Monday, 6 December 2010

A Second bite at Berlin

I was a little nervous about returning to Berlin, afraid it would disappoint. It was better than ever and the people I met before  were as sound and the new ones were great. The start was a disaster with me abandoned at the airport watching people from the Moscow flight come through the gate. I felt my face alter from a semi expectant grin to anxiety through to fear and on to fury then the terror of knowing that my love was dead/ missed her flight or just abandoned me ( I have vast 'abandonment issues!!'I have been told this by many a counsellor and have obligingly believed it.) My actress friend had gone on ahead in the opposite direction to Kreizberg and I had happily gone to the correct gate and stood waving. My love has different sim cards for every country she touches down (thrift) and for some curious reason her Berlin card was not working. Eventually I phoned a  number I had taken last year that I thought was the place we had stayed. The wonderful Chris answered and gave me the address - by the time I found a taxi the only defining landmark I could remember was the Swanglers Club - the actual address had slipped down into my personal delete bin so I phoned Chris again who told the driver the address.

I recognised the building and paid the eighteen euros, rang again and Chris bounded down the stairs with the joyful news that my love had arrived I  find it difficult to describe the force of my fury - let me just say that I made it to the fifth floor in one go, usually I wheeze up slow and stop at least twice. Adrenalin is wonderful and I still had breath left to yell my feelings in purest Anglo Saxon. So we began our visit not speaking, Things improved and I realised that I should have taken the address for myself  never rely on anybody, ever. A learning experience indeed.

Things improved  and our first reading went well and we finished the evening with an invitation to read on Sunday at an open studio event and adjourned to a wonderful pub. One of the more enchanting features of Berlin pub life is the fact that when you invade somebody's table they smile their welcome and talk to you, that and the nice familiar smoky atmosphere. Also the fact that you pay at the end of the evening, which is late but on Friday and Saturday the underground runs all night and nice Turkish food is available in the tube stations. These might seem irrelevancies but they all go to make Berlin my favourite city.

The Sunday gig was fun and funny and I saw wonderful sculptures in the studios and all kinds of excellent art work of every conceivable kind in a building that was once a school.. The third event was a great success with Alan in the chair and so many lovely Germans who shame us with their knowledge of English.  Plus all the hip Brits who still crash on Sofas and are cool. This is going on far too long. so thanks to Chris and Regine, Marc and a special mention for Alan and Jacinta and all the lovely East of Eden crew! And thanks to Wu Zhi and I am saving up for that picture. And most of all thanks to Nina and Albertine for friendship. And thanks to beautiful BERLIN

Monday, 22 November 2010


For many years I endured bouts of gloom that marched in from nowhere and occupied my entire being like some alien army, my mind grasped tight in a vice of misery. I would function on a superficial level as if I were normal and wouldn't share this fact. I would watch myself operating and wonder at it. Listen to myself chatting instead of screaming under this heavy grey miasma. I joke and my wit is intact if a little sharper, more barbed.  In fact it hardly impaired my function at all but totally filleted any joy. I can remember walking with my dog in my favourite place feeling desolate and trying to understand how this could be. All the things I loved were present and correct yet none of it was enjoyable, I was lost in the fog of misery with both exit and entrance barred. It was pointless talking about my mood and impossible for anybody to get through to me. The isolation was total.
Eventually the mood would move off spontaneously and I was capable of happiness again, or at least of a peaceful mind. During the glooms I often had a tune going through my brain, I remember one in particular was Chinatown my Chinatown and when I woke it was a warning of misery. Though a gloom is quite different from misery that can be addressed and dealt with or at least talked about. I can remember when I was teaching that during a gloom I would watch myself and even admire my performance which was detached and outside my self.
Alternatively I would drink myself into a stupor with the vain hope that it would shift the gloom and occasionally it did temporarily but it would roar back along with a hangover when I woke and the idiot song would churn in my mind like some unholy carousel. Beside which it was expensive and with the danger of revealing my pain in some drunken moment and I was terribly ashamed of these glooms. I often read about gifted people who vaunted their glooms as part of their genius as if the fact of desperate moods make them special but I knew this didn't apply to me and it sounded like a poor consolation too.
So why am I writing about this now? Because for the last few years since I had a stroke I have not had the glooms. Perhaps my brush with mortality scared it out of me or perhaps brain damage occurred. I am very glad to get out of desolation row mood and even as I type the words I am afraid of tempting fate but I will take a chance because the subject interests me and I can never resist a disclosure!
I know that we are all unique and that my own experience is not the same as that of anyone else but I would be interested in other experiences of the glump.


I will be supporting the lovely Nina Ludovica Smith who will read excerpts of my novel A Blues for Shindig and I will strut my stuff very briefly with a couple of three poems at the the events below in Berlin in late November
Stardust Boogie Woogie
Tania Antoshina, Mo Foster, Marcela Iriarte, Christian de Lutz, Jane Mulfinger, Bob & Roberta Smith, Jessica Voorsanger and a reading by Nina Ludovica Smith
Curated by Francesca Piovanot
Finissage with a reading by Mo Foster: 26 November 2010 8PM
Special event: Tuesday 30 November 2010, , A reading by Nina Smith and Mo Foster at the East of Eden International Bookstore, Schreinerstr. 10, 10247 Berlin-Friedrichshain -

Friday, 12 November 2010


I have been resisting the impulse to write this one for fear of seeming maudlin but maudlin is OK on occasion and if you don't like pets it will be best if you don't read this.
Since my delightful Border Terrier died I have felt desperately lonely for her company interspersed with feeling of guilt. I feel rather like Nero who gave the thumbs down to some misbegotten gladiator. There really wasn't much choice, the vet said she was in a great deal of pain and there was not much chance of her recovering fully. She had had Cushings disease for several years and now she appeared to have had a seizure and in spite of Rescue Remedy and drops of brandy she stood stiff, unable to sit, she also had a very high temperature and she was fifteen, so I let her go via the vet.
Miss Saffie was a special dog, I wanted to call her Sappho but she lacked the gravitas - or I did. I didn't get her from new so I missed all house training and she was the most continent of dogs - until Cushings struck and I had to measure her water intake against her visits outside quite carefully, her early days were spent alone because her owners both worked and when I came along to have her during the week she was very pleased and went into paroxysms of joy when she saw me and deep gloom when I left her so when I asked if I could keep her they said I could.
I always thought she was a bit dim and she was incredibly lacking in bravery, although she had very bold moments when she fell for yet another unsuitable very butch fighting dog. She was smitten with an unspeakable monster in the hairdresser shop round the corner a Japanese piece of exotica who hardly responded at all, she would rush in rudder waving, He would retreat. She was never put off and the next day she would plight her troth again. There was a dog called Hercules that she was quite passionate about and he reciprocated and she would become young again and cavort with him all over The Point in Greenwich.
A few months ago she was attacked by two Staffordshire Bull terriers one of which grabbed her throat in his teeth with no preliminaries at all, the other went for her tail. I kicked the second one away, a small crowd of onlookers gathered but the only person who intevened was a young Moslem guy on his way to the Mosque. He took off his slipper and whacked the dog in the face and it ran off. Then he dashed away white robes flowing into the Mosque. Heroic I thought - knowing the Moslem dislike of touching dogs. Since this incident Saffie had little taste for walks locally in Southampton which is hardly surprising. And I became more cautious. So we would drive in the car to places where she was happy to walk and on our train journeys to Waterloo she would make friends with people, I believe she had a happy life and she brought a lot of happiness to me. At a friends house yesterday she reminded me of the pitter patter of her claws on the floor as she trotted to the back door in he endless search for water. Even cat lovers liked her and I loved her so it's goodbye to you Miss Saffie and thanks again..

Friday, 29 October 2010


The Plumber
Greenwich has this wonderful scheme which provides free odd jobs to we vintage models. Wonderful I hear you say and I said too. Unfortunately there is a fifteen-minute limit to this visit and there's not a lot that can be done in fifteen minutes. However they will assess your needs, make a report , then you apply for a claim and in the fullness of time the work will be done. Our blocked sink seemed to be more urgent than this process would allow so my friend got on to a plumber.

He arrived nearly within the half hour he promised and did the usual head shaking with warnings that it wasn't going to be a straightforward job and that the pipes had vicious bends that might be unreachable and he may have to dismantle the entire drainage system. Then he went off to Wicks to get a piece of pipe, he would be back in ten minutes. We did a joint panic job envisaging floorboards up and general disaster. Our lodger chose this moment to make a cake and we were in such a state of anxiety - twittering among ourselves - that we watched her go to it with the aplomb that she brings to everything.

After an hour I was convinced he had abandoned the job with the sink in bits and ourselves in turmoil. He rang to say that he had to go somewhere else for the spare part but would be back soon. ' I bet he's having a fry up in some café!' I said. 'Probably on his third cup of tea now.' My friend was building up to fury with beetled brow and dangerous eyes. She began to speak of the British workman in derogatory terms when the intercom went. 'Plumber!' his cheery voice rang out and he bounced in with no sign of a pipe and I fancied I got the scent of fried bread off him, I licked my lips and he proceeded to apply his vacuum thing to the dismantled waste pipe and in two minutes it was all over, clean as a whistle clear as a bell as if by magic.

He looked triumphant like a conjuror and we, in our relief joyfully paid him what he asked and thanked him profusely. 'Just make sure you put boiling water down it once a week and it will be fine! It's a build up of grease.' I am the fry up merchant of the family and I hung my head slightly. But all in all we were delighted and it was a nice pantomime: scare the bejesus out of the punter, leave them for an hour to build up the tension then come back and do the job that would have taken all of ten minutes. I like to think of it as an exercise of the emotions! Fair play Mr plumber. We came away happy and so did you.
The lodgers cake was excellent.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Literary Event

The Literary Event &
I had read weeks ago in the Guardian about the 'To Hell with the Lighthouse' event which takes place  monthly in a Rock and Roll Club in Denmark street. Naomi Alderman was to read on that occasion and I had enjoyed her first novel  'Disobedience' enormously. Unfortunately I was unable to get to that particular meeting but what I had heard I liked so I decided to go anyway and had been looking forward to it too, happily dismissing a mention of 'young talent'.

I thought it would be fun to meet some new people, make a few contacts, network. I am fairly new to the networking game and I am sure I will never get the air kiss past the edge of a face right. But I can't believe this is vital. I do hope not. I have quite recently begun to tweet and have been blogging with great enthusiasm since February so now for some flesh-to-flesh networking I thought and I must say I found the idea rather exciting. In fact I tweeted somebody who was reading and she sounded keen to have me there so I was hopeful. I descended the stairs into a club that reminded me very much of places I had known in the sixties and the shop above was enchanting, in fact Denmark street appears to have absorbed  all the music shops in this part of London. It's been a long time since I've been there and had forgotten how great it is.

The barman sold me some fairly unpleasant white wine pointing at a happy hour poster and I found a seat beside a young woman at a table so I could begin my networking straight away. 'Hi' I said and she smiled and carried on her conversation. I looked around the fairly empty bar where some jolly men in reversed baseball caps were having a merry time, I wondered if I should give up on networking and join them - they looked friendly enough - at least they smiled. 

But no, I am here for a purpose I thought and tried the girl on my right again.
'Who's reading tonight?' she mentioned one name but said she didn't know who else. She went back to her conversation. I noticed a magazine on the table called 'Fat', I asked if I could buy one and she smiled and said I could. It was a misnomer I thought for this very slender mag that cost £2, the content was pretty slim too, and it was called a countercultural ladies' mag. I might be countercultural if they allow women of advanced age to be countercultural, which seems dubious. But 'ladies' is a word that I take issue with. I imagine it is used ironically though there was not much sign of irony in the interior of the magazine. There was a little self conscious swearing in the editorial so perhaps that is the countercultural bit. Spare Rib it 'aint, more's the pity.

I found a stray book on the table and began to read, it was an interesting idea about gods on Hampstead Heath, I wondered what the cruisers and bathers made of them. Probably wouldn't notice them I thought - particularly if they were over thirty - but gods are immortal of course. I liked reading it and a woman came up and told me it was a proof copy so I was welcome to it and could get it signed. I said thanks and she left before I could engage her in any conversation. Besides the place was filling up with young women with a few men among them and the noise level had increased to what I imagine it must be like in a parrot cage just before feeding.  Not all the noise was that of kissing air, some was from the many 'hello darlings' and a generalised squawking.

I have been reading a lot about obesity of late but here there were few above size eight and most in tiny printed cotton dresses. I asked the woman on my right in one of her breaks from leaping up to deliver a kiss; 'Why is the magazine called Fat when you are all so thin?' I think she said something about tapestry but will never be sure. The lights were dimmed and there was a plug for the magazine and the first reader, a substantial American woman was introduced. She read well and told us with delight how she had annoyed her mother with her first book. There was nothing that shocked me in her reading and nothing new either, but what do I know? The audience liked it.

Then there was a break and the lights went up and the woman who had given me the book dashed in to take the book back:' I'm going to steal this back' she said 'Oh fine!' I said limply. Then I got up to go to the 'Ladies' room and when I came back my seat had been taken and I left sadder and no wiser.
Never has a woman been so comprehensively spurned by so many for so long. I thought as I hit the local Subway for solid solace.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


On Memory
It is usual to express regret about forgetting words. To lambaste oneself and to see this as a fault of the ageing brain. The fact that I can remember a blues riff and all the words from something I heard in 1958 is given no value. I disagree. I would far prefer to remember 'My Kitchen Man' and forget the name of Glucasamine Sulphate  than the other way around and when I go to my local health shop I can wander about the place until I find it- and I have no idea where I would find the words of the wonderful Bessie. Certainly not in Holland and Barretts.
So. I conclude that the brain very sensibly picks the vital more interesting memories and discards the others. It sometimes embarrasses but only momentarily and I have my own methods of bluffing and recognise other people with even better methods and I am not slow to heist these. One of the most profound misconceptions about we vintage models is that we become rather naïve and I wish to deny this, most of the characters I know are as crafty as ever they were and as venal too, if that was their inclination. I think some ancients go along with this 'simple minded' belief and let on that they are innocent as new borns thus leaving themselves open to any amount of patronising. And I do wish they would stop. There is no value at all in being pathetic.

This train of thought was brought on by looking up Blues that I used as titles of chapters in my novel. I chose titles that were suitable and now the original Blues Who's Who book has disintregeted with half the index gone I know not where.  But I began looking at it again and can remember hearing this music from over fifty years ago and know the words in full and can sing them in my terrible voice and I am back in a smoky dive dancing or snogging to the music. The personnel involved are mostly and wisely gone from my memory and just the songs remain and the essence of the time - another clever trick of the good old brain.

I am about to make, with a lot of help from my friends, a CD of the blues in question as background to a reading and this has brought forth some delicious memories of times long gone and I must congratulate my brain on its taste in selection. It is good to remember blues parties in Somerleyton road in Brixton and dances in the St Louis in the East End and the Flamingo Club it seems that there is nobody around to correct me if I get the name wrong. And that's what is also excellent about remembering those long gone times; they don't have to be precise just the essence comes back so you remember a song and relive the heartache that you thought would never go away and the woozy joy of being in love again. And it is safe now - no danger of the heart breaking just a gentle marvel at the amount of time I spent engaged in futile but enjoyable passion and I am delighted that I have these sweet memories and that my good old brain has the sound sense to filter out the dross of the price the gas bill was last year and when my car insurance is due. People will remind me of these boring details and I don't need a reminiscence group to jog my memory it is a fully functioning part of me thanks to my very sensible brain.
And next time I  forget my keys or I go from the room to do a reprise to jog my memory because I have no idea why I came in I shall know that whatever it was will come back to me and not to worry eh? And when I forget the procedure for downloading a photograph I will know that my brain is busy elsewhere remembering fascinating titbits from the dim and distant past
And I shan't castigate myself - if I remember!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Berlin Blues

I had no thoughts of falling in love with Berlin, I am already in love and that is quite enough for me. Like many people of my age who remember the war and the pictures of Belsen that were shown to us as children, I had very mixed feelings about the Germans. So, as I climbed the stairs to the flat we had borrowed I had jackboots in mind.

Then I met some Germans and the first thing that occurred to me was the fact that they looked exactly  like the British, but with less preoccupation with fashion.  In fact there were few bum revealing boys and midriff bare girls  (a relief for me because my kidneys begin to twitch in sympathy) perhaps the cold there has something to do with this though I doubt it. I have very clear memories of wearing pelmet skirts and boots with bare legs in the sixties in snow or gale and feeling no cold - or not admitting I did anyway.

Also there seem to be far more extremely good looking people about, and tall too .It was the time of the Christmas markets, gluwine, marvellous snacks and everybody stuffing their faces with crepes and similar gorgeous stuff, but  I  noticed a curious lack of obese people. I am a people watcher and stare so I tend to assume a benign look for the safety factor and to smile kindly at people I don't know. In Berlin this worked well and I got lots of smiles back.  

On the metro they read newspapers that are not like the Sun as far as I can see. They have no barriers on their metro and while the stations are nowhere near as astounding as the ones in Moscow, there is a curious freedom about them with characters carrying their bicycles down the escalators.I grew up reading Isherwood and longed to find Cabaret and decadence, in fact there was a 'Swingers club' within yards of our flat but we didn't fancy it. And that's the thing about Berlin, there is no pretence. what you see is what you get. We decided against a cabaret as neither of us speaks German but we did a pretty extensive tour of pubs all over the city. We were welcomed everywhere we went with a nice enthusiasm that is curiously lacking when it comes to a couple of old birds in London!

I had another agenda too, I wanted to see a guy who I had a dalliance with in 1962 - before sex was invented according to a poet (fortunately we didn't know about this!)  Last seen sharing acid, now a successful artist of sterling apparent respectability. And me? What do I look like to him? Would he recognise me? I have grown appreciably - horizontally and all the long hair is gone along with my bare feet. and white lipstick  so I doubt it. Stout sensible shoes are the order of the day now and a nice warm coat. And both of us old. But we are both in there somewhere and during our conversation we peep out, slyly, briefly, while his formidable wife offers cake carefully. And talks to my girl friend almost exclusively. An old flame become an ember with hardly any life at all.  My guru become dull, all his originality taken up with warnings of ice slips and fear of broken bones. I hadn't expected him to look the same, in fact I would have recognised him but his fierce energy has gone and mine has not - my physical energy is certainly diminished but my joy and anger seem intact, his wife clearly has him on tight rein and they are happy and what do I know? I envy him his peace but am quite glad that I haven't succumbed. I wanted to play 'do you remember' and I think he may have quite liked that but it was not possible and they were hectic years so perhaps that was for the best. What I would really like to have done is take acid again with this old man and find the parts of us that still believe that life is wonderful because it is.

And now I am going back and I hope I like it as much as that first time. I know we were only there for a month and can't know it properly and when I speak to some Germans who hate Berlin I wonder if I got it wrong but it was right for me and I will stay in Krietzburg again and have wonderful breakfasts at the bar and eat Turkish food again and my work will be part of a visual show at a gallery and my words exposed in a bookshop so it won't be all bad. 
No, it will be good to be back.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


It is patently obvious that my house gets the five star rating from the local mice. The Ritz of the rodents! I reckon it is very probably ideal. I am away most weekends for four days so they have the house to themselves and it must be a shock when this great lumbering creature re-occupies with her dog. I understand their point of view. However my point of view is that I don't want to share my home with a lot of highly incontinent mice. The smell is foul and it increases the housework load and my cleaner threatens to defect if I don't get rid of them. Besides they are cheeky little buggers and after meeting one eye to eye on my draining board I brought a zeal to my anti mouse purge.

I got the pest control people in and killed some with poison, they died and festered under my white goods, rotted and stank. They were removed and I had seen none of the tell -tale signs of mice for more than a week. 'Hooray!' I thought, they are gone. I was wrong.

On Tuesday evening I came back from a lovely day out with friends I hadn't seen for fifteen years and I was cooking quietly thinking nice thoughts, going over conversations we had had earlier in the day, smiling at our memories of trying to join a group of pagans who greeted us with a phalanx of hostile backs, speaking of our first meeting and genrally indulging in deja vu of the best class. It is always slightly odd rejoining friends you haven't seen for this long, will we still like one another? have they changed ? have I? But it had all worked wonderfully well as we sat and drank milk shakes and talked and talked. I liked them even more than before or I had forgotten this easy closeness. I smiled to myself feeling mellow.

This silence is rare for me, a radio 4 addict. Usually I arrange to cook when I listen to the Archers or when Moral Maze is on and I yell at the ghastly Melanie. Or listen to Any Questions and take an active part, one of the advantages of living the freedom to listen to annoying people and shriek. In fact I seek out the Atkinses of this world to give me a nice rush of fury, and when, as sometimes happens I agree with her, I worry about my integrity.

In my ruminative quiet state I heard a metallic noise I listened intently and there it was again a rustling against metal located in my balanced flu water heater. The sound unbalanced me totally . Mice! I gave it a whack. Nothing. I remembered once before that mice had set up residence and fortified themselves with eating the plastic round the electric wires, dangerous this and could cost me a lot of money. I opened the bottom part of the heater and a confetti of chewed bedding and the ever present mouse turds descended on to the counter beneath. They are back in force. A new crew ready to take advantage of the superior facilities and my sloppy housekeeping. I put bleach in water and wash all the counters. I had had all holes cemented after their last incursion . It was mouse-proof I thought. The mice thought otherwise and now that I am away again I try not to worry. And I feel feeble about the mice because I don't even dislike them and when they are dead they are cute little creatures.with sweet wee faces that would soften the hardest heart but when they scuttle under my feet and startle me with a sudden impromptu appearance, then it's me or them and its got to be me! So watch it next time I'm home.
The guy next door tells me he is getting the mouse worriers in on Monday and I only hope they don't all trot in retreat into my house again.
PS This blog got caught in the works was supposed to go up last week, since then no mice are apparent but I am not entirely reassured they are crafty little varmints!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Dogs Glorious Dogs

Now that I have a connection with Woofbark on Twitter I feel that I can give myself licence to get really doggy. My Border Terrier Saffron is the first female dog I ever had and by far the nicest, which is only to be expected. She has a sweet nature, is extremely pretty, gathers fans about her on the train when we travel and if I leave her outside a shop she draws a group of concerned citizens who reproach me.

I acquired her from some friends who bought her for their daughter just about that time of pubescence when she found the poop scoop deeply embarrassing and boys totally fascinating, so poor Saffie was not getting much exercise.

I was grieving for my last dog, Zit, more of whom later. I had mostly had rescue dogs before and this enchanting little creature was a totally new experience for me,a civilised girl, the arrangement initially was that I had her during the week and took her back weekends but I found excuses to keep her with me and finally, when she began to pine for me and go into ecstasies when I arrived they said I could keep her.She does of course have her own vices, a passion for rolling, in fox spraint main among them and I have become accustoned to perfume of fox as accompaninment to life with her and only bathe her when she rolls in a dead toad, old fish or if I expect fastidious friends to visit.( oddly they seem to have fallen by the wayside over the years!)

She is a great contrast to my last dog, Zit who was a rogue of the first order whose main aim in life was escape and who would slither away low to the ground, in imitation of Muttly whose grin he could do, between car and door looking over his shoulder with what looked like a gotcha grin to me. He was sly and endearingly funny. He also had hideous breath and stupendous farts . I got him from a friend whose boyfriend swore he would leave if she didn't get rid of him, predictably he left anyway. I felt that she should have chosen the dog but was glad to have the pup who was a few months old and already an escape artist.

His mother Daisy was a Jack Russell mixed with something indefinable and even after being spayed she had a distinct taste for lusty adventures with the local dogs. Zit was a further variation on the mutt theme. He would bounce four feet into the air at the hint of walkies reduced to a mere two feet before he died at twenty. He was never spayed and now that I have a bitch I realise that he was a pest, at the time I felt it was the unkindest cut and when he was seventeen we tried to mate him with a similar bitch called Libbie. They were enthusiastic and went off for a weekend sojourn together, which they enjoyed but no progeny resulted.

When he was twenty his back legs quite suddenly were paralysed. He dragged himself around for a day or two looking thoroughly miserable, he was a dog who lived to roam and now he couldn't walk. I made up my mind, took him to his favourite place: Mudeford where he attempted to jump from the car and landed in a heap on the ground dragged himself along the beach a few feet and collapsed looking reproachful. I had seen dogs with wheelie things for back legs but he was twenty had a heart murmur and arthritis I decided to put us both out of our misery. I made him a bowl of his favourite Boulognaise which he gobbled up and then I took him to the vet, a long term admirer of his. I held him as he died my face alongside his and he wagged his tail as he went, the death of a reprobate. I spread his ashes on Hegistbury Head one day in the Spring. I swore I would never have another dog.

I missed him dreadfully and realised that apart from our life together it was a case of a social life that had gone. Those conversations about dogs, the mutual admiration of our dogs. The instant comradeship of fellow dog owners, the routine conversations that go on fairly set lines, they never nag you or reproach you (a downright lie this - Zit could cut me to the core and ignore me for an entire day if I curtailed his freedom)I know many people by the name of their dog and they call me Saffie's mum.

This may sound trivial to the non doggie among us,I expect it is but it precludes the usual judgements that colour my own relationships and limit me. So I had a great friendship with a Labrador's mum who, one day shook me rigid by voicing an admiration for Mrs. Thatcher. I caught my words before they got out into the atmosphere and we are still 'friends.'

My partner is not English and finds the whole business of dog talk bizarre and threatens to make a video record of the routine 'sharings' with other dog admirers, not a bad idea!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

When my computer has a hiccup I have a kind of neurotic tremor rather like a nervous breakdown or an emotional earthquake.. And I do know it makes no sense but it doesn't stop me for a second, I telephone my love for my password - like she'd know! I talk to my web master in frantic tones, they - insensitive bastards - laugh. I am a three-year-old in full tantrum mode. I want to kill. Fortunately I have not done so yet but the spirit is definitely willing.

When my computer crashed some months ago, before I had found Twitter or Facebook, I went into huge gloom and wept real tears. Not for long but I was without a computer for more than a week during which time I became intimate with my nearest internet facility which has pictures of Tibetan horsemen galloping across the walls and a Babel of eastern European languages mixed with Arabic, Punjabi and Pashto. As I understand none of these languages they float over me quite pleasantly if noisily with a few Russian words that intrude into my consciousness from a couple of kids playing games. A guy sings along to some religious music and an African guy and myself pull faces at each other and grin. All this sounds attractive but it doesn't make for concentration and it was a big relief to get back to my normal nice isolation with the dog.

This time, with the added loss of Twitter I was even more destroyed. All that fractured energy while I read the odd dozen tweets from people I don't know at 2am. It has become a habit and I don't approve but I enjoy it anyway. In fact this time it was a mere upgrade - something I have resisted for years. I must have been feeling over adventurous this week and the computer is demanding an ancient password and bombarding me with news of how good this particular facility is, how it is protecting me. Protecting me from what? My own emails?

But I do worry about my reaction, which is totally out of proportion. I can only think that all my nascent lunacy has gathered itself into one vast screaming panic that gushes out wantonly as soon as somebody takes my toys. I know it smacks of a deeply sad person and saddest of all I have a sneaking feeling that my computer is doing it on purpose. That it is punishing me for my lack of careful file keeping, my untidy way of keeping eight files open simultaneously as well as the sneeze splattered screen that I forget to clean for months (I am a morning sneezer). And I haven't been backing up either.

So, I must conclude that rather than accept that these things are random - like life - I have some grim belief that I am being punished by my computer. That it is a spiteful entity that sits looking back at me with malice waiting for a time when I am feeling particularly pleased with myself and hits me a whammy. I worry about my mind.

Of course I don't believe this, not really, still I rush around bleating like a wet hen and I know hens don't bleat but my voice does and I hear myself tearful over the phone to my lovely Belfast voiced internet supplier. Shrieking at my friends because they can't help, abusing the poor old guy in the computer repair shop and rage and shame overcome me so I have to go and do an abject one later.

It's only a bloody computer after all. Isn't it?
And I know people who go off for weeks with no communication at all, and they tell me they enjoy it too! Clearly not for me but I must get out more!

Friday, 20 August 2010

When I travel it is a rather untidy business with my computer which is old and heavy in a trolley thing that is just a smidgeon too wide for the aisle in the train. Then my dog, who is usually a sweet natured girl and entirely biddable, being dragged along behind me and objecting by resisting with four paws on the deck. And my coffee wavering dangerously hot. So this particular evening it was hardly surprising that the good looking woman in the seat I chose objected. 'I'm sitting here.' she began.'On both seats?' I retorted into the challenge now. 'I don't want your dog next to me!' she said. 'And you won't get her, she sits on the floor!' I sat down, stuffed my trolley and Saffie under the table and glared, I thought for a moment she was going to whack me and I smiled ingratiating at the woman opposite who gave me a blank.
Not a good start to one of the most entertaining journeys I ever had on my way to Waterloo, which happens once a week.

This can be a variable trip. Often my dog gets a fan club, a sort of Border Terrier support group and we speak of the virtues of the breed, how adorable they are (only in Britain I hear you say!) This has its problems because then the dog takes up residence with them with me on the other end of the lead. Or we speak of their own dogs and stern business men go into excesses of sentiment and passion and we speak of all the dogs we have known and loved, which gets rather mawkish but fills the time nicely and we feel close, briefly. The great thing about dog talk is the fact that the only thing you need to have in common is a love of dogs. I once met a woman with a chocolate Labrador on my dog walks twice a week for months and we chatted happily together until election time when she told me that Mrs. Thatcher was the best thing that had ever happened. I was astounded and realised I had been consorting with the enemy, we carried on talking but I never quite got over this insight.
The female next to me was definitely not of this ilk. But, fortunately she loved to talk and so do I. I am also a great ear wigger but am not sure how she began, I was doing the easy crossword to prove my intellectual limitations or something. She was onto the fallibility of men, which would definitely be my specialist subject on Mastermind and I was impelled to put in my two pennorth. The woman opposite who looked formidably private was agreeing with her and soon we were all joyfully relating our own tales of deeply unsatisfactory men. The first woman turned out to have grown up in my street but her family had gone upmarket and her mother despaired of her finding 'a nice Indian man to marry'. This in spite of her not wanting anything of the sort. She told us she was forty, we assured her she didn't look it (though I don't know what forty looks like she looked young and so vivacious as to be ageless) she had had an arranged marriage when she was young, had escaped it with the support of her parents and enjoyed her freedom in a way that few women do. They spoke of the joys of the single woman and I spoke of the fun of being with a female partner.
This encounter with these two woman was a total joy and though it has taken me weeks to get around to it, I said I would celebrate it in a blog and here it is for Lydia and the fine independent woman on the train and thanks to you both!

There is some horrible old saying about strangers only being friends you haven't met yet. I wish to make it clear that I think this is nonsense. The vast majority of people hold no fascination for me of I for them. There are however delightful exceptions.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Cunt reclamation


There are words that I hate, not usually if ever the words that other people hate. I loath 'poorly' but am fond of 'cunt,' a nice friendly word, blunt and purposeful. I find the word vagina a bit yucky in the same way that 'bowel movement ' sounds far more disgusting than the plain word 'shit' which is nearly onomatopoeic in my opinion. At home nobody swore or used rude words and I remember being shocked when my friend's mum said fart, at home the family said 'breaking wind' which sounded rather dangerous and always made me snigger. I discovered the word 'bastard' in a book by Alexander Baron when I was about twelve and tried it out on my brother who grassed me up to mum who told dad and I got one of the few whacks of my childhood but no explanation of why I shouldn't use the word.

I understand that some people are shocked and distressed by various words and I suggest that they don't use them and I realise that this may militate against them reading some kinds of books - including mine. They must decide for themselves what is 'acceptable', In my turn I choose not to read books that I know are going to annoy me - unless I want to be annoyed and sometimes I do. But I don't expect anybody to limit my words for me.
I love words. Words fascinate me. Melancholy is quite beautiful and can induce a nice mellow sadness whereas the word 'basically' uttered in my presence can produce an inchoate rage when used more that twice in any conversation. I count the word and was at a meeting recently when the organiser used the word fifteen times in one evening. I am afraid that this means I hardly hear what he is talking about so busy am I counting and I do realise that this is a neuroses. I once wrote a poem: We speak jargonese with a consummate ease that has to be heard to be disbelieved is the first line and I wrote it so many years ago I can't remember the rest so it is a long term foible on my part. 'At the end of the day at this moment in time (where else would you find a moment eh?? In space?) See? I'm getting colicky even as I write so I will return to words I love.

I first heard 'motherfucking cocksucker' in the open air where the sound took off and gracefully landed in my ear. The fact that it was uttered by a delicious guy may have something to do with it and the fact that it became rather overused notwithstanding I adopted it for its resonance and varied it with Cocksucking motherfucker. The scene was a dice game on a pavement outside a club and the organiser did a runner which caused rather too many repetitions but it stuck as my favourite term of abuse forever, and the fact that I seldom get to use it only makes it more precious. It is quite a different proposition for a girl of eighteen to gob off (another good phrase) with such words but for an ancient bird it is absurd (but don't worry I am THINKING it HARD) The meaning is slightly absurd because a man performing both these acts is an unlikely character in my opinion - not impossible but unlikely and the phrase has the merit of aggravating as many people as it is possible to annoy with mere words!
'Mere' words?.
Words are powerful, entertaining and dangerous? Or are they? We do presumably choose our own words to use or not. I reckon that words should have an effect, make us question ourselves and above all shake us out of our apathy, not all the time of course and at breakfast if anybody used my favourite curse I would find it unacceptable but not nearly as unacceptable as 'basically'. We can have adventures with words and few words are sacred though some racist terms are off limits with good reason. I also think that 'swear words' should be used sparingly lest they lose their power. My partner of many years was a Belfast man who inserted 'fucking' into every sentence with such abandon that it ceased to mean anything. I also spent time with some West Indians who have a line in denigrating a woman's apparatus and menstrual cycle, which always seemed strange to me because they clearly were very fond of utilising the same. In fact it occurs to me that men are a little afraid of the cunt with all its power which is why they throw the word around in a derogatory way, but we don't have to accept their intention we can reclaim 'cunt' for ourselves - go girls go!
Enjoy your cunt in word and deed!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Another beautiful day, the sun is splitting the trees but definitely not splitting a brand new grim grey high rise that looks very close, too close for comfort. We see a floor mat on the grass, somebody's sunbathing apparatus? A fox has defecated accurately dead centre of it. The grass looks dead and brown, the traffic sounds from Blackheath hill, the river is just showing a gleam in the distance. I give a stretch or two, nothing too strenuous and I look forward to a day of writing and perhaps a walk by the river.

At precisely eight the intercom sounds and the builder arrives, a handsome young Russian accompanied by his mate and they are ready to start NOW! The kitchen and bathroom must be cleared and I see my lovely day disappearing in a cloud of dust and dishes and chopping boards and more equipment than I ever knew we had, then the bathroom full of stuff to be transferred to other rooms, I am in a bedroom with my dog surrounded by culinary equipment and bathroom appendages some of which I know not their usage.

I am guarded with builders, half matey grovel to prove I am no snob and half terrified victim with a smidgen of the autocrat as I watch them move my stuff. I see myself as a free spirit who doesn't care about worldly goods - in fact I am a protective acquisitive creature and very possessive of nearly my whole equipage even though most of it has no value at all. It's mine! My inner voice protests loudly.

But this time the builders are not in my territory but in my friends' so it shouldn't matter I should be able to retain a lot more rationality. It seems not, I still feel invaded - very possibly because they are inhabiting the bathroom full time.

My friend is authoritative with them - at least in part because she speaks some Russian. I have always had problems with authoritative and when I taught I found it hard to achieve. I veered from all understanding compassionate friend to sarky sneering critic in the space of one session. With builders I make tea and am friendly housefrau behind which lurks a furious malignant banshee ready to hop out at the least sign of insubordination. I think I may be over-territorial or deeply insecure, probably both.

These are superior type builders these Russians they show up on time, work like beavers engrossed in a new dam, are grateful for tea but don't stop work to drink it, have no fag breaks and absolutely no badinage. They are courteous and charming. Still they fill the flat with their presence and the bits that they don't fill are stuffed full of a million dishes. It took me an hour to find the loo roll this morning and by the time I found it the impulse was gone and Stanislav back in the bathroom anyway.

One of my consolations in times of stress is food but the kitchen is stripped and occupied too. I can't find cheese or bread then remember tucking into a midnight snack when we lurched in last night, I expect it is eaten. We go out to lunch again, the hidden expense of the invasion. Later I notice a white emulsion fingerprint on my computer. I expect mother Russia has been contacted.

I have had hideous experiences with builders one of whom would arrive promptly enough, with his two sons stay for half an hour then disappear. After a few days I chased them down the road and discovered them busily grafting at a new job. I was incensed enough to grab the small builder and shake him vigorously, he slithered away and promised to finish my job. In fact, shortly after this incident he disappeared along with his tools leaving a vast pile of rubbish outside that grew daily as people came from miles around to dump their pruck. We would sit watching TV and hear thunks followed by a car driving off and go out to look at our new acquistions on the pile. People dump remarkable stuff and other people would come along to look it over. When it reached the length of five houses and was seriously incommoding parking the council stepped in and demanded that I remove it. the dispute went on for weeks meanwhile it increased in size and grew its own vegetation, I wrote a piece aboutit which I flogged to the Guardian. In the end the council removed it and sent the bill to the builder who also ran up a bill in my name at a local builder's merchant and left me with no windows. It took months of aggravation to get part of my money back. It seems he was and probably still is a gambler well known to the building inspector though nobody thought to mention this.

Compared to him and to many builders I have known these guys are pearls and in fact they finished on time in good order and cleaned up after themselves. I got a number for them too - for a price!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


The first official event of the day was a blood test at the hospital nearby, I congratulated myself on remembering it - a mere post it on my computer & a note on the kettle! I had eaten so was banished until today. I had put the washing machine on and when I looked outside tere was a sizeable pond in the yard I poked at the drain with an old coat hanger, it was not impressed. My remedies for small tragedies of this sort are have a bath or make soup. In the past I would get roaring drunk but the hangovers now make this a dicey enterprise. My tap has needed a new washer for some time and i had turned it off so vigorously that it was now impossible to get any hot water. Then a chubby mouse strolled past me on its way to the cupboard under the stairs. I looked out of the window at the trellis with jasmine and clematis that had collapsed and was sinking into the pond. This had greeted me when i came back from looking at the wonderful Alice Neel's work on Sunday. Ok I thought I will work I had soem printing out to do so I got the documents organised turned on the printer and ..nothing except a green light but no action in the printing department. I investigated plugs and gave up. I was tempted to weep, instead I phoned a friend and offered to take her out for coffee.

I got the dog in the car and hit Aldi on the way.A woman with two sticks was staggering down the steep slope that is part of their 'challenge to the punter scheme' - any trolley is practically guaranteed to do a runner about here unless held at the correct angle.'Want a hand? I have a dodgy leg and that slope is difficult.' I thought I was being kind - 'I've got a BROKEN leg!' She retorted with an air of triumph and I marvelled at the competitive spirit of the human race.I withdrew.
I resisted any temptation to visit Waitrose, I lose all self control in there and find myself spending vast quantities on olives and cheeses and summer puddings and in the mood of today it could be disastrous and I would have to be surgically removed from their pattiserie counter.
I reached my friend's house and kept the whingeing to a minimum initially but after meeting some more friends in the cafe and sussing out plumbers it all came out, a great splurge of piteous bleating, focussed on the plight of the single(ish) householder. My friend made the very sensible siggestion that I flog my house and buy a small flat, in fact there was a block of flats with a view of the Itchen and the park just up the road. I could get prizes for procrastination but now I was on the spot and inspired - this is fate I thought.

You have to be sixty to live here and in fact I had been here once before to a session of the University of the third age in somebody's flat. The gardens are lovely, there is parking for everybody and the facilities are truly excellent. The flats are tiny but adequate and the residents are very friendly and there's the rub. I can spend several days without speaking to anybody though I telephone my girl once a day or more and I have friends. But I am essentially an outsider looking in, critically for the most part. A pisstaker who hates having the piss taken out of myself. A resident told us that the best thing about the place was the people. And my heart sank, a vision of people with the blitz spirit all helping each other flashed into my mind and was ejected at the speed of light.
'Do you allow dogs?' I asked. 'You could ask the management.' She said and we left it at that.
When I come home later in the day the water has drained away and the smell of mice restored,three of the seven kids next door greet me noisily: 'Hello Mo where's the other mummy?' which is what they call my girl. And the mummy is out with her latest baby and she looks pregnant again, I chuck their balls back after having the truncated rap that Nadia specialises in with every second sentence :'Why?' I go the hundred yards to get a beer and treat myself to the the Graun,( a sin after midday) am greeted six times on the way there and back and meet Sister Hannah who tells me the latest on her battles with the council, the neighbours and the world, we finish up roaring with laughter at the casual injustice of the world, as usual.
I don't think I will move just yet.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


I think that of all the words used to describe and to stereotype the older among us 'elderly' is the worst. It sounds far more derogatory than 'old'. To me it smacks of Zimmer frames and being ensconced with fellow aged ones in a room with the TV on ITV all day with adverts for stair - lifts and incontinence pads playing with ones mind. The word 'ancient' has style and grace and is altogether more classy. So I use that for my own self description. But really, while I am not in denial of my age, indeed I have begun to boast about it (a revolting habit and one that I swore I would never indulge in) I am definitely in denial of the limitations that other people put upon my age.

What does it MEAN when you say I don't look my age? What does my age look like? Is there an age gauge? Some stipulated appearance to conform to? Yet another rule for us all? I know many people, younger and older than me and they do not all look the same. And when does elderly begin? We all know where it ends. On the slab! And can you choose? Some people I know have welcomed old age while in their fifties and other who make no concessions to their age when they are ninety five and they rail against physical limitations, so I guess you can choose. In the same way that you are not always entirely responsible for what happens to you but you can choose how to react to it.

When people tell me that I am 'not like my (their) mum' I want to tell them that I never was - I am unique. (In fact we are all unique)
I don't bother to tell them any more, it doesn't go down well. And their words are meant as a compliment but it is stereotyping as much as is the statement that 'all the young drink to excess and are rude.' (discuss!)

The Nepalese woman who braids my eyebrows offers to cook for me and feels that I need somebody to look after me - because I made the fatal mistake of telling her my age - a year older than her own mother. This is a kind gesture but not one that I have any intention of accepting. Other people insist on telling me that I am far better on the computer than are their mum. I should hope I am I have been slogging away at it for years and am still a complete
technophobe. I have an eighty-year-old friend who is a computer whiz and I expect that all levels of competence are represented in my age group. Naturally, somebody who learned computer skills at an early age finds them more accessible. And in my own experience of running creative writing groups there is a serious lack of spelling ability and knowledge of words in people under forty.

I hear programmes on the radio in which people of sixty have decided they are old and if they choose to embrace age with fervour then jolly good luck to them. They look back to the past longingly. As we all do, to our own edited past that is. I sat in the doctor's waiting room a few weeks ago with some old flame, not remotely warm now, who I used to dance slow ones with thirty years ago at The West Indian club and we reminisced about the good old days and it was fun, but we lied, we tailored our tale to fit the policy of the old days, those good old days.

We spoke of a time when the blues parties were peaceful benign affairs and petrol and ganga were cheap. You could wander about on the way home at any hour with no fear of hassle. In fact I have no desire to be up at 4am and wandering. I only did it then because I was too drunk to drive. I also remember some pretty hairy scenes in the local shebeens but like I say; we all edit our pasts and that is healthy.

My brother in law who is a hero of mine mentioned in passing that he went to the public baths in the same road that we had an exhibition and reading last week. It occurs to me that the public baths are now an unknown adventure to most people, as were the wash houses, so I will share my memories: in the fifties many houses, especially the ones in multi occupation had no bathrooms. Some had baths in the kitchen and the covered bath would double as table, imagine the performance of removing everything from the table in a small kitchen to open up the bath. Boil up a copper and decant water into the bath, the family would share the water one after another. A very steamy affair! But not in a good way.

The public baths were mostly part of a pool complex and were called slipper baths. Nobody has ever given me a satisfactory explanation of this name and I should like one. We would go in and get a number and go inside a cubicle to the vast spotless bath, which would be filling with water courtesy of the lady in charge. You would shout out your number to ask for more water 'More hot in number four please!' and we thought it great fun to demand more cold in somebody else's bath so we tried to find out our mates' number and got up to other hijnks like climbing up and peering over the top of the wall, that were looked upon unfavourably. We were pests to this woman who we saw as a granny, probably in her early fifties.

The wash house was a place where local women met, scrubbed their clothes and rubbished one another. We, who lived with black men were singled out for a great deal of nasty banter, they regarded us as sluts. The fact that we appeared, and indeed did, have more parties and actively enjoyed ourselves a lot more loudly than they did was unforgivable. Even the ones among us who had been married for years with a rack of children were thought to be 'no better than we should be'. Which is another strange phrase.

So? How is it to be elderly?
I don't know. I have decided to be ancient and I am having a pretty good life thanks. The future is exciting. And we ancients are as variable as any other group in society and it is possible to choose the warp and weft to create your own old age.
Weave on and enjoy.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Under the boardwalk down by the sea.

Except in this case it is hardly sea at all, though there is seaweed that adorns the shopping trolleys that get pushed into the water. But it is still rather marvellous and very well built, though my dog finds it very dull I am afraid. She preferred the littered beach with its nice stinky mud, dead creatures to roll in and the ever present danger of getting trapped by the tide holds no fear for her.My dog is convinced that the more malodorous she is the better and to this end she misses no opportunity to roll with ecstatic expression in any noisome drek she can find.

There are many tales of characters I know lurching home from The Junction or The Dolphin , two excellent real pubs, now safely available. I have a friend who was trapped with her dog by the tide for hours clinging to the Budlea while trains shot by within inches of her back and water rose relentlessly. In the spring the tidal water nearly reaches the railway line so this must have been terrifying. She did the right thing and panicked but the water subsided and she got home soaked. In fact nobody has ever drowned in our bit of the river though two young boys nearly did last winter.
I have found a couple of dead mice but no more signs in the shape of turds and the stench has gone, however yesterday morning while washing up I encountered a miniscule mouse in the hot Ecover rich soapy water as I emptied the bowl. At first I thought it was a spud but vegetables don't move and once I got my glasses on I realised it was a frantic swimming baby mouse. I turned off the tap and as the water subsided it sat up and gave attention to its whiskers - it looked so sweet I was lost. I expect I should have killed it but how? I picked it up by its tail, it moved, I dropped it,I got kitchen roll, carried it to the back garden and released it - the cleanest mouse on the block. I expect it back some time soon bent on revenge.
The mice are not breaking and entering they are under the floorboards and carousing up and down the block. They are upstairs, a fact which freaks me out for some reason. I found a small grey corpse under my bed and it gave me the horrors. Obviously I will have to get a cat,I have spoken to my terrier about this and we are in consultation. I look forward to a time of adjustment and would welcome any advice on introducing a cat into the life of a very mature dog. At the moment she chases cats and subsequently gets beaten up.She will have to be reprogrammed and I feel we need a rather special cat taking into account the seven kids next door who are very friendly but unskilled in the ways of pets!
I had no idea that mice were such an influential force( or such a rich source of preoccupation)

Thursday, 8 July 2010


I haD been away for more than a week and I wasn't sure what to expect. The mouse massacre man came two weeks ago today and put down poison.But meanwhile the neighbours told me they have 'many mice' who no doubt make their way under the floor from house to house, so I thought my plants in tubs would be stone dead and the mice scampering round the house. In fact the house smells like mouse mortuary and the plants are excelling themselves.
I found the first small corpse on the stairs, it looked totally harmless, its eyes shut in death and regret began to enter my soul. MURDERER! The second one I found with my bare foot in the night in the lavatory nasty! My resolve returned. I left all the windows open all night but still the stench of death pervades. The kitchen is the worst and I will have to search under the cupboards, in all the corners, in the glory hole under the stairs. I hate mice again, fervently.
The event in London went very well (did you notice that? It is called diversion technique it doesn't remove the stench of death butit distracts the mind while I wait for the mouse man.) The director from Hollywood came along and was charming, many friends came and the publisher came along carrying booze and books in his back pack, which I found rather noble.
I think it an excellent idea to have readings combined with visual arts exhibitions. In Russia there are shows that combine all kinds of disciplines which reminded me of the 'happenings' in the seventies. Cross fertlisation is a possible and listening to ideas for a new project from a Russian artist has jerked my own brain into unexpected new activity concerning time.
The mouse man did not come in spite of promises to be here and now the dog is back and I just hope she doesn't find a dead mouse and eat it. I have banished her to the garden where she sits peering in at me in a pathetic manner - her abandonment issues restored along with my guilt at leaving her with a friend for so long.I wonder once more about why we have dogs and conclude that in my case it is for the guilt trip factor as well as non demanding company. Some people have dogs purely for somebody to yell at or order about, Sit! Stay! Heel! they shout and it is never the dogs that need a bit of control that have owners like this. These alarming dogs caper on the end of leashes bared fangs at the ready while their proud owners hold on to them and laugh about my dog being a breakfast.I am good humoured and apologise to my own dog for my disloyalty.
I am not good at waiting, especially for the council or for workmen. It seems to me that the everybody is of the opinion that because I work at home my time is insignificant. I can't just sit back and relax. I am a vigorous waiter. I rage.
I know I should dismantle the cupboards and fish out the dead 'uns but I can't quite face it and as I paid £46 for the pest control guy I reckon it's his job.
So, I wait. I also phone. The exasperation zings over the wire from both ends.
I just phoned the pest control people again, 'my' man is not working today they will send somebody between 1 and 5 tomorrow, so they say, all pest controllers are busy with wasps and bees.
I am joined by a blowfly, it can only be a matter of time until it becomes a swarm or a gathering, then the maggots...sometimes imagination is not such a good idea!

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Not of course that I don’t have a smidgeon of belief !!
We are speaking of a Libra friend who is incapable of making decisions without months of discussion.
I rush in where angels fear to tread. And don't even start me on the angels phenomena or we'll be here all day
‘But she was born on the same day as Mrs. Thatcher and that old gargoyle never had any trouble making up her mind!'
‘Different rising sign isn’t it.' As if this a fact and that it settles the matter and they all nod wisely to themselves and each other.
‘And that’s such a Capricorn thing to say.’ And she smiles to herself, smugly. ‘Critical, practical, ambitious workaholics.'
‘Yes, so locked into success…’ Begins one.
‘In strictly material terms.’ Comes in number two. And her mouth goes into disapproval mode. I despair of their sanity. I also want to defend Capricorns on principle but it is hard to do so without shooting myself in the foot and admitting that I believe. And I don't, though when I go to the hairdressers and spot a magazine I look at the horoscope first. And if I find a tabloid in the pub I do the same, but that's conditioning isn't it? Not that I believe all this crap.

On the phone to a friend I say that I felt ill last night and I can just see the rest of my life stretching ahead with frequent periods of being under the weather. Her voice rises into panic:
‘Don’t even think that. If you visualise that it will happen.’ She says solemnly.
‘Well, I’ve been visualising being a millionaire for years and that hasn’t come to pass !’ I say crossly.
‘Well it wasn’t meant to be then.’ Like they get you coming and going. On the one hand, there’s this almighty power thing that can move mountains, lurking around just out of sight, waiting to come in with magical assistance but only if it’s meant to be. (And who decides if it’s meant to be?) On the other hand, if you are ill it is clearly your own fault because you haven’t been sorting your chakras or polishing up the old aura. I go back to her:
‘Well let’s hope that neither is my long-term malady meant to be eh ?’
‘Mnn but you must be very careful what you envisage.’
If only it were that easy I think and swiftly envisage her pinioned on a map of the Zodiac looking pitifully at Leo and Pisces with a lion at her throat and a fish up her backside.
But why does it annoy me ? Let them carry on with their foolishness I tell myself. Rise above it !
But it’s hard. You get somebody with the IQ of an emergent tadpole suddenly take on a look of mystical intelligence and issue a proclamation of such true banality that they should be chased from the room with sticks, and half the room go into a sort of trance. Their faces take on a look of intense idiocy and the snake oil phenomena takes over. Then, you could sell them anything but common sense.
I think I shall invent a token that can be worn round the neck and that will guarantee success in a chosen field of endeavour and the perfect partner. I shall make it of some kind of offal inside metal so that it gets to smell a bit and I will give out that it accustoms itself to your own individual needs and that the aroma is part of its response to your own unique body. I shall market this and make a fortune and if I begin to visualise it now…..
Yet I would like to be a believer it would stop me having to make decisions for myself and I have in fact almost believed in various things, chanted mantras, contorteed the body into odd shapes listened to friends wallowing in regret and taken my turn to wallow too. I was part of the consciousness raising, speculum waving generation and remember it as a rather jolly time of useful revelations.
But I expect that is a very Capricorn thing to say!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Just an old guy - my hero

My brother in law has never telephoned me in the forty or more years I have known him. He has become increasingly deaf and I am by no means the easiest person to understand and hardly move my lips, I think this might go back to school when I was an inveterate subversive and disrupted classes from the back. My voice is not great either so we communicate by email regularly up to twice a week. About Palestine among other things, I send him the Jewish Voice for Peace he sends me stuff from the Indie and tells me I should stop reading the Guardian. We sometimes disagree quite violently and furious emails zing back and forth. When my old man was alive he would also send clippings to us both, a lot of obits from East London papers, another comrade had bit the dust, when you are 92 I guess it is expected. I send him obits from the Guardian of any old comrades.
I admire him immensely he paints, makes pots, still campaigns as much as his dodgy pins will allow and is as engaged in 'the struggle' as he ever was when he was a young pioneer and fought Moseley in Cable street. An admirable old warrior.
The other morning I lifted the phone and heard his angry voice yelling. 'You are my first hope and my last! They've got me here against my will and they won't let me go home. You know about human rights and they are abusing mine so get me out of here! You help immigrants now help me!' all at top volume and though I yelled back 'WHERE ARE YOU BARNEY?' many times he couldn't hear me. 'I've got to go I'm running out of money on this phone.' The phone went dead and I was left in bits,
I was on the landline to a good mate at the time and she had heard my yelling half of the conversation and she halted any temptation for me to indulge in full scale panic. She suggested I try his local hospital first before I sent for the cavalry.
He was there and I talked to a nurse who told me he was very angry but as he had nobody to look after him he couldn't go home. In fact he had demanded his clothes and sat on his bed all day and night demanding release I rang the only other relation I knew and he said he would visit. I can't drive much because of my shoulder (the young have no conception of the aggravation of us oldies with bits falling off and only a bus pass as compensation !)
I met, on the phone a new - to me- niece who seems to have an admiration  for him equal to my own and tells me that he sends her kids cuttings of a political nature and she was visiting him too. I finally went with my partner by train on a Sunday. He received her well and yelled a greeting over the ward. She was delighted to meet him as I have been bigging him up for all the time I have known her, she wasn't disappointed.
His son returned from holiday and rescued him and Barney sent me an email pronto so we are back in touch and I will visit him at home soon. But I think that being stroppy is an excellent policy in hospital, it gets you noticed if not loved and your swift ejection is guaranteed!
I used the same technique when I had a stroke though in a less dramatic way and when I left a few nurses congratulated me on my independent stance. True I got out extremely quickly with many glares from sister but I feel it is a mistake to succumb to the system.
So well done Barney! I'm proud of you.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

All that Jazz Sunday 17th

All That Jazz
This morning at eight on the Point the sun was splitting the trees and London looked great with The Eye close, I swear it moves. and over the river Canary Wharf lurked impressive as ever. The Dome shone white and weird and everything was bright.
Ten minutes later, after I had picked up 40 discarded cans the clouds had arrived to take the gloss off the day. My dog was happily imbibing fox from every third blade of grass, so I set to on the cans.
It began with one can then a blue plastic bag and I got compulsive and found myself stuffing cans into the nearby waste bins and going back for more. I reckon the foxes anoint every  single can individually and my hands still stink of fox days later. Some of the cans were half full and I found one full bottle of Heineken. I pondered on the choice of beer, I feel that if you are going to carry your beer up a hill then it would be sensible to get high velocity stuff, but what do I know? I don't make a habit of clearing up after other people's parties.
Last night as we yomped up the hill from Greenwich we had smelled and seen the fire and heard the cavorting young. I occasionally get cranky about the young having a ball, it seems like a duty when you reach a certain age. But I have clear memories of bellowing out 'The happy wanderer ' a truly terrible song at 3am on the way home. when I was young and of people screeching at me from their bedroom windows so I feel I have no room to talk.
We had been to a café that features jazz on Saturday evenings. Less than twenty people fit in to the tiny café and it is a nice civilised way to spend an evening, chew to the music… However, a man at another table talked relentlessly to a couple of women he had just met. He mainly talked about America and clearly amused them because they did fair imitations of hyenas while they drank in his words. They also drank a fair bit of wine and their voices got louder. I glared at them but they were not impressed. A guy on another table also glared and one of the saxophone players remarked musically a great hoot that stopped them for a moment or two. But then the chatterbox was back to telling them about his jet. 
We were four and we all sighed and grimaced, me in part because the women were supplying an admiring audience for a boring old toad. My male friend felt it was bad manners to talk through somebody's efforts at self expression and to distract from the music. I am not sure how much it did distract me, I turned around in my chair and listened intently - more than if they hadn't been there.  I asked the governor - also a fair saxophonist , if people habitually rabbited all the way through the music and he hoped it hadn't wrecked my enjoyment and that next time I have his permission to punch then on the nose. But I don't suppose he was serious.
Now I am not sure if the aggro didn't improve the evening, it certainly made it memorable.
My hands still have a whiff of fox. I am growing fond of it.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

I remember as a child that there were quite strict rules about hair partings. Left side for boys and right for girls. Of course there was always the centre parting - and plaits - there were rather a lot of plaits when I was a child, and none of them on boys. I remember tugging plaits in a mindless way - because they were there I suppose. I had a bow. Several bows, in fact an endless supply of bows that were attached to the top of my head in a mortifying manner. Some small girls liked their bows and wore them with pride. I loathed mine and it responded limply and it disappeared into my satchel swiftly as soon as I was out of sight of the house on the way to school. My beret met the same fate and my black hat that was worn in winter was transformed into a pork pie hat  like a bluesman from New Orleans which happily wrecked the original shape of the thing.
Now I see an engaging lack of conformity in headgear, who had ever heard of fascinators? Not me until I hit Waterloo station during Ascot week one year and spotted women trotting about with absurd things on their nuts. They seem and look quite agreeable once you get used to the idea that they have no practical  function whatsoever and that they are purely for adornment, idiotic but fun.

Hair too takes on totally new dimensions I go to the local chemist shop and this week I had to wait rather a long time for the medication that I gull every day in my bid for immortality. This shop is centre of the universe in my area for extensions and wigs and they do a bustling trade. I watched as women of all races came and matched their extensions to their natural hair. I peered over shoulders to see how exactly they attach them and it seems like a complex affair of clips. The wigs are wonderful in deep red or with hints of auburn or just plain black and a variety of blondes quite staggering in variety. I am thinking of splitting my prescription so I can hang out longer and more often at this hair emporium. Unfortunately there is a private room for the trying on of wigs but the women emerge to parade their new manifestations of self and it is all dramatic stuff.
My doctor's receptionist has a variety of amazing wigs which mystified me until I realised they had nothing at all to do with her except possession. And she has been accepting my compliments on her hair graciously for years. I was miffed at first but I suppose it proves her excellent taste. And what a liberation! I remember being subjected to the Toni perm, tongs, rollers and hairnets in turn in my bids for beauty.
I think I may buy a fascinator one day - for my friend.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


We decided to further immortalise the Brewing Art Group this weekend with photographs of the original venue, or at least of the pub sign. This involved us in a very pleasant visit to Covent Garden on a cold sunny spring bank holiday. I had forgotten how beguiling the area is, with its extraordinary shops - extraordinary products and even more extraordinary prices.  Vivienne Westwood boots that I found hideous, at 400 quid, lovely brogues  at 350 that I desired, unexpectedly (I am a Marks&Sparks shoe person myself) but it's fun to look.
The pub itself is excellent with a few interesting conversations to ear wig on, good  real ale  and brilliant staff who actually ask you if you want another drink and keep a tab in the German way. Also elegant in a nice old fashioned way with engraved windows and all the accoutrements of a real old pub  - minus the smoke, unfortunately, but you can't have everything!

Another highlight was the delicious truly elegant - I hesitate to call it a sex shop and can't remember how it described itself. An emporium of erotica perhaps. None of the foul ugly rubber dildoes that seem to have a hideous colour all of their own that grace Ann Summers, here exquisite creations  of glass rested in velvet and looked elegant in the extreme. I am sure they could double as an ornament but I feel the texture would be a little unrelenting, chilly too and the thought of breakage is appalling but I am sure there must be safety provisions  Other accoutrements that I couldn't identify for sure were presented beautifully and books too, the staff were gracious charming and posh.  I shall return, there must be something.....
I know the Shakespeares head is a far better location for our meetimgs but a pilgramage to the Two Brewers might be in order some time. For old times sake?

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A New Record

Today I broke a record. With my motor - no I didn't beat a boy racer or hit a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, nor even get away first from the lights, my Polo tends not to show off in that way. In fact this record was a personal worst. My petrol tank ate forty five quid's worth of petrol in a single sitting - or glug. Naturally being ancient I thought this one through and pondered that if anybody had ever told me that I would one day have a motor with this capacity I would have envisaged a Roller or at the very least a Merc, I would have seen myself as having grown rich beyond my wildest dreams. This is not so, all I have is my nice efficient little Polo that takes me round in its  reliable way, creating no stir just melting into the background modestly, a quiet unassuming little car.
The most exciting car I ever had was a Triumph Vitesse that turned on a sixpence (whaddat?) even the spell check doesn't know! I have had Fords like great cumbersome dirigibles that brought a ghastly tense excitement  to my life, a 'would it wouldn't it finish - or even start the journey' kind of excitement.  I can do without this - easily. I once had a Micra that I managed to injure in its nether regions on a rough path outside Inverness and we limped back in hideous tension of intent version feasability. we made it. I have had cars that the local AA men knew  far too intimately. My Polo is a sweet relief.

My lover has a car of hugely disreputable aspect, it flies darkly with no sheen on its body at all and bits have dropped off it long ago. Still it moves neatly fleetly through south London and people don't mess with this nothing-to-lose vehicle, she drives in the Italian way, but she doesn't shout or swear at other drivers - she just overtakes them with vast elan and quiet determination.  I call this Fiat the chariot and give it massive respect. I extend it to the driver.
So why do I continue to drive? I don't much enjoy it and I have my bus pass. Still I like the idea of having a motor. I like the actuality too, for the shopping alone it is worth keeping. I sometimes wonder how one woman and a terrier can consume the sheer weight of food that we manage to get through, I stagger from Aldi with huge bags of veg and dog food then I hit Waitrose for the sweet excesses that make life worthwhile and I hump it all into the house - and, ultimately we nosh it. I enjoy my greed.
I always buy my petrol with my debit card it doesn't impact quite so much as shelling out real bread. I fool myself. In fact on this last occasion my card didn't work and I had to hand over readies! Nasty! Then I had to go to the bank to sort my card. So thoughts of cars and the cost of petrol came vigorously to mind and gave me pause.
I think it's the time factor that keeps me driving, and the comfort factor too. The waiting for buses or fighting your way onto the tube that is the incentive to keep the motor. Last week my poor old dog nearly had cardiac arrest at London Bridge in the rush hour, or was that me? Probably both of us, one of the few advantages of advanced age is seldom having to experience the joys of rush hour and I am deeply grateful every time.

I think back to when we could drive from the petrol station in the West End to Brighton for a fiver there and back - or is that a myth that I have misremembered? And I remember flying down the old arterial road at four in the morning  straight from a club to Southend and the Kursall  shut tight, and driving to London Airport for the joy of  looking at it!  Having a cup of char in a greasy spoon and driving back.  But before I slip away into the mists of time I got brought back a bit sharpish this week with my road tax bill for a year so I expect that's me committed for another year.
I do blame myself though, I swear!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


‘Are they just plants or are they food?’ says the second eldest girl next door. She looks at my patio with lobelias, petunias, geranium taking up the space I had meant to sit in and the night scented stock and jasmine making the night fragrant and the girls are not impressed. My two buckets with potatoes growing in them do impress them. I give them a flowerpot with a small potato to grow and they bring it out and demand a progress report every time they see me. I was away for a week and it still hasn’t appeared above the parapet of the pot – I suspect Nadia who is seven has been digging it up to look.
That was last summer. Now spring has finally arrived and I am back home and sitting in the garden so I expect more questions about how to grow vegetables. Already there are questions about my dog, who is in Greenwich having a lovely time. I tell them she is with my friend and yes I do miss her. I have nobody to talk to. 'Do dogs talk?' she asks, 'No but they listen.' 'Do they understand?' she asks, 'Probably not.' I say and we laugh. Anyway I regularly talk to old ladies I have known for 25 or more years, they speak Punjabi or Urdu, I speak English we touch hands and we communicate, I think!
When my partner of many years died, and when I was going out of my mind with grief a guy called Soucha took me to his father George 's funeral at the Gurdwara and I wept with the other Sikh women. I regard this as an extreme act of kindness. The two men had been drinking buddies and both died in the same ward within days of each other. 'Because my (Irish) guy always talked to his mum.' Soucha said.
And he was well got in the area,
When the Afghan family moved in a couple of years ago there were five girls, then a boy was born and now there is another one. The boys must be some of the most adored babies in the world the older sisters cuddle and kiss them almost non stop. The result seems to be that they are adorable. So much for 'spoiling' eh?

The sisters are amazed that I live alone in my house, a two up two down terrace. My friend comes to stay weekends and they are puzzled by our relationship – now they call her ‘the other mummy’. Which is about right really, she is my lover, not included in their repertory obviously. I am a subject of some wonder to the local community I expect. The Nepalese woman who braids my eyebrows for £3 worries about my welfare, 'Who looks after you, who cooks for you? I can make food for you.' I don't take her up on this because of the limitations of conversation and my lack of time.

When the old lady next door moved into sheltered accommodation and the Iranian landlord told me the new people had five kids I was worried about noise. He didn't tell me they were Afghanis and if he had it wouldn't have meant much to me. I expect I am fairly typical in the fact that my knowledge of Afghanistan, until recently, was limited to the fact that it had never been invaded successfully and that their major export was heroin. Now the Taliban have been added to my sum of knowledge, all hazy, all with undue influence from the media. Now I hear daily news of the killing of people, soldiers and civilians and I find it hard to relate to these facts, the guy next door is a taxi driver who loves his family and is always friendly.
When I went to see the new baby it was like going into what I imagine an Afghan house to be with cushions on the floor and a pretty young mum holding a beautiful new child.
These kids delight me though I sometimes hide from them with my Saturday paper in hand. But not for long, they intrigue me and it is mutual. A nine year old reads to the others with perfect pronunciation and the second girl writes stuff that would have made me very happy when I taught creative writing to adults,English is their second or third language. The youngest girl is still at the 'Why' stage of development but she is funny, bright and cheeky and daughter number one tells her off..
I expect this is why I feel we should know how many Afghans are killed and we should mourn them too, I do hope my neighbours don't count me as in agreement with our involvment in the occupation of their country!

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Let me say first that I never expected to become one of the class of women who employ cleaners. I disapproved of employing another woman to do my nasty work on both feminist and socialist grounds. It made me one of the oppressors I felt. Then I had a stroke. And I reckoned that this justified me in getting a cleaner. In fact I got one with a suspicious promptness. I also felt it justified my retiring from 'teaching' creative writing. In fact the stroke was dead handy in lots of ways, I would never have got my book published without it. I hadn't even realised just how bored I was with running groups, I had done it for far too long and though we did many projects to gee the lessons up - including at trip to Barcelona for one group - I had drained the juice out of my initial enthusiasm. To be honest it was a cushy little number that was a nice excuse not to write.
My first cleaner was wonderful, a tall attractive young Polish woman who was as capable of sorting out my computer as my cupboards, she made me realise that not everyone hates cleaning in the way that I do - but then I am not very good at it, Ola was admirable at cleaning, loved my dog - who loved her back - and she talked to her in Polish that she understood at least as well as English (ie not at all) Ola was off back to Warsaw to do Environmental studies in the autumn, meanwhile we would smoke fags together and weep over the Warsaw uprising on the net. I can't remember what bit of papal doctrine it was that induced me to say that I thought the Polish pope was a particularly fascistic creep, I expect it was him saying that AIDS was increased with the use of condoms. Anyway that was the end of a beautiful friendship.
I can be very tactless. I sometimes hear myself blurting some idiocy and I wonder why but it is always after the event. I have sometimes heard that age brings wisdom, not to me it hasn't and I have a brother in law of ninety two who regularly remonstrates & chastises me on matters of my political slackness re Gaza and the West Bank - he has learned nothing about tact - his stroppiness is intact - thank god or Marx.
My friend has a truly marvellous cleaner from the Ukraine who goes through the flat like a Soviet tank on a kind of scorched earth policy, she doesn't,of course, burn but she makes neat to such an extent that we can find nothing for days. I stuff all my paperwork in my computer case for safety but have lost books for months, outrageously in the bookcase. Post operations the place gleams and shines with cleanliness smells of cleaning agents and virtue, it take days to get it back to being rightly messy again. I fumble around if I am there at the same time as her and watch as she moves effectively from one job to the next, in a past life she was a mining engineer now she is poetry in motion.
I rationalise it now, being an employer, and console myself with the fact that the cleaner needs the money and does the work thoroughly in a quarter of the time it would take me to make a muck of it. Still feel queasy though and I have no intention of sharing this with my brother-in-law.

Sunday, 11 April 2010


I must have been driving without due care that Sunday back in the winter. I worked out the day & the specific occasion and remember nattering as I drove over Northam Bridge - where I know there is a camera and I was doing a paltry 34 miles an hour but we were engaged in some fascinating chat and my attention wandered long enough to be clocked by the camera. So when they made me an offer of a 'driver awareness' gig instead of points on my licence, I grabbed it. I usually get nicked for speeding once a year so I reckoned it was a good idea to keep the points at a minimum. It cost £74 to book in & they sent at least two small trees worth of paperwork with the booking form. Circumstances intervened and I had to change the date - this cost a further £30.which had been explained on the bumf that I hadn't read - so it was turning into an expensive trip. The event was a case of listening to two old lads telling us about stopping distances and reminding us of the highway code. It seems to me to be another way of parting the poor bloody motorist from her money and giving jobs to a couple of nice old boys to bore the errant motorist into submission.
My dressing without due care and attention is something quite new - as far as I know. I arrived in London last week with one brown and one black shoe, I didn't notice until the next day. I have two fairly identical pairs of shoes except for the colour they feel the same clearly. I thought it rather funny and was sure nobody would notice, I was wrong. My friend felt it was noticeable and I became self conscious about it. In fact one woman on my dog walking route interrupted our discussion of attack dogs to ask me about my shoes. Meanwhile her dog attempted a sexual assault on mine, they are both well past the age of consent - or the age of procreation for that matter. We stopped their fun immediately, in fact my own dog looked pretty neutral about the performance though she snapped at him. He was enthused in spite of being in his dotage, it aint over until they are dead, we said. She then told me a tale of a 14 year old bitch who produced puppies but promised to pay the vet bills. Anyway we got it on video because it coincided with my friends filming project. The culprit was a West Highland White terrier and we got evidence!!

Thursday, 8 April 2010


At 5am this morning, I took in the view from The Point in Greenwich. Not yet daylight and the birds giving it some wellie, the lights of Canary Wharf look close by. I had got up to go to the bathroom and found my dog sitting at the flat door with the look that says 'parlous need of pee please!' Having just used the facility myself I could hardly refuse so I threw on a sweater & pants, yomped the four floors down and out, after the usual battle with the heavy door and into the very early morning. It was clear and I felt the dew soak my feet as I went to 'pick up', in the event I couldn't see the offending matter so got wet feet for nothing. Back up the stairs and into bed, I wrap myself round my friend and am asleep. I dream of making Moslem pie, or of being allotted this task which I have never heard of - I offer veggie Moussaka instead. and dream of a woman who is an architect.. my dreams seldom make any sense.

I think that this view, taking in London in all her seething glory is my favourite view, it comapres favourably with any views of mountains or seascapes for me.Later, at 7.30 I am back, I do a few stretches then I sit on one of the two benches and take it all in again, this time in daylight on the brightest springiest day this year and it is glorious. The London Eye the Gherkin. St Pauls and many obscene lumps of concrete that look fine from here. The post office tower that used to seem so tall and now is dwarfed by the vast buildings all around. I can see ten cranes of the building variety so I guess the view will amend itself soon but watching the DLR scuttle along full of commuters rushing to work makes it all the sweeter to be here an admiring audience .
My own views have amended themselves too, I try not to think about the elections as I 'pick up'. It's easy!

Saturday, 3 April 2010


I bought a mattress over the weekend. It involved a few telephone calls - mainly because I had thought there were only one or two sizes of double beds. I was wrong. 'There's a lot of different sizes darling.' A pleasant gruff voice came over the line. We measured the bed - a futon. We squabbled over the tape measure, as you do, (or we do anyway) and realised we had a 'continental' size bed. I got back to Mr gruff and told him the size. All right darling, I 'll get it to you by four o'clock.' 'Oh thanks darling' I said, 'that's brilliant.' The delivery man continued the affectionate exchanges and didn't even give me time to bung him a tip for lugging it up four flights of stairs he was smiley and charming, not what I expected at all, a nice surprise.

Today, before 10 o'clock I was greeted and addressed as 'hen'in a lovely Glasgow voice. Followed by 'my lovely one' and 'sweetheart' by total strangers. All fairly exuberantly and with a good deal of matiness. In the first instance I asked the guy whereabouts in Wales he came from, which got a laugh, thank god. I once quipped something similar to a guy from South Africa who took my hints of antipodean ancestry well amiss.. I can't resist a one liner.

Last night in the chippy the governor addressed me as darling and I reciprocated. He gave me a glass of wine. I also find that I have a tendency to mirror accents which is sometimes seen as piss taking, it is not, I am not sure what it is and suspect it may be some kind of grovelling attempt to fit in, anyway it doesn't work but I persist.
I guess it's in the intention of the words because in hospital I can get quite starchy if people call me dearie or my love, I smell patronage. In the eighties I would cheerfully challenge any man who had the temerity to use terms of intimacy, now, I find myself returning the compliment - if that's what it is. This way is certainly more peaceful.
I often get invited by ciderheads in the park to have a drink and have been known to have strangers come up to me in boozers and ask me where they can score, so I reckon I must have one of those faces - approachable? Deviant? Take your pick. In foreign towns I find the roughest cafes or bars by instinct and I seem to fit in. A gift I think. I seldom get challenged and am mostly ignored after my initial entrance, though strangers often offer me fags, I watch points and people, it is astounding what you can pick up without being able to understand a word. The hierarchies seem similar in most cultures and there is always a top dog, often inexplicably. In a Lisbon café the chief honcho among a group of old guys was a man with one tooth, and memories of Aden during the war. We got along famously with him feeding me port and me making the company roll ups. The conversation was distinctly limited but friendly until my companion insisted we went to look at ceramics.
I prefer to look at people any day they fascinate me. And now that I am not seen as potential conquest I can look to my hearts content..

Friday, 26 March 2010


On Saturday in a brief respite from earth drilling rain I took the dog for a quick walk to the river. This sounds pleasant and the dog finds it so but the river is one of the kind where shopping trolleys feature and for a long time a mini was settled in the tidal water, I never noticed the going of it, perhaps it got sick of the view and took to the sea. I ponder the energy that it must take to push a shopping trolley the half mile or so to the river, but there they rest covered in mud and festooned in seaweed. I expect a couple of them to appear some time soon at the local art gallery – I shall go along to admire them in their new setting. ‘I knew them before they were famous’ I shall say. I have grown to like them and the swans seem to have no objection.

So we brave the mud, or rather I brave it, my dog enjoys mud though I am glad to say she hates rain and refuses to go out in it. We weave our way between the dog droppings and other unmentionables, me ever watchful that she might find a particularly noisome dead frog to roll in. Last time it was a pigeon long deceased and melting on the bone. This required three baths to bring her back to normal dog odour. So, I walk along with my plastic bag at the ready, though I know it is futile I enjoy a kind of cheap shot of virtue when I ‘pick up’. I come to the end of the alley and see that the river is higher than usual and the mud on the path is stickier. The council haven’t thought to improve this part of the riverfront though other parts have been improved unto extinction. We are in the abandoned part of town though they are threatening us with an estate of Barrett Houses so the dog walk will go. I shall be sorry and so will the fishermen who sit for hours and tell me they catch bass.

An elderly man, with a completely bald head rides his tricycle along the narrow path on the river bank and I get out of the way. The bald head gleams and I wonder if it is an affliction or a fashion statement, who knows? While it might be fun to watch him tumble into the water, the poor old boy could drown and more to the point I might be called upon to save him.
‘Hello darling’ he stops his tricycle and grins at me, he has two teeth, one at each end of his upper jaw.’ ‘I’ve been watching you for years, you’re a good looking woman. Why haven’t you got a man?’
‘Because I’ve got a woman.’ I rap back smartly, this usually halts the badinage. Not in this case though.
‘If you hadn’t got a girl friend I’d take you on.’ There was a time when I would have taken mortal offence at this but now I see it as funny and why bother? So we go on to have the ritual dog conversation that takes its usual path: Much better than humans, never let you down, love you no matter what, always glad to see you, never nag or criticise you. (In fact I once had a dog that could do baleful looks that would freeze me into a guilt wracked nervous twitch if I stayed out for more than an hour and he could sulk for days, I never mention this.) He tells me he has a Jack Russell with the same birthday as himself, last week it was and he got a cake with candles for the dog who is eleven, he is sixty five. Several years younger than myself. He pedals off on his trike and I think about the self confidence of such men. Jack the lad senior citizen. I wonder if he ever scores.

The rain starts again, we begin our walk home and there he is at the level crossing at the head of the queue of traffic, taking his space, fly as ever.
‘We must stop meeting like this.’ I say.
‘I don’t mind’ he says. ‘I’ve had my eye on you for years.’ I remember him always shouting ‘Hello darling!’ as he sailed past but I was sure he said that to all the females, nothing personal eh? I always waved back. I had seen him in the paper shop too, all five feet of him laughing and joking all over the place. How tiresome to be always merry I thought.
‘I’ve got a bed sit in Harding road, number forty five and you know where I work don’t you? The scrap yard in Queens Road.’ He winks.

The train passes so I don’t hear his next few comments. He rides off at the head of the procession of cars, stately in a curious way. He turns to look at us.
‘The dog’s welcome too, any time.’ A car swerves out to overtake him, he waves it on grandly then he is gone and I turn off into my own road. I am careful that there is nobody watching me as I open my front door.

I know this small event would have had me raging a few years ago, what a cheek! I would have said to my receptive angry self. And it is certainly a bit of an impertinence to chat up a woman while riding a tricycle but I am convinced that if I had said ‘yes’ he would have accommodated me and my dog somewhere on his tricycle and driven me away to his bed sit and not a lot of women get an offer like that – or want one.