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.