Category Archives: Uncategorized

one in the eye

If eyes are the window of the soul, my windows are currently swathed in red curtains because for the last four weeks my eyes have itched, especially the left one. This is not hay fever or at least, it hasn’t been so far.   In the middle of that, I saw the Prof for a check up for glaucoma and macular degeneration.   I asked him, sitting in front of powerful magnifying equipment which was focussed on my eyes, if he could see anything and he said no.   He also said that he has never seen a year like it for eye infections, most of which are unfamiliar.

In London we blame the plane trees whose pollen is highly irritant. We could also blame various kinds of traffic fumes and a building programme entailing few areas which aren’t ankle deep in every kind of dust and rubbish, propelled into decay by alternative bouts of rain and warm weather. The wind is generously blows it everywhere. And then there are cooking fumes, animal excreta and grot.

The irritation behaves atypically, it goes away and comes back.   The itch is so fierce, I felt I could outdo Oedipus at Colonus – and he had to use the pins of brooches.   There is no noticeable swelling or redness and such secretion as there is, is very close to what we used to call “sleeps”, a bit of curd which is there when you wake and soon disperses.

The eyelids feel like old Venetian blinds. They don’t always ease with the drops I have to use daily for eye pressure.   Sometimes they feel better when I have had a shower and sometimes they are alleviated by the spring water I have in an aerosol which I squirt careful in the general direction of the face, not directly into the eyes.

At the beginning, I left off all eye makeup. Women with eye infections do – we don’t know what is in those products for the most part, only that it looks nice. Then one day, tired of looking like a sad owl (I’ve had these dark circles for many years and if they are good enough for Anna Magnani, they ‘re good enough for me though I do like a bit of alleviation), I put on some shadow and pencil   – waited for the roof to fall in – and it had no noticeable effect. If anything, it seemed soothing.

And so we go on.   Prof scared it away for a week or so but it is back and it comes and goes and I just leave it alone as much as I can.

Because you don’t know who to ask.

See The Remarkable Life of Skin by Monty Lyman, dermatologist (Bantam Press £20) because skin is the biggest organ of the body and we don’t know a lot about it. The well known eye specialist (now retired) whom I saw regularly for 20 years made a comment that has stayed with me: “The dermatology department used to be next to mine and we referred by walking patients through.”   I must have gaped at him because he explained “There is a crossover – the eyes are in the skin.” So I wonder having read of the eyebrow mites scurrying about the face at night looking for a legover, if one of the little **** has got in my eye.   And more importantly – who can I ask ?

The GP will almost certainly give me a prescription or refer me to the eye department of the local teaching hospital which fresh out of favour with me because they missed out diagnosing the macular degeneration.

I can go to the eye specialist at the local private hospital whom I have seen once before and very helpful he was OR write to Prof who will refer me: it’s a chunk of money and I have just replaced the kitchen tap.   Money will only do what it will do.

The best relief so far followed the application of a small amount of natural yogurt all over the face – though it is not a look you’d want to share.Or I can wait, carefully bathe the eyes occasionally with cornflower (bleuet) or Euphrasia (homeopathic remedy), keep my bacteria ridden paws in my lap and clamber through the predicted heatwave.   

the way we live now

Game of Thrones – no. Big Brother, Love Island or Britain’s Got Talent – no thank you, no, no.   I loathe Strictly Come Dancing. I have never used or owned a microwave. I don’t have a mobile phone (perish the thought of a selfie) nor bank on-line and I use Amazon rarely (once a year).   I do not feel deprived. Hype is another four letter word like kale and I suffer only from being one of those people to whom, if you say I must, I react against it. This is childish, I am not proud of it but it’s true.

Nobody had to tell me to support gay rights, I do. I don’t always support the way that people go about getting them but then I support women’s rights and that lumps you in with people you might not want to eat with.

A couple of weeks ago Wal asked me “What is all this stuff about Pride ?”, this from the man who surveyed his first independent building crew years ago with the words “My name is … I do (details). Yes I am gay and if you think I shall be making a pass at any one of you, get over it ! …”   A plumber told me that he and his pals – some 40 plumbers and builders who all use the same local – only take exception to their landlady trying to force LGBT down their throats: what she does and what she believes is her business. It’s the social evangelism they can’t stand.

The Ulsterman David Trimble has apparently always been against same sex relationships but it is alleged, has had to reconsider now that one of his daughters is “out” and has contracted a marriage with her partner. It is thus assumed that he has changed his position.   He may have done. But again, he may not. Does it follow that, wanting your child to be happy and thus making the best attempt at harmony in the family, you are now a campaigner for gay rights?   I wish I could remember who told me not to extrapolate (first time I ever heard the word) from the particular to the general but it was a thoughtful lesson. Consideration may indicate a change of heart, but then again, it may not. Sometimes a kindness is just that.

Last week the occupants (sex and numbers unknown) fell in the door next door at half past midnight and shrieked and shimmied until 2.30 am when I got up and made ready for battle. As I opened the door the neighbour from the other side was attacking the front door. She is a young mother and I am sure the noise disturbed her child. The lights went out and silence fell.

48 hours later, just as I was updating on the news channel, there was a knock at the door.   There stood two young men introducing themselves as the new occupants of the noisy flat “just so when you see us around, you know who we are. We thought we’d just let the neighbours know …”   and one of them offered me his mobile number.   With effort I restrained myself from shouting hooray for humans (we’ll see) – as I say, sometimes a courtesy is just that.   We’ll see.

We used to say you take people as you find them but this is the age of mass – beliefs, convictions and fame are defined as much by the number of followers on Instagram or Twitter as by the number of seats sold, income generated or headlines made.   You don’t take people as you find them because finding them ie in any sense of knowing them or what they are about seems daily more difficult.

Yesterday I saw a representative of the Association of Newspaper Editors snarling about the importance of a free press.   Where is the conflict between being given the story of the Ambassador’s leaked emails concerning the Trump administration and staying their publication while making urgent contact with the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary for starters ?   Holding the story till everybody relevant knows what is going down doesn’t impinge on a free press, it just changes the time line.   Surely with freedom comes responsibility ?

a quiet night at home

Yesterday I had a rehearsal for what is to come. The remote control on the tv ceased to function.   Those who never look at television should leave now. I do. Mostly old films, often unexpected discoveries, nature programmes, documentaries. The main themes of programming are shamefully bad and I shouldn’t be surprised if the whole enterprise imploded like William Hill. There is much the same unreality, chance and marketing involved. You watch Love Island ? I watched The Looming Tower. One we cannot escape and the other nobody’s heard of.

Out of time I know, his new book is about Dracula, but I had just read the masterfully well written if depressing Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor (£2 in Oxfam) so a little light relief in the form of an old favourite like A Touch of Frost would have been welcome. But it was not to be.

Speaking to Bunslove, he recommended “whisking” (I quote) a cloth across the head pointing to the tv in case there was fluff or dust or a hair or something. And it worked. I watched something insubstantial for an hour, tried to change the programme and it went into a funk again, which is when I chose a book from the fire shelf, my all time favourites, and settled down. Worse, I had begun the day feeling defeated (continuing brexitisis), overcome the mixture of anxiety and annoyance, risen above it, gone shopping, got home and now – like the brat I am – I wanted what I wanted and I couldn’t have it.

But once I’d got over the stamped foot, I didn’t miss it.  There wasn’t a darned thing yesterday to miss. An hour into the book, I wandered out into the kitchen and looked at the dish drainer, a quietly camp arrangement of black wire, definitely the worse for wear. I spent some time trying to rally it to respectability but it looked like I felt.

There are men and women who will tell you that they bought a jacket or a pair of shoes that were so outstandingly comfortable/becoming/whatever, that they wish they had bought a second. Far fewer are those that will tell you that they did buy a second time around, usually without due care and attention, duped by earlier success.

Unlike love (the song says it’s lovelier, the second time around) the second go at this wonderful whatever it is, is rarely so successful. It’s a different job lot – the cut varies.   It’s a different colour – the dye affects the material differently ie you haven’t thought that a black shoe and a beige one are qualitatively different – they may look identical – but they will wear differently.   Twice in my life I have bought successful duplicates of things to wear and I can’t count the mistakes I have made. But three or four times I have bought duplicates for the kitchen.   And they WORK.


I climbed the short household steps the wonderful Linda gave me because she thought they would be helpful – they are.   And I took from the top shelf of the storage cupboard the wrapped box of a replacement dish drainer, opened it, smiled and ditched the elderly one. It owes me nothing.

I doubt that I shall find a third without difficulty. When I bought the second the woman very civilly told me that, for personal reasons, the business wouldn’t continue.   I said thank you and wished her well – what else ? Waitrose no longer stocks my preferred stain remover, nobody stocks my favourite skin care.   There are more and more units and less and less you want to buy.   I live in a rotten tooth, drowning in rubbish wrapped, unwrapped and dumped.   There are murmurs of disquiet on the business pages of the newspapers, this concern faltering, that one holding out for the future, fingers crossed behind the back.   Change is supposed to be for the better but in the present climate I am not sure. It will probably all get worse first but I shall acquire a new remote and day to day life will resume . I’d still rather be me than them and here than there.

what’s new

There are different kinds of new. There is new to you or new to us all, very little of the latter.   A famously eccentric playwright wrote brilliantly about re-invention – your Woody Guthrie is my Bob Dylan. Many of us see or hear something touted as the latest thing and know it isn’t. It was invented before and probably before that. And maybe before that – but it Is new in the scheme in which it has been rediscovered – which makes it new to you.

I have two friends who keep a lot of their clothes.   They don’t keep “everything” because things wear out or they tire of them. But they keep a lot and one of them told me about wearing on of her oldest jackets with one of her older pairs of pants to a fancy wedding and being complimented on it. New to that group.

“ready mud stained for your use!”

And then there is new. At the end of my last full time job (and one of the nastiest experiences of my working life), the company behaved in the brutal tradition of radio ie you’re on ? you’re gone. That the broadcaster isn’t allowed to say goodbye is not explained, it’s just company policy.   But lots of people rang and wrote and were dismissed, letters trashed, simply told “She doesn’t work here any more.” Some got under the net but really very few.

I spent the next five years with people asking me what happened.

I had coffee with one of them, a health professional, and met her husband ditto. We stayed in friendly touch, through dogs and birthdays and holidays, until she sent me a very happy email about her new dog and I invited them all to supper to meet him.

Across the sash window in the kitchen I have five items – all, like everything else in the house including the owner, with history – a clock bought because it looks Art Deco: a cinder glass bottle given me by Penny in the local gallery 30 years ago: the black marble duck I bought when we moved into our new home, the man I loved and me: a slender oriental looking jar from an important flat: and a dish shaped like a Japanese maple leaf which I bought in in a shop long gone.

My guests arrived with splendid wine, the dog was delightful and dinner worked. And they gave me a carefully wrapped parcel, explaining “We go a lot to Istanbul (the dog has a pet passport), we liked this, we thought you might …” It is a pomegranate , skin split in one placed, the seeds represented by small red stones – and it is the sixth item on the spread.   If you look up pomegranates, you’ll find they are generously lucky.   It is new.   But it isn’t new at all. I can’t remember who told me “Love is about recognition, not discovery” but it has always struck me as truthful.

Recently I saw a news item about a woman of colour at a top university describing “imposter syndrome.”   Nonie Summers wrote it about in Vogue in the 1990s. It’s not new.   It’s new when it happens to you.

The cover of a newspaper magazine leers about labial adaptation and prinking the private parts. This is not new. I have a 20 year old piece from American Vogue called Designer Vaginas.   What is new is the frequency with which these interventions will be employed. What is new that you no longer build an extension to the house – you rebuild yourself.   What is new is that nobody has written about that intelligently for fear of compromising somebody’s human rights or being seen (God forbid) to have an opinion which is less than friendly. It is becoming a mark of friendship to be able to say what you really mean instead of what is expected.   Two or three of my friends and I announce to each other “And I know this isn’t what I am supposed to say but –“ before committing to the comment.   Although when Ben and Richard (not their real names) sat opposite me for coffee recently – intelligent gay men in their early fifties – they suggested that nobody talked about friendship any more.   Takes too long.   That’s new.

sufficient unto the day…

… especially when it is as a good a day as the one of which I write. I woke to that softness in the air which has nothing to do with humidity. I noticed this particularly because the day before – weighed down by air pressure and sullen damp, surrounded by traffic and entirely too many people (never mind plastic, what about birth control ?) – I had tried to look for trainers in the West End. Pass.

Increasingly confused and cross, I had got into a bus (nobody opens bus windows any more) – and even that was on diversion, so that a twenty minute journey took three times as long. Drivers must find such shifts interminable and I feel sorry for them. But mostly I felt sorry for myself. Taught as a small child “pigs perspire, horses sweat and ladies glow”, that makes me a horse. I came home cross, overheated and Not Nice To Know.

But the day following had moved on, hardly summer but trying hard. So I bought the papers, stripped my bed and put on a load of washing which – the cheapest pleasure I know – blew dry through the day on the line – and even in garbage central, that still smells better than any fabric conditioner ever invented.

Inspired, I overhauled the two under the stairs cupboards (respectively the pantry and the gloryhole) which are my main storage. And of course I found things to part with, either to the charity shop or the bin, and somewhere under the heading of “you never know when you might use it again” – I retrieved from a box masquerading as DIY, a brush with a handle and instead of bristles, harsh metal threads, probably for paint removal. I looked at it thoughtfully and took it out into the paved garden where I experimentally drew it with force along the weed cluttered space in between the cherished herringbone bricks . Bingo.

I usually clear out the weeds with a pointed roughly leaf shaped implement from SE Asia which works well but is noisy and more tiring. This was much easier and more rewarding and it improved the moss on the bricks themselves so in three goes, I did the whole garden. Swept, garnished and rinsed, it looked a great deal better..

Trusting one of the more sensible weather broadcasters, I finally said au revoir to the winterweight bed linen. I don’t know whether I feel the cold more at night as I get older, but I don’t want to wake up chilled. I can’t say more than “so long “ because I know I shall have recourse to it again and this is the year that I have admitted to myself that I prefer autumn and winter.

As a younger person I loved the summer and of course there are days in any season and any weather which are just delight – because of who you meet or what you do or the air or the light.   I have long known that I love autumn because of the colours and find spring a cheating thing, because just when I think it has warmed up, it goes cold again and I worry about all the young things in the cold air but it was not until this year that I admitted to myself that I like everything about winter. I know what to wear and what to eat, I like the shape of the days,

“this is called The Shape of Days by Pejac”.

I like dusk and the darkness settling, the dark lingering in the morning before the day wakes up. It’s really odd too that I should come to this conclusion in a year when I had months of a heavy cold and not being well. The two things seem quite separate in my mind.

But with two or three days in a row of coherent warmth, I know I shall want to call the window cleaner (no point when it rains every five minutes) and in due course, take down all the books to dust and resettle and let a few more go, one of the things I do well is choose what to keep and what to relinquish.

And although I know that the sense of security in my small home and its beauties is a fragile thing, it is enough and I am grateful.  


I fell. I was concentrating on the traffic lights opposite, the pressing traffic and moving sideways to avoid a man in a hurry, and did not see (no eyes in the knees) a black metal box, about 30 cms height from the ground, bearing the letters TCSU.

TCSU means – Traffic Control System Unit

Apparently something to do with speed traps. There is another one near where I live, I noted the characters down to ask the only policeman I know. People said what they say (Did you take pictures ? I hope you’re going to write to the council …) I don’t carry a mobile, I am not going to bother anyone else to take pictures and I can just see the local council looking patiently at a well spoken greyhead with minor abrasions.   However, minor is the word other people use of pain they can’t feel: bashed knee, scraped shin, skinned elbow.

Everything was duly submerged in hot water, suitably anointed (Traumeels, from the health food store) and I forgot about the elbow till I was sitting watching something on tv and explored it with the fingers of the other hand a couple of days later.  There was a large bloody scab (Savlon this time, antiseptic) and in due course it healed.   Growing and healing are two processes I find fascinating, any growth, any healing.   But we take the body so for granted.   And if there is physical damage as well as emotional impact, we tend to think that if the outside has mended, the inside has too – which is often not the case.

Nothing against plastic surgery, and leaving aside all those unskilled hands proffering botox, fillers, and so on – it’s always context that gets me.   Many surgeons cop out of that. Their attitude is frighteningly one dimensional ie “I have the skill, you have the money” implying, if you can make that decision, you must be fine. Give me leave to doubt.   I just read one of those fascinatingly repellent articles about young men restructuring themselves (from brow and cheekbones, to shoulders and testicles), all in the name of sexual scoring (as Tina Turner sang “What’s love got to do with it ?”). 20 years ago it was women in pursuit of everything from nose and chin to bosom and waist, in a similar competition. Except of course, young men and women are now in thrall to photographic image (which is often itself altered out of any reality), images played and replayed at speed (rarely discussed) and an overarching desperate loss of self, tribe replacing the individual and eating him/her for breakfast.

In those undoubtedly interesting but often disturbing reviews about the rise in psychological distress among the young, I can’t help feeling we only ever hear half the story. Half the story is part of the cost of the speed of modern life.    Half the story is where news stories come unstuck ie they can only tell us so much and often we say to each other “But what about … ? They didn’t say …” and the story develops or dies. You could argue it is a kind of listening hook. Consumerism applies to media as much as a myriad other more tangible things like bread and bedlinen.

But you only have one body.   Nowadays we run programmes (car crash tv) on what can go wrong while other programmes simultaneously show us this one and that one, “with her new face”, “after his desert sabbatical” – looking like hell or a blurred image of somebody else with a similar hairline. A perfect example of the mixed messages which destabilise whole sections of society from within.

Unless you have something seriously wrong, up to and including a blood disorder, you heal, some of us quickly, others more slowly.   But that is only the first part of a two part question.   The second strand, absolutely as important as the first, is how it affects you, what you recall, what the body remembers.   And I have spoken to enough child abuse survivors to know that they look like anybody else.   But that is not how they feel.


*temple – as in

My body is a temple

muscular thought

Yesterday a friend emailed. He teaches children with “issues”.   He was going through what books were available to them and one of them was violent, threatening and frankly bloody. He asked a more experienced colleague “Can this be right ? We’re supposed to discourage children from violent videogames but here is a book of the same thing, on offer at school ?”   She replied that some of the teachers ordered the books because they were by famous authors but had never read them. He asked me if he was being prudish ? I replied that you never recommend anything to a youngster you haven’t read yourself.

There weren’t many heroes in my upbringing. You did your best. If that meant you took mind blowing risks, rescued people or saved dangerous situations, it was less to do with the big “I Am” and more to do with doing your best. How I admired the veteran in the recent DDay celebrations who was filmed saying straight to camera “Don’t call me a hero. I was lucky, I survived. There are no heroes.   They are all dead, and I shall never forget them.”

“rosemary for remembrance”

Most of my heroes are people who think – and we are short of them. Libby Purves writing in the Times (10.06.19) tells of the hooha that has blown up over an exam questions which features a small piece of writing by HEBates (she points out that an “unseen” like this is chosen because it will not be well known) and the immediate burble of social media from young – very young – women who are outraged and offended because contextual examination reveals that it is about a rape. Gosh. Perhaps now is the moment to tell these PCPC (politically correct putative children) how much of the great art of the world – written, painted, sculpted and sung, whether by men and women – came out of its ills and pain.  How can you claim awareness if you don’t want to examine an issue from all sides ?

When I was teaching English to Myf (my young friend) I struggled to find her interesting material without the cultural subtexts familiar to 12 year old English girls. I tried all sorts of things, we’d have to pause and I’d explain, and once you had done that two or three times, it was disheartening and anybody would lose the thread. Myf was fascinated by grownups, how they thought, what they said, their interaction and change. I found a terrific piece on the website of an American writer (Amy Krause Rosenthal) who died all too young of cancer. It was called “Why You Should Marry My Husband”, an appreciation of her life, and when I offered it to her, Myf’s first question was “Have you read it ?” Of course I had. Think !(see Aretha Franklin)

“In The Blues Brothers”

A recent headline announced “Tax toxic tyres that pollute the air”.   Can we do that to politicians – tax them for hot air?   Rory Stewart the international development secretary in the Conservative leadership race brought a smile to my weary lips yesterday by pointing out that there was nothing patriotic about bullshit. Unfortunately the chief offenders won’t listen and that risks more and more of their constituents turning off. Or turning right. It is so appealing to think that bombast will win the day but three years on, with three separate European power bases and all those nations to negotiate, it isn’t likely.

If I think of heroics, I think of someone making a determined personal commitment and then making it again and again, in the face of every kind of difficulty and dislike.

“Water wears Away Stone by Mykola Ridnyi”

Like Nimco Ali who has been given a gong for her campaigning work against female genital mutilation. Imagine taking on a disapproving community, that is afraid, far from home and living against everything ever previously expected. A hero for me. And I just about cheered Jon Sopel, for his book “If Only They Didn’t Speak English” in which he says more than once “that’s not what we are there to do” and marks clearly the difference between the public enactment of his job (as BBC North American Editor) and what he thinks. It’s a great read, highly informative but you can forget Hercules. Strength lies in the brain as well as the biceps.