Thursday, June 18, 2009

Keeping it Simple

If there's one lesson that everyone needs to learn in life, it's this: keep it simple.
I've found that the more I've complicated my life, the less successful I've been at living it. Jenny and I recently celebrated her Mother's 90th birthday. OK, right now we're broke. We couldn't afford to do the huge slap-up meal that we usually do. When we had the wherewithal to splash out, we did.; this time, I simply spent a few more hours in the kitchen, and knocked up a beouf bourgignon (The spelling looks suspect there).
This was probably the most successful celebration dinner we've had. A simple casserole, a bunch of veges (I hate the modern abbreviation of "veggies": the double g, to my mind, gives a hard g sound, as in egg. Mind you, I'm having a hard time thinking of another word with a single internal g that gives us a j sound.) and some good guests. It was simple, and the thing that made it simple was the emphasis being taken away from the food, and being placed on the person who had reached a pretty bremarkable milestone.
I've recently attended some computer lessons at a local polytech: they're free, and remarkable. There's a room, a bunch of computers, a tutor, and a bunch of books. The tutor doesn't tute, unless asked. Each individual knows what s/he wants to learn,or brush up on, so grabs the appropriate book, and a 'pooter. Then they go at it, hammer, tongs, and anvil. If they strike a problem, they hold their hand up, and the tutor comes and does his thing. Simple.
Attending this class, I re-discovered the thing that's been drumming itself into my head for the past ten years: I ain't half as clever as I thunk I was. I knew the basics of a few programmes, but hadn't reallymined their potential. I've gotten along reasonably well knowing what I do know, but life would have been a lot simpler, and elegant, if I'd taken the time to learn how to do things properly.
Simplicity often comes through a process of learning the complexities. I think it was Talleyrand who told us to know ourselves, and I'm finding that there's a lot of wisdom in that thought. Unless I really knowmyself, there's no way I can know another. In the past I've made the mistake of trying to know and anticipate the needs of a "significant other" before I've taken care of my needs. Selflessness, etc. Didn't work then, doesn't work now, probably won't work in the future. When the 'plane's fallingout of the sky, attend to your own oxygen first, then take care of the kids. It's simpler, and more effective, to be selfish before being altrusitic. This is not to say that a selfish person knows what it's all about: far from it. It's all about motivation: if your porimemotivator is to take care of your wife's / husband's needs, make sure you're well sorted first. Then you'll be able to take care of your spouse.
I started this blog by entitling it "Keeping it Simple". It hasn't ended up adhering to the title - but then, that's what Maundering is all about.

Reading at the moment:

Same as yesterday, but remoive Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" book, and add Dan Simmons' "Hyperion". I find I have to read Hyperion every two or three years: it's a moder-day "Canterbury Tales".

Music: I've been listening to Gillian Welch's "Time - The Revelator". Talk about keeping it simple!

I've decided to share "For The Love of Henry" with you, a few pages at a time.

Chapter One.
Love Comes Dressed in a Green School Blazer.

Henry Talbot‘s life took an unexpected turn on March 3rd. It started with Henry’s wife Mary rising from the breakfast table, walking to the door, and leaving him, gently passing her fingers over the empty photo-frame that sits on the kitchen bench as she went.
Actually, Mary unexpectedly leaves Henry at least once a week; often, more often. Mary is a person who thinks that she must go and do something, and then goes ahead and does it, ignoring all other demands a loving husband or son may lay upon her. Mary is a woman whose sunny nature out-Polly-Annas Polly-Anna; she is invariably cheerful, a creature of happiness: everybody in Talbot Terrace knows her, and welcomes her when she drops in to tend their gardens, which is something she does with regularity.
Physically, Mary Talbot is petite: five foot four, a heart-shaped face framed with brilliant red hair, bright green eyes – the left one with a single gold fleck cast amidst the emerald. Or is it? Henry’s bemused by the gold fleck. It seems to change places. Although this is another thing he has attempted to note in his black leather bound notebook, it all became far too confusing, and he gave it up after only, oh, four years. On cloudy days it seemed to Henry that the gold fleck would brighten the lower left part of Mary’s right iris. On sunny days, it could take position in either eye, but at the one o’clock position. When Mary was in a pensive mood, her oracular auric glimmer would glimmer in the left eye, 11 o’clock. Mary’s eye sat either side of a pert nose, over high cheekbones, and glowed when her full lips smiled. Her still-slim legs are occasionally betrayed by her feet, which a purist would say are two sizes too large. Her figure is no longer trim and taut, but why should it be? She’s past her fortieth year, and is happy to let the signs of aging show. Although, to be fair, it must be said that some of the bitchier residents of Northridge have gossiped about Mary Talbot’s bouts with the cosmetic surgeon’s scalpel. These rumours that are totally without foundation: Mary’s figure and face retain a natural vitality.
In her wardrobe, Mary favours clothing styles that may well have seen their hey-day in the 1950s. The swirling sun-frocks, the wide belts, the tailored cocktail dresses, the gloriously extravagant hats, the deadly stiletto-heeled shoes. She loves fabrics that vibrate with life and colour, and has almost never worn black, brown, or taupe. Mary Talbot, in short, is the embodiment of all that made Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day so immensely popular. She is, in every admirable way, the girl next door.
Mary has a way with plants that is almost miraculous. It seems that she has only to touch a plant for it to perk up, and put on a display that would make a peacock blush with shame. Henry Talbot, ever sensible, snorts with derision when people tell him that Mary has been blessed by God. As a hard-working atheist, Henry will have none of it, although Talbot Terrace residents have observed in conversations behind their slim-line Luxaflex venetian blinds that Henry’s face takes on an angelic appearance when he walks hand in hand with his wife.
Henry also accepts that a garden tended by Mary always responds beautifully, as though the hyacinths and roses and foxgloves and pansies and poppies and even, yes, god (who may or may not know that she or he doesn’t exist) help us, the daisies all knew that condition-less love was being poured on them, so by golly they’d better shape up and put on a happy face. The fact that it happens is observable. The why it happens perplexes Henry, but he refuses to credit any supernatural agency.
Mary is 43 years old, two years younger than Henry, a man who has, for nearly all his life, been happy to live in her brilliantly colourful shadow.
Henry was seven years old when he met and fell in love with Mary. Dressed very properly in his school uniform, green blazer done up just so, necktie just a little crooked, grey shorts crisply ironed, black shoes highly polished, green cap set just so, Henry was stepping out manfully to school when Mrs Pickering at number 10 Talbot Terrace stopped him.
“Henry,” she called. “Henry Talbot, would you do me a small favour?”
From this, of course, you will deduce that young Henry Talbot had been a well-known and trusted boy. You would be right. Henry has always had a calm and solemn demeanor about him: a sober and serious nature that was reflected in the deliberate way he walked, the careful consideration he gave to his words before he spoke, the candid way his grey eyes studied the object or person that had attracted his attention.
Henry stopped, turned his cool eyes toward Mrs Pickering, and said “I’m on my way to school, Mrs Pickering. I don’t think I will be able to –“
Mrs Pickering’s heart fluttered. She blushed, and interrupted him: something he disliked then, and dislikes now.
“I know, Henry. You see: I can’t walk my Mary to school this morning, my ankle you see, ha ha, I twisted it and well, I was wondering if you would walk with her, and see her safely across the road, and to her classroom.” Mrs Pickering wondered why talking to a seven year old boy made her so nervous, and why she was twittering like a sparrow. But that’s the way Henry was, and it’s the way Henry is, it’s the way Henry affects people. Henry past replied, with eight words that would make the Henry future extraordinarily happy: “I would be pleased to help, Mrs Pickering.”
And so it was that Mary appeared, a shock of red hair, shining green eyes, and a shout of happiness, and Henry’s heart was lost. It’s fair to say that he didn’t know that he was in love at the time. It would be supremely ridiculous to suppose that a seven year-old boy even knows what love is. But that evening he announced to his parents and his sister Sybil that he was going to marry Mary Pickering one day.


  1. I've caught the bug. Way more personal than yours and a little more scary but hard to resist putting it all on "paper".

    How is Nevermore? I loved it. Right up my alley.

  2. ps: I've been reading about Henry and Mary and it's truly a pleasure to read. Love your style.