Friday, 31 August 2012

"...under the sun..."

Woman at a Window
Duncan Grant

The thing that hath been,
it is that which shall be;
and that which is done
is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing
under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9
King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)


I stopped writing The Magpie Files in June 2008 because I had said all I wanted to say in that blog. The title had been essential for creating the references for my posts about family-life but my writing had moved on to include a wider range of topics. When I decided to start a new blog I took a little while to give it a title. Many blog names reference the writer but I didn't want that, I wanted the title to be less specific because I was not sure what it would become. In the end I chose "...the sight of morning..." as a gentle play on words because I intended to post regularly at 12:01am so that it would the first thing that people saw in the morning. I chose the ellipsis because I have a weakness for using this punctuation as an indication for 'trailing off into silence' and put one on either side because it looked attractive. So far, so good. After a previous experiment naming a blog I knew that I had to Google the proposed title to make sure that there were no other blogs of the same name. After I was satisfied that it was original and would be easy to find on Google I started writing and for the next three years thought no more of the title that I had created.

Last weekend I had to use Google again and I noticed the phrase "...I owe you the sight of morning." When I checked out the link I discovered that the Pulitzer prize winning author W.S. Merwin has written a poem which concludes with this line. The ellipsis in this case indicates that it is a quotation from the original poem "To the Surgeon Kevin Lin". The poem was first published in 2007 before I started writing this blog but I was not aware of it until this weekend. I was also not aware, to my shame, of the Pulitzer prize winning poet W.S. Merwin. It was a strange feeling to discover that my small piece of creative writing might have been original to me but was not unique even though "...I owe you the sight of morning." had not surfaced in Google in August 2009.

Some of you commented that my shopping list project has been done elsewhere. I am not surprised although I had not been aware of the other versions and was delighted to discover that there is even a lady who knits mittens and copies other peoples shopping lists onto them. I am not planning to knit mittens so the artistic integrity of that project is unchallenged. My post was a fun and oblique way to record my children's adult handwriting because they don't write letters to me and this is the only handwriting that I have apart from some book dedications and birthday cards. I am not sure that anyone has used shopping lists to do that but maybe somewhere, someone has.

It is ironic that the phrase that drew my attention is "...I owe you the sight of morning." because my contention is that I do not. I claim that in August 2009 my blog title was my own invention, a combination of words that I created without knowledge of the poem which had been written two years before. However, it is very difficult to prove this. I asked my friend the Professor what I should do and he advised me to write about it. So I have.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Excuses, Excuses

I can't write a post today

I am tired.
It's exhausting being
a prizewinning baker.

I had to go to the pub
because the Masters students
have just finished their course.
And drink.

Then I had to go out
for a Chinese meal
because MasterW is staying.
And eat.

I'm going out tomorrow
for smart tea with @DrHG
and the Young Academics x 2
I will eat and drink.
I must be ready.

I am missing Jenny
who is at the annual
Society of Cartographers conference.

My hands are sore because
I had an unexpected visit from a
Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen puppy.
I got chewed.

My shoulders are sore from
contorting into strange shapes
to disguise the fact
I spilt coffee on my white shirt.

I'm cold.
In August.
What's that all about?


I should be watching the
Paralympics Opening Ceremony.
One of my students is dancing.
I need to tell her
I saw her.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Domestic Trivia

I have List Attention Deficit Disorder
I lose interest as soon as I start.
This is why I am fascinated
by other people's discarded lists
left at the bottom of shopping trolleys.

This is me...
getting distracted after bulgur wheat...
must do better...

This is what I aspire to.
Such order. Such detail.
(Although I don't approve of
cranberry sauce with chicken.)

Another organised shopper
but there is obviously
a severe Salad Cream shortage
which is more critical
than Otto's nappies.

I'm guessing carrot cake...
does 'aftersun' indicate
it will be packed for a picnic?

Note to self:
DON'T FORGET the coffee...

Here's a domestic power struggle
over how to spell 'avocado'

which contrasts with
this free-range spelling...

Do we think this indicates
a history of wild cheese extravagance?

So much to love in this one:
mop! toilet roll! system thing!
ice-cream var. cornetto!
(And how ARE proteins transported?)

This is the purest form of list,
a life stripped to the essentials,
a haiku of domestic need.

I believe that a shopping list
is a window onto the soul of the writer;

Here is organised MissM
shopping for her famous brownies.
Please note choice of imperial/metric.

Here is subversive MasterM
writing out his wish list.


collecting shopping lists
is very addictive
and may harm your image.


This post is dedicated to my friend,
The List Writer
as she starts a new career
with endless opportunities for lists.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

in plain sight

Royal Doulton
Unidentified pattern

Have we got a new jug in the kitchen?

It's not very new.
We've had it for a couple of months.


I can't believe you haven't noticed.
It's really big,
it's bright blue
and it's always in the way.

I think that's a bit harsh.
I put it there so we can all enjoy it.
Doesn't it make you feel good
just to look at it?
Well, I suppose not
if you have only just noticed it.


This one's for you, Granny Dot.

Monday, 27 August 2012

At the Village Show

Prize-winning fruit

I met an old lady in the cake tent
and I told her that I had entered a cake.
She said that she had entered bread rolls
"I throw everything in and hope for the best."
We smiled at each other across generations.

Prize-winning herbs

I met an elderly man in the caged bird tent,
I complimented him on his cage displays
and he told me how he had given up everything
to concentrate on breeding rare birds.
"It saved me from a nervous breakdown
after my wife died two years ago."

Prize-winning vegetables

I met a volunteer in the vegetable tent
and asked her what had happened to the man
who displayed his vegetables with such artistry.
She told me that he lived for his allotment
and the pleasure of preparing for competitions
but his wife hated it and had booked a holiday
for the weekend so that he could not enter.

Prize-winning cake
(my cake is front row, far left)

I realised that although it was fun
to win a prize for my Lemon Drizzle cake
I would rather that MissM had won a prize
for her beautiful Victoria Sponge cake.
Next year MissM!

That would be me.

Remembering the lessons I had learned
I spent my prize money on fudge for MrM.
He was happy so I was happy.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Our Mutual Friend

Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884-1969)

"With Ivy one is either an addict or an abstainer."
Cicely Greig

Her face is immediately recognisable:
gaunt, stern, remote,intimidating.
I have not read any of her books, not yet,
but I feel that I have been led
right to the very edge of the cliff
and I am expected to jump.

I have arrived via writers I admire:
Elizabeth Taylor who was a friend,
Olivia Manning who dedicated a book to her,
Rosamond Lehmann who said of her
"The purest and most original
of contemporary English artists."

The reviews of her work frighten me
"This piercingly wise, discreet,
mannered Victoriana conceals
abysses of the human personality ...
a gentle tea-cosy madness,
a coil of vipers in a sewing-basket."

Pamela Hansford Johnson

However, I was entertained to read that
Virginia Woolf suffered sleepless nights
after noting in her diary that her own writing
[was] "much inferior to the bitter truth
and intense originality of Miss Compton-Burnett"

and I thought that this was a strong recommendation.

The early life of Ivy Compton-Burnett
was bleak and scarred by bereavement
but there was a brief period when she escaped
the demands of her neurotic widowed mother
and studied Classics at Royal Holloway College.
The Founders Building is the same now
as it was when she arrived in 1906,
she would have known the sound of the clock,
the smell of leather seats in the library,
the Victorian splendour of the Picture Gallery
and the exuberant decoration of the Chapel.
She would have sat in this lecture theatre.
It is another link to this forbidding woman.

I feel the 'chill wind' of her writing calling me
but I am not sure which novel to start with.
Simon over at Stuck in a Book, an enthusiast,
recommends getting to know her first
through the insight of Cicely Greig,
Ivy Compton-Burnett's typist and friend.
I think I'm going to take his advice.

Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Introducing Cheeky...

MasterM's Red VW Polo.

We've told him
not to park it
under the tree.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Vegetable Garden

I thought we could pop outside
and look around the garden..

You may gasp in admiration
at my geranium display.

Must cut back the lavender.
A gardener's work is never done.

We have cloches...

And here is the tomato house,
the vinery is behind us and
the mushroom house is second on the left.

These flowerpots are installation art...
I like to mix in a few visual metaphors
some people are so serious about vegetables.

Fan trained cherries...
doesn't everyone grow their own cherries?

And here are the apples.
I divide them by alphabetically, by county.

and finally the potting shed.
I'm all about sheds.
I'm thinking of painting it grey.

Errr...time to 'fess up's not my garden's at Audley End

Monday, 20 August 2012

Letting Go

We took MissM to the airport on Saturday
and while we waited for her friend
we did all the things that you do at airports:
weigh the suitcase,
check size of carry-on luggage,
double check passport, ticket, money.

Eventually her friend arrived with her mother
and we were just about to leave
when MissM's friend' mother said
"I expect you want to know about the family
that they are going to stay with."

My stomach lurched because
I had not even thought about it.

I had not even thought about
where MissM was going -
it fell into the broad category
"Somewhere in Europe
which is not Paris or Rome"

I had a terrifying flash of that
"Worst Mother in the World"
feeling which I have avoided
for a number of years
and it stayed with me for the rest of the day.

I have rationalised this now
and I accept that we have become
accustomed to MasterM and MissM
travelling beyond our reach.
We have learned to trust
their preparations and experience
and they have learned that
if there is an emergency they can contact us
and we will drop everything to sort it out.
MrM is extremely good at helping them
make sensible arrangements for money,
insurance and telephone contracts.

In the scale of parental fear
travelling to the Czech Republic
with a friend to stay with a family
is well below travelling around
South America with a backpack.

Nevertheless I am pleased to report
that on arrival MissM
"partied til late in Moravičany
with the host's grandfather and locals
for his 80th birthday party
and has been walking
in the Moravian countryside today."

So all's well.

The pictures are from nearby Olomouc.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Onion Soup

Tonight we will have onion soup,

I will slip off the papery skin,
so neat and tight-clinging,
polished barrier against the wind
and discard the outer most
darkened shell, coarse-veined green.
Inside layer upon layer,
slippery levels held together
by the curve and shine of it.
Each revealed and sliced away,
oozing bright light pearls
as the knotted root-anchors are severed.
I am skilled at this dissection,
the fragments melt into each other
until there is no way of knowing
which is the bitter oil
springing tears from secret places
and which is the sweet note
from the innermost heart.


Alice Christie (viii . 2012)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Emergency Rations

Caramel Shortbread
made by MissM
for the Admissions Tutor.

Yesterday was a tough gig
if you were involved
in University Admissions.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

MissM, film critic

You have to see this,
it is the worst film ever!
She is achieving redemption
through killing her father's enemies.

That sounds improving.

There is crazy bathroom fighting:
he tries to strangle her with a towel
and so she stabs him with a toothbrush.

What is happening now?
It looks like ahem Graeco-Roman wrestling.

She's off duty at the moment.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Day in the Life

At the end of the day
MissM opens the door.

Hello! Have you had a good day?

Yes - I have been busy!
I have decided we will enter
baking into the village show
so I checked out the schedule.
I am entering a Victoria Sponge
and I looked at the other categories
to see what you could do.

I have forgotten how to make bread
and my pastry is like concrete.

We can enter the 'Tea for Two' category
It is a medley of cakes and things.

MrsM feels faint.
She has never entered a cake show before.

You need a goal to work towards...

Also, I have been invited
to the Czech Republic for a week
and I have booked the flights.
Don't worry - I will be back
just in time to do the baking.
Can you give me a lift to Gatwick on Saturday?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Another Sky

Let's travel to the Andes
with MissM and MasterW

and explore Salar de Uyuni,
the salt flats of Bolivia

an immense space of bright light,
salt residue from prehistoric lakes.




Abandoned train!


Crazy photos!

Many thanks to MissM and MasterW
for allowing me to share these images.

Friday, 10 August 2012

...the myriad things...

I find it very difficult to relax.

When I read posts about sitting still
enjoying the sunshine, reading a book,
I feel envious and a little mystified.

There is always a list of chores
unrolling noisily in my head
and I have not discovered how
to switch it off, to make space.

I know all about the techniques
which teach you to use your time
but what I want to do is unlearn them,
to rediscover how to let go,
to give the myriad things a rest.

Is it possible?