Wednesday 29 September 2010

The sofa

I climbed up a very tall thin ladder into scaffolding
and onto the roof today.

Ostensibly I was there to approve the repairs
with my builders,
but actually I was there
so that I could say I had been there;
that I was still nimble enough to climb a ladder;
steady enough not to fall;
brave enough.
And did I enjoy the view?
I chatted nonchalantly about 
the flashing,
the felting, 
the leading, 
the slipped slates;
all the while
 concentrating hard on not looking at the view.
I was girding myself for the climb down.
So much harder to manage
without the giddy impulse 
that had driven me up there;
the momentary, foolish desire not to be seen as a sofa...

'He looked at her amiably, as though she were a nice sofa.
That must be the penalty of the grey hairs,
the tired shadows under the eyes,
that must be the beginning of getting old.
She had noticed it.
Young men looked at you as though you were a nice sofa,
an article of furniture which they would
never be desirous of acquiring.
The signal flags were hauled down,
the lights went out,
all commerce between the sexes to cease forthwith.'

One FIne Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

Tuesday 28 September 2010

One Fine Day 2

Laura watches a nice young man,
(perhaps newly demobbed), 
a hiker with a pocket Keats in his knapsack,
as he gets off the bus.

'He walks alone by choice, thought Laura. 
He walks with calm, manly decision, 
while my day is a feeble woman's day, 
following a domestic chalk line, 
bound to the tyranny of my house
with its voices saying, 
Clean me, polish me, 
save me from the spider and the butterfly.
It is so long since I measured out a day for myself and said, 
This is mine, I shall be alone. 
Men are so much wiser, she thought,
striding deliberately off,
shaking the press of other people from them
and climbing the lonely hill.
One day soon, she promised herself vaguely
as the bus passed the first cottages of Wealding.'

from One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

Monday 27 September 2010

One Fine Day

by Mollie Panter-Downes.

I should probably be reading this in July,
 no matter, it may be set in one hot day,
but the narrator takes us back and forth through the seasons
and I am so enjoying it now.

Laura returning from another dispiriting shopping trip
to an unstaffed house,
reminisces about life before the war,

'coming in to the kitchen one autumn morning.
(Chandler had brought in a basket of pale-yellow pears, 
Victoria's cheeks were red as her little coat as she sat in her pram, 
the spider's webs had looped sparkling bridges 
across the smoky blue ravines of the Michaelmas daisies). 
There stood Mrs Abbey, making an apple charlotte, 
Laura remembered perfectly. 
Her hands flew, trimming bread crusts,
 lining the dish, adding fruit and cloves and brown sugar 
which immediately looked good, appetizing, 
when her fat pink hands touched them. 
Laura had stopped there watching,
for the operation had the fascination 
of the simple thing swiftly and perfectly done.'

Winter Sunshine by Phillis Waters 1940s

Sunday 26 September 2010

What not to look for in Autumn

Blackberries -

choose between wizened
or unripe.

Our meagre harvest today.

However yesterday,
out on the Ashdown Forest

the Ladybird book came to life.

Fly-agaric toadstools with their scarlet umbrellas,

A colony of fungi with shiny yellow tufts
called sulphur tuft.

And as a bonus:

an iron spring,

a teepee in a clearing,

an old orchard,

and a fine vine.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Stylist's own

There is much that is covetable in the Toast catalogue,

but the things I'd like to buy

are never for sale.

Thursday 23 September 2010

The haberdasher's chair

Cosmos and Buddleia

the haberdasher's chair.
A taller than average chair,
placed at the counter for customers to sit upon
while they chose their wares.
We use it for haircuts but
I can never see it without being reminded of

who was left in charge of Miss Muggins's shop.

I was once left in charge of a village shop.
It was called Pound Lane Stores.
I can still remember the thrill.

I rang up a million pounds on the cash register
and was in a good deal of trouble.

Milly-Molly-Mandy would never have been so silly.
As she said to little-friend Susan,
who called in for some safety-pins,

'No, this isn't play; it's business. I've got to be very, very careful.'

Wednesday 22 September 2010


I've found a skull in the garden.
Quite a large skull.
Not a bird, or a mouse.
Not a fox or a squirrel.
I've photographed it
and would like to consult
about it,
but first,
instead of showing it without warning
here are pictures less alarming,
more charming,
more comme il faut.

It has to be said though,
that a skull is certainly useful and
some might even say beautiful.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Be flattered

Sometimes a day takes an unexpected turn.

You call by a friend's house, 
to see if the plumber ever came, 
and find that you are
being allowed to compare the qualities
of three beautiful 'cellos,
through an impromptu rendering of a few bars of
the slow movement of
 Schubert's B flat Trio*. 
Her talented son was on hand to play the piano
before disappearing back to Cambridge.

It was a lovely evening interlude.

*(I offered to hum the violin part but they politely declined.)

Monday 20 September 2010

Radiance in A Major *

Hope and radiance today.
And when you get the chance,
listen to * Key Matters.

(It's in A Major you know.)

Saturday 18 September 2010

The empty hammock

I have hardly ventured into the garden
this last week.
The hierarchies have changed.
Tall beans have toppled.
The plum tree is dwarfed by the Cosmos.
Webs catch the unwary.
The hammock
hangs slack.

Friday 17 September 2010

It's out there

We shall just keep looking

and smiling bravely.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Not to be

The big project, 
has come to naught.
It was a house.
Long awaited and much wanted,
not to be.
So I did what you do in the face of disappointment.
You bake a cake

and you reflect on the unintended bathos of its ingredients -
the grated beetroot that stains your hands blood red,
the seeds, sunflower and pumpkin,
which will never germinate,
the sour taste of lemon juice,
the costly nut oil,
the light molasses sugar of sweet anticipation,
the broken eggs which will never hatch
the opiate effect of black poppy seeds
to help to erase the memory,
the icing tears,

then you ask for clemency 
for this melodramatic post
and ask them to bear in mind
that you have also just received a parking ticket
wholly unjustly,
because of a faulty ticket machine,
whilst attempting to indulge in a little
 restorative retail therapy
and one of your jars of apple sauce 
exploded in the pantry.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

My morning run

How I wish...

...found here.

Monday 13 September 2010

The Gondoliers

The audience is gathering for the first night of
The Gondoliers at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall,
presented by the Cambridge University Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

I've been straining to see them on the webcam 
but it's too dark now and
the stage is just a brilliant pool of light.
I wish I was there

to see their sparkling eyes.

Sunday 12 September 2010

High tide and high jinks

on Southwark Bridge

at the Thames Festival.
We milled about on the crowded embankment,
followed fractious children
tethered in buggies,
heard the strains of distant jazz bands,
dodged the dawdlers,
choked on the acrid barbeque smoke.
Suddenly I'm in a hurry 
to be anywhere but there.
Not in a festive mood 
it quickly became clear.

This man had the right idée.
Tooted serenely up river
away from the melée.

Friday 10 September 2010


I have spent a great deal of time
on the phone to various utility companies lately,
trying to put my affairs in order

and I have been forcibly reminded of the saying,
'Do as I say, not as I do.'

As far as possible be on good terms with all persons.

Now I know it's not your fault personally
but you represent the company 
and I have no one else to be exasperated with.
Do you know how long I have been hanging on?
Have you any idea how tedious it is 
listening to messages about you being so busy
and would I like to sit in a queue or call back later?

Exercise caution in your business affairs
for the world is full of trickery.

What do you mean there's a better package?
Why wasn't I told?

I know you have millions of customers -
 I am one of your most loyal and long standing -
so why was this package only available to new customers?
Oh it is available to me, but only if I ask for it.
Well how was I supposed to know to ask if you don't tell me?
Where do you publicise them, 
in the sports section of the in-house magazine?
Just how often am I supposed to check up on your new offers?
When did this superb new package get introduced?
You're not sure.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly
and listen to others.


You had time to write to me to tell me 
of the new line rental increases.
You had time to tell me that I could get a small reduction 
if I paid up front for a year.
Why couldn't you write and tell me 
that I am the last poor sap on the planet 
paying through the nose for this discontinued tariff?
Can I have this marvellous new rate 
applied retrospectively?
No. I thought not.

In the noisy confusion of life
keep peace with your soul.

Well yes, I suppose you had better put me on it.
There's an additional discount today is there?
That's nice.
What do I have to do to qualify?
Tango up to your offices in a budgerigar costume?
So all my calls will be free will they?
Night and day?
It starts today?
And will there be a better offer tomorrow?
You're sure?
Cross your heart and hope to die?
Should I check?
Just in case?

No. That's all thank you.
No you can't help me with anything else.
I must ring the electricity people now.
I'm on a roll.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

* See Thursday

Woman on Phone 1995 - Ruth Addinall
But I had No Idea c. 1946 - Sheila Warr

Is there anybody in the audience who's got a birthday today?

If so, it's
Happy Birthday from us.

Thursday 9 September 2010


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

poem - Max Ehrmann 
paintings  and etching - Samuel Palmer

I have somehow managed to miss this poem
although the title was known to me.
No doubt it is as familiar to everyone else,
as Kipling's 'If'.