Sunday, June 29, 2008


I have six days left here and I feel weird. I'm excited about going, sad about leaving, and also able, suddenly, to admit I'm moving on finally from something more important than Dubai.

On my first holiday here I had decided – just like with Bombay – that this is a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live here. A few years later, I came here anyway, unquestioningly, for someone else. Carole King said: I want a house with a window sill but if you want to live in New York city, I will... where you lead I will follow. It's the stupidest sentiment you've ever heard, but that's something you have to learn through trial and error.

The last piece of that life broke when I was moving, even in the act of handing it over to a friend. When I get on the plane, I will be lighter by even more. A five-year recovery from a four-year relationship is too long by any standards. But it's done.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Old fogies and other myths

This is a discussion on a friend's blog, that I'm extending to mine.

The mother of this blogger has a plan. A self-sufficient community for like-minded elderly people. She's going to build one-bedroom cottages on her property in Kerala and these will be "bought" by the person/people living there until their death, after which it will revert to the Trust and be available for a new occupant. There will be a library, a restaurant, household help, transport, guest rooms, others of the same mind since there is to be a careful screening process. It sounds great. It is a great idea, but considering the profile of the target audience I wonder a bit.

For thinking, doing, healthy people, wouldn't a closed-in community like this be claustrophobic? I've noticed that the elderly members of my family never feel so elderly as when they are closeted for too long with people who think of themselves as old. At other times they have to be reminded at four in the morning that they haven't been twenty-five for many years now, so put the party hat down.

My parents, for example, enjoy having neighbours of different persuasions, interacting with all kinds of people. The same goes for friends' parents, my aunts and uncles. They don't consider themselves too old to contribute to society, and they're not. (The blogger's mother with her business idea is also a shining example of this.) They have active social calendars with friends who are years younger. They have a wide range of interests. In short, they like being in the thick of it. Sixty is the new forty and all that.

I have conversations, share pleasures with my older family members, not just duty chats. And when I review the very long list of them – well, while I can see them enjoying the idea of a community like this, I can't see them living there successfully. On the other hand, what do I know? I'm thirty-five, I have some way to go yet. Perhaps all these people I've listed feel differently.

Me, I would say use the money to buy the yacht and let the fogies live in a cupboard under the stairs*.

*They'll probably have noisy parties there but if you're nice to them and bring a bottle, maybe they'll let you in.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Some cameras are more truthful than others

My friend took up serious photography last year and discovered a gift for it. Last week she cajoled me into making a spectacle of myself on the beach and produced the best photographs I have ever seen of me. (She gets extra points for achieving it with a supremely self-conscious subject hissing "people are looking at us" the whole time.)

Her talent lies in portraits so, for the first time, I was looking at me. Not whether the clothes are hanging right, the number of chins, halved or the bad bits, hidden. Just me. Even as I was raving about the photography and mailing albums saying "look at me", I was registering one simple truth: it is no longer the face of a girl. It was not a shock, merely a realisaton.

Searching Facebook today for some friends I'd lost touch with, I found others bearing the same surname and a distinct resemblance. I was looking at their teenaged children. The kids we played with and made guilty promises to as we dolled up to go out without them have girlfriend and boyfriend problems and are going clubbing themselves. Which makes me... well, as I said, some of the years are showing. But judging by the photos, they've not done a bad job so far, which is really all I ask.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Excuse for an apology

Having lived my entire life as an introvert in extrovert clothing, all my observation of human interaction is through jaundiced eyes.

When I was younger I’d assumed it would get better when I was older. Actually I assumed I would get better – thus not only accepting that the fault was mine, but that it was a fault. Now that I am older, unrelenting social requirements still leave me raw and ragged, but I don’t worry that I feel this way. It's not a disease.

But social gatherings, especially of close friends or family, are complex systems whose equilibrium is based on a finely drawn pattern of behaviour. The males of the species may retreat into strong-silentness without (much) comment or interruption, but the females seem to be expected to be gregarious at all times, especially by, to and with other females.

Most of all, people, for reasons I do not even have guesses for, take introversion personally. When you want to be on your own, they either want to know what's wrong or they look reproachful or worst of all, embarrassed, like they’ve just been made to look stupid. So the solitude becomes impossible to insist on, unless I want to be left with guilt I didn't deserve and fury at this.

I had started to feel in recent years that maybe I’d changed. But it turns out I had just found a way around it – my cigarette break had created, unrecognised by me, an escape route. It was a perfectly legitimate reason to go off on my own and stare into space.

Now that that excuse is gone, my nerves fray and fray and fray, all my resources pulled into just holding it together. I become a rubber band, one of those cheap ones that don’t stretch very far and break easily.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ghost busters

It distinctly sounds as if someone just shut and locked the door of the little guest bathroom but the door is still slightly ajar and the light is off. Sometimes there's the sound of a shower but nobody's taking one. In fact everyone else is asleep and anyway there's no shower in there. Now and then there's a crunching of leaves as if someone were walking past, an occasional snap-thud in the tree as if the fruit were being picked. The kitchen door seems to do the click-shut thing during the day as well – working at the dining table, I often think the maid has just come in but then look up to see her still outside.

As someone who will spend a fearful night under the blanket after hearing the most childish ghost story in the day, I should be a paralysed ball under the bed in the face of these awful portents. Instead I walk through this vast old villa late at night and don't even switch on the lights. I go indifferently past that mysterious bathroom to the kitchen to look in the fridge. I've even stepped out into the garden thinking "oh how pretty, it's a full moon" braving – actually not remembering – werewolves, vampires and The Descent. I actually didn't notice the portents until about three weeks after I got there.

It's because of a Jack Russell called Lisa. Having grown up with dogs, I think I'm used to automatically taking my cue from them, so if Lisa does not fear whatever's going bump in the night, then neither do I.

She's only about as long as my arm (I come from the German shepherd/retriever/Labrador school) and spends every night tucked under the comforter with her owners but she inspires an unquestioned sense of security. A long line of Jessies, Bimbos, Sandys, Caesars, Shebas, Dylans, Ruffs, Rudolphs, Trishas, Tracys and Oscars, and the parents' general attitude that the dogs were adequate babysitter/chaperone/trail guide have conditioned me very thoroughly: no unsuspected dangers can lurk in a house with a dog.

Floorboards can creak, wind can howl, ghostly feet can pace the garden, the more fastidious ones can take ghostly showers all night long. That's fine, there's plenty of room for all of us, as long as Lisa feels safe enough to sleep through it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

On the Sunday-morning sidewalk

At five-thirty in the morning Jumeirah is hushed. The armies of maids and gardeners are not out and about yet. Two early bikers go past with a whir and wave. A jogger with the swoosh on her shoes picked out in crystals crosses the T-junction. I take a random turn and come upon a man in overalls unloading crates of apples from a van. The skins are sweating moisture, though the sun hasn't quite got up the energy to rise. Seven green parrots have taken time off from harassing each other and what seems like a lone female to eye the fruit beadily. It's hard to say where the apples are going because there seem to be only tightly shut gates as far as the eye can see. I walk on, under the malevolent eye of a fat tabby on the roof of a sleeping BMW, into an intense cylinder of fragrance created by the frangipani that's outgrown its walled garden. The wall itself is surprisingly embellished with obscene graffiti, signed with a Hotmail address. The tabby gives way to an equally orange dog that one of the houses here allows to treat the street as its own. It growls accordingly, so I turn away into a quiet road studded with five Porsches of various persuasions, the largest Merc I've ever seen, a silver spaceship of the sort that would scorn to sport a brand name, a Hummer and a social climbing little Peugeot 206. There is greater silence on this street, even the birds keep a wary quiet. So I hear it clearly when somewhere beyond the high, unbroken wall something else that is sleek and dangerous greets the morning with a gentle growl of the sort dogs may only aspire to. That sound, more than the ominous two-digit number plates, proclaims the unwisdom of treating this particular public thoroughfare as such.

(Many years ago on a beach, we watched a stream of beautiful dogs being walked back home following a directive that animals were no longer allowed there. Retrievers, collies, Dalmatians, setters, great Danes and as a grand finale, a pair of magnificent huskies. As we prepared to leave, another one came over the dune, dwarfing all the others – a full-grown black panther on a normal dog leash. We froze but the beauty and the owner passed three feet from us with the unseeing disdain of the high-born for the prole. And also explained the new rule.)

But it is only a few minutes before I'm out on the main road, with its usual complement of commuters and truckers. The noise of traffic is a horrible shock, but up ahead through a gap in the villas I see what I have come to find – the sea. A pedestrian crossing, a short walk and I am on a miniature stretch of sand and water, horizon miraculously unmarred by construction. The water is pleasantly cool, the surf is mild in the benign light. In just two hours the sun will become too evil to tempt even the most rabid tan-seekers. So many others are here, already splashing about in grateful delight. No animals, of course.

Sunday Morning Coming Down, Kris Kristofferson, 1969

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Logic bomb

A strange thing happens when I play Sudoku. As I focus all my concentration on the logic, my brain starts to spew all sorts of detritus. Things I read that day, things people said to me years ago, what I said to someone I'd forgotten about, the colours on the wall of a house I saw briefly from a plane window, the music I listened to yesterday, ideas for a brief I got last week, the time, what I should have for lunch, snatches of dialogue from TV serials and movies, DVD covers, CD labels, the dress I saw in a window somewhere, other people's phone conversations, tips from a magazine, voices in crowds that you didn't separate from the general buzz at the time. It's like a video starts up in the background and plays non-stop till I stop. Also, there are no repeats. The content of the video is always new and I do the Sudoku in the paper every day. Talk about reaping what you sow.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

“The Lying, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe”

Reading the New Yorker is an addictive mixture of pain and pleasure, enjoying the writing while wishing that you'd written it and wondering if you actually could.

Anyway, the latest issue finally defines the reason I have never taken to Sex and the City. This was a little hard to do in the time when the show was revered by my office and used as a reference point for everything anyone wanted to explain to you. But I just couldn't take to it and this has always seemed weird to me. On the surface it has all the elements for the half-hour of escape or fantasy that is all that is required of a TV show - a parade of stunning clothes and shoes, romance, sex, urban girl life. But all that left me cold this time, even a little put-off. I realise now that I was recoiling automatically from the horror of their obsession with the ring, the man and his ability to pay for it. This was just one of the problems, but I think the greatest.

And now Anthony Lane, reviewing the movie in the New Yorker, writes the article I should have written.

I will probably have to wait a while to watch the movie though - it seems local censors want to replace the word "sex" with something else and as per latest reports, the argument is not nearing resolution.

Witty headline

The words seem elusive. Is it because I've lately been saying an unaccustomed number of them out loud? Or that the silences are brief and so deserve to remain unbroken, even by thought? Maybe it's just the blankness between the announcement and the action, everything folded up and packed away, now just waiting to board.

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