Month: June 2014

The Dentist and the Crossing Lady

Guido-Reni-Martyrdom-of-Saint-Apollonia

Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia, Guido Reni 1575-1642

 

This morning I went to the dentist. He looked barely a day over twenty one and he was just about the height of my chest and I am not tall.  He eventually averted his gaze from my unimpressive cleavage to speak to me about, you know, teeth.  I assured myself that my pelican jumpsuit and grubby, canvas pump ensemble was in no way feminine or revealing enough to be described as ‘asking for it’ or ‘flaunting my wares’ or ‘not leaving much to the imagination’ etc.

So I was caught off guard and somewhat unnerved by his overt lechery.  In all my years of dental visits, I have never experienced this type of thing before.  I would expect it in a bar, if I ever went to a bar.  But when I am putting my health in the hands of another person I am vulnerable and I like a level of professionalism and respect for the patient-doctor relationship.  Nay, I deserve it.  It is my right.  I opted to handle the situation with an aggressive formality that created an even greater discomfort between me and the twerp who had free reign of my oral cavity.

 

‘So Me Dear…what can I do for you?’ he said.

 

It was unusual to be referred to as ‘Me Dear’ by someone so young.  After the examination, he filled out my record.

 

‘Do you pay for your treatment?’ he said.
‘I think so.’
‘Are you employed?’
‘Uh well no, I gave up a long career to write a book so I guess I’m unemployed. But I support myself so I’m not on benefits or anything.’

 

Oh the shame I feel when I try to explain what I do.  I have worked since I was fourteen years old.  And after years of doing the wrong jobs in politically-paralysing environments, which required me to be someone I am not five days a week and subsequently wore away my mental strength, I am doing something I absolutely love.  I am taking a risk.  But the only real risk would be not to have ever tried. That I would regret.

 

So, like most of you, I write and I love it.  And when I successfully ignore statistical probabilities of getting published, then everything is almost peachy-rosy.  Occasionally, the worries spill into my dreams, and I am back in a dusty, old office in a meeting room full of people who cannot say what they mean.  They are afraid.  The first to speak, will be the first to go.  And I try to speak but there is an invisible gag over my mouth and it is the fear of truth that pervades bureaucracy and I can’t breathe.  I can’t go back.

 

Aside from the odd nightmare, this change, this writing thing is blooming wonderful. It’s the happiest I have ever been.  But I don’t like to describe myself as unemployed. Yet, in this society, on the reams of paper and in the dinner party conversations and over the Christmas turkey and Brussel sprouts at the in-laws, I am not a writer until my writing has monetary value.  Therefore, unless someone pays me for that damn book, in the eyes of others I am unemployed.  Employ also means to keep occupied and I am occupied.  I’m occupied in the work of writing and I do it for a lot of hours. And each page I write, to me, has more value in love and emotion and passion and humour and tenacity and integrity, than a year of turning the cogs of a bureaucratic oil tanker so that it can sail in the wrong direction.  I just don’t fit into the boxes any more.

 

‘Well if you’re not on benefits then you have to pay.’ he concluded.

 

The dentist handed my record to the receptionist and whispered indiscreetly:

 

‘Tell her to give me a call for a date when she gets a job.’ I looked at him sharply.
‘Sorry?’ The receptionist looked confused and embarrassed.
‘Uh, nothing,’ he muttered into his notes and took a keen interest in the grey-flecked carpet.

 

I was humiliated and insulted on so many levels. I am about to swear. Please look away now if it may offend you.

 

What a fucking dick! That smarmy little shit-bag, fuck-faced prick.

 

~ The crude and offensive language has reached its denouement.

 

I, a forty year old woman, was being leered at and made a mockery of by that little fucker (apologies for the lapse).  And I know he must have been at least twenty five to qualify so he is old enough to know how to conduct himself in the workplace.  I should have said something.  I should have, but as usual, I did not.  I won’t go back.

 

As a child I had an old, grey-bearded Jewish dentist.  I would sit next to my Dad in the waiting room and try not to look at the mildly grotesque photos of raw, receding gums on the surgery walls.  The dentist’s chair was pale grey and quite comfortable.  Mr Bacher was a kind man. You can tell these things.  His doughy, square fingers smelled metallic like the long-armed tuppence-shaped mirror and probe he expertly wielded with a tap here and a scrape there.  At the end of every appointment he would say: ‘Ah, you’re teeth are veeeerrrry good,’ in his long, drawn out creaking way.  I liked him veeerrry much. He never told me not to drink fizzy drinks or eat too much sugar. On the contrary, he religiously offered me a choice of orange, strawberry or lime-flavoured, boiled-sweet lollypop after each visit.  Orange was my favourite; still is.  He gave me my first filling, naturally.

 

This morning as I walked away from the dentist, I waited at the lights to cross the road and engaged in habitual, internal self-flagellation.

 

‘You’re an idiot. Some little twat made you uncomfortable and you let him get away with it. You’re a grown woman now. You’re pathetic.’

 

I became aware of a pair of wide, blue eyes peering at me in my peripheral vision. Damn, am I saying this out loud, I thought. There was a woman in her sixties with short grey hair. She stood next to me, smiling while we waited for the green man.

 

‘Everyone’s in such a hurry.’ She rolled her eyes and laughed.
‘I know…where are they all going?’

 

I laughed back while weighing up whether she was a. a nice friendly woman, b. certifiably insane, c. about to ask me for the train fare to Bromley or, the most fearful of all d. a God-Botherer.

 

‘I lived in New Zealand for twenty four years. I only came back to look after my Mum. She’s ninety and there’s no one else.’
‘That’s very kind to leave New Zealand for your Mum.’ I replied.

The fuzzy green man walked onto the black felt and we trundled across the road with one, cautious eye on the white van that was growling and edging forward menacingly.

‘Ah well, back to it. Better see she’s alright.’ She waved as she wandered off down the hill.
‘Bye. Have a good day.’ I called.

 

Crossing lady did not ask for money or offer me a badly printed flyer to a church event with a picture of an open-armed bearded bloke in a white robe and a biblical psalm on it. That’s options c and d eliminated. Perhaps all those years in New Zealand, with a population that we would cram into south London alone, has removed her big city fear-field.  And she was a nice woman, and maybe a good sort of bonkers.  I enjoyed a perfectly pleasant, brief encounter with a complete stranger in an over-populated city for the sake of nothing more than congeniality. It was a connection.

 

Too often I spend my days disconnected.  Exchanging niceties with crossing lady over roaring traffic and beeping, flashing men, after tolerating a disrespectful, juvenile dentist, injected humanity back into the sea of empty, grey masks passing by on pavements, in buggies, cars and buses. Crossing lady reached right in and pulled me out of myself. People are more than obstacles to be avoided along the journey from A to B.  There are some days, when no matter how reclusive one feels, the universe insists on pushing through your barriers until you let it in. And so, for better or worse, let it in.

 

Image: The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia (the patron saint of dentistry) by Guido Reni 1575-1642, source – http://en.wahooart.com/@@/8LJ2ZX-Guido-Reni-Martyrdom-of-Saint-Apollonia

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Marley Man-Cat

 

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The cat is sleeping on the windowsill of the spare room cum study cum laundry room.  I admire the golden-tawny colour of his undercarriage, the leopard spots on his saggy, old tum and his perfectly striped legs.  His chest and leg are bald where he was shaved, revealing velvety nude grey skin beneath.  Two weeks ago he was quite unwell; kidney problems.  When I left him at the vets he was a shadow of his former self.  I thought he would die.

 

‘We are going to have to keep him in,’ said the very efficient vet.

‘Oh, okay.’

 

I blubbed hideously.  My partner looked embarrassed.  A box of Kleenex were expertly presented to me by the vet.

 

When Marley was returned to me I could not take my eyes off him.  I watched his every move as though it were his last.  Sometimes, when he lay on the cushion with his head hanging off, I would rush over to his side and shake him awake fearing that he had gone to meet Bastet along the River Nile.  He’d shake his head and adjust his eyes and see me and sing a reassuring rhythmic song.  I recorded his purr on my Dictaphone. I took hundreds of photos.

It seems absurd to feel so much for a cat.  But then, he has been with me since he was six weeks old (the lady on Shootup Hill said he was older but she lied).  He survived my student years and all the late night parties and cannabis fug generated by Pink Floyd lovers.  He even took me back after I left him with a friend in East Grinstead so that I could bum around Australia for a year.  All it took was a quick sniff and it was as if I’d never been away.  Marley has lived in Finchley, Kilburn, Leytonstone, Clapham and Peckham.  He’s travelled extensively and he’s even endured kitty jail.  He’s done time.  In his 18 years, the old boy has lived.

Nowadays he likes to curl up with me on the sofa to watch old movies.  He is quite deaf.  It takes him a long time to get up from his cushion and he often wonders into the kitchen/hallway/living room and then stops and looks around with a bewildered air as though he clean forgot what he went there for.  Sometimes he watches us walk down the driveway and he stands at the very top yowling in his guttural voice.  It bounces off the walls of the flats.  The neighbours talk.  They say things like: ‘Oh my God, it’s just a cat!’  The vet says he might be a soupçon senile.  But whatever he is, he seems happy.

Marley’s whiskers are twitching.  His eyelids flicker and his black-padded paw flinches.  He is dreaming of the little one, Lulu.  She is ginger and white with freckles on her nose.  She is very smart.

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In his dream, he is licking her face and the backs of her ears with his pungent, oily, dense, spittle-covered emery board tongue.  Suddenly he is overwhelmed by the desire to bite her.  It happens every time.  He sinks his teeth slowly into the whitest, softest part of her throat.  She extricates herself from his grip and punches him in the face before leaping back sideways like a crab-cat.  She runs out of the cat flap and he follows her into the night.  She scales the birch tree where he cannot go.  He watches her climb to the thinnest, highest branch and she taunts him from her elevated position.

‘Come down Lulu.’

‘No way Grandpa…You come up here.’

‘I can’t. It’s my arthritis.’

‘Tough shit fat boy.  Shouldn’t have bitten me.’

‘I couldn’t help it.  I don’t like it down here all on my own.’

‘Don’t worry.  The big French thing will be out soon with that Staffy she’s fostered from Canine Incarcerate.  I hear he was in for cat-killing.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah man.  It was like a quintuple felicide or something.  Didn’t you hear?  All the cats have been talking about it.  Anyhoo, I’m going hunting and you’re way too slow to catch mice.  You really are quite the most monstrous clummer I’ve ever known.’

‘Bitch.’

‘See ya. Say hi to Gnasher for me.’

‘No, Lulu, wait.  Let’s play catch leaves.’

‘No thanks!’

‘Why do you want mice anyway, there’s chicken in gravy in your bowl.  Mice are revolting; all that bone and eyeball, grasping claws and weird little teeth and a wiry tail to get stuck in your throat.  They make my skin itch.’

‘Fat chance of getting any food the big things leave.  You always push me off and eat my dinner Maximus Felis Catus. ’

‘No I don’t.  I just have a little lick.’

‘You lick off all the juicy bits and leave the dried up crispy remnants for me.  That’s why I am tiny and lithe  and you’re morbidly obese, too fat to be a real cat.’

‘Am not, I’m just as real as you.’

‘Are not, you’re like a man-cat.  I saw how she held you over the loo that day when you were chucking up.  Are you a cat or a man?  Man-cat!  Man-cat!  Man-cat!’

 

Lulu undermines his cat-ability, his very cattiness.  Marley jolts awake from his anxiety dream.  He looks at me and blinks.  He rotates on the spot and grumbles quietly as he flops down again into slumber.  And I love him.

 

 

 

 

The Reflectionist

Visual Soundproof by Marcia Smilack

 

‘This image elicits no sound
and I think I know why:
because all the edges are sealed.
Not even sound can escape.’

Marcia Smilack

 

This is a wonderful image and you can see the soundproofing this inspiring artist refers to. It is like being cocooned in a bubble, cradled in an embryonic sac where all is reassuringly muffled.

 

Image and quote source: http://www.marciasmilack.com/synethesia-intro.php

The Little Prince – Review

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Little Prince is a magical tale about a pilot who crashes his plane in the Sahara and meets a boy; a little Prince. The pilot is enchanted by the sweet enigmatic boy and they soon become friends. The little Prince reveals his origins and shares his innocent wisdom. The pilot is slowly reconnected with a long-forgotten way of seeing; a child’s truth that he had learnt to suppress in order to become a socially acceptable adult concerned solely with ‘matters of consequence’.

The inter-stellar adventures of the cherubic boy show the pilot the absurdity of a material world concerned with placing numerical and monetary values upon beauty and life. The man is reminded of the futility of the human race.  The little Prince and the pilot together learn about friendship, love and loss.

In the unassuming demeanour of a child, there is a powerful voice that tricks you into thinking it is but a whisper when in reality, it hollers at your conscience and summons your spirit.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince is one of the most treasured books I have ever read. There are some tales that are made of gold. Live with it. Live with the Little Prince on his asteroid.

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About the Author

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger comte de Saint Exupéry had a very long name.  He was a French aristocrat and aviator.  On December 30, 1935 at 02:45 a.m., after 19 hours and 44 minutes in the air, Saint-Exupéry, along with his mechanic-navigator André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert. They were attempting to break the speed record in a Paris-to-Saigon air race (called a raid) and win a prize of 150,000 francs.Their plane was a Caudron C-630 Simoun, and the crash site is thought to have been near the Wadi Natrun valley, close to the Nile Delta.

Both miraculously survived the crash, only to face rapid dehydration in the intense desert heat. Their maps were primitive and ambiguous, leaving them with no idea of their location. Lost among the sand dunes, their sole supplies were grapes, two oranges, a thermos of sweet coffee, chocolate, a handful of crackers, and a small ration of wine. The pair had only one day’s worth of liquid.

They both began to see mirages and experience auditory hallucinations, which were quickly followed by more vivid hallucinations. By the second and third day, they were so dehydrated that they stopped sweating altogether. Finally, on the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered a native rehydration treatment that saved their lives. The near brush with death would figure prominently in his 1939 memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars, winner of several awards. Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella The Little Prince, which begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert, is in part a reference to this experience.

 

Biography source: http://www.poemhunter.com/antoine-de-saint-exupery/biography/

 

Interesting 1979 clay animation film of the Little Prince with bonkers music.  Warning: If you haven’t read the book, don’t watch this film in case you cannot get the unremittingly screechy voice behind the little Prince out of your head. 🙂

 

 

Fruitless

pregnant-woman-and-death-1911-artist-Egon-Schiele (1)

Pregnant Woman and Death, Egon Schiele, 1911

 

The embryologist played Sade’s ‘Your Love is King’ to Ovum and Speirin.  I reclined on the bed in the operating theatre in shower cap and gown. We watched an old black and white movie. Mind you, the tickets were £5000 a pop and they didn’t even give us flat, warm diet coke and unevenly salted popcorn.  I didn’t like to complain though, best not when someone’s got their hand up my Veronica.

A steam train catheter chugged onto the big screen and with one jerky jolt, two tiny white dots; two potential people, disembarked at Womberloo Station. They were swallowed up by the big smoke. Dazzled by bright city lights and a fast-paced, rat-race. But they couldn’t afford the real estate so they got the 17.17 to Burton Pidsea.  The third one was mistaken for a bit of fag ash. She was deposited in a rubbish bin and last we heard, she was on her way to a big, fuming, waste-recycling plant in Bermondsey and we haven’t seen her since. It is unexplained.

Nonsense aside, there is a rawness with me. It sits in the pit of my stomach. I wake up in the morning and for a moment, it is not there. Then it seeps into my day. I lost them; quite careless really. P’raps it’s for the best. I’d only fuck them up.

Trouble is, even though I am convinced I am still sixteen, my body is coming to the end of its reproductive life. Perry Menopause it’s called. Then one day, in a few years I’ll look out of the bedroom window and Impendia Menopause will emerge through a gathering mist and glide eerily down Scabbard Street. It will not be long before I hear her frightening, thud-thud-thud at the front door.

‘I’m not ready!’ I’ll shout.
‘No one ever is,’ she’ll reply.

She will break the door down. Her menacing footsteps will clomp up the staircase and the floorboard outside the bedroom door will creak under her impressive weight made of her prized Menses Collection. I will cower under the duvet. She will creep up from the foot of the bed, like that terrifying scene in The Grudge where a ghost with a wayward neck climbs into bed with a Japanese schoolgirl and fails miserably to enunciate the word ‘toast’.

‘Can’t I keep them a bit longer?’ I’ll plead.
‘No love, you’ve had them for over thirty years. I’m taking them away.’

And I’ll miss them. Periods that is. Menarche is a celebrated time in a girl’s puberty marking the beginning of her fertility. It marked my transition from girl to woman. I feel earthy during monthly or moon-ly cycles. I am connected to a natural order of things and other women.

Menopause, on the other hand, does not seem to come with a Happy Ovary Retirement banner or a flag-waving commemoration. Don’t my ovaries deserve a long service award?  A Royal Doulton lead crystal trifle bowl for the credenza.  Perhaps they don’t. My ova never made a baby or breakfast.

What was all the blood for? Just to keep Tampax in business. My capitalist ovaries contributed to the economy then. And at least I didn’t have to fashion papyrus into a cylinder and shove it up me thanks to Earle Haas’s unusual preoccupation with the discomfort of his menstruating wife.

I just can’t seem to get used to the idea of never having a child. Sometimes I think that I’m ok, then I see a pregnant woman rubbing her swollen belly in proud contentment and I am overwhelmed with the impulse to yell: ‘What’s so great about you? Why do you get to have one? Stop rubbing it in my face, walking around showing it off…Ooh look at me and my special bump, I am the creator, I am Mother Earth, bare-footed and bleeding pregnant!’  Fortunately, I keep the crazy in my head and turn away filled with yearning and envious sorrow.

I feel cheated. I feel like my biology is wasted. To reach the end of my reproductive life and not have made life leaves a gaping whole. I just cannot fill it.  I can’t ignore it any longer so I am breaking down my self-constructed glass wall of isolation on subject Ferre.

Is there anyone out there who feels like I do? And if so, does it ever go away? Your thoughts, ideas, musings are very, very welcome here.

Thank you for listening. 🙂

I find the best way to process things I don’t like to process is to accompany them with totally irrelevant irreverence.  So…watch Streetbands ‘Toast’ for a very funny lightner!!  I promise it will make you smile.

 

Image source: http://www.egon-schiele.net/Pregnant-Woman-And-Death.html

Life after Life – Review

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Life after Life is a story about a baby, a child and a woman called Ursula who is gifted, or cursed, with the reliving of the same life and the ability to remember her previous lives. The story spans two world wars and its robust historical context provides a tumultuous and fascinating stage for the lives of Ursula and her family, lovers, friends and foe.

In each life, the protagonist effects a change in response to the last, and profound questions are raised both in her individual life stories and as a philosophical theme throughout the book about whether we have the capacity to change our fates and if we did, would it really matter?

It took me seventy pages to get into the story as it leaps across time and lives. This may just be my de-cluttering from the last book I read or a rather slow warming up period to adapt to a new type of narrative structure. But once I was in, I was definitely in and my struggle was rewarded handsomely.

I found the meditative circular rhythm of the many-ended story simply entrancing, soothing and strangely nourishing. Atkinson’s deliciously sophisticated structure serves to build up intrigue in Ursula’s life choices, events and relationships and a commitment to staying with her and finding out if she could and should make a difference.

I only finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago and while the concept, structure and context of the story has stayed with me, the characters are long gone and I’m struggling to remember their names. This is unusual for me. I normally remember people, even fictional ones.

Ursula has several lovers in various lives, but I did not get a sense that any of them were significant and they were quite forgettable. The only real tenderness seems to be for her brothers and her father Hugh, who was perhaps her only true love. I could attribute this to a learnt mistrust of men but her female relationships are all quite absent of emotion at the same time.

There is a distance in each character that keeps them on the historical stage, rather than bringing them to life. If it were only one or two characters, I’d assume it were intentional, but as it is most of them, for me, perhaps there is something about writing people into history and in emphasising the popular notion of a ‘stiff upper lip’ war-time mentality, contact with the frailty of human emotion is sacrificed or lost.

Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Life after Life. It is a brilliantly engaging novel for its intelligent narrative structure, grounding historical context and the philosophical questions it tantalisingly toys with on the cyclical nature of life and its infinite possibilities.

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Islands of Genius – Review

Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden SavantIslands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant by Darold A. Treffert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Islands of Genius is an enlightening journey into the breadth and depth of Savant Syndrome through scientific evidence and case studies from the authors wealth of experience as a psychiatrist specialising in the epidemiology of Savant syndrome in autism.

Treffert presents an intriguing argument that the evidenced existence of unlearnt knowledge in music, art, mathematical ability, literature and so on, in people with Savant Syndrome or a prodigious ability, is indicative of genetic memory that is present in us all.

The author goes on to ask if people with a learning disability, CNS injury,dementia or other condition that inhibits left-brain function and stimulates right-brain function (a common factor in Savant sydrome cases), can access a reservoir of information stored in their DNA, is it possible for neurotypical people to access the same through conscious right-brain stimulus?

Genetic memory and epigenetics are complicated fields of study and Treffert introduces us to the lived examples of this in an accessible way. Meeting people in the book, like Kim Peek, Alonzo Clemons and the larger than life Temple Grandin, is an enriching experience. There are plenty of references to direct you to films about the people you are introduced to in the case studies, making this book a very interactive tool and bringing the pages to life.

The content is greater than the written style. Many parts of the book are repetitive. It could be a lot more concise and would probably be more powerful if it were edited down.

The case histories are integral to introduce you to some very important people, but they are all approached with the same success story formula which becomes predictable and, unfortunately, less impactful. They tend to reduce the people they describe to their savant ability and the positive effect of that skill in their life, always with the support of a loving family. It gives the impression that the author is extracting the information they need to convey a strongly-held belief or argument, rather than letting the information speak for itself. Because of this, the book is a little too prescribed. After the first five cases, you hear the author’s message loud and clear but you do not get to know the individuals themselves in any other way, which keeps you at a distance from the person behind the condition.

However, the subject matter of this book is highly valuable and the concepts that it posits are not only brilliant in themselves theoretically, but they can, do and should be ever more applied to uncovering vast, untapped oceans of diverse intelligences and abilities and potential for human development.

Islands of Genius is a living thing and when you absorb the ideas within it, you feel inspired and compelled to share its capacity to make you think and its humbling attention to the people who grace its pages and for that I am incredibly grateful to its author. Read it.

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