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.

Monday, November 26, 2018

the awfulness of NHS food

It was truly kind of my father to have ordered me a "snack tray" for lunch - maybe that should be "lunch" - when I arrived at Kingston Hospital.  Oooooh, yum.  A plastic wrapped ham sandwich.  Some things that might have been prawn crackers, but quite likely weren't.  Three small jaffa cakes (my loathing of jaffa cakes is deep and passionate).  Some unhappy sticks of cucumber accompanied by sliced tomato.  And - the pièce de resistance - in the center - some sliced up pork pies and cold sausages.  Unsurprisingly, since my mother is no longer eating, I ate her grapes.

I was so touched by everyone's thoughts, prayers, kind words, and virtual support animals (I'm now being a support human to my mother's disoriented and unhappy geriatric cat).  It's hard to find the right semi-public terms for how she's doing: not well.  It's a long, slow, painful process.  But I'm very glad to be here, and that she briefly recognized me ("Is that Kate?  I think it's Kate, but that doesn't make sense"), and that I could obviously give her some comfort, and my poor tired father a bit of a respite.  Now it's my turn to try and grab a few hours sleep ...

Sunday, November 25, 2018

emotional support cats

I wish that Moth and LucyFur could come with me: I had one of those phone calls that one never wants, this morning, telling me to come As Soon as Possible: my mother is failing rapidly.  So I had to scurry to find a flight (let me tell you, hope this never happens to you on the Sunday after Thanksgiving); was very impressed by American Airlines efforts on my behalf, and, having packed very quickly (who knows what surprises will be in my carry-on bags at the far end), am at LAX, en route to London.  These two, as you can see, wanted to be in the luggage.

I've seen two emotional support animals in starring roles this week, both of them making college sport Senior Night appearances as family members.  One (seen on TV) was the handsome golden labrador who escorts Jake Olson, the USC football team's blind kicker, around campus - and who looked thrilled to be on the turf of the Coliseum.  The other - I swear we were told he was called Puppy - belongs to Zana Muno, the UCLA libero, and came onto the court along with other family members at Friday's game at the Pauley Pavilion.  This is the first dog I've ever seen on a WVB senior night ...   Right now, I'm so hoping the person next to me has a support dog, a support cat, a support miniature horse - I'd even settle for a support peacock.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

a door of flower pots

In Venice, California - though this painted door reminds me strongly of the back streets of Cambridge, England: a very ordinary brick house (not exactly typical of its neighborhood) that's been immeasurably cheered up by its art work.

Friday, November 23, 2018

a fallen pomegranate

This pomegranate's fall onto the matt black of a trashcan makes it look as though it was deliberately posing for its portrait.  It also, strangely, looks as though it's trying to shuffle off somewhere.  I'm not sure what's pecked it, but there were a lot of pecking birds out in our back yard today - mostly finches, but one large grey jay.  How wonderful! I thought for a nano-second, and then reflected that two days ago, before the rain, I'd scattered all those wildflower seeds, and how the rain has, in fact, probably relocated them from the careful little potting soil based strewings that I'd executed.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving clouds

It rained in the night - a very satisfying steady rain for a few hours - and in the early morning, this was the view from our living room.  There is much to be thankful for - despite it having been, and still being, a difficult half year - so I'll start with this vista, and the fact that Alice is post-chemo and surgery and able to enjoy a real dinner (porchetta! roast vegetables! pumpkin flan! watermelon and vodka cocktails!), and then move to the adorable sight of Moth and LucyFur curled up more or less together at the bottom of the bed (they were Fighting Cats just a couple of years ago).  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

turning heads

Two crows on a campus lamppost.  Well might they be looking to their left - there was a great deal of hole-digging and general unidentifiable work taking place in that general direction - doubtless in an over-Thanksgiving push.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

the ridiculous horse

Really, as if it isn't bad enough having an equine college mascot called Traveler after Robert . E. Lee's horse (I have no problem with the handsome horse itself, but the name ...) - the arrival of this life-size statue a couple of years back reinforced its ridiculousness.  But tonight - with a nearly full moon - all it needs is a unicorn horn.

Monday, November 19, 2018

a good dawn

It's possible, of course, that this morning's sky was made spectacular by smoke particles wandering around, but it was pretty stunning, whatever the cause.  Also - that roof in the foreground? - this view could be yours, too!  The house below us is for sale - 3687 Shannon Road - so, if you're looking for a new home (with terrific neighbors), check it out ... we went to the Open House yesterday, and its light airiness had us vowing to repaint half our own house ...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"discover usc"

After the last few days in Wimbledon, it was remarkably surreal to be back on campus giving a talk - supposedly representative of the humanities - to a "Discover USC" day, with an audience of prospective students and their parents.  The students who came up to me afterwards and who asked questions (interestingly, mostly about research opportunities working with professors, and about internships in galleries) were utterly smart and adorable and I wanted to kidnap them immediately and tell them they weren't under any circumstances allowed to go anywhere else - they made me feel that I loathe all the admin that I do and would love to be back in the classroom (a feeling that, of course, might well wear off with closer exploration).  And all of this still juxtaposed with phone calls and emails to and from England ...

Saturday, November 17, 2018

autumn leaves

No - no Millais in sight.  A beautiful morning: slightly chill; thin sunshine. I went out into the garden to make a little vase of flowers and leaves for my mother’s bedside: after all those years of coming back to Wimbledon to be greeted with a posy from the garden for my room, the role has been reversed.  There wasn’t a lot out there – a rose, a geranium stem, a fuschia sprig, some rosemary – but it was pretty.

Friday, November 16, 2018


Today was a pretty drear day, literally and figuratively.  But here are some quinces - I think - spotted on Ridgway Place, just up the road from where I used to go to ballet and "character dance."  I find (googling) that this latter term melds classical ballet with European folk dance, and is part of the Royal Ballet School repertoire (Letty Littlewood's Associated Arts dance school, where I took these classes, was very much a feeder school for the Royal Ballet School).  This training stood me in surprisingly good stead in my theatrical career ... last on display, I think, when I was a witch dancing on Walpurgis Night in a production of Faust at the Young Vic.  Christopher Gable was Faust ... 

Or: let's put it another way: it's hard to be back in Wimbledon and not be swamped with memories.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

a bag of brussel sprouts

Nothing like a seasonal bag of brussel sprouts, as the shops start to gear up for Christmas in England (scary, but true).  Only - look more closely.  Those aren't flaky leaves.  That's shiny green dark and pale green foil.  These are solid milk chocolate.  Sometimes, I love my country's sense of self-ironizing.

(that being said, it's been a stressful evening, and I'm doing my very best not to eat them).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wimbledon Common in balmy November weather

This may look as though it's chilly, but it's been very warm all day (though I gather that another Beast from the East is trundling in next week).  I managed to to escape for an hour - to buy some essentials (like shampoo) and breathe some fresh air, and to purchase a notebook for my mother.  She wanted, she says, me to write in it, so that she can know exactly when I'm going to be here, when I'm going back to LA, what date I return, when I'm going out, what time I'll be going out, when I'll be back, how she can contact me.  Fair enough.  She made quite clear what kind of spiral bound notebook she wanted; what size, and so on.  So - I track down the ideal item, in Rymans.  I bring it back, proudly.  Oh, says my mother, am I meant to be writing notes for your father?  Much of the rest of the day was spent in similar conversation loops, some of them more anxiety-packed than others.  So I was very grateful for a damp corner of Wimbledon Common from which to watch the sun set.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

fish van

For several decades, my parents have benefited from the Tuesday visit of the fish van.  This used to be run by Joe and Lisa - now - they having decided that the 3 a.m. run up to Grimsby (major North Sea fishing port) and back was a little arduous - have handed over to Lisa's nephew John, on the left.  On the right is my father, buying fresh sole for dinner, and salmon for Friday.  A very small piece of salmon.  I remonstrated that this surely wouldn't feed three people and a cat - even if my mother's eating very little.  Another sliver was found.  But it's a great array of fishy things for a very small van, and it's certainly great that this tradition continues - it's almost Victorian ... I should add that when the riding stables was still at the top of the road, Sooty, the pure white stable cat used to follow the van down the street, yowling hopefully (and was, of course, rewarded).

Monday, November 12, 2018

putney bridge

Blurred; through a slightly tinted windshield - this is a strange shot, but there again, being slightly out of focus and surreal pretty much sums up my current presence in London.  No immediate dire emergency - but there again, a rapid escalation of difficulties for my parents.  My mother's slowly developing dementia has suddenly plunged into a paranoid and delusional realm - not just incessant and anxious repetition, but thinking "they" are trying to poison her; to lock me out of the house; to take my father away; that there are twinkly stars on the bedroom ceiling; that there's a choir singing "Auld Lang Syne" in the garden, and so on.  That last belief is how her brain is processing the sound of distant trains.  And my father is exhausted, anemic, and has other woes.  So here I am, trying to offer consolation and calm to my mother; another pair of hands to my father; some advice to the carer who will be coming in on a regular basis, and sort out what's best for everyone.  You may well imagine how super-grateful I was to have my cousin Peter meeting me at LHR and driving me to Wimbledon, on a perfect blustery mid-November autumnal day.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

From the Western Front, 1918

In keeping with a whole series of Armistice Day posts recording the postcards sent back to my grandmother by my grandfather, Joe Flint, here's one sent on the 8th March 2018 - presumably bought at some local tabac?  The irony - which I doubt he'd have known - is that the previous night, March 7th, was the date of Germany's first ever air raid on London.  "Awfully busy at present" - the German offensive was building up on the Western Front at this time, and this was about three weeks before the first Battle of the Somme.

Joe was to die ten years later, most likely because his lungs were compromised by gas, and he'd caught flu in the autumn of 1928.  And he died on Armistice Day/Remembrance Sunday, which therefore has always been an extra-sad day for my father, as well as being the day in which he remembers his own friends and comrades who were lost in WW2 - who flew out from the aircraft carrier on which he worked as an engineer, and never returned.  I'm sure that the fact that the day was always treated with great seriousness and solemnity by my parents when I was a child is one of the reasons why I feel so very furious with President Trump's childish and petulant and self-serving behavior in France today.  And surely someone told him he was meant to wear a black, not a bright red tie???

the late blooming poet's wife

After an early-summer disaster when she was chewed down by some critter, The Poet's Wife has done well this season - with one, late-blooming, resilient flower.

Friday, November 9, 2018

fire from afar

This is not (I'm glad to say) one of those images taken close up to the hell that's the Malibu coast, right now -  rather, it's what can be seen of it from the top of the parking structure that I use at USC.  There was a decidedly bad moment very early in the day, when - waking up to the news of this big fire - I wondered if anything would be visible - and looked out the back of the house to see a plume of smoke going up from behind the Zoo in Griffith Park.  

Very, very luckily we had little wind (unlike the Santa Anas that are blowing at the coast), and it was contained to about 30 acres.  They're still keeping an eye on it; periodically (it's nearly 9 in the evening) a helicopter flies over.

But in Malibu and Thousand Oaks?  I am just incessantly angry against a government that denies climate change.  Poor people; poor animals; wonderful firefighters (I saw that the fire station by USC was, understandably, completely empty of engines). Meanwhile, and on a smaller scale, my fire neurosis (in place since I was about 3 or 4) has me checking out of the window every five minutes or so to check that the sky isn't red with flames, and sniffing the air.  I'm glad to report that the only sight worthy of notice outside the window this evening was a very, very fat raccoon waddling by.

morning bath

Our reflecting pool, at USC, usually has a couple of seagulls somewhere around.  Today, four pigeons, who seemed very anxious indeed to get clean, splashing around on the shallow water-covered shelf; preening themselves; fluttering up and down, and generally behaving as though they owned the place.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Angel's Flight

En route to the Joni Mitchell 75th birthday concert ... I took a bus up from USC, which dropped me off by Grand Central Market - and then I realised that the quickest and easiest way up the hill was to take the wonderful Angel's Flight funicular - built on Bunker Hill in 1901.  I've wanted for years to take it - and never thought of it one day - today - being the most functional choice available ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

she voted!

... standing in line in the early morning sunlight.  Not, perhaps, the world's most flattering photo - but the fact of voting is the important one.  I felt naked all day, not bearing an "I Voted" sticker, but I can't swallow the stuff that would get stuck in my gullet if I had to swear allegiance to a country (still) led by the current president.  Of course I was hoping for a blue wave, but I'll settle for a blue swell.  At the same time - and super-delighted by the House flipping, and by Michelle Lujan Grisham's victory as Governor of NM, and Deb Haaland (from Laguna Pueblo) taking over from her in NM's Congressional District 1 - I continue to shake my head at the improbable phenomenon that so many people are still voting Republican.  At all.  Anywhere.

And also: what do you do with an English degree?  BECOME BETO O'ROURKE!

Monday, November 5, 2018

the right to vote

I was so proud of our Art History office today - helping to get out the urgent message.  1906: this woman was arrested for wanting the right to vote ... 2018: do note take democracy for granted VOTE!   One of our undergraduates, Beth (in the background) told me, had been distributing the fliers, and indeed, they were all over the noticeboards in Taper Hall, too.  GO AND DO WHAT IT SAYS.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

the problems of other people's home repairs ...

This question seems rather an urgent one ... one probably doesn't want the answer to be "gas."  One of our greatest pleasures walking around the neighborhood (I'm not counting the skeletons and tombstones and spiders and skulls and environmentally treacherous synthetic webs - really, you should all have taken that stuff down by now) is seeing the "improvements," the cosmetic repairs, the wholesale refabrication, the emergency patching that people are doing on their houses - often, but not always, with an eye to putting them on the market.  Incidentally, the house next door to us - on the downhill side - will be for sale soon - anyone want to come to Los Feliz? - we're doing very well from the fruits of their remodeling, having so far netted two plant-growing wire pyramids and a very large earthenware planter from stuff that they've jettisoned.  This is not their sign - it's from a couple of streets away.  I hope the people find an answer ...

Saturday, November 3, 2018

autumn. Or Fall.

This morning, to Cheekwood House, just south of Nashville - for a beautiful walk around its gardens and woods: the highlights were the Japanese garden (nothing, but nothing, beats gingko trees at this time of the year);

the view from the house itself;

and then the sculpture walk through the woods, including this huge half human, half hare by Sophie Ryder;

Siah Armajani's Glass Bridge;

and what was one of my favorite pieces, John Scott's Tree Poem.

But all of this - which should have been an immersive woodland time; a tranquil pause - was punctuated by text messages coming in from Wimbledon.  If "fall," in an American context, must have been coined by people who were tired of the frenchiness of "autumn/autonne), or who were simply monosyllabic by nature, it took on a whole different resonance when I picked up the alert - and the rather too graphic picture - telling me that my father had had a dizzy moment and a fall and had grazed his head open - though the whole bloody mess was now clean and covered in steristrips, it wasn't easy to relax into a sylvan scene.  

So I took contemplative refuge for a little while inside a perfect James Turrell structure - or a structure made perfect by the sky.

And no - it's impossible to second-guess what this week will bring.  I'll stick, whatever, to calling the season "autumn".

Friday, November 2, 2018

Frist art gallery

To Nashville's Frist Art gallery - to the Paris 1900 exhibition, which I'd wanted to see in Paris 2 years ago, never made it - and here it was!  There was also a small but exquisite Do Ho Suh show - largely memories (rubbings and reconstructions in polyester of things in his former New York apartment - like ethereal versions of Rachel Whiteread).  

Paris 1900 - a show about the city's growth, about the big Exposition (so multicultural), about light - lots of light - electricity; glowing ends of cigarettes and cigars - lots of tawdry opulence (no wonder Proust wrote about these upper class people, but took refuge in his bedroom) - and lots - lots and lots - of bicycles.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

hotel art

This is a stunning installation - outside the elevators - in the Kimpton hotel in Nashville (a city that seems to have developed a crazy rich bustling scene since I was last here a few years ago).  It's by Anne Lindberg and is called redberry.  It also looks strangely different in a photograph to its shimmering existence in real life (and I tried taking a number of photographs, and this was the most successful - and nothing I could do in Photoshop could recreate the luminosity of the hot pink and glowing orange cotton threads.  To quote the accompanying text: "The artist's interest lies in tapping a 'non-verbal place' to provoke emotional, visceral, and perceptual responses from her viewers," which of course either says nothing much, or leaves everything entirely open.  Only I'm so struck by how this image looks like a drawing, albeit one that would be none too easy to execute.