Imminent Life

After five failed attempts and at least twenty irate phone calls to Tutti Bambini or some such cot-maker extrordinaire, my unborn granddaughter’s cot finally arrived. Why should that cause such ripples in this household? Well, when one’s only daughter is a week and a half away  from producing one’s first grandchild and has dealt with the inadequacies of ridiculous pre-natal marketing promises as well as the encumbrance of  hormones and exhaustion, it becomes one’s problem. Tom, Bambino’s representative, did not know quite what to make of a caustic mother of a mother-to-be but bless the boy he gave it his best shot given that the company he works for probably pays him a pittance and makes it hard for him to deviate from his script.

Me: I would like to speak to your manager to complain about the disgraceful service given to my daughter who is yet to receive her cot ordered five weeks ago when she is due to give birth imminently…

Tom: Ah! I have spoken to your daughter and am sorry to hear she has not received her cot. It has been on the delivery order several times.

Me: So you say, however, nobody has contacted her regarding delivery. Those who suggested they had are blatant liars.

Tom: ERM…ERM…I am sorry that we have not been able to track down delivery of the cot.I am calling them now but they are unavailable.

Familiar scenario?

And so it went on for several hours.

Dear Tom eventually tracked the missing cot that had been in transit for five weeks (only one week delivery!)and he organised a private company to pick  it up from the DX courier van to deliver it to my daughter to avoid a nervous breakdown (mine, not hers). I suspect he was anxious to avoid listening to another irate or potential emotional meltdown from a middle-aged mother of a pregnant mother. What could be worse?

Said missing item arrived, angels sang,suitable chirpy delivery man apologised and slagged off every other driver/courier theretofore and all was right with the world.

Mother-to-be was exhausted but content and I was …hmm…probably relieved but probably convinced that what did it was the the fact that I said I’d write about it on social media. Be told.

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We are our stories

Niall Williams rather sums things up in that simple, but weighty, line from his novel, ‘History of the Rain’.

In an age where sharing is facilitated by digital where phenomenal statistics are difficult to envisage (1.23 billion on Facebook according to the Guardian’s Jemima Kiss), the capacity to tell our stories, to listen to stories, to watch, hear, embellish and even  brilliantly Lego-ise stories, we have access to endless threads of personal narratives. 

The tough part is selecting what we think is worth listening to. How do we choose? On Twitter, I have come across a huge, eclectic range of story snapshots by following links from the people I follow. You would imagine there would be a pattern emerging suggesting a nice (empty adjective there perhaps because I cling to an idea that I have some remnant of an organised and structured existence) set of interests. Just from the endlessTwitter treetalks, rather than what in my head is a neat selection of stories such as the autobiographies, the tech talk stories (see Wired.com and Mashable.com for Dyer’s immediacy) and the vast array of monologues that comprise social media, is instead, an ever-burgeoning, exponentially tangled ball of stories that overlap and roll around gathering momentum and chatter like a cat’s toy gathers dust on the carpet.

With e-books there is a whole wealth of storytelling richness at our fingertips, literally. Yes , I use the star rating guide. No, it does not always work. However, I rather love the idea that an anonymous collective whole has taken the trouble (albeit not too great a trouble with a tap of a screen or two) to offer their opinion. The story is just part of the story. The original story is like a honey pot around which a collection of bees (or insects, depending on your mood for imagery) gather, and sample, and savour, or dismiss, or pass on, or reject, bringinging to it all their own bee-like thoughts and feelings and experiences.

I read an interesting novel, ‘Elephant Moon’ by John Sweeney, that fictionalises the story of two women in World War Two Burma who rescue mixed-race orphans, cast off by their local communiry and by the imperialistic society of the British. What was even more wondrous, was that Sweeney suggested looking at the Cambridge University footage of Gyles Mackrell, the real elephant man, who, along with his courageous Burmese elephant handlers, rescued two hundred men from impending Japanese capture and certain death. The joy of Youtube provides utopian access to this: it is a privilege to be able to watch it all unfolding, as if by magic, before my very eyes. The black and white footage and the understated voiceover belie the heroism and doggedness of Mackrell’s escapade. What a story. No doubt similar stories are unfolding right now. In Syria. In Afghanistan. In that under-represented and worryingly under-reported, Chinese- saturated Tibet.

Yesterday, I watched a great Ken Loach film, ‘The Angel’s Share’, that shows the struggles of a group of young offenders on community service. Interestingly, it is only rated a seven on IMDb.com. I would have rated it higher. It tells a good story about young people who feel real, with what I can imagine to be grit-yout-teeth-making decisions. Loach is good at that. Maybe that’s why he is only a seven. Not enough explosions.

Autumn Leaves

Today was the strangest of days.

Having planned to visit my father’s grave, something I have neglected for far too many years because it is loaded with emotional resonance, I hit the road, equipped with compost and winter pansies galore, ready to perform miracles on a a neglected plot of windswept London cemetery hinterland. The sun was almost out and I pretended to be willing, with The Commitments at full blast on the stereo. There’s always something gutsy about him singing about that old ‘shaggy dress’. Or the is it ‘shabby’? I have replayed that section a hundred times in the past twenty years or so but still can’t quite tell.

Rediscovering the soundtracks was a joy: the quality of sound in my tired old car is always a welcome surprise. As I waited in a minor traffic jam on the A22, where a moment’s boredom was relieved by watching a policeman clamber down a nettle-infested, grassy-steep bank where presumably, according to the flapping blue and white plastic tape, an accident had happened the night before, I spared a thought for the passengers.

In the surprising busyness of a Sunday midday traffic,the ebb and flow of all sorts of people unfolded. The blue Bentley man looked intense and serious yet despite some serious horse power in that gorgeous machine, he didn’t overtake me for miles. The white minibus of men on a post-team jolly (presumably, although  the ‘jolly’ factor was well and truly missing by this point) were trying hard to look stoic in the face of adversity- adversity being a bus that does not move faster than sixty mph. Where were the women? One of the few women I saw was a fun-looking twenty something with eyelashes on her headlamps. She was great. I felt ancient.

All this was a marvellous distraction from the ten year old in my mind who was missing her dad. I don’t think you ever get over losing a parent. I was fifteen when he died. only just fifteen. Now, thirty odd years later, you would imagine that such an event would have receded into a murky, distant, faded memory like a black and white film or a seventies polaroid. However, what has happened instead, is a crystallisation of every experience and moment involving my father, even more so because he was also man that travelled as a ship’s pilot, an heroic role to a young girl’s mind. Not so for my poor mother. When he flew back from Saudi, after a seven month stint, we would meet him from the airport like some vanquishing hero in a legendary tale. Perhaps that is just my imagination at work there. He would walk through the arrival lounge at Heathrow in chinos and T-shirt with Ray-bans and suntan with super cool confidence. This was the early seventies. In my head it’s like watching a scene from ‘Catch Me if you Can’. Daddy is always accompanied to a soundtrack:  Tony Bennett, Chet Baker or Matt Monroe. 

As it transpired, I was so busy thinking, I had headed completely the wrong way round the M25.  Perhaps today was the day that concentration took flight. Realising my mistake at last, and shaking myself from my reverie, I eventually found a turning so I could get back on the right road. With renewed vigourand ELO on full blast I thought I could reprogramme my journey.

I should have double checked the map. I eschew sat nav. Not sure why. All well and good I’m sure. Would have saved me some petrol that’s for sure. Despite the renewed focus and emotional checklist and girded loins, twelve miles on, flashing lights overhead revealed that my chosen routes was closed due to an accident.

Serendipity?

Had all that circituitous driving been accident avoidance? Or merely stupidity? Probably the latter. However, I had a long time alone with my thoughts and my memories today that otherwise would have got lost in the madness of life.

Eva Cassidy’s ‘AutumnLeaves’ was on. Has to be that particular recording. At one point she sings, ‘And I miss you..oh how I miss you…when autumn leaves start to fall.’

Seemed appropriate driving through the rusts and golden trees of a failed but not so failed autumn mission.

Fortunately, not enough to stop me getting home in one piece.