Grandparents’ Day…or what I did on the way. 1.

11 May

My little and lovely grandson Seb had invited me to his school, yesterday, for a special Grandparents’ Day. Despite the obvious and sugary PR intention of the exercise, I was all too eager to attend! The prospect of inspecting the work of a darling 5 year old, putative Einstein was delicious, as was the promise of tea with scones and jam.

Before embarking on the somewhat complicated route of car, train, tube, tube, bus, walk, a call came in from my daughter. I braced myself for cancellation but worse news was in store. She revealed that games afternoon had been cancelled to fit the old gits tea party into the schedule. Seb was distraught that his games kit had to stay in the wardrobe so Granddad could come and sip tea and scrutinize his scribblings. Meltdown.

With a slightly heavy heart I boarded the 11.50 from Staplehurst to Charing Cross. Only 4 coaches and rather packed with the grey-hair and blue-rinse brigade on the senior railcard jaunt to Fortnum’s. The tables in my carriage were taken and foiled packages were opened. Half-eaten sandwiches and, indeed, a couple of thermoses caught my eye as I made my way to a vacant two-seater. I settled in. I was looking forward to the last few chapters of A Station on the Path to Somewhere by Ben Wood, a startling account of a dark journey taken by a 12 year old boy, Daniel. In adulthood he attends a therapy group. The avuncular therapist advised the group to …stop viewing the present as a continuation of our past and see it instead as the beginning of our future. As I was mulling on the importance of this soundbite – slogan or profound? relevance to bloody Brexit, Manchester United, me?…a ringtone shattered the silence. Don’t Stop Me Now. Freddie Mercury boomed down the arthritic aisles as we chugged into Paddock Wood station. A woman under 60 behind me, fumbled in her bag. It took her until I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball before she found the thing. Then Yeah I can talk, I’m on the train. As usual we then had the benefit of a loud and self-important conversation about delivery schedules and office gossip. I sighed audibly. This was a time for my 65p i newspaper, not a weighty novel.

As the linguistic space around me continued to be dominated by the thick-skinned Yak behind, I skimmed the rag. Breakthrough in treatment of heart attack victims; Danny Baker; Farage; the queue of chancers lining up for Mother Theresa’s job when she finally falls on her sword; University funding set to slide after Brexit; Beckham banned from driving for using his phone while driving his Bentley. And so on. Only the heart story raised my spirits.

Already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the back page first, I turned over to page 19. David Schneider’s article: How to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. Schneider is an actor and comedian. He explains himself clearly and has the advantage of being Jewish which enables an authentic perspective in these tricky days of finger pointing in and at the Labour Party. Schneider basically says be careful and clear about what you say and mean when you talk about stuff. Example: Avoid saying Zionist or Zionism when discussing contemporary Israel/Palestine. The terms are too loaded and broad in their application, often used by anti-Semites to mean simply Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu is a Zionist but so are Israeli lawyers and peace activists fighting to achieve justice for Palestinians.

And so he went on in a clear and measured way. I felt better-informed. I don’t know enough about the middle east and I would be very wary of offering opinions without getting a better grasp of identities, what has gone on and what is going on.

In part what drew me to the piece was my recent readings from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. What an amazing grasp of tribe and culture and identity T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) developed in the time of the Arab revolt during the First World War. Are our politicians and their advisors at all equipped to make life and death decisions for those whose lives and culture they can hardly fathom?

The walking sticks were on the move. Charing Cross. I stuffed my paper into my backpack and head, with the creaking army, for the toilets. Such a joy that they are free, so no fumblings for change required. The many urinals were in heavy demand and there, in the middle of the throng was a spikey-haired woman, mopping the floor. She stepped aside as I shimmied to my bowl. I wondered, idly, if there was a man in the ladies doing the same thing. Doubtful. Looking around I saw no one batting an eyelid. Modern times.

I came out into the sun and, with time to kill, went for a stroll on the Victoria Embankment Gardens. The office workers were bathed in sunshine as they ate their tubs of tuna and sweetcorn salad or delved into goody bags for whatever had taken their fancy in EAT or Pret. I noticed that the park benches had been sectioned into three or four, so that you don’t have to sit next to anyone; you can be perfectly isolated with an armrest to left and right. I settled in one such, spurted diet coke over my trousers and watched the world go by.

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