Thursday, March 28, 2013

back to basics

It seems a while since I have talked about shopping.  I am pleased to report that I do even less of it now.  I did buy a jumper in December, but that was because I realised I only had one jumper that I properly liked and I had the clairvoyant sense that we were in for another unforgivingly cold winter.  I think I have the clothes thing sorted: two jumpers and two trousers plus silk thermal undergarments in the winter and the same two jumpers and trousers in spring and autumn, minus the silk thermals, which can then serve as indoor 'leisurewear'; thinner trousers and a selection of tops for summer.  Pushing the boat out a bit with summer as it is unpredictable.  Footwear, as you know, is basically either Uggs or Birkenstocks.

Occasionally one needs Accessories.  So it was that I recently found myself in a shop with a voucher left over from Christmas.  it was a voucher I had planned to give Stepson.  I lost it, bought him another and then found it again in the new year.  I decided to spend it on a handbag because mine is on the small side - it can accommodate a Kindle but not a a book.  So I bought a bag, got home and found it was useless and suddenly very ugly when one put anything into it.  This is the kind of thing that happens when I shop, it took three attempts to get the right Uggs.  It's ok because I returned the bag and now have the voucher again.  No harm done, apart from the expenditure of energy.  But on my second trip I decided to see if I could get a couple of bars of soap.  Not easy, as I have banged on about here.  I was in East Street in Brighton and had the choice of any number of shops, including Crabtree and Evelyn, Lush, L'Occitane and Space NK.  Call me mean, but though I am delighted to get posh soaps as gifts I am not prepared to go into double figures for a couple of bars of what is supposed to be an everyday commodity.  In supermarkets, Dove is still cornering the market, as far as I can see.  But Imperial Leather seems to be making a come-back.  After my handbag-return trip I went into the ragged corner shop opposite Brighton flat and bought a couple of bars for a pound each.  Success.  Apart from other considerations, it smells of decades past, which were not necessarily better than the decade I now find myself in but gives a sense of continuity rather than a sense (increasingly) of feeling oneself to be an extra-terrestrial with no direction home.  Of course in the old days Imperial Leather was marketed as something that could give us all the experience of a little daily luxury (see below).  Not that we were fooled.  I mean, who was washing with lard and ashes, even in the seventies?  And it would have been perfect if she had said Bognor instead of Tahiti.

I am going to the launch of a friend's poetry book tonight.  There are many I miss, but this one is possible because it's in Brighton and I have allowed a night either side in the flat.  A group of us have met above a pub in Lewes each month for several years, to workshop poems, and she is taking us for a meal beforehand to celebrate.  And tomorrow is the neighbour's annual Good Friday bun party.

If I don't see you before Easter, have a good one.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ecce Homo

St. Patrick's Day was not a significant date for me until 2004 - because my dear Dad died on this day.  Today is the ninth anniversary of his death.  This photograph of the two of us effectively captures something of how I feel when I think about him.  In worldly terms, he was not a 'successful' man.  He was an actor, often out of work until the last years of his life when he was suddenly quite busy and in demand.  Having the looks of (as a friend once put it) "the universal Wop, Spick or Dago" he would often play the role of the foreign baddie who was bumped off.  He was a good actor though, and sometimes parts did come along that allowed him to show something of what he could do.  He was a modest man and not, by nature, a Networker.  He didn't make efforts to go to the right parties, get in with the right people who might have helped his career along.  He did not have the knack of making money - whenever he tried to do something clever with money it was a disaster.  There is nothing outstanding that one could put on a CV and point to saying, Look - he did this, and this, and that. But each year that passes I have a growing sense of what it was that made him who he was.  I would like to find a word for it, but nothing comes to mind other than goodness. 

He was a good man.  Why do I say this?  It isn't about what he did (he did of course do good things, but that isn't the point) or that he loved each of his six children and they love him (though this is perhaps more to the point).  It is about what he was, and I suppose that this must have something to do with what was alive in him.  When I think of him, I smell apple and spice, and the sandalwood soap he liked to use (this and wholenut milk chocolate were the gifts we most often gave him).  I don't think that he literally went around all the time smelling of these things, but the essence of them are what express, for me, his substance - the sweetness of the man.  His laughter was always infectious because it came from the well of his sweetness, which included his sense of the preposterous, the overblown and ridiculous.  It would stream out at inappropriate times, in the company of bureaucratic officials who were checking his papers (East Germany) or on stage, in the middle of someone's important soliloquy.  He was a well known Corpser - an actor who might get a fit of laughter during a performance.  When the other actors spotted him they caught it too and a couple of times the curtain had to come down. 

He was not always laughing. Sometimes when out of work, he whiled away the moments that lengthened like shadows, stood on the threshold between one room and another as though listening for the rhythm of the day.  But in the middle of such times, there might be a moment like the time my youngest sister asked him to play the piano while she danced, and then insisted that they change places: "I play - you dance."  I never saw this, but it was a story he liked to tell.  Every now and then I picture him dancing in the dustbeams by the grand piano, lumbering around like an old bear doing a turn of tricks, carrying on until the music stops.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Spin And The Shine

Well I thought I had moved into what is euphemistically called a Better Patch, but I might have slithered back a bit.  Not actually into the Pit itself, but none of us (I am talking M.E. obviously) wants to be headed in that direction.  Still - it helps to put a spin on things.  That is probably true for most of us and has the virtue of being good for everyone else as well as oneself.  Some might say it is almost a duty.  In my church-going days (as a practising-because-I'm-crap-at-it-Christian) I liked the part where the priest said, Lift up your hearts!  The congregational response to that is, We lift them to the Lord, but I think just the lifting up in itself is probably good enough, and I bet my best china cake plate that the Lord concurs.  I would say that putting a spin is just doing that, really, and very much hope that it doesn't amount to the same thing as Positive Affirmations, which don't engage the heart and are therefore just lies.  There is no need to positively affirm anything.  Even if you are of the 'Life Is Shit And Then You Die' school,  heart-lift is achievable even if it is in spite of rather than because of.  Nothing wrong with that. 

I recently became Facebook friends with a certain well-known journalist (erstwhile 'hip, young gunslinger' at the NME, to give you a clue).  We don't know each other in RL but have a couple of FB friends in common so I took my chances and she is of a generous disposition.  There are many things to enjoy about her various writings and pronouncements and, speaking for myself, one can use a bit of vicarious cheer now and then, or even on a daily basis.  For a start, she begins each day with Boker TOV, Motekim! which is Hebrew for Good Morning, Darlings!  It somehow works particularly well in the Hebrew and gives a small shine to the moment, even when it is followed by a youtube link to a band singing a song one doesn't share an enthusiasm for.  As she lives in Brighton and loves eating, drinking and good cheer, I had a fleeting fantasy of meeting up with her at English's Oyster Bar, chewing the gossip plus several courses of delicious things and drinking Black Velvet, which is a champagne and Guiness combo the mater introduced me to at Sheekey's (another fish place) in London. You can't let too much reality bleed into a good fantasy so let us assume that I can still drink tankards full of Black Velvet, that I would not be fazed when we were joined by a group of her sparkly-witty friends, and that when I spoke about how I mostly write about sex and death (with the definite emphasis, these days, on death) I would make it sound like the fun kind.  I might also lob in that I was recently long-listed for the National Poetry prize (poem all about someone choosing his coffin), though I suspect that doing this would neither impress nor endear me.  In the end, my inner introvert would fuck things up. I would ask the wrong kind of questions - the kind that lead to dark places, as you'd expect of a sex-and-death merchant - and I would wince if the jokes became too cruel.  Or it would be nine o'clock and I would suddenly turn into a slipperless M.E. pumpkin.  Ah well - fun while it lasted.

But what am I going on about?  For this very evening Mr. Signs and I will be going out to a new gastropub eatery recommended by my friend the Cake Lady, in honour of his successfully reaching another milestone in Shrink-training.  And also, tomorrow being Mothering Sunday, today is Mother's Eve and a fine and proper time to celebrate.  I have already cheated and opened the beautiful card from my daughter, with words that bring a shine to the heart.  Sometimes you don't need the spin.  It's just all there, and manifest. 

Laila tov, motekim.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

These Boots ... (2)

On a visit to London to see the young Signses, I poked my head into Hackney's Mare Street.  The last time I was there was in November 1991, shortly before we left the Smoke to go and live on the Edge.  I went into a shoe shop to get myself some Doc Martens lace-up boots and prattled in uncharacteristic fashion about going off to a place where you needed a strong pair of boots to walk around in.  The shop assistant was tired and bored, but I felt a pressing need to talk about where I was going, to visualise myself in the new life, sure-footed and purposeful in my new boots, roaming over open heathland where the gorseflowers bloomed and through the forest, gathering heather to put in vases on the window sill, and shiny conkers.
"These boots," I said to the shop assistant, "are definitely made for walking."
"Comfortable, are they?"  She had never heard of the song.
"Wrap them up," I said.  "Are ya ready, boots?"
The shop assistant said she hoped I would enjoy my holiday.  I told her it wasn't a holiday.  I don't think she would have replied whatever because people didn't say that so much in 1991.

There is still a shoe shop in the same spot, and a Macdonalds across the road where I sometimes took the children for a treat.  Further down, there is the Hackney Empire and the Town Hall.  It was too cold to go far and I had a train to catch. 

I knew when we left that we were burning bridges, that we would never be able to afford to come back.  I was right about that and the prediction that Hackney would become trendy.  If we had waited until now to sell the house we lived in and move, we would be in the money.  But I would still do the same thing, even though I hardly ever did get to use the boots for the serious walks I had in mind because M.E. came with me and rarely allowed it.  And truth to tell, they are not particularly comfortable.  At my rate of serious walking, it took about five years to wear them in at all.  I have also sported them at occasions such as performances with the local choral society when formal black dress is required, and they have served me for weddings, funerals, posh meals out.  As anyone who knows me knows, I don't 'do' shoes, other than Birkenstocks and Crocs in summer, Uggs and trainers the rest of the time - nothing with anything you might call a heel. 

The mud on the boots testifies both to the fact that I do occasionally get out and roam in the places where I imagined I would go when I bought the boots and that I am not someone who polishes shoes very much, because this mud is pre-Christmas.  I can't help thinking about Van Gogh's painting of black boots, especially with one leaning slightly against the other, like the less dominant twin.  The heels are hardly worn down at all so I imagine they will easily do me for another
twenty or so years. 

I'll keep you informed.