ON BEING STUPID

ON BEING STUPID

I am discovering (at my advancing age!) that it is undeniably true that weaknesses and deficiencies you have had all your life but lived with and concealed tolerably well, get worse. I have many deficiencies.

I remember writing in my diary which begins in 1986 that if ever it fell into the hands of someone researching the customs and mores of our times, they should pay scant regard to the dates given for they were very unreliable. I can just about be depended on to get the year right. It seems to me that in the great scheme of things it makes very little difference whether things happened on a Wednesday or Thursday. I was always morbidly afraid of booking someone ‘s travel arrangements on the wrong day, but I had a colleague who was meticulous in her planning and she checked them for me and between the two of us we made no mistakes. I did any calculations she had to do – she couldn’t do anything vaguely mathematical whereas I had no difficulties in that area.

It does make a difference sometimes when exactly a thing was said or done – in the fields for example of law enforcement, medicine or sport it can make an enormous difference. These days I don’t seem to be able to send out an invitation without getting the date wrong.

I always had a superb memory for faces and a completely useless one for names. I don’t particularly want to know someone’s name. I can ask for it if I decide I’d like to see them again and their face has been recorded in my mental memory and will be accessible to me in 20 years or more, even if I saw them only once. I will also have formed a judgement of their character which in my experience is rarely wrong (though one has to be prepared to acknowledge that as a possibility.) I also absolutely hate wearing a name badge – I don’t want you to call me Anne if I’ve just met you – and I always ‘lose’ it at the earliest opportunity. Rory, working in a restaurant at the airport

used to wear someone else’s and would be particularly pleased if he found one that said Mohamed or even Fatima.

I’m not good at differentiating between left and right (although I am mildly ambidextrous). And I’ve come to the conclusion that the map in my head is upside down, for whenever there is doubt about whether one should turn left or right; you should at any rate go in the opposite direction of what I think, since I am almost invariably wrong. I never have any idea in which direction North is.

Fortunately my travelling companion in life is not only a superb logistics man and planner par excellence – and can ditch the plan and formulate another if necessary which often such people cannot do; he has maps in his head that are as miraculous as my collection of faces. He will remember the layout of a town even if he only visited it once 30 years ago. He also has an instinct for finding the restaurant area of an unknown town, and nobody can find toilets faster than him.

But he has been known to say to me, For a supposedly clever woman, you’re remarkably stupid at times. I have to agree with him.

SUTTON HOO

SUTTON HOO

On our recent holiday in Suffolk, we visited Sutton Hoo. We had last been there perhaps 30 years ago. Then we had wandered, with our children, through fields (of maize, I think) until we came upon an archeological dig. From here, presently, the archeologist in charge had emerged and given a lecture on the site which was so erudite and elegant that when he drew his remarks to a close, and invited questions, we were so overwhelmed by his eloquence that nobody could gather their thoughts together fast enough to construct an adequate response. Way down the line a woman whom I had noticed was rather restless raised her hand. “What happened to Mrs Pretty?’ she demanded. Edith Pretty was the owner after the death of her husband and she was entitled to whatever honour she may have wished as she gifted this magnificent find to the nation and asked for nothing in return.

This time there was a proper car park, and an attractive visitor centre and cafe, museum shop etc.   It  was (for me) a longish walk through marshy, hilly ground and then you arrive at the burial site.

It is said that Mrs Pretty consulted her deceased husband in a spiritualist session and he had advised her to examine the largest. You did not really require the advice. It was by far the largest mound. The team pressed on, hoping to discover the magnificent treasure which we now know to have been there.

The boat was HUGE. It had been hauled up from the river quite a distance. It had been built of wood and was clinker built. The boat would have held approximately 80 oarsmen and was steered by the helmsman in the rear with a deep rudder.  They reckoned it had been to sea. It was a lovely object.

And then there were copies of the treasures found within the burial. Of the body, nothing remained. There was a beautiful sword with a jewelled scabbard, arm bracelets with enamel and gold. And the glorious helmet. A horse’s skeleton was also recognisable and its precious metal harness from

In the past I have looked with disapproval at cultures who bury grave goods with the deceased. These products were of tremendous value- a king’s ransom indeed. I used to think sniffily that they must have had poor people or those who were ill or injured and needed support and who could have benefited from the sale of these goods, Just letting my thoughts flow where they will, I suddenly realised that these people genuinely believed in the Afterlife, and therefore it made sense to go into the underworld prepared.

We have an ambivalent attitude to life after death. To any of you who still genuinely believe in Christianity’s legend of the afterlife, I have no wish to offend. I admire your faith and hope you may be right. But mostly we do not, in our secret hearts believe it. We have allowed science to seduce us. We don our blacks and we attend the rituals of burial. We say Amen to the prayers for the soul of the deceased. We find the ancient words a comfort, and we are happy to conform to the burial customs. But for us it is like a piece of theatre. In the main, we do not believe.

FINE DINING

FINE DINING

We have been on holiday in our caravan for the past fortnight in Suffolk and Essex. There was a great variety of weather – from glorious heart-warming late summer sunshine, to pre-equinoxial gales, but none of the heavier weather happened when we needed fine, and we were warm and snug in our caravan.

We were in the beautiful town of Lavenham one day and decided to have lunch. We ended up in a ‘fine dining’ establishment (simply because we chose the nicest looking restaurant on the square.) I was reflecting on other ‘fine dining’ experiences I have had – in London, in Sandusky, Ohio, in Normandie in France, and came to the conclusion that I do not like FINE DINING.

I like Good Food of course and a nice wine and efficient service but I remind myself that although we are privileged to enjoying this luxury, other people do not have enough to eat.

There were nice things about the restaurant. It had an elegant dining room with comfortable chairs.

It’s menu was interesting. My small glass of Sauvignon Blanc was very good. When we dined in Normandie, the Maitre D’ was all that you would wish but the waitress was very forward; here the waitresses were lovely, with formal but smiling service and kind and sensitive to the needs of disabled customers and the mothers of babies. Whereas the maitre d’ who was comparatively young seemed mostly preoccupied with preserving his dignity. He did not appear to do anything except issue orders and hamper other people in their work.

I had soup which came in a soup bowl which had a few pieces of chicken and vegetables artfully arranged in it, over which she poured, from a jug the creamy liquid of the soup. Was this really necessary I found myself thinking. Then I had sea-bream on a bed of vegetables, and finally I chose a chocolate dessert which consisted of teaspoonfuls of ice-cream, gateau, sauce and other tiny pieces. I found myself regarding it with distaste and wondering how clean were the hands of the person who had fiddled with my dessert. We also had an amuse-bouche and a small portion of another tiny pudding. It was ALL very good but I found myself irritated at its pretentiousness and thinking I would prefer my food to look more like its original state.

Meanwhile there had arrived a young couple with an 8 month old baby boy, It was obviously a celebration, perhaps of the mother’s birthday. She was a pretty woman wearing a glamorous dress. The Boy was dressed in his finest too. He was a lovely child. His parents still had that look about them that first time parents have: triumph, delight – and shock at how much more difficult it all was than they had ever imagined. The boy was delighted to be out, and set about, from his high chair, of engaging with every party in the room. An elderly couple where the man sat in gloomy silence, listening to his wife’s constant flow of mostly malicious gossip about people of their acquaintance, just sighing at the end of some scurrilous tale but no more inclined to take action than a cat facing a crocodile. (I had privately named them as the Bishop and Mrs Proudie.)

When the boy indicated that he would actually be careful and stick to his pram and be a good buy, the ‘Bishop’ (while sufficiently savvy – he was a worldly bishop )– was not deceived.. The mother fed the boy his lunch while they waited for theirs to come. But at this point the child revealed that he wasn’t all sweetness and light. The waitress came with a basket full of bread rolls, giving one to each of the parents but not to the boy. He shouted at her; in his rage the sounds were almost like words. Then he bellowed at his mother for not fixing the problem to his satisfaction. He cried (mumphed to himself really) and then fell asleep in his pram leaving his parents a brief period of calm in which to enjoy their lunch.

He could have told you all about Fine Dining!