Posted in Family, Writing

The Only Certainties in Life: Birthdays and Taxes

My mum and my daughter together
My mum gets an 80th birthday hug from my daughter, who’s still wearing her Christmas onesie

Yes, I know the REAL saying is “there are no certainties in life but death and taxes,” but I’m an optimist, and without birthdays there would be no deaths, so take that, Benjamin Franklin!

There’s been an air of finality in  my study this week, because since my last post here I’ve despatched two things that I was glad to see the back of:

  1. January
  2. my tax return

The only redeeming feature of January is my birthday, which leaves the last two weeks of the month with nothing positive about them at all.

Actually, when you get to my age, even a birthday isn’t something to celebrate, other than to rejoice in the fact that you’ve made it through another year without necessitating an obituary – UNLESS of course it is a very special birthday, preferably with a 0 at the end.

Celebrating My Mum’s 80th Birthday

Such was the most recent birthday of my lovely mum, who celebrated her 80th birthday on 31st December. When your birthday falls on the last day of the year, you can’t avoid celebrations even if you want to, as most of the rest of the country will be marking the day in style.

Photo of Oil of Ulay before it was rebranded OlayLike my father who turned 80 in September 2012, my mum is an inspiration to anyone who is frightened of old age. While a lifetime Oil of Olay habit (branded Oil of Ulay when she started using it, before pan-European labels mattered) might account for her flawless, smooth complexion, I don’t think even that old beauty trick can take the credit for her lively mind and spirit, and her willingness to tackle new challenges.

Her special request for her 80th birthday present was her own laptop, so that she could computerise the stories she’s drafted over the years by hand. We bought her a small, feminine netbook in a smart shade of red. 

My mum learnt to type on what my 10-year-old daughter recently referred to as “one of those keyboards that goes ping” – a manual typewriter. The class learned to type to music, carefully chosen to match their target keystroke speed.

selfie of the author and her mum
Me & my mum celebrating her 80th birthday with a selfie

As anyone of the same vintage will know, typing on a  typewriter requires a much stronger fingerstroke than a computer keyboard. It took her a little while to adjust to her netbook’s sensitivity, but she’s taken to the technology enthusiastically.

Not one to shy away from other modern trends, she also joined me in a “selfie” on her special day, and admired her grandchidren’s Christmas onesies.

I wonder what new skills and interests I’ll be acquiring when I’m her age? It’ll be the year 2040 then. Wherever technology takes us, I think I’d better invest in some Oil of Olay before it’s too late…

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Posted in Writing

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

English: Engraving of printer using the early ...
There has to be an easier way. (Image via Wikipedia)

I arrive home to find my husband agitated, clutching an empty envelope.

“I need you to print a letter for me, urgently.”

I remind him I’m due at the hairdresser’s in ten minutes.

“But I have to get it in the post today. It’s a legal document. It must be postmarked with today’s date.”

His printer, it emerges, has packed up again. But producing his letter on my machine will not be as simple as he assumes, because I’ve just acquired a new computer. First I must  install the printer software. Which means finding the disk.

The edge is taken off his urgency by the revelation that he doesn’t have a stamp to put on the envelope.

The hairdresser calls. I have my priorities.

“I’ll do it when I come back,” I promise.

On my return, to my surprise I find the software disk in the first place I look for it and slip it into the disk drive, but even so, the installation is not the work of moments. A series of tedious prompts pop up on the screen as the disk drive chugs away. After a few false starts and the  emission of copious blank pages (I realise afterwards that I’ve been pressing “photocopy” instead of “print document” and  have inadvertently copied lots of nothing), the computer tells me to reboot.

By now I’m beginning to glaze over. The motto of a former colleague, the late, laconic Bristolian IT manager John Hamilton,  is echoing in my brain: “Lack of planning on  your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”. (I don’t suppose there are many IT guys these days who can get away with calling all their female clients “Flower”.)

I’m gazing unseeingly at the screen when the printer finally spits out two copies of Gordon’s letter, accompanied by much whirring and clunking. “This document contains 69 words,” the monitor informs me, a propos of nothing. All that fuss and effort for just 69 words!  It hardly seems worth the bother.

I scoop up the two sheets of paper and ferry them downstairs to my husband who is busy on the sofa watching telly with his feet up.

Madeline Breckinridge, full-length portrait, s...
Image via Wikipedia

“You know,” I say slowly, “there is another way your could have dealt with this. You could have written the letter out by hand.”

There is a beat.

“I didn’t think of that,” he confesses.

 Note to self for future reference: for all our technological advances, in this digital age, the pen is still mightier than the computer. Long live the pen.