Tuesday, 30 November 2010

oranges are not the only fruit

...there was this American from the mid West and she was a really nice girl with two young boys - except that they won't be young anymore, they will be 19 and 17. I liked her very much although I didn't know many Americans in those days and so the whole Halloween/Thanksgiving thing was a bit of a mystery to me and when she said she was planning to eat lamb for Christmas I wondered if she was a bit odd. She also did scary, high concept stuff with napkins and when I went for lunch one day the Caesar salad was in individual parmesan cheese baskets and I was knocked back a bit because in those days I thought that taramasalata with pitta bread was quite outré.

Anyways (as MasterM would say) one day she asked me what the small orange fruits in the bowl were and I wondered if she was pulling my leg so I looked at her very, very carefully. She didn't blink so I said didn't they have clementines in America? And she said she had never, ever seen them before. And to this day I don't know if she was teasing me or if there really are no clementines in America and I worry about it quite a lot. Did she think that I thought she was stupid? Or did she just think that I was stupid.

Monday, 29 November 2010

On Clare Bridge

As I took this photo the woman paused beside me
and when I had finished I thanked her.

"It is even more beautiful in the winter
than it is in the summer." she said.

"Shall I tell you something..." I replied
"I walked across this bridge
twenty five years ago as a young bride
because I was married in the chapel."

She was older than me and she smiled
"And are you the same person now
as you were then?"

I thought of all that had passed in that time
"No...no, I am not that person"

"But there is continuity...no?"
I thought of MissM visiting the Charming MasterN
in this same college and I smiled back at her
"Yes, of course there is continuity."

And she turned away from me,
this stranger who had offered such compassionate insight,
and walked over the bridge.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Frost in November

MrsM enjoys scraping the ice off the car in the morning.
She finds it quite soothing.

MrsM thinks that this is probably
not a socially acceptable admission
so she decides to keep it as a guilty secret.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Student Experience (1)

I think that you need to meet Gareth,
my favourite PhD student.
I was planning to keep him all to myself
but that would be selfish because
Gareth needs an Appreciation Society.

Today Gareth arrived in my office
with a bag of fruit scones and plain scones
(baked by himself)
and a jar of home made jam
and a tub of clotted cream.

Thank goodness it is at least three years
before he submits his thesis.

The Student Experience (2)

I am very sorry but I will not be able to attend tomorrows lecture as I have managed to stupidly give myself food poisoning . But I will ensure someone gets me a hand out and I catch up on what I have missed. Very sorry again, will cook chicken more thoroughly from now on.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

(just for the record)

The New Principal visits The Department

MrsM wakes up at 4.30am
and wonders if she booked the catering.

MrsM spends an unreasonable amount of time
trying to decide whether
a contemporary wooden necklace
is more appropriate than
a shimmery necklace of mother of pearl.
She takes both.

The Head of Department
is anxious about his tie
because the knot is slipping.
MrsM assures him that it is not noticeable.

The Lady Professor
is worried about her skirt.
It is a beautiful purple silk
with a clingage issue.
MrsM assures her that it is not noticeable.

The Head of Department reviews the presentation
and makes changes at the very last moment.
MrsM shuts her eyes and prays
that he will not delete it accidentally.

At 9am the Principal arrives with the Dean
and finds the whole Department
sitting expectantly in the Board Room,
name badges neatly attached.

MrsM is thrilled to discover her photo
at a feature point of the presentation.
She resists the temptation to whisper "That's mine!!"
She notices that the Principal smiles.
Well...she is sure he did.

As the Principal leaves the Board Room
to tour the Department
MrsM's best friend from catering
is waiting around the corner
with the trolley of coffee and biscuits.
MrsM resists the temptation to hug him.

MrsM briefly panics when she remembers
the Daniel Craig feature wall
in the Departmental Office but knows that
it is part of the Student Experience.

MrsM wonders if the Principal notices
the smell of furniture polish,
or the impressive display of posters
or the immaculate noticeboards.

The Principal leaves promptly at 11am
and the Head of Department breathes out slowly
for the next hour and a half.

The Principal writes to thank the Department
and praises the evidence of excellence
in teaching, external engagement and research.

There are exceptionally difficult times ahead
for Higher Education and particularly Geography.
The Department will need friends in high places.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Small Talk

I love meeting people at parties

because if you are patient
and listen carefully

you reach the moment in the conversation
when you discover what really matters
to the person in front of you...

it might be gardening, fast cars, gospel music,
vineyards in France or mountains in Austria
and these are all good subjects to chat about

but if you are really, really lucky
you might end up talking to a person
who collects vintage kimonos.

Monday, 22 November 2010

a living candle

this year I planted three Paperwhite bulbs
and as I watch them grow towards the light
I think of Elspeth Thompson.

I shall do this every year
to celebrate Elspeth's courage
and her inspirational writing

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Movie Night

I feel like watching Love Actually

We don't have Love Actually...

what about:
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Death of a Salesman
The Bicycle Thieves

I am not sensing that you are listening to me.

Here is my wild card.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Circle Completed

This is Clarkes
in Kensington Church Street,
one of my favourite restaurants.

It is always full of interesting people,
the service is immaculate
and the menu is never less than enticing.

We sit there on Saturday
waiting for MissM and the Charming MasterN
and it is difficult to comprehend
that so little has changed
since the first time I came here
when I was pregnant.

I would not trade this today
with my beautiful MissM
for that yesterday
and I am grateful for that.


Thank you for your wonderful comments.
My email box overfloweth with friendship.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

MrsM phones Tuvalu

MrsM has led a sheltered life.

If she needs to make a phone call
there is someone who will do it for her
If she needs to send a text
there is someone who will do it for her
If she really needs to make a phone call herself
there is someone to dial the number

but now...
imagine the tragic situation...
MrsM is all by herself...
and she desperately wants to phone bb...
because there is important news she wants to share
but she can't seem to get through...
and that would be because...
MrsM does not know the dialling code for Tuvalu...
because she has never, ever dialled it herself.

MrsM hangs her head in shame.
Think of all those burned bras
to achieve freedom and independence.
What a shocking waste.

(and then...when MrsM finally gets through
bb has a mouthful of guacamole
but because MrsM is English
she is far too polite to notice.)

Truly, it was a memorable night.


I have said it before
but now is a good time to say it again...
I would not have started writing
without encouragement from bb
who has commented from the very beginning.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

...for my family...

Have you heard of the UK Web Archive?
It is a project sponsored by the British Library
to preserve a selection of UK websites.

Last week I was thrilled to get two emails
telling me that
The Magpie Files
...the sight of morning...
have been selected for archiving.

It means that these websites will be safe
and the written history of our family
available to my children for the forseeable future
in the format that it was designed for.

The opportunity is also of wider significance
because the blogs will act as a window
into the minutiae of family life
at the start of this century
and will be a potential resource for research.
I love the idea of being part of
the tradition of family archives
that goes back to the Paston Letters and beyond .

It is not just about me and my writing...
the website is captured as a whole piece of work
which means that all of your wonderful comments
will be preserved for posterity.
Even MrM's comments.

It is an exciting project to be part of
and I would urge you to nominate
your own blog for archiving
so that there is wider representation
of our amazing blogging community.
I really don't want to mislead
the researchers of the future into thinking
that everyone in the early 21st century
lived their lives surrounded by
blue and white china.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Quiet Place to Read

If you want to surprise a bookish young lady
who is working in Central London

and needs somewhere quiet to go at lunchtime
where she can curl up in a comfortable chair

or maybe the chance to flick through
the newspapers and periodicals

you should purchase a gift subscription
to the London Library in St. James's Square.

It was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle
and the list of illustrious members is impressive.

I like to think of MissM going through the front door
behind George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling,
Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard,
E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot,
Virginia Woolf and Agatha Christie.

all images by Sylvia Lewes (1935)
© The London Library

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The weight of light

At times in certain places
the light has weight beyond its normal measure -

dense, thick, heavy,

rich with an abundance of warmth and color.

It soaks into the world it falls on,
re-illuminating it from within

so that the texture of air, of streets, of faces
etch crystalline images indelibly

in memories of living presence...

extract from "The weight of light"
Manuel García, Jr.

Photos :
St. Andrew, Thornhaugh

Friday, 12 November 2010

a world within

Anna Maria Garthwaite (1688 - 1763)
Cut-paper work 1707

I look at this for a long time,
trying to absorb every detail,
and wonder at the exquisite skill.

I try to imagine the initial vision,
the fierce concentration
and the determination to complete.

I remind myself that even
the most ambitious of projects
are completed one tiny snip at a time.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Home Alone (remix)

Yes, that IS my supper
Yes, there are NO vegetables
Yes, that IS butter - the high calorie version
Yes, that IS a green melamine plate
Yes, it IS a poached egg

Anything else you want to know?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

(just for the record)

If you were me
you would have met
these students today:

four early birds
waiting at my door when I arrive
with essays hot off the press

a finalist who needs to borrow books

a late bird who delivers his essay
dressed in pyjamas and slippers

a very tall, athletic lad with a limp,
(tendon problems, apparently)
accompanied by two very small admirers

an anxious first year
who has missed the deadline
to pay for the field trip to Spain

a new PhD student from Canada,
delayed by visa issues,
but here at last,

an exchange student sending greetings
and a warm weather report
from the University of Arizona

a student with a complicated medical problem
weeping with frustration
at the inconvenience of illness

a beautiful young Belgian
collecting a red rose
delivered by an admirer*

a vivacious PhD student
with long blonde hair
and fabulous black nail polish
left over from Hallowe'en

my lovely South African friend
who asks about MasterM
and knows how far away he is

a Masters student in Peruvian bobble hat
coming in to start work as I leave


*actually, that wasn't today
but I thought that you should know about it

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

the naming of parts

In the churchyard, after the service,
the sunlight slides across the sides of gravestones,
illuminating the carvings.

On the way home,
I think of the word 'to'
and I ask MrM what part of speech it is
and he tells me it is a preposition
or a grammatical particle.

MrM studied Classics
so the parts of speech
and the rules for their correct use
are embedded in his brain.

I remember that when I started writing
it delighted me to begin sentences
with conjunctions and break those rules.
It made my writing very jagged and abrupt
but each word was carefully chosen
and the style was deliberate.

I write differently now
because my objective is to capture
the sound of a voice:
my daughter, my son,
my mother, my father,
my husband, my friends
my own.

It is a frustrating hobby,
like trying to catch cobwebs.

But when you get it right
the sound is there forever.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Generation Gap

I like my flapjacks:
they are reliably golden,
buttery and slightly chewy.

My mother's flapjacks are much more exciting:
sometimes they are sticky as tar
and sometimes they are hard as rock.
You never know if your teeth will survive
and I have learned to be cautious.

MissM has the careless optimism of youth:

"Once you have a taste for them
Grandma's flapjacks are curiously addictive...
I think it is the element of danger..."

Friday, 5 November 2010

Whence and Whither

The Sunshine Roof

Cyril Power created these images over 80 years ago
as he experimented with the new technique of linocuts
but the experience of commuting in London
is still immediately recognisable:

The Escalator

the steamed up windows of the bus,
the surge of people joining the escalator,
the frustration of arriving on the platform
just as the train departs.

Whence and Whither

I think of MissM on her way to work,
hurrying down Piccadilly,
wrapped up in her coat and scarf

The Tube Station

and I remember the thrilling feeling
of being a part of that great bustling city
because I was only a little bit older than her
when I started my first job in the City.

The Tube Train

Thursday, 4 November 2010

the world comes to me

Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio
Map of the North Pole/Arctic
Mercator (1595)

The brilliant young ice scientist from Denmark
is visiting to give his annual lecture.

He tells me about the silent ice world that he works in,
flat, white and bright with constant daylight.
After a while you lose track of time
and the only thing that breaks the monotony
is the wild party that is organised every Saturday.
The scientists set to with chainsaws and create an ice bar
which is loaded up with an impressive amount of alcohol,
the musk ox steaks start sizzling on the barbecue
and then the party begins.

If his outrageous Nigella impression
is a glimpse into Saturday night life on ice
it would be serious fun to be around.

In my next life I am going to be an ice scientist.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Shopping with MissM

'so...this man came in and he wanted to buy a fedora and I didn't know what a fedora was so I said "I will just check if we have any in stock" and then I went into the stock room and asked what it was. Then I came out and gave him one to try on. He asked me what I thought and I said "It matches the inside of your Barbour perfectly" and he was very pleased but then he said "You don't think it is too Town for the Country?" and I said "Oh no! It is the perfect hat for the weekend when you want to be smart in the Country." Then he said "Is it the right size? Are you sure it is not too small?" And I said "Can I suggest that you take two steps back from the mirror so that you get the full effect?" And he did and he was delighted. I think that he must have been short sighted but anyway he was so pleased that he wanted to wear it right away.'

MrsM suspects that the Inuit people would enjoy buying ice from MissM.