Life is just one big circle

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.

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Old school, new look

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.

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Cooee! Queenie!

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.

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Deck chairs, ready for summer
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Trafalgar Square, filled with visitors, and Nelson sees all

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 ūüôā 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.

Canaletto - Venice: The Basin of San Marco on Ascension Day
Canaletto – Venice: The Basin of San Marco on Ascension Day

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.

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Posh pepperoni

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.

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The Woodman, Highgate: always a nice spot
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A dog and his favourite chewy toys

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.

Eyes wide shut

I had an interesting experience last Friday. My daughter was swimming in a national schools¬†meet at the stadium. I’d planned to just watch from the stands; I usually keep time at club meets because it offers the best view of events. However, the school coach volunteered me and another swim parent to volunteer to keep time. We ended up covering the same lane; we were joined by a neighbour of mine. We enjoyed working together.

It was an arduous morning session. The meet had been due to start at 8am. As a good swim parent, my child and I had arrived at 7, for warm up. Delays are common at swim meets. However, this one went overboard. It started with the stalled attempt to get children assembled according to their schools for a procession. Now, Jamaica is a hot country, and at 8 the sun is searing. Nevertheless, the announcer announced and the children slowly understood that they needed to be on the poolside. About 25-30 schools were present. By the time all had assembled and walked the lap of the pool deck, it was approaching 9. The guest speaker spoke; she was not really long-winded but it added time. The children were still in the sun. They were allowed back in the stands after the speech. Soon after 9, the meet began.

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National Aquatic Centre, Kingston: water falling on water during Burger King swim meet

The timekeepers timed and the races went well. After about two hours, someone brought us cups of water. Then, soon after, corned beef sandwiches and a fruity drink. Rain started near noon and the meet ran on despite that. Lunchtime was approaching, and I was trying to arrange my movements: i needed to make a short dash to meet someone who’d just done some business for me. I figured that I would have plenty of time because the organizers had given me and other volunteers a voucher for a Burger King lunch–the sponsors usually help with refreshments in some way.

But, when I mentioned this to my two timekeeping partners, they both said “What lunch?” They hadn’t received vouchers. I decided to try to see what had happened and approached the table where I had¬†signed up and been given my bright yellow “Official” tee-shirt and the voucher before the start of the meet. My fellow school parent had been just behind me¬†when I signed in.¬†She had received her tee-shirt, but nada mas.

I mentioned what had happened to a lady sitting clutching a microphone, next to the representative from Burger King (who had been on a constant promotion¬†of the products once he’d been brought into the show since mid-morning). “We had more volunteers than vouchers,” the lady told me. I had an “And?” moment. No lunches were being offered to those who didn’t have vouchers. This pricked my sense of fairness–a sad legacy of growing up in England, I guess. I told the lady that this was not fair: we had all been on the deck for the best part of six hours in the sun and rain, and deserved to be treated equally. She was not having any of that, and decided to give me the good old cut-eye. I have never been good at letting that pass, and felt a howitzer moment brewing. I told her that if she couldn’t run a meet properly, then it would be better if she left it those who can. I don’t know if she was a YMCA employee, given that they were the meet organizers. I also told her that she’d be quite helpless if the volunteers weren’t willing to stand and fill the jobs that needed to be done; some YMCA youths were also in our body. She remained silent and indifferent. I gave her a last point about her attitude, which I wasn’t going to tolerate.

The meet director asked me to step to one side. He tried to explain to me how things “usually” worked, and that schools “usually” provided lunches. I pointed out that ‘usually’ did not apply because an exception had been made at this meet. We agreed to disagree, and I said that I would not be volunteering during the afternoon. (I had personal reasons: I needed my legs for a weekend tournament.) I related the events to my fellow timekeepers. They were resigned to the situation.

Well after 1pm, the ‘morning’ session ended; we would resume at 2.30. I went in the pouring rain to line up for my BK meal; my fellow timers went off to find lunch elsewhere. I went on my errand and took lunch with me. When I returned, I spent the afternoon mainly in the stands–more important, I was off my feet. The meet went on during the afternoon, and I took my daughter home after it finished, sometime around 6pm. She had missed her 5pm piano lesson, and I called her teacher on the way home to apologize. When we got home, both very tired, we did not waste much time after our baths and a quick dinner and headed to bed. I needed to get a bus at 5am to head to Montego Bay for a golf tournament. My legs were aching badly as I went to bed and I had to use some antiinflammatory ointment.

Over the weekend, my legs worsened. During Saturday’s practice, I needed to use more ointment,¬†and on Saturday evening, my host, a doctor, had given me some other antiinflammatory ointment. I spent the afternoon applying RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to my knee. I went to bed in a knee brace. By Sunday my knee was swollen and I could barely walk; my knee brace was on all day. I spent the day in a golf cart, limping occasionally to get a better view and being admonished by one of my lady teammates to “Get off your feet, and stay sitting down!” I obeyed, for the most part. Rain washed out the end of morning play, delayed the start of afternoon play, then washed out the whole match. I got a ride home to Kingston, earlier than expected, with another doctor.

By Monday, I had a knee that looked like a water melon. I did without the brace, but was in severe pain whenever I tried to walk. I was due to coach soccer to kindergartners in the afternoon; they run like ferrets and did not need me to be more than patient and funny. I managed to do my half-hour session with them without too much pain. I then collected my daughter from school and waited on her while she had her usual double training session with her swim club. I sat down for most of the 2 1/2 hours she was in the water. By Monday night, the pain was down greatly, and I was able to bend the knee about halfway. By Tuesday morning, the pain was negligible; the knee had more flexibility; and I could walk with only a very slight limp. I needed to practice and planned to just chip and put balls. I surprised myself by walking without pain, and played 9 holes, though a little slower than usual. A Jamaican friend, visiting from the USA, was with me, and she inspired some great shots. I coached soccer with elementary kids at my daughter’s school during the afternoon, not running a lick. They looked at my knee, which was now more like an ogen melon, and compared my swollen knee to the normal one: “Wow! That’s big!” said one of the girls.

The story has several morals. But, I will flag two.

One is a tendency in Jamaica to make children suffer while adults go about their business, blithely ignoring the imposition they are putting on frail young bodies. The announcer gleefully told the spectators that one of the children “was only three” (she might have been five, in fact). It as a meet for preparatory and primary schools, and one of the categories was ‘under 6’. But, here we were having them bleach in the sun for nearly an hour before they were expected to perform athletic events. Duh! The organizers could have just had each school group stand and be recognised where they were installed, and that might have taken at most 10-15¬†minutes; the speech shortened to 5¬†minutes, and we save nearly three-quarters of¬†an hour in the baking sun. I spoke to my child’s club coach during the meet and there was a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking. I don’t want to be insensitive and make a parallel with a tragedy that happened in Montego Bay over the weekend, when twin boys were washed away in a gully and found washed up on a beach yesterday. But, in that tragedy are all the elements of child neglect. The trouble is that Jamaicans are not very honest about this aspect of our society, preferring to see ourselves as loving and caring for children, even though much evidence points the other way. I heard the exasperation in Dionne Jackson-Miller’s voice last evening, during ‘Beyond the headlines’, after listening to an extract of the Minister of Youth and Culture’s contribution to the Budget sectoral debate, which covered the matter of disappearing children. Our focus is on those who return. But, what of those who don’t? She said “We are not serious” about the issues of child abuse and neglect. I, for one, agree, whole heartedly. (There were two distasteful examples of that during the same swim meet, which I have shared with some child care professionals.) We love masquerade.This_Masquerade_by_perfect12386

Another, is an unwillingness to own mistakes and correct them. Instead, we love bluster. I will be aggressive, but I want a result. I don’t do indifference well. Telling me that water is coming through the window and leaving it open because the floor is already wet is another example of the ‘cyan bodda’ (can’t bother) mentality.¬†You have more volunteers than vouchers?¬†Then fix that, and do it openly, or apologize openly to those who are¬†volunteering, even making an offer to sweeten the pill. Instead, we have the ‘just keep your head down’ or ‘don’t move, the wind will stop’ approaches. I see this in many places as an excuse for customer service, so it’s a part of our culture in dealing with problems.

My knee is as old as me, and has been abused by too much sport. Its chronic state is something to manage.