Wednesday, 31 August 2005


I've finally finished. Its taken me months. I've forgotten how to write them and I have no idea what they should be like (I've had to hand them both in without having either back so have no point of reference). Still I can think about something else now.

Friday, 26 August 2005

Retirement Leaving Do

Work leaving dos. Funny things. Retiring is another strange thing. Can't imagine what it must be like to wake up the day after leaving a job you've worked in for 20 years and realise that you have nothing to do today. Must be strange. Unless of course its like a great weight lifted.

Librarians - often quiet people. I'm not naturally a quiet person. I don't wear grey cardigans and glasses. Oh no. Actually I do wear glasses. I try to steer clear of cardigans though.

I've got a head full of stereotypes and I've worked with librarians for years. They are not all true but sometimes slightly. Tonight there were some definite librarian-types about.

My boss was a librarian and he's just retired. The do was in one of the libraries. Nobody did the music, which was sort of a shame. But the food and drink was plentiful. In the speaches one of his colleagues made a joke about his favourite colour being beige. They even baked him a beige cake. There were lots of long bobs with fringes, some dodgy dentistry and some not-terribly-modern-glasses but nobody had resorted to spectacle chains.

I used to work with a librarian who had been demoted after he threw a telephone at a colleague in a fit of rage. He was moved to another site. He wore the same sweater for a whole year. It had a hole in it slightly off centre toward the bottom. And when he got stressed he put his finger in his mouth and bit down on his knuckle. Funny though, when on form. The woman he threw the phone at was also a librarian - spiteful and bossy, would sit in the office and fart silently but deadly enough to evacuate the room. Then there was the woman who I was certain did her makeup on the train because it was usually all over the place, until one day I got into work early and bumped into her in the ladies leaning over the sink to see into the mirror and still making a absolute mess. Oh and the woman who's ambition was to be a librarian from the age of 11. I always struggled with the thought of what do you do when you've achieved all your ambitions?

(With apologies to all librarians, especially the ones I know and love.)
Make Colour Art

Colour after Klein - more time wasting.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

The Dreaded Haircut

Hair salons fill me with dread. The thought of the mundane chat, hot chemically smells and fashion victim divas trolling around means it takes a good couple of weeks to build up to making an appointment and that will be several weeks over the time they always tell you to come back.

I blame it on my mother's hairdresser. She was called Elaine and left the salon we used to set up her own business where she visited her clients at home. She had a huge afro perm which she had worn since the 70s - days of Hair the musical (which is having a comeback incidentally). Anyway Elaine once said I was looking terribly old fashioned (during my pink phase in the early 90s), when actually I was early for the next round of mad colour (always a trend setter, in my own mind). Style fascist. So I avoided salons for a good long period.

I either cut it myself (never a wise move but since it was pink and scrunched to a straw-like crispiness it probably didn't matter too much) and after that I let it grow.

Finally, when I was in the world of real work I went back to the hairdressers and sported a short cropped number which meant I had to go back every six weeks to maintain its sharpness. I never really settled on a favourite salon so instead would look for a salon with an on-the-spot appointment so I didn't have the time to worry about it. And some disastrous haircuts came out of those pit stops. There were tears, and running home to wash it immeidately, and too much blow-dried puffiness.

Now its longer I only go when my split ends get so bad I'm in danger of cutting them off myself. I've been to Tony and Guy's in Islington twice now and despite its attempts at uber-cool I've actually come out with hair that I wouldn't mind going out in. Did have to engage in those uncomfortable conversations as the hairdryer roars (they ask you a question, you answer, they say pardon?). My hairstylist (that is, I believe, the preferred term) looked about 18 but apparently had been hairdressing for 10 years and was about to embark on a change of career - studying to become an optometrist.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Its been a long time

Since I...
...laughed so much my stomach hurt
...was having such a great time I forgot to go home and the sun came up
...shrugged the weight of the world off my shoulders
...went to a hot country for pleasure
...saw a great movie
...wrote a poem
...was truly inspired
...felt warm sea water

I'm having a bit of a time at the moment feeling stuck. Its sort of inhabiting my brain and my physical self. Like walking through treacle. Or stodge in the belly.

Sunday, 21 August 2005


A wedding party spills out of the Town Hall. We watch from our vantage point across the street behind the bars of pub's garden.

The bride is in cream lace, the bridesmaid in a matching mauve satin. One of the men was attempting to outdress the bride in a powder-blue flared suit and a cowboy hat. They threw some confetti and then arranged themselves for the photographer, who rushed around pointing (purple teeshirt and long greying hair).

Gradually the party dispersed on the way to the reception. Powder-blue suit went off to collect his beaten up red BMW. Bridesmaid and several members of the party piled in and he drove off. The only person left was the bride. Who then ran off round the corner, presumably to get into the wedding car with the groom.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Txt Journey

Rain spatters on the canal water by the Gainsborough Studios. Two women share a lingering kiss on the street corner oblivious to the drizzle. the plane trees are shedding their bark - the newly exposed wood yellow and green in the damp looks like giraffe skin. Passing by Clissold Park the funfare continues to be dreary despite the flashing lights and gaudy paintwork. Dog walker in a long green macintosh with an array of hounds in all sizes struggles to scoop the poop of one of her charges.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005


A little notice popped up on our intranet at work. I remember way back (I was thinking the 70s) going to visit this amazing tunnel of coloured light on the Southbank. Wearing a coloured cape, wondering around finding people lolling around on the floor, watching the colour of the walls affect the colour of the cape.

Toady at 7.00pm Dreamspace was very empty, its much larger than I remember - more like large cavern than interlocking bubbles. And Maurice Agis, the artist, was there with his family perhaps. Space, colour and light filled with the sounds of Stephen Montague.

Perhaps its because my memories of it are good but it isn't as awesome as it was back then - I want a little more. It reminds me of Anish Kapoor's huge Marsyas (in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern) and I want something as awesome as that. Its just that I notice the tiny tears in the fabric, and the footprints all over the surface in places like someone has run up the columns (although its probably the installers), and I'm acutely aware of the surface of the ground under the sculpture. But it is intriguing all the same, and if you haven't been before its worth a visit.

Afterwards I strolled along to London Bridge and came across the Earth from the Air pictures up against the fence of a building site. Truely awesome.

So I looked at them for a while and listened to a band playing summer soul with a sound reminiscent of the Brand New Heavies called the AllStars (according to More London). All thoroughly summer evening.

Sunday, 14 August 2005


I saw two films this weekend - good and bad.

Waiting for the bus on the way home from Crouch End, the road all reflective from rain. A gang (not literally) of tarty girls fell in through the door of the kebab shop, crowded around the counter chatting to the bloke as he made them a couple of bags of chips. Hair all back-combed at the back, smoothed at the front, with small braided sections. A carload of chaps pulled up suddenly on spying them through the window and rushed in for a bit of a mingle. One lad loitering in the doorway long enough to get a hug and a kiss off two of the girls as they clattered out and rushed off the catch the 41 bus further into town.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

The Runny Jam Traumas

One of the delights of visiting the grandparents used to be their raspberry canes. August. Huge fat juicy rasps ripened to perfection in the Highland hills, lots of rain. Fighting midgies to pick enough for pudding with ice cream - 15 minutes - before you could stand it no longer. One of the better chores was the jam making. Big vats of syrupy sticky greatness. And the clinking jars in the back of the car on the way back to the big smoke. Over the rest of the year, on special occasions being able to bring a jar up from the cellar, dust it off and open it. The taste. Divine.

So my sister lives in Dundee where the pick-your-own farms are plentiful and we just happened to be passing back through there at exactly the right time... So we picked. There was a mild dispute about the number of baskets we were allowed - I wanted 5, bossy britches only let us have 4. So we came back with perhaps 16lbs of raspberries. (Oh and 8lbs of strawberries that were ready picked but delicious which I snuck in while she wasn't looking!). I think her greatest fear was the making up - her pan wasn't as large as the one Mum used. We did two batches at her house (and it turns out bossy britches was right - 4 were plenty). And I did all the rest when I got home.

The strawberry jam was a recipe from my Grandad which went like this:

Yield: 6.5lbs jam
4lbs strawberries
4lbs sugar
(following sisters advice I reduced the amount of sugar by a quarter)

Hull, wash and drain the strawberries. Layer strawberries and sugar in a large pan and cover with a cloth. Leave in a cool place for 24 hours.

Bring the mixture to the boil, boil for 5 minutes. Leave the mixture (covered) for a further 48 hours.

Finally bring back to the boil and boil for 20 minutes or until setting point. Pour into clean, dry jars.

The great thing about this recipe is that some strawberries remain whole in the jam, like expensive french conserve.

Mammouth jam making sessions all round. 24 jars of raspberry and 10 jars of strawberry. But although they taste fabulous, its a touch runny (this'll be due to the sugar not having pectin I reckon because we boiled them for longer than it said but we failed to add juice of lemon or pips of lemon).

This never happened to mother. But then its hard to live up to her exacting standards, I'm sure the meringue never slid off her lemon meringue pie either. Although I do know she blew up the coffee pot once - the grounds hit the a Georgian house.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Red Dress High Heels

Red dress. Flesh coloured high heeled mules with a rosette on the toes. I want her to look comfortable like she's coasting down the street but she doesn't. With each clenched-calf footstep she drags a shoe along the ground. Ends up stiff and graceless and doubtless will have knackered legs at the end of the day.
Peckham Rye Station

One pisshead shouts abuse. [I'm gonna call him a pisshead on purpose and flout my knowing-better political correctness and not call him a street-drinker].

Around the corner of the station masters office a younger pisshead rips his plastic bags apart looking for something that he's lost. He throws a sandwich across the train tracks. Lettuce and grated cheese fly off. Smashes a bottle of beer on the edge of the platform, beer foaming up momentarily and then liquidising again. Empties his pockets angrily. Paces forth and back.

The other pisshead rounds the corner, goes up to the young pisshead and challenges him, takes his shirt off. The young one draws out a knife.

Concerned passengers run off to get the community police officer who was downstairs.

Things seem to calm down. The young pisshead has gone up the platform with what remain of his possessions. The shirtless one has managed to attain the other non-broken bottle of beer which he hides under his shirt. The community policeman arrives. The train comes in.

Pulling out of the station a small child stands between his parents holding a toy rifle the way soldiers on patrol do.
Back to Work

In my cell-like office, in a building underused because its the summer holidays, with fewer staff than usual because they are all away, I am sitting looking out at the blue sky, feeling the fan fluttering my hair and wishing I was anywhere but here. Sigh

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

(Well perhaps not in blogland). Apologies for my long absence. I didn't realise that I was going to one of the most remote places in the world - no mobile phone access, no internet cafes. I left assuming I would post along the way. Even in the Little Karoo of South Africa I had more reception, but the Highlands of Scotland are pretty remote!

Anyway, my trip has been a cathartic one. I'm not going to say holiday because it wasn't as relaxing as it used to be. Long time coming.

My mother's 62 birthday would have been on the 29th July 2005, if she had lived that long. Instead we planned a memorial to her, having never felt ready for it until now in the 10th year after her death. As a family we had struggled to agree where would be the best place for her ashes to be scattered - a place that would be her final resting place. I always wanted a place which was somber and quiet like a graveyard - the others were happy to do that kind of contemplation at Kew Gardens where we had two trees planted in her memory the year she died.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that the best place for her was in the far north - Highlands of Scotland - in the place her mother and father lived out their retirement. The place of my grandfather's birth, early life and death. The place we visited several times a year for the first 15 years of my life. A good place, remote, ruggedly beautiful, awesome, amazing light that bounces off the sea, lochs, lakes. A place where it might rain solidly for two weeks but may also be sunny on occasion.

As children we were free here - we came and went as we pleased spending large amounts of time outside. There were walled gardens, derelict houses (grandad knew stories of the families who used to live in these small stone houses - often just 2 rooms for a family of 6, reduced to piles of stones after their roofs were removed when they ceased to be lived in), lochs, burns full of stickle backs which could be caught in small nets, woods and grandad's croft which went down to the sea loch.

I hadn't been there for years, not since before the death of my grandfather, granny and mother. It was hard to go back. So much of the place was tied up in memories of these three people. For the first week, in the build up to the scattering, I didn't really know what to do with myself. People arrived who I hadn't seen for years, family, friends. Lots to speak about. Some planning.

I liked the fact that my aunt Emily and uncle John now have grandad's house - its still lived in and has changed to suit them which means it is still a living place as opposed to a dusty old museum (as the cottage we stayed in was - we used to like staying there with its view across the village and pretty garden but it has stayed the same as it was 20 years ago and it was old and musty then).

We walked to Duart through the woods to the stone beaches and looked in the rock pools, and watched the fish farmers feeding the fish off across the loch. Lamented the loss of seal life that has occured since this new industry has taken hold. Used to love watching seals in the loch, lolling around on the rocks, poking their heads out of the water to watch you when you were in the boat or swimming (we used to swim all the time here out in the dark black cold water but I really couldn't see how we did it now). Sadly they took great advantage of the new fish supplies sucking fish through the netting of the farms. They were culled. None live here anymore.

We went back to Clashnessie - possibly my fondest beach memories are of this place. It was smaller and pinker than I remember. We used to spend long days here, providing there was nobody else there before us (if there was we would go somewhere else - unable to share a beach in this remote place). It had a river that flowed into the sea across it which had great sand cliffs to collapse into the water, easy to dam and change its course.

My sister once nearly drowned in the place where it reaches the sea. The tide was coming in and where the river met the sea was a swirling undercurrent - as she toddled in her stripy swim suit it got the better of her and spun her face down in the water for probably not more than a couple of seconds until Mum grabbed her out. But I have a strong memory of her face down in the water. Pops once refused to wear suntan lotion here ("you can't get sunburnt in Scotland") and got exceedingly sunburnt, having to stay in bed for 3 days with the pain (he refutes this memory - but I don't think I made it up!).

So on the day of the memorial we all went down to the bottom of uncle John's croft, sat on the rocks by Loch Nedd, drank wine and people shared memories of my mother, while a piper played the bagpipes up on the hill.

Dad met Mum in London where Mum was making the forth of a dining party. They saw each other 3 times before he went back to Chicago. (Within four weeks they were married.)

Mum announced to her friends that she was going to Chicago - she'd been sent a one way ticket and £100 to buy clothes. Her flatmate Sue told her she was out of her mind (as did Dad's flatmate Randall). She called Sheila asking if she wanted to help her spend this £100 - Sheila thought it was dead romatic. The marriage lasted 28 years until she died.

Sheila and Mum went to see Ray Charles and when a gorgeous black man walked onto stage they got quite excited not realising at that moment that the hunched-over chap hanging onto his shoulder was actually Mr Charles, and the gorgeous one was his body guard. This is Sheila's version of a story which Mum had also told us making it seem like Sheila was the only one to have made this mistake (a little embellishment to make Mum seem a little more sophisticated, perhaps?).

On their way to school Mum and her sisters were bundled into the car, Cathering crying but not saying why until she finally admitted she'd forgotten to put any knickers on. Mum (as her elder) gave up her own and spent the rest of the day standing against the wall with her foot on the hem of her dress.

And we even managed a trip to Handa to see the puffins.