Monday, 28 December 2009

We wish (hic) you a Merry Mishmush


Poor old Mr Grumpy was up at 5 am on Christmas Eve to help his friend who runs the local butcher's shop. He had spent hours the previous day writing out tickets to match customers' orders and got everything out of the chiller and stood in the frozen yard in the sleet for seven hours, as everyone came and collected their turkeys, ham, etc. By the evening, he felt rotten and went to bed early. Come Christmas Day, the poor man had a streaming cold, which he'd caught off the butcher's two youngest sons. He spent the whole of the weekend feeling dreadful but put on a very brave act and cooked the turkey while I did the veg.

He gave me some wonderful presents, one of which was a Pegasus pendant which I'd seen on line earlier in the year. He had put me off it, saying he didn't like it, whilst secretly planning to buy it for me. Only he lost the link to the jewellery designer's website. I found it again but, woe... no Pegasus was on it. It looked as if she had sold out. However, an email elicited the fact that she had just one left, so I was lucky! He also gave me a digital photo frame which I have had lots of fun with. When I get a moment, I shall get some collections of photos together to show on it.

I drank half a bottle of red wine on Christmas Day (Mr Grumpy doesn't drink), which was just enough to create a mellow glow. I finished the bottle on Boxing Day while Mr G shivered and groaned beneath a blanket and I made him countless mugs of tea. I felt a bit icky on Boxing Day - overstuffed tum - so vowed to give up alcohol for a week and go on a nice, plain diet. But Fate had other plans up its sleeve.

Yesterday, we had a panic phone call from Mr G's friend who lives in Spain. She was already over here, spending Christmas with her sister in Essex, but had heard that her son had split up with his wife yesterday morning. They have three kids between them, one each and one mutual one, and our friend had presents for all of them. She was quite distressed, not knowing if the wife had departed, taking her granddaughter with her, so she asked if we could give her a bed for the night as her son lived just down the road.

Now, Mr G's friend - let's call her B - is well acquainted with the bottle. Any bottle. My heart sank as I knew I wouldn't be able to resist joining her in a glass or two. I had two bottles chilling in the fridge, one flat, one fizzy. It turned out B couldn't drink fizzy. Then ring-ring at the bell and in trooped a couple of Mr G's old friends with their extended family, consisting of children, partners, grandchildren. Mr G knew the couple themselves were arriving - in fact, they were supposed to be coming for a meal on their way home to Kent and he had cooked one of his famous potato, ham and cheese pies specially for them. But he hadn't expected an army, especially one which had just finished a huge dinner and wouldn't be wanting his pie.

As it was the festive period, and as the white wine had almost gone, I broke open a wine box of Rose, and got out some beers for the boys and a large bag of Bengal Bites, or whatever those Indian nibbles are called. By now, it was 8 pm, I was starving, having eaten nothing since a small bowl of soup at 1 pm, and soon I was shovelling spicy nibbles down my throat with the greed of a starving mouse that had just fallen into a grain silo.

As we waved them off an hour or so later, I picked up a leaflet from the floor that had been popped through the letterbox in the intervening hour. It was the answer to a prayer, something I'd never seen before. A new... wait for it... home delivery service for alcohol! Yes indeed, wine and fags delivered to your door. B and I pounced on it and in no time at all, three more bottles of white wine had appeared, with only a £2.50 delivery charge.

The rest of the evening faded into a blur and a few crumbs of ham, cheese and potato pie. Oh, and some chocolates. And... well, I can't remember, but at 3 am I had major heartburn and kept having to swallow my acidy wine for the second time. Oh well, at least I got twice the value out of it. And today, miraculously, I don't feel too bad at all.

My G will be putting a fire in the wood-burning stove later. He always searches for pieces of paper to add to it, to get the first flames flickering. What's the betting I never see that Home Alcohol Deliver leaflet again!!!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Seasonal phobias

When Christmas precedes a weekend and bank holidays follow, I get in a panic because it means the dentist's is shut for five whole days. Every tiny twinge in jaw or gum becomes an incipient agonising abscess. Every slight pain when I bite becomes a filling about to fall out or a tooth about to break. My front crown has wobbled slightly for years but now it feels as if one nibble of turkey will cause it to detach completely, leaving me looking like a vampire. Then there is that pain in my stomach that's come and gone for years and years... Could it be a grumbling appendix that is biding its time and is planning to rupture on Christmas Day?

There is only one solution and that is to get uproariously drunk from now till next Tuesday. Merry-hic-Chrishmash!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

My baby goddaughter


I met my new goddaughter yesterday and I am totally smitten! I've never been very good with babies. I've not had much exposure to them. I don't know how to pick them up (when I try they always cry) and am much better with kittens and puppies. But this time was different. From the moment Elaria smiled at me, I was a goner. What a shame she will soon be back in Vancouver.

She actually has three godmothers and three godfathers spread around the globe. As she gets older, she'll feel like royalty. But there'll always be a big, soft, squidgy place for her in my heart.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Gift-Wrap Rap


My nerves and tongue are snapping as I do my Christmas wrapping
And my language and the air are turning blue
As I make a nice, neat packet of my sister's sparkly jacket,
Then find that two hands simply will not do.

As my left hand grimly holds the reindeer-patterned folds,
My right gropes for the Sellotape in vain,
Just to find the stuff is stuck in a nail-defying tuck
And the end is never to be seen again.

I hear the paper rip as I release my grip
To go scrabbling at the tape with huff and puff.
Then behind my back the parcel spills out across the carpet,
Collecting lots of cat hairs, dust and fluff.

I shake and brush and blow (thank God she'll never know),
Then I reach for sticky tape with happy grin,
For I've thought of something clever; I'll cut several strips together
And I'll park them for the moment on my chin.

Aha! This is the ticket! I can hold and fold and stick it
And rip my chin hairs out for free as well.
But as I get underway, Sod's Law comes into play
With a ding-dong-bloody-bing-bong on the bell

I get a funny look as I sign the postie's book;
In fact his attitude is downright weird.
But as I pass the mirror, I scream aloud and shiver
At the sight of mad old bag with sticky beard.

At last my wrapping's done, though my chin looks like a plum.
As I glug my well-earned wine I vow, "No more!"
Next year I won't go crackers, I'll just pay the extra ackers
To have the blinking lot wrapped by the store.


MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE, AND MAKE SURE YOU RECYCLE YOUR PAPER FOR NEXT YEAR!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Singing styles

We all have at least one unfulfilled ambition and my main one was to be a singer-songwriter of the Joni Mitchell kind. I wrote my first song when I was six, and just kept on. Even now, a song bubbles up every so often like lava from a dormant volcano, reminding me of the existence of music in my soul.

When I used to sing, I loved the tonal quality of notes, drawing them out and making them ring. To me, singing was about the beauty of the sound and the emotional sense of the words. My voice was of the pure, folky soprano type as delivered by Mary Hopkin and Joni Mitchell in her early days prior to The Hissing of Summer Lawns when she started to go jazzy, which caused as many ripples amongst fans as Dylan did when he decided to go electric.

Now, though, singing seems all about style and much less about meaning and tonal quality. Listen to the singers on X-Factor and you won't hear a pure note amongst them. What you get instead is a series of tricksy twiddles and hiccupy catches. It's 'clever' singing, technical singing, rather than singing from the heart and letting it pour out of an open throat in the way an opera singer does. It's a style I knew nothing about until the day I went to put a track down in a recording studio about 20 years ago and the producer wanted all kinds of vocal frills and furbelows that I didn't have a clue how to do. Next time I heard my song, he'd got another female singer to ad-lib all the twiddles.

So how refreshing it is to hear Camilla Kerslake's high, pure tones on How Can I Keep From Singing. Not a twiddle in sight, just the lovely, lilting melody, unadulterated by affected modern pop 'style'. This is the kind of singing I do. In fact, I can reach her notes, which is quite a miracle. Though it's been some time since I could hit Minnie Ripperton's very highest squeak on Loving You. I can still reach the note below it, though. I tried it when I was all alone in the changing room at the gym the other day. There's a stone floor, tiled walls and a very good echo. Then I heard a male voice clearing his throat very loudly and realised that the male changing room was on the other side of the wall. Oops. Bet he thought someone had pulled their thong up too high, with a twang. Ee-ee-eek!

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Tale of the Champion Mouser


Knotty Ash, Liverpool, isn't just a place Ken Dodd jokes about, it's the area where my mum grew up. Back in 1918, when Mum was ten, phones were rare commodities, as were cars, especially when you were council tenants like they were, so people communicated by letter and caught the bus.

One day, my gran received a letter from a friend who lived way over the other side of the city. "We have mice in the house. We need a cat," the letter said.

Now, my gran kept a menagerie which at once point consisted of cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, a monkey called Jacko and a swearing parrot that my grandfather adored (another story). One of the cats, a huge, scabby old ginger tom, was a brilliant mouser so my gran decided to lend it to her friend. Old Ginger was bundled, protesting loudly, into a shopping bag and my mum, Muriel, a pretty little girl with big blue eyes and lovely strawberry-blonde ringlets, a real Pears Soap child, was walked to the bus stop and told where to get off the other end.

At first, Ginger protested loudly. Loud, mournful howls such as only a tom cat can produce, emanated from the bag and old ladies gave Muriel sympathetic looks. After a while, all went silent. 'Good,' thought my mum, 'he's fallen asleep.' Not so. There is another reason why a cat falls silent and that is when he has done something so momentously, horrifically, wickedly terrible that he is guilt-struck dumb. This was one of those occasions.

All of a sudden, a terrible stench arose from the bag. As the miasma pervaded the bus, passengers produced handkerchiefs and started to move seat. Scarlet with embarrassment, Mum prodded the bag and called, "Puss, Puss," to no avail. Silence prevailed. She was just a little girl with a shopping bag and everybody thought the vile aroma was coming from her.

Eventually, wobbly-legged and weeping, she humped the heavy, silent , stinking bag down the stairs of the bus and made the long walk to the lady's house, the swaying bag bumping against her knees and making her slender, ten-year-old arms ache most horribly.

Finally, wearily, she arrived. "My gran has sent you a cat," she said with a sweet smile, plonking the bag on the lady's hall floor. As she undid it, out shot a furious, filthy, hissing, spitting ginger ball of teeth and claws which frightened the woman so much that she fainted. When she came to, she told Muriel, "Catch that horrible creature and take it right back where it came from. I wanted a sweet little kitten, not that... that demon!"

Without allowing Mum to clean out the bag, old Ginger was stuffed back into it and Muriel was forced to carry her smelly cargo all the way back to Knotty Ash. No wonder they say friends and business don't mix!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

In days of yore


Mr Grumpy's 76-year-old brother was here today and they started reminiscing about the past. One story involved the day their six chickens disappeared from the back garden, where they lived a happy, free range life. Mr G and his brother were sent to investigate and found the back gate had been forced open and no sign of the chickens. Then Mr noticed something on the ground. A wallet, with a name and address in it. Aha, they thought; the culprit. They sneaked up to the house and sure enough, they could hear chickens and peeking over the fence they espied six, which seemed more than just a coincidence.

They went to the police with Mum. A while later, an officer came round and asked them to come to the address in the next street and identify their clucking property. Now, it so happened that one hen - named Henrietta - had had a fight with another hen and had her comb partially torn off. Dad had trapped Henrietta between his knees, taken a needle and cotton and sewed up her comb, but she wriggled free before he could cut the cotton. Once inside the thief's garden, Mr G, who was only about five at the time, shouted, "Look, there's Henrietta!" Sure enough, the tell-tale piece of black cotton was dangling from her (now healed) comb. Proof enough.

Weeks later, the case was up before the judge, but Mr G's family were told they had to produce the stolen goods. So Mr G and his brother, who was in his late teens, Mr G being the baby of the family, were packed off on the bus with a cardboard box containing six chickens.

The fowl were quiet (probably in shock at finding themselves shoved unceremoniously into a hot, smelly box and treated to a long, bumpy bus ride) and all was well until they got to the courtroom and were forced to wait. And wait. And wait. The chickens grew restive and began to cluck, very loudly. One even laid an egg. The boys were mortified as everyone was staring and laughing. After they had waited several hours, they were told that the 'evidence' was not needed after all as the culprit had pleaded guilty. So back onto the bus they went with their bouncing, clucking box. By the time they got home, their egg was scrambled.

COMING TOMORROW...

The Tale of the Champion Mouser

Friday, 11 December 2009

Definitely ill this time!

Have felt awful for the last three days, with diarrhoea, nausea, headache and shivers, and yesterday all-over aches and cystitis added themselves to the list. Woke up at 3-ish and every muscle and joint was hurting so I took a paracetamol and went back to bed. Was supposed to catch a train to Shropshire this morning to my goddaughter's baby's christening (in fact, it left 18 mins ago sans moi), but thought I'd better ring my goddaughter and her parents and check if they wanted to run the risk of catching it. The answer was no! In fact, my goddaughter's mum said it sounded very like swine flu so I checked the symptoms. The health website says if you have a temperature plus two or more on the list, you've probably got it. I could tick off seven out of the eight!

Oink!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Sex in the stars

Although I resigned my astrology column in Scarlet Magazine as they made me wait all year for my money rather than pay me regularly every month, which is what I expected and needed, I am still contracted to write the rude stars for men's mag Fiesta. Years ago, Fiesta sent me on an astrology course. 25 years on, I am still friends with three people I met on it - Tony, Nigel and Mo - and I have been Fiesta's tame astrologer since then, providing such vital info as Best Sex Day of the Month. Let me know your sign and I'll give you the hot dates for Jan and Feb!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Death on the Tube

There is a nasty app on Facebook that predicts (humorously) when and how you will die. It told me I would be eaten by cannibals at the age of 103! However, the poor person that gave me such a terrible time on the Tube today can't have used that app or they would never have ventured out.

I had an appointment with an estate agent to see three houses at 12.30. I left two hours to do the hour and a half journey. Got to Kings Cross on the Met with no trouble. Was too early so went to Accessorize and bought an extra Christmas present, then headed for the Piccadilly Line. A train came, I got on. An announcement came, we all got off. Someone had been taken ill on a train further up the line. The platform got more and more crowded. I decided to go two stops further towards my destination on the Victoria Line. As I headed towards the exit, I overheard a lady talking to a member of the Undergound staff. "What happened?" she asked. "Somebody had a heart attack," said the member of staff. "Did they die?" asked the lady. Now come on, did she really have to ask that? "Yes," was the reply.

I completed my journey by Tube and overground train and was only fifteen minutes late, but all the journey I was thinking how ghastly it would be to die in a hot, crowded Underground train in front of all those people. To be struck by an agonising heart attack, crying out, clutching your chest, collapsing, in front of strangers, all at a loss as to what to do, all not knowing how to help, all shocked. With children maybe, asking questions. "Mummy, what's wrong with that man/woman?" Dying is bad enough anyway, though we all have to do it. But dying in public on a train? Give me the cannibals any time. But... that poor person. Just before Christmas, too. I feel so sad for them and their family, and wish I hadn't overheard that conversation.

And, for the record, the houses were awful, it rained and I wished I hadn't gone out at all!

A weird dream

Last night I had the most vivid dream about Louise, my friend who died six weeks ago. I was walking down a road and suddenly there she was, coming towards me. "Yes, it is me," she said. The only difference was that her hair, instead of being long with grey streaks, had a reddish tinge. I asked if she were a ghost and she took hold of my hand. She felt warm, solid and real. She told me she had to come back to finish all the books she had started. She said she couldn't go back to her house in Cornwall as it would upset her husband too much, so I said she could stay with me.

She told me she didn't need to eat or drink, but she had the ability to make herself invisible at will. We embraced, but I didn't feel the emotional warmth that usually came from her. Her voice was the same, her looks, her witty remarks, but it wasn't quite her. I asked what sort of form she was in and she explained that she was a 'simulacrum'.

The next step was to arrange a meeting with her literary agent, who, having told all her publishers that she was dead, would have a difficult job persuading them that she was still writing books! We met near his office at Tower Bridge and he tried hard to hide his amazement. In the end, we decided to say she was a close relative, a first cousin, who had inherited the story-writing gene, and was going to take up where Louise left off.

I asked her if she could still sing and asked her to sing one of her favourite songs. I was testing her, to see if she still retained the living Louise's memories, and she did indeed sing one of her favourites, a sea song called The Last Leviathan, a tragic tale of the very last whale. She said we could still make that CD together and I awoke feeling very happy.

Wonder if I'll meet her today???

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Charity Shopping


My wardrobe is stuffed with garments both weird and wonderful. A fab leopard print coat; a Wallis party frock that fits like a dream; mauve Nike trainers; sleek, black, sexy leather trousers; beaded wraps and scarves; velvets, silks, linens and lace. And none of them cost more than £8 because they all came from the local charity shops.

Mr Grumpy calls me the Charity Shop Queen. He says that if the staff catch sight of me walking past without calling in, they collapse in tears behind their tills, thinking their best customer has deserted them. I first visited a charity shop, Oxfam it was, in the late 1960s and can still remember what a bought - a wonderful green and silver brocade coat, a la Beatles album covers. This was the hippy era, after all. Wandering down Carnaby Street with my waist-length red hair, dressed in that coat plus knee-length white boots, I felt like a star. Surely, before very long cameras would be snapping and I'd be 'discovered', a cross between Cilla Black and Julie Christie?

'Twas not to be, but I nearly got there. I got a manager, a recording contract, a tour with a hit rock band called Family, and if my manager hadn't done a runner, I might have been Britain's answer to Joni Mitchell. I wrote all my own songs, which was rare for those days. But the one thread running through from those days to now is the charity shop and it's rare that a week goes by without me giving in to the impulse to pop in 'just to see what they've got'.

Yesterday's haul was a brand new looking Next sweater for Mr G (£4) and a sports top and an Oasis skirt for me, both of the £1 rail. My friend Claire did the best, snaring a pair of Hotter shoes, practically unworn, for £3.50 - plus the famous Hat which we both loved and have agreed to time-share, though it fits me the best! This summer, I had a wardrobe clear-out and made over £300 selling items on eBay. I've just sold a pair of very uncomfortable hiking boots and have a wonderful Lulu and Red silk skirt, size 16, if anyone is interested! Brand new with labels. I bought it for £5 in a charity shop. Yours for £6.50. A girl's gotta make a profit!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

For shame!

Sometimes one can wallow in the shallows while one's friends are forging ahead and doing the creative equivalent of three minute miles! One friend in particular, Joan, has in the last year, following redundancy, deaths of parents, bad health and awful depression, achieved the following: winning a photography prize; having some poetry published in Southbank Poetry Magazine; getting a name for herself for performing her poems in public; and this week, having one of her photos displayed in the Bankside Gallery in London. Well done, Joan! Instead of moaning for the last year because my literary agent didn't understand me, I should have taken a leaf out of Joan's book and gone ahead and done my own thing. Joan has no agent, and look what she's achieved? Mea culpa! It's self-adminstered kick up the arse time. Tomorrow, I shall write a poem.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Cafe Mozart

When I was living in and around Highgate, North London, the favourite lunchtime meeting place for me, my friends and my goddaughter, was the Cafe Mozart in Swain's Lane. I love the name, Swain's Lane. Makes you go back in time to the days when Parliament Hill and Highgate Hill were countryside and shepherds drove sheep along the main road to market, and swains canoodled with their milkmaid girlfriends beneath the trees and bushes. Cafe Mozart, or Mozart's as we always called it, is also a blast from the past as it's like an old Viennese coffee house complete with Austrain cakes and schnitzels and populated by greybeards who read the Morning Star in dark corners - or perhaps they are retired spies from the Russian Trade Delegation buildings further up the hill.

I met my old friends Jill and Pete and, having absorbed various bits of rather sad family news, we then proceeded to put the world to rights, including climate change and each other's love lives. It was great fun and I only wished I lived nearer so I could do it more often. It was tantalising to see Hampstead Heath just across the street and not have time for a wander. My friend Jill must be the only pensioner to go rollerblading on the Heath. Every time it's even vaguely sunny she is up there, whizzing around.

Ages ago I decided to write a poignant novel called Meet Me at Mozart's. I think it has a certain ring to it. I can see the movie. All I have to do now is write the damn book!

Friday, 27 November 2009

London Wetlands Centre

Last Sunday we all trekked out to the Wetlands Centre. Unfortunately, it soon turned very wet indeed and we were driven inside, like everybody else, to fight for seats in the cafe, not knowing you could take your food upstairs and eat it with a wonderful view all round. We stayed in the steamy ground floor, with a myriad families all waiting to pounce on free chairs like herons on fish. Mr Grumpy went outside to roll a fag and got caught in a sudden squall that blew all the doors open and drenched his legs. He came indoors wringing out his jeans. Ho-ho, tee-hee (aren't I cruel?).

Here are a few photos I took before the downpour came.

Mr Grumpy and Merrylegs scan the horizon for feathered things.

The sculpted swan seems part of the family (or are they geese?)

Sir Peter Scott finds two subjects for his notes.

I was lucky enough to press the shutter just as this heron took off.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Latest from Cumbria

My sister sent me this email from Patterdale earlier today...

It's pelted down all day again and I'm quite shocked to see the floods are rising again, more than a foot of water outside the church already and building up. I had to go into town (the long way round) - the lake road is closed and long sections of the outer tarmac rim have collapsed into the lake. Waves are lapping over the edge, & there is debris all over the road; they came thru in a bulldozer and worked on it all day, but now it's all starting again!

Water is now covering their car parking area. They're in Patterdale, just by Ullswater. I hope they
won't get flooded but the forecast isn't looking good.

Monday, 23 November 2009

My sister's visit

My sister Marian arrived last Thursday. I swept her off for a massage with the incredible Daphne at Flex gym in Uxbridge, then to Debenham's 20% off sale, where I treated her to a pair of jeans, a black hat and a pair of gloves.

On Friday we went to the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain which I thought was extremely well thought out and interesting. It was a thrill to stand face to face with pictures I had only seen on posters and in art books before and it opened my eyes to how Turner trained and developed as an artist. Just as you leave, there is a tiny portrait of Turner to the right of the door, showing him to be a squat and quite ugly individual, almost Toulouse Lautrec-ian in stature. That surprised me as I had long clung to a romantic mental picture of Turner as tall, slender, hollow-cheeked, pale and rather tubercular looking. How wrong I was!

On Saturday we took our bird-watching binoculars to Ruislip Lido and yesterday we went to the London Wetlands Centre at Barnes, where 'wet' was the operative word. Mr G went outdoors to have a roll-up and make a phone call and a sudden squall battered down on him and soaked him to the skin. How we laughed. (He didn't, of course, sitting at a table drinking tea with soggy trousers clinging to his shanks.)

Marian had intended to get the six o' clock train to Penrith this evening but, with the ghastly weather and Ullswater lapping an inch below the top of the doorstep, she wisely opted for the 1.30 instead. She should just be reaching Penrith now. I am missing her already. It was the first time she had spent any time with me down here and it was wonderful, though we'd have done more if the weather hadn't been so awful.


Flad was very nervous of Marian at first, but by yesterday evening they had made friends.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Perfect day for a walk


Autumn was wearing her brightest colours as I went for a walk through the field and wood at the end of the road. Normally, I wouldn't dare go in there alone but, being Sunday, I judged there would be lots of dog walkers. Wrong. There was just me, the trees and the sky. You can just see the hill of Harrow in the distance on the second photo.



As I turned for home, the clouds had started to gather and made dramatic shapes behind these equally dramatic trees.



Creative Dream

Mr Grumpy slammed the front door shortly after seven this morning (he was going out for the papers), waking me from a truly remarkable dream. Now, I know other people's dreams can be very boring, so feel free to go off and read the news headlines, check your bank account or play your favourite online game.

Still here? Sitting comfortably? Right, I shall begin. It started with an invitation arriving in the post from an art gallery called the Ivin Gallery. (Does it exist anywhere in the world? A quick Google couldn't find one.) I went along to the private view and came face to face with an intense, powerful and quite nightmarish painting. Using colours that have always made me shudder - graveyard ivy green, putrescent pink, dead pig sweaty grey, the vast canvas portrayed figures from classic mythology mingled with characters from Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter, Red Queen, Caterpillar, White Rabbit, writhing in a William Blake-ish hell and painted in a style that was like Breugel on acid. It was horrible, yet wonderful.

Then I was introduced to the artist, who looked more like a sharp-suited adman than a paint-splattered genius. An nondescript man in expensive tailoring with short hair and glasses behind which twinkled brown, intelligent eyes. He spoke quietly as I asked him what had inspired the painting. Suddenly, I was in full interview mode, like I used to be years ago when, working for Beat Instrumental Magazine, I talked to the likes of Marc Bolan and Yes about how they crafted their sounds. We talked of the creative processes of writing, painting and music, then something incandescent happened between us and suddenly he was holding my hands and about to kiss me and asking if I was prepared to leave everything and run away with him, even though he was over twenty years younger than me! (Yes, wish fulfilment, I know, but it was far more a meeting of minds than of bodies.) I said yes. He said we knew where we stood now and he promised to give me a painting. I said make it a small one as I didn't have a big enough wall. We exchanged contact details, then simply stared at each other, knowing each other perfectly, linked in by whatever magic causes people to be able to create a painting, a poem, a novel, a symphony. It was a truly uplifting dream in every way... till Mr Grumpy spoiled the ending.

There may have been a connection with my daughter's father, who was/is an artist. Or the dream could have sprung from a discussion I had about my late friend Louise's artist husband yesterday. One way or another, art was on my mind and it's incredible how a dream can flower from a word seeded into the mind during the day.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Part-time job

Oh, the bliss of working again. I'd forgotten how pleasant it was to be with people, to meet and greet and chat. I've spent three years isolated in my 'prison cell', only emerging to go to gym, chiropractor or local shops, and the result has been that I have withdrawn into myself and have grown extremely nervous of going anywhere that requires getting on a train for an hour or so, which is what it takes to get anywhere from here. So when the chiropractor asked me to stand in as receptionist for a couple of half days, while her usual one was on holiday, I was only too happy to agree.

Monday was the coldest day we've had so far this autumn. There was a frost in the night and when I arrived, the reception area was freezing as the boiler had been broken for ages and there was a dispute going on as to who was supposed to pay to get it fixed or replaced. By the end of four hours, despite having a halogen heater behind my desk, I was numb with cold and had developed a sinusy, catarrhy cough that kept me awake half the night. I had thoroughly enjoyed the work but was dreading getting frozen to the marrow again yesterday, so I wore my thermals. I needn't have worried, I was warm as toast, a plumber arrived to 'fix' the boiler (it made noises like a road drill and I felt sorry for the poor clients of the massage therapist in the next room to it) and as well as getting £30 in my pocket, I was given a free treatment from the chiro as I'd wrecked my back raking leaves on Thursday. Now I am hoping the usual receptionist decides to have another holiday soon, so I can be offered more sessions.

Feeling that I could still have a useful role to play in a business did wonders for my self-esteem, which has been at a low ebb for ages as writing and editing jobs have dried up all around me. And if I hadn't said, "If you ever need anybody to fill in..." I'd never have got the job. I've proved something to myself and I feel great.

Friday, 6 November 2009

My mother's dressing table




As I lay awake in the wee small hours, unable to drop off, for some reason my mind flitted back to my childhood and the forbidden thrill of creeping into my parents' bedroom when Mum wasn't around. I found myself standing in front of her dressing table which was by the front window, carrying out a mental inventory of the items on it. The dressing table was made of dark brown highly polished wood, and had two or three lace doilies on it, on which other items were placed.

Here is what I recalled. One handbag, stiff dark brown plastic with a clasp and short handles. My mum never used a shoulder bag. Her bags were just like the Queen's, small, solid and neat, made to be carried in a hand clad in a white lace glove, or dangled from a wrist. Mum always placed her handbag on the dressing table when not actually using it. A round box of face-powder and a fluffy powder puff.

One tortoiseshell-backed (probably Bakelite) mirror, brush and comb set. One long, narrow, matching tray, a tidy for hair grips and the like. One bottle of Mum's favourite perfume, L'Aimant, by Coty, the bottle always placed neatly back in its black box. And a manicure set.

Mum's manicure set, circa 1955, was a marvel. It contained items you never see today. Inside the brown plastic holder were a metal nail file, something called an orange stick (was it made of wood from an orange tree?) for gently pushing back the cuticles, and a square block the size of a pencil rubber, made of some chalk-like substance. Mum called it a buffer, and indeed its purpose was to buff up the nails to a natural-looking shine, as nail polish was only used by film stars and 'fast' women. I never saw Mum use nail varnish.

In the 'tidy', there was sometimes a lipstick in a gold tube. When I slipped off the case, I would see a worn-down stub of Mum's favourite old rose or coral shade. How upset she used to get when the manufacturer discontinued her favourite shade. I know the feeling! Of course nowadays, with so many cosmetics companies vying for our money, it's easy to find a replacement, but back then there were only three or four companies, names like Goya and Max Factor.

The bedroom always had an indefinable scent which smelt of Mum. It was warm, dusty, friendly, sweet, a mingling of powder, perfume and highly perfumed lipstick - they always added a powerful fragrance to lipstick in those days, which altered the taste of your food for a while, until it has a chance to wear off. I sometimes wonder if, thirteen years after her death, a faint scent still lingers in that room, soothing whoever now owns the house to a restful sleep, accompanied by the light touch of a warm, calming hand on a troubled brow.



(Apologies to whoever I stole the photo off. It was the closest I could find to my mum's old set.)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A shock in the dark

Went to bed, then remembered that the forecast for today was good, and that Mr G might just put a wash on, never thinking that I might have some extra things for it. So I got up, padded barefoot through three rooms into the kitchen and deposited sundry items into the laundry basket. I was halfway back when my toe nudged up against something small, soft and warm on the floor, about the size of a small rat.

When I went to bed, there were two cats in the house, Flad plus The Lodger (aka Chimimi - she's a pedigree Bengal). My mind instantly formed the equation: 2 + cats = 1 dead rat. I screamed and dashed for the light switch, only to find it was the warm sock I had recently taken off and had dropped halfway to the kitchen. Doh!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Deleting contacts

For me, there are only three reasons for deleting one's contacts. Here they are, in order of seriousness: being no longer in touch; having had a terminal falling-out; death. I have to face deleting my dead friend from my email and phone contacts, from my Christmas card and present list, and from my address book. The address book is the worst. What do you do? Tip-pex them out? But you have the nasty, lumpy white patch, like a scabby skin disease, to remind you that they were once there. Tear out the page? No, you'd lose all the other addresses, too. Stick a label over their details? That seems like disrespect, like pulling a sheet over their face. Maybe it's best to buy a new address book, though that means copying in several dozen addresses by hand - and at my time of life, what's the betting that before I get to the end, someone else will have fallen off their perch? Whichever way you do it, you suffer pangs of guilt and grief, and it seems so strange to see them no longer there, but stranger still to keep them. I know that if I don't delete the email address, I will be tempted to send one and see if I get a reply from Somewhere Out There. (Thinks: could this develop into a special service for the bereaved, an equivalent to kiddies writing letters, and receiving them, from a non-existent Santa? Perhaps I should call it Soul Mail.)

I sketched out a plot for a novel once and one of the characters, a sensitive and ruminative old chap, used to start a new address book whenever somebody died. The book was called OFF!, an acronym for Old Farts' Federation, which is what the old boys called themselves. Perhaps this is the right time to begin it and cock a snook at the Grim Reaper.

Louise's Funeral

Although I wasn't there, I heard that they did her proud, with sea shanties, wonderful eulogies and wildflowers on her coffin. Then everyone went back to her local, the Aggie, for drinks. I, meanwhile, spent the day in London in tears, with a very bad stomach, wishing I wasn't so much of a wimp when it came to things emotional.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Shades of mourning


It's hard to be brave when you're suffering from grief and shock. I find myself shivering uncontrollably, feeling nauseous. My head swims as if I have flu or am about to faint. Just when I think I'm OK, and entering a good patch when I can return to life as normal, I find my eyes welling up and my breath gusting with sobs. I fear going out anywhere in case I can't control my tears, or feel ill, and wish I had prescription sunglasses. My Transitions lenses don't work in gloomy weather such as we're having today.

Today, the vision I had of the grey umbilical cord attaching me to Louise, as if we were twins in the womb, is haunting me. What did it mean? Does it mean I could have sent her healing energy through it, and because I didn't, she died? Were we astral twins, connected in some way unknown to science? Time and time again, I feel we were connected in far deeper ways than just friendship. Perhaps that is why I feel so utterly bereft and no amount of 'chin up, keep smiling' remarks can work.

My return ticket to Truro sits in the ticket machine in Paddington station. If I left now, I would be too late to catch the 12.06. I don't know if I can still get the return half from the machine once the outward journey time has expired, to use if I go down on Monday.

I sent a text to my friend's husband last night telling him how much he had upset me and saying that even though he is grieving, he should have respect for the feelings of others and not lash out at everyone who is trying to help him. I asked him not to keep calling me, and he hasn't, and this has made me feel a little calmer. I am desperately sorry for him, but can't forgive him for saying things which, for two days, caused me to doubt the kind of friendship I had had with Louise. That was dreadful and it rocked me to my foundations. For those two days I was numb and unable to cry because I suddenly thought that all along she hadn't really liked me or been a true friend. Now I have managed to dismiss those thoughts but, as a consequence, I have started grieving again. Now I understand why the Victorians wore mourning clothes for a year. It was a way of saying, 'I've suffered a bereavement and I'm feeling upset and fragile so please treat me with care and understanding.' Nowadays, if you dressed like that, people would think you were a goth, an emo or a vampire. I am wearing brown. It's a colour that is sombre without attracting attention. It's the colour of autumn. And of the earth.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Unfair accusations

Late friend's husband rang last night and said some vicious things about me and it has thrown me completely off balance and has set me reviewing the entire friendship. I had booked to go down on Saturday and stay till Tuesday. Now, I don't even want to breathe the same air as him. What on earth shall I do? If I don't turn up to the funeral, would anyone forgive me? I don't want to risk another vitriolic tongue-lashing. I am too fragile at present.

I have deleted some of my earlier ramblings. Too painful, too personal. Bugger blogs!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Day 7

Spoke to Louise's husband yesterday for the first time in days, as I thought he was angry with me for not coming down to Cornwall. He was out in his garden with friends, planting bulbs and setting seeds for next year. A wonderful, forward-looking thing to do; makes me realise I need to look to the future in some way, too. He told me for the umpteenth time that since moving to the village, he'd learned what it was to live in and have the support of a community, and yet again he pressed me to move there, too. But I couldn't now. Not without L...

My old secretary from IPC Magazines contacted me on Facebook and asked me to be her friend. We gave each other a hard time, probably because I'd had no training in how to deal with a secretary. I'd never had one before and was so used to managing on my own that I didn't know what to do with her and grew impatient, thinking she was interfering. Maybe now I'll get a chance to apologise.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A writer's characters

What if, when a writer dies, all the plots and characters in their head that had never made it onto the printed page were released into the atmosphere? Would they take on a life of their own? Would they implant themselves into other writers' heads and achieve 'life' that way? Idea for a story? Or am I just hallucinating?

I'm certainly not with it. Having put the washing into the machine, I then stood there knowing there was something I had to go next, but unable to remember what it was. (Putting the washing powder in.) I offer to make Mr G a cup of tea, then forget all about it. I make myself one and let it go cold. I pour a glass of water, put it down somewhere, then pour another until every room contains a half-drunk glass. My hair needs washing and I can't be bothered to do it. It seems not to matter. Not when such a colossal thing has happened as Louise's death.

My horoscope for today

Pisces
There may be stress that arises from your desire to escape to someplace very different from where you currently are. But you can become upset when you realize that you cannot just get up and go on a whim. Don't bury your anger or it will only erupt again in a couple of days and it won't likely be as gentle a storm. Find a way to get away, even if it's only with a good book.

How very true!

Forever Autumn (War of the Worlds)

Forever Autumn lyrics
Songwriters: Vigrass, Paul Anthony; Osborne, Gary Anthony; Wayne, Jeff;The summer sun is fading

As the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds will be much colder
Now you're not here

I watch the birds fly South
Across the autumn sky
And one by one they disappear
I wish that I was flying with them
Now you're not here

Like the sun through the trees
You came to love me
Like a leaf on a breeze you blew away

Through autumns golden gown
We used to kick our way
You always loved this time of year
Those fallen leaves lay undisturbed now

'Cause you're not here
'Cause you're not here
'Cause you're not here

Like the sun through the trees
You came to love me
Like a leaf on a breeze you blew away

A gentle rain pours softly on my weary eyes
As if to hide a lonely tear
My life will be forever autumn

'Cause you're not here
'Cause you're not here
'Cause you're not here


© DUCHESS MUSIC CORPORATION; JEFF WAYNE MUSIC (PUBLISHING) LTD;

Friday, 23 October 2009

Day 5


Drank a Sleepy Tea. It worked well until 4.50 am, when I woke up with a start, then started composing a letter to Louise's husband in my head. In it, I thanked him for the happy 13 years he gave Louise and told him how brave he had been, and what a tremendous thing he had done in donating her organs. I know I find him an unsettling, irritating and slightly scary man, who can be pompous and overbearing, and whose passions, when drunk, run out of control, but at heart he is sensitive and creative and, like many artists, somewhat larger than life. Now I must write the letter and get it to him.

I have been asked to write a song for Louise's funeral. A line keeps playing in my head: 'She was the bright moon's daughter.' Perhaps that should be 'she is'. My friend Jacula sent me a link to the Mundania Press website where there is a wonderful tribute to Louise. It's on http://mundaniapress.blogspot.com/2009/10/louise-cooper-1952-2009.html where I found this photo of her just as I remember her best, out in the wind and sun, by the sea.

The pain remains, and I think how alike crying and vomiting are, both uncontrollable, surging up and spilling out. I suppose that really, crying is vomiting up your feelings and spitting them out. I spoke to my friend Penny yesterday and asked her how long it was before she'd stopped crying every day for her best friend Cheryl, who died at the start of the year. "I haven't stopped," she said. "I still cry every day." The beat goes on, the grief goes on, we must go on like the walking wounded that we are.

When we are young, nobody tells us what life is really like. It is set out as a mixture of work and fun. Bereavement doesn't come into the mix. If we were told what we were likely to experience when somebody close dies, it would be too much for our childish minds to comprehend. A child wants pleasure. The ultimate pain is a visit to the dentist. My counsellor thinks lessons in what to expect when somebody close dies should be part of every child's education. Some kids are forced to find out the hard way when they lose a parent or sibling far too early. I was very lucky in not having to experience bereavement until my dad died. I was 47, but still found myself ill-equipped to deal with the emotional pain.

After my mother died when I was 50, which was a worse bereavement as, though I loved my dad, I was closer to my mum, Mum's doctor said, "Don't be surprised if you get all kinds of funny health problems over the next year or so. The physical body grieves as well as the mind." I have never forgotten his wise words. They were so true. Mind affects body. Mind over matter. Sometimes, though, I feel as if my body is controlling my mind. Which comes first, the tears or the thought?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Who's next?

Having lost one very dear friend yesterday, I rang another who had failed to answer any of my texts and found out she had been hit by a car last Friday and is flat on her back in bed, taking very heavy painkillers. I'm off to see her tomorrow. There's also another who hasn't answered texts, emails or phone messages. Please, PLEASE, my friends, don't keel over, be struck by a bus, fall off the roof, get terminal swine flu or whatever. I simply can't take any more days of being prostrate with grief. The face is peeling and the tissues are on their 23rd blow and mop as my special offer Kleenex have almost run out.

In mourning

My precious friend, fantasy author Louise Cooper, died yesterday. There is a huge hole in my life. All the musical and writing projects we'd planned and were looking forward to... But most of all I shall miss her warmth, her wit, her sparkle, her talent, her sensitivity, her affection for me and all the things that we shared for 35 years.

Her husband made the brave decision to donate her organs to people on the waiting list. I think Louise would have wanted this. And it means she will live on for more than just her words.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Louise update

She's back in surgery as there has been more bleeding in her brain and they are having to put in another drain. She also has a chest infection. If you can send healing thoughts, send them now.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

P.S. - even weirder

Just looked at my Google horoscope for today and it says, 'Don't lose yourself to the fear of the unknown to maintain your emotional equilibrium, even when exploring the uncharted shadows of a relationship.' I think I am exploring uncharted shadows all right - on the astral plane or something.

Weird experience

I've had many weird things happen to me in the past, but it's been years since I experienced something as strange as this. It was about 11.45 last night and I was in bed reading, when suddenly I felt as if a long rope-like thing, a kind of umbilical cord, was unfurling from my solar plexus. Miles and miles of it, extending as if through space, but in a downwards direction, and I was suddenly aware that Louise, my ill friend, was attached to the other end - I couldn't see her as she was too far away, but I 'knew' - and I started speaking out loud, saying, "Come back, come back, you can't leave," and tugging on the cord with all my might. Then the 'vision', or anxiety symptom, or whatever it was, faded and I was reading my book again.

I couldn't sleep at all after that. I lay awake till 4.44 (by my clock) then arose, made a mug of tea and watched last week's episode of Emma. But opening and closing doors had woken Mr Grumpy, who kindly got up to make sure I wasn't ill. I probably am. Like my friend Nic suggested, I'm probably suffering from psychosomatic stress symptoms. I know I won't rest easy in my mind until Louise starts responding to familiar voices, till she opens her eyes and looks at people. Maybe I was trying to pull her back into herself...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Omens and symbols


Years ago, when I was 11 and my friend's Russian mother, Katia, was teaching me how to do candle wax readings as she said that I "had the gift," she warned me not to let spooky stuff take over my life as it could drive one mad. She was absolutely right. The more you do of the 'spooky stuff', the more your mind gets attuned to it, so that you see omens and receive predictions and messages 24/7. After a big bout of it in the '70s, I wound down and let it go, as I couldn't carry on being that highly tuned, so that I was like a permanent radio antenna picking up signals.

For twenty years I wrote down my dreams and discovered that I had quite a few predictive ones. I dreamt someone shot the Pope, and somebody did have a pop at him. I had a dream in which Prince Charles was riding a horse that collapsed under him, and that happened, too. But it's completely random. I cannot dream to order. I awoke from deep sleep around 6am today, roused by a number of muffled bangs like distant gunshots, about seven or eight of them, one after the other. I tried to get back to sleep but was suddenly aware that my room was full of light. My mobile, which I keep on all night in case of emergencies, had switched on its light for some reason. By now, I was getting cross, and also a little wary. Was something going on in the ether? Was somebody trying to tell me something?

Finally, I dragged myself out of bed, joined Mr G in the kitchen (he had heard the bangs too), and seeing some dramatic jet trails in the sky, I took my camera out and snapped some pictures at around 7 am. It wasn't until I put them up on my computer screen that I saw that, as well as the giant X in the sky (The X Factor?), I had captured what looked like ghostly fingers strumming guitar strings - or perhaps a harp?

Now, if I had been switched on to omen mode, I would have thought... well, I would have suspected something extremely tragic. Maybe it's a sign that soon I myself will be strumming my heavenly harp or guitar! I hope not. The other night a man came to me in a dream and told me to eat celery to cure my stomach problems. (I forgot to buy some today. Damn!) Perhaps it's time I tuned in again and became the Oracle of Uxbridge.


Sunday, 11 October 2009

My friend Louise: the latest

She's had her brain operation and is now sedated and has been moved down Level 3 intensive care to Level 2. The medics are pleased with her progress. She is sedated but yesterday her husband thought she recognised him, or his voice. I shall get more info tonight. I feel in a strange way joined to her. Part of me is missing, away in Plymouth all wired up to drip stands and catheters. My stomach is horribly upset and so am I. That's what 'gut feelings' are all about, I suppose. Maybe our emotions are seated not in the mind, but in the stomach! I know that every flicker of fear, tension, love, humour or happiness I experience has an instant reaction in my stomach, which seems to jump to it like a soldier on permanent duty. However, that soldier had two Omeprazoles thrown at him yesterday.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Ill friend

Louise, my writer friend from Cornwall and one of my very best pals, had a brain haemorrhage last night and is undergoing surgery as I write this. My thoughts are with her and her husband and I am hoping and praying that she pulls through and will make a full recovery. Please add your healing thoughts to mine.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The scent of sex!

Found this interesting article in the Care2 eNewsletter...


Men: if you want to get your lady in the mood, skip the chemically-infused cologne or pesticide-laden roses, and find some black licorice instead. Yes, the scent of the natural botanical is said to stimulate a woman’s libido more than any other aroma.

A study, conducted by Alan R. Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, revealed that women who were exposed to the scent of licorice had a 13 percent increase in bloodflow to their sexual organs compared to a 1 percent reduction from the scent of men’s cologne. Though the exact reason that licorice arouses women is unclear, Hirsch believes that it is either an unexplained chemical reaction in the brain or olfactory-evoked nostalgia.

Next time you plan an enchanting evening, nevermind that contrived concept that “every woman loves roses” and instead serve your sweetie a cup of organic licorice tea and all-natural licorice candies for dessert. Good luck!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Lack-lolly, stony and skint


This was Google's Word of the Day today.

lolly (noun) Informal term for money.
Synonyms:boodle, clams, dinero, gelt, kale, lettuce, lucre, moolah, pelf, shekels, simoleons, wampum, loot, dough, bread, cabbage, sugar, scratch
Usage:Every time my grandmother comes to visit, she gives me some lolly to spend on toys and candy.


They've missed a few. Where is 'spondooliks'? And how about 'ackers'? Maybe tomorrow they'll give us the alternative words for the state one gets into when one lacks lolly, e.g. 'brassic' (alt. 'boracic'), 'stony', 'bust' and 'skint'. Because I totted up my earnings for last year - less than £10,000 due to companies such as Trojan Publishing (name and shame) not paying me (they owe me two grand), and brassic is just what I am, so now I'm going out to get Brahms and Liszt.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Moon pics




I've been experimenting with my new camera. The streaky one was an example of what happens during a long exposure when you have camera shake. I think it looks quite artistic!

Autumn blues

Don't know if it's the time of year - raindrops plopping from soggy brown leaves, me stuffing unworn strappy tee-shirts and summer dresses into binbags, a general damp chill in the air - but I can't summon up any enthusiasm for anything. I have cancelled the appointment I had to see a gorgeous flat today as an hour and half's journey each way and a long plod in the rain felt like too much bother, especially as none of my friends were free for lunch. The flat looked gorgeous, but when I looked it up on the map, it didn't pass the shopping bag test, i.e. it was much too far from bus routes and tube stations. Wish I'd learned to drive as a teenager. My sister was given the lessons instead as they could only afford to pay for one of us and she was 'the practical one', whereas I was the dreamer who wouldn't have my mind on the road.

So now every property I look at has to involve no more than a ten minute stagger with several loaded bags. My mum always used to grumble about living on a main road and not in the countryside, but she had butcher, baker, chemist, bank and mini supermarket right opposite the house. In fact, damn, damn, damn, why ever did we sell it? I could be moving in right now!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The last rays of summer


Next door's Bengal cat, Chimimi, mother of their other three beautiful felines, is quite well camouflaged amongst the drooping leaves of our cherry tree. (Not one cherry this year. Mr G pruned them severely last autumn and this year they developed leaf curl and were colonised by loads of ladybirds.) Chimimi is a fiendishly bright little cat. She can get into anything. We came down one morning and found that she had opened the breadbin and was asleep on a loaf. I was stroking her this morning, stopped to sip my tea and she gently patted my hand. I stroked her again, and told Mr Grumpy, who didn't believe me, until I stopped stroking and he saw her pat my hand again. No doubt about what she wanted!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Catch-up


I'm keeping my fingers crossed and saying this in a whisper, but my tooth appears to be settling down. It's less painful than it's been in six months. I think I want to marry my dentist. Shame he has a wife already. He's Greek, around 50 and while he's operating inside my gob, I try to count the hairs on his extremely hirsute arms. He used a machine I've never had used on my before, which fizzes and goes beep. I think it was to cauterise the root canals and kill the infection. He said he would have to do it all over again before he could think about doing the crown. Another hour and a half of hair-counting and marvelling at their colour and springiness. They are all I can see as my specs have to be removed in order to place the safety goggles on my schnozz.

Had a visit from my oldest friend Claire, from Liverpool. We started primary school on the same day, she lived half a mile or so up the road from me and we were friends until our paths parted and she went to Calder High and I to the Liverpool Institute High School for Girls, Blackburne House which involved taking the bus into the centre of the city every day. I would far rather have gone to her school, but I won a Margaret Bryce Smith scholarship that entailed having to go to Blackburne House. (On the old photo from Booker Avenue County Primary School, Claire is fifth from right, second row in. Can you spot me? And have I posted this pic before? Can't remember!) It's great that we are still pals after all these years. She is now the proud grandma of three granddaughters, the last one born just three months ago. We went on a walk through the local woods today, dodging scarily huge hornets. No way will I be going back in there in a hurry! These things were like flying yellow chickens they were so big.

I had half a plan to visit the Regent St Festival today but another friend who was planning to go decided to sit in the garden instead as the weather is so gorgeous. Think I shall don my shorts and do the very same thing.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The woe continues

Clambered bravely onto dentist's chair yesterday, full of bravado and weak jokes, but my jocular mood wore off when he stretched a sheet of green latex across my face (for a moment I thought he'd turned into a CSI-style crazy murderer), cut a hole in it for my nose, another for my tooth and stretched it tight across my mouth on metal skewers so that I looked like Hannibal Lecter posing for a spearmint gum ad. It was, he said, to prevent the chemicals he was using affecting the teeth on either side. I think it was to prevent me coming out with any more lame jokes and pathetic whimpers.

The tooth was reopened and re-excavated. He found more infection and discovered the Uxbridge dentist had perforated the root. He told me my root canals were very twisty and scelerotic, i.e. closed up. He had to twist and screw his cleaning rod into it. Finally, after he'd had to give me two extra shots of novocaine, he refilled it and told me not to bite on it.

Unfortunately, when I got home and the anaesthetic had worn off, I discovered that part of the filling was connecting with my bottom teeth every time I closed my mouth, resulting in a nasty ja of pain. Now I can't chew, can't eat and can only slurp soup. Bang goes my proposed trip to Cornwall next week.Will this nightmare every end? The dentist says if this treatment doesn't work, he has a Plan B. I hope it is to take the bloody thing out at last.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Aaaargh!

My stomach is churning, my knees are knocking. I'm about to start on the hour and a half journey to my old dentist in Victoria, to get the tooth that has plagued me all year properly seen to at last. I am such a coward when it comes to dentists. Not as much as Mr G, though. He hasn't seen a dentist since 1964, when he had some treatment in gaol, without an anaethetic, that left the nerve exposed and put him in such agony that now he prefers to lance his own abcesses and swill his mouth out with hydrogen peroxide, and pull his own teeth with a pair of pliers. Now, that would be fine in the Australian outback or on the Mongolian Steppes, but in London, where there are practices that specialise in nervous patients and will knock you right out if necessary (oh, why aren't I going to one of those?), his behaviour seems certifiably barking.

I'll post an update later, when I shall have either half a tooth left, or none at all.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Fall falls...

The 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' has begun in earnest (who's he?) and most of my summer clothes have remained on the hangers and in the plastic storage box for the third summer running. They used to get lots of use when I went to Turkey twice a year but now, they are a sad collection of strappy wisps smelling faintly of Ambre Solaire and Hawaiian Tropic. Oh, what memories sniffing them brings back!

My friend Jill has a couple of bags of my cast-offs in her loft and wanted me to do a car boot with her yesterday. But I have a deadline to finish a job and my eyes were glued to the screen all day as I electronically annotated 221 pages of a novel written by someone who had never heard of quotation marks, with the result that all the dialogue was mingled in one huge chunk and I had no idea at all of who was saying what. I am also five pages into the report I have to provide for the literary consultancy.

On Jill's return, she rang from her canalside home in Camden and announced that she had made £45 selling beauty products that she gets as freebies through her work as a health and beauty writer. "How much did my stuff make?" I asked, holding my breath, knowing I had original Betty Barclay dresses and Monsoon skirts in my bags. "Seven quid," was the reply, "and you need to donate £4 of that towards the pitch money." Thank God I didn't make the 25 mile, hour and a half trek by various tubes and buses to Gospel Oak and waste a day when I could be working, all for the sake of three measly squid!

Today, I have the last 100 pages to plough through. And Mr Grumpy has just had a go at me for grumbling because his friend and her children are on their way round and I dared to protest politely that I'm trying to work.

"I spend half my life trying to fit around your work," he groused. Well, what does he expect? I'm trying to earn a living still. I'm a working writer and editor and he is on disability benefit and we have a complete clash of lifestyles. I am outraged when people bring kids round and disturb my working hours, but this is his house, as he keeps on reminding me, and he can see who he wants when he wants. Yet another reminder that if I am ever to write another book, I have to move out.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Memories of a gentler age

I'd been to view a cottage and was standing on a bridge looking at the ducks when an elderly (even more elderly than me!) gentleman approached. I made a remark, he replied and we got talking. It turned out that, like me, he had been born in Liverpool so we got talking about all the changes there had been. There was a shopping trolley in the water (even in the deepest countryside I have seen rusty shopping trolleys in rivers, lakes and streams: do they go on their holidays and feel they have to have a swim?), and the old man informed me that a pair of swans used to live in that part of the river and some local kids had used the trolley to trap and kill the female, after which the male swam up and down, up and down for days, and eventually pined and died.

"You don't want to live around here," he said. "Too many thugs." This was a chap in, I guess, his late seventies, who had spent some years in the army. A man who had been brought up in the Liverpool slums but who had principles and a strong sense of fairness. I realised that we had both been brought up in gentler times, when people respected one another and before every house contained a screen saturated with violence that numbed and distorted the sense of right and wrong, that trivialised death - that, in reality, censored death. On the news we are told that viewers might find some scenes distressing, but the scenes of bodies being carried out of collapsed buildings, or lying in the street following a shooting, are nothing compared to the gory close-ups shown on CSI.

The trouble with death on TV series is that it seems quick and easy. No agonising writhings and screams, no long-drawn-out suffering. It's unreal. It's a fiction. As the 'feelies' mentioned in 1984 have yet to be invented, there is no way for a would-be thug to experience the death agonies of the victims of violence. Death has become a game. Kicking someone to death looks on TV like kicking a football. I know I shall be accused of being a fascist, but I can't help thinking that the teenage gangs who stab people to death should be forced to spent some time in Afghanistan facing a real enemy and knowing that this time it could be their turn to have their brains splattered on the pavement. Maybe, faced with such grim reality that's happening to them for a change, they would re-learn the value and preciousness of life. Or is this too much to hope for and today's youth have been brutalised out of all reason?

Monday, 14 September 2009

What is it?


Is it corn, wheat, barley or what? It must have sprouted from some birdseed and has rooted itself in a crack in the paving, all alone, no fellow ears of corn/barley/whatever to protect it from the buffeting winds. It managed to survive all the kids tearing around during Saturday night's party. One brave little plant. Can anyone name it?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The night they invented Champagne


Christmas 2007 I was given a present of a bottle of the above. "Aha," thought I. "I'll keep this for a special occasion, like when I sell my next book, or buy my next house."

In the intervening 21 months, neither happened. Fed up with waiting for a special occasion, I promised my friend Joan that I would share the bottle with her for her birthday. Which was in June. And it's now September. Yes, I know. But finally last night we got together at our mutual friend Gerry's house and, as Gerry doesn't drink, Joan and I shared the bottle. It was excellent. I developed motormouth, Joan read us a short story she'd just written and I stayed the night on a bed with a divinely soft, squidgy memory foam mattress. It and the champagne were bliss. I drifted home on a sunny morning and have decided that when I do finally have a special occasion worth celebrating, I shall buy another bottle.

Of course it is Mr Grumpy's birthday this Saturday and he's having a party. Another reason to drink my champagne, before anyone else got their thieving hands on it. They can jolly well drink the Sainsbury's wine box I've bought, or the beers provided by Mr G. Or the pond. So there!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Baking Soda

The Care2 website whose e-cards I often use, send me their newsletters. Today's contained the following suggestions for different uses of baking soda, alias Bicarbonate of Soda, which has been my companion for decades as it's the only thing that eases my hyperacidity and calms down my cystitis symptoms.

* * *

HAIR

  • Remove buildup. Mix a small palm-full of baking soda to your shampoo to remove buildup from conditioners, mousses and hairsprays.
  • Dry shampoo. No time for a shampoo? Baking soda can be used as a dry shampoo when your hair is oily. Sprinkle some on your hair, comb through then quickly fluff your hair with a blow dryer.
  • Chlorine-damaged tresses. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda with 1 pint warm water.
  • Combs and brushes. Remove product and oil buildup by soaking your utensils in a bowl of warm water with about 3 tablespoons of baking soda. You can also add a splash of bleach.

SKIN

  • Facial Exfoliant. In the palm of your hand, mix some baking soda with your facial cleanser to make a gentle exfoliant. Use circular motions to apply gently then rinse as usual for very soft skin.
  • Rough skin. This also works for the rough skin on elbows and feet. Make a thick paste with baking soda and water (about 3 parts baking soda to one part water) and scrub away.
  • Shaving. A solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda in a cup of water works as a pre-shave product of aftershave rinse for men with sensitive skin.

MOUTH

  • Tooth polish and whitener. Baking soda toothpastes have been long-time shelf staples for a reason. The baking soda works to freshen breathe and whiten and polish teeth. Dip a damp toothbrush in baking soda and brush away. My personal twist, dip a toothbrush with toothpaste in baking soda for mouth cleaning times two.
  • Toothbrush. Soak your tooth brush in a mixture of water and baking soda and let it soak overnight.

NAILS

  • Soft cuticles. Scrubbing your nails or toenails with a nailbrush (or old toothbrush) dipped in baking soda will soften and gently exfoliate cuticles.


Saturday, 5 September 2009

Phew!

My wardrobe is safe for the moment. Nobody was wearing anything from it in last night's EastEnders episode.

I booked an appointment at The Mole Clinic in London and went along yesterday. To while away the tube journey and take my mind off my tube terror (fear of being stuck underground for hours while dying to go to the loo) I dipped into The Secret. I had deliberately avoided reading it when it was trendy and everyone was spouting its wisdom and writing their wishes on pieces of paper so that the universe would do their bidding. Then I saw it cheap on Amazon and decided to give it a go. I found it surprisingly inspiring. I had a nasty stomach ache so I sent out some positive thoughts, telling myself, the universe and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, that I didn't have a stomach ache and felt perfectly well. Coincidence or not, ten minutes later my stomach pains went (and no, I hadn't farted!)

I also sent out the positive thought that all my freckles and moles were fine and this turned out to be the case. Yes, even the large and ever expanding one on my leg that had gone knobbly round the edges. (The mole, not my leg.)

They are extremely thorough. I had to strip down to my knickers and bra then a young Aussie lass with a close-up lens with a light on it started with my hairline, went all over my face and behind my ears, then systematically checked me from head to toe. Not even the soles of my feet were overlooked. She tweaked my bra strap out of the way and looked beneath than. However, there was one vast area she didn't explore: my bum. Is that because nobody has ever got skin cancer on their derriere?

There were three small new black dots which I have to keep an eye on, and something on my forehead that might be the start of a scary-sounding but quite benign basal cell carcinoma. She took close-up photos of that to send off to my GP. But I got the all clear, bought a bottle of wine on the way home to celebrate and drank half of it last night.

I also wished for a £ six million win on the Euromillions, but no thrilling email has arrived so far. (I buy my tickets on line and every so often I get a Good News About Your Ticket email to tell me I've won a tenner - or, this week, £2 for my Lucky Number.) Still, the day has only just begun so there's still plenty of time for the news to arrive, as I sit here polishing my copy of The Secret.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

EastEnders stole my clothes!






It's happened again! No sooner do I start wearing something than a character on EastEnders appears in the same garment. It's as if there is a tunnel at the back of my wardrobe connected to the TV studio and every so often they go in and help themselves.

It started with an M&S t-shirt (see first pic.) I wore it, then Jane appeared on screen in it. Next, Stacey's mum Jean appeared in a top of mine (the purple one). Now, it's my black and white cotton dressing-gown that I bought specially for holidays as it's so light and folds down to nothing. Zainab's wearing it! Sadly, the younger, slimmer characters like Dawn Swann and Chelsea never borrow any of my clothes.

Now, EastEnders characters aren't famous for their good fashion sense so does this mean I have rock-bottom taste in clothes? (Perhaps...) Or does it just mean that, like most of us who are not blessed with millions in the bank, they shop at the high street chainstores? Yes, that must be it - phew! But I do wish they would wash and iron my clothes for me after borrowing them!

Monday, 31 August 2009

New camera






Mr Grumpy bought me a Fuji digital SLR camera for my birthday (he paid for most of it and I think I contributed £30). I hadn't used it because there was no manual and I didn't have a clue how to work it. Now he has bought himself the same model - with manual - and as he is far more patient than I am, he has read it and is now teaching me what buttons to press. This afternoon I practised with the macro lens, photographing flowers, then had a go with the zoom, focusing on a squirrel nicking nuts from the bird feeder.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The hair!


I thought I was getting streaks, but the hairdresser informed me I was having highlights. They were a little muted, not as bright as I thought they would be. Subtle, but classy and the cut was great. But can I reproduce the style at home? I wish! I bought hair straighteners, three different varieties of heat protecting and hair straightening spray, a special brush, but my hair still goes its own way, and wiggles and waves. Now I realise why. You need two free hands to create a style, and you need to be able to see round the back of your head. Short of popping my eyeballs out and ferrying them round the back on a spoon, I can't think of a solution. So much for the new sophisticated me. The old hippy refuses to go quietly!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Another sleepless night

Didn't make it to Cornwall today. Had indigestion last night, took a Zantac, turned in around 11.30, took half a Piriton which usually gets me off to sleep, but I was still lying awake when I heard Mr Grumpy get up at 5.30. (He didn't sleep well, either, as it was so hot.)

I then dozed off around 6 and finally dragged myself out of bed around 10.15, absolutely knackered. Far too tired to face the trek to Cornwall by train. This means this week is out of the question as I don't want to be traveling back over Bank Holiday weekend and the hotel I wanted to stay in is full over the weekend, anyway. My friends have offered to put me up and they are very kind but I much prefer a hotel room where I can sleep when I want, even have a kip in the afternoon, rather than doss on a mattress on the floor in their wooden house which, though gorgeous, is completely non-soundproof! I'll get there sometime... Yawn.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Can I trust the mail?

Have just sold two more items, a Monsoon T-shirt (very pretty but a trifle too small) and a brown linen dress (looks like a monk's habit and it's been bought by a bloke!). I shall post them tomorrow and cross my fingers. I've asked both buyers to let me know when the parcels arrive. I must remember to ask for some claim forms at the Post Office. Bet it will take months to get refunds. It's just not fair, especially as I paid the extra for recorded delivery.

I've spent the last two days doing 'mini appraisals' ( a page on each) of seven different writers' first chapters. A couple of them were really good. It's so hard to get accepted for publication now. It was probably easier in Victorian times when publishers didn't have 'marketing slots' into which books had to fit. Then, a writer could write in his or her own style, with no-one barking 'show, don't tell' in their ear and asking whether the book was aimed at Level 6, Read Alones, or what the genre was. Why, oh why, is nobody allowed just to sit down and write what they want to write? Or rather, they can, but without doing their homework they stand precious little chance of getting published, especially if their book is 'cross genre', which is rather like being a literary transvestite. (Come to think of it, I know one or two of those!)

I may go to Cornwall for a few days tomorrow, if I don't feel too worn out.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Ebay Blues

I have old some super items recently including a gorgeous devore velvet jacket and a pair of brand new Fitflops. I posted them on 3rd August and 12th August respectively and neither have turned up. Both have vanished in the post - recorded delivery, too - meaning that I have had to refund more than £50 to the disappointed buyers.

I am gutted. I can't afford to lose that amount of money, on top of the £2000 that Scarlet Magazine owe me for my horoscope column (they haven't paid since February) and the £800 I am owed by other people I have done work for. It's the last straw. So I have decided that as from a week's time when the current crop of items will need relisting, I am shutting up shop. It's a great shame because I've really enjoyed it and it gave me a chance to make a little money out of my overstuffed wardrobe instead of just giving stuff away. But sadly, Royal Mail cannot be relied on. They have let me down big-time. B******s!!!

RSPCA Fox Treatment

For the full story, go to my other blog, www.hillingdonwildlife.blogspot.com

In a nutshell, the RSPCA will supply free a drug called Ivermectin to cure fox mange. So if you see a manky, limping fox with gummy eyes (not to be confused with a human teenager), give your local RSPCA a ring.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Foxheimers

Went to bed around midnight, lay there for five hours unable to sleep, and at 5.02 am I got up. Stars still sequinned the sky and a lone jet stream trailed past Venus in the East. Gradually, as the sky lightened and developed morning colours, palest blue, peach, robins started tick-tick-ticking, then the warning 'chook' of the blackbirds. A large hedgehog trotted past me, acros the lawn and into the bushes. I was sitting outside with a cup of tea and flinched as a big bat flittered and swooped just over my head, followed a few minutes later by another smaller one, probably a pipistrelle.

By now my feet were cold - I was in dressing gown and slippers - and I decided to take my tea back to bed. However, we have a cat flea invasion and no sooner did I get back to my bedroom than I got nibbled. I returned to the kitchen for the flea spray and encountered the mangy fox, who was staggering around the deck. It fell off the edge twice, stumbled onto the pond netting, went round in circles, stuck a front paw in Flad's drinking trough (an old plastic tool box) and generally looked in a very bad way.

Thinking it was about to flake out in front of my eyes, I went upstairs and woke Mr G - who, it transpired, didn't need waking because he had been awake since 4 am (though he went to bed at ten so at least he got a decent few hours' sleep). It's now 7.15 and we have spent the whole time watching the fox's erratic behaviour. I threw some bread out. It picked it up, carried round the side of the house and dropped it there, came back and stared at us. I put out some cat food. It sniffed at it, went away, came back and ate some, then walked in aimless circles. I put out the bird's bread, having torn it into small chunks, and it decided to eat that. But over and over it would stand there staring at us, almost as if it wanted us to help it.

I wondered about ringing he RSPCA, but if it hadn't actually collapsed, there wouldn't be anything they could do. I don't think the poor thing is long for this world, though. It's definitely lost the plot. Foxheimers, perhaps? It's very distressing to watch. At least it isn't Olive. It doesn't have her habits and its tail is longer. I think it could be Kinky, Olive's sister. Wonder if Olive is OK? I'd like to think of her somewhere across the farm fields, rearing a litter of cheeky, curious cubs just like her.