"You must have a look at my big shaking-machine"

I’m in England, spending a week in the company of my mother-in-law and mother; women with a mean age of 82, who have stared down the defeats of life but still remain, after all is said and done, resolutely inclined to Movement and Battling On.

"You must have a look at my big shaking-machine"

On Movement:

“You must have a look at my big shaking-machine,” my mother-in-law says, parking the car outside her home with indescribable Formula One panache.

“It really is marvellous,” she says, walking towards the back door.

I heard much about this device on the car journey here from the airport —“how it shakes you all over and has different buttons, so you can make it go faster or slower” — and am wholly certain that I’d like to defer having a look at it until after six o’clock.

This is partly because what with the Formula One panache, I’m quite shaken enough but mainly because after six, I can ask for alcohol without causing alarm.

And I simply cannot imagine being able to discuss a big shaking-machine — whereby the term, “huge vibrator” might spring, in all innocence, to my mother-in-law’s lips — without it.

“It’s in the sitting room behind the door,” she says, opening the door to the kitchen, “go on, have a go and tell me what you think of it.”

All will be well if we stick with the word, “shake. “So it’s a fitness machine that shakes you,” I say, following her slowly into the hall, “a sort of muscle-shaker?”

“Yes,” she says, heading from hall to sitting room and beckoning me. “You stand on it and it gets everything moving. And at my age it’s all about movement. Come and see. It’s a big vibrating thing. Vibrates you all over.”

That’s close enough. “I’m just going to unpack,” I say, about-facing and taking the stairs.

On Battling On:

11 a.m. My mother and I are visiting Sue, an artist and Paul, her husband; a couple in their seventies who live next door to my mother. We’re standing in Sue’s light, well-appointed studio, looking at canvases.

“Where’s Paul?” my mother says, “still down in the dungeon?”

She looks at Sue. “Aren’t you going to bring him up?” she says, not minding that I for one, am now grappling with an incongrous image of retired physicist, cupboard and hand-cuffs.

“Before you start,” my mother warns me, “he’s building a bike down there. Nothing Fifty Shades about it. Building it on the computer. He’s down there all day, isn’t he Sue, in the basement?”

Sue summons Paul on her mobile to join us upstairs for coffee. He appears, all welcoming smiles.

“You’ll be interested in this, Paul,” my mother says, “I mean you’re another one who kills themselves renovating old houses.” She nods in my direction and says, “she’s moving house.”

“Selling your lovely old farmhouse?” Paul says.

“She’s building an eco-house in the next-door field,” my mother says.

“Big step,” Paul says.

“Yes,” I say, “let’s hope it all works out.”

“Honestly,” my mother says, “you’re only moving half a yard sideways. Anyway, things have a funny way of working out. I mean don’t you remember when Dad and I sold our house in Flushing and moved to Budock only to find ourselves living next door to a Satanist — you remember, with the funny eye — we called him Cyclops? Remember?”

“I remember Cyclops,” I say.

“And poor Dad chopped down one of his trees by mistake — when he’d lost his memory and he had cancer and wasn’t well at all — and Cyclops accused him of killing his grandmother because the tree had his grandmother’s spirit in it or something barmy like that. Remember?”

“I do,” I say.

“And then Cyclops getting murdered out in his boat,” my mother continues. “All over the Cornish papers it was, and the police crawling everywhere. And then the flood and having to gut all downstairs. I mean what a catastrophe.”

Paul and Sue give me a look. “I presume you’ll be keeping the same neighbours?” it seems to say.

“And after all that, Dad dying, and then I had to sell and move house all over again on my own.”

Paul and Sue give me another look. “Is your husband in robust health?” it seems to say.

“I’m trying to work out how this particular story supports your theory that things have a funny way of working out,” I say.

“Who said anything about things working out?” she says, “life is under no obligation to work itself out for you. I mean in life, sometimes you just have to battle on.”

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