Monday, October 29, 2012

Life has a way of pulling the rug - the mater has had a fall and is now in hospital with a hip fracture, about to have surgery, a half-hip replacement.  It happened the day before she was due to go off on a mini-cruise.  She went out to call on a neighbour, the path was wet and she slipped.  As she is very fit and in good health, things will probably turn out ok, but still, it is not nothing for someone of 89 and three quarters to go through this.  So one has an undercurrent of anxiety, and one is beetling around with hospital trips and trying to sort out a number of practical things.  And as one particularly needs a proper measure of sleep at a time like this, one has of course not slept - and one's wretched neuro-symptoms are sabre-rattling.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

These Boots ...

New boot-friends, identical to my old pair.  When you find something that works, stay with it, especially if you have M.E. and have never liked shopping.  New boots are like a blank page or a new pen, no?  They represent possibility.  They also come with a challenge.  Where shall we go, what shall we do?  We'll keep you warm and take you places - let's go!  I haven't the heart to tell them that the walk to the Brighton shopping mall and back to get them is pushing the boat out because usually I get a taxi for the return journey, which is uphill.  The taxis don't like it because the journey is so short, hardly worth their while, and I don't like it because it puts me in mind of roads not-travelled - we must be very Zen and not think about them too much and remember, also, that the short-distance walk may be full of substance and things just waiting for you to notice them.  Aside from walking, these boots are going to be on my feet for the next two years or so, until the heel and the fleece inside are all worn down.   They will be the substance around and beneath my feet.  If there is a boot-blessing, then now is the time to utter it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prepare to (possibly) Meet Thy Doom

I am thinking, not for the first time, that the End may well be nigh.  It has rained and drizzled for more weeks than I can count and the builder who was scheduled to do some work to the outside of Signs Cottage has given up sending funny texts about Noah's Ark and probably decided that as we are living in the last days fixing the peeling paint situation on our well-rotted window frames should not be high on his list of priorities.  The cat has arthritis and the fur on her back is in a shocking state because she is unable to wash herself there.  We give her medicine but the vet says she also needs to have her fur clipped.  The late roses that appeared so exuberantly have wilted and hung their heads before their prime.  I bought a pair of Emu boots 'gainst the spectre of another snowed-up winter and had to take them back because they were too small, but the next size up was too big.  It all begins to add up, doesn't it?  And further, there is nothing at time of posting - apart from the cat's fur, but this will be remedied - that I need to be properly anxious about.  My children are both well and prospering, as much as anyone in rented accommodation in the Smoke in this god-forsaken recession (which Cameron now says isn't a recession any more but we know better) can prosper.  The almost-ninety-year-old mater carries on with her twice weekly pilates classes and is going with her spouse on a late autumn cruise.  Our boiler, despite its great age, shows no sign of packing up.  And yet, and yet - "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8:20).  You get my drift. 

I have said as much before and it bears repeating: I have long suspected that it is only my anxiety that prevents the world from falling into imminent destruction; in which case, dear reader, you should be worried, or at least doing everything possible to be saved a.s.a.p.  I have spoken.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

mellow fruitfulness

It's pretty - beautiful even, but after so many days of rain one longs for blue - an autumn day spiked with gold.  Still, the trees keep giving according to their natures.  There are chestnuts lying on the ground waiting to be found.  Mr. Signs fills his pockets with them and eats them raw.  I buy mine ready-cooked and vacuum packed, to eat with sweetheart cabbage dressed with olive oil and black pepper.  Even so, it is in the spirit of the season.  When autumn comes, so does the desire for chestnuts and shiny conkers lined along the windowsill. The leaves have not quite turned, but when they do I will gather some to press between the pages of heavy books (I used to have an ancient bible for this but now use old recipe books and a history of Anglo Saxon England which I bought as an English undergraduate but never read, it was expensive so good to feel it is being put to use).  When the leaves are dry I will fix them to the edges of the windowpane with dots of glue. 

When my children were young I made a space for a nature corner, as parents of Steiner school children often do.  In autumn there might be acorns, berries and leaves.  There would also be a knitted gnome or two, crystals and a beeswax candle in a wooden holder.  I might create such a space again this year.  First I must go out and gather something.  When the rain lets up I will.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Being Mrs. Pepperpot

I am in Brighton getting the flat prepared for people coming to stay.  After driving here I knew I could go to the nearest Co-op and back because the walk would be flat, but no more.  They had no lettuce or any vegetable other than Savoy cabbage and the bread was Warburtons thick sliced - perfect for bacon.  So, a supper of bacon sandwiches with decaf tea, two cherry tomatoes.  This morning, fruit and coffee plus more of the same, or I may get a takeaway from the Moroccan salad bar. Then back to the forest for my book group.

I have been thinking about Mrs. Pepperpot who is Pepperpot by name and also shrinks to the size of one, conveniently or inconveniently depending on one's perspective, when her husband is out at work.  By hook or by crook she has to negotiate the tasks of the day, e.g. housework and the making of pancakes against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Fortunately she has this gift, that she is able to converse with animals and seems generally in harmonious relationship with the natural world, and even inanimate objects respond to her energetic commands.  Her predicament may have some resonance for someone with moderate M.E. who might appear to the world as a normally-functioning person and might well choose Mrs. Pepperpot's affliction over her own, for Mrs. P is in robust good health, whatever her size.  She also brings a cheerful acceptance to her predicament and this helps her to be creative and inventive.  Well one does what one can, and I enjoyed the bacon sandwiches.  But it is half past nine in the morning and I can already feel myself about to shrink.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Purity of the Road

The title is of course from Kerouac, and this is by no stretch of the imagination a Kerouacian road.  It leads from the nearby golf course into the forest.  At some point it becomes a path trodden on the forest floor, and even that peters out and then you have to find your own way.  People get lost in it.

We went to see On The Road at the cinema last night.  Though it had bad reviews and clearly they chose the wrong actor to play JK, it captures something of the beat buzz and that drive to be constantly on the move.  I wouldn't want to go time-travelling back there (or anywhere before Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch) as a female - I just know I would have ended up barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen while the men went off and had adventures.

There is something about a road, and a white line arrowed to anywhere that is not whatever one knows as Here.  It is sometimes said that a real traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.  I should perhaps adopt this approach because my fixed plans often unravel, however intent I may be on reaching my goal.  To go the distance you need fuel in your tank.  I am not speaking of my Nissan Micra, the trusty Signsmobile, but the vehicle that is my body.  I am a PWME and therefore compromised.  I can't do roads.  I can do short-distance flights.  I make promises I can't keep* and commit to projects I can't complete, but hell, so did Dean Moriarty who was mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time and just like him, I burn, burn, burn - in my fashion.  

* so if I don't do a post a day don't shoot me.       

p.s.  Spam-merchants have invaded my house, so comment Word Verification is back, sorry.                                    

Friday, October 12, 2012

If you have not yet looked at the beautiful blog that is Spitalfields Life, then please do yourself a favour and have a look.  It is a work of love and dedication by someone called "The Gentle Author" who has promised to put up a post each day about life in Spitalfields, at the heart of London, until 2037.

Blessed is the one who feels able to say "This is both my task and my delight".

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Heimat (2)

It is one of those untranslatable German words.  The closest English approximation is Homeland, and though it has to do with, amongst other things, the land - fields, forests and mountains - it cannot now be uttered without the contamination of National Socialism.  In this sense, it shares something with Patriotism which is now riddled with uncomfortable resonances.  Heimat carries in its essence an element of homesickness, which is something I often experience.  But for what place?  Where are my people?  Where is the ground that I would stoop to kiss?  I am suddenly and inappropriately reminded of that terrible joke by Tommy Cooper:

Man:  I'm homesick.
Wife:  What you on about?  You're at home now.
Man:  I know, and I'm sick of it.

"The Wanderer has no place to lay his head" (I Ching, see previous post) sounds grandiose, but this one (and the sagging Ridgepole) does come up for me year after year.  Grandiose or not, clearly Jesus Christ and I have something in common, for the Son of Man also had nowhere to lay his head.

There are moments - groups of people, anyone from anywhere - times of companionship (original meaning of companion: someone with whom you share bread), sitting around a table sharing food, words, the flame of a candle; times of blending one's voice with another's - my sister and I singing the songs our mother taught us and still remembers, though she has Alzheimer's now and has forgotten so much.  What remains when memories fall away?  Songs, quite often.  As a child, my mother was taught songs of the Hitler German Youth.  She lived with her Aryan grandparents and passed for one of them. Later she learned other songs - a Hebrew one we used to chant to make the rain come.  I am homesick for my Grandmother picking green beans in her garden, singing the love song of Katrinchen (Ich werde  dich lieben in ewigkeit).  Ich habe Heimweh.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This is a broken knife - a French Opinel I have had for about thirty years.  I have probably used it most days, usually to peel and chop vegetables but also for other things, like piercing a metal lid to help open a jar.  I could do this sort of thing because the knife was seemingly indestructible and had this magical quality, that not only did it never need sharpening but it actually grew sharper with use, the blade is still keen though broken from its handle.  Several years ago, on holiday in the Dordogne and thinking it might not last much longer, I bought another, slightly larger version.  I never used it because it wasn't a patch on this knife.  No knife is - Kitchen Devil, Sabatier, I have tried them all.  We were a team and worked together beautifully.  I began to believe it would last forever - I was wrong.

What to make of this?  Don't tell me that a knife is a knife - I am a sign-reader and the granddaughter of a Jungian analyst who, on seeing a bird fall into her grate stone-dead, foretold her own death.  I am a thrower of coins each new year, for the I Ching that repeatedly warns of a ridgepole that sags to breaking point and tells me that the wanderer has no place to lay his head.  However you read it, this is just not auspicious.  But it is also not the end.  I will carry on chopping carrots, celery, leeks and butternut squash though I will never again do it with such unthinking flair or feel so in my element.  Time to get out of the kitchen?  The wanderer has no place etc......

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sick Mac

My laptop keeps overheating and puffing out air.  When I searched online to see what might be causing this, I read that one should think of it like a person that is overworking and sweating.  It made me feel bad, as though I was pushing it into overdrive, though I'm not doing anything that should make this happen.  I am wondering if it is mirroring something.  I do not want a laptop with M.E. or chronic fatigue.  I want it to carry on being Mac Airy and yes-can-do, not a sick thing that keeps having to put its lid down to take a nap, and even then it keeps puffing and sweating.  it has a temperature.  I can feel it's hot underside.

small hours

If it is already tomorrow, but it is the small hours and you have not yet slept, does putting up a post count as tomorrow's post or yesterday's?  And does it in any case count as a post to say that it is already tomorrow and you have not yet slept? I would say yes.  Especially as I did not post yesterday, which is still today as it does not really become tomorrow until there has been a period of sleep between now and then.  So what I have come here to say is that although it is tomorrow it is actually still yesterday, or it is neither and I am therefore sitting inside the Tardis otherwise known as Signs Cottage wondering if I still exist or whether I slipped into a black hole between the stroke of midnight and the second that followed.  That is not actually what I have come here to say.  But let it stand, because the fact of my saying anything at all is a) proof that I do in fact exist and b) counts as yesterday's post.  So I am still on track.  And anyone who wants to argue with that is, in fact, a mashed potato.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


A full-on dish of Parmigiana is not for wimps or the faint-hearted - neither the cooking nor the eating of it, if you make it the pukka way (not meaning to sound like Jamie Oliver).  Yes, I wimped out and ended up frying each 5mm disc of aubergine.  Or rather, Mr. Signs did, not wanting the smallest risk of undercooked aubergine, and on discovering that the grilled version was taking just as long and looked grey.  So there was olive oil, buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese plus a tomato sauce with more oil  A side of steamed broccoli and focaccia bread (oil in that too).  And me with my high cholesterol.  If I drop dead in the next five minutes then at least I will have had a fabulous lunch with the people I love most.

Talking about cheese (you can't skimp on a Parmigiana), son and I got talking about music, in particular modern Disney songs like this:

which son very much loves and reckons is equal to, say one of Elgar's overtures but which, though I have always been partial to cheese and openly loved Abba before it became ok to admit that, he reckoned I would not like, and he is right, though I am prepared to have another look and reconsider in the light of what he said about its opulence.  My preferred kind of cheese is Fievel's song in American Tail - which is less about opulence than schmalz.  But I always did like a bit of that.  And Heimat is in there somewhere, I reckon.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

the day today



Friday, October 5, 2012


Two things on my mind today: M.E.-related stuff and Aubergine Parmigiana.

M.E. politics is so big and so deep and so messy that it's difficult to even begin talking about it.  M.E. is a neuroimmune disease - not a mental illness, not psychosomatic, not the same as generalised chronic fatigue.  This is known, recognised, understood, despite the clear necessity for continuing research.  There are those who find it very important to distort or suppress the truth.  Meanwhile thousands continue to suffer without medical or social support - some in almost unimagineable conditions.  Worth remembering the next time you read about M.E. Militants. Yes, they have sent journalists death threats.  Not good.  How is it that they have become so enraged?  And why?

Ok, food.  Family (including one vegetarian) coming for lunch on Sunday and I'd like to find a way of making the above, but without all the faff of frying each piece of aubergine because this is a long process and I can't stand for long periods (orthostatic intolerance, as any PWME fule kno).  I am thinking of cheating and baking the aubergine first but am open to advice - and suspect there may be one or two looking in here who can give it. 

Thanking you in advance (I'm lookin' atcha, Madonna!).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

hurry up please it's time

It's National Poetry Day, and I have made a tiny, six-line poem out of all the moon writing I did yesterday and ditched any reference to the moon.  So it goes. 

There used to be a game I played: write a line of something you would call poetry.  People would usually come up with something lyrical, and quite often there would be moon in the line, or a rose.  The next task was to write a line of something that was not poetry, more difficult than it sounds because anything can be poetry, and poetry can be prosaic.  A line such as, I go to Tesco's to buy my petrol does not announce itself as poetry, especially with the inclusion of a well-known supermarket chain.  Substituting one word (I go to Tesco's to buy my dreams) changes everything.  Makes it sound as though it might be poetry, even if it isn't.

"Everyone's on Twitter cos Facebook's shitter" (one I spotted today) gets points because it rhymes.

Hurry up please it's time - from T.S. Eliot's Wasteland.  Even standing alone it's good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Li'l Light

We find ourselves in birthday territory again.  I say 'we' because sometimes I find I think of myself as a plural, almost as though there is the 'I' that carries on with the business of daily life and another 'I' that observes it.  A morning of writing with two writerly friends with whom I have met for many years.  We meet, if we can, once a week and write without workshopping.  We do this for about an hour and fifteen minutes and then share what we have written.  We honour each others' birthdays - so the lit candle in the scone is for me.  There is my hand holding the knife, my hard-backed turquoise notebook in which I will soon (after eating the scone) write three pages of words, mostly inspired by thoughts about the moon because of the birthday cards (here is one).

The writing did not come easy, the inner flame, compromised by my unwelcome but faithful companion Fatigue, was low and it is easy to lose the plot.  Poetry is sometimes forgiving about this because the plot of a poem is always just whatever is happening in the poem and one doesn't even need to know what that is.  Sometimes, even with the meanest measure of vitality, it is possible to find oneself carried along with the flow of words.  And then there is this magic, that where there was nothing, now there is something.

It is that small candle, though, that has stayed with me.  A flame is a flame.  I have been thinking about the many extraordinary people I have come to know - those who live with the more severe kind of M.E. Whether they have been made extraordinary by the fact of having endured conditions that most people would find unthinkable, with little support, scant respect and an uncertain future, or whether they were already extraordinary I don't feel the need to speculate.  I just feel lucky to know them - see how they shine.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Another trip to the dentist in Darkest Kent, held up by a meandering sheep en route who stood in the middle of the road sniffing the air and looking about in a delicate and very unsheeplike way as though unable to decide on the best course of action.  We eyeballed each other (sympathetically, I felt) for a few minutes while a few of its friends joined and waited for some kind of instruction or inner prompting as to what the next move should be.  They moseyed off thoughtfully onto the open heathland of the forest.  I went to get my tooth fixed.

A long drive like that (three-hour round trip, counting time spent in chair with mouth open) is not a good thing but this time was unaccountably better than last week - plus, I was not charged for the work, as I feared I might be.  And on the journey back I listened to The Best of Kirsty McColl and sang along.  So many good songs on that album, mostly love songs, a couple of the most quotable lines being, I fell out of favour with heaven somewhere, and I'm here for the hell of it now.

And then this (see above, by artist Yoshitomo Nara) waited for me on the doormat when I got home - a birthday postcard from a friend in Berlin, with lovely and funny words that uplifted me - just when I might have toppled into an afternoon's trough of miserableness.  Well, we have pain and fatigue but the spirits are badassly high.  And the title of the picture is Too Young To Die, which is spot on.  Sheep, friends, good words - what else is there?  (A cigarette, obviously - sshhh).

Monday, October 1, 2012


The question of where I belong and where I come from has been at me again. Here I am in an English village with its own Steiner school, health shop and film society. I have a few friends and connections in this place, am on nodding terms with shopkeepers, and the woman behind the counter at the chemist knows my name and automatically ticks the medical exemption box for me. There is a cafe where the coffee is just right and people go with their laptops, it might almost be trendy Shoreditch. I love the terrain here, the forest, the combination of wildness and gentleness. But I don't feel as though I belong here or that this is where I'm from.

As a child I was never in a place long enough to feel that this is where my roots are. Germany perhaps, but that was partly fairy tale and something about Christmas that lodged itself in my imagination. And Germany is where my parents had to run from as refugees, so how can I come from there?

When I speak about the English I know I am not speaking about myself, and especially not when I speak about the English middle classes, though I am middle class. After the Olympics opening ceremony I said, yes, there was something quintessentially English about it: the disparate elements hit the moveable spot, the particular something that might almost miss the mark with its blurred boundaries between the ridiculous and the elegiac. You would only really get it if you were English, and I got it. But still.

I want my tribe, is that it? Some ongoing predicament of the diaspora Jew? I am not properly Jewish, even if the Nazis would have given me full marks. When my mother, on entering her twilight years, wanted to become a member of a local synagogue she was told she would have to convert - even though her father perished in Buchenwald - even though her mother (who was not born Jewish) did convert. But she converted in old age, and so it did not count, as far as my mother's eligibility was concerned. Blut und Boden, und was noch? And yet, when my son went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, the organisation responsible welcomed anyone who had at least one Jewish (full-blooded) grandparent. He had two and a half. For the duration of that holiday, he belonged, and though he was not tempted to up sticks and make his life in Israel, he did for a short space feel a sense of belonging to a community where you acknowledge in your being that yes, you have this essential and unbreakable thing in common.

                                                                                            t-b-c ....