Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

oh oh

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Granny will shortly finish the story about her criminal past. But right now she's too busy trying to organise her London flat; in other words her Beloved has arrived to join her. This means redoubling her efforts to get a parking permit for the estate they live in. So far in vain - it demands documentation that has to be dug out of reluctant and inefficient agencies - when these do condescend to produce a document they invariably send the wrong one to the wrong place. As a result of which the car still has had to be parked three miles away - the one time it wasn't it got hauled off to a Local Authority Pound and could only be redeemed for a price very steep for needy pensioners like themselves. (Double the price of a whole year's parking with the right documents.) This wouldn't matter if they didn't need said car every now and then; eg to makes an expedition to Ikea; as everyone who knows Ikea knows, buying stuff there is virtually impossible without your own transport - the nearest one from here is a hundred miles from any tube station, not least. So car has to be fetched and afterwards taken back to the safe parking three miles away. Then it turns out that the items acquired from Ikea have been evilly and inadequately packed so lack essential items like screws of the kind only Ikea supplies. So car has to be fetched again; and replaced again. Etc. Etc. On top of this are the endless discussions resulting from bright ideas for improvement put forward by one or other of Granny's household of two. These kind of discussions reveal the total gulf between the technical understandings of her and him - eg- to give but one small example. 'Why not remove the kitchen door and put it between the sitting-room and hall to limit the noise coming from the outside landing.' 'Good idea, only problem is hinges/lintel/opening is/are wrong side?' Why does that matter? Explanation as to why it matters not at all clear to whichever party has not identified the problem - or, when it is identified to them, who fail to understand it (usually, well, invariably, Granny.) It all takes a LONG TIME. And achieves little. And meantime the screws are still lacking. And Ikea has to be visited. AGAIN. And an Ikea queue stood in. YET AGAIN.

Why are male/female brains so very different? Granny comforts herself for her lack of carpentry nous with fact only she knows how to work the digital telly (acquired at point she was under (very) erroneous impression that move would leave them in in rather than out-of-pocket) manipulate broadband connection system on laptop, tell north from south, east from west, thereby finding way from one part of London to another (which means she always has to do the driving - eg to distant parking spot - bugger it). All of this means that historical exegis has to wait for the moment. Tra la la. Luckily she loves her Beloved. And he loves her. And they do manage to take in the odd amusement. And the odd good meal. So that's alright.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cell time 2: or jangling keys

Granny continued to feel sorry for the baffled foreigners accidentally caught up in the banned demonstration; some did not speak any English. This did not stop them being thrown unceremoniously into the room at Marlborough Street Police Station where she and the others in the van were taken. Many more demonstrators and non-demonstrators joined them. The room grew fuller and fuller. She did not feel sorry for those who'd intended to be arrested, like her. She was not enjoying herself much all the same. Her fellow civil disobeyers were greeting people they knew from Aldermaston marches with glad little cries, swapping arrest stories and memories of other demonstrations. The atmosphere so created, observed in amazement by the foreign contingent, had little to do with the weight of the law. It was more like an old school reunion, for a school which Granny hadn't been to either. She didn't know anyone. She was still hungry. She thought of her friend Rosemary still hungry too, and wished they were going through this together.

To make matters worse, the large white man who'd made such a fuss in the van had appointed himself as her protector. "What is a nice girl like you..' etc. And 'I'll pay your bail. Then they'll let us go and I'll look after you.' The prospect of a night in a police cell may not have been attractive but it was altogether more attractive than this offer. Granny declined it as firmly as she could and tried to shift herself away from him, not very successfully, the room growing ever more crowded. When her turn came before the police desk, she refused to give her name or accept bail. This procedure, recommended by the Committee of One Hundred organisers, not only meant the police would have to detain her, it had the simultaneous advantage of removing her from the reach of the large white male. The police sergeant urging her not to be a silly girl was no less patronising - Granny in those days looked a good deal younger even than she was; but at least he wasn't lecherous, merely puzzled. Twenty years before Greenham Common, civil disobedience a new concept, he was evidently not used to charging very young women with middle class accents. Even as he did his best to maintain her illusions about nice bobbies, some of his colleagues, chucking their charges around inside and outside the room, continued doing did their best to undermine them.

In due course, still under arrest, though not handcuffed - most likely they did not have enough handcuffs to go round - she was taken outside. Once again she remembered too late that she was supposed to be civilly disobeying, going with them meekly on her own two feet instead of making them carry her to the van. Later, she heard, they had to hire buses to ferry protesters to police cells round London. But she, as an early prisoner, got a Black Maria no less, one of those notorious vehicles used to transport accused and convicted criminals. It did not have to take her very far - from just south of Oxford Street to the City Road east of the Angel Islington, probably not more than two miles if that- but it was quite far enough.

A Black Maria consists of two rows narrow metal cells, each big enough to contain one person. Granny has short legs. Sitting on the seat on one side of her cell, her knees not far off the other wall, she thought how uncomfortable it must be for those with longer legs. There was a grid on the outside wall, letting in light but nothing else. On the inner side the door had been closed with a loud clang and locked behind her jailor. She heard other people being led along the narrow walkway between the cells on either side of the van. She heard the clatter of feet, the bang of doors, the jangle of keys encarcerating her unseen fellows. In due course the van started. Where it was taking them, how long the journey would last, she did not know yet. She only knew she was cold, uncomfortable and beginning to want to empty her bladder. This defiance of the law, the government, was supposed to be an adventure; it was an adventure of sorts. But sitting there in her little metal box, feeling bleak, lost, lonely even, it did not seem like a nice one. It left her for ever after with a sneaking sympathy for all those real criminals, petty or evil alike, incarcerated for real in these white metal boxes, being lead for real- as she was lead half an hour or so later - into a cell somewhere. Her cell was dazzling white tiles all over, floor, walls, ceilings, even on the sleeping bench. 'Aren't you lucky, it's been done up especially, we might have known you were coming,' said the sergeant jovially as he locked her in with another jangle of keys hanging from a metal ring. In her case, it wasn't real entirely -noone even threatened to beat her up, the next day she knew she would be as free as ever. But at the time it felt real enough; more of such reality than she's ever wanted. Nor did it feel heroic in the least - no true political prisoner she, her respect for those who are - the real heroes - has not wavered since.

To be continued:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

cell time: 1

September 1961 - Granny far from grandmotherly at the time - not even parental - was just beginning a year's course which was supposed to turn her into a social worker. (It didn't.) She was working on a placement in a Birmingham settlement embedded in a then as now notorious housing estate and run by a pair of methodist, vegetarian pacifists, together with another student from Ulster, inappropriately named Rosemary. (Far from fragrant as the name suggests, Rosemary was fat, louche, evilly witty and a chainsmoker, altogether much more fun: even the chainsmoking came without health warnings then.) Both of them were of course fervently anti-nuclear. (Though Granny herself had never marched to Aldermaston, she had marched round London once or twice sniffing out various bunkers, claimed to be sites for governments to hide during nuclear attacks.) When they heard about this, egged on by the methodist/pacifist/vegetarians, they decided that duty entirely - of course - was telling them to join in. All the more -of course - because it was banned; governments then as now really have no sense.

On a gloomy Sunday morning Granny and Rosemary hitched their way down the only just opened M1 and arrived in Trafalgar Square in mid afternoon, in the rain. It was filling up with people already - police were everywhere but not trying to stop anyone; yet. Both of them were fully prepared to be civilly disobedient. If the police told them to go away no, they thought, they wouldn't. The police would have to carry them just like everybody else. (An easier job with Granny than Rosemary, it must be said.)

They sat down; everyone was sitting down. Bertrand Russell remained unavoidably detained but his acolytes who included Granny's ex-landlady (another story) were all there, sitting round Nelson's column: or something like that. It was still wet, grey dismal. Rosemary smoked. Granny snaffled the odd cigarette. Nothing happened. All round them better prepared people unwrapped picnics and the square slowly filled up. Still nothing happened. The odd speech could be heard coming from loudhailers wielded by BR's supporters, but not much else. Civil disobedience felt altogether boring; they were hungry.

Around five o'clock it was decided that Granny would nip out of the square for a sandwich - which she did; can't have been a salubrious sandwich she happened on, no rocket and crayfish salads then; she got a hot dog if she was lucky - she can't remember exactly. All she does remember is timing the matter badly. While she was handing over her money and receiving her greasy parcel, the police moved in and closed the square.

Granny only knew this when she walked back along the Strand past Charing Cross Station and found her way barred by a line of helmets.

"No entry,' said the helmets loudly.

'But,' said Granny holding out her package, 'I must get in. My friend is there and she hasn't anything to eat.'

She didn't have time to sit down, civilly disobey, as planned. All she knew was that her arms were grabbed, she was being - meekly, damn it - heaved into a police van along with a large collection of mostly innocent, mostly foreign, bystanders who didn't know that walking down a public street in broad daylight in the middle of the capital city of the mother of democracy could be a crime in any way. Some of them were black. Some of them were disposed to argue. Though Granny herself had been man-handled, it had been a polite(ish) manhandling. Not so in the case of the non-white foreigners or of some of the white males for that matter, if they were not taking their arrest lightly. One policeman - much senior to constable or even sergeant he could even have been the the notorious evidence-planting Challoner; Granny who saw some pictures of him afterwards thinks it was - thrust his head into the van and hissed at a large white man who was complaining loudly that he wasn't a damned nuclear disarmer - ''Shut up, you. Or just wait till I get you back to the station.... ' Judging by what Granny saw and heard when she did back to the station, he was not joking. Nice middle-class girl she, brought up in the home counties to believe bobbies were delightful friendly people anxious to help you, certainly not violent towards innocent - or even guilty - bystanders - some of her illusions disappeared out of the back door of that van fast. And never came back.

Somehow amid the melee her packet of food disappeared with them. Not only lovely louche, chainsmoking Rosemary waiting for her in the the square stayed hungry, so did Granny.

To be continued:


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Granny is back in the UK, having fought her way through the travel chaos, about which she need say no more. All you have to do is read the papers, online or off. Her problems were minor anyway compared to those of others. Lucky her. She is due to stay for a month - longer than intended, but there is a memorial service for her kids' father in mid September and it is not worth her returning for her island for 10 days, then coming back for that. So here she is, attending to mostly routine, mostly uninteresting matters with which she is forced to bore herself but will not bore you. She is not entirely happy to be back. She misses her Beloved back home on her currently sunny island. Here weather is lousy - well, cold by her standards and cloudy = and her beloved family not quite a comfort zone just now. Sudden death does tend to stir things up. And no, that's not material for blogging either. Sorry about that. (But actually you might be sorrier if she did let it all hang out. Big Brother families aren't.)

So what changes? Not this delicious area, the cheap foody delights of which she is still exploring. Pakistani mangoes? Yummy. Like no mangoes you ever tasted; the perfumes of Araby included - something like that. Huge bunches of any herb you could want, including rocket, peppery, delicious, forget the expensive supermarket plastic pillows. This is the real thing. Home-made feta cheese, Haloumi ditto, falafels ditto, boiling fowl at £1 apiece (Granny hadn't seen a boiling fowl since the 70's or thereabout. If some of you don't know about such things, she will tell you you boil them slowly for a long time and get the best stock ever; and the flesh is pretty good too.) And this is leaving aside the fact she can trot down the road to a Chinese bakery, which sells Chinese food as well as bread and croissants, a Lebanese French patisserie with honeycake alongside the tartes aux this or that, endless cloth shops, a market full of cheap phones, knickers, trainers and cheaper food - no, not supermarket cheapness, vegetables, fruit all shapes and sizes and in season. A multi-ethnic community like this one has not succumbed to the blandishments of Tesco, Sainsbury, etc. Yet. It wants real food. It gets it. Good.

Downside of her new flat - which in most respects she loves? She has found only one real one; pee on the stairs. Perhaps blokes out there can explain to her the reason for this - leaving aside too much beer/being taken short, etc. (Blokes, because, for obvious reasons, if females are taken short they have to find other remedies.) Is it something purely animal, to do with marking your territory? She'd prefer graffiti herself. KANE /WAYNE/ DANNY/DAVE/BANKSY WUZ HERE. At least that doesn't smell. Her dear Kiwi flatmate/flatsitter has told her that while she was away a notice went up in the lift urging residents not to spit or pee in lifts/on stairs. (Something you don't see in blocks in Mayfair.) One day it had been torn down, a riposte had been scrawled on the wall: FUCK OFF NAZI FASCISTS. The notice itself lay on the floor, drowned in urine. Luckily the caretakers do a good job cleaning up, disinfecting, so the problem is not as bad as it might be. In yuppy conversions like the one she abandoned at the end of July, on the other hand, the problems attack you on the inside: cars wake you in the middle of the night, pipes leak, sound carries, space is mean, storage space non-existant and prices twice as high. Granny, sitting here, her music on loud as she likes, her view sky, trees, her goods stashed away in the ample cupboard space can live with the lack of glamour (a polite way of putting it) in the hallways. She really can.

So what's changed in London since she left? One thing strikes her: THEY'VE CLOSED BOW STREET MAGISTRATES COURT.. Ah; now that's a thing. It takes her right back. Many many years ago, she spent a morning there, locked up in the cells downstairs waiting to be called up before the beaks. Are you curious? If so you'll have to wait for an explanation. Right now Granny has to prepare for visit of eldest granddaughter, which means some shopping. Eldest granddaughter does not like exotic foods of any kind. Granny has to get in some baked beans and cheddar cheese. Etc. Feta cheese, tahini, fouls mesdames WON'T DO. A shame really. Eldest granddaughter will learn some day. Just now it's her powergame and it's not for grandmothers to go to war on that one. Hizbollah tactics do not work on children. Or anyone come to that. Nor do retaliatory tactics. Granny will therefore toe the population-in-the-middle line. If you want to know the secret of her criminal past you'll have to come back next time.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lizard skin; and bombs

Lizards proliferate on Granny's island, on her land, her garden. Warmed by the sun they run so fast that neither Feline Lorengar nor the tiresome terrier can catch them, hard as they try. In winter when the lizards slow down, they have more success. Just the same there is a baby currently inhabiting the front courtyard that Granny fears for - there is nowhere for a lizard to escape between stairs, paving stones, whitewashed walls, and he/she/it is very little and not very canny. Granny tries to shoo it out, but vainly. Sometimes it sits absolutely still on the stairs, almost at eye-level so she can look at it closely. As you might suspect, she is of an age to suffer from what is called, unkindly, lizard or reptillian skin - she does suffer it, on her neck, especially - oh what grief that causes her - one of her few physical prides was her long, smooth neck, still long but no longer smooth, alas, alas - shortly she will resort to chokers, like Queen Mary, like her own grandmother, years ago. Looking at the lizards though, she has decided that this comparison is insulting: to lizards at least. Real lizard skin - unlike her version of it - is beautiful. She wouldn't the least mind having the smooth, not quite shiny, neatly fitted scales; that stretch and glimmer as the lizard flickers away, that will never age like her less obliging body covering. No matter how much she plasters her lizard skin with lotions called Age Perfect and so on, it does not not improve - you could call it shutting the stable door perhaps... But if so, there are an awful lot of other people of her age and younger attempting the same thing, no doubt seduced - like her - she should know better - by those TV promises: '10 years younger' - 'because you're worth it - mouthed by models all obviously the right side of 40. During her stay in London, Granny noticed that these not particularly expensive remedies to lizard skin -so called - are now shackled and weighted - or the equivalent - on the shelves of her local London Boots. Obviously she is not the only person fallen prey to the copy writers employed by Oreal, Roc et all; many of her fellows it seems, lacking the cash to buy what they offer, hope for such miracles for free.

Skin problems? Ageing? Oh for goodness sake. Fiddling while Rome burns, she thinks, turning from her blog to reports from the world elsewhere. Bombs raining from the sky in Lebanon; bombs going off at ground level in Iraq. Bodies mangled either way. Blair, madder than ever, it seems to her, is still busy with his form of fiddling, mostly related to his heart. 'In my heart I feel..' etc. Isn't he old enough to realise the heart is no good guide to anything except to its own pangs denoting the immanence of heart attack? Granny makes no apologies for pointing you at Baghdad Burning yet again: Riverbend's posts grow ever more heartrending. To which she will add the website of the most leftwing of Israeli paper Haaretz - it does sometimes talk sense, or more than most coming out in that part of the world. She looked for a Lebanese paper too, but most of them are in Arabic, surprise, surprise, and the only one she did find was largely full of articles by Robert Fisk whom you can just as well read in the Independent, if you are so inclined. It is a sad, awful time. And here she sits in the sun - the weather on her island's turned good now - as if on holiday.

The one sad thing here - though not comparatively so - is that there will be no chicks. Beloved - who as an animal man should know better - decided that he needed to separate the bantam hen, Anina, from her cockerel before the chicks hatched, in case Rocky trod on them or ate them or something equally unpleasant. He never thought to ask Anina first, didn't consider it necessary; she'd treated her mate evilly ever since she started sitting. But the little hen did not like what was done at all. Rocky was her mate, no matter what, if she didn't want him with her in the nesting-box, she still wanted him in her sight. Seeing the wall between them, she came down from the nest and found her way round it. The pair were discovered sweetly huddled up together in the much smaller space to which Rocky had been banished. She did not return to the eggs again. And that was that. No fluff on legs peep-peep-peeping around, not for a long time anyway. Let it be a warning never to make assumptions about animal affections or lack of them. Granny names no names here - let he who should listen, listen.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Mr and Mrs Handsome have gone for a few days jolly on another island. Granny presumes Mrs H's interestingly fancy underwear went with them. When she drove the holiday-makers to the airport - Mr H showing off his tanned biceps, reeking of aftershave, Mrs H flaunting her even browner belly, the fake diamond winking in her navel - both had that look in their eye; both were a little giggly. Granny and Beloved meantime have been deputed to mind their dog and their tortoise. Beloved who likes his animals cussed, scorns the dog: Granny rather likes him. He is a little-boy dog of local mixed-biscuit variety, short-legged, curly tailed, but with a surprisingly big-dog bark; it's not his fault he mostly lives a life of lapdog. Leaping in and out of the sea down at the salt-flats, getting muddy along with their dogs is very good for him, she thinks. He loves it. The tortoise on the other hand leaps only round his glass case. His fondness for lettuce makes Granny think of Beatrix Potter -'Sir Ptolemy Tortoise brought his salad with him in a string bag'. (How accurate BP always was about her dressed-up animals, she thinks - broody ducks will lay their eggs in all kinds of stupid places, mice are busy, badgers smelly, kittens inquisitive, and so on. That's why they are never merely cute, like most story-book animals; in fact not cute ever.).

More illustrious visitors have been arriving on Granny's island lately, all from Spain. The Canarians don't much like the Spanish. They call them, disparagingly, 'los Peninsulares.' When you know that in the past, Canarians, along with Jews and Muslims, were not considered fit to be full Spanish citizens, this is hardly surprising. Nonetheless the Peninsulares do have their uses, especially when it's the Prime Minister and his family, raising the profile of the island - or so the islanders think. This time he is also promising that the Spanish oil company won't drill for oil off the coast of this island and its neighbour without Canarian agreement. Not that this means much, thinks Granny, cynically, knowing her locals - all the oilmen have to do is fund a few politicians' swimming-pools and they'll be able allowed to drill anywhere. (In the name, of course, of addressing the peak oil problem referred to by Link in a comment on Granny's last post.) The King of Spain is due to come here later this month with his family, spreading his favours round the island groups of Spain - though everyone knows the royal lot prefer Mallorca. While the Minister for Costas - coasts - much more significant - has already been and gone, on business not holiday, arriving in July before the August exodus which paralyses this island each year as it does the rest of Spanish territory. (Don't think to buy/build a house in August in Spain; there are no lawyers, no notaries, no builders working: nothing.)

Much as the Canarians may dislike the Spanish, everyone knows they have their uses, especially when it comes to the growing local backlash against developers. The Minister for Coasts had already been persuaded to make the national Environment Ministry buy up the piece of coast alongside the salt-flats - the only ones on the island - where the dogs play, as above - and where the spoonbills hang out - meaning that the threatened 6000 houses can never be built. This time, still better, he ordered the demolition of a large hotel built altogether illegally down south, overlooking a series of beaches by far the best on the island and located within an environmentally protected area, covering the beaches and the hinterland. Because the beaches are the best on the island, and much the prettiest, spread out in a series of coves along a mile or more of coast, and reached only by dirt roads, the developers, supported covertly by the local council have long had their greedy eyes on them. This hotel, Granny suspects, was seen as a Trojan horse, getting them in there. It sits just within the environmentally protected zone, at the recent far end of the local resort, which 20 years ago was a fishing- village consisting of two streets and a harbour. Even since she first saw it in 2001 the resort has doubled in size as the developers - abetted by the local authority handing out building licences here, there everywhere - used every excuse they could to evade the order of 'zero development' for as long as possible. The houses were necessary for workers, they and the council said, the hotel was to provide work for unemployed workers. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Looked at from the beaches, the hotel is an eyesore, ruining the once pristine vista of sea and sand-dunes, cliff and sand. But the owner of the finca on which it sits, the hotel business, the developers all benefited from it. As of course did the council; the previous mayor is in the prison for corruption already, as is his deputy. The present mayor, altogether cannier, is known to be on the take as much as any - probably more so - but to date he has managed to do it in ways not so easily detected.

Fortunately, the hotel not only contravenes local planning, it also contravenes the new orders by which Spain is at last trying to get grips with the despoilation of its coastlines. Outside the seaside resorts all buildings within a certain distance from the sea, together with the land around them, are subject to compulsory purchase and subsequently to demolition. This building fits well within the the order. The Ministry of the Environment will pay for the acquisition of the land. The local authority which issued the illegal licence in the first place will have to pay the 19 million euros it's going to cost to demolish the building and to restore the beach below and the clifftop to its former arid splendour. This means of course the local taxpayers will have to pay for it; to the detriment of already not very generous local services. (Most districts provide wheelchairs for the disabled, for instance; not this one.) You can be sure the politicians themselves won't suffer. They'll probably benefit rather, getting kickbacks from whatever demolition company wins the contract.

Still let's say a big thankyou to this visitor, the Minister for the Costas.

More, less welcome visitors to end with. Beloved last night found himself covered in mysterious mites. They didn't bite, they just ran all over him. Granny forbade him to come to bed until he'd showered thoroughily and put all his clothes in the wash.

In the morning Beloved googled mites on the internet. Seems there are millions of species: without an entomologist on the one hand, a microscope on the other, identifying this lot is virtually impossible. But he also googled a guaranteed mite remover, which is being sent for. Mites of any kind - with the possible exception of cheese mites - are not welcome visitors. Granny itches at mere thought of them, not even needing to suffer from the infestation that overtook her Beloved. The visiting summer cockroaches are quite bad enough - worse even -she's phobic when it comes to cockroaches. But at least there aren't many of them.

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