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Friday, 9 September 2016

Last Monday......

Low on Gram flour, low on Atta flour so back to the huge Indian supermarket.

Literally the only white faces.Not just in the store but in the the whole Indian quarter.People seem to stay in strict demarcation lines.The white people you see on the way there don't seem that well heeled. So why arn't they going where the prices are best and the quality is better than the well known supermarkets?

I stock up on all manner of treats and ask an assistant about something I can't find.He takes me to where it is."Is there anything else I can help you with" he says.But he's looking at my husband when he says it.

Some men wolfishly eye me up as we go to my favourite samosa shop.I have been told that in a Bollywood/Indian movie the shorthand to show a woman is a whore is to give her blond hair.Mine is beach and sun bleached fair.

At the samosa shop i say "four of your lovely samosas".He says "no, l'll give you five"."I've put in a free one because you said they were lovely".I say thank you but what I'm really thinking (apart from "yum")is thank you for giving me the courage to keep doing this.
Its such a tiny gesture and I do go mob handed ,so to speak, with the six foot saxophonist who is built like a rugby player.But, here's the thing, I honestly believe that the more we see one another as ordinary ,everyday  and like ourselves we put ourselves that fraction further away from a knife in the neck or a plane ramming a sky scraper.

Last Tuesday.
I have this thing that people in service industries are under appreciated.I think that that for all the high handed,off handed and down right nasty people there ought to be some counter balance.

I do it with a batch of biscuits , a cake or a jar of jam.
I rock up to a shop, bar etc that I use regularly and say roughly what i said here and hand over whatever it is I've made and hop it before they have to think of what to say.

Gets me excellent service of course but that's not the point.

So this morning to the wholesalers for a half sack of onions.I already have my Gram flour so I'm going to grind the spices and make onion bhajis to brighten the evening of  of the barman in our local pub.

The saxophonist says this is both mad and a lovely thing to do.

It takes a while to grind the spices and prep 3kg of onions plus add all the other interesting bits to the batter.
I finish.
Hurrah! The whole house is suffused with spices and I am batter spattered.

Late on we head off for a pint, me with my basket of bhajis.
The barman hops from foot to foot and takes a bite from a bhaji.
We all have our share of negative nay sayers in our lives . You can either plead indifference or get vengeful.
But there's nothing wrong with sticking two fingers up at the sneerers and despisers and slicing a few onions.

NB He and his staff ate the whole basketful the same night.

Last Wednesday.
There was a programme about the top ten Roald Dahl books. Each was advocated by an actor, comedian etc.
I missed Dahl for some reason.I suppose I was the wrong age or reading something else.
Now I want to read them.I have been picking them up in second hand bookshops.
There are gaps though and I want to read the lot in one greedy gulp.
We bomb out in one emporium I was sure would be able to help.We walk on in the little estuary town and come to an Oxfam bookshop.
Nothing. Not one. Disappointing.
We leave and I glance back at the window. There sits a big pile of Dahl books including a lot of the ones I'm missing..
Isn't it just the best feeling ? The serendipity of a find. Exciting.
Especially if it's after a disappointment.

I have begun with "Danny champion of the world".Danny's father reminds me of my own.
A man of great principle, always in the background, Liked to come in under the wire but generally always planning for or covering his tracks from another bout of gentle anarchy.

He seemed to lead by example with his daughter but trusted me not to get caught.

We went scrumping once.Baskets on our backs we scaled neighhbouring trees for the biggest, rosiest apples  that always seemed to grow high up.
"Dad" I hissed "you'll have to help me, I'm stuck. "Can't do that" he said "I'm stuck too".

Some Sunday mornings he'd wander through and say "I've got an idea" and I knew that I'd better get practising an innocent expression and lining up a plausible excuse.They were both going to be handy that week.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Soho and sand.


I am writing this with my new fountain pen I bought today as the train glides through the darkness.

I have just left Soho which is just waking up after the heat of the day.
The enticing smells that compete with one another from all the little restaurants.The mellow light in the leafy squares. The lovely architecture, old shops and pubs.The convivial tolerance and anonymity. I never tire of any of it.
Couples and friends sit outside cafe bars sipping slowly, beneath bulbs and beside neon that make intimate pools of light to gossip in.
We chose hot,spicy,Thai food. It cooled us after the swelter of the day and made our lips tingle.
Two young men at the next table spark up a convivial conversation with us about other good places to eat.

I love the way the city sparkles with light and possibility in the fading  of a summer's day.

I have just woken the Saxophonist from amusing fellow passengers on the train with his snoring. I kept him awake in the dress shop ( for once ) and bought several new things to wear.

The exhibition ? (See previous post ) More concept than content actually, when you actually got down to it.

I like a day like that though. One that lingers in the mind for no particular reason. Just strolling and Soho and spicy food and swishy new dresses and the Saxophonist.


Well rested and warm we sit with large mugs of strong, steaming tea to brace us for another hot day.We lay plans for sea after city.
And then it starts to rain.
That's fine though, I know I'm pushing at an open door to say "lets go anyway".
The saxophonist and I are very different people but with similar sympathy's.

( You'd like the saxophonist. He doesn't do jokes but you get the dry remark or the wicked impression instead. He's a clever mimic and picks up on detail that makes you splutter into your drink. )

Anyway, outside there's cooler air with a breeze running through it. The rain comes and goes. Disappears and then returns as a bead curtain of glittery drops on the windscreen.

We eat our picnic high up on the cliffs but finish the last coffee and cigarette without ceremony as the rain starts to plop into the cups.

The Saxophonist scans the map and then we ditch it. I have remembered a half told tale about a beach out on the estuary.Little known but said to be superfine where fossils are concerned. We narrow down the route and spin through wet green lanes.
Two lead nowhere and then we hit a third. It leads nowhere too ,but, a local couple , on foot, are picking blackberries as we pass. As we return I ask. The man says he hasn't been for forty years, did it as a boy though, collected fossils, nice memory. The couple confer and decide we "will do".

"Ignore the PRIVATE  sign at the lane's end,  go through the hidden gate, you'll find it from there " they say.

We find the hidden gate and a narrow path all but hooded with blackberries. We try them. They are warm and sweet from the sun. Further along a fence emerges on one side and two horned cattle find us impertinent. On we go. The path ends in a surprising set of steps. Worn , wet, wooden ones. We urge one another to be careful. I go first, and up we climb.

This isn't a view its a PANORAMA. There's miles of it. Estuary and a strand of sand that goes on for forever.
A serene landscape of navy, green and dull silver as the storm clouds roll round the sky. We climb down a second set of steps onto the sand.
It is LOVELY. We both gulp down the ozone and stand mesmerised by the vast empty beauty of it.
By the time we are ready to leave we are both wet as herrings,have wet sandy feet and are grinning with glee.
As I'm sitting and writing this I'm glancing up at the fossils on the table. There's still sand on my feet and when I think of the place I SOAR.

Friday, 26 August 2016

chuff, chuff, puff ...

Tomorrow to London
I like a train journey.
The anonymity and detachment.The otherness.A train carriage can be a place of reminiscence.I think of childhood treats that made you fizzy with excitement.

I remember too some wintry journeys to meet the Saxophonist in London.
Solitary and warm.Full of anticipation as the train sped through the sometimes snowy landscape.Meeting at Liverpool street station I always enjoyed the bit when suddenly I spotted him striding towards me. Raincoat flapping and his beard incongruous above the mustard scarf I had knitted.

So tomorrow to London.
 First my favourite stationery shop.The inks, nibs and paper to admire and a little  treat to take away.

Strong coffee and a cigarette as I watch the world wander past.
Just one dress shop - I know what I want and anyway the Saxophonist will settle down with a book and inevitably snore if left too long.

Then the "painters painters " exhibition at the National gallery.
We are part way through the exhibition run. I like to go when the froth has blown off so to speak.All the people who come to see and be seen. The ones who make the loud pretentious comments.
Quiet or not I cover the whole exhibition to get an overview and a "feel" for what has been hung and why.Then I hone in on just a couple of paintings.I'll inhabit one in particular,I always do. For about half an hour.
Somebody else said in another context "stay for ten minutes and you'll be bored to death, stay for twenty and you'll never want to leave". Its true.
I do not know how many times a painting has set me right. Dealt with the ills of the world, changed my perspective.
A close friend of the Saxophonist unexpectedly committed suicide.It was a terrible shock.I could not find a way past what he had done( Ironically he threw himself under an express train.)
We were due to go to an exhibition and only went ahead as we already had the tickets.
I said " its as easy to go as to stay away". So we went.
It was good. Very good. I did the half hour thing. I had to clench my teeth for the last ten minutes. It stopped me openly weeping.

I said to the Saxophonist as we drank our post exhibition coffee how l'd felt . I said that the painting had made me realise that if there was such beauty in the world that not all was lost.That I felt reconciled. The saxophonist puffed on his pipe and said yep ,he knew what I meant.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Post early for Christmas.

So the children are being bought new pencil cases and fresh school shoes.The supermarket shout sheets talks of Halloween and Bonfire night.The fashion pages explain how to be chic this autumn.

Get organised if you will or must.Think of the treats and consolations of other seasons.Be my guest.

Can I point out it is August.
The momentum of the year will,inevitably, roll on but I'm going to live in the moment.

The novelist Colette said "we have only the present but it is the greatest gift we have".

I've complained about the humidity and wilted in the midday heat but that's not the whole story.

The silent bookish shade.
The delicious breeze that sweeps your bare shoulders.
The smell of summer rain through an open window as you lie in the dark.
An ice cold drink that takes your breath away.
The nights when the Mambo gives you the energy to defy the heat and dance till you drop.
The mornings when there's Mozart on the radio  and a pot of tea rouses you in the sleepy heat.
Diving into shivery water.
A really good ice cream cone.
Brown sails billowing on the sailing barges.

There is nobody who cannot take a minute, an hour or a day to simply be.
To savour a simple pleasure.
I am not going to get to winter empty handed.I will need these things in February.My shoes seem always to have a residue of sand in them.Its still a book in a rucksack not a compact in a handbag.

I will not leave the party early. I'm going to drain the bottle.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Boats and Bustan.

Down among the boats again today.
The countryside intensely green as we twisted down towards the estuary.
Sat with a basket of things I'd baked looking out over a sea like a vast sheet of silk that seemed to ripple like the fabric.A pale metallic blue.

Made me think of the exhibition (see previous post).

The explanatory notes said that owners and artists of the manuscripts (the bulk  925-1490) were sensitive to aspects of the art that we aren't.
We tend to focus on the intricacy , the age and the religious content.They ,on the other hand , we are told , valued luminosity/brilliance and intensity/saturation of colour.
The very best were where the artist had built layer on thin layer of precisely placed colour.Vibrant blues ,reds and deep greens.Especially the French and Persian ones.

It's a huge exhibition.I'll go again around Christmas.So this visit was a general look and then homing in a couple of favourites.

Two had the saturation of colour but other particular treats.

One , French , (1376 - 1379) had stark black text.The odd letter jutting out into the margin.
Each jutting letter made a perch.
On one sat a finch , on another a cuckoo and on a third a magpie had come to roost.
The birds were explicit in detail. I'm a bird watcher but not an expert.I knew them instantly.
Explicit and exquisite.

The second one was by Sa'Di Bustan and was Persian. ( Bustan means orchard apparently ). So in 1257 the artist ,Orchard, painted hares , deer , oxen and a swooping bird.
The oxen had the huge round horns you'd expect . He was a corker.
I stood grinning from ear to ear as tourists whirred round me. They were glancing at everything and looking at nothing.

Time and specifics that's what gets you there. Honing in on things and giving yourself time for them to become meaningful.
Whether that's green countryside , serene seascapes or something else.

Those eyes looking out from the medieval manuscripts have been at it a lot longer than me. But , there we all are. Gazing out . Thoughtful . The magpie , the oxen and me.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Kissing and consequences.

Colour. The art and science of illuminated manuscripts. 
The Fitzwilliam museum , Cambridge.

ME : " Hallo."

YOU : " Oh it's you again is it, I wondered where you had got to."

ME: "Pull your face back from the screen. You should probably disinfect your mouse as well. I've got summer flu."

YOU: "Yuk! By the way ,what's the title about? Did you go to the exhibition?"

ME:"I think so."

YOU: "You think so !"

ME: "I am feverish and my eyes arn't focusing as they should but yep I seem to recall...."

YOU:"OH for heavens sake, why go in that state?"

ME: "Because I did not know I had caught it from the Saxophonist until we were on the road."

YOU: "Well that's a lesson in itself isn't it.Never snog a saxophonist. They should hold you up as a dreadful warning to teenagers who are tempted to err."

ME:"Oh give over."

YOU: "And is that Olbas oil I can smell?"

ME:"I fancy some rice pudding.That would be comforting."

YOU:" I bet you are going to drink alcohol.What with that and the getting of germs from a man in a leather jacket and a casual attitude to re grouting the bathroom tiles."

ME:"Ease off and I'll tell you about the exhibition.On the other hand I could just look at my notes and the postcards I bought over a drink."

YOU:"The rice pudding motif didn't last long did it!"

ME:"So,postcards,note book and a pint.That sounds nice.I'll round up the saxophonist.I'll tell you about the exhibition next post. Unless you fancy a pint? It's ok the Saxophonist isn't a casual kisser."

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Irreverent piety.

Near our house is a large Victorian cemetery full of mature trees of all sorts and many ornate grave stones.
It has broad thorough fairs and lots of little tributaries to these.Little paths that snake down to unexpected vista's and nuggets of history.
I go there to collect the bark the Silver Birch has dropped.It's the very best thing for lighting a barbecue.I go again on Christmas eve.It's beautiful in the snow and yields many different sorts of pine cones plus holly and ivy.On these visits I always treat myself to a tomb or two so to speak.
I thought I might treat you to a couple I particularly like.
However, I could not remember exactly how the wording went on each.So I wandered through and prised the Saxophonist out of his book and in the dusk we strolled round there.

Naturally they had put chains and big padlocks on the gates for the night.
So obviously we had a discussion about side gates that might have been forgotten.
They hadn't.

"Nothing for it" says the saxophonist "we'll try to find the lowest part of the wall".
It doesn't look that low to me.He's over in a flash and takes my notebook and pen and then looks on with interest.
I have a long linen dress on,knickers and sandals and that's it.I am not exactly dressed for mountaineering.
I try bracing my arms behind on the wall and jumping up.The saxophonist stands behind a convenient beech tree.I try several times.I'm too short and I don't have athletes arms.
A man strolling down the road can see only a solitary figure manically jumping up and down.
Unfortunately he then sees the next attempt at illegal entry.The manic jumping stops and the small figure turns to face the wall and tries to get one leg up on it.It tries again,it wobbles,it flails with its hands and finally seems to be crouching on all fours on top of the wall.It then says something pithy to a beech tree and then in short order disappears on the other side of the wall.

So,two monuments.One huge table tomb and another tall affair which we will start with.

Side one: daughter Sarah died on the eve of her 94th birthday,18/2/20.

Side two: Lydia.Accidentally killed  by a motor cyclist at Scarborough August 13th 1904 aged 78.That's her not the motor cyclist we are guessing.

Side three: blank.

Side four: Woodham.Funny name for a girl.Interestingly no other info at all.She died 16/3/1889.

If you work out the dates it turns out that Sarah and Lydia were twins.

Second monument.
Side one:Katherine called sister Katherine of the Women's Settlement Hospital,Canning Town.Died 3/12/1927

side two: William.The father. Worthy , good etc,etc. Died 21/3/1874

side three: blank.

side four:   My favourite.The mother. Martha. This is the only inscription carved ,quite clearly, by another hand. It is the most precisely chiselled of the lot. The letters cut deep and with crisp edges.It has also taken no damage from time or the weather.Like her husband's inscription someone has taken trouble to list that she was beloved,was a blessing etc,etc.Her dates are clearly noted.She died 10/2/1864 aged 40.Then there's a gap and a further sentence added by itself.
I have looked to see if there could possibly be wear and tear here.I have traced it with my finger and brought the stern gaze of the Saxophonist to bear upon it.But no.The stone mason has clearly omitted to continue the capital "G".He has made the letter symmetrically curved and finished at both ends.There never was a foot to the "G". Thus the naughty stonemason has insured that for all time the world will be quite clear:


More to ponder in that,I think,than if he had been merely diligent or well behaved.You can see her,napkin round her neck.Heavy silver knife and fork akimbo ,getting stuck into a huge haunch of well buttered cod , grinning as she goes at it.

Anyway, its nearly dark now and there's the matter of getting home.
The Saxophonist has found a place in the wall where the ground lies much higher inside the cemetery than out.All that's needed by both parties is to climb onto the slope and then spring over the wall.One big jump.It's easy.
I should say at this point that it's been hot today.So not only am l in the pale grey linen dress but the Saxophonist is in pale knee length shorts and a pale tee shirt.In the gloom of the cemetery our clothes dimly stand out against the blackness of the trees and the tombs.
We look ghostly with our pale skin and clothes.

For fun we jump together and land side by side on the other side of the wall,apparently from nowhere,making only a soft thud.

A young woman is walking away from us at some distance down the road.She instinctively turns as we jump.
 She sees us land. I think she is going to make a comment but she doesn't.
 She just turns and walks as quickly as her legs will carry her without breaking into a run.
She puts another hundred yards on it and turns again.
She stares at us, visibly shivers and then goes off even faster.

What did she think she saw? Did her imagination or her eyes play a trick on her?

Silly girl. A little more observant if you please!

Improve your eyesight.Put those things in your diet that will enhance your vision.

Oh happy girl, if one day ,many years hence, they can put on your tombstone SHE LOVED COD.