Maybe some of my criticism is a little out of date

Posted by September Blue Monday, 30 July 2007 1 comments

This is A. C. Bradley, in 1925.

The time for this has not yet come in Tennyson's case, and it will hardly come in my lifetime; but, if only for your entertainment, I will hazard a brief prophecy. I believe he will be considered the best poet of his own age, though not so much the best as his own age supposed; and, while I have never thought that in native endowment he was quite the equal of the best of the preceding age, yet the distance, as it seems to me, is not wide; and, as he was blessed with long life, made (like Pope) the most of his gift, and in a wonderful degree retained and developed it to the end, I do not doubt that his place will be beside them, and expect that the surviving portion of his work will not be smaller than what survives of theirs. But I am not going to offer reasons for this forecast, or to attempt an account of his merits, and still less to try to prove them. You cannot prove the merits of Sappho's fragments or of King Lear (which Tolstoy thought poor stuff); and I should not dream of disputing with some one who is indifferent, say, to The Lotos-Eaters. The dispute would end, at best, in nothing, and, at worst, in each of us saying aloud what he only said to himself at the beginning – that his opponent, so far as poetry is concerned, should forever hold his peace.

This was a time when critics went by their initials, made broad predictions about the future 'for your entertainment', and refused to elaborate on their ideas of a poet's merit in case some soulless Philistine disagreed and the ensuing argument ended in both telling the other to 'forever hold his peace' concerning poetry. Sometimes - quietly - don't you miss it, just for that?

| edit post

Well, that's reassuring...

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 29 July 2007 2 comments

From the July/August issue of my Amnesty magazine, this story about about a waiter who prevented a rape. (Asterisks in original.)

One of my regular customers arrived, he could be quite demanding and always liked me to serve him. It looked as though he had already been drinking and he had a young woman with him. He introduced her as his girlfriend - though her reaction didn't seem to support that. He took me to one side and whispered "I want to **** her, I want to **** her. If you get me a nice table so I can **** her then I'll look after you." My initial reaction was it seemed almost comical - these words were so ludicrous.

Throughout the evening he repeatedly told me to keep bringing drinks, even if she didn't want them and repeatedly said in the same terms what he wanted to do. (I made all the other staff aware of all this.) At one point he said: "I want something strong, something special, I want to knock her out". During the meal his behaviour turned from absurdly comic to something that made me feel uncomfortable - I felt a disgusting sense of being complicit in some way with his plan.

At the end of the meal, the girl went to the toilet. While she was away from the table, I saw him furtively take a pill from a pharmaceutical pack in his pocket and reach over to draw the wine glass on the lady's side toward him. He dropped in the pill, swilled it about and slid it back.

The waiter stopped the woman on her way back from the toilet and told her what had happened, then called the police, who arrived quickly enough to take away the evidence of the drugged drink. The case went to court, and the defence claimed that the man had been intending to take the pill himself. The jury didn't believe this and found him guilty.

That's all worrying enough in itself, but here's where it gets even worse:
The judge sentenced the man to two years in prison: with time spent on remand this meant he would be out in three months. The judge said that although he was giving him a custodial sentence, the man had acted out of character and 'did not represent a real threat to women.'

What, except the ones he tries to rape?

| edit post


Posted by September Blue Saturday, 28 July 2007 0 comments

Oscar the nursing home cat can predict death.

This does not surprise me. Cats are creepy, for one thing. And I've worked in three nursing homes, and all of them had their fair share of creepiness too. I don't mean that there was something disturbing and skin-crawling about working with people who were dying - although a lot of people do have huge problems with nursing homes for that reason, and we'd probably take better care of our very old people if so many of us weren't willing to pretend the places didn't exist, but that's another grumble for another time - but the homes I worked in had a creepiness all of their own. Locked doors with a reputation for slamming shut when nobody was around, residents who talked about seeing strange figures walking down the corridors, moments of weirdly prophetic lucidity from people who hadn't said a word in five years... we didn't have a Grim Purrer, but we had some great stories.

I think a lot of this comes from the kind of buildings that end up as nursing homes. One of the homes I worked in was modern and purpose-built (and unpleasantly designed and completely without soul, just like the Matron) (all right, that's mean, but to give you some idea of where I'm coming from, the evil witch did once tell me off for stopping in the middle of gathering laundry to hug a very upset patient who wanted a shoulder to cry on). The other two were old, rambly buildings which had been around for a long time, and you could feel it just by walking through the front door.

The first of them had once been a row of tiny terraced cottages, and was full of windy little staircases and huge gnarly oak beams and windowsills you could comfortably sit curled up in, and was such a warren of rooms and corridors that you could lose an angry and very mobile dementia patient for up to forty minutes, or so I would guess based on entirely hypothetical data because of course we never let such a thing happen. The other, my favourite, was a grand old Georgian house, built by a newly-wealthy merchant in the 1780s. It passed through a lot of hands after that, including those of a brilliant suffragette who turned it into a girls' boarding school in the 1860s, and it was the first place my grandfather worked as a newly-qualified doctor when it served as a GP's surgery in the 1930s and 40s. When I worked there, a lot of the patients remembered him from then and knew me as "Dr. C's granddaughter", which was a little strange in itself.

But! Creepy things! Back to the subject at hand.

I worked night shifts for a while in that third home, from 10pm to 8am. There were only three of us on duty at nights, two care assistants and a nurse, which meant that during rounds one person would be sent up alone to check on the top floor (where the most mobile patients with no dementia issues lived). As the new girl, that was usually my job, and it really wasn't a fun one: the top floor was dark, and the top floor was old, and the top floor had floorboards that creaked when you weren't even standing on them. The top floor also had Mary, a sweet woman in her nineties who kept paintings of her grandchildren on the walls and a collection of cuddly toys on her armchair. Mary was usually still awake at 3am rounds, so I'd check on her last and she'd chat to me for a while before I headed back downstairs to join the other staff. I'd been working there a month or so before she told me about the little girl in old-fashioned clothes who walked into her room sometimes, carrying a bag of sweets and offering them to Mary, and I stopped being brave enough to do the top-floor rounds without the landing light on. ("She's only a little girl, dear," Mary said when I told her this. "I don't think you need to worry.")

The only time I heard one of my colleagues actually scream, though, was on a day shift. Ivy, one of the patients with quite severe dementia, was soft-spoken and blissfully happy most of the time; she lived in a world of her mind's own devising, and judging from how calm and sweet it made her, it seemed like a beautiful, beautiful place indeed. The only time I heard her raise her voice was when one of the other care assistants, a teenage girl I'll call Katy, was brushing her hair and getting her ready for bed one night - Ivy looked up, gasped, grabbed the hairbrush out of Katy's hand, and shouted loud enough for for the whole corridor to hear, "There's a woman standing behind you and she's trying to wrap a chain around your neck!"

Cue screaming, eight other care assistants abandoning whatever they were doing and running down the corridor to Ivy's room, Katy pale and shaking, and the rest of us trying to calm her down and work out what had happened. Ivy looked at us in a very puzzled way for a while, then burst out into a huge, beaming smile and said "Well, aren't there a lot of you."

More nursing home stories in a later post, I think!

| edit post

Sentimental value

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 11 July 2007 2 comments

I have a book with a loving inscription from a boyfriend. It's not my boyfriend. In fact, it's not my book.

One of my friends broke up with her boyfriend a few years ago, and couldn't bear to break up with everything that carried memories of him as well. You can give away clothes, and delete e-mails, and leave spider-plants out on the pavement with "Child Of Broken Home - Free To Understanding Windowsill" scribbled on a note, but what do you do with a book that has "Remember the good times!" on the inside front cover? Write off the good times and give it away? Break with all your principles about books and destroy it? Leave it on your bookshelf, and be reminded of the good times and the bad times both every time you're looking for something else? Eventually, she gave it to me, on the understanding that I was just holding it for her. Permanently.

So now she's moved on and out of my life, and I've got a book which still says "Love you forever" below her initials. Even if I could get in touch with her, I doubt she'd want it back. But giving it away would feel like breaking a promise, and I couldn't ever just throw it out, and while there's probably a blog post in there somewhere about what being the guardian of somebody else's love letters says about my life, I can't think of anything to do with it. Even if I could mentally separate the book from its inscription - which, given the circumstances, is unlikely - it's not an author I like.

So there it sits. Waiting.

Anybody want a copy of Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda? Just to borrow, you understand...