Hankering for a solution

There’s something nice about a handkerchief (eoww I hear you say…so dirty!) But hear me out. I’m thinking of a washed, (but not ironed…saving the planet here!) and folded square of fresh linen ready to be pulled out to dry tears of a lover, absorb the liquid evidence of a cold, wipe the breakfast leftovers from a baby’s face, and any number of things that involve waste-absorption. It speaks of an old fashioned readiness to care for things, mop them up, and unlike the dreaded tissue, will come back and fight more germs after a spell in the wash where it won’t disintegrate in a million bits of fluff all over your very best jumper.

To that end I went out this morning to buy some hankies, one of my new guilt assuaging moves to use less paper/plastic/packaging. I know it won’t save the environment or help those desperate creatures asphyxiating in ocean garbage. But it makes me feel better…as usual it’s all about me! Re-usable bags and avoidance of plastic for fruit and veggies at the supermarket, taking my own mug to the coffee stall, returning egg cartons, refilling water bottles from the tap and at least thinking about a compost bin are a few more of them. And we did build our house out of greenboard. (Basically it’s polystyrene. Yes we live in a great big esky!). And we purpose-built for the breezes to save using aircon. As well, I’ve been using bee-wax cloths instead of cling wrap…something spotted at the Eumundi Market by an environment –conscious young friend, who immediately passed it on to her bee-keeping sister, who now makes her own!

 

But that’s about it. I never use public transport (unless I’m in London) and have personally used massive amounts of fuel criss-crossing the globe at least 50 times in order to mitigate the separation involved in a life choice to move to Australia back in 1976. And not buying American grapes or Mexican mangoes won’t offset that bit of planet-crime.

If I’m serious I have to ditch the car and buy an electric one, learn to ride a bike, be content to watch our granddaughter grow up on Skype, only use products grown/made locally (oh no, those hankies were made in China!), stop eating environment-destroying meat, shower in cold water, install those solar panels asap. If I’m honest, none of that will happen.

There are some things that are easy. Happy to accept bent carrots and odd-coloured fruit, install a low-water garden, put a jumper on instead of the heating, use up leftovers instead of binning them…all this is second-nature to a string-saving post-war baby-boomer. But this feel-good is strictly small scale. What about the big stuff? I just don’t go there because it all feels too enormous and crushingly difficult. What we need is a change of mentality…Al Gore’s tipping point, which will be the point where we all tip into oblivion, if we don’t pay attention.

If you’re not feelin’ it, a visit to Las Vegas will bring our environmental bonkers-ness to front of mind. It’s basically a dazzling conurbation plonked in the middle of one of the hottest, driest places on the planet, sustainable only by air-conditioning on a massive scale. And in case you’re tempted to check the unregulated temperature (117f. when we were there) you have to find the exit from your cavernous and maze like hotel…because there is not a window in sight.

Google Vegas and you will uncover a long history of chancers and bankers and celebrities, (with some corporate corruption thrown in) all based on gambling. And what they have created is – it has to be said – enormous fun. It’s the sheer audacity of it all. We stayed in a hotel that completely recreated a beautiful Parisian early evening, complete with Pont Neuf, Arc de Triumph, and our very own Eiffel Tower, all under a glowing blue sky. Anything we required was in-house, we didn’t have to go out and confront the real temperature, and could amuse ourselves endlessly with food and drink and shows and – yes – gambling. With no sense of day or night or weather, time has no meaning.

But it struck me as fitting emblem for the state of our world, only it’s not a few dollars in the slot machine, it’s the future we’re gambling with! Much better to kick back with a few drinks and roll a dice, hoping to win big, than face the reality awaiting us. Guilty as charged! And a few small feel-good actions aren’t going to ameliorate drought in Somalia, water rising in the Polynesian Islands to our north, the heartbreak that is coral bleaching of the Barrier Reef…the list is brain bogglingly endless!

But I guess we have to start somewhere. Ok, investigate solar panels, check out those worm farms, dust off the bike (in a minute), go vegan (a bit), join the bush regeneration group in my street…oh and everyone I know is getting something planet-friendly for Xmas!

Action always feels better than inaction but I am seriously scared. Not for me in my comfy bubble, but for what we are bequeathing to our kids and grandkids.

tildy on skype

 

Sorry it’s such a dismal offering. I started with a few gags, but by the end, none of them seemed funny!

 

 

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Rusk Assessment

Phew! Finally, we’ve moved into the house we’ve been imagining for 30 years. And it’s lovely – all new, all clean, and best of all, clutter-free! Thank you, Lewis the fantastic carpenter and clutter-buster, who built us hundreds of drawers/cupboards/ built-ins/walk –ins/ plug-ins and slidey bins that have us as close to minimalist as we’re ever likely to be.

But not for long.

Enter our granddaughter Matilda Florence Byng and her lovely parents, trailing the vast paraphernalia of stuff required to deal with a baby’s hunger, thirst, tiredness, cold, heat,boredom, snot, vomit, plops, and anything else that mess-croppedisn’t going to help her get into Oxford. (Well you can’t start these things too early). And it’s messy. But somehow a pile of miniscule vests, a cereal- encrusted bib or a little coloured brick that gouges a chunk of skin from the unwary foot, are all so cute!

Nevertheless when she leaves, we like having our clean house back – for about ten minutes! Less, actually, before I find myself all teary when I come across a packet of her special organic rusksrusks-cropped – the signature snack for our favourite dribbly person – trailed around the house with her particular pals, Pinkie the pink thing and Kevin the koala. And suddenly we find ourselves with a big Tildy-shaped hole in our lives that we long to fill with all that wonderful mess, tedium, vigilance and joy that a gorgeous little person creates effortlessly. I’ve always thought a clean house was overrated, now I know why.

bob-and-tildy-2

reading-to-tildy

 

We didn’t have long to wait before we were reunited for her first birthday celebration in London. It’s a trip we’ve made at least forty times before, so why do I suddenly feel so anxious? It’s all here – the family, the old friends, the dulcet articulate drone of Radio 4, the shops, the theatres, the streets and buses and tubes we’ve been hopping on and off since childhood. And maybe because Tildy is our tangible, and precious reminder that so much is set down early in life, I’ve been thinking about that childhood.

Freedom to roam the streets, taking ourselves to and from school, risking our lives on dodgy playground equipment with no parents hovering, are all gifts we didn’t value at the time. We were allowed to get on with it, and I can see now, that if you’ve just come slidethrough a world war, letting your kid hurtle down a slide the size of Nelson’s column, was the least of your worries. Nevertheless, I don’t remember feeling scared of my world, and I’m the person who invented risk aversion.

I do get it, that the golden era of free university, a bag of chips for sixpence,fries a month in Greece for twenty quid, and a house that we didn’t have to mortgage our souls for, is long gone. And was it really that golden? I remember pubs so smoky you couldn’t see who you were talking to (just as well really), having to go down the street to make a phone call, living in flats with no central heating,  no fitted carpets and – ikeaunimaginably – no IKEA furniture or Netflix! But there were reassuring, if dreary certainties: a job for life with a gold watch and a pension if you stuck it out, a religion that promised you a spot in heaven if you did all those Novenas, and the knowledge that tomorrow would be pretty much like today…just a bit duller.

This generation has to write its own script – aided and abetted by Messrs Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg, who may or may not have equipped them for the bumpy ride on the Globalisation/Brexit/Trump juggernaut through a warming planet into a sharing economy, armed with a smart phone and a flexible take on each new scary twist technology throws at them. nokia-3310And while there’s no way they want to go back even to the Nokia 3310, never mind the shared phone box in the street, what kind of world is our lovely little bub going to inherit?

Louis MacNeice – well known Irish poet (and friend and colleague of my lesser known  dad) – must have been having the same wake-up-in-the-night scary thoughts about the future for children yet unborn, when he wrote these lines in his sombre and frightening poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’*

‘That the human race may with tall walls wall me…

Would freeze my humanity…

Would make me into a cog in a machine…

Would blow me like thistledown hither and thither…’ (Oh no, poor Matilda!)

He wrote this poem during World War 2, and it seems like a highly appropriate response to all that carnage and hopelessness. But then it dawned on me that the generation for  whom he held such fears, was mine! And only a few years after all that horror, we just strode on through perfectly OK lives with scarcely a backward glance. Indeed as he hoped, in his last verse, the earth:

‘Provide[d] me
 with water to dandle me,

Grass to grow for me,

Trees to talk 
to me,

Sky to sing to me,

Birds and a white light
 in the back of my mind to guide me.’

So clearly there’s no point in viewing the future through my nanna-shaped lens, so badly distorted by worry and bewilderment. Hell, I don’t even have a smart phone, so how would I know how it all works! parot-3-200x150What I do have is the weight in my arms of a fragrant little person pointing with equal delight at the jeweled bright Queensland parrots, or the soft, dun coloured London sparrow-1sparrows…she’s not fussy…everything is a complete delight to her. And together with trusty friends Pinkie and Kevin, her joy in the adventure of her life is what will inspire us all.

tldy-and-friends

  • These are just random extracts from this poem. The full version is very powerful, and a bit scary. Nevertheless I commend it to you (maybe with a strong cup of tea…or gin.)

Thrills and Spills

tilda 5Thrilling is not a word I’d use to describe our life at the moment. Comfortable, yes. And predictable. We know we won’t be running the New York Marathon any time soon, I’ll never be size 8 again, and there will definitely be a re-run of ‘Midsomer Murders’ some time in the next 24 hours.

marathon

So predictable is a bit dull, but it’s pleasant. We might cruise tranquilly through the specials at Aldi, or have morning tea at the seniors film club, go to choir practice, or play golf…fortunate indeed to be able to drift peacefully into our sunset years. The closest we get to thrilling is when Midsomer Murders shows an episode we haven’t seen before. Or maybe we just can’t remember.

midsomer murders

But all that changed at 4.35 pm on Thursday 21st January at St Thomas’ Hospital. Within sight of Big Ben and the London Eye and probably within the sound of Bow Bells – if they were dinging especially loudly – our first grandchild, Matilda Florence (Mo Flo* to her friends) arrived.

big ben

Our first sighting was on Skype, but within 24 hours we had in our arms the soft weight and heft and smell of this brand new person. It is nothing short of astonishing. A couple of days before, she was a tidy bump that twisted and flexed, but didn’t stop her mum going to the movies or eating a birthday banoffee cake (made with mango – Queensland style). But now! This wriggly bundle of life with the dark eyes and rosebud lips is so emphatically here! She commands us all to smile and coo and repeat to each other how beautiful she is. And she is.

thea banoffeetilda skype

OK, arguably no more beautiful than all the other babies, but try telling that to all the people grinning stupidly around her. She is beautiful because she’s the next bit of our families – those little houses of hope we constructed in the face of all the crap that life might rain on us (not literally, we hope). Thank goodness we don’t know this when we embark with such blithe optimism on the business of rearing new people out of love and hope. And thank goodness we don’t know how hard it will be to give ourselves over to these new people…to watch and fret over their every move, to minister blindly to their every need, even when we are only guessing what that need is.

Tilda 4

So that’s part of the thrill – the sheer optimism of a new baby. But there is more to it. Trouble is, every time you try to explain it, you end up in clichés, because it’s the most common thing in the world. It has to be, or we wouldn’t have a world, so why is it so special when it happens to you? That’s the paradox – it’s unique and commonplace, profound and ordinary. It’s so huge it connects you with the grand universal story of humankind and yet all these unexceptional people have managed it…even idiots like your own parents!

Tilda me and Bob

But there are a few special thrills for grandparents:

  • You get to relive and remember when it was you that was suddenly responsible for this other life…the whole sweet awfulness of it all.
  • Airbrushed by time, you realize what a remarkable job you did getting them to sleep, feed and poo unscathed. (That’s them. You were extremely scathed at the time).
  • You get to say profound things like, ‘I think it’s wind,’ and people listen to you as if you know stuff.
  • And it’s your baby with a baby of her/his own. We can’t help taking some vicarious pride. Job done, back patted. We must have done something right. (Certainly not tight swaddling…I still can’t manage that.)

tilda and me

And as for that old chestnut, ‘the best thing about grandchildren is that you can give them back.’ Nup, that’s not it. Surely the best thing about the degree of separation is that you feel the same ridiculous love for this little person as you did for your own, but because it’s no longer you in that hormonal haze of exhaustion and exhilaration, you can enjoy the marvel of it, and savour it, think about it, gaze at the baby and later at the pictures (all 529 of them) with a bit of time to enjoy it. Not too much savouring went on first time around. More like saving – your life – before you go bonkers.

Thea, Si and Matilda

Happy two-month birthday Matilda – the thrill that keeps on thrilling!

*Can’t claim the name…that was coined by that well known wit Dr Tim Dark.