Monday, May 31, 2010


or, The Interior - now that the loft is finished! Tomorrow, maybe, the scene at dawn - I'd forgotten that I planned on documenting this today until I had only artificial light by which to show the tall space. Nonetheless, as this shows, it's unbelievably tranquil - except that the long wooden floor becomes a kitty racetrack at night. One has a sense of being perched right up in the trees. And it has air conditioning. Oh, the deep irony of having, at last, constructed an ideal room - the kind of room I've always wanted to inhabit - and not being able to take it with one anywhere.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


I do, indeed, heart watermelons, and it was something as a shock coming to the US and finding that this fruit - which I'd always regarded as somewhat exotic - bears quite definite class associations (let alone racial ones). My first experience of watermelons was, indeed, of not eating them, when on a school trip to Tunisia in 1969 (in point of fact, a stop on an educational cruise on SS Uganda, and although I'd joined up with a group from my school, I had indeed found myself on it quite independently, through coming first in a quiz competition run by the magazine Pony. Finding out the answers to the 100 questions that were set provided, in many ways, a very good introduction to research methods...). We were warned by our leaders - the school games teachers, Miss Dinn and Miss Haydock, not to eat watermelons, for we were told that they'd been injected with water, almost certainly, to make them juicier - and that this water would carry dysentry, or worse...

But in 1995, when Peter Gordon - a New Zealand chef - opened his wonderful little restaurant (I never thought it weathered its move to Soho) in All Saint's Road, Notting Hill, called the Sugar Club, he served what was, then, a quite extraordinary salad. And I carry on making it, and we had it this evening - basically it involved chunks of watermelon, and mint, and tiny bits of chopped onion, and goat's cheese crumbles, and a dash of olive oil, and lime juice, and toasted pumpkin seeds. It's the most perfect summer dish.

And no, I didn't realize, when I took the picture, that it would come out looking quite so suggestive.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

waiting around in hospitals

is what we've been doing for much of today - or, more precisely, we spent about eight and a half hours in ER at the RWJ hospital for Alice to be told that she probably has a mild case of gastric flu (why the panic? you might ask - because she had a colonoscopy three days ago, and one should pay attention to one's digestive symptoms after such procedures...). But en route we were told that she might have appendicitis, might need immediate surgery, etc. So it look a long time - in what appeared to be the most dismally run and dingy of all ERs either of us had ever spent time in.

And as ever, in an ER, one's surrounded by human misery in various degrees, and can't really photograph it... But on the other hand, this sums up other people waiting, their privacy just about visually concealed - but not orally. And loud and clear came the translations to and from Spanish: "So they didn't tell her she was pregnant, and just cleaned out the uterus, right?" - a procedure carried out in the neighborhood, one gathered, for $102. But what sad stories of women's health care around here (or in many places) lie behind this? Was it just cheap medicine? Or a botched abortion, covered up as something else? The hospital staff were quietly patient in getting to the bottom of this and other cases within earshot - very many of them complete testimony to the need for universal health care before one gets to the point of signing away half a day and night to sitting with peeling walls and faintly bilious, badly fitting check curtains.

Friday, May 28, 2010

impressions of New York

...quite literal impressions: here is a cheerful little group who are taking a wax rubbing, or a soft pencil rubbing, of a very pleasant New York brick wall. But why? when there are so many more interesting surfaces by way of gratings and covers and grilles? One can only imagine some other, quite different eventual project, for which this is a means to an end...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

between the lines

- the lines, that is, of the notebook in which I've dutifully taken notes of department chair's business all year. These scrawls are the very end of the notes from the last SAS chairs' meeting - and contain the promise, threat, or warning that each department will have to produce a Snapshot of its activity, its workloads, its support structures. Running under, if not between the lines of today's meeting were the words budget cuts, budget cuts, budget cuts - with all of us in limbo, knowing that bad things are likely to hit, but not knowing where, or when, or of what magnitude.

That last sentence sounds rather like a description of Los Angeles earthquake anxiety, and may therefore have crept in subliminally. For these are almost certainly the last chairs' meeting notes that I'll take as chair. A number of blog readers, of course, even if they haven't known directly what Alice and I are up to, have read between the lines of this blog and come to their own (correct) conclusions. And this raises a whole lot of questions - and has raised them for weeks - about what's bloggable - let alone photographable - material or not (ah, those not 100% recognizable views - except to the cognoscenti - of downtown LA): about how private one's on line musings can ever be, and about who constitutes one's audience. For yes, USC want Alice back, and they've lured me there to take up a position - starting in the summer of 2011 - jointly in English and Art History, which is quite explicitly and designedly an invitation to be interdisciplinary in the stuff that I do - which couldn't be better. But we swayed every which way before making up our minds, right up to signing - which isn't to say that we weren't leaning westwards, increasingly, but certain factors determined the final capitulation. And no, those aren't for public consumption (though in some of their manifestations they were quite public enough, thank you...). And even then, I wasn't going to jump up and down in cyberspace explaining things - not until I'd told my grad students, anyway. And I wasn't going to say anything to them until they'd finished paper writing. And - as was the case when I left Oxford, in 2001, leaving them is the hardest part of thinking about going. And yet, as I found, they were the people with whom I was most constantly in touch, right through their dissertation writing and (successful) job seeking - so I know that those transitions are very workable.

But one thing that I've really learned through all this is that a blog - this one, anyway - is a million light years away from a journal. On some of the most fraught and angst ridden days - that's when I've needed flowers, or a shaft of sunlight, or one of Highland Park's odder windows. Indeed, I've found it curiously and atypically hard to do journal writing - perhaps because there's been so much talking involved. But for those perspicacious readers who thought that there was something fishy and obscurantist going on - yes, there was, and now it's been let out of the lines that caged it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the tower

It's nearly, very nearly, finished - which, given that we've had contractors here since January, and they've started to feel like part of the family, is a Good Thing. This tower - looking here like a northern European barn of some kind, or a wannabe grain elevator - proved necessary to bring the stairs going up to the now-converted loft up to code: there is certainly, now, plenty of headroom. And since the loft has a/c, and it's very hot outside, we might even inflate an Aeron bed and sleep up there for the first time.

But. The big but is that when we began the construction we had no intention whatsoever of moving for a long, long time. And now we will be heading back to California by this time next year. And this was not predicted, or predictable. And this is not exactly a time to start trying to sell an upgraded house. And now every picture I take of it looks like a realtor's carefully posed shot (not that there are a whole lot of grain elevators on the market in Highland Park). So if anyone out there might be tempted by some high-quality NJ real estate... I found myself singing its praises to a stranger (a stranger who by chance lives in a house we've always deeply coveted, right round the corner) in a doctor's waiting room in Princeton today: perhaps word of mouth is the way to go...?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

a week tomorrow

we will be on the road to Santa Fe, with the cats. The kitchen window sill points in that direction, with two Acoma Pueblo pottery cats, and one rather crinkled red chile. I was speculating the other day that one reason I'm good at getting packed and being on the road is that I so, so looked forward to going on vacation as a child. Admittedly this was usually somewhere damp and mountainous (the Lake District, mid Wales), where my father would point our car down roads that read Unpassable for Motors (probably the root of my intrepid traveling characteristics), and my mother would make sardines sandwiches for us to eat on long wet hikes, huddled in the shelter of a dry stone wall with some equally miserable sheep. But it was Away, and so I would take the little leather attache case that used to be my mother's high school case, and make sure that it had in it essentials, like a drawing book and pencils, and a couple of books (a new Ruby Ferguson, perhaps, like Jill Enjoys Her Ponies - it was only recently that I found out that the Armada editions of her novels, which I read, were apparently abridged ones; maybe an Agatha Christie); a notebook for the Holiday Journal, and a plastic pony or two. I'm not sure that my essential packing is all that different now...

Monday, May 24, 2010

history and earrings

One of my many current enthusiastic tidying up, clearing out, sorting and classifying projects (probably all a form of procrastination - I have a large bag of graduate papers, too) is my jewelry drawer, which has taken on a life of its own, rather like kudzu, with earrings sprouting and nesting in the tendrils of old, complex, and hopelessly knotted necklaces. Very few of these will, of course, actually be thrown out (I even keep damaged, dilapidated single earrings in some kind of misguided trust that someday they, and some glue, and some kind of backing, will result in a one-off, highly crafty pin). But this reluctance to jettison old jewelry is, as much as anything, a reluctance to throw out memories - like the earrings I bought in Florence market back in around 1981.

This particular pair came from a store down the Cowley Road, some time in the mid 1990s. They are both my largest pair, and quite possibly my lightest - made of titanium foil, I believe, and colored like dragonfly wings. They don't often see the light of day (too tempting for the cats' paws, for a start) - but I remember very well wearing them to a party at Elaine Showalter's house in 1998, and her admiring them extravagantly. I was flattered beyond measure...that she would actually notice such things (I didn't then know her at all well...). Nearly all the little shiny baubles currently covering my desk top likewise have their own miniature histories.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

more abandoned chairs of Highland Park

It's nearly summer; it's trash today tomorrow - and the old chairs and sofas are starting to congregate at the kerbside. This blog wouldn't be happy without its occasional discarded chair, sagging soggily in the drizzle: these were on South First, a couple of houses up from two kitchen chairs huddled together with a rather ugly plastic basketball.

The question is starting to loom: should we add to their number? Or more to the point, does anyone want a high quality dark blue very comfortable sofa that comes apart in square units - two with corners, two without - so it could function as one long sofa, or fit in a corner, or be two small sofas, or even be four armchairs? With lots of cushions? In almost impeccable condition, yours for taking away? Eight years ago or so it cost me a ridiculous amount of money, and I've never much taken to it - but of course because of the Ridiculous Amount and the fact that it's barely used, I completely resist expelling it to the elements. Is it worth advertising it on Craig's list? Will it make its debut at the HP annual yard sale on October 9th? together with the couple of boxes that we shipped across country from LA last year, with all the trinkets that didn't sell there? I refuse to ship them (or the sofa) back again...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

horticulturally challenged

It's too late at night to be wandering around it an iris? is it a gladiolus? I think it's an iris. A flag iris, maybe? It's certainly locally grown - or at least, it had a little label in Whole Foods claiming that it was. If it were earlier in the evening, one could go down to the wonderful garden of a small house on the corner of Graham St. and S. Fifth, where the owner has an extraordinary collection of irises, lilies, and for all I know gladioli: all of them arranged, staked, grouped, clumped, and above all, labelled. It's a real labor of love, and every year looks magnificent - both as a triumph of gardening, and also of careful organization. I have no idea - I realize - if one type of corm (I think they grow from corms? or bulbs?) is easier than another; if the NJ soil is especially propitious; if the hen who lives in the house opposite them and sometimes struts around likes to nibble on them. But this pale orange and rust flower, and its cream and purple, and pure white counterparts are certainly testimony to the fact that we have suddenly been precipitate into summer.

Friday, May 21, 2010

the strange sad windows of Highland Park

There are, of course, a number of contenders for this title at any given time, but my specimen of the day is the shop that actually calls itself BS [no BS] - the Brunswick Supply Company. What, or whom, does it supply? According to its fascia: restaurant, janitorial, paper. It always has a number of unhappy looking goods on display - the kind of thing that one might buy if one was having a huge party (but indeed, would probably slope off to Target to purchase), or, indeed, opening a bad, bound to fail restaurant. There are piles of white (and badly designed geometric) plates, large aluminum platters, racks, pans, cleaning materials, and the ladles (they are the most tempting items in an unpromising bunch) that can just be glimpsed in the background to this picture.

And then there is this window. It's not a store that appears to sell condiments, but maybe I'm wrong. For here is one bottle of Lee and Perrins Worcester sauce, one bottle of tabasco sauce, one bottle of Tree Ripe grenadine syrup, one off-white plastic container, and one metal container, maybe for measuring things. Is this meant to draw custom in, to stop the busy passer by in her tracks, and think that yes! this is the day she really, really must get some grenadine syrup? This surely wins a prize for the most artless display possible - although I may post some other Highland Park contenders in the future.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Eventually, Alice made it onto a plane back from LA, and we went to celebrate at Sophie's, with dinner and particularly welcome (and well deserved) cosmos - complete with elegantly twisted orange peel. There is, of course, a whole genre - or at least sub-genre - of photos that blog-the-food-one-eats, but I'm convinced that drinks often make for better pictures: this one, anyway, was posed against a tea light that was sputtering away in the summer's evening.

I do have a conviction that one of these days, I will be able to do my Last Piece of Admin, and will reclaim my life, and maybe even get to a point where I read books - other than up-market thrillers on airplanes (as ever, I recommend the latest Linwood Barclay, improbable though his plots may be) and start thinking again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

dawn's early lights

Up well before dawn to catch an early plane out of LA, we tiptoed around the cats - that is, Lucy and DandeLion's mother and brothers - making coffee, trying not to create too much disturbance, avoiding too much light hitting our own eyes. By the time we were leaving the house, to be sure, it was pretty much light, so we had one last deep inhale of jasmine blossom, and hit the road in the rental car (a curious creature that looked a bit like a shrunken hearse, and claimed to run on ethanol).

But that first phrase - "an early plane" - isn't quite an accurate one. We were on two planes - Alice had airmiles on a CO flight, and I had a much cheaper (and airmile-earning) flight on AA. At LAX, on our cellphones, we raised cups of coffee to each other, in our separate terminals, vowing - despite the financial practicalities of the above arrangement - not to take separate flights in future. Nonetheless, we thought we had synchronicity - we were due to arrive at EWR within a quarter of an hour of each other.

Alice, however, is still in LA. I turned on my phone to a barrage of increasingly anxious emails from a plane that needed repairing, was unloaded, loaded up again, passengers again taken off - so tomorrow morning, again at 5 a.m., she will be up to the light of these very same lanterns, re-smelling the hedge, and trying again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

rental property

It's not very encouraging to go and pay a visit to Alice's Silver Lake house and find - among various other problems - the removal of the window in a closet to put in some junky a/c unit; the replacement of the expensive shower head, and above all the fact that an extra person seems to be living there - that the people renting it have never bothered to report (as they should have done according to the terms of the lease) the retaining wall that's developed a very obvious - indeed horrendous-looking - serious crack. So I have been patrolling, camera in hand, taking pictures of the Evidence. Oh, and that piece of furniture to the right of the picture - that's a wicker chair on top of our large oak dining room table, which had been safe and living in the garage. But the garage is full of stored furniture and boxes, and this - and another smaller table - have been left out to the elements. And these elements have, of late, been startlingly damp...

author parking

Here is Alice's reserved parking place! at the back of Book Soup on Sunset, where she did a stunning reading from Hot Stuff this evening. Indeed, I was so struck by the excitement of the labeled chair that, after crouching down and taking its picture - complete with the background palm trees - I then got back into the car, without moving the chair so that we could actually park. Another one for the chair collection, though...

Monday, May 17, 2010

commencement and Christie

I am still mystified as to whom, exactly, the two signers at Rutgers commencement were signing to. It didn’t seem – though I could have been wrong – that any deaf graduates or graduating seniors were seated in front of them, and there were certainly no parents wh might have benefited from their rendition in view. Could they be being beamed to a separate screen? I doubt it – no obvious camera (one thinks that their role might have been more obviously useful if they’d occupied a small rectangle somewhere in the corner of the large screens that were transmitting the ceremony on a vibrant and enlarged scale. Mostly the cameras were focused on the speakers, but occasionally on the audience – o my horror I saw more than one appearance of myself (for I was in the third row, and Vulnerable) looking unappetizingly tired and blotchy. The interpreters, however, kept up energetically with their task, looking especially expressive when they were conveying the glee club imitating the bell of Old Queens.

In a fantasy world, they would have been offering a commentary on the bloated, bland apparition of Chris Christie. I guess it’s mandatory of the University to offer the new Governor an honorary degree. His speech itself was boilerplate, presumably cobbled together by some speechwriter with the aid of A Hundred and One Best Graduation Speeches: the value of freedom; the freedom to be oneself, to take risky choices, not just to be content with the familiar, to follow one’s passions, which might not be the same thing as one’s ostensible academic subject, to go off and be as creatively exciting as Bruce Springsteen (if only he’d attended his state university, and not Ocean County Community College). Yadda yadda yadda. What was far more interesting was watching his face when listening to other speeches (and does he really think that the audience doesn’t see him get bored and look at his program for a while in the middle of Eleanor Smeal’s words? The only time it broke into an attentive human expression was when one of the two student speakers attacked a certain TV show for ruining the image of the Jersey Shore.

There were surprisingly few boos and cat calls, considering. I restrained myself to non-applause. But I‘m pleased that my camera performed what’s at least a mild act of sabotage: the Rutgers red of his gown, when photographed appearing on the big screen, has turned into a strangely bilious yellow.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Earlier this week, in the V&A, I took some shots of a Rape of Persephone sculpture. In a few weeks' time, I'll be taking an Alternative Photography Processes course with Christopher James - I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that - and I know that I want to do something with one or two of these images. And, therefore, pomegranates.

But where to find one of these autumnal fruits in mid May? Certainly not in Stop & Shop, though I'd had my thoughts fixed on scouring Gelson's, in Silver Lake. However, yesterday I was picking up a bed from an old friend (o.k., full disclosure - it was one we'd bought together in 1989), thinking that it might work in the now nearly-finished loft. I'd underestimated both the effects of storing a wooden bed in a slightly damp cellar for a long long time, and also the ghostly claw marks - the extensive ghostly claw marks - of long deceased cats. It is, of course, on inspection, an odiferous, scratched, and melancholy bed. Not a bright idea. But ... this is the kind of friend who is rather bad at throwing things out (evidently). And there, probably left over from Christmas, was a sinister, blotched, slightly decaying pomegranate, which I seized upon with huge enthusiasm. It was just what I was seeking ... and here it is, lit up by candles: citronella candles, which I was burning in an optimistic attempt to fend off the large and hungry mosquitoes who are now patrolling the New Jersey nights.

Friday, May 14, 2010


ah, chairs: white, pristine, and empty. There are a whole lot of Rutgers red ones behind where I stood to take this, but these are far more photogenic. Voorhees Mall is being readied up for Commencement on Sunday, and the ground floor of Murray is snaked through with cables, the graduate lounge having been taken completely over by elaborate sound equipment, as though we were about to have a Springsteen show outside. Sadly we're not, though I'm very glad to have a decent commencement speaker this year in Eleanor Smeal, the feminist activist. On the other hand, Chris Christie is getting an honorary degree. Maybe the occasion will so wow him that he'll decide to make scything cuts after all. Or maybe not. On hearing that he will be robing up in Writers House, in Murray Hall's basement, I was very tempted to leave a piece of aging fish there to ripen a little more in this sultry weather.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Barry!

Today we celebrated Barry Qualls's 65th birthday (just think! in London he could now have a free Tube and Bus Pass), and did so in some style - afternoon tea in the Geology Museum (stunning cake baked by Carla Yanni, which was fundamentally chocolate with some kind of coconut flavored softish tube running through it - I don't even like coconut, officially, but this was delicious; cup cakes; strawberries, and hot coffee that I managed to spill over my wrist and just managed to stop from seeping into a case containing a long dry bone). I didn't even know that the Geology Museum existed - still less that it had a rather censorious unwrapped mummy in it: she really looked very disapproving of our rituals. And there was a huge mammoth, and a couple of walrus tusks from NJ, and lots of stones. These, I guess, are standard issue in geology museums.

A number of us had contributed to a book of reminiscences about Barry (my coup de grace was ventriloquizing Queen Victoria - in fact cribbed directly from a birthday letter to her uncle, on Balmorral notepaper that I'd downloaded (with a letter on it), and photoshopped out the letter's text, leaving in only the address, Balmoral Castle, and a gloomy etching of a stag as heading). But here Barry is holding the most extraordinary and memorable high kitsch gift - a cake cover, embellished with shells and, yes, a mermaid. Oh, and he's wearing a button that says Top Dog on its ribbon. Shouldn't that be Top Cat? (although those of us of a certain age from the UK will think of that as a brand of canned cat food - so much so that the TV show Top Cat had to be renamed "Boss Cat" when it was aired in Britain, for fear of confusion - or free advertising...).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

home and away

There are few things odder than starting the morning in Wimbledon, in the springtime, with my parents (my father, here, a miniature figure neatly framed by the clematis blossom), and ending the day in damp New Brunswick, with what seemed like the university Glee Club in full male throated voice outside Old Queens, for no apparent reason. Both scenes have green grass in them, but that's about it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

remembering Karl

Highgate Cemetery is a very quiet place to wander around - full of quasi-gothic tombstones and ivy, and - I am thinking ahead to my course in the fall on Memory - with plenty of objects of memorialization to ponder. Consider the monstrously large bust to Karl Marx - the only tomb that seemed to be attracting any visitors (a rather earnest Eastern European couple, photographing themselves against the tomb). In fact, he used to be buried in a more modest plot a little further back, but so many visitors trampled their worshipful way to it that he was dug up and relocated in 1956, together with a huge head by Laurence Bradshaw.

I was much intrigued by the little offerings to Marx - pebbles, a dead rose, a Japanese toy on a black ribbon reading Bad Attitude, the notes left in Chinese and in English script. My favorite is the one on the left that reads "One day, friend, one day the sun will no longer be eclipsed by the moon." Which sounds like the kind of thing that I might have written as graffiti around 1974, but I can't quite puzzle it through. [You should click on the - composite - photo for full detailed effect, if you haven't done so already]. Overall, it wasn't much of a cemetery for flowers on graves, apart from the planted ones - bluebells, and thyme, and forget-me-nots (it should have been sunny, but was grey and lowering - I'm sure Marx would have approved of this, on the day that a Tory Old Etonian walked through the door of No. 10.). Douglas Adams had a lot of pencils stuck in the ground, presumably by admirers, around his grave, and then I came, quite suddenly, upon Malcolm McClaren's new resting place, decorated by pots of geraniums. The little note here - for it's gathering them already - reads "PUNK NOT DEATH."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday - washday

Do other families still keep to these old traditions? Monday is wash day. Tuesday, tomorrow, will be fish day - because the fish van comes round (and something will be bought for the real fish day, Friday, as well). I'm not quite sure how to explain the drying on the clothes line - I'm sure my parents' washing machine does drying as well - or maybe it doesn't? - but this is either because freshly aired and sunned clothes smell better, or because my father's eco-sensibility is strong. Paper, cartons, cans, bottles, bits of plastic - this is the most recycling conscious household I know, with everything neatly sorted into its right kind of container.

I do, though, find the drying clothes poignant as well as worthy - my father's cotton vest (aka singlet), the nearly threadbare towels. It's been a good day for textiles - I went to the Quilts exhibition at the V&A - and among many recent and imaginative examples was a deep indigo quilt made by Jane Whiteley in 2009, called Sides to the Middle, Fingers to the Bone - looking back to the time when old worn sheets were cut in two and resewn, with the former outer edges now on the inside. In Whiteley's piece, the impresses caused by bodies are signaled through red stitching. It's a long time since I've encountered one of those reworked pieces of linen, with a slightly lumpy seam up the center - probably one of the earliest forms of careful recycling that I knew.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

a different kind of dreaming spire

Some time in the 1970s, it must have been, my father - trained in law and engineering, and working for a large construction firm - was involved with building the dock where large oil rigs for the Brent oil field in the North Sea were constructed. And as a memento - here's an oil rig in a bottle. My favorite part of this surreal, clever piece of memorabilia is the tiny glass helicopter on the left hand side. It sits in the Oxford flat, looking uncomfortably out of place against leafy North Oxford. Unfortunately, none of the shots that I took showing two large ducks snoozing on the grass below quite came out right, although the wild fowl allusion would be an apposite one - not because of the horrible pollution going on in the Gulf of Mexico (and I should say that the Brent field was Shell, not BP) - but because Shell, optimistically - or with proleptic guilt? - named all their oil fields after sea birds - so this was labelled after the Brent Goose.

Thinking about this took me right back to my father's Life as a Businessman in the 70s, and to one grim evening in particular, when I accompanied him in lieu of my mother (whose own mother had just died) to entertain some Important Business Guests. We went to a private dining club in Knightsbridge, somewhere behind Harrods, called The Belfry (which now seems to be Mosimann's - oddly, a quick piece of Googling revealed Abba performing there in 1982), where all I remember eating is mangetout (eat WHOLE PEA PODS?) - and then on to the nightclub at, I think, the top of the Dorchester. Said IBGs were very drunk by this time. So, probably, was I. I have a Bad Memory of going over to the band - being egged on by these nauseating guys - to ask them to play something by the Stones. No success. And an even worse memory of one of the IBGs grabbing me in the corridor outside and trying to kiss me - bad move. But Oh Horrors - might I have been about to lose my father's firm a big contract? How could I tell? What to do? Reader, I am ashamed to say that I lived up to my Escort Role with a client who had Overstepped some Mark - tapped him on his beastly buttocks, and told him he was a Bad Boy. He did, meekly, back off. The whole evening was a very unpleasant glimpse of the masculine world of corporate business c.1975.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Sleeping in my old bedroom means not just sleeping on a very uncomfortable bed, but with my old books (and yes, I know, I could have played around with the perspective function in Photoshop, but I'm off to catch a bus to the Unwi-fied Oxford Apartment, and need to post...). A shelf of Puffins - that whimsical junior offshoot of Penguins, and altogether a rounder and more cuddly sort of bird - mostly bought with 2/6d - or even 5/- (yes, that's how one used to write five shillings, pre-decimal coinage) book tokens or postal orders given at birthdays, or maybe saved up for, in my money box (or rather, globe shaped tin, with the world printed on it - doubtless manufactured as an early incitement to global capitalism among the young). Since I read these over and over again, I still feel as though I know Ballet Shoes, or The Railway Children, or Fell Farm Campers off by heart, and opening them takes me straight back to being seven or eight. Then there's a row of books that I had when I was yet younger - Beatrix Potter, and Alison Uttley. Taking one of these out at random - Little Grey Rabbit and the Weasels (1947), I find a strange tale of sexism and patriotism: it's o.k. to offer up domestic labor voluntarily, to look after Squirrel and Hare at home - but when kidnapped by weasels (a thinly disguised threat of predatory gipsies) - this is (explicitly) slave labor as LGB washes, and irons, and sings. Sings - among other things, "Rule Britannia." As Wise Owl - who rescues her - reminds her, at the end, indeed, Britons never, never, never

And then there's the row of Arthur Ransome, from which I took all kinds of fesity role models (ignoring Susan and Titty, however. Were girl children in the 1930s, presumably christened Letitia, really called Titty? it seems like a liability...), and then another row of solid children's classics, in hardback - and therefore probably Christmas presents to me in their own right: the Borrowers books; Bedknob and Broomstick - good on witches - and Winnie the Pooh - my mother's copies, and then my own bright green The House at Pooh Corner, which I remember reading in the back of the car in North Wales, on vacation, when I was about three. So - reading on the bus today (Jean Hanff Korelitz's Admission, which is a peculiarly compelling novel set with a background of the Princeton admissions system - social realism with a scary vengeance) will mean that I've been reading while in motion for over fifty years. No wonder I don't get travel sick.

As for continuity and rupture over 50 years...a bright green parrokeet has just flown past the window - just like LA. Most surreal.

Friday, May 7, 2010


To open the door under the stairs in my parents' house (stash of wine, boxes of chocolate, miscellaneous stacked paintings) is to encounter an old friend. I made this particular memento mori when I was about eight, and it originally hung in a - a what? a kind of ghost corridor at the back of no. 11 Hillside, where the Foxes lived (the children were Christina, Simon, and Michael - periferal members of the Hillside Gang that was basically Andrew Pemberton, William Watson and myself. And we had it in mind to make a Ghost Train, though of course we didn't have a train. I think that I must have been inspired by the actual ghost train ride that I'd been on at the Battersea Park Fun Fair - a relict of the 1951 Great Exhibition - so we hung up sheets, and went Whooooooo-ooooooo behind them, and hung down bits of string that were meant to be like spiders' webs flapping in faces. And so the Skeleton took pride of place, and then came back to hang in the hall.

My mother can been seen observing, and presumably wondering why ever I'm suddenly taking a photograph of under the stairs. That's to say, of course, that my parents don't know, officially, about this blog. We're not good at sharing stuff - I managed, for the very first time, to slide DandeLion/Fluffy/Bitzi into the conversation this evening - that orange ball of fur that lives under our bed and occasionally emerges to flourish her elegant tail. My mother pulled the kind of face that only she can, when she dreads that we are turning into Loony Cat Ladies. I guess that means that Dande - who is two this month - is now a Skeleton that I have brought out of the Closet.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


So... ten oclock, just about, in England, and it's Election 2010, and the polls are closing, and the exit polls are about to misinform us ... but it should be a thriller, if I can stay awake... it will either be Cameron or not, think today's papers - the Daily Mail going for a terrible Obama rip off, and the |Mirror offering the dread threat of the Toff from Eton. And... the BBC has a new interactive graphic with flying paving stones in a virtual Downing Street... oh, I am such a junkie for election nights, even without, alas, a vote... Big Ben ... 10.00 p.m. ... they are saying a hung parl, with conservatives in the lead - 307, 255, 59... we will see...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

looking down

on the scarf I was wearing to today's departmental meeting (strangulation, anyone?) and to the reception at the President's house to honor Carolyn Williams's scholar-teacher award (and others in different triumphant categories from other departments, other schools) - the whole thing a contest between beautiful early summer and the roar of traffic. I always bring out this scarf at this season - I bought it one year in a pre-reception despair purchase urgent moment, and so it's turned into a personal ritual.

Off to catch plane...out of time...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

bric a brac

Maybe these objects, too, were the residue of someone's attic or basement: they've ended up in an upmarket junk shop on Waverley Place. Oh, such fun to be in NY, even if I was scurrying to a dissertation defense at NYU in the certitude that I'd be late (I wasn't), and had to scurry back again to Administrative Chores. But I gave myself the rare treat after the defense of wandering around in the East Village, reflecting on how it's still the old, residential NY that I explored in the late 70s - but then always with the apprehension that one was about to walk onto a Very Unsafe Feeling Block. Now, there are street people pushing shopping carts, and elderly Ukrainian women leaning out of top floor windows, and a stooping gentleman planting out very spindly geraniums in his window boxes, but interspersed with these is an unmistakable air of young multi-racial hipsterdom. It's a New York with a very human scale, and I was instantly hatching - not fantail dove eggs, but plans to try and live there, somehow, for a month or so...I still carry around with me a feeling that NYC is home - or one of my homes - but that actually inhabiting it eludes me.

Monday, May 3, 2010


One of the many objects displaced from the attic is a faded beige-ish box with a barely visible inscription - in my writing - PENCILS - to which is added, underneath, in my father's confident script, "& things." The things are now rather grubby and sad - like the old colored pencils that accompany them: a bird's skull; a toy sheep made of wool; another wooden toy sheep - seen here - that I think was once part of a Noah's Ark set; a perfectly hideous clay thumb pot with a shit colored glaze (pottery was not my strong suit aged 11); a few shells, and this broken china foal - two legs missing (and not even still in the box, so I must have stored it despite this fatal mutilation). It's nonetheless hard to jettison any of this (not, I know, a propitious sentiment when it comes to trying to clear things out...).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

11 a.m.

Today, the NYT ran a project - photograph "your world" at 11 a.m., and post it to their website. If I hadn't become aware of this at around 10.45 a.m., I might have been more inventive, or thoughtful - as it is, I was running round the house (from which all sunlight had suddenly and emphatically departed) looking for something suitable. Alice was out at Lowe's, buying doorknobs, and a rake to remove sawdust and chips from where the treefellers had left them covering the ivy. Two cats had decided to go under the bed, to glower. Two others were in a very shapeless heap of grey and tabby on the sofa. So what does constitute one's world? My desk might usually be a fit subject, were it not for the fact that I've been trying to tidy my study, and it was heaped with all kinds of things. Probably I should have gone for something like the inside of the fridge, or the plastic ponies that have, indeed, taken up permanent residence in the car - but with only 15 minutes to spare, I found that I was hunting around for something representative yet Artistic.

Though not very Artistic - and of course, to have taken another shot of something else would have meant 11.01. This is the nearly-finished attic (minus the closet doorknobs), with the constructors' power tools. Of course, they do, in and of themselves, seem to represent the Ordinary and Everyday, since they've been there since January, and I'm beginning to think we'll miss their company. The very existence of the loft, moreover, represents a whole other level of problem - it's quite an investment; we may find ourselves selling the house and moving (and that opens up a whole further area of current unbloggability - good and exciting unbloggability, but still...) - yet we can't wait to inhabit it and enjoy it, and have the kitties racing from one end to the other of the new shiny wood floor chasing external squirrels. And of course, none of this context goes into a caption to explain the choice of a shiny piece of woodworking equipment, and I'll now go down in cyber-posterity as a one-time cabinet maker.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


As promised, the tree cutters arrived this afternoon. I missed the demise of the big tree - but here is the final moment of a small cedar - as seen from the stairs window - a tree that (before you feel sorry for it) has a pervasive root system that seems to be weakening the wall just beside it - and hence helping water enter the basement. The eight men worked with ferocious speed and efficiency - one up on high, taking down sections of trunk ten feet or so at a time, and the remainder shoveling branches and trunk into a a monster (and probably shockingly polluting) wood chipper. Then they attacked the trunks with a large rotary blade, pulled a lot of soil over them, and drove off - leaving a strong smell of cedar in the air, and a wonderful view of our house's new tower if you stand at one angle, and a depressingly solid vista of the neighboring apartment block if you stand at another.