Welcome to the attic of my mind. Mind the stairs, click the light on and have a rummage around my thoughts on writing, the art of everything second-hand, the natural world, music . . . just about everything. Probably not much about sport.
Friday, 31 December 2021
DO Look Up.
Thursday, 30 December 2021
The shoe event horizon
As a great Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fan I recalled, while polishing our various pairs of shoes this morning, the section about the Shoe Event Horizon - an economic theory revolving around failing society and retail therapy in the form of shoe buying which eventually leads to more and more shoe shops until the only viable shop to start up is a shoe shop. Society eventually collapses and the world in question spirals into ruin. In the case of Frogstar B the population forsake shoes and involve into birds.
It does often seem to me that we are in danger of this becoming reality. Not perhaps from just shoe buying and it would be unlikely we would evolve into birds, at least not in the relatively short term, but the vast tsunami of consumerism that is upon us appears to be ever increasing despite dire warnings from all directions: pollution, wastage of raw materials, sweat shop labour and the mental hollowness of shopping for the sake of it.
I'm a rubbish consumer, especially of shoes, and so is Ezra. Mark, having off-the-chart sized feet has little choice other than to accept whatever can be found online, or move to Scandinavia where such large feet are more known. Ezra and I, having average shoe size have benefited from some remarkable footwear castoffs over the years. To the left above, my most comfortable boots ever: soft Italian leather footwear from a boot (ha ha) sale for two euros which have been keeping my feet happy for about five years now.
The middle pair are Ezra's from 'Le Bon Coin' an ultra useful site I've blogged about many times before. These are hand made leather shoes from a shoe maker which were obviously never worn; basic, well made, and very comfortable, for ten euros. The boots at the other end were NEW! in a sale in a scarily expensive shoe shop in Perpignan. I just loved them and knew they would be worn for years, which they have been, constantly. But they are totally repairable, the heels done twice and the soles to be done at some point.
A small boot-related extract from my latest work in progress: Outcrier.
A slap of wind shaketh the building. Rain smatters against the eyes of the house. Hamish Harris adds wood to the fyre and procures a flame to allume the huddle of candles that crouch on the mantle-piece. “You’re not going to attempt a walk back, are you?”
I note my old boots stayned wi mud, the steem rising from them. “Praps it would be not so eezy.”
Friday, 24 December 2021
Towards the end of 2021
Wishing all who trip across this blog, and the more constant readers from over the years, a very happy and peaceful Christmas and best wishes for the next year...
Monday, 20 December 2021
Forty-eight hours or so.
Seawater pool of Cancal in the early morning
Leaving 'the lad' in charge for a couple of days, Mark and I went off for this thing called a ho-li-day. It seems to be a very long time since we did this and how wonderful it was to have a bit of time away from the usual routines - not that I'm really complaining - but to see unfamiliar landscape, different architecture, eat food we hadn't concocted ourselves and talk about things other than household issues, the ongoing building projects, and gently curse each other for failing to put bin out/bring washing in/letting the fire go out, etc, etc, was indeed . . . brilliant!
The port and river Rance at Dinan
I always feel that so much is absorbed on short breaks away; certainly the sites and sounds of our chosen town, Dinan, will be printed on my mind: the very early morning walks through silent cobbled streets, church bells, seagulls, the misty decent down a steep cobbled hill to the river and port. We also got to see the ocean on a sharply cold and clear morning before the Christmas crowds arrived in St Malo.
Rather eerie looking oyster beds at Cancal
Crepes were eaten, cider not drunk (distant memories of 18th birthday and imbibing far too much of the stuff), a few Christmas presents purchased, ancient buildings admired, and all hours used to the maximum.
Dinan historic centre at 7:30 am
Friday, 10 December 2021
The curious incident of the leaky hot water bottle in the night
With nod to Mark Haddon for blog title, but it was a curious incident.
Hot water bottles feature large in our non-centrally heated house. Winter = wood fires, soup, cake, long bracing walks, and, hot water bottles. We've had two faithful orange ones for several years now, uncomplaining items that comfort and sooth; items that receive a hefty kick to the floor as a semi-conscious foot finds a chilled, rubbery surface in the small hours.
Last night during a dream of seawater creeping across a beach I woke abruptly to find some truth in the dream except I was in a freezing bedroom and not on a sun-kissed beach. One of the faithful orange companions had developed a small hole at its shoulder area, enough to let the litre of water escape into the sheet and under me. For a moment I lay still recalling the same feeling from my early childhood: a large wet area which was currently slightly warm but would soon be clingingly cold. I think my mother would have reluctantly heard an only too familiar, Mum . . .? coming from my room and would have ushered out the soggy sheet to replace it with a clean one at some hideous hour of the night. Anyway, in this case it was only water so I moved as far to the other side of the bed as possible (husband is away) and attempted to sleep on a narrow and cold strip of bed.
At my current statutory waking time of 5:45 - in order to write - I got up, refilled the remaining bottle, made tea and set up my 'writing studio' - lots of pillows, H W Bottle against my back, and laptop with charger cable as the aged computer won't work unless connected to a plug socket when it wakes from shutdown. On this side of the bed there isn't a near enough socket so I attempted to write with the charger cable across the keyboard which pulled the cable from the laptop every few minutes causing shutdown again. Then the dog wanted to come back in after her habitual early morning rambling about in the garden, and I realised I had about ten minutes left before all the other morning routines needed to be addressed. I did manage to write four lines but some mornings that's all that happens anyway as my current work feels akin to painting and re-painting with words. A small sample which doesn't feature a hot water bottle.
I sleeped wewll but with muchly dreaming of silver, oversized vehicle which carved its way through the placid ocean of yesty.
T-dui, the waters are less obeisant and All Hallows sways jerkily, spray sousing the oar-bods and Shouter who is in filth-mood after imbibing a skinful last darking.
Despite the heavy waters we have progressed goodly and Alport High is vueable, its scattering of small isles bright yello with breezly-leaf bushes. I have been spake that Alport has a bainhouse and a resto that serves a goodly mixi-beast; other row-bods must be contemplating these glories as the pace axselerates.
Within a cycle we are safe, the nose of All Hallows bedded into a grey shingle shore. The Boreas howls through a decayed forrist of metal struktures atop the loftiess hill, a mournful and worrisome discord. I scurry to the eatery, a black-plank edifice from which emits sounds of merriment and smells of hot and spicy scran.
Tuesday, 7 December 2021
On a small scale...
As we are building a somewhat (very) over the top chicken abode and have got to the roof part, we thought we might as well continue in the same absurdness and add a roof of traditional ardoise (slate). Cue the marvellous, really marvellous, leboncoin - a second hand goods internet site that we get just about everything from. Someone in Saumur was selling 400 pre-used slates at a very good price so we went to meet him. That's the other great thing about the site; you meet the most interesting folk. The slate owner was a master furniture maker and excellent turn-his-hand-to anything in the building line including roofing. He lent us his ardoise hammer and associated metal 'post' (enclume), gave us a lesson, coffee and tour of his very beautiful house.
Back at home, after smashing quite a quantity of slates during the learning process, we (Ezra did the maths stuff) measured up the roof and started cutting slates, hammering them in and then using the special hooks that support each slate after the nailed line. Old slates are very varied in thickness as they would have been hand cut from the quarry, in this case a quarry in Angers that no longer exists. It's satisfying to now look at the almost finished roof and know the slates have a new home after being rescued from a collapsed building.
Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Oh, come all ye gullible
It's that time of year again when a worryingly large portion of all supermarkets are filled with an invasion of festive chocolate. Our local food hanger, Super U, has positioned it all fairly close to the entrance, but with a walkway first through stacks of Christmas mugs, Christmas underwear, Christmas cupcake-making sets, Christmas celebrity recipe books, Christmas air freshener, etc, etc; an assault course of future landfill before you can get anywhere near the serious stuff like wine and tinned tomatoes.
This year, my least favourite form of chocolate, Ferrero Rocher (many times blogged about) has claimed centre stage with a scarily messianic alter-piece of gold cardboard and dizzyingly tall arrangement of their knobbly, uninteresting fodder. The structure towers above all other competitors with the poetic phrase: Live the magic of Christmas. I will, thanks! but in my own way - a few real chocolates, log fire, nice lunch and maybe a nip into the local church to remember what this bloated, tinsel-y consumer-fest is supposed to be about.
Saturday, 27 November 2021
Water. We do so take it for granted...until it isn't there.
Our kitchen tap has been dribbling a leak for sometime now and as I discovered it had been creating a small rivulet in the already unsavoury under sink cupboard I thought I would take it, the tap, apart and just get a new washer. Simple. Job done... Not.
I did what the very helpful man said in Mr Bricolage, dug out the old bits of washer, pushed in the new one but it still leaked. Took it out again and discovered there was a further down, white, washer-thing which was also broken. I attempted a sort of mend by adding another washer which failed as when I reconstructed the tap in its entirety water spurted from several other parts. Realising we shouldn't have bought a cheap version of a certain elegant and expensive retro tap, I swore ( a lot) and threw it into the garden, which was momentarily gratifying.
So, no tap. Actually not very tragic in comparison to 50 million appalling things that were probably happening in the world as the tap arced its way into a flower bed, but on a titchy domestic scale, annoying. Rather than driving again to a DIY shop and no doubt further making further complications (plumbing is certainly not on my CV) I decided to leave it until Mark returns so we can dither jointly in said establishment.
Washing up has become a strangely delicate operation; a sort of ceremony involving pouring small amounts of kettle-warmed water into the bowl and scrubbing carefully with the wash up brush and rinsing with even smaller amounts. A bit like camping. Each wash up probably uses about 80% less water than usual, and, as I have to walk upstairs (aw) to get the water from the bathroom it suddenly becomes vastly more precious.
I will view the new tap and its contents with respect, if we can fit it. I seem to recall it being somewhat problematic due to out homemade kitchen units...
The one we didn't buy which was about 360 euros...
Sunday, 21 November 2021
Curriculum vitae of me
Or at least the writing side of me, not all the: 'I worked in a chip shop/ Mars Bar factory/I was an architectural drawings maker/ photographic stylist (driving around London like a manic cabbie) for far to many years / etc.
Time to knit together all the years that I've been doing this writing thing and lay it out on paper, or screen. This post will become paper sooner than later as I don't at all trust this spooky internet place which will no doubt disappear within a not so far off point…(see Londonia).
I've been making blog books as I go along, a strange and rather expensive procedure where one downloads the chosen posts into afore-mentioned internet place/Blog-to-Book company, and a shiny hardback appears from somewhere a few weeks later.
Actually . . . I think CVs usually start with the present day's activities, but it feels more relevant to me to start at the beginning.
Anyway, anyway. So . . .
Mr mint and the monster
My first wax crayon, pencil and floppy exercise book novel at the age of about seven.
Third year art school final project - collection of short stories, sadly (for me) lost somewhere in a move.
Alfi Beasti, don't eat that!
A story of fussy eating habits inspired by our own fussy eater, published by Puffin Books in 2004.
After a period of illustration and painting I started writing for the adult market, starting with my trilogy: 'Going out in the Midday Sun'. These books have links with Londonia, and most of my other novels. In fact, all my novels have links with each other . . .
The idea for the novel commenced, as often happens for me, during a swim - woman, in the future, living in a church with a horse named Kafka. The story changed many times but the main character, Hoxton, remained true to my first idea of a feisty female trader living in the chaos of a lawless city sprawl beyond the order and constraints of a central power base. The novel is dystopian but I'd rather term it 'dyst-hopia'. Grimness with hope.
...Londonia by Kate Hardy is a magnificent book on many levels. It's impossible to categorise this as a dystopian or sci-fi work, although it is both. It's much more than that, completely shorn of every tired cliché from that genre; it manages to combine no small dread of an only too prescient future with a glorious story of human spirit...
Londonia was published by Tartarus Press in 2020.
Smithi, Hatfield and the South (working title) is the follow-up book to Londonia and has been edited to publication standard.
Adapted from a short story, Dog; from Dog, and other tales, my short story collection.
An alien arrives on Earth in Epping Forest and makes his way to shelter in a woman's shed. Assigned to study humans and report back to his planet he instead falls in love with the shed-owner and becomes marooned. His presence on the planet slowly but surely changes everything for mankind.
The Seventy-Seventh Book
The tale of luckless, book shop owner, Hamish Harris, and how the discovery of a never-before-seen book rockets his life into euphoric chaos.
The original short story which inspired the novel was chosen to be read by Anton Lesser on the excellent and now sadly defunct site, 'Cracked Eye'. I still have the recording and it is delicious...
The Panto Horse End.
After an untimely death within the back end of a pantomime horse, Marion Peel arrives in what she assumes is the local hospital but is in fact, Perpetuania, where she faces certain complicated time-travel choices concerning her future existence.
An eighteenth-century couch's narration starts within a Loire chateau as he/she observes the antics of the building’s new owner, rockstar, Todd Brightwater. The story follows the changing fortunes of Todd, his offspring, and on into future generations of the Brightwater family to conclude during a far-off time on Hampstead Heath as the couch becomes the centre of the then inhabitants' evening rituals.
My current novel set in an unspecified time following the life of boatman and ex-town crier, Opera-Jo.
6,000 words in and I feel it's going to be a very long story - in a good way; already the tangents are taking hold of my pen/index fingers/keyboard.
So, there we are. Writing is essential to me, and I work on whatever my current project is every day, the most productive time being 6:00 am with tea and hot water bottles in my study (bed).
Tuesday, 16 November 2021
A new book, an idea, an end somewhere far in the distance, and a lot of words to get there.
As usual, I have a vague outline and the plot will develop as it will, characters evolving, diminishing or growing in importance as I get to know them.
A sample featuring the current protagonist, 'Opera-Jo' as he embarks on a sea voyage with an unknown crew to part of Hampstead Heath, now an island surrounded by a black ocean.
The pile of each bod’s effects still rest upon the shore. When the loading is complete, we claim our baggage and advance to the greatboat. A mec known as, Three-eared Mikael, gestures to my sackbag as I lift it from the pebbles.
“Why, pray, does thee choose to carry a dead crocodile with thee?”
I adjust the bag so that the item in question’s head will be protected from weatherly elements we may encounter. “It is not dead . . . well, it could be said to be in a façon, but it is preserved – stuffed.”
“. . . Dac, but why does thee bother to lump about a stuffed reptile?”
“It is in truth an alligator that belonged to my great, great, possibly further greats – I have lost my ancestry map recentime – grandfather. It was fabried by his weld-up, Lily, during the time of Stuff. I guard the creature in part as a reminder of that lost era but perhaps more as a family momento.”
“She filled non-living beasts with wadding of some description?”
“Thee ask a too-many-questions. In truth, I have one for thee.”
The mec turneth to me with a sullen expression. “Wot?”
“Tha appears to be blessed with the statutory ear-requirement, so, why does tha name suggest otherwise?”
He moves his eyes from mine and peers at a small crab which makes its way abroad an ocean-bleached branch. “I speak not of it.”
“Did that have another ear?”
“I will speak not of it, even for coinage.”
Monday, 15 November 2021
Free building materials
Mostly. The straw cost 1:50 euro a bale from a local farm, and the mud, totally free, from our occasionally sluggish and oozy river that passes through the garden. Ezra, balanced on a plank, shovelled the mud into a wheelbarrow and we added the straw bit by bit until (hopefully) the right texture was achieved. Time and weather will tell, but from looking at various Youtubes on how to do cob (torchis in French), I think we did ok.
I'd already a day nailing and screwing bits of plank, sticks, etc onto the inside to hold up the mud mixture and so far, it's looking solid. Next, the roof, and we're going to attempt to do DIY slate and zinc. Such is this structure's absurd over the top-ness that we might have to honour it with a few unusual birds as well as yr usual rusty types.
Tuesday, 9 November 2021
Gite construction derivation
We are supposed to be redoing an outbuilding to make a gîte (see previous posts) but have been sidetracked onto building a chicken house, or rather wooden palace. In celebration of Ezra completing a year of structural carpentry he was given free rein to devise a coop. The finished plan was a colombage edifice (half-timbering) and the wood duly ordered. He has admitted since then to overcompensating on the wood's thickness - it will certainly never become dislodged by any amount of westerly gales.
I have been screwing on batons of old wood on the inside of the palace all day, in preparation for the mud and straw concoction we will use to fill between the main structure. Ezra has been making the rood beams and end wall; tomorrow, the nesting boxes, the chicken and human doors, then we'll do the roof, hopefully with recuperated slate tiles. Then the compound, and finally, some very lucky chickens...
Sunday, 7 November 2021
The view from the hill, a 70s childhood. Cats, nude men, and chicken soup.
In previous of these posts I mentioned the one bed flat we (me and Mum) inhabited - Seymour Court, Colney Hatch Lane, North London. I just idly Googled it to look at the block, and there it was . . . our actual flat, completely revamped (of course it would be after a few decades ago) and at a scary price of well over 300,000 quid. I think Mum paid something like forty pounds a month rent back then . . .
My childhood life at around nine or ten revolved around the block of flats and its, for London, generous and fairly wild, shared gardens. Mum's own patch had a holly tree, iris, marigolds and cornflowers. We also had a succession of tortoises, but no cat, something I desperately wished to house but Mum stated that the rental agreement didn't allow such beasts. I think, looking back now, she probably just didn't want any added burden. Someone who did have cats was the woman who lived opposite us. I now only recall her sitting in a deck chair in her patch of front garden wearing nothing much but a flamboyantly coloured bikini, leathery skin exposed. When she went away, which seemed fairly frequently she would employ me for a few pence to feed her cats, something I, being feline starved, enjoyed.
One cat nourishment episode led to my first viewing of a human male in birthday attire . . . Unusual and unexpected occurrences often implant themselves, this was no exception. I had entered the flat, done the cat fuss and had gone into the bathroom where the feline plates, for some reason, were placed next to the loo. A green spotted shower curtain was drawn swiftly back by a large hand and there, dripping, stood a hairy, nude male person. I know nothing else happened, and the woman had later explained that her boyfriend had returned earlier than she had expected. I can't recall what he had said, and I assume I had turned and run, the spectre of the loofa dangling between his legs somewhat disturbing after living in an entirely female habitation for years.
The bikini woman lived above the flat of a hoarder. No one then spoke of people hoarding as such, he was just a rather eccentric man who took a lot of stuff into his flat and never put any rubbish out. When he died I remember my mother telling my godmother that the flat clearance people had found over six hundred milk bottles in his front room.
My best friend in the locality was Miriam, second daughter of a Jewish family ruled by a stern and, I think looking back now, violent father. Miriam's mother in my mind always appeared grey skinned, slight, sad and possibly scared. Their house, compared to our flat, which was amply heated by a communal boiler, felt continuously icy other than in high summer. They seemed to have no heating other than the gas stove which seemed perpetually alight, the door open to heat the kitchen as much as possible. A pot of chicken soup was nearly always perched on the stove top, and if Mum was late back from work sometimes I would be invited to share, sitting at their tiny kitchen table while the father ranted from the sitting room. I wonder now what he ranted about. Funny, how kids just accept what ever was going on as normality.
Monday, 25 October 2021
The view from the hill, a 70s childhood. Shopping.
We didn't do a lot of this. In previous posts I mentioned the shops of Colney Hatch Lane and the marvellous emporium of Martyns in Muswell Hill. In my early childhood, supermarkets were just beginning to sprout - tentative forays into consumer's mind . . . get everything in one place, no need to visit a butcher, greengrocer and bakers . . . Thus, an early Sainsbury's planted itself onto Muswell Hill, opposite the Odeon cinema and strikingly visible as one arrived up the hill on the 134 bus. My mother, fairly loyal to the local shops did make an occasional visit, the chief purchases I recall being Eden Vale yogurt (three flavours of strawberry, lemon and toffee) from the very small and no choice chilled section; pretend bacon strips, and the battered tin basket. This was my favourite bit of the Sainsbury's tour, a wire cage containing dented tins, often without labels meaning one might open one to find cat food, pineapple or beans depending on how lucky or unlucky one was.
Muswell Hill Sainsbury's under construction
Clothes shopping was fairly non-existent; an occasional angst-ridden trip to the West End shop, Swan and Edgar where I would lie about on the carpet and draw while Mum perused clothing rails. As it was a rather exclusive department store I can't imagine what she would have been trying to buy, her budget being minuscule. Marks and Spencers was occasionally visited for her standard teaching outfits. I can still recall the zany swirls of turquoise and purple of the nylon shirts, the fabric sparking with static as I pulled them from the launderette's tumble dryer on wash day. I was forced to wear the depressing school uniform of pink and brown (ugh) crimplene at Junior school, and blue patterned cotton for secondary school so shopping for my clothes was fairly trouble free. Every few months I would however make a bus trip up to Oxford Street with a friend where we would gawp at fashions in Chelsea Girl and if enough pocket money/ paper round money had been saved, a small garment might be purchased.
Most shopping other than food meant jumble sales; events both Mum and I adored. A scan of the local paper would reveal what church hall or leisure centre was holding a sale, and we would turn up in the Hillman Minx to be first in line. We (me, Mark and Ezra) very much continue this practice, although the local paper announcements have been largely replaced by a nerdish online French site for nearby 'Vide Greniers' a close proximity to the boot sale. Jumble sales provided clothing, books, sometimes plants and always bricabrac. Mum's teapot collection had to be regularly culled . . . I'm just looking up at the shelf above our sink now, and, yes, I've obviously inherited that trait . . .
Strange to think of the shopping process back then. No internet browsing, no credit cards, no shop loyalty cards or buy now-pay later; nothing even like Argos. Mum would save up to buy a bigger item, or possibly buy something like a fridge on higher purchase instalments from John Lewis. But we just didn't buy very much, and shopping didn't figure as a leisure activity. Mend and make do. Buy what you needed and mainly in the locality. Reckon we'll be heading back that way in the not too distant future.
Wednesday, 20 October 2021
Yorkshire meets the west coast of France
Somewhere on this blog is a sub-blog called Building-I-Like or something, or maybe it was just Building number 1,2,3,4...etc. I can't find the last entry but here is a contender, or at least the name, anyroad.
I can hear my ex's lovely Doncaster Dad saying this house's name with his warm, broad accent.
'Home-like, aye, it's reet nice being' at home like.'
But it wasn't occupying a piece of Yorkshire land, instead, tucked away down a side street in a small seaside town not far from Nantes.
It doesn't really work in translation. 'Domicile-aime' or 'habitation-aime'. Maybe they had been residents of Doncaster or Leeds. Probably not.
Saturday, 16 October 2021
New tricks and revamped sofas
Yep, old dogs and mothers can learn them - tricks. Son and I are continuing work on the gîte project, each day a small challenge as although he has done a year of carpentry at a good level, working with wood, stone and renovation rather than new build . . . well, we've had a few hours of panic and angst.
Various builders and friends have appeared and made suggestions about the correct way of doing things which is ultimately confusing as I want to follow everyone's advice and have almost no experience, but we are both learning, rapidly. Yesterday we managed to fix the support beams for the floor into the wall using scarily long bolts and evil-smelling resin stuff - not very ecologic compared to the stone motoring we were doing before. Today we placed two cross beams and I drilled/hammered out excess stone to prepare for tomorrow's beams.
And the sofa . . . our old second hand kitchen sofa has long had uncomfortable flat seat cushions, the feathers crushed under 70 years or so of various posteriors and more recently, greyhounds. Allowing ourselves a morning off from building we went to the fabulous Saumur Emmaus - veritable department store of donated everything you can imagine - where I bought four very large cushions for a euro and on our return re-stuffed the flagging seat cushions. Result, very happy dog, and me; as the sofa is now hyper comfortable. Next up, the sitting room couch...
Tuesday, 12 October 2021
The view from the hill, a 70s childhood. School route perambulations.
I must have been from a very early age, a flaneur, a wanderer, an observer of minutiae, without being aware of it, possibly born from the way of getting to school - never a car journey. I can't recall exactly when Mum did acquire the Hillman Minx/tank after eventually passing her driving test but it was certainly never used for dropping me off at said establishment.
11 year old me
The school run for me was a long walk, probably made longer as school itself was something I would always wish to put off as long as possible. The journey started with leaving our block of flats, admiring the enormous English Oak that spread its evergreen leaves like a protective cloud over the gateway, down Colney Hatch lane, crossing over without getting run over.
Small digression here. I did once get run over by, and for some reason I remember clearly the car - a dark green Ford Zephyr. I don't know how and why the brain chooses to retain certain memories but this one was certainly well-etched. The thud of me against bumper, the tyre squeal, car door opening, scuffling of desperate man as he knelt and then scooped me up, turning and no doubt staring wildly about - 'where's this kid from? Help me!' Someone must have known, or maybe I was able to tell him as I recall passing under the tree, down the path and the door of the flat being opened. Odd that I can't recall more than that. Mother must have been in a rabid state of panic and fury as she had no doubt told me a zillion times about using the crossing...
On a normal day when I wasn't being run over I would take the zebra crossing, shudder at the sight of the dentist surgery (another tale) and take one of two routes both equally enticing for an unwitting studier of suburban London house-frontages and gardens. I still find the same fascination for front gardens which tell so much of the occupant's lives as I did then: ragged hedge or groomed, stone chippings, manicured grass, a cottage garden in Haringey or a dumping ground for a house already overflowing. At that time most people still had front gardens, a car if owned firmly resigned to road parking, very few gaping gravel expanses waiting for the metal occupant to return.
The majority of the houses I passed were probably 20s and 30s, this part of Haringey having exploded into expansion after the first world war. Bay windows, a touch of Tudoresque non-structural black-brown beams, an occasional false shutter or two after someone's tentative foray over the channel; painted woodwork - just before the era of aluminium ugliness and the later creeping white plastic tide. Blue doors, purple, red, green - that sort of dark London green that could have been distilled from privet and moss; usually the original doors that would have been supplied with the house, and mostly, sanded, undercoated, protected and repainted.
One of the houses had a then unusual feature of large wind-chimes. I can still hear the slightly mournful clonking sound of the large bamboo pieces, as eerie as a fog horn as I approached up the slight incline of whatever the road was. I have since been back, tracing the walks, the wind-chimes of course long gone, the dread of school thankfully also long gone.
I sometimes wonder if I can trace back the origins of my wishing to write about dystopian times to those walks; reflective time with no chatter from friend or parent, a time to consider even in my early adolescent-hood, (a period of life concerned with acquiring forbidden platform-soled shoes or who was in the top ten) what might happen in the future. Just as the being-run-over incident had been laid down in my mind I recall another moment which seems to have been a catalyst for these thoughts.
The day had been dim grey, the stick in my hand damp as I ran it along a clapboard moss covered fence: clack-clack-clack. A huge tree rose above the fence, a few brown leaves still clinging to its branches. I stopped the clacking and stood for some time just staring at the tree, aware that my feet should be moving in school direction but ignoring the unwelcome urge. 'What would happen if trees just didn't wake up in the spring?' The words still hang in my mind as clear as clean glass; that twelve year old me's thought budding into possible future stories. Supposing trees and bushes, plants in general refused to put forth leaves - some sort of silent protest about human's assumption that nature existed for their benefits.
Saturday, 9 October 2021
The wavering mind
Don't know about you but I sometimes have days where I can pass from near bliss to gloom within a few moments, usually happening after some tedious email or a bit too much internet wandering.
Yesterday, I was pootling along quite happily doing jobs, leaf-raking, making lists, bit of writing, bit of admin, sweeping out our building site (gite project) when I sat down to check my emails - at the moment I have to curb the checking as I have sent out quite a few submissions to literary agents . . . anyway, I sat down and poked the computer into life to find: a rejection, written with excessively bad grammar it must be said; a desperate offer from Ryanair to claim a last bit of Greek sun, something from some smug bugger called Kelvin offering revamp my website and . . . our insurance company doing a special offer on funeral planning. That was it, I could feel the tendrils of gloom reaching out to me and within twenty minutes I was fully into: 'What's it all about' mode - relatively easy in our current times when every click onto the Guardian page reveals more planet-devastation, cruelty, misuse of public money and general chaos.
I tried full on clearing up, more rigorous admin - even digging into the recesses of the in-tray, serious bank account reality check - (not a good move), researching about insulation in afore-mentioned gite (scary, cost-wise), but although the waters of depression had been stemmed and just a light trickle was escaping I decided more radical action was needed: a bike ride up to our bio veg growing friend and to offer help in exchange for supper-veg. And it worked, as it always does. An hour and a half later I had helped him weed his lines of lettuce with a very impressive 'hoe with wheel' item, and picked 'bouquets' of parsley and coriander for his market trip in the morning. Not a huge thing but somehow the gloom simply evaporated, partially though the exercise and mediative nature of working with soil and plants, partly through helping someone else rather than dwelling on one's own inadequacies and worries.
I returned with my carefully chosen misshaped veg so not to take away from his beautiful market produce, made a huge garlicky salad and enjoyed a peaceful evening with Ezra, rounded off with an episode of Detectorists -another gloom evaporator if you haven't had the pleasure of watching the series.
Tuesday, 5 October 2021
The view from the hill, a 70s London childhood. Saturdays
No school. No work for Mum. She would be largely occupied creating some bizarre stew as far as I can recall. How odd it is to look back into one's childhood and not really be aware of what the parents, or in my case, parent, had been doing most of the time. Selfishly, I mostly recall her movements when it involved me; something probably quite normal in children, I suppose. Ezra did recently mention to me when we were discussing his childhood that we were 'just there' I don't think he meant it in an uncaring way like we were objects - standard lamps or chairs; we were there and his world revolved around him.
When she wasn't creating stews of pig heart or other unfashionable lumps of meat she was probably trying to tame the mess of the flat. I did help out however, my main job of the weekend, to go to the washing shop. Furnished with enough coins to buy a sherbet fountain and a copy of the Beano, I would walk down to Colney Hatch Lane's parade of shops, buy the items and enter the fuggy warmth of the laundrette - a largely yellow formica establishment with a row of smaller top loader machines, larger front loaders and the three rumbling industrial scale tumble dryers. Having stuffed the clothes into a top loader I would add a dose from the washing powder machine ( I can still hear the whirring sound as the powder dispensed) add the coins and if it was a chilly day sit down with my back to a dryer feeling the comforting warmth, half listening to the sounds of trouser buttons and bra straps tinkling around the drum.
Saturdays also meant shopping, usually at the local fruit shop, butchers and all the other little shops which were eventually crushed by supermarkets. The most exciting shop, apart from the woodyard with all its dense resiny smells where I used to buy small amounts of sawdust for my various rodents, was the Greek Shop'. This to my mind is what grocery shops should be like: teetering shelves of exotic packets, tins, cases of citrus fruit, tins of olive oil, paper bags, shoe laces, allotment produce; anything and everything. The shop was always busy with locals chatting about the weather, football, the government and what foodstuffs the owner had managed to procure. Once when I went in under instruction to buy tinned tomatoes a small stampede of housewives were vacating the shop, screams knifing the air. Apparently a black widow spider had been discovered in a box of bananas.
The other shops I recall were an excellent chippy where I was sent at least once a week to purchase a treat of cod and chips - often I would go accompanied by a mouse or two clinging to my jumper which seemed to perturb no one. The bakery must also be mentioned as along with fabulously awful iced 'torpedo' buns it had a special cabinet of broken biscuites which you could help yourself to with an aluminium shovel.
If Mum had the time she would take me and a friend to the swimming pool at Southgate - when she had eventually passed her driving test (another tale). We would scramble into the back of the tank-like, Hillman Minx, each trying to avoid the part of the seat with the protruding spring and Mum would drive to the baths were she would swim majestically in flowery bathing cap and we would shriek along with all the other kids in the deep end. The wonderful trip would culminate in a bag of cheese and onion crisps my friend and I trying to outdo each other in making each pungent potato slice last the longest.