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.