Tuesday 17 April 2018

The Garden of Tranquility

I cannot believe the fuss and performance made by certain family members about our going to the crematorium today. Perhaps others have had similar experiences. If so, you have my sympathy.

When my father died, suddenly, in Italy, in 1993, mum, my brother and I thought a bench with a plaque, in his memory, was a fitting tribute to him. Our family doesn't have a burial plot. The only graves related to us are in another cemetery - for mum's side of the family - for the ancients - but from 1959 onwards nana, aunties, mum and dad have had their ashes scattered at the crematorium. There is no headstone for any of them.

Last year, after mum died and her ashes scattered, I orchestrated the removal of the plaque on 'dad's' memorial bench so that the wording represented mum too. It took months and many conflicting messages from 'Bereavement Services' to get the wording and the help we wanted. I was horrified at both the cost and the poor state of the finish on the wooden bench after the revised plaque had been repositioned. I offered, to members of our family, to go to the crematorium, sand down the bench and restain it in order to repair the botched job done by someone at the council.

However a couple of family members, referred to as THEY, THEIR etc from hereonin, live fifteen minutes away and THEY went ahead and restored the bench instead. (I live three hours away.)

Today, because we were staying with THEM, we had to purchase a spray of flowers - in secret - as THEY objected to my taking flowers to put on 'mum's and dad's bench'. THEY said the council don't like it and THEY said mum always objected to flowers on benches (first I knew of this but THEY are prone to magnifying a point in order to win some battle or other.)

Having purchased the spray of flowers, in secret, yesterday, I walked past a supermarket coffee machine, which had spare paper take-away cups. I have to admit to purloining one of these as I thought it had been set aside (and would help in my subterfuge).

Now ... how to sneak the flowers, unseen, into THEIR house and put them in water ready for the crematorium 24 hours later? I didn't try ... that's the simple answer. I asked Richard to open the rear door on our car, I placed the paper coffee cup in the rear cup holder, poured water in it from the glass water bottle I had with me ... et voila... mission - stage one - accomplished. The flowers could stay there, in water, safely, unseen, overnight.

Having only ever been to the crematorium in a limousine as a mourner I don't know the route as a driver. THEY printed a street map for me, being helpful, while telling me about all the potholes, roadworks and every other road problem under the sun. For the amount of troubles we would encounter we might as well have been setting off for a trek across the Sahara. 

Today I woke early (6 am) (with my ongoing back pain), washed my hair, went to make breakfast at some ungodly hour but THEY were already up. THEY were unable to cope with making me a hot breakfast drink as I was downstairs much earlier than THEY expected. The fuss my presence created doesn't bear description ... 

THEY told me there was no point my going to the crematorium early as the roads would be dreadful. I said nothing. I, however, wanted to go before 9 am to place flowers and take a photograph for remembrance before funeral parties arrived. It is inappropriate, I feel, to be clicking away when mourners are in a state of distress over their own lost loved ones.

I was, of course,  ready to go to the crematorium as close to 9 am as possible. What happened next was not what I was expecting.

Before I left the house THEY handed me a bag of cleaning materials to do up the bench. THEY said it was in a terrible state. I was perturbed. Did I really want precious moments remembering my parents to be sabotaged by dish rags and detergents?

I was getting somewhat incensed at this point and went over THEIR heads. If THEY could be petty I could go one better. 
        'If there's moss on the bench it'll need bleach or a bathroom spray to clean it. Can you get me some?' I said, as if addressing domestic staff. Reluctantly some bleach, in spray form, was found. 

Thankfully the map THEY had produced for us worked. There was no traffic congestion, I saw none of the horrendous road works THEY anticipated, but because of the fuss and performance about avoiding a dreadful (15 minute) journey, three funeral parties were already at the chapels when we arrived to ... yes ... clean the 'family' bench. Having (badly) secured the flowers (lilies, roses, greenery) on the bench the wind blew and knocked them over straight away. My idea of placing the flowers in the take-away coffee cup with water, and covered with ribbon or similar, had to be abandoned as the wind was so fierce the whole display collapsed and had to be rearranged. In the end, ever watchful for funeral parties who may need to view their family flowers on the balcony where I was 'working', I made a wedge out of a floating ribbon which landed at my feet from another family's floral tribute and stood my flowers up, on the bench, without water. The spray won't last long without water, but what to do? I felt as desperate as Sgt Troy in 'Far From the Madding Crowd' when his pitiful planting of bulbs, in his sweetheart's grave, is destroyed and washed away by a torrent of rain water from a gargoyle sited above her headstone.

I was cross, sad, tired and frustrated that I couldn't have a few quiet moments with my parents at the place of their memorial bench. Mourners from funeral services began to drift out of one of the chapels. For two pins I wanted to abandon the 'clean up' and just pause for a moment, with a sense of dignity. That's why I was there, after all. The mourners didn't come our way, however. I looked at the flower display I'd created. I felt more relaxed and pleased, took a photograph and had a quiet moment. Mission - stage two - accomplished.

Next to our bench was the blasted bag of cleaning materials; latex gloves, sponge wash-ups, cleaning cloths, an apron and the bleach spray. Yes there were tiny spots of moss on the bench, but that's as bad as it got. It's kept outside for other mourners to sit on and is prone to a little moss-gathering. If I sprayed bleach on it would it really help anyone recently bereaved to have a dignified funeral ceremony while smelling noxious fumes as they looked at family flowers and paid their last respects?

The funeral parties from the other chapels hadn't yet made their way to the balcony where the benches are placed. I took a chance. I sprayed the moss, rubbed at it, without fiddling with latex gloves, and removed the vast majority of the 'offensive' moss and mildew. I wiped over the seat and arms of the bench and, remembering what THEY said, disposed of the rags in the waste bin.

Our family bench is the most well-stained, most polished and most attractive-looking of all on the balcony. But does that matter? Surely the spirit of calmness, relection and remembrance are far more important than an obsession with being the perfect bench hosts. 

Back at THEIRs, by roughly 10.30 am, not only was what I'd done to the bench not good enough but my suggestion that I sand down part of the bench and restain it - on another occasion - was met with ferocious outrage.

     'That bench needs completely stripping down with paint stripper. It'll take a whole weekend to do. It can't be done when funerals are on and it needs to be stripped on a dry day. We can't do it ...' (No-one ever asked THEM to.)
     'Then,' the harangue continued, 'the bench has to dry, then be washed down with soap and water, then left to dry again.'

     'I might manage to redo the bench where the new plaque has been put - maybe on a warm summer's day, at a weekend, ' I offered.

      'And then when you've done all that you can restain it. And it'll have to be done the same day. It'll look awful otherwise. AND you'll have to unscrew the plaque and rescrew it tight afterwards.'

     I was so furious with this nagging I poured myself a huge glass of white wine, even though it was only 10.30 am. THEY never drink, of course, and found my behaviour extremely odd.  Good. I went upstairs and packed, wanting oh so much to come home. We had, however arranged to have coffee out and a fish and chip lunch, with THEM, before driving back. In fact having coffee then fish and chips were pleasant enough experiences and by the time it came to leave THEM we were all in much better humours.

But, as for the garden of tranquility, was it ever envisaged to be the scene of such domestic disharmony? Surely going to pay one's respects to one's parents should be a time of peace and quiet contemplation? Not an episode of 'How clean is your house?'


Sunday 8 April 2018

Ordeal by Trivia

Strange, isn't it, that a Sunday evening's TV viewing has to be marred by trivia?
The trivia to which I refer are passwords and the rewriting of classic yarns, whereby the outcome, the whodunnit, is the whodintdoit. 

After several weeks of back pain, please do refer to my earlier posts for the tiresome details, I needed, today, to go for a walk, have a coffee and a read of the Sunday newspapers, ahead of the luncheon crowds, by the river. Richard said I was walking well and later, in our garden, I even managed to bend to do two minutes weeding. 

This afternoon I watched a film without the aftereffects of the weeding playing havoc with my back. After a truly soothing bath I settled down to Sunday night TV. I was feeling better.

As I write my back feels easier than it has for some time and the only irritation I felt tonight was my attempted viewing of an Agatha Christie adaptation at 9pm. I never did rate 'The Night Manager' nor did I like another Christie adaptation 'And Then There Were None' but I know the Denis Lawson and Jane Seymour version of 'Ordeal by Innocence' and wanted to see part two of the new production tonight. If only to compare. However, lurking in the back of my mind was a feature I'd read which stated that the ending (the whodunnit) has been rewritten for this latest BBC offering. And I agreed with the article which suggested rewriting the ending such that the murderer's identity changes isn't the done thing. I do know the sad, hunted 'Jacko' in the Lawson/Seymour adaptation of 'Ordeal by Innocence' ... SPOILER ALERT ... isn't the perpetrator, but the housekeeper ( played gloriously by Alison Steadman) is the murderer. Why alter that?

After enjoying the sunshine of Corfu in 'The Durrells' and the fiestas, intrigue and medical dilemmas in 'The Good Karma Hospital' I decided to lie in bed with my ipad to watch 'Ordeal by Innocence' on the iplayer. Great, I thought, if I'm late for the beginning I can click 'restart'. Easy. 

But no, just because my back is less troublesome, all the irritations of the world don't simply disappear. The iplayer announced my device ( i pad) didn't support the transmission and to retry. I retried and got the same message. I turned to my iPhone 6 plus. It has eaten up my data allowance as I've used it more when lying in bed at the top of the house - for back therapy - where the signal is too poor for my ipad. But today my new monthly allowance starts and I can watch the beeb on it without any problem.

Or so I thought. I tuned into 'Ordeal by Innocence' on my iphone, now ten minutes into transmission, and I got the same 'this device won't...'message. I pulled out my Mac, which was purchased for writing my novel, and nothing else! and tried to open up Google Chrome to find BBC iplayer as I don't use Apps on my Mac.

Google Chrome had to download. Then it had to download on my iphone and ipad too - why? I already have it on those devices. Then I had to find 'Ordeal by Innocence' and begin watching it - 20 minutes into the programme. Ah. Not so fast. 

Not quite yet.

I had to sign into the BBC. I can't remember if I've done this before; the site knew my email address but after three attempts rejected my password. I clicked to change my password, went on to MAIL to receive the link to change it but couldn't understand why no new mail was coming through my inbox. Meanwhile the programme, 'Ordeal', was half-way through.
I clicked a few things on the inbox page of MAIL on my Mac and I was asked to sign into Google - with another password. Fingers crossed I hoped the password was correct. It was. Over 1000 emails swooped into my inbox and low and behold there was the one I wanted.( I told you I use the Mac for writing my novel - hence other installations are redundant or underused. ) I found the email for the BBC link. I clicked it, changed my password, signed on, crossed my fingers again, and found I was on the iplayer page and - yes - my Mac was a device able to show 'Ordeal by Innocence.'

I pressed restart and play and began to enjoy the Agatha Christie retelling. As I said I know the story and find this adaptation slow but whilst I adore Matthew Goode here he is an embittered wheelchair-bound Phillip Durrant and is anything but 'good'. Ten years ago he was an excellent Charles Ryder in 'Brideshead' but I don't recall that the nasty, foul-mouthed, bitter cripple whom he plays in 'Ordeal' was so surly in the Lawson/Seymour version. Yes, he adds drama, and is a brilliant actor but is he just a red herring? Is he there to make us think he was the murderer? He must be, mustn't he, as he's so foul. Except he's suicidal. Maybe it's Calgary, that lonely 'witness' who knows Jack was an innocent, played fretfully by Luke Treadaway. He is sidelined by the living protagonists, the family whose mother is the murder victim, is almost run over by the detective who convicted Jack and, as a scientist, cf Einstein, has unwittingly released an annihilating bomb on the world. Calgary has a world-death fixation. A sad character. And, because I had a thousand emails wanting to show themselves, ancient messages from 'Sky' or 'Majestic Wines' distracted me from following the drama by appearing in the top right-hand corner of my handheld screen.

After thirty minutes watching I tired of the pop-ups and the nastiness and, despite the effort I'd gone to to log on and watch the programme, I switched my Mac off, only to find the programme was now available on 'all platforms'. Pity was, I didn't want to watch it whether it was available on my ipad or not.

My husband won't watch 'The Durrells' because he says it's nothing like Lawrence Durrell's work. I don't like this 'Ordeal by Innocence' because it's nothing like the original Christie and last week a friend of mine watched 'Fahrenheit 451' with me (the Oskar Werner and Julie Christie version) but she didn't like that because it wasn't like the book. I like both the book and the film. Will I like the new 451F film when it's out in May?

The trivia of passwords is always a pain but the details of novels which we know well are more than trivia. In 451F one of the leads in the book dies before the ending but miraculously lives on in the film. Ray Bradbury liked the film's new ending, however, and rewrote her story for his stage version of the book. However 'Ordeal by Innocence' can only have one murderer can't it? To change the whodunnit is surely taking dramatic licence too far? I don't think altering the ending is trivial. But next week, if I decide to tune in, I'll watch it on the box, not on a lap top nor tablet, to fiddle with passwords. 

Oh hang on. We'll be away. And my aunts won't want 'that sort of thing' on their TV on a Sunday evening. Better record it in advance and hope no-one tells me who the murderer is before I've seen the ending. But ... SPOILER ALERT ... it wasn't Jacko ( or Jack as he's known in this production) - perhaps in this version it's the Matthew Goode character - Durrant - who murders the wealthy householder. He's not in love with his wife, and surely only married her for her money. Hence the murder. Or it's Calgary, lonely, unwanted by the family, is a former mental institute patient and is unstable. There. Case closed. I know whodunnit.  I don't need to tune in and endure the trivia of passwords, do I?

And Fahrenheit 451 predicts we'll all be governed by screens rather than by books. Since it was written in 1953 that's strangely, frighteningly prescient.