Thursday, August 10, 2006

Colonel Moseley on.... My Favourite Things

What ho! I hope you enjoyed the Mem’s guest blog. During my mini-sabbatical, I looked back through my contributions. As I read, I began to suspect that readers might regard me as grumpy, possibly curmudgeonly and, almost certainly, cynical. I asked the Mem if that was how I was perceived and she diplomatically commented that it was possible that people who didn’t know me very well might consider me “a tad brusque”.

To be honest I was shocked at this, since I’ve always considered myself a generous-minded sort of chap. Still, if that’s the perception of my readers, it’s down to me to put my image straight. I may not have a PR guru like Max Clifford or Alistair Campbell, but I have this blog, so here we go.

The trouble is: how do you demonstrate convincingly that you’re a good egg and a cheerful one in less than 900 words? Previously I have highlighted my view of the failings of motorists, restaurants, families, bosses and the like. I have even stated my Ten Least Favourite Things. Although I’m no Maria in the Sound of Music, perhaps I can list my favourite things, which incidentally don’t include brown paper packages tied up with string, which always sound to me like consignments of illicit drugs. Also, when the dog bites or the bee stings or you’re feeling sad, I would recommend a visit to the doctor’s or the off-licence rather than relying on this list. Subject to these caveats, here are my ten favourites (after the Mem, of course):

1. Countdown: not surprisingly, nothing lifts the spirits on a rainy afternoon at Moseley Towers more than Carol Vorderman providing a brilliant solution to 987 using four large and two small, whilst one enjoys a Mr Kipling Country slice and a cup of tea.
2. Divas: another of my weaknesses is great women singers with soul. Some have sad stories, but all are glamorous and gifted. Starting with Judy Garland and Edith Piaf, my favourites include Billie Holliday and Dusty Springfield.
3. Eating out: whether it’s a balti house, gastro pub or the Ivy, I still get a kick out of eating out with the Mem and friends. The food should be fresh and robust and the experience should be fun and an event.
4. Paintings: I’ve never been one for the Old Masters, but can be transported by the work of Stanley Spencer, Van Gogh, Bacon and Matisse. For me the best art strikes a chord and prompts an emotion.
5. Alcohol: a chilled white burgundy on a hot afternoon is one of God’s more inspired creations. I would also take this moment to thank Him for gin.
6. National Hunt racing: what was more uplifting than Desert Orchid or the sadly missed Best Mate in their prime? My favourite kind of sport involves great performances, real characters and true sportsmanship. Give me Henrietta Knight or Jenny Pitman over Jose Mourinho, any day.
7. Theatre: I believe theatre should entertain or move. Say it very quietly, but I know all Stephen Sondheim’s shows backwards; they are brilliant, literate and undervalued. I have been lucky enough to have seen a few actors who capture you entirely: Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen and the incomparable Judi Dench. They are national treasures and add to our quality of life.
8. New York: only a few destinations have something for everyone. My favourite is the Big Apple, specifically Manhattan. I have a romantic view of it with Gershwin playing in my head as I walk around. I love catching glimpses of the Chrysler building and doing all the touristy stuff from 5th Avenue, Tiffany’s, Central Park, great museums and delis, SAKS, Bloomingdales, the Rockerfeller Centre, shows on Broadway; the list is endless. If you are fortunate enough to get the chance, please do it.
9. Trashy TV: I don’t like soaps but am embarrassed to admit that as well as the football on Sky, I quite like relaxing with junk TV like Celebrity Big Brother and Strictly Come Dancing. It’s a harmless diversion and occasionally casts a light on human nature and modern preoccupations (or that’s my excuse).
10. Birmingham City FC: this is another one to mention quietly. It’s not something I shout about, but once you really support a club, you are put in a good mood if they win and downcast if they lose. I know it's also in my list of Least Favourite Things, but life is complex. It’s in the blood I’m afraid and that's that.

So there you are; so many words and not a negative one amongst them. I shall have to go and lie down in a darkened room. Hopefully normal cynical service will be resumed shortly. Pip, pip!

*a version of this piece also appeared in Birmingham 13


Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Mem Speaks: Surviving Retirement

Hello dears! You may not know who I am, but my name is Letty Moseley. I live in Moseley Towers in Oxford Road with my husband Wilfred, retired MD of Moseley Engineering and formerly of the Queen’s Hussars. Wilfred writes pieces for this weblog and sometimes for Birmingham 13. You may know him as Colonel Moseley and me as “the Mem”.

Last week we had just watched Countdown and were having tea and some of Wilfred’s favourite Mr Kipling Country Slices, when I happened to comment on how that Des Lynam with the moustache and twinkling eyes was appealing to ladies of a certain age.

Given the adulation lavished on Carol Vorderman by Wilfred most afternoons, this seemed entirely reasonable. Surprisingly, however, my innocent remark seemed to unleash the green-eyed monster in Wilfred – for the first time since a young subaltern had asked for one valeta too many in a dance in the officers mess in Poona all those years before the war.

I may be flattering myself, but whatever the cause, this put Wilfred in a jolly bad mood. Trying to change the subject, I made what I thought was a constructive comment on his last piece. But like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, one thing led to another and Wilfred flounced out proclaiming “Well, old girl, if you can do better, have a go yourself” and I said “Alright then, if that’s how you feel, I will!” So here I am.

The trouble is, unlike my Wilfred, I don’t really hold myself out as an expert on anything in particular. After racking my brain, I suppose there is one thing I am qualified to advise on more than anyone else. So here are my top ten tips on how to survive retirement:

1. Make sure he has a hobby: after all those years of concentration at work, he needs something interesting to occupy and absorb him, whether it’s pigeons, fretwork or brass-rubbing.
2. Get him out from under your feet: try to find him some activity that’s extra-mural. Golf, walking or bowls mean you have some free time in the house again.
3. Get a dog: dogs provide companionship and require exercising to varying degrees out of the house.
4. Take holidays: if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, get away occasionally. A change of scene and some sunshine does wonders.
5. Allow him friends: retirement shouldn’t be a prison sentence or solitary confinement. Try not to lose contact with all the friends from your working days and hopefully make some new ones together in retirement.
6. Stay well: the key to everything is good health, so try to keep agile in mind and body and keep off the sherry until after six
7. Have fun: if you are healthy, solvent and together, celebrate it and look on the bright side. A good laugh is most definitely the best medicine
8. Do some things together: it’s good to have some “us” time as well as “me” time, so make a point of doing what you both enjoy at the same time. This doesn’t mean twin bob sleighing down the Cresta Run, but could include ballroom dancing, whist or bridge
9. Break the routine: you’ve got this far together, so don’t make the mistake of getting into a boring rut. From time to time do something new or off-the-wall. Keep trying new things: food, books, films, clothes, trips...whatever. Just because you’ve reached a certain age doesn’t mean your mind is closed.
10. Keep romance alive: much as they pretend it is, love is not the sole preserve of the young. The odd compliment, bunch of flowers or candle-lit supper for two alone can do wonders for morale.

Remember you’re a person, not just a pensioner! I had better go and give Wilfred a large gin and tonic before supper. Bye, dears

* a version of this article has appeared in Birmingham 13