Monday, December 31, 2018

the sun goes down on 2018

9 years of end-of-year sunsets in New Mexico: this time it's the hills of Los Feliz, Los Angeles.  In the past, I've just had to look over our back yard wall; this time, I went checking sites a week ago to see where the best sunset view would most likely be ... We're the side of Los Feliz that gets magnificent dawns, and then the evening glow of sun on far mountains - but there is this one spot where you can see to the sea (I promise that's on the horizon), and watch the sun go down (I was waiting for some nervous commentator on NextDoor Los Feliz to post "strange woman hanging around at the top of Amesbury; looks like she's taking pictures of property and cars.")

Ah, 2018 ... I will be glad to see the back of it.  To be sure, the first few months were fine, but after Alice's cancer diagnosis in May, and subsequent treatments; and then my mother's increasing infirmity and death ... things did not go well.  But Alice has just five radiation treatments to go - and about six more infusions of targeted therapy-drugs - increasingly uncomfortable, but she's getting there.  I have to say ... I could do with a week, a month, whatever - of vacation, and the thought that the semester begins again in under a week is causing my heart to sink.  All the same, I found in 2018 that I've got strong reserves of patience, and a fair degree of resilience (unless I'm kidding myself, and everything's repressed ...).  So - having ended the year not just by looking at the sun setting, but by giving large chunks of end-of-year money to a range of good causes, I'm determined to look forward with optimism: not just personal optimism, but to a better political year, too - in the US, in the UK.  Please ...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

southern california winter

... so shocking is the effect of oranges and roses in mid-winter than I significantly over-exposed the white roses ... not all the photo-shop "highlight" slider in the world will, it seems, restore any subtle texture to them.  On the other hand, this does register, perfectly, how startling it is to see juxtapositions like this in late December.

That being said, it's freezing cold, and we have taken to hot water bottles to warm our feet - only it's something of a battle between said feet, and the cats, who believe that hot water bottles were surely invented for their comfort and pleasure.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

beyond our back fence

If you climbed right up the bank of the left, you'd be in our back yard.  For some reason, we don't have a gate in the fence straight into Griffith Park - maybe out of some kind of feeling that we don't want to look too accessible? So we walk down the street, along past another few houses, and up into the park; or past a couple of houses up the street, and then slip down a different bank to a path that joins up with the ones that you see above.  After the early rains this winter, the grass has started to come through a startling shade of emerald green - subtitled yes, this is late December (and it's cold!  It's going to go down to 43 degrees tonight!  That's sweater and scarf weather, around here ...). 

Friday, December 28, 2018


Resolutely marching towards 2019 ... this is the forward motion of someone with only six more radiation sessions to go.  Or ... the enthusiastic steps of someone (with me in hot pursuit) happy to have reached the ocean before the sun actually set.  Meeting a friend for a drink at 5.15, we were determined to have at least a token walk on the beach first - it having taken us a long time to get there (or me a long time to get there, peering at the westward road with the low sun in my eyes the whole way ...).  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

metal horse

I've seen this metal horse numerous times on Alhambra Avenue, close to Keck Hospital - but almost always, when going over there, I've been driving, and so unable to take its picture.  Today, Alice, en route to infusion and radiation (7 more daily radiation sessions to go, and then 6 more infusion appointments, at 3-weekly intervals), was able to drive herself (tiring though radiation may be, and she's painfully sore, too, it's not debilitating in the same way that chemo is).  But I went with her to provide company, and to wind down the window and capture all this metallic equine magnificence.  I can't find out anything about it on line, but it seems to have reared up out of a scrap metal establishment.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Boxing Day walk

It always mystifies me that the US, such a lover of public holidays, ignores Boxing Day (I think I write this lament annually).  Because it's in the strange hinterland between Christmas and New Year, some people are very much still Not At Work (and thank you, everyone, who didn't email me today - much appreciated) - but yet, the Stock Exchange is back at work; the banks are open, and so on.  No Boxing Day - no tradition of a Boxing Day walk, to try and get rid of some of the effects of all that holiday eating.  But that doesn't stop us appropriating it: we walked round the Silver Lake reservoir - many fewer people than usual - and marveled, as ever, at having this ten minutes drive away from our house.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


This mightn't have been the Christmas that, in an ideal world, we'd have planned - but we've actually celebrated in style, and that includes decorations - the felt baubles that I showed yesterday; a wreath on the door; a tree (a very diminutive tree, the last potted one left at Trader Joe's, and slightly differently abled, as arboreal representatives go); rosemary and camelias (off the bush!) and shiny silver balls decorating the dining table, and a jug full of golden leaves.   In the background - one of the paper-white narcissi bulbs in a glass jar that I also found at TJ's; bought whole shelf-load of them, and they've all come out in flower today.

Monday, December 24, 2018

baubles in the fog

It was very foggy this morning: these felt balls are strung across the back window of our living room - looking more festive than one might guess from this, because the fog muted everything ... 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Venice, California

Venice, California really isn't like anywhere else, especially on a relatively misty December morning - maybe a bit like Torcello (but without the real Venice in the distance) - it's very quiet and magical, and leaves me full of house-envy and bird ogling.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

the expressiveness of Silver Lake

It's been a couple of months since I've walked around in Silver Lake proper: even if it's continually undergoing gentrification, there's still so much that's quirky to look at; so much ad hoc decoration that's often - as in these two examples - positioned indeterminately between art and accident.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas weather?

This year will be the first Christmas that I've ever spent somewhere sunny and warm.  Because Alice's radiation schedule only gives her one day off, there's no New Mexican frost and/or snow this year; no Eldorado winter sunsets; and nor is there any dark grey chilly damp London, either.  So I feel very disconcerted by the blue sky, the foliage, the bougainvillea in full bloom - and all of this coupled with Christmas trees and illuminated tree trunks and lit-up stripy candy canes and wreaths and white-wire reindeer and snowmen.  I can't really complain very wholeheartedly, however, since it's undoubtedly a treat to go for a walk in warm sun on the shortest day of the year.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

wild feminist

Over the last five months, Alice has collected a fair amount of head gear.  When chemo first made her lose her hair, it was hot summer, and she had various cotton head coverings, which looked like what they were - things made to cover up people whose heads were turning chemo-bald.  On the other hand, they were light, and not too sweaty.  Now that the weather has got much cooler, she's able to wear a whole lot of different woolen caps that just make her look like your average Silver Lake hipster (well, maybe not the one that says USC ...).  But Wild Feminist ... certainly!  Only this morning, Moth was appropriating it.  I should add ... Alice's hair is regrowing (under her caps) very nicely, and seems to be very much the same color and texture as Moth's own.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

bank decoration

After a morning's worth of admin at USC; after going with Alice for her radiation zapping, we headed off for extraordinarily good pizza at Triple Beam Pizza in Highland Park, and sat in the warm sun (such a change after December in England ...) - and wandered around N. Figueroa (only later did I discover that there's a whole self-guided walk brochure for the district available on line: we'll be back ...).  This Chase bank occupies the site for the original 1906 bank in Highland Park - it was remodeled in the early 1970s as a branch of the Home Savings of America bank, and the murals (two very different sets of horses) are by Millard Sheets.  I suspect Sheets' work is best known by what it represents rather than by the name of the artist - he's responsible for a good deal of public art, and not just in California: Notre Dame's huge (and rather weird) mosaic, Touchdown Jesus (not exactly its official title) is by him, too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

festive maintenance carts

I really don't know what to say ... I've never thought of our Facilities Management Department as having a particularly festive spirit, but who knew?  Maybe their drivers are all dressed as Santa today?

Monday, December 17, 2018

December sunlight

It's not just that I'm very happy to be home with Alice (and no one could have done a better job in welcoming me back), Moth, and LucyFur - it's that it's wonderful to see sunshine again ... streaming onto the butcher's block in the center of the kitchen in the early morning.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

leaving the UK

... and off the little plane icon flies, leaving Northern Ireland (somewhere below me) and heading over the Atlantic.  Why, yes, that does look rather a good start to my lunch ... Having done so much last minute (and very expensive) transatlantic flying this year, I have accumulated many airmiles, and so decided to trade some in for a comfortable ride back.  In practice, this meant, post-lunch, 9 hours of a comfortable quiet armchair in which to read graduate application dossiers ... but it's certainly a very unstressful way to travel ...

Saturday, December 15, 2018

meet some ancestors

On the back is written - in my mother's handwriting, when she was annotating this for some future curious person - "Howard & Helen Jaggar.  Picnic at Fountains Abbey.  July 18th 1905."  That would be my great uncle and a great aunt - Howard on the left; Helen - or Auntie Nell - on the right.  Right in the front - the little girl - is Doris, my grandmother (and who died on this day in 1975, by some strange coincidence - that was another bleak pre-Christmas departure); and behind her Auntie Jess, who started training as a doctor; went off to nurse during the first world war (in Turkey, I believe); and ended up as the pharmacist at Dewsbury Royal Infirmary.  Second to the left - Auntie Elsie - I think she was the one who went of to Australia in hot pursuit of a young man who went off to be a vicar in the bush (shame he was gay; that didn't work out) - she returned with (among other things) the Australian edition of Mrs Beeton, which tells you how to roast kangaroo.  Next to her, Auntie Lil; then my formidable great grandmother Elizabeth, the Justice of the Peace, who collapsed and died whilst performing her duties in court; and between Jess and Nell, my great grandfather Robert, shoddy mill owner in Ossett.

Because of WW1 (and the gay vicar), my grandmother was the only one to marry.  It's just struck me that I'm the only surviving relative of all these people, and therefore the end of this line.  Who, looking at this picture in 1905, wouldn't assume that they'd go on and proliferate like the Forsyte Saga?

Friday, December 14, 2018

a bouquet from the garden

But what else would I put on my mother's coffin (dark grey, made from the wool of Swaledale sheep)  other than a posy of flowers from the garden?  It's remarkable how much is in bloom at this time of the year.  And (see the eulogy below) - those ribbons are in suffrage colors.  

And, yes, that is a bowl of lemon slices.  My father insisted on doing the slicing (in preparation for the post-funeral reception) since I "wouldn't know how to to it properly."  I'll concede him the point (maybe): he was once a bar tender.

For those who wanted to see the eulogy I gave my mother - here it is.  I thought I wouldn't get through the last paragraph, for obvious reasons, but somehow, I did.

Thank you all so much for being here today, and for helping to remember and celebrate Joy’s life.  

I’m not entirely sure that Joy would have approved of a eulogy: I can hear her voice saying “hmph” at the thought.  She was a very private person, a modest person – but someone who was, nevertheless, quietly proud of certain things.  First, Joy was proud of her Yorkshire background.  She was born in Hanging Heaton, Batley, in February 1923, in a house that looked over fields to the family shoddy mill. She took enormous pride in her maternal line: they were also in the recycled wool business, and before that, had been farmers in North Yorkshire; she was a great source of Yorkshire proverbs and of West Riding dialect - despite, or because of, having been forbidden to speak it as a child.  Her grandmother was a JP, and helped establish, I’m sure, Joy’s liking for strong-minded women.  In her early teens, Joy moved to Birmingham, won a scholarship to King Edward’s School, which she loved – and where she met her oldest friend, Gwen Rooke (later Pascal): life-long cross-channel visits and letters followed.  When war broke out, she was evacuated to Cheltenham – most likely on the same train as Ray, it turned out, although they didn’t establish that until later!   

Joy went up to St Anne’s College, Oxford, in October 1942 to read for a BA in English Language and Literature – but only, initially, for a year.  Under the terms of the Registration for Employment Order, she had to undertake war work, and late in 1943, Joy joined the Wrens (the Women’s Royal Naval Service), where she first worked mending and servicing aircraft, and then as a Plotter, in Liverpool, where she traced the movement of shipping and, occasionally, aircraft.  The WRNS provided her with a host of memorable anecdotes, from washing up Christmas dinner for a thousand shortly after joining up, to attending a rather boisterous party thrown by the Dutch navy: she relished the mix of people alongside whom she found herself working.  When she was demobilized in April 1946, she re-joined St Anne’s immediately and went on to complete her B.A.  Back in 1943, she’d met Ray at a hop in the Birmingham student union – he was reading Engineering on an accelerated degree – and they married in September 1947.  

Joy and Ray moved from Oxford to Kew, then to Wimbledon, and then, in 1957, to Naworth Castle, near Brampton, in Cumberland: near where Ray was working, and a border castle tower just happened to be for rent at the time.  My memories of Joy go back to pre-Naworth days, when she was a memorably imaginative mother: moving around close to the carpet to see what life looked like from a small person’s point of view; tracing her finger under a line of words when she read to me, so I picked up how to read without officially learning; entering into the world of my imaginary friend Mustapha.  At Naworth, where we lived for four years before returning to Wimbledon; where she homeschooled me and, from time to time, a couple of other children, I absorbed so much that’s become important to me ever since – like details of history, together with the importance of its broad sweep – and how could history not be vivid when you live in a castle, with Hadrian’s Wall to walk down just a few miles away?  She taught me the names of flowers and trees and birds; how to look at the natural and the built world with attention and curiousity – at Naworth, snowdrops and jasmine and catkins; the Dacre beasts and photographs of Tennyson in the walled garden; the Flodden sword and Burne Jones’s frieze of that border battle.  

After a short period of graduate work, Joy started her long career as an examiner of O and A level English papers, eventually becoming Chief Examiner in English for the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations.  Stacks of examination scripts, mark schemes and mark sheets – these were a constant feature of our summers.  She loved the fact that meetings took her to Oxford, where, from the late 1970s, she much enjoyed her flat, with its wonderful views over the Dragon School playing fields to the Cherwell.  For many years, in Wimbledon, she regularly prepared students for Oxford and Cambridge University Entrance examinations – she worked for the Ursuline Convent, and had a number of students whom she saw privately. Above all, she wanted – she expected – students to share her love of literature.  She had clear, but eclectic favourites: John Keats and Robert Frost; Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bishop; John Donne and A. E. Housman - the condensed; the epigrammatic; the piercing.  I wish she’d written more herself: she had a fine-tuned, precise ear for language, which shows itself so well in the introduction she wrote for the edition of Thomas Hood’s poems that she prepared for the Carcanet Press.  A sharp ear for language, and for grammar: “so” isn’t an adjective, she’d have told me.  The satiric, irreverent, jokey Thomas Hood might seem like a surprising topic – but Joy had a terrific sense of humour, especially when it came to the incongruous.  To Ray’s mystification, I think, sometimes when we started laughing together we couldn’t stop.

What mattered to Joy went well beyond the material world.  She had a strong, albeit quietly held, sense of fairness and justice.  When she was a small child, a close male relative was given boxing lessons: she had boxing lessons, too (and could show you the correct stance).  Something that rankled with her always was that in 1930 she was told she was too young to attend the parade in Hull for pilot Amy Johnson after she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia.   This was the same year that women in the UK obtained the vote on the same terms as men: knowing the value of this achievement, she always held voting to be a kind of sacred duty.  This sense of responsibility showed itself, above all, in her compassion and care for the underdog, and for those she considered to have had a rough deal in life: she had a great deal of time for such people, and their stories.  She had, however, a Yorkshire directness to her, and, unflinchingly honest, she could never bring herself to be hypocritical, even to be polite – so you always knew where you stood.  This integrity actually helped to make Joy a wonderful conversationalist, and listener.  Conversations with visitors, as well as with me, could go on well into the fading light of long summer evenings, invariably accompanied by a gin and tonic – “just a little one.”

After her heart attack in 1997, Joy guarded her stores of energy very carefully – but she still found plenty to enjoy: reading, of course – from Penelope Fitzgerald to new detective fiction; travelling, with Ray, to different parts of England; executing exquisite needlepoint; spending time with (or under) her cats – Sam, Hal, Simba; watching snooker and Inspector Morse and the Antiques Road Show; and doing a huge amount of research into family history.  She was understandably proud of her ability to finish The Times crossword on a regular basis.  Joy took an enormous interest in people – she was always fascinated by what made them tick, as though they were particularly complex characters in novels.  And she loved her garden, reciting the names of favorite roses as if they were dear friends: Madame de Pompadour, Madame Alfred Carrière, Sarah Bernhardt.  

Every time I came home, even in the dead of winter, there was a little, freshly picked posy from the garden waiting for me in my room.  I’ll miss those – I’ll miss her, dreadfully – but I’m proud to be standing here today, as her daughter, and giving thanks, with you all, for her life.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

different shadows

Two bedroom window views.  On the top - I was photographing the little agglomeration on the windowsill, and realized that I'd captured, too, my own shadow on the wall behind.  That semi-shrine - not, by any means, constructed as such, but that's rather what it looks like - consists of a box of small square note-cards that I once gave my mother (purchased at the Zimmerli Museum, at Rutgers), a drying white rose from the lovely bouquet that Alice sent my father and me; and a bookmark from the Tate's Burne Jones exhibition- of a BJ design for a stained glass window in Brampton church, four and a half miles away from where we used to live.  I can remember, in the abstract, going to see them when I was little, but I really can't lay any claims to remembering this window in particular.

And then, below, another chance shadow, seen through the curtain: this is a model cat wind-vane, that used to be on a bedroom window in my mother's flat at Norham End, and that migrated into my bedroom a few years ago.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Kintsugi - the Japanese method of mending broken objects using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, or silver, or platinum - usually gold.  It's quite the opposite from invisible mending: it recognizes that the damaged can be made whole again, and be made beautiful in a different way; it acknowledges that the breakage is part of the history of the piece, and so can be acknowledged, and visible.

I've long been waiting to try it - and the other day, the Episode of the Squirrel in the Living Room served up the opportunity, because the little furry beast knocked this raku bowl (which I gave my parents for Christmas some years back) off the window sill, and broke it into some large, very mendable pieces.  So I mixed together epoxy, and resin, and the kind of thick gold substance one uses for re-gilding picture frames when one isn't applying thin sheets of gold leaf.  I'm quietly proud of this, as a first attempt.

And yes - all metaphorical possibilities are acceptable.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

bird on a lampost

I unexpectedly found myself heading down Wimbledon Hill today to buy a USB connection - unexpected, because I'd thought I'd be at the hairdressers, but that was cancelled (I suspect a bad case of Christmas-shopping-itis) at the last minute.  It's a long-familiar walk - a route since I could walk - one way down to the Public Library, for example.  I'm thinking that I was marched long distances at a very tender age.  I do remember my mother once put me in a horrid contraption on the back of her  bicycle, which was very scary, and probably gave me lifelong jitters about being a passenger.  But the bird was an added bonus - a change to noting which houses have been demolished and replaced, and wonderfully accompanied by a live blackbird singing in the background.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Tate's slugs

I love these slugs!  I went to the Tate to see the Burne Jones exhibition (which was amazing, and brought home what a wonderful designer he was - someone visually preoccupied with what to do with a flat blank space of canvas to fill; someone concerned with pattern and texture; someone for whom the mythological or literary theme was really just an excuse).  But the slugs were the real treat ...

They're by Monster Chetwynd (Monster knows about transformation: she was christened Alalia Chetwynd which is, admittedly, a name one might wish to change, and has subsequently been known as Spartacus Chetwynd and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd).  These giant leopard slugs, adorned with energy efficient LED lights, are ranged in front of thin strands of lights draped over the Tate's facade like slug slime trails.  I think I'd better quote the artist/curator's statement: "Leopard slugs emit a blue glow when they mate" [the statement doesn't tell you that they're hermaphrodites, but I believe that to be the case[, "usually at night time.  This ritual reminds us that the darkness of winter can be a time of renewal and rebirth.  Alternative energy interests Chetwynd, and she is excited by the idea that light-emitting organisms may one day power street lights.  She wants the slugs to be fun and to spark discussion about where we source our energy."

Of course, draped outside of the Tate, late C19th iconic repository of a century of national art, this is too perfect an introduction to my current work to be true ... Mind you, a first quick search for C19th interest in slugs is, inevitably, about how to get rid of them - a discussion invariably conducted in bellicose terms about attacking this persistent enemy.  But an article in Fraser's Magazine for 1863 does a lot better, even distinguishing the wonderful property of the leopard slug - it spins its slimy trails.  And, of course, as light producers, they lead into the fireflies chapter - luminous beauty and potential utility lurking in what looks, in daylight, very brown and ordinary.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


One more Tube view, with December skies over Putney - and then, when I'd caught a 93 up to Wimbledon Village, everything was in full swing for a Village Christmas Fair,  Or, maybe, Fayre.  I'd missed Santa Claus arriving on horseback, but there was a large brass band playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and a funfair clearly (and successfully) aimed at the smallest people.  And families galore, with balloons.  It's a strange experience to be navigating The Festive Season whilst also firming up on funeral arrangements - I feel curiously detached, which is hardly a surprise, but also powerfully nostalgic for Christmases Past.  That's no surprise either - I think it was, by far, my mother's favorite holiday, and she always made a big thing of it - tree, cards, paper chains (that was a long time back), wreath on the door, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, red candles, polishing the silver and brass.  That is, I was set to work polishing silver candlesticks and the brass coal scuttle.  I know that if such a thing as Wimbledon High Street turning Christmassy in this way, I'd have been taken along when I was seven, and I'd have loved every minute of it.  

Saturday, December 8, 2018

traveling by tube

This stretch of the tube, between Wimbledon and Earl's Court, is one that I've known for - quick count - probably about 53 years.  Quite a bit has changed, but not these particular views, nor the weather ,,,

Friday, December 7, 2018

suburban shops

A perfect example of inter-war mock Tudor, on Coombe Lane, heading towards Kingston.  I was taking in copy (or at least the digital files) of the order of service for my mother's funeral to be printed opposite these shops, and looked up and saw this wonderful winter's sunset.  It's a row of shops that for some reason always used to fascinate me when I was small: I'm sure I knew that they weren't real Tudor, weren't really old - but they were very different.  What I didn't know, I'm sure, was the area's history - from the medieval Cumbe, through to the gallows that was just up the hill, and the fact that the novelist John Galsworthy was born in the road that now bears his name - where Kingston Hospital is.  The real gems, however, are the domestic architectural examples from c. 1895 through to - well, these shops, which, from the mid 30s, probably grew up to serve the large brick houses.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

December rose

Luminous in the darkness of a December afternoon in London, a few stray roses are still battling onwards in a determined fashion.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

lingering autumn

A damp trudge around Wimbledon Village this lunchtime - but some lingering autumnal leaves on the wall outside the Dog & Fox suddenly provided some wonderful color.  Provide your own metaphorical reading.  In other photographic news, I was thrilled when my father (looking at the contents of yet another drawer) asked what he should do with his old camera, and accepted my suggestion that he might give it to me.  It's a Zeiss Contina from the late 50s, in a beautiful leather case, which I coveted for years and years and years as an exotic piece of technology that I was barely allowed to touch (although, indeed, I took my first photograph with it, of my father and grandmother gardening).  It produced, or produces, wonderful images.  Of course, I now find that it's disarmingly cheap to buy one on eBay - but so what.  This, for me, has always been the Ur Camera.  And indeed, it's possibly the reason why, with the little point and shoot that I carry everywhere - and with which I took the picture above - I still fetishize its Zeiss lens.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Happy 95th!

Happy birthday to my father today! - with one candle on his birthday cake, aka a nutella cheesecake brownie.  I couldn't fit the other 94 candles on ...

Monday, December 3, 2018

emotional support human

It's become my role to offer emotional support for the bereaved Simba.  During the last few months of her life, my mother spent almost all of the time in bed, with Simba keeping her warm in the crook of her knee.  In cat years, he's probably about the same age that she was.  A couple of days back, my father (a declutterer if ever there was one: Marie Kondo has nothing on him) looked at the in-tray filled with cat blankets by the dining room radiator, and wondered if the time had come to throw it out - "Simba never uses it any more."  Clearly he was overheard - Simba's been in it ever since - that is, when he's not wandering round the house yowling.  I'd like to think this was the Yowl of the Bereft, but actually, he's done it for an age.  Still, he speaks - he yowls - for us all, so I'm giving him all the attention I can.  There's some parallel somewhere with the heartbreaking picture of George H. W. Bush's support dog sitting faithfully in front of the flag-draped casket - they are, at the very least, the same color ...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

deck the halls

It's hard to get my head around the fact that notwithstanding the awfulness of this last week, I was set to have been here in any case for four days - a paper in Cambridge (canceled, alas), and a meeting tomorrow (never have I looked forward to a serious admin-type meeting so much).  So here I am, temporarily liberated from sorting and bagging and doing emotional support work, and strolling through Covent Garden en route to some Indian food, and trying to reconcile Christmas stuff with, well, everything else.

Only ... a split second after I took this, a really violent fight broke out, with security guards running to assist and to separate the men involved.  It had me very relieved that I was in central London, not the US, which minimized the likelihood of any party using a firearm, and ensured that I had enough time to register that the shop from which the two or three aggressive men were being ejected was suitably called Punch and Judy.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

name tapes

Presumably these sew-in name tapes for school uniform date from 1961, when I first went to school and needed such things, to avoid confusion when it came to navy gym slips or apple-green aertex game shirts or - yes - voluminous navy underpants.  Very probably they were ordered through Kinch & Lack, who had a monopoly on things related to school uniforms in South London - at the very least - at the time.  But why would my mother have kept them in her sewing kit?  She can hardly have thought that I was going to sew them into anything that I've possessed in the last fifty years or so.  Of course, I'd love to think that they had some kind of sentimental value for her - but that seems unlikely, since she wasn't that kind of an emotional-object hoarder, so far as I can tell.  More likely she thought that if they fell into other hands, identity fraud could be an issue (yes, I know: that sounds ridiculous, but believe me, not implausible as a mode of anxious logic).  Or maybe she thought They Might Be Useful Some Day (and certainly wouldn't be useful to anyone else - except, I guess, the woman who irritatingly has the email address and is actually called Kate Sparrowhawk and lives in Kent.  Identity, in other words, hardly is uniquely in synch with a name ...).  I was, though, surprisingly jolted by this encounter - an encounter of a sub-Lacanian nature, I guess - with my past self.

Friday, November 30, 2018

arranging a funeral

This is by way of a plea.  Think about the kind of funeral you want - yes, I know that's not a comfortable thing to dwell on, but think about it - and then leave clear instructions.  That way it's your funeral, not people trying to second-guess what you might like.  I've been left with knowing that my mother wanted to be cremated.  That's it.  For even when I knew that I might be googling such topics in the near future, it seemed indecent (to me) to be doing pre-mortem research.  So the last couple of days has involved some frenzied internet activity on my part.  I was so glad to hit upon Poppy's Funerals, a woman-started and run, friendly, completely laid-back, eco-friendly joint run out of the neo-Gothic gatehouse of Lambeth Cemetery - believe me, these are people I'd want to run my funeral.  So a lot is now planned, including the touch that makes me super-happy: that my mother's coffin will be (honoring the fact of her being a proud Yorkshirewoman to the last) made of dark grey wool from Swaledale sheep who safely graze in the Yorkshire Dales.  Yes - of course it's unbearable.  But it makes so much difference being able to talk to people who speak one's own language, as it were - non-sentimental; non-sanctimonious; cheerful and respectful.  And that's Lambeth Cemetery, above - at the end of a miraculously beautiful sunny day.

For those who are interested: the funeral will be at 2.30 p.m. on Friday December 14th, in the West Chapel of Putney Vale Crematorium (that's the C of E chapel), followed by refreshments (let's call it a party) back home.   Family flowers only: donations in Joy's memory to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.    

Thursday, November 29, 2018

horses in motion in Kingston upon Thames

On a gloomy late November day (but at least it's not raining, quite, here), two different types of horses in motion.  On the top, the rearing, vaguely Parthenon-esque horses on Kingston's Guildhall, built by Maurice Webb in 1935 (he was also responsible for Bentalls, the big department store in town, where we used to make very, very occasional excursions (on a trolley bus) when I was a child.  They also look decidedly monumental, mid-1930s, European in style.  I can't find out on line whether Webb designed them as well as the building.  In any case, the registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths is in its basement, and I had to go and wait there behind a whole lot of newborns to register my mother's death, since she'd died in Kingston Hospital (registration is determined by the geography of the event, not convenience).  But when it came to geography, I was surprised (I'd brought along her birth certificate) that she'd not been born in Dewsbury Hospital, as I'd thought, but at home.  "Masonic Villas, Hanging Heaton" is a pretty good birth address.

As an antidote, I thought I'd go and find evidence of a different kind of birth: the birthplace of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge - I knew it had to be just round the corner.  And here ... one blue plaque, and a string of his trotting horses, stretched across what claims to be a computer shop, but in reality (and I think Muybridge could have been amused) largely contained American comic books.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"On the bald street breaks the blank day"

which, as you'll recognize, comes from one of the bleakest stanzas of Tennyson's In Memoriam, that great Victorian poem of mourning (and eventual hope).  Or: it works for me standing outside my parents' house very early this morning - but dawn was on its way; the dawn chorus was singing - waiting for the Uber to come and collect me and take me to Kingston Hospital.  I couldn't sleep last night, thinking that the phone would ring at any time - which it did, to tell me, gently, that my mother had died peacefully, in her sleep.  So I went to be with her, and my father, and to bring him back (he remains enraptured by the wonders of Uber, and stares at the little moving cars on the screen that magically can be summoned up with a touch).  It's been a long, long day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

concealing the evidence

Under my scarf is a can of beer ... one of a set of four that I smuggled into Kingston Hospital thinking (quite rightly) that they might offer my father a small crumb of pleasure or comfort in what otherwise has been a long and difficult day.  I'll be back there very first thing in the morning (they'll only let one relative stay over).  But I did adopt a DIY approach to catering, albeit with only a small Co-op branch to work with.  I've eaten a lot of carrots.