Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Beloved is back: for the moment. He has to go back to London for tests in a few weeks - nothing serious seems likely, but all has to be checked out. It's called ageing, that sort of thing. Granny has to be grateful, she supposes, that unlike him, unlike many of her friends, she has no such symptoms apart from the odd creak, she takes no battery of pills, no pills at all in fact other than the odd vitamin. She does have, of course, that fatal familial disease ever lurking in the background - she only has to touch the empty space on her right hand side to remind herself about that - if she's not reminded by the periodic itches from one or other part of the scar. On the whole she thinks she prefers this to the arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc, etc, the battery of pills. Especially as she's escaped the worst of the dread disease so far. Down at the swimming pool the other day she was wriggling under her towel, trying to dress herself without revealing all to the world, when a very jolly hockey-sticks English voice said 'I don't suppose anyone would mind if some bits did show.' 'It's not the bits that are there,' replied Granny, 'It's the scar where one bit was.' There was silence. 'Jolly bad luck,' the voice came back at last. Angela Brazil still lives, obviously, even down at La Santa sports centre. The madcap of Lanzarote was left to dress and go home in peace not a single bit revealed. ('Jolly good show.')

The return of Beloved reminds Granny of other semantic matters. When he cooks he shouts peremptorily, "Dishing-up,' and proceeds to dump the full plates on the table. Granny on the other hand cries, "Breakfast/lunch/dinner's ready,' and waits for him and whoever else to appear. She too can get cross if her call is ignored too long, her food allowed to spoil/get cold, but she does realise that sometimes sentences have to be finished, ablutions attended to etc etc before people can attend. She and Beloved discuss these distinctions, more or less amicably; so far no conclusion has been reached.

No serious rain here yet. The inadequate lot they have had was dried up by last weeks easterly winds and resultant heat wave. The locals wait to plant. The chickens don't lay. Oh well.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Granny is sad today. Via a comment on her final blog post, she has heard that the wonderful Dina Rabinovich who has been fighting so publicly and bravely against breast cancer died last night.

She had among other things set up an appeal to raise £100,000 towards a special breast cancer unit at Mount Vernon Hospital and had succeeded in getting nearly £68,000 already. The best possible memorial towards her would be if we managed between us to raise that final thirty odd thousand pounds so as to reach her target. If you want to donate go here. If you want to visit her blog click the link 'Dina's blog' to your right. And if you would publicise the appeal on your own blogs that would be more wonderful still.

Granny never met Dina, alas, though there had been plans for them to do so which came to nothing because of her illness. But Dina was the most generous and good of virtual friends and she is going to miss her a lot. Be generous. Please.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Well, Beloved left for England and Granny is on her own; and not feeling guilty at all for rather enjoying it. The kitchen is a thing of beauty without Beloved's cooking in it. As far as cooking is concerned, Beloved doesn't DO simple. Lone Granny happily does; enough said. Beloved now coming back next Tuesday, she will have to enjoy the thing of beauty while she can. She will. Oh she will.

A moral dilemma in waiting; this. During the week of the workshop a neighbour came in to clear up. Neighbour comes from the bottom of the drive and from a family that used to own this house. It fell to ruins after the grandfather died, when it had to be split around the family; a normal event here - hence the ruined houses everywhere. At least this family managed to agree sufficiently - if not soon enough to prevent its ruination - to sell this one to the Brits who did it up - and from whom Granny and Beloved bought it.

Neighbour walked into the house and looked round appraisingly. 'I was born in that room.' she said, pointing at Beloved's office, not the first place you'd imagine as a labour ward. 'And that was the kitchen,' she said pointing at the room then inhabited by the Russian/Chilean pair. She didn't seem to hold Granny's ownership against her, in fact she was quite happy to go round pointing out what parts of the house were new and which were not. She seemed happy too with what had been done to it - happy enough to say finally 'Are you going to sell it? Would you sell it to me?'

Granny and Beloved are not thinking of selling immediately. But the day will come when they are too decrepit to manage a place like this; Beloved thinks this will be sooner than Granny does, which is ironic since most of the additions - goats for instance - that make life so much more strenuous have been introduced by him, somewhat over Granny's not yet decrepit but in this instance pretty dead body. However when they do sell she can think of nothing better than selling it back to its proper owners. Only problem....can proper owners afford it? Prices have gone up here like everywhere else, and though this house with its 10,000 metres of mostly uncultivated land might not be the first choice of many of those well-heeled enough to buy something like it - most of those think sun/swimming-pools/close-by sandy beaches, etc, etc, not somewhere battered by wind and cloud and on the coldest part of the island, never mind the staggering views and the lack of tourists and expats which is the attraction for Granny and her Beloved - and though price does depend somewhat on demand, nevertheless a place of this size is worth rather more than a condo in a tourist unit down in a tourist town. Granny would happily sell it cheap; if some money fell on her like manna from heaven, she'd sell it cheap cheap cheap to her nice neighbours. Of course old houses on this island should belong to locals not incomers. But given the prices in England where they might have to go back to, they couldn't afford to sell it that cheap. Much as she'd like to.

Mr Jonah who knows about these things says people on this island sometimes have more money than you'd think; maybe that's the case here. Granny hopes so. She'd really love nice neighbours to have it - would sell it cheaper to them for sure. But how cheap?

She and Beloved will keep on exchanging tomatoes/bantams/Christmas goodies, etc with neighbours, in the meantime. And in due course, keep your fingers crossed, maybe a house will be added to the list.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Failure: or, conversations in Russian.

Last guests have finally departed: the Chilean wife now triumphantly asserting she can dive WITHOUT AN INSTRUCTOR- and will, shortly, have the certificate to prove it. Granny who has no desire to scuba dive, with or without an instructor - snorkelling will do her just fine, though in warmer waters than here - can only applaud, bemusedly; she does applaud. (Chilean wife is also a granny which makes it all the more admirable. Doesn't it?)

She got to approve of the couple, though; it has been an entertaining week. She does ponder the national stereotypes evoked by the different accents, in English, of different nationalities. The Russian accent in particular is such a parody it's hard to take the speaker seriously until you get used to it. But the Russian - whose intelligence Beloved, grudgingly began to rate more highly as the week went on - turned out to have the most interesting history of all the visitors. OK, it's familiar, in some respects - but out of the horse's mouth, that's different...Brought up in Moscow as a fervent young pioneer, indoctrinated by Soviet propaganda, came to see communism as fascism under another name, got the hell out im 1981 under the dispensation offered to Jews to go to Israel. Not that this Jew wanted to go to Israel: most of them didn't. They just wanted out of the USSR. (And, anyway (in this Jew's view) the dispensation was only offered because the Russian leadership of the time wanted something out of the Americans.) So he ended up in America. Where he is, just like the Russian Jews in Israel, a bit of a hawk, security his no 1 issue in the upcoming presidential election. 'Bush should bomb Iran right now'... etc.

That's just one side; the rest seemed much more benign. Like so many Russians of his generation - what else did they get that wasn't propaganda? - this one was extremely well-read in Russian literature; also very musical, having sung in a succession of Russian Orthodox choirs; each time when presented with a crucifix - or two - to kiss, his obvious recoil would get him thrown out by some fuming, long-bearded priest, he had to move on to another one in need - all of them were in need - of good baritones. This mix of interests led to some interesting conversational confusions at the last-night dinner to which the guests treated Granny and Beloved down by the seashore, while the white waves caught the light in the darkness and an owl flew past. Beloved, sitting on one side of the table, would discuss science/philosophy with the Russian, while Granny looked blank on the other. Next minute Granny and the Russian would be discussing Shostakovitch or Dostoyevsky while Beloved looking blank in his turn did his best to superimpose some science. In betweenwhiles the two Grannies discussed their grandchildren. It was an archetypal example of what Granny was told once was archetypal Russian conversation -the sublime and the ridiculous and/or trivial - the samovar and God, scuba-diving and consciousness, science and lobsters in consecutive sentences. And oh yes, the samovar did get discussed; really. And the glasses out of which the tea was drunk and the metal holders they came in, one version of which seemed to be the equivalent of the madeleine for the Russian, making him very nostalgic. Even the seemingly anorexic Chilean forgot herself so far as to eat quite a lot, ending with the ' postres' - desserts -which she said was all she really wanted. Unless anorexia can come with an addiction to sugar maybe she isn't an anorexic really. Just a non-eater; her husband the size of two or three of her could eat her all up; easily.

But now they've gone, bearing gifts for the Chilean's grandchildren; the only sign of their presence, apart from the breakfast dishes and the dirty laundry, are the boxes in which the gifts came - this granny didn't want them for some reason. 'Use them for your Christmas presents,' she urged. Well, possibly. The house seems empty and the one thing between Granny and the work she should be doing now is her lack of willpower. The washing/cleaning/washing-up seems a pleasanter prospect; really. Getting back into a book she will tell you is MUCH WORSE than starting one. She prefers to write here and to reflect on the mental, semantic possibly neurological confusions of husband and wife each born to a language neither of the other knows and conversing from those different linguistic, semantic, cultural backgrounds in yet a third language. 'Darlink.' Etc. It could lead to many misunderstandings. Or maybe, just possibly, it's helpful. A lot of marriages founder - don't they? -on an unmet expectation of mutual understanding. If linguistic distance means mutual understanding is linguistically out of the question, it might even relieve the partners of all that. In the same way as Granny and Beloved are relieved of it by their unmediated, mutually incomprehensible intellectual languages - so just get on with being happily different. And talking about samovars, metaphorically speaking. Or things like that.

Beloved goes to London next week for a medical check-up. Granny will be her own then and have no excuse whatever; not even her present one of working on the new MAC desktop, bought for internet access in the kitchen, on which she cannot load her Office for MAC for 2004, for some reason, meaning she can't write Going Mental on it, nor upload Going Mental here. To do that she has to go back to her laptop, which cannot be connected to the Internet while the desktop is connected as she's also totally failed to load their wireless system onto it. Telefonica has as much difficulty in speaking to MAC equipment as Granny currently has in speaking to her left-in-mid-stream M/S. Excuses, excuses. But useful.

It's been raining - a little earlier than it usually does here in the autumn. It's colder. Winter in its rather milder form than elsewhere is on its way. Even here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Of Mice and (Wo)Men

Slowly, slowly, Granny surfaces from not quite terminal exhaustion, breasting her way to some kind of mental equilibrium, if not anything you might recognise as alacrity, let alone sparkle. The workshop, though over, still lingers - not just in terms of washing/clearing up. etc, but, literally, in the form of ponderous Russian participant with exercise-fanatic Chilean psychiatrist wife (he addresses her as 'darlink', very sweetly) who have stayed on till Friday to scuba dive. Not on Granny and Beloved's land, naturally. Each morning at 8.30 they breakfast on cheese, bread and coffee, at 9 they depart for the coast, returning in the evening to drink brandy in the company of Beloved (him) retire exhausted to bed (her - apart from being an exerciser, she doesn't eat much; go figure: maybe she could use some of her own psychiatric services.) Beloved complains the Russian is the least intelligent of the participants and wishes he was one of the others. Granny points out - tartly - that the man is discussing complicated issues (very) in a language not his own - his language not even an Indo-European one - and in a subject not originally his own either (he trained as a physicist) and that Beloved himself should be so intelligent. This almost silences him, but not quite. Granny does not take part in the discussions, intelligently or otherwise. She is too busy sorting out the house after last week's influx: the pile of washing is almost as tall as she is. (OK, she's a midget: but. Enough is enough.)

It all went well; or seemed to. The food - of course - for between 19 and 24 people - was magnificent. Granny cannot take all the credit - at least half went to her beloved Lucy (yes the one she met in those extraordinary circumstances: if that means nothing to you go here) who was the kitchen partner from heaven, and not just as a superb cook. There are two kinds of women: those who walk into a chaotic kitchen and reduce it instantly to order; those who walk into an ordered one and reduce it instantly to chaos. She'll leave you to guess which was which in this case. Enough to say that thanks to her - and to the wonderful neighbour who came in to clear up every afternoon- chaos was only ever in passing: and that every meal appeared on time more or less and was seen to be good. It was even sometimes seen to be good by the neuro-chemist participant who has demonstrated that rats actually show pleasure by laughing ('vocalising' in scientist-speak) but whose own gastronomic pleasure previously appeared to exist solely in the products of Macdonalds. He confessed to having had more new culinary experiences in one week than in his whole life. (A few of them an experience too far judging by the almost full plate that reappeared in the kitchen.) He did smile as he said it. A bit like the rats.

Academics really are an odd lot. Apart from most of these being partnered by someone from another nationality - Americans with Chinese or Spanish, Norwegian with Mexican or German, English with Greek, many worked hundreds of miles apart from the partner of the same nationality or not. The pair of Greeks, though, one of whom worked in Crete, the other in the Midwest are about to change that; the poor woman was heading for her first winter in Iowa. Both of them are in fact not only Greek but Cretan: she even has the dark curly hair and the profile of those on the walls at Knossos: all very intriguing and rather beautiful, but an oddity in Iowa, Granny thinks; she has read her Bill Bryson.

The other Greek woman, the depressed one, afraid of mice, did not have such a profile. Phobic or not, she cheered up considerably once the sun came out and the wind dropped, once the scientists started discoursing and the meals started appearing. As for the mice themselves... well there was one lurking in the conference/dining room, judging by the persistent excitement of the Tiresome Terrier; who was removed at once. But terriers being at least as persistent as mice if not more so, she reappeared through the other door. And was removed again; to appear, again, and then again and then again, amid the smothered hilarity of those who knew about the problem. The Russian never got it. 'What's the matter with that dog?' he kept enquiring in his almost parody of a Russian accent. 'Oh, she's just excitable, that's all,' Beloved or Granny or Lucy would say, chasing TT out for the third, fourth, fifth time. She had to be tied up in the end. Since the mouse-phobic lady never got it either - nor, fortunately, did the mouse - the cartoon scene of screaming woman on chair while serious scientist prated on about neuro receptors or Socrates (this was a very wide-ranging workshop) complete with power-point slides, some of them ritually joky, was avoided. Pity really.

What else? Too much to say, much too much, so Granny won't, except to add that she and Lucy did get some playtime. They went to the beach once and down to the mudflats to exercise the beautiful wimp and look at birds, several times. Granny's most beloved and rare spoonbill has reappeared. Huzza to that. Lucy loved him almost as much a Granny does; though he does seem as much a parody of himself as the Russian's accent is of him; birds with extra-big bills are like that.

And now Granny has to get back - despite the piles of dirty towels/sheets/duvet covers - to her real work. Her agent wants her to produce a full draft of Going Mental by the London Book Fair in March. (Though she is not that hopeful of selling it in the present publishing climate, it's encouraging she wants to try.) Granny will try and get another episode up here in another day or two. The sun is shining, the land delicious, she really could think of better things to do; but you know how it is with writers... (Lucky you if you don't.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

croc(k)ed cooks

Granny and Lucy cook in crocs - except Granny's are cheapo version from Shepherd's Bush market. 'geckos' officially, but what the hell - Granny's orange, Lucy's pink. They are turning out spectacular food - even the French approve - but are crocked - otherwise known as exhausted. 3 more lunches to go. Granny will recount mouse sagas, etc, next time. If you can wait. (But you're going to have to...) xxx till next week.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

United Nations

Ah well, the scientists are into their scientific rituals. Statutory jokes and polite clappings and murmuring speakers + powerpoint. Granny and her friend Lucy meantime cook on the other side of the curtain. It's the United Nations here - (some nations via the US). Russian, Greek, Norweigen (can't spell it), French, Chinese, Spanish. English, US. One - Greek - wife of British scientist very depressed and afraid of mice - difficult here. Same wife also inclined to blame hosts and husband for weather having turned cloudy and windy. Three French got grounded by sick pilot and arrived five hours late. One Yank booked to Gran Canaria by mistake, instead of Lanzarote. Etc. Etc. Etc. Granny, with Lucy's help, just keeps on cooking. When not trying to find out about scuba diving on the island or how to get to Morocco. (Inquisitive people, guests.) Exhausted anyway. Though it's good to know that 20 people ate lunch and FOUND IT GOOD. (Smoked salmon salad, semolina gnocchi with Piedmontese peppers, figs cooked in Malaga wine with mascarpone.) Tomorrow's chicken is cooking right now.

So to her hammock.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Clean clean clean, cook cook cook, shop shop shop, drive drive... (Beloved forgot about MOT on his truck till this week, just imagine - entails much driving too and from garage. GROWL.) Granny's life just now - do you want to hear about it, detail by detail? - surely not. Granny doesn't want to write about it either. She doesn't have time to write about it. Though she will tell you she made two ricotta, lemon and almond cakes yesterday - River Cafe recipes - yummy; now safely in freezer - ditto some mango ice cream. Shopping enlivened by trip into hills to buy seven week old lamb for the barbecue with which visiting scientists will be entertained. And made harder by the fact that all the good supermarkets on the island have been gobbled up by downmarket chain owned by a local Mr Big, which sells a quarter of the vegetables (many of them in plastic packages) and a much reduced line of goods generally. This makes various items hard to find - fact that logo of said chain is a smiling cartoon dinosaur just about sums things up. 'What prices!!" It screams. Yeah yeah yeah.

Other odd fact - Granny was down on the land picking pimientoes for one dish next week early this morning, displacing the birds their little smallholding feeds - a pair of hoopoes, ditto turtledoves, a covey of partridges - when she noticed how many flowers there are around; some marigolds, wild geraniums, some equivalent of birdsfoot trefoil - unheard of at this time of year when everything else is brown and burnt. They've had rain this summer, that's why, also unheard of. Good for the vegetables, though - and those that feed on them; which included this morning two brown pullets and a black bantam which had got in there somehow and had to be chased out. What fun. BACK TO WORK.

Monday, October 01, 2007

50 years ago

Granny is back on Lanzarote, looking out at sun and sea. Her feet last week barely touched ground, what with visits to/meetings with family, friends, shopping for unobtainable food here (large amounts of dark fairtrade (of course) chocolate...not just she's a chocoholic, she is, but there are chocolate cakes to make for Beloved's workshop) shopping for the odd garment, going to the theatre (twice) etc etc etc. Back here everything is gearing up for Beloved's scientific workshop, scheduled to start next week. To begin with Granny is trying to locate necessary tools, clothes etc, secreted away by her Beloved who calls it tidying. (Actually she does just the same to him when left on her own; it's called living with someone. So she can't complain, really.)

But the main purpose of her visit to ever colder London (wonderfully hot and sunny here: good) was to go to a reunion of her old school; something she has never done, nor ever wanted to do before. To find out what has happened to people since she saw them last - 50 years ago - even to uncongenial people - was/is fascinating; some had changed utterly; some have become what you could see they would become even when they were little girls. Weird that. As was some of the gossip she acquired about a few of them, about a few of their past teachers. (Granny would love to put that up here, but as some of it was pretty libelous and she is no longer anonymous, better not, probably.)

But this wasn't the only reason, she went. Granny had better explain about her school. It was a small boarding-school and posh. Very posh. Its ex-pupils distinctively so, in many cases - standing on Charing X station on Saturday morning, Granny saw a small group of middle-aged women waiting on the platform with her. She headed towards them: 'Are you?...' she asked. They were, albeit about 20 years younger than she was. Unmistakeable, like she said.

(The school was also, in Granny's day, the fifties, largely staffed by some of the two million or so women left husbandless because of the First World War; two maths mistresses, a geography teacher, a French teacher among others. Even then, Granny thought it was unfair how such middle-aged women were looked down on: as 'spinsters', as 'teachers' - 'don't become a teacher,' Granny's father begged her - what were the poor women supposed to do in the circumstances? Knit?)

But that was normal enough for schools in mid- twentieth century. What became much more distinctive about this school, later, was/ is that it was the school Princess Diana went to. The ghost of Diana, of course, did not attend the reunion - nor did her sisters. But her headmistress was there -she was the Latin mistress in Granny's day and a splendid woman now living in sin - as she put it herself, with the widowed father of an ex-pupil - 'you and I' both she said giggling, when Granny explained about her own Beloved. Wonderful how the dialogue between pupil and teacher evolves over the years. After this headmistress retired the school couldn't cope with the publicity dumped on it by the Diana phenomenon and folded the same year as the People's Princess died. It is now owned by Mohammed al Fayed and sorts out problem/abused/mentally ill/physically disabled children; the kind of children who, not given chances like this would end up in places like Oak View. It is a wonderful place.

Granny is rather more in favour of this school than she was of the old one, inverted snob as she is. Not, herself, one of its typical alumni, she sent her children to comprehensive state schools, didn't she? Another a-typical product was/is that very interesting actress, Tilda Swinton, White Witch of the North, and currently appearing in Michael Clayton, who once spent a week sleeping in a glass case at the Serpentine Gallery, as part of an art exhibition: this was not a common career move for anyone from Granny's old school.

There's another aspect to this school, though, which might interest some of you more - in an another uncommon career move, Granny stole it and some of its pupils besides, moved them lock, stock and barrel to the banks of the Thames at Isleworth and put them all into Charlotte Sometimes. Several of these characters turned up at the school reunion. Granny did NOT tell them she had used them so rudely. She did however take pictures of the cedar tree, an important feature of the book, of the front door, also featured, and of the glass verandah she crawled out onto and BROKE (an incident which went into the book straight, pretty much.) She forgot to take her camera, alas, so had to borrow Beloved Son's. He will email the pictures to her, when he has time. She will put them up here, she promises.

Nostalgia fest, all round. Here was the classroom in which Granny wrote her first published stories, here the one where the school inspector sat down next to her, and thereafter insisted to her headmistress she had to go to university (an event, which, via the headmistress and her mother finally bore down on her father - who did not believe in university education for women - and got her into Oxford, thereby transforming her life.) Here, too, was the oak-panelled room in which Charlotte sat down for breakfast - here the passages she heard footsteps running down - all carpeted now - so on and so forth. Here this, here that, part of Charlotte's life, part of Granny's life and imagination, still to be seen, all these years later. (And looking much smaller. Of course.)

Life is short, isn't it? Well that's Granny's cliche for the day. She will be very busy for the next two weeks; she will attend to this place as she can, but not very fully and not very often. To work, to work. 'Sta luego.'

Click Here