Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006

Thursday, December 29, 2005

C--entimental K---hristmas

Christmas is an event which Granny experiences only in the brief intervals of loading - and subsequently unloading - the dishwasher. Or that's what it feels like.

It is an event that has two effects on her. It makes her sentimental on the one hand, and bad-tempered on the other. (See above.) Neither state of mind can you want to hear about. Never mind. You are about to.

The sentimentality starts as usual on Christmas Eve while she potters around the kitchen, doing this and that, and listening to the King's College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. At the very start of the soprano voice singing, solo, 'Once in David's City' the tears start rolling down her cheeks. Just as she knows they will. This is the time she remembers her mother, dead since Granny was 22, with whom she used to listen to this service so many years ago. Granny finds herself talking to her mother, throughout it: you can talk to the dead you know, you really can. Sometimes rudely. But not in this instance. Hence the tears. Along with them and the ghostly conversations come other thoughts, also sometimes tearful, of the many other people there are to remember as the years go by and this one or that disappears into the dark; some mourned, like her dad and her twin and some dear friends; some not. Sorry. She warned you she was sentimental at this time. It's the effect of getting old, you know. Of so much past, lost and gone for ever, just like darling Clementine. Amid the celebratory present.

Granny's Beloved does not care for either the music or the tears and makes sure to absent himself at this point as in every year Granny has spent with him. Talkative Irish visitor alas did not. (Talkative Irish visitor has been heard even when he thinks himself alone talking to inanimate objects; to his washing, for instance, as he hangs it on the line; 'hullo shirt, you look better than when I saw you last,' 'hullo underpants, you're all white now,' etc. So you see the problem. ) Granny managed to convey - politely she hopes - that this was a time for silence, and he too absented himself in due course.

There arrived, by email, these pictures of Beloved Daughter opening her Christmas present from Granny (silk from the Goldhawk Road as mentioned before) and of Gorgeous Eldest Granddaughter wearing hers (the black 'poor boy' cap, also aforementioned.) Followed shortly after by phone call from Beloved Daughter herself in which she announced that the whole family - that is her and her family, Beloved Son and his - were all coming to the island for Easter. Granny has some good Christmas presents. But this was the best by far. She wasn't crying now. She was laughing and jumping round her kitchen. Even having to load and empty the dishwasher yet another time seemed no hassle. Gorgeous Middle granddaughter - darling little schmoozer - announcing to Granny that her - Granny's present - was 'her best one' added to the delight, if Granny did take this one with a very large pinch of salt.

The (minor) disasters came as usual in threes. The door to the roof blew off. The window got stuck on open in Granny's car. (Electronic windows NO GOOD.) The bar carrying Granny's and Beloved's saucepans, garlic and chilli strings etc, decided that the large and very heavy Christmas jamon added to it was just too much and fell down with a crash - the jamon all but braining Beloved in the process. Felini Houdini knocked over a can of wood varnish in the office where he now sleeps, mixing it all up with his litter tray. She will say no more about this one, just leave you to imagine the horror. The horror. Actually that's four disasters not three. Never mind. Perhaps there are two more to follow, ushering in the new year. She hopes not.

Feline Houdini, by the way, has been announced CLEAR. No operation for him, though he still has to be fed for two months on food for diabetic geriatric cats, in relatively small quantities, pending more blood tests. This does not please him. Otherwise he has resumed normal activities. More or less. Yowling to go out at night etc. And sitting on Granny's lap in the evenings. Good.

As for the chickens: Damien/Daphne has now started crowing, lustily, making it more likely he is all male. It is a very deep, almost tenor crowing, incidentally. Much more so than the original white cockerel, Colin. On the other hand, Colin still doesn't seem at all phased by him or visa versa. If Damien was only Damien, with no Daphne, wouldn't the two be fighting by now? This is odd. Also his bottom is still broad, more like a hen's and his tail feathers still vestigial. Here is a picture of Damien/Daphne; Colin is right behind him. So you see.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

whatever next?

In haste; no chickens, sorry. Talkative (very) Irish house guests, arrived yesterday, needing entertainment. Plus Granny has to make mincepies. (No mincemeat or frozen pastry available on this island. All has to be Granny's own manufacture.) Work work. Work work.

Plus this. What's going on here? Lovely friend, Ova Girl, in comment on previous post suggested the hand of Snow White's Stepmother; never mind FH the wrong gender. In which case she's been busy again. To traumatized chickens, to poisoned cat, add boiled fish. The thermostat failed on the heater in the fish tank (otherwise known as Beloved's Rock Pool.) The water slowly boiled up. Result; cooked shrimps, fish, sea-anenomes, urchins. Heater has been removed and lethal liquid replaced. But that's all. Tank is literally now a rock pool and nothing else, till the shore is braved again. After Christmas probably. Christmas house-guests - even talkative ones - shouldn't be required to risk breaking limbs. (For their hosts' sake as well as theirs. Let's be honest.) Trip to much less hazardous salt marsh to see recently established - and previously, here, unheard of - pair of spoonbills is quite adventure enough.

It's been raining. Good. Sun is now out, wind down, the chickens laying. Wild marigolds are coming out all over Granny's land. Feline Houdini continues to improve, the obstruction in his gut 'mas blanda.' But it has not entirely gone. If it's not disappeared by Monday he will have to be operated on.

(Granny to lovely Pedro. It's a minor operation, isn't it?

Lovely Pedro to Granny. In principle, yes. But the intestines are never certain. We'll see.

All this in Spanish, naturally.)

Still Christmas will follow first. Christmas Eve: the big fish, in salt. Christmas Day: the big chickens and chestnut stuffing and the Moroccan rice and apricot stuffing. And the pudding (made) and the mincepies (about to be made.) Wey hey.

Granny was wrong about one thing. The all electric singing dancing Papa Noel at entrance to local metropolis does not just sing Jingle Bells. He appears to have built into him the same tape of Christmas songs, sung by schoolchildren, as relayed by most supermarkets here at this time of year, including Granny's local one. It includes, she knows for sure (wishes she didn't), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; in Spanish. Local supermarket too, in common with most shops, businesses on the island, even tyre shops, garages, estate agents, etc, has put out little plates of biscuits, cheese, ham, nuts and so forth, also bottles of wine and pop for the delectation of their customers. Granny would like to put some out on this blog, for hers; she can only do it virtually, of course; but so she does. None of it will be poisoned - she is not anyone's evil stepmother. And all of it the very best biscuits, cheese, ham, wine etc. That goes without saying, seeing how lovely you all are.

Merry Christmas everyone. And Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cs +S?

Granny is immeshed in carers, cats, and continual sneezing. (The wind went back round to the east.) She's immeshed in carers because Beloved's Beloved Daughter was here to see her mother, Mrs R, and to discuss with care entrepreneur her care package. Care entrepreneurs like all other entrepreneurs are in the business to make money; unlike most other entrepreneurs they are in a perfect position to lay on emotional blackmail. Questioning an excessive bill for 'extras' means getting 'you want us to skimp on your beloved's care/ your relative not to have proper care/treats/outings/haircuts?? etc..' All calculated to make his/her family cringe and say yes yes yes to everything. Beloved's Beautiful Daughter, though loving Mrs R to bits, is made of sterner stuff than Granny and Beloved; they tend to crumble under such onslaughts. It has been a wearing few days. More wearing because Granny inbetweenwhiles has been immeshed with the cat equally. Five trips down south to the vet so far and more to follow.

She doesn't think lovely Pedro, the vet, is emotionally blackmailing her. Far from it. Though it wouldn't be difficult to do so given the distressingly stricken state of Feline Houdini.

He is somewhat better, in case you are asking. Diagnosis is almost certainly that he ate a poisoned mouse. His liver - according to all the expensive blood tests - is in a bad way; 'inflamado.' Inflamed to you. Very. His red and white blood cells are low, his cholestral and glucose high. All will recover in due course; in the meantime his diet has to be a cat's equivalent of a sixty year old human diabetic with high cholestral and severe anaemia. Yowl as FH may for his favourite fish, meat, liver etc - and boy can he yowl - for some time to come he will have to content himself -apart from a little chopped up chicken free of fat and salt - with the contents of small - and naturally expensive - tins, designed for animals much older than he is. He will also have to be kept indoors yowl as he might to go out, also. Mice, lizards etc are not on his diet sheet. (Which does not stop him catching them in the house - he has already caught one; but till now he's never eaten them. Let's hope all this doesn't drive him to.)

B's BD has departed now on a plane 6 hours late. Meaning two trips to the airport. The sneezing Granny has solaced herself with an hour playing dominoes down on the coast with Mrs R; domino honours about even, they both enjoyed it She can also inform you that the headless Papa Noel on the roundabout into the town now has a head, which, when the lights go on at night, set him blazing red and silver, he shakes back and forth to the tune of Jingle Bells. (Granny got the tune wrong; sorry about that one.) Papa Noel seems to be this year's theme on the island. Many houses sport fat little figures with sacks on their backs climbing on to window sills or up over balconies and pergolas. All very odd, given that, in Spain, Father Christmas does not bring children presents on 25th December; the three kings bring them presents on 6th January. The anthropologist's term would be cultural diffusion. Wouldn't it? They can keep it.

(No Father Christmas chez Granny and Beloved, incidentally. And their as yet undecorated Christmas tree consists of a large stalk of agave; more 'cultural diffusion'. As Feline Houdini recovers they have to hope he doesn't try to climb it. )

Next post should feature pictures of chickens. Be patient.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Granny drove back from the south of the island at dusk last night. Overhead and behind a big black rain cloud, pissing itself down. All round flat desert. Ahead clear sky, purple-pink darkening hills; over the hills as if lodged on top of them an enormous ENORMOUS yellow white moon. Wild. Weird. Only possible from the middle of such a moon landscape as this.

This was some - the only -consolation for the reason Granny was on that road at that time of night. If last week was dreaming about sick chickens and waking up worried, this week is worse, dreaming of a sick - maybe even dying -cat - the maddening demanding altogether unique orange one, Feline Houdini. And waking up distraught.

Cats are maddening creatures at the best of times; all hypochondriacs, one day they will appear to be dying, the next they are leaping round like kittens. One day they don't recognise as food anything that doesn't come out of a packet, the next they only recognise as food a- limited - selection of anything that doesn't. Carting them off to the vet at every such sign is to be avoided. Not least it is expensive. At worst - usually - it makes you look a fool. Feline Houdini had no obvious symptoms; he was drinking, eating (despite rejecting the biscuits he's always gobbled down in favour of fresh meat, fish, liver etc etc.). Above all he's been washing himself and insisting on going out at night. All signs of normal cathood. The other signs were more subtle - he was getting thinner and asking for food all the time? Worm him, said Beloved, a dog not a cat man. Granny and Beloved wormed him. He seemed less willing to play? But then he's no longer a kitten, said Beloved. He was asleep all day? Cats do sleep all day, said Beloved. And so on. Despite all this Granny was getting uneasy. Vet? she wondered. But what symptoms did he have? His eyes, nose (and, let's be basic, defecatory habits) seemed normal enough, and yet, and yet. He's just as much a nuisance as usual, said Beloved. He must be alright.

Beloved's Beloved Daughter arrived for a visit. 'What's the matter with Feline Houdini?' she said straight off. With relief Granny agreed it really was time for a visit to the vet.

The vet a long way south for historical reasons is a dishy, once fat now thin vet called Pedro who knows no English. (Good for Granny's Spanish, anyway.) A nice man too. Very sympathetic. He asked tenderly after the chicken, the patient that had last arrived on his table in the blue cat basket now containing sad FH. He looked in Houdini's mouth and said 'he's got ulcers' - this explained the not eating biscuits, the general malaise Granny thought. Given an anti-biotic, a tinful of soft food which he gobbled up greedily, FH appeared instantly restored, leapt off the examination table, made a fuss at the needle, his usual stroppy self. Etc.

Two hours later, back at home, he got out of his basket and couldn't walk; his hind legs dragging, he looked as if he was dying. Granny had no number for the vet, she looked up on the internet and found another vet on the east of the island and called her up. This one was English - just as well since she turned out to live in a particularly labyrinthine village that Granny doesn't know at all; her geographical instructions were lengthy.

B's BD agreed to drive. The roads were narrow, windy, full of potholes, many had steep drops either side leading down to lava fields more often than not. Not good places to land in. Agitated B's BD, the cat moaning in the back, drove very fast - too fast - Granny thought; if the cat survived the journey she wasn't sure she would. Only when they bounced in and out of a particularly vicious pothole did the pace slow down. And somehow, somehow, they got themselves through the labyrinthine village, found the vet, who was 70ish, enormous, laid back, told them about having divorced her husband twice, about having heard from a friend that she'd been rumoured to have a terminal illness - clearly untrue - meantime suggesting that Feline Houdini might have one. His kidneys were swollen, etc etc. He might have eaten poison. He might have the Feline version of AIDS. Altogether the prognosis wasn't good. She filled him with steroids - adrenalin - urged blood tests, Xrays and a diet of baby food, charged 30 euros and bade them good night. Adrenalin filled Feline seemed more like his normal self. At least he wasn't moaning.

B'sBD drove back across the island at a more sedate pace to Granny's relief. The abused tyres made it to within 5 minutes of home when the most abused of them gave up. Beloved had to come to the rescue in truck. What a night.

Yesterday Granny took FH back to the once fat, now thin, altogether dishy Pedro. Much conversation ensued (she could, it occurred to her, improve her Spanish by visiting him and forget the intensive course she's signed up for. Not a good idea, on second thoughts. It would be still more expensive. And anyway it would be difficult to make general conversation with a vocabulary consisting largely of vetinerary symptoms.) Pedro disagreed with diagnosis of large English semi-retired and not terminally ill divorcee, x-rayed FH and diagnosed an obstruction - he showed Granny the X-ray - no scientist her she couldn't see the obstruction he pointed out. He fed FH some biscuits which he gobbled up - obviously his ulcers were better; he was by now behaving more like his normal self once more, making a fuss about everything, leaping from examination table to shelf and back again. Though he was not happy to be taken away then and put in a strange cage; Pedro insisted on keeping Feline Houdini for the night to observe him more closely, and to palpatate out the obstruction, if he could. Granny has to return for him tonight, also for full results of liver, kidney, blood tests etc etc, also presumably for a very large bill - what with vets, tyres, language courses and Christmas this has been an expensive week. She was, though, feeling feeling marginally more optimistic. Obstructions aren't so bad as diagnosis of female English vet. No - it wasn't a tumour for sure. She did ask that. Tonight she will know more; the worst - or she hopes - prays - the very best.

Funny about cats. Over her life-time Granny has had many of them; but only the orange ones do badly. The first, a beautiful, crazy Abyssinian, who jumped at his own shadow, but took on cats of any size in defence of his territory had a tooth put in his skull by one of his opponents and died of brain damage; an appalling fate, that left the much younger Granny crying for days. The second, another Abyssinian, was too adventurous and curious for his own good and still more of a houdini than present feline. He escaped where no other cat could and got himself run over. And now there's dear beautiful orange - young - FH...

What is it about animals who live with us? Why do we get so upset? Why does Granny get so upset, she wonders? she is not in general that much of an animal lover - she does not call hers 'boys and girls' or subscribe to the oozy, whoozy magazines put out for cat and dog freaks. Yet animals - her animals - share her life at such close quarters. They know her happy, they know her upset, they know her bad and good temper, they know her smell - all her smells- more intimately than anyone except a partner - their noses so much more acute they know the scents of her still more intimately than her Beloved probably. She knows their scents too. She knows F H's scent, for instance as well as she knows Beloved's - though she couldn't describe it with the certainty with which Beloved claims his Tiresome Terrier 'smells of chocolate and shit'. They live entrenched in the smallest crevices of her life. When they die, a bit of her life goes - or seems to go - with them. Will Feline Houdine reappear in good nick this evening. Oh God, how she hopes so. She doesn't want to lose the lovely grass and cat scent of him. Yet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Tourists down at the resort today. One splendid- German probably - 70ish - in bright pink pudding basin hat with flowers over pink hair, pink stole, pink and white shorts above freckled legs, bright pink socks and boots below them. Sitting, writing in a large notebook, in an Italian cafe, to which Granny had also retired with Mrs Handsome. All the other tourists were Brits shivering in shorts and strappy tops. Less spendid - even the young ones. Granny and Mrs H neither looked nor felt very spendid either, especially having just been told price of Spanish course next January - prohibitive. Granny, tired of struggling in pidgen Spanish, signed up anyway. She is now feeling poorer - still more so after doing some Christmas shopping. And also fatter as result of cheesecake eaten to counter the shock of it.

Back up here on the way home. An elderly man ploughing black earth with a black donkey and single plough share like something out of a mediaeval manuscript. What an island.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas is coming?

One thing Christmas doesn't come here with is snow. It can come with dust though; yesterday it did; red dust from the Sahara, commonly known here as the Calima, setting anyone prone that way to wheezing. Ashmatics, bronchitics bring out their sprays, their inhalers; contrary to what you think these so-called ideal-climate-islands are not good for people with chest problems; the reverse. Granny does not suffer from chest problems. She does get a type of hay-fever though which meant she spent most of the weekend coughing, spluttering, sneezing and growling at her Beloved who took it very well all things considered.

Otherwise the island is gearing itself up to Christmas - Navidades: Births. Only one you'd think - Granny doesn't know why it's plural in Spanish. All much less commercial here, thank goodness, though father Christmases, fir trees and the like are appearing on paper in shop windows and in lights strung from streetlights, not lit as yet. The supermarkets are selling Christmas goodies like turron - a kind of nougat cake in many flavours. No doubt in the week before Christmas the biggest supermarket will bring out its well-worn tape of schoolchildren singing Jingle Bells etc in Spanish, but not yet, thank god, not yet. Christmas here does not start in October. We've only just got over last week's fiestas after all - El Constitucion and the Immaculate Conception, one day apart, effectively turfing the whole island out onto the beaches most of the week. How those running businesses must love it.

What does happen here every Christmas is the setting up of the Christmas cribs - the Belenes - Bethlehems - one for every administrative area; some much bigger and more elaborate than others. The Belen in Granny's local town used to be a crude affair, one of the roughest, thrown up against a wall on a piece of waste ground. The waste ground over the past year and a half has been tarmacked over and turned into a car park. Very convenient. Except that for the moment the cars have been turfed out again and forced to park in the street. The entire area is in the process of being turned into a mini island landscape with little paths and mini-volcanoes and a group of neat little buildings made of bloques and painted over - a whole Canarian Bethehem in miniature. What is yet to be revealed is whether the figures of the people in the mini fields, the mini streets, in the stable itself, will be the same as before - mass-produced figures in biblical robes - or whether they will have had special figures made, dressed in local dress as in the more upmarket Belen in the south of the island. Certainly at the moment our town hall seems to be heading for the high ground, Belenes-speaking. Just how high we will see,

But then our local town hall is very competitive. For the past two years their Christmas piece-de-resistance, out-gunning everything else on the island has been the display of lights on the roundabout leading into the town. Two years ago there was a whole oasis of palm trees visible from miles along the road, flashing bright greens. Last year there was an enormous turning windmill. This year we've got Father Christmas - red - monstrous - but headless as yet - who will undoubtedly be appearing to move if not dance; Granny wouldn't put it past them to have him singing too: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer? In Spanish of course. Very inventive our town-hall; as well as competitive.

More mundanely; Daisy the hen is back in her run and flourishing, along with Damien-Daphne as big as ever, but still clucking. He/she seems to be Daisy's mate, gender no matter. Granny and Beloved don't think - for Daisy's sake - they can possibly eat her. Shame.

Friday, December 09, 2005

One Daisy growing

Strange life. Who could ever believe that Granny and Beloved would be seen chez vet with sick chicken in a cat basket? But for bird flu most likely they would not have been. Daisy did not after all fall off her perch. On instructions of vet they took her in to see him. He had never had a chicken as a patient before - laughing, he seemed to think it made a change amid the cats and dogs, parrots and budgerigars. Daisy almost certainly is the only chicken to appear on his computer database. (Species:Gallina. Edad: 9 months. Nombre: Daisy.) Would they ring him on Saturday to tell him of her progress, nice vet urged them.

Contrary to Beloved's dismissal of this theory, Granny's idea of post hurricane trauma syndrome was not so far out. The whole island is full of freaked-out chicken it appears. Dora and Daisy most likely took an infection following the stress. Dora obviously the worse effected; MUERTO. Daisy given an antibiotic and bland food in a tin is still very much with us. Her owners received instructions to keep her warm and isolated. For the past two nights she has taken over Granny's office by night, sunniest part of patios by day. Only problem is Tiresome Terrier and Feline Houdini home in on her bland food, and have to be kept in. Daisy herself struts around and looks perfectly happy. She even does her pullet not quite cluck in response when spoken to. She is - in Granny's eyes - a very special hen.. Even Beloved remembers her name sometimes. Her speckled feathers are soft soft soft.

Damien/Daphne meanwhile continues to flourish, waggling his/her bottom like a hen, clucking like a hen, with crest, wattles and hackles like a cockerel. There is a word Granny has in the back of her head; 'epicene' - faintly disgusing somehow. But when she looks it up it is without any moral or aesthetic overtones, It m eans simply being of uncertain sex. This definitely sums up Damien/Daphne. Who produces no eggs on the one hand, but doesn't crow on the other. S/he is such a curiosity Beloved and Granny may not decide to eat him/her for Christmas after all. Such a unique creature should be allowed to live, shouldn't it? She is very big and fat. Sometime Granny will try to put a photo up. Also one of Daisy.

All this emotional energy spent on chickens. What are Granny and Beloved coming to?

An even more minor concern; toast.

Granny to Beloved this morning: 'Why do make your toast so far in advance of everything?'

Beloved to Granny. 'Because that's how toast should be when you eat it; cold and hard.

Granny to Beloved: 'Yuk. Stale toast. I like mine hot.'

Beloved to Granny. 'Yuk soggy toast.'

Granny to Beloved 'What about hot buttered toast? Yummy.'

Beloved to Granny. 'I never did like hot buttered toast.. Yuk'

The rest of you. How do you like it?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

fowl play?

Granny is feeling sad today. One of the two remaining young chickens - the pretty upmarket ones - is dead, the other looks on the verge of it. For no obvious reason. Beloved will have to take a corpse to the vet later to make quite sure the cause isn't actually chicken flu- but it doesn't appear so. Both the brown chicken - Dora - and the speckled one, Daisy - Granny's most favourite - were out of sorts for a day or two; not lively at sight of food, not eating much at all. Then Dora was found dead in a nesting-box yesterday, while Daisy who appeared to be recovering today, was even lively at breakfast time, retired to her perch sometime during the morning and now looks set to topple off it. Literally. Leaving of the five original birds only the mysterious Damien/Daphne.

Has he/she jinxed all his/her sisters and brother? Mr Handsome who is primitive about these things says 'That bird's evil.' Granny not allowed to be primitive that way, at least not around the scientist, her Beloved, sympathises - to herself. Even Beloved admits the creature is odd. His/her gender is still not entirely clear. He/she is as big as a cockerel, with bright red comb and wattles. On the other hand he/she makes noises like a chicken. Weird. For days Granny searched the internet to see if there is such a thing as a hermaphrodite chicken - all she got was porn sites, rock groups and Allan Ginsberg. Not very helpful. Today, fed by scientist daughter with the word 'intersex' she did find some fairly incomprensible scientific articles, appearing to indicate there is such an animal. Daphne really could be Damien also. Or vice versa. If so he/she is not much use to anyone - he won't lay eggs nor will he engender young. A changeling, him/her. He/she looks it. What to do then? Eat it? Let's at least see if he can do his male business, says Beloved. Granny doubts it.

Oh her pretties. Granny mourns all of them. The plebian and part debeaked brown birds have no such problems. They are allowed out on the land these days and gobble up the green shoots - as did Dora, Daisy and Damian/Daphne only last week. During one such outing the undoubtedly male white cockerel, Colin, made the mistake of attacking Tiresome Terrier; who now has to be watched, carefully. Beloved only just managed to rescue Colin from her in time. 'She thinks she's got the green light now to go for him,' says Beloved. 'You mean she can just claim HE started it?' suggests Granny. 'Exactly,' Beloved says - he is quite capable of being anthropomorphic round his own animal, despite his disappoval of such talk in others.

Brown hens, incidentally, had started to lay again last week. The hurricane has obviously put them off; there's not been a single egg since Saturday. Was it stress of all that wind did for Dora and Daisy too? 'Of course not,' says Beloved. As for chicken flu?... If it is who will be the next victim? Granny wonders. Granny? (If only it could be Tiresome Terrier,' she thinks. Naughty.

Chickens are dying mysteriously in Brazil too, for quite other reasons, Granny's researches on Google tell her. Shame. But she is sure the dead Brazilians chickens cannot have been as pretty as her's are - were, rather. Boo hoo.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Really the Goldhawk Road...

Sun's out, sky clear, wind down. Only sign of almost hurricane now decimated plants.

So maybe Granny will at last regale you with the Goldhawk Road. She has a particular reason to do so, or will have in two days time. For which reason let's start at the posh end of Goldhawk Road, where it flanks Ravenscourt Park on one side and Stamford Brook/Chiswick on the other, before swinging round the corner, skirting Acton and heading for the much less salubrious delights of Shepherd's Bush.

Once upon a time, on the right- hand side of the road just up from Stamford Brook station, backing, almost, onto Ravenscourt Park was one of the bigger if not the biggest maternity hospitals in London, Queen Charlotte's. It's gone now. Queen Charlotte's has migrated to Chelsea, much less convenient for those locally pregnant. But when did the NHS ever set out to convenience anyone? (And no, it is not more convenient for pregnant Chelsea which had a perfectly good maternity service of its own up till then, but there you go.)

Granny has reason to be fond of Queen Charlotte's. It was there that Beloved Son was born, 40 years ago this Sunday. (If, reader, you dread reaching 40, think how much harder it is to to find yourself the mother of 40 year olds like Granny. Oh dear. Oh dear.) Granny wasn't quite so fond of Queen Charlotte's then as she is retrospectively. Queen Charlotte's though a good hospital was also a stuffy one. For her first baby, Granny had opted to patronise the Charing Cross Hospital (then situated in Charing Cross just opposite the station. It migrated to Hammersmith long since, wouldn't you know.) The Charing X was far from stuffy, attracting to its maternity ward an interesting mixture of local Soho cafe owners, of varied races on the one hand, and the more advanced middle-class with ideas considered outlandish anywhere else, on the other. This was due to its being the first hospital in London to offer classes in childbirth and to let fathers into the labour ward. Unfortunately all these benefits turned out redundant in Granny's case; she had to have an emergency caesarian, so did not need to use all those complicated breathing techniques she'd been practising for weeks; in mind and spirit she wasn't even present at the birth herself, any more than her husband was. Shame about that.

Second time round she determined to do better. Alas Charing X was not on offer; Queen Charlotte's was. When she demanded first maternity classes, and second, still more daringly, a husband at the birth she was invited bluntly to take herself elsewhere. But there wasn't a convenient elsewhere; she crumbled, acquiesced, though not before she'd been listed as a difficult patient. In practice things worked out better than she'd dared hope. Beloved son conveniently elected to be born on a Saturday when the labour ward was otherwise empty; when the dragons who kept the doors shut and husbands out were mainly off duty. Dear husband didn't quite make the birth - not least it happened very fast - but he was, against all the rules, allowed in straight afterwards, just as triumphant granny clutched her naked, bloody, but perfect baby to her bosom for the first time. There's nothing, she assures you, like seeing and feeling your baby born where previously you failed to , merely woke up with a slashed belly and a mysterious new being in a cot next to you. Weird that. In the case of Beloved Son she remembers the entire process; mysterious he wasn't.

The downside of its being Saturday and everyone off-duty was that noone was round to stitch her up. The dignity of the new mother was not an issue then. (She hopes it is now.) Granny's feet held up in stirrups, her very private parts were displayed in full towards the door. Anyone who peered in - many people seemed to - peered straight up her. She could have been furious about this. In retrospect she was/is. At the time clutching baby in one arm, then-beloved husband on the other, she didn't care a damn.

As usual things have changed since; not necessarily for the better. Home birth seems to be the main battleground now between the medical establishment and their more vocal patients. In the maternity ward itself the presence of the fathers is now so taken for granted it leads to quite other problems; such as fisticuffs arising between them and their mother-in-laws. Some hospitals - including the one where Beloved Eldest Grand-daughter was born - allow only one of them, not both, to attend the births. Forty years makes a lot of difference.

Enough of that; enough of the posh end of the Goldhawk Road; though Granny still thinks of it fondly and regrets the fancy and expensive housing which has replaced the site of her triumphant accouchement. Well beyond such things these days, her attention - and abode - has now moved to its other end; to the Shepherd's Bush Market and from thence under the railway bridge and on towards Shepherd's Bush Green, south of which is the little flat she inhabits when in London.

The market is one thing. In some respects it is a shadow of its former self, when the mere smell let alone the sight of it transported you to somewhere in the Developing World, a long way away from London. Even ten years ago the vegetable stalls stretched half way up towards the Uxbridge Road, you could buy huge bunches of coriander, basil, the kind come in mean little boxes in the supermarkets at 10 times the price. You could also buy any kind of vegetable just about; heaps of yams, plantains and so forth, not available anywhere else. The Grenadians who live in Acton all did their shopping there. They still do. If you want salt fish, ackee ackee, 'snail on stick' (a mysterious delicacy) black peas, etc etc, they are still sold in the dim shops that fill the railway arches. Most of the vegetable stalls, alas, have been replaced by those selling fallen-off-a lorry produce, mostly electronic. Though Granny does hope they haven't entirely chased away the knicker stalls offering a variety of highly-coloured, diaphanous, and vestigial garments. She hasn't visited lately on Saturday afternoons. But she hopes that the black limousines still draw up, that the flocks of ladies clad from head to foot in black, only their eyes showing over little leather masks, still emerge to surround the knicker stalls, rifling through their products, chattering away to each other. It always cheered - yet saddened - Granny to see that despite their enforced modesty they were allowed in private to be as frivolous as the rest of us. Yet frilly knickers seemed and seem a minor pleasure compared to the freedom to wander down the Goldhawk Road and up through the market unescorted, with the sun on your face and arms.

Beyond the railway bridge, the shops and restaurants lining the street up to Shepherd's Bush Green define the area pretty well. The nature of many is the reason this end of the Goldhawk Road makes Granny think not of Beloved Son, but Beloved Daughter. There are sundry greasy spoons of varying ethnicity - the Hot Pot for one offers Carribean breakfasts. There are dubious money changers, two pawn shops, beauty and hair salons and suppliers catering mostly for non-white hair and skin. There is the Pick n'Save Off licence, there are also a couple of wine bars for the Yuppies who live on the Hammersmith side of the road and a riotous Polish restaurant run by a former Polish opera-singer who throws vodka in the with fixed-price meal, overfills all plates with Polish dumplings and the like and won't take no for an answer. 'Eat it or else' is the rule of the place more or less.

But it is not these that bring to mind Beloved Daughter. What brings her to mind are all the textile shops. Beloved Daughter is a textile artist, decorating lengths of silk in abstract mostly geometric patterns, also cut from silk, to hang on walls. Granny is not describing what she does very well. It is hard to. It would be easier to show you the work but Beloved Daughter has forbidden Granny on pain of death - she means it - to show any of it on the Blog. 'Sooner put a picture of me' she says: - but she wouldn't like that much either. You will have to take Granny's word for it that they are beautiful; that she is as proud of her first child at this end of the Goldhawk Road as she is proud of her second at the other.

Two of the shops are for African textiles, mostly cotton or synthetic cloth with big, bold patterns. All the others are Asian: Alanita, Sikhur textiles, Orya, Unique Fabrics, Classic Textiles, A to 2 Fabrics, Flamingo Textiles, Arore Fabrics, and so it goes on; most of them have the name in Arabic script - Urdu - underneath. Granny has not entered all of them. But over the years she's visited many. When she can think of no other birthday or Christmas presents for Beloved Daughter beautiful - and expensive - lengths of silk are always welcome. She has learned to sweep past the outer parts of the shop where the sari lengths are made of cotton cloth or synthetics. 'I want the wedding saris,' she says; and there they are, Arabian night gleams of colour shimmering richly, in big bolts, ready to be measured out and cut by large pairs of scissors; if she can only choose which one. It takes hours to choose sometimes.

After such dazzlement by colour, she emerges blinking into the grey light of a winter day in the Goldhawk Road,where many of those thronging its pavements hailed orginally from no less sunny places than the cloth. Granny adores this mixture of people and places. It is one thing that keeps her in love with London. Much as she also craves the English countryside, she misses such a rich mix in country villages, surrounded by Anglo-Saxon pink-and-white. She misses it on her Canary Island. Though not as much as she misses Beloved Son and Daughter.

Forty years on, far from his birthplace down the smarter end of the Goldhawk Road, Granny wishes she could be in London on Sunday celebrating with Beloved Son and the rest of her immediate family the precious if messy if undignified moment of his birth.The telephone will have to do instead, alas. But it doesn't.

It is a truth, reader, universally known by mothers, but little acknowledged, that once your children grow up you spend too much of your life saying goodbye to them.


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