They are the charming gardeners

Monday, 30 September 2013

My godmother adored Elvis Presley.  So much so that she went into labour in 1960, watching GI Blues in a cinema in Lavender Hill and refused to go to hospital until the absolute last minute. She bit a scarf to keep the shouts to a minimum.

She was a very particular lady, and bought her jam home in a taxi from Fortnum and Mason. She hid it at the back of the boiler, and fed her great brood of children the home-made stuff. I saw her once, licking her raspberry nectar with a pointed tongue from a heavy silver teaspoon in the empty kitchen. I remember her husking bark of a laugh and the waxy gardenia-scented imprint she left on my cheek.

She died far too young, in the cruel way that life sometimes just picks the best, most perfect flowers early. She had known she would die for a long time, and before she did, bought charms to add to my bracelet; one every year until I was eighteen. I was allowed to take them out every year on my birthday, for a few carefully-supervised moments.

I could never afford to get them properly soldered on a chain, and anyway I preferred a clashing armful of modern silver.

I found the velvet bag of them when I moved house earlier this year. It was an odd moment; I hadn't seen them for over two decades, yet they were as familiar to me as the shape of my hands.  I arranged each golden charm on the pale aqua surface of my dressing table.

It was a story both told and imagined; the tiny prancing horse was easy - I was mad about riding as a child.  The saucepan, secretly sneered at by my teenage self, had become the most potent symbol of my quotidien existence as a mother, wife and general greedy guts. The exotic Aladdin's lamp foreshadowed my many years in Arabia. A crumpled 1960s pound note that never quite fitted back into the golden disc, my rather slapdash approach to finance; a dog, for a child who adored cats and became a woman devoted slavishly to a Weimaraner; a book; a wellington boot. A lipstick, a hairbrush. A bull, a lion, a bell.

I hardly knew her, but I looked at the story told in gold and felt that she knew me.

She knew how to make a good joke, though. She died on August 16th 1977, the day we flew off the the West Indies to lead a rather different life. The day that Elvis died.

Eight years old

Friday, 27 September 2013

I am dressed like a falling leaf
Though I am sturdy as a mushroom
Rust, burnt orange, russet corduroy
The hillocks of my scabbed and warty knees
Raised to my vermillion chin, furrowed echoes
Of the cattle-trodden sliced-up earth
Below my perch of crenelated stone
Hoary and xanthic-splashed
Hard, sharp flat wind
Tang of sea
Sweet stench of decay
My palms sting, rust-streaked, raw
Their ferrous stigmata witness that
Despite my swooping dreams
I am too solid
To fly.

a new dress is a help under all circumstances

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Earlier this year, I had tickets for the four of us to see Helen Mirren in  The Audience.  Edward called me in the afternoon and said he had banged his head rather badly and was so sorry, but could I take them back.  His head was very achy and he felt a bit sick. Luckily, the whole world wanted tickets and I sold them easily. At 6pm, Lazarus-like, he and the bots popped on their shoes and announced we were all off to the circus. They were all very pleased indeed that he felt so much better.

They all fell about giggling as the nervous new boy-on-a-unicycle took an unscripted tumble.  They hooted with glee as the glamourous bird-in-a glittery-leotard contorted above Freddie's head. They sat stock still as, to a soundtrack of surreal gypsy punk, a lady and man danced, her costumed swirling, being pulled off, whisked away, removed with an incredible sleight of hand.  There were over a dozen different dresses, spangled, satin, hooped, slinky.  It was a breathtaking thing to see, a theatrical meeting of costume, dance and humour. It was fabulous.

Luckily for them.

Last night, by the miracle that is National Theatre Broadcasting, I watched the play I had missed from the comfort of my local cinema.  It imagines some of the highlights of the weekly meetings, undertaken with her unimpeachable sense of duty since 1953, with the 12 Prime Ministers who have served under Queen Elizabeth II.

Helen's costumes are just sumptuous, and she undergoes several blink-and-you-miss-it changes of costumes on stage.  She mutates from doughty middle-age, flirting with Harold Wilson; to a reed-slim not-such-an-ingenue defying Winston Churchill; to a hoary-locked dowager falling asleep as Cameron bangs on about the Euro.  It was gorgeous British theatre; historic, correct, slightly naughty and bloody funny.

When I got home, the bots and Edward were lolling about watching cricket and vampire stuff.  I told them what an amazing actress Mirren is; about the imperceptible body language with which she shrank from Thatcher and flirted with Eden; and the amazing costume changes on stage.

Freddie sat up straight.  "Did you see her pants?" "Er, no, she was playing the Queen, for goodness sake."

He turned the cricket back up.

Nancy nests

Monday, 9 September 2013

Oi! Palewski! Touch that fucking hazelnut torte and I'll brain you 
with this Louis VX Boulle Bracket timepiece.  
I couldn't give a shit if you're de Gaulle's bitch. Got it?

Never apologise, never explain.

I believe Nancy Mitford trilled this, or something similar, during a cinq à sept with her beloved Gaston Palewski.  I imagine she did so after a bout of red-eye-inducing sobbing, after she realised the bastard was going to continue riding her literary and social coat-tails without the slightest intention of making her his wife.  No doubt he pressed his pock-marked cheek to her hot damp one and strode off down Rue Monsieur without a backward glance as she drifted helplessly into the kitchen to try and solve how the infernal oven worked.

No wonder she looked so amazing and gaunt-chic in the New Look.

Unlike Nancy, I have an adoring husband with a soft cheek, its bristles now gently greying, who gives many a backward glance.  Usually to check that my well-used kitchen is not afire.  The blistering summer has mercifully ended; the bots, even taller and more generous than ever with their opinions, have gone back to school.

We live in a new house now.  Brand new, almost.  The first place I have ever called home that is under 100 years old.  I feared the silence of no ghosts, no whispers of experiences and the palimpsests left by friends and laughter.  I worried that regularity of walls and floorboards that met would be dull.

What was I thinking? Things work; they fit; the kitchen is almost wholly made of glass, with toasty underfloor heating and it is like living in a forest.  I have painted the floors white and the walls grey and I am contemplating learning Danish.

It has been a happy, productive, busy time since I last was here. I am writing and baking cakes.  It feels less like procrastination if the end result is a complicated triple-baked affair with fruit from the cliff tops
and a crumble topping.

Unlike Nancy, I am indolent with contentment.  But I will come back here now the autumn is creeping up the garden to touch the flavescent vines and rot the plump rust-streaked figs.  As the skies grow leaden and the rain bounces hard off the deck outside the still-open kitchen doors.  As the sharpening air carries a tang of smoke.

Like Nancy, I will not apologise for long absence caused by the beautiful unfurling of the days.

Unlike Nancy, I am in love with my life.