Friday, November 30, 2007

Duties, night smells and a winner.

1. Working down a list of things I need to do.

2. Coming out of the office into the rainwashed darkness and smelling clean winter air.

3. I beat Andy at backgammon -- it's not a particularly convincing victory as we are racing at the end to get our counters off the board, but it is a satisfaction none the less.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holding the baby, talking it over and warming up.

1. Talking to Elodie -- expressions flit across her face as if she is practising, and sometimes its hard to tell if she's pleased or not.

2. Getting some wise advice from Caroline. Oli says that she is like the fixer in Pulp Fiction.

3. I arrive at Nick's cold, damp and hungry. He says: 'Shall I rub you with a towel?'

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spheres, getting better and a bit of fun.

1. Some left-over wedding bubbles have appeared at work, so the office periodically fills with soap bubbles.


2. The pharmacist asks me a few questions to check that I've understood my GP's instructions. 'So you're winding down, are you?' he says, seeing that my dose has been reduced to every other day. 'That's good news. Well done.'

3. I like it when the writing class gets the giggles -- this week it was because of Sarah's stories about a mischievous writing trip Venice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Freedom, got you and a fairtale.

1. Getting off work an hour early and being driven all the way into town when there was an amazing sunset.

2. A very small girl stands on one side of the bus stop glass; her mother is sitting on the other. They are playing a game in which the girl has to put her hands where her mother's hands are. They are both giggling.

3. I leave for writing a bit early so Katie and I can go and inspect the Hooper's window. We work along the story of Sleeping Beauty as represented using shop dummies and costumes from the National Ballet. We guess which characters are which, and discuss which dresses we like best (my favourite is a grey tutu, but the White Cat's fur striped frock comes a close second). In the wedding scene, the story says that Red Ridinghood is among the guests. 'Where is she?' wonders Katie. A passerby points her out, standing in the corner with her wolf nearby.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Eaten, first contact and us two.

1. A belly comfortably full of breakfast.

2. A phone call from my mother to say that she and Daddy are safely back from their holiday and have had a magical time. She gossips about other members of the group and listens to my woes and describes the things she has seen and gives me some advice.

3. Nick and I have our favourite restaurant all to ourselves. It has wood-fired pizza oven, and Nick says that next time, I must sit facing the kitchen so I can see it, rather than having to watch the flames reflected in the window.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Some space, no rush and alphabet.

1. My guests are late, which means I get a little extra time cuddling Nick on the sofa.

2. Cat takes a no hurry attitude with her children. There is no rush to get up the stairs, so Ellie can climb by herself without being carried.

3. Although she is not yet two, Ellie recognises letters, even in an unfamiliar font. Cat has taught her using people's names and a cushion embroidered with the alphabet. A shopping bag suddenly becomes a family album, as Ellie shouts out the names.

4. Nick and I are caught Alan admiring the baby who has been left lying on the sofa for a moment. 'You're communing with Daniel,' says Alan, seeing that Daniel has one of our fingers in each of his fists.

5. Cat excuses herself to feed a fussy Daniel in my room 'The bed might be a more familiar set-up'. When I go in to check she is all right, she has snuggled herself under the covers, and is looking at my slightly disordered quarters with the sort of new-eye attitude that I ought to use all the time. Later Ellie comes in and stands at the side of the bed, her head just above the level of the mattress. I lift her up so she can admire the metalwork flowers and leaves at the foot of the bed. She counts them. 'Number one, number two...'

6. Ellie knows Each Peach Pear Plum, just like her godmother.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Treat, staying warm and root vegetables.

1. Finding one last Double Decker in the sandwich lady's chocolate basket.

2. Wrapping a blanket round my legs while I watch television.

3. Mashed swede with plenty of butter and pepper.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just us, sibs and decorations.

1. A girls only day at work which allows us to discuss the men and have the heating on as much as we like.

2. A small and determined-looking year 7 girl sits at the front of the bus. When the time comes for her to get off, she is joined by a boy about twice her height who has been sitting at the back of the bus. They look very alike, so I guess they must be siblings. I think she must wonder when her brother got so tall.

3. Katie brings home bags and boxes from John Lewis. She has been shopping for Christmas decorations in red and gold.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bridge, dinner and see my face.

I've been posting on Your Messages -- each day you have the chance to win a place in an anthology by writing 300 words.

1. What I have always thought of as a clogged ditch has swollen into a stream after the rain.


2. The call to dinner -- a pan of spicy red sauce in which two chicken thighs have been cooking.


3. I catch sight of the faint white line under my eye from where I cut my face open in Africa. I remember never being worried that it might be disfiguring -- even when I looked in the mirror and saw the wounds hanging open. Even when I woke up the next morning in hospital and really thought about what I had done. I think this was partly because at uni I had a housemate with a scar. When Ali was cold or excited, a scar as long as my middle finger showed up red on her cheek from where, aged 11, she had fallen through a window. She was beautiful and confident and men came up to her and wanted to know about the scar. It was never seen as an ugly thing, or something to be ashamed of -- rather, a badge of honour and a good story.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back down, manners and pictures.

1. A crowd of school boys rushes to get on the bus. The driver, like a lion tamer, shouts 'One at a time. ONE at a time. You, get to the back.'

2. The man in the chippie tells me he is from the Medway towns, 'where kids treat you like you're nothing when you work in a food shop. Here they called me "Sir" and said "Thank you".'

3. Nick at I watched a documentary about Albert Khan, an early French photographer and cinematographer. His colour photos are Edwardian, but look surprisingly modern, apart from details like horse-drawn vehicles and roads clear of cars. The colours, achieved using grains of starch dyed red, blue and green on glass plates, are astonishing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Warm woollens, it's new and wrapping my hands round.

Congratulations to Rashmi over at Life ain't that Bad -- it's her first anniversary of finding beautiful things.

1. Taking my gloves off the radiator and putting them on my cold hands.

2. My boss's (and everyone else's, actually) excitement at his new iPhone. It went round the office and we were all allowed to have a go at typing in messages and looking at his pictures.

3. A mug of hot soup at lunchtime.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Glass peacocks, waiting for tea and lady in a yellow dress.

1. A couple of weeks ago, I admired to glass peacock Christmas decorations in a shop. But I wasn't going straight home, so I didn't dare buy them for fear they would get broken. When I visited the Czech Republic a few years back, I bought several similar decorations, but reached home with several packets of glass shards. Today, I go into the shop and they are still there, so I buy them both and bear them home safely wrapped in tissue paper.

2. Nick takes me to a sale of military books in a hotel, bribing me with the promise of tea. While he searches for bargins in two green boxes, I perch on the windowseat and admire the grounds. I can see in through the window of another wing of the hotel, where a pair of hands is carefully laying a tea table with a white cloth and crisp napkins. I imagine it might be ours. When the time comes, we go back to the lounge and are led to that very table.

3. Halfway through tea, a lady in a primrose yellow frock with many layers of net and a very sparkly tiara walks in and starts playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the harp. I wonder if Nick has arranged it just to please me.

4. An extra beautiful thing -- The sisters of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and the Nameless Mother walk in and take a table near ours. The Nameless Mother has never met me, but recognises me from the HWSNBN photo library.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Race, touch of magic and sweetcorn.

1. Walking across the Grove, a tennis ball rolls over my toes. I almost trip over the black and white dog chasing it, and then the owner just misses running into me. We laugh about it -- how very English.

2. An oldish woman, perfectly coiffed and dressed, stands outside Hoopers. She is wearing startling glossy red lipstick. I imagine she must be a fairy godmother.

3. Gnawing sweetcorn off the cob.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Catching the sun, my cake and essential oils.

1. There are two pigeons on the roof of Oli's garage. They are taking advantage of the sun and casting their shadows in surprising places.


2. Choosing a slice of cake from the sandwich van -- they are laid out in boxes wrapped in cellophane and have icing in appetising colours. Some of them are decorated with cherries, coconut or peel.


3. The smell of thyme and rosemary baking with my supper of chicken and mushrooms in a white wine gravy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sugar, muffin and end of the day.

I have been playing catch-up -- here, and here. Sorry for the gaps in service -- I'm blaming technical difficulties.

1. By way of celebration, I put sugar on my Rice Krispies. It sits on the top, soaking up the milk while I carry my breakfast into the office, and at the bottom of the bowl, there is a comforting sweet sludge of milk and sugar.

2. Oli gives me half his muffin, leading to some minutes of bawdy jokes.

3. A bath, a large glass of gin and tonic and a new science fiction magazine.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Layer cake, a stew and good advice

1. On a cold day, wrapping up in layers: a petticoat, thick chocolate brown tights, a pink vest, an aubergine-coloured top, a thick cord skirt in deep plum, a long chocolate brown woollen coat, socks and a pair of brown lace-up boots and an overcoat.

2. Sliding a heavy red pot of stew into the oven.

3. As I leave, Katie tells me to take the longer, safer route because it's dark and cold.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Move over, mothers' meeting and sitting room.

1. In the morning I think I've slept very late and imagine that Rose must be working downstairs. But she's still in bed asleep, so I crawl in with her, and we lie in until nearly 10am.

2. Three mothers with babies sit at a table near us. I think I recognise one of the mothers -- perhaps I went to school with her. We smile at each other, but don't speak. I admire the way the mothers chat and eat and drink with their babies on their arms.

3. My grandmother's sitting room is warm and small, full of photographs and portraits of my family. Thick curtains shut out November, and thoughts of the crossword shut out our problems. I doze in my wingbacked chair, my tea cooling at my side.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Conveyance, talk and envy.

1. Standing at a lonely country bus stop and seeing the headlights and destination board of my bus coming round the corner.

2. The school kids behind me on the bus:
'I know him from Ticehurst Primary School.'
'You never.'
'I do. I went in year two.'
'You never. You went to Stone Cross.'
'I did, in year two.'
'You liar.'
'I can't believe you didn't know that, you rubbish girlfriend.'
'I'm a fucking good girlfriend.'

3. I tell Robert what Rosey and I had for supper and he says: 'I wanted that, too.'

Monday, November 12, 2007

The papers, our garden and this is where I go.

This is a public information message from Steve Stack, author of It is Just You, Everything's Not Shit.
I recently started a blog and wrote a book with the somewhat less than beautiful title It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit but lots of beautiful things have happened as a result. Here are three of them:

1. Meeting Oliver Postgate, the creator of Bagpuss, Clangers and Ivor the Engine. Still going strong in his eighties, he was one hero that did not disappoint in the flesh.

2. Receiving a wooden chest of sweets from the lovely people at ww.aquarterof.com. It was like opening a gateway to my childhood - flying saucers, sherbet pips, space dust and bucketloads more.

3. Hearing from lost friends who have stumbled across the book in shops and emailed me. Some very welcome blasts from the past.

The book is available from Waterstones and Amazon or from It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit.

1. Sitting in bed with Nick and the Sunday papers.

2. Finding a secret garden and imagining that it was there solely for our benefit. It is arranged in concentric circles around a pond where sedges have dipped into the water, forming hoops with their reflections.

3. As we go over Ashdown Forest, the taxi driver says that if he has to wait around, he sometimes comes up here with a flask of coffee and a sandwich.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Honey, carp and words.

1. On the breakfast bar, a piece of golden honeycomb is flanked by two silver knives.

2. Standing on a jetty watching carp kiss the water below us.

3. Tucked between the pages of my new Moomin book, I find again the gift tag that Nick up on the wrapping.

4. The view of the grey hotel among autumn trees on the other side of the valley.

5. Slices of tender, pink venison surrounded by a chilli-chocolate sauce.

6. Coming back to our room after dinner and finding that bed that was rumpled from our afternoon nap has been made and turned down; and the towels and bathrobes that we left strewn around the room have been carefully hung up.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Anticipation, turning a corner, tea time and being a couple.

1. Sitting at work looking forward to a weekend of giving Nick my undivided attention.

2. As we turn into the drive of the hotel, a shaft of sunlight shines through a beech tree in full autumn glory.

3. We are shown to our tea table, which is covered in a white cloth. It's by the fire, and there's a large and soft sofa waiting for us.

4. Chatting to Nick while I wash my hair. I love the way he enjoys something as simple as me taking a bath or putting on a pair of tights.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Grazers, digger and against the window.

The wonderful Nick is taking me away for a few days of afternoon teas, very large baths, huge dinners and massages. Normal service will resume after we get back.

On Monday, I'm hosting a leg of the It is just you, everything's not shit tour.

1. The sound of sheep munching.

2. A mole hill that is still fresh.

3. Towards the end of the day, a sudden storm lashes the windows. At first, after so many crisp sunny days, we are confused by the sound.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Comforts, supplies and the film that has everything.

1. Char offers to make me a hot chocolate when things get bad.

2. Sitting in the cinema with salty popcorn and a small bag of sour jelly sweets.

3. A film involving cross-dressing sky pirates, a fallen star, a rapidly aging witch, a innkeeper who used to be a goat, a wall between England and fairy land, seven murderous brothers, a market where you can buy tiny elephants and a captive princess. Stardust needs to be seen.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shuffling, biscuits and warmth.

1. More leaf shuffling. Oli and I walk into work along the lane. I tell him that part of the pleasure of walking in leaves is thinking that someone might tell you off. So we shout at each other to stop messing around.

2. Plump ginger biscuits with drizzled stripes of hard caramel.

3. I am cold, and remember I have a fleece dressing gown.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Cherries, foliage and now we're talking.

1. Large and succulent glace cherries in a muffin.

2. Shuffling leaves at the side of the road and feeling as if I might be told off for making a mess, but enjoying the sound too much to stop.

3. For weeks I've been struggling to 'get' a character's voice in my radio play. Each time I offer him up to the class, heads are shaken. But yesterday, it was decided that he had arrived aboard the ship. It's a relief -- and I know I can do this again the next time I run into the same problem.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A happy month, end of the day and woolies.

1. Nick trying to catch falling leaves in the park.

2. The sunset pours golden light between rooftops and chimneys.

3. Wearing a new hat, scarf and gloves that match.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Small touches, I don't need your help and orange.

1. My coffee comes decorated with a star in chocolate powder. The lady who asked if she could share my table has a heart on her coffee.


2. A loud, old-fashioned mobile phone rings. 'I'm in a cafe in Tunbridge Wells,' explains an elderly lady. 'Eating,' she replies after a pause. Then, with some irritation: 'My appointment was in Tunbridge Wells... I got the bus.' I imagine that the caller is a daughter-in-law who feels guilty about not giving Granny a lift to her appointment.


3. The colour of raw carrots.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Wardrobe by post, that has shown you and all by myself.

1. A large box full of clothes arrives in the post.

2. Douglas uses a radio comedy to prove that all gingers are descended from angels.

3. The prospect of spending the greater part of the weekend alone.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The morning after, cinema verite and our passion.

1. I find a cardboard skeleton in my wardrobe, a little pile of stretchy worms in the kitchen, a plastic skeleton tied to the door handle, and a witch's broom in the sitting room.

2. Ed turns up a video of me twirling round in my fairy costume. It induces near hysteria in the office.

3. Listening to knowledgeable and passionate people talking about food

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Home run, giddy and sweets.

So sorry for the missing three days. I've been feeling a bit... quiet.

1. Coming home to a house with somebody home. Katie has arrived early so she can start work on the Halloween party. I also liked seeing the signs that other people are celebrating, too -- children out in costume, and pumpkin lanterns in windows.

2. Whirling round and round to make my tutu puff out until I am too giddy to go on.

3. A large bowl full of sweeties and the sound of people talking.

See the pictures here.