Friday, 30 September 2011

"A time of innocence, a time of confidences..."

Over a year ago, I took the train to London and, in trepidation, met up for the first time in over thirty years two of my best friends from school. It was, in anticipation, a terrifying ordeal. We had been in touch on and off over the years but the three of us probably had not been together since our early twenties which, in case you don't know, is a very long time ago.

I heard something on the radio the other day about how, on the day you leave school, you really can't imagine never, never seeing your school peers again. I can't clearly remember my last day. There was no great hurrah for the leavers and I seem to think we just drifted away ... into town to shop or onto buses. We were uncelebrated and already surplus to the school. How unlike today with leavers' balls and special assemblies. We just disappeared into the ether - some of us (not many and not me, to university), some to college (quite different and for the educationally under-achieving - ie me) and some to the world of work. In the early 70s, all most of our parents hoped for was for us to marry well - as opposed to marrying often, but that's another story. A girls' school in the seventies was a very different beast from today with girls fast becoming the master race.

Anyway, we met, my lovely friends and I, in London and spent twenty four hours together reliving those years at school - the friends, the less-than-friends, the teachers, the pranks and the punishments. I left, feeling, well, relieved that I had survived the mini-reunion. I was, like most I suppose, not entirely happy either at school or at home in those years. And it was very stressful being a short, flat-chested teenage girl surrounded by what looked to me at the time like superwomen.

Since then, we have kept better in touch, shared jokes and experiences over the internet and become proper friends again. We know quite a lot about each other's lives now and how differently things have turned out for the three of us - all having our share of happiness and tragedy. And we are scattered across the country so we can only get together when a proper effort is made.

This year, and the point of my ramblings, is that we met at my mum's house and went to see our O level English play performed at Stratford which is, how appropriately, Macbeth. Now this production does not have witches per se, but for one night only, we three were there in the audience - if only they had known!

The other things we did included a very nice dinner at Lamb's on Sheep Street which I had booked, unconsciously, in my name - cue for animal impressions - and which seemed to cause amusement and, more importantly, we went back to school.

School was bigger but smaller, much, much smarter, the same and very different. Everywhere was carpeted which meant that the thundering of 300 girls down the main wooden staircase probably doesn't have the same ear-shattering effect. But as we recognised the old bits, sometimes not in the places they used to be, the memories tumbled out and we laughed at our old selves. Standing outside what was the headmistress's office (feared but not loved) I remembered word-for-word the Horatius poem I had been made to learn, aged 12, for being late for a Latin lesson. I still know it. The terror of the time has embedded it in my memory for ever.

We have grown up, we three, very different and yet, when we get together, the years ebb away and we are as we were then - old friends.

With thanks to Simon and Garfunkel:

Thursday, 8 September 2011

"Let's Roll" - Todd Beamer RIP

This time last year, my beloved and I were on a plane to the US on our way to what turned out to be a fantastic weekend jam-packed with meeting friends - English and American, sightseeing in New York and Washington and watching the men's semi finals at the US Open Tennis at Flushing Meadow. I have been similarly gripped by the tennis this year - at least I have, when it hasn't been raining.

But I've also be gripped by the documentaries about 9/11 and particularly moved by the immense courage of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who gave their lives to prevent a further air crash in Washington on that fateful day. What brought it home to me at the time were the last words of Todd Morgan Beamer who, like many of the passengers on the plane which had been hijacked by terrorists, was using his phone to contact family and loved ones before certain death. His last call had reached the operator Lisa Jefferson and he reported to her that the hijackers had killed one passenger and had taken over the cockpit, wounding a member of the crew. He, like many of his fellow passengers, knew that the plane had turned south easterly towards Washington and he and the others also knew by then that the World Trade Centre had been hit by two hijacked planes.

Todd Beamer was just 32 with a wife and two young sons, Drew and David and his wife was pregnant with their third child who was born four months later - a daughter, Morgan Kay. He and his wife were Sunday school teachers in their spare time.

There were 37 passengers on the plane that day and 7 crew. Four of these passengers were terrorists. Flight 93 was due to take off at 8.00am which would have been at a similar time to the other 3 aircraft hijacked on that day. However, the airport at Newark was experiencing some congestion and the flight actually took off at 8.42am with all four hijackers seated at the front of the plane in first class. As news came through of the other hijacked planes, air traffic control informed the crew to be especially vigilant against passengers trying to get into the cockpit. The message was acknowledged by the crew and that was the last transmission made by them at 9.27am before the hijack took place at 9.28am. By this time both planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and Flight 77 was about to crash into the Pentagon.

The passengers and crew were moved to the back of the plane whilst the terrorists instructed them that there was a bomb on board and to remain seated. The remaining passengers made calls on their mobiles and on the air phones to family and loved ones and to airline officials on the ground. Then they took a vote on what action to take and, probably led by Jeremy Glick, a 31-year old sales and marketing executive, they decided to "rush the hijackers". Todd Beamer's last words were: "Are you ready guys? OK. Let's roll." and those were amongst the last words heard from any of the passengers before the plane crashed into a reclaimed mine at 10.13am at 563 miles per hour. All 44 passengers, crew and hijackers were killed.

The extraordinary courage of this group of passengers who did not sit back in their seats, hoping that by some chance a miracle would happen and they would be rescued, is so powerful.  Would we be as courageous and chose certain death over the smallest possibility of survival? I only hope that if we were ever called upon to do so, we too could find this sort of courage.

Todd Morgan Beamer, 1968 - September 11 2001- RIP

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Practically Perfect in Every Way?

So far this week (and it's only Thursday morning) I have been to the chiropractor and the chiropodist. The chiropractor because I did something to my back when I was cycling on Sunday morning and it had been given the usual 48 hours to sort itself out and it hadn't, and the chiropodist because I have the most horrible feet in the known universe - ask any of my children and they will tell you this is true. And I realise, just as I am preparing to encase my entire body in thermals for another six months, that if one took the whole body maintenance thing seriously, there would be no time to do anything else - from a woman's point of view anyway.

When you are young, children take note, you have far fewer issues in terms of maintenance. Yes, I know that lovely (and definitely p.p.i.e.w.) number 2 daughter does all the hair, nails, going to the gym, fake tan stuff and when I say, and only if I'm feeling daring, that I think she looks a tad orange, she will tell me that by tomorrow she will be the perfect shade. She always is, but only because I think all the residue has come off on my sheets. As you get older, there are just more and more things that need attention. For example, if you really were to do the job properly, you would be (starting at the top) having your hair regularly cut and highlighted, having a facial and waxing, paying proper attention to your eyebrows, checking on nose hair (I'm not sure about ear hair although I know for a fact that this is a man problem. Will someone tell me if I have hairy ears?), going to the optician and the dentist regularly, more waxing, manicure, pedicure and so on. And that's before you go to the gym, tennis, pilates, cycling, golf, running (not doing that anymore since my knees starting to make their presence felt in a big way) and so on. So it could be a full-time job and I am sure there are ladies out there who do all these things. How do they find the time?

It wouldn't be so bad if the issues didn't get worse as you get older. For example, take hair, it grows on your head, then it goes grey and the grey hairs are not the same as the other hairs, they have a whole twirly, wiry quality all of their own. Then there's all the other hair which grows in places where you don't want it and if you don't keep on top of it, then the only job option will be as an extra in the remake of Planet of the Apes. My doctor friend says he often sees ladies of a certain age with rather hairy faces - nice! But in defence of the hairy-faced ladies, when your eyesight starts to go, it's hard to see the hairs and it makes plucking/waxing even more challenging.

Which brings me to the issue of the eyesight. Last winter, the optician said to me that I would soon need glasses for driving. I told him I thought he was barking up the wrong tree - I can see a tennis ball perfectly well so why would I need glasses for driving? Anyway, I had a spare set of frames and we got lenses put in them and I ignored them for several months. But in the last week or so, I have felt the need to wear them and much as I hate to admit it, he is right. In fact, the whole eyesight issue is perhaps the most worrying of all. I can't see where I have hit the golf ball (unless I have dribbled it about 12 feet along the ground - which is most of the time).

Yesterday I did quite a lot of writing (writing chums, please note!) and by the end of the day my eyes were so tired that I couldn't see to do the crossword. Who made those numbers so small? Don't they know that older ladies with occasionally hairy faces like to tackle it in the early evening with inadequate lighting?

Then there's keeping fit. Whatever exercise I do for one bit of me doesn't seem to have any effect on the other bits. As I write this I am pilate-ing with various muscles in the certain knowledge that it won't help with my fitness for cycling up hills or my golf swing. I know I am somewhat obsessive about sport but each year, I am slower and less fit and it feels like pushing an avalanche up hill. However, I have promised to start zumba in the village hall next week and I daresay that might do the trick - ever the optimist!

So feeling more Nanny McPhee (complete with warts) than Mary Poppins -p.p.i.e.w. but soldiering on and waiting for the odd-job man to come and sort out the damp - which is a house maintenance issue, you'll be pleased to hear!