Wednesday, 27 August 2008


I'm off to Camden Town tomorrow to look after my friend Jill's two cats till Monday. One of them has thyroid problems and needs a pill twice a day. I have never, ever managed to get a pill inside a cat. When it came to giving Flad his worm pill, I bought some Tab Pockets on the internet. These are tasty, squidgy cat treats that you mould around the pill. It worked a treat! He noshed it without even noticing, then avoided cat biscuits for three days, no doubt associating them with the painful, worm-expelling effects of the pill. I must remember to take them to Camden with me. I only have three, though, and the number of pills to be given the cat over four days equals eight. Even I, with my wobbly grasp of Maths (45% for O level) can see that this doesn't quite work out. Someone suggested crumbling the pill into a blob of butter and smearing it on the cat's leg. I shall do this as a last resort, when I have no fingers left. The things one does for one's friends!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Tommy Tomato

My four tomato plants that I bought for 50p each at a charity shop have done me proud and produced a wonderful crop of tiny toms. In fact, I am getting quite sick of tomatoes. But here is one I just couldn't bring myself to eat. Look at the cheeky little chap, with his green cap and Depardieu-like schnozz. In fact, I took him round to my friend Joan's the other day and wonder if she downed him with a salad yet or if he is still grinning at her from a bowl in her kitchen. Must find out...

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Grumpy Party

Yesterday was glorious and I really thought summer was back. Today it's like being plunged into drizzly autumn. What a dismal Bank Holiday! Makes me very glad I wasn't one of those unfortunates who had planned an outdoor event.

Though I'm praying for sunshine for Sept 13th. when I'm planning a birthday party for Mr Grumpy. I had the bright idea of throwing a surprise party, then realised you can't do that if you're actually living with the person. I mean, a sudden influx of sausage rolls, baguettes, cheese and wine bottles would give the game away a little, wouldn't it? Also, I don't have access to his address book so I can't ring up his friends and invite them. Now I've said that if he'll do the inviting, I'll organise the food. But he's still being grumpy about it.

Perhaps this should be the party theme. People can only come if they promise not to laugh or smile, but only sit in corners, sulk and tell everyone else to f*** off! I could get some T-shirts printed with a picture of a spud and the words GROUCH POTATO on. Or maybe I could organise the thing, then slip off to the airport with my holiday bag packed and a sneaky grin on my face and leave them all to it. Tee-hee!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Trolley dolly

Here's my new 1960's style shopping trolley. All I need now is a beehive hairdo, a mini skirt and a pair of white Courrege boots to go with it. Oh, and about 40 years lopped off my age!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

There's nowt so strange as friends!

Friends are funny creatures. You think they're on your side. They probably are. Yet they say things, make encouraging noises, then just when you're making plans they swing the other way like weather vanes.

On two occasions recently, I've had a friend say, "Why don't you look at houses round where I live?" So, at a cost of two hours minimum each way on tubes and buses, I, all fired with enthusiasm, have gone to see houses, only to be told by the friends in question that I 'wouldn't really like to live round there because...'

Is it that the thought of having me five minutes away is too close for comfort and strikes terror into their hearts? (Oh no, she'll expect me to run her to the supermarket!). Is it that, knowing my penchant for moaning, they're worried I'll blame them when I discover the bus only runs three times an hour and the supermarket is so far away that I'd have to start using Ocado?

I have bought a shopping trolley. Oh yeah! I have finally given in. It's very pretty, covered in orange and blue 1960s-style daisies. I haven't plucked up courage to use it yet. Vanity refuses to allow me to label myself an 'old dear',. Once you do that, you are finally relinquishing your last vestige of sexuality and admitting you have Steradent and pile cream in the bathroom and are already putting money aside for your funeral.

So will I be seen dragging my psychedelic trolley round Barnet or Nunhead? It remains to be seen. In the meantime, I shall practise blocking the bus aisles in Hillingdon.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Akiane, child artist prodigy

What have I done since my Liverpool trip? Not a lot. I missed out on seeing Mama Mia with friends yesterday so I shall now be the saddo sitting in the cinema all alone, laughing to myself. I plan to go tomorrow. Yesterday I saw a TV prog about geniuses, one of which was the truly remarkable 13-year-old girl, Akiane. Although brought up in a non-religious household and educated at home (her Lithuanian mother is a non-believer), Akiane had some kind of religious conversion at the age of 3 and now paints the most remarkable pictures, some of non-religious subjects, but many of animals and her family, too. They took my breath away. Her website is at

I think you'll be blown away by her, too. The programme showed a close-up of her mother's hand from a portrait of her parents and every little vein and wrinkle, even, almost, the pores, were there in lifelike detail, as if she were creating them and about to breathe the breath of life into them. Her people could walk off the canvas, they are so alive. Truly amazing.

Friday, 15 August 2008

At Martin Mere

I'd seen it on Springwatch so, being only a few miles away in Liverpool, I just had to head further north to see the water bird sanctuary for myself. It is divided into sections, each with gates that visitors must close behind them to prevent the US waterfowl from wandering amongst the Siberian ones (if only human politics were that simple). Some of the birds are quite tame and would stand at your feet staring hopefully upwards for a snack. Before you venture down the paths, you have the opportunity to buy a paper bagful of seeds and believe me, after four hours I still hadn't dispensed them all and showered the remnants in front of an over-stuffed duck.

My friend and I went to the hide, carved like North American Indian eagle wings. Some house martins had nested just inside the main entrance. There were three birds crammed into the nest but my camera didn't like the contrast between gloom inside and bright sunlight outside so the pictures came out blurry. A chap had set up a camera with an enormous lens and had been waiting for days for a sight of a marsh harrier. My sharp-eyed friend spotted it straight away, sitting on a post amongst the reeds. Just as she told the photographer, it flew off before he had a chance to focus. How we laughed!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Going lamb bananas!

I have returned from my trip to Liverpool via Aylesbury, Coughton Park, Shawbury, Martin Mere and the Klimt Exhibition, all in a 3-day period. Phew! Everywhere you go in Merseyside at the moment you are likely to see a lamb banana. The original sculpture, bright yellow and standing 17 feet high, was the work of Japanese artist Taro Chiezo. It stood in the Strand in Liverpool as a warning of the dangers of GM foods and celebrated the port's long history of importing goods such as lamb and bananas. My own father worked for Elder Dempster lines and often travelled on the 'banana boats' that ferried the fruit from Lagos.

Now, lamb bananas have proliferated to celebrate Liverpool's position as Capital of Culture 2008. (In my view, it was also Capital of Culture 1965, which was the year I did poetry readings at Samson and Barlow's basement arts club in the 'Pool with celebs such as Paul McCartney's brother, Mike McGear, and Mersey poets Roger McGough, Adrian Mitchell and Brian Patten (who, incidentally, was my very first boyfriend, but that's another story!). There are over 100 lamb bananas scattered around the city, all painted differently. I saw a John Lennon one, one that was patterned with trees and a spotty one. Travellers note: there are two in Lime Street station. I was told there was an escaped one in Euston, but I didn't see it so it is probably gambolling in Hyde Park by now. Many lamb banana anoraks are tracking them down and having their picture taken with every one. As a hobby, it isn't as arduous as 'Monroe Bagging', which involves climbing lots of Scottish mountains, unless the weather is like it was last Saturday when banana boats would have been a very good idea. Lamb banana fans can find a map of their whereabouts at

Klimt was brilliant. I had no idea the canvases were so enormous. Neither did I have any idea of how huge Klimt himself was. One of the smocks he painted in was on show and it would have fitted the proverbial brick shithouse! He must have been well over 6 feet tall and 4 feet broad. Yet his artwork required the sensitivity of a poet and the delicate fingerwork of an embroiderer. What a genius.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Off to Liverpool!

I'm heading up to my native city tomorrow to see the Klimt exhibition. Back on Monday, but may go straight to Cornwall to the funeral of my friend's mum, who has just died aged 93. Then my sister has an art exhibition up in Cumbria, so I may be gadding around quite a bit! This means that if you don't see a new entry for a while, don't worry, normal service will be resumed as soon as I can scrape the scouse off my tongue.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Please, Mr Brown!

Here is the article from today's Times that has made me, and I suspect countless others, decide not to proceed with house purchasing until the outcome is revealed. Trouble is, if it happens, then vendors may decide to hike up their prices so nobody will be any better off, anyway.


August 5, 2008

Plan to suspend stamp duty for all home buyers

Gordon Brown is considering suspending stamp duty in an emergency measure to kickstart the housing market, it was claimed last night.

The idea, being worked on by the Treasury, is part of a package of help for hard-pressed families.

Details passed to The Sun suggested that buyers at all levels would avoid paying the tax, which has brought in £31.5 billion over the past ten years.

Stamp duty is paid by property buyers, and is levied at 1 per cent for houses between £125,001 to £250,000, 2 per cent for £250,001 to £500,000, 3 per cent for £250,001 to £500,000 and 4 per cent for £500,001 or more.

Officials will present their findings to the Prime Minister when he returns from the Olympic Games closing ceremony at the end of the month.

Figures last month showed that stamp duty receipts were being hit especially hard by the credit crunch. The downturn means not only that house prices are falling but also that fewer homes are changing hands.

The Chancellor hinted in an interview last month with The Times that changes to stamp duty were possible. “Stamp duty is always a factor when people buy and sell houses but we need to make sure that we support the financial system too,” he said.

The Tories have pledged to abolish stamp duty for most first-time buyers.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Shorthand for composers

I wrote my first song when I was six. Over the years, tunes have come to me in all sorts of inconvenient places - top decks of buses, standing in a queue, on a train - always when I have been far from a manuscript book of tape recorder. (Not that I would want to start humming into a recording device in front of people, not even my mobile phone.) One day, in desperation, having only the back of a bus ticket to write on, I came up with means of jotting down a snatch of melody so that I know not only the note, but the value of the note, when I come to work on it later.

What I do is this. Draw a line across a scrap of paper. (Yes, I realise one needs a pen for this and I have often had to dart into a newsagent's and pay over the odds for one Bic when I could get a whole bundle of them for the same money at Staples or Macro. But what the hell, this is an emergency when even the stub of an eyebrow pencil or lipstick will do.) This line now represents Middle C. (Perhaps you want to set your tune in the key of D or G, but you can transpose it later. Desperate circumstances call for flexibility.)

You now have your Middle C line. The letter A below it represents the A below middle C, and an A above the line is the first A above middle C. AO means octave A. Add a sharp or a flat sign if required.

That's the notes all settled. Now, how about their values? A on its own is a crotchet. A in a circle is a minim. A in two circles is a semibreve. A with an inverted V over it is a quaver, two inverted V's means a semiquaver. A with a dot after it is a dotted crotchet - and so on. Easy-peasy. It works for me! I have just bought a manuscript book and am busy scribbling all the snippets I've collected on scraps of paper, Post-it notes and so on. Soon, I shall exhume the contents of coat pockets and handbags to see what potential hits might be lurking there.

I supposed I should copyright my system so here is a nice (c) August 2008. Not that I expect many people will need it. Budding songwriters these days will be busy warbling into their MP4's and mobiles, or their digital recorder. I tell you what, though - using the old-fashioned manuscript book is an awful lot easier than trying to set out one's ideas in composing software like Noteworthy or Sibelius. They are fine for when you want to notate and print out the final version, but are no good for musical jottings on the run.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Appletree Cottage

I have fallen in love with Appletree Cottage. It's a real writer's cottage. Just look at it. Bow windows, ivy, gorgeous kitchen, wonderful leafy garden with ponds and a big office/workshop at the bottom and even its own gated off-street parking. My aim was to buy somewhere back in North London where all my friends are. Guess where Appletree Cottage is? Right here in Uxbridge, 3 miles from where I am currently living with Mr G, and within a ten minute walk of the station.

So, what matter most, the right house or the right location? Back in North London, I can only afford a shoe cupboard. Cottages like this one would cost upwards of £400,000. My friends would never forgive me if I bought this one, though. They'd never visit me. Only one has made the trek in three years and it's not exactly the North Pole, it's 25 miles from central London and it's on two tube lines. On the plus side, I would be able to visit Mr G frequently - and Flad, my beloved cat.

Why do I want to buy my own place? Because I find it very hard to work from home in a house where the other occupant isn't working, and has friends round all the time. And because all my belongings (the ones that survived the damp in Mr G's shed) are costing me £200 a month in storage and I haven't seen most of them for five years! I need my own place, my sanctuary, where I can try and build my own life again. If I buy this cottage, I could sit in the workshop looking out over the pond and garden and write. Maybe, if I write enough and am determined enough, I shall start getting things published again. All in all, I'd be a happier person and if my friends can't be bothered making the trek to see me, then I suppose I shall have to continue making the journey to see them. Or perhaps they are not real friends at all.