Monday, 21 July 2014

I Witness A Power Struggle

Go on, threaten your two-year-old child who is frightened of having his hair cut. 

Go on, offer him an ice cream as a reward if he sits in the barber's chair, then threaten lack of ice cream as a punishment when he refuses.

Go on, say you'll take him home and put him to bed at 4pm because he's been disobedient. 

Go on, raise your voice.  Up the ante.  Smack him.  Reduce him to tears.

Tell him if he doesn't have his hair cut he'll grow bunches tied in pink ribbon.

Tell him he'll look like a girl.

Feel better?  
Saved face?
Proved something?

After all, you're so much bigger than him.

Friday, 18 July 2014

I Publicise An Event

I am very proud of my cousin, Helena Attlee, author of The Land Where Lemons Grow.   She's my second cousin, which means that her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister.

I loved my granny.  She sat in the corner of my childhood sitting room, smoked Woodbines, read Jane Austen (which she pronounced 'Orstin') and knitted extraordinarily complicated Fairisle jumpers, doing these three things simultaneously. Smoking was banned in the 80s in our house, but I still relish the smell of cigarette smoke in wool, and the clickety click of knitting needles.

The first time I became properly aware of Helena was when she gave me my first rabbit, Percy.  He was brought up from Kent in a red travelling cage.  Although he didn't smell of smoke or wool, I loved Percy too, and he went on to father 21 baby rabbits with Peter, my brother David's rabbit.  This proliferation was due to the happy inability of the vet to tell that Peter was, in fact, Peta.

I learnt through tending my rabbits that love can grow to fit the number of rabbits you are blessed with, and that each death is an enduring sorrow.

Helena will be leading a creative writing workshop inspired by the gardens of Aberglasney on Saturday 26 July 2014.  You should go if you can.  

I can't remember why Helena gave me Percy,  but if you go along to this workshop, you'll spend the day exploring the different atmospheres of Aberglasney's unique gardens with Helena and creative writing tutor Emma Beynon.  It'll be quirky and imaginative, and they'll use extracts from Aberglasney's rich literary heritage to inspire writing and develop your understanding of the garden.

I expect your creative ideas will breed uncontrollably.

Here are the details:

The workshop runs from 10.30 – 5.00 pm costs £60, to include tea and coffee, but please bring a packed lunch.
For further details and to book a place go to: 
Or contact Helena:  01544 260592 or Emma: 07722 170 782

Twitter: @WriteOpenGround

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

I Walk Like A Penguin

Sometime yesterday my back became painful.  It didn't happen in a moment - I didn't get the feeling I've sometimes had in the past of sudden slippage whilst lifting something awkward, or bending to wash my face at a basin - that 'Oh no!'-crunch-twang moment.  I realised something was wrong when I started walking like a penguin.

Walking like a penguin involves a bit of a shuffle, a waddle from side to side, and small steps.  My feet don't lift far off the ground; so there is little speed.  There is no dignity.

When my son was in year 5, we went to see 'March of the Penguins' for his birthday treat.  Some of his friends giggled and wriggled in their seats throughout.  I was mesmerised.

There's something about an emperor penguin's extraordinary struggle for survival which demands respect; something about the way the males and females take turns to incubate their one egg per couple per year to give themselves a chance of procreation; something about the cooperation of the group as they shuffle around, eggs balanced on feet, seeking to share warmth through an impossible Antarctic winter.

And there is something so comically vulnerable about a penguin negotiating the ice on foot.  In the sea, they cut through the water like swift black arrows.  On land, they waddle like middle aged women with back problems.

Monday, 14 July 2014

I Feature In A Dream

As I was waiting to order a coffee at the work cafeteria this afternoon, Sarah came up to join the queue and told me she'd dreamed about me last night.

It was a good opener, because, whilst I have always liked her, our conversations have usually been in passing, and I would never have expected to play a part in her subconscious life.  Apparently, I'd cooked a casserole and taken it round to her house, because I knew she was having her kitchen done.

Sarah's demeanour towards me as we approached the counter was as appreciative as if I had actually served up my Best Sausages in Red Wine Gravy with Added Carrots Casserole.  I wondered if I'd cooked the potatoes in the casserole or separately on this occasion.  She kindly overlooked the fact that, in order to be able to deliver the casserole to her doorstep at 6.30am, I'd have had to stalk her to find out where she lives.

Sarah pointed out that her kitchen isn't actually due to be done for another week or so.

Since that coffee, I've been wondering if I've ever appeared in anyone else's dream.  If I have, I don't suppose for a moment that I cast myself in such a good light.

I like Sarah more than ever for having dreamed about me so kindly.  I must ask her for her address sometime.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

I Return to Highbury

I am an Arsenal supporter for a reason - I grew up in Highbury, North London, and, although I only went to one Arsenal game during my childhood, the red and white striped scarves my granny knitted for me and my three brothers helped me to tie up my identity.

Now, whenever I stay in London, I stay in Brixton which is at the other end of the light blue Victoria line from Highbury.  When I arrive at Euston from Shropshire, I have to turn south deliberately, though I'm always tugged north.

Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to go north. Once I'd given in to it, my body remembered the journey, remembered the length of time it takes to travel from King's Cross to Highbury and Islington, the longest tunnel on the underground.  I remembered to turn right on the platform as I got off the tube, to bear right on the stairs, then left at the top before reaching the escalator.

There've been some changes in the ticket hall: there are automatic barriers activated by the touch of Oyster cards, the additional platforms for the new overground lines, the new way out.  But the ticket offices are exactly where they were when my mother used to buy my season ticket for my journey to school.

It's twenty-five years, nearly, since I've seen my mother.  It's thirty-five since the last time I came past the ticket collector to find her waiting, just inside the entrance, within earshot of the cries of the seller of the Socialist Worker.

It didn't happen often, but I loved being met by her, then walking up through Highbury Fields, chatting about my day as we passed the Georgian terraces, the pool where Vera taught me to swim, the grass where I found out I was good at hitting a rounders ball, the tennis courts where we pretended to play at Wimbledon, the netball courts where I spent hours practising my shots.

Before I was old enough to travel on my own, I used to walk the same route with her back from the library, from the swings. from visits to parishioners.  At one point, where two parallel paths are divided by black iron railings, I'd habitually go to the left, my mother to the right.  Yesterday, I noticed that the gap created by a missing railing, through which I used to wriggle eagerly to get back to her, is still there.

Friday, 4 July 2014

I Change My Mind

All my life, Bach has been my favourite composer.  My first albums were The Brandenburg Concertos - 2, 4 and 5 on one disc, and 1, 3 and 6 on the other. Decca.  Whilst my friend Rowan was carving Donny Osmond's name into the lid of her desk with remarkable precision and dedication, I was dreaming of extending my collection to include the Double Violin Concerto.

For the last year, my son has been working his way through the set of Beethoven Piano Sonatas I bought for him last summer.  He tells me that Saint-Saens could play them all by the age of ten.

Earlier this week, in retaliation for an impossible question about which waterborne disease I would most like to catch, I asked my son why he prefers Beethoven to Bach.

He told me that Bach doesn't have Beethoven's wild passion, that  Bach is too perfect, that Beethoven takes him by surprise: breaks the rules.  "Bach wrote like a machine," he said.

The world did not end but it shifted.  I felt a loss of innocence. I felt my heart switch allegiance in an instant.  Felt the guilt of betrayal.  And in that moment I changed my ideas about the tattoo I have been thinking of getting.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

I Hitch A Lift

In an episode of  Radio 4's 'Four Thought', Jono Vernon-Powell talks about the long-lost art of hitchhiking.  He found that the majority of those in his audience who were over 45 had hitchhiked, whereas the vast majority of those under 45 never had.

Fortunately, I am over 45.

I loved hitchhiking as a student.  I loved the risk and the freedom of it.  The risk of meeting people. The freedom of cost-free travel and uncertainty.

I have memories.  Of Brendan, his careful answers to my questions from the back of his sage green BMW whilst, unfortunately, my boyfriend sat next to him in the front.  Of John's red umbrella on  the seat next to me, whilst, unfortunately, my friend Helen sat in the front, chatting with him about the pleasures of Newcastle upon Tyne.

And I've never forgotten the lorry driver and the moment he produced a long knife.

Last August, I gave two beautiful women a lift from Edinburgh to Church Stretton.  Chatting to Lien and Marit rekindled my desire to stick out my thumb, take a ride.

On Sunday, I went for a walk that turned out to be longer than expected because I couldn't work out which way up to hold the map.  By the time I reached my destination, I was running late, had marking to get back to.  I decided to try to hitch a lift. It was a rural area.  Local traffic.  Low risk.

My thumb felt awkward.  I couldn't remember which way to present it - should it point up or out?  My arm be extended or bent?   Once I'd worked it out, I grew more confident.

In the next ten minutes, thirty or forty cars went past.  I became less hopeful.  Then a 4x4 passed, stopped a few yards in front of me.  The familiar feeling of triumph.  The trot to the open passenger side window.  The brief exchange of information.

The driver shifted stuff off  the passenger seat, apologising for the mess.  She was on her way to visit her father in his new nursing home, and she talked non-stop about his move: about how she'd eased the process by telling him the home is a posh hotel, that the staff provide room service; about how happy he is.

When she dropped me off, I felt the loss of a parting.