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.