Monday, 4 March 2019

I Party Long Into the Night

It's not often my friends turn 130, especially the ones who aren't Hobbits, but that's what is happening in February and March to Graham 'n' Ted, two of the sweetest, dearest of them.

The idea for a party was mine - at least, I'll claim it as such. It might not have been, but it scarcely matters. What happened was, there was an idea among poets that G and T, GKA and Big Ted, could and should and would share a party, because together they are making 130 years young.

At the heart of the party was the dance. Not just any dance, but the sort of dancing that people do from start to finish because it's so compulsory in a lenient way. That's to say, the folks operating the vinyl decks, Mike and Hattie, made it easy in their choice of songs. Who wouldn't dance, raise their hands, smile to Free Nelson Mandela, especially those of us who are approaching, are at, or past, 130 combined years with our nearest and dearest. We remember it, you see: the special hope of the early 1990s, when we were grown up already, and some of us were, or were about to become parents, but still it seemed possible (and I mean everything) because peace broke out in several ways in several places.  South Africa. Northern Ireland. And the Berlin wall had already fallen.

In the centre of the party were two of the sweetest, dearest of men. Men who embrace the dance of a party, of friendship, of love in all its forms. Men who rock being men in the modest, kind and strong in-a-good-way - way that honours all the women that know and love them. And all the men too, come to think of it. In the centre of the party was the hope of love and peace - and it was a sober happiness.

That's the thing - this wasn't some slurred, blurred feeling of numbed contentment. This party had the natural joy induced by two hours, more, of stamping, swaying, grooving dancing, and a magnificent jointly brought along buffet and Mike's excellent raspberry and almond cake - you see, after an hour of this dancing around in yellow boots, GKA in his top hat, Ted whistling, I noticed that everything that's difficult about being 130, all that knowing the world in its complication, fell away. And what came around was simplicity. No matter our imperfections, some of the messes we might have made along the way - no matter our successes and achievements. This was so straightforward, dancing together, wreathed in music, in the friendship of years, and in deep acceptance and the kind of loving that exceeds categories, and will still be there tomorrow, and the next day, and for the next eleventy years.

Happy Birthday, GKA!  Happy Birthday Ted!  We love you. And here you are, cutting the cake:

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

I finish a book ...

not for the first time, of course. I have finished many books before, and sometimes I have started them all over again. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series which I have read four or five times, perhaps as an antidote to my Inner-London childhood. As I walked up from the station this evening talking to my work friend, we discovered that we remembered the same passages about making maple syrup candy in the snow and building log cabins from scratch. 

I finished War and Peace a few weeks after I started it in 1979.  The explanation for my dedication is partly Tolstoy's genius, and partly the crush I had on a guy I wanted to impress. I had my response ready should he ever ask me what I was reading. 

But over the years, things have changed. As an academic, I have developed the dry and necessary habit of getting what I must from a book - using the index and chapter headings to find sections which give me the essential point or definition. It's rare in these circumstances to read a whole text. And it's not often I read a collection of poetry from cover to cover in one sitting. It does happen: Douglas Dunn's Elegies. But usually, I dip in, mull over, and stare into the distance, get distracted. In short, I've developed unsatisfactory habits.

My habits have become so unsatisfactory, that I turned up to my last book group struggling even to remember the title of the book we were to discuss. It's a lovely group, and I joined in the discussion from my position of ignorance incurring no judgement, but I realised I had reached a new reading low.

So I've taken enormous pleasure not only in reading, but also in finishing Maggie O'Farrell's I am I am I am in two sittings (it could easily have been one had not work intervened). This experience of utter book-absorption reconnected me to the feelings I had on those childhood afternoons as they grew into dark evenings when, propped on one hand, I resisted all calls of nature as I wandered around Narnia, or Northanger Abbey, or 221B Baker Street. 

O'Farrell's beautifully structured book recalls 'seventeen brushes with death' and does so with vivid immediacy. She achieves that remarkable balance that is so compelling - revelation woven seamlessly with recognition. She led me through her deeply moving stories, to encounters with my own fears and existential experiences. And I am grateful.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

I File Irritating and Unnecessary Demands

When I got home from work, I emptied crumbs from my toaster whilst hanging about the kitchen, waiting for my supper to cook. Emptying the toaster of crumbs involves removing the crumb tray (into which a thimbleful of crumbs has fallen), emptying that, and then inverting the whole thing and giving it a good shake.

In order to clean up my email inbox, I have created a folder named 'Irritating and Unnecessary Demands'.  This allows me to file irritating and unnecessary demands away from the main workings of my email correspondence. 

In most contexts - beds, tables, work surfaces, inside toasters - toast crumbs are an irritating, although necessary, by-product of toast-making and eating. 

The irritating and demanding emails do not seem to me to have the virtue of being necessary in any context apart from one in which they have been deemed necessary. This is why they are irritating. 

 When I'd shaken as many crumbs as a could from my toaster, I wiped up the pile, and put it in the bin. In terms of crumb volume, the pile may have amounted to a hot cross bun in other circumstances.

In a culture in which nothing has happened until it has been measured, I draw comfort from the small action of turning my inbox upside-down, and shaking emails into a folder which I have named 'Irritating and Unnecessary Demands'. 

Now that my toaster is clean, I'm looking forward to toasting a bun, and smothering it in butter. This is guaranteed to reduce my irritation to zero for the time being. 

Sunday, 20 January 2019

I Arrange My Mugs

When Mike made me some mug shelves, I thought he had solved my mug storage issue once and for all. However, this weekend, in-between marking and eating Lindt Salted Dark chocolate (an activity directly linked to the marking) I've been mugging about.  You see, although I have 30 more mug spaces at my disposal, I still have more mugs (et al) than spaces.

There are a number of approaches I could take to this conundrum. Let me say up front that donating mugs to any of the large number of nearby charity shops is not an option. To illustrate my point: although I do not actually like the design of the St Hugh's College mug and neither does my younger son (shelf 3, Mug Shot #1), he left it with me when he returned to university after Christmas saying that it would remind me of him in his absence. It does. (In any case, I donated another mug to him for use there. In addition, I passed on a couple of mugs to my eldest son for his Antwerp apartment back in the autumn. So I had already shown storage foresight).

   Mug Shot #1                        Mug Shot #2                        Mug Shot #3

In Mug Shot #2, I have arranged all the mugs which represent aspects of my identity on shelf 2. Thus we have Poet, Anarchy, Mum, Liz. This shelf would sum me up nicely, if I didn't undermine aspirations to be an Anarchist with my need to order my mugs by a set of rules. It's possible I'm undermining my Poet identity too by spending time sorting mugs when I could be sorting words into lines.

The rule of Mug Shot #3 is one of colour. The two rows of blue are my favourite. But this arrangement contravenes the mug rule, as, like the other mug shots, it contains objects which aren't mugs. Like jugs. 

Where I've come to is that I like this mugging about, this muggling along, this mugfulness, this living in the mugment.

Choosing mugs by coordinates (three mugs along, four shelves down) keeps my approach to tea drinking mug-half-full. The tea accompanies the marking and the Lindt Salted Dark chocolate, so there really isn't an issue at all. 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

I Pick LPs At Random

I've a new game - I go to my shelf of LPs (I've just counted and there are just over 200) and pick one at random.  I slide out the record from the packed line-up and see what I've got.

Last night, it was this:

I listened willingly, intrigued by the choice of cover. Who knew Brahms Violin concerto could induce that Saturday night, post-wedding celebration feeling? (Hogarth apparently).

This morning, it was this:

And what an awakening! Only yesterday, I was talking with my son about Stravinsky and national identity in music, and here he is, in deep conversation with Isaac Stern. 

My collection is mainly made up from records which belonged to my parents. It's a rich inheritance which sat unused for years in the attic, waiting for the vinyl revival. And now they've come into their own - move over Apple Music! Step aside Spotify and your playlists! This is where it's at: highlights from Don Giovanni sung by this crowd:

And Schubert's wonderful quintet played by a bunch of guys in the days before classical musicians had to pose, ripped and made-up, or draped over a violin:

Style is not absent from my collection. A later addition to my collection is this - picked up at a charity auction in aid of SAND - Safe Ageing No Discrimination. You might need to look them up. You won't need to look this performer up:

So I've been working and listening to LPs, and the odd EP, getting up every 20 mins or so to flip over the disc, or choose another.

And in amongst my mood has been the pervading sadness felt at the death of a dear friend this week. She's been in my thoughts constantly, but when I picked out this LP I could hear her voice clearly in my head:

"Pull yourself together Missus, for Christ's sake. Have a hot chocolate and never forget who you are or where you're headed ... " 

Sunday, 30 December 2018

I Sit Near Helena Bonham Carter

Taking inspiration from the recent observation that I am neat (I Welcome A Review),  I have been unpacking the rest of what I moved from my old house, and organising it. The stuff has sat in bags, plastic boxes and bin liners for over two years, awaiting these last few rare days in which a space of unallocated time has coincided with a bout of energy.

Amongst the possessions which have followed me around since childhood are two black and white school photographs from 1974 and 1979. Once every 5 years, the entire school population - junior and  senior schools - assembled on the netball court. Benches were dragged out from the gym, chairs lined up for the teachers to sit on and some sort of photographic scaffolding erected so that all of us (around 700, I think) could stand or sit whilst the cameraman took 2 shots on a rolling camera.

The photograph my parents chose to buy came unframed, rolled up and secured with elastic bands. My father recommended that I write a list of the names of everyone I knew on the back, in case I forgot, but instead I drew a biro ring around my friend Rachel.

Forty-four years later, I can remember the names of all the girls in my class. I'm sitting next to Hope, who is sitting next to Deborah, who is sitting next to Sian, who is sitting next to Clare who is sitting next to Vicky who is sitting next to Rachel.

I wasn't sitting next to Rachel in 1974 because I was taller than her, and we were arranged in height order. I can confirm that I was the tallest in the class because I can't quite be sure of the name of the girl on the other side of me, as she was in the year above. In this section of the photo, all you can see is a strand of her hair. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure she was called Amanda.

There's no problem identifying the girl in the year below, sat in the middle of the front row, cross-legged and sitting up straight. She, like me, had a fringe and she also appears in the photo from 1979.

We've been sitting close to each other, Helena Bonham Carter and I, in this photo for years, though by the looks of it, those of us in the second row might have been kneeling for most of that time, as we look rather uncomfortable.

Whenever I've moved home and come across it, I've unrolled the photo and studied it, before putting it away again. It's time, I think, that I got it framed.  

Thursday, 27 December 2018

I Welcome A Review

A good review is validation - it says, all your hard work was worth it, it demonstrates that you've been understood - heard.

 In this world where so much competes for the attention of our audiences, a positive review is evidence of the fact that someone has taken a moment out of the hurly burly, and the rough and tumble to give attention to my labours - it's a recognition, person-to-person.  It the communication of appreciation of the essence of one's being. 

So when I turned on my computer this morning, and read a positive review, my spirits lifted. Usually, for the sake of modesty, I prefer the good news to filter through, and maybe to reach social media via someone else, but hey, what the heck, it's Christmas! - so here goes:

"Amazing guest! Very punctual neat and friendly It would be my pleasure to host them again  :)"

Steven. airbnb host, Antwerp

 All those years reaching into my soul and working at my housework techniques have at last paid off. I’m off to hire a carpet cleaner to celebrate.