Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006

Sunday, June 18, 2006

goodbye for now

One of her Granny's birthday cards wished her "a better year than last." A statement which meant well - but oh dear. That was Wednesday. On Thursday her flat deal blew up in her face. All might still be well, but she spent the day between lawyers, mortgage brokers, estate agents. If not sorted by next Thursday all will return to square one. The chances are about evens. Stressful stuff. It's called the vicious British property market. Compounded by inefficiency and buck-passing, all the way down the line. Believe me, you don't want to hear about it.

In the meantime; worse and worse and worse; much worse; not that she knew it till the following morning. Her ex-husband, father of her children, suffered a massive stroke and died three hours or so later. A total shock - he wasn't so very old, left a still youngish wife and a sixteen year old daughter. This is apart from Granny's son and daughter, both a lot older than that. Anyone who has been divorced with grown-up or not grown-up children, will know the emotions aroused by such events, even not when arriving so suddenly, so shockingly. Along with the grief and shock, comes the weight of history; anger, guilt, bitter and good memories, past and present misunderstandings, endlessly painful soups, miasmas, cauldrons of complications, in which all those immersed have to struggle, feebly, as best they can. Even anonymously, these are not - many of them are not - Granny's griefs to write about. Even if she could describe them, she wouldn't know how to. She wouldn't want to. She shouldn't even try to. She is not going to.

It will be a while before the dust settles. Meantime, for the foreseeable future, if not for ever, this blog is closed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


It's Granny's birthday tomorrow. And no, she is not telling you how old she will be. She is old enough. Such an event these days is not an event for rejoicing in - or only in the sense of a wake. She can in that sense rejoice in still being alive. She does. Mostly.

But the rest of it....A little while back Granny read a complaint by a New Yorker of how, what with gyms, plastic surgery, facials etc etc, all women of a certain type there look the same, more or less, no matter their age. And how boring it is. Granny understands that complaint. A certain lack of wrinkles, a visual sameness might be boring to look at all round. On the other hand she's not so happy about remaining - as a Brit of a certain income, as well as age, without access to the above benefits - part of other people's visual stimulation. She really would like her teeth, her hair, her un-cataract-threatened eyes, her smooth skin, her smooth limbs back. Yes please, yes please. She'd like to experience still that sharp, sweet shock of mutually appreciative glances between her and a man in the street, in the tube, across a room - a man she'll never see again, let alone meet, but still warms to in passing; such glances slide right over her now. Looking in the mirror - especially in certain lights - she knows why, She also knows why wrinkles etc are interesting to painters; some of Rembrandt's portraits of old women for instance are wonderful, even his best. But she doesn't WANT TO BE THAT OLD WOMAN. Well she isn't yet, quite, But getting on that way.

All older people all all all, virtually, complain that they feel just the same inside. It's only looking in the mirror makes them realise they are not, Actually that's only true up to a point. There's lots of ways Granny felt when she was young that she would not want to feel again. Never never never. She'd prefer to feel the way she does now, and look the way she did then; no, she's not over ambitious; forty would do nicely. She wouldn't want to look any younger than that.

Tell her that she was born with a set of spare parts, waiting for her to fit, she'd be happy. Probably.

But then there are the warnings. Last week she saw Janacek's marvellous opera the Makropoulis Case. (And no she is not going to apologise for being a highbrow, elitist, opera-lover. She just is, so boo sucks.) It's about a 327 year old woman. Granny has always felt for that story. She wrote her own version of it once. And what comes out of it is that immortality is not good. In fact it sucks, cutting you off from real life, from other people. Granny agrees with that. She really does. She doesn't want to live for ever. She can pretty much accept death. What she has much harder work with is accepting... old age. No, she does not want to go in for resignation like old women in India, wearing white, meditating, giving up on life in a haze of peace. Resignation is for the resigned, she thinks. Granny is not resigned. She still likes the jangle of life, noisy, uncomfortable as it is. She does not care to accept that when, for instance, some programme comes up on the telly, some article in the Guardian about old age, care homes, whatever, she's in there gleaning relevant information. But she does get in there. Any minute, she knows this is going to effect HER. Oh God, oh God, oh God. If she cannot believe it, she has to remember her old dad, who was just the same. In his mid eighties, convalescing from an operation in a home run for aged civil servants, he waved his hand round his assembled companions, many of them a good ten years younger than himself, saying "I never expected to find myself in place full of old ducks like this."

Well he did. It happens to all of us, dad. It happens to all of us, Granny. It's not called acceptance; rather it's called 'Grow up, Granny. Grow up'.

But that's it. She has grown up and up and on and on. That is the whole trouble. Go, get lost, Granny, jump, unaccepting or not, in the river. Happy Birthday, self.

Oh: and in passing. Wonderful Wikipedia - what else - tells her she shares a birthday with, among others Donald Trump, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Boy George. Fancy that.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Pigeons are gathering; or rather not - not the way they did before.

Granny's present little flat backs up -in the way of London houses - to another line of houses. Down below, in between, is a line of yards/gardens, some prettied up, some not.

This is a part of London which has like most changed radically over the past ten, twenty, thirty years. Brook Green, south of Shepherd's Bush has been taken over by the middle classes for many years now. But the changes have crept ever nearer. Granny's own street, too near the Bush to count as Brook Green is a mixture of old protected tenancies and new ones on long leases, subject to the market. All round what used to be streets of run down late Victorian houses, multiply-occupied, have been taken over by developers, re-converted into smart big and little flats, or sometimes back to single occupancy houses. Iranian cafes have appeared, gastro pubs; any business you can name seems to be staffed by young Poles. The streets are a glorious mix of Carribean, Somalian, Bosnian, Iranian, anything you like

But traces of the old London lurk still. One such trace inhabits half the house that backs onto Granny, more or less. This house has not been done up. The window sills crumble. The rooms inside are hidden by dirty net curtains. Behind them lurk the pigeon feeder - an old woman with wild grey hair who peers out from time to time to hang her washing on a line that dangles across the roof of the extension in front of her, or to access whatever she keeps in a decrepit dustbin there. But most often she appears - or did appear- to feed the pigeons that cluster on the sloping roof above her and the flat roof below. Granny used to wonder why the pigeons were always there, not anywhere else. Until one day she saw the hand come out, once in the morning, again in the afternoon to scatter food. In the winter there was only the hand, usually, like the hand of the skeleton in one of those haunted-house-penny-in-the-slot machines they used to have on seaside piers before electronic games took over. Occasionally came a glimpse of a lock or two of the wild hair above the curtain, but that was all.

The pigeons knew; they lurked with a purpose, a multitude of them, always there.

But two weeks ago scaffolding went up. Granny thought they would be pointing the brickwork, painting the old woman's crumbling windows, stuff like that. But no. There the scaffolding sat, unused, uninhabited by builders, painters. The old woman was to be seen scraping at her window-sills from time to time, scraping off pigeon shit it looked like, but nothing else. And last week the scaffolders returned, it all came down again. Nothing has changed except - or so it looks to Granny - that the old woman has stopped feeding the pigeons. Have her neighbours complained? Has she been told she is breaking the terms of her protected tenancy and will be thrown out? Some pigeons still lurk hopefully, but not the flock of a few weeks back. Granny is sad. She rather enjoyed the feeding frenzies. But she also wonders about that old London, the one lurking underneath the rainbow of nations,beneath the world of the smart young things who occupy the flats immediately around her, setting off for work every morning, both genders wearing suits. The London that the old woman belongs to, still clings to, is human archaeology, barely a strata below the surface of the city before last. Maybe she - the old woman - was even born in that house. It still happens, even now. Not so long ago Granny lived in a mostly done-up street opposite a woman who had been born in hers, a real Hammersmith native. All over London, such natives - much older even than Granny - still lurk, where the developers haven't succeeded in throwing them out, hard as they try - and oh how the developers try. (Granny still gets letters about the tenant in a house she occupied with husband number two, who for some reason still lingers, if not in the basement of her once-house, on the town hall register of protected tenancies. Would she like help, ask the letters, delicately, in 'encouraging' him to move? The bastards. The tenant, a long-surviving, shell-shocked, war casualty, forty years on, died in fact two or three years back. For him at last peace has broken out, and noone can offer to shift him any more. Good. Let it be a reminder though, that amid the shiny new toy boys and girls of the present, sad, battered, - often abused - ones of the past remain. As they always will.)

Granny wonders about a world in which people were born, lived and died in the same houses. Such a world never existed for her; she has moved countless times for one reason or other. But sometimes she feels a kind of envy. She hopes the old lady opposite will hang on in there for the rest of her life. She hopes, come winter, when people will be less likely to notice the pigeon shit landing on them, she will return to feeding those other old inhabitants, those other survivors, the pigeons. Granny won't be there to see though. She should have moved on by then. Again.

She after all those years in London though - spanning quite a few strata herself - is also living human archaology, come to think of it. If she wants to think of it. Sometimes she does not.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


The post will be brief; Granny is availing herself of London delights and going to the theatre this afternoon; courtesy of standby tickets for old farts like her, lumped alongside jobless, disabled and kids. (Make what you like of that list. Ageism or not she'll enjoy the benefits.)

Back on her island, Beloved is getting on with things. (Slight shudder from Granny.) Last night on the phone he said. 'Take me and Mr Handsome. We're both short of money, in debt. But I'm going to spend the next month working my guts out, he's going to spend it watching the World Cup.'

Granny bit her tongue. Having learned a little tact in her old age, she did not think it entirely wise to say that on this one she's all with Mr Handsome. Not so much for the World Cup, she hastens to add; but for his capacity to go for what he loves to do, no matter what, and hang the worries.

She said at last; very cautiously; 'I think there's something to be said for both you and Mr Handsome here. Even if you have got a lot to do, isn't it a good thing to put it aside and relax from time to time.' (Oh how tactful she is.)

Beloved wasn't buying this.

'He's like you," he went on (Granny earlier had been unwise enough to say she was going to see Mark Morris' new ballet, no matter what, even if it did happen in the middle of moving house.) 'Where's are your priorities?'

Granny did not answer this. Still less - that would have caused real trouble - did she point out that a lot of the hard labour Beloved has lumbered himself with is entirely of his own making.

"Daddy,' said his beloved daughter sighing during Granny's next phone conversation, 'Daddy can't leave anything alone. He has to keep changing things.'

Granny also sighs. She had managed to get some information out of her Beloved as to what he is doing. Some of it she approves. More she cannot see the point of. She quite liked the kitchen as it was. And, not least, the jobs that really need doing - in her view - painting the kitchen, for one, painting her office, for two - seem to be going right to the back of Beloved's queue.

Probably it's just as well she is forced to stay in London. Things might be getting argumentive back there.


But at least it leaves no time for acquiring donkeys. Or goats. Or buying more ruins with non-existent funds. (Another of Beloved's projects, did she say, doing up a ruin? There's a lot of ruins on their island. This one, fortunately - due to shortage of funds - is not likely to run and run.)

Hasta la vista.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Carry on London

Summer has arrived in London. Good. Granny meanwhile, forced to stay here for a while, contemplates curiosities in the city where she has spent the greater part of her life.

Take this, for instance. In the 70's- she thinks - her local borough, Hammersmith and Fulham, opened, with loud fanfares, two big swimming pool complexes. And very nice they were too, a long way from the image of municipal baths with their fearsome attendants, wooden floors and gloomy bathrooms used by the homeless/bathroomless. The White City version was much frequented by Granny in the early days of marriage no 2. She belonged to an early morning swimming club, and used to swim up and down there, along with - at the time she didn't realise it - the likes of Victoria Wood, and other such, busy making their latest series of programmes at the BBC Television Centre, just round the corner. In those days Granny hadn't learned to put her head under water while swimming- nor had VW and a number of other ladies of a certain age. Subsequently VW immortalised Granny and the rest of them in a song called 'Swimming up and down at the Shepherd's Bush Pool.' By the time she sang it, alas, the early morning swimming club had been closed because of a shortage of members - 20 or so wasn't enough. Even when added to, by other non-members.

Granny remembers, all too vividly, the morning the place was invaded by a bunch of screaming and mostly over-weight yobboes, jumping in and out of the pool on top of the sedate, head-up swimmers. She protested. So did some of her fellow members. 'You'll have to put up with it,' said the lugubrious man behind a desk. 'That lot,' he said, 'is the police swimming team. We let them in for free, they keep an eye on us. ' He gestured towards the estate, no more or less notorious then as now, 'We need that here.'

They've slightly cleaned-up the police since then. Their image as male chauvinists etc is being addressed, at least. Remembering that lot, Granny suspects it is hard work.

Granny didn't swim there much thereafter. Her life changed over the years. But so did the pools. Sometime in the 90's, she heard to her surprise that the pool was closed. She couldn't imagine why - 20 years lifespan for such a place, didn't seem much. The old municipal versions went on for 100 years at least. Some of them are still going,

Then, just up the road from the new site, they opened a leisure centre called after the first female - and black - mayor of Hammersmith (a wonderful woman, who alas only lasted 6 months in the job, dying of cancer at the age of 4o odd, What a waste.) And in January this year, to equally loud fanfares they opened a swimming pool alongside, also named after the dead mayor. Granny, before they operated on her, went swimming there several times, and very nice it is too, even fancier than the last only a little bit shorter, and lacking the wave machine much loved by children, if not by those trying to swim. The site where the old pool was remains boarded up, a wasteland. All very mysterious.

The other pool opened in the 70's down in Fulham, suffered a similar fate; in that case, however, the replacement was built by the expensive fitness centre business called Holmes Place, with two pools one for the hoi polloi - Granny eg -the other for the people who can afford their fees. Such a business as Holmes Place would never set itself up alongside the White City Estate, its line of shops even more depressed now than the one Granny remembers from 20 years ago. But what both schemes do have in common is that they are financed on a public/private basis. Granny's Beloved Oldest Friend, a cynical journalist, thinks this may at least partially explain the mystery: why two perfectly decent, recent and well-functioning outfits were pulled down and replaced by others. Someone somewhere, inside the council or out, must have benefited somehow, financially most likely. The rest of us, council tax payers all, paid for it. Thankyou M Thatcher in other words. Your tentacles still have a stranglehold.


Granny will be curious to see what happens to the boarded-up space in due course. Maybe they're waiting till the area ceases to be so run down and someone can make out a packet out of non-affordable housing. We will see.

Friday, June 02, 2006

thankyou...darling...I don't think.

Apologies for the long silence. Beloved has been and gone; Granny celebrated his visit by getting sick. She spent last weekend in bed, groaning. Instead of Beloved realising that London is alright really - she'd planned trips to Tate Modern's Bank Holiday jolly etc etc, -he spent his time tending her. It wasn't anything serious; she is now recovered, while he resorted to cooking as usual - if, this time, mainly for himself. All very tiresome, because her property transactions though going along are doing it in wearisome ways - everyone is getting impatient, except for Granny's mortgage broker, who keeps on hopping off to Spain. She looks to be trapped here, Belovedless, for another month at least. At least it's warming up. A bit.

That's the update then. Let's get on to what females have to put up with, progressively, through their lives. As a child it's 'oh isn't she pretty...' 'look at those eyes/curls' etc etc. Granny didn't have to put up with that one at least; round-faced, straight/dark-haired, spectacled from the age of eight, she was not a pretty child. What she got rather was the kind of face people put on when they don't know what to say. (People in her youth didn't regard girls' brains as anything to boast about; if anything they were an embarrassment; 'who's going to marry a blue-stocking?' etc. Blue eyes were a different matter. As for blond curls... remember Toddilox anyone?) Later come the wolf-whistles and worse. Granny didn't get much of that either till she was older than most, not till she replaced the spectacles with contact lenses, and lost the surplus weight. Wolf-whistles of course are a nuisance too - and equally diminishing in their way; she knows that. However like anyone who went through adolescence unappreciated (and with, in her case, a much more, indeed very appreciated, very pretty twin sister to make things worse) she could never quite avoid a frisson of pleasure that wolf-whistles were at last being directed at her, protestations of disdain or no protestations of disdain. Though she did try to drive the frissons away; (a bit.)

Granny wouldn't disdain wolf-whistles now either, now that there aren't any. She has entered that new phase of male reaction to females they encounter. Possibly it's the most patronising of all. She's not talking about being offered seats on buses and trains. She can even - wrily - be grateful for that. This is the verbal assault - yes, well, you've been there, done that, it's all over for you; LET'S POINT IT OUT. All done with the nicest of intentions; of course, just part of the expected (by them) banter with females - in particular female customers; men have to be nice to customers, don't they? - or seem to be nice to them. Even if it does mean rubbing their noses in what they are all too aware of without such help. Which is, even if they don't realise it, the point. Doesn't it happen to men? asks Beloved. Granny thinks not. But perhaps only men can answer that.

Here's an example. On her island, over the Easter holidays, Granny had a day out with Beloved Son and Daughter-in-law and her two younger grandchildren. When they settled down to have lunch, the waiter advanced on Granny. He addressed her in Spanish; (she will translate for you, being nice.) 'Let us start with the young lady,' he said, more or less. Granny hoped she didn't bridle; she may have done, she was startled - having looked young for her age till quite recently she's not yet used to this openly older woman role. So startled that she may even -just a little - have played up to him. What else can you do when someone in the nicest way is telling you, that you're the old bat of the present company? EVEN IF IT'S TRUE. (On the other hand he might have thought she held the purse strings. She didn't as it happened, not this time round.)

Yesterday, in the farmer's market in Hammersmith, she got the English version. She was buying asparagus, from a male, not young, stallholder. 'It's lovely,' he said 'as young and fresh as you.' This might have been foolish - Granny could have turned round and said, 'if it's as young and fresh as me I don't want it.' She didn't, though. She bought a bunch. The asparagus did look - unlike her - very young and fresh. When she ate it last night it was delicious. Just the same she could have done without the sales talk - that first comment was followed by a string of others. 'Forget the flattery,' she said at last. At which the man said, making sure she hadn't missed the point. 'Would you want to be young again? I wouldn't.'

Granny prefers the invisibility on the whole - that other complaint of ageing women. Much more of this one, she'll clock some fellow - and get herself into the press as 'aggressive granny.' (She could always put on her black hat, her black dress, pad herself, wave an umbrella, go with it, yelling 'Come back, Giles. To those who remember Giles. COME BACK, GILES. )

None of this matters of course. Just to remind you what does, here is a link to Baghdad Burning. That blog of blogs. The brave writer hadn't posted for nearly a month. Granny worried about her a bit, in the city of sudden death. But on Wednesday here she was writing again. That puts everything in perspective. Read her.

As does Amnesty's campaign against internet censorship in various parts of the world. Granny apologises not one whit for political correctness by putting that odd connection on her site underneath her blogroll. Check it out.

As does- maybe; above all, maybe- the Welsh farmer who got stamped on yesterday by a 47 STONE pig. Granny's stallholder, round, roundfaced, pink faced, straw-haired, gap-toothed looked a bit like a pig himself. But when it comes to being stamped on, even she would prefer him.

And so as Pepy's would say 'To bed.' (Actually to Argos, to buy one. Or at least to contemplate buying one.) Tra la. Tra la.


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