Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


It's hot in London. The shops are full of sweaters - Granny is another kind of sweater too - at 10,30 at night it's getting on for 30 C in her flat; no air-conditioning here. Why do they fill the shops in August with winter clothes? It's so that by the time she thinks of looking for such things - in the appropriately, cold weather - all the nicest ones will have gone, of course. Silly question.

Granny, still in London, for reasons she will explain when she can get round to it, has just come back from a prom; Beethoven's Missa Solemnis - a religious orgy of sorts. But not just religious. A good - a dear - former friend of hers once described the Credo as being the nearest thing he could think of to a musical description of prolonged love-making. Since when - tonight as ever - she cannot hear the tender duets between flute and oboe, between soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, let alone rock to the ever more excited, ever more orgiastic shrieks and grunts of the chorus without imagining something a good deal fruitier than the statement of belief expressed by the words. Sadly imagining. The friend in question felled by a stroke last year, she assumes he has not much access any longer to the real thing. As opposed to the musical version. Oh the cruelty, the sadness, of life, of ageing; she's going to have to get used to its snatching off this person, or that, one way and another, she knows, but she doesn't feel ready to accept it yet. Maybe this dear ex-friend needs the real meanings of the words now. Or, remembering him, maybe not.

This is the fourth prom Granny has managed since she arrived in England. Only the one attended with Beloved Granddaughter went on as advertised. Two of the singers tonight were 'indisposed' - that oh so buttoned-up word which could mean just about anything - and had to be replaced. At the concert she went to last week, first the original conductor was 'indisposed' then the violin soloist broke a string; admittedly he managed to swap instruments with the leader of the orchestra with the minimum of bother. And at the first concert she went to not only had that conductor fallen ill too, the music was delayed by a mysterious and quite unmusical hum from a microphone for a whole hour.

Was it Granny jinxed it all? she wondered. No, no, that's much too solipsistic. Maybe she had better go tomorrow night to see if that one goes ahead as planned. (Except she can't.)

Apart from which, on Sunday, she went to the children's day of the Notting Hill Carnival - much less exalted - but (she whispers)in its way much more fun..... She prefers the children's day - less spectacular but also less crowded; the atmosphere no less good. Police helicopters puttered overhead the whole afternoon. But the only people around in suspiciously padded jackets were the police themselves, scores of them, everywhere - but causing no aggro - for obvious reasons noone this year was complaining at such heavy presence of uniforms, on and off horses. An enormous quantity of shit - police horse shit - was trodden underfoot (oh for a rose garden and a shovel). The smell of it; and of food, spices, people, and the odd whiff - inevitably - of an illegal substance. And then the traffic lights - oh the traffic lights; every year Granny observes the magnificent irrelevance with which they continue shifting, all day, all night, from green to amber to red and back again in streets empty of traffic and jammed with people and loud music. She always likes that.

It's going to be cooler tomorrow. And Beloved is back on the island. Granny wishes he wasn't. Or that she was too. But that's life.

Monday, August 29, 2005

angry granny

Tony Blair as frightener of little girls? Yes. Admittedly, he is not one of those leaders (Granny won't name them) who believes in arresting his subjects arbitrarily and mistreating them - not if you're not a Muslim preacher anyway - or in some way the wrong kind of Muslim - most likely he does not allow the torture even of those; unless he exports them to a foreign country which has less friendly habits; whereupon he can pretend it isn't his fault, is it? Just as he has been proclaiming that the appearance of our local suicide bombers isn't his fault either; that his foreign policy in general, Iraq in particular, has nothing to do with the case. Well, the lead article in the Observer yesterday gives the lie to that. The Foreign Office have been warning him for a year of its effect on young Muslims. All of which got left out of officially published reports on improving relations with the Muslim community. Of course.

Granny took beloved eldest granddaughter out for the day on Saturday. It was a perfect day in every respect except one; what granddaughters and grandmothers are FOR, granny thinks. And no she does not mean the slight altercation over the Brie sandwich at lunchtime - the bread had to be exchanged with the bread that arrived with Granny's spinach soup, uncontaminated by rocket leaves and chilli-tomato chutney - they have smart sandwiches in the Tate these days. As Granny scraped the offending items off the cheese itself she exchanged sympathetic glances with the man at the next table engaged in a discussion with similarly aged young as to whether the artichoke in the pasta salad would have made the whole thing taste of it....growl - oh for the days of British rail sandwiches/meat and two veg and 'eat it all up or else' - well, maybe not. Anyway that was not the problem. Any more than the pictures of Frida Kahlo were - wonderful - 'but some of them are so much smaller than I expected,' said Granddaughter - they were too, but this did not least diminish the equally enhanced power of them seen in the as it were flesh. Nor was the wait for the bus to the Albert Hall (long) before the prom, or the not short attempt to catch a taxi from others taller and louder after. And the concert certainly was not the problem, despite the 45 minutes of its second half, devoted to Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherezade - a certain amount of wriggling went on but it did not reduce the enjoyment. Granddaughter refused to leave till the very last encore had been played. The day was a big success. Granny enjoyed it anyway. She has every impression Granddaughter did too, seeing the intensity with which she looked at the pictures, the grin of pleasure when brass and percussion erupted in full voice.

The only problem was the one admitted to Beloved Daughter - Granddaughter's mother - the next morning. 'I was frightened going on the tube.'

Thankyou, Tony.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

waiting for the bus

Even the goats get hot. The buses, though, rarely arrive. Maybe they don't mind.

Granny has just had a perfect week in Andalucia - up in the hills from Seville, heading for Portugal. No, she does not propose a travelogue. Just to say that she sat in village squares at midnight, watching small children play and horses ride past. She watched San Bartoleme paraded round a little 'hermita' a long way from anywhere, accompanied by locals singing strongly a capella, by brass instruments, drums, pipes - and by a moved but non-singing Granny. Who did though manage a 'viva la santa' or two. And who also learned to her delight -in the circumstances - that her Beloved's surname is the Gaelic version of Bartolome. In those parts, religion, she noted, like late night hanging-out in village plazas, involves a great deal of alcohol.

She walked most days through groves of chestnuts, cork oaks, olives, ate too much, observing as she did so that the wide variety of delicacies promised on tapas menus turned out, almost always, to be different parts of the pig. (But then she saw a lot of pigs too, under the cork oaks. As well as black bulls.) Between the pigs, the booze, the bullfights, to which one and all Andalucians seem to be addicted, she concluded that Osama Bin Laden and his mates may have one aim too far in hoping to retake Andalus for the Muslim faith.

For the second part of their week Granny and Beloved shifted out of the hot villages on the south side of the hills, to the slightly cooler north side, to a tall pink house perched on the edge of it, among more chestnuts and more cork oaks, and with a swimming pool from heaven. The picture gives some idea but does it no justice. The pool sits on the edge of space, its water appearing to slide right off it. (It's all recycled and comes straight back up, don't worry. This is country of water-shortage.) They swam in it every day. And every evening they sat out under a canopy of vines and stars, eating and drinking among agreeable people. A perfect time.

Alas they've now returned to London. Granny in particular has a lot on her mind - so has Beloved on her behalf. Probably she will write something about it in days to come. But for now, browner, fatter, fitter - and with a slight but unimportant sniffle in her nose - she's still basking in remembered heat, remembered pleasure. Hasta la Vista.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

dog(ged) days

Beloved arrives today; good. On the other hand Granny regrets - slightly - the end of her time sloping happily alone round summer London and hanging out in cafes with her mates. Many of whom - the attached ones - discuss with her the alternate joys of having the Beloved around and NOT having him. (Over breakfast this morning, outside, in an Italian cafe off Oxford Street. Blissful.)

Men, they decide, seem altogether happier to depart to places where they have boats/sea/desks + their attendant woman. They don't share desire for temporary singleness, hanging out in cities, cafes, watching the world go by. Indeed have tendency to be offended by desire of their women for such things. Don't you want to be with me? Etc. Their home is in themselves, alongside the Beloved. This is a problem shared by all women used to lives of their own adjusting to newly retired partners. No answers really. It's a matter of tact, compromise. Of swearing love and devotion just the same. Also - important - appreciation of fact that loving and being loved is a luxury. That being alone is only a luxury if most of the time you are not. (And of grabbing every possible wicked moment for sloping off singly...YEAH.)

Granny still in love with her London is grateful for the fact that the bombers seem to be on holiday too. Armed police are much in evidence - two of them - male and female - on her Piccadilly line train (reassuring.) Both looking anxiously for where they were on an underground map. (Less reassuring.) She saw her beloved ex last night and hears that one of his colleagues whom she used to know lost a leg on the Kings Cross bombing. This was sobering. As was beloved ex's statement - following beloved oldest friend's statement earlier - that it was all very well for her, they had no alternative but to continue taking the underground to work every single day. Granny sees the problem.

She is though incensed by the fact of the Shepherd's Bush bomber's wife and sister-in-law being charged with not telling on him - this was her husband after all. On top of the pain of discovering he'd been going to kill himself, abandoning her, the wife's being kept in custody away from her young children. Are they to be punished too?

Beloved's arrival; their departure to the West Country tomorrow, followed by Andalucia next week means she will not probably be reporting here for two weeks or so, Happy August everyone. Hasta la vista.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

ice cream therapy

Granny is SORE. This morning she was pulled and pushed by chiropracter. Her neck is now perfectly aligned in case you were interested. The muscles in her arm are far from it; - deeply bruised, said Ms Chiropracter; proceeding, apparently, to bruise them still more. Granny is sure that isn't what she actually did, but that was what it felt like. The results were not helped by the mammogram operative whose attentions she was obliged to seek in the afternoon - routine, but tiresome.

Hospitals, she observes, are the only large public buildings in the entrance of which your bags aren't searched these days by what look like imported heavies, none of them patient with Granny's fumblings. She's manually clumsy at the best of times - brain-damaged, Beloved has sometimes suggested, kindly; she is a left-handed twin from a family of dyslexics after all. These days clumsy is too minor a word to describe the droppings and slippings and accompanying groans and curses as she struggles to extract arms from straps, open zips, haul out scruffy contents, etc etc, more or less one-handed - and her right hand at that. People waiting behind her are not happy with the process either. The already lengthy queues outside the Albert Hall before the Prom she went to lengthened. Luckily they were many fewer people fighting to get into the British Library. So that was alright.

In all other respects London is adorable as ever. More so in summer - she thinks - it always is. Sky is blue, wind gentle. She has so far forgotten to be frightened of public transport that yesterday, deep in all the confusing 'al-' this and 'al-' that of her book - still, appropriately, AL-QUAEDA - she forgot to get off it. Thereby making herself late for dinner with psychoanalyst friend - whose not so psychoanalytical partner had to be informed by her about Kafka - you see what lofty things Granny and the psychoanalytic friend discuss between gossiping about their children and grandchildren. Both partners were on a diet; no booze therefore. The vegetables were delicious.

Adorable summer London is not only green and sunny, but lively. In the parks people lie about the grass. Today Granny rewarded herself for all the pains she had suffered with bitter coffee ice-cream and a macchiato in a trendy Italian cafe. She is about to go to dinner with another friend whose title also starts 'psych' - a psychiatrist this time. (Granny's friends seem to be into the mind these days, why's that?) Among the other pleasures of which is that HER flat - unlike Granny's - has a bath, into which she proposes to immerse her aches. Blissful. (The psychiatrist doesn't know this yet. But she will.)

Incidentally; publically transported Granny has never noticed before how virtually every travelling male of every nationality, ethnicity, colour, between the ages of 15 and 40 carries a backpack. If they don't keep bombs in them, what do they put there? Is it the male response to not being allowed handbags, she wonders? Beloved has a handbag - a fairly macho brown leather shoulder one nicked from the Attic woman. But then Beloved is a bag man - who keeps 40 black bags - as opposed to thieves - in HIS jars, otherwise known as wardrobes; he is also old enough and male enough not to generate suspicious looks.

Not that he'd care a damn if he did. If there's anything Granny envies in her Beloved it's his total lack of self-consciousness. She can't say the same about herself. An ageing, so invisible woman she may be; but she's no more able to believe - let alone enjoy - that than most women. Vanity dies harder than anything else. She will not, she suspects, be the only one enquiring anxiously if her bum looks big in her shroud. The worms won't appreciate the beauty of our corpses. But so what?

Friday, August 05, 2005

still London

She came she saw, she set foot on a crowded bus - two crowded buses - nipped passed unarmed police and attempted to get on a tube. (Delayed.) Tried to get on at another station (foiled by more unarmed police: "Security alert.") Walked a long way, had her hair cut, bought some books, sat in a cafe and read her Guardian. She also smelled cooking of every ethnicity, saw people of every ethnicity - some veiled - some in Arab robes and head-dresses like the one her eldest grand-daughter wore as a shepherd in a nativity play made out of a teatowel - these didn't look as if they were made out of a teatowels though; like the men's robes they were very clean and very white (do the veiled women spend their time washing and ironing?) .

'This is still my London,' Granny thinks. 'I still love her. I still love everyone in her.' Well nearly everyone - she didn't quite love sweaty and frightened-looking ?Indonesian male jammed up too close to her on one bus - no problems - no suspicious bag:he just didn't smell very good. Up front was a wild old woman with a stick, a bent back a rather big red nose, wearing a blue winter coat who said loudly in a very posh deep voice when anyone tried to be chivalrous. 'I WANT TO STAND UP. I DON'T WANT TO SIT DOWN.'


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

joy of small things

Door locks; not a matter of interest you'd think. But then you've never been to Granny's house.

The people who converted this Canarian farmhouse didn't pay much attention to local climate. Let's forget for now the idiocy of a line of French windows made of cheap wood, an open inviting terrace beyond them, all facing head-on to the prevailing - and usually lustily blowing winds. (Old Canarian houses on this island present at most minute openings that way; with good reason.)

Apart from this they fitted to all doors those old English cottage fitments made of iron - click the latch, open. All of us in consequence were as if on a continual visit to Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother. (Appropriately a granny sat behind said doors of course. Uneaten by a wolf. YET.) All very authentic British, but not a good way of keeping them closed against the force of Canarian winds. Within six months of Granny's arrival every last latch broke and drooped dismally from every door. Not only could they not be replaced locally, none of the usual kinds of locks, handles etc, usable from both sides were attached to doors in question. Fitting them from nothing would have have been difficult, unsightly and expensive. The only alternative was the kinds of locks that can be locked from one side only. And bolts ditto.

The upstairs bridal suite - otherwise known as Granny and Beloved's bedroom - alternatively as their most expensive guest room - was a particular problem as it sits at the top of an outside staircase, its door opposite to the door to the roof, through which the winds in winter howl mightily. It also suffered from over-attention by Mr Handsome in attempts to stop it sticking. Meaning it swung loose and wouldn't shut, at all. It could only be kept shut - so not banging all night- either by being bolted from the inside or locked with a key from the outside. This was all very well if G and B both were inside. But since at their advanced age neither always sleep well, one of them often wants to go downstairs at night in order to read/make tea, or not to disturb the other. This meant either leaving door to bang or locking the sleeper inside - usually Granny. (Alternatively he/she could get up and bolt it;'but that meant the previously asleep one waking up, which defeated the exercise.) Her solution - to keep a mobile phone upstairs and ring Beloved's below if she wanted to be let out- worked - usually; but was a rather exotic not to say expensive method of exiting her room in the morning.

But now; behold; miracle. Some much smaller, neater, strong - and inevitably more expensive latches have arrived from the UK. One has been fitted to the upstairs bedroom. Click, open the latch. Click, enter the room, shut the door behind her. Click it closes. Open shut click the latch over and over, just for the joy of it. Granny does not need to show her teeth any longer. She is all granny. She is not wolf. She can get out. And she can get in.

Small joys 2 and 3. Chickens. One of the new hens is a genuine speckledy one. What pleasure. Granny's other favourite hen, Caron - the brightest of the old lot - the one that cheekily nicks food from under the beak of the cockerel - has learned to hop on top of a walkway and over into the next - still empty - run. Which is funny but causes problems at feeding times, especially with Tiresome Terrier and Beautiful Wimp lurking outside the runs waiting to take advantage. Yesterday the new little cockerel also escaped and flew over into the run with the big ones. Ensued cluckings chasings flurry much shouting by G and P as Caron frantically tried to access the food being devoured on the other side of the wire by her siblings but without falling into the hands of G or B or the jaws of BW and TT. And as little cockerel tried to escape everything and everyone.

How will London tomorrow compete with this?

On the subject of which; Granny has been thinking for days of a story by her great God Chekov - Gooseberries - in which is to be found this. Enough said.

I reflected how many satisfied, happy people there really are! 'What a suffocating force it is! You look at life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, incredible poverty all about us, overcrowding, degeneration, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lying. . . . Yet all is calm and stillness in the houses and in the streets; of the fifty thousand living in a town, there is not one who would cry out, who would give vent to his indignation aloud. We see the people going to market for provisions, eating by day, sleeping by night, talking their silly nonse nse, getting married, growing old, serenely escorting their dead to the cemetery; but we do not see and we do not hear those who suffer, and what is terrible in life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. . . . Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition. . . . And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It's a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him -- disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree -- and all goes well.

She has also been thinking about life in Baghdad as relayed by those who live there. One blogger, Khalid, found himself imprisoned after spend a short time in an Internet cafe. (It's not only London paranoid about bombers communicating thereby.) This is his account of his experience. Please read. And think yourself lucky, Westerner.

Oh and read Jason Burke's Al Quaeda. Shame the 2 B's don't. They should.

(If Granny hears dear Tony assert one more time that Iraq war has nothing to do with London bombings she'll be making bombs herself; and bombing HIM.)

She will be posting now and then from London. See you there.. (or not.)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Home notes

Granny due to head for her home city on Thursday has issued stern notes to herself. Eg:-
1. Do not buy/rent let alone ride bicycle, unlike 50,000 others who have ignored fact that odds of death/injury thereby are considerably higher than those of death/injury by bomber assuming there are more of them out there. (Probably.) Admittedly Granny's odds of bike injury likely to be even higher. (And bikes probably all sold out by now anyway.)
2. Do not advance on friendly armed policeman standing outside her local underground station, gesture towards her (black) backpack and quip merrily "I've got a bomb in there."
3. Do not - if she has failed to resist above temptation - attempt to run away and vault barriers. Not only is she insufficiently athletic. She can rarely even access the orange-jacketed, chipful card, tactfully called a 'freedom pass' and issued to all wrinklies like herself with London addresses by Ken Livingstone's kindly(?) bureaucrats without dropping it and/or her other encumbrances (newspaper, book, sun or woolly hat, glasses etc etc.)
4. Do not in absent-minded moment leave said backpack on seat of underground train/bus or counter of newspaper kiosk, coffeeshop, and go off without it, She thinks her precious MAC unlikely to survive even a controlled explosion.
5. Do not on platform/train/bus/at bus-stop run, screaming 'Ware bomber' at sight of any (youngish) man whose skin is not dead white or at most rosy wearing a backpack of any colour. (Memo to self; there are a lot of people with sun tans at this time of year.)
6. Do not, on the other hand, sidle up to character, as above, shake him by the hand , say - for example - 'I'm not prejudiced/I know you're not a bomber/I love Islam/I'm thinking of converting to Islam/I am an undercover Muslim activist' - or all or any of the above - or other such expression of friendship. (Worst case scenario is that he is actually a bomber and will be induced thereby to set bomb off AT ONCE instead of as per intention, two or three stops down the line after she has safely disembarked. Perhaps this thought is selfish.)
7. Do not, equally, engage heavily veiled ladies in friendly conversation. If their voices turn out tenor, let alone baritone or bass, this will only add to the unease of you and all around you.
8. Do not wrest seat by the door of bus from under encroaching buttocks of ANOTHER, making use of advanced age to justify such behaviour to him/her and all other observers. If usurped buttocks are still more aged/decrepit/laden than her own, of course, this justification might not avail. (Memo to self; in present state of minor frailty BUY NECKBRACE. Better still: WEAR IT. This might do.)
9.Thereafter DO not leap out of door at sight of any suspicious character (see above) thereby trapping self/bag/strap in closing doors, and/or unnecessarily breaking or at least spraining ankle. Helpful paramedical/emergency services have more than enough actual or possible work to do at the moment without that.
10, Do not decide to walk absolutely everywhere; thereby - London is big - taking up all the time she - Granny - would be spending having her hair cut, researching new book (some people never learn) in British Library, eating with friends, going to films/concerts, just getting there. (And giving herself, possibly, infected blisters/heatstroke/frostbite etc. See extra strain on medical services above.)

In other words; DO: BE PLUCKY LONDONER AND LIVE LIFE AS NORMAL. (All this despite advice of London friends who are PLUCKY LONDONERS by default -ie they live and work there. 'The atmosphere is horrible,' they say. 'Jumpy, paranoid, frightened, angry, Stay away if you can.')

She can't stay away really. And is mindful anyway of Claypot's very funny piece on 21st July (possibly a slightly unfortunate choice of date if it was written, as she suspects, before the 2nd, failed lot of bombings.) She is also tired of reading about plucky London spirit, etc etc and has lived through bombs before. (IRA. And, for a short while in late 70's Jerusalem.) This might be nastier than the IRA stuff. It is nastier. Even if it can't be compared to alarms in Iraq and elsewhere. The best analogy, she thinks, is with a disease she worked alongside in the 80's: epilepsy. The problem with that condition is a good deal more than the seizures, whether they are few or frequent. The problem is never knowing when or if they will happen. And having to learn to live with that uncertainty. Which is the only way of coping, in fact only the sufferers who do learn to - with some sensible precautions - manage to lead a more or less normal life despite it.

Westerners like all of us are too used to taking the right to life for granted. To being able to forget there are nasty things out there - and inside your body - which can get you any time. Better to be resigned, really. Granny read 'Hotel Rwanda' lately. She doesn't forget the remark by one of its (real life) protagonists - dying of AIDS anyway and due to be murdered by Hutus (he was in fact hacked to death the very next day.) She doesn't have the book here, so can't quote exactly; but in effect he said: 'You Westerners don't accept you're going to die some day. We know we will, so we don't worry about it. We just enjoy the day we're in. '

Yes. She'll try. Shaking in her birkenstocks meantime - only joking of course...Things always look scarier from a long way off.

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