Every day is preparation for the future. I have a hard time always keeping things in their separate boxes because I often see how stuff flows out of one and into another. It can be quite amusing sometimes; other times, a little distressing. I’ve been on ‘holiday’ with my daughter for the best part of two weeks. Many people scoff when retired people mention ‘holiday’, as if only certain forms of activity: time away from home and travelling are pleasures we can all enjoy. I love getting to mix up the many ingredients that have gotten me to this point in life and know that more gets added all the time. So, I am rolling with the moments.
My daughter and I spent a nice day yesterday being tourists and then getting to dislike them. I took her to visit my former grammar school, in part, because it’s just five minutes from Buckingham Palace, which she really wanted to see. “Will the Queen be at home?” was her first question. We saw how my school had changed physically: much of the interior design is untouched, and I could feel myself back 40 years as I walked up and down stairs; but modernity is there in full with iMacs all over the place and a new underground gym.
The old gym is now an art room. The school was rare in that it had courts for playing Fives, a game like squash but played with bare hands. The playground is still the same and I explained to the caretaker taking us around how we used to play several games of football at the same time going both lengthwise and across. Skills were honed by not getting mixed up by other games, and not colliding with other people. We were nimble. But, I did not dwell on the past there, and we headed on to see the palace.
I used to walk past it many times a week, heading to St. James’s Park for lunch, to read, sometimes to kick a ball with friends. Rarely, did we spend time looking at the palace or thinking about the Queen. I always noted the throng of tourists. Now, I was one of them.
Their faces were pressed against the railings and they filled both sides of the Mall, as they waited for the guards to change. I explained to my daughter, who had a hard time getting a view. “How do they see with those furry hats over their eyes?” Good question. “Why are they riding down to the palace on those horses?” I explained about the changing of the guards. I was not taken with the spectacle, and I’d seen it many times before, but noted that Britain does pomp really well: centuries of practice.
We talked about how I spoke, and that my accent reflected where I had gone to school, in an area where most people did not speak like Cockneys, but ‘proper’. We also talked about the fact that we must have been carrying some Jamaican ‘vibes’ because people came up to us and spoke with Jamaican accents as we walked aloud: ‘Bless up!” the security man said as we walked past a building. Strange. Maybe, we had an aura.
We moved through the throng and walked through the park, taking in the geese and pigeons. It was a not-glorious summer’s day in England: skies were overcast, wind was blowing slightly, people were on the grass, deck chairs were laid out empty but ready.
My daughter sat in one for a few moments: I explained that she had to pay to use it. We headed on to Trafalgar Square, and more tourists, who were clambering onto the base of Nelson’s Column and mounting the lion statues. I urged my daughter to do the same. It’s a kind of rite of passage. I did it when younger, sometimes when not completely sober 🙂 She did, and then waited patiently while a group of girls took their pictures by a lion’s mouth, taking about as much time as it does to make a movie epic :-(. We did our photos in about 30 seconds, then decided to go to the National Gallery, just the other side of the square. The whole area was full of people sitting and walking and hearing explanations in many languages.
The area was also now a place for open theatre and we took in some of the performances. We then went for the quiet of the paintings. Lots of children were there on school trips; English schools have another three weeks, or so. Many were on the floor drawing or sketching. We decided to look a little, then just take a pause in front of a Canaletto. I’m no art buff, but I know relaxing when I see it.
My mind wandered to matters Italian. I immediately thought of the Italian footballer, Cannielini, who had the day before been the victim of an apparent dental attack during a match. Luis Suarez, the alleged gnasher had been doing some ‘damage control’ during the day trying to make light of his latest biting incident. I had been flabbergasted at the incident and seen the replays many times. It’s clear to me: he bit the Italian, then made it seem that he had been struck. Low down. FIFA were supposed to deliberate on the matter and it had become quickly the subject of much online banter. That’s the power of social media.
We were due to have lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, Prezzo, so my wandering mind was not on a random walk. I thought about sport and cheating. I had to condemn Suarez. I later read some articles trying to defend him: ridiculous, I thought, and said in comments. Friends I visited later put it clearly: barbaric, unhealthy, animalistic, childish, unthinkable. It was not the subject for good adjectives. But, what will FIFA do? That is what concerned me. I went back to thinking about caneloni and Canaletto.
We headed on to lunch, with aunts of my first daughter. My little daughter was again having to deal with new people, some of whom knew her, but she could not recall. Anyway, she sat happily and thumbed the book she had grabbed in the morning: Tuesdays with Morrie. It happened to be in our room where we are staying. A challenging book and I am intrigued what a 10-year-old will make of it. Anyway, it had become the love of her life during our morning Tube rides. We had a great lunch, full of reminiscences, and including some pictorial evidence that was amusing but not damaging.
I looked great with a beard and lots of black hair. My daughter giggled at the sight. We enjoyed the memories and we enjoyed the food.
We caught up on where the various cousins were, now grown up and able to decide for themselves what to do. Live in Paris. Work in Virginia. Stay at home. Get into relationships. Usual stuff. We talked about being retired. It came with many benefits, not least time to do what you wanted, like go into central London for a long lunch, or travel for a few weeks with one of your children. It also came with fringe benefits, such as free transport and discounts at restaurants. Satisfied and amused, we all left and headed on to our next venues.
We rode the Tube with the husband of one of the aunts, as we headed up the Northern Line to Highgate. We talked about his life after teaching. His wife, my former sister-in-law, was still working, near Trafalgar Square, hence the choice for lunch. She was getting into athletics, and had taken up field events such as hammer throwing, discus, javelin and shot putting. That was quite intriguing. She was not into masters competitions, but representing a club at regular meets; their son ran middle distance events. The husband had not ventured back into sport, leaving his rugby days behind. He had thought about writing, after being a school headmaster. I shared thoughts on that, and suggested he give it a go. It’s his ‘piece of paper’ to fill. We parted and then my daughter and I sauntered up Archway Road to find more friends.
We reached a little close and were greeted by a man holding back a yapping dog. That was unexpected. The dog was a relatively new arrival, from a shelter. He carried a squeaky rubber duck. Touching. He liked us, judging by his desire to lick our legs.
We headed straight to the TV. Another round of World Cup matches were due on at 5, and I wanted to get a little sight of tennis, first. Friends understand such things, and we’d set out the afternoon in that way. My friend gave us drinks and my daughter gave up on us, once she had been offered a computer on which to play. We talked and caught up on a few years’ absence. One of his sons had just come back from a long trip abroad. He had slept, but then woke to realise he ‘needed’ to go to meet someone. He said a quick hello and goodbye. My friend’s wife came home from school earlier than expected, just as her son was leaving, before the football was due to start. She greeted us, then headed off to do some other stuff. We settled in for the football.
The game between Argentina and Nigeria had plenty of action. The commentators were all over the greatness of Messi and comparing him to Maradona. My friend alluded to the tainted greatness of the latter. “I can’t forgive him for 1986,” he muttered. We were one on that, and then went on a tour of football incidents that seemed to define players. We ended up talking about Suarez and his repeated desire to bite people. We agreed that he needed help. Would he get it and accept it? He’d refused it in the past. Are all great players and performers really badly flawed? Time worn debates were ready to be restarted. But, we let our arguments flow just a little, and focused more on the clear brilliance of Lionel Messi, who seemed more normal than many.
We talked about social media–my friends said they were phobic about it, or at least not very comfortable with it. We talked about how it seems to distort behaviour in some people. We agreed that some are fooled into thinking they are talking to the world and it’s listening, but that somehow they can do that and seem to be invisible. We agreed that it was not universally good and not wholly bad; not all happy, and plenty sad. A lot like football. A lot like life.