Saturday, 30 January 2016

I Survive January

TS Eliot's The Wasteland opens with the words, "April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain."   

Not for me, Tom. I am not the cynic who doesn't want to be reminded, who doesn't want to endure April's signs of spring life because they rouse uncomfortable feelings about missed opportunities or failed love.  I long for April.  March.  May.  All those months.  For me, January, with its loss of light, its hangover from December's excesses, its sniffles, its pale faces, its quantities of marking, its catching up from December: for me January is the cruelest month, the one with least light, the one through which I seem to carry a special type of weariness. 

But this year, it's also been the month of laying low, reading.  Of walking in the rain-soaked countryside, and through the city streets, wind and rain-soaked.  Of talking to dear, kind, wise, generous friends, the ones who are seeing me through.  And just this weekend, of celebrating of my eldest son's birthday.  

As for my son, he tells me he loves this, his birth-month - sees it as a gift of an opportunity for wearing more clothes, for marveling at winter skies on the way to and from school, for not having to do much except pull on a coat and carry on, watching as the sun sets a little later, a little more kindly each day. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

I Recollect A Room

As I listened to Bach's Double Violin Concerto this afternoon, I was transported back to the drawing room in Christ Church Vicarage, Highbury.  I'm not sure if it was because the soloists were David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin - the champion violinists of my childhood - or because I am preoccupied with the business of leaving another home at the moment, but I felt myself almost physically present on the green sofa, left-hand end.

Behind me is the second of three record players my parents owned over the period of 25 years spent in this house.  Its 70s style has come back into its own now, as have the boxes of vinyl LPs.  There is the grand piano, draped for its own protection in a Dutch-style thick blue cloth.  Underneath, on top of, and around the piano are other musical instruments - my mother's violin and viola;  my brothers' violin, cello and oboe; my flute.  And there's another piano - an upright on which my uncle used to play when he and Mum performed duets.

Further round the room is a large sideboard on which are black and white family photographs.  In the corner is a bracket clock, ticking slowly at the moment, but sometimes stopped for years in-between repairs.  In front of these are an armchair in which I think Mum is sitting, because J. may have left home by now.  She is sipping a post-lunch coffee (white no sugar).  She has her hair down after washing it, and has pinned a towel round her shoulders, My father might be in his upright armchair, reading out clues to The Times crossword, "4 down - Make an effort with an exclamation at the end in musical form.  8 letters - blank, o, blank, c, blank, blank, t, blank".  (I just made that up). If we've recently had guests, and it's Lent, Dad will have taken a chocolate as the box was passed round.  He will place the chocolate in a queue, saving it for Sunday.

The mantelpiece comes next, supporting all sorts, including a silver box of our infant teeth, and some wire and papier mache dinsosaurs made by Joan, a parishioner.  We'll give the silver box to Vera when Mum dies, without the teeth though.  Beyond this, on the right of the fireplace is a cabinet containing more stuff - china figures, plates, a Victorian baby's rattle - the random treasures of a few generations.

The chair that sits in front of this is occupied by my grandmother when she is visiting.  If she's not, it's D's chair.  If she is, and it's before the smoking ban, she'll be noting down the crossword information on her cigarette packet in blue biro: _ o _ c  _ _ t _  Beside her is the occasional table on which sit its lamp and elephant tooth, and beyond, the large bay window.  If we are in the amaryllis phase, there will be an amaryllis or two in red or pink flower, and maybe some African violets, on the table in front of the window.  If one of the amaryllis flowers is broken off, it's me that caused upset by knocking a music stand onto it.

Back on the sofa, the right-hand end belongs to M., the middle to Mum.  Sometimes, I used to lie my head in her lap so she would play with my hair.  But that was a very long time ago.

The carpet is a rectangle of green.  At the edges are dark brown stained floorboards from which I'll continue to pick up splinters until I learn to keep my shoes on.  The curtains are pink damask, framing the garden, the plane trees in Highbury Fields, and, in just a little while, the setting sun.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

I Blend Some Soup

Risotto may be my most frequently cooked supper, but it doesn't always make sense of the random contents of my fridge  I was surveying its near-empty shelves this evening in my post-work hunger, and the only possible conclusion (apart from shopping) was soup.

This particular soup started when Lucy left me with some broccoli on her way up to Inverness.  She didn't want it to go to waste and she didn't want to take it on the train as her case was full.  When I discovered onions, a potato, some Parmesan cheese and milk in the fridge, it felt as if this soup was intended.

My auntie Sue was famous for including anything in soup, especially her Sunday evening, post-roast-lunch soup.  Left over everything went into it, including once (we teased her for evermore about this) apple crumble and custard. Schooled on wartime rationing and then a widow's pension, it was, for her, a matter of economy, resourcefulness and pride.  By some sort of magic (a slug of sherry, perhaps?) everything she blended tasted good, served as it was from cream-coloured bowls at her round table under the pink-tinged light of a shell lampshade. 

I ate my soup alone this evening from a blue bowl at my own round table.  It was surprisingly good - Parmesan proving itself to be a particularly good cheese for adding some much-needed depth of flavour, given the absence of sherry and crumble.