The Blessed iPad

I went to visit my old friend Steve Dwoskin yesterday.  Crabby and funny and combatant and lovely, in his big electric wheelchair.

It’s impossible not to admire his spirit. Multiple carers now come in at intervals, and two of them are needed to get him into bed at night. He used to be able to deal with that himself, but respiratory problems have limited his options even further. Inevitably, he has to go to bed when it suits the carers – never later than 9pm, and that is a pain for a natural nightowl.

But it is the IPad, he reports, that has saved the day (or the night). It’s meant he’s able to lie in bed with it and work on his biography, or on his new film project. The film is to do with the experience of ageing. What images occur, he asks,  when I think about it? He’s collecting images. Another friend had offered a clock with its numbers of washed away.

For me, this card I’ve had up on my wall for years, says something –

Cameron – disasterous shot at the wrong target

One of the advantages of ageing, they say, is getting a long view. It is said to give you a sense of equilibrium and perspective, and stop you getting blown about by the winds of passion.

It doesn’t always work.

When David Cameron took aim at ‘Multiculturalism’ the other day, anyone with a long view would have realised how fatally an ignorance of history affected his arguments.  To be fair, he was not alone. ‘Multiculturalism’ has come in for some bashing over the past few years, and for a time – knowing from experience the real gains and benefits – I was bemused by the chorus of detractors.

But finally, I came to recognise that none of us had been sufficiently intellectually rigorous. ‘Multiculturalism’ – or the more common term ‘cultural diversity’ – isn’t one single and simple entity. There are two very separate major forms of discourse, each with different needs, heading in different directions and with very different outcomes indeed. Ironically, one of them offers a route to precisely the goals of citizenship and community that the coalition government desires…..

I rapidly wrote a piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, but it didn’t make it. If you want to find out more, check out my website – It is currently being redone, but when it’s finished (imminently), you can find a link to a longer presentation I gave to a conference last autumn where I first started to lay out explore those double strands of diversity.

It made it clear that Cameron and his like are in fact like those characters in a movie who see what they think is an ominous shape in the bushes, who take aim and fire. And then find they have shot and wounded their best friend.

Mysteries of Life – Duvets

There a few mysteries of life that remain insoluble and maybe I’ll never get to crack. Top of the list is how to put duvet covers on simply and easily, without the sense that you are struggling with a large, inert and uncooperative animal.

I have recently signed up as a host for something called Airbnb – a great idea that has guests turning up on my doorstep to stay for a few days from all over the world. I’ve hosted radical American lawyers, a Slovenian curator, Australian TV journo and even a Marine who had served in Afghanistan.

But the downside is the need to do a heck of a lot of sheet-changing and laundry and tackling the demon duvet over and over again.

I have recently found that the best solution so far is to get in the damn thing so that I can be sure the ends stay where they need to be. But it is a strange sensation – a bit like being a child again playing with making a tent in bed at night. And I think the interest of that is going to be short-lived.

Rebellious Streaks

More experiments with hair. It must be sounding a bit as if I had a fetish. No, I promise you.  I’ve just got fascinated by the way in which grey/white hair can be a basis for other colours.

This was trying out orangey streaks. It looks a bit as if I had dipped some of my hair in marmelade. Or if I was a man, that I had been half-heartedly on the Haj.

My expression in this picture (taken up by the Monastery of Sainte Odile outside Strasbourg) isn’t very buoyant. It just goes to show, that having a rebellious streak maybe isn’t always such a good thing….

A Brighter Shade of Pale

Well, there’s a surprise…. I thought when I let my hair go white that that would be the end of it. Not a bit.  In fact grey/white turns out to be a really interesting basis for playing around.  I tried pink streaks, and that was fun…

And when they had faded, I got orangey-brown streaks put in instead. A bit more subtle, you might say. And I wonder where next? So the message seems to be to think creatively. Just say – ageing is a beginning and and not an ending. I don’t have to follow the rules.





Sitting on the edge of the Rubicon…

I half crossed a Rubicon the other day. Well, to be honest – i put my toe in to test the water and then sat down on the bank to think about it,

For as long as I can remember – thirty years and more – I have been darkening my hair. And for the past ten years I have had fun with bleaching a wide white strip along the front. If I am honest, I will admit that, as I got to being old, the fact that it covered up grey was important. I felt too young to be old. And I considered I was still a player, and saw how the white-headed grannies got shoved aside. Or so I believed.

Then by chance, my hairdressing appointment fell through and I was forced to live with what I was – streaky browny grey and some pure white coming through. And I looked at it in the mirror, and I thought it looked rather interesting. I added a few pale pink streaks here and there, and I liked it even better.

So will I let age advance , and be grey and proud? I am really not sure. I dither. Truly. Appearance seems to affect the way you’re treated. I ran for a train at London Bridge and only just missed it, and found myself surrounded by solicitous young railway guys who kindlily urged me to sit down and not to worry. As if I was Red Riding Hood’s granny. If my hair had been dark, they would not have turned a hair…

Are the terminally ill too expensive?

It is alarming to read.

“The SUPPORT investigators found that despite an intervention designed to improve end-of-life care, many patients who died did so not only at great expense but also after spending at least 10 d in the ICU comatose, receiving mechanical ventilation, with do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders written 2 d before death, and in pain.”

The American SUPPORT report looked at ways to reduce the health bill and speculated that it was just too darned expensive – and pointless – to keep terminally ill people alive. So access to the Intensive Care Unit, it argued, should, as  policy, be severely restricted.

It is a tricky point – whether doctors should ‘strive/ Officiously to keep alive’, – and after sitting with a terminally ill and pain-ridden friend I would not (I think) want that for myself. But to make expense the prime factor is shocking.

Fortunately, the SUPPORT report (Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatment) was in 1995  and has been challenged by newer research. This has shown that in fact minimal savings would be made  – if any – and that prognoses of imminent death were anyway unreliable. It recommends the right to ICU but also more emphasis on palliative care.

Point-scoring is a childish temptation. But nevertheless, to read what is a serious debate around cost-cutting from a country twhere many have been shouting that the British NHS would kill off grannies is – to say the least – ironic.


There’s a sad new development in middle-class India. Traditionally, when parents get old, they have lived with their son’s family. You can see the value of it. Kids grow close to grandparents; old people are cared for and have an active role. It suits everyone, and is a virtuous circle.

Or was.

Migration has broken into it. So many bright kids have now gone to study and then settled in the States that they have given an added dimension to the empty nest syndrome. What to do with your life – especially if you are woman who has spent her life child-rearing – if not to be the grandparent?

Yesterday I spent time with an impressive bunch of elders in a new phenomenon – a senior citizens’ ‘stay and pay’ care home – unthinkable in conservative India a generation ago. Godhuli (or Twilight) has responded to a new need, and most of the inmates there – from 58 to 90 – were philosophical about the shift. Old style family servants are a thing of the past – robbery and violence is not unknown – and children don’t stay in one place, even in India itself.


But the biggest complaint was aimlessness. ‘We are reasonably modern – we don’t sit in one place and smoke hookah.’

‘Give us something to do,’ pleaded a senior ex-army man, ‘Some small job of around 3 to 4 hours a day. We still have a contribution to make!’

But jobs for the elderly can’t be a priority in a country with such a vast youth population. The same syndrome can be found in the villages, where young people have left to hunt for work in big cities. The National Rural Employment scheme, explained Mathew Cherian, director of HelpAge India, guaranteed only 100 days of work, and even that would go any young ones still there and not to the fit elderly. And who would care for the unfit, with their children gone?

But it is estimated that the youth bulge will decline in proportion, and the currently 81 million over 60s in India will grow. By 2025, it is reckoned there will be 177 million ‘grey’ citizens.

Clear Thinking

Joan Didion – ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ (Vintage 2006)

What a breathtaking book. I have rarely read such a clear, honest and corrosive analysis of grief.

Didion wrote it after the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, at the dinner they were sharing at home at the end of a normal day together, one of many in their long and close marriage.

She is extraordinary – shirks nothing but at the same time indulges in nothing. Her book tracks back and forth in a fluid series of reflections over their life together, over their daughter’s simultaneous coma, over the precise medical details of what took place at that last fateful meal: searching all the time for the sense of it all.

‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ is a way of keeping her husband alive for herself, but also – finally – of accepting. ‘I think about swimming with him into the cave at Portuguese Bend, about the swell of clear water, the way it changed, the swiftness and power it gained as it narrowed through the rocks at the base of the point. The tide had to be just right…You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that.’

There is no magic, or deus ex machina. ‘No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.’

The Golden Lady of the Paris Station

Sometimes you run across people with such sheer, utter style that you want to go up and salute them.

I was waiting in the Gare de l’Est in Paris when I noticed a German couple beside me. Hard not to notice them – at least the female of the pair. Literally, she glittered.  I have never seen so much gold – from gold washed blonde carefully-coiffured hair down to sparkly little golden boots. Every bit of her outfit.

And I wanted to say, ‘Right on, Frau!’ because she was by no means in the first flush of youth.  Not even near it. Instead I said meekly, would she mind if I took a photograph?  And here she is (but I missed out the boots, dammit) – the feisty golden lady of the Gare de l’Est.