Tuesday, 30 November 2010

November 2010

I have just opened my post (10 December) and find I am invited to take a mobility test with a view to having a motorised scooter/wheelchair.  This reminded me to tell you what happens when you hit 65 here in bonny Florida.  Heaven knows how and where they get their information from (remember we don’t have an SSN) but you are absolutely bombarded with all kinds of ‘great’ offers now you’re lucky enough to have reached official old age.  Medicare must send us something every week.

Our first intimation of this set us off in hysterics.  We received an envelope purporting to offer us a free cremation.  All excited we opened it only to find it merely offered us a chance to enter a free draw for a free cremation!  What a terrific prize to look forward to winning.  We couldn’t decide on who the treat was intended for – the spouse who gets crisped or the survivor who doesn’t have to fork out the cash for it!  Where else in the world I wonder can you find an offer like this.  Reluctantly we put that one aside; at our age we decided we couldn’t stand the excitement.

On the other hand another mail shot we had recently was actually quite a good idea we thought.  The USPS (American GPO) sent out an anti-fraud leaflet – how to protect yourself.  The good part was that it said that it had been paid for with money confiscated from criminals.  Love it.

One more before I leave this public service area... occasionally we get a phone call with a recorded message from the sheriff’s office.  A recent one was to say they were looking for an elderly man in underpants and shirt (!) and asking that we check our yard and outbuildings.  Difficult in a condo but you get the point.  I always think it is like all those 1950’s small town American movies where the sheriff would drive round town asking folk to do just that ‘cos Billy-Bob-Joe’s pa has dun gon missin’ .  This is just the modern extension of that.  I’m not really mocking and spitting I actually think it is a brilliant idea and a further reminder of how the community spirit still matters here, even if it is getting thinner each year.

Talking of nostalgia, we saw a delightful RV pulling into a parking lot one day replete with a row of pots set in a window box fixed to the rear bumper; all planted with herbs – culinary not the smoking kind.  Probably not all that great in reality as they must be sucking up a load of lead (?) from the exhaust fumes.

OK, on to reminding myself what we did in November.

We started with a nice day on Tuesday (2nd) beginning with our first trip to the beach.  It only took us a month to get there.  Then there was the usual mad rush to fit in every thing else before setting off for one of our freebies at the Library -   Billy Dean and Dawn.  No, I’m not making it up and they didn’t have overalls and straw hats.  They were a very slick duo who sang at (!) us for an hour.  You’ll gather not my cup of tea.  They are the sort who play clubs and restaurants and provide background music to people’s chatter and eating noises.  Not that they weren’t technically talented; she apparently could sing like Elvis Presley and on up through to the screechy hurt your ears operatic soprano.  All this and still (for me) boring.  What a cheek complaining when it costs zip!

Our next library offering (4th) was equally strange.  We signed up for an offering simply called the Boston Pops.  We weren’t daft enough to think we’d actually see/hear all of them in our local library but thought maybe it would be interesting.  Mmmm, not really, we had an erudite lecturer telling us about the Boston Pops and playing some of their music.  It was all very dry and rather odd.  A bit like visiting someone who has a passion for something and who spends the evening inflicting it on you with no consideration as to whether it is actually entertaining/amusing you, which this didn’t. Braver people left throughout but being British (I think that is so rude) we stuck it out.  An hour can be a very long time.

The session was enlivened, if that’s the right word, by a couple of strange things. 

Firstly I ended up sitting behind a man who had a hole in his head.  No, seriously this was an actual hole.  He had more than one but one was the size of a fifty pence coin (or even larger) and was perfectly circular and went down to something grey shiny and lumpy and very visible.  I have no idea what I was seeing but I couldn’t manage it.  I promise you I’m not squeamish but this did it for me so we shuffled across to some other seats.

The new seats placed me behind a HUGE person, so that was all I could see.  Not so much fat as just HUGE – a sort of Desperate Dan shape figure.  It had shoulders that could tow a truck.  Bad enough in terms of my not being able to watch the (not) fascinating Boston Pops man, but then I got fixated on whether Mountainous Person was really a woman. Picture a double sized Les Dawson.  S/he was dressed in a ghastly nylon, grey, floral printed frock (the only word you can use for this garment).  This was topped by a pantomime dame’s grey wig.  I mean wig not hair.  I know all this is very unkind if she was female – poor soul, but if this was a case of cross-dressing, as I’m tempted to think it was, I think he should make more of an effort!  Perhaps a colour-me-beautiful course for Christmas?

On Saturday 6th we were rewarded for our diligence in suffering two not very great entertainments.  I had just lobbed a baked potato in the oven and settled down to an evening with Radio 4, courtesy of my computer, when the phone rang.  Our neighbour Carole was asking if we’d like tickets to that evening’s Opening Night Gala at the Phil.  Her sister couldn’t use the two tickets she had and Carole had thought of us.

A bit like Cinderella, within the hour we had eaten, showered, dressed and were in our Lincoln coach on the way to pick up our tickets and we were off to the Gala.

It was truly wonderful. I choose the word carefully.  Everything was so beautiful.  There were huge arrangements of white roses and lilies everywhere, inside and out.  We were greeted by our host(ess) for the evening - the Myra Daniels (the mover-shaker and money behind the Phil) who said how nice we looked and how she loves it that people dress up for the occasion.  There was a fabulous canapĂ©-type buffet but on a very grand scale – hot thin sliced filet of beef on croutons, shrimp, roasted asparagus, artichokes and so many things that I can’t remember.  All served with endless champagne and wine and tiny desserts and coffee to follow. 

I should have said two huge buffets – one was inside the pavilion and one outside in the courtyard.  The one in the courtyard was magical.   It had all been lit by things like tiny fire pits and, again, everywhere was filled with small white rose and white lily flower arrangements on properly clothed tables for four and more huge arrangements along the buffet tables.  Silver setting, glasses, white linen, white flowers – just lovely.

It would have been a hard act to follow but the actual concert managed it.  A terrifically entertaining evening of music and a couple of poems read (accompanied by music) by Frank Langella (played Nixon in the Frost/Nixon movie).

We both had a great evening and as the tickets were $129 each it wasn’t one we’d have been able to do without someone else’s kindness.

A couple of days later we were off to Calgary to meet our new grand-daughter, Lucy.

We had an early morning flight which was good as it would give us some time to spend with the family when we arrived – we only cross a two-hour time line and that is backwards.  The downside being we’d have something like a 4.30 am get up.  Ken discovered it was cheaper to book a motel at the airport and leave the car there for a week than book the car into airport parking for a week.  No brainer: so we spent Monday night in Fort Myers Travelodge and got ferried out to our flight at 6.30 am the next day by the motel’s airport shuttle.

We got into Calgary and the apartment we’d rented all on time and were with the family by early evening in time for dinner with them.  Sally had arrived from Edinburgh the night before so she and we left around 10pm for an ‘early’ night.  This should explain why I don’t look my very best in this picture with Lucy – I had just stepped through the door after a very long journey.

For once I don’t have the words to describe how strangely wonderful it felt to pick up Lucy and how you can feel instantly tied to someone.  It is totally inexplicable, so I’m not even attempting it.  Suffice it to say I love her to bits and can’t will her enough happiness in her life.

We had decided that Ken, Sally and I would stay in an apartment.  In the main, this was to ease the load for Chris and Gayle.  Lucy was only six weeks old and they hadn’t really had a chance to recover from the initial hoo-ha of the birth and their new life.  Their first visitors had left a couple of weeks before and I thought it was a bit much for them to do it all again. It also meant that we three could maybe do other things alongside visiting them each day. So, pretty much that’s how the visit went.

Tuesday 9th:  We did a bit of supermarket shopping for the apartment and had lunch there.  Lucy had had a restless night (probably the fuss of people again) so we thought we’d go over for dinner in the evening when Chris got home.  We spent the afternoon trawling model/dolls house shops.  The promising one had closed down and the other one was a general model shop so it only had a few not very interesting things.  Ken and Sally did get a laugh out of me though.  I went into the shop through one door and came out through another (which, of course, I didn’t know); so, quite reasonably I thought, I walked to the car in front of the exit door as we had parked right outside the door I’d gone in by and proceeded to get in.  Passenger door not locked.  Next thing I know there is a Chinese chap running up to me babbling something like “That my car, that my car!”  Silly man.  Oooh, err, yes it does seem to be your car.  Apologies from me, baffled looks from him and a toot on the horn from Ken in our car.  The reason Sally and he wouldn’t let go of it was apparently that our car was a red sedan and his car was a whopping black SUV;  I would know this because?  Home for the bewildered is ever closer. We visited Chris and Gayle for the evening and dinner again.  Glad I produced a great cook in Chris – terrific chicken curry this evening and, like his mum, everything from scratch.

Wednesday 10th

Ken, Sally and I caught the C-train (tram to us) downtown to show Sally the city.  By pure fluke we discovered a great little place for lunch. Pita Express – cute name or what?  A sort of Greek deli come American Diner.  We got back to the apartment and Ken and Sally decided to go for a hike up Nose Hill to walk off their lunch, I declined and settled in for an old movie on TCM.  When the got back Sally decided she was shattered (jet-lagged still and a physical day) so she stayed in the apartment and Ken and I went over to C & G for a pizza and lots of Lucy time.

Thursday 11th

Chris collected Sally from the apartment about 7 am and they headed out to Banff and Lake Louise via Canmore (-11 degrees before the sun came up properly). Sally went up in the Banff gondola which, not being good with heights, she didn’t think she would do.  This time the joke was on her because when they were ‘on the top of the world’ she said she didn’t really want to do the gondola again and maybe they could just get the bus back down.

Ken and I had a lovely day out.  We did a circular drive (the cowboy trail) out of Calgary and through various small towns stopping off in Cochrane (old town) for Ken to try the famous McKays Ice Cream.  This place was ‘historical’ as it had been there for sixty years!  When you realise Calgary is pretty much only that old it makes sense.  He reckoned their goodies run a close second to Regina’s – high praise indeed.  Off then through Bragg Creek and Turner Valley, Black Diamond and finally Longview where we stopped for lunch. 

The area is very beautiful but harsh.  I have never seen such huge skies.  Not many places where you can stand pretty much any where and get a complete 360 degree uninterrupted view of the sky; vast open plains occasionally rimmed by the Rockies.  It is a landscape all of its own.  It also still manages to give you a flavour of how hard it must have been for the early settlers in such an inhospitable climate.  If the weather and the isolation didn’t get you the local wild-life might.

The speed limit of the road we were on was 100 kph and the local deer just decide to amble across your path.  Fortunately as long as they don’t bob up at the last minute the road is long and straight for miles so you get plenty of stopping distance.

In Black Diamond there was a notice in the centre of the town warning people that a cougar had been sighted within the town.

Our lunch in Longview was memorable. The restaurant was a real log-cabin called Little New York Bistro.  It wasn’t particularly little, served nothing remotely New York and was totally unrelated to a Bistro other than the music was French – La Vie en Rose mostly - and the paintings were a mixture of Tuscany and Provence but they were offset by the equally occasional prints of cowboys on horseback.  That said the food was recognisably American and generous.  My order for Ham and Eggs produced 4 slices of ham, 2 eggs, fried breakfast potatoes, 4 doorstep-thick slices of bread described as toast but were in fact fried.  The peanut butter and jelly (jams) arrived ‘on the side’. Sorry about the photo - it seems to be more car than restaurant.

The remainder of our drive was through Kananaskis country but we didn’t get to see much of its vastness because it was starting to get dark so we had to head home to meet up with Sally and go on over to Chris and Gayle’s.  When we arrived at C & G’s we discovered that Chris had crashed out, so we stayed a while with Gayle and Lucy and then headed back to the apartment.

Friday 12th and my 65th birthday.

Couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.  Both my kids and Ken and Gayle and Lucy all in one place at the same time.  This was the first time since my 60th that we had all been together.  Sally sneaked out early before ken and I got up and walked to the grocery store to get me some bright yellow gerberas and some bacon and eggs for breakfast – how sweet was that.

I opened my presents after breakfast.  We’d brought my gifts from friends with us.

We arranged to meet Chris and Gayle at Spruce Meadows for a Christmas Fayre.  It was a huge affair and very crowded so we didn’t stay very long but it was nice to be out with Lucy and the ‘kids’. 

We had proper birthday lunch at Earls and Lucy was just perfect – not a murmur from her.

Chris and Gayle headed home with Lucy and Ken and I took Sally to another well-known ice cream place – Marble Slab - but the pair of gelato connoisseurs decided it wasn’t all that great. 

Shortly after we got home Chris and Gayle rang to say they were tired – they’d had a bad night with Lucy the night before, so we stayed in all toasty and warm in our lovely apartment and watched rubbish TV.  Good job as it happened as poor old Ken turned out to be poisoned – he reckoned it was the ice cream.

It was probably a bit of a strange birthday but I was a very contented old lady.

Saturday 13th

We let Chris and Gayle do their regular weekend chores and we took Sally to Cochrane for an ice cream at McKays.  Result one smiley lady.  Lunch in Canyon Rose steakhouse, picked up bits and bobs from lovely shops and called in to a supermarket and headed on over to Chris and Gayle’s for a terrific steak dinner.  Sally’s first in about 20 years. (Vegetarian).

[Cochrane has a ‘monument’ (to celebrate the millennium) and it honours the pioneer women of Cochrane.  As the inscription says if they hadn’t stuck it out in such dreadful places none of these towns would exist today]

Sunday 14th

Sally’s holiday had come to an end and she was flying home later that afternoon.  We were due at C & G’s for lunch, but she and Ken decided they ought to test the new car. (Ken had changed it the day before because of a (slow) flat tyre.) In their wisdom they decided the way to do this was to take a run out to McKay’s. After breakfast Sally packed at speed and we set off for Cochrane. We even managed to take Gayle some Saskatoon Berry Ice Cream for afters.

Ken and I took Sally to the airport around 4 pm and we went back for my final couple of hours with Lucy.  All in all it was a pretty rotten day for me having to say goodbye to Sally and then Chris and Gayle and Lucy.

I wonder how long it will be before we can all do this again.

Monday 15th and the long haul home began with a miserable time in Calgary airport.  They have an American immigration checkpoint which you go through so you don’t have to do it when you enter the USA.  We got Mrs. Fishface.  She began officiously and just got worse.  We both had enough sense not to ask or say anything or try to crack a joke but it all got very tense when she began to scrutinize my photo and my face with and without glasses. Then she took all ten fingerprints from me and finally we were taken to an office at the back.  Some conversation ensued out of our hearing, a bit of computer clacking and she tossed our passports back at us and said we could go.  So incredibly rude and scary – not at all necessary.  I’m sure that whatever the problem was could have been dealt with in a better way. We’d already suffered the indignity of a body pat-down along with everyone else and the queues that doing this had created.  This was all followed by rudeness and lack of service in a couple of other places; all in all Calgary airport was a good place to leave that day.

Minneapolis didn’t do a lot better.  Our flight was delayed because the crew had only just arrived on another flight at the time we were supposed to leave and they had to get across the airport and do the necessary pre-flight checks.  So they and all their passengers made for a happy bunch in the air for the next few hours.

Stage three didn’t go any smoother in Fort Myers.  We called the hotel when we’d got our luggage to say we needed picking up.  They were only a couple of minutes from the airport.  No-one could come for 20 minutes!  Hey ho... finally back in our car and off home, arriving back about 1.20 am.

The joys of modern travel.

That was pretty much it until the 27th.  We pootled around doing our usual stuff of meals out, Sunday concerts, bike rides, shopping with the added frisson of sorting out final Christmas gifts and cards that we needed to get off to folk.

On the 27th I collected the second half of my birthday present from Ken – the first being a generous gift of money to feed my dolls house fetish.  Part two was a trip to the Phil for the magical  Miami City Ballet’s Nutcracker.  We do this every year and for me it not only marks my birthday, as it has since my teenage years, but also the beginning of the Christmas holiday.

As always they were breathtakingly perfect dancers alongside wonderful music by Tchaikovsky and the most beautiful sets and costumes.  Love it.

I have been looking at my photo albums ready to collect them together to post on my on my web album site and realise they will be a little thin and not necessarily the best.  I never post pictures of friends and family as I am sure some of them wouldn't want their image in a public place and sometimes people choose photos you might think unflattering so I just don't do it.  That said I have asked Chris and Gayle if they mind my sharing Lucy with you as they use the usual facebook etc sites so don't have those issues and they are fine with my doing that.  So to start you off here's a little video if you want to meet Lucy.  This was a couple of days after we left so she would be about 7 weeks old here and already smiling and beginning to find her hands and feet. Maths and reading next I think.

So November ends and the Christmas month begins.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Are we getting poorer?

Having Lucy set me to wondering what her adult life would be like.  Clearly I don't have any idea!  There is no way that my grandmother, when young, could have imagined TVs, mobile phones and all the other technical ‘stuff’ that we take for granted.  She would have been happy if she could have believed that her children would grow up to live in a home with an indoor bathroom. 

My parents, having survived one world war as babies, matured into the Second World War as young marrieds.  My mother struggled to raise her daughter, born in 1939, on her own for the next six years of war; during which she lost three homes to bombings.  My father served in the army and returned to my mom and sister in 1945. I was born later that year!

I clearly remember my impoverished fifties childhood.  We lived surrounded by bombsites, food was rationed; our shoes, clothes and household goods were few and far between.  If you didn’t have the actual cash to buy something you simply couldn’t have it and, with working class parents, there wasn’t much money around. 

Fortunately, as a member of The Baby Boomer generation my life went on to blossom and flourish under the rapid changes of the sixties.  By the time I married in 1965, our first home had all we needed.  We had enough food, clothes, everything.  Best of all we were a generation who had a good quality education, which opened up all kinds of employment choices. 

My parents had to leave school as soon as they could to help their family’s finances. They were intelligent, articulate, talented and ambitious people but had never been given the opportunity to ‘do more with their lives’.  They were thrilled and proud that both their daughters used their chances and went on to good jobs and, much later in life, returned to education to get BA and postgraduate degrees in English and Education and go on to teach.

How proud we all were to keep making these giant strides forward and creating a more and more comfortable and luxurious life for our children and ourselves.  How sad then to think we may have lost something even more important along the way.

I am of an age where I look back to pre TV and computer times with a deep longing, not just a sentimental nostalgia.  As a species aren’t humans predisposed to live in a communal group of some sort?  Don’t we need to continually interact with an assortment of other people to absorb all kinds of information that is necessary to make us part of a harmonious ‘tribe’.  We assess people and situations in a few seconds without analyzing how we do it.  Unconsciously we read all kinds of nuances from their dress, speech, facial expressions, tone of voice – a gazillion outgoing human messages received by a gazillion inbuilt receptors.  Using our previous experiences our brain passes on the conclusions.  We need to feed this gift as much richness and variety as we can to make us fully rounded members of the human race.  This can only be done in reality, not in a cyber world.

Often my generation grew up surrounded by their extended family; if not in their own home, they might only be a few doors away - Aunts, Uncles, Cousins who had friends and neighbours we also got to know.  Children learned how to interact with all kinds of people and their quirks and accept imperfection.  Social behavior is learned at a subliminal level; more by copying than by instruction. Our first lesson learned after leaving babyhood was that we were not the center of the Universe, merely part of a group.

Now we surround our satiated nuclear family with luxurious, rather than just comfortable, homes.  We bombard ourselves with vacuous information and images hour on hour from television and other media gadgets.  It is normal to communicate via computers and cell phones for hours.  Indeed, by texting, we can avoid having to actually speak to anyone.  For hours each day we are truly isolated from any real human interaction.  Like modern Frankensteins we can all create an avatar and live a perfect life. No wonder we already have two generations who often deal badly with the foibles of unscripted real life when they come face to face with it. 

No sensible person would wish to return to hunger and poor living conditions but I do wish we could return to a simpler moment in time where we were not impoverished by our wealth.