November 14th – November 21st
A ‘well-rated/reviewed’ carpenter came round to talk about my study shelf requirements and took multiple measurements, but hasn’t come back with a quote… A stern how-to-back-stuff-up lesson from George, who installed the new storage drive.
A new poetry group in a distant part of town, fatally next to Waitrose. Another group, at a weekend workshop in a Leicestershire village, in an old house full of cushions and biscuits. About the cycles and stages of life and archetypal energies…which involved drawing a lot of pictures and lying on the floor.
A long, zig-zag return. Industrial action cancelled a lot of cross-country trains and put hundreds of us on replacement buses.
Pensioners aren’t meant to be pestered – except by charities and purse thieves – but several unwelcome personal messages this week…
November 6th – November 13th
A chat with a friend who lives in Sri Lanka six months of the year, near the ocean, not far from the equator.
First shift as a new-style (non-tour-taking) guide at the cathedral. Hid my coat and bits and bobs behind a pillar; met two members of The Sealed Knot, who told me secrets of the Civil War…
A bit fragile: cancelled 2 appointments in town. Couldn’t face London Midland or Euston. Began the Lemsip diet; heating on all day.
Remembrance. Planted a small wooden cross in the front garden – the kind with a paper poppy in the middle – and wrote two names on it. A double Silence, one at home on Saturday, one in a crowd on Sunday.
October 31st – November 5th
Wednesday. All Saints Day. My elder son turned 33. Orwell’s 1984 – but a miracle year for me.
The G.P. surgery – a rare visit – to pick up dry eye drops. A warning notice about Australian flu, a change from Asian/Swine/Spanish or Bird flu – but didn’t attend the walk-in winter jab clinic. Instead, stocked up on Vitamin C…
Took some skinny black trousers to the hospice shop – creating a vacancy – so bought another, more forgiving pair…
Google sent me a stream of incomprehensible messages about their privacy policies. So kind.
Saturday, after dark. The sound of gunfire in the distance. Fireworks in the rain.
October 24th – 30th
Re-connected to the internet for an hour or two, then the screen died again. George, the computer man, took the tower away for further investigation. Bereft.
Friday. Milton Keynes Central, to find the trains cancelled or delayed, because of an incident on the line. Arrived in Bushey after dark, to stay with an old friend. A sabbath dinner, with candles. Next day, a walk through the village – complete with a church and a duck pond, then a park with a medieval moat. Her beautiful cat Sheba left the corpse of a bird on the patio. Slept on red sheets in the study, with another computer for company.
George brought back the tower, with a new hard drive inside. The old one looks like the Enigma Code. A few sites have disappeared – but it could have been much worse.
The trees on the green opposite the house have lost most of their leaves now. Most of them are on the drive.
October 17th -October 23rd
Fog – and a funeral – in Essex. The curtains closed round the casket in the chapel, to the songs of Jim Reeves and Monty Python. Was handed a box of papers and photos belonging to the deceased’s wife, my late half-sister – that she wouldn’t have wanted me to have. ..
A talk by A.C.Grayling about democracy. An excellent speaker, overblessed in the belief of being absolutely right, but lacked the confidence to challenge him.
The remains of Storm Brian tore the washing from the line.
Saturday: the desktop stopped working. A local hero has changed plugs, checked cables, exorcised cookies, run scans in search of bugs and trojans, but no joy….He’s still upstairs.
10th – October 16th
A warm walk in the park, in a tee-shirt. In the distance, a bison or a lion – turned out to be a giant dog with a super-shaggy tail and webbed feet. A German water-rescue dog, a Leonberger. A Folk Festival in the town – Morris-style dancing in the streets, bells on their clogs and a lot of sticks banged together…
Bit another domestic bullet. The E.On website ‘unavailable’ so rang them instead about changing my tariff; Julie told me all about the cap and track tariff, the clean energy one and the ‘cinema bundle’…Decided not to bother.
Wednesday: Accreditation Day. Studied well into the night before. A Senior Guide asked me and another trainee a series of Questions, Frequently Asked by visitors to the cathedral. We got most of the answers right, so after only half an hour, he shook our hands. Congratulations! You’re now fully accredited Attendant Guides. Thrilled.
Remembered Russell Square, near my old flat, and the majestic old trees felled by the Great Storm of ’87, the year the Traveller was born. He was here at the weekend with his fiancee. Hugs, flowers, gifts and effort all round, so that went well.
October 2nd – October 9th
My £1 coin, round-edged but still currency, rejected in a cafe. Occasional chores at home: descaled the kettle, sterilised the inside of the coffee mugs to remove the brown rings, dusted a lampshade, then the television.
Sunday, the Skylon restaurant, South Bank, London. A brave event to remember, a lunch – more a banquet – to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of a dear ex-colleague whose husband has dementia and didn’t recognise the guests.
Reading Group: Memento Mori, by Muriel Spark, published in the 1950s, about old age at its grimmest – where the only recreation in the geriatric ward is the ‘making of your will’. Not to be read if depressed – would tip you over the edge.
September 26th – October 1st
Handled my first new £10 note, the portrait of a lady on the back so fresh and crisp. Dear Jane, is it really you?
Hosted a U3A group in my unnaturally tidy front room and fed them fondant fancies. An art quiz: cut out quarters of paintings, to identify.
Nantwich, Cheshire. A Sicilian-style lunch served by real Italians. Shared a car with a large dog of an enthusiastic nature, belonging to one of two friends from convent school days. Shared memories of a near-death experience in Greece in the 1960s, when a car we were hitching in rolled over and over a steep bank and the three of us walked away, unscathed…
London, the Duke of York’s theatre. A play called Ink about the birth of The Sun newspaper. One character warns the editor that ‘if you create an appetite’ – for the sensational, etc – ‘you have to feed it’.
September 19th – 25th
Something’s eating at the leaves on my laurel bushes at the front; a large tabby cat has adopted the back garden, joining the grey squirrel, but the pigeons are in retreat.
Tai Ch’i. Disheartened. Still so often on the wrong foot, that is the right – when it should be the left. As for ‘repulse the monkey’…
My elder son ‘repaired’ my computer by remote control, running lots of scans and updates. Without him, I’d still be in the 20th century.
An unusually late-night call, two hours long, from a distraught woman in Norfolk, whose uncle died last week. He was the visitor was never arrived in August – the brother-in-law, who, she said, had a ‘secret life.’
September 12th -18th
The marquee next door was blown down overnight and hasn’t been re-erected, yet.
In town again, stayed at the Quaker Club near Russell Square, with its warm and leather-armchair atmosphere. A Sunday Service nearby was more like a musical playgroup; impossible to be still or know anything, but an email later from an estranged friend did lift my heart.
A family get-together at a posh pizza place, the Traveller with tales and photos of the Northern Lights, a tunnel under a glacier and the proposal to his girlfriend.
Returned to a cold house, so the heating went on. The new smart meter got excited.
Re-potted a money tree plant. Threw away a pile of Which magazines from the turn of the century. Lawnmowers, toasters, energy bills…
Training tour of the cathedral, led by a Senior Guide. Properly daunting. 1300 years of history!
Music in the afternoon. A U3A group in a hall – one asleep – appreciating two concertos, a sonata, a caprice and an aria – but the only piece that really connected was new to me: Mors et Vitae, by Gounod.
My younger son, the Traveller, turned 30, then went to Iceland – the country. Hope he took a warm coat. After this birthday, autumn began.
August 28th – September 4th
A red and white van brought a philosopher from E-on, who fitted a smart electricity meter in the hall and a gas one outside. He told me his life story – ‘ nothing is a hundred per cent in life’ -then explained what the icons/buttons/green lights meant…
Down to Portsmouth to visit elder son. From the Spinnaker Tower, a view of a thousand ships: sailing craft and speed boats, ferries and tankers, a catamaran and an aircraft carrier. My hotel was dry, due to an alcohol restriction notice. Only ‘mocktails’ at the bar. A recent sting, underage drinking offences…
London, Tate Britain. The Queer Art exhibition. Among the mainly forgettable pictures, a prison door affixed to the wall, with hinges, bolts and a peep-hole. The door of Oscar Wilde’s cell, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Near the Members’ Room, another door, with a notice on it. The ‘all-gender’ toilet was ‘out of order’.
Next door’s marquee now up for 5 months.
August 21st -27th
Washed the soap. Some of the bars in the bathroom had acquired a dusty film. Pulled a few feathers out of an over-plump sofa cushion while watching the telly…so strangely satisfying I pulled out a lot more.
An exciting arrival. Not the brother-in-law long expected, but something else alive, in a tall box marked ‘handle with care’: an aspidistra!
Bit one of the bullets lying around from a list of Things to be Sorted out. Went to an office about next door’s marquee, up for months….The man there took it all very seriously and wrote everything down, so I told him about the smoke…
A Food Festival this weekend. Stalls all promising natural, hand-made, fresh, local produce, including ostrich burgers and ‘medieval pies’. The usually quiet streets full of thousands of peckish people. Where did they all come from?
August 7th -20th
Re-visited another old diary, 2002. Very hard to read in places, like all the others. Want to go back and make it all right.
The bits in the box became a trolley – black metal: industrial chic. Thanks to the handyman friend who can fix almost everything.
A beauty salon, for a ‘fat freeze’ treatment on the middle-age spread which arrived late in my case, then packed half the wardrobe for the next trip, to Derbyshire…
A writers’ week at a centre once the site of a POW camp, the entrance to an escape tunnel still visible. Lots of talks, courses, workshops, conversations on lawns by flowerbeds, buffet meals, queues at the bar… A little light flirtation, forgotten feeling. Midges made a walk around the lake less mindful than it was meant to be. Wrote a poem – the first for 10 years – about an egg grown round, then read it out to a bemused audience……
Came back to the house – empty but uncold – and to a card from a woman met in a maternity ward about 30 years ago. She got the address – bar the house number – online – but no idea why.
July 31st – August 6th
Met a friend in a restaurant once a Corn Exchange. We were meant to try out a new light lunch menu but she ‘didn’t feel like grazing’ and ordered an all-day breakfast…
Went to IKEA, to look at the beds and the rugs, but came back with a trolley – still in a box in bits till someone else puts it together.
The Tai Ch’i class; our leader demonstrated a subtle sequence called Fair Lady Weaves Shuttle. His followers did their best, but our shapes were only approximate…
Remembered my brother-in-law’s birthday too late to send a card – Hiroshima day – so made a call instead. My late half-sister is never part of the conversation.
July 24th – 30th
In a garden centre, amid the pots and plants, let out a scream. A few feet away, something large, brown and sleek scuttled under a barrow – a rat.
Found an army of ants busy on my outside porch. Dusted them liberally with talcum powder and they vanished to a fragrant death.
The boiler turned one – and had its first service. The man came and ‘refreshed the filters.’
The story of the baby at Great Ormond Street came to a close. Felt most for the staff at the hospital, where they tried and failed to save my first son, thirty-four years ago.
July 17th -23rd
Wet, wet, wet. A coach trip to the south-west and Jane Austen’s Bath. Relentless rain. A ruin of a Folly that inspired Northanger Abbey, then to Brunel’s Bristol. Into the bowels of SS Great Britain and the smells of cabins in steerage. In the engine room, the wheels – storeys high – ground slowly…On the deck above, a white line that only the first-class passengers could cross.
A country house, landscaped by Capability Brown, who drowned a village to create a lake and improve the view.
Put on a swimsuit of a certain age and swam a few lengths in the hotel pool after seven years out of the water.
My dining companions and I shared slightly competitive travellers’ tales. One of them said she went on at least three cruises a year. The rest of us exchanged the kind of looks only middle-class women can. The vulgarity! What would Jane have said?
July 11th – 16th
Across France in a flash, by TGV train.
Strasbourg: a night at a hotel in the Avenue de la Liberte, then by Uber into Germany and my first Ryanair flight – much nicer than expected – to Stansted. Three countries in one day. Left behind: a travel plug that didn’t adapt and a yellow cashmere scarf, an unintended gift for the student letting her flat in Amiens.
London: stuck at Euston, the ugliest station concourse in Europe? Trains cancelled. Signal failure.
Back on base, the weeds have bred like wildfire. The old machine struggled with loads of washing. The son, meanwhile, flew to Burundi and a capital I’d never heard of – but a reunion too – between my mail and me.
A touch ‘my hols’ this one, but… very hot in France.
Amiens: climbed hundreds of steps to the top of the cathedral tower. A light show on the facade bathed the ancient portals in medieval colours. Fed the ducks from a bridge over the Somme.
Laon: thunder and lightning in the walled and cobbled city on a hill. Cool in the chapel of the Knights Templar, their black cross set into the floor. Walked for French miles – the pensionista feet will never be the same again.
Soissons: turned into a quiet side street, and nearly missed a sign above a door, which said – former Gestapo headquarters. Bullet and shell holes on the old buildings, from two world wars.
Reims: a tour of the ‘caves’ of the house Taittinger, which contain 3 million bottles of the best bubbly in the world, made only by hand – by law. Sat on a balcony overlooking the cathedral square with the son who made the trip possible, drinking champagne in the capital of Champagne.
June 26th -July 2nd
In the garden one evening – till BBQ smoke billowed over the fence, making of me a Sitting Cloud, soon forced to retreat inside.
A pen bought in Wales years ago finally dried up. My art appreciation group went to Derbyshire, to visit an artist in his studio – both spattered with paint. Good to take a line, he said, and see where it led…
Stopped the mail for a while. An empty letter box. So restful. Must do it more often.
A familiar face in the paper- of a boy once in my class in Camden, who murdered a headmaster. Still undeported.
Something in the air in a London square. A chill, like the scent of autumn.
June 19th – June 25th
A trip by train to Kent. Canterbury Cathedral, walking on steps worn down by pilgrims past, with the patina only old stones can have. A shallow boat on the Stour, under very low bridges. A glimpse of an eel in the bright water and a ducking stool hanging above the banks of the river.
The Solstice: the longest day – and the hottest in June since 1976. Leeds Castle – a birds of prey display in the vast grounds, a ferry across the lake…In and out of the Maze. A Spitfire crossed the sky.
Back home, found lots of euros I’d forgotten all about…..A man came to the door, waving a machine – but otherwise normal – so let him in to read the meter.
June 12th – June 18th
Book Club at the house. The Gustav Sonata, set in Switzerland, with depressed/depressing characters…lots of fruit and drizzle cake left over. The birds got lucky.
The water from one of the bathroom taps came out brown; the lawn got its summer feed treatment. Re-arranged the airing cupboard, where the spare bedding and towels are kept – pillows kept falling on my head.
Another week, another atrocity. Once lived in a tower block. Great views. 9 floors, two staircases, no sprinklers. One of my family still does.
June 5th- June 11th
A swivel chair was delivered, in pieces – and stayed that way till a fixer-friend put them together.
Tuesday: another Silence.
Thursday: the unsnap Election. Cast a green vote, which made no difference. A very safe seat. Up all night.
Violet and turquoise streaks put in my hair by a girl who didn’t vote.
Tea with a friend at a hotel, soon full of wedding guests in fascinators and fancy waistcoats. Later, found some confetti stuck under my shoe.
May 29th- June 4th
An exhibition at the RA:pictures from 1930s America, then walked the streets of London, through Soho Square, past the Huguenot church and last penny chute in England.
Burt shaped and pruned my hedge to perfection – cosmetic surgery for conifers. He also got on his ladder to fix my guttering…
Another special treatment – at a salon, which involved a liberal sprinkling of aromatic salt and a stiff brush – an exfoliating ‘facial’ for a flaky back.
Sunday: heard the news today, oh no…A second attack on a bridge – armed and other angels – then the predictable platitudes, to keep calm and stand together and not to let them win…Till the next time.
May 22nd -28th
Scattered slug pellets around my hostas, a bit late…
Watched my companion’s insect-like drone rise from a field, soar high above the town and take a big picture. Lay on the grass and felt the years fall away.
The decorator let me down once too often and had to go – so the walls remain magnolia.
Thursday, 11am. Joined in the national Silence, for Manchester and our beloved country.
In Surrey, at a country house hotel, for a cousin’s big-birthday celebration. Sunshine and Pimms in a rose garden.
May 15th – 21st
Another slow train to Euston; sat in Russell Square for a while near the fountain, under trees too full for May. On the train back, one of the cast of Coronation Street sat across the aisle, his hat pulled down over his face.
The font on my email account suddenly shrank, all by itself. My favourites bar unaccountably disappeared. The list of computer-related ‘issues’ got a bit longer…waiting for my offspring to sort out.
A garden festival. A man carved wood with a saw, making a sculpture in the shape of an owl until the heavy rain re-fell and everyone went home. My lawn is now all long grass, moss-free.
May 8th -14th
Went along to the Community Fire Station for a talk advertised by the Embroiders’ Guild – but got the date wrong, so never learnt about the History of Buttons.
One night at a London hotel near where I used to live. An appointment at Moorfields, then across the Wobbly Bridge to Tate Modern, to see the photographs Elton hangs in his home.
A tree surgeon arrived in a green van – to study my too-high hedge of conifers and unidentified others. He understood: yes, they could be shaped, not pruned. He also looked like a young Burt Lancaster, so accepted the quote on the spot…
May 1st -7th
Voted in the local election for a party I’d never heard of, for a change. Joined a Guild of Guides and Greeters, which felt pleasantly mediaeval.
I had a dream – about Donald, who was worried about one of his wives…
Texit: said goodbye to my voluntary post at the school, the end of a long history of working with children, North and South.
Depressed – but a friend balanced things up a bit by telling me jokes about a penguin and a gorilla going into a pub…
April 24th – 30th
Finished the short story and set it free.
Used the chain on the door more than once. The most persistent caller was clutching a pile of blue leaflets. “Can we count on your vote?”
My neighbours put up a marquee in the garden, earlier and larger than last year’s, which blocks my best view.
Joined a tai-chi class in a church hall. A lot of bare feet and plimsolls. Shangri-la music, but hard not to think of my shopping list.
A friend told me she was going to be a grandmother, again.
April 17th -23rd
Off to the garden centre to buy a tree or an aspidistra. Came back by cab with some compost.
Made another Mistake.Took one of my boys’ books about sport to the charity shop, then regretted it. Went back, but they’d sold it.
Began to re-write an old story. An hour on one paragraph!
The shades of grey man didn’t call back with a quote.
April 10th – 16th
Birmingham. A man handed out free copies of the Koran to passers-by. Across the road, another stood on a box, shouting about salvation and the Son of God. Gave them both a wide berth.
The back garden. Shouted a bit myself – at the resident birds pecking away at the new seeds of grass…
Attended the Easter Sunday Service, for the hymns and human contact. The counter-terrorism advice was to ‘be alert, but not alarmed,’ so looked around the congregation. A lot of alarming hats, but no suspicious bags.
April 3rd -April 9th
Was invited to a counter-terrorism course for volunteers, ‘with tea and biscuits’.
A decorator came to look at my walls. We talked about yellow and shades of grey.
The lawn was scarified, then overseeded, suffering to be beautiful. Next door, the first barbecue was lit, sending smoke over the fence. Tried not to hate my neighbours.
The basket of flowers delivered on Mother’s day finally faded.
March 27th -April 2nd
Finished the book about Thomas Cromwell that’s been on my bed for 6 months.
Someone rang me to say my computer had problems. Put the phone on the sofa and let him talk to himself…
The usual engineer came to bleed a main radiator. When he’d gone, a waterfall splashed against the kitchen windows from a pipe above and the boiler got over-excited. So he had to come back. It was the ‘filling loop’ – waving a shapeless bit of black plastic – that the other engineers must have broken –
Stood in the bath to clean the shower screen for the first time since 2014, than changed the beds, shook the rugs and hid some untidy bits and bobs in the washing machine.
The Traveller and his girlfriend came to stay.
March 20th – 26th
Celebrated three birthdays in London, including mine.
Met a man in the street in Holborn – an old flame from the 1970s. Email promises exchanged.
Wednesday: a tour of Westminster Abbey, with all its tombs, memorials and monuments, then my son and I ambled past Whitehall and had lunch nearby. An hour later, the attack on the Bridge and on Parliament.
The train back was quiet, except for an unfragrant woman eating a burger from a box.
March 13th – 19th
Put the winter coats away, with a few cubes of cedar wood to keep the moths at bay.
Had my hair cut and coloured; violet streaks among the white and brown.
A strange long cloud stood still beyond the garden – cigar-shaped, with a dark centre and silver lining.
Retrieved my blue recycling bin ‘borrowed’ by next door and washed out the chips at the bottom of it…
March 6th – March 12th
An acquaintance enquired about the health of my boiler; a friendship may have been born.
Back from the rainforest, my son downloaded some fabulous pictures onto my desktop -of a very hairy sloth and baby, Tamarin and Capucin monkeys…My smartphone screen went dark and the wi-fi icon disappeared.
Discussed dermal fillers with my eye surgeon in London.
Pruned a hydrangea for the first time. A lot of dead wood, but tiny buds beneath.
February 27th – March 5th
At a local hotel, once a coaching inn, for a talk by an Agony Aunt, about her long career addressing other people’s problems…
The funeral of a friend I once worked with. A Catholic service, then champagne and sandwiches in Hampstead, with a few other survivors of the one of the toughest schools in London.
Tried to fast and failed – the sky was just too grey. Posted the first of several cards. So many March birthdays; so few postboxes.
February 20th – 26th
The house has developed a humming habit – an indoor tinnitus.
Escaped to York, to visit the cathedral. The storm named after my front door blew me across the bridges. The train back took not two but five hours – all down to Doris.
At the art appreciation group, we talked about pictures of place: studio, canal, prairie….
A man came to study my lawn, produced a ‘personalised treatment plan’, then sprayed the moss with ‘liquid rust.’
February 13th -19th
A phone call from Panama City, half-way round the world.
The opera was Valve Murmur. The boiler was innocent; it was the radiators’ fault. so the system was drained and three valves replaced and I bought some very good wine, to celebrate.
On the 14th, an act of love – let a spider live.
My Book Club re-visited Brideshead. At the local theatre, a shoestring staging of an Austen novel failed to sparkle.
Someone put their rubbish in my black bin.
February 6th- 12th
The senior engineer was ‘unable to attend’ my boiler this week, but a happy discovery. If I play with the knob on the bathroom radiator, the noise stops…
In Hereford, to visit the Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map in the world. From the hotel window, saw the sunrise over Sainsbury’s.
A sunny text from Cuba, sent by my son.
Bitter weather over the weekend. Opened the front door only twice. Caught up on Coronation Street and Inspector George Gently.
January 30th – February 5th
A family photo fell behind a filing cabinet yesterday, too heavy to move. It took an hour and a torch and a clothes hanger to retrieve it.
The second engineer came and went, but the song of the boiler hasn’t stopped. Dishcloth grey skies, blue bin day. Sneezed all week.
Lunch with a friend who doesn’t believe in boilers. She’s a storage heater person. Two starters instead of a main course.
The eleventh Tai Chi lesson, in the front room. The instructor and I stretched out our arms and raised them above our heads, to ‘part the clouds’.
January 23rd -29th
The fly that came into the kitchen 10 days ago finally accepted an invitation to leave, through the back door.
The boiler continued to sing to me. The engineer who came to fix it, didn’t. Wasted time in Tesco choosing a light bulb, trying to make sense of LEDs and lumens, halogens and dear old watts.
A salon appointment, for semi-permanent make-up, to restore the eyebrows plucked to oblivion in the ’80s and refresh the beauty spot. A scratchy experience, but worth it.
January 17th -22nd
Broke a favourite mug – Vincent’s Sunflowers – just let it fall. Usual Thursday at a local secondary school (voluntary teaching) but it could be one of the last. They want me to go on yet another ‘safeguarding’ course, fill in a few more forms. A bit late to prove I’m not a sex offender….
The new boiler still tuning up too often and too loudly, making it hard to hibernate in peace.
A talk about the private life of the Tudors. Watched the Trump become President. He and Henry VIII would get along.
January 9th -16th, 2017
Went to Aldi, twice. No-one in pyjamas. Usual Tuesday afternoon at the cathedral, talking to visitors about the Hoard found in a local field. One asked, ‘What kind of field?’
Train south. Check up at the dentist in Primrose Hill, London – must floss harder- then an exhibition in Euston, called Bedlam, about the history of mental asylums and inmates. Pictures of chains, straightjackets and electric shock equipment. Virgin return.
Cold and grey. Made like a penguin on the icy pavement.