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..