Becoming an expert

The other day I realized that I could no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that the windows on the fourth storey of our house are about to fall out of their frames. Imagine, they have been in situ since 1870 when the house was built. Imagine, how many people in different emotional states have looked out onto the horizon from the windows across a street in which only the trees and its occupants have changed. As I looked across the street I couldn’t see a new window anywhere, at least not from the top floor. It wasn’t just one Victorian sash window but five of them that now craved for urgent replacement before the winter sets in.

I knew nothing at all about windows, or glass, or FENSA insurance and John doesn’t know that he has a fourth floor, let alone what a sash is. Two weeks on, I think I know all there is to know about Victorian ‘like for like’ original sash replacements. I could even measure and estimate for my neighbours. The council informed me that as we live in a conservation area we didn’t really have a choice; it had to be ‘like for like’ whatever the cost, and that anyway they didn’t allow UPVC, whatever that was because it was not bio-degradable.

To begin with I had no idea what they were talking about but was impressed with their ecology. Now, I know that UPVC window frames, despite the fact that they cost one quarter of the price compared to a hardwood like Siberian larch or Meranti, poetry to conjure, let alone construct with, are beyond frightful and should be banned forever. What is even more frightening is that Camden council are – despite their professed concerns about the environment – still their biggest fans. A Camden council property probably doesn’t exist that doesn’t have UPVC replacement window frames! I cannot believe the hypocrisy of their planning department. And, it turns out that since some EU act in the early years of this century all replacement windows also have to be double- glazed, so I have no authority over my windows, or my house. I have now, out of necessity become an expert in window frames and I know that I will accept nothing less than Siberian larch. Don’t mention Meranti to me.

I was struck by another sort of expertise the other night, which took me by surprise and that was the intuitive intelligence and social expertise to be found in the disgraced  ex football manager, Ron Atkinson’s wife, Maggie Atkinson. (I cannot think of a better example of the Talon Law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth that his consequent professional annhilation offers to us.)

I rarely watch TV but on Sunday night John alerted me to a programme called Revelations in which five leaders of faith were to be interviewed about their faiths. It was as disappointing to me as the UPVC windows, perhaps with the vivid exception of Vincent Nichols describing how he wrestled with his inner messengers, or maybe they were angels, who insisted on calling him to God, as he sat as a spectator on the Liverpool football pitch when he only wanted to be left alone as one of the crowd. It was not to be.

And, the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks also surprised me by his admirable combination of domestic commitment to the community of Judaism and his lofty and erudite exegesis of the Torah, and his lack of dogma, at least in this context, when he declared that any concrete interpretation of the scriptures was ‘heresy’. He combined the Shakespearian ‘high and low styles’ within minutes of exposure. Of the others, well, where one cannot speak one is always best counseled to remain silent…

For me the highlight of my rare TV viewing was not in Revelations but Wife Swop. This Wife Swop was between the disgraced football manager and commentator Ron Atkinson and his wife of over twenty-five years, Maggie and the Olympics winner Tessa Anderson and her partner, former judo champion Densign White. Tessa must have been every bit as much of a shrew as Kate in her younger days, but her politicized thrusts, heavily endorsed by the producer, didn’t work on Ron who just yelled at the cameras to ‘Get off’ him whenever Tessa tried to manipulate him to disclose about the regrettable moment when he called Chelsea player Marcel Desailly – a  “lazy thick n****r” – was broadcast when he thought the microphone was switched off. The only thing to bear in mind is that Atkinson was also one of the first managers to promote, inspire and work with black players. And, that so often it is  unwitting prejudice that can be more pernicious and which can silently permeate political correctness. 

Wife Maggie, too old to be a WAG, at first looked to be a most unlikely star in the making but she turned out to be the only one with intuitive powers of transformation and also to be an expert in the arts of TLC, despite her enthusiasm in using plastic arts to confuse her body into a Barbie doll.

It was magic to watch her convince terse Densign that he was emotionally neglecting Tessa and then to witness her tutorial helping him to construct a surprise goodies box for Tessa’s return. More sad magic when Maggie tried to find out if Densign and Tessa had ever shared a magic song and to watch how he just couldn’t get what she was going on about. Maggie kept telling us how useless she now felt not having bothered to find any role in her life, other than being the “spoiled” wife of a celebrity; then to see how she used her gardening arts as she helped Densign to plant a bowery in his gardena as another surprise for Tessa to return to: ‘A rosy sanctuary will I dress’ for them to laze about in the newly installed hammock and to later see them breakfast in. Later  on, we witness the genuine appreciation of Densign for Maggie’s relational skills to fill the gaps in his limited emotional repertoire. 

There was another split magic moment of transformation in Ron’s mansion when he was made to invite his mates to dinner with Tessa and he broke into singsong. His body animated into natural rhythms and timing as its ‘pain’ dissolved and I knew that this sad and careworn man must still be a Great Master in the arts of timing a ball, or two…

Back to Maggie now – as how attentively and without defence – she listened to Densign tactfully explain to her the semantic significance of Ron’s disgrace. He explains: “One of the stereotypes we face is that black people are lazy and work-shy. That’s why people were so offended by what Ron said, because it was reinforcing what people believe about black people.”

Maggie listens: “I’ve learned something. I didn’t realize it was about that.” And she promises to try and explain it to Ron again, but differently, just as Densign has to her. Later, we discover that she was as good as her word and had another chat, wisely offscreen,  with Ron which he shyly agrees at the conclusion has made more difference to his outlook than anything the producers, or the shrew Tessa came near to achieving. Maggie may not have done anything ‘big’ with her life but she undoubtedly has the healing touch. I almost texted the number at the end of the programme to enter myself as a candidate for the next series of Wife Swop.

Afterthought: my grandson Dan is staying with us. It seems that the summer of our discontent is now over although I’m not sure what I’ll think when he gets his AS level results tomorrow, seeing that our disagreement was over the fact that not only did he refuse to go to school, which despite being a scholar, or perhaps because of, depressed him,  but he also refused to revise for any of his AS levels, preferring to  sit out in the Mediterranean midday sun and write his epic novel. 

 Dan is leaning over my shoulder and reading my blog and he is offended by Atkinson’s treatment. Dan is one quarter Nigerian and his father was murdered in a racist attack but he still finds it offensive that anyone should be judged more for his words than his actions. What, he asks, would be the consequences of a black manager making an equivalent racist remark? Daniel 036 copy

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