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

Of Cousins, Culture, Colds and My Cat

Crumbs, Friday already, just the weekend and then I fly home. Mind, I should be back in five weeks to enjoy a weekend of culture at the Heaney Homeplace with Cousin’s friend Ann. I have booked my flights this morning, and am texting and whatsapping to arrange cat care for my boy.

Last night we went to see Cousin’s brother, my cousin Tom, who has just retired as a church minister. He and his wife have their hands full packing up the contents of a house that has been home for some twenty years, finding somewhere new to live and visiting their eldest son daily in the hospital where he has been for nearly five months.

Tom was keen to offer me sets of books he will no longer have room for, or maybe I’d like the imposing and very fine sideboard his father thought would be perfect in a rectory. It wasn’t just the fact that the luggage allowance on Easyjet precludes such items that made my refusal more prompt than diplomatic; my own home is full to bursting.

The new house sounds promising, but it needs a lot of attention. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that the deal goes through quickly and the most disruptive work can be done before they move in. Retired Church of Ireland clergy do not get magnificent pensions, and this particular cleric has been giving his money to good causes for years.

So our talk ranged through family memories, Young Tom’s anticipated move to the Brain Injury Unit to begin his rehabilitation, removing polystyrene tiles from ceilings and the merits of plasterboard, whether their two cats may move to the country and live at Cousin’s while their dog (don’t stroke her, she may try to bite you) will move with them.

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Back on the Bus to Belfast

Back on the bus to Belfast. It would be fun to continue in this alliterative way, but the people I'm meeting have names that begin with F and J.

 

Fiona, known to WordPress readers as Speccy, and I have met once before by the Europa bus station. That was a summer's day. It's February now, and chill winds whistle and find unprotected gaps in clothing, seeking out the spaces between glove and sleeve, sneaking down the back of a collar and testing the advertised thermal qualities of underwear.

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Friday 13th

I have been out and about a good deal this year, mainly work, but some treats including last night’s trip to the pantomime at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and, at the other end of theatrical experience, to see Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams in Mary Stuart at the Almeida Islington. But more about them perhaps in another post.

Now I have a free day, am at home and the evidence of my comings and goings is all around me in unfolded clothes and unread newspapers. Of course I could put those unread papers straight into the recycling, but I have missed quite a lot of the news this week. Octavia filled my astonished ears last night with the Donald Trump/Meryl Streep story as we travelled home from the panto. So actually reading some of the papers this morning seemed a good reason to gather my strength and make a plan.

So I am a bit more up to date with what goodies are on the way in the arts, though I realise I have already missed some. I am hoping SSGB which I saw being filmed in Greenwich at the end of 2015 will be on when I am in Northern Ireland next month and I get to watch it with Cousin. I have flicked through the cookery supplements and consigned them to the scrap heap. The recipes look delicious, but the long list of ingredients for each one makes me tired before I start. In last Saturday’s Guardian magazine I found several gems. Clive James very much on form, quite like the old days; a restaurant review containing the words ‘the food is to subtlety what Trump is to interior decoration, but the effect is blinding’.

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Christmas Gifts

No chimneys here chez Isobel and Cat, so no Father Christmas squeezing onto the hearth and covering the carpet with soot, scoffing a hot mince pie and drinking a glass of sherry, before leaving a stocking full of presents hanging from the non-existent mantelpiece. But there was still a number of packages to open.

Increasingly over recent years my friends and I have agreed to forgo the gift swapping and remove a large part of the stress in the run up to the Christmas period. Gifts we do exchange tend to be consumable, and the delicacies Maria sends me from Barcelona are very much part of my Christmas celebrations.

Anyway, the number of gifts waiting for my attention on Christmas Day was not large. Which is what made it so odd that I managed to miss one of them until this evening. It was from Octavia and wrapped in very groovy paper.

I picked it up, and as I took the paper off to reveal a brown cardboard box, and thought it was just the right sort of size to be a mug. Now mugs are something I have a lot of. I am rich in mugs. One thing I do not need is another mug.

It was a mug. Continue reading

Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve, the candles are lit, fairy lights twinkle, the choir of Westminster Abbey sings carols quietly in the background, the Christmas cards from friends and family deck the sideboard, tops of paintings, and book table, MasterB is paying misdirected carnal attentions towards his newest toy, a yellow feather boa that Octavia brought him from Melbourne.

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Little Innocent

I know there’s a term for this, people who are turned on by inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags, which though odd and somewhat disturbing, is probably no less odd than people who develop phobias about inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags. How common a condition these lusts are in cats I don’t know, and why this toy should have sparked such desires in MasterB I have no idea.

I’m spending the evening at home, just me and MasterB. This morning was work, last night nibbles and drinks here with some neighbours. I should have asked more people, but the flat is small and there’s limited seating. Reinhild came before joining her husband at the theatre; my lovely neighbour Lawrence who broke the news to me that he is moving in a month; Charlie (Mr Celia); B&J: Celia a bit later.

Charlie’s arrival was the signal for MasterB to go into hiding. He’s accepted Lawrence, but is deeply suspicious of Charlie. J was bereft. I have a feeling my invitation was only accepted as she wanted to see Himself again. It is a humbling experience to be less socially successful than one’s cat. She tried coaxing him out with biscuits, no luck. Eventually I opened the drawer in which he had secreted himself under the bed and he hopped out. Little Star, he not only conquered his fear of Charlie, he actually rubbed his face against Charlie’s feet, and spent the rest of the evening with us.

December has passed in a blur, hence the lack of blog posts and comments. I finally downloaded my holiday pictures, and looking at them has brought details of my trip flooding back. I probably say “when I was in Australia..” annoyingly often, and I know I should like to return there. Equally I should like to return to Singapore.

Here and in the US, as well as other countries in the west, we are increasingly seeing the politics of division on the rise; there is much talk about our differences, less about our similarities. More in Common became a rallying cry in the wake of the murder of MP Jo Cox by a right wing extremist. In Singapore I saw diverse communities living together in harmony. As a white westerner I was just another ethnic minority, accepted and welcomed. When I looked online at reasons why the crime levels in Singapore are so low, I found articles citing the heavy penalties for anti social behaviour: ten year prison sentences for graffiti for example. The slip of paper handed me by immigration when I entered the country warned of the death penalty for drug smuggling. But it didn’t feel to me as though Singaporeans were only behaving because they feared the consequences of stepping out of line, and I reckon there must be more carrot than stick that makes this society work. People seemed to have a real pride in Singapore, they wanted me, a vistor, to feel welcome. When the rain poured down I was offered the shelter of an umbrella to cross the street; people smiled at me and I smiled back.

One of the things that caught my eye was the Art Connector, a series of seats celebrating fifty years of independence, and all quoting lines from the National Pledge which says, in the four official languages of Singapore; English Chinese, Malay and Tamil:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity
and progress for our nation.

The Art Connector

The Art Connector

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Ginger Ninja Calendars, Hurry While Stocks Last!

Can You Resist?

Can You Resist?

The last few copies of the Ginger Ninja 2017 calendar are for sale. These are limited edition calendars for cat cognoscenti, and feature my cat MasterB, aka the Ginger Ninja .

They cost £8.50 each, and come cellophane wrapped. I’ve added a contact form to my page to make it easier for you to order. Once I have your order, I’ll give you my PayPal account details and you can send me the money in pounds sterling. It couldn’t be simpler. Continue reading

The Dog Days

I didn't take my camera with me when we went to the cinema yesterday morning, and as it turned out we continued straight on to Melbourne Museum, so for the first day since I arrived here I took no pictures. Well, that's not quite true. When we got back we found Mel had come round accompanied by Wombat, another neighbour's dog and the only dog Billie seems to feel friendship for. Here are both dogs being hopeful as cheese is cut on the counter.

He's her toyboy, being around three years old compared to her sixteen. He's also a lot bigger as he's a bull mastiff. Like other bull mastiffs I've met, he's a gentle giant, fond of leaning against you and soliciting affection.

We broke open the sloe gin Vicki bought in Richmond, and the cocktails were delicious. As lovely as the ones we had in the bar on Sunday. Maybe lovelier. We stopped at two, which was wise.

It's a good thing I'm leaving soon as I could get a taste for these. Although Melbourne's tall buildings are impressive, it's the vernacular architecture I like; the streets of low rise houses with tin roofs; lots of bungalows (strange that in the UK the word bungalow is almost a term of abuse, perhaps if they looked more like these they'd have a better press) with flowers and shrubs in the gardens.

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Tasmania Farewell

Above the clouds on the flight back to Melbourne. Already this morning seems a long time ago, packing our bags and receiving a visit from a local cat who dropped by and came into each of our rooms, a welcome chance to stroke soft fur as I am missing MasterB an extraordinary amount and we shan’t be reunited with Billie Dog until this evening. I am guessing the cat visits once its people have set off for work, looking for other appreciative humans.

Visiting cat

Our tours of Tasmania’s penal institutions continued with the Female Factory just outside Hobart, and Richmond Jail at Richmond. I’d recommend the first over the second. Both are sobering, but the Female Factory is particularly well done. Time prevented us from joining the guided tour but we overheard snatches of it and it was quite clearly in a different class to the tour we had on the cemetery island at Port Arthur. The scale was also much smaller and the contrast between the accommodation for the superintendent, the matron and the sub-matron was less stark. To be a woman convict, often transported for the most trivial offences, was to find yourself vulnerable to sexual abuse, locked into a vicious cycle where your word would always be doubted if contradicted by anyone in authority. The fact that so many survived and went onto marry, have families and prosper is testament to the human spirit. The site has worked with archaeologists and artists and builds a poignant picture where, belatedly, these women are given the respect that all human beings are due.

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Happy Cat Day

I just learned that it is National Cat Day, though which nation I am not sure. A quick surf showed it began in the US, but there seem to be some UK links too, and hey, if we on this side of the pond can embrace the wholesale purchase of tat and massive overuse of the word spooky for 31st October, I think it’s fair to pick something I prefer to copy instead.

There’s certainly a lot less merchandising.

I see there’s also a World Cat Day 17th March, and International Cat Day 8th August. Though every day is Cat Day when you own a cat. And if it’s not, it ought to be.

The art lover

The art lover

In this photo MasterB is demonstrating his appreciation of the art on the walls of our home. Either that, or he’s checking to see if it’s a print or an original, and wondering if the proceeds from its sale in the event of my death might be enough to keep him in cat food. As it’s a print, it probably wouldn’t feed him for long.

However, he is sitting on a family heirloom; my great-grandmother’s knee desk, a gift on her twenty-first birthday, and somewhere I discourage Himself from sitting with obvious success. Continue reading