I’ve been busy here and there, although ‘being busy’ is definitely a relative term when you’re a housewife. For instance, I think going to Sainsbury’s means I’m ‘busy,’ or wafting a duster around, or going along to my various choirs. It’s true that if you want something doing, ask a busy person; don’t ask me, you’re liable to give me a mini- breakdown, should you threaten me with the making of phone calls or the taking on of too much responsibility. But I’ve been busy researching things and worrying about things (worrying is a full-time job) and not writing on my blog.
Joining various musical based activities means that, over time, you’re sometimes asked along to things non-group related. And so I found myself going along for tea, or coffee, and cake, just over a week ago, with some of the singing ladies. I didn’t want to go. I never want to go to group social thingies, especially when the other members have known each other for years. But I made myself go. And there I sat on a Thursday afternoon, round about 2.30 pm, while our hostess carried in a tray full of home-made fairy cakes (what a throwback that was, haven’t had a fairy cake in years), flapjacks and assorted biscuits. She brandished a fairy cake in my face, urging me to take it. ‘Sorry, I’m on a diet,’ I said, ‘due to having just had a holiday up north, where I stuffed myself with cake on an hourly basis.’ ‘Nonsense, take one,’ she urged. And so the five of us sat around, on a couple of white settees and one accent, checked armchair, stuffing fairy cakes and measuring out our lives in coffee spoons.
The social chatter began with a whinging on about a recent Ofsted report (the ladies are teachers/assistants) which had unexpectedly criticised the staff’s efforts, causing a severe lack of morale. I do a tiny bit of volunteer helping at the school and didn’t have a clue what, or who, they were talking about, but did begin to understand what stressful lives people lead, who actually do worthwhile jobs. How they are so much at the mercy of ticking all the right boxes, of filling out mountains of paperwork, of doing their job, whilst under the scrutiny of inspectors taking just a snapshot of a school’s day to day life. There must come a point when the teaching profession, as with so many other professions, becomes a thankless task. The short time I spend in this school, on a weekly basis, is an experience entirely contrary to the results of their Ofsted report, which leads me to believe (in my complete ignorance) that Ofsted reports are a load of bollocks.
After a prolonged discussion concerning Ofsted and its effects on staff – there was mass weeping in the corridors, which certainly seems counter-productive – and appropriate interjections by me, in the form of murmurs of sympathy (as though someone had died) the conversation suddenly moved onto Death, which seemed in keeping.
I’m still unsure how this happened. One minute I was licking buttercream icing from my fingers and thinking ‘social gatherings aren’t that bad, I just have to nod and smile in the right places,’ when B, sitting to my right, mentioned that she was looking into donating her body to medical science, to spare her children funeral expenses. This was apropos of absolutely nothing. Her only problem was that Northampton, the place she was hoping to wind up dead, would only take bodies in possession of ‘most of their bits.’ ‘I’ve had two hip replacements, something put in my shoulder, bits of my elbow taken out and I just know my knees are beginning to go,’ she chimed enthusiastically, before excusing herself to rush to the loo. As she left the room her exit was followed by four pairs of mystified eyes. Suddenly, a revolting noise emanated from an imposing bookcase, lining one of the lounge walls, and those eyes, full of further alarmed mystification, focused in on the sound. It came from a luridly green plastic clock, where several species of bird took the place of the numbers. It was three o’clock and the noise was the grating and very loud ‘caw-caw’ of a crow, ringing out three times. ‘Sorry,’ the hostess (A) cried and jumped across the room, ‘it’s my RSPB clock, makes different bird calls on the hour and half hour; that was supposed to be a woodpecker.’ ‘That was a crow,’ R informed her. ‘It was, wasn’t it?’ said A, and fiddled about with a knob on the back, whereupon a gentle tapping sound filled the air. ‘That’s better,’ A said, ‘and I’ve turned down the volume.’ Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Can I take a flapjack,’ enquired R, her hand already outstretched, just as B came back from the loo. As though the previous conversation had never paused, B continued on with the saga of her missing bits and that she retained the hope that her knees might hold up, so that medical trainees could perform practice knee replacement surgery on her dead legs. The fairy cakes A was continuing to ply me with were beginning to lose their appeal. B made the point that her family were very upset with her for bringing up her future demise, but R, S and A all agreed that it’s something you’ve got to think about isn’t it? (No. I go with a policy of blissful ignorance regarding life’s two great subjects – Politics and Death – unknowingly I was about to be hit with the Politics.) The thinking about it prompted A to give a heartfelt speech concerning her own death wish-list.
‘Have you ever looked into those Humanist burials?’ she chirped, her face positively beaming, as the clock on the bookcase also chirped (blue tit) – for it was half past three. ‘There’s a new one where, when you die, they manoeuvre you into the foetal position (here I gently gagged on the remains of a flapjack) and then they put you in a sack and bury you in the ground. Then they plant a tree directly on top of you so you’re helping the tree to grow. I think that’s a lovely idea!’ R, B and S couldn’t contain their excitement, agreeing that this was a simply super idea. I was still trying to get past ‘foetal position.’ ‘But there’s another even better one I think,’ A continued, from her hostess position of power in the imposing checked armchair. ‘I recently went to a funeral, up on the hill, where they put you in a wicker coffin. They’re beautifully made and look so much nicer than the normal ones (this rather requires the notion that when you’re dead, you’re aware of being in a ‘nice’ coffin. ) There were about five, laid out in a row, when we went. They say a few words and then you leave before the coffins are put in the ground. That’s much nicer don’t you think, than having to watch them being lowered into a hole.’ ‘I agree,’ said B fervently (we appeared to be on her favourite topic of conversation here) nothing worse than having to watch the coffins go into the ground and all that throwing of dirt and things.’ I took a swig of now cold coffee, in an attempt to divert my mind from the vision of five coffins in a row, even if they did look like lovely wicker baskets. Presumably the Humanists go in for job lots.
Sadly, there was no-one present with whom I could exchange sympathetic glances of mutual confusion and bewilderment, for all around me was an evangelical-type enthusiasm for Death. Suddenly B reverted back to the school topic and asked if any of us remembered the awful loos back in the day. Did they remember having to go in a bucket filled with some kind of chemical, and there were just a couple of loos for the entire school? At this point all further thoughts of eating, or drinking, fled. ‘I remember that!’ cried R (as though it were a cherished memory) and we weren’t bothered were we? Didn’t even notice.’ I mentioned being completely unable to recall the loo situation at school. ‘Ah, but you’re young,’ remarked R, ‘when did you start primary school?’ ‘About 1966.’ I said, (it’s a joyous moment when you’re considered ‘young’ at 56.) ‘Ah, well, we were at school a good 7-10 years earlier, things had changed.’ Thanking my lucky stars that school toilets had not etched themselves into my memory, we were suddenly onto that other major Life topic of conversation – Politics.
B mentioned her hero Corbyn (in relation to school toilets I think; where the connection was I couldn’t begin to say) as a mournfully hooting owl announced that it was now four o’clock. There was much blather about the current awful government, and much blather about our awful local government and their plan to build new houses on a patch of land dear to the ladies’ hearts. I hesitantly mentioned that young people need houses too and A mentioned the local election coming up, where we’d be all having our say. ‘What local election?’ I said, in an unprecedented and ill-advised move of stupidity. Jaws dropped in unison. ‘The election on May 4th, haven’t you had your cards through?’ (I probably had but they were probably lying abandoned in some drawer, never to surface again.) ‘There’s a general election coming up too,’ A continued. This was such news to me that unfortunately I repeated the former move of stupidity (which now had a precedent) and cried, ‘What general election?’ This was met by a silence so complete that the nightingale, announcing that it was now 4.30 pm, caused a collective jump. There followed a lecture on the importance of being politically aware; on turning up to vote; on the suffragette movement (had I been to that movie about suffragettes, the one with Meryl Streep? It was brilliant!) These bygone women had fought and died so I could have the vote! You couldn’t argue with the righteous sentiments expressed. R then left, having somewhere important to go and, after a rapid tour of A’s lovely garden, I left, before an eagle got a chance to announce that it was 5 pm.
I left with the feeling that I’d failed miserably, in terms of toilet-related repartee; in the formulation of funeral arrangements and in keeping up with current events; but very glad that housewives don’t get Ofsted inspected (I’d fail miserably) and with a yearning to own an RSPB clock.