Category Archives: Uncategorized

staying alive

Everybody I speak to loves spring. 

Pam the Painter loves it because she is a devoted gardener and it leads to summer.  Yes, the green, yes the light, yes the young – the robins have hatched in the jug in the garden.  Yes, brighter light and longer evenings.  But spring is moody.  It flips from almost muggy warm to suddenly chilly – and card carrying POT (poor old thing), I feel it.  And shorts. 

Shot of a man measuring his overweight belly

  Oh Lord, it’s the same as Lycra – everybody who shouldn’t wear them, does and you long to tell men nicely, you don’t beat the bulge – it beats you.  And shorts sitting under it don’t help. 

Soft warm light fell this morning on a Middle Eastern woman in a long pretty shaped garment in plum over a very dark navy dress and I exclaimed at the colours.  She was delighted.   And the gardener came, more hairdresser than horticulturalist, absolutely unreservedly worth waiting for – polite, professional, careful – and left me with neatened everything, minus the laurel that was ravaging the bed outside the back door, carefully pruned viburnum,

honeysuckle and broom.   Everything swept, everything watered.  I keep going to look at it, like a child with a new toy. 

People seem to be going for holiday earlier this year  – Ginny is off to Sardinia  on Wednesday, Wal is  looking at china on ebay in Spain.   Not sour grapes, I don’t want to go away – as Linda says, no matter what money you have, travelling nowadays isn’t fun.   And the big set pieces of international diplomacy stand like heavyweight screens around the wounded body of the world,

saying what I regret we thought they’d say and leading to a columnist I respect writing that the words he would like to hear from a G7 leader are “Honestly, I don’t know.”   And saying just that in a professional context is how I come to know the name of Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, US .   Sentimental admiration aside, to admit that you don’t know everything and haven’t got all the answers, takes guts and some skill in public address and is more use to those you serve than blandishments.    

Every so often I haul off and write to a public figure,

not because I think I will be recognised, but because I must.  I wrote to the head of the National Farmers Union several years ago when foreign labour shortages began to bite, with a suggestion about employing able bodied pensioners.   I wrote to Lord Rose, formerly head of M&S, because I saw him speak sense about Covid live on tv.  I wrote back to the man who came after me for a comment on meeting Barbara Cartland.   I wrote to the founder of Bloodaxe Books on his birthday which I discovered in the Times, to tell him that one of his collections changed my life.   Responses vary.  But I am going to have to write to somebody about building new houses because, before we do, we have to accept that it is not “new “ we need but units.     

There used to be something called a compulsory purchase order and surely we need to assess how long property is allowed to stand empty in a housing shortage – for our own, let alone anybody incoming – before it is acquired by the local authority for use at the lowest market price.  It is always possible that making good will be more expensive than new build  – but it should be examined in public view, so that we could start using numbers of the unemployed or prisoners to fix the electrics, whitewash the walls, check the plumbing and move towards roofs over heads.   Homelessness is a scandal and if I had had to spend my 20s with my mother, neither of us would have benefited.

As well as spring, I am the only person I know who growls about the Chelsea Flower Show, smack on a bus route.  This year however I shall not be growling because the reallocated and rebuilt Waitrose in Kings Road doesn’t float my boat.   Economically, three rebuilds ? I have found another where …. 

That should happen more often.

marks on paper

Last week two vibrant young women came collecting for Scope,

and wanted me to put a  questionnaire on my phone.  I explained – no phone.  “We could do it on your email” said one but they couldn’t, to which the second girl sighed “everything to do with communication is so complicated nowadays …”   She must have been every day of sixteen.

When we went through a phase of writing notes to each other at school, I remember my mother shaking her head.  “Say what you like” she said.  “You can have an argument and clear the air.  But don’t write it down.” 

I grew up with the idea that writing things down was serious and I didn’t do it lightly.  This probably affected my letter writing, which is rarely as good as I would like it to be, though to be fair to myself, I do better at business letters than personal ones. 

So when I had to cancel gardeners number seven, I sent an email.  And then I sent it again two days later, both times asking for acknowledgement of the cancelled date.  Not a sausage.  Then I printed it off, put in an envelope and sent it marked  “Please read.”    On Saturday I opened the door at 8.00 to the young man whose time I had sought not to waste.   So I may be serious about writing but clearly his boss isn’t and doesn’t read anything except texts or bank statements.  

 Very early on the two year haul to get sense out of the energy company, I declined phone calls –  an art form of meaningless – and everything was written down.  I thought thus I would have a record and at one point in desperation,

I copied out the dates of every contact, name, brief summary and compiled them.  Not to say “… and I was very upset” because they clearly didn’t care, just to show the waste of everybody’s time.  When through the good offices of a LinkedIn executive and the energy broker next door, we got to a name and thus some sense of responsibility, it became clear that she did not read it.  It was too long.

As the audial sense of news, opinion and promotion gets narrower, more confusing and closer to the Tower of Babel, I take a daily paper.  

  I don’t have to agree with everything it says but I have time consider what I read without often discordant voices.  I find things of interest.  I spend time with writers I have learned to appreciate if not trust.   It’s not the Word from On High but it is more thoughtful and tempered than much of the fashion for news nowadays which, like the weather forecasts, seems to have been influenced by the least pleasing kind of sub-Sunday school peptalk – “Don’t worry, there is some sun coming…” or “Peace may break out …”    In Daisy’s immortal phrase (she was a headmistress whose husband has PD) gawdelpus.

What is written remains magical to me, stories untold, things I never heard of, thoughts unformulated, worlds revealed.   I sat the other night and read poems from The Faber Book of Beasts, poetry about animals.  







The candles played on the wall, the trees murmured outside.   It cost not very much and it sent me to bed with a smile on my lips.   Of course you have to be in the mood for it and if you are not in the mood for it, it doesn’t work.     You may read something again and it plays differently to you or you may read something for the first time and feel its impact land.  Either way you will avoid the repetition which is one of the most disagreeable features of our current television. 

Occasionally somebody will ask if I have a picture of my son ?   I haven’t, I never have carried one.  Various peoples including the Rom think the camera steals the soul.  What I carry is a number of things he has written – notes,  lines from the front of books, an early piece of typing.  Not much, not a library  but a few words from various times in his life which evoke him

and make me smile with gratitude and pleasure. 

all must have prizes

This was the title of a book by Melanie Phillips

whom I met once, to review the said book and she was everything!  I didn’t think she was going to be including charming and reasonable.  Speak as you find.

I was not a prizewinner, most of us aren’t, which is why the lotteries swell to the riches of Croesus and we cross our fingers and hope.  I watch people every day buy a ticket and I only did it for a couple of months till I realised that “Why me ?” might just as well mean loser as winner, more likely in fact.

The ITV newscaster Mary Nightingale teased me when I said any award to me should be all or nothing – I hadn’t realised how it sounded – but that was 1998 when I won a gold Sony, top radio award, nothing to do with being an agony aunt.  The citation says “Talk/News Broadcasting Award” and as I walked through the applauding dark

Side view of mixed race business colleagues sitting and watching presentation with audience and clapping hands

to the stage, I had a couple of things I wanted to say.   I said among other things that we had listened that evening (big industry function) to a paean of praise to the BBC and that, while I loved and respected the BBC, the award I was holding was for over  20 years’ work in the independent sector of the industry.  The BBC would neither have hired me nor let me work as I had.  I was cheered.

I did lots of bits and pieces for the BBC, radio and television, some with great joy but whatever it was, my face didn’t fit, I don’t know – I only worked once under contract for a little series of 6 or 7 tv programmes for “Aunty” as we called her then – that was it.  This is not regret which would be pointless.  It’s a truth for a purpose.

The BBC is now riven with internal difficulties, over staffing, competition at every level and change – technology has changed, viewership and listenership has changed, the current government only wants what it wants – it has no coherent vision – which puts a public service broadcaster in between  a rock and a very hard place.   

I don’t know – and I bet you don’t either – what a “typical viewer” is.  But I bet I am not one.  I’ll spare you the list of stuff I never watch, wince at, shy away from and tell you that the fifth series of  Unforgotten knocked spots off any other police based serial.   No I am not an addict, I haven’t watched every moment with bated breath.  I can see that Nicola Walker had to get away or she’d never do anything else

“not a replacement, another thing entirely”

and that Sanjeev Bhaskar is just such a good actor.  I like the writing, by Chris Lang, oh I like the writing.  I like the technique which relies more on “out of the corner of your eye” than conventionally dramatic scenes.  I like the brief slight on the money asides which kept up a narrative drive which is my chief requirement in whatever media – I need to know we are moving forward.

Chris Lang has worked on scripts for years and you’d think was drowning in every kind of praise – but he has just written a short noticeably unhysterical piece about the lack of recognition by BAFTA for actors and craftsmen working on ITV product.   He names names, he explains the process and he breaks down figures.  I think I was more upset about the craftsmen than the actors because actors are an often moveable feast while technicians stay closer to home.  And I think of the number of times I have watched Vera (love Blethyn, hate the twang)  for the superb evocation of the odd bleak beauty of the north east of England in which I grew up.   A cinematographer

can make a story  –  just as a costumier can deliver the character.   No scripted ITV show has won a BAFTA since 2019.

Of course, Chris Lang says, it is ridiculous to take any award show seriously but this is the pre eminent award show in the TV industry and it’s looking a mite superior in its assessments.  Imagine that.   25 years on.       

NOTE: Linda McCormack – no email so I couldn’t reply. Thank you for thinking of me.

my world this week

The owner of the sixth gardening concern  (see annalog/decline and endeavour) arrived in response my telephone call for an appointment he made 45 minutes late,

talked a lot and seemed to think he was doing me a favour.  I forbore to tell him money is not paid for favours.

Old friends had the rerun of a crisis they could both do without but neither seems able to avoid.  I find bright people who can’t focus their intelligence on their own difficulties and how these impact on their nearest and dearest disturbing.  It’s as if the light only travels one way.

For the first time in many years, I am reading books less at a time.  Nothing can make me read slowly, I zap through things, but I know that if I am to understand what I am reading, I must read less and allow for percolation.  It’s been oddly pleasurable, like making a quarter of sweets last longer

when you were a kid.

One of the few things my son asked of me was that I lock the front door and it was locked at 9.20 last night when somebody banged on it (I have no bell).  “Who is it ?” I asked and the voice said “Me.”  Fortunately I recognised “me”, she lives round the corner and owns the first female Rhodesian Ridgeback

I ever met, a dog of truly magnificent indifference to all except her own affairs. 

I opened the door and my neighbour said” I had to come and tell you – my sister has dropped the action, I’ve got the house.”   And flung her arms round me.  I embraced her, remarking as I did, that it is the first time in two years I have seen colour in her face.  And we continued enthusing, jumping up and down on the step – she wouldn’t come in – and suddenly she said “What is your name ?”  And I told her and asked hers (again) because it really isn’t about that. 

a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

It’s about somebody being well disposed to you – just someone  you see at the bus stop, or out with dog, or wave to from the car. 

When her father died – I don’t know all the back story –  his will left her very nearly everything, principal among which was a house with a garden, a little further out.  Her sister took action to fight the will.  Death and money are often closely related.  

Encouraged by her sensible and supportive solicitor, she commenced to clean up the house.  Until she showed me the pictures on her phone last night, I had no idea what this involved.  Her father was a hoarder. 

There have been various ups and downs and she has continued working on the bathroom and the kitchen.  I have seen her looking really dragged down by it all, as you would be.  She has kept going, her home, her job, her husband and family, the daughter still at home and studying.

“You’re going to move in ?”   She nodded.  “Don’t go without giving me an address “ I said “even if I only send you a Christmas card.”

“I’m not going anywhere without telling you” she said. “That’s why I asked your name.  People come into your life for a reason, you’ve got the same name as my dad’s mum, you looked out for me.  That’s why I had to come and tell you, I knew you’d understand.”  And we embraced each other again.   “I’ve got to go home” she said “I’ve got dinner to make.  I’ll see you, I’m not going anywhere yet.”   Do you know, she even smelt different ?  She smelt of hope.

So Carly came to tell me about her dad’s house and Mrs. Robin returned to the nest in the jug hanging on the garden wall.  Yes, it’s very small stuff  but it lifts the heart and make you smile and there’s nothing better.    There’s an old song that says “little things mean a lot.”

decline and endeavour

Hard times are coming if not already here but not for gardening concerns.  I feel like a wallflower at a prom, having just been let down by the fifth gardening outfit, mostly because they have not been taught in work or life how to decline gracefully. 

They can’t say “No.” 

I am a big girl.  I can stand rejection.  All they have to do is assess the viburnum, honeysuckle and winter broom (all in need of pruning), and the removal of the laurel and say “Sorry, too small for us.”  And I’d smile and try again elsewhere.  Instead of which they don’t return the call.  They don’t acknowledge those neat little email forms, telephone calls you can forget – they do.   In two cases, they come, look, estimate and go away promising contact.  Only never to be heard of more.   And dammit, these are the things I can’t do and as I remarked crisply to a friend, recognising limitation and asking for help

is one of the few signs I have of increasing maturity.  

And you don’t want to be labelled as a bothersome old thing,  so you wait.  And in waiting, your turn in the queue is not so much lost as denied. 

“Did I say I’d be in touch with you ?”   emailed Smartypants when I wrote to respectfully remind him of my small existence.  “Sorry spring is here, summer just round the corner and we’re fully booked.”  “So glad you have work for the summer” I wrote in reply.” Just hope you treat the rest of your clients with rather more courtesy” and spat bullets.

The garden is roughly 7 x 30 feet.  And staring out of the kitchen window towards the wall, there was much fluttering, eventually revealed as a pair of great tits who departed and a robin who stayed. 

Hanging on that wall is a battered dark green enamel jug, about 7 inches high, a pretty shape which I haven’t the heart to throw away.  Robin cased the joint and began collecting nesting materials.   I watched fascinated.  He worked very hard.  I looked up the symbolism of the robin online and left him to it.  

When I came back in, he brought his intended who was clearly heard to mutter something about en-suite and preferring a semi before swishing off.  He followed.  And I thought that was it. 

As twilight edged to dark,

I went out to look.   He was standing braced in the mouth of the jug, a tiny thing in a posture which clearly said “This is mine.”  I begged his pardon, softly, and retreated.  

I watched much more coming and going until I went out yesterday to do what Buns calls the messages.  I made the trip to a large Boots (a long way in every way from the Boots of my childhood), looked about, found what I wanted, stretched the arthritic knee and came home.

I’d planted the tulips Laura brought from Italy in my favourite pot, put it up on the wall and it was in pieces on the ground, not doing the cherished yellow rose (A Friend Indeed) Ginny had given me in the bigger planter directly beneath it any good at all.  I do hope the bird is safe, he was of course nowhere in sight.  I swept up and cleared, saved the tulips, did the best I could with the rose – another gardener is allegedly coming on Tuesday, don’t hold your breath.  I shall be explaining how carefully any work must be done round the jug, just in case Robin gets over his fear of the cat on the wall (?) or whatever it was that caused the almighty crash the terracotta falling from a height must have made.

It remains a thrill and a privilege to have seen the bird with spring feathers as bright as paint, the effort, the endeavour, the construction.   If there is one thing nature teaches us throughout its many manifestations, it is how many times you have to try …  only for whatever it is, not to work out – and then to have to try again.       


the skin you’re in

Jane Seymour

rarely eats later than the afternoon, so is hungry for up to 16 hours at a time.   Trained as a dancer, she still weighs what she weighed at 17 (she is now 72 ).  She has also been married and divorced four times, survived financial catastrophe thanks to one of the husbands, come through health crises, written various shrewdly marketed “I survived it and you will too” type books, designed clothes and sold art.  She is currently having a hit with her second tv series Harry Wild, many years after the first.  Jane Seymour may not be a world star but she twinkles steadily in an industry into which she and her management have long strong and professional insight.    I read this over the coffee this morning and had a bad quarter of an hour.   File AR under “could have done better.”    And then I thought.

I thought of two marriages and two divorces.  Quite enough, thank you.    I thought (sorry) that my tolerance for self help books is very low and I never wanted to read or write one if I didn’t have to.   Designing clothes that will sell and painting the pictures ditto? Well that has to be a combination of considerable luck, a recognisable name, and a willingness to put your ability at the service of

what other people think will “go”.  

If you’re discussing something with me, however and wherever we meet, I will put experience, intelligence and information at your service.   But the sound of the exchange is hallmarked.  I’m what I was, the arena of work is different.  I am endlessly interested in and moved by people.  

Jane Seymour is Jane Seymour, I am not she. 

There is a French phrase “bien dans sa peau” suggesting what the Americans call being centred, happy with and knowing how to make the best of your lot, what you can’t do without, what you must let go.  And on the way to being happy in my skin, what did I learn about myself?   

Buns stayed with friends and lived out of a suitcase for years.  I couldn’t do it.  Give me the meanest room (and I have lived in some pits) but it has to have a lock on the door.  I’ll scrub it, paint it – but it has to be mine.   I need regular infusions of privacy.

I made fewer concessions in the way that I wrote or broadcast than anybody I know.  Mind you, I haven’t spent a lot of time asking people.   It was the heart and soul of me, verbally expressed.   I was the girl who was asked for advice at school, in the typing pool.   I went on learning and I went on finding ways to express the things I was interested in, because they obviously interested a whole lot of other people who couldn’t find the words – but you couldn’t fake my interest, it was real, and you couldn’t write my lines. They were too.

I learnt that I cared much less about fashion than about style.  I have known women who keep on colouring their hair long past their sell by date but I went grey and then white, encouraged and endorsed by complete strangers as well as dear friends – always bearing in mind the man who sat opposite me on a train and said “ You’d look quite pretty if you coloured your hair !”   

I learned that I could live without flowers but I had to have books.   I learned – painfully – that you can do your absolute best for somebody but if they don’t want to help themselves,

you’re not going to get very far.  

I learned respect for my health, physical and mental, and when my son asked me the other day if I worried about wrinkles, I was able to say truthfully “Only on a bad day” though reaching for my slippers, I see the skin of my arms creased like tissue – and that’s age, nothing to do with care or cream. 

I like my skin, the one I’m writing about.  It suits me and it sounds as if Jane Seymour likes hers.  Very different, one from the other, that’s the lesson – not only what we share but where we differ.    


The garden

is doing its best but as the weather swings from one thing to another and in my view spring is still on a day/off a day, I thought I might look for a plant.  But the bus was crammed with bodies in every variant of group, every window was closed and when I got off  near the place I  go to for citrus and nothing else, I took one look at people  spilt all around as if from a packet, contagiously posing,  and thought  buy and go home and forget it, you’re no good with plants, you’ll get the wrong thing, it will die … etc.  I really don’t have very green fingers.   So I bought the only other thing I had to have and got the bus back.   And sat down beside a young woman in a black and white checked coat with the darkest skin I can recall seeing. And I began thinking about how I could describe it.

Black as night, we say.  But the night is rarely black and rarely dark, disturbed by all sorts of artificial light.  An African night perhaps,

 which appears suddenly on the end of sunset ? I haven’t seen that for a long time but I remember it well.  Black as pitch?  Possibly, don’t know a lot about pitch.   Ivory black in the water colour box ?  Not enough depth.  Ebony ?  No, all sorts of shadows and shades in the wood.  I looked up black on the internet, not that I rely on that machine, I’ll tell you.  And there are variants, some confusing –  for example, taupe.  I’d have said taupe was a completely different colour but a taupe is a mole and a black mole’s coat is a soft. shining and particular black.  I don’t think charcoal is black at all, unless you lean on it.  

I examined the young woman out of the corner of my eye.   Her eyes were closed and you could hardly see the beautifully drawn eye line, fashionably exaggerated. 

Nothing to do with bronze or copper or brown, she had equally dark hair, cropped to a wonderful head.  She wore enormous faceted gilt hoop earrings, a couple of vaguely Scandinavian sculptural rings.  She carried a Chanel bag, true or false, I wouldn’t know, held in hands manicured with medium length dark brown tinseled nails.  There was not the slightest inclination towards me, so I left her alone.  

My mind pulled up a picture from a time long predating the commercial manufacture of much makeup, when I had watched a hand strike a big old fashioned match, burn it for a minute or two over a saucer, blow it out and collect the soot, which was blended with a drop of some unguent to make an eyeline.  That was the black, deep, soft, unutterable.

She moved her hands into a gesture I know entirely too well, to shadow her eyes and press against her head.  She had a terrible headache. 

I stayed still, it was all I could do.

Halfway to my stop, I put my hand on her arm and she looked at me.  “Do you have far to go ?  Will you be all right ?”   She said yes.  “Do you have pills at home for the headache ?”   She nodded.  “I can do nothing else” I said ” on a bus.  I wish you better.” And when I got off the bus, she smiled – light delight and sweetness – quite wonderful in the grey London street – and waved.

Coming home up the street  I found a little gathering of items outside a flat with a note “Please take me/us !” with a cyclamen in full bloom.   I came back to put chocolate through the door as a thank you, realised I didn’t know which flat was involved and anyway, the occupants of both were out.  There was also a small Christmas tree in a pot, now in corner of the garden.

A friend came for tea looking healthier than I have seen him and bringing the dog of the family he is staying with in between homes, so I heard the happy click of claws and had my arms briefly full of liver and white spaniel.  I’d have to say – a long weekend but a good one.        

you just don’t know…

Up the road

and round the corner lives an American architect with his French wife, two hardly seen sons and a hysterical Labrador cross.  I might have said hello to the wife out walking the dog but I encountered her husband in a fight with some local developers.   And then I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t seen him for ages.  As is often the case, as I thought of him, he appeared.  His brother died last year, he told me, after a long struggle with cancer and now he has it. 54.  Not fair.  Otherwise, unless you live in a fortunately interactive  neighbourhood, you just don’t know.   

Next door but one live the “boys”  – sometimes noisy but agreeable young men about whom I have written before because I lived for years with disagreeable neighbours and they aren’t.   Next door to them however, lives a story – a young woman with a small child who tried to tell me how living underneath them was impossible, they disturbed her child sleeping, and wouldn’t I help her with them ?   You can’t avoid the vibe.  She didn’t need my help for anything.  I wrote her a truthful note (record) which I put through the door saying I had lived there a long time, I had had unpleasant neighbours in every direction but that was not my finding with this group.  I suggested she should talk to them. What distinguished them from others was that you could always talk to them – and they listened.  She did a rerun a year later.  I wrote a second note.

Well she’s still there and I wouldn’t be if you disturbed my child.  But there is something that niggles at me.   I never see anybody else visit. 

I have given up greeting her on the rare occasions we meet in the street because there is no response.  I didn’t do what she wanted and so she has washed her hands of me ?  Possibly.  Of course I write a story in my head, but it is fiction. 

I don’t know.

The local police wrote at the end of last year in the person of a community officer, with a list of crimes, asking which was of most concern to me.  I looked at the list and wrote back saying that although I had lived here for over 20 years, nothing on the list had directly affected me and I wasn’t looking for problems.  I would however like to record that my slight interaction with the police had been helpful and polite – like his email – and I would like to thank them for all their effort.  He acknowledged appreciatively.

You know how you know there are certain things you could never do ?   My mother used to say that her vision of hell would be selling shoes

and having to deal with other people’s feet.   I read a considered article this week about the nearly 30 years ago layers of negotiation between the IRA and Sinn Fein, MI5, MI6, the government of the day and the back channel.  I learned that the violence continued at the hands of the IRA while negotiation was pursued through the political wing (Sinn Fein) and that too took place on several different levels.   I could never do that.  My brain wouldn’t hold it.

Over time, I coined phrases for myself “When in doubt, don’t” and “Be tempted – don’t fall”.   Discretion is never a mistake for anything important.   The wife of a much younger couple who briefly lived locally invited me to walk with her and the baby in the park, in the midst of which she said quietly “I so appreciate that you never ask about what Robert (not his name) does.”  It’s the only time I used the phrase “high security clearance.” 

We both drew breath and went on talking about what we were reading.  They moved a couple of months later.

I am as short tempered as anybody else and I think I am getting worse but I accept that my response to being unable to move as I want, or get on, is self interested and ignorant.  I don’t know what’s going on with other people.  Sometimes I guess and I am right, sometimes I am told – but without these two options,

I just don’t know.


I wish had a scientific mind

but I don’t.  I got as far as botany and biology at school, I remember clearly an exercise book with “General Science” written on the cover.  But physics, chemistry and their connecting thread mathematics ?  Not a hope.  Later in life I mourned that I had not studied medicine – until some kindly soul remarked that the way I worked would have been impacted by that discipline and I would have been quite a different person.  “Oh, good” I hear you sigh ?  Indeed.  But it was not to be.

The whole idea about losing an hour and gaining an hour is political and economic

rather than actual.   Man can measure time, think of those wonderful stellae in various former famous  civilisations, ancient calendars in South America, water clocks, sundials.   We measure it and build ideas round it but time is.    I just wonder where the lost hour goes.

Is it stuck like a ball at the back of a heavy sofa ?  Has it slipped down a crack between two tiles in the bathroom ?  (This also raises the idea of the material of a hour – is it squashable, easily folded or rigid ?)   Has it rolled outside, and become wedged at the back of that awful old bucket ?  Has the hand of a Keeper scooped it up  to hold away from  mind and vision  until whenever it is, and we get it back ?

Do I feel the loss of this hour ? 

I have done.  But not today.   Last night, peacefully assisted by one Flarin and one Paracetamol, plus half a chapter of Margaret Irwin on Elizabeth I, I knocked out the pain in my knee and drifted into sweet sleep, to awaken, look at the clock and alter the time pieces  to where we are now.

I went to get the paper but of course, of course – it was late being delivered.   And contained the usual slew of misery  – I shall not recycle the bits I noticed, I am sure you have your own.  Though I laughed out loud at shoes of such surpassing ugliness Widow Twankey must surely have been consulted.

In my family, there were two varieties to mislaying something important – there was “it’s probably in a safe place” –

which meant it was going to be hard to find.  Or “it’s under something” which implied  that whoever it was, didn’t realised it was important, so covered it up and now we’d have to look where we never expected to look,

on the off chance.    The hue and cry and loss of temper which attended either (plus working for various people who thought I should know, and I learned to) helped instil into me putting things – no matter what  – where they could be found again.  What I also learned was that, just as nobody is irreplaceable, so nobody is infallible.  The phone goes, the dog barks, the doorbell rings and your attention is distracted just long enough to mislay whatever it is.     

And you don’t just lose the tangible – your keys, your wallet, a coat.  You lose time, not because you waste it ( and pleasantly wasted time is a wonderful thing), but because it’s a one way ticket. 

Last week in the truly terrible television programming, I watched most of a documentary on Josef Stalin

which began with the best bit – that when felled by a big bad stroke, although various members of staff and family knocked at the door and called to him, he couldn’t reply and nobody dared go in.  He had given orders that he was not to be disturbed.   File under “be sure your sins will find you out.”      I was reminded of Boris Johnson about whom  some learned committee is still debating whether he did deceive the House, or if he did, whether he meant to deceive the House, when the finding of any observant person  must be that he neither knew nor cared whether he did – which is amorality – no sense of moral responsibility, and evidence of that abounds, in the House and every other place.   But remember “don’t care, was made to care …” etc.  Time out, quite lost.



“You look like a carthorse” said Julie as I left Waitrose loaded.  I said immediately “I knew a carthorse, her name was Blossom”. 

I was sent to the country to Mr. and Mrs. More, who had a smallholding with chickens and a pair of heavy horses .  I remember the birds flying behind us on the rut as we ploughed and I sat, small thing, on Blossom’s neck – the smell, the leather, the air, the earth.   Almost everything leads to a story and the stories vary with the teller as well as the listener, what is heard, what is omitted, what is inferred, what I would call if I were a musician, the tone..

As television programming declines, I read and thank God for Moorfields.  But I have other “books”, albums of ideas, impressions, memories.  I usually write on Sundays and I do not read read … that’s what I said to myself … read read.   My mother had a trick of repeating a word for emphasis.  I read  the paper, not a book, before I try to write.  Not read read.  She’d describe the weather as “not cold cold.”   It came to me this morning when I couldn’t sleep.  If I follow this sort of story in my mind it leads to kitchen furniture, the pantry, the back garden and my mind seeks memory

as if it had fingers.

All stories are prismatic, they have lots of sides, and how you interpret the side you’re told varies too.   We have different ideas and perceptions, we are different people, we respond differently to all sorts of input to the human and no machine is ever going to rival that.

Unusually, one day last week I switched on the tv early.  I loathe the so-called breakfast programming, whoever does it.  So I went to the BBC News Channel where I saw a man in a legal wig

sitting behind a bench, the word “Preston” in the top left corner of the screen.  He was a judge and he was summing up.

I had never seen such a thing.  If you say “summing up” to me, I think of a well known actor in an film or a play, a couple of minutes and the story moves on.  I didn’t set out to watch this, I didn’t know what I was watching – but it is a very good insight of how  the same story plays different ways to different people.

There were nine counts, evidence was assessed, put to one side, its perception explained.   It was the story of a young woman now 22 who had made through what the judge called sophisticated use of telephones, keyboards and other all too accessible accessories false allegations against men,  Caucasian and Asian,  involving alleged repeated rape, sex trafficking,  brutality – and none of it checked out.   The police involvement over three small towns went on up to and including riots in the street – those who sided with her, those who didn’t believe her, the destruction of businesses, homes and health. 

The judge continued, adjusting the length of the sentence to include different tariffs and time that must be allowed for this or that.  There were 2 psychiatric reports, one of which he set aside explaining why he did so.    He sentenced her to 16 years which he cut by half because of her extreme youth.   He spoke of how she would be managed after that, what she would be allowed to do and not do.

On the evening’s Channel 4 news, I saw an item with a good reporter which included a brief interview with the mother of the accused.  The word that came to mind was “unreal”.  

I’ve seen two pieces in the paper, heard a couple of news items and they are all reduced for a whole slew of reasons including historical relevance, interest and (I imagine) a great wish to move on.  It is a complicated case which doesn’t lend itself to easy journalistic compression and was out of the main stream.

It was one side of a story, I had never heard that story or that side before.   It did not close the gate in my mind.  It made me think.   Now I know why  “know-it-all” was such a criticism in my family.   We don’t.