Update from yesterday: the super came back with heavy duty equipment, and the tub is once again empty.
I don’t know. I said some crazy thing in class. I can’t even remember what. The girls were looking at me quizzically. Then I blurted out in self defense, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.” The quizzical looks became audible. I said, “What?!? That is a literary reference.” More disbelief. We were in the middle of a code-along lesson – that is when the instructor codes live on the big screens up front, making (honest) mistakes, as we do, and demonstrating to the girls how we solve them. While the girls code along on their computers. They often figure out how to solve the problem before the instructor. All good stuff.
I wasn’t the head instructor today, I was just there to help out. When I had the chance, I asked the instructor if I could have a couple of minutes at the end of the lesson to read the poem.
I was pretty sure that I’d lose the girls at “When I am an old woman,” so I introduced the poem by saying they they had someone in their life who the poem described. It might be an aunt or a grandmother, their a mom or a neighbor. As I read the first four lines:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
The girls began to laugh, and say out loud who the person in their life was. I continued to read, and the murmur in the room got louder – the girls were ready to end their day. Somewhere around “And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes,” one girl said out loud, “Well, it’s a long poem.” Oh, girl, you have no idea.
And so, I leave you with “Warning”, in its entirety, and the pleasurable experience of listening to Jenny Joseph herself reading it.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter. I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells And run my stick along the public railings And make up for the sobriety of my youth. I shall go out in my slippers in the rain And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens And learn to spit. You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat And eat three pounds of sausages at a go Or only bread and pickle for a week And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes. But now we must have clothes that keep us dry And pay our rent and not swear in the street And set a good example for the children. We must have friends to dinner and read the papers. But maybe I ought to practice a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
© Jenny Joseph, SELECTED POEMS, Bloodaxe 1992.