Tuesday 29 November 2011

Shadow picture

There may not be much light during these short days,
but what there is,
paints such momentary masterpieces.

Monday 28 November 2011

The Advent carol service

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, let there be light:
and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good:
and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day,
and the darkness he called Night.
And the evening and the morning were the first day.

A candle is lit and the light is passed from person to person
A Chaplain says

God said, Let there be lights in the firmament
of the heaven to divide the day from the night;
and let them be for signs,
and for seasons,
and for days, and years.

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Sewing Case

Of the household objects that have always been there,
unremarkable, unsung,

a little sewing case belonging to my mother,
is perhaps the most modest.
I don't know who made it.
It might even have been a child's handwork.
I had an older sister who died before I was born,
when she was ten, in November 1951.
Perhaps she made it at school. I was never told.
I have never even wondered until now.
Inside there were neatly sewn compartments.

One for scissors. One for thimbles.
One for a needle case.

That was not homemade.
It has a tiny label saying,
Romney series,
Newton Mill, England.
I still use it,
but it is very fragile.
I decided to make a new one

using a scrap of fabric from my mother's ottoman

and some marbled paper from my first trip to Florence.

 And then I made another,
from old curtain material,

 and another from perishing fabric 
wrapped round a coat hanger
 and another,

and just one more.

 Which is why I haven't been
here very much.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Roberts revived

Yes, I bought a new radio.
Yes, the old one has regained consciousness
and is broadcasting again!

If only the hedgehog could have been 
brought back to life with a hairdryer.
It still haunts me.
How did it get in there?
How wasn't it spotted?
But then again,

(those of a sensitive disposition
 look away now)

how did our missing hamster get into a Thermos flask,
in a cupboard,
put the two tops back on and die there?

Monday 21 November 2011

Dry clean only

I heard a worrying thump
as the drum revolved
and couldn't understand why 
there was a long black wire
lashing the window.

I drained the machine 
and hauled out the sodden material.
The moment of recognition was horrible.

I had subjected my beloved Roberts radio
to a hot wash,
when I tossed it into the washing machine
with the duvet cover.

That radio has been my small hours companion
for so long.
I have always had a radio to tuck under the pillow.
Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline, Radios 4, 3, 2 and 1,
always there to lull me back to sleep
or at least to preserve me from
 the boredom of yet another too early waking.

I even took one on a school cruise to the West Indies.
One night the white noise permeated my dreams
and I tried desperately to turn off taps 
while clutching at the metal bars of my berth.

I have tried to coax it back to life -
dried its exposed innards with a hairdryer,
but all it can manage is a faint

Have you ever washed the unwashable?

Friday 18 November 2011

The Children's Hour

I found this today.
It took me on quite a journey.
The picture is called The Magic Hour
and it immediately reminded me of a chapter in 
The Family Week-end Book by Beryl Irving.
There it is called The Children's Hour
'that loved, dreaded, longed-for hour'
when Mummy in her tea gown is given sole charge of the children
for just one hour after tea.

Such is the enormity of this responsibility that eight pages
are devoted to advising her on how to cope with
their different ages and needs.
When the Door Opens...
it is no longer the ordinary drawing room door,
a little battered and chipped;
it is for one moment the gateway to magic.
As the knob of the door slowly turns, 
Glamour is there. The children are coming...
For one perfect moment their dream-personalities flow out to you
the big boy, his eyes bright with what he is going to say;
perhaps a little girl too, priggishly demure in her pink frock;
the babies, fat and solemn.
The moment fades -pandemonium is let loose.

They bicker and shriek and rage. The babies fall over and wail.
Number One thinks Two's games are soppy and pushes her over. 
Number Two then attacks the babies in like manner.
'Mother probably feels that she has been washed up 
on a desert beach after a shipwreck in the Pacific'
and wonders why she ever saw charm in the children.
But with careful planning you can play all manner of games 
while remaining seated or even knitting, 
and before you know it,
Nanny will carry them away to bed.
Magic fades. The room is just a room again,
appallingly untidy,and must be straightened at once
before poor Daddy comes home.
Unless of course it is Nanny's Day out
which might cause one to swear
then they must have Garden Time.

All of this is delivered with a curious mixture of
saccharine and sour - a slightly brutal detachedness
(children are Little Liars and deceptive little wretches)
coupled with oozing sentimentality.
Although the book was printed in 1941 
it is almost certainly the product of an earlier era,
one much closer to the 1920s depicted in the calendar.
When Number One is older
new perplexities beset the luckless parent. 
Where does he go on that after-tea walk?
Must you really have those awful friends of his to the house,
to preserve him from the florist flapper?

But the concept of The Children's Hour
 began much earlier with a verse from Longfellow's poem:

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

and was adopted as the name of a BBC radio series for children
broadcast from 5pm to 6pm every day of the week
 from 1922 until 1964. 
When it was announced that the show was ending 
this is how the reaction was summed up by Whirligig radio:

Undoubtedly the Director General and the then head of Radio
expected some outburst from the listening public...
However they could hardly have expected the barrage of letters,
the campaign in the press and elsewhere,
the questions in the House of Commons
and the feeling of general wrath 
which greeted the announcement.
The programme's untimely demise meant that
an important magic casement into Wonderland
had been rudely slammed shut.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Shop later

Every year the same thing happened.
At the beginning of November she made up her mind that this time,
for once, she would get her Christmas shopping done early.
She went as far as writing a list - and there,
for several weeks, the matter rested.
At intervals she tried to pretend that
Christmas Day fell on the 5th of December,
or, alternatively, that all her friends lived in South Africa
and that she had to catch an early mail;
but it was no use.
The feeling of temporal urgency cannot be artificially produced,
any more than the feeling of financial distress.

And Mrs Miniver might well have added,
that while the sun shone warmly and chrysanthemums 
and geraniums still bloomed,
it was impossible to feel in the least bit Christmassy.
Conditioned as we are to expect sparkly chilled air
and a real possibility of snow,
feelings of meteorological appropriateness to the season
are vital for the accomplishment of early Christmas shopping.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Dreads and panics

Gulls and terns are closely related.
They seem to fly like embodied spirits clad in grey and white,
though some have black hoods,
and some have black on their wings.

The long-winged, long-tailed terns
are altogether more volatile and dainty
and less aggressive than the larger and heavier-built gull tribe.

Terns, even when undisturbed by man,
will rise up suddenly from their breeding ground 
and leave it deserted for a while as they float together in the sky,
moving silently and in a compact cloud over the sea. 

These movements have been called 'dreads' and 'panics',
but it is obvious that fear is not always the impelling motive.

Whatever the cause, the result is inimical to the survival
of the species, as the nesting ground is left exposed
to the attentions of predatory neighbours.

Collective flight in birds often appears to be so instantaneous
that some writers have suggested it is governed by a form of
thought-transference taking place over the air-waves
or vibrations of which we know little or nothing.

Taken from


King Penguins Birds of the Sea by R.M.Lockley.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Duck therapy 3

I used to run with a friend in the park
five early mornings out of seven.

We ran in all weathers, for years.
We never got any faster 
and we never ran any further than one circuit.

Actually we didn't even run all the way,
the track was handily marked in 100 metre sections
which we ran and walked alternately.
It's called fartlekking apparently.

The object was not physical fitness,
or weight loss,
(the cappuccinos in the cafe afterwards took care of that)
but it certainly helped with mental wellbeing.

We took it in turns to offload whatever was on our minds
from the preceding day's events.
Big or small, they got a thorough airing.

And on the way we noted the changes
that the seasons brought.

The change that the last season brought,
was the end of our running.
I walked the circuit in the late afternoon sun.
It seemed very long and the light was all wrong.

So I was the mad woman talking to the ducks

and being cold shouldered by the pigeons.

Monday 14 November 2011

A lovely Monday interlude

Every dull November 14th morning,

should start with a live performance
of Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata in G minor
in the comfort of your own home.

Today would have been my dad's birthday.
He had a good ear but no formal tuition
and played the old Broadwood upright from memory
with big crashing octave chords in the bass for added oomph.

Here his youngest grandson entertained us in similar fashion
about eighteen years ago.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Ni jyu*

This time last year he was small and
this year he was big and near.
Happy Birthday O.

* 20

Thursday 10 November 2011

The dying breath of a churlish salmon

I am once again consulting 
the Farrow & Ball paint chart.

At the moment it is a toss up between
Elephant's Breath and Churlish Green

for most off-putting name,
although Dead Salmon, Savage Ground
and Arsenic are close contenders.

'Paint it the colour of elephant's breath' was the instruction 
Nancy Lancaster gave to a decorator. 
She had previously specified such colours as 
caca du dauphin and vomitesse de la reine.

But I won't be put off. 
I'm sure I remember seeing it put to good effect
in Rachel's last house.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Curtain call

The sun made a fleeting guest appearance here 
and then promptly bowed out behind the houses,
but not before I had chased it with my camera
 shouting, Wait! Wait!

Then the phone went,
and by the time I had dealt with the problem that brought,
the curtain had fallen.

Let's hope for an encore tomorrow.