Monday, 28 May 2007

Paper Pianos, Paper Knickers and Jenny Joseph

I have just finished poking with a stick the final draft of a poem about a house I visited whilst in the States this summer made entirely out of newspapers.As I didn’t have a car the journey to see this bizarre piece of roadside Americana took a local bus trip and a very long walk. The very kind woman at the tourist board near where I was staying seemed appalled that I should contemplate the trip or any trip at all without a car. Foot tourists in country Massachusetts appear to be as rare as hens' teeth (although I have no personal knowledge I hasten to point out about the dental situation of hens). I had made a giant carbon footprint to get there so travelling around by car did seem wasteful especially when the most interesting people are met on public transport or waiting for public transport. It also gives local inhabitants far more opportunity to be kind, helpful and instructive.

The particular journey to Pigeon Cove Post Office halt allowed me to hear about an elderly woman’s grand-daughter who was back-packing in Scotland to find their ancestors. 'Did I know any McKelvies'.. strangely I did know one many years ago that made her rummage in her bag for pencil and paper and me in my brain for where the hell I knew the name from…he mended cars in York was the best I could offer her. She seemed happy with that information but did, as is often the case presume that I was on intimate terms with most people in Great Britain as it was so small. My British accent in a small local supermarket elicited. ‘I have a cousin married to a man from Runcorn, do you know people in Runcorn, you might know him?’ This didn’t seem to happen in New York or Philadelphia, they seemed to be much more urban cool there, more rushed more disinterested but perhaps they understood isolation and distance more.

Getting back to the Paper House. I arrived and the family that lived in the house next door just left a note saying ‘Key under mat to house, remember to lock up and put light out when you go. If you buy a postcard leave money in pot.’ The owner of the house was a grand-child of the original builders of the paper house, it had stayed in the family since the twenties. It seemed so wonderfully trusting, so content to place this little piece of their history in the hands of complete strangers. A Paper House, heavily varnished must be highly flammable. One visitor with a cigarette and bang goes grand-ma and grandpa’s life work. It did however seem in keeping with the spirit of two bonkers people who thought making everything out of rolled up newspaper would be a fun interesting thing to do.

Eccentrics, usually hurt no-one, in fact by definition they are rather fun which separates them from the deeply strange or painfully mentally ill. They give humanity the capacity to laugh at ourselves and admire the sheer bloody-mindedness of some people who get a bee in their bonnet, an idea in their head and pursue it to the ludicrous and bitter end. Do animals have the capacity for eccentricity? I knew a dog once that was definitely eccentric but then so was its owner so perhaps that only counts as modelled behaviour. An elderly relative had a parrot that would sit in the old enamel washing up bowl for hours saying ‘Time for bed’ which is I presume unconventional parrot behaviour.

A friend keeps telling me that I am becoming eccentric, which I take as a complement. One person’s eccentric however could be another’s pain in the arse. I much prefer this poem by Jenny Joseph about what we value (literally) in others behaviour rather than her ‘When I am old I shall wear’…you know the was voted the nation’s favourite poem! The old woman in that poem would I think be whipped off to the Old Peoples Home asap. The Zimmers notwithstanding, there is only so much bad behaviour a family and a society will take from its elderly before nice old eccentric lady becomes mad old bat…that said mad old bat is preferable to boring lady of a certain age. It has to be remembered that some eccentrics gave the world scientific breakthroughs, artwork, music, literature and if left to their own devices Elis and Esther Stenman of Pigeon Cove could have probably come up with paper knickers well before the sixties.


Anne said...

The Zimmers were mentioned on R4's Today programme this morning and they're on p 7 of today's Independent, but you were there days before! It's the old skateboarding gran thing. Will it make anyone value old people more (which was the intention) or will it be a one hit wonder? According to the Indy, "Dolores Murray, 68, said she was told by a young DJ that his station would not play the record because old people smell of wee and they're rubbish." Not like young people on a Saturday night out on the town then.

Celina said...

Great work.