Friday, 29 November 2013

what the commuter saw


11 November
Waterloo Station : Monday morning

7 November
Admiralty Arch

18 November
Lemons at Trafalgar Studios

18 November
It's not cycling weather this morning

19 November
Trafalgar Square : Fourth Plinth

20 November
Trafalgar Square in the rain

25 November
Waterloo Bridge

26 November
St. James' Park


I take a photo every day
on my way to work
which I post on twitter.
It is a project I enjoy very much
and I want to share them more widely
so I will post here once a month.
All photos are taken using my phone.

Thursday, 28 November 2013


I would like to thank
my mother-in-law, Audrey Christie,
for telling me these stories about
her maternal and paternal family
and allowing me to publish them.

I have used a verbatim format because
I hope that MasterM and MissM
will recognise Granny's voice,
each nuance so familiar to them
but so extraordinary to an outsider.

family history

...Aunt Marjorie was an unusual person. When she died the nurse said to me "She didn't need to die, she just decided to. She turned her face to the wall and that was that." They stayed in Liverpool because she didn't want to be a don's wife although I don't know why because you can be as odd as you like. She kept the house as neat as a pin but she wouldn't let anyone in. Thomas and I went once but she wouldn't let anyone else in, not even her own mother. Her mother was very strict and they didn't get on. Did I tell you that we discovered that her mother's mother was Russian? It was such a surprise, it was as though the family had kept it secret, I suppose that her grandfather must have gone to Russia at some point. Of course, Aunt Marjorie's father was killed in the First World War but they didn't tell her and she kept waiting for him to come home. He had given her a little teddy bear and she waited and waited but he never came. I expect that was what started it all...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

family history

...Uncle Alan should have been Astronomer Royal, you know. I can remember meeting Bishop Martineau at a garden party and he said "Why didn't he take it? Why? He should have had it". He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, Bishop Martineau said so, but he stayed at Liverpool. Uncle Alan was a gentle soul and it probably suited him but he took the top prize when he was at Cambridge even though Maynard Keynes was there. His name is on the board at King's, in gold writing, you can see it as you go in. My dear, he used to lecture all over - Oxford, Yale, Brown - but that is why Liverpool has such a good reputation for Maths, because he stayed. He tried to teach me fractions once but we only had about a minute, I was never very good at maths. I expect he worked on Enigma during the war but he never said anything. I know he taught himself Serbo Croat, he really was very brilliant. Of course she had agoraphobia, I've always said that, so she wouldn't let him move...

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

family history

...Great Aunt Jessie was my father's aunt. When she was quite young she was on a train in France and met this Hungarian countess who was very taken with her and asked her to teach her daughters English. Great Aunt Jessie went back the following year to teach English and stayed in Hungary until after the war. She would return to England occasionally and visit my parents but they never knew what to expect. There was the time that an Hungarian count proposed to her on Skegness Sands, my father said he was desperately, desperately in love with her but she wouldn't have him. During the war she stayed in Budapest and she told us that she went out for fresh air every day, whatever the weather. I suppose she was probably working for the Secret Services. After the war she stayed with us for a while and there was a slight problem when she used forged bank notes, they were very good forgeries, probably from the German camps. I don't think it was her fault but we did have a visit from Scotland Yard which was quite something in a small Lincolnshire village. One night we were coming back from a magic lantern show and we could see her silhouetted on the bathroom curtains reaching up into the lavatory cistern...well, she must have hidden something there. I can remember my father saying "Good gracious, whatever is she up to now?" Great Aunt Jessie was such a strong character that it all got a bit much for my mother so she moved out after three years. Of course, she may or may not have left a son in Hungary...

Monday, 25 November 2013

family history

...Great Aunt Nell was Mummy's mother's sister and when she visited us in Lincolnshire during the war she would save up her rations and then she and my mother would bake. They would set aside a whole afternoon and make jumbles and brandy snaps and gingerbread. She was a warm person and could make my mother laugh - I mean, Mummy was always the same, very serious, but she always laughed when Great Aunt Nell came to stay. I don't have any pictures of her but she was so neat and tidy and wore a blouse with a brooch at her throat, it might have been a cameo, I'm not sure. Great Aunt Nell was wonderful at sewing and made all her own clothes - and when she visited she would make things for me too. Once she cut down one of Mummy's night dresses for me, it was so pretty, pink rosebuds. I had lots of dolls and she would make them lovely clothes out of bits and pieces - there was a mole coloured velvet coat and it was so beautifully made, she really was very good at sewing. Of course she lived in London most of the time because her sister had run away with a man from Scotland who was very rich and he would only let her bring her son so Nell helped to bring up the daughter Didi who was left behind...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Meanwhile... South Africa

MasterM is celebrating the end of exams.

(but we are holding our breath
until the results come out.)


My laptop is poorly and being admitted for intervention tomorrow.
If my posting is patchy for the next week or so don't panic!

Friday, 22 November 2013

In which I land on my feet

The British School at Rome is an historic academic institution founded in 1901 to celebrate the cultural links between Italy and the United Kingdom and provide support for research into archaeology, history and the fine arts. The British School is a magnificent building on the edge of the Borghese Gardens in Rome based on the Lutyens design for the British pavilion at the International Exhibition of 1911. It opened in 1916 and houses an important library, residential accommodation for scholars and studios for artists. It is funded by the British Academy and by generous benefactions and this is the institution that I find myself working for, based in the British Academy building in Carlton House Terrace.

When you make a job application you should research very thoroughly to make sure that your skills match the job description and that the location, terms and conditions are acceptable. I stress this to MrM, MasterM and MissM .

These are the things I did not know when I applied:

I honestly did not know
the London office is in Carlton House Terrace.
Arriving at the grand entrance
for my interview
was a shock.

I assumed from the job description
that I would be photocopying.
and other low skill administrative tasks.
I will be involved in fundraising activities.
This will be fun.

I thought my role would not require travel to Rome.
I was wrong.
I booked my first trip this week.

So... I am working in Carlton House Terrace, with archaeologists, historians, classicists, architects and practising artists with occasional trips to Rome.

I also have permission to blog about it.

Sometimes I am much luckier than I deserve.

(I should add two things: it was MrM that booked the flight, of course, and I applied because when I met MrM he had just returned from excavations based at the British School at Rome.)

Thursday, 21 November 2013


Southbank Centre, at night

It's one of those days
when a photo will have to do.
Out at 7am, back at 8.30pm.
It's tiring, this commuting.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Jack O'Lantern and friends

It was my day off
so I went shopping.
Walk, walk, walk.

I am exhausted.
My arms ache.
Too many bags.

I bought yarn.
Lovely smokey blue
for a bobble hat.

Also Christmas chutney.
Bring on Boxing Day,
I'm not scared.

Not much to say
about the pumpkins.
Enjoy the knobbliness.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

I am here

This is where I work:
Carlton House Terrace.
Isn't it beautiful?
Stand in front of it...
Buckingham Palace is to your right,
Trafalgar Square to your left,
and St. James's Park in front of you.
Behind you is Pall Mall, Haymarket
and Lower Regent Street.
This is the heart of London
so you never know who you will see.
Sir Trevor Nunn sat opposite me
in the sandwich shop today.
I was very embarrassed because
he realised that I recognised him.
If only he knew how unusual that is.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Pleasing Melancholy

The Savill Garden in November

shades of ochre, umber and siena

smell of damp grass

red leaves underfoot

still dank air

muffled sound of rooks

new coat and warm boots

thoughts of buttered crumpets

brief moments of brilliance

Sunday, 17 November 2013

time to dream

It is a quiet Sunday morning.
There is an apple cake in the oven
and leek soup for lunch.
I will wash the kitchen floor
and listen to Trollope while I iron.
After lunch we will go out to walk
through the autumn leaves.
When it is dark I will draw the curtains,
light the candles and knit for a while.

The first hellebore flowers have appeared.
I thought you would like to know that.

Friday, 15 November 2013

memory of light

gold between glass and sky,
the ginkgo tree stands sentinel,
a hammered brightness,
spear-straight, leaves linked,
witness from an old world.

autumn marches irresistible.
full burnished armour falls
exposing the frail nakedness,
bravery of barbed branches
lacerating grey winter skies.

curls of green-spring leaf
will reward dark courage,
soft tendrils of a new world;
but now the ginkgo tree stands,
gold between heart and sky.

Alice Christie (17 xi 12)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Happy Birthday, MissM

Oh, MissM, you are 22 today!
How can this be?

Here is MissM with MasterW in Florence.
They were terrific people to holiday with...
MasterW had intellectual discussions with MrM
while MissM gave essential handbag advice to MrsM
and MasterW patiently tried all the ice-cream flavours
to please MrsM while MissM provided inside knowledge
on the wifi hotspots in central Florence for MrM.
We could hardly bear to let them go
and have been plotting ever since
how to lure them on holiday again.

Happy Birthday MissM...
may it bring
delicious cake,
new party shoes,
sparkly jewellery,
a noisy party
and, above all,

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

MrsM among the Literati

Slightly Foxed is that most delicious of things
a small, independent, idiosyncratic publisher
producing beautiful limited edition books
and an entertaining quarterly literary journal.
We are devoted fans.

When MissM worked in the Slightly Foxed office
they were discussing their first Readers' Day
and although I could not go on that occasion
I was determined to attend this year.

The event was held in the extraordinary
Art Workers' Guild in Queens Square.
A building full of Arts & Crafts furniture.
I wanted to explore so badly
but only managed a few bad photos.

Do you know Sara Wheeler?
Antarctic traveller and writer,
biographer of Cherry Gerard.
Sarah entertained us without notes for an hour,
a remarkable feat with a newly broken arm.

Sue Gee introduced her new book "Coming Home"
a semi-autobiographical novel
about a family leaving India at the end of Empire
by contrasting it with Paul Scott's "Staying On".
I am a huge fan of Sue Gee.
but regret to report
I was struck absolutely dumb with awe
whenever she stood next to me.

I really enjoyed the talk by Ursula Buchan
about the Dig for Victory campaign
carefully illustrated with original posters
photographs and publicity material.

It was a real privilege to hear Sir Quentin Blake
describing his work and recent projects,
whimsical artwork leaping off the page
onto buses, hospitals and buildings.
One of the pictures showed the massive hoarding
outside St. Pancras for the Royal Opening.
Happy memories indeed.

I met a lovely new friend, Helen,
and explained that it is obligatory
to drink wine at literary lunches.
She agreed immediately.
I could not have wished for
a more delightful companion.

There was the slightly alarming sight
of a room full of the nicest type of lady
drinking grog in the middle of the afternoon
after a discussion of the novels of Patrick O'Brian.
Only at the Slightly Foxed Readers' Day.

Virgina Ironside has identified "ga-ga sagas",
a lucrative gap in the market for oldie fiction,
and described the trials of growing old disgracefully.
The Readers' Day audience loved her.
I must admit I was still thinking about Russell Crowe.

There was soooo much cake:
Frances, the lady who bakes, said:
"It is a labour of love".
And everyone who enjoyed them agreed with her.

One of the nicest things in a delightful day
was a chance meeting with
Karen of Cornflower Books.
It is a blog that I read and admire
for interesting, erudite recommendations.
Luckily, I did not recognise Karen
so I was not overcome with fright.


Thank you to everyone at Slightly Foxed,
it was a most enjoyable day.
I am looking forward to next year already.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

MrsM confesses

I am mightily ashamed because:

I am definitely too old
for toilet humour.

I am supposed to be too young
to be excited by a mahogany loo seat.

There was a queue of literary ladies
waiting very patiently
while I took a photograph
of the ceramic chain pull.

It is all quite unforgivable.


Please come back tomorrow,
we will put this behind us
and discuss in an age-appropriate way
how I met Mr & Mrs Cornflower
at the Bloomsbury lit-fest that was
the Slightly Foxed Readers' Day.

Monday, 11 November 2013

eyes wide open

I have started my new job.
I have a desk! And a computer,
telephone, hole punch and stapler.
You see - I want for nothing.

Tomorrow I will take in
my own post-it dispenser -
it's a bit flash but I love it.
I'm at the stage where I know nothing
so a friendly post-it dispenser
will cheer me up when I make mistakes.

It's a bit early to chat
about the job here,
so many people to meet,
so much to learn.
I hope you understand.

Let's talk London for a while
until I get my feet under that desk.
I love my walk to work:
across the Thames, down Whitehall,
under Admiralty Arch.
I use these steps every morning
and they are impressive,
rain or shine.


Thank you for all your lovely comments
I am still working out my new routine
but will reply this week.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Hitting the Wall

I am reading The Luminaries and I am 41% in. I am not sure exactly what that is in old money but it is a few hundred pages. Let's face it, if I had been asked to read the book the situation would have been quite hopeless because I would have taken one look at the size and politely declined. With a kindle you don't think about how long it is... unless it is The Luminaries... in which case there is a point at which you hit the wall and I am there right now. Will I ever finish this book? Please don't misunderstand me - I can recognise a Man Booker prize winner as quickly as the next person: heavy duty writing with tight plotting, deft characterisation, a dramatic sense of place etc etc. I think that the secret is to immerse yourself in the gloom and the mud and the corruption and suspicion and just keep plodding on. Do not, under any circumstances, look up from the page, do not think of the other novels waiting for your attention, characters frolicking in the sunshine anxious to entertain you, because if you do you are doomed. Can I do it? I need you to cheer me on, make me believe I can get to the finish line. Perhaps I should stock up on jelly babies - apparently they are the perfect energy food for long distance readers. I must not look at Wikipedia for the plot summary - I must not - I am not that weak. Am I?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

rose petals on quartz

Do you remember the rose
that I took from the garden
on the day before the storm?

I came into the kitchen
and saw that the petals
were shedding slowly
into my wooden bowl.

I sat in the sunshine
and watched for a while.
Pink rose petals
falling on white quartz.

Now that I am back at work
I will try to remember
that tranquil sunlit moment
on the last day of my sabbatical.


this post is for sweet Abi
who gave me another pink rose
which I have planted
outside my kitchen door
so I can enjoy it
every sunlit morning.
x x x