Right. We’ve got a busy week coming up. Teaching Tuesday. Teaching Thursday (dramatic monologues). Lots of emails and tutorials to catch up on, still. Plus other things, work, lots of it, and really the need to get straight. I lost a week plus with that virus. And I’m in a new group of poet friends who meet once a month and critique each other’s work: first time I’ve had that since, well, about 2005… It is a boon and a blessing, and makes me think, ‘Now have I got a poem?’ So that is happening tonight. Hurrah. And I have a poem.
Before that, in the afternoon, I was meant to be going to a meeting at my aunt’s house, set up by the psychiatric social worker, to get all the agencies together to talk about the care. But then on Friday I realised I had completely messed up, and I am spending this entire afternoon doing back-to-back poetry tutorials. Who can keep the days straight, it’s all just a blur. And of course Friday was a very busy day and I a) didn’t have a chance, and b) forgot, to call them and say I had double-booked. The fracas seemed more about one of the students having got the day wrong, and me feeling anxious about that… So I (will, by the time you read this) have emailed them with my Bulletpoints of Observation and will have to grovel in office hours. Damn it. It’s a real shame, because I’ve been yearning to get all these people together in a room. But whether I’m there or not it will do them good to actually talk to each other.
They’re mainly worried because ‘the money isn’t working’. But right now I can’t even begin to go into that. Suffice to say that I had a call from the agency yesterday to tell me there was no milk, and they couldn’t go get any, because ‘there was no money’. It turned out, after a slightly exasperating minute or two, that there had been no milk for four days. Well, there was some out-of-date milk, which would have been fine for her, as she has been legendary since time immemorial for her tendency to consume food so old it can read. But they don’t see it like that and she finds their scruples merely sort of observational. In the end I’m sorry to say I did snap slightly. ‘My aunt is more than capable of going to the bank, and getting some milk’.
‘Oh, is she?’
‘I’ll call her’.
I ring and she is exasperated, which I know is partly the Alzheimers, as she often thinks things are exasperating when they’re just normal. (Funny, so do I.) She says the carer makes the tea, and the way she puts it is: ‘she’s had no milk for four days’ – an interesting distinction, and one not without merit. She says she told the carer she could go get some milk, but of course said she had no money. She says this even when there’s £30 in her pocket. She can’t see the difference between them using their money or hers. But why didn’t they call me until four days later?
Last month I had £40 secreted in a drawer – that’s another whole account, really, and is one of the reasons for the meeting, the time she ran out of food and I heard about it only when they had run out of things to give her, and they called me during the Orwell Prize shortlisting, ie in the evening, to tell me she was having nothing but tea for supper. And when I got there the next day there were ham and cheese in the fridge, and two unopened packets of spaghetti on the worktop?!? They said, vaguely, ‘But there was no bread…’
And during all the phone calls I had had with people in the two days previous to that, no one wanted to know about the £40, because they aren’t allowed to handle or apparently even mention money. At least two people from different organisations knew the money was there – but not my aunt, as I didn’t want her to lose it. Fat lot of good that did. But in theory, when there is no emergency, they all say wouldn’t it be great if I could only just leave some money in the house.
Anyway, she says she’s going to go get some milk tomorrow.
She doesn’t see what the big deal is. Mostly we were talking about some opera programme she was watching, with I forget which soprano, but who she said is a very funny woman, ‘and a very beautiful woman, too; and that’s what we need in opera’. And a tenor she had never heard of, who was tall and ‘has silver hair’, and was ‘quite good’. And a pianist who was ‘about twice the size of the soprano’, but she played very well. (‘That’s what she’s there to do’, I said; my aunt replied: ‘Absolutely!’) She kept saying, ‘Can you hear it in the background?’ It sounded good, and like her, and very nice, actually. There have been newspaper reports and so on recently, all about how ‘the music they remember’ can reach Alzheimers patients. My aunt is not as far gone as all that, just far gone enough to criticise the pianist for being fat. It’s good that she’s paying attention.
Then I caught up with the blog of my lovely old friend who has moved back to Australia, the erstwhile Debbie Harry of Hackney – Ms P of That’s So Pants, now cooling her heels in a place fictionally called Larrikin’s End. As ever, her latest post is lucid, entertaining, a bit out there, and informative. Elucidating, in fact. Not only is she lucid, she can make you so. In this one she dishes the sense on Mark Rothko and the American Abstract Expressionists:
But it’s mostly because he was a big, American male. There was a time when a particular kind of American man felt it his duty to answer the big questions of life. Some of them made a decent stab at it – like Hemingway for e.g. It was a big call with a big price and they both paid it in the end.
Then, in the bath, I was reading an essay by Stephen Burt and (switching gear slightly) discovered what I had never known before: namely, that John Ashbery has written a cento – that is, a poem made of the lines of other poems, as in ancient Rome a warrior would make a cloak of patches of the cloaks of heroes – called, brazenly, ‘The Dong With a Luminous Nose’. I’ve found it. I had thought from the essay that it was made up of lines from Edward Lear, but on reading it I can see that the lines come from everywhere. It’s like one of those (now very old-fashioned) radio dial experiences. (I’m not sure if I like this better or if I’m a little disappointed; I think I was looking forward to seeing what it would be like, made up entirely of lines from Lear.)
Anyway, it’s beautiful, if a bit scary, and it’s a bit like talking to my aunt.
Obscurest night involved the sky
And brickdust Moll had screamed through half a street:
“Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
Every night and alle,
The happy highways where I went
To the hills of Chankly Bore!”