Bad RagARTz 2021

One of the many beautifully succinct words in German that have no real equivalent in English is verarschen. The idea is universal: mischievously or maliciously ridiculing someone pretentious, by appearing to take their pretentions seriously. The root of the verb is “Arsch” (arse) so it isn’t a very polite word, but it is absolutely appropriate – at least in my humble opinion – for much of the art currently being exhibited here in my village of Bad Ragatz under the title of “Bad RagARTz”. I submit that it would be more appropriate to write that as “Bad Rag Arts”.

The exhibition is a triennial event, and the sculptures comprising this year’s offering have been on show since May.  It involves a lot of money so has to be taken seriously. There are 400 works on show this year, by a total of 83 artists, making it the biggest open-air sculpture exhibition in Europe, and it certainly has been attracting lots of interest judging by the large numbers of people wandering around singly or in groups. Hopefully, our local economy has been benefiting from these. It needs an uplift in these sad Covid times. You can see some of the exhibits if you google Bad Ragartz 2021 and click on images.

I have passed by a number of the sculptures on my regular visits ”downtown”, as they are scattered all around the village as well as throughout our lovely parks. In fact, I integrated myself into one of them, a group of three female figures sitting on a bench (benches are becoming a theme with me!) with just enough room for me to sit and eat my ice-cream cone. An amusing and instructive experience: some passers-by didn’t notice me at all, others did a double-take – some even came back to make sure I was real – whilst others grinned and even made comments (all positive, I’m glad to say).

A chainsaw well used by this artist

Yesterday morning I took advantage of a friend’s visit to spend an hour or so looking closely at the sculptures in the nearby Kurpark (spa gardens). We both share the simple opinion that a true work of art should speak for itself and not need a lengthy explanation, although you can sign up and pay for a guided tour if you feel that some of the exhibits are beyond your comprehension. Or if you want to appear intellectual rather than confessing that you are a philistine.

My friend summed up her impression in four words: “The Emperor’s new clothes!” Mine was expressed in one: “Verarschung!“   

Well, that was perhaps too harsh. We picked out two or three works that we admitted we would allow onto our own private properties if we had sufficient space to display them adequately, and a couple that we admired for the artistry involved, but the overwhelming majority of what we saw was disappointing. There’s always a certain amount of humour represented in the show, happily, and even if we are admittedly unable to appreciate so-called artworks inspired by the school of Josef Beuys and apparently aiming at the Turner Prize, this triennial event does provide food for thought and conversation and I’m sure the local dairy shop has made a killing on its artisanal ice-cream, produced in a wide range of delicious flavours and sold at 3.50 fr a scoop.   

Ten Years Already!

It came as a mild shock to realise that I have now had this blog for ten years. What a lot of water under the bridge! There I was in September 2011, plodding along comfortably in what the French call “le train-train quotidien” with no expectations of any major changes in my life, when I decided to upload my bits ‘n’ bobs of versification and musings on events plus the odd painting. Pussyfooting about the pond of my life, as I saw it at the time. And then – whoosh! I was swept right into the water and had to learn to swim.

I repeat for the nth time how glad I am that I have never known what lay ahead of me! But this blog has been more valuable to me in the past decade than I could ever have imagined at that time. It has provided an outlet during some difficult days, as well as an introduction to some precious cyber friends whom I would otherwise never have had any contact with. I look back over these posts, dipping in here and there, and find things I had completely forgotten writing about, and remembering others very vividly.

My posts have been less frequent recently, and – to continue my metaphor – I think I have probably hauled myself back onto the shore for a short respite. At least, I’m not paddling quite as madly as I was a few years ago! Time to pause and take stock again.

My perspective has changed, and what I saw as a pond or pool now looks much more like a stream or river. It flows, imperceptibly and subtly changing from one moment to the next, never exactly the same as the water swirls and ripples, reflecting different colours and shades as the light fall varies. There’s nothing new or original about this perception. “Panta rei” – all things flow – wrote Heraclitus, observing famously that we can’t step into the same river twice.

So here I am already, beginning a second decade of blogging. How will that go? Will blogs even exist in ten years’ time? More to the point, am I likely still to be alive and able to blog in another ten years? If I am still here, I hope I’ll still be able to communicate in some way, that I’ll have something worthwhile to pass on, and that there will still be a few folk around who understand and appreciate my ramblings. 

I sat down on a bench last Saturday morning to wait for a friend to come back from the post office, and a little old lady parked herself beside me. We didn’t know each other, but were soon chatting away and exchanging platitudes such as “I’m so grateful to wake up in the morning without any pain” and “What a beautiful world this is!” (we are in the Swiss Alps after all!). 

We were then joined by another lady passing by, who knew my new acquaintance, so I was very soon informed about all the salient details of their lives, including their ages and the fact that the newcomer had been happily married for 50 years but couldn’t celebrate properly because of Covid-19 and her husband’s recent hip replacement. When my friend arrived and I said goodbye to them, I thought: I shall probably never see either of these two ladies again, but for a few minutes we were able to cheer, encourage and comfort one another in a world that might well appear threatening. 

I hope that my blog might have a similar effect on those who drop in on it – whether my few faithful followers, or the casual passer-by. Let’s just sit here on this virtual bench for a few minutes and exchange cheering, encouraging and comforting thoughts, as long as the Lord allows.

Uncle Harry Pops Up Again!

Previous posts about Uncle Harry:
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/seeking-uncle-harry/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/finding-uncle-harry-next-stage/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/the-trouble-with-harry/

My cousin in Sheffield has found an old photo of six men in crumpled suits lounging on some rocks, with the words “Sunday afternoon in Taltal” on the back. Taltal is in Chile, so this probably relates to my mother’s uncle, Harry Green. It also raises a lot of questions! 

The port of Taltal became famous for its copper mines in the mid 19th century, and later for its nitrate mines which were in operation until about 1930, so probably the men in the photo were employed at such a mine. What year is this? Which one is Harry? Is one of the others his brother-in-law Walter Evans, a turner, who went with him in 1914?

Nowadays, we tend to forget how long such a voyage would take in the first two decades of the last century, especially before the Panama Canal opened in August 1914. Steam ships travelled at a rate of 13 to 20 knots, and those going to and from England had to round Cape Horn, so the voyage could easily last up to three months depending on the conditions. I know that Uncle Harry made at least 3 trips to northern Chile on cargo ships between 1910 and 1920, but I haven’t been able to find any record of his departure from England in those years so don’t know how long he stayed each time. Harry wasn’t a tourist, that’s for sure, and probably was there for a year or more, working and earning a good salary. He is listed as a blacksmith on his return both from  Valparaiso on 12 December 1910 and from Taltal on 27 November 1914, and as a spring smith on his return from Mejillos on 16 November 1920.  

SS Ortega, a steamship of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, launched in 1906, scrapped in 1927. (Credit: Wikipedia) Uncle Harry returned to Liverpool on her in 1920.

In addition to these confirmed trips, I found a Mr H Green, engineer (no further details), who was a passenger on the SS Victoria, a ship that left Liverpool on 24 May 1906 bound for Taltal – is this our Harry Green, and is this how he set out to make his fortune? Harry wasn’t an engineer (which in those days referred to a man who drove or operated an engine) but as a smith he probably could turn his hand to driving steam engines, so we can’t rule out this possibility. If so, and this was his first trip to Chile, did he stay there from 1906 until 1910? 

There’s also a record for a man called Harry Green on a ship leaving Liverpool bound for Taltal in 1911 but I have no other details about him, either. Was this also Uncle Harry? If so, did he then stay there until 1914? That might explain why I haven’t found him in the 1911 census. Well, it’s taking a long time, but little by little, pieces of this jigsaw puzzle are coming together and slowly filling in the blanks.

A Century of Sewing Machines

Meaningful coincidences? Without having studied Jung’s theories of synchronicity, I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I have experienced plenty of serendipitous events that certainly support the hypothesis that “things happen for a reason”. Take my new sewing machine.

As I related in a recent post  I now have lovely new curtains in my living room. Fourteen metres of pinned-up hems waiting to be sewn. A daunting task for someone with poor eyesight who no longer has a sewing machine. How come I have no sewing machine? Well, actually I have, but it’s 1200 km away in our house in Brittany, so not much use to me here. 

In an exchange of text messages with my “girls” I mentioned that I was considering buying a self-threading machine, since threading needles – and especially sewing-machine needles – is a huge challenge for me and very frustrating. My granddaughter – who sews a lot – has such a machine in her impressive collection and gave me some advice, so I had a look online where there is a bewildering choice of incredibly sophisticated computerised contraptions offering all kinds of sewing services for which I have no need.

I thought of my mother’s sewing machine, a pretty little black enamelled Singer with gold appliqué designs all over it: you turned the handle and it sewed a line of lockstitch. That was all. There was nothing to adjust but the tension; it didn’t have any attachments and it didn’t make the coffee or tea. It served us both very well for many decades. (The model shown at the top of this post is very similar – read about it here.)

When I got married in the early sixties, my mother bought me an electric machine, also a Singer. This dark green wonder could stitch backwards as well as forwards, and also did a zigzag stitch. It sewed everything I needed – clothes, curtains, loose covers etc. – and came with me as I emigrated twice, which involved changing its plug from a German one to a British one and then to a Swiss one. In fact, it almost killed me when I changed it to Swiss. The colours of the wires didn’t match anything I had seen before, so I assumed brown was ground. It wasn’t, and I was thrown across the kitchen when I switched the machine on! The wiring was easily remedied, and I was luckily none the worse for my mistake.

I had this for about twenty years until my next machine, a state-of-the-art Swiss Bernina. That had plenty of bells and whistles: it did several different stitches, could make buttonholes, sew in zips, had a swing arm allowing it to darn and embroider – far more things than I needed. It also did excellent service for another twenty years or so, and was passed on to my daughter when she wanted to try out some of the fancier gimmicks. I then bought a simple little machine from the local supermarket, since my sewing was now almost entirely restricted to making curtains and cushions, and took it with me to Brittany (to make curtains and cushions) where it has stayed for the past ten years. 

So here I am now, looking for a self-threading machine that isn’t a computer so that I can hem my curtains. I found a relatively simple model online for CHF 150.-, and consulted the oracle (daughter and granddaughters) who thought it looked OK, but we were all very busy last week so I didn’t get around to ordering it. 

Fortunately! 

Because on Saturday I discovered that the discount chain Lidl was offering a limited number of self-threading Singer machines for just CHF 99.-! 

Oh, happy coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity, providence, guardian angels – you’ve done it again! I am now the proud owner of a pretty little white and blue Singer Serenade, considered very basic nowadays: it sews backwards and forwards, has 23 different stitches of varying length and depth, does zips, can make buttonholes and sew on buttons  – as much and more than I will ever need as I continue making curtains and cushions. 

My mother’s machine was made over 100 years ago. Although I press a pedal instead of turning a handle, the fundamental design is pretty much the same. Still the same complicated way of threading the yarn from the spool to the needle, and a round bobbin instead of a bullet-shaped one, but that too is threaded in the same way. Mr Isaac Singer would have no problem in recognising my little machine, though he might be surprised at how clever this new generation is! 

Four Generation Family Outing

We did it! Actually managed to get most of the clan together up a mountain, and have a wonderful four-generation time together celebrating three birthdays (13, 31 and 80) with exhilarating rides on the Floomzer summer toboggan run. This is a 2-kilometre track on the Flumserberg mountain that descends 250 m in a series of tunnels, curves, bridges, waves and 360-degree circles in a 2-person toboggan at speeds of up to 40 kmh. Watch this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLdGROngBdE&t=72s for a taste of the fun! Four of the six adults and four of the five kids were game for this adventure – Great-granny managed two descents, but the others did it four times and we all lived to tell the tale, grinning like Cheshire cats as we came away. 

That was really a super birthday present, but it then continued with another ride in a cable car for lunch up at the Panorama Restaurant at the top of the mountain, where the kids had fun on life-sized mechanical ponies.

The sign said that riders up to 100 kg could ride on these, so my grandson-in-law (celebrating his 31st birthday) couldn’t resist. He may be 2 m tall (7 feet) but he’s under 100kg! The kids also loved a raft they could pull across a shallow pond – of course, the littlest one had to miss her step and land in the water, but luckily it was only knee-deep and her pants had a zip around the leg just above the knee, allowing them to transform from trousers into shorts. 

Her boots were wet, but being Swiss she was happy to run around barefoot at first. Since we had three dogs with us, their owners had brought a supply of plastic poop-bags, and two of these made excellent substitutes for socks. So she was able to do the little hike after lunch with dry feet.

I haven’t been able to hike in the mountains now for a very long time, and am not expecting to be able to do any strenuous trails in future so have been missing that experience. However, this was really only a stroll along a fairly level path, with the extra advantage of being a very pretty walk around a large knoll covered in millions of glorious alpine flowers and offering magnificent views. Apart from the ubiquitous cows and calves, we even saw marmots running around on the hillside below us.

The three older children and their long-legged uncle took the high road over the top and met us halfway, then retraced their steps while we completed the circle below, arriving all together at our starting point. The views were breathtaking, and we could see the clouds rolling in, first big white billows then grey, getting darker and darker as we returned to the cable car for the descent, goodbye hugs and the trip home.

We were very blessed. It almost didn’t happen: the weather forecast had been bad, and we knew that a thunderstorm was due in the afternoon, but the weather clerk smiled on us and held the storm back till we had left. And it was a short storm, followed by a rainbow. All in all, just a perfect day. And we are all very, very happy and thankful.

Swissified At Last

For my Swissification Saga, read these posts:

Swissification
Swissification Strep Two
Swissification Step Three
Swissification: Suite but not quite Fin
A Milestone Birthday

Here they are, at last! My passport and ID card certifying that I really am a Swiss citizen. After waiting patiently for two years for the powers that be to approve my application for naturalisation, the actual production and delivery of these documents went very fast. A short session for the digital photo and fingerprinting last Friday, and the postman brought me the pass on Tuesday and the ID card on Wednesday! 

It’s a strange thing to be given a new nationality, almost like a re-birth. After being a foreigner here for almost fifty years, I now have to discover my inner Swiss identity. And as it all coincides with my 80th birthday, it’s also like being given a new lease of life! These documents expire when I’m 90 – shall I still be around then to renew them? Watch this space! As far as I am aware, there’s no special ceremony for the conferring of this honour, no official swearing of allegiance or vowing to defend the Heimat with my life, just a letter from the Cantonal Government reminding me of the importance of using my vote for the good of the country.

That doesn’t prevent me from celebrating privately, of course, and I have done so not only by enjoying a glass of a delicious Swiss wine from St Saphorin (I also have an unopened bottle of wine from my village, but am waiting for the right person to share that one with) but also by getting new curtains for my living room. 

This was a spur of the moment decision – my best friend asked me to pop into IKEA as I was passing, and buy her some drinking glasses. Of course, nobody can pop into IKEA and just buy drinking glasses. The managers have designed a diabolical parcours or labyrinth that ensures you simply cannot go straight to your target but have to wander around bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms being constantly waylaid and ambushed by objects you didn’t realise you actually needed but now find are essential and/or irresistible. 

I have curtains in my basement that fit my French windows, but I made them 30 years ago and although they are still in excellent condition and the colours/pattern not even outdated, I wanted something different. I had perfectly good plain white linen-effect curtains at the other window, which also came from IKEA about 15 years ago. Of course, that particular fabric is no longer available, but hey, look! A double pack for the price of one, with nice white herringbone weave. Go for it, girl, live dangerously and replace the lot! So I did. Eight new curtains. I hear the echo of my mother’s voice in my head: “That will see me out!” she used to say in her last decade or two whenever she bought anything new.

Result: I now have matching curtains at both windows, and am very pleased with the way they look. They were half a metre too long so I spent about half an hour pondering whether to puddle or break. Is puddling even still fashionable? I looked online, and apparently anything goes nowadays except swags and curtains at half-mast. I’ve always liked the puddled look, but know from experience that (a) puddled hems collect dust and (b) if they are going to be drawn they need constant re-arranging like bridal gowns in photographs. Break was really my only option, about a centimetre above the floor. This has left me with eight pieces of fabric hemmed on three sides, each measuring 145 x 65 cm … there must be something I can do with that!

Another little dilemma was that the relatively expensive hooks I had bought at IKEA didn’t fit the groove in my curtain railway. Luckily I still have the hooks from my previous drapes. On my first attempt at hanging them, the tops of the curtains drooped. What had I done wrong? I could have ordered some extremely expensive pleating hooks, but I was sure there must be a solution. Throughout my life, I must have dressed hundreds of windows, but it’s been a while and I had forgotten how to thread the hooks to make a pleat. Suddenly it all came back. I took them all down and inserted the hooks again. This time they behaved themselves. I wondered what else I might have forgotten, or if there’s any kind of new window treatment I could adopt so I googled “hanging curtains” and found a video entitled “How to train your curtains”. It seems other people have naughty disobedient curtains that have to be trained to hang in straight columns by being tied together for a fortnight or so. I remember German housewives pinning their net curtains into pleats back in the nineteen-sixties; do they still do that? Mine don’t need that punishment.

One thing I learnt at an early age from my mother is that hanging material tends to stretch lengthways and curtains will drop, so I always pin hems and leave them for a while before sewing them. In the past, I often forgot about them, and more than one visitor has enquired why my curtain hems were pinned and not sewn. One guest – an aunt who was a tailor’s wife – actually spent a few hours of her holiday with us hemming the curtains in our chalet! Bless her! My new curtain hems are pinned, and I trust that I’ll remember to sew them before they need washing. 

Finally, I am very relieved that in spite of climbing up and down on a stool at least four times per curtain (4×8 =32) I was able to keep my balance and not fall off. A good afternoon’s work!

A Milestone Birthday

The pleasant events surrounding my entry into my ninth decade sweetened the bitter pill to a certain extent, and I am gradually getting used to that new number. On the day before my birthday I was able to join a group of old friends for a delicious barbecue in a beautiful garden, the first time we had been all together for well over a year, so that was a special treat.

My grandchildren, their spouses and children made the day itself memorable. It’s been quite a long time since everybody was together in person as opposed to some being present on a screen, and as the weather was bright and sunny, we were able to sit outside at the restaurant and enjoy our meal together, even though Covid restrictions meant we had to sit at two separate tables. 

Some of my birthday presents were unorthodox but fitting and very welcome. I was told that I hadn’t needed to drop any hints about the toboggan run as the granddaughters had already thought of that. I’m obviously more transparent than I realized! That will be forthcoming and is something to look forward to. I have invited my grandson-in-law and my eldest great-grandson to come along with me as my birthday present to them, so we’ll be a multi-generational party for that trip, and there may indeed be a zipwire ride later on, but in the Jura not in Wales.

And – bless them! – they are also going to come to my place and give my carpets a really good and much needed shampoo. That may sound strange, but it’s what I asked for. Something else that I asked for – and got – was a new toilet brush and bath mat, gifted with a grin by my best friend!

My middle granddaughter and her husband arrived with a big smile and emptied a bag of cheeses onto my dining table: “You’re 80, so you’re getting 80 different cheeses!” (Yes, my predilection for cheese is well attested and is clearly public knowledge.) The clever thing about this is that I’m getting them in instalments, so they will  always be fresh. This was the first batch: Appenzeller in three different guises (the standard version, Alpine cheese from the Schwägalp, and goat’s cheese), Cheddar, a pavé of soft cheese with truffles, Roquefort, Epoisses, local Thurgau and St Gallen cheeses, and a “Scharfer Max” which is new to me. All very delicious!

After the weekend, I spent ten days at the house of my best friend, and the lovely sunny weather continued. She had two other house guests – her teenage granddaughter from Paris plus boyfriend. This was a salutary reminder for both of us of many things we had forgotten about teenagers and their behaviour. I’ll just say that the kids could have been much, much worse – but it was a relief to drop them off at the station at the end of the week. It’s so much easier being a grandparent than a parent!

And now, returning home, I find a letter in the post informing me that AT LAST my application for Swiss nationality has been approved by the Canton of St Gallen, and I am now officially a Swiss citizen. I just need to make an appointment to order my passport and ID card, and my Swissification process will finally be complete. 

It has taken exactly two years since I handed in my application, and it is also just about six weeks short of forty-eight years since I arrived in this country. That is a very nice birthday present: Thank you, Confoederatio Helvetica! I shall be able to join in the celebrations on 1 August, Swiss national day, this year no longer as a foreigner but as a native.

Getting Used To A New Decade

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing, the mountains are magnificent in their summer glory, with the snow gleaming on their summits. I have everything to be thankful for in my life – but I am aware of a vague feeling of … what shall I call it? Disgruntlement? Wondering why? Well, in a couple of weeks it will be the summer solstice, and I have a birthday coming up. Usually up to now, my birthdays have been occasions for rejoicing and celebration. And this one should certainly be no exception – except that it’s a round one, and I have started resenting those numbers in front of the O. 

It took me a whole year to accept that I had turned seventy (this tells the tale) and my feelings this year are uncannily similar. I really don’t want a big celebration, just some nice little get-togethers with my nearest and dearest, and the opportunity to let them all know how much they mean to me. In this, at least, Covid-19 has been beneficial, as large gatherings are still not allowed so I don’t have to protest too much about not wanting a huge party. Three or four people at a time, spread over a couple of weeks or so – yes, that sounds fine. 

On three of my previous round birthdays, I was gifted wonderful hot-air balloon-rides. The one that had been scheduled for my eightieth came as a surprise for my 75th, so that’s not on the cards this year. I had been contemplating a ride on the longest zipwire in Europe, which is in North Wales, but again, Covid-19 has eliminated that option. Maybe when I’m 90?

What had been planned most recently was that I would join my daughter and son-in-law on their yacht in the Friesian Islands, but it’s become a bit complicated – Covid again – so that has been postponed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this little sailing trip might materialise after all in the autumn, and offer an opportunity to catch up with an old friend who lives in Amsterdam, but – well, I’m not holding my breath! Great if it happens. He’s coming 88 so I hope we both live long enough!

So why do I feel just a teensy bit disgruntled? I’m counting my blessings, which are actually too many to be enumerated individually here, and feeling very grateful. It’s just that every ten years, the hand of the clock moves that little bit further and I have to admit that time has flown far faster than I would ever have imagined. It definitely speeds up as we age, and the grim reaper appears to be getting too close for comfort. 

The solution is in my hands: I have to admit that I’m no longer, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or even 70 anymore and face up to the fact that the number eighty is made up of a fat lady and a ring.  What the ring symbolises is beyond me at the moment, but the fat lady looks at me every day in the mirror. She is a reality! I have to accept this number, and start acting my age.

Really, I know that this is a wonderful gift to me: to have lived so long, to enjoy so many privileges and such a comfortable life. Yes, I truly am very grateful, and I suppose I am in a way looking forward to the big day and will eventually come to accept that number. I hope the sun continues to shine on me as I enter the octogenarian decade! 

By the way, if anyone reading this is wondering how to console me for that 0 following the 8, there is a nice long toboggan ride on a mountainside not too far away from my home, and if I drop enough hints maybe someone will take me along on that so I can indulge my inner eight-year-old. Who knows?

Going To Hell In A Handcart?

Something I keep hearing from older people (and have also found myself repeating) is the phrase:
“I wouldn’t like to be a youngster in these present times.”

How glad and relieved we all are that we don’t have to cope with the pressures, problems and challenges facing young people in the 2020’s. And as I reflect on the point of view of these cogitating codgers who are my contemporaries, I find myself asking:

How is it possible that we, as bright young things growing up with the world at our feet in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, emerging from the rigours of post-war austerity and, although rebelling against them, still imbued with the ethics and ideals that drove our parents and grandparents, could make such a cock-up of the world? 

How could we get it so wrong?

Were our eyes fixed too firmly on material progress, so that we failed to pass on the best of those despised ethics and ideals?

Is this really the legacy we want to leave to our great-grandchildren?

Born into a world at war, with bombs falling around us and every family marked by the loss of a brother, husband, father or son, we British children benefited from the determination of post-war governments to give us everything possible to “have it better than our parents”. We received free schooling (and free orange juice as small children and free milk at school), and those of us who were academically gifted were able to receive a good, solid university education thanks to grants and scholarships even if our parents weren’t wealthy enough to pay for it or support us during our studies. Others could train or take up apprenticeships: If we were willing to work, there was a range of jobs we could choose from and no need to be unemployed. If we were unable to work, social security ensured that we didn’t have to starve. Wages generally were higher and purchasing power greater than pre-war. Instead of renting we bought our homes at reasonable prices, and paid for them thanks to generous mortgages. We received free medical care, thanks to the brilliant scheme called the National Health Service, so that we grew up stronger and healthier than any generation before us. We grew up in what would have seemed to our great-grandparents to be the Promised Land, believing that we could do anything we wanted.

We grew up selfish, spoilt, demanding.

And we taught our children to be selfish, spoilt and demanding. 

Or did we?

Didn’t some of those ideals we drank in with our mothers’ milk still drive us to some extent?

Didn’t we try to do something about injustice and inequality in our daily lives? 

Didn’t we try to live honestly according to the moral compass we had inherited at home and in school?

Were we really only interested in making more and more money and acquiring more and more things, more and more stuff? In beating or milking the system, so that institutions like the NHS crumbled from the abuses practised on them?

This old world keeps turning, and as Ecclesiastes points out, there’s nothing new under the sun. (Although I can’t help wondering what Ecclesiastes would have made oi the Internet – probably “Vanity, all vanity …”)

Distance lends enchantment, including distance in time. In spite of everything, measured objectively the quality of life, general health and longevity do appear to have improved for most people, And there is an awakening, an awareness that the sense of entitlement pervading modern youth is maybe not so ubiquitous and ineradicable as it may seem. Youth always focuses on self: it takes maturity to put others first. 

The world has always had its horrors and its evils, and probably overall it’s no worse today than it was in the past.  We just know more about them more quickly.  It’s encouraging that young people are taking up arms against perceived wrongs and injustices, and I read in a news item this morning that manufacturers are actually being encouraged now to make products to last – built-in obsolescence is no longer desirable, if appliances aren’t recyclable. 

So maybe we didn’t do everything wrong? 

Perhaps, in our ignorance, we fell into some disastrous traps, but perhaps those are mistakes that our grandchildren will avoid and may even be able to rectify.  Every generation faces different pressures, problems and challenges, and the old folks have always complained that “fings ain’t wot they used ter be”. I’m glad I don’t have the pressures, problems and challenges facing young people in 2021 because I really am not equipped for that. But I believe my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are.

Perhaps, after all, the world CAN be saved, and perhaps the dystopian visions are indeed an illusion. I hope so.

Vive la jeunesse !

Day of Reckoning

“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love …” 

but I am neither young nor a man, so at this time of year my thoughts turn – not so lightly – towards my wardrobe. It’s a well-known fact that clothes left to their own devices for any length of time in a wardrobe will shrink. 

What fit me and looked pretty respectable last year is now either bursting at the seams or the zip won’t close, and even if it does, the garment only serves to emphasise the lumps and bumps I would rather be hiding or at least camouflaging. I’m not a twenty-something pregnant person proud of my bump! 

Today is the day of reckoning: I spent the morning sifting through the contents of my wardrobe, trying to decide what to keep and what to jettison. My bed has disappeared under the pile labelled “JETTISON”.

It’s always the same old story: “If I lose 5 kg I can wear this again …” Some of those garments are 20 years old (oh my goodness, even 30!) – so even if they did fit me, I’d look like a time warp! No, they’ll have to go. Over the past 20 years I have gained at least 20 kg – about 7 of them in the last year. It’s too easy to blame Covid for sitting around, nibbling and munching, instead of getting out and getting exercise. Or even staying in and doing exercises. Mea culpa. I alone am responsible. I can cope relatively easily with 5 of the seven deadly sins, but Greed and Sloth are my downfall.

I have to face it. Those extra kilos are unlikely to vanish. Even in the privacy of my own backyard, shorts and a sun-top are no longer an acceptable option. In fact, I am living proof that  elderly ladies of a certain breadth of beam should rigorously avoid trousers unless worn with a loose thigh-length top. I can’t spend the rest of my life on Zoom – I need to cover my nether regions decently, and pants aren’t the answer.

In the sunny days to come, you’ll find me in skirts. Or variations on a bell tent.