The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th January 2022: Birthdays and Poetry

Today is B’s birthday. She got lots of jolly cards and she and J were off to a pub for lunch when I saw her earlier. They had also been to her native Bedfordshire yesterday for a catch up with school chums which was postponed from December.

Coincidentally, Celia and I have been planning a birthday treat. Celia’s birthday is 26th April, mine 1st May. We met and became friends through the poetry group which was a monthly affair at our local library. It was, as I have written before, cemented in 2013 by the awareness of other mothers’ increasing fragility, and then by their deaths. Before the summer had ended we were both orphans. In the autumn we went on a Dead Mothers Walk, a few miles of time out and blackberrying picking. We got lost, of course we did, but it was refreshing and we picked a lot of blackberries. It remains a stand out moment in my memory of that year: sitting on the ground, eating as many blackberries as we put into the containers we brought with us, often silent, being. I don’t actually remember much about that year at all. Death is like that. It is so consuming that when you look back things are a blur. So I am pleased my memory has hung onto that day.

Back to our birthdays. When I was in NI for Uncle Bill’s 100th at the end of October I was also able to attend the John Hewitt Birthday readings in Belfast. All three poets were great, and one knocked my socks off. Gail McConnell reading from her book length poem, The Sun is Open. Several of my friends received it as a Christmas present. I’m on the Heaney Homeplace mailing list, having been, in my small way a regular, if distant and sporadic supporter since it opened a few years ago. I saw that Gail McConnell was going to be there 30th April, talking to Jeannette Winterson.

Several years ago, again with Celia, I went to hear Winterson talking about her then new novel The Gap of Time. For those of you who don’t know Winterson, she’s not one of those shy violet types. The event started with incredibly loud music. I don’t recall what it was, but it signalled this was to be as much rock show as literary evening. We were hyped up before she walked down the aisle, a diminutive figure in jeans and a white shirt, a huge smile on her face and owned the podium.

Oh my, I wanted to be at the Homeplace 30th April. Snag. It’s close to where I stay with Cousin, but she will be just returning from Australia after visiting two of her children and their children – including a new granddaughter – for the first time since the start of the pandemic. So not possible to claim her hospitality this time.

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The North Wind Doth Blow

The current bout of cold weather is being called the Beast from the East. I think I prefer the poem:

The north wind doth blow, And we shall have snow, And what will poor Robin do then? Poor thing. He’ll sit in a barn, And keep himself warm, And hide his head under his wing, Poor thing.

Not a lot of snow in London, snow is a rarity here. I got my washing mainly dry on the line this morning, though until the sun reached it, some of it was stiff and frozen. It was bitterly cold, and my cuddle with Hartley was shorter than he wanted. He was curling up on my lap preparing for a snooze when I stood up and headed back indoors to the warmth of the flat. I didn’t think it was going to snow, the forecast showed a twenty per cent chance but the skies were blue. But as I knuckled down to some of the endless paperwork the room became very dark, and I looked up to see real snow, serious snow, swirling about. It started to settle. For about half an hour it continued, then stopped. Tonight there is some left, a smattering, and it will freeze, so tomorrow pavements will be icy and treacherous.

But it is pretty.

I had to photograph the honey fungus on the cherry tree to send pictures to a tree surgeon so I took a few more photos of the garden while I was at it. I don’t know where the robin was, but this male blackbird seemed happy enough.

Blackbird

I checked the bird feeders to make sure the resident avian community won’t starve.

Bird feeders

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Writing aloud

Last year  a man who had boasted of groping women was elected President of the United States. He dismissed his comments as locker room talk, and many women still voted for him. Older Nephew reckons he’s been in a fair few locker rooms in his time, and this is not locker room talk. Women who didn’t vote for him  registered how  blatant sexism and misogyny was again disregarded as something minor, unimportant.

On this side of the pond a senior politician has resigned and apologised for behaviours which he says were acceptable ten or fifteen years ago but not now. They were not acceptable ten or fifteen years ago. They have never been acceptable, but they have been accepted. there is a difference.  As Vicky Featherstone, the Royal Court theatre’s artistic director, sad in this interview with the Guardian newspaper, women have put up with this behaviour too long while knowing that some men have abused their positions of power.

Here’s a little of what she has to say:

“The reason I’m so angry is I’m so shocked that we’d got to this point and we’d all accepted it. We all knew about it! We. All. Knew.” What exactly did she know a month ago? “I knew that pretty much every single woman I know had suffered sexual harassment in her life. I knew that, and I’d just accepted that. I’m hardwired to accept it. I’m a feminist, and when I talk about it, it shocks me. But I had literally accepted it, like I accept that we have a class system. I’d accepted it like I accept that there are homeless people. And that’s just bizarre – but it’s what we’ve done. And then suddenly someone speaks out, and you start to think, why are we as a society accepting of this situation?”

Read the rest, here’s the link.

More of the boys’ room joking was apparent on HIGNFY on Friday night. The two teams were men, the guest arbiter, a woman. When they joshed and trivialised the women’s complaints, I, and I imagine thousands of other women, felt that old ignored and sinking feeling. I’d missed the start of the programme and the introductions, I didn’t recognise the man next to Ian Hislop. He deftly demonstrated his lack of understanding of the issue when he talked about Michael Fallon’s harassment of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer when instead of condemning Fallon’s behaviour he described his actions as brave, on the grounds that Ms Hartley-Brewer is “a big strong girl”. Continue reading

Not a Bad Life

As timing goes, it was pretty good. I'd been back on dasBoot rather less than thirty seconds after a longish (in terms of time rather than distance) walk with my camera when the heavens parted and there was a brief but determined shower of rain. Now it's shaping up to be another lovely evening.

 

Today I had decided to write. Some of you will now that a few years ago I started a collection of short stories about the Greek gods. These grew until I had around 18,000 words and I realised I was writing a novel. Lots of things happened at the same time: Mother's death and its aftermath, giving up my salaried part-time job and going completely freelance, Aunt beginning to fail. I think these things contributed to the cessation of my Greek gods stories, but the main reason was feeling I needed to structure what I had written, to think about what the point if the stories was. I stopped enjoying them and stopped writing them.

 

However, they have stayed with me. From time to time I have wondered how Hera is getting on, if her walking boots are still conker bright; if Hades and Persephone have managed the makeover of the Underworld; if Zeus has seen even a glimpse of the light regarding his behaviour; and how Poseidon and Amphitrite's business is going. I have wondered what Max and Dr Jones are up to, if Evangelia has moved to another job, if the Goddesses'Guild is thriving. Continue reading

A Thank-You to Readers of This Blog

I know; I don't blog for days then suddenly you can't stop me. Tonight I am at das Boot. I'll stay until Tuesday, maybe Wednesday if I have enough clean clothes. I've checked the number of contact lenses I have but not my socks.

Tonight when I stood watching the swans and geese in the adjoining field and MasterB sniffing at a lavender bush, content ed and relaxed until another boater called out to a friend and he slunk back to the pontoon and on board, I thought it was our little bit of heaven. Then a moment ago, Himself came and climbed on me, touched my nose with his, purred and then settle to look at the night and things I cannot see, and I realised that much as I love das Boot, it is just a boat unless MasterB is here; then we are captain and mate, happy in our little floating home for home.

I met up with Sophie Scott in London a few days ago. She's a fellow blogger who has rather fallen by the wayside. She first commented on my blog several years ago, maybe six or seven years, at this time of year, my birthday, and I read her words sitting where I am now, in the fore cabin of das Boot. She is one of several bloggers I have met, and probably the one who is most intimately acquainted with the tough time I was having for several years. Years when blogging took on a greater personal significance. Years when blogging and photography were means to achieve balance in my life. Continue reading

In Praise of Literacy

Jeanette Winterson. Amazing. Have you read her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? If not, I am almost jealous of you, because you still have it to savour for the first time. An extraordinary book about an extraordinary life.

 

I’m glad she chose happy.

She certainly looked happy on Thursday night.

Celia and I trekked from the wilds of Se17 where we have only recently stopped painting ourselves blue, to the self-consciously sophisticated quarter of Notting Hill to hear JW talk about her new book, The Gap of Time, a reimagined version of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

It was more than a talk, more than a reading, it was a performance. At first the sound system was overwhelmingly loud, but fortunately they got it sorted.

Naturally I want to read the book now, having passed up the possibility to buy it along with my ticket. The trouble is, my bookshelves are groaning. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I cull them, how much I try to restrict my book habit to library copies, there are always disorderly piles of them on every surface. Continue reading

Deborah (100 word challenge)

Many workplaces have a Deborah. Her currency is lies and innuendo. She’s a lunchtime gossip, a whisperer in corridors. She exploits minor jealousies and foments discontent. Hers is a realm built on divide and rule where her subjects eye each other with learned mistrust.

She’s not intelligent, but she’s sharp; quick to recognise opportunity. Her smiles are as false as her vaunted honesty. She targets her victims and coddles her favourites. Continue reading

Duvet Days and Cultural Craic

It's weather that tells you to curl up on a sofa with the papers or a book. Yesterday I *babysat* the puppy while everyone else attended a funeral. There were three funerals locally. Some wanted to show their faces and pay their respects at all of them.

Cousin lit a fire before she left. Yes it was that cold. Pip thought it was a great idea.

The two adult dogs, no doubt correctly reading the attitudes of the humans around them, also decided it was a day for little activity. A duvet day, Cousin called it.

The puppy, aka the Thuglet, was not on the same page. As Pip and Westie Boy snuggled into warm beds, she had just one idea on her mind; to make them play. She really didn't want to take no for an answer. Even when that no was uttered in increasingly impatient and irritated growls.

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