligible.  But it makes no difference.  The Catholics have chalked up yet another triumph. However many more Good Fridays are included in my life's span, the Church has earmarked them all.  Tormented with guilt, fighting the demons, I shall probably never again enjoy another public holiday until the day I can claim to be either gainfully employed or submissively married - or in any other way in my proper place under some man's thumb.

So who still insists that religion is a good thing?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Breathes there the man...

For most of my life, Scott's famous poem used to make me squirm with embarrassment. In the language of my Grandmother, he was 'making a cake of himself'.  In my grandmother's view, nothing was more to be frowned upon, more calculated to cast anyone beyond the Pale, than to make a cake of oneself.

I had only an imperfect knowledge of what making a cake of oneself entailed, but I had the vague idea that it meant you should not act soppy. Scott I considered was, in this poem, being soppy.

My students, however, love this poem as it fits in with their notions of hyperbole being the best way to express oneself. I have been known to ham it up disgracefully when I read it aloud: and the crowd goes wild.

But one day while reading it I found myself suddenly, and consumingly, overwhelmed. Which meant by extension that I was being soppy, of course.

Yet what I always used to dismiss as Jingoism became the impetus, finally, to waft me back to my native land.

But I'm finding that bellowing out "This is my own, my native land" and letting one's heart swell is not an automatic process.

 I remember coming back to England when I was 26. I stood on the upper deck of the ship as the Dover cliffs grew into view and howled my eyes out; while when one of the baggage handlers called me "Darlin'" I felt instantly accepted.

 I thought that was how it would be this time around too, but it isn't.

Perhaps too much water has flowed under too damn many bridges since I was 26.  There's been so many times I thought I was home and found I was mistaken. I just can't seem to adjust to the fact that I'm not passing through.  I'm not a foreigner.  For the first time in my life.

Like many other Expats, I grew up living in postings in various countries, but always regarded England as Home.  The place you go to between postings, and for holidays, or on Long Leave. Through all of my wanderings since then England has always remained Home.  The one with the capital H.

No matter where I've lived I've always been English.  It's part of what defines me.  It's a part of establishing my identity on a thousand documents. It's one of life's incontrovertible truths: I'm English.

So when I arrived here and found I had to fight for the right to come and live at Home again, I was both frightened and disbelieving. And this culminated when I was told rather sneeringly that, as I had never worked - i.e. paid taxes - in this country I was hardly English now, was I?

If I was 'hardly English' then what the hell was I?  Ever since, it seems, I can remember knowing I was "Cireena", I've also known I was English.  Without that, I'm only half me.  And, more prosaically, if I'm not English then where on earth would I go from here?

It did not seem to be the time to point out that my grandfather was a Gypsey - albeit an English Gypsey.

I've had the experience of having to get a plane out of one country and not knowing where on earth one is going to go to. It was scary. I'd thought that by coming to England I'd never have to be in that position again.  I'd never have to get on a plane and not know where to go. I'd have a permanent address.

However; slowly, slowly, in almost imperceptible increments, I'm starting to burrow in.   I finally was given a Social Security number. I now have an NHS number. And last week, though I've been here since October, I at last was able to open a bank account.  I'm becoming English.

The problem is that I don't actually feel English.  I am so used not to being part of the dominant population group; to being Other, that I just can't slip into Englishness as one would a pair of favourite old jeans. I don't feel like Us.  I still feel as though I'm Them in comparison to the 'real' English. The tax-paying English. With them I feel like an impostor.

Then to-day I forced myself out of the flat. Over the last 10 days or so the temperature has gone up a few degrees.  Not that I would have noticed this too much but the English certainly have.
Suddenly there are more cars on King's Road in front of the flat, and one has to use the lights to cross.  People are to be seen here and there in short sleeves. The occasional slices of pallid, white thigh can be seen slipping through the breeze.

 From getting dark at 4 in the afternoon it's now staying light till around 6.30.  This obviously is the timer; the signal to all that this is Spring.  Since the last time I walked in the Pavillion grounds crocus and snowdrops have joined the daffodils and colour is thrusting through the greys ad the browns. And  Brighton is coming to life.

Workers are erecting the Carousel.  Art galleries and shops have pulled up their shutters, beach umbrellas and chairs have sprouted up, music is playing, and people are walking on the shingle in bare feet.

The skeleton of the burnt pier just up from my flat was set, black and stark, in flat, pearl grey sea while the gulls circled noisily around and the Worthing headland was green instead of grey. So, just like a true born English man, I pushed a chair under an umbrella and sat in the light drizzle, outside, with a hot chocolate warming my hands and gazed around.

For the very first time I got a glimmer of what it was like to feel part of - if not the entire country - at least this small part of it.  That was my headland, and my pier.  I was not a visitor or tourist.  I'm not passing through - this is where I live.

Things are still precarious and I still remain poised, ready for something else to happen to cause me to leave. To have to move.  To be made, by circumstances, to go away.

But that glimmer of feeling must have meant something.  While not quite feeling as though I can claim the whole country, at least I can foresee the possibility (if I'm good; if the gods don't decide to 'ave a larf; if things don't take a sudden turn for the pear-shaped once more) that one day I will start to spell Brighton with a capital H.

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Hey Everybody! Let's have a Party!! I'm Marginalised!!

It has only just come to me, in a Damascene flash of light, that what has been wrong with me lately has been the gradual eroding away of my self-esteem. Well no, not the 'gradual eroding' but the almost sudden disappearance of any confidence I had left after the erosion.  Gone.  Zip. Taken the long-walk-on-a-short-pier option.

It's been happening, in increments, since I got caught up in that Kai'en incident in Shanghai. Just to recap for those at the back  (as an early Mike Skinner once said)  I mean this, which I couched in third person:-

I think that was the first time in my life I'd come to see myself as a loser. I expect I'm lucky I held out so long: other people get born, and live a lifetime with this knowledge. But it comes as a complete shock to some of us to suddenly stumble upon this fact as if it were a stone on a pavement. Or is that just me?

Doing it live, in front of National Chinese television's millions upon millions of viewers, somewhat accelerated the process too, I tend to think.

Then it was The Flight out of China scenario, quickly followed by the I don't have a home period, and,  in quick succession,  the housemate from hell and the unChristian Christians periods. That last one, neatly and competently, managed to cap all that could be squeezed out at that stage.

But now, though I've even studied the fluff behind the door, I'm damned if  I could rustle up the slightest hint of confidence in any area of my life.

Which doesn't seem quite fair, all things considered.

This, I've found, is the full weight of poverty,

It causes one to re-think, yet again, what we think we know about the world at the best of times but, right now, (while still in the on-going culture shock phrase), comes the sudden thrusting up of not just a stone in the pavement, but a bloody great boulder:-
 I've moved on a Category.

Archaeological as well as cultural history acknowledges that humans seem, from the earliest finds, to have divided our lifetimes into stages for celebration.  We are born, become a child rather than a baby,then an adult, a parent: and then we traditionally wind it all up with the ceremony of  the 21st  birthday for our child which, definitively, casts one  into middle age.

After then most talk of celebration centres around the funeral arrangements, whether imminent or distant.

I think, therefore, we've been rather shortchanged here up at the shallow end. How on earth is one supposed to cope with these changes if no-one declares or celebrates them?

 I acknowledge that there are always birthdays to help keep a running total.  But there comes a certain time in one's life when people stop asking which of the plastic candle numbers they'll need to put on your cake. Surprise parties also get fewer as though people foresee a potential for danger if they gave one a sudden surprise.(I heartily dread the day when people will think that danger lies in the chance that someone has failed to undertake the need for all 'suprises' to be leaked so one has a chance to slip into a pair of Depends.)

But I think it would be rather wonderful if, one day. one was to come home to a housefull of the important people in one's life. trying to disguise themselves as potted plants before leaping out and shouting: -

"Surprise!!.  You're Old!"

I think that the current arrangement is really rather badly flawed, because it creeps up in fits and starts, or goes completely unnoticed, until one is brought up with a terrific jar.  Rather as though someone has yanked onto one of those huge, wood and iron brakes one spots on the trains in  Cowboy movies. It  prevents one from getting on: the importance of each indicator needs to be cogitated.

(It could be yet another revenue spinner for the retailers:- greeting cards to  herald  one's new estate...
 "So! You've found that first whisker!...lets dress up as tweezers and celebrate!" or a rueful "Ah-Hah. First time You've ever Laughed and A Drop of Wee Came Our, Huh?". Though this could attract criticism that Life was getting too commercial).

I think I need time to digest and assimilate all this new information now: imagine losing any faith in oneself - or in any area of one's self - right at the instant one got plonked from being part of the dominant group in society to being the disposable and the marginalised one. The one that all the fall-out shelters will be banned to.

Not only that but, many years after putting off child's estate, a sudden about face is needed. One has become part of the "The weak - including children and the elderly..."  The reality of which we all usually come to the first time someone gives up their seat for us in the bus.

No, I try not to be self-indulgent, but sometimes I really claim my right to have my voice heard: I want to shout to the world that enough is enough and it is just not fair. I don't even believe in the actual person of Job as anything other than a literary device. So why do I keep getting visited by plagues? I really am raising my right to put my foot down on all of this. Or I would do if I thought it would do any good.  But Eeyore and I know it won't.

 Especially since  I have come to realise that, as well as being unemployed,  I am now a Little Old Lady.