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dream come true

It is said – don’t tell anybody your dreams (or wishes come to that) because then, they won’t come true. But most of us tell somebody some time.   The dreams (I’m using this term as a catchall for wishes too, because your dreams often give shape to your wishes – or your wishes against) vary wildly.   I was always interested in the interpretation of dreams. I do not dismiss Sigmund though I see him in context. I haven’t read Carlos Castenada either.   I get pictures, I interpret them. And the last thing I would do is take any kind of stimulant or depressant before trying to read the signs.   I listen. Indeed my mother remarked, I listen remarkably well for somebody who talks as much as I do.

I’m not big on maxims and I accept the power of the subconscious – oh boy do I ! – but consciously I’d advise you to dream the possible dream. The impossible can break your heart. I wanted to be a model, long before so-called supermodels and the rise of the brand.   And I was so thrilled to meet one of the two or three models I really admired. But this did not help me to acquire the basic equipment to be a model.

Nowadays the emphasis is so much more on the photographic and the technology able to tinker with the same, I might get a bit further – but nowhere near enough. I am a very average five feet four, there is a bump in my nose, a bosom a bit further down and I had a waist twice in my life, once when I fell in love and once when he left me. Not a hope.   Both parents taught me to think about how I carried myself and my mother kindled a lifelong enthusiasm for how clothes are made and what they can and cannot do, literally and transfiguratively, ie the codes of clothes.

I dreamt of being an actress and I failed.   I liked acting, rehearsing, theatres and sets, never aspired to camera but the periphery – agents, auditions, presentation, photographs and other actors – was less like dreams than nightmare.   I told my father I had wasted my life (I was 19) and he said kindly “No darling, you’ve just begun.”

Did I dream of being a secretary ? No, nor of being “discovered” and rescued except in the soppy way we all do when things get tough.   I didn’t know where I was going, I only knew I was – travelling towards something, not away from it.   The most modest form of journalism was the first time I escaped from crippling self consciousness. And on from that, once you put me in front of a microphone, I realised I was free from image, only to spend the next 40 years being fascinated by image and reality, where they meet, divide, and cohabit. Because of course, a voice paints an image too.

Nowadays I respond like an animal to voice(s).   Six minutes into something, I can’t hack the sound even if the style or the content interests me.   I have all kinds of appreciation for this one, that one and the other but I don’t want to listen to them. I can’t stand the squawk – or the baying of the evangelical channels – the unctuousness of anybody’s extreme Right, the proprietorial cant of the extreme Left. I had read my first Anne Applebaum and I was (shock horror, dusting) when I hear a low pretty educated American voice and leapt across the room and it was she.

A friend once went through my records and asked why there were so many women ? A good woman’s voice is a wonderful thing.   Mahalia Jackson, Phoebe Snow, Barbara and Francoise, Etta and Odetta, Marion Williams – and then Aretha.

I asked for Amazing Grace as an acknowledgement for typing a script and I played the title track whenever I was low, or on Sundays.   Aretha’s voice was a way to express consummate musicality, the kind of wonder that comes out of doing it again and again and again, till it takes off and becomes its own thing.   Aretha’s voice was my church, a dream come true.


A long time ago, coming to the end of our journey, my therapist asked me “What do you want?”   I said I didn’t know.   Silence.   “I could tell you what I don’t want” I offered. She shook her head. “Won’t do.”   “Why?”   “Because even if you can tell me what you don’t want, you will try and get what you do want … under the table, as you always have.”   First of two occasions when everything changed.   Eighteen months later, I emailed her with – among other things – a list of the wishes I could verbalise. Peace sets in ten minutes after rigor mortis.

So it’s hokey to begin with what I don’t want but I don’t want Boris Johnson for Prime Minister.

“where the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole belonged”

In my only genuinely up market secretarial job I worked for a grand old American Republican who, sent a letter from the US Embassy asking for his endorsement an executive called Thomas Jefferson Trump (made up name), wrote in his wholly legible hand across the bottom of the circular “I would not vote Thomas Jefferson Trump for dog catcher.” And signed it.   And that’s how I feel about Boris. I would be worried about Boris anywhere near a dog.   Oh and it’s not Brexit. It’s anything. “Ooh” people say “he’s a bad boy …” Twinkle twinkle.   Well, I have had to do with bad boys too and I came off worst. He doesn’t care and he is marked all the way through like Brighton rock – not UK or GB – just BJBJBJ.

And when I contemplate Jacob Rees Mogg – which I try not to do before food – I think of Hilary Mantel’s masterly evocation of Thomas More – a man who lived a secular life because a religious one wouldn’t satisfy him.   I don’t want him anywhere near power either, a smug Home Counties version of Savonarola.    I don’t want Head and Shoulders shampoo supposing that I would want my hair to look like Claudia Winkelman’s. I met her briefly, good looking, lovely voice, apparently intelligent. But that was some time ago: heigh ho, the price of fame!

I don’t want to be offered the same films (I think they’re on a loop) right across all those television stations which remind me increasingly of the US ice cream manufacturer Howard Johnson’s boast “25 flavours ! “ “Oh yeah” we used to say “and all of them vanilla !”   Don’t promise me great drama in the autumn … I should live so long. I want to watch something interesting now.

I don’t want to be invited to sympathise with somebody who has made a complete mess of their financial affairs from the starting point of £40 million.   I put my hand up, having made every mistake known to man except scams, but very few of us have a million to play with let alone multiples.

And although apart from her neck and her nails I don’t want to hear any more about Madonna at 60 or any other age, she once talked about having brought in the best people she could find to manage her money. And I rated her for that.  If you can’t do it yourself, you find somebody who can help you. And pay them properly. And invigilate the whole process.

I don’t want to stand on the side lines and watch the truly terrifying US opioid epidemic happen here.   Ban the bloody things !   You have to face pain – I’ve had to do some of that and it is frightening and distressing – but what is the point of substituting one problem for another ?          This is when I know what an old person I am because the whole drugs thing disturbs me profoundly and always has, since I knew my first two addicts (one heroin, one pills) when I was 19.   I don’t want to alter my mood by taking something.   I want to alter my mood by doing something. Music always took me higher – and beauty and the joy of exchange, like Mo who got out of his truck to ask “Was you on the radio ?”   I have been grinning at him as he drove past for years. That I want.

“the ghost cat- the only kind of cougar I want to be.”


Somewhere I read that the Native Americans wore moccasins because that was the thinnest and most natural layer between themselves and their mother, the Earth and the animals from which the buckskin came were part of the Earth too. Though Wal hates his feet uncovered and in fact always wears slippers or sandals or something. Whereas for me, barefoot is comforting. It makes me feel better somehow, like long loose garments, even in winter. And there was a film in the fifties called Woman in A Dressing Gown

“The lovely Yvonne Mitchell, indelibly 1950s”

which my parents chuckled over.

My mother did everything she could in her dressing gown (first of all the old blue one and then the clove carnation Pyrenean wool number – most of my childhood memory is about winter) before she got dressed and went out, utterly unperturbed by the sniffs of the neighbours, and sighing with relief when she went back to it, some evenings – “God, I do think clothes are over-estimated !”   And once I had a serious show of my own (five days a week) I methodically stripped off my jewellery and my shoes before we began, only to reassume them when my slot was done.

A true journalist can work anywhere, anytime, wearing anything. I find the brain becomes engaged when I free the body. Hate tight, especially in the heat. Which is why this morning, having just been told how elegant I looked by the local Battersea Dog walker, I came into the house, ate breakfast and took off four garments and shoes, to put on one layer of cotton and go to work.   Stripped for action, you might say … It’s not that I necessarily believe in stripping off. The dress I am wearing is made of Russian cotton from the 1930s, impeccably modest, round neck, half sleeves, full length but soft and comfortable and unrestricted.

One of the reasons the famous nude calendar picture of Marilyn Monroe is remarkable – apart from her youth and the beauty of her body – is how comfortable she appears to be – what the French might call “bien dans sa peau” – a wonderful phrase.   Apparently (I once read everything there was to read on MM) she liked her body. She wasn’t always sure about liking clothes, having a fine sense of how they packaged you to be and an equally fine sense of how to manipulate the packaging. What is covered and what is revealed is always interesting : in this hottest of summers, I keep seeing women with their hair pulled back under at least two layers of veiling and thinking how uncomfortable that must be, though there isn’t a pearl of perspiration in sight.

And you can pick up the key of how women dress in public – to tell you they are at 60 what they were at 30 (spare me !), they are serious or seductive (according to which play or film or album they are promoting), they are in control (Theresa May’s little jackets and outsize beads) or they’re not for sale, having already the most expensive gear on their backs (from the Kardashians to Melania Trump). You could comment that they were already bought by the highest bidder – but then by whom and in what sense ?

What is hidden and what is revealed varies from country to country, and age to age.   What clothes “allow” shifts along with language, food, custom and almost everything else.   (30 years ago, the ENT surgeon asked me if I was prepared to be the most unpopular mother at the school gate ? Slightly taken aback I asked why and he described tonsillectomy as “an unfashionable operation.”) It is customary to talk about fashion in relation to clothing but I think it relates to everything from language and medicine, to history, warfare and politics.  What was once accepted is now open to question and this morning I read

“It is only when science asks why, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atomic bomb.”

Thank you, Ursula Le Guin. It’s Hiroshima Day.

“Mend? Yes
Forget? Never”



The young woman helping me buy a hat had a slight accent, like a check in the voice. The hat was a knitted shape too often made in massive reproduction, becoming to nobody save the very fortunate and under 18. This was the pricey upmarket version.   “Tell me what it’s made of” I said “because if it’s acrylic, you can keep it.” She turned it inside out and read the label – wool, polyester, angora – until she paused “I do not know this word.” I peered at it. “Alpaca.”   “I do not know alpaca” she said.   “Like llama, with attitude” I said. “Very warm. We used to make cloth coats out of it last century. Where are you from ?” Her father was Russian, her mother Iranian.   “So you’re from up on the border ?” She beamed at me.   A week later on a bus, she waved to me and called “Bonjour, Madame Alpaca !”   Appreciation is free.

At 14 I wrote an unsolicited letter to Ginette Spanier, directrice of the House of Balmain, sometime columnist in my mother’s magazine. (You could call my mother’s journalistic reading matter aspirational, you could call it pretentious. It is long gone and I enjoyed it.)   Spanier wrote back on company letterhead with beautiful watermarks through the paper and I carried it till it disintegrated. I sent a card to Yaphet Kotto when he played in a West End production.   I wrote to Libby Purves at The Times. Though nowadays a letter may not get through, presumably because it requires a decision to answer it.   I wrote to the oddly named optical consultant and it took over two weeks to find a human who knew how to process it, I won’t bore you with the allies and byways I had to traverse – hardly an advertisement for private medicine. But appreciation and/or acknowledgement are necessary, do great good and take five seconds. I can imagine one of those terrifyingly intellectual articles stretching before my eyes which discusses the social implications of appropriate psychological investment.   Or as Nike had it, “Just Do It.”

Because “thank you” never goes amiss. It is sometimes not a straight forward (say the letters aloud) ab/ba transaction but a kind word reliably goes into the pool of human endeavour and it will wash up happily on another shore, if not your own that time around. Yes, the world has its share of grumps but often a grump exists to be ungrumped.   (I think immediately of two taxi drivers.)   And face it, sometimes the most well intentioned comment is an interruption.   We cannot know what is going on in other people’s lives.

I am not big on the terminology of heroes.


I am not that kind of fan.   Just because you give pleasure or you don’t die doesn’t make you a hero. Just because you do die doesn’t make you one either.   But occasionally something comes up you want to acknowledge, and sometimes you have to consider whether your appreciation will do more harm than good, cross your fingers and do it.

Sunday was a day of sloth. I usually write and I couldn’t. I didn’t get dressed, I felt ugly and didn’t want to go out.   I read and muttered and watched The Heart Guy (Drama) and Unforgotten (ITV) both of which I rate. I let the day slither by like a snake with a headache and prayed I’d do better this morning.

The “i” (tabloid edition of the Independent) is running a piece from The Washington Post by Andrea Chamblee, a US government employee whose journalist husband John McNamara worked at the Capital Gazette and was among five people killed in their workplace by a man with a grudge and a gun. The Washington Post is an old established newspaper and the piece may have been derived from interview or been written by the woman herself.   It couldn’t matter less. What is important is what it tells you. Jesse Stone says “ People don’t carry guns to frighten you, they carry guns to kill you.” Gun crime is on the rise in the UK and we often inherit US social problems.   14 news organisations got through before any of the helping agencies were able to offer a crumb of information or comfort. I so appreciate this piece, I believe Ms. Chamblee will understand that and I’m going to write to her.     


Should I complain to Wal about my noisy neighbour (I call her Clementine – “herring boxes without topses/sandals were for Clementine”) he will shake his head wisely and say “It could always be worse.” And today I learned how right he was.

If you live in a flat, you always presume that bigger premises like a house would provide you with freedom from banged doors and late night clumping. I can hear everybody who has ever had a disagreeable or thoughtless neighbour reaching for their carrier pigeons to tell m e how wrong I am and what a terrible time they had when… but don’t worry, my own word of warning was only up the block.

The section of the street in which I live is half and half, apartments and houses, apartments to the curve in the road and thereafter decent sized houses.   One or two of these properties are let and as is often the way, tenants don’t bother with premises as householders do. They are only passing through and if they make a bit of mess it is only to be expected.

But every so often there are people who aren’t just careless, they really don’t care.   They don’t put the rubbish in the bin, they haven’t worked out that a poor quality rubbish bag is a waste of money (it rips), they don’t care what they drop where or how it looks and of course if you have an area like that, other people will drop their rubbish on top of it and make it worse. If, as they say, money goes to money, you can be sure that muck goes to muck.

So up the street live three or four young men, apparently trainee lawyers, and the front of their rented house is currently decorated with a defunct bed head and slats, garbage dropped where it fell, theirs and other people’s, clumps of dry turf and dead plants, and that detritus that would give anybody a bad attack of the David Attenborough Discards ie polystyrene cups, burger boxes, fried chicken cartons, drink bottles and cans, food wrappings, ditched napkins, dog poop, dropped circulars, empty cigarette packets, sweet papers, discarded shoes and tshirts, plus several pizza boxes.

I’ve never thought to own one of these houses so this is not envy and I was never a Brownie or a Guide so it’s not about getting my Keep Britain Tidy badge. The mess offends me. It’s unnecessary for the want of wrapping it up and disposing of it. It’s unsightly.   And in this heat, it stinks.

Today I got an email from another neighbour saying she wanted to get in touch with the owners (I had heard they were abroad) and she couldn’t go on. In this weather, the whole mess was the rat Hilton and anyway yesterday, the tenants had made a noise from midday to 11.00 at night.   I expect she put the back of her hand to her head and exhaled with long suffering and attar of roses. I don’t know the owners so I couldn’t help her.

What I did do was to write to the local authority health and safety and ask if there was anything they could or would do.   But that was two weeks ago before the current drama.

So in spite of Clementine’s lack of charm and her habit of shutting the terrace door above my head with unnecessary force (circumspection forbids I should tell you more), I find myself feeling rather fortunate.   In my quiet life, if you wake me, I read and then go back to sleep or I have the odd disturbed night and sleep in the afternoon.   Occasionally in the Edwardian working men’s flats in which we live – the later edition of the Victorian working men’s cottages – we find ourselves too close together and have to muddle through gatherings in a neighbour’s garden, or 10 hours of beer and voices that would go through brick at 20 yards.   But it doesn’t happen often and it is survivable.   Clementine wraps neat garbage, I’ll say that for her.   I won’t tell Wal how right he was, he’d be insufferable.

Judge not…*

But I do.

“by Ingram Pitt”

Most of us who have opinions do. There are those we like and those we don’t like and even not knowing them doesn’t stop us liking or not liking them.   A sentence beginning with “I’ve always thought he/she was really nice – “ when the main source of information is not personally known to us? Let’s face it, given opinions may be truthful or they may be what I call “placed” and put in a particular light, to be assimilated in a particular way. For a provocative example, the “special relationship” between the US and the UK, referred to once by Churchill in specific circumstances and used by governments of every colour to the detriment of British interests ever since (see Max Hastings in The Times 7 July 2018.)

You shouldn’t judge a man by his footwear but I can’t get on with grey shoes.   My mother had a thing about shoulder length dyed hair – poor old darling, she have apoplexy nowadays.   The sweetest people have bad breath and we judge them for it – or sticky hands. Or eat with their mouths open shovel style.   Or never stand their round. It’s not just that you don’t like it, whatever it is. It is that you form a judgement against a person who would do/say/wear such a thing.

Generally sneered at, there are occasional treasures on daytime television.   But even if you find a goody (Law and Order holds up well), you have to wade through the ads. And as the day comes ever nearer, I am depressed into the ground by the notion of the expensive funeral.  Yes, the cost of everything goes up, I know this – but if you are so all fired concerned about your family having to shell out to bury or burn you, wouldn’t you make up your own mind or sort it out with them?   You see?   I’m making a judgement.

So my day was made last week by a story about a man in Michigan who asked that, instead of bringing flowers to his funeral, people brought a pair of new shoes for (presumably local) needy families. I loved this. It is inclusive: quite young children could bring a new pair of kids’ sneakers. I liked “new”, I like the dignity of giving something more specific than money (and thus less open to abuse), something essential and I thought it was one in the eye for the “we gave her a lovely sendoff” and umpteen thousands laid out for plumed horses, velvet drape, muted horns and brass handled mahogany which really only plays to neighbours, not the dear departed.

I applauded the young man in Lockerbie who has found a way to process discarded plastic into asphalt (subject to patent) so that we discard less into the sea and the water table and use it on our increasingly burdened roads.

Yesterday for the first time in my life, I took a book back.   I had checked first because I couldn’t quite believe I could do it but I bought “My Absolute Darling”, read five pages and thought “no way”: it may feature great writing style but it is still about child abuse. Beastly is beastly, I judged. So I changed it for something else and thanked all concerned. Well done, Waterstones.

But in that happy transaction (I was the first person into the shop and was of course talking with the assistants) I managed to mislay – not to say lose – a credit card.   I belted home, swearing in the sweat, to ring the company to stop it and came up with that which many of us complain of, the Asian call centre.   And a woman (not a girl) who was doing the “script” for real.   She greeted me.   The automated exchange had already taken my DOB so she asked “How old will you be at your next birthday ?”   I laughed and said “75”.   She laughed and said “Miss Raeburn, I am sorry to ask you such a question .. “ I said “Thank you for laughing.” She made all the right noises and I judged her as the happy exception to the rule.

*…lest ye be judged

“This is famous Indian athlete PT Usha and she looks how the lady on the phone sounded!”


Pushing his nose at the kitchen window this morning like some be-winged bassett hound was an enormous bumblebee. (plus) The garden‘s comeback against the cold driving rain of earlier in the year (all sorts of things just didn’t make it) is a symphony of red hydrangea, darker red calla, salmon pink geraniums, daisies and green green green. Yes, I water. (All pluses – I am never sure of the plural of plus, indulge me).   I love the sunlight and walking in the shade of a building with a breeze. (plus) I love the washing drying on the line (plus) and the smell of it, clean and fresh, even in The Smoke. (plus)

A wise friend remarked that you didn’t have to spend much money on summer clothes in this country because you wore them so little, they lasted for ages and although struggling retail prefers to blame the long cold spring and the internet, we can’t go on shopping for Britain. The future is obscure, money is down in value, you don’t buy if you don’t have to. And there is a notable absence of wow in clothes shopping.   I don’t shop for white goods ie sheets and towels etc., or electrical bits and pieces unless I have to and in the matter of clothes, fashion journalists keep on writing about “the dress you must have”, “this summer’s shoe”, “bags of style” and I keep shaking my head and muttering “Wouldn’t wear it to the bin”.   So we’ll count that as a minus.

It is wonderful to eat every kind of salad (plus) though I belong to the Rabbit Club and eat green every day of my life. Salad is never boring and this year (Skye McAlpine, plus) I found a recipe for panzanella I could make and eat with enthusiasm. I was particularly excited about this because I saw another one a week later which was the bread edition of the limp lettuce, tomato and salad cream of my youth: in a word, ugh.

The range of cosmetic products which can be sold in the summer – endless cream and lotions and boosters and fake tans, masques for the hair, the nails, the feet – divide into two groups, the ones you “need” because you are going away on holiday, and the ones you “need”, presumably to make up for the fact that you are not.   I thought the whole idea of sunshine was that I should wear the minimum on long suffering largely misunderstood skin and let the shining Vitamin D do its thing.   Yes of course I know that, if I sit in the sun or labour in it, I will need something on bits of the body where the bones come near the surface – sun screen, sun block – dependent on my age and colouring. But makeup in this weather ?   No way Jose.

Repeatedly asked where I am going on holiday, I keep on saying I am on holiday – it is called retirement. I don’t want to go away when everybody else is going away. Heaving humanity at points of departure frankly unsettles me (minus) and the idea that I have to go through all that at both ends of an outing stops me from even thinking about going away very much.   If you work, a change is as good as a rest.   If you don’t work, you use your time the way you can, the way you enjoy it, the way it works for you. Walking around in the relative cool of the morning is lovely (plus) and sitting down with a book is lovely too, though hardly dependent on the season or the weather.   It’s my perennial.

Periodically I feed the housework dragon because in this weather you can do all sorts of things, enjoying a task begun and completed, with doors and windows open to fresh air: floors and surfaces dry easily except for the drip under the sink which will require the attention of plumber number three shortly.

When the summer sun first arrives coherently (ie for several days in a row) everyone perks up.   Voices soften, smiles are more frequent but you only need one diverted bus and a woman talking into a mobile at the top of her lungs unintelligibly for two hours, to understand that summer is no more perfect than any other season. It’s just hotter, quicker to sweat, quicker to crease.