August 12th – August 18th, 2019
Congratulations from Ernie! The Premium Bonds held for years actually coughed up a small prize…and a refund arrived from a company which had wrongly charged my account, so off to Waitrose for some classy comfort food and wine.
Posted a booking form and s.a.e. for a local event, but left out the cheque – which was just as well, because I hadn’t signed it… The usual routines and gatherings held the week together, though the reading group’s choice of book (Tin Man) was a struggle. To be fair, the fate of characters who left me cold moved others to tears…
Investigated a far corner of the outhouse, once a post-war coal ‘scuttle’ – looking for a garden tool that wasn’t where it should have been. Cobwebs settled on my ashen hair and Miss Havisham appeared in the mirror.
Saturday would have been my 37th wedding anniversary – except for the divorce.
August 6th – August 11th, 2019
Some things got a bit too much. Like the death of a dear friend, fears for another’s future – and my own. Suddenly overcome in the street, I leant my head against a wall; a passerby paused: was I all right? Reassured, he walked on by. A strengthening moment -the kindness of strangers.
A special Date, with Vincent. During Members’ Hours, before the end of an exhibition at Tate Britain, London. His name on a vase of sunflowers went straight for the heart. Van Gogh: dead for 120 years; pictures wonderfully, painfully alive.
Back home, a loud squeak upstairs, as if from a man-made mouse – which turned out to be the smoke alarm’s battery running down. Consulted the manual, again…then got back on the ladder…Outside, the loud whirl of fallen leaves in the wind and rain of a Midlands monsoon.
July 30th – August 5th, 2019
Who would have thought the sky could hold so much rain? A retro-Spring in the garden – no fruit expected this year, but new leaves appeared on the apple trees, even a flash of pink blossom – barely there in April.
A private-patient optical appointment in London. My right eye has never been quite at peace with the left – in appearance or function.
The stand-off with Stafford Man began to soften, but accepted an online invitation to lunch with Another – in Derby. A bit of Brexit in everything!
An unfamiliar area in my adopted city – once quarry-land, lanes banked with the sandstone which created the cathedral. Coffee with a fellow poet in bare feet in his bungalow on a hill, the visit punctuated by the chimes of two case clocks – one a Grandmother – not quite in unison…
July 23rd – July 29th, 2019
Watched a lot of news, to deflect the post-Portugal blues. Boris I came to power; a Brave New World may – or may not -have begun.
Thursday: got up very early to hoover downstairs before the heat built up – preparing to host a Group – then lived through the hottest July day on record, maybe ever. Filled a hot water bottle with cold, to keep the bed cool. Lightning lit up the room – even through the blinds – strike after strike…
A few nights before, a man jumped into the lake not far from the house, to cool off – and drowned. The picture-perfect view will never be the same.
Walked on the Moon. My usual shift at the cathedral, where a huge photograph of the cratered surface carpeted the floor of the nave. 50 years since the ‘small step’.
July 9th – July 22nd, 2019
A cruise down the Douro, the ‘river of gold’ that flows through Portugal from its source in Spain. Shining green water, reflecting the steep slopes of the Valley, terraced with vineyards…Dream-like views, offset by a series of locks, one the deepest in Europe – a sinister affair with slimy black walls and ‘guillotine’ gates…
The captain’s name was Jesus – so we felt in safe hands… Later in the cruise, he took the ship down to the mouth of the Douro, where it meets the Atlantic.
The ‘spacious’ cabin was actually cramped; opening the wardrobe door cut off access to the ensuite! but otherwise a beautiful boat, every meal a banquet – served with a flourish by flirtatious off-duty matadors (except here, they don’t kill the bull.)
My companion’s moves on the floor were unexpectedly abandoned – a Dancing Queen with bells on! but soon decided to join her… so we both flung ourselves around and made exhibitions of ourselves.
A near-escape on the sundeck. One of the crew sharply motioned to me to sit down – moments before the ship sailed beneath a bridge low enough to decapitate a Diarist…
A week of highlights – from ancient walled villages and baroque chapels all high on hills and on pilgrimage routes to cathedrals and port wine cellars. In the golden city of Salamanca, a Fat Lady sang to us – a Spanish Edith Piaf, writ large – the songs in no need of translation. Love, betrayal, pain…but her finale was a tourist favourite: VIVA ESPANA! which jollied things up again.
After hours of delay, a frightening return flight. A very small plane soon ‘lost’ in total cloud, then severe turbulence.
Back on base, I emptied the old suitcase and threw it into the black bin – the wheels too wonky to survive another journey.
June 26th – July 8th, 2019
Enfield – and an Indian meal out with the Traveller, his wife and his father – and her parents. Three of us drank wine, the others only water. The conversation didn’t flow – but a friendly and overdue occasion.
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square – and pictures in an exhibition: Sean Scully’s lines and squares. Chequered landscape, tide on tide.
Shallow puddles around the washing machine. A plumber checked out the pipework and felt around and under the rusty appliance, and laughed. ‘A soggy bottom!’ Be that as it may, still had to use it pro-tem, so lined the floor with cardboard, tea-towels and old newspapers….
Pre- cruise preparation. Polished some silver jewellery (a chance to shine); painted the toenails Riviera Blue. Put a few personal affairs in order – a phone call to one friend, an apologetic text to another, because you never know.The ship could also spring a leak….
Note – the Diary is taking a break. Will resume July 23rd.
June 25th -June 30th, 2019
A body on the patio. Fallen from the roof – or the sky, a collared dove, its tiny head turned to the side, oddly like the profile on a coin. A decent burial required, but shrank from the contact. A day or two later, it disappeared – undertaker unknown.
Binge-watched a series on Netflix: Designated Survivor, about the White House and the comfortingly crazy world of Presidential politics.
A drift of BBQ smoke over the fence. Screams from the inflatable pool; loud thumps of music from a pop-up tent. The people next door, seeing in summer.
The last there-and-back in a month of trains. Destination: a suburb in Greater London, once a royal hunting ground.
June 17th – 24th, 2019
From Waterloo station, London, to a city of ships, seagulls and the Portsmouth Pair’s new home, their first visitor. A tour of the Edwardian terrace revealed lots of storage space and period details like a fireplaces and high ceilings. The previous owners had three dogs; had to reassure the new ones the faint canine scent would fade in time and become part of the house’s history….During the visit, a dull wrenching sound outside and a van driving off – the SOLD sign being removed and taken away.
When I sneezed a few times on the train back, a faint chorus of fellow passengers – Bless you!
Back in Staffordshire, three hardy perennials visited a garden open for charity – the new lady gardeners and me. A very English afternoon: a dense display of plants and flowers in full bloom – a bee and butterfly paradise – with roses round arbours, frames, even a telegraph pole, a sundial half-hidden in a bush and home-made Victoria sponge in the tearoom.
On my own imperfect patch, the tall screen of conifers needed a short, back and sides, so my neighbour-mower-handyman-life-coach got on his ladder and busy with his hedge-cutter – and sliced through the washing line!
June 10th – 16th, 2019
Backwards, by train, to Leeds, where the route to the centre was lined with barriers and modest crowds. A series of skinny women were belting through the streets – the annual Triathlon, apparently. When the winner flashed by, a loud cheer went up. The churches and galleries on my list all closed. An overnight stay in a 6th floor room with sealed windows, which I hate -so an uneasy sleep.
A cafe next day – to meet a long-lost first cousin for the first time: my mother’s brother’s surviving child….We talked for hours and hours, one with a standard English accent, the other with a slight Geordie lilt. Both tall, in similar outfits (striped tops and jeans) and speech patterns, with the same second name and shared Celtic roots in Durham. A posh lunch in the Victoria Quarter – at the Ivy, with its wildly OTT tropical decor. To celebrate our getting together at last, one of this year’s great Gifts….
Winter returned. The heating went back on, the sandals abandoned for boots. And wet, wet, wet – a monsoon in the Midlands.
Packed a case for the next trip – to Hampshire.
June 4th – June 9th, 2019
Thought I’d been stood up in Stafford – another novel experience – but no, his bus was late. He carried a red umbrella large enough to shelter a family of 4 and wore a charity daffodil pin on a bright blue jersey; I was in non-committal, neutral tones. TV screens in a pub showed scenes of President Trump and the Queen. Another odd – but not entirely uncomfortable – couple. Lunch at the Swan, an Inn with one internal wall built entirely of old suitcases – the hard-edged, rectangular type, without wheels.
Another 3-day visitor, the Traveller, who helped his mother update this site and gave her yet another patient tech-tutorial. Watched the D-Day coverage together – the best on CNN – one of us a bit tearful.
Wore a new cardigan inside out for most of a day. Thought it felt a bit odd.
Readied a rucksack for a trip to Yorkshire.
May 28th – June 3rd, 2019
Birmingham. A visit to the under-marketed marvel of a 17th century house: Aston Hall, rich with oak from trees once cut down in the park. Polished floorboards and panelling, hidden spaces and a round-shaped hole in an elaborate Jacobean staircase – made by a cannon ball in the Civil War. Charles 1st spent a night here – just the one – sleeping in a sumptuous four-poster bed – before the battle of Edgehill. The scent of seasoned wood; the creak of history.
A beauty appointment, for ‘semi-permanent make-up’ – which tatooed my fading eyebrows back to life. The pigment used was called ‘macadamia’; the result a bit Cleopatra.
The nearest branch of Nationwide, for a big Bank of Mum moment – the same-day transfer of sterling – in real time – to help with the purchase of a house on the coast I’ve never seen. The young manager who assisted me with the process almost as thrilled as I was!
May 20th – May 27th, 2019
Eurostar -Lille -and a rustic little station called Froyennes. The ‘field trip’ to the H.Q. of an ancient catholic order, not far from the French border. A warm welcome from the nuns, one of whom remembered counting the German planes as they came over the countryside in 1940. The Mother Superior of the community was once a Loreto girl, one of the gang.
A spartan but pleasant room, the walls bare but for an icon or two. No need to lock the door. A candlelit Vespers; sat at the back as I always had in the classroom. Two of the party brought boot-loads of wine and champagne…A lot of laughter and looking back on school days. Got a bit Horrible Histories at times. 7 Remainers, including the M.S, and 2 Brexiteers – but no hostilities.
Tournai, the oldest city in Belgium. Blond beer in the Grand Place, then the vast Notre Dame, with its 5 bell towers. Full of scaffolding inside. Plastic chairs, black limestone pillars. A cold character of a cathedral.
Calais. Heavily armed guards on the platforms, as if to make sure we didn’t turn back.
A night at the Royal National, for a change. The largest hotel in central London (over 1,600 beds). Coach party paradise, miles of identical corridors. Never again.
May 14th -May 19th, 2019
The new rail was taken off its battens, lengthened with a piece of the pole discarded earlier, strengthened with a steel rod, then put back. The carpenter’s a creative. Later realised the altered end had a slight kink to it, but persuaded self that this added a rustic feel….And at least – no more holes in the wall.
The plot thickened in the garden, too. The Ladies – aka the Angels – dug holes and trimmed laurels. A lilac bush now sits near the back fence, company for lavender in a tub and last week’s ground cover. 3 shades of purple.
Topped up the supply of euros, made the usual map of what-to-wear-when. Preparation for tomorrow’s Enid Blyton style adventure. 8 go to Belgium. To visit a friend from our convent school days, who became a Bride of Christ.
May 7th – May 13th, 2019
The carpenter came and put up the handrail for the stairs, which turned out to be too short – too much cut off the pricey white English oak pole – so there’ll have to be a second coming…
Teeth scaled and polished in Primrose Hill, London , then an early dinner with the Traveller, who’s thinking of Uganda – or Japan.
After the train back, walked home from the station and fell flat on the pavement. Puzzled. Wasn’t tipsy and the heels were not high, then noticed a pot-hole in the asphalt surface. The cross-body bag cushioned the fall, but lucky it wasn’t the road. So no harm done – except to the knee of my jeans. A tiny tear, faintly frayed at the edges.
Hailstones, then heavy rain – but new plants still put in the ground. ‘This way, ‘ said the angels of the garden, ‘you won’t have to water them!’
April 29th – May 6th, 2019
A Guild of Guides meeting in a building once a Bishop’s Stables, for a talk called, What is History? It was clearly : a bit of Geography or Economics or a vision of Progress…or Something Else entirely. One of those cosmic questions that get you nowhere – but good clean fun for a Monday morning.
Another long walk with Stafford Man, in green and open country still with the freshness special to April. Past Follies, cows, bull-rushes and boats – till we came to an old pack-horse bridge over quiet but troubled water, where three rivers meet to make one.
May – and a councillor came to the door.. “Local elections,” he enlightened me, “were not about Brexit.” Would have called him another patronising reason never to vote for anyone or anything again, but he turned away too quickly. His leaflets went straight in the bin, but did cast a vote the next day – for an Independent candidate.
Picked up the payment from America, with pride. The nearest Western Union agency turned out to be not Tesco or the Post Office, but the Co-op.
April 23rd – April 28th, 2019
A text from a friend who lives in Sri Lanka. After the Easter attacks, schools and churches are shut, holidays abandoned and a police curfew’s in force all over the island.
Still collecting cathedrals. A coach trip to Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire, England, where a Norman door stood wide open. Famous for mediaeval carvings of creatures and leaves of stone, so finely and deeply cut you can slip your hand behind them….
Closer to home, down the road, another Church – of Latter Day Saints, sometimes used as a blood donation centre. It should have been the 40th offering, but my iron levels were too low and they sent me away with a leaflet – which told me to eat more turkey, prunes and spinach.
A bit down, till an email arrived – from another friend soon to suffer chemo or radiotherapy treatment, or both.
Storm Hannah threw herself about, thrashing in the trees and flinging flowers and twigs around with wild abandon – the wind echoing even within the walls of the house.
Almost the end of April, the cruellest month.
April 16th – April 22nd, 2019
Goings-on in the garden. Hung, aired and beat a rug on the washing-line, which snapped – so had to tie a bow in it. A black cat appeared from nowhere – green eyes, with a death stare – then vanished over the spiked fence. A wild whirl in the air: pink and white ‘butterflies’ – short-lived blossom from a neighbour’s cherry tree.
A couple of local gardeners came to inspect my borders and raised beds and offer no-nonsense advice. One wore a madly multi-coloured cardigan, the other camouflage combats, as if ready for some undeclared state of war. Liked them – probably angels in disguise – so decided to let them loose against the weeds and other Undesirables…
When the Portsmouth pair arrived on Friday, the house became a family home again. The weather more summer than spring, so we sat on the terrace in the sun, drinking deeply of wine and the scent of the grass. Contrails of planes in the sky and in the evening, the sudden solo rising flights of birds.
The cathedral full of floral displays – yellow, green and white – and marvellous music. But over the Easter Sunday service, a shadow. Sri Lanka.
April 8th – April 15th, 2019
A spot of exercise: bought a black rattan ‘bistro’ chair from Tesco and carried it home to put on the patio. Then sat on it till sunset.
Also put my head above a parapet; sent an email in ‘a spirit of goodwill’ to the cathedral Committee – about their attitude towards volunteers, which may or may not bear bitter fruit….
An indoor fair; a ‘Vintage Soul Event’ in the town hall. Tarot readings, dream catchers, retro bags, angel-wing earrings – but came away with only an ‘uplifting’ bar of soap, made in Birmingham.
A third date and a bus from Stafford to Stone. A long walk along the Trent and Mersey canal, then a pause in an ancient waterside pub. Past boats and gardens alive with blossom, following the path under a bridge or two. The sun kept on shining and somewhere along the way – a new friendship was born.
April 1st – April 7th, 2019
A Chinese banquet one evening, en groupe. A pesci-veggie version for me amid the usual indoor barbecue table effects. The next day, the cold bug – dormant for a while – struck again. So back to the Lemsip and cough drop diet.
In slow motion, cancelled arrangements and kept close to base – but the latest domestic drama had me high on a ladder: the smoke alarm went off, repeatedly. No smoke, no fire. Took it down from the ceiling and dug out the manual. Battery non-replaceable, so dusted and vacuumed the alarm instead, which settled it down.
Early nights and novels about spies and skulduggery in Tudor England. Oddly restful reading, but watching The Bucket List was a mistake.
March 25th – March 31st, 2019
Picked up the ball…so a second Date in Stafford – in the same park and the same beer garden by the river Sow. He came with a ‘peace offering’ – 2 books, about saints and churches, which belonged to his late wife.
Two events in town: co-hosted a Lunch in Knightsbridge, near Harrods. Ten around a round table – friends from way back: school, university, work and Paris in 1968. They came from Chester, Brighton, Tufnell Park, Kensington, Golders Green and Lichfield.
A rally in Parliament Square, Westminster. Deep in a huge crowd, surrounded by ordinary people of all ages, a few in wheelchairs. An army of police nearby, but a peaceful protest with a prom-like atmosphere, complete with ‘Rule Britannia’ finale. Someone gave me a large flag; waving it felt a bit undignified, so I stood on a stone step and held it high, for the breeze to catch it. For once, not an observer, but part of the News…
March 19th – March 24th, 2019
Covered a lot of ground – by bus, train, on foot. Family gatherings for two big birthdays, my ex-husband’s and mine. Wetherspoons and a taverna in Camden Town. Attracted at such times to the river, so on the first day of Spring and World Happiness Day, apparently, over the Wobbly Bridge to see Pierre (Bonnard) at Tate Modern, his pictures drenched in bright colour. The Thames its usual muddy khaki-green, the water agitated, flowing fast. High tide.
Back on base, a feedback request form from the boiler repair company. In view of my recent service experience, would I recommend Baxi to my friends? The TV licensing people sent me a reminder in red – mine had ‘expired’ and if I didn’t pay up, there could be Consequences…A nice chat with an Adam reassured me that yes, watching the box was now free…
Plant news: something wonderful on the windowsill. While I was away, Arnold produced new shoots – three slender coils of green. The aspidistra’s gift.
March 12th – March 18th, 2019
The ‘No Doorstep Callers’ sign ignored again. When one knocked, I opened the door, keeping the chain across – Staying Safe, as the Neighbourhood Watchmen advise. Spoke through the narrow space, but the mystery caller made no answer. He just turned on his heel, sharpish – so only the briefest glimpse of a frightened face and the back of a shabby raincoat.
Not an online banker – so transferred some funds from one account into another in branch. The woman behind the counter was suspicious and took me through a long series of ‘standard’ security questions. Had anyone put me under pressure to move this money? Did I look that stupid or vulnerable?
Signed up to a local protest group – one of a national network – about the eternal shambles at Westminster. Might – or might not – go on a March, more than 50 years after the last one. The issue then: apartheid.
March 5th – March 11th, 2019
The wind from beyond the Fens tore across the city and the snow that fell overnight vanished in the morning. The grass had its first cut of the year, then the lawn-mower – my neighbour – and I put the world to rights in my kitchen. From something rotten in the local council to the current dangers to democracy…
An embarrassing message from the editor did for the Second Date. His next text apologised but made it clear the ‘ball was now in my court’ – where it’s likely to remain. Though part of me’s tempted to throw it back.
24 hours in town, for an appointment in Old Street and a catch-up with an ex-colleague in Hampstead. From the hotel window, a view of the tops of the trees in Tavistock Square and the old road from Euston station to the Strand. Three red buses in a row, then an ambulance, which overtook them all and sped out of sight.
February 26th – March 4th, 2019
An email from America. An invitation from a blogging ‘agency’ to write a ‘guest post’ for them, for a small but significant fee. The other contributors all seem to be famous or ‘feminist activists’ – not my style… so we’ll see. A confidence boost, all the same.
Found something lying in the road – a soft heap, with treadmarks all over it. Not a cat, but a black cardigan. Washed and dried, a perfect fit. Also washed Arnold’s long pointy green leaves in warm milk and water, then polished them gently till they shone. Keeping the aspidistra flying.
A near-Blind Date. I’d seen the man’s photograph on the Singles site, but so scared on the way to Stafford I nearly didn’t get off the train. Turned out to be the warmest winter day on record, the sky above the beer garden a heavenly blue and the park full of ducks and daffodils. A pleasant, inconclusive encounter with a semi-retired newspaper editor.
A greater thrill: the Portsmouth son found a house he likes, so checked it out online on Right-Move. A private peek behind a shiny black door, into someone else’s bedroom, bathroom, conservatory. Period features, Pop Art pictures on the landing….
February 19th – February 25th, 2019
A ‘viewing opportunity’ at a just-built Retirement Complex nearby – taken just to see what it was like. A saleslady showed me round an ‘age-exclusive’ apartment with a walk-in wardrobe and then the communal lounge, furnished with a few down-sizers, who must be very well-heeled indeed.
Eight hours in town. A convent school reunion near Leicester Square, then walking through sunshine and other Squares (Russell, Brunswick..) to the British Library and the Members’ Room, where the Traveller was waiting, to spend a little time with Mum – and soon to fly to Spain.
Communications: a lovely long conversation on the landline with a friend in Epsom – voice to voice, in the old-fashioned way. Loud drilling noises from next door – the Polish neighbour doing his DIY thing again. During a lull, I tapped lightly on the wall – Morse-style, as from an adjoining prison cell – and a couple of taps came back…
February 12th – February 18th, 2019
The joy of Jane. Book Club at mine and a return to an old friend: Pride and Prejudice.
Two items in the letter box: a leaflet promising me ‘the ultimate weather protection’ for my bricks and walls, featuring fungicide…and my first free TV licence. Funny Valentines.
Took part in a Street Furniture Survey, organised by the council. We paced the pavements, clipboards in hand – feeling important – then filled in the forms. Mine noted the number and condition of the local lamp-posts, litter bins and the like – or lack thereof. Plus a dog- fouling notice pinned on a tree.
A working weekend; processed a lot of paperwork and pulled up a few weeds in soft spring sunshine. Threaded a needle twice – to darn the heel of a favourite sock, then to alter an easy hem, which led to sorting out the sewing basket and finding a tin scrap of the past. My mother’s thimble.
February 4th – February 11th, 2019
The engineer came and replaced the pressure relief valve and recharged the expansion chamber and had a cup of tea. I learnt a little more about the boiler’s inner life, but a sense of dread – of another imminent disaster – proved hard to shake off.
So I went to a travel agent to book for a cruise on the Nile, but it had sold out – so paid a deposit on a Douro one instead. Then to a new hairdresser’s, for a retro re-style – a kind of mullet, in silver…
Didn’t want to stay home alone with the boiler, so made an effort and went out for my first meat-free dinner, with the Curry Club. The special menu didn’t include prawns, so had chicken korma – without the chicken, plus an extra poppadom. One diner mentioned the B-word, but dirty looks all round soon shut him up…..Walked back under a cold clear sky – but because it was warm, the house felt less empty than before.
January 29th – February 3rd, 2019
Until the weekend, nothing much happened. Woke up on Saturday to a cold house, the boiler flashing a fault. So I added a bit of pressure, as many times before. But too much, this time – because water began to gush from the overflow pipe outside – pools soon forming on the patio – then the worst bit. Water began to enter the kitchen….
Freaked out, then turned off the supply tap, with difficulty. My installer’s advice over the phone didn’t help, so to be safe, turned off the system. Better to be cold than risk a repeat of last year’s disaster. As long as a body can bundle up, boil a kettle, wash in the sink, flush the loo…
The boiler company customer support line said it wasn’t an emergency; played the pensioner card and they made it one. An engineer would be with me soon.
In the meantime, the alarm went off on the landing. Rushed upstairs and checked the mini-heater I’d pressed into service – but there was no smoke and no fire and the alarm stopped by itself.
January 22nd – January 28th, 2019
Winter has come. The wheelie bin lid frozen shut. Read the meters and fed the numbers into my account; the bill still very high, so turned down the thermostat and wore socks over socks. Saw a young man with a smartphone sitting on the icy pavement outside a shop, one leg stretched out in front of him, the other, missing.
Kept busy and read a lot, trying to block out chilling news from different quarters – about one friend’s recurrence of cancer and another’s likely diagnosis…In denial, at a distance.
A stormy Sunday night, the wind howling in the street – so only a small attendance at the Holocaust Memorial Service. Candles lit, poems read, names written on luggage labels then hung on a ‘prayer tree’. And silence kept for reflection on an evil that still and always ‘passes understanding.’
January 15th -January 21st, 2019
An enlightening lunch – listening to a friend with a new lord and master – a rescue dog, who takes her on regular walks and visits to the vet. The garden’s ‘a wreck’, but he’s – more or less – house-trained and has his own bed in the kitchen. What sounds like servitude to me is a joyful free choice for her. Promised to make the puppy’s acquaintance, glad it isn’t a cat.
A day-trip to town, for a private eye appointment. Passed under the windows of a first floor flat in Bloomsbury. No glimpse of the rooms my boys and I once lived in; the curtains quite closed.
On the red route-master bus, a paper cup rolled round and round the floor, patches of white spreading under the seats. Spilt milk.
January 8th – January 14th, 2019
Birmingham. Pictures at an exhibition, then a group lunch in Grand Central, New Street station, under the atrium roof. All harmony – but paying the bill the usual awkwardness of card and cash, some of us with more expansive tipping tendencies than others….
A class here, an appointment there. No longer dark at teatime and some of the trees seem to think it’s spring – but a bleakness in the High Street. A last dip into M&S Simply Food, about to close down for good; Debenhams nearly empty. When the tearful woman in in my favourite boutique said she couldn’t go on, drew back – surely not a Samaritan moment – but no, she’d ‘had enough’ of the rates, etc – and was shutting up shop at the end of the week….
In the kitchen, a few seeds of change. Began to use up the animal products – the organic sausages, a quiche lorraine – but left some things on stand-by, like the tins of sardines. The future will be meat-free, but fish-friendly.
December 31st, 2018 – January 7th, 2019
New Year’s Eve. Anger on the Midlands train composed of only 4 carriages, because most of the passengers had to stand all the way to London. I was very lucky to get a seat, right next to the loo.
Tufnell Park. Sipped champagne with a dear friend – and a friend of hers – as the year turned from old to new….
The first day of 2019. A hike up Primrose Hill and down again into Regent’s Park, the sparse grass dotted with bottle corks. More joggers than walkers on the path. Views of the Zoo from a distance – warthogs snuffling around, wonderfully ugly – and camels in their enclosures, their expressions all snooty indifference.
A picture palace: the Odeon in the Holloway Road, opened in 1938 – to see a grotesque but much-acclaimed film called The Favourite, about Queen Anne. Dark in the street outside and just ahead of us, a flash of red. A fox crossing the road.
Another over-crowded train back. Re-entered the house to a reassuring sound – the hum of the heating coming on. The boiler, behaving itself.
December 25th – December 30th, 2018
Pigs in blankets for the Portsmouth Pair; when they left, the Veggie son arrived. Roast potatoes- the first pile in goose fat, the second in rapeseed oil – the closest I get to a signature dish. The resident blackbirds feasted on a bit of fruitcake and the remains of a mince pie.
A walk to the cathedral for the Service. The singing of the choir and congregation rose up to fill the vast space. The simple glory of the words and music brought hope and joy to my world.
Another crowded scene – at the football club-house, the red and white Blood and Transplant vans parked outside. No cancelled appointments, apparently. My 39th donation; 11 more to go, then they’ll give me a Gold Card.
The house felt very empty after the company of Christmas, but work to be done – drafting and redrafting the new Post, editing in and editing out. – to meet a special deadline: the anniversary of a death in Athens.
December 18th -24th, 2018
Far too much food shopping, as if for a siege. Before another raid on Aldi, blew out a tea-light, but forgot to lock the back door. Not out for long and the side-gate bolted, but even so…
Last year’s mystery card turned up again – a limp affair, addressed to an Anne I’ve never heard of…A few decorations went up, to please the adult infants. Festive fronds on the mirrors and an angel, suspended from a bookcase, now flies over the telly. Assembled a ‘wall-piece’/mobile of silver flowers and snowflakes, finished off with a bit of holly cut from next-door’s hedge…
The usual shift at the cathedral, now alight with a Christmas tree display – new tradition. An official badge on a ribbon round my neck. A slightly over-excited visitor mistook me for a lay chaplain and told me all about his mental health issues, which seemed to include Brexit. Murmured something at what seemed appropriate intervals, then he asked me to say the Lord’s Prayer with him, so I did and he went away.
December 11th – December 17th, 2018
A late Lunch with a friend, who’s unaccountably fond of foxes, so gave her socks with red cubs on them; her gift to me was also red: a poinsettia, borne home in the dark like a torch.
The festive season does funny things to people. A middle-aged woman passed me on the street. Sensible face, laced-up shoes, but tinsel around her neck and reindeer antlers on her head, with bells on.
The electric fire on much more than usual, with Storm Dierdre at the door; a ‘developing depression’ from Ireland, which figures.
Watched the latest dreary/horrific/endless episode of the soap opera Brexit’s become. My hairdresser – not a historian – thinks there’ll be a civil war…
December 4th – December 10th, 2018
An e-mailed photo on the desktop screen was something of a shock – because the wide-set eyes and faintly wistful expression so like mine. The face of the first cousin I’ve yet to meet, re-discovered at the end of October.
Bought a brooch in the crystal shape of a bee, then – in accordance with some universal law – later lost an earring, now out there with all the socks and gloves and other odd items in orbit….
Sneezed all week. Over-dosed on Vitamin C and the Lemsip diet only broken by the Book Club’s festive meal at a Clubber’s own period home. An abundance of candles and good company, foraged greenery on the table, real logs burning in a Victorian fire-place – and a visit from Secret Santa!
A seasonal ritual; wrote some Christmas cards – fewer than last year – then put them in a little sack, ready for the trek to the nearest post-box. A lot of angels in envelopes.
November 27th – December 3rd, 2018
Opened a box, more like a casket, then re-read the letters I’d save from a fire. Written by my father ‘on active service’ in 1943 -1944, full of passion and humour. Made copies of them all – for posterity – which took ages and used up all the ink in the printer.
Eight train journeys, two on the Tube. London to Brighton. A grey pall of weather over the seafront and what little is left of the West Pier – a skeletal symbol of neglect. Two old friends, once students at Sussex, sat talking at the kitchen table, one a Brexiteer, the other a Remainer, but in total agreement: it’s a Shambles. A cat-flap in the door, but the cat itself is now ashes – in a jar by the bread bin.
A coastal trip to Chichester and a gun, coin and curio shop, to pick up some precious items in person: five replacement war medals. No tours available at the cathedral – and the Arundel Tomb out of reach – because a special carol service was in progress. For dementia sufferers, all very calm – contained by carers – but a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ during a nativity play – especially when two surprise characters appeared in the nave, led by a small Joseph and Mary: real, live donkeys with large furry ears and sad, quizzical eyes…
November 20th – November 26th, 2018
The hairline cracks in the front room coving were filled in, then the decorator opened up the waiting paint pots…The magnolia slowly vanished under a tide of Pebble Shore grey and one wall went Wild Primrose.
Hosted a U3A gathering. Theme: Australia. So – Sidney Nolan and Ned Kelly, but one of the group, who reminded us that Aboriginal pictures – on rock, bark and more commercially, canvas – were the longest continuous art tradition in the world, also brought along a boomerang. Show and tell – another ancient practice.
Sat on several staircases in public places, like the library, with a tape measure – to check out the dimensions of the handrail and distances from top to tread. Because time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted and I need a rail at the right height for my own stairs. Many people passed me but showed no interest or surprise whatsoever. Just an uncertain smile or a very English ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ – as if they were the one in the way!
A family weekend. The Traveller, now of Enfield, visited his Midlands branch, with my new daughter-in-law. The festive arrangements now decided. The vegetarian and carnivorous couples will come at different times….
Frost rimed the fence and the lids of the wheelie bins. The trees in the garden stripped-naked now. Cut back the buddleia and raked up heaps of damp leaves, as if from a modest forest floor. Which made me think of the fires that consumed a place called Paradise, over five thousand miles away.
November 13th – November 19th, 2018
Prepared the front room for its future – wiping down the walls, shaking out the curtains, culling the odd cobweb, shifting chairs towards the centre, to join the lamps and storage baskets….
A cross-country trip by coach. Rather surprised when the driver said Cambridge was ‘full of psychopaths’ – which turned out to be – ‘cycle-paths’. Not deaf yet, but it’s no use, will have to have the hearing test. Natural illuminations: the college buildings and bridges lit up by the low light of November, at its dark golden best. Behind a market stall selling woollen gifts, an old woman sat deep in a coat, knitting something – maybe a scarf or a tea-cosy.
Exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam. One about Virginia Woolf, as depressing as ever, and a display of needlework embroidered in the 17th and 18th centuries. Samplers – often the only surviving record of an ordinary young woman’s life, measured out in exquisite, tiny stitches.
November 6th – November 12th, 2018
A cheap, cone-shaped apology of a Christmas tree went up in the shopping centre.
The lawn was mowed and the brown bin emptied for the last time this year. An energy-saving bulb finally expired and from the top of a trusty ladder, changed it to an traditional one in ‘soft peach’. While up there, dusted the smoke alarm, which winked at me.
Worked on a poem for hours, trying to say something new about one of the oldest of subjects- the sun. The title: from Mourning to Morning, or Daylight. Settled on Dawn.
The Senior Singles site. A few neutral replies to messages received. One from a golfer, another from a Hell’s Angel, retired.
Spent half of Friday thinking it was Saturday.
Thousands came to the cathedral for the Armistice Service. No room in the Nave, or the Choir – so latecomers sat in the aisles or the arcading, anywhere. 8 Victoria Crosses were laid on the altar, wreaths in the Military Chapel. Then a ‘ceremony of peace.’ The Release of Doves. A large basket was opened. At first the white birds just fluttered in the air, then flew more freely…up up and away, into the sky.
October 30th – November 5th, 2018
Pinned a large floppy poppy on my coat. Made of silk, salvaged from an old straw hat. Planted one of those little wooden crosses in the front garden, adding a third name to the ones from WW2. A distant relation called Cecil, also killed in action -in 1915.
The card to the old friend met in Paris was returned, unopened – but a welcome message in the Inbox, from a first cousin I’ve never met. Lost – and found.
Another reunion lunch in London. Of seven ex-convent schoolgirls, including a poet, a nun, an orchid-fancier and a bell-ringer! Nearby, what looked like a homeless encampment in a side-street – but in Covent Garden, a man in a sleeping bag, not in a doorway but on a busy pavement outside a bank.
Portsmouth, for my son’s birthday. The D-Day museum, a seafood supper, a walk around Gunwharf Quays, then the glittering waterfront. A ship left harbour, bound for France – or the Isle of Wight.
October 23rd – October 29th, 2018
Lit a candle, washed and dried my hands with care, then read a letter for the first time. Handwritten in black ink, on very thin paper and dated 1941. From my father in East Africa to his father, in Aylesbury.
At the Architecture Group, met a not unattractive actual architect, who told me he was fond of Art Nouveau. More Art Deco myself. A tiny, unmistakeable spark – but he was far too thin and terribly married.
A patriotic Thursday in town. The British Museum, for lunch with ex-colleagues from my Pimlico period. Very open conversation – over a carafe and aubergines in a puddle of sauce – from life in Sri Lanka, Cyprus and Ireland to dementia and love-making in later life….. Thence the British Library, for a strenuous exhibition about the Anglo-Saxons: room after room of priceless illuminated manuscripts, gospel or prayer books.
On the Virgin train back, sat next to an exquisitely polite young man enjoying a drag show on his i-pad, but quietly. He also smelt divine – a huge improvement on the usual evening commuter spraying junk food all over the place.
Changed all the clocks. Altered the timer on the boiler. Back to Mean Time again, but it seemed a spring forward – straight into winter.
October 16th – October 22nd, 2018
Down country to Coventry – the city that planning forgot – but the ruins of the old cathedral are still hallowed ground and feel it. In the modern one, two wooden beams, found in the rubble after the Blitz of 1940, hang bound together on a wall. Behind a glass screen, but narrowly open at the sides – so just possible to reach out and touch it.The Charred Cross. A natural relic.
Back on home turf, met a real live councillor – newly elected and walking the streets, asking people about any local litter or parking ‘issues’. We had a nice chat – me and Angela – and she promised that new bins and signage would appear in the area….
Out alone after dark – rare these days – I looked up, as you must – and saw the dear old familiar patterns of stars in a clear night sky. Bright company.
October 9th -15th, 2018
Summer came back for a day. Sandals and tee-time again – but the leaves kept collecting on the shingle in piles shaped by strong winds. The remnants of Hurricane Leslie or Storm Callum, can’t keep up.
My hair fell heavily too, so had a very short cut and rediscovered my ears.
‘From a plantation in Jamaica to high-society London.’ A talk ‘set’ in the 18th century about a freed slave called Francis. A Black History month event – but not why I went. He became manservant and surrogate son to a local hero and lexicographer called Samuel. The man in front of me had a very large head, which obscured most of the slides.
76 years since they were created, my father’s wartime cartoons were hung up on a freshly painted surface, in an eye-level group of 5. A kind of homecoming – to a wall so hard it bent a masonry nail.
October 1st – 8th, 2018
A long-shot. Posted a letter – recorded delivery – to the last known address of someone I lost touch with in the ’90s. On this year’s electoral roll, so she’s still around. If not now, when…but, so far, silence….
‘Shadowed’ in the cathedral by a trainee guide – a new role with an awkward fit, because there was little about the place he didn’t already know. So it got a bit competitive. He waxed lyrical about the columns and Early English arcading, but I had the edge on statues, stained glass and Green Men.
A rich retro read. Tea and cake in comfort and talk about a tale of passion and madness on the moors. Our book club choice this month: Wuthering Heights, by a writer doomed herself to die at 30.
Diary, so cold outside. The heating on – but off at eleven, so one night I turned to a very familiar friend, with a furry cover. My old hot water bottle.
September 25th – October 1st, 2018
Another red rosette on the porch. Had I voted? “We’re going to win!’, he said – but they didn’t. The city and district council elections had a tiny turn-out. The polling station was empty when I put my crosses on the paper – with the usual stubby pencil on a string.
Got ready for another make-over: the stairs and landing this time. So many period cobwebs to dust down from the ceiling….then 3 days’ walking up and down on the decorator’s old sheets shrouding the carpet.
Coffee with a friend – but impossible to share the battle at the heart of the week – between my natural optimism and renewed fears for the future. Triggered by another friend’s prognosis, a loved one’s debt and the state of my knees….
An Art and Craft Fair, where I blew the budget on a landscape painting. A scene of shadows across a field in Staffordshire, with a broken, scratchy horizon.
September 18th – September 24th, 2018
A local landscape. An early-morning walk down roads more like country lanes – with high, overgrown banks or grassy verges, then through an empty park more like a wood. How green is my city.
Storm-borne winds tore into the garden, flinging fruit and leaves from the shrubs and the trees, trying to liberate the washing from the line…
Several loads of shopping – in the trusty rucksack or holdall on wheels – to feed and water the Portsmouth Pair, my elder son and his fiancee, who arrived for a return visit.
Heritage events at the weekend; we chose an open day at what was once the city gaol. Dark, cramped cells with straw and the odd stuffed rat for atmosphere. The condemned would be taken from the prison to the market square, including the very last man to be burned for heresy in England, in 1611.
The ‘no doorstep callers’ sign didn’t deter a man on the porch wearing a large red rosette. Could he count on my support in the by-election? My ‘ well’….was met with a patronising reminder that suffragettes suffered to get the vote.’ Which killed any chance of mine stone dead.
September 11th – September 17th, 2018
More holes in the ground, in a corner of my border. Dug 2 small square pits – one for a variegated holly, the other for a cutting a friend gave me weeks ago and just about alive. No label. She did tell me what the plant was, but I’ve forgotten – could be anything – and she’s coming round soon and bound to ask me how it is…
A restaurant near the British Museum, for a family celebration of the Traveller son’s birthday. The Bedford Hotel overnight, in a room with a roof-top view, the skyline broken by three colossal red cranes waiting to demolish something in the morning.
A shocking exhibition at the Wellcome, near Euston, called Teeth, about the history of dentistry and smile improvement. On display, Napoleon’s toothbrush. I didn’t know that after Waterloo, teeth were plucked from the mouths of the thousands of dead on the battlefield, to be transplanted elsewhere – into the gums or dentures of the rich…
A coach trip to Attingham Park in Shropshire, where the grounds stretch for miles,laid out to seem without boundary. Fallow deer and an old stone bridge in the distance. A Georgian mansion – magnificent but soul-less, as so often when a house is no longer a home. In a glass case, a battered copy of the courtesan Harriette Wilson’s ‘Scandalous Memoirs…written by herself’. Published in 1825 , but still in print and available on Amazon!
September 4th – September 10th, 2018
Several neat black squares appeared on the surface of my road – repairs to the deep, raggedy-edged pot-holes there since last winter. Left an unwanted lamp outside the house with a This Works! note attached. Minutes later, it had gone.
A 100 Years of Suffrage event – to ‘celebrate women who made a difference’ – included a look at a local marble monument to a Lady Mary W. Montagu. A free spirit of the early 19th century, who brought innoculation against smallpox from the Ottoman Empire into England.
A solitary weekend – like 3 in 5 – but with the usual companions, books, pens and paper and a new entertainment toy: Netflix. It’s addictive, so must be monitored – like the spending online, the wine intake and a resurgent cheese habit….
Chilly. Put the lightest summer-wear away, then took on thicker layers… Plus socks on the feet, fleecy throw on the sofa. Not ready to turn on the heating – would be an admission of the real cold to come.
Apple harvest in the mini-orchard. A lot of Bramleys, fallen or twisted from the tree. Cut out the bad bits, then stewed them. A sharper taste than last year’s crop. Bitter-sweet.
August 28th – September 3rd, 2018
Another train trip south to the hygienist in Primrose Hill, then the tube to Oxford Street and a familiar backstreet short cut to Tottenham Court Road. The London mindset – a heightened awareness of who and what’s around me – once came naturally; for a Midlander, many years later, it’s more of an effort.
Emptied the airing cupboard, where the boiler lives – towels, sheets, pillowcases – ready for his annual Service. (It’s definitely a him.) Then put it all back, finding something surprising in the process, as you do. A great-aunt’s tablecloth: lacy, slightly stained.
A brief, unlikely exchange online with a senior single somewhere in Scotland, who addressed me as ‘darling’! A bit forward, I thought…..haven’t signed up to the site yet and maybe never will.
The end of August brought its usual mood of melancholy – summer’s lease – then solace in the soft angled light of September, month of months.
August 21st – August 27th, 2018
A cream-coloured car parked on the shingle, belonging to a friend from Chester, a poet met in London years ago. A mooch around an antiques centre, lunch at a favourite place with a view of the cathedral, across a shining pool. More of one of life’s G.P.s – from the tinnitus we share to ceramics, Brexit, the writing imperative and the nature of roses…
An interesting hour or two trying to read my smart meters. Google said, press 9 on the keypad. Problem: no keypad. So the electricity meter required the use of a torch in the crouching position. The gas one outside – once I’d found the key – had a blank screen. A blue button didn’t look important enough to blow up the house, so pressed it and bingo! some numbers came up. Submitted the readings online to my new energy supplier, with a solved-it, modern feeling, which won’t last.
A black car, belonging to the elder son and his fiancee has just left the beach to return to Portsmouth. Several meals made together. I hulled and fancified strawberries, he rubbed and wrapped chicken thighs in foil – one of his specialities. We each did our own thing: they looked at their phones and laptops a lot, I scribbled a bit – but time enough too to talk and watch a wonderful film set in wartime (called Their Finest…) and for the son to give a very slow learner a few lessons on how to transfer photos from one device to another…
A gift catalogue arrived. A chilling message on the cover – ‘Christmas is coming’.
August 14th – 20th, 2018
Sifting through the old correspondence from the loft, came across a long-mislaid letter from my first husband, describing the loss of his son and latest book. A meant-to-be-found chill.
Got the tee-shirt. My reward for joining the t’ai-chi association. Grey, baggy, with a martial Mao-like figure on the front. How is one meant to accessorise such a thing?
A phone call from E-on, offering a special deal to keep me as a ‘valued customer’ – one the tariff team never mentioned before and not available on-line. The untransparency! Nervous about the switch, but glad to get away from the Big Six.
A few days in Surrey, at a cousin’s house with a riverside garden. Hours spent poring over family trees, documents and albums, unearthing more than one mystery. For the first time, saw a photograph of a striking woman I never knew, who lost four sons. Two to the war, one to Australia, another to an asylum. Ideal Rose, my grandmother.
Lunch at Epsom race course, with friends made on a Danube cruise nine years ago. Lots of one of life’s Great Pleasures this week: free-ranging, affectionate conversation.
August 7th – August 13th, 2018
Deluged by messages and ‘winks’ from the senior singles site; deleted most of them – like anyone ‘fun-loving’ or ‘lonely’, under 60 or 5ft 7, living in Scotland or Cornwall or in a caravan.
An alarming pop and flash in the fridge and the light went out. Took ages to find the manual, decipher the diagrams, then locate, remove and replace the bulb…
Sad sight, old story. Watched the gutting of a 1930s cinema in the town, leaving only the facade intact behind piles of bricks. The interior left to decay for decades till beyond repair.
Tong, Shropshire. A group visit to one of ‘England’s best churches’ – with marvellous mediaeval monuments, knights and ladies lying side by side in stone, the alabaster surprisingly warm to the touch. Lunch in the Parish Hall served by rosy ladies in aprons, straight from the W.I. in wartime. Salad cream on the table, home-made trifle for ‘afters’.
July 31st – August 6th, 2018
Up on the roof. A private tour of the cathedral towers and highest walkable spaces above the nave and lady chapel. A flash of vertigo, then gone. At home, up a ladder into the loft – to begin an inventory of everything up there. Toys, baby clothes, old letters, Christmas decorations, a battered suitcase…
The Traveller son arrived – with global gifts – and made the house instantly more a home. Together, we changed my energy supplier from E-on to Bulb,so now a 100% green! His negotiating skills got me a better deal from Virgin Media too. A photo-shoot in the garden to update online photos.
Also with his support, explored a senior singles dating site. He was right, some of the men did ‘look like serial killers’ – if they provided a picture at all – but joined up for a free pilot period….
July 24th – July 30th, 2018
A new plumber came to play with the plunger in the downstairs loo, which mysteriously converted itself from a dual to a single flush…he’d ‘never seen a design like it’ and left the loo exactly as he found it.
Beverley, the East Riding of Yorkshire. A coach trip through the parched landscape and over the Humber bridge, to visit the Minster, larger than many cathedrals with a Norman font – fossils set in the stone. Lunch in an astro-turfed beer garden.
Attacked the weeds in the gravel, using the boiling water method – to loosen the roots – then a killer solution. Sitting in the garden when a butterfly settled on my big toe. Not a white one but a golden, spotted specimen, mistaking the purple polish for a flower…
One more muggy, sleep-shot night, then a wind arose and the rains came.
July 17th – July 23rd, 2018
A Simple Pleasure. Dusting a study shelf and wiping clean the covers, re-discovered some books I’d forgotten I had.
Found: a painted pebble on a wall – ‘friendship stone’, apparently, to be put somewhere else, to spread the surprise…; a wooden ornament in a skip – a toadstool, now washed and re-sited in the garden; a dead bird on the path – an infant pigeon, so no pity there. Lots of white butterflies around.
The new Sim story, cont. An exhausting ‘conversation’ with Virgin Mobile. The operator on the end of the landline called me Madam and spoke fluent Mongolian. Still – after an eternity of tappings on and off my Samsung screen – connections were ‘re-activated’ and ‘data settings refreshed’, all 4 G of them, so I can now access the internet again without wi-fi. Then she hoped I’d enjoy the rest of my day – or at least I think she did.
July 10th – July 16th, 2018
A day trip to the hygienist in Primrose Hill, London, for a deep tooth clean. He said I was in the 10% of the population especially vulnerable to ‘gum issues’. Depressed, I bought a French mascara, in purple.
A leaflet in the letterbox, inviting me to learn kick-boxing. ‘Enrolling now for beginners!’
Painted a few wooden clothes pegs blue, to use up the last of the paint. Watered the raised beds, yet again, just before the heavens opened. Harvested scores of little apples, fallen on the mini-orchard floor. No crumble this summer.
A call from Donegal and a chat with a friend with New York connections about the Donald’s trip to the UK. We begged to differ. I thought the orange baby balloon – juvenile and that there’s more to Melania that meets the eye.
July 3rd – July 9th, 2018
Watched the second half of an England match with a large glass of white – till the barbaric bit: the penalty shoot-outs.
Blood donation, after a long gap. Once at the football club, now at the Church of Latter Day Saints. The refreshments didn’t include tea or coffee; ‘no stimulants’ allowed in a Mormon building.
Drinks at a pub on a traffic island. An ex-colleague’s leaving do. At a table under an umbrella too small to shield from the sun, the conversation in competition with the cars on the road.
Saturday, the Festival Market. Helped man a stall called Klassy Kast Offs – actually 3 clothes rails. Strange to sell items once in my own wardrobe. Around 2pm, the crowds started to thin, then disappear altogether… Me too – to watch ‘the lads’ win, again!
June 24th – July 2nd, 2018
A neighbour popped in with the bottle of Baileys she meant to give me at Christmas. Just turning up – with no call or text beforehand – is a rare event these days…
Re-sent an email to a magazine – again – for pensionista’s sake.
London. A long walk from Trafalgar to Tavistock Square and the usual hotel for an overnight stay. Summer in the big city: people in groups on the dry grass. A well-dressed man alone on a bench asked me a question and smiled. Told him the time, then walked on by. There was something optimistic in the air, but it wasn’t romance.
St Albans, for an open afternoon at my convent school. Wanted to re-visit the copper beech tree in the grounds and the chapel. Was never a Catholic – but loved the statues, the blue and gold mosaics on the walls and the deep calm of the place, which haven’t changed. Tea with a few other ‘old girls’; our French teacher is still around, living in Wales, aged 102.
The heat goes on; put my feet in serial bowls of iced water…and dug out a sun-top or two unworn for years. The lawn now more yellow than green.
June 19th – June 23rd, 2018
Watched a transexual make-up tutorial online, in the interests of research.
All the books from Amazon arrived at once: two murder mysteries – it’s the weather for it – and a biography of Wallis Simpson by Diana Mosley, her friend.
Must have offended the God of Toilets, because it was the downstairs loo’s turn to fail and the plumber’s disappeared off the face of the earth.
A voodoo doll moment. My seamstress – a low-key status symbol – still perfecting the grey dress, stuck a lot of pins into it and some into me.
A call from 12,000 miles away. The newly weds now heading for Canada…..Here, the Solstice required some communion with nature, so watched light blue skies turn indigo.
Sunday. Perfect peace in the garden, except for the odd muffled shriek…everyone else inside. God bless the World Cup.
June 12th – June 18th, 2018
Put the bedside table into the bath, the cheval mirror into the airing cupboard, moving everything off the Blue Room floor – ready for the next Home Improvement.
Processed the mail, including a letter from HMRC about an underpayment of tax, which I didn’t understand. Added to the To Sort Out list…
A delivery in a plain brown paper package. The man who asked me to sign for it gave me a faintly knowing look, but it was only a linen cardigan, to go with the grey dress.
This morning, the flooring man returned, ripped out the old carpet and laid lengths of warm-toned Louisiana oak, to balance out all that turquoise duck egg on the walls…
Put everything back, then slumped in front of the telly. The Odessa File, Corrie, Beyond a Hundred Days…
Virgin in its goodness restored my messages and voicemail; sent a silly text to the Traveller – now in New Zealand – ‘Take care. No earthquakes, please!’
June 3rd – June 11th, 2018
A cruise from Liverpool to Norway: islands, mountains, waterfalls, fjords and glaciers – scenes to fall in love with. One of the tour guides was the Viking type, still mine….who took us to a very long, deep lake framed by rocky slopes rising sheer from the water – a still, icy and emerald blue. A terrible beauty. In the 1930s, a massive piece of the mountain fell into the lake, causing a tidal wave which wiped out all the local farms…
Shared a cabin with a friend – a novelty to have company at bed-time. Her jewellery and pills took up more space than mine. When she bought a diamond ring at the boutique shop on board, then a pendant to go with it, we became very popular.
A ballroom dancing class went rather well – partner provided for me – two steps back, side-close, two more forward – until the teacher added a few twirls and ‘foot-taps’…Made an excuse and fled.
The ship was very dated, with dirty windows, but there were other views to compensate. A cruise is a people-watching paradise. The British summer uniform was out in force. Have never seen so many, some also mountainous, in a single place – in stripes.
No rain, only sunshine and short nights – but nothing could stop the ‘fully-stabilised’ ship from rocking and rolling in the North Sea… A mechanical problem meant a return to Rosyth, not Liverpool, so no Fingal’s Cave. A disappointment, but the surprise visit to Edinburgh added another place and another country, to which I must return.
May 29th – June 2nd
Bits and bobs. The plumber put a state-of-the-art syphon ‘gubbins’ in the upstairs loo. See that gizmo there? he said. Dave does love his g-words.
Changed the Sim in my phone, assisted by a paperclip and a patient son in Portsmouth. Voicemail just doesn’t sound the same…
Body maintenance. A pedicure at home, the toenails now an appropriate Nordic blue. At the hairdressers, deafened by dryers, country pop and low-grade gossip.
Packed for the trip, using the roll-up-Russian doll method. Talked to myself and to the Departed quite a lot. ‘Make sure you’…..Please keep an eye on’….
A pause in the Notes till June 12th.
May 22nd – 28th, 2018
Domestics, mostly. Like a visit to one of my spiritual homes – Waitrose – where I did a huge shop, then got a cab home. Enough loo rolls to last till Brexit.
Put a lot of pencils into the freezer to harden the lead, then sharpened the tips to knife-like points…
Planted some marigolds, for the colour, then sprinkled salt around – which should stop a few slugs in their tracks. Nailed a Green Man to a fence post – a perfect position for a small wooden effigy of a medieval head sprouting shoots and leaves. Started tidying the outhouse and found a tea towel with a map of Australia and a calendar for 1983….then caught a few rays…
A happy hour: making a ‘wardrobe map’ for the cruise – based on layers and a limited palette – a plan of what to wear when and how, with arrows, boxes and sketches.
May 15th – 21st, 2018
The upstairs loo stopped working. The press-down ‘plunger’ on the top wouldn’t come back up. If it’s not one thing, it’s another…
St Albans, for a reunion lunch at the Golf Club. 8 ex-convent schoolgirls in their 70s recalling escapades and nuns in black. An uneventful night in a historic hotel on Holywell Hill, said to be haunted.
In next door’s garden, the children screamed in the pop up pool, but no sign of last year’s massive marquee, so nothing came between me and the view of spires on the skyline.
Enjoyed the Wedding, except for the arrogant, overlong address that used the word ‘love’ like a battering ram. The mother of the bride, all pastel dignity. The dress: superb, simple silhouette, but a bit boring. (Princess Grace still holds the prize). Happy for Harry, the little boy behind the coffin.
May 8th – 14th, 2018
Finally posted a very well-travelled letter written in February. Forgotten then found in my bag.
A Club meeting at the house. Our choice, Why be Happy when you could be Normal? led us down our own dark memory lanes of the North and South in the 1950s and 60s… A lot of kind questions about – wedding, island, flight.
Threw 5 balls back over the fence, on different days.
A man came and crawled around on the carpet, measuring for new flooring in the blue room and said he spent most of his life ‘on the floor’.
Winterbourne: an Arts and Crafts house, full of Morris prints…with a Botanical garden. Lunch under a handkerchief tree; brushed against a huge hairy carnivorous plant from Borneo, with deep sacs like purses – for luring and trapping its prey.
May 1st – 7th, 2018
My handyman/life-coach finished painting the back bedroom – more duck egg – while I thumped a few mats, cleaned pigeon poo off the patio, watered the raised beds, pulled up a few weeds, then sprayed canvas shoes and a woven bag with waterproofing fabric protector…
No Spring to speak of, but suddenly – Summer, the apple trees ablaze with pink. Dug out a camp chair, then sat in the yard, then the garden, following the path of the sun. Wished I could share the beauty of the sunset. But, as ever, writing, reading and the radio kept me company.
April 24th – 30th, 2018
So a new story began for the Traveller – and perhaps for the rest of us.
In and out of the bright blue waters and hours at the ocean’s edge or from the veranda, watching the waves and the sudden fall of the night.
A visit to Victoria, the capital city of the Islands, once British – more like a new town with a shanty feel and a clock tower in the centre, painted silver, like a mini Big Ben….
The flight back re-routed over Madagascar – 10 hours became 12 – a new Aviation Authority regulation requiring the plane to stay close to key airports.
Bite-free on the tropical trip – my citronella secrets – but five minutes in a Midlands garden and a red bump appears on my arm, then another…Now in slow motion, unpacking over time. A large shell survived the journey and washed up on the bathroom shelf – still with the scent of the Ocean.
April 16th – April 23rd 2018
From the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, East of Africa. On Silhouette Island, the misty forested mountain behind the resort more Jurassic Park than Paradise.
Where my younger son got married on a beach below the equator. The bride wore a lace gown and fit-flops.
Two very different – but not opposing -families shook hands and were pleasant together. I shared my villa, on stilts, with a lizard. Tropical storms, hot rain.
April 10th – April 16th 2018
The pyramid vanished; the removal of the rubbish brought the Flood Experience to a close. Eyebrows threaded, hair cut, toes tidied. Lists made spawned many more….
Overall, overcast – but suddenly, the sun and an ice-cream van came round the corner, with a jingle: off to work we go,da da dadadadada…Children ran across the grass.
Euston, a day-trip – to give the bridegroom son his birth certificate and to accompany his brother to an appointment at UCH – where both of them were born.
Preparation, preparation, preparation: multi-tasking gone mad. Tropical toiletries assembled; essential liquids decanted into small bottles; socks and necklaces stuffed into shoes….The mail stopped for the next ten days – the peaceful part.
April 3rd – April 9th 2018
Watched a tree on the green being cut down from the top, branch by branch, till reduced to a sad, seat-like stump.
Book Club: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1925. ‘Diamonds’ still ‘a girl’s best friend.’
Springtime in Birmingham, hunter-gathering. The spaghetti-style shopping malls disorientating – and Primark proof that Hell is Other People – but a trophy. A long linen dress good enough for the island occasion… A brave stall in the centre, Islam Against Extremism. Picked up a few leaflets, but didn’t keep them.
Made like a tourist in my own city, walking round the remnants of the old walls and visiting an 18th century cellar with uneven floors of medieval brick and a slab where the master of the house, a surgeon, was said to dissect bodies fresh from the gallows.
After the purchase of a single plug, Amazon bombarded me with pictures of bathroom accessories, based on my ‘browsing history’, including umpteen more plugs…
March 27th – April 2nd 2018
A pyramid of rubbish still outside, but the repair Work came to an end and the Great Tidy-up began. The kitchen took on a minimalist look, which won’t last.
Made Travel List: extend insurance to world-wide cover,order Seychellois rupees..
The carpenter came to talk about more shelving and share wedding stories. His niece, now nephew, got married last year on a far-flung island. Georgina, now George. No one went.
The son in Portsmouth ran a check on the computer by remote control and taught me how to create a hyperlink and other marvels…
My 10-day mini Lent also ended. No wine, no cheese – much easier than the cutting down of the coffee…Summoned by bells, but no church service this Easter. A thick mist over the city obscured the view of the sky-line.
March 20th – 26th 2018
The front room still a retreat, while the decorators made themselves at home in the kitchen. Alerted to a fire hazard, all the halogens in the house replaced with LEDs. The Flood has become a Blessing in Disguise…
In the cathedral. When I mentioned Henry VIII’s greed for church riches, an American visitor looked puzzled. Was he the one found under the car park?
London. Up and down a city road, in and out of the dress shops. Looking for the One. An outfit ordered on line a disappointment- with frayed edges for hems. A family dinner in Kilburn, to mark recent birthdays and talk about the wedding which is going to be on the beach. Oh dear.
Back in the house, the kitchen turned from magnolia to pewter…Outside, a new warmth in the air.
March 13th -19th 2018
Grounded. The Work went on, the noise of tools on hard surfaces like a dentist’s drill.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to clean behind the oven and units. The grease of ages and two antique packets of Quavers. The bathroom basin yielded its secrets. All houses have them. In the bottle cap beneath the plughole, a disgusting,semi-solid mass of gunk and hair – not mine. ‘The worst I’ve seen’, the man said. No wonder the overflow didn’t work….The downstairs loo came in from the cold and was re-enthroned, but the bathroom door moved to the door of the stairs. It’s a surreal world. The kitchen ceiling was stripped back to the original blue – those duck eggs again. Meanwhile, the upstairs lights blew and the fuse box switch kept tripping. Rang the electrician…
Took the Great British Creativity Test online. Another mistake, because I don’t bake or make films or throw pots…
Covered the new floors with mats, just in case – and waited for spring.
March 6th – 12th 2018
Cleared the surfaces and floors of the kitchen and ‘rear hall’ – of bar stools, vases, pots and pans and plants and much more besides, ready for the Repair Work.
The hairdresser’s, to put some colour into the white. Brown ‘slices’ and a few streaks of turquoise more like dirty denim.
Before going away, a new addition to the usual routines of locking up and switching off – a plug and tap check. Off with my former husband to meet future in-laws in Enfield, who served us a banquet with no alcohol, but sweet hospitality.
In Paris, once my home, repairs began on Notre Dame. Here, a man with a white van – and a plan – arrived and removed the downstairs loo, which is now in the yard outside. Then he took out the oven, the washing machine and fridge and stripped the floor down to the original 1940s tiles and concrete.
February 27th – March 5th 2018
Snow-heavy clouds over the garden, but hung the washing out for a while, Canute-like. A polar expedition to Tesco, but the Siberian landscape also brought a sense of awe and freedom. To walk in the middle of a road with no traffic and no one else left in the world.
An extreme event, part of a Literature Festival: an uncancelled ‘poetry walk’. The cold too bitter to make notes as we went along – but in the cafe we got creative. So, ‘a single seagull on a silver pond, white on white’…
For contrast, researched ‘occasion dresses’ for ‘the tropics’ – but don’t do frilly or floaty, so the Mother of the Groom could be in jeans, which Would Not Do.
Paid my last television licence.
February 20th – 26th 2018
Over a month since the basin flowed over and a new fear – of plugs – took hold. I’ve got used to the cavern where the ceiling downstairs should be – almost. The insurance types told me my claim had only just been approved, so I played a very rare card – the pensioner-on-her-own one – and my file was marked ‘urgent’.
Finished the blackcurrant jam, well past its best-before date – bought for my late partner’s last visit three years ago. Concerns about my family rose up in earnest. Past, present, unshareable. Didn’t vote in the local elections. Icy outside; bleak heart. No excuse.
Ordered a pendant light online but got the bulbs wrong: BC, not ES. (Bayonet cap, not Eddison screw – had to look it up.) So I rang John Lewis to alter the order, but it wasn’t as simple as that, because they billed me twice, telling me to ‘reject the delivery’, then to accept it… In the end, umpteen efforts later, got £30 for ‘poor service.’
A mystery knock on the front door, locked for the night. Glad there’s no bell.
A letter from an unknown company, offering advice on ‘how to help your loved ones plan your funeral’….Snow fell.
February 13th – 19th 2018
Poetry Group. Theme: Life. We sat around a round table and shared our creations. Book Club: a thriller, a tale of many deaths. A car crash, a fall from a cliff, a walk into the sea.
Painted several shades of grey on the kitchen wall – to replace the existing Magnolia, peeling post-flood. Chic Shadow, too dark. Goose Down, too chilly. Pebble Shore – a pale, perfect pewter.
Ages in another town, at the nearest B&Q, where an assistant did his best to explain the available varieties of kitchen/bathroom flooring. Laminate, luxury vinyl click, engineered wood, not to mention the underlay ranges….No cafe, no loos, no chairs.
Road blocks made the trip back a long one, trapped in a cab with a driver who couldn’t speak English, but sneezed expansively at regular intervals.
Another email from an old friend, post major operation, pre-chemotherapy, put everything into perspective, again.
February 6th – 12th 2018
The contractor cometh, again, and agreed a new bathroom floor was required. The neighbours probably wondered about the stream of men coming into the house and up the stairs….
On the London train, a young man opposite glared at my plastic bottle of water; next to his laptop, a fashionable fibreglass, re-usable tumbler affair, with a leather strap and black (plastic) lid.
An exhibition at the V&A, with my cousin. ‘Ocean Liners: Speed and Style’. Some of the ‘floating palaces’ had synagogues on board. In 1907, our grandfather sailed to America on the Cunard line…
The Traveller outlined his wedding plans, which involve a 10 hour flight to the Seychelles and – possibly — a ceremony on the beach, giant turtles in attendance. What to wear?
January 30th – February 5th 2018
A complicated conversation with the loss adjuster dealing with my claim, post-flood.
Lincoln, mid-week, based in an apartment on Steep Hill. Icy cold, but bright. A walk on the medieval castle walls, following in the footsteps of Henry V111, then a museum with the very first tank, called Daphne. A tour of the cathedral: massive, magnificent but low on atmosphere. Fossils in the limestone flags.
A building contractor came round to inspect the damage, then sent two men who proceeded to pull down the kitchen ceiling – in case ‘it falls on your head’ – followed by a Floor person who said he only did ‘coverings’ and that the bathroom tiles above were ‘moving’…..but not to worry, he’d fill in a Report….
January 23rd -29th 2018
Given a tour of a Retirement Village by a resident. Corridors called Wisteria Avenue and Palm Springs. A pub, restaurant, gym, hairdressers, courtyard garden. Not for me- but a nice place if you can afford it.
Went to Specsavers; should have gone before.
Birdsong: a melodious tune, in ‘verses’, from a tree in the street – sweeter than a blackbird’s – performed by a small bird hard to identify.
Holes drilled into the study wall – one of those no-going-back sounds – for a shelf-unit and a home at last for my photograph albums.
Planned a trip cross-country to the East, to another cathedral city on a hill. Polished my best boots for the journey.
January 15th -22nd 2018
A semi-self-inflicted flood; a plug left in the bathroom basin overnight, a tap not quite turned off and an overflow that didn’t do its job…which led to a peeling kitchen ceiling, a steady drip and a sodden carpet and uplifted vinyl tiles…
Cancelled the week. Mopped up and asked a friend round to share the horror, then the insurance people came to take details, photographs and a video of it all.
Watched a disaster movie – Captain Phillips – for a bit of perspective.
A dank smell has persisted, as if January itself has taken possession of the house.
January 8th – 14th 2018
Appointments in town, one at a dental practice in Primrose Hill, where the hygienist, 17, treated my teeth to a Deep Clean. Stayed at an overheated hotel in Bloomsbury, with pre-war shower fittings and tin-lidded dishes on the breakfast buffet.
Tate Britain: an exhibition of Rachel Whiteread’s ‘solid spaces’ – airless, tomb-like structures – with blocked up windows and doors, cast in white concrete and resin.
Doubled the vitamin C and washed my hands a lot. A foreign flu’s invading the Midlands.
A friend showed me round her new home near the cathedral – all beams, nooks and crannies – built in the 1400s…
A heavy package arrived from the MOD – war records. Opened the envelope, but not ready to read the contents.
January 1st – 7th 2018
A voice from Suffolk and the deep past. A former flatmate’s name in an ancient address book inspired an email into the ether. A very longshot, which bounced around for a bit, then found its target and – amazingly – to a phone call and a plan to meet.
Completed the slide samples, then put the bowel cancer screening test kit in the post. The first catalogues arrived, spring-like.
The main radiator in the front room refused to respond. Added a few extra layers, Eskimo style, then got the plumbing-heating-and-boiler man in. A new valve is required and my ‘system needs to be drained’. If it’s not one thing, it’s another…
December 27th – 31st
Enough cheese left over after Christmas to last till Easter. Dumped a box of liqueur chocolates into Tesco’s food bank; felt a bit Marie Antoinette.
Decided on a divorce. All my eco-efforts (turning off lights and things on standby, not to mention the new meter,) didn’t stop E-on sending me a letter raising the monthly debit – so over-time to change fuel supplier.
‘No signal’ on the TV, ( more switching on and off) then Outlook wouldn’t let me send any e-mails, until I accepted an invitation to change the format to ‘beta’….
In bed with a book before the Bongs, then woke up to a new year. Exchanged a few ‘Happies’, then put up a clean calendar, one with no pictures. A blank canvas.
December 18th -26th
The holly-patterned bunting slipped down the kitchen window, the bronze and silver decorations kept falling off the pictures and mirrors – so multiple re-attachments until I lost the end of the sellotape…one of those seasonal inevitabilities.
The Cathedral Illuminated light show on the West Front was a disappointment – too commercial and indifferent to features of the ancient architecture. A drone – red spot against the black sky – kept watch on the crowds below. The Christmas morning service, though, was magic: full of candles and music and people, there to hark the herald angels sing.
In the end, a very quiet and vegetarian few days, in the Traveller’s company. No nut roasts left on the shelf in Aldi – and didn’t fancy the spinach vol au vents – so the fake sausages in the freezer had their festive moment. Watched the Queen in her pearls as always and at her best. The present from a cousin in Devon, which is always toffee, turned out to be fudge….
December 11th -December 17th
Couldn’t open the lid of the black wheelie bin, because it was frozen, with a topping of solid snow. They still haven’t been round to empty it. Pavements glassy with ice. No one gritted the local roads – so slithered my way into town and back again…Another festive lunch with useless crackers.
Managed to get some strands of hair caught in the motor of the dryer. The smell of burning. Had to liberate self with scissors and now have an odd tuft on the side of my head.
My handyman-neighbour (local hero 1) painted the chimney breast wall – a more definite duck egg than expected. Carpenter no 3 wasn’t the One; no 4 said he didn’t like shelves, so we talked instead of units and metrical measurements. Tricky, because I think in inches.
My elder son drove up from Portsmouth, his beard much tidier than before. He blocked the ads on the computer and we talked about housing, debt and daughters-in-law to be. Made a few trays of my signature dish, using goose fat: roast potatoes.
December 5th – December 10th
At home with the Tile Doctor, who gave my bathroom a make-over and sang along to his radio all day. We agreed that Dusty was the best.
London, Hampstead, for a reunion dinner with ex-colleagues, several glowingly new grandparents. The stunning street decorations – Christmas trees aloft and alit – were paid for by George Michael, we’re told. The British Museum, for an exhibition about the Scythians, a nomadic tribe who roamed the Siberian steppes before Christ.
Booked a cruise – the Norwegian Fjords. My travel companion showed me her new NHS hearing aid, in elastoplast pink. I will get one sometime for sure.
Wrote a few cards with a heavy heart – too many names crossed out in the address book – but a surprise call from a new friend… Up the ladder to the loft in search of wrapping paper etc
Sunday: woke up to a winter wonderland. Everything covered with clean snow, that kept on falling…
November 28th – December 4th
A parcel thrown over the gate; the tin inside survived the fall. I threw an old suitcase into the black bin, its handle broken beyond repair.
Carpenter no.3 looked with with interest – or incredulity – at my shelf sketches. Irish, with several studs in his ears, think he’s the One.
Cleaned under the oven in crawling-on-the-floor style, with a Heath Robinson device: a coat-hanger wrapped in a damp sock. Found lots of crumbs and a rock -hard piece of pasta.
An e-mail from an old friend, about her cancer diagnosis. Picked up the phone – a direct conversation, the first for a long time – to hear her voice. We met at 18.
Sunday. Saw the super moon rise behind the houses, then the trees. So close, bright and beautiful. Monday morning. Moon-set.
November 22nd – November 27th
Carpenter no.2 came about the shelves, but boasted, grim-faced, about his ‘top-end staircases’….A ‘Tile Doctor’, all smiles, came to discuss my grouting and sealant issues.
With the trees now free of leaves – and the marquee a memory – the view to the west of the cathedral is now restored to me.
A text from the Traveller in an opposite of Iceland – Oman.
Began to read a book belonging to him, called Critical Mass, about ‘ how one thing leads to another’….
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.