In an undistinguished business career, it has been my pleasure to share an office with a number of talented individuals. I have also partnered some for whom the description 'fruitcake' would have been kind. One of the latter refused to drive his car on Fridays and kept a special drawer in his desk for a collection of plastic-wrapped clean shirts and an electric shaver. Despite living like the rest of us in a normal home, he 'liked to be ready in case things went wrong'.
One day, I dared to ask him about these seeming eccentricities. As a reply, he gave me an address in the Gorgie district of Edinburgh where I should seek an appointment. So, a couple of weeks later, I met a spaewife whose prognostications had been guiding my partner. There were no crystal balls nor scented candles. Just a tenement flat where a husband asked for a donation and then ushered me into a kitchen where a small tired looking lady sat at a table. She took my wristwatch in her hands and began to talk in a monotonous stream of words. She did not repeat herself and you had to grab hold of ideas and important sentences. Eventually, she stopped and waved me away. She seemed exhausted.
Now a spaewife
, or speywife
, is a Scots language term for a fortune-telling woman. According to Wiki, spae
comes from the Norse spa,
meaning to prophesy. The 19th-century Orkney folklorist, Walter Dennison, wrote that the Orcadian spaewife or wise woman 'had all the supernatural wisdom, some of the supernatural power, without the malevolent spirit of witches'. They were seen as healers and protectors against evil. Melville's The Book of Faeries
offers the more romantic image of a wee elf, dressed in cat skin and lamb skin, who predicts the future using runes or tealeaves.
My wee lady from Gorgie may not have had such impressive powers but she left me with a few predictions that turned out to be startlingly accurate. Perhaps the most important was not to trust someone close to me in business who would do me no good. I remember her twisting her hands together as those words tumbled out. I have no doubt who she was talking about and several thousand pounds subsequently proved her right.
Some years later at a formal dinner in Edinburgh, a very senior Edinburgh policeman was at our table and the chat drifted round to predictions. I mentioned by my Gorgie experience and the pillar of the law smiled. She was well known... and accepted. I have no idea whether that meant on a personal or professional level but it reinforced my own view. A real spaewife experience is a very strange affair with long-term interesting effects.
Just don't keep shirts and a shaver in your office drawer. That way madness lies...
I have become a stick person – and I'm not alone it seems. The world is full of us hobbling along pavements, blocking the queue at the supermarket till, stumbling along inside buses, looking – usually in vain – for somewhere to sit down between shops while seeking all the sympathy we can get.
This came as something of a surprise. The stick, I have found, sometimes causes people on trains or tubes to get up and offer you a seat, which is kind of them, although the reality is that sometimes it is easier to stand than sit down as that involves getting up again. If there is no handy pole to grab, then rising to one's feet can be a problem. The stick is also useful to indicate displeasure – one can thump it on the floor, aim it carefully, as if by accident, at the ankles of someone who offends, and wave it to seek assistance. Trays will be carried to one's table in cafes even when such help is not required.
Acceptance is the rule. It makes the person doing the carrying, who is probably grossly over-worked and underpaid, feel better and makes one look like a good person too. A smile is worth a thousand words, as somebody may have said somewhere or other. Mind you, in the days of the masks, smiles went by the board.
I use one of those folding sticks given to me a decade or so ago by my brother as something to be taken on holiday to countries where the pavements are worse than here. I was less than thrilled as I considered it a sign of old age, but took it year after year unused until confronted with the near vertical streets of La Paz in Bolivia. The city occupies what was once a crater and, what with the altitude, it is fair to say is breathtaking. Now with my aching legs – my doctor thinks maybe hip replacement time is near – it is being used all the time, even if mainly to ensure I do not fall over. Walking is fine but when it comes to stairs... Stickperson is here to stay.
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