Saturday, 27 February 2010

The First Date

Every year MrM reminds MrsM that 22nd February is a special day because that is when they met for the first time when MrsM was very young, only slightly older than MissM is now.

And MrsM smiles and remembers their first date a few days later.

MrM offered to treat MrsM to fish and chips and so they queued outside the small shop in King Street, Cambridge. It was late and dark but the lights were bright through the windows. Every time the door opened a cloud of steam billowed outwards. MrsM didn't mind how long she queued because she had MrM to talk to. When MrM and MrsM got to the counter the man frying the fish looked at MrsM and said "Is he treating you to a big night out love?" and he gave her a friendly smile and a wink.

MrsM can remember every single detail of that evening because she had fallen in love, although she didn't realise it then.

And it is still a treat to have fish and chips with MrM twenty eight years later.

Friday, 26 February 2010

picking up the threads

Many years ago I used to sew.
My passion was to embroider replica samplers
and follow the intricate colour variations
of girls who sewed by candleight
with hand-dyed threads.

And then I was very ill
and the embroidery was never picked up again.
I really don't know why.
Perhaps I lost my ability to concentrate
or perhaps our life changed subtly
and the time for stitching got lost.

I opened the bag recently
and it was all as I had left it.
The needle was pushed through the canvas
and the silks were as vibrant as ever.

When I looked closely there was a tiny knot in the thread,
so small that I could hardly see it.
And I wondered if I had turned away
because that tiny knot
had seemed too difficult to sort out.
When you are ill,
small challenges can seem insurmountable.

It seemed extraordinary that such a tiny knot,
so small that you can hardly see it,
could act as a barrier for fifteen years
and I decided that this weekend
I will find the time to undo the knot
and start again.

for my friend, Gina

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Home Comforts

The Head of Department is flying to Cape Town
for an important conference
and offered to take a package for MasterM.
It contains a letter and a credit card
and a box of home-made fudge.
I hope that the obvious presence
of apricots, dates and crystallised pineapple
will ensure that it is not mistaken for explosives.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Little Girl Lost

My Grandmothers and I
Diana Holman Hunt

When a book is described as a comic masterpiece
it is not unreasonable to laugh
and that is what I did when I started reading
this delightful memoir of a child living with
two eccentric, extravagant grandmothers.
In fact, I will admit that I cried with laughter.

But then I put the book down
and went to sleep
and in the morning
I felt quite differently.

The neglect and emotional deprivation
were no longer obscured
by the exquisite comic timing
and I was really distressed by the image
of a small child obliged to live at the whim
of her self-centred, tyrannical grandmothers.
And so I cried for a different reason.

I had planned to illustrate this post
with Holman Hunt's painting of
'The Light of the World'
but now I will always associate it with
a terrified child banging on the door
of the darkened crypt of St. Pauls,
begging to be let out.
And I couldn't bear to have it on my blog.

I recommend this book which is beautifully written...
but not if you are a passionate Pre-Raphaelite
because it might shatter your illusions.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

sepia and silence

I went out intending to photograph
the marshmallow colours of Camellias
but they had been burned by frost.

In their place I found
the sepia petals of Hydrangea,
luminous and elegant.

I realised that the ability to see
this kind of quiet beauty,
which I had always taken for granted,
has been missing from my life for a while.

It needs silence and concentration,
which have been in short supply recently.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Thank you...

The Princess and the Pea
Margaret Tarrant (1915) the Mother of the Charming MasterN

who made MissM so welcome
when she went to stay during half term
and brought her breakfast in bed.

In the whole of her life
MissM has never, ever had breakfast in bed
and it made her feel very special.


MrsM thought of the Lovely MissE
who is now starting a career in fashion journalism
and felt a sharp pang of regret
that she had never made her
breakfast in bed
when she came to stay.

She was very special
and we send her our love.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Message from the Boudoir

Dear Friends,

here I am...

my facial muscles are toned...
my décolletage is moisturised...
my lipstick is à la mode...

and now I can sit down
and reply to all the amazing comments
that you have showered me with
over the past two days.

Air kisses all round, you lovely people...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

shade 79

Hashiguchi Goyo (1880-1921)
Woman applying makeup

MrsM is afraid of the ladies in white coats
who guard the displays of makeup in smart shops
and the ladies in white coats sense her fear.

MrsM tries to pretend that she is buying makeup
for her beautiful teenage daughter
but the ladies in white coats know that
beautiful teenage daughters
buy their own makeup.

MrsM is reduced to asking for help
from a very bored lady in a white coat
who was thinking about what to cook for supper
and, almost absentmindedly,
recommended the shade of lipstick
MrsM should be using this Spring...
even though it was out of stock.

MrsM left the smart shop with a light heart
and went into the next shop down the street.
She walked up to the makeup counter
with a firm and confident footstep
and the lady in the white coat snapped to attention.

MrsM said:
"Do you have shade 79 from the Spring Collection?"
as though Chanel had contacted her personally
and told her that this shade
had been created especially for her.

And then MrsM kindly allowed the lady in the white coat
to wrap her purchase and left the smart shop
feeling very empowered.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Reality Check

Sue has written a thought-provoking post
about the problem of self-editing.

Just in case you thought
that my life was all about
china and cupcakes
here is a story
to redress the balance:

Yesterday I saw a young man at a bus stop
who looked just like MasterM
and, for a moment, I thought that it was him
but then I remembered that
MasterM had just emailed to let us know
that he was wine-tasting in Stellenbosch.

I concentrated very very hard
on the hot-pink primula flowers
which I had just bought
and, after a while,
I stopped crying.

MasterM is having a wonderful time
but I am his mother
and I miss him.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Cupid's Messages

MissM and her friends have written out
three thousand anonymous messages
on beautiful hand stamped cards
and tied them on to long stem carnations.

From a sister to a brother
I know you love Susie
but I hope you love me more.

To a teacher
See me later – you crazy mixed up kid.

From a new teacher’s wife
who hasn't got the hang of it yet

Dear Headmaster,
Thank you so much
for inviting us to supper on Friday.
We had a wonderful evening.

To a very shy first year
You are a beautiful person
and you should let it show.

From numerous people
This message has been censored

This message probably should have been censored
Are you Jamaican?
Because you are Jamaican’ me love you.

This message definitely should have been censored
You are so hot I need butter

From a very love-lorn boy
Fifty flowers to be read in the correct sequence




And on…and on…

Friday, 12 February 2010

the start of the journey

11 February 1990

Twenty years ago I watched Nelson Mandela walk to freedom.

MasterM lay on the floor in front of me, 10 weeks old.
It was a moment of such pure optimism,
it seemed as though anything was possible,
and I knew that my son would grow up
in a world where apartheid was history.

Twenty years later MasterM is in the new South Africa
and I look back and wonder.
So many of the decisions that he has made
have led him to this choice
but I think that moment was the very beginning,
the start of the journey.

Perhaps it is just as well
that none of us can know
what the future will bring.

Thursday, 11 February 2010



When I started my mosaic project
I chose a place which was too far away.

It needs to be easy to reach
so that you can take photos as the light changes.

This tree on a hill near a gate
is on the edge of the water meadows.

If I lived a long way away
these photos would remind me of home.


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Fulvia says... is vital to moisturise your décolletage.

I'm on the case.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Terms and Conditions

The Geological Society is in a grand building off Piccadilly and I stood among the crowd of Geologists in the library and asked myself "Why am I here?". It is an impressive room filled with leathery smells and oil paintings and it is not a good place to have a personal crisis.

In one sense the answer was straightforward - I had come to hear my friend, the academic who took us to Stonehenge, deliver a lecture about the discovery of a hand axe.

In another sense it was more complex. We live in a world where a job is about money and entitlements, absence management and equal opportunities, tasks and objectives, family-friendly working hours and health and safety policies. These are all worthwhile things but none of them are the reason why you work. I know that you might think that money is the reason why you work but if you have ever been really miserable in a job you will know that is not true.

In the library of the Geological Society I realised that I am very fortunate indeed. I am not well paid and I do have to work long hours; there are petty frustrations and there will be difficult times for Higher Education as the budget cuts bite in the years ahead. But somehow, almost by accident, I have ended up in a job that matches my mixed bag of experience and interests.

None of the things that I love about the job feature in my contract - it does not say "You shall eat canapès in the library of the Geological Society" or "You shall make friends who give wonderful lectures about hand axes" or "You shall go out to dinner with a man who studies snails on Tristan da Cunha" or "You shall laugh at risqué jokes about prehistoric bear skeletons". I don't recall them being mentioned in the job advert or the panel interview but these, and countless other similar examples, are the reasons why I go to work every day.

And all this became clear to me in that moment, in the library of the Geological Society - which shows that you never know when inspiration will strike. And then I turned back to the person I was talking to and carried on our conversation about Thor Heyerdal, feeling very grateful for my good fortune.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Progress Report

Masons pitcher, 1950s, Regency colour

MrsM is taking small, brave steps.

This jug is blue and cream with added colour.


Thank you all for your lovely comments yesterday...
you definitely know how to boost someone's confidence.

(you have NO idea how relieved I was
that bb approved
because she is my fashion guru)

We drove to see MissM
and I was AMAZED what a difference it makes
if you can see the signs on the motorway
before you drive underneath them.

Oh, and MissM approves too
so I am allowed to wear them in public.


I have a busy couple of weeks ahead
so I may be a little slow replying to comments
and I apologise in advance for that.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

MrsM and the Optician's Assistant

MrsM is choosing her first pair of spectacles.

She asks the Optician's assistant for advice

Well, I wondered about this pair...

Optician's Assistant
Oh Yes!
Those are VERY NICE
they are classic and elegant,
lightweight and not obtrusive
and I can easily imagine you wearing those.

What about these...

Optician's Assistant
Those are VERY different!

They are ...

Yes, they make more of a statement.

MrsM weighs up the alternatives
which seem to be classic vs. statement

Opticians Assistant
If you were going to pin me up against the wall...


Opticians Assistant
...I would say the second pair

And suddenly, there was a multitude of bloggers saying:
"Go on! Go on! Go on!"

And so MrsM did.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Tooth Paste and Cold Cream

I'm hopeless in charity shops...
I get disorientated by the muddle of them
and the claustrophobic clothes rails
Antique shops are quite different.
I don't mean smart, expensive galleries
but small, dusty shops with piles of old plates,
faded prints of unknown places
and cardboard boxes of miscellaneous items.

Unfortunately, MrM does not share my passion
and waits impatiently outside the door,
studying the opening times in the window,
and then cunningly suggests that
we could 'come back later'
knowing that the shop closes in half an hour.

Imagine a delicious morning with MissM in Cornwall
when MrM was safely 250 miles away!
We shopped to our hearts' content
and bought all sorts of frivolities
until our arms nearly dropped off
carrying the boxes and bags.

Finally, we went into an Antiques Emporium
and in the last wooden display case,
on the bottom shelf,
was a selection of porcelain jar lids.
I would have bought more
but I also had an armful of china
and MissM had some essential books
and I had NO MORE MONEY.

There is a post script to this story
because Diana lives in Cornwall
and I emailed her to ask
if she would mind going into the antiques shop
and buying any lids that were left.
Imagine! The nerve of it!
(Isn't it wonderful to have Blog Friends!!)
And that is how the Cold Cream lid
with the beautiful Gothic writing
arrived by post on a spring day last year.

This post is for Diana,
because I meant to write it last year
to thank her for her kindness
and for Cathy, who loves fonts.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A little brown mouse

I stood at the window with my mug of tea
and thought about the day ahead.

A small movement caught my eye
and I saw that a little brown mouse
was sitting on the windowsill outside.

The little brown mouse
was completely oblivious to me
as it ate the bird seed
I had put out when it snowed.

And, just for a moment, I relaxed
and watched the little brown mouse
eat breakfast on the other side of the glass,
and forgot about the day ahead.

illustrations from 'Miss Moppet' by Beatrix Potter

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

outside my comfort zone

I know that I told you that
MasterM has settled down at university,
made friends, bought books
and is busy attending lectures...

it is all true


did I also mention that
MasterM is planning
to go swimming with sharks?


I'm a busy person,
maybe it slipped my mind...

(or maybe I'm in denial?)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Cartographic Imagination

Today, I watched an academic reading a map
and it seemed to me
that he had the same intensity that you see
in an artist looking at a completed canvas
or a musician reading an orchestral score.

I wanted to ask him
if the rivers actually cascade
in the landscape of his imagination,
if the gridded paper buckles
so that he sees valleys and mountains,
woodland, marshland and beaches,
if the churches with their towers and steeples
are just little map makers' symbols
or become solid stone with people inside.

Or if it stays two dimensional
and the contour lines swirl and curve
over the ridges and folds of paper
as they do when I look at a map.

But, of course, I didn't.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Mirror, It Speaks The Truth...

MrsM looks in the mirror...

W.C. Drupsteen, 1885

She has not been sleeping well recently
and she does not like what she sees...

Bess Livings, 1938

the effect is not so much that of
the charmingly dishevelled
Princess and the Pea...

Edmund Dulac, 1911

but closer to
the terrifying apparition of
the Wolf in Grandmother's clothing...

Paul Woodroffe

MrsM sighs and reaches for the phone...
MrsM needs the 'Shock and Awe' Facial package.
She needs to visit Fulvia ...