Monday, 28 September 2015

I Interpret Two Portents

A spider woke me at 4.30 am or thereabouts.  It was a large Shropshire spider, or rather, it is a large spider as it's still around somewhere, lurking.

I know it is a spider because when I turned on the light (clipped to my bookcase as my floating bedside shelf isn't really up to the job) it was hanging from a thread, abseiling onto my face.  That's what woke me - the light brushing of its feet on my cheek as it tried to find purchase.

I am not afraid of spiders, but this one was a surprise too far and I swore and batted it away, and woke up much more completely than I wanted to and thought of Robert the Bruce. I then thought of Alfred burning the cakes and wondered whether there was a new link to be made between Bruce's spider and Alfred's cakes.

In an effort to get back to sleep I turned on the radio.  The presenter was thanking Joan for phoning in to comment on the lunar eclipse. All thoughts of sleep exited stage right, and I leapt out of bed.

At the time of the solar eclipse earlier this year I was about to go out and have a Health and Safety approved look at the sun, when the phone rang.  It was Gary, from North Wales Police.  By the time we'd finished discussing some rather interesting points about Wrexham's status as a Dispersal Centre, I'd missed the entire celestial drama, so I've had eclipses somewhere in the back of my mind ever since.

I unlocked the back door and went out into the garden.  The grass was wet under my feet.  Beyond the washing line, the moon was full save for a bite out of its bottom right hand corner.  I just made it in time.

These portents, coming so close together, can only mean one thing.  Term starts in full today, and it's going to be a good one.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

I Dress For Radio

Once a month, I set my alarm on a Saturday morning.  This would be a hardship but I set it in order to get up in time for a radio appearance. Being a part-time optimist, I never set my alarm quite early enough and this morning I left the house with a list of poetry events happening in Shropshire in October, a poem by Keith Chandler, wet hair and dressed from neck to shoe-top in maroon.

I love listening to the radio. It's a cliche that I think I first heard in Educating Rita that "the pictures are better on the radio". I grew up in a television-free house and I craved stimulation and information.  It came via Test Match Special, Capital Radio's Saturday morning Hit Parade, Woman's Hour, PM at 5PM, The Men from the Ministry and Hancock's Half  Hour.  When I graduated, I wanted to work in radio, but I didn't have the confidence to apply.

In common with many of the good things in my life, I am on Ryan Kennedy's show because of poetry.  A couple of years ago, I gave a reading as part of a fundraiser and Sam from Radio Shropshire, who was covering the event, liked my stuff.  He said he'd find me a regular slot if I wanted one.  Of course I said yes please.

There's a fashion blunder I've come to know about courtesy of my sons called 'double denim'.  This is shorthand for the mistake of wearing denim jeans with a denim jacket.  This morning's double maroon outfit is not a good look, and my hair dried to a frizz as I was chatting to Ryan about October's poetry events.  None of this mattered.  The pictures conjured by Keith's poem Next Week to School were in no way impeded by my lack of style.  The last lines are a gasps of longing and loss:

They're going to burn the stubble, Look!
Edges of the field turned back.
A bat shape frantics down the lane
as if to pick up something lost.

In my bones a sense of frost
and to the west pink in the air
as if tomorrow were on fire.

Keith Chandler - The Grandpa Years.  Available from Fair Acre Press

Saturday, 19 September 2015

I Play My Flute

Jeremy Corbyn's commitment to invest in the arts includes the aspiration that every child should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and he asserts that this will make Britain happier.  In support of this noble aim, I got my flute out of its case this week.  I can testify that this made me very happy.

The reason for my happiness was not that I found myself to be as good as I was in my prime in 1981.  What I'm in now, as far as flute playing is concerned, is my twilight.  But my younger son, who is on the ascent, agreed to accompany me in a rendition of Handel's sonata no. 5 in F major for flute and piano, and my elder son offered to throw in some bass riffs on his cello.

It's hard to analyse exactly why a substandard performance of Handel not at his best and recognisable to no one but ourselves should have been such fun, but not everything is measurable.  Corbyn's instinct to take music out of its traditionally elite preserves is a good one.  Not every child will want to take him up on it, should he ever get the chance to enact his dream, but I think every child should have the chance to turn him down.


Sunday, 13 September 2015

I Follow A Recipe

My new year's resolution was to try out 12 new recipes in 2015.  I seemed to have got into a risotto-shaped rut, so on new year's eve, in the company of good friends, excellent steak and claret, I felt the urge to make a commitment to extending my range.  Unfortunately, this commitment was witnessed.

It's now September, and on the NRT scale of 0-12 that represents 'New Recipes Tried, I remained at 0NRT until Friday. I'm now at 2NRT.

A few Christmases ago, I was given 'Real Family Food' by Anthony Worrall Thompson.   Confused about whether this book is about real food or real families, I've barely made it past the front cover.

The one time I did venture into the book, I found Mr T's House Rules at the start.  These include: "No salt to be added to food at the table, except to chips", "Never walk past the fruit bowl without helping yourself to at least one piece of fruit", and "Your mother is not your servant".    He finishes with: "Always remember you can't change yesterday and you don't know what tomorrow will bring."  As rules go, AWT's seem eclectic and intimidating and I didn't make it past them to his recipes.  

The House Rules I was brought up with were the Ten Commandments Plus Non-Optional Middle Class Socially Determined Table Manners.  We thanked God for our food without taking his name in vain, without coveting our neighbour's slightly larger helping or planning to make a graven image out of our mashed potato.  We tried not to put our elbows on the table and never, ever licked our knives.

This weekend, in a bid to keep my resolution, I went back to 'Real Family Food' and skipped past the rule list.  I avoided all recipes with the words 'mini' (too fiddly) 'My' (no need to explain) and 'risotto' (pointless).  So on Friday evening I found myself making Sweet and Sour Sausages.  The word 'Sausage' guarantees my sons' approval.  Anything which requires unsalted butter and cider vinegar must be heading towards sophistication.

An hour later, we sat down to sausages and mash with a topping of what can only be described as Tomato Ketchup Plus.

This morning, I tried again - was tempted into making Mary Berry's Sunday Best Chocolate Fudge Cake.  Although we haven't started it yet, it looks like all the other chocolate sponge cakes I've ever made.  It'll probably be eaten by sundown.

I have decided to award myself 10 bonus points on the scale retrospectively, for the ten varieties of risotto I have invented over the years.  I think this ability to be flexible about rules, to walk past the fruit bowl with nonchalance, and to go cheerfully round in culinary circles are some of the things that make us a real family.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

I Remember My Stepmother

Your Smile

Like a sheet shook out for drying
your smile lifts the world by its corners,
shrugs off the edge of cold
the way an April day washed in rain
can refresh everything,
melt what's been sorrowful,
clothe the earth in the hope
of amethyst and gold: of a new flowering.

Rest in Peace, 8th September 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

I Cry For A Stranger

I caught the 4.35 from Wrexham this afternoon. It was a peaceful journey - the early autumn sun coming softening through the windows, suggestion of a fine weekend.  I shut my eyes, enjoyed the lull of being carried to the train's gentle beat towards home after a late night last night, a full day today.

As we were drawing into Shrewsbury station, passengers stood up, but the the train stopped awkwardly, only three-quarters of its way along the platform.  We waited for a few minutes, shifted our feet, sat down again, the doors still closed.  The guard came down through the train, obviously in a hurry.  We waited a bit longer.  I suppose we all wondered.  Someone kept pushing the 'open' button on the carriage door.

When the guard reappeared, he looked upset.  He opened the door, asked us to alight.  

"Don't look left," he said.  "Walk straight ahead."  I knew something awful must have happened.   I didn't look.  I wanted to pay that much respect.

I don't know who died, or why.  The Shropshire Star online news has reported him or her simply as a fatality at this stage.  

The sun, the hope of the evening.  A fatality.  A loss.  I'm not sure what to make of my sadness.