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.