April Days

Last year's hanging basket has kindly come to life again with no effort from me other than irregular watering. Despite it being April, which you'll remember in the rhyme is the month associated with showers, and we're not talking personal hygiene here, this April rain in any form has been notably absent. Which makes me nervous for May, associated with flowers and my birthday. I am wondering if some new intern at heaven's weather station has seen the flow part of flowers and mistaken it for a month of gross inundation. The forecast is for frost next week, maybe even snow. I may have a stay at home birthday, and the mice will get a temporary reprieve on das Boot.

So make the most of these pix of the season while you can.

Pest Laid Plans

Twilight falling and I am on a fast train back to London. We pass fields of flowering rapeseed, the acidic yellow of the blooms a sharp contrast with the deep greens and mid browns of the neighbouring fields. There are well-tended allotments with scarecrows, strips of coloured plastic, and old CDs twirling in the wind; rows of terraced houses, semi-detached houses, large villas with surround sound gardens. There are sheep in the fields, some with lambs, some without. The flat landscape is occasionally interrupted by a slight rise, topped with a small copse of trees. The sky is blue with soft looking clouds the colour of the cherry blossom so prevalent just now. There’s a farmhouse, with collie dog lying at the door, then a man circling a field on a tractor. A benign version of England spreads out as far as my eyes can see.

 

I have been at das Boot with Older Nephew. He met me outside the station at Cambridge, and dropped me back there in time for this train. We spent the day afloat de winterising, cleaning, checking the bilges and running the engine. There had been visitors over the winter: mice, evidenced by numerous droppings. They had nibbled my J cloths, shredded newspaper left ready to line the litter tray, chewed through plastic bin liners and attacked the foil around the neck of a bottle of cava. Before we could eat I had to boil water and wash plates, knives, forks and saucepans. There was poo in the cutlery drawer, in an empty vase, in the sink, in one cupboard under the sink, but not the other.

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One of the Fifteen Per Cent

This mural on the south west end of Waterloo Bridge makes me sad.

Euro

Nine months on, Brexit is still something that makes me feel bereaved. Maybe it always will. It felt like a knife turning in a wound when the letter triggering article 50 was delivered to the EU. The same week that letter was written, Nicola Sturgeon announced she would be calling for second referendum on Scottish independence. That call has now been endorsed by the Scottish parliament. Sturgeon’s critics shrugged and rolled world weary eyes. Of course she wants another referendum they said, the Scottish Nationalists are party with just one goal. which is by and large true, and it certainly would have been a big surprise had the Yes vote won by a narrow margin and the Scots Nats wanted a second referendum just to make sure the country hadn’t changed its mind.

Teresa May’s rebuke about disunity, and  Scotland’s foolish notion of leaving the UK, her greatest trading partner, caused some hollow merriment, as that is exactly what she and her sidekick David Davis are determined to to do taking the UK out of the EU. Continue reading

Walking the Dogs

The nights were pretty cold when I was away and I was glad of a hot water bottle. Two dogs snuggling beside me in the evening, plus the heat from the stove kept me warm in the sitting room.

Two dogs

Westie Boy was probably feeling the cold as his coat has been clipped very short in preparation for Cousin’s upcoming trip to Australia to see daughter Number One in Sydney, while her husband, who’s staying at home, will be promoted to Dog Carer in Charge. The one who looks like a walking hearth rug is Westie Pup, who belongs to Daughter Number Two and with whom I was delighted to be reunited over the weekend. Rather more delighted than Westie Boy was to have her there I’m sorry to say.

The mornings were chilly and bright, frost evident on the fields and verges.

Frosted

Blue skies, green fields

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In Praise of Poetry Weekends

I’m home again but off to Octavia’s shortly for supper and to celebrate her mum’s 94th birthday, so this will of necessity be a quick, photoless post. Just to be clear, her mum is there, so we shan’t be toastimg the start of her 95th year in her absence.

I had a fabulous time in Northern Ireland; three poetry events in three days at the Heaney Homeplace. The highpoint for me was undoubtedly Simon Armitage on Saturday afternoon, but I enjoyed the rest and have a book of Nick Laird’s poetry to add to my shelves.

Simon Armitage is the real deal; funny, profound, poignant, his poems provide a commentary on the world about him. He opened with Thank-you for Waiting, which for an audience no doubt familiar with both Easyjet and, in particular, Ryanair, sent ripples of knowing laughter round the Helicon, as the auditorium is called.

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When I went into my local Poundland today in search of boxes of paper hankies, I picked up my wire basket and prepared to voyage. Armitage checked that his audience knew what Poundland is, and commented that when he read the eponymously titled poem in Oxford he wasn’t sure people knew what he was talking about. The poem came about when one of his students told him he had seen a copy of Ezra Pound’s poems for sale in Sheffield’s Poundland for a pound. Armitage having, as he put it, a bit of an obsession about Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, the two ideas collided to create something very wonderful. Read it here.

Nick Laird on Sunday was a new name to me. As a local lad, he attracted quite a crowd. He’s from Cookstown where I spent some of the summers of my youth. Or rather I spent those weeks in the country not far from Cookstown. Cousin’s son-in-law went to the same school, as indeed did some of our family who belong to my generation. He’s currently based in New York, but if he’s doing readings anywhere near me on this side of the pond, I shall certainly try to get there. He has also written novels and there’s a television series he’s authored coming this year on, I believe, the BBC. I really liked the look of the anthology he has edited, but I only had a small in flight bag, and so I chose a slimmer volume. Continue reading

Unconditional Love

I spent yesterday with Nephew, his partner and their baby. We walked and talked and ate, cooed over the baby, talked about dogs we’d like to have, cooed over the baby again, talked about love. The usual. Quite a lot of people talk about their pets giving them unconditional love as though that is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s definitely wonderful, but I should hope that the humans getting a pet are also giving unconditional love, and that parents would not have children with the love conditional on their exam results/looks/sporting achievement or whatever.

Among some papers I was sorting last week I found this photograph. Continue reading

In Mother’s Footsteps

So here’s the plan: reach Birmingham by eleven, find the tourist information office for a map and find out how far away the hospital is; look for a (self) guided walking tour; visit the museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard; return London by the afternoon train.
Of course it may not work out like that. Maybe I’ll have jettisoned this plan by the time I leave the station, and instead allow my nose to lead me, and wander the city’s streets and squares.

My return to the Midlands just over a week since the sortie to Coventry is thanks to some special offers on trains which Viv of the book group circulated. I shan’t have a lot of time, hence the plan.

You might be thinking I am going to visit someone in hospital. No, I’m not. It’s the buildings I want to see; specifically the older buildings, the ones that were there on the 1940s when Mother arrived to take an entrance exam that would allow her to train as a nurse. I understand that part of the hospital was originally the workhouse, and that there is an archway, unlisted that is threatened with demolition. Maybe it has already gone.

We never visited Birmingham. Although Mother had many fond memories, I don’t know that she ever returned. The closest I have been is a ride around Spaghetti Junction enough route to somewhere I don’t recall when I was a teenager. Continue reading

The Elephant in the Room

Well, not really a room, more a district and a city. Let me explain.

When I visited Coventry last week I was surprised and intrigued to find representations of elephants.

A Line of Balancing Elephants

I live close to the Elephant and Castle in London. I’m used to references to elephants hereabouts. We have a magnificent one with a howdah on his back that adorns the delapidated shopping centre; there’s Elephant Cars based in Elephant Road; the Electric Elephant Café here in Walworth, offices in Hannibal House; Elefest, once our annual beano celebrating all things Elephant connected. But I was unaware of any pachyderm associations with Coventry, usually a city more renowned for its connections with Lady Godiva’s naked horse riding event. However, elephants there definitely were.

 

An Elephant in the Wall

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Ten a Day? No Problem!

On this side of the pond a week or so ago there was a fair amount in the news about something other than Brexit or Donald Trump. Wow what a relief. Let’s forget for a moment that Article 50, something of which I was blissfully ignorant this tinme twelve months ago, could be triggered this week, with David Davies, a politician I trust marginally more than Donald Trump, though it’s a fine line, arguing that MPs should put their trust in Mrs May and let her negotiate without caveat, let, or hindrance from Parliament.

Let’s forget that this country’s (by which I mean the UK, the whole damn fine divided lot of it) finest achievement, the National Health Service, is being brought to its tender knees by cynical bastards who make its work impossible and then denounce it as failing. Let’s forget that this monumental, pioneering institution that has radically improved the health of people lucky enough to live in the UK was created at a time that made our current period of austerity seem laughably luxurious and tell people we, one of the richest countries on planet earth, cannot afford to uphold and defend the NHS’ principles, but we can afford to pay millions to leave the EU, our most important trading partner.

Governments, at least those here in the UK, speak with forked tongues. They don’t want us to smoke, but raise huge revenues on taxes on tobacco. A packet of twenty cigarettes here costs a staggering £10. They want us to be frugal, to be financially responsible, but the economy is driven by consumer spending. They want us to be healthy, to make sensible decisions about our food, yet encourage farmers to cut corners in animal husbandry, be market led, use pesticides and goodness only knows what.

Previously we were encouraged to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. That’s now been doubled. From the reaction in even serious papers like The Guardian, you’d think this was a totally outrageous, ridiculous idea. This is a fairly typical example. OMG, do I have to deny myself Diet Coke, crap food that makes me fat and is full of additives, chips, sugary cereals, and eat green vegetables? Nobody wants to do that.

Well, actually, yes, some of us do. That article left me feeling alienated; adrift even. I grew up in the UK and I love vegetables. I have always loved vegetables. I did not have to be force fed spinach/cabbage/cauliflower, they are delicious. My sister and I used to fight over the cauliflower stalk – sweet and satisfyingly crunchy, we would hover by my mother as she prepared meals waiting for the moment to pounce. My cucumber habit as a child was so strong I had to buy my own so that family would not have a cucumberless salad. I spent pocket money on mushrooms, on lettuce plants, on strawberries, peaches and apricots. Continue reading