Just in case you are wondering if I’m still at sea, like half-way to Norway by now, let me tell you it’s not true. I have just been busy with lifey things for a while and somewhat strapped for words, but as I tootled back north the other day after a lively visit to my old ma, I heard them all (the words, that is) stomping back into my brain like old and welcome rellies. Now there’s a thing! I captured a lot of them on paper, laying them down word by word and I swear I heard them all sigh with relief. When your words take off like that, it may not have been entirely their fault. If anyone, or anything feels neglected and unloved, then I don’t blame them for pulling on their stout boots in search of alternative warmth and friendship.
The down south bit was fun. I was reminded of delays, of queues and of road rage, of warm locals filled with locals, a merry fire blazing in the grate and good hoppy beer on tap. I became re-aquainted with the red and green man who tells me when I can cross the road, saw babies in catwalk clothing being propelled along in buggies the size of small cars, of business women in heels and pencil skirts, with strident voices and sassy black ear pieces, talking to themselves, not an anorak nor a dither among them. I wandered through supermarkets sporting foreign sounding pulses, sauces and I marvelled anew at the down south size of parsnips, pidgeons and farm machinery. Even the brambles are huge which is why they’re called blackberries. Down south, brambles are those sharp things that tear your stockings when you take short cuts home.
I made friends on the trains. I say ‘trains’ because to get to Norfolk is not for the faint-hearted, not on public transport. Four trains to get down and four to get back and by the time it was over I was well-practised in minding the gap and in avoiding those delightful old darlings who hump their suitcases onto the platform and then stop dead to pull on gloves or to re-arrange their scarves, causing a massive pile up and not a little tutting.
Annie and Damien were (and probably still are) a delightful young couple on their way to a relative’s wedding plus a few family visits. I knew Annie was going to be fun when she said, as she reached up to the luggage rack, and her flat, firm midriff was revealed, that her granny used to warn her that her kidneys would fall out. I told her that’s exactly what I was going to say and we were firm mates for 3 hours from that first chuckle. Of course I gave her the lowdown on island Wife and of course she said she would Google me. Ten years ago that would have sounded insulting. Now it’s something to be proud of, the fact that you are Google material at all. I was sad when we said goodbye in Peterborough.
My next new friend was on the journey north, two fine young men (everyone’s young to me) en route for a presentation in Stirling. At first, they sat opposite each other, squashing me and a very charismatic pastor against the window, until we established between us that they were going to have to keep whizzing the laptop round in order to complete their work, which would drive me and the charismatic pastor nuts long before Ely. I swapped seats and then started chatting, which wasn’t all that kind or sensitive, as they had work to do, but they were gracious enough to indulge me as we swapped life histories, zip folder sized. One of them South African John was most intrigued about the Island Wife bit and instructed his wife, via text or whatsapp or something, to Google me too and then to buy the book. I hope their presentation went well. I was rather sad to see them go too, even if it did allow me and the charismatic pastor to spread out a bit.
Growing older is not always fun. My old ma is pretty tired of waking up every day to the same number of hours alone. Most of her friends have sailed heavenwards already and those that haven’t might do any day, even if they do still drive and play scrabble like champions right up to the cocktail hour. However mum still jokes with the postman, milkman, paper boy, delivery man, etc and they all adore her. There she is, this silver fox, with a ready chuckle in her mouth and smart as you like when off to see a movie (only she calls them films of course).
What I love about the little train from Glasgow to Oban is that I know all the guards and trolley dollies. I also find most endearing (and seek it) the station announcements that are always a station out. As we pull into Crianlarich (where this train divides) the nice woman tells us we are now arriving at Gairlochhead, astounding anew the visitors who look around a lot and stare hard at the station sign just to be sure. She, the nice woman, has been getting it wrong for months now and nobody official seems to mind or notice. The trolley runs out of sandwiches in the summer, ever single summer, long before 2pm and those who lingered over a glass of French red regret it for miles. Those of us in the know purchase our baguette or our meal deal in the station and some of the older ones (including me) get up early to make our own. What I don’t like about our little train is the state of the WC (I refuse to call it a toilet, having rebelled against the word somewhere in my teens as it sounded way too grownup and proper), although WC is pretty ridiculous if you think about it. Water Closets date back to Victoria Regina and she’s long gone. On trains down south some eager official sorts out the loo at regular intervals, but this is obviously deemed unimportant or ‘not my job’ on the west highland line. On a friday evening, it is actually dangerous to need a pee beyond Taynuilt, going either way.
Going back to the growing older thing, I find I rather like it, even if I do have to remind myself when leaving this train, with all my belongings, not to stop as soon as my feet hit the platform. People are getting heavier these days and a collision might land me in A& E – or them, but either way, it would, or could, be messy. When someone hears my age, they always tell me how young I look, and I don’t want to hear that. I know I am an OHAT woman (own hair and teeth) for now, but I am proud of all those years at the back of me and if everything is about looking young, then does this mean I am more seriously OTH (over the hill) than I already thought? Is being older a bad thing? I hear so many folk say they don’t want to grow old, but they are saying this through pert lips and still with the ability to run for cover, whereas many of us need to bring our own because the chances of finding it (cover) let alone being able to run for it, is way in our past.
In Sainsburys, that massive animal with every conceivable foodstuff couched in its belly, I bought, without specs, a seed mix. When I sprinkled it on my morning muesli and poured on the half fat milk it turned brown. On further investigation (specs on) I discovered the seeds had been roasted in soy sauce. I laughed and laughed and ate it all. This is the fun of growing older. Let not this cup be taken from me as it has so many others, for I will cause mayhem for as long as I possibly can, whether I intend it, or not.