Sunday, 28 September 2014

I Misplace An Apostrophe

Yesterday I misplaced my car for 40 minutes and was awarded a parking ticket.

I decided straightaway not to be annoyed with  myself.  I remember all too clearly my mother standing weeping in the gloom of an upper level of a multistory car park at Heathrow Airport having received a parking fine.  Money was very tight, and the £10 was needed for many other purposes.  So whilst I could have thought of approximately 1,000 better ways to spend £35, I decided to think of saving £35 instead.  I even considered, as a longer-term strategy, adding a category to my monthly budgets for 'Fines Resulting From Breaches Of The Rules'.  If it goes unspent, I could use it for books, or shoes, or earrings, or a bottle of mellow red, or towards motorcycle training.

Today, however, I misplaced an apostrophe in an email sent to over 100 people.  I'm finding it hard to reconcile myself to this mistake exposing, as it does, the hypocrisy of my intolerance of punctuation errors in my students' work.  My reputation for this stance is such that one of my tutees recently sent me message which read: Saw this and thought of you. It included a picture of this quotation:  "I don't judge people on race, creed, colour or gender.  I judge people based on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure".

I've marked my student's work for three years now and, in addition to discussing many ethical issues, we've enjoyed friendly banter about the use of pronouns, semicolons and hyphens.  Of course, every time he's questioned my judgement he's been wrong.   He is about to graduate - I'm delighted about this.  It's entirely his achievement (he is uncommonly good at using apostrophes) but the satisfaction of seeing a student start and then complete a degree is considerable.

I'm sure the pleasure that this student feels in his success will be increased by his enjoyment of my latest mistake.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

I Count My Lip Salves

To make tidying up more interesting this evening, I decided to count my lip salves. I didn't set out with the intention of counting anything, but after I'd tidied my bathroom shelves, it seemed the obvious thing to do.  This is because I found two tins of Vaseline lip salve, a Nivea stick and a chocolate-mint flavoured stick.  I also found a little tube of intensive lip care cream which I cannot recall buying.

After this, I wanted to assess the extent of my lip salve purchase / storage situation.

I was brought up to count my blessings, and whilst this is a commendable thing to do, it has never really cheered me up.  Once I'd decided to count my lip salves, each one I found brought me the satisfaction of rediscovery.

Emptying my coat pockets, I found a tube of strawberry scented lip gloss.  I put some on immediately.  In the pockets of my leather jacket, I found another tin of Vaseline.  It must have been 3 for 2 on Vaseline sometime last winter.

I suppose the problem with counting blessings is that it's often been other people who have told me what my blessings are, whereas really, it's a matter I need to decide for myself.

Tidying out my bags isn't usually a feature of my cleaning routine, but the bottom of my work bag proved a productive place.   I found a tin of Nivea raspberry flavoured lip cream (possibly my favourite), the stick of real beeswax balm which was a present from the USA (the most effective in my collection),  and a tub of Body Shop pineapple flavour.  Its companion (2 for £5) honey flavour, is in my drawer at work.  When I bought them, I intended to give one of them away, but it's obviously far too late for that.

Monday, 15 September 2014

I Measure An Envelope

Once upon a time, I stuck stamps on envelopes with carefree abandon.  Although I can be verbose, my letters are lightweight, always coming in at under 60 grams; this used, if I remember rightly, to be the maximum weight in the first tier of postage costs. 

Last night, I wrote a postcard to a friend.  It's a large postcard which I bought at the Poets Laureate exhibition at Holyrood Palace: Stephen Raw's calligraphic interpretation of a Carol Ann Duffy poem.  I won't say which poem, as that might spoil the surprise.  I put the card in an A5 envelope to protect it on its journey.

I love receiving letters: I love guessing who the correspondent is from the way in which my name is written; the intimacy and anticipation of sliding my finger along the flap; unfolding the paper; interpreting the character that handwriting lends to expression.

These days, I rarely risk posting something with an enclosure, or something of a non-standard size, without having it checked.  The ritual to which letters and packages are subject at post offices has an element of the absurd and, despite the intention of standardisation, the random.  It involves jabbing them at a plastic sheet, into which slots of increasing size are cut, until they pass through to the other side. 

Postmistresses and masters can vary in their approach to the fake letterbox ritual - some being cautious and distant, looking for a packet's easy and rulebook clearance, and others trying to squeeze a packet through the narrowest possible slot, whilst giving me a conspiratorial nod and wink.

Today, I have found myself in charge of the postcard's destiny having discovered a book of six first class stamps in my purse.  On the back of the book it tells me that these stamps are valid for an item up to 240 x 165 x 5 mm in size.  Fortunately, I also have a ruler to hand.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

I Put Up A Shelf

I've always been intrigued by shelves which appear to stick to the wall with no visible means of support.  I was rather hoping that they are fixed up using sellotape, or possibly blu tack, or a mixture of the two.  But no.

Earlier this week, thinking I might improve my life by having somewhere other than the floor to put my book / alarm clock / glass of water at night, I bought a 'floating shelf' from Argos.  It was suspiciously cheap.

My foray into plumbing taught me that when carrying out practical tasks, it's a good idea to follow a process and not to rely on instinct.  So tonight, when I decided to put up the shelf, I read the instructions, checked the pack contained the right number of screws, and assembled a spirit level, drill, screw driver and pencil.

An hour later, I stood back to look at my new and sagging shelf. It had no visible means of support.  I considered possible remedies, including blu tacking my book, alarm clock and glass to it to subvert gravity.  

Tomorrow, I'm off to the hardware shop to buy a better class of rawl plug, and maybe to ask a burly man for some advice.  

Sunday, 7 September 2014

I Choose Ten Books

It's funny how we are rarely asked to choose twelve of something, or fourteen, or even sixteen,  We are thoroughly decimal in the way we ask questions about our influences.

I've been asked twice recently about which ten books have most influenced me.  My first answer was a list.  I've been more expansive this time.

Some books inspire me to write.  An example of this is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which I was reading when I wrote my sequence of poems, 'The Gathering'.  The priest in Gilead, the narrator, reminds me of my father, a priest, even though I've never had the insight into his mind which Robinson's novel gave me.

There are books which have filled me with longing for a different life. Growing up in London, The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder made me want to be part of a pioneering family, travelling in a covered wagon with a father who built houses in woods, on prairies, by lakes, and protected his family from bears; with a mother who would boil up precious maple syrup tapped from trees in the forest, and then show her children how to make candy patterns with it in the snow, before they ate it - a rare, sweet treat.

There was the Reader's Digest book - Scenic Wonders of Australia -  given to me for a birthday (10th?).  I still haven't been there, but in my mind I see the pictures: the red rock, the scale, the aridity, the muscular kangaroos (nothing like Kanga), the expanse of salt lakes in the west, where apparently I have lots of sheep farming cousins.

There are books which have made me laugh, and which date me beyond the understanding of my sons - The Young Visiters - Daisy Ashford, 1066 and All That - Sellar and Yeatman.

There is Quarantine, by Jim Crace, which made me start to think that a man he calls Jesus was a man, and that, whoever this man was, to be a man: a pissing, sweating, starving, hallucinating man in the Judean desert is a more glorious and incredible thing than to be a demi-god, a god, a goddess.

There are books in which every word is placed like a finger on my spine, on my mind, on my breast - books which are utterly beautiful psychologically, emotionally, physically, like Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, and (I think, but it may be too soon to say) On Poetry, by Glyn Maxwell.

There are books which are clear as cool water like Tove Jansson's The Summer Book.

There are books about the agonies and resolutions of love - A Grief Observed - CS Lewis, Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes, Elegies - Douglas Dunn, Mansfield Park - Jane Austen, Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy, Middlemarch, George Eliot ... and Brahms' Intermezzi played by Glenn Gould.  Is this also a book?  I think it might be.

I Skin Eleven Peaches

It's rare to find good peaches in the UK, so when I saw some yesterday - large, ripe, plump and mellow - I had to buy them.  I was looking for inspiration for a pudding for a friend's leaving do, and then, there they were, sitting on a supermarket shelf, all soft and peachy, demanding my attention.

I bought twelve.

Whenever I buy peaches, I think of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Frog and Peach sketch, and of TS Eliot's  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Baked peaches are best skinned, so I put the first six peaches in a bowl and poured boiling water over them.  Not much happened, and then I remembered that to skin a peach, it's necessary to score a line around its circumference.

I must have listened to the Frog and Peach sketch two dozen times and it still makes me laugh.  It's not the jokes - there are some.  It's the absurd audacity of Peter Cook's character and his lament over his catastrophic restaurant, which serves only two dishes (Frog a la Peche and Peche a la Frog), that I love.

As I was preparing the second batch of six peaches for skinning, I decided to keep one back.  Having remembered the scoring technique, the skins slipped easily off the remaining five.  I halved and stoned the eleven peaches, arranged them in a dish, sprinkled them with cinnamon, a little sugar, and a lot of sherry.

Whilst they cooked (forty minutes at 180 degrees C, if you need to know) I  thought of Prufrock's self-conscious wondering about whether to attempt to hide his bald patch / wear white flannel trousers / eat a peach.

I ate the twelfth peach over the sink, juice running down my chin, onto my blouse.