Friday, 18 April 2014

Walking With Luciano

Black dogs are everywhere. 'Be More Sociable', a University study says.  Another one says ‘Fake It ’Til You Make It’; or there’s the one that advises you to ‘Compare Yourself With Someone Who is Worse Off Than You’. As if I cared about someone else’s misery when that black dog has me by the throat. ‘Listen to some sad music or read a sad book’. Weep. Apparently, that’s catharsis, about which the ancient Greeks knew a thing or two when they invented the concept. Guaranteed to make you feel better.

So there I am, one black dog scampering at my heels, the other one firmly clamped atop my shoulders, pushing my head forward and down. The blackthorn is in full bloom. I have a smile on my face, a rictus grin to split the atom, but I still can’t ‘Make It’. That one is a waste of effort. The sociable bit is better. Luciano* is with me, pretending to be Cavaradossi waiting for his execution in the morning, but admiring the bright stars anyway.  E lucevan le stelle. Yes. He is definitely worse off than me, particularly since Tosca, the one he loves, is going to throw herself off the battlements, although he is spared that knowledge, since he's dead by the time she jumps. I once saw her do that and bounce back up. They’d made the mattresses too springy.

The company of Luciano/Mario and his sad story should, according to the professors who research such subjects, have had me gambolling like a new born lamb. Instead of which I plodded along. Perhaps Pete** would help.  He might not have been the most cheerful folk singer but he was wise enough to know that the seasons must turn, turn, turn and that there is a time for every purpose under heaven.  He also says that We Shall Overcome, aiming this splendid mantra specifically at people with a pessimistic outlook.

I was humming along to Luciano and by the time I got to Pete, I actually sang a verse or two. Things were looking up until i remembered that I was walking with dead men.

Visiting Llareggub (try reading it backwards), the sleepily subversive Welsh town of Dylan Thomas’ play for voices Under Milk Wood which, according to the (also dead) actor Richard Burton is ‘entirely about religion, sex and the idea of death’ suited my mood perfectly. We went with friends, both alive, which made my grumpy rude mood unforgivable. I should wear a warning sign round my neck : Beware Of The Dog.

The play was brilliant. Polly Garter, the ever pregnant girl who scrubs floors and sweetly sings about her lost love, little Willy Wee, and sleeps with everybody who asks, almost made me cry. I covered it up by concentrating on the pure and pitch perfect voice of the singer. Then there’s Gossamer Beynon, the schoolteacher who thrills to the ticklish sensation of a sailor's "goatbeard"; Bessie Bighead "kissed once by the pig-sty when she wasn't looking"; and Dai Bread who dreams of "Turkish girls. Horizontal". And has there ever been a more poignant image of spinsterly unfulfilment than Myfanwy Price's "lonely, loving hotwaterbottled body”?

If you can’t make it to a performance - it’s coming to the States too in this, the centenary of Thomas’ birth, and the 60th anniversary of the BBC’s posthumous premiere of his final, never-quite-finished masterpiece, at least read it. The language will blow your mind. It’s sheer poetry.

Catharsis guaranteed.

*Luciano Pavarotti
** Pete Seeger

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Give me a corner and I’ll back myself into it. I’ve had years of experience. Allocating two mornings a week for the services of two separate gardeners is a case in point. Both are keen and willing,  and perform different functions -  Paul, the expert, gets to prune and do the careful weeding round delicate plants, and Gardener, who’s been around for ten years but has still not learned that to chop a choisya ternata aurea in half just before flowering will severely limit the attraction of said shrub, does the digging and mulching and tickling and lawn tending, as well as cooking up a mean compost heap. However, at only a third of an acre the actual garden area isn’t big enough to provide ongoing work for two gardeners and their gofer. i.e. me.

Two mornings a week gone on gardening,  a season ticket to hospitals and doctor’s surgeries for all sorts of routine treatments and tests for Beloved as regular as a mum’s school run and a day all-told for housework,  plus shopping and afternoon walkies with Millie, leave little time to  stand and stare. There’s hardly
time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

The cherry tree almost went unadmired until it blazed at me one evening at dusk and I simply had to take its picture. With an old camera, there’s not been enough time to learn the intricacies of the fancy new one.

Paul doesn’t know yet that he will feature in my blog, this picture was taken on the sly while he’s weeding the fernery. Ferns haven’t unfurled yet, so clearing the bed now will avoid trampling them into the ground later.

But nobody can live by work alone, there has to be leisure.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Can you call theatre visits ‘stare’? Sure, I can.

Sixteen visits to be exact, just to be getting on with, between now and February 2015.

Will we still be alive? There’s another corner ready to pounce.

I’m only asking the ‘being alive’ question because we went to another old friend’s funeral today. We’ve been climbing that hill to church far too often recently. I’m beginning to recognise the hymns.
And only four weeks ago we went to her birthday party.

Man muss die Feste feiern, wie sie fallen, my mum used to say. Loosely translated ‘make hay while the sun shines', or 'carpe diem’.

This was brought home to us quite urgently at yesterday’s poetry meeting. A member who hadn’t been attending for a while turned up with his wife. He sat very close to her on the sofa. She read, but he just sat, listening. Not long ago Donald was an excellent reader of poetry, very knowledgable, erudite, an ex Oxford classics scholar and long-time grammar school teacher and clergyman. Now he clings to Audrey, frets and fusses when she’s out of his sight. What is left of his first class brain is rapidly fading and after a life of respectability and courteous good manners he is turning into a coarse vulgarian. Audrey herself is frail and, for the life of me, I can’t see how she copes. But she does. It terrifies me.

I need to get back out into the garden this weekend;  hands caked with dirt and a sore back from bending are marvellous means of dispersing  morbid thoughts.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Gratitude Attitude

Quite a number of grannies are complaining about grandchildren’s lack of manners when it comes to saying thank you for gifts of money. I saw the second or third such article in a magazine recently, with an agony aunt giving advice on how to deal with the problem. Ideas both the grannies and the agony aunt came up with ranged from ‘tell the parents’, ‘write and ask for confirmation of receipt’, ‘pretend to be worried that the money got lost’,  to ‘include a return envelope, stamped and addressed’. The advice didn’t actually say anything about just picking up the phone and asking outright. All the grannies seemed embarrassed, as if the bad manners were theirs and not the grandchildren’s.

I don’t understand why a plain ‘thank you’ should have gone out of fashion, but if it has, then there isn’t much the giver can do. We can teach our children to be courteous and well behaved but they will, at some stage, follow their own rules. Once grandchildren have reached teenage and beyond, they are removed further still from our personal sphere of influence.

Poor Grannies!

My advice would be : after a suitable interval ask outright if they were glad to receive the gift. They’ll probably say ‘Yes, Thanks’. That should do to remind them next time. If they ‘forget’ again, grumble at the parents. If that doesn’t help when the next birthday or Christmas present is due, you might as well make up your mind to go without expressed appreciation. You can always tell yourself that they are really very busy but probably love you anyway. And that there is more happiness to be had from giving than receiving.  You can also tell your friends, or anyone who will listen, and start sentences with “In my young days . . . .”

On the other hand, if it’s happened too often and it really bothers you, keep the cash and treat yourself instead. That’ll teach ‘em.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

I’ll Take April

When pressed,
I’ll take April.
March being the boring end of winter
May all lilacs and romantic love.
Yes, I’ll take April,
perplexed, bewildered, vacillating April,
tempestuous one minute and
in deep thought about spring the next.
the yellow month,
(did you know yellow is for happiness?)
the month when bumblebees bumble
drunk with unimaginable possibilities
and the thrush perched on the tallest conifer
shatters the early morning mist
with a call to arms.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Lamb Shanks - Wordless Wednesday

Even a 
Wordless Wednesday
must tell a story of sorts.

Go and look for others here.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Unconscious Coupling

I looked at the everlasting calendar this morning to find the exact date for a friend’s birthday, mainly to see if there was time to send a card or if it would have to be an email.

“It is March, isn’t it? Goodness, 27th already.”

A vague thought entered my head: isn’t there some special date in March?

“Beloved, we forgot our anniversary.”

O dear, so we have. I do apologize. I remember mentioning it earlier this month, but then it totally slipped my mind.”

“Don’t worry dear, I forgot too.”

For the first time in 27 years of marriage we both forgot our anniversary. No matter, we shall have a slightly belated celebration.

Contrary to Paltrow and Martin and their ‘conscious uncoupling’ - ( have you ever heard a more pretentious way of announcing a divorce? Are they a train?) - we shall stay together.

Actually, I blame having two gardeners for our absentmindedness: it is totally confusing to have them turn up on two separate days of the week, stay for three hours and disappear again. It means that I have to be around, ready to work alongside them, make tea and conversation, answer questions and make suggestions, listen to gossip, give instructions and have them gently ignored in favour of each gardener’s ‘better idea’ and make sure their dates never clash, twice a week.

One of these days I’ll have to come clean, if only for the sake of my marriage.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Going, going . . . . . .

Wordless Wednesday

For other contributions to Wordless Wednesday look here