Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Up betimes for another blood test and the usual prodding about to find a suitable vein. I could never have had a career as a mainlining junkie, is what I keep telling myself. The health centre nurse is always slightly reproachful about what she calls my lady-like veins. I would like a good result. Wouldn't we all.

Nice one, though, in the form of a letter telling me that one of my poems is to be included in an anthology (of which more anon). Unexpected and welcome. I would like to feel that this is an auspicious sign but can barely muster the strength because truth is that I am feeling - what is the right euphemism? A little under the weather. I have decided to go with the spirit of it and leave the kitchen floor to carry on crunching underfoot, the small piles of clutter and newspaper all over the house carry on gathering the dust that blows in from the bumpy, unmade road that is good for nothing but forcing cars to crawl and making a safe place for children to play.

I haven't swum since Friday and am not sure where to go with this. Aerobicness is making my situation measurably worse - so obvious (M.E. - duh!) it is hardly worth noting. But I am not quite ready to give up on the experiment yet. Choosing exactly the right time seems to be crucial. I will wait for the next window of opportunity and have another stab. When in Brighton there is, of course, the sea. But realistically this will probably live as a delicious possibility rather than something I do very much of.

I have fallen into a new piece of writing that has nothing to do with last year's aborted NaNo novel attempt. It lends itself to being written in short bursts and when I am writing it I do not feel as if I am hauling sacks of coal up a hill (though I do of course have to go to the coal face). So I am going with it, plotless and clueless, seeing what it might become. I will be writing poems at the end of the week when Ms North comes to stay for a couple of nights because when we meet that's what we do.

But tomorrow I have to go and prepare Brighton flat for friends of friends who will be staying there for a week. And today I have to carry on reading Herta Mueller's Land of Green Plums, which I am loving, and make spinach dall with some of the spices that Son sent me from India.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oh Blighty

It isn't often (or ever, really) that you will find me thinking about football, either on blog or anywhere else. But I'm sitting here with a can of Carling getting mildly sloshed - this is one of the big plusses of not drinking much, one can of grog and you are anybody's - and thinking about England's defeat, how completely miserable so many people are going to be, especially as it is their "worst ever defeat in the world cup finals," they are not even going down with any kind of honour. Mr. Signs is over the road with a football friend, also drinking Carling. Somehow I don't think it will be as bad for him as Arsenal losing an important match. But I am thinking about the hopeful "Come On, England" flags in our local Tesco Express, and the young boy I saw after England won the match against Slovenia, with his home-made England flag, dancing and capering all by himself on the sidewalk, fists in the air saying yesss!

Friday, June 25, 2010

in the swim (3)

I've cancelled my membership to the exclusive country club swimming pool place. I couldn't rely on the pool temperature to be cool enough - swimming in warm chlorine soup was doing me no good at all and no amount of fluffy towels and Molton Brown body lotion was going to make that better. So today I went swimming in my local leisure centre and it was lovely - big and light with a sprinkling of children (most being at school), a few up-and-downers putting in the lengths, parents with toddlers or babies in the little pool on the side and a big boy with the face of an angel who wanted to show me how he could throw his locker key to the bottom of the pool and then retrieve it. No two-for-one pamper ladies and gents exchanging confidences in the jacuzzi or reading Marie Claire and Bella in the loungers between massage and exfoliation.

Thinking about the whole pamper-package and what it is that draws people, I have decided that it's a baby thing - about being treated like one, I mean. You offer yourself up to hands that minister to the more hidden parts of your body, your skin is creamed and pummelled and afterwards you are swaddled in big white towels and dressing gowns, all relaxed and ready for sleep. The only thing missing is a bottle or dummy and favourite teddy. Nothing wrong with that - or, as Miss Jean Brodie might have said: for those that like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. I'm sounding snooty, aren't I? Sour grapes because I couldn't hack it in the amniotic waters. I'd have been happy to carry on, all the difficulties because of M.E. notwithstanding, it was easy and convenient - expensive, but when you add it up not so very much more expensive than going regularly to the leisure centre, if one goes three times a week.
I'm glad to be back with the riff-raff though. Never quite comfortable with privilege, especially the pretend kind. It was as much as I could do to stop myself singing

I want to swim with common people,
I want to swim with common people - like you

On my way out I saw angel-face sitting by himself in the cafeteria eating a packet of crisps.
Bring on the revolution, Peeps.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Second Life

No, I'm not about to launch myself into a virtual existence courtesy of an avatar. Though actually, I'm not about to diss people who do that. Easy, I suppose, to dismiss it all as a hiding place for saddoes who don't have the courage or wherewithal to get a real life. I came out with something glib about it at the weekend and was brought up short by some rather more considered thoughts. For clearly it (Second Life) does give a huge number of people extraordinary pleasure and a place wherein to realise all manner of creative possibilities. True, it is potentially addictive, but many things are that. People who spend a lot of time in SL are not living in the Real World, but neither are people who write novels. And one has relationships with people who are not seen, as it were, in the flesh in blogworld also - and who is to say that these relationships are less real than, say, the friendships that people used to sustain through letter-writing? I was gob-smacked to learn that there is a whole M.E. community in Second Life. Not that I know anything about the more subtle workings of this world (I had this idea that SL was inhabited by superpeople) but if I had an avatar I'd want one without M.E.

I feel I have the possibility of a second life, though, because of our place by the sea. This is either an incredible stroke of good fortune or something that will fragment my already compromised energy even more. At the moment I love the new place so much that I will not consider any negatives, whatever the (include in this financial) cost. I still love Signs Cottage. She is the faithful wife/good mother of the two residences, with an inner beauty that transcends age and the undeniable fact that she is flaky and grows increasingly so. Sea place is the intoxicating new love interest with the perfect proportions, always on my mind - I have never loved a place in this way before. I find myself whispering endearances to the walls. This may, of course, be the first sign of imminent mental disintegration, but what a way to go, enveloped by light.

I and my vitality, though, more closely resemble the flaky cottage. We patch ourselves up and keep going. We make plans, find strategies: most will come to nought but a few may flourish; the writing, in Brighton, is different. I see possibilities.

Going to hear Gillian Clarke reading at Sussex Uni later today.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Food Stuff

I am trying to remember what I ate as a child when I was at home, and I can't. I think my sister is the same - last year she said to me, I can't remember anyone cooking for me except you. If this were true then she would have lived on fridge leftovers mixed with baked beans and curry powder - and own-style chappatis. I sometimes cooked that kind of thing when we were alone. There obviously were people who cooked for us, but because life was so episodic the kind of thing we had one year would be completely different from the next. My mother used to say that she didn't cook: she prepared food, and this is consistent with what I remember. Cervelat slices from Panzer's delicatessen, asparagus in spring, strawberries in the summer. There was no sweating over a hot stove. Ryvita and Marmite was as close as she got to regular, mundane fare, and she was often a busy, working woman. Meals were prepared by whichever au pair was on duty or by my stepfather, who worked from home. But au pairs changed annually or with the season and my stepfather was only with us for five years.

I can remember exactly the kind of thing I ate for school dinner at one of my primary schools because I was there for three years (the longest stretch at any school). I was still getting used to English food after three years in Germany. My idea of lunch was a salami sandwich on slightly sour, densely-textured bread, with radishes and raw carrots on the side. I liked sauerkraut, dark lentil soup, frankfurters with mustard. English school dinners with dead man's leg, rank cabbage and scoops of lumpy mash were a daily obstacle. I even hated the steamed puddings and custard at first. But at least I remember the type of thing there was. It locates me in time and place.

I taught myself to cook on a Baby Belling in a West Hampstead bedsit. I didn't have a cook book to look things up, I just experimented. When I was given a copy of Georgina Horley's Good Food on a Budget I learned how to make a white sauce. Elizabeth David taught me to marinate and I got to know Delia Smith because for some years she had a regular column in the Evening Standard. I think Nigel Slater said something about having learned to cook because he was hungry. I was hungry - not just for food, but for home. Cooking something in a pot was a way of making a hearth. Long before I had children I cooked, and was known for it. Friends came knowing there would be something good. I was lucky that my children never really had food fads, they usually liked what I made and meals gave significant rhythm to our lives. I always said that I could never understand people who didn't bother to cook properly if they lived on their own. I would always, I said, take the time to make something - take the trouble and do it properly. It was part of who I was.

I don't know when it happened, the passing from one way of being to another. Perhaps when my son, my youngest, began at university - but that wouldn't quite explain it because I always cooked. Perhaps it was having to give up regular teaching work because of illness, seeing how precious my small measure of strength was, reconsidering what I might spend it on. And losing the taste for meat. Whatever, I don't much like cooking any more. I like food and convivial meals, and blood sugar levels cry out if meals aren't regular. But all of a sudden, it seems, I am happy to have baked beans for lunch several days in a row, fish fingers for supper (quite healthy with fresh steamed veg) twice a week. And lovely free range eggs, poached or boiled, with toast. Finding good, cheap places in Brighton where I can eat out and avoid cooking at all makes me happy.

It is the birthday of Mr. Signs tomorrow. We will have cake and sandwiches with neighbours, and again on the weekend in Brighton with children and others. I won't be baking anything, not even a batch of Betty Crocker's Brownie's. I may even use Waitrose deli fillers for the sandwiches. I will choose nice things and there will be raw carrots, celery and cucumber to dip and crunch.

The mater will understand this sea-change. At last - a chip off the old block.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I have been incredibly busy recently. Rearranging the spice and herb jars, if you want to know. What do you mean, is that all? Listen, Signs Cottage is a seriously makeshift establishment. The walls etc. are solid enough, give or take disintegrating window frames, faulty guttering and places where the corner between ceiling and wall begins to weep for no reason that anyone can ascertain. But I am speaking about interiors. We have managed to get along for nearly twenty years by, basically, leaving everything alone. If it doesn't make serious attempts to get our attention it stays as it is, and this includes big things like the energy-inefficient boiler, which we are annually told should be replaced, and the ancient wiring that is bosom friend to a poltergeist, as well as the shelf that holds the spices. It is not strictly speaking a shelf. It is a bit of wood that sits on top of two twenty-year-old cans of Whole Earth organic spaghetti. It works as long as you don't move the cans, so usually I don't. The problem with serious cleaning/rearranging is that once you begin to go in there with any kind of serious intent everything begins to clamour for attention. I have thrown out packets and jars that are at least five years past their use-by date, and some so old that they didn't even have a date. It was our wedding anniversary yesterday and Mr. Signs was at shrink school so I wanted to make the gesture. No need to feel sorry for me, I was given beautiful roses and dined on exquisite dover sole (before the football recommenced in earnest).
Something has changed in here, said Mr. Signs, but I don't know what it is.

I have noticed that kind of thing. I am missing the lovely person who used to come and vacuum the house, clean the floors and dust. Whenever she had been I sensed a change in the house, as though it could breathe more freely. I am quite certain that this is not just my imagination. So many subtle things come into play inside a house or flat - inside anywhere that calls itself home to anyone. An ancient friend who originally met the mater in internment camp during the war, once said to me: it doesn't matter about what you have or haven't got in your home, it only matters about the life that you live there (imagine this with a thick German accent). This means all kinds of things, including the attention one gives to cleaning and rearranging a spice shelf.

The Brighton flat is a place of beauty because of the shape of the rooms and the light. But it also has something else, given by the previous occupants, a family with two young children. I don't know how they managed to squeeze themselves in there, but they loved the place. They said so, and you could feel it breathing out of the walls. I think the youngest child was probably born in the bedroom.

I have recently become more aware, because of someone I have met, of problems experienced by people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Most PWME share some of the same issues, to a greater or lesser extent and we are probably far more affected by toxic substances than we know. I was mindful of this when choosing what to paint the walls with (Farrow and Ball) but didn't think about the new bedroom carpet or the sofa. Both are emitting something, especially the carpet, and the emissions are not good. I hope that in time they will evaporate - that it will not become too much of a problem. Our homes should be places where we feel safe and free from fear.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

- and that's the way it is

Seriously, I will have to try and do the photograph-taking. Then I can put up an image in place of words. Sometimes it's good so. But on the other hand you don't always catch the best moments unless you go everywhere with a camera.

Anon - I'll be back soon-ish. Meanwhile I'll be loitering on the margins or flitting about, listening to the tunes that inner DJ throws up, for no reason that I can discern. Sometimes it's like that - and that's the way it is.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

In the Teeth

I need to push a few things to the back of my mind and out. Enid Blyton apparently dealt with worrisome or distressing things in this manner and while she may not be everyone's idea of a good role model, and obviously she never had M.E., you have to hand it to her - she got things done. I wonder if she had problems with her teeth and a fear of dentists. No, people like her don't have such things, they just have the odd filling for which they probably don't even need an anaesthetic. Or they have 'em all whipped out at once with a general anaesthetic, get themselves a pair of false chompers and that's that - bish bash bosh.

I have had issues with teeth and dentists ever since I was five years old and piddled all over the dentist's floor, which didn't go down well with the nursing assistant who had to mop it up. I was scared as hell and nothing thereafter showed me a good reason for being anything else. One day I must write about my experience of laughing gas (a real misnomer) and standing in line with other fainting seven-year-olds to have a tooth pulled. I thought that if I never had to face another dentist I wouldn't mind what happened to me, I tried to make a deal with god: throw whatever you like at me but let this cup pass. He was having none of it. I rinsed, spat blood, and had things thrown at me anyway. It's been a recurring nightmare for, basically, most of my life.

My very expensive private dentist has sent me a beautifully-worded letter outlining his proposals for further treatment. He says he looks forward to seeing me again. The work he proposes would cost not just thousands of pounds but many thousands - more thousands than anyone would ever think possible. Well there are no more thousands because we've spent them. And I'm not even going to think about the after-effects of all the anaesthetics - bad, bad news for PWME (at least Martin Amis didn't have that to deal with, and anyway he was loaded). It's out of the question.

I know at least one fellow blogger for whom all this will deeply resonate.

I'm just going to do what Enid would do and not think about any of it.