Wednesday, 31 December 2014

I Burn The Old Year

This afternoon, we wielded axes. We pulled down dead tress.  We chopped up wood. We built a bonfire.  We struck matches.  We lit paper.  We waited for the fire to take.  We stood back from the flames.  We warmed our hands.  We watched sparks fly up.

I imagined the sparks as all the plentiful, beautiful life-giving moments of my year of 2014.  They shone bright as love through the smoke.

I thought of the smoke as the happenings of my 2014 which have fogged my happiness.
As dusk fell, the smoke faded to invisible, disappearing into the darkness of this year's last twilight as the sparks flew up higher: up and up, shining bright and brighter.

Monday, 29 December 2014

I Hire A Bicycle

The topic of scars came  up over Boxing Day breakfast.  M and I compared notes whilst other stories were occurring elsewhere around the table. I was delighted to find something else in common with her: we both have scars on our knees from childhood cycling accidents involving gravel.  Come to think of it, I can't remember a cycling accident I've had  that didn't involve gravel.

I've had my current bicycle for 25 years.  It's the one I inherited from my mother and I am very fond of it both for the sense of connection I feel to her and because it's a good bike. It has an aluminium frame and five gears, which I've always found to be plenty.  I don't ride it often as I keep it in the garden shed and bringing it out to the road through the house takes time, involves tricky manoeuvres and, usually, tyre marks on the walls.

One of my ambitions for my stay in London this Christmas has been to hire a Boris Bike. These can be hired from a 'docking station', used and then deposited at any of the other docking stations around central London.   The emphasis on short journeys is reflected in the costs: after the initial registration fee (£2 for 24 hours) it's free for the first 30 minutes, then costs £1 for up to an hour, £4 for up to 1 hour 30 minutes, etc.  

A desire to own one of each of things we only need to use occasionally - lawn mowers, salmon kettles, carpet cleaners, fitness machines - seems odd to me.  Shared ownership of some things makes sense, even if each of the bikes in the Transport for London scheme has to advertise a bank for the initiative to be workable.

Usually with my ambitions, the hardest part is putting on my shoes.  Yesterday, my natural inertia was overridden by the enthusiasm of the company I'm keeping.  After that it was just a case of following the lead of my longest-serving friend Helen as she wove our strand of cyclists through the warp of London streets, and then through Battersea Park, towards an excellent lunch. 

Later, we hired bikes again to cycle along the Thames embankment from Chelsea to Somerset House to see the Egon Schiele exhibition.  It was a bright afternoon: the sun confident, already seeming to have recovered from its midwinter low, the London air perfectly dry and cold, the streets, relatively  uncluttered for this post-Christmas-excess exercise, still sparkly with tiny lights.  My bike felt sturdy,  unphased by the occasional flashes of lycra passing us by.  Speed is not what a Boris Bike is about.

We reached Somerset House nine minutes before we were due.  I can't remember a journey through London I've enjoyed more.  

Sunday, 21 December 2014

I Replace A Washer

There have been problems with the washer I replaced back in February.  I think this is because the washer I used wasn't the exact size of the washer space in the tap.  I revisited my repair a couple of months ago, and recently the tap has been dripping again.

When I named this blog after my first washer buying experience, I was unwittingly linking my sense of self to the functioning of a bathroom tap. Each day of dripping has felt like a small erosion.

Yesterday, I bought three new washers of varying sizes. I enjoyed the way I could choose them from a selection, and take them away in a small white paper bag.  It reminded me of pleasure I used to feel at buying a quarter of spearmint pips or peanut brittle. 

Today, I located a spare hour and the right spanners, turned off the water at the mains, unscrewed the tap and tried out the washers.  The first one was too small, the second too tight; the third seemed just right.

It has worked, for the moment, this Three Bears approach to plumbing.  And it seems important to tell you about it.  

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

I Celebrate My Birthday

My birthday was yesterday, but I have been celebrating it since June.  This is because this is the year in which both I and my longest-serving friend Helen turned fifty and we decided to do one thing per month to celebrate from our forty-nine-and-a-half birthdays until our fifty-and-a-half birthdays.

The problem with winter birthdays is that they aren't very good for camping.  And the problem with celebrating a birthday just on one day is that there's a 5/7 chance of being at work.  So in order to do the things we've wanted to do to mark our 100 years, we've had to take control.

In June we went camping on the Lleyn Peninsula; in July, we went to see Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies at the Aldwych Theatre; in August, we drank red wine simultaneously; in September, we spent a weekend at Helen's parents' home in Somerset; in October, we re-read Anne Michaels' novel Fugitive Pieces; in November we met up in Shrewsbury at Theatre Severn; later in December, we will be spending half of Christmas together.

I've managed to squeeze in other celebrations, like my favourite ever birthday party.  This involved poetry, good food and wine, and a variety of amazing people from most parts of my life, including a few I'd never met before, but have now.  And yesterday, a class of my students brought in food to share after the morning lecture.  There were a lot of crisps.  I like crisps.

Yesterday evening, at the restaurant, my youngest son announced, 'This could be the worst wrapped present ever,' as he pulled the still warm and slightly creased slow movement of his first piano sonata from under his blue shirt.  And then my eldest son produced a card he'd drawn, 'The background's after Rothko,' he said, 'and there's an L on it because L is the Roman Numeral for 50, so because your initials are LL, fifty is your perfect age'.  The moment I saw the music, the moment I thought about the L, I felt as if every planet in the solar system was aligned.  I never realised before that the music of the spheres is the tune of  'Happy Birthday To You'.

It's been a wonderful thing, this uber-celebration.  And the great thing is, there are still five months of it to go.