Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Rich on Holiday

As if things weren’t going pretty well for you before you draped yourself in a pashmina and slurped champagne from a plastic flute, you feel entitled to mooch around extra-slowly under palm trees too.

Decked out in Cruise Collections, your shiny toenails peeking out from sandals whose single leather thongs still cost more than you’re paying the Phillipino couple to keep the home fires burning.

Removing your floppy hat to paw at silky highlights and fat earrings, bikini held together by costume jewellery.

Sparkly bits on everything that isn’t the enormous gold beach tote housing one tiny tube of SPF750 Karl Lagerfeld lip balm.

Sunglasses conspicuously folded on the table, hot fourth finger bulging in its platinum boa constrictor.

Your other half in creased linens, George Hamilton tan, sweaty wrist weighted by Successful Watch.

Chasing around thirty dollar salad leaves under stylish ceiling fans whirring in well-maintained unison.

Your long-limbed kids sulky in white shorts and head phones, fresh from the stupidly-shaped pool, hair so blond it hurts.

When just down the road, you could be getting a pina colada with a cocktail-speared glace cherry.

Joking with the bar staff, making the acquaintance of a family of four from Spalding (one boy, one girl).

Getting comfy on a wicker chair, swaying to some steel drum popular covers.

Thanking God you’re not at the extreme end of the beach with the tightly-packed floral brollies and scorched non-tightly packed flesh.

Being sold a big shell or a trip on an inflatable chair going really fast behind a speedboat.

The sand is better where you are because the locals tread it like it’s yours and the tourists are busy in the local market stuffing clothes-staining souvenirs into shoulder bags.

But watch out for the sun.

Nothing makes it feel more exclusive than zapping a botoxed brow.

And there’s no greater leveler than a burnt nose.

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Genius

I’m still reading ‘The Corrections’.

I started it in 1934, even though it was written in 2001- an impressive achievement.

Jonathan Franzen has an unparalleled ability to create unique individuals out of universal characters.

Every human being is a type, insofar as we all behave with a certain predictable consistency: a vegetarian with a hemp wardrobe is unlikely to love plastic, for example.

A lot of inconsistencies breed eccentricity, while a majority foothold doth madness make.

But add just a few and what you get is an individual. (Turns out the vegetarian was a stripper in her twenties and smokes 20 Benny Hedgehogs a day.)

All novelists walk this line as a tightrope between skyscrapers: too broad a brushstroke and they’ve created cardboard cut-outs; an over-zealous daubing of quirkiness and the protagonists don’t feel real.

Franzen synthesises the two flawlessly, sweeping up every idiosyncratic morsel in the heads of his subjects (no crumb too miniscule) yet somehow making them immediately familiar.

Add to this a respect for the tragic and a flair for the hilarious and the result is gold-plated Top Banana.

I’m at the bit where Enid is on a Nordic Cruise trip and has been befriended by the promising Sylvia, who steals her away from an uncomfortable dining experience to the Lagerkvist Taproom, for a tete-a-tete. While a dwarf in a horned helmet and leather jerkin serves them cloudberry akvavit potato vodka, Sylvia embarks on an outpouring of grief over the torture and murder of her daughter.

Sylvia and her husband’s diametrically opposed emotional reactions to this traumatic event are drawn intensely, invoking powerful feelings of hatred and revenge, with which the reader empathises. Enid, however, considers herself less intellectual than her confider and, as a result, finds her attention diverted to the bartender.

So it is, that after Sylvia’s most indepth and harrowing unburdening, this follows:

‘Maybe one more?’ Enid said to the dwarf, raising her glass. She was almost wholly not listening to Sylvia but shaking her head and murmuring ‘Uh!’ and ‘Oh!’ while her consciousness stumbled through clouds of alcohol into such absurd realms of speculation as how the dwarf might feel against her hips and belly, embracing her.’

… so that the synopsis of this scene might be: mature woman fantasises about dwarf sex as new friend describes the emotional fallout of her daughter’s brutal murder.

There are other writers whose work I enjoy more- who have perhaps left a more complex, challenging, meaningful etc. aftertaste and whose style I might rather emulate- but none who has forced me to pause mid-read so regularly in order to smile and think, ‘That is just so bloody genius.’

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The Power of Love Addendum

Bruno also had a meningitis scare when he was 14 months old, only that time it was in the Pacific Northwest of America, which has some of the best medical facilities in the world.

Within 60 minutes of seeing a pediatrician he was quarantined for four days in a hospital where every single person who entered or left the room had to wear top to toe protection destined for incineration.

He didn’t have it then either.

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The Power of Love

The emergent Caribbean character is laid-back, accepting, benevolent.

This can be charming or alarming.

Charming

On a Grenadian beach late afternoon in December Rufus and I strolled barefoot to book a massage for me at a resort.

Amongst the gardens and swimming pool was a verandah with a thatched roof, housing a breezy restaurant.

I made my way towards it, to ask for information.

As I approached, I could hear Jennifer Rush belting out ‘The Power of Love’ on the sound system.

Audible from some distance, close-up it was all-encompassing.

And there’s only one thing you can do, wrapped in a power ballad.

So I’m walking towards this verandah, singing:

‘The sound of your heart beeeea-tiiiing,

Made it clear sudden-lyyy,

The feeling that I can’t go oooooo-oooooon,

Is a- light years a-waaaaaaaaaaaay’…

And as I look up I can see a local woman in her resort uniform, checking on things for the evening meal at the restaurant.

And she’s also singing:

‘Coz I am your la-dayy, and you are my ma-aaaaan’…

And she sees me and smiles and carries on.

So I carry on too and we walk towards each other.

‘Whenever you reach for me,

I’m gonna do all that I ca-aaaaan’…

Until we’re face to face (Rufus in my arms, with an expression somewhere on the trauma spectrum).

And we’re just standing and singing right at each other, for what seems like a very long time, Sonny and Cher-styley; only we’re not married artistes- we’re out-of-tune strangers, in the dying sun.

‘We’re heading for some-thiiiing,

Somewhere I’ve never be-ee-ee-ee-n,

Sometimes I am f-rightened but I’m re-eady to learn

About the Po-wer of Loooove.’

Her: Can I help you, Honey?

Me: Yes. Please can you tell me the way to reception?

*

Alarming

Bruno had a stiff neck on New Year’s Eve. He was hot as well, maybe related to the fact it was 30 degrees outside.

But as Jan 1st’s not ideal for a medical moment I took him to the doctor- a 60-year old man in shorts above a shopping mall, surrounded by religious bumper stickers.

Doc: What’s the matter, young man?

Bruno: I’ve got a sore neck. (gets his temp taken, as I give more background)

Doc (shaking his head, breathing in): Oh, no no no no no no. This is bad. This is verrrrrry, verrrrry bad.

Me (panic rising , shallow breathing, leaning forward): What do you mean ‘very bad’?

Doc (sitting back, folding arms, feet not quite on table): You brought him here. You have a mother’s intuition. What do you think the matter is?

Me (panic risen, getting agitated): I think he’s sprained his neck and I want to know how to treat it.

Doc (smiling, raising eyebrows, not getting agitated): Mmm-hmmmmm.

And you don’t think a fever is linked to a very stiff neck? They would have absolutely nothing to do with one another, you think?

Me (not smiling, feeling sick): What fever? I don’t know. What are you saying?

Doc (without panic or visible signs of nausea, preparing to annunciate every syllable):

MEN-IN-GI-TIS.

Me (ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck): What do you mean? What do you mean, meningitis?

Doc (wearing a how-stupid-can-a-person-be? face, a bit fed up, sighing): Infection. Meningitis. In-fla-ma-tion of the spinal cord.

MeĀ  (Gigantic. Pupils. Trying. To. Be. Calm.): So what do we do?

Doc (wearing an oh-I-see-this-is-how-stupid-a-person-can-be face, incredulous, amused): You take some antibiotics. You go home. You wait.

Me (OMGOMGthisiscompletelynothappening): What do you mean? What do you mean we wait? I can’t do that. I need to do something else. I need to take him to a hospital.

Doc (sitting up, chortling): Oh, really? And you think that’s going to be a good idea?

Let me tell you something, Mummy. The hospitals here aren’t like the ones at home. Standards are different. You don’t know how long you will be there. You don’t know what you are going to leave with.

Do you see what I am saying to you?

.

He went on to try to explain that meningitis is on a scale of 1 to 10 and that Bruno was most likely at the lower end.

But I was already spiralling towards the ‘m’ word, to which he responded with an amble in the opposite direction (and a long explanation to the receptionist, who was similarly unmoved).

Suffice to say, tears, telephone calls and large-scale bustling to a private clinic followed- Bruno getting more hot, silent and stiff-necked throughout.

Tests confirmed (thank the bumper-sticker Lord) that he did not have bacterial meningitis and we were sent home.

So this could have been a story about a rubbish doctor concluding a wrong diagnosis (even if right in emergency terms).

But events on New Year’s day brought us together with the same doctor and it turns out Bruno probably did have the low level viral meningitis the doc was trying all along to describe.

He took the medications, rested and is now perfectly fine.

So actually this story is about a good doctor with a laid-back manner, in a high-octane situation.

And, yes, perhaps a bit about the power- the white heat- of parental love.

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