Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Hello. Blog Neglect has set in. My aplopogies.
Here are daffodils to make amends.
Above is: "Daffodils Giclee Print by James Stuart Park"
Daffodils are ( supposedly) a cliche; their cheeriness, says a neighbour, is decidedly " naff". However, Wordsworth didn't think so; one spring, he saw them fluttering and dancing in the breeze and HEY PRESTO! he created a literary masterpiece on the strength of them.
Some Cleverclogs Academics may roll their eyes and say Wordsworth became, in fact, responsible for this naffness but I for one have enjoyed both poem AND daffodils for many a cheering Spring and I'm not emptying my vases now...
I love the simplicity of daffodils. I love their massed golden faces; their optimism, their happiness.
And anyway, we ALL know that a bunch of daffodils can frequently Do The Trick...

But my excuses:
My computer was less accessible last week; this was due to gorgeous GRB sleeping nearby in his travel cot.
Then this week I've been groggy with a cold, I've coughed and I've spluttered; even scrawling a shopping list wore me out.

HOWEVER: I am improving. Daffodils are yellowing and Day is longer and just now, when I slipped out to my dustbin, ( Ha! Aint life marvellous?) the air was fine and fresh ( it sizzzzled, it actually sizzzzzled) and the evening sky had a wonderful, surprising lightness to it and I smelt new thoughts, new ideas and new temptations and excitements billowed in the breeze down our wide suburban street...

I hope I'll always (for the rest of my life ) appreciate this sudden surging of the spirit, this massive uplift..my spirit flying again.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Taking The Train To The Past"

This is a wonderful painting by Henri Matisse called " Open Window".
You COULD say that the window opened onto the nearly new 20th century......
Matisse was one of the celebrated group known as " Les Fauves" ( wild beasts) who exhibited in Paris in October 1905.
Last summer, I met an amazing fellow called George. I was delighted to meet him. His daughter is a very good friend of mine. On Monday, George died peacefully; he was 101.

George was born in April 1905. He lived through much of the last remarkable century and also through seven years of this one.
He lived through a history we merely glimpse in black and white, a history we read about in library tomes, a history we scan on the worldwide web.
George lived through a changing world; one which both gained and lost precious things.
And George saw all this in the making.

The year George was born strikers were murdered in St Petersburg by Russian troops.
Albert Einstein produced his Theory of Relativity.
Anna Pavlova danced " The Dying Swan" with the Imperial Ballet.
The Blues thrived in Memphis.
And the Wright brothers flew...for just 38 minutes!
The year George was born, over 10,000 died in an Indian earthquake.
The writer Jules Verne died.
And believe it or not, pizzas appeared in New York, brighter light bulbs arrived, and over 700 million postcards were delivered in Britain alone...( how many post cards do YOU get nowadays??)
My own father, who died fifteen years ago, was also born in June 1905. ( And my 1st grandson EXACTLY a century later in June 2005)
AND Through chatting with George last summer, we discovered that it was quite possible that he'd known my father ( in their twenties in the 1920's). Both young men were keen to " get on" and both travelled to night school at college in Liverpool via the now defunct ( but much loved) Liverpool Overhead Railway.
George told a hilarious tale how one evening, several of the lads on the train decided to skip night school and go ice skating instead. This certainly sounded like my father's cup of tea...
The Overhead Railway, built in 1893, was demolished in 1956.
BUT I have dim memories of my brother and I taking a trip on it with an aunt and uncle; this was a special treat before the railway finally closed.
It was great meeting George and also making that wonderful connection....

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Barking For Cameron's Blood?"

" There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling, and waiting, for traces of blood to appear in the water"
So wrote pompous Tory politician Alan Clark in his diary of November 30th 1990.

I just hope David Cameron's blood swirls quickly out-of-sight down his elegant West London plughole ( after revelations by James Hanning and Francis Elliott in their book " Cameron: The Rise Of The New Conservative") .

BECAUSE haven't politicians got Better Things to do with their time rather than circling each other like sharks or baying for each other's blood like a pack of hounds?
Better Things like:sorting schools hospitals transport crime old people young people...?
Better Things like:sorting this wonderful planet of ours...?
Yes, Better Things like sorting this world of ours that deserves to stay existing, deserves to be kept safe at all costs...

Whatever one thinks of Cameron as PM or the Tories as a party or schoolboys smoking joints, his indiscretion was a mere scratch on The Body of Politics..
The baying hounds should behave as mongrels; lick each other's wounds and wag their tails in comradeship.
And hunt TOGETHER for peace in our world..

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Cecelia's Vagabonds"

Houses lining a street in Clapham, London; a print by Jon Davison.
One of my sons lived in a similar street in the East End; we visited him and his partner there until they moved to Cornwall last summer.
In June 2005, their son was born; the weather was scorching. London seethed in the heat.
Sitting in the tiny garden at the back of the house, sipping celebratory champagne and eating cherries, a figment of my imagination appeared through the heat haze. Her name was Cecelia and I think she once lived in my son's house.
This is her story which I called " Cecelia's Vagabonds". As well as the beautiful name, I also wanted to use the wonderful word " vagabond"....

Cecelia keeps cats; she drinks cognac, scrawls letters to “The Times” on creamy foolscap. Every morning she sleeps late, in a small bedroom flooded by sunlight and filled with dying flowers, spent candles and frequently some loveable ghosts.

Cecelia Tolhurst-Quinn never married; there were lovers, principally Gerald and Hector, and finally, Harriet. All this was long ago, when time ran ahead, spread itself out like fields viewed from a train. Now Cecelia keeps cats in her crumbling terrace in a city’s midst, where memories jostle amongst threadbare possessions. Cecelia is old; her mind glistens like starlings’ feathers; it flutters with ideas, thoughts, philosophies.

Cecelia grows herbs in her kitchen; she cultivates them with elegant words, musician’s fingers. She finds tunes in colours of flowers; rhythms lurk in blades of grass. At night, she plays Debussy; she plays fractured, fragile pieces on her small piano. Eyes closed, she dreams old dreams; of Hector, Gerald, and always, Harriet.

Opening her eyes, Cecelia sees photographs. They’re coffee coloured, sepia, faded to cream. There are pre-war friends in Berlin, friends in Venice soon after. There’s a niece in white dress, she lolls amongst azaleas in a Cornish garden. She has ringlets, the sensuous calm of a young face at a special moment in time.
And there are the faces of Harriet, Gerald, and Hector. But most of all, there’s Harriet.

Cecelia sings at dawn. Hers is a willowy, fluting voice sighing through the house. It’s like the mildest of breezes, dancing between small ivory figures, a blue Chinese vase, a Georgian candlestick glittering with dust. Cats cluster at her feet beneath the piano, Prospero, Shylock and Tom, nestling into the bones of her sparrow ankles.
And all the while Cecelia’s night thoughts pirouette within folds of yellowing lace curtains.
But she’s safe, cocooned; she’s hidden at her piano, safe from those vagabonds skulking in her mind.

Cecelia was a Lord’s daughter; her home, a manor on moors above Penzance. The world was hers but she made choices; now she dresses in shabby satin, faded Oxfam velvet. But still she wears her mother’s pearls, her father’s ring.
And each dawn, Cecelia sings to her ghosts, plays music which haunts her cats, so that their eyes stare, their fur bristles, and the early morning milkman, bottles in hand, stands on the doorstep, still as a statue.
And Cecelia sees in the shadows, images of Harriet.

Later, as light steals into her garden, her mind wanders amongst waist-high thoughts in grass. Cecelia picks flowers; sky blue delphiniums, gillyflowers, the pinkest foxgloves, which she places in vases, on tables, in the hearth. All through the house she places her flowers, as the light creeps in. They’re nursery rhyme colours, pastels, the occasional crimson, and she sings them all in her high quivering voice.

The people next door are rarely seen, but often heard.
They shout, thud footballs against Cecelia’s garden wall so that her trellis of roses wobbles and shakes. There are quarrels and harsh cries. Sometimes Cecelia hears sobbing; it's as though someone’s whole being is dragged from their soul.
Once there was a white face at an upper window; Cecelia saw a child with gold hair, palms outstretched against glass. Cecelia saw the child’s face pressed against glass, contorted to ugliness; a pig’s snout, wet with tears. Then at midday, a pale red-eyed woman stood alone in next-door’s garden; in the yellow stillness, noon was dry as parchment.
And in her kitchen, Cecelia crimped leaves of herbs, rolled them between shaky fingers.

At night, bats blow round the house, wind flaps heavy wings against windows.
Cecelia’s rooms, full of flowers, heave as though someone were weary of their world.
Next door the red-eyed woman sleeps. Cecelia touches the keys of her piano.
Candles shudder and stare, like eyes of dark-time creatures.
Outside in the street, footsteps clatter; harsh words shatter against railings.
But in Cecelia’s house, Harriet sews in her chair; Gerald plays a manly game of chess with Hector.

Cecelia’s walls ache with her sadness. She hears her neighbour, hears her sobbing.
Gerald places strong arms around Cecelia’s shoulders and they walk, trembling, round the house, smell flowers in vases, the stately foxgloves; they marvel at vivid scarlet poppies.
Then, arms full of flowers, Cecelia steps into the street. She’s wrapped in grey suds of dawn. And smiling, she lays flowers on the step next door.
Returning, she crawls into her fusty, friendly bed, rests her head on Harriet’s chest, entwines her legs with Gerald’s.
Hector, looming by the window, checks his gold pocket watch, studies them all with tranquil eyes......

And Harriet’s night memories sidle away, disappear up the street in the morning; like dreams we have just before waking.
Again, there’s a girl’s face in her looking glass. It’s one who visits Cecelia regularly now, one she half remembers, recognises each blemish in the lovely face, each touch of fingers on cheekbones. And a smiling Harriet peers over her shoulder, a young Harriet, large eyed and pansy-flower bright.
Cecelia turns, stiffens as she moves to her bedroom window. In the garden, there’s bleakness, as if something were lost.
“Thieves have been, taken my flowers!” Cecelia flusters round the house, sees the Chinese vase empty of foxgloves. The hearth is colourless; no lush roses scenting her hall.
“Thieves!” she murmurs
And Harriet touches the lake of Cecelia’s throat, clasps her narrow wrists.
Harriet has dove-coloured eyes and a dress the colour of cornflowers.
In the garden, summer throbs but Cecelia’s mind skates fast over a rink of ice.
“ They’ve been again” she whispers, “ The thieves”

Harriet sits in the shade at the end of the garden, calls to Cecelia, her voice bright as lemons. Next door in the upper window, the woman waves; beside her, the gold haired child.
“ Thank you for your flowers” the woman mouths, “ those flowers on my step. They made a difference” And the child beams.

So Cecelia, beside Harriet, strokes the soft fur of a sleepy cat. She forgets thieves, forgets vagabonds skulking in her mind.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

" Slippery Issues"

It's an icy February night ( see wintery picture: "L'hiver" by Onshi Koshiro)
But today I heard heartwarming news AGAIN....See Tuesday's posting.
Good old Sir Digby Jones!

Earlier the ex Director General of C.B.I. well and truly endeared himself to me.
This was a fairly new experience.
And I'm sure many other parents teachers grandparents will be nodding in agreement with him...

In essence, Sir Digby thinks schools shouldn't cushion their pupils too much. Children need elements of risk in their lives.
Taking a chance is taking part in life, isn't it?
And realistically, life's one BIG FAT risk, isn't it?
Sometimes risks go very wrong, but sometimes risks go very right...
BUT I wonder what Sir Digby's thinking now?? ( 11pm, Feb 8th?)
He may well be seething..
Councillors in Birmingham decided this evening to close schools tomorrow. And Why?
Because the weather's freezing ( we know) and the temperatures dropping ( we know) and the pavements ( wait for it...) the pavements will be slippery in the morning. ...
SO no risks taken in Birmingham tomorrow morning!
Just a fat lot of cushioning going on.....

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Singing Jerusalem In Saughall Village"

Helen Mirren and Julie Walters were the glam " Calendar Girls" in the fabulous film of that name. Their characters lived in a Yorkshire village and were stalwarts of their local W.I. They sang " Jerusalem". They baked cakes.They arranged flowers. They made jam. They sewed samplers and seeds, tapestries and turnips. They did tai chi on a hillside and bought fish and chips on the way home. And they sat in rows in a Village Hall on monthly Thursdays and giggled at the back of the hall like the teenage girls they once were.
BUT THEN someone's husband died. And so they took off their clothes ( M+S) and revealed their bodies ( ageing fast ) and they produced THAT calendar (artfully nude) for charity .
AND The World Became Their Oyster.

For a couple of years, some friends and I have been visiting various W.I's throughout Cheshire ; we read our own stories and poems and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. You could, I suppose, describe us as The Cabaret for the evening! Last night we were made welcome by a W.I in a village near home.
AND two highlights of my childhood Christmas were the Masonic Children's Party and ( even better) the W.I Christmas Party.
This was held in a Hall in the next village. I went with my mother, brother, pretty Auntie Jean, her daughter Penelope and my best friend, Jane-Elizabeth; J-E was Dead Ringer for "Little Friend Susan". Anyone under 45 won't have a clue what I'm talking about. Remember the wonderful " Milly Molly Mandy" stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley? L.F.S, who co-starred in these stories, was The Dream Best Friend. And so was my friend Jane-Elizabeth.

My mother drove our black Morris 10 ( DTD 411) through fog ( always fog) to a party that was Sheer Heaven On A Trestle Table. On the table, were jellies, jam tarts, chocolate drops, butterfly cakes, sausage rolls. And green soda pop, lots of it served in orange plastic mugs which tasted of swimming baths and the darkness of tunnels....
There was a Christmas tree smothered in tinsel. There were red and yellow paperchains criss-crossing the ceiling. They often fell down and lay like dead snakes in a corner.
A fat lady called Vera Cotgreave, with pekingnese dog growling beneath chair, played "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" on the piano as we arrived. The music glittered and made the boys act silly; they fought in the middle of the hall, still with their coats on,and the girls ran round screaming and giggling, skidding on the floor in new shoes, hair ribbons untethered, cheeks ablaze. And the smell of burnt pastry lingered, along with the sound of women fussing in the kitchen; they clattered trays, clinked teacups as the kettle hissed merrily in a corner.
We sat on wooden chairs set round the room. My legs in white socks and Clarks sandals swung wildly and I looked down at my red taffeta party dress and believed I was a fairy. I smelt of Coty talcum powder and Euthymol toothpaste and my vest was itchy beneath the taffeta. My brother sucked a gobstopper and sucked it hard against his teeth and his cheeks were like two red balloons. His hair was damp and there were tendrils across his forehead. .
We played Musical Bumps and Musical Chairs and Musical Statues. The prize was usually a packet of Spangles or Smarties wrapped in Christmas paper. Jane-Elizabeth won often.
The floor had splinters in it. The walls were painted the green of Brussel sprouts and the windows were so high up that I only saw sky. And sometimes I saw clouds; they were the dark gathering gloom of " We Three Kings From Orient Are ".
And throughout the party, I prayed there'd be no more dark gathering gloom and when I looked up and saw the threat of snow, I shivered. I wished I had a pink fluffy bolero like Jane-Elizabeth's instead of a boring navy cardigan like mine.
My mother worried all winter about The Threat Of Heavy Snow. To her, it was as bad as The Threat Of The Finger On The New Clear Button.
The Threat Of Heavy Snow meant the journey home from the W.I party would be " 2 miles of treachery" . Mummy said this to pretty Aunty Jean who smiled like the Virgin Mary.
Aunty Jean was Glaswegian. Mr Jones (who lived next door to us) once said that Aunty Jean was a Corker as well as a pretty Glaswegian and that she looked more Tyrolean than Glaswegian. (This was probably because she wore a golden plait in a twist around her head and looked like someone out of " Heidi". )
Mr Jones went funny whenever he mentioned Aunty Jean; even I saw that. Mrs Jones bit her nails and got grumpy.
" Stop looking wistful, Jim." said Mrs Jones "EVERYONE knows you held a candle for That Woman ALL through the War.."
Why holding a candle SO long was SO necessary, I'd no idea....
The party was also Heaven Round A Piano; there was carol singing, plus pretty Auntie Jean trilling descants in her high thrilling voice. This was followed by the singing of " Magic Moments" and songs from "Oklahoma". And some years, Jane-Elizabeth would execute a stunning solo. And after much pop and countless chocolate fingers, we excelled at belting out: " When the wind comes right behind the rain...." and we spelt out the letters of O.K.L.A.H.O.M.A for a full five minutes...
AND my rendition of " Younger than Springtime" (sung going home in the car while the world STILL trembled in fog) moved every traveller to tears...

Just recently, on my visits to W.I's, I've been astonished at their variety, both in buildings, the women involved, their fascinating differences.
There are W.I's where elegant women in designer gear arrive in open top sports cars. There are W.I's where jolly-faced women in flowery dresses and homely cardigans greet us with freshly made cakes and interested questions. There are others where talk is serious, where environment matters, opinions are voiced and political issues are faced.

And last night at Saughall, I thought about my mother and I thought about pretty Aunty Jean trilling her descants and I thought about Vera Cotgreave playing " White Christmas" (dog beneath chair ) and I stood at Saughall W.I and I sang " Jerusalem" in my very best voice and I remembered....

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

" Touching The Texture Of Tiny Minds"

Here, children, is Plato. Plato was a Thinker. Plato often thought. He was a Good Man, children. He lived in Ancient Greece.

I heard some excellent news yesterday.
Very shortly, tiny children in Clackmannshire, Scotland, will have Philosophy lessons. They'll ponder on morals and ethics, society and religion.
In colourful classrooms, they'll sit in circles on rugs and they'll touch the texture of their own minds.
They'll learn things that will hold them in good stead for The Rest Of Their Lives .

TIME will be made for this. Time will be made for knowing The Tiniest Of Selves.
It should always have been so ( and it HAS been in many schools, be it "unofficially", through excellence of teaching and talking, relationships made) but now it will be allocated and accepted, valued and treasured. Philosophy will become part of the curriculum.

These tiny children will learn the beginnings of reason. They'll weigh up the words of other children. They'll tolerate differences, make distinctions between ideas.
They'll have time with their minds and that's magic!

EARLIER this week, walking into my kitchen, I discovered Radio 4 chatting re teaching Philosophy to children. I caught the programme only partially but at one point, someone described a little boy asking:" But IF I'm a sprout, WHO in the world would be ME?" ......

AND LATER I found a poem by Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly ( Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for 30 years )
The poem, in a child's questioning voice, is called:"Poem from a three year old" and it's marvellous. Read it at: www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlepoet/poemld=204

Friday, February 02, 2007

" Notes On A Staffroom Or Two "

I've lurked in many school staffrooms in my time. They vary like the teachers within them.
I've lurked in staffrooms where teachers meticulously wash their own special cup each breaktime, drying their china on linen which smells of their well tended gardens, their houses where windows stay open till dusk; the clean suburban Cheshire air.
I've lurked in staffrooms where sunny natured women flirt prettily with a delighted Head, where teachers in crisp shirts and ethnic cardigans talk excitedly of weekends spent rambling in The Peaks, of visiting daughters in Chorlton cum Hardy or transplanting their purple lobelia to the patch beneath the rhododendron.
And there are staffrooms where the room buzzes, where the Guardian crackles with the Telegraph, where the Iraqi War is fought with vibrant words, the govt devoured in tiny morsels..
And I've also lurked in staffrooms where teachers care so deeply about children, that their nights are sleepless, their faces older than their years. I've watched while teachers search for solutions, plan strategies which make all the difference to the world of a five year old called Jason. I've heard debates about curriculum, quarrels about targets, seen opinions hurled against whiteboards, when words splatter in air and ideas cluster around the kettle, huddle with hobnobs in the biscuit tin.
AND MOST OF ALL, I've admired the persistency of teachers' dedication, the constancy of their opinions and interest.
BUT THEN there are others...
I've been in a staffroom where moody women knit silently in corners and men in sports jackets fiddle in their pockets all lunch hour. I've been in staffrooms where children are scorned for their hopelessness, where parents are vilified, where there are souls leaking meanness of spirit and generous talk never ventured..
And I've been in one where cups were grubby, carpet sticky with dust, where unmarked homework books wobbled in piles on flimsy coffee tables, where blinds stay permanently closed and noone spoke with me for three long days.
At first I sniffed my armpits, studied the soles of my shoes for dog crap, checked I'd not sat in something disgusting. And then I wondered if I'd become invisible. But as I wore a particularly jolly Peruvian sweater (bought inWales) this would hardly be so..
" Do they not speak to supply teachers here?" I asked a timid probationer called Donna.
" Yes" she said " but only after a fortnight"
Eventually, two moustachioed women, Pot Noodle apiece ( ignoring me apiece) plonked themselves in chairs each side, leaning across me to chat together.
" Do you both have a back problem?" I said in a particularly loud serene and well-modulated voice " because that must be the only explanation for all your bending....."
AND THEN, stretching first my right hand out to rub Mrs P's back, I followed quickly with offers to rub Mrs G's. Their faces were a picture. I was never invited there again ( either to the school OR to rub their silly backs...)
I READ, in July 2003, Zoe Heller's brilliant book " Notes On A Scandal". The book is set in a North London school; one of its many assets is its superb staffroom descriptions, hence my blurb above! I read the book in one whole session, at the edge of a vineyard in the garden of a cottage in a village called Ruzici in North Croatia..
AND I SAW the film adaptation this Thursday. It's equally compelling. It stars two beautiful actresses, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and it tells the tale of two women teachers who become consumed by each other's lives. It tells of inappropriate love in several forms, of treachery stalking everyday life...