Hypochondria – is it genetic?

So the Spanish hasn’t quite started today but it’s been a busy day and I have been out and about – masked and gloved of course. First it was Daniella the Osteopath who said that unlike most people who hold their emotions in their neck and shoulders I hold all of mine in my sacrum. Who would have thought? Next the dentist for two fillings. “You are going to have to remove that mask, if you want me to work on your mouth,” said the masked and gloved Andy my dentist. Reluctantly I obliged but not without some misgivings. I think I have become unhealthily attached to my mask.

Then the mechanic to fix the lights on the car and finally the post office which is housed in a grocery store – interesting queue winding its way through the food aisles. And today I experienced my first COVID rage. A family in the queue were unmasked and asked to leave the shop. They refused and it erupted into a huge fight. No fists but words were exchanged and they weren’t very nice ones.

Back home and it’s only 2.30 – that’s more than I have done outside in 6 months. A little bit of normality back in my life and it feels good.

I was intrigued about what Daniella said about my sacrum as I hadn’t given much thought to this part of my body. So, I did a bit of digging and found that of the 206 bones in the human body, only one bone is considered holy – and that is the Sacrum. Where better then to hold all my emotions than in a holy place.

Comes from the Latin word sacred and it is the large heavy bone at the base of the spine. Apparently, the Romans called the bone the “os sacrum,” meaning the “holy bone” and the Greeks termed it the “hieron osteon,” which meant the same thing. I just have now to figure a way to get these emotions out of the sacrum but not into anywhere else. Answers please on a post card or an email or just a comment on this post.

I must admit, being the kind of person who can google an illness then display all the symptoms Daniella’s consultation and treatment has left me feeling quite relieved . At 3 this morning, unable to sleep and with pains in my back, I once more started googling. I deduced that I could have had any one, two or three of about 10 illnesses, all fatal and all quite feasible. I am wondering if this has anything to do with my heritage.

Some people, including therapists and humourists, believe being Jewish and being a hypochondriac go together. They think of Jews and conjure up a neurotic, therapy-going, compulsive, worrying Woody Allen type. But humour aside there is a school of thought that believes that Jewish “hypochondria” could be a symptom of the relatively unseen, unexplored, and denied trauma that emanates like a wave from past generations. Look I don’t want to make a big thing of this, and I am definitely not a Woody Allen – just a teeny-weeny bit of a worry monger.

To mark the occasion of leaving my house, I dispensed with my dungarees which have become my daily uniform and donned a dress and some make-up. Remembering what Coco Chanel said, “dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” Not sure I was impeccably dressed but I looked ok.

Now back in the COVID safe confines of my home I receive an excited phone call from a friend.

“Guess what,” she says

“What,” I say

“OCADO are going to start delivering Marks and Spencer food from September 1st.”

Oh how our worlds have shrunk.

“Let’s be careful out there”

Hasta Mañana

Coronavirus aside we are lucky that we are all not dead in our house. Clearly somebody or something has been watching over us. The boiler has just been removed from the basement. It had a gas leak, and two huge holes in it. I shudder to think what might have happened. That’s 20 years of neglect!

Apparently there are around 60 deaths a year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales. I think we could have been a statistic. The moral here of course, is regularly check your boiler and don’t wait 20 years until you see water seeping out of the bottom and hear loud cranking noises in the pipes.

Currently we have 5 masked, gloved men in our house. In the loft, in all the rooms, in the basement infact there is not one part of our house that is COVID safe. I am trying to keep calm – so much for having been so careful over the past 6 months. It would amuse some of my friends who think I have been a tad over cautious. At least if I do get sick I will be warm and have hot water.

So here I am sitting at my desk, masked writing this blog and shortly I will be disinfecting the entire house.

Now I just have to get the roof sorted which would be a lot easier if any of the 4 roofers who have turned up agreed on the issues! After a lot of tutting, shaking of heads, “who put this roof on” comments and figures with a lot of zeros, I am left to decide which one of these men are the real McCoy. Quite frankly I have little faith in any of them. Where are you Tod when I most need you. I do really believe that had these roofers been talking to a man then the outcome would have been different.

After a lazy weekend tomorrow is the start of a new learning regime. I am returning to my Spanish lessons. Pre my Costa Rica trip last March, which of course never happened, my Spanish was coming along very nicely. I was determined not to rely on my two fellow travelers who both spoke Spanish but once the trip was cancelled I lost the will to carry on. Now in the hope that travels in South America might be resurrected in 2021/22 I am back on board.

And I am eager to try this new in-ear device that is supposed to help people pick up and remember unfamiliar sounds in a new tongue. It apparently works using an earbud-like electrode that stimulates part of the vagus nerve (one of the main information highways that connects the body to the brain). Researchers at the University of California found that when English speakers were asked to identify tones in Mandarin Chinese, those who received nerve stimulation were 13% better at classifying the sounds and achieved peak performance twice as quickly. Anything that can stimulate my brain is very welcome. I wonder whether it could also work on the prefrontal cortex of my brain. Now that would be even more useful.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and Hasta Mañana

“Let’s be careful out there”

The Reluctant Housekeeper

Serendipidy is 100 days old – I have written 100 posts. Yes I know some of them have been lacking in substance but you try thinking of what to write when absolutely nothing happens in your life. I have become so boring that I am even putting myself to sleep – during the day!

I remember day 1 thinking how will I cope? At that point I was all alone except for Izzi and Mo. I had never lived on my own before. Shared flats, lived in communes, with boyfriends, husband but never entirely on my own. It was a novel experience and quite liberating when I realised – yes, I can do this. It was peaceful – quiet and I really enjoyed the month home alone.

So I set myself tasks and schedules with great gusto. Every morning there would be a to be a to do list – a daily, mid and longer- term wish list. I was going to have the cleanest, tidiest, most organised house in North London. I would know where everything was – no more hunting around for hours looking for ……

I have to report I failed – failed miserably.

Apart from the one drawer which I tackled almost immediately no other cupboard or drawer has been sorted. Windows have not been cleaned, floors not polished, curtains not washed, clothes not sorted, filing cabinet not even opened – that’s because I have lost the key! And embarrassingly after the one flurry of sheet ironing, that will teach me to brag, beds are now adorned with un-ironed crinkled sheets. Emails, which I promised to delete and file are now standing at 59,802. I have tried a few times to start going through them, but it is just too boring and there are far more interesting things to watch on Netflix. And yes I broke that promise too about not watching Netlix before 6 pm.

The contents of the loft which sat for weeks in the hallway has now all been repacked away and put back into the loft. I did have a buyer for the capidomonte and a few other items -but when it came to be sending them off, I had a change of heart. “What,” I could hear my mother saying, “you are sending it all off to some stranger in the north.” It is all now the boy’s legacy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is demonteteapot-15-of-15.jpg

Clearly like my mother, I am not cut out to be a housekeeper.You would think growing up with an anxious messy mum I would have rebelled and gone the other way. Look some people are neat and some people are just not. Unfortunately, I am not and moreover I was married to an equally messy person. Actually I know he is not here to defend himself but I think he beat me on mess and indeed his mum beat my mother on untidiness. So you can see we didn’t stand a chance.

Inside me is a minimalist being hold captive – I want those organised drawers. But maybe I was just born messy and I have a genetic messy component or a visual-spatial disorder. I know that everything has a place but I just don’t always know where these places are. Believe me, there are some days when I wish I were living on the other side of the neatness divide. Being messy may save you straightening-up time, but it costs you looking time. And I am getting awfully fed up with my constant lament of ‘has anybody seen?’

And of course there are people at the other end of the spectrum. The ones who who make their beds before they have got out of them, who live in pristine clutter free homes, who iron their underwear and have colour coded knicker drawers. Yes I really do know someone who has colour coded her clothes
~ but I am not mentioning any names here as — what was I doing looking in her cupboards.

But there have been some successes too. The house at the bottom of the garden has been demolished and a veritable Shangri La has been created decked out with Cotswold stones – which Mo promptly thought was her new giant toilet – a gazebo, hammock, wood burner, table and chairs. The new central heating system will be installed next week, the roof and damp issues are in the process of being investigated, my tooth has been extracted and a crown about to be fitted. The Will has been signed, Power of Attorney still awaiting signature. Can’t quite accept that one day I might not be able to make my own decisions! I have perfected the art of food shopping on line and I am no longer bottom of the league in Bridge.

I am unsure what the next 100 posts will bring but I am hoping that it might see me into the other side of this pandemic.

“Let’s be careful out there”

Dear George Soros

Dear George Soros

Thank you on behalf of us would be democrats across the pond for donating nearly $50 million towards November elections to help get the democrats back into power. As the widow of an American, with three American sons and American family and friends I follow American politics closely and pray – although I am not a religious woman – that Trump does not get reelected. But I fear prayer is not going to be enough.

Which is why I have a request. And I know it is a big ask as you have already dug deep. The American postal service needs your financial support. As you know Congressional Democrats have called for an investigation into decisions made by the head of the US Postal Service (USPS), which they say have slowed deliveries ahead of the election. Look I am not pointing fingers here afterall what do I know, but the Republican donor who took over USPS in June is the first postmaster general in nearly 20 years to be appointed from outside the agency! And the changes he has made, I am told, threaten “the timely delivery of mail – including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters,” well that is according to Ms Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.

I no nothing about how this system works and also obviously whether you are even allowed to inject money into the postal service, but it is just a thought which came to me while walking the dog in the park. It is where much of my thinking happens at the moment. And indeed where I seem to meet an interesting eclectic bunch of individuals. They keep me grounded and lift my spirits.

John is in his mid fifties, good looking, fit, a sort of happy go lucky kind of fella – well one might think that when you first meet him . But looks can be deceiving as John has stage 4 lung cancer, his future is bleak and he is in constant pain. I am always amazed how some people triumph in adversity. Rather than the woe is me attitude he just gets on with it.

“You look great,” I say to John. He is tanned and dressed in jeans and a white tea shirt. He’s the kind of man that if he wasn’t married and I was looking for a partner I could fancy. “I have always looked well,” he said, “right from the start when I got the shock news that I had lung cancer. People sometimes find it hard when they see me and can’t quite believe that I am so sick.”

We talk about his treatment, which had been delayed because of COVID, his prognosis, his family and I marvel at his demeanor. “I just need to get on with it – nothing else I can do and I am ever hopeful,” says John. While we keep our distance our dogs sniff each other appreciatively, have a little circle and we move on.

I know people in the park by their dogs and its a great conversation opener. What breed is your dog? How old? Is she friendly? Can my dog have a play? Sadly I usually answer the latter with “she’s a bit old and grumpy now and not really into playing.” But then we move on to more interesting topics. It is where I get a lot of my recommendations for films, books etc. It’s a kind of creative park club.

So a few days ago Michael, the economist, who has a Labrador and is really enjoying not having to commute to the city, recommended Sour Grapes a Netflix documentary that traces twenty something Rudi Kurniawan’s ascent to the inner sanctum of the fine wine connoisseurs in America. Michael who is a bit of a wine connoisseur and often gives me a few tips, thought I might enjoy it.

Rudi is a naive young man with a penchant for fine wine, who thinks he can compete with the big boys. Soon he is seen to be spending millions of dollars every month on wine with the high rollers at wine auctions. But all is not what it seems….. These men — and it is nearly always men, well I think women would have more sense – have cellars worth millions of pounds – they spend tens of thousands of pounds on a single bottle of wine. This to someone like me who balks if I have to spend more than a tenner on a bottle, was a real eye opener.

It reminded me of my wedding party in Cambridge at the house of close friends. On the eve of the wedding I made spaghetti bolognese for everyone. I had ordered 36 crates of fairly cheap white and red wine – we didn’t have much money back then – and went into their larder to grab a red one for dinner. Apparently it came out years later that Thomas, my friend’s husband was also a connoisseur of wine and he had been saving a particular bottle of red to open on a very special occasion, like his son’s 21st, or their 50th wedding anniversary, and it just so happened that it was the very bottle that I had grabbed thinking it was one of my cheapies to guzzle down with the spaghetti. Amy said that he was so angry he couldn’t look at me but as it was my wedding she made him promise not to say anything. The worst of it I think was that we unknowingly unceremoniously gulped it down. It has taken years maybe 30, for us to sit down and have a civil conversation about this bottle. And even now I can see him twitching when we discuss it.

The great thing about my park friends is that after a recommendation we meet and discuss the programmes. I had recommended to Michael a BBC Sounds radio series about Anna Delvey alias Anna Sorokin a magazine intern, who conned New York high society into believing that she was a multi millionaire heiress who was due to come into a trust fund of $67 million on her 26th birthday.

We shared our thoughts about how could these people sleep at night and that how most of us at some time felt like impostors. You know that well known syndrome when we act and look as if we know what we are doing when, in fact, we feel as if we are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, deceiving  others about our real capabilities and even our true identities. Clearly these two con artists had no such qualms.

I wonder what John would think about this ? Will have to ask next time we meet.

Being Mother

I have been examining the role of Mother this week in particular my role. Mother the carer, mother the love giver, mother the housekeeper, mother the giver of unconditional love and mother Roma who wasn’t very good at tough love! And why now – well I have been feeling ill this week and what one wants more than anything when you are sick is your mother. And mine was very good at mopping my brow and holding the sick bowl. So, as I lay in my bed feeling grotty I wanted my mother.

Evelina our lodger who sadly I had to ask to leave so I could have the room – and yes, I feel very guilty – was also thinking about her mother. Close to tears and with no job and no home she decided that the best option was to go home to Bulgaria to her mother for a while. “What I need right now,” she said, “is my mother.” Sometimes besides chicken soup mother is the best penicillin.

Maybe it is because we spend 9 months growing inside our mothers, then we are dependent on her for our survival and this cements a particular kind of bond even with those mothers who aren’t that nice to their children. When I worked at Mayaro Ranch School with severely disturbed delinquent boys their mothers were their idols. It didn’t matter that they abused them, that they were drug addicts, criminals and thoroughly unloving mothers, in the boy’s eyes they were ‘the mother’. And wo betide anyone who would dare to suggest otherwise.

And if you don’t get that mother love as a child which I believe is vital to a healthy life, then you spend a good period of your life chasing it and re-enacting unconscious destructive behaviour. I don’t think my brother got the unconditional love that I did from our parents. Their expectations of him were different – well they actually didn’t have any expectations of me – and Brian just couldn’t live up to what they wanted from him. He wasn’t a happy man and spent his life chasing the love he didn’t get from our parents. Science supports the notion that warmth and affection expressed by parents gives children a lifelong positive outcome. Which is what the boys at Mayaro Ranch School didn’t have.

I was amazed when I watched a documentary which showed scans of the brains of two toddlers of the same age. The brain of a three- year-old brought up in a nurturing environment was significantly bigger than the child who had who had suffered extreme emotional trauma and neglect. I remember thinking this should be a prerequisite to all expectant parents before they give birth. I had considered myself knowledgeable but hadn’t realised that emotional neglect could physiologically affect the brain.

I was fortunate in that I did get this nurturing and love from my parents, so it came naturally for me to give it to the children – unconditionally. But that doesn’t mean that I was necessarily the most effective mother. I was way way too lenient. Hopeless at tough love and still am. “You should have hit us when were naughty, you were much too soft on us,” said the boys adding “we will be much stricter with our children.”

The daughter of good friends of mine who were hippies used to complain that her parents music was too loud and she hated the smell of their wacky backi . They though they were bringing her up in a relaxed laid back environment in contrast to their own upbringing but clearly it wasn’t what she wanted

Mothering isn’t just about being good at holding the sick bowl. With 2 out of 3 boys back at home the honeymoon period is over. I have always had this fantasy about the ‘happy family’ where everybody pulls together and likes each other. I think I watched too many episodes of the Walton’s the American television series. They were one big happy family living out on the Prairie with not much money but plenty of love. John Boy was the eldest son and carried much of the responsibility of helping his parents around the home and looking after his younger siblings. Every series would end with the lights going out and they would all be saying good night to each other. That, Jane Austin and Enid Blyton shaped the way I thought my life would be. Clearly I was going to be let down.

My three boys have always fought, and they still fight. They are wonderful young men, feisty, independent and ‘always right.’ COVID has catapulted me right back into the mother role of trying to keep the peace. So having briefly gone back into therapy I am working on ridding myself of the rose coloured spectacles and accepting that life is not the Walton’s, we are not one big happy family, the boys are not going off on Enid Blyton holidays together and that as much as I loved Tod he was not Prince Charming and the likelihood of any Prince Charming coming into my life is as remote as the likelihood of me climbing Mount Everest.

Wish me luck in sorting this out.

“Let’s be careful out there”

Governments think in 4 year periods

Remember when we were children and our mothers would say, “eat up your soggy cabbage,” well maybe she wouldn’t use the word soggy  “think of all those starving children in Africa who would be only too pleased to have this food.” We would sigh and reply sarcastically, “well parcel it up then and post it to them,” sniggering that even the African children would have refused mum’s vegetables. Well sometimes I feel a bit like this with COVID. I know there are millions of people so much worse off than me and I need to be eternally grateful for my situation but sometimes it is just hard. And today is another one of those days.

I should feel optimistic that for the first time in history, nearly every scientist in the world is focused on the same problem. Shame that couldn’t happen with other diseases. I remember writing a story for The New Scientist on a possible new Malaria vaccine when I was based in Paris in 1982.  I was perturbed back then that scientists seemed to be in a race to see who could be the first rather than pooling resources to find a vaccine. Naively I hadn’t quite realised the role of economics. But if economics can be side-tracked in working to find a vaccine for a COVID  maybe  this will pave the way for a better future. Or am I being naive again.
My immunologist friend tells me that this time next year there should be a vaccine. My American friends say it will be early 2021. I await it with impatience. In the meantime, I have to watch my friends going on holiday and enjoying a life outside which I, at the moment, am not able to join. And yes, I am a bit envious.

What makes me so angry it that it could have been different if we had been better prepared. Admittedly we were not going to stop the pandemic but if we had listened to the very many warnings and taken heed to what the experts were advising we would certainly have been better prepared for what has hit us. But, as always, it is about politics.  Governments think in  4 year periods.  The minute they get into power they are thinking about how to win the next election and pandemic preparation, when there hasn’t been a global one, is not very sexy and will not bring in voters.  Of course, COVID19 might change this.

Extract from Harvard Business Review from May 2006  – makes chilling reading. 

If the virus does mutate into a form that transmits easily from person to person—and this is the pivotal unknown—in the best case, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, 2 million people could die. In the worst case, according to some experts’ projections, up to 30% of the world’s population could be stricken over the course of roughly a year, resulting in as many as 150 million deaths and perhaps more than a billion people requiring medical care. It takes little imagination to envision the impact this could have on global business as employees fall ill, supply chains fragment, and services fail.

Should a pandemic emerge, it would become the single greatest threat to business continuity and could remain so for up to 18 months. Companies need to develop rigorous contingency plans to slow the progress of a pandemic and limit its impact on employees, shareholders, partners, consumers, and communities. This will require more than simply double-checking the soundness of existing business continuity plans.

https://hbr.org/2006/05/preparing-for-a-pandemic

Meanwhile I am doing my own in-house pandemic preparations.  With Linda going back to work as a waitress she and Toby need to move downstairs into what was the lodger’s room and share the bathroom with the eldest  son who has temporarily moved back home!   Leaving upstairs COVID free for mum. Well that’s the plan anyway.

It does mean, however that I am going to be the chief cook and bottle washer as the kitchen will be out of bounds. Somehow, I get the feeling that I just might come out worst here. So much for the kids leaving home and me regaining my freedom.  The kids are back and I have less freedom than ever before.

chief cook

Not to self: Just eat up your greens Felstein, stop moaning and count your blessings.

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

Mr Farage – There but for the grace of God go you.

“A shocking invasion on the Kent coast,” is how Nigel Farage describes a small group of migrants on a Kent beach. This was accompanied by an unverified video of six people including children getting out of a dingy on a beach.

 
Does he think that these people wanted to leave their homeland? That they willingly risked their lives and the lives of their children because everything was hunky dory at home? We cannot imagine what life must have been like for many of these migrants. I have an inkling because for the past 5 years I have volunteered at an asylum drop-in centre. Yes, there maybe a few that are  not desperate and are economic migrants,  but the majority have fled from unbelievably difficult circumstances. And what right has that smug Farage to judge these people. Let him come and listen to their stories. I have sat with them, held them and cried with them. Their stories are heart rendering. They would dearly have loved to have stayed in their homeland with their families, safe and secure had circumstances been different but they were fleeing from conflict or escaping political, religious or sexually based persecution. Many people were so desperate to leave their country and get to safety  that they were prepared to risk their lives and the lives of their children.  Because risking their life seemed better than what they were escaping from.

 

migrants

Imagine getting into one of those overcrowded dinghies, crossing one of the busiest stretches of sea and knowing that you can’t swim. How terrifying must that be. And if they do arrive safely, they are greeted by “a shocking invasion on the Kent coast”. Refugees and asylum seekers are ordinary people like you and me but have had to face extraordinary struggles and continue to do so once in the UK. So, Mr Farage – There but for the Grace of God go you.

 
My family arrived as migrants escaping persecution at the turn of the century. My maternal and paternal grandfathers came as children with their parents from Poland. Arriving in Bristol with small children and elderly parents, carrying their belongings, they were blessed with hospitality. Thankfully Britain was a safe haven. Actually, I think their final destination was America but the captain wanting to make a quick buck — nothing changes — told them that Bristol was America and how would they know any different. When I look at our American family who came later and got off in the right place, I wonder what our lives would have been like. Our American cousins did very well and prospered better than the British Felsteins. But I am thankful that my ancestors managed to escape and know that one can never take safety for granted – as we all  know right now.
I know this is a bit of a preachy blog but reading those comments with the experience I have of refugees and asylum seekers made me really angry.

 
Have a good weekend

 

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

 

It’s the little things

This morning I woke up at 6 am with a heavy feeling but nothing to compare with how the people of Beirut must have woken up feeling. When all around is doom and gloom it is hard to lift oneself up, but I do this by looking at just how fortunate I am. So, I ignore the rantings of the lunatic Trump, the pandemic threatening an Armageddon and the rise of the R1 numbers and instead walk around my garden, take some deep breaths and listen to the cacophony of the morning chorus. It’s the little things that make life work at the moment. Those things that I might have dismissed before but am now much more appreciative of. I know it is a bit corny but COVID has made me realise that what makes life great are the little things that  we often take for granted.

So, my little things this week are:
We came top in Bridge – yay. Finally, after 3 months at the bottom of the league.

Made 12 jars of blackberry jam from the blackberries growing in my lovely woods. And despite an aching back from too much bending and stretching and hands torn to shreds by protective thorns,  I am enjoying jam making. Today it is the turn of the elderberries.

jam
Re-groomed the dog   so I no longer have clumps of white hair strewn all over the carpets. There are however clumps of white hair  on our street and in the park much to the dismay of my neighbours and fellow park comrades.

I won £25 on the premium bonds. I wasn’t one of the two jackpot prizes from Surrey and Tyne and Wear, and the seven other winners who received £100,000. But hey £25 pays for my newspaper bill. I could complain that I have invested in premium bonds since I was born and never won more than £25 but I am grateful for the little things. That said I am considering stopping my £8 lottery ticket as it has been there since the beginning and I have NEVER won anything.

The boys and partners came for a social distance garden dinner last night and there were no arguments. A rarity when the three boys get together. My chicken was delicious.

Mo deposited  just 1 mouse last night which was better than the previous day when we had 2 birds and two mice. The scratches on her nose is evidence that at least they put up a bit of a fight.

Sat on Tod’s bench in the park which  has become the local art centre for kids.  The path surrounding the bench is adorned with chalk drawings of rainbows.  Reminds me of Brian and one of his many campaigns  –  Chalk for Peace

 

John Lewis sent me £30 gift voucher which I earned from Mastercard spending. I am considering ditching my British Airways card because although I have about 35,000 points and a voucher for £850 from my cancelled Costa Rica  March flight, I am not sure if I will ever get the opportunity to use them.

Anyway, you get my gist – not always easy to focus on the little things but after 5 months of lock down and probably another 5 months ahead,  I am trying.  Of course, probably in a few days this brief respite of positivity will have left me. My mother always used to say, “In the long run, the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip.”  Well mum  this is  certainly some trip.

Talking of trips I wonder what this man was on back in 1959.  George King claimed he communicated with other beings in Venus  and he had an important message for  us earthlings

https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/man-communicates-live-on-air-with-extra-terrestrial-life/z4x792p

 

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

 

Office Politics in the 60’s

So, I am really feeling it for the young people at the moment. It is tough out there and it is getting tougher. I have no idea how they are going to find work. Linda has been applying for hundreds of jobs and finally got an interview in a local beauty clinic as a receptionist. The boss who interviewed her said they had 3000 applicants and they are interviewing 200 people! Competition is fierce. Evelina our ex lodger told me that she had applied for around 100 jobs and no interviews or even  acknowledgements. And a friend’s son who is one of the Class of 2020 800,000 18 – 24-year olds who have just graduated has applied for around 80 jobs and also has received no acknowledgements or interviews. Surely there could be a better system to give these young people some feedback which at least might help them on their way. They are going to need all the help they can get. Boy did we have it easy when we started work.

 

On my mother’s insistence and my reluctance aged 16 I took a Pitman’s shorthand and typing course at a further education college. Absolutely one of the best things I have done, and mum was so right. “It will come in handy,” she said. “Oh yeah” I thought but with nothing better on the horizon I enrolled. And it did come in handy and continues to do so. Not only could I always fall back on temp work but as a journalist both these skills were invaluable.

Armed with my 70 wpm shorthand certificate and 40 wpm typing I signed on with Brook Street Bureau to work as a temp shorthand typist. I started off in a typing pool with around 40 other women all typing away producing letters and documents for faceless individuals and ruled over by what was usually a dragon of a woman, who herself had graduated from the pool and  was determined never again to be back there. I was not the best. Actually, truth to tell I was probably just about the worst.

typing 2
Which  many of my unsuspecting bosses found out.  I could get the letters down in shorthand with no problem  but reading them back …well that was something else.  Some of the squibbles were just that – squibbles – and I usually had to guess the gist of it and then make  up the rest  hoping my boss would not remember what he dictated. It was the days when one put carbon paper in between the pages in the typewriter to make copies. Erasing mistakes was hell. And I made lots of mistakes. Despite trying my hardest, the letters would emerge with smudges and sometimes holes where I had used the rubber a bit too frequently.

Then there was the audio letters.  Sometimes one or maybe it was just me – had to listen to a sentence multiply times to decipher what was being said.  I remember once after an hour of  intense listening and near to tears  I couldn’t decipher what sounded like frsh-pish  so  I gave up and asked my boss what he was saying.  It was ‘fresh paragraph’.! Even worse  —  and remember photo copy machines had not been invented  — you would just get to the end of a 4 page document and your boss would say, “please do me an extra copy of this document!!!!!! ” Aggghhh.

If you were on duplication duty it was the horrors of the Gestetner machine. For those too young remember the process was messy,  loud and cumbersome and usually ended with ink stained hands and in my case clothes as well. It didn’t help that I would approach the machine with a defeatist attitude and like horses, they smell your fear and take advantage of it. 30 minutes on this machine and I would be reduced to a quivering jelly.

gestetner 1

It was also an era when bottom pinching, wandering hands, innuendos and proposals were very much a hazard that we had to put up with. We learnt how to dodge the groping hands, cope with constant ogling, laugh convincingly at our boss’s terrible jokes and ignore inappropriate comments. We didn’t complain because it would have got us nowhere. It was how it was and continued to be – so thank you Me Too.

 

secretary-2

 

I guess somehow, we didn’t have the confidence to speak out and we accepted a lot more than we would do nowadays. Take the local flasher. Every area had one. Today it would be gross indecency but in the 50’s we just glossed over the antics. I remember — we called him old Jim — he would wait for us after school and then show us his ‘bits’ we would just laugh and run off – unscathed – and move on. If that happened now, I think it would be very different. Is it because we are more sexually aware and thus mindful of the dangers – I don’t know?

 
Apropos of absolutely nothing I watched a wonderful though provoking Netflix documentary series on autism Love on the Spectrum. It is not one of those  stupid inane dating looking- for- a- mate- kind- of- programmes. This series examines what dating is like for people on the autism spectrum. They talk honestly about their feelings and why they want a partner.  They have no grey areas it is black or white. And the interviewer mirrors this wonderfully – there is no ambiguity,  he is sensitive and empathetic. I found myself smiling, laughing, and crying throughout the series. Their honesty was refreshing and made me realise that we spend so much time playing games, skirting around the issues and guessing what people think, we could learn a lot from them.

love on spectrum

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81265493

 

“Let’s be careful out there” 

Tod and Lebanon 1982

I was saddened to see that Tony Elliott one of the founders of Time Out Magazine had died.   Back in the day Time Out was our bible we never went out without first consulting it.   Tony started  it when his Aunt gave him £75 (around £1000 nowadays) as a 21st birthday present.  It began as a fold out pamphlet put together on his mum’s kitchen table.

Particularly poignant for me as Tony gave me my first commission in journalism – it was a baptism by fire.  I think he was testing me to see if I had what it takes to be a journalist.  I was sent to cover one of Dr.  Tuppy Owen’s sex parties for the disabled.  Tuppy was a sex therapist  was the first person to publish a visual aid for putting on a condom in her bestselling annual The Sex Maniac’s Diary.   She   was the founder of Outsiders, which supports disabled people to find partners. And I was off to one of their parties. 

Talk about rookie I had no idea about what I was to enter. I was young and naive.   This was a party where sex workers gave disabled people the opportunity to experience  sex –  perhaps for the first time in their lives.  I won’t go into detail but just to say everything was very explicit, there were wheelchairs, there was sex, there was hoists. I was completely unprepared, and I think somewhat naive.  Tuppy is a force to be reckoned with. I interviewed her a decade later for another publication and she remained equally impressive.    I imagine that Tony and fellow journalist Duncan Campbell were amused at the thought of me covering this story.

Looking back, I can’t fathom out how or why I went into journalism. I am a bit dyslexic, a diabolical speller as you have probably discovered, a  great malapropist (if that is a word!!) and not a particularly good writer.   For me it was the chase, the challenge of finding a good story, investigating and meeting the people that I found most exciting.I loved deadlines. It got my adrenalin pumping.   It is how I met Tod too.  I was in Israel writing a story about the psychological impact of the Lebanese war on diaspora soldiers and Tod was one of these soldiers.

tod

The impact of this war on both Israeli and diaspora soldiers was huge.  The soldiers had been trained to defend their country but Lebanon was more that just defence. Many soldiers told me that once they were there on the front, gun cocked, they began to wonder what on earth they were doing. This was no longer about defence they felt that they  were  now the aggressors.  This war left its mark on thousands of soldiers, most of them in combat troops and even those who weren’t wounded were left with psychological scars still to this day  unhealed.  Certainly Tod  who was a paratrooper suffered from   PTSS. He had nightmares and would wake up screaming.   It never left him right up to his death. For many reasons I think it was one of the best stories I have written.  Maybe because we became romantically involved  and I got the inside story.  Not that I am advocating that one sleeps with one’s interviewees, but I did go on to marry him.

And last night when  I had dinner in the garden with two very close friends – couples – he was missed.   It was a lovely evening and a welcome escape from my house bound existence. But turning the key in the lock at 1 am I was acutely aware that I was coming home alone.   No one to chit chat about the evening over a cuppa which is one of the joys  of going out together.  Discussing the funny bits, the bits that annoyed you, the food, the gossip.  So, I made myself a night cap and shared my thoughts with the dog and cat. Ever faithful Izzi tried to look interested. She cocked her head as if she really did understand and then nuzzled up close. Mo gave me one of her ‘really Roma get a grip’ looks  and  curled up on my chair and went to sleep. So I  sipped my tea, and told Tod all about the evening. 

“Let’s be careful out there”