29 June 2008

sunday morning

There's something special about Sunday mornings. They sound different for a start. People aren't up and about so early. Sneak out in the garden, especially on a day that's overcast, and quite often all you can hear is the wind rustling leaves. Even the birds are quiet.

Colette's mother, Sido, used to get up earlier and earlier as she got older so that she could capture the day starting out. I often think I should follow her example. Instead, I sneak round the corner shop to buy fatty croissants, and all the other things I left off my non-existent shopping list, with my coat thrown over my PJs, hoping people won't notice (actually, I think there were a few others in the queue too.)

And then enjoy a lazy breakfast.

Don't worry, they weren't all for me. And I'll be back to porridge tomorrow.

forget me not

This is my new forget-me-not cardigan which is what those flowers look like to me. I mention it because I have had a worse week than normal for forgetting things.

On Friday, I forgot that I had a dental appointment at 9.40 even though it was in my work and pocket diaries. So I got into work at 9, opened my e-diary to see what I had to do that day and there it was – a reminder to everyone else that I would not be in the office. All of which meant I had to retrace my steps double fast. I arrived hot,and late., and the day went downhill from there.

That was only one of the things I forgot. I forgot that I promised my aunt that I would pop round and sort out some paperwork for her. I forgot that I promised to sign some grant papers. I keep forgetting people’s names – hopeless, totally hopeless. I’m not just talking about people I’ve only just met, but people I have known for years. Like my boss (honestly). I sometimes imagine that I’ll empty out my handbag and there at the bottom of it, along with all the other detritus – lipsticks, train tickets, highlighter pens, tea bags ( yes, seriously) - will be all the words and names I have forgotten. Something like this, only there would be more words.

So what is my problem (apart from age)? I do have some theories. Sometimes you forget things because you have too many things to remember – your memory gets overloaded and you need to defragment, re-order the stuff in your memory, or just throw some out. Sometimes you simply aren’t being organised. Other times you forget things because you were never engaged in the beginning. This may be a conscious decision but more frequently it’s down to daydreaming when you should have been concentrating. Put all three together and you are on the edge of an abyss of oblivion.

I think this is what is happening to me. I am tired from working long nine to ten hour days. My throat is dry and my eyes itchy from some kind of allergy (plane tree fever, I reckon). On my day off, I sit and read dull, dull stuff and don’t have the motivation to organise or make sense of it, as a consequence of which it too gets lost. I want to be somewhere else or doing other stuff instead – like looking around me for photos, making nice things, writing this.

But look on the bright side. When you forget stuff, or lose it, you always have the pleasure of finding it again. I found a key I had lost this week. I forgot that I had a copy of No Fond Return of Love . It’s now my bedtime reading and I keep unearthing pleasurable little gems. And these gold charms from a bracelet my mum bought me when I was ten – young John buried them in the garden years ago as hidden treasure. The cats dug them up a few weeks ago.

So please don’t think I’ve forgotten you if I don’t write here as often as used to. I haven’t I’m just too whacked. Forget-me-not.

23 June 2008

clock time

I don't know whether it's the effect of the longest day or whether I am still recovering from being up all night last week, but my sense of time has been all awry this last week. It pays to have a good sense of time in this house. We do have clocks - but none of them work. The one on the mantelpiece has never worked, even when it had two hands. I have a watch, but I'm the only one who has - and half the time that is not on my wrist. There is a clock on the cooker, but it's not been put right since there was a power cut.

I had not thought about this much until I read a research piece in a collection of essays about women's careers. The author, Lotte Bailyn, quotes anthropologist Jules Henry "A man's time is bound from the moment he opens his eyes until he quits for the day. None of that time...is his own, because he has sold it to the job. Sold time is governed by fear. Time not so bound, time that is not sold, is free for empathy and love". Bailyn goes on to argue that as women move into the world of work "they face norms and practices that seem to conflict with the responsibilities and pleasures associated with an unbound, more subjective sense of time." Work patterns create barries to careers and difficulties in balancing work and personal lives. The alternative to so-called "clock time" has been called "social" or "natural" or "feminine" time - a more subjective time, geared to events rather than the clock, cyclical and "anchored in a logic of care".

Does any of that strike a chord? I'm not sure. I do know that when I lived in the country on a farm one winter, I used to be able to sleep for 12 hours from dusk till dawn (there was no electricity). That it's easier to get up in the summer when the sun's up. That I can gaze and day dream and get drawn into still life when I'm out of the office.

So when my son and I were chatting earlier, I asked him - he who can sleep for England, never wears a watch and is most reluctant to sell his time - what his views were. He told me that I was always too busy and never had enought time to enjoy the good things in life. "Like what?" I asked. "Well, when was the last time you did the washing up?"

Reader, I love that man-child.

18 June 2008

may(be) ball

I say maybe, only because I nearly did not get in. St John's College is notorious for a high level of security which requires photo identity. I forgot mine. I put it down to having a ridiculously tiny evening bag (as opposed to a tiny and deficient memory) and giving precedence to my camera over my driving licence. But the lovely Rose, with connections in all the right places, came to my rescue and swung it with the zeolous young men on the gate. Good thing too. So best foot forward...

We started off at 10 with champagne and strawberries. Having moths on my mind so recently, I was reminded of their flightiness and colour all the lovely frocks. There was the elegance of vintage eau de nil lace.

The imperial decadence of deep plum silk with sequins and freckles applique.

And ribbons and bows of all colours, shapes and sizes..

Last year, my son came along to the May Ball. He described it as Disneyland for grown-ups. There is a fairy story quality to the setting, the buildings, the frocks, the excess. You would not take a second look if Cinderalla turned up; or Le Grand Meaulnes. You cannot avoid going along with the exuberance of it all.

Just before 11 we watched the firework display accompanied by suitably rousing music.

We thought about going punting as we crossed Kitchen Bridge but decided it was too cold. The abandoned glasses gave us another idea...

By midnight we were drinking Passionfruit Martinis and eating fish and chips in a replica Orient Express carriage We visited the casino for more chips (different kind) - you play to lose, you know - but fortunately there was no money involved here.

At 1 we were watching the Lindy Hoppers and Salsa dancers in the warmth of the hall. With a Pimms. Woops, missed Dizzee Rascal.

By 2, we thought we should mooch around a bit - it's cold out there on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens.
We thought the fire troupe might offer some warmth, but watching the dodgems proved much more entertaining. We were too lazy to queue ourselves, but watching the faces of the drivers more than compensated.

At 3 we were drinking tea in the Turkish tent and were surprised that the sky was already changing colour. we tried to get a massage in the Pamper Room -full of bewitched sleeping people- but they were fully booked.

By 4 we were back in Hall to watch the infectious energy of the tap dancers, then the chaos of the Ceilidh. Tea with a small shot of whiskey seemed about right to stave off the cold light of dawn.

A bacon roll set us up at 5 to prepare for the journey home. That morning light can be a bit cruel - we were all looking a bit pale and tired and ready for our beds. This was my final shot of St John's.

Walking to the car park, there were plenty of faded people, young men with their ties askew, the more gallant in shirt sleeves because they had surrendered their jackets to warm up party girls in their creased and rumpled gowns. By 7 I was home and able to put my feet up before climbing into bed for a three hour snooze.

This is our last May Ball because Rose is moving on. We wouldn't have been able to go without her. It's been a delight...and even though I feel guilty about them, that includes the new shoes.

PS. I have just been told by young John how jealous he is that we had the opportunity to see Dizzee Rascal (who is a local boy, by the way) and Shy FX and wasted it. There we are, then. I've been posting pictures of shoes, frocks and fireworks and I've ignored the opportunity to see a groundbreaking urban talents. What can I say? Oh dear, pass me another cup of tea.

15 June 2008

some brighter moments

I read somewhere recently that Barbara Pym left more than 80 notebooks, now in the Bodleian, of jottings and observations on daily life. Things she had overheard, seen, thought about. I have never been disciplined enough to keep a log of things that take my fancy but since I started writing this, and taking my camera out with me everyday, I have become much more aware of everyday events, seen and heard. Last week, for example, I was concentrating quite hard on the weather forecast, so I knew whether I needed a brolly (how English is that?). On Thursday the weather man said that it would be breezy and cool with sunny intervals. My non-work day and perfect weather for reading academic literature without wishing to be somewhere else. On Friday, he ended the forecast with the optimistic and uplifting observation that there would be "some brighter moments." Here are mine for the last few days.

On Thursday, I opened the door to John to be given a bunch of flowers - a driver had backed into one of his garden s and knocked down some hollyhocks.

Later on, my son asked if he could borrow my camera. He'd bumped into a friend and they had discussed what they were going home to eat and they agreed that they would email a photo to each other. This is his photo of what he made for himself - note the basil garnish and the surgical scissors used to cut it. I'm not sure why it should strike me as so funny. After all, I'm always taking photos of food. It's the thought of two young men having a conversation about baked beans I suppose.

On Friday I wore my poppy red coat for work

And today, while I was waiting for the number 8 bus to take me shopping, I noticed these mystery poppies growing among the rubbish at the bottom of a tree near the bus stop.

Later on, down at Mudchute, it was warmer and brighter than the forecast day had promised. Beans are climbing up poles, the young leeks are flourishing, and after a long wait, the beetroot is finally putting on some growth.

The peas are coming on nicely. And the Catalgna cut-and-come again lettuce in all their architectural magnificence are almost too pretty to pick.

Now the weather forceast for this week is not so good - cool with showers. I'm off to the May Ball on Tuesday. I'll take the camera and tell you all about it when I get back.

12 June 2008

busy bees ... and other insects

Bees have been hovering around the gardens and my consciousness for the last couple of weeks.

It may just be the time of year, but I think it started with those Brakspear beer bottle tops which immediately reminded me of how as children we made badges from them or used them to customise home made carts.

And there was also Nell Heaton’s Bee Wine to make in the odd days of May which I didn’t have time to mention. “Her “bees” were blocks of yeast which you put in a crock with water and fed daily with sugar so that it fermented into a kind of mead. I would so like to make mead. Then there were the bee catchers and the plans for a bee house. John bought me a bee house as a Christmas present a few years ago. They are very simple constructions, essentially a cylinder with tubes inside. Red Mason bees come and lay eggs in the tubes, making separate cells for each egg, separated off with mud walls. When the egg hatches, the bee makes its way to the next cell, and so on, until it flies free. It really gives you a buzz (sorry) when you discover the blocked off tubes and then, the following spring, notice that the bees have hatched. Alas, my Bee House has gone missing, so we made a small one using the thin ends of bamboo and an old tin. I’m rather pleased with it.

Now call me odd if you wish, but I think insects are cool (except for flies –fruit flies I can tolerate, after that I draw the line). If you’ve ever seen a stag beetle – and we used to get them up at Manor Gardens - you’ll know what I mean. And this week a little giveaway booklet on British moths in the newspaper totally captivated me. I read it on the tube to work and had to control my inner squeals of awe and delight. The colours, the patterns, the names – some poetic, some curiously prosaic - Cinnabar, Heart and Dart, Angle Shades, Chimney Sweeper, Spindle, Ermine, Plume, Swallow Prominent, Dark Bordered Beauty. There’s even a Puss Moth for cat lovers. Just think of the fun you could have naming one of your own. Or how lovely they would look if they were cardigans. Even if you are not the curious kind, do look here to experience the glory of black and white in the moth world.

But there’s always at least one bad guy, isn’t there. We have a plague of clothes moths this summer. My eye to hand co-ordination is being tested to the limits as I reach out to snatch them as they innocently (not) fly past. They are hiding in the dusty corners of my cupboards, no doubt creating havoc in my precious woollens and silks. I am resorting to eccentric means. I nearly died of fright when I made a rare visit to the freezer last week. This is Michael the Panda (yes, I know, but I was a child when I named him). I thought he was attracting the moths, now I suspect he is innocent and might return from his frozen gulag.

If I have to be reincarnated as a moth for my sins, please, oh, please, let me come back as a Garden Tiger and not a Dingy Shears.

09 June 2008


I was going to write something completely different tonight. Then I noticed that my favourite film was on Film 4.

It has everything. Corruption, innocence.Greed, desire. Rus and urbs.

What more can I say? Be careful out there among those English.

06 June 2008

to do list

While I was away from work, I kept a modest to do list. i just could not understand how the day passed so quickly. Although I supposedly had the whole day, I managed to achieve so very little - I was lucky if I scored off one thing each day.

I should count myself lucky. I keep in my kitchen cupboard a book called A Calendar of Country Receipts by Nell Heaton. Written in 1950, it provides a week by week guide of things for the housewife to preserve. Bearing in mind that it was only five years after the lean years of the war, there is plenty of advice on how to make everything from jams and chutneys to hand cream and herb pillows. I checked up what the good housewife should be doing in the first week of June and came across this Pymish description: "So much has to be borne in mind, apart from routine procedures. For instance, it's practically a safe bet that the ideal day for herb harvesting is going to to be the one on which a generous gift of plums awaits your attention. And it almost goes without saying that every season brings one or two major disasters, ranging from over-population by grubs of prize loganberries to the untimely slipping of one corner of the jelly bag". Such catastrophes don't bear thinking about.

I was back at work on Monday and by lunchtime I had around 30 things to do on my to do list. To prevent a complete nervous breakdown I'd promised a treat though, a lunchtime trip to St James's Park to see the Dig for Victory 1940's allotment. It can only be described as big and bounteous. There was not a weed in sight with everything laid out in long rows with big gaps between.

Was I jealous? Not really. The marrow plants growing around the Anderson shelter were rather charming, the scarecrow was splendid and I liked the bee house. But I prefer the intimacy of the patchwork of my own little plot with everything tightly packed in. Even if, according to Nell's advice on June jobs in the garden, "weeds are probably spreading on the paths while you have been busy on more rewarding tasks".

If only. I did manage to reduce my to do list but then I did fit a week's work into four days. Unfortunately that means that you come home exhausted and neglect other housewifely duties. By Wednesday, the cupboard was bare. On Thursday, the cats had been locked out all night and came in cold, hungry and ready for a snooze. And when I checked on the worms this morning about 20 of the poor things had drowned in the bottom layer ( the survivors I had to scoop up), a disaster much worse than a jelly bag slipping.

I bet Nell Heaton wouldn't have let death and chaos reign in the wormery. But then she probably does not have the capacity to live like this Mudchute ginger pig - and I suspect I do. At least this week.

PS I did manage to reduce the to do list to about ten things. Eleven when you add "put up bee house".

01 June 2008

never again

Remember this from the beginning of May - a holiday postcard from one of John's school gardens in Cable Street.
It grew into this 12 foot giant and flowered. I went to visit it yesterday evening.

It is a type of desert agave known as a furcaea - we think that this one is a furcraea longaeva, reknowned for flowering as high as 40 feet in the their native Mexico. It has the prettiest light blue green flowers tumbling down which are supposed to last for some while.

It caused quite a stir here. The local newspaper sent a photographer to take a picture.

Then that's it. Little plantlets will fall off the plant and it will die, never to flower again.

And guess what? I was up at five this morning to check on the damage after last night's party. There had been a half hearted attempt at tidying up - it took several more hours. I thought I might take a photo of the mess, but I couldn't bear to be reminded. I won't forget though. Never again.