Monday, March 30, 2015

The Singer

The Singer 

The rain fell in the night as predicted - straight-down, relentless, a carillon calling to sleep.  The big white dog slept with his head across my feet, occasionally letting loose a deep, contented sigh as the rain pounded the roof and lashed the leaded windows till, just as the hands of the clock drifted closer to three, we heard him.
  Out there in the dark, in the rain.  A bird, singing.

Not the soft lilt of the nightingale, nor the warm hoot of the owl, but a full-throated song more suitable to noon-time, more expected in the sun.   Hidden within the chartreuse leaves of a newly born Spring this feathered tenor lifted his voice to spite the dark, to ridicule the rain; neither would silence his obvious joy.  Though the lyrics were known only to him, he sang through the dark garden in notes of pure happiness, a celestial choir of one. 

The big dog stirred and met my gaze with understanding.
  “He has to sing”, he seemed to tell me. "He can't help himself.
“The rain is pushing away winter.  Spring is here.”

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come….”
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Friday, March 20, 2015



When I was really little,  I developed a simmering, and rather unfortunate,  crush on Jonathan Miller.  This is odd in and of itself, even more so for someone as young as I was.  (If you wish to know how odd, google him.)  Apparently I had seen him on some interview program and found him slightly irresistible.  This was not, I hasten to say, any type of romantic crush for I had not reached that stage of things.  No, it was, I’m quite certain, a crush on wit, that rare talent bestowed on fewer people than one might think and one that can still make me slightly weak in the knees.  I would still rather have lunch with Stephen Fry than Brad Pitt.  

For those of us who find this quality irresistible, our objects of attraction are sadly few and far between these days.  Those in the media capable of delivering the perfectly worded paragraph, or even quip, are … well… few.  The golden-edged bon mot seems to have been replaced by a ham-fisted humour awash in juvenile sensibility and designed to appeal to the greatest majority of twelve year old boys.  Not being a twelve year old boy myself, it leaves me cold, and worse, bored.

The world of books is hardly immune to this ever-increasing waste of language.  What passes for the modern day beach book takes six chapters to say what Edith Wharton managed between two perfectly crafted sentences.  So it was that I found myself surprised and utterly delighted last week when I picked up a book that had been working its way to the top of my ever-growing stack for quite a while.  “Love, Nina” is a collection of letters written by a London nanny to her sister in Leicestershire during the early 80’s when she served as the nanny to the two precocious, and charmingly witty, sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, the long-time editor of The London Review of Books.  The family lives on a street in London peppered with literary types who make frequent appearances on these pages, their comments and observances sprinkled with appropriate amounts of deliciously wicked wit.   Alan Bennett drops by for dinner most nights. (And yes, sadly,  I have a long-standing crush on him as well.)  And Jonathan Miller lives a few houses down.  

To be allowed into the private conversations of this cadre of wits brought to life by Nina Stibbe is a sheer joy.  I have laughed out loud frequently.  ( Sidenote:  Always, every time I laugh, Edward wags his tail.  This is particularly funny when it’s late at night and he’s sound asleep.  Sleep-wagging.  He did a lot of that while I was reading this book. )  
Check out “Love, Nina”.

And as for the utterly charming Alan Bennett,
 a new movie is being filmed of his play, “The Lady in the Van”. 
 Starring Dame Maggie Smith, it’s certain to be a winner.  
Be sure and read the book first!  
 Find it HERE.
and here’s the trailer for the upcoming film:

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Good Patient

The Good Patient

At a neighbourhood gathering last night The Songwriter was asked if I was a “good patient”.  I, of course, answered for him and in the affirmative, though he could be heard faintly muttering in the background, something that sounded suspiciously like the word “stubborn”.  But I couldn’t be sure.   Truth is, I’m rather ursine when I am recuperating.  I crawl into my four-poster and sleep till I’m better.  I prefer to be alone, the constant presence of Edward notwithstanding.   I don’t want visitors, food, or entertainment.  Flowers are appreciated, of course.  Flowers are always appreciated.  And the occasional kiss on the forehead, as long as I’m not contagious.

Though my recent hospital stay only lasted a day and a half, I think the nurses who cared for me would say I’d been a good patient. I made no unreasonable demands; my only request being for crushed ice and cranberry juice. ( Of course I did spill the forthcoming cranberry juice down my front which made me look like I’d been attacked by a wild animal and which gave one nurse a bit of a fright, but I blame this little incident on my lack of coordination brought on by the after effects of anesthesia.)   I did what I was told which is, in my experience, the best way to get along in any sort of hospital setting and is highly advisable when one wants to be released as quickly as possible. Any tiny problems I may have had I blame entirely on the above mentioned anesthesia and subsequent pain medication.   For example…. 

At her first visit, my night nurse flipped over my chart and exclaimed,
 “Wow!  You do not look your age!”. 
 This of course comes in as a compliment and leaves as a worry because what she’s really saying is … “you’re a lot older that I thought you were”.  I mumbled some sort of thanks along the lines of … “no make-up… genetics… sunscreen” as she continued on in rapid fire patter saying..  “Yeah you know people always think I’m a lot younger than I actually am.  Gotta love that, right?”.   
Now, had I been in my right mind, i.e. not drugged, I would have politely chuckled and agreed with her.  Instead  , in my altered state, I heard myself say, “Well, let’s see now.  I’d say you were about forty-eight.”  
The room got quiet and she replied, “Yeah, well, my hair’s pulled back and I didn’t get much sleep last night.  I’m forty-five.”  
Damn.  Never insult your nurse first thing out. 

Then there was the issue with the bed.  It remains my contention that they shouldn’t put all those buttons on the side of the railings if they don’t intend for one to push them.  After considerable experimentation at about three in the morning, I can tell you that it is possible to get oneself into such a position that it will indeed require a nurse to straighten one out.  Fortunately, the nurse who took care of this particular problem seemed to find it endlessly entertaining, so I think she’d give me high marks on diversion alone, particularly as it was she who later found me sound sleep with my soup spoon held aloft in the air as though I were conducting The Boston Pops.  She proceeded to laughingly tell me this was a sure sign of someone who never takes pain medication:  give them some and they flop over like a fish.  

Then there was the owl.  I was fortunate to have a room with a huge triple window, unfortunate that said window did not open.  In my opinion, being of the belief that fresh air is in itself restorative, all hospital windows should open. (They could always be set someway so that they didn’t open wide enough for people to escape, if that’s the worry.)  Sometime in the middle of the night, I was watching the moon chase the clouds outside my closed window when I spied, through the trees, a huge owl on the window ledge across from me.  He was massive and still, and he appeared to be staring right into my room.  I would fall asleep for a few minutes, awake suddenly, and yes, he was still there.  Even I had enough sense not to call the nurse about this, but I was amazed, if also a bit unsettled.  
Next morning I saw him to be a gargantuan plastic owl, the sort farmers put in fields to ward off rabbits.  I couldn’t decide if this type of trick  was actually appropriate to play on people in hospitals, but decided it probably was.

Yesterday I negotiated Whole Foods in a shopping expedition for strawberries and flowers, so I would say I am well and truly recuperated.  There was a bit of a discussion between The Songwriter and myself when I attempted to take the stairs instead of the elevator. (It was just one floor, for pete’s sake.)  I assume this is where his use of the word stubborn would apply, but you’d have to ask him about that.  I’m just happy to be almost as good as new. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Praise of Boredom

In Praise of Boredom

As a little boy, whenever The Songwriter ran out of activities to occupy his time he would run to his father emitting the universal whine of the bored child… “Daddy, what can I dooooo?”.  This plaintive inquiry was always met with the same unique reply.  His father would raise his hands over his head and with his two index fingers pointing skyward he would say, “Do this!”, as he waggled those fingers and made vociferous beeping noises.  This response always garnered a laugh or two, even as it showed the young Songwriter that not only did no one ever die from boredom but it just might not be as bad a state to in be in as he first thought.  

These days, no one is ever bored.  I sat at a red light the other afternoon and looked around me.  Every single person I saw, be they driver or passenger, was looking down at their phone.  No longer do we stare into space in the check out line at the market, or daydream whilst waiting our turn at the bank.  We check our phones as we wait for the waiter to bring us our menus at a restaurant and again as we wait for our food.  From doctor’s offices to airplanes, from football games to the car pool line, no one seems to let their minds off the leash of their phones anymore.  

 When we did we begin to view boredom as such a dreadful thing to be avoided at all costs?  What would the shelves of our libraries look like if great minds had never been allowed to wander?  And how can great minds wander if they are never bored?  To let one’s thoughts lift up and leave through the window, with neither schedule or map to consider……to stare out to that sweet spot of middle distance where all that exists is breezy nothingness…. these are the times when the shy thoughts appear, those schemes and ideas too timid, too ephemeral to take shape in the glare of modern life.  

Last week, in those few remaining vestiges of winter before Spring arrives with her list of new chores, I had a spot of surgery I had been putting off for awhile.  It was my plan to get a lot of reading and writing and knitting done during the couple of weeks of my recuperation… my to-do list was long.  But when I came home the next night, though all went perfectly,  I found I was too tired to concentrate on much and found myself, frankly, bored.  After tapping my fingers on the arms of my chaise for an afternoon, I decided to just enjoy it.  Who said I had to accomplish anything over the next week or so?  Would the Earth slip from her axis if I didn’t?  

So I’ve let my thoughts drift and waft, hither and yon and before I knew it, boredom had opened the door to daydreams.   All in my head I’ve designed cottages beside riverbanks and castles on mountainsides.  I’ve braided Edward’s fur.  I’ve sailed out through green seas to small islands where I’ve spent the afternoon lying in the sunshine.  I’ve dodged fat raindrops on the streets of Istanbul.  I have not checked my email, nor the front page.  I have been lazily, deliciously bored and nothing bad has happened.  I just might try this more often. Who knows what it might lead to.
To read more about the benefits of boredom, check out the podcast at New Tech City.  They are currently championing boredom and all the many ways it can lead to brilliance! 
 Take a look and a listen, HERE!