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a walk into the light

It is much easier to write about what is wrong than what is right. A great deal is wrong and it’s much easier to bitch and moan and stamp and rage – and of course I could. But you can’t live on a diet of displeasure (if you do, it ill becomes your face) and last night’s wildlife programme taught me something.   Don’t hope for too much. I went towards it expecting a wonder which it certainly was not. There was indeed some rare film of a panda mother and baby in the wild but otherwise I was left drowning in sub Wagnerian caramel, watching BBC recuts … and I gave up halfway.

In a week where both ends of the computer function conspired against me in the middle, I am happy to tell you that two friends who have been through years of travail have emerged into the sunlight of relative happiness. Nova (not her name) spent years picking up after her adored but difficult father who eventually died leaving an estate scattered far and wide for her to settle, further complicated by two brothers who just wanted the money, and the disintegration of a long relationship with a man who doesn’t want her but doesn’t want anybody else to have her.  Then, as we say, she met Someone. No knight on a charger, no flourish – just quiet steady happiness – and much funnier about it than Mesdames Keaton, Bergen, Fonda and Steenbergen in a film I keep being told I’ll “love” though I doubt it.

While Bunslove shinned down his ivory tower, went and met and talked and spent time with, and managed to make a move towards buying a house because, he said, “I can’t go on not knowing where my pants are.”   To begin with I thought he meant pants (US) as in trousers but no, he has been betwixt and between for two years and while this has been a useful change of pattern in every sense, he now no longer knows for sure if he’s dressing in Dorking or Dublin. I offered to buy him spares but he says he can’t go on doing that so the offer is in, for only in a place of your own can you be sure what’s in the drawer !

And as he was telling me all this on the phone, and I was hearing his voice working through “what have I done?” to “we’ll see”, I was watching my garden, then sporting a full complement of robins, great tits, sparrows and blackbirds.   I was thinking about smaller simpler animals, closer to home, not because I have become disinterested in the faraway but sometimes just because you must look at what is there in front of you, rather than far away.   Far away is almost easier, rather remote from you – yes a challenge, yes a dream – but you have to look at what is right in front of you too.

Later, walking through a once attractive road now full of boarded up buildings acquired for great trading names and scaffolding, as they are all over London, I saw a slight gentle faced woman, sweeping in the front of one of the remaining small shops.   I smiled and she smiled and as it was early in the morning, I crossed the street to tell her how welcome the smile was. She greeted me warmly, we exchanged a few sentences and she commented on the radio past of my kind heart. I caught my breath, recalled all the times I had psychologically pushed and shoved (I don’t regret it but it risked sounding harsh) and thought to demur – but you can’t wave the offer of a kindness away as if it were stale bread.

So I carried that away with me, to an unfamiliar market of junk and jewellery, where I found a paste necklace which I priced. “I couldn’t sell it to you “said the stallholder, a heavy pretty woman with a mane of hair.   “But I like it,” I said, not understanding. “It has no catch, it will need repair, take it” she said.   So I kissed her cheek and said thank you and she looked at me. ”You’ll be Anna” she said.

Technical problems…

Sorry we have technical problems! See you next week…

…nobody’s perfect

It’s the last line of Some Like It Hot, a wonderfully silly clever film without a duff performance, a remark open to interpretation because the millionaire who utters it is carrying away into the future a man dressed as a woman.   This is beginning to sound like a motif for our times…   But the phrase is a major thought.

Not to go back into the manufactured confusion of whether addressing women as Mrs. diminished them but then, how could describing them as heroines rather than heroes apparently diminish them too (o journalism, what knots are committed in thy name !), no person of major standing is ever perfect. Whoever they are, whatever they do, no matter what sex, they are human. You could argue I suppose, superhuman, but what makes them admirable is where they fall short and continue, as well as where they move forward and accomplish.

Hero and heroic are words thrown around and I worry about that. Earlier in the week I read what I would call a whinge from a woman probably 30 years my junior about discovering that her earlier feminist goddesses (her description, my vintage) disappointed in the present instance.  Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the woman who triggered this dissatisfaction is nothing if not an academic, and we don’t take tall bright women into the heart of our academic establishment unless they can bring something to the table, even if the dish they bring raises other questions. What was outstanding was not that she disagreed with what Greer said or the way she said it, but that she preferred to dismiss rather than debate. And she was not alone.

It is a mark of maturity and security, personal and public, to be able to agree to disagree.   I can’t think of any single person dead or alive whose every act and utterance I agree with. And incidentally the first time I heard a famous feminist describe rape as “a trivial crime” was forty years ago, in a meeting under Chatham House rules, the personification of “off the record”, and in the presence of the Metropolitan Police commander (female) who had already done a great deal to revise her force’s primary response.

Apart from a visceral desire to shake the silly woman till her teeth rattled, I learned that day an early instance of informed debate.   We talked about what she had said.   Interpretation of law has to strike very particular balances, between what is said and what is done, what is meant and how that perceived and interpreted, by other humans and by law.   Remember, the statue of justice is blind.   Honourable mention here to the senior judge who told me on camera that there was nothing wrong with the existing laws around rape: what was at fault was how they were interpreted.

How we long for things to be clear – what we used to call black and white – how clear it is that very little is straight forward in that longed for way. Isn’t it a definition of slavery that our blacks are diluted with white ? And how many of our whites are mixed in with every other colour and creed including black ? Nobody’s perfect, right ?   Exchange is risky, sometimes downright unpleasant, discomforting, but it opens up rather than closes down. You might not like it but you might learn something …

What most of us learn is how slow change is to come. Very few of us learn personal responsibility until it is thrust upon us. In the noise of the modern world, and especially the pubs and bars that spill out on to the street, I am not sure that anybody can hear what is happening, what they are agreeing or not agreeing to.   They probably think they’ll send a text if it isn’t consensual. God forbid they should talk about it.   Not cool. Cool is on my list right behind should as a concept about which I am deeply doubtful, perfect would be in the top ten most overused words of the last twenty years. God bless Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon and Joe E.Brown – three men. Whaddya want ? Nobody’s perfect.


Disher came to supper, a vision in a guava coloured tailored shirt. I had a top that didn’t work for me, in which I suspected she would look wonderful. She handed me the shirt. “Try this on” she said.   But it’s new, I protested. “I am not wedded to it” she growled. I did as I was told (you do with Disher). “Wow !” she said. “Swap !” I put the shirt in the wash and a button came off (are you listening, Conran?) and of course I hadn’t got the right colour cotton. I remembered a fabric shop up the road where they might …. On the way I went past Edwina the milliner, the nicest woman, and I saw her at the door. “ By any chance, do you have … ?” I asked, showing her the button. “Of course, come in” she said and swept me through the little shop into the workroom where I stopped, struck, hand to mouth.

Though a gynaecologist once told me that men’s spatial concept is far better than that of women, I’d guess this a floor space no more than ten feet square and nearly twice as high, piled with buckram, feathers, flowers,

“flower making tools.”

ribbons of silk and velvet and veiling, hat blocks, needles, pins, threads, pieces of fabric every colour and shade, order books, binders, references, notes, bits and pieces, petersham, bindings, hats begun, imagined and reformed – it was a little girl’s real life magic workroom.

I love hats. Just before I ceased to be able to wear black (kills me where I stand and not being able to wear it taught me a lot about colour) I bought a small close fitting number with exquisitely imagined black felt roses which had to go to Daisy who can wear hats and can wear black. Dammit.   A couple of years ago, I went in to try on one of Edwina’s hats which made me so happy, I almost bought it – though I was deep in survival mode and you can’t eat hats , can you ?

The hats I have collected are deeply personal and they don’t date: a structured beret in leopard (I love leopards and that cat was long dead before I got to it): a re-imagined 1940’s cocktail special by Jane Taylor: an Isabel Marant knitted number which only works because there is enough of it to drape a bit, kinder to the face: a feathered beauty by Nerida Freiman which took me from bat mitzvah to Buckingham Palace with several years in between: an Armani turban in natural linen, plain and perfectly cut: and a fisherman’s straw (£5) from the days when such things came from the country of origin and not China.   In the winter, I wear hats.   I am still adjusting ageing thermometer to summer, the quality of the heat having changed to something much less benign than it used to be. (Did we ever think what would happen to climate when millions of people all had freezers and fridges, power showers and dishwashers on top of electric light and stoves ?)

And once upon a time, hats were essential. In Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles, the first task of her heroine up on escaping is to find something to cover her head, recognising that without, she would otherwise be wholly noticeable. To cover the head was a token of respectability, even modesty.   In various places in Africa, it still is. The family is extended, you might meet an older relative and you must be ready – head covering is de rigueur. We used to say “If you want to get ahead, get a hat” but nowadays, unless you wear one for essential warmth or shade, they are the province of high fashion, idiosyncrasy, or expected formality.

I remember reading that the Queen’s hats have an arrangement in side them that make them stable, so that no matter the weather, Majesty is never seen to touch her hat.   I hope it isn’t too uncomfortable.   Men wore hats too, sometimes doffing them, then more recently touching them with a finger in salute.  When that happened to me, earlier this year and the first time for ages, tit for tat, I bobbed a delighted curtsey.

*titfer comes from rhyming slang, tit for tat = hat.


what it means

It’s always personal.   That line in the Godfather films about it “only being business” is the ultimate copout (no pun intended).   So I don’t know what Prince Harry said to Meghan as they waded through their nuptial ceremony. I can guess but that is interpretation. I don’t know.   What I do know is that you see things the way you want to see them, they mean what they mean – to you.

On Saturdays I go the market – there are two near me. I am convinced that pound for pound they are no more expensive than anywhere else – you get a bit of exchange and chat both with stallholders and other shoppers, two or three things are special – the chard and cooking apples from Chegworth Valley, the venison from South Downs Venison – and I love the trip.

On the way back this week a bus pulled in to the stop where I was waiting, driven by a man in his fifties, with long greying hair knotted off his face and shaded glasses. I smiled. (I do a lot of that.)   He mouthed “You all right ?”   I nodded, pointing at him with my index finger, and mouthed “You take care.”   This unrolled quite slowly as he considered me, so I thought perhaps he recognised me.   People do, years on, white hair, tinted specs and all. I don’t live for recognition, though it is often rewarding when it comes. But that morning, I wanted to believe he knew me.

What John Bunyan called “the slough of despond” – a bit of a low – has gripped me for the months it has taken to get back into walking again after a fall and that morning had found me whimpering , thinking of what to do and feeling lost.   Millions might be uplifted by the Royal Wedding but I was not one of them – my fixes are just as quick but different.   Too often a white wedding seems like an inverted equation between taste and money ie more money, less taste – though my friend Wal’s comment “they don’t know they don’t know” is much kinder.

Interestingly – and I hadn’t looked for it – I found it meaningful that Meghan walked the first part of her entry to the church on her own, that her mother stood alone. So many people are alone – we are born alone, we die alone and it takes some handling to be alone in between.   But in the midst of all that panoply, being alone was acknowledged. Alone knows no colour. I liked that.   The sense of being alone is not the same as being lonely. That sense of being alone is sometimes induced by circumstances like illness (not necessarily your own), accident, breakup, perhaps what psychiatrists call “low mood” but equally it may be innate.   And you have to learn to be the person you are, when to take care of yourself rather than anybody else, when that is necessary rather than indulgent and to acknowledge your limitations. I keep a piece I wrote about that sense of separation nearly 60 years ago, it’s one of the few bits of my early writing I can read without a blush.

Even scientists estimate that body language and behaviour are interpreted by human beings so fast we don’t know we’re doing it. People who don’t look at what’s there, or wilfully disregard it, not trusting so to speak the evidence of their own eyes and ears, are telling you something too.   Computers are kids’ play compared to the human brain which assesses simultaneously on different levels and interprets it goes. That’s why you can’t help but notice first impressions.   They may be unreasonable to rational thought. We call them impressions rather than judgements because you may fear the egg on your face from an incomplete judgement.   You may equally well file the information rather than define it or act on it. But I bet you refer to it if you are proved right.   That’s why the old remark about “keeping your eyes open” means more than just looking.   Our animal past says smell, hear, feel, assess – everything matters. Even if it means something different to me from what it means to you.        

take a break

Take a break , my “hands” are going on holiday…

You thought I did this all by myself ?   The chance would be a fine thing !   Not so.

I have a midwife and she is going to Spain so please,

look for me on 22 May when annalog will be back on track

And miss me. That would be nice ….

mind matters

The most expensive tv guide is the culture section of The Sunday Times.   And on a bad day, that’s almost all I have to show for the outlay of £2.70.   Picking through articles I don’t want to read, past pictures that give me the grump – on a bad day, the whole experience is wasteful and worse. Why do I buy it ? Because of the tv guide and then – slam bang wallop – you get a home run.

Apart from some occasionally agreeable writing, the paper offers me a round up of new exhibits, film, various kinds of music and books.   And every so often, there is something that makes me sit up, ears on top of my head with attentive excitement.   So it was this week when I found an article (The Sunday Times Magazine May 6 2018 Pages 10 and 13) about Michael Pollan, the author of four standout books on eating, diet and cooking which he summarises as “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – and he is researching psychedelics, with regard to how they might alter mood.

What emerges from the article apart from all the interesting background and some discreet flag waving for the UK (right up there in research terms, work into treatment of depression) is that he has an integrated strong personality and, as a journalist, he will be able to describe what he experiences.

In the 1970s I knew a tv director, now a successful writer of whodunnits, who was commissioned to make a film on LSD, then legal.   He asked me if I would take it and let him film the result.   I am not well disposed to experimenting with other layers of consciousness. I have quite enough trouble with the ones I can access, having been brought up to believe that if there were five senses I knew about and a sixth I suspected, there were probably six more I knew nothing about at all. So I asked why ? TVD said “Because if I give the stuff to most of the people I am in contact with, they’ll sit there in rapt banality. You’ll talk. In sentences… “

Contact with a sympathetic psychiatrist yielded the dope and I took it for camera. I remember some of the journey to this day, going out into the garden and seeing plants breathe, the intensity of texture and colours, the sense of security and wellbeing.  I remember there was some problem ongoing at the time which had greatly distressed me which I was able to see quite differently, I would say from inside the predicament. And I remember crying briefly with relief, because it was wonderful to see whatever it was clearly and thus know it could no longer harm me. I remember that I talked for 12 hours. In sentences…

God knows, I don’t want psychedelics in the drinking water but I’m with Prof. Pollan “we don’t understand the mind very well” and rather than devoting our energies to tricking it and manipulating it, to the manufacture of artificial intelligence – I’d rather work with what we have.   You go to Mars if you want to. I want to save this world.   And the word psychedelic comes from the Greek and means soul manifesting – the spiritual experience – without which there is no life worth the name and little progress on life’s journey.

We have so often talked about progress as if it were a self-perpetuating ongoing tide, as if one step forward made another and another from that, and so on exponentially.   But increasingly we watch what rolled forward, taking down the trees of inconvenience like a psychological bulldozer, come unstuck under the weight of expectation and sheer numbers.   The concept of progress in many aspects of life is beginning to splinter, like glass on a rock.   And the eternal truth is that of personal progress, how you realise or make peace with or learn from, what your life is. Please note, not what it should be (how I dislike ‘should’), not measured against somebody you haven’t met and frankly don’t know about, but your own life – which is very rarely, for all sorts of reasons, what you thought it was going to be and may involve you in major reconciliation.   Thoughts worth £2.70 any day.