Sunday, 30 October 2011

Now then, now then, now then... guys and gals!

I was saddened this weekend to read of the death of Jimmy Savile.  Definitely one of life's great characters, the perennially tracksuited figure, dripping with gold jewellery and resplendent with fat cigar is one of my most enduring childhood recollections - and long before the word "chav" was even thought of!

I think back to all the nights I spent listening to that distinctive voice on Radio Luxembourg, my transistor radio sneakily hidden under the bedclothes when my parents fondly imagined I'd gone to sleep!  To that very first "Top of the Pops" way back in the year I took my O levels, and then to the Sunday lunchtime Radio 1 "Double Top Ten Show" with its challenge of 'points' awarded for remembering the hits of years gone by: I think I still have some old reel-to-reel tape recordings of some of them.

The stories he used to tell of being a porter at Leeds Royal Infirmary, his fundraising exploits for Stoke Mandeville - and of course, all those Marathons he ran!  In an age increasingly dominated by revelations of sleaze amongst the rich and famous, it's a refreshing change to have come across a genuinely good person.

"How's about that then?" 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Like I've never been gone...

After a break of almost four months, I returned last week to this year's series of Italian classes.  I had, of course the best of intentions - doing a bit of practice and a bit of revision during the long summer holiday, but needless to say that never quite materialized and I returned with a definite feeling of apprehension that I'd have forgotten most of what I'd learned last year.  Surprisingly, I found I hadn't.  I won't say I slipped back into the routine effortlessly, but it all seemed surprisingly familiar and I found myself remembering more than I thought I would.  I was helped by the fact that this year's course doesn't just pick up from where last year's left off, the first couple of weeks anyway acting in the nature of a refresher - so yesterday we were practising the perfect tense.  I still find listening and understanding dialogue not the easiest of things to master, but I daresay that comes with practice.  Speaking is definitely coming with practice, and I think I may be at long last shedding my schoolboy reluctance to take part in oral lessons!

Anyway, the reward came yesterday in the form of a certificate for the successful completion of last year's studies.  I did in fact get a grade A, although the grade isn't shown on the certificate - perhaps everyone gets an A?  I must admit I wasn't expecting anything quite so formal and grandiose, almost worthy of a graduation ceremony, I thought.  I don't suppose I shall ever use it for anything, but 44 years after I made a first hesitant attempt at studying Italian, it's definitly nice to finally have something to show for it!    

Saturday, 15 October 2011

If we knew then what we know now.....

I received the rather disturbing news earlier in the week that my sister had suffered a stroke. My nephew - her eldest son - rang up: she'd been in hospital a couple of weeks, having been admitted with a urine infection.  I suppose in a way, if you're going to have a stroke then a hospital is one of the most convenient places to have it, but understandably he didn't really see it like that and was more than a bit miffed that they'd only just told him.

The prognosis is not good.  It's apparently affected her left side and she's currently unable to get out of bed, but it's also affected her speech as well as making her a somewhat confused and disorientated.  He's of the opinion she'll have to go into a nursing home, and while I know that the hospital staff and therapists will do their best to salvage what they can from the damage the stroke's done, her health was so poor to start off with, that they're going to have their work cut out.  She was already set up and about to move into a place at a sheltered housing complex before this happened. 

Perhaps irrationally, I feel more than just a bit guilty.  We weren't particularly close as kids, and with her being seven years older than me I did more than my fair share of being the brat little brother of my big sister!  We weren't really alike temperamentally, either: she was rather given to moods - bouts of the sulks, the silences and the tears - and in that respect took after my father, whereas I inherited my mother's "what you see is what you get", with the occasional blazing row all forgotten about twenty minutes later.

An unhappy marriage and eventual divorce took its toll emotionally I suspect and in the couple of decades since our parents died, her asthma (always worse than mine) deteriorated and she started to suffer falls and resulting loss of mobility - as well as a bowel condition which needs operating on, but with a general anaesthetic making it too risky to do.  What with our mother's bad chest and chronic bronchitis, and father's (mild) stroke and eventual fatal heart attack, she seems to have inherited all the family ills.

So...  why do I feel guilty?  Our childhoods were different: I wasn't packed off to boarding school, although I did as a teenager grow to resent having been shunted around the world from pillar to post, unable to form any lasting friendships.  I'm certainly not proud of the immature way I joined in my parents' constant derision of my sister's choice of boyfriends and I guess that over the years I could've seen a lot more of her: we don't live that far away and a phone call - even a long one - isn't altogether the same as contact in person.  But... what's done is done.

As far as the rest of it goes, I count my blessings.  As an adult, you choose your partner(s) and your lifestyle and I've been lucky on both counts.  I know I'm fortunate in enjoying relatively good health, although the reasons for it are a lot more obscure - diet, underlying enotional state, inherited characteristics.... who knows?  I don't have the capacity to care for my sister in her old age.  Part of me wants to - psychologically - a sort of weird role-reversal of when she looked out for me as a kid, I suppose.   However, I'm just going to let bygones be bygones, offer help where it's needed and accept that there are things that I can't change, much as I might want to.  The Fates spin out the metaphorical thread of life for us and we just have to accept the knots and tangles until one day it's eventually cut.