ale poured out of an ugly hand

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Get an arse on, Mary, before he comes round.  
Seven gins gives us thirty minutes. 
Get the car keys and his wallet and let's scarper.

At University, I had a boyfriend with a family house in Cornwall and an Alfa Romeo.  It was a silly relationship, based on drama and mutual disappointment, the sort you can only indulge in when you are young and have the hours to fritter.  Blinded by my love for Daphne Du Maurier, I accepted an invitation for a few days in Cornwall.

I did not drive and he thought I should.  On the way, we stopped half-way across Bodmin Moor at a deserted airfield, for me to take the wheel of his pride and joy.

More fool him.

After the lesson, which left us both shaking and hissing in inaudible fury, we stopped at Jamaica Inn. It's a low stone building that appears unexpectedly at the side of the road and had, to my imaginative eye, a brooding and ominous air.

It was empty apart from a parrot, a perfect authentic touch. The fog rolled in, the gin glasses emptied, the arguments grew more circular and obtuse and we were forced to stay the night.  I thought it would be an adventure.

More fool me.

I didn't sleep a wink.  The lightbulb in the bedside lamp flickered on and off; everything creaked or moaned or slammed.  I sat up trying to start more debate so I would have company; he snored on. I was probably a fanciful young lady, but I did feel chilled and afraid and was very pleased to leave the next day.  We broke up soon after.  I still miss that car.

The BBC have just done an adaptation of Jamaica Inn.  It has been slated by viewers unable to follow the plot; it is apparently full of indistinct mumbling and bad diction.  Reviews are full of irritated complaint at the way the incoherent muttering ruins the storyline and alienates the characters.  I remember the feeling well.

to hum and buzz

Friday, 18 April 2014


There are, apart from the obvious, certain things which set men wide apart from women.  One is the ability to follow a game of cricket.  Arbitrary rules and indolent play over several languid days, frequent breaks for tea-and-sandwiches, several changes of  all-white clothes, and indeterminate outcome? That pastime could never have been invented by the practical, efficient, gluten-avoiding, answer-demanding sex.

Similarly, the ability to wallow for hours in the bath, listening to commentary on cricket and perfecting the art of tap-turning-with-one-toe is for chaps.  Edward assures me that the addition of a sock, preferably a single gorgeous cashmere Christmas one, stuffed in the overflow to ensure maximum water levels, is sublime.  And invented by males at boarding school where the hot water was seriously rationed. I have pointed out that this is 2014 and he is a grown man with charge of the energy supplies to this house, but I think he still enjoys a quiet British rage against the machine, and who am I to deny him?

He was happily swilling about this morning, reading the Delhi Times online, when I wrecked the day by announcing I was going to cut the grass.  This too is a man's job and he was immediately torn. Relinquish the perfect, dangerously-filled bath or let someone loose on the lawn who may leave it with wobbly stripes? In the end, the bath won and I was allowed the key to The Shed.

I made a complete hash of it, of course.  I swerved round clumps of pretty daisies and went across instead of down and stopped to throw balls for the dog which left alarming bald patches because I forgot to stop the machine.  The MCC groundsman would have fainted.

I did learn, though, why men insist it's their job.  The sun shone, the smell of cut grass is legendarily sublime; the noisy mower meant I could ignore the squabble over who finished the milk that floated out of the open kitchen doors; emptying soft thuds of emerald cuttings into the compost heap was both delicious and satisfying; the smug cup of tea afterwards was heaven.

I've also developed a satisfying old-man grunt when I get up, reminding everyone that I've worked hard and I'm feeling a little stiff.  My turn in the bath, I think.

Find your way by moonlight

Sunday, 13 April 2014



This post has veered between Uriah Heep and Gwyneth-at-the-Oscars, so I'm giving up.  Not my most eloquent hour, but there you go.  It's finished and it's here. Thank you for your patience and all the fabulous comments.

If you want to read it, I will be thrilled to bits.  I hope you like it.  I'm off for a lie down.  And cake.

Trunk call

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


The harsh tring of the bell made Laura jump.  Her first thought was that, after all the months and years and decades of bludgeoning her; the hints, threats, portentous drawing back of the curtain onto the barren desert that her life would be without him, Martin had finally gone.  That the doorbell of the musty, crowded antique shop had rung behind her husband, heralding the end of her life, left behind among the unwanted, the unclaimed, the broken, while he strode away gulping the clean air, free from the atmosphere of disappointment that shrouded her.

Then she heard his voice; viscous like syrup. Pouring flattery and obsequious observation into the ear of the shop lady, whose startled flutterings and chirrups belied her stolid middle age. She was younger than Laura, though, who felt every second of her years in shops like this.  Looking at her childhood, labelled as antiques and curios.  There, an exact copy of the grinning toy monkey she used to wind round her neck, here a box of the soap power her mother used, a mangle, the garish imprint of the comic she would rush to pick up every week.  All the domestic minutia of her growing up now transplanted as objects over which people smiled or exclaimed, coveted and collected, framed on spare brick walls, jumbled ironically on stylised retro kitchen shelves.

This faint but constant misery was a comfortable old cardigan now, like an old friend whose spiky comments have lost their ability to wound over the years, and who now merely irritates; a soft burr in a shoe.

There it came again, tring, tring! Laura looked over to a crowded open dresser; shelves packed with dusty ruby glass, a shell-pink dinner service, dulled with grime, piled unsteadily beside rusting eggbeaters, a flaccid pile of stained doilies.  She took a step towards the shelves, curious.

There was an ancient telephone.  Its thin elegant handle curved round into the emphatic flat perforations of the ear-piece, and at the other end, the pointed arc for speaking.   The squat body bore a sepia paper disc, listen before calling.  In faded ink, she read: Kilbride 23.  The cord was braided and worn. Laura put her index finger in the cold metal dial and listened intently.  In the background, she was aware of Martin extravagantly complementing the poor woman on her magnificent business acumen, such a rare quality in such an attractive lady.

Tring! Laura jumped, then hesitantly picked up the receiver.  The handle was dense and felt warm in her hand.  She put the receiver to her ear and breathed in the immediately familiar camphor smell of Bakelite.  Instead of the deadness she expected to hear, there was a rushing, open sort of sound on the line; a faint, far-away whistle.

Then she heard voices.  It sounded like the little children’s choir she had listened to on the radio when she was very young.  High, tinkling voices, mixed with static and hissing, a sibilant fizz that distorted the voices.  They seemed to sing, over and over again, “Run, run, run.”  The single syllable grew louder, the static cleared.  There was no mistaking the word; it was at once harmonious and commanding.  Then a sudden, shocking silence.

She replaced the receiver in the cradle with a clunk.  In four steps, she had reached the door.  With one hand, she pulled it open, with the other, she checked for the car keys in her pocket.  Two more steps and she was gone, hurrying through the weak April sunshine, where the brave lilac flags of crocuses pushed hopefully through the damp, awakening earth.

lift them up again

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

I know a girl who likes to rescue things.  She can see the loveliness in a walloped-out armchair, an orphaned teacup, a badly-folded rumple of musty curtain. Her glowing kitchen has borne witness to the rescue of exotic marble lamp-stands, miscounted tangles of crochet, burning Christmas cakes.

Her hands are soft and always poised for kindness.  They pour tea and pat shoulders.  They pick up and stroke one-eyed hens that reek and fight.  They offer warm biscuits, wordless shrugs of blanket.

Her eyes, soft smiling buttons, are this week raw and aching.  Her little dog, rescued from hell and given twelve unexpected years, has died.

For over a decade, she clicked faithfully behind during night feeds, first steps, full years of growing a family, stoically submitting to being dressed like a character from Beatrix Potter, chased and threatened during uncontrollable barking fits with words as empty and light as swansdown, ridden, kissed to death, ignored in favour of other, more broken creatures.  Her loyalty was legendary.

She was a tiny dog who leaves a hole that all the tea and blankets cannot fill.  Sometimes, love so blurs our lives, that it becomes impossible to see who is rescuing and who is being rescued.

A uniquely portable magic

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


My first school in 1911. 
Not much different 60 years later.


When I started school, I could already read.  Apparently I rustled at the Northern Socialist's Guardian clamouring to know 'what is the letter shaped like a hammer?' and so, for the sake of peace, there began one of the enduring passions of my life.

My first school was in a lofty Victorian building; chilly echoing cloakrooms with ineffectually scalding clanging radiators, wire baskets for outdoor shoes and pitted wooden benches that squeaked alarmingly on bare thighs. The blackboards pulled down from an iron rod and emitted great chalky sighs as they fell.

I was taken to meet the Headmistress.  Her office was up narrow echoing stairs and it took forever to climb up there.  She was absolutely tiny, like me, her legs dangled from her chair. Of all the odd things to happen, we had exactly the same name.  She had a wooden plaque on the desk which had our name on it.  I read it, picked it up and showed my parents, gleefully, that she had made me a block with my name on it. Excellent; I loved presents.

She barked at me to put it down.  I remember her being very angry.  It transpired that she was a big pusher of the loony 1960s ITA 'reading' scheme which consisted of teaching children how to be utterly shit at reading by telling them 'foks' meant 'fox.'  So my being able to read already put rather a spoke in her plans. My teacher used to smuggle proper books in for me that I would hide in corners and devour. While she was mangling the brains of my poor classmates, I travelled far, adventuring in the company of fantastic new friends.

Outside daily assembly, I only met the Headmistress alone again once. I was sent to her because I had come in very late from break and, unrepentant, insisted that I had been playing a game with some other children.  She told me she had been watching from her lofty window, that the playground had been empty and I was a wanton liar. In retrospect, I think we were probably both right.


Bugger, bugger, bugger.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Hurry UU__UU__P
Get over yourself!
Walk?
Today.
In fact,
Now.


A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.
- Carl Sagan


Especially pertinent today, when those voices simultaneously roar incomprehensibly and whisper indistinctly and I can no longer tell if I hear them or if it is the noise of my longing to capture them, to tame the sounds and storms and stories, and I feel mocked.

I'm taking the dog out.  That, without fail, makes everything better.