Monday, 22 March 2010

Life extraction

About four years ago I had some major root canal work done on (under?) one of my back teeth. Bear with me, I’m going to try and make this interesting. It was when my baby boys were teeny, and having some time to myself – albeit in a dentist’s chair with a high level of anxiety, and some – was actually pretty intoxicating, and the fact that it took six visits to finish the job seemed well worth the dollar and the pain.

Anyway, the bad news was that it was never truly a finished job, and it’s taken a course of serious antibiotics every six months ever since to keep things under the intrusive-pain threshold. But now the dentist will take it no longer, and has given me an ultimatum: extraction or he closes the pharmacy.

However, despite the fact that I’m now facing a 90-minute dentist appointment in less than a fortnight, I’m suddenly really looking forward to an end to the constant fuggy achey hungover feeling that I now realise the infection has inflicted on me for far too long. And it’s also occurred to me that a lack of these constant feelings might significantly alter my behaviour? How many of my personality traits are infection-fugg induced? How long is my fuse? How much nicer is the real me?

And what if this whole improvement-though-extraction exercise works in other areas of life, not just aural enhancement. I sacked my cleaner this week after weeks of irritation about the fact that I was paying her to do very little for far fewer hours than she was billing. (I know it’s a minefield to mention I have a cleaner after witnessing the storm of anti-staff protest Tim Dowling received by admitting he employed someone to hoover his floors. I don’t have quite as many readers as his Guardian column though, so by the laws of proportional representation, the worst that can happen is that one of you might be feeling a twitch of irritation in the tip of your little finger. Bummer if it’s you. What’s the chances!)

Anyway, life is definitely better for having extracted the cleaner. So what’s next? Are there other things that need to go? Other people…? I’ll get back to that one when I’m feeling braver.

But how about an extraction of expectation? I generally hold a fairly high level of it with regards to both me and the world, and hence live with the persistant low-level pain of disappointment. However, on Friday I sat happily though an evening that, on paper, should come in way under expectations: the school quiz night. My team contained an unfeasibly large number of broadsheet journos, who knew pretty much everything (in fact, everything) while I have to be honest and admit to genuinely knowing almost nothing. And, thanks to the final dose of anti-biotics generously prescribed by my dentist, there was no alcohol in my glass to disguise my almost complete lack of knowledge.

But I had a great evening. Turns out some of my closest friends also know nothing, and sparkling grape juice isn’t so bad if combine it with your body weight in gherkins. And I was the one who recognised the theme to ET when everyone else thought it was Star Wars. You can’t extract a wasted youth.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Death does not become us

I’m not sure I like funerals. I’m on my way home from my second in the space of a month, and I’m starting to wonder whether they are a good thing or not. Certainly in both cases the reason for us all being there was premature, heart-breaking and difficult to justify even if you had a sense of a higher purpose, which I don’t feel I do. But I suppose that’s fairly common of funerals. They are filled with utterly breath-taking gulping sobs of sadness, however much you try and put a positive spin on them.

No, I don’t believe the person with top billing would be serenely telling us all to be happy for the life they’ve just left behind, if they could communicate anything – nor would they want us to stop crying or beating our chests. They had no intention of dying. They want nothing more than to be there in the room with us. And in that circumstance, it would be a nicer room, because it wouldn’t be a crematorium. No need. No-one’s died.

But of course they have. So twice this month I’ve had to witness people I love suffering the indescribable pain of loosing someone they love. And I’m just not sure about the whole funeral thing anymore.

It’s very public for starters. You’re basically offering yourself to the public as a living focus for the person everyone has lost. And it’s your job to make everyone else feels a bit better. They showed up, they supported, they tried to make things that tiniest bit better. In return, you have to show them how much their support has helped. Look, I’m still standing, I’m going to be okay. There will be cracks whenever anyone hugs me for more than a brief second, but that’s ok too, that’s all in the script.

Maybe it’s a chance to practice your new vocabulary in support-group surroundings. I rather than We, After rather than Before, Now rather than Then. Roll it around, see how it feels. Maybe shared grief is easier to cope with. I’m sure my family were all really happy to be able to spend time together today, but really, at a funeral? Isn’t this when you want to curl up into a tiny ball and weep, not make small talk with people who never called enough. All this because someone decided that funerals are an important way to say goodbye?

Well I don’t buy it. The need to say goodbye is mistakenly on the list of necessities in life. As is the idea that time passing is good. Anyone who’s suffered the searing pain of loosing someone’s love will know that the thing to fear most is time. The idea that the more of it that passes, the less you’ll feel the pain, is appalling. The only remaining connection between you and the lost love is the pain. If that goes, you’ll be alone.

So how about we don’t make an occasion out of saying goodbye. How about we leave the lingering presence of the person we love hanging, unfinished, unpackaged. Would that really be worse than a funeral? I heard someone today ask the eldest daughter of the bereaved family where she got her dress from, and rather than being confused at the banality of the question it was the only time I saw her properly light up all afternoon. She looked amazing, she had a new frock, it mattered. It’s what her dad would have said, too.

Funerals are important for shared grief, to celebrate a life, to start to say goodbye. Maybe. Or, run. Run for the hills, and don’t worry about the rest of us. We don’t need to see a brave face. You’ve been cheated, and it’s not fair. It’s completely not fair. Weep.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Presenting: a new me

The last time I did a presentation was on a one-day training course in Basic Presentation Skills, and my audience was a bunch of equally terrified, equally young non-presenters who were overly appreciative of my stuttering efforts purely so I would be equally as gracious about theirs.

Add to this background info the fact that my husband is a professional presenter, and that almost everyone I know is way-above-averagely competent at talking in a clear and ordered manner about whatever topic you might offer them, and you begin to get a picture of someone who might be a little out of their depth had they been asked, for example, to present to a room of 30 business men. In two days time. Especially when a positive outcome would mean a huge amount, professionally, for a significant group of the afore mentioned brilliant public speakers.

I’m planning on getting through it with the help of several sleepless nights, a lot of talking to myself on the bus, a spare pair of non-snag tights in every pocket and a new top. It’ll be fine.

The main problem right now though is that I’m not even up mentally to the new top purchasing. I’m sad to say that several nights of excess in all the drinking, talking and kitchen-dancing areas has rendered me incapable of normal function. It’s finally happened. I am too old for it all.

It’s come sooner than I predicted, especially since I have put in some solid ground work to prevent it happening. I always knew that at some point it was going to become unpleasant going to bed with two bottles of cheap Bulgarian red swishing about inside me. So I took care of my progressively aging body by treating it like a Majestic temple – with each birthday came another 50p on the bottle price, another few minutes of consideration of the label and a few hundred feet more of prime vineyard slope in the mix. My plan was to hit 40 with a couple of bottles of fine vintage coursing gently around my extremities – surely no damage can be done if you take these things seriously?

Good plan, badly executed. It seems that while the body grows older, so does the mind, and it forgets to remember the rules. Not every night, I’m not crying out for help. But the point is, when it does happen, I can’t stick to the ‘one good bottle and we’re off home’ rule. It becomes a ‘fridge, wine rack, beaker, bottle, whatever’ kind of rule.

But it’s not feeling so much fun anymore, and the aftermath is horrible. And now it turns out I have to present, and be seriously presentable. I think it’s time for a change of habit, a straighter road, a clearer intention, and maybe a new top.