Wednesday, February 25, 2015


A recent run of hot weather has meant wakeful nights flapping the duvet out of the way and sighing. The holiday season here down-under means that there is nothing worthwhile on radio as well as nothing worth watching on telly, which is a given at this time of year. The music on radio during the night is way worse than the talking. Sleep is not an option in the heat. Which has meant, as a last resort, listening to some of the unbelievably tedious opinions of those who spend the nights calling talk-back radio and droning on.

They have never been to see “Hamlet” and heard Polonius declare that

“… day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes …”

The people who access talk-back radio and can express themselves articulately and, if possible, briefly are welcome but only too rare. The nights are currently filled with the other kind, full of “limbs and outward flourishes”. Why do people think that by saying something three times over, and at great length, punctuated with ums and you-knows, it is more interesting than saying it once, succinctly? The smart talk-show hosts can, if they are paying attention, swiftly cut off anyone who utters the words “as I was saying …” because they would know that the wretched caller has re-wound himself and is preparing to say it again.

If the host is not smart, has dozed off, or is watching international sport on the studio TV, we helpless and sleepless listeners end up grinding our teeth while we endure the tortuous and garbled ramblings of Tom, Dick or Mary. I don’t blame the host (well, yes I actually do) because even I would rather be watching cricket being played in Mumbai.

Those dreary callers should listen to Polonius, who could offer them some sound, pithy advice – he was good at it. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” he counselled Laertes briskly. And he didn’t mess about sparing Queen Gertrude’s feelings with burbles and soft soap to dress up his opinion that Hamlet was off his head. He told her that “… I will be brief: your noble son is mad.” Good for you, my lord.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


You gotta love someone who has decided to love you with every squirming inch of her tiny frame.

This is Stella. She is a griffon, with all the absurd features that griffons possess: liquid, bulgy eyes, floppy ears, a flat monkey nose, a jutting jaw, a small sturdy body and four matchstick legs. In Stella’s case the legs have become stiff with age and she walks as though she were a dog-doll and some invisible child is “walking” her in a sort of rolling gait. On occasion, when excited, Stella breaks into a run – comical, but also alarming, because she is really old.

Soon after we met Stella decided to love me. Since then she has been faithful, even when I was sharing my house with a couple of cats who glared at her.  She is the smallest and bravest dog in the neighbourhood, and has more than once stood squarely at the front of her pack and ticked off the big sook of a labrador from next door. He wouldn’t have hurt her but she didn’t know that, and she gave him an earful.

Now, when she sees me, her ears smooth down and her silly little face breaks into a smile – yes, it does so. She breaks into a rickety trot and follows me home – her people know where to find her. We spend a little time together on the deck or ambling around exploring my garden before we stagger back to her place nearby – two old girls who understand each other.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


We arrive at it quite late in our lives. We see the small persons who are newly hatched but at one remove. We hardly dare touch them because we have forgotten how. We become instantly besotted. We are grandparents. As they say, it’s complicated.

It feels responsible, because these new persons are part of you, but only as far as they, and you, want them to be – they are individuals. The responsibility is not necessarily that you have to deal with their requirements day to day – that, thank goodness, is a parent's job and we can hand them back –  but that who and what you are becomes part of their knowledge base, their experience, and their reference points.  

It feels privileged, because grandchildren can offer warmth and attention and respect as well as love and worries. When they end a message with a casual "miss u, luv u" it can melt your heart. Over the growing years we can have skirmishes, and times when connections feel lost – but there is at base mutual respect as well.

It feels frightening, because they are facing a world that can be dangerous in ways that we never knew (although our world was also dangerous, in other ways). They have to learn how to cope – and we fear that they might fail. We watch them make mistakes and we bite our tongues – unless we are asked for advice, which we give freely and – we hope – wisely, while understanding that we don't always know how their world really is, and whether our opinion, and indeed our experience, is appropriate for their situation.

It feels prideful, because we know that our grandchildren are the most beautiful, handsome, intelligent, charming and talented creatures the world has ever known. It feels humbling and privileged, because we have discovered the giving of unconditional love – again.  First for our own children and now for theirs.

It feels lonely sometimes, because the children grow – and grow away from us because they no longer need us, and we no longer matter as much as perhaps we did. This is natural and we know that perfectly well. It is also irrational, because we don't actually want them around all the time, they can be tiring and noisy and messy and silly.  But there again we would rather have the noise and mess and silliness because –well, just because.

It feels hopeful that we as grandparents may have contributed something valuable to the children's lives and that we will be remembered with affection. So, I suppose in the end grandparenthood is a matter of personality and circumstance and individual attitude. Every relationship is different, and that goes for grandparenthood as well as any other.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


I have had a manuscript languishing in my virtual bottom drawer for years. It is so old that it was once a couple of pages typed on real paper, crumpled and scribbled over. Now it is in my computer, and once in a while I open it, stare at it, shuffle a paragraph from one place to another, change a name, take out an adjective or add a sentence. Then I file it away again, defeated.

It has been a short story – failed. It has been a biographical anecdote – failed. It has been humour – failed miserably. It was the subject of a blogpost called “The last time I took fashion advice from a monkey” (August 2012) – no idea how it was received by my loyal readers and anyone else who might have happened upon it.  I tried introducing one or two characters into the mix to see if anything developed – nope, didn’t work.

The monkey at the centre of this writerly problem – I call him Jefferson for literary purposes – was a big angry chimp in a zoo in London. He was not the cute little fellow in the picture here, who was called Rastus, joined me and some friends for a Sunday curry lunch beside a lake in Rangoon, and was urgently but politely interested in what he might discover in the tangle of my hair.  By contrast, Jefferson the chimp in the zoo was raucous, ill-bred, deeply offended by my bilious green sweater and threw his lunch at me. Nothing personal, he didn’t know me, and I didn’t blame him.  I didn’t like the sweater either. And who hasn’t wanted to throw things at times, especially if they lived in a zoo?  

It should be promising material, based on a real event like so much that writers write about, and I should be able to make something of it. I keep stumbling across it in the computer and stubbornly having another lash at it.  As Henry Ford said, failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.