Monday, December 31, 2007

Strong women, my timer and mushroom.

I am up to date with the posts over Christmas; and also there are posts at Once Around the Park.

1. When I was young Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, and she made me think that a woman could do anything, even if there were lots of things that a little girl was not supposed to do or want or hope for. But along the way, it seemed to me, Mrs Thatcher had given up a few of the things I looked forward to being as a woman -- you'd never think of her as beautiful or feminine. And then I would see Benazir Bhutto on the news, and it seemed to me that it might be possible to have it all.

2. I never did get a kitchen timer for Christmas, so I take myself off to Trevor Mottram's cavern of delights. They have all sorts of kitchen timers; including a single red model of the sort I have been particularly hankering after. It is unboxed, and unpriced, so I ask how much it is. The assistant disappears into the back of the shop and comes back sometime later (I have been admiring copper saucepans and earwigging on a conversation about a member of staff dropping a knife on their foot). 'It's not in the catalogue, and it's not in the stocklist and I've asked the owner, and she doesn't know where it came from.' In the end, we agree that £3 seems a fair price. I set off home feeling very lucky indeed.

3. The taste of a fried mushroom. Or a raw mushroom.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Stop go, replacement and after supper.

1. The traffic lights at the cross roads are not working because the man from the council has the control box open so he can adjust something. Everything is orderly, with drivers waiting politely and waving each other on; but Nick says: 'Had I better see you across the road?' I am amazed and touched by this kindness, but I tell him that if he sees me over the road, he'll have to cross twice as many roads to get to where he's going.

2. I come home to find Abel and Cole have taken away our empty vegetable boxes and replaced them with two full ones.

3. After supper, the box of chocolates comes out and is passed around while we play cards on the rug.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gamer, the station and Sister Justinia's parrot.

1. Lying in bed with my pink Nintendo DS Lite playing Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass.

2. At Etchingham station, the newspapers are laid out and labelled with the names of their commuters. The station is somehow very cheerful, and I always expect to turn round and see a fire in the grate.

3. While we wait for the pizza, Nick and Tim are going through the papers for old roleplaying campaigns. I am not really listening, but hear a reference to pirates and an animal husbandry: parrots skill. I wonder aloud if my character in the present game could have a parrot. Later that evening, as if by magic, a mechanical bird enters the game. The Professor immediately wants to take it apart, but Sister Justinia is convinced it's alive and has named it 'Birdie'.

Friday, December 28, 2007

End of the line, hard carbon and the man behind the legend.

1. As the train pulls into Charing Cross, I finish knitting my scarf and put it on.

2. In the Natural History Museum is a collection of coloured diamonds. The display cycles between normal light and UV light, revealing magical colour changes and strange fluorescence.

3. We finally get to meet Rosey's mysterious boyfriend -- Matt has been mentioned an awful lot and appears frequently in photographs, but so far he has kept his head down. As a dutiful big sister, I have been nearly eaten up with curiosity, so it was a relief to meet him at last.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Grandmother, in pictures and Christmas cakes.

1. Sitting with Granny Pat labelling her new photo album -- at first she makes me write for her, but then she takes the pen from me and I am shocked at how wobbly her writing is now. But as we work through the book, some of her old wit comes through and she makes up funny captions for photos of my siblings pulling faces. And towards the end, her writing seems to firm up a bit. Later she shows me another album the cousins made for her, and she tells me the stories I liked to hear over and over again as a child about what she did in the army.

2. My littlest cousin (who is rapidly becoming not little any more) is shy at first, and doesn't much like talking. She has a Nintendo DS. We discover that it can talk to my pink Nintendo DS Lite, and send each other horrid pictures of owls and dark mountains.

3. Gingerbread with apricot jam covered in chocolate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

He came after all, the lover's gift and Doctor Who

1. Just before I put the light on, I notice a paper bag at the end of my bed. I'm sure it wasn't there last night. I wake up properly and realise, that despite prophecies of doom, Father Christmas has dropped off a selection of the sort of small and useful items -- like socks, posh soap, a few secondhand books -- that I never manage to buy for myself.

2. One parcel in particular has been thoroughly investigated, poked, speculated on and prodded by me, Katie and Rosey. But all we can say for certain is that there's lots of tissue paper. Finally I open it and find that my darling man has picked a darling cardigan from one of my favourite shops. It's love at first sight.

3. The cry of 'Dr Who, Dr Who!' goes through the house.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tea time, black hat and details.

Merry Midwinter, everyone, and thank you for your comments and good wishes.

1. Nick's tea comes with a timer to show him the proper time to take the infuser out of the pot. The teapot is glass so one can enjoy the gold-red colour of the tea.

2. A bhutanese felt hat with rain-diverting tentacles has appeared in my father's study. Coming home after my parents have been away is a game of spot the difference. There are new bells hanging on striped cords, and baskets hanging where there were none before.

3. The Mother has put decorations in all our bedrooms. Mine is the pink polar bear, a sheep with dangly legs and a pair of gold musical instruments. She says it because we're not having stockings this year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Stop, gifts and fog.

1. Town is busy, apart from a woman and a black dog who stand in a doorway watching the shoppers go by.

2. Katie comes round to my way of thinking that it's nice to unwrap a present when the person who gave it to you can see (thank you Jules!) So we take time out in the afternoon. We have raided each other's Amazon lists. She is as thrilled by the book of erotic knitting patterns as I am by my Loony Tunes DVDs. I wonder about the ideas of our homelife this little vignette will generate, however.

3. It is so foggy that familiar things take on strange shapes -- a lumpy tree trunk appears to have someone hugging it, so much so that I worry that they are lost and confused.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Miraculous escape, a light and getting better.

1. During the night we are jolted from sleep by a crash coming from the kitchen. In the morning, I find a glass has fallen off the shelf on to the tiled floor. It is lying on the floor miraculously unharmed.


2. In the dark, a man walks towards me. A streetlight shines through his orange plastic bag so it glows like a lantern.


3. A kind boyfriend who calls quarter of an hour later than I said I'd be with him 'prompt'.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Green box, unique selling point and bye bye.

Friday was my last day at work. I'm taking three months off to do some writing and various other things and get my head together. I've been planning this for a while, and it's something I want and need; but I am sad to be leaving the company where I've been very happy for nearly four years.

1. The company gives me a hotel voucher, which I'll use for a weekend away. It comes in a smart dark green box tied with a grey ribbon. I'm looking forward to researching the perfect break.

1b part 1. Spending a cold day at work in the warmer office playing at drawing films on the whiteboard for people to guess.

1b. part 2. A large slice of cloudlike chocolate torte.

2. Nigel tries to explain what he means when he says I have 'an edge'.

3. When I say goodbye at the end of the evening, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named picks me up and whirls me round.

4. Nick comments that he hates waiting for taxis: 'They're always late, and I don't like people who are late.' I comment glumly that I'm always late for everything and he assures me that that's entirely different. It makes me even more determined to be on time from now on.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Emergencies, gifts and dish.

1. On a morning when I am late, remembering that I have Kellogg's Variety Pack on my desk at work.

2. A line of present bags in Nick's hall. 'That one's for you.'

3. My chicken gun ga ree is served in a blue ceramic chicken.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wake up, armed and eastern promise.

1. Morning starts to late these days that I get to watch the sun coming up over the chimney pots of Warwick Park.

2. I challenge Oli about the fact that his presents to both He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and me included water pistols. He laughs.

3. A previously sterile and echoey pub is turned into an Arabian palace with low brass tables, pierced metal lanterns and huge cushions.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Compliments, a smile and retained heat.

1. Some council men are messing around on the corner. One of them is the sort of person who reacts to cold by bouncing around. He feints and dodges at a colleague. 'Leave me alone. Go and annoy that young lady.' The bouncing man says with a huge grin: 'She's too pretty.'

2. Oli comes to the door with a just-woken-up Elodie in his arms. I thank her for surprise presents yesterday. She breaks out a huge smile, so I'm thinking she must understand.

3. Getting into bed when I am still warm from a shower.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You know the one, Santa baby and good in a crisis.

1. My brother phones to talk about Christmas presents. I tell him I want a kitchen time -- 'You know, like Mrs Hollins had?' Mrs Hollins was our nursery school teacher, twenty-five years ago. It felt good to describe something like that, and not have to explain it.

2. Baby Elodie comes to visit, wearing a very silly red hat, bringing us stockings stuffed with tiny presents. She dribbles on us all

3. In a crisis, people who do what needs to be done without asking questions. And later, getting the 'all clear' text message.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Housework, war wounds and shine.

To everyone who might expect a Christmas card from me: I'm not doing it this year. I've given the money to Magic Breakfast instead, as suggested by Susan Hill.

1. I am doing housework and there is a man who is all my own getting under my feet.

2. My hands are sore because I made pastry for mince pies yesterday.

3. Washing up my best glasses so that they sparkle.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Flowers, Christmas is coming and you know what I mean.

1a. I am chatting to the girl who is washing my hair. It turns out that she doesn't want to be a hairdresser -- 'I want to work with special needs children.' I say that this is a very worthwhile career; and wish that being a writer had the same usefulness to society. She pauses and then says: 'Well I couldn't live without my books. That's usefulness.'

1b. When I ask to tip my hairdresser, in her drawer are a few coins and a USB stick. In the drawer belonging to the hairwash girl, there is a packet of chewing gum.

1. Five bunches of daffodils for £2. 'It's because they're open,' says the flower boy.

2. A respectable middle-aged couple hurry up the hill carrying a Christmas tree between them.

3. I describe the vaguely-remembered work of a steam-punkesque scientist to Nick. He knows exactly who I mean. I feel as if I have met some sort of soulmate.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Red and green, small dog and printing.

1. Emily is wearing a Christmassy red jacket and green jumper.

2. We crowd to the window to watch the shoot. A wire-haired dacshund races around nearly expiring with excitement. Earlier this week, it came to greet Oli and me as we went into work. It was wearing a coat, and seemed very pleased to see us, wriggling right down on the ground and wagging its tail.

3. Printing my own wrapping paper with a large rubber stamp.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Surface, off the hook and nut shells.

A set of beautiful things arrived on a bright postcard from Fenella and Andy:

1. Enjoying a Singapore Sling in Raffles, admiring the fan mechanisms , throwing monkey nuts to the floor and noting how little the long bar has changed since colonial times.

2. Swimming in one of the world's top 50 swimming pools overlooking green padi fields and lush palm vegetation with dragon flies overhead and monkeys swining in the trees.

3. Massages; the Balinese style involves not just two hands but four - kneading and stroking away all worries and knots to leave you relaxed; smelling like a coconut and with enough change for another one tomorrow.

Honourary fourth mention of Andy's beloved rice cooker which is currently enjoying a tour of Indonesia.

1. The gravel drive is solid with frost.

2. When I come to put the news together, I notice that I have given Oli a lot of rubbish stories. I feel a bit guilty for not checking the list properly, but don't say anything. As we are leaving, he comments that the day has gone really quickly because he's had stories about Welsh statistics to do. I am absolved.

3. Making a pile of pistachio nut shells on Nick's kitchen table.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tree at the top, outlined and coming home.

1. A few pine needles on the stairs suggest that upstairs have their Christmas tree.

2. Every leaf has a careful edging of frost.

3. Most evenings when I get home, I catch a clean baby smell coming up from the garden flat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bottled jewels, ten for a penny and a challenge.

This is what my small brother is doing -- he's exploring Greenland.

1. We added pomegranete juice to our fizzy wine and wondered at the colour of it.

2. A dish of flying saucers in pink and green and orange and blue.

3. Jules dares me to see how long I can go just wearing pyjamas. It's tempting, but Katie is unimpressed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A tray, not us and keeping warm.

1. We wake to find a house fairy has left a tray of tea things outside my bedroom door.

2. The car in front of us is run into by someone coming out of a side road. Oli comments that life is made up of a million misfortunes that one avoids because they happen to other people. Later I remember this while reading The Pinhoe Egg. Characters fall victim to a 'nudge' spell, which makes accidents more likely to happen than they are to almost happen.

3. On a cold night, turning up the heating and pulling a dressing gown around me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Coffee, film and supplies.

1. A large cup of coffee brought just as I am waking up.

2. Heroic saga. 3D glasses. Need I say more about Beowulf?

3. My aunt presses a small packet of sweets 'for the journey' into my hand as I leave.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Morale, art and a new skill.

1. A hot Cornish pastie and cup of tea on a very wet day.

2. We stand in front of a painting at the Tate Modern. It looks as if someone has thrown green and orange paint at a canvas and smeared it around. My aunt says: 'Does this remind you of something?' I nod slowly and say: 'Yes. Monet's waterlilies.' 'Me too.' But we don't know why.

3. My aunt teaches me crochet -- I 'discover' several 'new stitches' before I get it right.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Rolling, other worlds and the story continues.

1. Wheeling my suitcase down to the station because I'm going away for the weekend.

2. My cousins' particular brand of creativity that covers the kitchen in models of wrinkly tree-stump dwelling creatures with fat bellies and long toes; and allows them to appreciate the photo of me and Rosey in which I am trying to look beautiful and Rosey is cross-eyed. We spend dinner defending the fantasy corner against people who think making up words and worlds is silly.

3. Hearing my aunt up-dating a former colleague about their patients. Some of them now have grandchildren.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tiny flowers, what have I done and nothings.

1. A winter flowering cherry shaking a scatter of brave and generous blossoms in the December chill.

2. Tomorrow, it is two weeks til I leave this job. We are starting to realise what this will mean. I feel like crying when He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named looks up from his work and says: 'I know you're laughing because of the way you coughed.'

3. All the sweet and silly things Nick and I tell each other about the four days we've been apart.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stickiness, in your own time and parcels.

1. A large and brightly coloured box wrapped in a pink organza ribbon arrives at work. It contains:
  • Soor plooms
  • Raspberries and blackberries
  • Colour changing popping candy
  • Lemon crystals
  • Bassetti
  • Apple crumble fudge
  • Treacle bangers
  • Twin cherries
  • Stockleys fruit rock
  • Strawberry sherbert
  • Cherry cola bottles
A pleasant stickiness overcomes the office, and people pop in and out all day to nibble at their favourites.

2. I am about to ask for my usual evening beauty appointment, when I remember that as I am about to take three months off, I can book a slot at half past ten on a weekday morning if I like.

3. I get home to find Katie and Jules surrounded by bags of Christmas shopping.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Box, book and dinner.

1. My aunt texts to say that the mysterious parcel I warned her about has arrived on her doorstep. Can she open it? Will it bite? I tell her yes, but only if she's careful.

2. I love Fair Play by Tove Jansson. It's a novel about two lady artists whose lives are tightly twined. They have problems and they resolve them in short, gentle chapters.

3. I come home from writing to find Katie has made stirfry with tonnes of crunchy vegetables dressed in honey and soy sauce with oily noodles.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cats, bread and dog.

Check out Steve Stack and Scott Pack discussing It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit on Scott's blog. Some interesting comments about avoiding tweeness when writing about beautiful things, and how it's harder to be funny about good things than it is about bad things.

1. A lady whose house is on the edge of the park calling her cat in. She bangs a spoon on the railings and in between each call, her other cat calls too: 'Puss!' 'Miaou!' 'Puss' 'Miaou!' 'Puss!' 'Miaou!'

2. Amanda brings a fat and fruit-filled pannetone to the writing class, and we eat it to celebrate the end of term.

3. Walking up the hill late at night I catch sight of the hind quarters of a familiar dog going round a corner. By the time I reach the top of the hill, he and whoever he was walking with have gone.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Thrift, we like cheese and choir.

1. Buying something from the supermarket basics range and finding that it's rather good.

2. Katie is practising along with a recording of Handel's Messiah. I swear there is this one bit where they sing: 'We like cheese.' She is not amused when I point this out. Later, Emma confirms that the words are 'We like sheep', which is nearly as funny.

3. A concert in the Royal Albert Hall where the singers far outnumbered the audience. I loved the way the different parts called to each other across the hall. I've only ever heard Messiah sung by a small choir in a church -- this was a very different experience, and I could almost feel the force of the sound.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tiny cakes, a shop and the possibilities.

1. I take a walk down the King's Road in London and find a farmers market in full swing. Among the cheese, fish, bread and dried fruit, I find a stall selling cupcakes with fascinating sprinkles. The couple in front of me are told not to worry about exact change, but the man says: 'This is a business,' as he scrabbles for coins. He turns to me and says: 'You've got to watch these two.'
'See you later, Dad,' says the stallholder.
The cakes are a huge hit at the drinks party I am attending.
'This sparkly one,' says Grace, 'I think it's topped with gold and real rubies.'
Elaine takes photos of the cakes in the box and on the plate.
Later, 'Look at the dinosaur sprinkles. You can name them. T. Rex, pleisiosaur...'
'I thought you meant like James and Ian.'


2. Walking into Habitat. I have suffered a certain sadness since they closed the Tunbridge Wells branch of Habitat. I used to love walking round imagining what I would have if, say, all my crockery disappeared, or if I could have a new kitchen. There is huge branch on the King's Road, so I go in.


3. Three girlies and lots of cocktails, and the possibility that a bored rich man might come and ask if he could join us, chat to us for an hour or so, then pay our bill.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dryshod, a pause and adventuring.

1. On a vile night being driven all the way from work to where I want to go when I was expecting to have to arrive soaking wet.


2. The gap in the conversation during eating.


3. Being taken on an adventure that someone else is generating in reaction to my choices.