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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.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Nodding to the peacock.

Yesterday to the old fortress town and the secondhand bookshop.Several like minded souls browsing and leafing through books.
It is my custom, in the depths of winter,to read a couple of childhood classics.
Last Christmas was punctuated by volume after volume of the Swallows and Amazons series.
This time I come away with a couple of possibles wrapped neatly in a brown paper bag tucked under my arm.
Today over to the secret gallery.
Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden ; some old favourites and a couple of surprises. Lovely.
 Then in the fine drizzle to wander down the tunnel,along the gravel path and through the hidden gate of the sequestered garden. Strolling round the maze in the rain. Sitting silent and contented by the summer house.Nodding to the stone peacock as I head off for a pot of tea.
Smiling as I remember I've half a batch of coconut flapjack left to go with it.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The various purposes of desire.

A week on from all that cooking.
Lucky me,all those lovely things to eat and minimal work to get them to the table.

Smell a rat?
I bet you do.

Have you never found that looking at the recipe/having the idea , doing the shopping and then cooking it is enough?
 Its a bit like someone telling you that you will find a joke hilarious or a man telling you that he is sexy.

Christmas day food is a good example.
In advance make mincemeat ,bread sauce,stuffing,mince pies,sausage rolls,chocolate log,Christmas pudding,Christmas cake,potted shrimps,spiced beef.....

You: "Oh shut up,shut up, shut up."
Me: "Feel weary?" "Queasy?" "Think its a bit excessive and / or show off?"
You: "No offense but YES."
Me: "and thats before we get to the big day."

Ok,we ate a bit of everything but mostly the batch of cooking just sat there.
There wasn't room for the rhubarb and strawberry pie in the fridge.I checked on it and the heat had put a mould on it.I very nearly did a dance.

Waste? Hardly bad girl territory is it?
It's a form of wanting to want something

A place, for instance, that you have loved down the years and know like the back of your hand. Isn't it better to lie in bed and mentally walk round it,savouring all the old pleasures? If you go it can be either formulaic or disappointing or both.

Is there a place you went to, thought magical and then never went back to?

Don't know why - Nora Jones
(video on Utube if you don't know it)

"I waited till I saw the sun
I don't know why I didn't come
I left you by the house of fun
I don't know why I didn't come......."

"Something has to make you run
 I don't know why I didn't come
I feel as empty as a drum
I don't know why I didn't come......."

Mind you I never felt like this about romance.Said a mouthful there Angela! Before I married the saxophonist I had six other proposals of marriage.NO,I wasn't the town tramp as they say in the states.I just found friendships with  men easy, men who turned out to be romantic.
No, I did not want to want any of them .Just said no and got out quick.

Perhaps wanting to want things is a dangerous game whether its half a chicken or anything else.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The woodpecker's example.

Today,it still being hot, I decided to cook for the week.

Roast chicken.
Roast gammon.
Roast lamb.
Rhubarb and strawberry pie.
Sausage plait.
A Cornish/Devon recipe for a pie involving spring onions (scallions),bacon and an egg mix.
A spinach/garlic combo.
A mix of broad beans minus pods and inner cases with cabbage strips.

We ate the lamb with new potatoes,mint sauce and the beans and spinach .Plus the rhubarb and strawberry pie with creme fraiche.

I will turn the chicken into a pot pie,sandwiches and soup.
The gammon is for baguettes and to go with saute potatoes,green salad and some mustard.

The plait and Cornish/Devon pie are for a picnic along with potato salad and beetroot plus fruit and some coconut flapjack I've made.

Yesterday driving through the countryside,windows down,something crossed the road at windscreen level.
A woodpecker.He whirred across just like a clockwork toy.His feathers were ruffled and his expression (No,I didn't imagine it) was fed up.His yellow breast looked like he had run an exasperated claw through it.

Perhaps he'd been fool enough to cook for the whole week all in one go.

Just looked in the mirror : evidence of ruffled feathers and weariness from whirring for all to see.

Soothing slow jazz on the radio ( Mi Soul radio ),bath,stroll in the evening cool for a beer I think.
NOTE TO SELF:if you see someone harassed by life don't fall into the same trap - even if its a woodpecker.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Pitfalls and distractions.

These last two days the weather has,mostly, hovered around ninety, dropping to the low eighties at night.In  other places and at other times it's certain it has been more testing.
I find this scant consolation.
I have poor circulation.I complain and the concerned or irritated touch my forehead or hand.The general response is "good lord".This is neither here nor there really.Its all relative and if you feel hot you feel (expletive) hot.

What to do then?
Well,not much judging by the quietude that's hit round here.Streets and roads are largely silent. To see a solitary figure somewhere in the distance feels like coming across a stranger in the desert.

It's as silent here as if we have been snowed in.

That's probably as well as it takes so much effort to stay civil in this weather.
The Saxophonist and I are convivial and kind with one another because,well,because we just are.Outside of that I seethe inside. The heat makes me critical,illogically so.
Its not dehydration as I'm drinking tea by the pint and what feels like water by the bucketful. No,its the long list of things you want to eat, wear and do which would be disappointing and / or miserable if you tried them now.Frustration, I suppose. I ridicule people in my head.Oh dear...

Last night I sat down with a pile of cookery books. The idea was to rough out  weeks worth of light and tempting food.Not too much involving the oven and perhaps a picnic or two.
What I actually did was leaf through the illustrations of about a book and a half in a dilatory fashion.I scribbled down a couple of lacklustre ideas and then has to stop.
Every thing seemed to be "warming,"hearty",rich,sickly or sometimes all four. I snapped the books shut before I felt any more bilious than I already did.

Distractions. Aah distractions:

I am reading some Jonathan Raban at the moment.Another of his watery volumes. He speaks of "smashing your own reflection".He means diving into that reflection.
I sat there quite sometime ,flinging myself from the side of the boat,savouring the shock of the cool water and soaking off the sweat in the waves.

Yesterday I got given a promotional balloon.A bit embarrassing  as it bobbed along beside me like an excitable puppy.Once in the car park I simply let go of its string.I thought it would just end up under somebody's car.Instead it went straight up.Caught a thermal and gained momentum.Up and up until it was a tiny yellow dot and then nothing.Gone higher than I could see.There was a release and a relief in that.Illogically,a clarity that felt cold.

I thought, today,what would I tell a child about managing this temporary time of sweat and thirst.I decided I'd tell it about angels.
About how,if its deep snow,you can lay down in an unblemished field or a car park.Lay flat on your back and scissor your arms up and down along the snow.
When you get up the image is left of a full skirted figure with wings.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

An evening more of a sum than its parts.

The Saxophonist puts down the phone. I've heard half the conversation of course and know he has agreed to play at a beer festival at a country pub.

He's agreed to put a crack band together from players he rates.Just for the night.
He's forgotten its the same night his brother has invited himself over.

"Ah" he says."You'd like to go,wouldn't you?" He knows I like a good gig.
I agree to be diplomatic with brother in law.Which means telling him a pack of lies.He is the sort of man who would find Mother Teresa a bit degenerate.These are necessary fibs.
A good early dinner has been cooked(by me) and clearly appreciated by brother in law.
I say casually what a lovely evening it would be to go to an oak beamed pub in the depths of the countryside.

Brother in law likes beer very much.He can tell you how many vitamins there is in a pint of real ale and how important it is to keep up your fluid intake in hot weather.

The landlord ushers us through the pub and out into a huge marquee.Real ales racked up at one end.A rudimentary stage at the other.Little tables and chairs scattered down the sides.A huge space in the middle where people may or may not dance.
The saxophonist greets the players with enthusiasm,they are enthusiastic back.Brother in law is not noticeably enthusiastic.In fact he actually shudders at some of the more outre gentlemen in the lineup.(He'd shudder a lot more if he knew some of the stories).
The band sets up and brother in law makes the best of a bad job and goes to look at the real ales.He orders four pints.One a piece and one he swallows in one before he brings the tray to the table I have chosen.

And so we begin.
Music. Jazz and jazz vibed. Some raucous and some melancholy. It starts to rain. It pours as brother in law pours two pints down his throat every time he goes to the bar.
The night moves on and some of the pub regulars have drifted indoors.Other people have had a small orange squash,felt they have been daring to come at all and gone home.Everybody else remains.In fact some more people arrive! The proposed dance floor now splashes when you walk across it to the bar.Which we do rather a lot.

Its late now and people have mellowed.In fact a couple of people have got so mellow they have fallen off their chairs. But we are all inhabiting the music as much as is what is in our glasses.

Suddenly the saxophonist shouts a roar and says something to the band we cannot hear.I grin at brother in law and say "it just got serious".
The saxophonist tightens his reed and pitches it high.The band to a man shout something and as one they kick back and play for all they are worth.

Four or five tables of people stand without discussion and walk to the mud that was once a dance floor.
A woman hair stacked high in a wettish party dress laughs out loud at the spectacle.
Might have been me.
The crowd surge and strut,twist and thrust and get happy.
The woman takes a swig,kicks off her heels and joins the throng.Her brother in law grabs her hand and they jive in the mud.
The saxophonist solo's again.He swoops like a swallow,he chuggs like a train and then he hits something.
The crowd knows what that is and so do you.

Its that sequence of notes that you never want to stop,that can never be reproduced exactly again.
It makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.Male or female,old or young.It speaks of something you yearn for,can never have and cannot precisely define.Its the point where you no longer understand except at the most profound level.
Its about happiness and living forever
The musicians and muddy dancers making something memorable and beautiful.
Something that will,in recollection,warm them on a bleak day.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Looking through the key hole.

If you squint through a key hole you get a partial view of the room on the other side of the door.It is by no means the whole story - its distorted by the angle you are obliged to look at it.
I felt a bit like that yesterday.
So, I and the saxophonist are at Aldeburgh, sitting on the shingle ,eating fish and chips  .He takes a swig of cloudy lemonade and gazes out at the boats and yachts bobbing past."Bramfield has a detached tower,a medieval wall painting and a fifteenth century rood screen with original paint and decoration on it"he says.
He is talking about an ancient church and he has done the research.
I am impressed but he need not know that.
"ah"I say "but does it have an alabaster or marble monument of someone".
"Yep" he says screwing up his empty fish and chip papers.
Now he knows and I know that I am as much a sucker for all these features as he is.He also knows that monuments are an especial favourite with me.
I grin from ear to ear,he grins back (the saxophonist finds enthusiasm attractive ).We pick up our belongings and the remains of lunch and sprint back up the shingle.A black headed gull cheers us on.

There is a detached tower and a ghostly wall painting they have uncovered. The rood screen does indeed have the rich dark green,red and blue they painted on in the 15th century.All are glorious.What a treat.

I sit on the alter steps of the silent and empty church looking at the life size monument. A woman in farthingale and ruff holding a predeceased baby in swaddling bands.Impressive and melancholy it is too.
I glance down.
There are some gravestones flat on the floor. Unusual in their detail.

Angela: "Want to know the story?"

You: "Go on then."

Three related stones .
First, the father.Mr Nelson,gentleman. Accomplished but missed out on preferment at court through his reticence.
Second,the husband .Arthur Applewhait .Bayliffe and "favourite" to five named plus later unnamed owners of Hevingham Hall.Died aged 39 and left no will on his fathers instruction "thus leaving his elder brother and his wife" (from whom all the money came by the way )"to engage in a chancery suit"
Third,the wife.Her story is best told by your reading the stone word for word.Here it is.

Here lies the body of Bridgett Applewhait
Once Bridgett Nelson.
After the fatigues of a married life,
Born with her Incredible Patience,
For Four Years and three quarters baring three Weeks:
And after the Enjoyment of Glorious Freedom
of an easy and unblemished widowhood,
For Four years and Upwards,
she resolved to run the risk of a second marriage-bed
but death forbad the banns -
and having an Apoplectick Dart,
(The same instrument with which he had Formerly
Dispatched her Mother)
Touch't the most vital part of her brain;
She must have fallen Directly to the ground,(as one Thunder strook,)
If she had not been catch't and supported
by her intended husband.
Of which invisilble bruise,
After a struggle for above Sixty Hours,
with that grand enemy to life,( but the certain and merciful friend to helpless old age,)
In Terrible Convulsions plaintive Groans or stupifying sleep
without recovery of her speech or Senses,
She Dyed on the 12th day of Sep in year of our lord 1737 and of her own Age 44

Well ,what are we to make of that.
Was father weak and spoiled her?Was Father a really good Dad?
When did mum die of an Apopletick Dart"?In Bridgett's childhood or later? Did Bridgett think/know she might go the same way?
She had money and married someone without,is this relevant?
Her husband was not just doing the bayliffes job but was a perpetual "Favourite" .What do we make of that?
Why such a high turnover of owners of the hall?
What of the will and the father in laws instruction?
Also what do we make of the strange way her widow hood is described ?

Sorry,is your back giving out from bending over all this while ,peering into the keyhole?

I would love to know your interpretation of this shadowy soap opera.

If it helps you can look at the church at:

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

I bet you would have done the same.

The weather has been oppressive for days and meals have gradually and consequently got lighter.Comes the day though when you look at a lettuce with contempt.I consider that to be a sign to put the oven and my apron on.
I open all the windows and doors,work out a running order and get stuck in.
Later there is a dense but not soggy chocolate cake,some sausage rolls,a savoury flan,a summer soup and some little apple pies.
Whilst they all cool I test the cake.First out of the oven ,its cool now.So I make a ganache to coat it.The cream and heavy slab of dark chocolate blend beautifully.The ganache is sleek and shiny as I take a palate knife.I smooth it over the cake in a thick gleaming slick.
Nothing else is cool enough to deal with.So I leave it all and go to the town on a few errands.The heat looks set to stay  and the sky is clear,so I just take my bag and go.
Errands complete, I feel a single fat plop of water.Its several steps before there's another.They come down in ponderously, set apart like pillars in a cathedral.
A minute and this turns to a mild drizzle,almost a mist.
Walk on and suddenly its like somebody flicked a switch.
There's a deluge.
A wall of water.It hits the ground and bounces like a hundred rubber balls.Everyone runs into door ways.Soon the road is a river.I look expectantly to see if a sea monster will glide stiff and regal through the fast moving flow.
Inches in minutes and still it pelts.It has confounded gutters and drains and come edging onto the pavement.A periodic breeze sends sweeps of water to where I stand.I am slapped with another wing of wet and decide there is little point in lingering.
I set off for home.Shortly my sandals are emit tiny bubbles of water and make disconcerting flatulent noises as I step and they seep.
At last I fumble the key in the lock and stand in the hall.First move coffee pot on.
My hair is plastered to my head and sending a bead curtain of water down my face.I do not have an item of clothing that does not need wringing out.
I grab a towel and rub my face.I peel off my clothes.The house is hot but I still shiver as the water runs from my hair and down my spine.
I dry myself in a rough and ready fashion and smell the coffee.
I must put something on but I want that coffee now.The nearest thing on the clothes horse is a pair of silk  knickers.Hardly the thing,frivolous and flimsy.Mint green with tiny black polka dots for heavens sake!
Don't care,put them on and head for the coffee.
I sit at the table,scalding mug steaming in my hand.I glance up and there's that cake gleaming away.
"The cake is for later" I say to myself."You made it so that people can have a slice"I say.
Its then that a slow smile starts to spread my face.
Its that word "slice".They can have a slice,they will love it.They don't need to see a whole cake.
I get up ,grab a plate from the plate rack and the unsuitable bread knife.I cut a fat glistening wedge and grab a fork.
Back at the table,coffee still steaming,rain lashing down the windows,I take a forkful.

You: "Was it good"?

Me:"Oh yes it was good"."Very,very ,good.

I cannot cure the ills of the world but,dear reader,I can tell you how to change your perception of them.In fact I just did - go and get yourself something wonderful to eat.

Sunday, 10 July 2016


Sometimes crowds and queues make you listless.You ache for space and silence.Or at least I do.

So I looked at the map,turned what was in the fridge into an old fashioned picnic and we struck out into the landscape.

Where water is concerned a map can be ambiguous .Here is Blackwater estuary but what of the routes to the water?The little pathways and tracks that take you from countryside to where the masts show in the distance.
Oh lucky day.It was one of those where you turn the corner and there's a dagger of water in sight.Hurry to its hilt and a whole vista emerges.Lagoons,bobbing boats and a vast vista of shining water.

Water that breaks into shards in the sunlight.Shattered mirrors and broken diamonds.The smell of salt and seaweed is intoxicating.Lingering like a child that does not want Christmas to end.
Then a further thought.

There's a remote Saxon chapel built by St Cedd.The plague got him in 664 AD so its been there a while.

We park and start to walk.Its half a mile along a track loud with bird song.The wind is strong but warm.The air sweeps your body and seeps into your spirit for that whole half mile.
The chapel itself is swept by the continuous wind.Once inside you hear nothing but the wind.The only light is from windows very high up.There is space and silence.

I thought of people down the centuries sprinting in and slamming the huge wooden door against pelting rain or icy blasts.

Sanctuary,succour and consolation.It had been that way long before the first king of all England took the throne in 802 AD.

It is that now.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

It's hot.

Slick,sleek,black,oiled.Two young cormorants perch a pole a piece.Side by side.There is the air of leather jackets and I wonder if one will pull out a comb and slick back the thick oily plumage on his head.

An Egret floats across the lake like a table cloth on the wind.Listless in the heat.

My sweaty elbow slips off the shelf in the hide,the binoculars slip.And into view slides a lapwing.He picks his way along the edge of the lake.Halts to preen,halts to think,halts for halting's sake.Its hot.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

On your feet.

There is music that galvanises you.Gets your blood up.
Music that acts like an Espresso or a double Scotch.Sometimes you can't remember where you first heard it,in what circumstances,in what mood and with whom.
If you could choose these songs they might be different and certainly more complicated.But the choice is not given to you.
They have to be popular songs unconnected with a cause,a person or an event.
If they are they  do not count.
They must do you no particular credit.They have to make your blood sing.They have to make you bounce in your seat of course but mostly they should make you feel gloriously,ridiculously reckless.
My three ?
Well all are on Utube and they are:

Red river rock-Johnny and the Hurricanes.

Fast boys and factory girls-Port Sulphur.

Get outta my dreams and into my car- Billy Ocean.

The first two will  rouse me but the third always ,always got me on the floor doing the X rated hip thing. It always will.
And yours?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Coriander and courage.

I like Indian food and I like to cook it too.A while back I found a book written by an Indian from recipes her mother had taught her.
Revelation?I should say so.
Since then I've acquired various similar tomes (some good ones have been written recently).Back then though I had the book but lacked ingredients.Supermarkets either did not sell what I wanted or sold them in puny amounts for exorbitant prices.
I Googled.Yes ,I could buy on line but I like to see what I am getting food wise.
I located an Indian supermarket some distance away and we made an outing of it.
What a revelation.It was a horn of plenty,a cornucopia.The sheer quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables.Very cheap and very fresh.
A sad little button hole of Coriander costs you over a pound in an English supermarket.Here you get three bunches big as bridesmaids bouquets for a pound.
It was my second visit and this time I needed certain flours,the long thin rolling pin and the board used as a rolling template.
There was a whole wall of sacks of flour.Large and small,all in glorious technicolour and all in Indian.Not the Indian on my list either.
No assistant and no idea.
Then down an adjoining aisle a short lady in a plain coat,wire basket in hand and pulling her shopping trolley."Excuse me" I said "I want to make samosa's,pakora's and bread but I'm not sure about the flour.
She halted her trolley,clasped her hands together and said " I use this one and that one".I put the flours in my basket and thought to thank her."what else is on your list "she said.She took the list and we went round the whole shop together.We finished at the boards and thin rolling pins."No"she said "better quality,better price down road.""You pay,I pay then I see you outside".
I did as I was told.Outside she strode along,me in her wake.She giving me cooking tips as we speed along.Once inside the shop she chose what she thought I needed.I put them in my basket and turned to thank her.
She had simply melted away.I paid and left.
On the pavement I paused to accustom my eyes after the gloom of the shop.Then a small figure came hesitantly from behind a display stand ."I just wanted to say "happy cooking""she said.
I took her two clasped hands and thanked her sincerely.Such kindness,two shops and all.
She went her way and I mine.Two women with cooking in common.I do not suppose I will ever see her again.
I came home and began cooking Indian food.I thought of her while I was doing it and smiled.
Time passed and my cooking carried on.Then the atrocities began People with bombs,guns,machetes.Horror in Paris,horror in America,horror here.Like most people I was shocked,disgusted and angry.
Then I remembered my friend in the Indian supermarket.
I began to cry then because I knew that while kindness and gratitude exists between ordinary people the man with the machete cannot win.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Seaside Sunday.

At certain times of the year the tides and currents move and a causeway opens up .It goes far out into the sea.
You can walk out over purple and vivid green strands of seaweed a long,long way.So far you can see round into the next bay.
Boats and yachts are yards away.
You can stand next to a man with a huge hand net catching his tea.
Solitary walkers are lost in their own thoughts like me but as we pass we nod or smile.Its greeting and mutual appreciation for the place
I breath ozone and salt into both nose and mouth.It clears my head and fills me up like a good dinner.
The slap and jump of waves.The wind ebbs and flows.
Your hair is blown about and there's the clink of a few shells in your pocket.
I think you get it too.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Have you no sense of shame?

Part way through the evening and we have both finished what we were doing.Stroll,chat,couple of pints then.There's a couple of things to go in the bin on the way out .There is a haggis I defrosted and forgot.I pick it up and stand thoughtful.It's a shame to waste it even if it is "off".Then I recall something and grin to myself.
It was last winter and after a day indoors an invigorating walk and a pint was mooted.The chosen route came close to the fish and chip shop.
Someone had bought some supper and decided to eat it on the way home.Whoever it was had tripped or slipped or so I gathered.For there was a polystyrene tray,across the whole path a portion of chips and,oh dear,an untouched jumbo battered sausage.
The disappointed purchaser had evidently lost heart(as well as his supper) and simply walked off.I stood thoughtful."Come on" said my companion"times getting on."
We walked on and then I said "You carry on ,I'll catch you up".You see it had just registered with me that we had passed that expensive lingerie shop.
The window displays are always dressed with silky scanties,brief,lacy,provocative,sexy - you get the picture.In fact a hymn of praise to the female form.So I could bring the much needed masculine element to the display and give use and purpose to the jumbo battered sausage.
There was nobody about.The letter box was at ankle height.The flap opened easily enough so that I could balance the jumbo battered sausage half in and half out of the flap and thus give it a really good whack with the flat of my hand.
What happened next?Well predictable really.The trajectory was good and the GBS skidded a little on landing which helped with positioning it in a place of porky prominence.
The next time I walked past the shop there was a metal grill over the inside of the door with a built in metal postbox.
A bit of an over reaction?
Well ,if the proprietress, had ,mid morning ,emerged from the stock room and unexpectedly found herself in the window propelled there by a jumbo battered sausage...
 Which of us could say how we might definitively tackle the aftermath.......
Better to leave the matter of the haggis for now I think.Be assured though.I have never been ten pin bowling and should have factored this in and obviously I now see that I should also have allowed for the fact that a haggis is,by the nature of things an ovoid and not a sphere.

Tin clouds.

An estuary afternoon.Lead skies,tin clouds,grey water and mud.I have bought my new binoculars to tune them up,tweak the dials and get my eye in.
Something white in the water.As good an object as any to fix on.Cover first one lens and then the other focusing as you go.
The object becomes a broken umbrella and suddenly with a final quarter turn, full focus comes and there's an egret.An egret ponderous and high stepping.He has an aristocratic air.Have his pince-nez fallen off and plopped in the water?
He turns into a fold in the air and slowly flaps away.
A small satisfaction to have the binoculars fit for purpose and to have christened them with the egrets help.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Thoughtful about fruit.

Summer, and my jacket pocket is half full of sea glass.
I have two punnets of strawberries from the small holder on the coast road.If you put your nose in the bag,and I have,the ravishing smell.The scent of summer.
Perspective comes from odd sources.I imagined a medieval merchant,an Edwardian governess each popping a berry into their mouths.First him then her,now me.
It puts the current sporting and political turmoil into,as I say,perspective.
A continuity of simple pleasures .