Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

vanity and other matters

Granny and Beloved have had no water this weekend: sludge at the bottom of their aljibe (water storage tank to you) which was making their water stink has been cleared out by Mr Handsome and his son-in-law. Along with sludge came inadequate concrete base put in by those who restored the house. Mr Handsome wants to replace it with more adequate one. But this might take some time to do and Beloved's Beloved Daughter and family are arriving in less than a week: to have the aljibe out of action and the place waterless is not an option. Granny and Beloved are also of the opinion that as the previous occupants would have used the aljibe perfectly satisfactorily for getting on for 200 years and maybe even more, without benefit of concrete, it might as well stay that way, never mind the odd dead lizard lurking in the remaining sludge; etc etc. You don't drink this water, so it shouldn't matter. Mr Handsome who is entitled to his opinion does not agree. But Beloved's will prevailed so B'sBD and family will not be in danger of having to swill out loos with buckets of water etc etc. The aljibe is being filled up as she speaks.

The family will also be to take showers, as Granny and Beloved have not been able to do over the past few days. Granny bewailed this a little. She likes washing her hair before going out to dinner. If she doesn't wash and dry it frequently it stands on end.

'Who minds about that?' asks Beloved,

'I do,' says Granny.

'Why do you?' asks Beloved. Such vanity is quite beyond him. Though Granny did point out that when he can be persuaded out of his torn knees pants and ancient sagging t-shirts, he does have some quite nice clothes. So he must mind a bit what he looks like when dressed-up (by his standards, recognising that for him smart informal = clean t-shirt, formal = new t-shirt); meaning he does have a little vanity lurking somewhere.

Granny washed her hair using the cold water stored in the bath, so that was alright if not exactly sybaritic; never mind. Her hair didn't stick up on end, anyway.

Meantime she's busy, making up beds, trying to restore order all over the house. She's off back to the UK tonight; Beloved - who had been warned not to restore disorder in the meantime - will join her on Thursday (he claims the disorder is all hers, but let them agree to differ on that one.) Then they are off on a very brief holiday. Granny will put up another chapter of Going Mental from London, possibly a second one later, but she suspects that posts will be few on the ground for the next two weeks. Goodbye till then.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Granny in person

This is by special request of Pat... As is also the piece; which the Guardian itself didn't give her for some reason... It is not the picture they put in the Guardian by the way; that was a fierce close-up showing every wrinkle....

The intro to this was NOT written by me. All the rest was, rather expanded from the original blog post.

First person
Out of grief, a miracle

Two women tending dying loved ones exchanged looks in a hospital ward but did not speak. Weeks later, both mourning, they met in the street and fell into a spontaneous embrace. Penelope Farmer tells how this chance encounter led to a friendship that would change both their lives for ever

Monday August 13, 2007
The Guardian

Sixteen years ago my twin sister lay dying in a hospital in Oxford. She had terminal breast cancer, and a month or so before had been given three or four months to live. But her cancer was in a hurry. When I went down to tend her one day I found her sitting with her head in her hands. A migraine, we agreed hopefully. But it was not a migraine. Thirty-six hours later she was back in hospital; the headache was caused by a tumour - the cancer had spread to her brain.

In theory my sister had been booked into a hospice. But given the speed of her decline and the fact that she knew many of the staff on the radio/chemotherapy ward, it was decided to let her stay there: she was dying and soon she was in no doubt. For me it meant a week of traipsing up and down the M40 from London in perfect spring weather, lambs jumping up in the fields.

Life stopped otherwise. It had to. Two years earlier, a little before my sister fell ill, I had started making a garden from scratch, haunting garden centres, choosing and planting bulbs and shrubs. Watering them, adding new ones, watching them grow, became my therapy throughout my twin's illness. Now I didn't have time to enter the garden, let alone work on it.

Unusually there was another dying woman on the ward. She was put next to my twin, a mere curtain between them, sometimes not even that. My family tends to the tribal; son, daughter, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, an aged dad, an unlikely husband, troupes of friends. Sundry and various duly traipsed in and out. The other dying woman's family, on the other hand, consisted mainly of two young women, one very pregnant, and both with long curly hair. They too came in and out and sat with their mother as often as I sat with my sister: that is, much of the time. We looked at each other and smiled now and then, otherwise we exchanged not a word.

Those who have been with someone who is dying will know that it is a terrible, at times wondrous experience; that it feels like connection to some essential, primal force - one always there, but mostly unfelt, unacknowledged. Life outside it, by comparison, looks more like being plugged into something as trivial as a Gameboy; it is as cut off from you as you are cut off from it. The two young women and I, all connected to that force, sharing it in a sense, did not need to speak. We speculated about them. They speculated about us - they were bound to, various as our family was and is. On both sides we knew everything, yet nothing.

Things took their course. My sister fell into a coma. All day I sat by her side, time slowed to the rate of her painful breath; waiting for each breath; expecting any one to be the last. But on it went, breath after breath after breath. Her children came. Mine came. My sister's two closest friends came. Now and then we went and sat outside in the sun and consoled each other, feeling as close as a family can ever feel: another- but more benign - effect of death. Eventually, a week after she had arrived in hospital, with her daughter holding one hand and I the other, both of us telling her we loved her, my sister's breath ceased.

I did not see the two young women again. They arrived that night to see their mother. I heard them behind me as I stood at a window in the corridor looking out at the night. I saw their reflections in the window but I did not turn round; I could not bear to. "I'll see them in the morning," I thought.

But when I came back as I had to, to deal with the essential business connected to death, they were not there; they did not come. And by the time I went back to the hospital 10 days or so later to thank the wonderful nurses, both beds were empty. I was told that Helena - the other dying woman's name - had died two days after my sister. That was that, I thought. I would never see the young women again, those two with whom we had shared everything, in one sense, throughout that painful week. I was sorry about it, but not surprised. It's just the way things are.

More terrible weeks passed. All deaths traumatise families, but the repercussions of my twin's death were worse than most; she was barely 50, her children not much more than teenagers, her second husband very recent and not their father. I attempted vainly to pick up some of the pieces, without getting anywhere much. I couldn't sleep, nor could I work. I was becoming - or so it felt -ever more distraught.

I lived then in a house next to Ravenscourt Park station in west London, overlooking the park. One morning, six weeks or so after my sister died, I was walking down the street parallel to it, when I saw a young woman coming towards me, her hair cropped close to her head. She looked familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. The nearer she got, the more familiar she seemed. We walked right up to each other and as we did she spoke. "Aren't you Judith's sister?" she asked. And then I recognised her too; the younger of the two women whom I had known so intimately over that week, who had known us so intimately. She had cut her hair off: that was the only difference. "Yes," I said. And we stood in the middle of the pavement hugging each other, crying - I'm almost crying now, again, writing this. Anyone else coming down the street had to step into the road to pass us. I don't know how long we stood there. For a long time, I think.

Only when we had disentangled ourselves could we begin to work out the miracle of coincidence that had brought us to that desperate, yet comforting embrace. Lucy's mother, Helena, came from Guildford: she was in hospital in Oxford only because the older (then pregnant) sister - by now she had given birth to a little girl - lived there. That was the first thing. The second was that three months before her death, before she knew she was ill, Helena had decided she was tired of Guildford. She had bought a charming little three-storey late 18th-century house in the otherwise quite industrial street down which I had been walking. Now it belonged to Lucy, my friend; she and her boyfriend were doing it up. They were almost ready to move in.

Lucy and I have been friends - the nearest thing to family that isn't - ever since; living in parallel streets, we were endlessly in and out of each other's houses. We drank umpteen cups of coffee and got mildly drunk a time or two - or I did. We went out to lunch sometimes and we still do. After a year or so Lucy married her boyfriend, Justin, and I went to their wedding. When my own marriage broke up three years later, Lucy was on hand to comfort me.

She and Justin had always loved my house and the garden I had made for it. After my marriage break-up they bought my house and I - a midnight inspiration - bought theirs. As soon as the move was confirmed, Lucy became pregnant with her first child, my goddaughter, now a 10-year-old whom, in April this year, I took down to the coast of Lanzarote, where I now live, and into a yellow submarine that plunged us to the depths to look at fish.

Leaving London with my new partner has made no difference to my friendship with Lucy. I return to London often, and it would be as unthinkable not to spend time with her and her family during those visits as it would be to keep away from my own two children and their families. Lucy's two girls feel as much a part of my life as real grandchildren, and almost as much of a privilege.

The family still lives in my old house. I have stayed there a couple of times. After an operation a couple of years ago it was Lucy who brought me home and tended me for a day or two, before I was fit to go to my daughter's in Bristol. Lying in bed then, hearing the trains go past, still knowing instantly which were Piccadilly line ones and which the more ponderous District, it felt as though nothing had changed.

Outside, my beloved garden, like the house, has seen many adaptations to make it a family affair, yet there are still traces of the garden I made all those years ago. The fig tree I planted survived a move from one side of the garden to the other and is now bearing figs. A pair of weeping silver pears carry on weeping. A green bay tree flourishes as a green bay tree should, and the clematis armandii flowers on the back wall of the house every spring. As for Lucy's mother's house which I lived in happily for a while, I sold it to my best and oldest friend when I moved to Lanzarote; she has just sold it to her daughter. It remains a family affair.

Grief happens - and never goes away entirely; why should it? But miracles happen too. Like this one, like primroses springing up in a graveyard.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Loco, locissimo

Brief update. Granny's piece is in the Guardian this morning. Very appropriately - given the subject - it is August 13th which is the date of two relevant - in the light of the article - birthdays: that of long-dead mother, on the one hand, and Lucy's youngest daughter on the other. You may have seen a version of this story before here: but you can see it again if you're interested here. (She did not write the intro by the way: she could have done without that...)

Well well. It NEVER rains here in summer. But on Wednesday, guess what, a monsoon. Leaky roof, disappeared satellite, just when the payoff on the telly was about to be revealed. (No, Granny will not reveal the trash she was watching at the time; this is summer, darlings, holiday time, she is allowed trash.) Now all is steamy and the wind is down, at least. Day after the storm appeared a rather glamorous young photographer from Tenerife in orange-striped harem pants and orange sandals. Her Spanish was much easier to understand than the local version. 'Where's the sun?' she asked looking at the lurking cloud and water-darkened land. Then she made granny play not so glamour model all round the house and garden and never made her say 'cheese' once. The photo is to go with an article by Granny in the Guardian - based on the post she wrote about meeting her friend Lucy. Article in theory should run on Monday; but you know the Guardian; always changing its mind as well as its spelling. (This latter is probably unfair these days. But once a reputation, you know..)

Photographs - oh the wonder of email - have already appeared; they're good. Short of making her look younger (not possible) Granny can just about bear looking like she does in most of them.

Granny to Beloved. 'Why does any photograph you take make me think 'Omigod can that old bag really be me?' Whereas these..'

Beloved to Granny. 'That's why she's a professional, of course..'

Granny still can't quite understand it. You just point a camera don't you... and it's the same person in front of it, whether camera is pro or am, the same light, the same room or landscape... Mysterioso. Not to say loco.

Granny is proposing to buy some photographs at vast expense. Maybe she'll put one up here. Let's hope that one day soon she'll have something more (one of the books she's writing? - she should be so lucky) to publicise - that's when people ask for photographs, just as the Guardian did. If not at least her family will have something to remember her by. Assuming they want something to remember her by. You'd have to ask them about that.

Meantime it's the usual summer thing: all Spanish functionaries -don't THINK of carrying out any bureaucratic or legal transaction - almost everyone else too - including many fellow bloggers - disappear, stop working: except Granny, of course, this summer, who moves from euphoria about what she's writing to despair. How to do it. HOW? What about this hole in the plot? What about that? How to stop this part of the narrative or that part sagging? Oh dear. Bugger it. BLOODY HELL.

Bug continues bugging her, a bit, but not a lot. This is the weekend of the Demon Botanist- he is coming to visit plus Danish girlfriend and Danish girlfriend's reportedly somewhat nutty brother - and can't eat anything with onion or garlic....Granny will set Beloved to that one maybe. They can't afford to poison Demon Botanist- apart from anything else his garden is full of enchanting little green frogs and where else can you find such things on this - usually - dry island. The DB helpfully suggests Granny and Beloved put a water feature in their garden if they want frogs. But along with frogs come mosquitoes don't they? And anyway Granny is too busy writing, and Beloved too busy inventing something. It's all go here, even among the bantams - they keep on reproducing, Eight young ones now going cheep cheep cheep. (Anyone fancy one? Or two? Or three?) While all round today the grape-pickers are out, getting their grapes in presumably before the next heatwave comes along to ruin them. (Too late, alas, for the delicious moscatels the best of the lot. They were burnt to a frazzle two weeks ago, which means that this year there won't be any of the wonderful moscatel raisins they sell here either. Pity.)

Retirement? Summer holidays? What are those about? Granny's quite forgotten.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Granny has a live-in virus. Most of the time it uses her to kip in, she doesn't know it's there. Hullo bug, she shouts. Snore, snore. Good. But every now and then it wakes up, stretches, yawns, goes for a little stroll. She wakes up sweating in the night, her throat hurts a bit, her head aches a bit, her gut feels heavy. Nothing very much you know, nothing to complain about really, but it does give her the excuse to retire to her sofa for the day - to read something unworthy of her? - well no, actually. It's ALL worthy of her. Yesterday it was a book called The Fire Engine that Disappeared. Or something like that - a police procedural novel, one of a series written in the 60's by a Swedish pair which she liked very much. (Sorry for no more details but book is upstairs, she is downstairs and she is NOT moving. SO THERE.)

She's better today, mostly. She is about to embark on her next chapter. Weather sucks, as they say, it sucks in these parts, anyway. Excessive heat has disappeared. (Good.) Wind remains. (Bad.) Heavy cloud is back. (Ditto.) Only really happy bunnies round here - metaphorically speaking as actually she does know we're talking avian here - is the black bantam hen to the left of the door to the patio and her chicks, now five altogether. Two of the chicks are black bantam's own - the other two fell into the hole she'd dug last week to keep herself cool, and suffocated under the sand that proceeded to fall on them; hence the removal of the rest up to the house, to the little hencoop outside the door. The other three, three times their size, are common or garden brownish chicken chicks, much the same age and acquired from the useful animal feed shop by Mr Handsome from Blackburn. They would have been incubated chicks, so never known a mother. But they know now. Somehow the little black hen manages to gather the whole lot of them under her breast or under her wings. She looks swollen; the contented babies peer out from her wings, cheeping a little. It's all very sweet. And so brief. Any minute now they'll all be scraggy adolescents like the pair of black pullets down on the land. So it goes.

Apart from which the two film giants whose work Granny used to sneak off to see at the Scala Cinema in Oxford when she should have had her nose to books, the two who introduced her to film, more or less, Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonioni, both died last week. Granny persuaded Beloved, not a film man, to watch The Seventh Seal in consequence and even he was a little impressed, though complaining the chess game in it wasn't the real thing - Granny had enticed him in to watching it via the chess game. Granny herself was as impressed as ever, if not more so, though she could now see its fifties edge - and its echoes of other film-makers. And, too, that Bergman does not do 'light touch.' But so what.

She saw an interview with him lately, in which he reported that he walked every morning first thing, because 'the demons like you to stay in bed with cold feet.' True. She hoped it would inspire her to leap out of bed every morning and to deal with her own demons that way: it didn't. And now, this very moment, she is keeping them at bay by writing this instead of tending to her next chapter. Oh the horror, the terror, of that dangerously empty page/computer screen. Her bug back to sleep again, more or less, she no longer has any excuse not to confront this version of her demons, and with the cloud louring and the wind blowing is not tempted outside to any kind of healthy walk. And though she now knows - via the Guardian this morning - that Henning Mankell, another favourite if gloomy Swedish hero, another writer of definitely worthy police procedural novels, was, very appropriately, Ingmar's son-in-law, there isn't one book in the house by him she hasn't read, she can't retire with any of his instead of getting down to her own. So she hasn't any excuses, none whatever. PITY. PITY. PITY.

She will warm her feet under her desk and start writing. THIS MOMENT. Ta ra for now. xxx

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fire/not fire

A quick note, after anxious enquiries from several quarters. No forest fires here. No forests - there can't be forests without much in the way of trees. The heat - now somewhat abated - didn't do much for plants; local wine-makers are complaining that their grapes are getting burnt, and all their other vegetables if they have them. As for Granny's place: one hen looks a bit sick with it, two bantam chicks fell into dust holes dug by their cool-seeking mother and suffocated; but that was about the sum of things Tenerife and Gran Canaria, the wet, so tree-full islands, had a much worse time of it. Poor them.

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