Friday, 30 April 2010

same time, same place

It is the start of the exam term.

I have done it before
and I know what hard work it is
but I must admit that I had forgotten
the feeling of being bombarded from every angle
and probably by the time I am used to it
the last exam paper will be in storage.

Six short weeks,
and it will all be over for another year...
I am keeping my mind fixed on that.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

MrsM at the Royal Festival Hall

Danjulo Ishizaka

Symphony-Concerto in E minor for cello and orchestra

So...I have got over the bit where I obsess about the conductor's ponytail and wonder if it was a style decision or an indication that he could not find time to go to the hairdresser. I have also considered whether the French Horn players really do look like Groucho, Harpo and Zappo - they do, discussion over. Now I am having an in depth analysis of the violinists. Should I reconsider my personal ban on black patent shoes? The violinist in the front row does not look like the Queen in hers although it has to be said that they are 4" heels and that the Queeen does not wear a backless tuxedo. Should I grow my hair and have blonde highlights like the violinist in the second row? What about growing my fringe out like the violinist in the back row?

But wait...
what is this...
the guest cellist is leaving the stage mid solo...
what has happened??

Has he got bored?
Does he want to watch the news?
Has he forgotten to switch off his mobile?

Five minutes later he comes back onto the stage, and has a chat with the conductor. What are they talking about? Have they agreed that the work is too long and decided to cut half an hour out of the middle section? It is all very strange. I find myself entranced by the cellist...he is very young and has geek chic nailed down. The glasses! The hair with side parting! And he is wearing a rain coat on stage!! Perhaps he has to leave early to catch a train. He attacks the cello with dramatic energy and the whole thing is over very quickly.

I turn to the person beside me who is a senior manager for the orchestra.

To my horror, I realise that he is expecting me to make a critical analysis of the music.

I shake my head..
and in a low and serious voice I say..
"Such a thing, imagine!"
and to my huge relief
this cryptic comment is acceptable
and he replies in a low and serious voice
"I know, it was marvellous, wasn't it!"

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A World Without Women

If you live outside the U.K. you may be starting to wonder if there really is an election on. I am not sure if it has been mentioned on any of the blogs that I read regularly (pace Guido). The silence is deafening.

I am an educated woman with a family and I have many questions to ask in this election.

Unfortunately, I am being told the answers by the three male leaders of the principal parties, the three male financial spokesmen, the three male spokesmen for home affairs, the three male spokesmen for foreign affairs. The questions are being asked on my behalf by the male interviewers on television and radio.

The principal female images in the media have been the silent wives of the leaders of the principal parties and the embarrassing pictures of parliamentary candidates dressed up as eye candy. I have tried hard to think of an interview that I have heard by a senior female politician and the only example is Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, who at the age of 80 has a fascinating perspective but no prospect of making decisions for the future.

I will consider the issues and vote on May 6th but I feel disenfranchised and disengaged because representation for women has taken a significant step backwards in this election. This is the first election that my daughter will vote in - it is not the world that I thought she would inherit.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Musée Carnavelet

We visited the Musée Carnavelet
en route to our favourite brasserie
for Sunday brunch.

I don't want to give the impression
that we are half hearted
in our search for culture and knowledge...

the fact that we were prepared to go to a museum
before breakfast
gives an indication of our dedication.

I think I could have stayed all day
wandering along the corridors
and taking photos of the shadows.

Who could resist the chance
to play with their camera
in such beautiful surroundings?

Not me.

Next time we go to Paris
I will go and read the labels.

Many thanks to the Musée Carnavelet
for their welcoming attitude to cameras.

Monday, 26 April 2010

MissM goes to Paris

MissM packs a 'capsule wardrobe':
one pair of trousers,
one styled skirt,
three tops
and an Italian bag.

I have no idea who taught her how to do this.
It definitely wasn't me.

and yes!
that IS the Charming MasterN
travelling incognito.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Outrageous...but true

MasterM tells us that he has a small sideline
recording iPhone apps.
Apparently, his accent is perfect.
That would be his South African accent.

Friday, 23 April 2010


When I write for myself
I write quickly with a very sharp pencil.
I love the faint scratching sound
and the feel of the graphite
sliding across the paper.

I write in cheap reporters notebooks
and poems are interleaved
with lists of chores and shopping.

This photograph was taken
immediately after I had finished writing
but it seemed too private, too personal, to post.

Perhaps that is because it records the moment
when words leap the gap
between my head and the world.

By the time they reach the screen
they belong to you, the reader,
but until then, as gray shapes on gray lines,
they still belong to me, the writer.


This post is for Jackie
who suggested writing about writing

and for
whose first email arrived out of the blue a year ago.

Their friendship,and your friendship,
which has brought me so many smiles
and so much encouragement,
has been made possible
by the magic of the inkless internet.

I am profoundly grateful.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

(just for the record)

The Eyjafjallajokull edition

MrsM is pacing the empty corridors of the Department.

There are 15 academic staff stranded abroad;
they are experienced and resourceful travellers
but MrsM wants them all back. Safely.

The Intrepid Research Assistant
was the first one home after driving overnight
from Denmark to Calais.
He emails to let me know that he is
'tired and dirty but safely home'.

The Very Cultured Professor
has decided to visit Vancouver
while he waits for his rescheduled flight
'because I have never been there before'.

The Professor of whom we spoke some time ago
has had a car accident in North Carolina
but fortunately is only shaken, not stirred.

The Examinations Officer is stuck in Washington
and we confer on the phone to make sure
that the exam preparations are unaffected.

The Expert on Hand Axes is in St.Louis
but it doesn't stop him from sending me emails
which make me laugh out loud.

The Enthusiastic Academic
is in hot and humid Taiwan
about which she feels less than enthusiastic.

The Expert on Fair Trade
has decided to wait it out in a beach hut.
She assures me this is the cheapest option.

The Expert on Communication Technology
is in a very comfortable hotel in Finland.
Travelling overland is not an attractive alternative.

The Head of Department is stranded in South Carolina
and his only consolation is the knowledge
that the Dean of Faculty is stranded in China.

The Deputy Exams Officer says, gloomily,
'I hope they all get back
before the other volcano blows...'

The Young Academic confirms his trip to Iceland
is still going ahead next week.
He assures me that you can fly in from the West.
I double check that he has travel insurance.

The Vulcanologist from upstairs
is quivering with excitement;
Christmas has come unexpectedly early
if you are a Geologist.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Sun Spots

MrsM sees the other tourists
taking close-up pictures of the poppies
and sighs inwardly.

MrsM is so over that sort of photo nowadays.

MrsM considers an interesting mosaic
of the box hedging, green on green

Or maybe an artistic contrast between
the angles and the straight lines.

But when she gets closer she finds herself
strangely drawn to the poppies

and immediately changes her mind.

No shame in that.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Au Printemps

Here is Paris

in the full-blown blossomy spring:

the soft, just-opened green-ness,

the bright blueness of it,

the crisp caramel orangeness

and the crazy metallic redness.

The darkness of it,

and the lightness.

Friday, 16 April 2010

MrsM reclines

Lady Jane Montagu
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres( 1780 - 1867 )

MrsM sometimes pines for a secretary.

She imagines herself lying on the chaise longue
dictating affectionate messages
to be sent post haste.

To bb
I wake at night worrying about your cold sore.

To Paola
I am so sorry about the s***e picture.

To Kathe
You MUST control your passion for cute boys on boats.

To Tracy
I see your weeds and raise you.

To Lynn
Get better. Immediately.

To Jen
What!! No meme this week. Disaster!

To Coffee Lady.
I blame you (see above)

To Tracey
Letting a friend go is hard so I send my love.

To Gina
You are insanely talented.

To Jackie
Handwriting? Maaaaybe...IF I can find a pencil.

To Cat
Please do NOT use vinegar for poaching eggs.

To Trash
It gets easier when they get older. (Just kidding.)

To Anne
That try!! What a girl!!

To Kristina
Such an adorable squiggly scarf. You are so clever.

To Monica
Have a lovely time in Italy. Bring back the sunshine.

To Sarah
Thinking of you!

To Cathy
Thinking of you!

To Baa-Me Kniits
Hello to the heart of Australia!

To Ali
Thank you for lunch...and for listening

To MrM
Don't forget to get some Euros

And then MrsM would sigh languidly
and ask the secretary to water the orchids
while she was in Paris for the weekend.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

(just for the record)

It is the quietest day of the year.

The academic staff are away
en masse
at international conferences
or doing field work in foreign parts.

This means that I can do the following:

Admire the pink blossomy beauty of the campus.

Smile sweetly at the lady behind the cash desk
when she scowls at me.

Chat up the guy in charge of the conference
until he lets me eat the jelly beans
which have been put out for the delegates.

Admire the tiny dog called Stanley
with a diamond collar and little grey hoodie
who arrives tucked under the arm of a (male) student.

Pimp my examinations spreadsheet
with coloured tabs.

Listen to music!
In my office!
On my sparkly green iPod!

Wave to the tiny student
who sits like a sea sprite
on the rock outside the front door
having a break from cataloguing hand-axes.

Listen to the lovely lady from Finance
tell me about her Caribbean cruise.

Go to lunch with a visiting Chinese academic
and hear his in-depth analysis
of UK steel and coal production.

Water the Head of Department's
much loved collection of plants.
I have only managed to kill one.

Discuss football
(about which I know very little)
with the Newcastle supporter
in his black and white Magpie shirt.

Wish I could hear the noisy footsteps
of the academic who has just turned 40
as he arrives in my office
with yet another cunning plan
to spin money out of thin air.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Early Learning

Dendroaspis polylepis


Did you know
that there are only 7 people
in the whole of Africa
who have survived without anti-venom
after being bitten by a Black Mamba
and I know 2 of them.

How amazing is that?

MrsM sits safely on her sofa
and considers the significance of this statistic.

She wonders, faintly, if the hours invested
watching Steve Irwin on the Discovery Channel
will be sufficient protection for her son.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

family chit-chat

Daniel Maclise (1811 - 1870)

Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing
to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster.

The thing that annoys me about Word2007
is the default font
which is Calibri (Body).

Oh..yes! I completely understand – I love Arial.

Book Antiqua is the cool font.

Courier makes me feel happy.

Sometimes I use Palatino Linotype;
it depends on what sort of day it is.

I’m a Times New Roman kind of guy.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Linen, white

My arms full of pillowcases and sheets,
I am distracted
by the sight of the Magnolia,
crumpled and damp
with early morning dew.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Message for MasterM

Dear Son,

We have a new toaster!

(I know that you suggested this
a couple of years ago
but we did feel very loyal to our old toaster
even though it was idle and slipshod.)

It toasts on both sides!
At the same time!
Without burning!
And you don't have to guess when the toast is done!

You can come home now.

Friday, 9 April 2010


when the light switches on unexpectedly
there is a moment of shock
but if you have sat in the dark for a while
there is also relief

you know that nothing will ever look the same again
and you sit there trying to make sense of it

and then you reach out
to the new world


Thank you for your patience this week and for all the encouraging emails. Normal service resumes tomorrow.


snow at Easter

bring me a breath of sea air
bring me a grain of desert sand

bring me stones from a mountain top
bring me moss from a valley floor

bring me volcanic dust
bring me river flow

he smiled at her
and turned to go

I have brought you Easter snow

Thursday, 8 April 2010


the road chose me

lonely, the road that will set me free,
I am afraid but cannot turn back;
it was not my choice, the road chose me.

uncharted, the way not clear to see,
uphill and stony, a broken track,
lonely, the road that can set me free.

fluttering hands, pale heart, mind empty,
caught unprepared, scant time to pack
(it was not my choice, the road chose me)

a feather, a song, a green oak tree;
three things I need when the moon is black.
lonely, the road that must set me free.

incomprehensible destiny,
to seek a world glimpsed through a crack;
it was not my choice, the road chose me.

this, the first footfall of a journey
into shadowed looking back.
lonely, the road that has set me free,
it was not my choice, the road chose me.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


over the hills and far away

I thought that I would write novels
and the words would march in disciplined ranks:
first the right flank, and then the left,
now the grand set piece.
But I am no Wellington
and my words are too turbulent, too unruly.

I tried to tame them in small groups,
tempting them with elegant plots and plans,
but they turned their backs on me, mutinous.
The stories neglected, shrivelled,
and I lost heart.

Unbidden, the words escaped
into a disciplined world. I was strict and
to my surprise, the words snapped to attention
and offered their services.
They described their skills:
forward observation
covert surveillance
covering fire

I tried to dissuade them:
"It is a hard choice that you have made...
there will be no glory, no drums, no medals.
You will go out into unexplored lands
and into the homes of the unknowing.
Sometimes it will be unbearably long
before you return. You will be misunderstood
and taken hostage. Sometimes you will fail.
There is no armour."

They laughed at me, those rebel words.

And still I fretted:
"You must be polished.
You need more training.
You must stand up straight.
You need a map.
You must show respect."

They could wait no longer.
Turning their faces,
they set off along the stony road
and took me with them.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


My Existential Poem About Snow

I sat in silence,
sharpened my pencil
and wrote on the straight gray lines.
The words lay flat and lazy from their long sleep
but I made them sit up and breathe
and then I moved them around
until, disorientated, they began to obey me,
remembering the tricks that once they knew.
And when I felt sure that the words would behave
I sent them, crocodile fashion,
to a man who knows about such things.
As I pressed the button
my heart flipped with anxious love
because they were only little, these words,
and they might forget how to tumble and turn
before this man from the world of artistes.
And I wished that I had left them bumping against each other
among the gray lines of the white page
where their laughter would not disturb anyone.
But the words danced and sang
with obedient, innocent clumsiness
and he wrote back with a smile.

And for that brief moment I thought myself
a choreographer, a conductor,
a poet.


The next four posts were written over the Easter weekend.
They are intended to be read as a sequence
and so I have turned the comments off
for the individual posts.

I hope that you don't mind...
I know that part of the fun of reading blogs
is the opportunity to respond immediately
but in this case it takes four posts
to tell the story.

There will be a postscript on Friday if you wish to comment or you can email me if you can't wait that long.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter in a Country Church

We woke early so that we could drive the hundred miles
to be with Granny and Grandpa
for the Easter morning service in their church.

At least, that was the plan...
MrM slept through the alarm.
But we made it on time.

We squeezed into the tiny pews
and shared our hymn books and candles
and smiled at the identical twin boys in the front row
and listened to Thomas preach the Easter sermon.

I watched the blue tinted patterns of light
on the newly painted sanctuary wall
and wished I could capture them.

At the end of the service the children ran outside
to find the Easter eggs
hidden in the churchyard.

As I knelt on the damp grass to take a photograph
one of the little twin boys
showed me his cap full of chocolate.

I looked at him and said, carefully,
"If you eat all that chocolate, you will be SICK."
and he replied, very seriously,
"Oh no, I won't. I'm special like that."

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Easter Primroses

I am surprised to see primroses
tucked into sheltered places
despite the endless wintry rain
and leaden skies.

Perhaps Spring is not far away, after all.

We are having a quiet time at home
and thinking of MasterM by the beach.
The family Easter Egg hunt
will not be the same without him
but The Easter Bunny has made arrangements
for a Chocolate Egg supplement
to his monthly allowance.

I wish you a peaceful Easter weekend.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Secret Ingredient...


My recipe collection
is filled with tiny notes,
drawings and precious letters.
Memories spill out of every page.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Paddy's Day at the Madstad

Same place...

same party...

but this year...

MrsM and MissM decide to up their game.