Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bletherings of a tired gardener.


How long is it since I did the lawn? Well I've just done it again but this time I'm not raking the grass up and am trusting MTL's adage that the worms come up and eat it. I've just seen a slow worm in one of the beds which is good news. Lovely day here if a bit airless - especially if one is digging up ground elder.

Round the NW side of the house which is dark and shady with banks and steps - just asking to be converted into a cascade (fat chance) - we get a variety of ferns. I try to clean up the old dead bits so that the burgeoning new growth is perfect. I went out to look at a specially beautifully shaped one just in time to see MTL demolish it with the shears. Thankfully I was in time to save the blue trailing flower that lines the path all round the house.

A tip: to my shame I spilt a tomato sauce down a lemon shirt. Scrubbing with Vanish and washing machine failed to remove the vivid stain but in spite of the dubious weather I left it out on the line till the sun came out and all is as new. Air and sun and frost are all good for stains in case anyone doesn't know this already. The sun is over the yard arm so excuse me - you know what I must do. Bottoms up!

Friday, May 30, 2008

In a Good place Part 2.

Story contd.

Derek, Sally’s husband was an excellent if slightly eccentric driver. He prepared for each excursion as if were rallying at Monte Carlo. First the driving gloves would be smoothed on and then the wheel would be gently but firmly gripped and at the same time he would clench his jaw a few times. Sitting right behind him I would see his silhouette change so that his jowls bulged like Popeye’s. By now Sally would be frothing at the bit and I would have to work really hard to staunch the giggles. Eventually he would start the car. He also had an abhorrence of buying petrol in France and a couple of times we had to push the car on and off the boat in order to avoid this.

Sally assured me that they always stopped for a break every hundred miles – it was only safe she said. This was actually a fabrication and to get them to stop – ever - before we reached our destination was impossible, and there were many heated debates. Once we drove for hours in a heat wave – no air- con then - until I protested, vigorously. When we finally reached the house Derek was incapacitated for a couple of days with heat stroke.

Before they bought the house in the Languedoc we were driving round Provence sizing up the housing situation but it was clearly too expensive. It was so hot it sizzled, everything shimmered in the heat haze especially vivid blue scarabs and the cicadas were deafening. We stopped and bought baguettes, pate, cheeses, fruit and wine for our picnic, crushing the wild herbs beneath our feet and releasing scents of lavender and thyme. We got back in the car to find the perfect spot for our delicious picnic – just round the corner. Probably. Spirits were high.

More to practice my French than for any other reason I said:

‘Ce sera tres bon si nous trouverons une place pres d’une riviere parce que puis nous pouverons leve nos mains.’

As you see I needed little practice.

Every time Sally pointed out a likely spot Derek didn’t seem to hear and drove on. Derek was a gentle soul with an iron streak of stubbornness. The ejaculations from Sally were getting louder, the cheeses were getting smellier and all our bonhomie had dissipated.

‘Stop the b----y car Derek or I’ll jump out.’

Derek stopped and shocked us senseless with his answer. I had never heard him swear before.

‘I’m looking for a f-----g river so that Pat can wash her ‘f-----g hands!’

Their latest acquisition was a terraced cottage in a village – so very different to the farmhouse but of course it was much further south so the weather was better. There was lots of dirty work to be done – scraping, scrubbing and making good before we could start painting. Sally had talked a lot about Byron; a painter (art not walls) who divided his time between the village and Paris, he also had an apartment at La Grande Motte. They had talked so much about him and what a ball of fire he was that I was looking forward to meeting him, but after a few days we realised he must be in Paris.

After a week of gruelling work I decided that, come what, I was going to get out in the fresh air in the time we had left and Sally agreed we all needed a break. I was just about to get a shower and remove some of the cottage grime when there was a great claxon sound and Sally rushed to the door. I could hear animated chatter as I cowered in the kitchen and then Sally said.

‘I suppose you had better meet our guest.’

Reluctantly I went to the door and said I couldn’t shake hands as I was dirty.

Byron’s eyes gleamed and he roared with laughter and grasped my hand and kissed my cheeks – just three times. He was not tall but powerfully built with a large head a great torso and then tapering away. Rather like a Minotaur. Sally invited him to dinner and he agreed provided he could bring the wine – he had an impressive cellar.

We had a riotous evening and after Sally told him I was longing to explore the countryside Byron said he would take us on a walk tomorrow and we should have tea at his house.

Somehow Sally managed to strain a muscle in her leg and cried off. Derek came but wanted to get back to Sally so Byron and I had tea and then he showed me his wonderful house. There was a balcony on the first floor with stunning open views of the hills which were quite biblical and Byron said you could imagine Jesus toting his cross amongst them. In the sitting room he opened a sort of trap door and there was a large staircase leading to his vast studio. I was fascinated by his work which seemed to cover all aspects of art. Reluctantly I dragged myself away and could readily see the attraction he had for my friends. There was something of Hemingway about him except he was a painter rather than a writer.

Our time was running out and Sally was reluctant to walk unnecessarily but Byron called round and said he wanted to do some landscapes – it was very windy and could he borrow Pat to hold the easel steady. This seemed to suit everybody and we roared off in his powerful car. His driving was quite breathtaking and when we reached the coast he drove round the town as if it were a race track. I was half terrified and half elated. He said it was too windy to paint so he would show me around. We went to a museum and I saw a painting I have always loved of man raising his top hat in a debonair way to the ocean. We went to a restaurant to book lunch and I was surprised to see him slip a note to the head waiter. Later when we arrived in the restaurant full of beautiful people the head waiter shook his hand and bowed and everybody took note.

I tackled him about this as it seemed so phoney. Byron said his father, who was English, used to hire a Rolls Royce when he took him back to school. His mother was French and came from peasant stock. The silly thing was he was impressive in his own right. Maybe it was a question of height? I saw his apartment and all too soon it was time to get back for dinner.

It was sad saying goodbye to Byron. He had given me such a great time and I came back home feeling really empowered and on top of my game. Just as well as Julia, my mentor had a desperate request. Bring it on!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


The sun is shining on a fine day in May,

And we 're off to Cardiff to see the ballet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Titbit.


Catching up with the papers is a far less arduous task since MTL stopped getting D.T. vouchers and I for one don’t miss the forests of week-end press waiting to be read, OR – shades of the forties – all that money is wasted. Craig Brown was writing wittily, as is his wont, about Cherie Blair and to illustrate her shortcomings as a barrister when persuading her husband to seize the moment, after John Smith’s death, said.

“It reminds me of this courtroom exchange between a 19th –century American lawyer and an expert medical witness for the prosecution, recalled by Trollope and later recounted in Alec Guiness’s ‘A Common place Book’.

‘Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?’


‘So then it’s possible the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?’


‘How can you be so sure?’

‘Because his brain was sitting in a jar on my desk.’…

‘Is it possible the patient could have been alive nonetheless?’…

‘Well it’s possible that he could have been alive and practising law somewhere.’

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Good Company


I saw a young woman being interviewed on TV and heard she came from ‘near Manchester’. After listening to her I told MTL I was sure she must come from Rossendale. It takes one to know one. She was hailed as "the fashion industry's next great supermodel" and has been called an "ambassador of British youth culture." She is currently starring in the Burberry and Giorgio Armani campaigns.

Then when I got my old school magazine – Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School, (her name is Agyness Deyn) she was mentioned – with pride – as a former student.

Times change; in the fifties I would have been happy for the school to know I was a trained nurse but the word model had many connotations and covered a wide range of people from the wonderful Barbara Goalen and Fiona Campbell Walters (who became Baroness Thyssen) at one end, and Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davis (the Profumo affair) at the other.

I read an article about our Agyness by Susannah Frankel where she said:

'Again, it's a nice romantic story, but the truth, as we know, is that the
Manchester area is extremely far from being a youth-cultural desert. Somehow, in the rush to mythologise Deyn, it is more convenient to pretend that it is. It's a bit tragic that the very mention of the North inspires people to believe that a young woman could not possibly have imagined that life could ever offer more than a lifetime at the fryer, unless a fairy-godperson happened to fancy a saveloy. But there we are. No one is possibly more in thrall to the idea of provincialism than a London-based journalist.'

I just wonder if she has ever been to Rossendale. It may be only 20 miles north of
Manchester but it has always been a unique place. The shop keepers in Manchster would always know when it was our Wakes week and they were invaded by the strange creatures. Us!

Two other Rossendalians are the couturier Betty Jackson –also an old girl of BRGS and the actress Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous and Little Voice). Local legend had it that the two luminaries met at a function and Jane pointed out that she was wearing one of Jackson’s creations whereupon Betty noted it was some seasons old and she was never going to get rich from Jane. We do tend to tell it like it is in Rossendale.

I think the three of them do us proud.
Jane Horrocks - actress

Betty Jackson - couturier.
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Aygness Deyn - photos Marcio Madeira/courtesy of

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Are you from Down Under?


The flyer below is from a research student who I know through a blogging friend. Do help her if you are a non blogging Australian.

Do you have a favourite blogger that you want to talk about?

I am an Honours student from the University of Queensland, Australia and I am conducting an email-based survey that looks at the experiences that blog readers have with their favourite bloggers.

To take part in this research you cannot be a blogger yourself and you cannot know the blogger offline.


Please note that for ethical and legal issues you MUST be 18+ years of age and an Australian Citizen to partake in this research

If this sounds like you and you would like to participate in this original and exciting research project then please email Bo at:

Participation is until August 2008

All inquiries are very much appreciated!

Friday, May 23, 2008

In a good place. Part 1

Story contd.

Nothing is miserable unless you think it so;

Conversely, every lot is happy if you are content with it

Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus

I had much to be thankful for. All the family were well and healthy William and I were getting accustomed to seeing less of the boys and appreciating our extra freedom and we both enjoyed our individual occupations – his important job in the city and my successful emporium. For leisure William could go sailing on his brother’s boat and I could go to France with my friend Sally, and we still visited Greece together.

Sally was a stalwart of the theatre club, she was quite a bit older than me and had had an exciting life She had been an actress in the professional theatre and experienced many adventures travelling round Europe with her friend Elizabeth David, when the latter was doing research for her revered cook books.

In spite of her maturity Sally believed in having fun: buying a second hand car became ‘Hunt the Mini’, rehearsals were never dull if she was around and she gave the most wonderful parties with delectable food. I remember one dinner party – for some reason we were all in full evening dress. She had cooked – I think it was a Creole recipe, where the meat had been soaked in rum and it was so delicious we all sucked the string. Afterwards she was determined that we should learn to do the Gay Gordons and it is with an ache in my heart that I realise how rare it is now that one sobs with laughter. We did that night.

After our visit to Le Puy, Sally and her husband decided to buy a house in France. I missed the exploratory trips but after they had bought an old farmhouse in the Dordogne, I was invited to accompany the two of them in their car and share expenses whilst the others went independently. It was a beautiful spot – near Riberac. The plumbing had been fixed but there were lots of jobs to do and mine was to wash all the blankets and I spent hours jumping up and down on them. Determined that no-one would ever forget this mammoth task I had taken on, I embroidered a scarlet P on each one. When Sally – ever restless – later moved further south, I was very cross when she admitted she had left the blankets at the farm house.

Life was idyllic. First one up would go for fresh bread – croissants were just for Sunday and NO butter as croissants are all butter she would declaim, in her booming voice (Sally could be quite bossy but we were happy to humour her) Then if we had worked on our allotted tasks to Madam’s satisfaction there would be champagne cocktails – with frosted sugar round the glasses and oysters and always one of her delicious salads. Siestas followed lunch (I started reading Proust) then lots more work until dinner time. We ate out on alternate evenings and took it in turns to cook on the evenings in.

Sometimes at night when the lights were dimmed it could be quite creepy. I had a small bedroom on the ground floor and using the downstairs loo, an enormous creature jumped in through the open window behind me and was there on the floor between me and the locked door. My screams brought the others down and as I didn’t dare step over it, they had to remove the door. It turned out to be a giant cicada.

Another night I saw a something scoot down the door lintel in my bedroom. I knew either a centipede or a millipede could kill you – I didn’t know which and in any case there wasn’t time to count the legs. I didn’t dare rouse them again and lay trembling and praying for most of the night.

In spite of the new plumbing there developed a very unpleasant smell and finally we had to get the plumber. It seemed that Sally had been putting bleach and disinfectant down to keep everything sweet which then killed the bacteria that made the cess pit work. That’s the science bit – more or less.

Next door was a farmer and his wife who spoke no English but were very helpful and friendly. During a thunderstorm Monsieur Chabot lost his beloved cow and he told Sally how the cow had been struck by lightening, with tears streaming down his face. We felt so sad for him and took round a basket of goodies including a bottle of whisky. In return they asked us round for supper. Unfortunately Monsiour Chabot was under the weather that day, but he had a little box bed in the kitchen so he could join in the fun. In the middle of the meal he became unwell – it was a tummy upset, and rose to go to the bathroom dressed only in short vest. Being British we all treated it as perfectly normal and carried on eating. I guess it was France Profonde.

Sally’s next move was further south to the Languedoc, an affordable Provence and I was delighted to be invited once more.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Somerset’s Secret Manor House


It’s surprising that many people in Somerset don’t know of the existence of Orchard Wyndham when you consider that another of the Wyndham family homes is the famous Petworth in Sussex. It was MTL who spotted, in the local paper that it was possible to be shown round the house on two particular dates in May. He recognised the Wyndham name from the piece I wrote about Florence Wyndham who ‘rose from the dead ‘in the crypt of St Decumen’s Church. See ‘Girl’s Day Out’ April 2nd 2008.

The house is nestled in a vale within sight of the sea and even with an OS map it was difficult to find, but eventually we came across a drive and drove up it. I got out of the car and took a photo. Then we drove to what looked like the side of the house and prepared to wait, as we were early. I thought I’d take a few more shots when a lady appeared and said, quite pleasantly, that we had come in the wrong way, up a one- way in fact, and that we could come inside and wait if we wished. Then I learned that photos were not allowed, either inside or out, so I showed her the one I had taken and she referred to the present owner and he – very kindly - thought that would be fine.

We were a small select party – just the two of us, two lady tourists and an elderly historian. Our guide was Sylvana, a charming woman and sister of the present incumbent. There were two sisters and two brothers and sadly the other sister died from cancer some years ago. The house goes back some 700 years and ‘what appears to be a hamlet is linked as one house.’ We understood the reason for strict security when we were told the house was burgled in the eighties, Sylvana’s sister was tied up and the masked men made off with valuables including an enormous diamond which had been encased in a clock; a present from Charles the second after Francis Wyndham helped Charles to escape to France after the Battle of Worcester.

Near the entrance is a dark corridor with stairs leading to the cellar – a site of particular scientific interest as a rare breed of spiders lives there. They came over from Portugal, can sometimes be seen climbing the steps and one of the sisters was bitten by one. We moved swiftly on. In the Staircase Hall I imagined the two little girls running up and down the stairs but Sylvana said she was only allowed there with Nanny.

In each room there is so much to admire, portraits, furniture, panelling but the historian got rather excited when we saw a giant turtle shell brought back by Sir Francis Drake from his circumnavigation of the world. In the Great hall there is a long table which runs the length of the Hall. It is cut from one tree but individual leaves are removed when the house is open to visitors. Sylvana told us that after her mother died the table was put together and all the family sat round it.

There is a telescope used by the fourth Earl when he was a midshipman at Trafalgar,
a magnificent ornate mirror from Versailles – brought as booty after the defeat of Napoleon, and an Armada chest with an intricate locking mechanism and much, much more. Two hours passed in a trice and we were so lucky to be given such a personal and absorbing history lesson.

The weather precluded our looking round the garden but we saw the giant camellia in the conservatory. I was delighted that MTL had not only stayed the course but had enjoyed it as much as I had.

Robert Griffier's painting of Orchard Wyndahm c 1750

My illicit - but allowed photo.
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The Great Hall - Orchard Wyndham

Giant Green Turtleshell

Appears to be a hamlet
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Winners and Losers.

Karen admired my irises. You should see the lawn now - Immaculate!

This is a successful cutting

Losing patience with this peony after 5 years I moved it. You know what they say about peonys - it's true. Karen planted my new one. I'm not taking any chances this time.
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This salvia is great - it provides gorgeous colour for months but apparently I should have cut it back.

The cuttings I think are a success.

And belt and braces
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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Scent of Grass


“Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,

Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues…”

The Glory of the Garden


Rudyard Kipling

I was going to spend the afternoon working on a post which required a bit of reading and fiddling with photos. And then I caught sight of the lawn. It was a foot high. Since our abortive week-end MTL hasn’t felt like mowing although he is painting the sun room. When Karen was here on Thursday it was too wet to do it and I prefer her to do the more creative things. Any body can mow a lawn – I used to think.


Yes dear reader I did it myself and I hope the neighbours didn’t hear my ejaculations. The mower is electric with long, long wires and extensions and a plug on the upright that comes out every few minutes. The trick is to avoid running over the wire and to keep the engine running clutching a lever below the handle. I think once the grass is a reasonable length I’ll manage it. I found it very difficult and am left with ridges of couch grass and mown grass everywhere That’s everywhere.

Once I’ve gone down the ridges and sheared the edges and raked up the grass on the lawn and swept it off all the paths it should be fine. That’ll be tomorrow then.

Can anyone tell me why we have lawns? Oh the good news: mowing is the new work out. OK so my back is aching – in fact I’m aching everywhere – but I know tomorrow I shall be the right side of 9 stone. Betcha!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Trips up North

Story contd.

I may have lived most of my life in the south, but I come from good northern stock and my blood has bits of grit and soot in it; I am proud of my northern roots so I was thrilled when # 1 son chose a northern university. I was happy to think of him amongst the sort of decent folk I had been brought up with. The humour, the honesty, the love of countryside and mountains – I hoped it would all rub off on him. He certainly inherited a love of real ale and sport.

It was a long tiring drive so I would stop off at my parent’s house in Lancashire. I didn’t use the motorway so there were endless roundabouts. Once when driving his first girlfriend back – round about Essex - a policeman stopped me and said I had gone through a red light. In fact, as I told him, it was amber, to which he replied.

‘You can’t con a copper.’

I realised there was little point in explaining that I had been driving for hours with the sun in my eyes ( going south) and ended up paying a fine of £30 – a lot of money in the seventies.

At one time my son was living off campus in Morecambe and visiting him, I slept in an attic room with a skylight over the bed. How romantic I thought – I’ll be able to look at the stars. It was bitterly cold and I spread my mink coat on top of the bed and when I awoke there was a pool of icy water in the middle of it. I had the day to myself, and I remembered that Delia – an old nursing friend and our gold medallist, had written that her mother had settled, up near Silverdale, so I set off to see if I could find the house. To my joy Delia answered the door. She was visiting her mother and we had a great catch up over a delicious Lancashire tea. We both smoked then (the weed as she called it) but as she waved good bye to me at the station, I didn’t realise that would be our last meeting. She died soon after from lung cancer.

All their lives my parents had spent holidays in the Lake District and one week-end Dad drove us up and we met my son and stayed in a hotel in the Langdales. It was like going back in time to be roaming the hills with them again and we all had a great time. Dad never let me forget that – as a young girl – I had cycled the wrong way round a roundabout and he had difficulty grasping the fact that I was now quite an experienced driver. Once I was driving him on the main road near Tunbridge Wells Common and he thought the junction we passed was a main road and grabbed the keys out of the ignition. Can you imagine? Fortunately my mother, unlike me, had the ability to switch off and remain calm, so they survived over 60 years of marriage.

.When Mum eventually retired – she worked past 70, she looked years younger and I don’t think they realised how old she was – she loved to come down and visit and she and William used go on long walks. It was nice for him to have a walking companion who wasn’t perpetually asking if we were nearly there – as the kids and I were wont to do. Occasionally she was taken for his wife and I was happy that they both got on so well.

Driving through Skipton on a visit home Mum asked me if I knew Jamie had bought a cottage near Skipton – Maddie had told her. I remember wondering if I would recognise him if I bumped into him. And then I thought how ridiculous – after 30 years I’d probably walk straight past him.

One of my happiest days was going up north with William to see our son get his degree. Our younger son was happily settled in a flat and had started training to be a photographer. I felt our marriage hadn’t been a complete failure. That was 1978. I little knew what fate had in store for me and that within a year, my life would change for ever.

Three smart graduates

The Chancellor - Princesss Alexaandria. One mother had dressed forRoyalty and wore a dress like a crinoline with hat and gloves and the Princess made a point of going up to her and chatting which was a lovely thing to do, I thought.

Girl friend , # 1 son and P. Good bye to his long curls.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Photo News

The finished table. What really put me off buying another was having to dump this one. Great what a spot of paint can do.

Paint marks on the floor have been there for years, Not left by me!

The balcony is heavy with the scent of jasmine. I'm sure I have told you before but it was a tiny pot plant.
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Present from # 2 son. I am trying to make pad, mouse and gel compatible. the gel is to reat my wrist. Very thoughtful:)

I found this perfect egg on the balcony. Both John G and MTL said it had to go. So MTL had to do it -I couldn't
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Phil and Trev and Sal and Pam.


I had the four of them – back to back last night. First Phil aka HRH Prince Philip was interviewed by Trevor MacDonald and then Salman Rushdie was interviewed by Pamela Stephenson aka Dr Pamela Connolly.

I have always had a lot of time for Philip since he was a dashing naval officer, he was the George Clooney of our days, except that he was a real hero, mentioned in dispatches and serving throughout WW2. Elizabeth fell in love with him as a teenager and has proved, after 60 years of marriage, how right she was. The most telling remark about him last night was:

‘The thing about the Duke – nobody ever leaves him.’

He hasn’t had an easy ride. The establishment would have much preferred the heir to the throne to marry a chinless duke. And when Elizabeth became Queen he had to give up his absorbing naval career and find a job for himself. He has managed the Royal Estates, actively heads about 500 charitable establishments and has passionately supported all young people and conservation, decades before this was the’ in’ thing to do.

He is famous for his outspokenness and irascibility. When he was driving Trevor Macdonald around Sandringham- sometimes with both hands on the wheel, he got stuck in the mud, and there was some hilarious prolonged bleeping whilst he unstuck his vehicle. Then again when he asked for trees lining the road to be thinned, ‘the bloody idiot’ did it all wrong.

I have a theory that the Royal couple are happier now than they have ever been. Imagine having your MIL and SIL at close quarters all of your married life. It was great to see him firing on all cylinders in his eighties and long may he continue.

I have seen a number of the Dr Pamela Connolly interviews and am fascinated to see how the outrageous actress/ comedienne, after marrying the outrageous Billy Connolly had morphed into this earth mother- like psychotherapist (or clinical psychologist) with more gravitas than Margaret Thatcher’s hair spray.

I haven’t read any of Sir Salman Rushdie’s books but used to feel impatient with him for never having a good word to say about Britain when Britain was protecting him – at great expense- for years. Now- thanks to ‘Shrink Rap’ I understand.

His father although a delightful parent to small children, was violent and abusive when drunk. Salman was sent to Rugby where he always felt an outsider. He had three stripes against him – he came from abroad, he was clever and he was rubbish at games. As far as his father was concerned coming second was not an option. It seemed the only real affection came from his ayah and Salman felt under loved. Pamela talked abut his ‘underlying rage’ and came out with the phrase: ‘Be perfect or die’. She does tend to find a phrase or word and then belabours it – usually with the co-operation of the interviewee.

She does have the gift of getting the subject to open up and Salman was amusing when he said during the sixties at Cambridge only about 50 other people were having all the fun and moving when, close to tears, he said how touch├ęd he had been, when at a reading, a woman had thanked him for writing abut her life.

After four divorces Salman feels he is in a good place and content to be single. He spent 13 long years struggling to be recognised as a writer and to give his life some meaning. I’m glad for him and although I find it difficult to take the programme entirely seriously I’m grateful for the insight and greater understanding of a man of our times.

Two very interesting men.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Mutterings


I have a problem. In Word the manuscript I am working on does the page numbers automatically and for some reason has gone from # 127 to # 2. I’ve looked at Format but don’t know how to adjust it. Anyone please?

Today I have ‘nice’ gardening to do; renewing my pots, and an old table to paint. The one on the guest balcony has rusty legs. I have plenty of chairs but couldn’t find a suitable table. So I’m going to rub down the one I have and paint it. The thought of the money I’ll save gives me a nice warm glow. So I hope you don’t mind making do with a few old photos today.

Maddie's house in Vermont


Our French twins. P front row third from right
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P and Maddie. she wouldvisit twice a year on her busines trips

Mum with one of her grandchildren.

P with some of the French twins.
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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Pill and I

Story contd.

All my married life I used the Family Planning Clinic; the one I used in Kent famously had a notice saying ‘Please leave prams at rear of building. The staff were always helpful and would explain the advantages or disadvantages of different methods of contraception. What a great day it was when the pill arrived on the scene; that really was an empowerment for women, and as far as I was concerned the cap and cream could now be consigned to the dust bin. In the early sixties the pill was available to all and although we were warned about possible long term effects, many of us were prepared to risk that.

In my mid forties I began to feel unwell, both mentally and physically. I knew I was suffering from the ‘empty nest ‘syndrome but all the knocks and bruises I had suffered whilst rock climbing came home to roost and all my joints ached – especially my right hip.. The worst symptom was a knot of dread/fear/ unease in my stomach which affected my sleeping and made me feel neurotic. And my cigarette consumption had doubled which increased my twitchiness.

I visited the doctor and she gave me a tranquiliser which was very common then. I can’t remember the name but I don’t think it was Valium. It was odd; I took a couple and the knot disappeared so I thought maybe this was something I could treat myself. William, since his heart attack, had tackled every aspect of maintaining good health and with the aid of a good diet and plenty of exercise, was keeping very fit. I read a lot of self help books and started Yoga classes. The yoga was a boon; I have always abhorred violent exercise and enjoyed stretching my body. At my first class I had an orgasm.

I knew I should give up smoking; I had reached the stage where I would go to light up and realise I had one in my mouth already. Isn’t that awful? I decide to try a health farm and sent off for some brochures. I didn’t want one full of ‘the beautiful people’ or rich layabouts, but I also didn’t want one full of very sick people. The one I chose in Surrey was ideal – a beautiful old house in lovely grounds with every possible type of exercise available. At the bottom of the great staircase was the smoking room and I determined that if I was spending all that money I had better not smoke. That was in 1977 and I haven’t smoked since.

The first few days I had nothing but clear fluids and grapefruit and filled the day with yoga, swimming, reading, and in the afternoon we would go for a long walk with Andy, an ex- army fitness instructor. If he was pleased with us he would dole out segments of orange and tease us by telling us what he had for breakfast each morning- about four eggs, bacon etc etc and he was all muscle.

Our yoga instructress wore a beautiful white lace leotard which had belonged to Ava Gardner. During one session, she told us, the crotch fasteners gave way and Ave – in a rage - tore it off and bequeathed it. The instructress said Ava also had a black lace one but she hung on to that. After a few days I was allowed to have a nourishing soup at lunchtime.

I savoured every last drop – much to the amusement of my neighbour who turned out to be a Manchester business man. He was very interesting – Jewish and a millionaire and the other friend I made was a beautiful woman who was German, we made an odd trio. Later she married her long term boyfriend and my # 1 son and I were invited and met Tony Hatch the famous composer who wrote all Petula Clarke’s hits and the tune ‘Neighbours’. His wife Jackie Trent wrote the words.. Another regular visitor was the late John Thaw – Inspector Morse – and all the staff adored him. I’ve often thought I would like to return – it was great being cosseted and meeting the wide mix of people, living an extremely healthy life and maybe writing at the same time. Now there’s an idea.

On returning home I felt so fit I wondered about Olympics and marathons and then I realised my eyes needed testing and I kept getting terribly hot and feeling peculiar. It was the dreaded hot flushes or as one of Kim’s friend’s calls them ’power surges’. Again I turned to the printed page and read a great little book ‘Don’t Change’ by Wendy Cooper all about HRT. When I saw the photo of the vibrant woman on the cover I thought - I’ll have what she’s having. Wouldn’t you think I would have realised that it was a model – not the author? But with all the warnings and provisos I decided to give it a go and in spite of all the various scares and adjustments it’s been fine. Except I went up a dress size

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Quiz answers


# 1 Cardiff castle

# 2 Ballater. We stayed here when visiting Balmoral.

# 3 The Greek island of Zakynthos or Zante. Great for walking cycling and swimming

# 4 Aspiran a village in the south of France in the Langedoc. Vanessa and I drove down to stay at the house of a French painter.

# 5 Clouds Hill, Dorset – the home of T E Lawrence, the writer (Lawrence of Arabia). Just near here, he met his death on his motor bike. We had a chat with the caretaker who had known him.

# 6 Edrachillies Hotel near Scourie on the west coast of Scotland. Further north in Tongue we stayed with a Mrs Mackay who ran a delightful B&B.

# 7 Brig o’ Turk. I can’t believe no-one got this. I though it was iconic – maybe just in my mind. Bridges have always been special to us.

# 8 Clapham Beck and New Inn in Yorkshire. We used to visit often from our cottage near Skipton. Alan Bennett has a bolt hole there but I was never lucky enough to see the great man.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Faraway Places


All places that the eye of heaven visits

Are to the wise man ports and happy havens.

William Shakespeare

Who’s for a quiz? A picture post card one this time. They are of Scotland, England, France, Greece and Wales. Eight pictures in all; see if you can pinpoint them. Bonne chance!


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#5 House of famous man
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