Sunday, July 26, 2009

To Pansy with love

Pansy . . . how to wish you a Happy Birthday?
How to say something that, in the course of your ninety-eight years, hasn't been said countless times before? How to repeat, without embarrassing you, that you really are an incredible, accomplished, loving and immensely lovable friend?

How many years ago was it that we met? Do you remember? You'd come to London to spend a year studying at The Royal School of Needlework. Your daughters, Mary and Anne, had grown up. Bill, your wonderful husband, supported your crazy dream, and so . . . you came from Nevada, and rented a flat alongside mine in Bayswater.

Do you remember the beautiful and intricate needlework that you created? Some of the specimens so small, so delicate, that it was hard to realise that needle and thread could have produced them. Only a few years ago when you were going to throw them out, I persuaded you to give them back to the college, and your fine work is now on display in Hampton Court Palace. There can't be many Americans who have their needlework on display in an English palace!

Over the years you have sent me so many beautiful gifts, Pansy. Books, ornaments, toys for Rupert. Do you remember the splendid cat cushion? I thought you might like to see this photo of Rupert sleeping admiringly above it!

To my friends and god-children, you've offered a joyful example of living life to the full, of investing every talent, of exploring every avenue. Each year they've eagerly participated in compiling a tape of messages to commemorate your birthday. They are your friends, every bit as much as I am.
Like me, they marvel at your many achievements - not least that you started writing poetry (fine, thought-provoking poetry) when you were ninety, and have recently produced two, delightful volumes of "Silly Tales". As I've told you, your 'tales' are much enjoyed in London

Shall I tell you a secret? You know that, over the years, you've been generously sending me videotapes. Tapes of lectures and debates that you've attended at The University of San Diego, the University for The Third Age. You must have been well over eighty when you started to send me these tapes, I was a mere stripling by comparison. But you educated me, Pansy! I never dared to admit how ignorant I was on most of the subjects covered by those tapes. Instead, shamed by my lack of knowledge, I watched them . . . and was enlightened and inspired.
Thank you more than I can say.

Pansy, you'll never grow old. You have that wonderful secret of carrying all the best qualities of youth into old age. Do you remember what you said to me in a letter twenty-eight years ago?
"I can't believe I'm seventy," you wrote, "I still haven't decided what I want to do when I grow up!"

Do you still play the piano, Pansy? You are such a talented pianist. A classics scholar, a linguist, a traveller . . . is there no end to your accomplishments?

Your much-loved children and grand-children will be with you for your birthday. But, please, whilst you are unwrapping your presents, remember that, in spirit, and also by means of this letter, your friends from London will be there beside you in San Diego.
Don't think you can keep us out of your celebrations! All of us, all your friends who, over the years, have enthusiastically contributed to so many birthday tapes . . . we'll be thinking of you, remembering you, treasuring your friendship, and wishing you a wonderful, wonderful day.

Happy Birthday, dear Pansy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Ageing Process!

Alas, how fragile are our cherished illusions!

Before going to the High Street this morning, I needed to go to the post office. After posting a parcel, and stocking up on stamps, I started to make my way south. It was a sunny morning, a good morning for a walk. However, I hadn't sauntered for more than fifty yards when a bus came alongside . . .
Oh, what a temptation! My healthy walk abandoned, I hailed the bus and jumped aboard.
Spotting a vacant seat near the front, I sat down.

Birthdays may come and go, but, in my mind I'm thirty-nine. I've been thirty-nine for as long as I can remember, and I intend to stay thirty-nine into the indefinite future. Thirty-nine is a comfortable age to be. A good age to remain.
At the next stop an elderly lady with a profusion of shopping bags struggled onto the bus. As would be right and proper for any fit, thirty-nine-year-old, I rose to my feet and offered her my seat. She thanked me profusely and sat down. But, hardly had I moved an inch towards the middle of the bus when another lady leaped up out of her seat and took my arm.
"Do take mine," she urged me.
"No, no," I countered, "I'm getting out at the next stop."
But the dream was shattered. Until that moment I'd felt thirty-nine, I'd been confident that I looked thirty-nine . . . I got off the bus feeling . . . well, we won't go into that, but I'm sure you get the drift!

Needless to say, I'm far too vain to include this sad story on the blog!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Going up . . . !

Could you do with a laugh? If so, you might enjoy this story.

Maggie came to tea today and we chatted happily for a couple of hours. Listening to her many entertaining theatrical experiences brought back memories of my own. No, not of the theatre, but of working in film and television.
Would she, I asked as I filled her cup, like me to tell her how it had all begun?
Sitting back in her chair, and sipping her tea, Maggie said that she would . . . so I did . . .

Have I ever told you how my career in television and the film industry was triggered by a fortuitous encounter with a tea-trolley?

It was many years ago. I was very young. I was also totally lacking in ambition. My chief enthusiasm in life was taking an active part in the amateur dramatics put on by our local group in North Kent. I loved amateur dramatics. After being trained as a journalist, the job that I'd been offered on a national magazine had fallen through. What I needed, or so I thought, was a job in London that was close to Charing Cross. A job that, first and foremost, would enable me to reach the station speedily at the end of the day, and thence home in time for rehearsals.
My journalistic training didn't really matter. Any job that I liked - any employer that liked me- would be equally suitable.

So it was that, on a fateful day in March, I took the train to London and walked down the Strand.
No potential jobs leaped out to greet me.
I reached the Aldwych . . . and there, at the end of Kingsway, looking very shiny and new, was Associated Television, a new company to join the ITV network. My heart lifted. This was more like it! What better than to work on television dramas during the day and return to amateur dramatics in the evening?

It was a very large, glass building, and it was hard to make out which was the main entrance. However, peering through the glass, I saw a row of lifts and a tea-lady with a trolley. Quickly pushing my way through the swing doors, I joined the tea-lady in the first lift that arrived. The tea-trolley, it appeared, was needed at the third floor. Accordingly, up to the Third Floor I went, together with the refreshments.

On arriving at the Third Floor, it was a little surprising to be personally greeted at the lift. A tall man came up to me smiling warmly. I was very welcome, he said, would I accompany him down the corridor. This was even more surprising. Perhaps this was what happened in television? I'd never had anything to do with television before. The tall man led me into an office and invited me to take a chair. I was then questioned by another man who told me that he, too, was pleased to see me, and that it was good to know I wanted to join the company.

I was growing increasingly puzzled. The warm welcome was wonderful - if unexpected. But how on earth did they know that I wanted a job? However, it seemed wisest not to ask, so I restricted myself to smiling politely and answering their questions as fully as I could. An hour later, after being escorted back to the lift by my still-smiling companion, I left the company secure in the knowledge that I would be returning in two weeks' time to work in the Planning Department.

Only after I had been happily employed by ATV for several weeks did I learn the truth. Apparently, in my innocence and ignorance, I had entered the building by the wrong door! Had I walked a few yards further up Kingsway I would have come to the main entrance. Here I would have met up with the bevy of applicants who had been invited that day to apply for a whole range of new jobs in the company. These applicants were being weeded out on the Ground Floor, progressing from there to the First Floor, and, finally, only the successful applicants were being asked to go up to the Third Floor. Had I joined the other applicants on the Ground Floor, I doubt whether my progress would have stretched to the lift. As it was . . . all thanks to spotting the tea-trolley . . . a very happy fifteen-year career in the television and film industry had begun!

You think my Guardian Angel had a hand in all of that?
You're probably right!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An unscheduled birthday!

Welcome home . . . did you have a wonderful holiday, despite the high temperatures and the humidity?
Whilst I don't doubt that you've been suffering, please give a little sympathy to what we, in London, have been enduring whilst you've been away. To have heat and humidity on holiday is one thing. To have temperatures in their mid-thirties in Central London is quite another.
You relaxed . . . we roasted!

After three days of soaring heat . . . blinds pulled down . . . Rupert in constant need of a damp sponge . . . I was having a chat and a cooling drink with Anna. She was full of enthusiasm for a recent acquisition she'd bought to counter the temperature. Anna had purchased an air cooler. And not any old air cooler. Her model, which was was operated by remote control, filled her flat with gentle sea breezes. Delicately scented breezes, she told me, that were cooled by an internal refrigerator element. It even, she added proudly, had a built-in negative ion generator.

My knowledge of ions is limited to the fact that the negative ones are said to be good. Are the positive ones bad? I suppose they must be. But don't ask me what an ion is, I haven't the faintest idea.

This air cooler sounded exactly what Rupert and I needed.
I went on-line . . . I ordered an air cooler . . . and, within three days, a large box arrived.

It all looked so simple. Once out of its box, the air cooler stood discreetly against the wall . . . nothing showy . . . nothing complicated. I decided to dispense with the remote control (the instructions were a little complex), all I needed to do was to put a couple of small batteries into the control cabinet, fill the tank with water, plug it in . . . and my hot and humid flat would be transformed!

Half-an-hour later, although the batteries had been simple to install, and the refrigeration unit easy to unpack, I was a little baffled by the control panel. Gazing at its complexity I was reminded of the flight deck of a large aircraft. There was no doubt that this was a multi-talented air cooler. There was a small screen for the date . . . another for the time . . . there was an alarm (why would I need an alarm?) . . . and a countdown (countdown to what?) . . . together with a confusing number of alternative choices. Very tentatively, I tried to change the date . . . but, with everything flashing disconcertingly, I quickly abandoned the attempt. I would seek advice in the morning.
Rupert and I retired to bed, leaving our beautiful, but inactive, air cooler standing quietly in the hall.

There was a tremendous thunderstorm in the night and, unable to sleep any longer, we were up at six-thirty. As I walked out into the hall, I wondered if the storm and the humidity were causing me to suffer aural hallucinations. Surely I hadn't left the radio switched on? What was this unexpected music?
Then I recognised the tune . . . a loud, if rather tinny, rendition of 'Happy Birthday To You'!
It wasn't my birthday . . . my birthday was several months away . . . what on earth . . . ? Slowly, my ears guided me to the source of this unexpected, unwanted greeting . . . my previously silent air cooler!

Anna had never mentioned that it was musical! I looked at it in shocked alarm. Had I activated this outpouring by mistake? Was this what the flashing lights had been trying to tell me?

It was fast becoming clear was that, having started its musical outburst, the air cooler had no intention of stopping. Even worse, I knew no way of silencing its celebrations! In desperation, after the fifth untimely birthday greeting, I wrenched opened the back of the control panel and pulled out the batteries.
A blissful peace descended on the flat!

I know that you'll be very busy on your return, but . . . should you get a spare moment . . . and should you feel more able than I to handle an all-singing, non-dancing, well-meaning but misinformed air cooler . . . well, needless to say, I would greatly welcome any help and advice you can offer!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Never on Saturday

Oh dear, I hope it never happens to you, but, just in case, may I offer you a few tips on how to cope in the alien world that doesn't recognise someone without a credit card! Being without a credit card in our society (even during a credit crunch) is, so I now realise, akin to being adrift in a foreign land. With no knowledge of the language, you are left impotent and frustrated.

The first tip I’d offer you - never lose your card on a Friday night, or a Saturday morning!

Having partially recovered from the shock of losing my purse, and thinking it would be relatively simple to do my shopping by cheque, I went down to M&S in the High Street. In advance of filling my basket, it seemed wise to check this fact. I consulted an assistant. She looked a little uncertain, before passing the buck. I should go, she said, to the Customer Enquiry Desk. Oh yes, the assistants behind the desk assured me helpfully, I could most certainly pay by cheque - just so long as the cheque was backed up by a current credit card.
“But my card has been stolen . . . “ I protested.
They were sympathetic. They were charming. They were very sorry for me . . but the rules were the rules.
"But it's my weekend shop!" I pleaded., foreseeing a cheerless, foodless future.

A motherly woman took pity on me and went in search of the Manager. He, too, had a sympathetic nature. Although, he said, it was company policy never to do such a thing, perhaps . . . in this instance . . . he took out a card, and, looking very furtive, did something to the computer. Urging me never to say what he'd done (an unnecessary request as his actions had left me totally bewildered) he told me to do my shopping, say the magic password "Pay away" to the cashier and return to him with the cheque.
All around me, shoppers were clucking sympathetically and showing me the zipped pockets on their coats that prevented such disasters. Feeling like one of the foolish virgins in the parable, I humbly admitted to my folly in carrying a purse loose in a bag and promised never to do such a stupid thing again.
And do you know what struck me in all this . . . the basic kindness of people, the sympathy I was receiving. After all, I had only lost money and credit cards and stamps - I hadn't been mugged.
So I celebrated! I bought asparagus, and blackberries, and chocolates, and marmalade with whisky in it - all extravagances that I would never otherwise have purchased. But there was a lot to celebrate!

After all this, it seemed wise to go to the bank and get some cash. I rushed into the bank ten minutes before it was due to close. The Manager in charge was sympathetic, and although admitting that she could do nothing herself, the cashiers were all away on a Saturday, said that she did know someone who could help. The Thomas Cook office was approached, unquestioningly they accepted my cheque and provided me with fifty pounds in cash. Full of gratitude I left the bank.

I bought a new purse in a sale, some stamps at Smith's . . . and finally staggered home. The moral of the story - never carry your purse loose in a crowded 'bus or, if you must, never do it on a Friday night or a Saturday morning.
However, if the worst comes to the worst, you will be rewarded. You will learn how kind people really are . . . and you'll end up with asparagus for lunch!