Thursday 31 March 2011

Time travel

I've got a pretty poor memory but perfumes and paintings
sharpen my recall of the temps perdus like nothing else.
Because its that time of year again,
I got to thinking about the first bottle of scent I ever had.
It was Sweet Violet in a tiny dimpled bottle
and I kept it in my red plastic handbag, 
shaped like a drum and brought from Paris
by my best friend Jenny.
If I could smell it again,
I know I could reach out to my six year old self
but it would be only the briefest contact.
4711 would be a continuous link, 
but mostly associated with childhood maladies -
 Aqua Manda would give me a positive
sighting of the sixteen year old on a school cruise to the West Indies;
 PM by Mary Quant then patchouli oil would take me to Art College;
Guerlain's Shalimar was a misguided attempt at sophistication,
Estée Lauder's White Linen for the assistant editor, 
Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps for a long time,
and a succession of Jo Malones would bring me up to the present. 

It's getting late,
I'll have to travel back via the paintings another time.

Wednesday 30 March 2011


I found some of my poems today.  
Written when I was about 12, they are pretty cringeworthy, 
but my mother (unlike Wendy Cope's, see below)
made encouraging noises, 
so that was all that mattered.

And then this all too recognisable description of 
 the moment when one is seized with
a desire to make up some poetry. 
popped out of a Rosamond Lehmann's short story
I was reading.

No sooner tapped than the facile fount began to flow
No trouble at all in those days.
Heather, weather, brim, dim,
bloom, gloom and off we go:
every rhyme rhyming, every fairy flitting,
stars glimmering, moon beaming,
wind sighing, buds breaking -
never stumped for a subject,
never uneasy about a sentiment,
each completed work as neat,
tinkling and bland as a poem by
and quite satisfactory to myself.

I was pretty pleased with my efforts too,
but was never in any danger of winning 
the Michael Braude Award for Light Verse.
Wendy Cope won it though and she wasn't best pleased.

 Neatly winding up these oddments of thread,
I heard her on Front Row talking to Mark Lawson
who wondered how she felt about her work being described as
light verse.
She said, 'I don't like it, but I took the money.'
I'd rather like to see her.
Perhaps I can. 
Rabbi Lionel Blue will be there too.
I once tried to persuade him to write a children's book.
He humoured me and kept a copy of Frog and Toad
by Arnold Lobel which I had brought as a present for him
but I never got the book.

Monday 28 March 2011

Better days

In search of a walk without a long drive at the weekend
 we went to a rather unpromising park,
covering 214 acres, 94 of which 'accommodate' a golf course.
Beckenham Place mansion was built in 1773  by John Cator
and was visited by the ubiquitous Dr Samuel Johnson.
He described it as,

one of the finest places at which I was ever a guest 
and where I find more and more a hospitable welcome 
and the man Cator has a rough, manly,
 independent understanding and does not spoil it by complaissance.
He never speaks merely to please and is seldom mistaken 
in things which he has any right to know. 
There is much good in his character 
and much usefulness in his knowledge.

Despite a brilliant blue sky it was hard to shake off the melancholy
 of a place so run down and in need of restoration.
 Mozart was composing his Symphony in G Minor at about the same 
time as the house was being built.

But it provides a large area of grassland, ancient woodland 
and water habitats, 
so a hospitable welcome does at least extend to: 

pedunculate oak, wild service tree, ash, sycamore, 
elm, hazel, holly, mulberry, bluebell, wood anemone, 
lesser cellandine, a variety of fungi, green woodpecker, 
great spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, 
kestrel, sparrowhawk, kingfisher, blue tit, long tailed tit, 
great tit, black cap, tree creeper, nuthatch, stock dove,
 wood pigeon, ring necked parakeet, blue crowned parakeet,
 stag beetle, lesser stag beetle, millipedes, butterflies, 
pipistrelle bat, bank vole, wood mouse, badgers and foxes.

Once we had turned our backs on the golf course
and the derelict mansion
the guided nature trail was pretty fine.
No tea room of course.
But chocolate cake awaited us at home.

Sunday 27 March 2011

All present and correct?

As someone who has spent many hours researching family history,
it has been especially poignant to see children 
disappearing from the household.
Sometimes it transpires that they have died in infancy,
but of course usually they have just
grown up and left home.
The girls are the hardest to find
unless they have unusual names.

We have just completed the 2011 census.
I realised with a pang that our eldest
could not be entered as temporarily absent.
Although he has only just left, 
and is often found here overnight,
tonight is not one of them.

it's offical. 
He's left home.

Luckily we know where he is
and that he is happy.

They don't ask that on the census.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Rumer and I talk interior design

Rumer Godden has just moved again,
this time to the Dower House of Dale Park in Sussex,
high on the edge of the Downs.
She has left London on the orders of Doctor Foster
after three bouts of pneumonia.

There is so much space and air, fresh downland air, 
that I ought to get well.

The first thing I try to do anywhere, in any house
is to make it into a home;

It is just post war. She buys a utility sofa and armchairs.

I had no coupons, there was nothing to cover them with 
until I saw some mattress ticking
which did not need them; it was striped pale grey and blue; 
a dressmaker in Arundel made loose covers of them piped with blue; 
they went well with the walls Mr. Green had painted for me, 
the same palest blue of the mews, my hallmark in a house.

Cabbage White perhaps, from Farrow & Ball?

The turquoise Kerman carpet did not even cover the floor 
but its colours shone in the space; 
the Agra rug was hung on the wall -
 it was too precious to be trodden and, 
with the sofa tables from London - 
I could now use the large one entirely for writing 
and had bought the miniature one as an occasional table - 
the sitting room looked well even if the rest of the house was bare.

On March 1st 1947 she writes to her sister Jon in Calcutta:

The whole place is so lovely now that I ache;
there are drifts of violets so that the woods are blue in great patches,
why do violets look mauve near to and blue far away?
There are cowslips and primroses everywhere.
The garden has been sweet with narcissi and daffodils
and grape hyacinths;
it has lilac in it and a pear tree
and a laburnum.

Friday 25 March 2011


this little bunch in the garden.
Clematis armandii, skimmia and
a naturalised hyacinth
the exact colour of Bristol blue glass.

My reward for hours of hard labour.

The group birthday cake was also made and iced for
the first of three close family birthdays.
Happy birthday J.

Here's a little gift for you.

Thursday 24 March 2011

March buds

Pussy Willow

A small tree which has its flowers before its leaves.
The young twigs and buds are covered with small hairs,
the buds are small and brown until the
large male catkins (with long, silky hairs
of a cheerful yellow colour)
and the small, thin, grey female catkins,
burst out of them.

Amongst the games recommended for March are:
Pig in the Middle, Beetle, Animal Snap,
Matchstick Tower, O'Grady Says,
(rules on application)
and Skipping,
(rhymes on application).

All from Something To Do.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Spring windows

I took down the heavy draught-excluding curtain from the back door 
and put up an old Laura Ashley lace panel.
An act of faith; it could quite easily snow again.

A line of washing. The first this year,
including the Roman blind from the kitchen.

I liked the vast bright expanse of window by day,
but it was too black this evening.

The rocket from last year suddenly came to life
and flowered on the window ledge.

Monday 21 March 2011

Banishing Angelica

I devoted a large part of this afternoon
to purging the garden of self-sown Angelica.
It has a deep fleshy root which is more likely to snap
than emerge intact.
Then,feeling I should know more about this extravagant 
and vigorous plant, I found this
A Modern Herbal by Mrs M. Grieve,
and now see that far from treating it as a pernicious weed,
I should have been exploiting all its many virtues
as medicine and preserve.
We could certainly have done with many of its curative properties
in the last couple of days.

The root stalks, leaves and fruit possess carminative, stimulant, 
diaphoretic, stomachic, tonic and expectorant properties, 
which are strongest in the fruit, 
though the whole plant has the same virtues.
Angelica stems are also grateful to a feeble stomach, 
and will relieve flatulence promptly when chewed. 
An infusion of Angelica leaves is a very healthful, 
strengthening tonic and aromatic stimulant, 
the beneficial effect of which is felt after a few days' use.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Pleasant Valley

After sadly saying No to the house with this peaceful view -
the reality being the impossible to ignore
 roar of an A road beneath -
we set our backs to the traffic

and found some quiet in the pleasant valley. 

Thursday 17 March 2011


In the end I decided it was time to prune the roses.

 And in the doing, I noticed that Spring

had continued

to unfold.

I've stopped looking for the missing piece of the jigsaw.
One day the picture will be complete.

Monday 14 March 2011


Spring air
Woven moon
And plum scent

Spring too, very soon!

They are setting the scene for it -
plum tree and moon.

Matsuo Basho

I was taught a new word today
by our son's host mother in Japan.
A rallying cry, to encourage one another -
it means,
'Do your best!'

Friday 11 March 2011

Running away

to join the circus.

I seem to have lost a piece of my jigsaw.

I'll be back when I've found it.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Symbol of the times

This old biscuit tin is one of those things
 that was just always around at home,
mostly hidden from view in a cupboard.
I stopped seeing it long ago.
It contains the most beautiful jigsaw,
the Circus Jigsaw.
But today, for the first time 
I stopped seeing it as the Circus Jigsaw tin
and noticed the lid with its
rain splashed
daffodils, lilac, anemones and ranunculus
and thought it was time it had its five minutes of fame.

The brand was Symbol Biscuits (1944)
with an elephant head logo and
Never Forget in gold on the side.
Once they held forty different types of 
sweet dry and savoury biscuits.

Now tins like these serve out their days
demoted to less glamorous duties -
(shoe polish and string holding chief amongst them)
until a house clearance brings them out into 
a world that eschews biscuit assortments,
but gives them new life as vintage chic accessories.

Monday 7 March 2011


With my mind fogged by domestic trivia :
the dimmer switch snapped for the second time,
kitchen lights blazing all night in the on position, naturally,
the CO detector shrillingly, unstoppably,
 beeping its power failure 
once a minute,
the rejection of my parking fine appeal
to take to the next tedious stage,
the parcels to return with their disappointing contents,
the parcel delivery missed 
during my brief foray into the back garden:
it took a real effort of will to notice and appreciate
that the sun was properly shining
and the crocuses and pussy willow
were trying really hard to please me.

And please don't let's even mention estate agents.

Saturday 5 March 2011


Where am I going to put all my