Every time I see pink cherry blossom, I am reminded of the 1958 movie starring Dirk Bogarde and Yoko Tani, The Wind Cannot Read, in which the song Sayanara, with its line, 'No more we shall see pretty cherry blossom on the tree, reduced me to tears.
This morning, though, it looked more like confetti on Mr G's front drive and car. No spring wedding is likely here, though!
I rang the husband of my great friend Louise Cooper, who died 17 months ago. I ring him from time to time, to see how he's doing. "I had nothing when I met Louise," he told me. "I was divorced, I was in debt, I was drinking far too much, and now I own a house, but what use is it without my lovely wife and best friend to share it with?"
He is floundering. I thought I was getting better. We each admitted that 'the blackness had lifted', which is how it felt for both of us. But then he told me something he had never told me before and it's opened up the wound of grief all over again. He said that for weeks before she died, Louise had been complaining of severe headaches and feeling of pressure inside her head, but had flatly refused to go to the doctor, deciding 'it was nothing'. A week before she died, she suddenly went into overdrive, madly paying bills and tidying up household loose ends - "It was almost as if she knew she wasn't going to be here much longer," her husband said.
Louise's first cousin who she loved to bits died the same way, of a brain haemorrhage, a year before Louise. He was sitting having breakfast when he suddenly keeled over and was gone. He'd had no warning symptoms so nothing could have been done to help him. However, Louise had had symptoms and since speaking to an expert on brain injuries, strokes and haemorrhages, I've discovered that if she had gone to her GP straight away, she could have had a scan and then been operated on, like my brother-in-law was, to release the pressure and stop the bleed. My lovely Louise, my sister in all but DNA, could still have been alive.
I shall say nothing to C, her husband. He is comforting himself with the knowledge that nothing could have been done to save her. Yes, perhaps the GP might have overlooked the potential seriousness of her symtoms and told her to take two paracetamols and come back if she didn't feel any better, but I think that as she attended the surgery so rarely (like my mother, who didn't go for over 20 years, and Mr Grumpy who, before his brain haemorrhage, hadn't seen his GP for 14 years), the doctor would have known right away that she hadn't presented with a trivial complaint.
I am now of the firm belief that she could have lived, and I feel terribly, heartbreakingly sad. We were more than just friends; we were singing and songwriting partners who had performed in public together; we were writing buddies who swapped ideas, contributed to one another's books and critiqued each other's plots; and we loved each other so much that we both said that if ever we were to turn lesbian, it would be with each other. The Louise-shaped hole in my life will never be filled - and now I have this knowledge to torture myself with. She could still have been here. Oh Louise, you silly, silly girl. Why, oh why, didn't you go to the doctor's?
C says that the brain haemorrhage happened at a low spot in Louise's life, when Penguin turned down a trilogy that they had been about to commission, and she felt depressed about her future as a writer. Yet she and I were forming plans to start a business and write a musical together and I was about to rent a cottage round the corner to her; didn't she look forward to all that? Or was depression another of the symptoms of what was happening physiologically, rather than psychologically, inside her head?
We shall never know. C is waiting to see a counsellor. I am still trying to find a place to live and get my life back together, away from the constraints of living with Mr G in a place I hate. In May, Louise would have been 59. I still can't bear to erase her name from my Birthday Book, or from my address book. I still have loads of emails she sent me, which give me a shock every time I see her name on them, as if she is sending them from beyond the grave. I shall keep them forever, with their wit and warmth, and gentle, sisterly chidings and advice. But I haven't got her and not having her feels like living without spring or summer, without sunlight or warm breezes, without flowers or leaves or reflections of blue sky and white clouds in a pond. I know I am straying into purple prose territory here, but what the heck? It's how I feel.
Tomorrow is another day. Oh, for the power to choose which day I wanted. It would be one several years ago, when Louise and I went rock-pooling in Trevaunance Cove. When I find the photos, I shall upload them. That day, we were truly happy and spent the evening drinking wine, playing the guitar and singing till the wee small hours. Yes, I'd like that day again, please.
I am a non-person. I do not exist. Mr G has refused to include me on the census form because, although I have lived here for nearly 6 years, it has not been 'official'; in other words, as far as the authorities are concerned, he is the only one who lives here.
Ten years ago, at the time of the last census, I was also living here between property purchases, and he has just told me he didn't put me down on that census form, either. So for all these years I have been unable to vote, and if anyone in the future is trying to trace me via genealogy, they won't be able to find me anywhere. No address = no existence. They'll think I was dead. Or maybe living abroad; that's the better option. In, fact, I feel so angry with him, I just might do that!
Mr G has decided to revive the pond. It was looking quite nice with a ton of gravel in it and the plants replaced, but the water kept disappearing and he guessed there was a hole in the liner somewhere underneath all that gravel. So he bought a new pond liner on Ebay and got to work. Here it is in its various stages.
First of all, he took out some of the gravel he'd already put in.
Then he lined it with fleece, making a miniature Himalayas.
Next, the liner went in. It took three hours to fill it up with water, then finally he repositioned the plants. Today, he has trimmed the edges of the fleece and liner and is edging the pond with decking. He is adamant that he's not getting any more fish, though. Wonder if he'd notice if I sneaked a couple in?
I posted one of these on Facebook but couldn't resist showing some more of them here. I was hanging out the washing and turned round to find next door's car, Chi Mimi (or Chimimi, I'm not sure which), in the basket, playing with the clothespegs. She is such a sweetie. I've just taken some more of her mountaineering on the workshop roof and falling out of a bush!
Have had a painful stomach for three days. Last night I ate some scrambled egg and was in bed by 9.15pm. But I woke up this morning feeling as if I'd been trampled by a herd of elephants in my sleep. Every muscle and joint is aching, my head is banging, my neck and back are stiff and I am dragging myself around. Then I remembered Mr G's step-daughter came round last weekend complaining of similar symptoms and now she's off work with a virus. Nice of her to pass it on! She works in a school so is always picking up bugs.
Now for something funny. I haven't been able to wear a bra all week because I have developed some itchy spots on my chest and the skin on my ribcage has gone super-sensitive and feels bruised and sore. (Hope it's not shingles.) Just now, I was coming upstairs and needed to carry a mug of coffee, my phone and 50 padded envelopes which the postman has just delivered. I use them when I sell things on Ebay. It was one of those occasions when you need at least three hands, but being one short, I used my hands for envelopes and mug and, not having pockets in my clothes, I shoved the phone down my bra.
Except I wasn't wearing one. The phone slithered down to waistband level. I nudged it with my elbow and it shot down my velvet jogging bottoms and out onto the floor. I left it there, dumped the rest of the stuff upstairs, then went down and retrieved it. Sitting here typing, I felt an odd sensation, as if something was tickling my left nipple. The 'something' moved. With a cry of horror, I shoved a hand up my sweatshirt and felt a 'tail'. A mouse? Up my jumper? I gave its 'tail' a tweak and out fell my mobile phone case. The phone must have slid out of it and left it behind as it went on its travels. I don't think I'm having a very good day!
Apologies to those who have already seen this photo on Facebook but I couldn't resist mentioning it here as well. I paid a tenner for dinner and a showing of The King's Speech at the local theatre, the Beck in Hayes, Middlesex. I could have paid £2.50 and just seen the film but I thought... oh, I don't know, dinner sounds good.
I arrived to find tables set out, all with name cards on them. I had to find mine and of course I was the only lone person at a table full of friends who had come together. I feel very self-conscious in situations like this. I hate eating alone at restaurants and thought I would have been able to pick a seat in a hidden corner somewhere. But still, there I was, I couldn't do anything about it.
Dinner was supposed to be sausage, mash and peas. It turned up and when I saw there was only one pea, I fell about laughing. So did the two ladies who were still waiting for theirs, one of whom got one pea and the other two. The sausages were disgusting. I ate three quarters of one, then filled up with gravy and potatoes. Dessert was three blobs of ice-cream, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, without even a strawberry on top. There was no coffee or tea, you had to buy those separately. The food was an utter rip-off and I shall never make that mistake again... except I was told that at the matinee, the food had been scampi and chips. That sounded tempting until I realised it was probably scampi and chip. Or even scamp and chip!!!
While I was there, I bought myself a ticket to see Steeleye Span on the 4th. I feel a lonely saddo, a Jilly-no-mates, going to shows and meals on my own, but as Mr G flatly refuses to accompany me anywhere and I have no friends in the area, it's a case of getting used to it or sitting in front of the telly every night in mind-numbing boredom, just like my parents used to do. I think going to things on my own is preferable to that. And who knows, maybe one day I shall make a local friend. In fact, I intend going to the monthly folk club on Thursday. I'm rather partial to bearded folkies with guitars. Hm. That thought has perked me up! Better dig out my kaftan and sandals.
You've seen photos of Flad. He is a feral who will NOT be picked up. And as for stuffing him into a cat carrier, forget it. Mr G tried once and still has the scars up his arms even though he wore thick leather gauntlets. With this in mind, Jacula sent me this card which was Flad to a T!
My sister painted the ginger cat on this card. "One of my early efforts and not very good," she apologised. Well, I think it's wonderful!
I am having such a lovely birthday. Lots of cards and gorgeous pressies - in the photo I am wearing a lovely white cotton shirt from Joe Brown that my sister bought me, along with a caftan and some harem trousers - and at lunchtime I am going out for a special facial, a present from Daphne, my lovely massage therapist. God, do my aching shoulders need her magic fingers!
Dear Mr Grumpy got up at 5 am to bake me some birthday fairy cakes, which he iced, covered in little icing stars and put candles in two of them. The one with the green candle had a note with it to say it had been made by Flad and he had iced it with his tail! It's the first time ever that I've eaten cake for breakfast.
I was planning a party on Saturday but hardly anyone was free so instead, I am going on a writing workshop in Covent Garden on how to write good description, given by Siobhan Curran, author of the prizewinning Dear Dylan. In the evening, a couple of people are dropping in for drinks and on Monday I have treated myself to a special showing of The King's Speech, with a dinner thrown in. So I have lots to look forward to and feel very lucky indeed.
(PS: the box did contain more jewellery - a lovely set of silver pendant and earrings in a Celtic knot design. I shall have to have my right ear pierced again before I can wear them, though. It's healed up. The left one never does, just the right one. Strange, isn't it?)
I have been a lousy blogger lately. It's not because I'm lazy but because I am plodding my way through a doorstep of a manuscript - 164,000 words - that I have to write an appraisal of and point out all the mistakes. It's exhausting work. I'm only 1/3 of the way through and have already written 3000 words about it. No wonder I have no energy left to write my own books. The arthritis in my fingers is so painful, too. Still, I shall give myself a day off to open my birthday presents tomorrow. And at lunchtime I am being treated to a facial and hope to emerge looking ten years younger. (Fat chance of that, but... you never know. Even ten months younger would be a bonus!)
Today's tsunami that has devastated coastal Japan has made me reflect on my last but one post. Despite all the scientific predicting devices, nothing is as strong as natural forces and there is precious little one can do when an offshore earthquake happens without warning, as this one did. I have been in tears watching the images of that unstoppable tide, flooding the fields with the wreckage of homes, cars, even ships, like so much matchwood. My heart goes out to the families of those who have been killed, and who have lost so much.
I have just finished reading The Ides of March, by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, a gripping chronicle of the events leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar (code-name The Eagle). In vain do messengers brave the hazards of ice, snow and floods to warn Caesar's supporters that 'The Eagle is in danger'; when a messenger finally arrives, wounded and half dead having survived a murderous attack, he croaks out his vital message only to be told, 'The Eagle is dead.' Imagine how that man must have felt, having risked his life only to discover he had arrived too late.
Lying in bed last night, mentally reviewing the book, I couldn't help thinking 'If only the Romans had invented the telephone, there would have been no need for these men's heroic struggles. A couple of phone calls and Caesar could have been whisked to safety and Brutus and his fellow conspirators clapped behind bars.
Then I got to thinking, what other modern inventions could have changed the course of history? (This is by no means a new thought, of course; this game has been played many, many times, but never before by me!) If a cure for TB had been found in 1820 instead of the 1940s, John Keats could have gone on to enjoy decades more of writing his wonderful, sensuous poetry instead of dying in 1821 aged only 25. If modern machinery to record seismic activity had been around just over 2,000 years ago, could the residents of Pompeii have been evacuated in time?
If you had a time machine and could take a modern, scientific or medical invention back in time to help an individual or society as a whole, or to stop a catastrophe occurring, what would you choose?
When you've owned houses, it's very hard to go back to living in a flat again. Unfortunately, I made some bad decisions in the past, selling places at the wrong time and failing to buy again before prices went soaring up. And forget about depressed property prices. In London, prices have actually risen.
I decided to look for a flat that was as much like a house as possible. Own front door, own garden and preferably on two floors. I found one in Bounds Green, North London (very north, teetering on the edge of the A-Z) and set off eagerly to see it today. It was a short walk from the tube, on a very main road but set well back with grass and trees between the houses and the road.
It had its own front door, but once you'd opened it, you had to climb some steps then open another door at a sharp angle to the left. Getting large furniture in would be most difficult. Once inside, the lounge was lovely, large and light (19 ft x 15 ft). There was a very small bathroom - no shower and no room for one over the bath as the ceiling sloped. The kitchen was very poky. The dining room/second bedroom was fine with a view over gardens. Upstairs was an attic room but as they hadn't built a dormer, you could only stand up in the very centre, yet the Velux windows were set too high for me to open and close them. I'd have had to stand on a chair. The couple told me proudly how everything was fire-proofed and all the floors sound-proofed. It must have cost them a lot of money to convert the loft but honestly, what a waste of space and cash when they could have done a proper job and made a decent, usable room out of it. I banged my head twice and I'm only 5 ft 4 ins!
On the way back to the station, I passed a crazy woman ranting and raving at her companion (carer?) and an old, toothless man sitting on a wall begging for everyone who passed by to spare him a £1. Blimey, it used to be 'spare change'; talk about inflation! The whole area seemed depressed and down-at-heel yet a 3-bed tiny cottage there costs almost £400,000!!!
As it was a two-hour trip each way (I couldn't get to see the cottage I was supposed to see at 1.3o because the owner had gone out and the agent didn't have a key - honestly, how do agents like that survive? Imagine if I'd travelled for two hours to see that one property and been told that when I arrived? I'd have joined the crazy lady and shrieked and raved!), by the time I got home a whole day had been wasted. Well, perhaps not quite... At least I now know that I do NOT want to live in Bounds Green.
Now, this is just what I need for my new flat (if I ever find one). It's called the Bibliochaise. Only trouble is, it costs $7000 so I'd have to win the lottery first. Or... a second-hand armchair and some cheap bookcases from Ikea? I wonder...
Having read my way through all the ancient Roman detective stories I can find - e.g. Stephen Saylor, Lindsey Davis - I am now going through a phase of modern crime novels. Here are three I have read recently and thoroughly enjoyed. What are you reading at the moment?
Tana French - The Likeness. Detective Cassie Maddox gets a creepy feeling when she encounters a dead girl who looks remarkably like herself. So it seems only natural that she should take the victim's place and infiltrate her friends in order to find out what happened to her. The plot is very subtle - almost too subtle in places - but French is not just a good crime writer, supplying great plots and memorable characters, but also has an excellent literary style, with good, crunchy images and a voice that is all her own.
Belinda Bauer - Blacklands. I read an interesting magazine article about Bauer and promptly rushed to Amazon and bought this, her first novel, as her second one has only just come out in unaffordable hardback. I was glad that I did, as the plot (young boy seeking to know where his dead uncle is buried starts writing to the jailed serial killer he believes was responsible, and receiving increasingly cryptic replies) is atmospheric, creepy and truly compelling, with a fantastic, bloody climax.
Colin Cotterill - The Coroner's Lunch. I love quirky novels set in unusual places and you can't get much more unusual than politically turbulent Laos in 1976. You'd also be hard pushed to find a more unusual crime-solver than 72-year-year old coroner, Dr Siri Paiboun, with his warped, cynical, yet oddly endearing way of looking at life.
Two tons of gravel were delivered the other day and today, as it's not raining (makes a change!), Mr Grumpy has set about shovelling it into his ancient wheelbarrow, which has various holes in it made by rust (or metal maggot, as Mr G calls it), trundling it through the garage and into the back garden, where he is emptying it into the pond. To see him doing this after suffering two major strokes is truly amazing. Even 18 months ago he could hardly use his right hand.
At the weekend, he drained all the water out of the pond and removed the large frog that you can see in the Hillingdon Wildlife blog. The pond was originally five feet deep; not intentionally, but a lad ran amok with the mechanical digger and dug a far bigger hole than was necessary. Now Mr G is filling it up and the plan is to make it only two feet deep so it is much more manageable. He is debating whether to keep it as a wildlife pond for frogs and dragonflies, or get more fish. I bet the fish idea will win him over in the end. He does miss his big old finny pets, some of whom he'd had for 22 years. And I miss seeing them gliding gracefully around, and coming up for a stroke, a tickle and a pellet of fish food.