Thursday Interview: Wendy Wheelbarrow

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Wendy, you’ve kindly accepted to – Wendy? Are you all right?

Yes, I’ll manage, thank you. I’m just a bit tired. I’m on my last wheel, you know.

Which is why I’m very grateful for this interview. Just how old are you exactly?

I’m afraid I lost my birth certificate a long time ago. But I was here when you arrived and I was with the previous owners for about 30 years, so that puts me over 50, which isn’t bad for a barrow. Of course, if I’d been born into the bourgeoisie, sleeping indoors, hardly ever doing an honest day’s work, I dare say I’d still be in my prime. But I was never pampered. Slept outside, made to lug stones and earth and branches all day, with nary a word of encouragement. A tough life, it was, but in those days you didn’t complain. You just got on with the job.

You never thought of going on strike? Demanding better conditions?

I was all on my own. I’d never even heard of NUBGI so it wasn’t –

I’m sorry? NUBGI?

National Union of Barrows and Garden Implements. But I don’t know if I’d have joined in any case. Bunch of troublemakers as far as I can see. I’m not saying everything in the garden’s lovely, but we have to make do with our lot. If I’d been born with another wheel, I’d have been a bicycle, wouldn’t I? But I wasn’t, so there’s no point worrying. I wouldn’t have wanted to be one anyway. All those fancy gears and what not. More trouble than it’s worth. Down to earth, that’s me. Never led anyone up the garden path.

Well, that’s admirable, Wendy. But I still think you could have been better looked after in your old age. We have no photos of you younger, but in my research for this interview I came across a portrait which a visitor did of you in 2003. You were in quite good shape back then.

barrow2Yes, I remember posing for that picture. The artist was rather irritable, as I recall. Kept saying my features were too wooden. Heaven knows what he expected. For me to put on a steely expression, perhaps.

And how do you see the future? I don’t want to be too blunt but there’s not a lot of you left.

Do you think I don’t know? I’m all wheel and no barrow. I feel pretty rotten, to be honest. But I’m not ready to throw in the trowel just yet. Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way.

Ambivalence

Shopping centre Mauritius

With Black Friday a distant memory, it’s vital now to keep up the momentum with some serious Christmas shopping. Because let’s face it, unless we each continue to consume a few tons of superfluous goods, not only does life have no purpose, but we won’t be able to continue destroying the planet. I’d never heard of Black Friday until a short time ago. Now, from what I gather, it’s hit the UK big time, triggering a small but welcome movement called Buy Nothing Day. France, being France, will resist, and one part of France Black Friday will never reach is Mayotte, where Friday is prayer day and there’s nothing to buy in any case. There’s a tropical lightness of being in Mayotte that works as a positive detox from the hypermarkets in the Metropole.

Being high-minded and all, I take to heart Gandhi’s commandment to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’ That’s one way of putting it. Another is to be honest and admit to embracing one of the rare joys of encroaching age, the right to be a curmudgeonly scrooge. A stance I adopt with delight when it comes to clothes, say, or cars – conveniently, they interest me not in the slightest.

Not so long ago, arriving in Mauritius (by plane, having decided, after much debate, against the rowing boat) where we’d booked (iPad) self-catering accommodation, we wanted some stuff for breakfast. “Try the Super-U,” said the man at the petrol station, so we went along, without much hope because Super-U in the Metropole is generally pretty small and never open on a Sunday afternoon. But this one wasn’t just open, it was massive. And as I scurried gleefully round the aisles, stuffing the basket with Muesli, Weetabix, and dragonfruit, I said to Mrs. B. “Wow, if only we had all this in Mayotte!” I’m with you, Mahatma, honestly. But sometimes, you know, it’s not that simple living simply.

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Ambivalence

Shopping centre Mauritius

With Black Friday a distant memory, it’s vital now to keep up the momentum with some serious Christmas shopping. Because let’s face it, unless we each continue to consume a few tons of superfluous goods, not only does life have no purpose, but we won’t be able to continue destroying the planet. I’d never heard of Black Friday until a short time ago. Now, from what I gather, it’s hit the UK big time, triggering a small but welcome movement called Buy Nothing Day. France, being France, will resist, and one part of France Black Friday will never reach is Mayotte, where Friday is prayer day and there’s nothing to buy in any case. There’s a tropical lightness of being in Mayotte that works as a positive detox from the hypermarkets in the Metropole.

Being high-minded and all, I take to heart Gandhi’s commandment to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’ That’s one way of putting it. Another is to be honest and admit to embracing one of the rare joys of encroaching age, the right to be a curmudgeonly scrooge. A stance I adopt with delight when it comes to clothes, say, or cars – conveniently, they interest me not in the slightest.

Not so long ago, arriving in Mauritius (by plane, having decided, after much debate, against the rowing boat) where we’d booked (iPad) self-catering accommodation, we wanted some stuff for breakfast. “Try the Super-U,” said the man at the petrol station, so we went along, without much hope because Super-U in the Metropole is generally pretty small and never open on a Sunday afternoon. But this one wasn’t just open, it was massive. And as I scurried gleefully round the aisles, stuffing the basket with Muesli, Weetabix, and dragonfruit, I said to Mrs. B. “Wow, if only we had all this in Mayotte!” I’m with you, Mahatma, honestly. But sometimes, you know, it’s not that simple living simply.

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Vazaha Homo Decrepitus

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We saw several species of wildlife in Madagascar, but one of the most common was vazaha homo decrepitus. Whereas mzungu, the term for a white person in Mayotte, has no particular connotation, vazaha in Malagasy comes with baggage. Though it can refer to any white person, often it means ‘old (or very old) white man with money, paying for the company (and more) of young Malagasy women.’ Now I’m not young myself, but some of the specimens we saw were as doddery as they come. Muriel, our hotel proprietor, put it rather amusingly:  ‘When they leave France,’ she said, ‘they’re Paul Préboist, and when they get here they’re Paul Newman.’ I didn’t know Paul Préboist, a French actor who died in 1997, but all became clear when I googled him.

Unless the girls are under age (which happens) the issue here is less moral or legal than economic. Due to poor governance and political instability, Madagascar has stagnated for decades, making any specimen of vazaha homo decrepitus a very attractive proposition for a young woman who has nothing to sell but her body. Muriel was in two minds about it. On the one hand her hotel does well, as they congregate there for Sunday lunch, arriving on quads, their hair (when they have any) blowing in the wind. On the other, she said, they often behave towards their companions with detestable arrogance and contempt. Which makes it a human issue too.

The economy of Madagascar being unlikely to change any time soon, one can also look for the positives. For the girls (and their families) a level of financial comfort well above the average. And for the vazaha, when you look at the alternative mode of transport, what could be better than rejuvenation as Paul Newman on a quad?

quad_loncin_200_quad_utilitaire_homologue_rino_200                              zimmer

As a footnote, and tying in with  my interview of Adam’s Rib, here’s a quote from yesterday’s Guardian about men and women in ancient times, before economic differences upset the apple cart. Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.” Link to the full article here.

C-A-T spells, um…

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A month and half passed before I saw him again. Amid rumours of an imperial-backed invasion by Suffolk, and as the earl and his right-hand man Sir Robert Curzon were anathematized by bell, book and candle at St. Paul’s Cross, the country remained on high alert. 

The sentences above could come from the same book, but they don’t. And no prizes for guessing which one is Patterson and which one Thomas Penn. Now I read the Patterson six months ago, it took me all of two days. I even remember more or less what it was about. I’ve been on the Penn for a month and I’ve got to page 79 (300 still to go, and the typeset’s really small). Will I finish it? Yes. Maybe in 2018, but I will (I’m stubborn that way). Time was, I could take Wolf Solent in my stride, but now I have trouble with anything more abstruse than Alex Cross. Must be the age, I suppose. Not my own, of course, the one we live in (ahem…).

Ulysse, don’t give up!

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I’m very glad our neighbour’s back. She’s just been to the Metropole for a week and during her absence I was responsible for walking her dog, Ulysse (being French, he has no ‘s’ on his name, but he doesn’t seem to mind). Now it’s fine walking the neighbour’s dog as long as he gets back in one piece. But as the week wore on I grew increasingly anxious Ulysse was going to keel over and die. He’s old, arthritic, and clearly close to the end, which I dreaded might come on my watch. Actually, I was sharing the task with Philippe, the other neighbour, and I found myself shamefully praying that when it did come to pass, it would be on his stint rather than mine. But as he was doing the cooler morning walk, with Ulysse refreshed by sleep, that appeared to be wishful thinking.

Strangely enough, Ulysse summoned unsuspected reserves of strength whenever he saw a scooter, which he attacked. At first I kept forgetting he felt so strongly about scooters, so failed to brace myself and was jerked into the road while the hapless rider swerved, swore and shook a furious fist at Ulysse (or rather, me).

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After the scooter attack, in which bother rider and dog came perilously close to heart attacks, it was even harder for Ulysse to negotiate the sixteen steps back to the flat, but four pauses and ten minutes later, he was back inside, where he collapsed panting on the floor. And I breathed a sigh of relief until the next afternoon.

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The Tingle and the Soles

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Now, I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I had this thing in my pinkie. Not a splinter or anything, internal. A tingle, loss of feeling, that sort of thing. So the doctor says it’s nothing, just the nerves in a bit of a twist, but she sends me to the neurologist
pinkieanyway. And he submits me to a form of torture and confirms what I already suspected – I’m a wimp. I thought of alerting Amnesty International, as it was basically a variant on the electric chair, but apparently it was for my own good. After torturing me, he sent me for a scan, which in comparison was like a trip to Alton Towers. And it turns out there’s a herniated disc with a conflict in C8. I’m not sure what that means. It sounds a bit like Battleships.

Well, obviously I’m reaching the age when they start to poke around inside and chop off bits here and there, but I’d rather postpone it as long as I can, so I went to see Dr. Gousain. He’s a posturologist. I expected something high-tech, but it was disappointingly basic. Touch your toes, look at this pencil. That sort of thing. And then he announced that my spine is the shape of fusilli pasta and my eyes diverge like the Churchill V-sign.

The treatment, theoretically, is simple. Soles in my shoes and a magnet stuck to my IMG_0050temple. I’m supposed to wear the soles all the time, he said, even in my slippers. The problem being that it’s 30° in Mayotte. Slippers? Why not mitts and a beanie while I’m at it? Most of the day, I’m padding around barefoot. As for the magnet, it stuck for a while but came off in a trickle of sweat and I lost it.

So now the problem is, I don’t know what to say to Dr. Gousain. He promised the tingle would go away as long as I followed the treatment, and I truly believe it would. He’s ever so sweet, and I really don’t want to disappoint him. But when I balance a tingling pinkie with slippers in Mayotte, I’m afraid the tingle wins.

Another label

Retired. A pensioner. An old age pensioner, we used to say back when I was young. By the time they retired, old age pensioners were clapped out, falling apart, spitting blood, half blind and senile. They’d spend a couple of months slobbering in front of the fireplace with a blanket over their knees and the Light Programme blaring next to their ear, then die. This, of course, will happen to me as well, since I was born too late to be a candidate for rejuvenation and immortality. In other ways, though, I was born at the right time: neither down the mine at the age of 10 nor forced to work till I’m 92. Baby boomers. We took the freedom our parents fought for and used it to leave a fucked up world to our children. But hey, we had a gas. And continue to do so in retirement.

As of 1/11/14, I suddenly had time in abundance. There wasn’t enough room for it in the house. I could have let it spill through the windows, spread out over the garden and evaporate – but I had plans. Objectives. Deadlines. Things you’re not supposed to have when you retire. You’re not supposed to bother about getting anything done. You dawdle, you drift, you potter.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to potter as much as the next man. But for all my baby boomer privilege, I don’t have enough years left to sit and watch time evaporate. So I bought a high-pressure chamber, pumped it inside and let not a drop go to waste. Every morning I open the valve and measure out the day’s ration. And woe betide anyone who, even inadvertently, siphons off some for themselves. I’m a selfish bastard, as I’ve said, and I share my time with no one.

So now you’re wondering. There he is retired and he sets himself deadlines? Why doesn’t he  just chill? What on earth does he do that’s so important?

The answer? I write. Of which more in a forthcoming post.