Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"When I am an Old Woman, I shall sail to Iceland in a boat...."


Yesterday evening I visited the touring GRuMpy OlD woMEn Show at the Royal Court Theatre Liverpool. It starred three talented actresses who succeed in many art forms (acting, writing, directing etc ) They were Jenny Eclair, Annette Badland and Rhona Cameron.
The audience consisted mainly of women; all shapes, sizes, ages of women ; stiff perms, glossy locks, greasy locks, stiletto heels, trainers, no make-up, full make-up, broad vowels, clipped vowels, faux fur, real fur, anoraks, "bobble" hats ( bobble hats!) Hermes scarves, footy scarves, black lurex, black dungarees, pencil skirts, elasticated waist skirts ( plenty of these) tight jeans on large women, baggy jeans on skinny women...and the three performers empathised with one and all, producing a show brimming with hilarious "quips" ( THAT word shows my age! Ha! ) and rapid one-liners and even the occassional heart-rending, thought-provoking, tear-jerking observation that drew communal " ahs!" and " oohs!" amid the gurgling laughter...
But I was disappointed. NOBODY in my vicinity in the theatre wore purple. ( Maybe they wore purple Damart vests.) Nobody was eating three pounds of sausages in one go. Or wearing a red hat that didn't suit. And there was a distinct lack of satin sandals....
I WAS disappointed. ( I love that poem, Jenny Joseph.) PERHAPS the train load of Jolly Women who trekked over from Bickerton ( in the wilds of Cheshire) all sat down on the pavement when they got tired on their way home OR maybe they ran their sticks along the public railings on their way home...( hmm. it was more brolly weather though) or perhaps my three friends who accompanied me, are SECRETLY learning to spit...(Mrs S? JMF? Mrs K?)

But never mind. Once home, I found a very special book bought several years ago at the wonderful Saltaire Mill gallery near Bradford, Yorks. It's " The Redbeck Anthology of British South Asian Poetry" and it includes an entertaining response to Jenny Joseph's wonderful poem "Warning" . It's written by Ketaki Kushari Dyson, who was born in Calcutta in 1940, educated there and also in Oxford. It's called, simply, " To Jenny Joseph" and the narrator is clearly an Asian lady talking of HER old age...( I've picked out my favourite parts)

" But Jenny, I already wear purple,
swathes of purple, cascades of pimiento-red,
and all the bold patterns that looms and needles unfold,
so what shall I do when I'm old?

I swear to you, I have a sari of luminous silk
where purple sea-waves beat upon beaches of gold,
and one which is a jade river, in whose estuary
ride the ten incarnations of Vishnu-a majestic bestiary.

When the sun beats down, I carry a parasol,
which no one does in Kidlington, and when I hear thunder
and the trip switch going "tock", turning off my computer,
I rush out in sandals, in slippers...to welcome the rain.

I tell you, Jenny, what I shall NOT do when I'm old.
I shall never eat three pounds of sausages at a go.
But I shall chop onions, chillies, and coriander
and pile it all on dollops of peanut butter on toast.

When I am an old woman, I shall sail to Iceland in a boat
and speak to eagles, if there be any left.
From a snug cottage window I shall watch Hekla spit fire
and chalk my last poem on a square of wood-framed slate."

Thankyou Beryl Cook for the brilliant picture and Jenny Joseph/K Kushari Dyson for the poems...they make ageing almost desirable!

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely account - I enjoyed every minute - and love the Beryl Cook - she's popular over here in NZ too.

11:04 am  
Blogger Susan said...

I quite like the Kushari-Dyson response to Jenny Joseph! I love her images.

The 'grumpy old women' show you mentioned seeing, Jan,...did they do a Christmas show for television? I saw a program with a similar name on television here in Canada the other day. All British women with sardonic views on the season. It was quite clever, but just a touch depressing.

6:23 am  
Blogger Jan said...

Thanks CB. I was interested to hear re Beryl Cook's popularity also in NZ.
And Susan thanks too, it COULD have been the same folk perhaps, as I have a feeling there was a Christmas show ...
Glad you liked the Aging Asian lady!

3:34 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

Wonderful poem by Kushari-Dyson - really made me smile and want to do my own version!

8:53 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Sarah, thankyou for your comment. Yes I think it's a great poem.
Good for classes too with the group doing their own versions! Have done this with Yr 2/3 children and my WEA folk ( not at the same time!! ) MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU

4:44 pm  

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