Wednesday, 30 June 2010

...and then the snow melted...

The House in Norham Gardens
Penelope Lively
Jane Nissen Books (2004)

"' is extremely dull,' said Aunt Susan tartly,
'to grow old with nothing inside your head
but your own voice.

Tedious, to put it mildly.'"

I am ashamed to admit that I am a very intolerant reader
and I am trying to teach myself to read again.
I want to break my habit of skim-reading
which has developed because I am so impatient
if the plot is lazy, characters are flat or descriptions florid

This was the perfect book to start my new reading diet.

Penelope Lively has examined the inner world
of an orphaned teenage girl living with elderly aunts
and you must read it slowly and carefully
so that you do not miss any detail
of the subtle descriptions of character and place.

The plot is feather light but you can hardly breathe
as you observe Clare comprehend the nature of love
and begin to take control of her life.

I would have been exactly the right age to read this
when it was first published in 1974
but I was probably devouring 'Gone With The Wind'
and scandalising the nuns at school.
I might have had better reading habits now
if I had stuck to slim volumes of immaculate writing.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

cure for a jaded palate

I am tired of flowers and cakes.

Combinable Wall I and II (1961)

I need to see eye-popping slabs of colour.

Gloria in Excelsis (1963)

I need an injection of Hofmann.

Autumn Gold (1957)

"the ability to simplify
means to eliminate the unnecessary
so that the necessary may speak"

Hans Hofmann (1880 -1966)

Monday, 28 June 2010

Lemony Drizzle Cake

It is Saturday afternoon.
MrsM and MasterM have a tactical discussion:

If I was going to bake a cake
what sort of cake should I bake?
What are the options?
Obviously not Chocolate
(because of you-know-who)
Well, in that case...
obviously not Coffee and Walnut..

I'm over Blueberry cake
Lemon Drizzle?
Now you're talking my language

At this point MasterM and MrM depart
to play snooker in the local club
to allow MrsM 'creative space'.

The cake is on the plate when they return.
MasterM samples the topping.
It is too sweet.
MrsM samples the topping.
It is indeed too sweet.
In an inspired last minute substitution
the juice of half a lemon is squeezed
directly onto the crystalline topping
and it soaks into the cake
and creates a crunchy citric tingle
to counterbalance the light lemony sponge
and the zesty buttercream filling.

Excellent result
It was a team effort

Sunday, 27 June 2010

the bowl of strawberries

we moved the table
to the shade of the cherry tree
and ate the strawberries
with sugar and cream
because that is what you do
on a hot summer day
and when we returned, late at night,
it was still warm enough
to sit in the garden
and look at the milk-white moon

Friday, 25 June 2010

Remote Shopping with MissM

The mobile phone rings and for once the Department is quiet
so MrsM can give it her full attention.

I have found a dress for the Leavers' Ball!

MrsM feels as though a weight has lifted off her shoulders.

What is it like?
It is short, black and very figure hugging
with broad straps and back detail.

MrsM sighs. She knows that this is perfect.
There is laughter in the background.

Who is with you?
My best friends.

MrsM absolutely trusts MissM's judgement
but she is so glad that MissM is with her friends
so that they can enjoy the moment together.

How much is it?
I am afraid that it is rather expensive.
I have reserved it so we can think about it.

MrsM cannot help gasping ever so slightly.

It is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Tell me what the stock code is
so that I can look it up on the website.

MrsM sees the dress.
It is indeed perfect. Absolutely perfect.
But wait...
it is also significantly cheaper.
(a whole pair of shoes cheaper)

Why don't you go back and check the price?

MissM hangs up.
Ten minutes later the phone rings again...

So...I went back and checked the price
and it really was the higher price
so I said I am sorry but I am going to unreserve it
because it is much cheaper on the website.
And then they went and checked and I was right
and so they reduced the price
AND gave me an extra discount!!


Parents of teenagers might be interested to know that MasterM and MissM have a shared credit card with a low limit that can be used for exactly this sort of situation. It is mainly used for train tickets and other low value purchases but can also be used for emergencies. We are trying to teach them the skills required to manage their finances...including the effective use of credit cards. We believe it is at least as important as learning to drive.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Scrimshaw, one of a pair (c. 1850)
© 2008 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I have been fascinated by scrimshaw art for as long as I can remember.

These small pieces of intricately carved ivory with their images of tall ships and beautiful women powerfully evoke the claustrophobia and boredom of the long voyages of the whaling ships. The scrimshanders carved materials at hand: whale teeth, bone and baleen and walrus tusks to escape from the filth and hardships of their separation from civilization into the landscape of their imagination. Some of the items are practical: pocket knives, combs and toys; but others have no function at all and were evidently carved for the sheer pleasure of creating something beautiful.

I peer into the museum cases and wonder every time at the emergence of art from such a soul-destroying world.

There is a fascinating gallery of images at the Scott Polar Research Institute website.


Tomorrow is the last day
of the brief but glorious
2010 Côte d'Ivoire World Cup campaign.
I bow to the silky skills of Brazil.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Lunch Hour

The view from where I sit.

You are welcome to join me
but you need to bring your own rug...
mine is only big enough for one

Please don't tell anyone where I am
because it has taken me two years
to find a place where I won't be disturbed.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


I am not very good with anniversaries.
I often forget them and suffer restrospective panic
but sometimes the prospect of celebration
creates anticipatory panic.

I have been blogging for more than three years
and written nearly a thousand posts
so I am scheduled for retrospective and anticipatory angst.

I have tried to stave this off
by revisiting my favourite post
The Road Home

I really love this post
and yet everything about it is transient,
it would never have been written

if I had not been blogging.
I believe that it captures the essence
of what I have tried to do with my writing

over the past three years (and a bit)
and (nearly) one thousand posts.

You have made the journey with me
and lightened each day with your insight and laughter.
I thank you.
I would love to know which post on your own blog
captures the essence of your writing.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Pale Shades

Note to the reader: this is not a poem

The pictures are falling from my walls
because the paint is too heavy.
Illusionary landscapes are real landscapes now.

No need for tonality or warmth of colour.
Now I write another poem that nobody will read.
There is loneliness in these words

I tell you the supposed reader in plain terms.
There is no need to hide behind poetry
I won't try to be clever with you.

Helen Ivory
Staying Alive ed. Neil Astley


My husband tells me that the football is on,
that I must come and watch;
but I am too busy,
I am photographing roses
in the last of the evening light.

Friday, 18 June 2010

'Sarah Bernhardt'

One can be restrained about paeonies

and consider them elegantly disposed
upon a plate of great beauty.

Or one can heap a pile of paeonies
upon the plate
with extravagant abandon

and fall into the frills and folds
face first.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

(just for the record)

Driving onto campus I am greeted by students
bright in red T-shirts
who are acting as car park marshalls
for the College Open Day.

It is the last Board meeting of the year.
There are apologies from Japan, Serbia and Vietnam
but the room is full.
There are important matters to discuss.

The mood is sombre.
Times are hard for Higher Education
and particularly for Geography.
We wait to hear news of reductions in funding.

The Head of Department begins to speak.
At the end of the first hour
the Admissions Tutor leaves the room
to give the morning presentation
to prospective applicants and their parents.

Outside the campus
stretch limousines crawl up the hill
on the way to Royal Ascot,
oblivious to recession.

At the end of the second hour
the Admissions Tutor returns
and is visibly shocked when he realises
that we are still on the same agenda item.

In a short break between items
I phone the Exams Office.
They need another signature.
Apparently it is crucial.
The paper is faxed off.

At the end of the third hour
the Admissions Tutor leaves the room again
to give the afternoon presentation.
It starts to feel as though we are in a time warp.

The torrent of discussion continues
and as my mind goes numb
I see my hand writing
"explore differing positionalities".
What does it mean?

At the end of the fourth hour
the meeting ends and we stagger to the room
where lunch was laid out two hours ago.

Outside, the prospective applicants are starting to leave.
Tomorrow the Finalists' results will be published.
Endings and Beginnings overlapping.
And that is how it will be
for as long as I work in the Department.

I leave early and sit in the silence of my garden.
The scent of roses drifts towards me.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

World Cup Fever

Indian Ivory Box c 1900

MrsM drew Côte d'Ivoire in the Department sweepstake.
She fears that their appearance may be brief
but she is determined to enjoy it.

Don't blink.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

MissM, Theatre Critic

Christopher Marlowe
(1564– 1593)

What was all that about?

Faustus (that’s the guy in the white trousers) is an academic. He gets obsessed with magic and Mephistopheles (the two cute topless guys with false eyes) tempts him. Faustus decides to sell his soul to Lucifer (the girl with red hair and the red satin dress slit up to her waist). She shows him the Seven Deadly Sins (the people in red cloaks) and Faustus wonders if he has got a good deal. The bad angel (the guy covered with red paint with writing on his stomach) and the good angel (the girl covered with white paint in a cut away swimsuit) argue it out and Faustus realises that he has made a terrible mistake. At the end he is carried away screaming by devils (the group of girls in grey dungarees and kneepads who have been writhing on the floor all evening.) There is other stuff too : Priests, Dukes, Helen of Troy, Alexander the Great etc etc ... but that is just to lighten the mood.



MissM is writing her A Level English exam today.
MrsM is profoundly grateful
that MissM did not have to rely on her mother
for critical analysis of her set texts.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Shopping with MasterM

...and in the middle of it all MasterM arrived home...

He slept and slept,
ate and drank
and went back to sleep.

On the seventh day he rose from his bed
and suggested an afternoon in the shops.

MasterM is an exhausting person to go shopping with...
he fidgets with cosmetic displays
and changes the language on scanners to Spanish
and chooses outrageous shirts to make MrsM laugh.

There is a significant difference to shopping with MissM.
MasterM gets the undivided attention
of every female shop assistant...
if he stands still for a moment
they appear offering help...
and it takes three baristas
to make a milkshake for MasterM...

MrsM watches as MasterM is asked where he got
the fashionably crumpled shorts he is wearing.
She kindly decides not to say
'from his bedroom floor'.
One should not draw aside the veil
which shields ordinary mortals from the truth.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Madonna dell'Umiltà

Vitale da Bologna (~1309 - 1369)

The exam season is ended for another year...
well...not quite...
because the scripts must be packed away,
the minutes of the various meetings written,
marks delivered to the Examinations Office
and the results of the Finalists published.

But the hard work is done
and I can move on to other things.

The last task is to meet students who have failed.
There are all sorts of reasons why this might happen
and inevitably the meetings are distressing.
As we waited for the first student
I looked around at the other people in the room
and I knew that there could not be
a more conscientious and caring group of academics;
their only motivation to ensure
that the best outcome for each student is achieved.
It is not the sort of thing that is mentioned
in the prospectus or departmental reviews
but I wanted you to know about it.
Compassion is a rare thing.


The academic who has just come back from Japan
had an unexpected trip to Italy this weekend.
He won't have time for looking at frescoes
but if he did he could see the work of Vitale da Bologna.

Friday, 11 June 2010

expenses claims

a post-it note
is better than

It seems a good way to end the week.

...the 'project' relates to the 2012 Olympics...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

the last lap

there are things I could write about
but right now
mark entry
that all I can offer you
is a pink rose on a blue plate

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Saturday afternoon in Carnaby Street

"I am going shopping in Carnaby Street
for vintage chic.
Do you want to come too?"

MrsM tries to pause for a moment
to give the impression that
she is thinking about it
but gasps

And so here they are in Carnaby Street
enjoying the razzle-dazzle of Saturday afternoon,
walking into small vintage boutiques,
looking through rails of carefully selected clothes
and collections of designer shoes
and fingering the costume jewellery.

MrsM is quite overwhelmed
by the shop assistant on rollerskates
and the till lady with her hair tied up in a scarf
and the rack of vintage swimsuits
and the display of Hawaiian shirts
and the man in the straw boater and two-tone shoes
and the Laura Ashley dresses that she recognises. Ahem.
It is all too much fun.

Fortunately MissM is not distracted
and sees exactly the dress that she wants in a window display
and is not intimidated by the ultra-stylish Japanese manager
and politely requests to try it on.
It fits perfectly.

MissM and MrsM walk out of
Marshamallow Mountain
with a bright red 50's day dress.

Now all they have to do is find some shoes...

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Shine of the Sun

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

'The Tempest'


'the isle is full of noises'
the Lithuanian students next door had a party...

...and a very smoky barbeque.
(maybe 'sweet airs' is not quite accurate here)

maybe the 'sweet airs' refers to
the roses in my garden
which are blooming profusely.
Obviously neglect suits them.

'a thousand twangling instruments'
that would be my iPod...

it has to 'hum about mine ears'
because otherwise it drives my family mad.

I have a particular penchant
for The National at the moment.
MissM refers to it as
'bearded lady music'.

I absolutely adore
the gravelly baritone
of Matt Berninger.

And his lyrics.

I went shopping with MissM...
(more about this later...
but that just about covers the 'riches' part)

Just as we left Oxford Street
'the clouds methought [did] open'
and thick, heavy drops of rain
fell out of a blue sky.

I stared at the TFL poster
and tried to absorb the words
by saying them over and over again in my head.

When I got home I lay on the bed
and fell fast asleep with exhaustion...
and 'when I waked,
I cried to dream again.'

that was my weekend...
but Shakespeare said it better than I could.

How was yours?

Friday, 4 June 2010

A Short History of Toasters

Four generations of the Princes of Orange:
William I, Maurice and Frederick Henry,
William II, William III
(Willem van Honthorst, 1662)


The Toaster is Dead.

I have concluded that we are living through
an in-bred dynasty of Toasters,
with receding heating elements
and impotent timer switches.

Toaster the First
Solid, dependable, old fashioned.
Toasters the Second, Third and Fourth
Short, forgettable reigns
Deceptively attractive exterior
No substance
Toaster the Fifth
Extended period of consistent eccentricity.
Toaster the Sixth
Smart and well presented
A brief but brilliant reign;
expired suddenly with multiple failures.
Toaster the Seventh
The twin of Toaster the Sixth
welcomed with naive optimism on Saturday
by the loyal subjects who continue to believe
(despite all the evidence to the contrary)
that somewhere out there
is a Toaster that works.

Long live the Toaster.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Cauliflower Soup

I confessed my secret passion for cauliflowers
a long, long time ago.

I have not mentioned them since.

Sometimes love must remain unspoken.


This post was the first time
that Ali commented on my blog.

I can still remember laughing out loud as I read it.

She has been a friend ever since.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

My Signature Dish

Chocolate cake for the Examiners
because man cannot live on Hob-Nobs alone...

MrsM (Technical Operations Manager)
and MissM (Creative Director)
had an in-depth discussion
about the use of silver balls.
It was agreed that
although it was not a birthday cake
the silver balls were permissible
in view of the importance of maintaining
the integrity of the design concept.

MrM entered the kitchen at this point
and was shocked
at the extravagant use
of white chocolate.
MrM was encouraged to exit the kitchen.

MrsM and MissM were delighted with their hard work.

MissM said to MrsM
"If you are going to have a signature dish
it is not a bad one to have."

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Moral of the Cherry Pie

There was once a person
who wrote a comment
"Blogs should follow life
and not vice versa"

and the person who read it said
"That is so true!"
but unfortunately,
the person who wrote it
(that would be me)
forgot her own advice
until the person who read it
reminded her.

there will now be a short period
where I will be writing about
shopping, cooking and eating.

You may wish to delay reading until after breakfast.

And the moral of the story?
If you have to make cherry pie,
make the best cherry pie that you can make.