Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022 goes floating away

Only once before - since beginning Forms Traced by Light - have I not been in New Mexico to post a pic of the end-of-year sunset, or whatever might pass as a sunset.  There certainly wasn't a sunset here in Wimbledon today - it was such a grey and sullen day that it barely got light, let alone sunny.

These stars were the tails to the balloons that I bought Ray to celebrate his 99th: they seemed too good to waste, so I hung them as Christmas decorations from a light bracket in the hall, where they are twirling very very gently in - well, I guess that proves how draughty it is.  There's quite a gale outside.

Happy 2023, everyone, when the clock strikes - 


Friday, December 30, 2022

The Ridgway

I've been walking along the Ridgway ever since - well, ever since I could walk.  This evening, there was a wild, stormy sky as another - yet another - band of rain moved in.  Of course, the shops have changed - the butchers used to be on the right hand side (why we didn't go to the one that was closer, I don't know), where our most frequent purchase was "a quarter of a pound of best mince" (that's ground beef, to American readers), which went straight into our cat.  The butcher who almost always served us was Mr Simmons, who had a medical condition that meant that he nodded his head all the time.  Most of the other kids called him Noddy (quite understandably), but I wouldn't do that, because my mother vehemently disapproved of Enid Blyton, and therefore I thought this was super-rude (which it was, of course, but not because of the Blyton connection).

But something's shifted in the last week. It's still home - or the road to home - and yet it's not. Day by day, I'm processing how my sense of belonging is shifting, and trying to work out why it should be that with my father no longer here, my relationship to Wimbledon as a whole, and the house and garden in particular, involves much more of a feeling than ever before that I'm living in the present than in the past.  Well, duh.  But it's a good, if unexpected sensation.

Must go and feed the foxes ... tonight, in Operation Clean Out Freezer, they will have one dish of Waitrose roast lamb and vegetables, and 12 M&S mini Yorkshire puddings with braised beef.  


Thursday, December 29, 2022

my father's foxes

On my last visit here - really, only about three weeks ago, but it seems like a lifetime - my father asked: "who'll feed Foxy when I die?"  I think you know the answer to that one, for now.  Not only was there still a large pack of cans of - errrr - cat food in the cupboard (wouldn't dog food have been more nutritionally appropriate? I expect cat food was on special at Waitrose), but I am supplementing this with stuff that I'm never going to eat in the freezer (sausages rolling around loose in there; packets of lamb hot-pot).  

Ray maintained the fiction that there was only one, singular Foxy.  I've seen up to three at a time, but the boss fox is certainly a gorgeously fit mid russet brown, with thick fur: he's on the left.  I was working at the dining room table facing the window this afternoon, and suddenly there were two of them play-fighting outside, and then scampering around the garden.  I told them they'd have to wait a few hours.

The strange texture is due to the fact that the insulation in this house is decidedly imperfect, and that means that condensation builds up on the windows: in turn, that does weird things to focusing ...


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Dan Leno

I went to talk to funeral directors this afternoon (as I did with my mother's arrangements, I went with the wonderful Poppy's Funerals, who are the women you would want to have running your entire life, kindly and efficiently).  They're situated in the gatehouse of Lambeth Cemetery, and arriving a bit early, I went for a walk round it, final resting place of a million plastic dahlias and roses.

And final resting place, too, to Dan Leno!  Leno was a star of the late C19th music hall and musical theater; a boy clog dancer; then a solo comedian - monologues and comic songs about very everyday subjects; and a pantomime dame at Drury Lane.  He was, apparently, brilliant at all the comedy he did - but hated the fact that he couldn't break in to serious theater, and increasingly drank, as his father had done - indeed, he probably drank himself to death, at the age of 43.  But he lived long enough to have made recordings - listening to them makes one realize quite how the nature of humor shifts from generation to generation ... Also, I'm intrigued by how posh his voice sounds - he didn't come from that kind of background, at all.  Who knew I'd find him here, on a grey, wet day?


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

my Yorkshire heritage - the matriarchal line

One of the benefits of dealing with everything following a death is that one has lots of time to rummage through old letters and postcards (I was more diligent in sending them from my travels than I remember: I'm so touched to find that my parents kept them), and of course photographs.  My father was from Leeds - his father died when he was four (gassed in WW1, so the family story went, and his lungs didn't survive pneumonia); and after a few years trying to make ends meet, Ray and his mother and brother moved first to Derby, and then to live with his maternal grandparents and aunt in Birmingham.

Meanwhile, the men on my mother's side of the family had either run off (my grandfather and uncle); or died in WW1.  Although Ray didn't meet my mother there, she was from near Leeds - Batley, about thirteen miles south, and so I quite definitely have a lineage of strong Yorkshirewomen on both sides.  I don't remember this photo well - and I certainly don't remember it being taken, though I do recollect being rather keen on those check trousers.  It was taken in Huddersfield in 1956 - and really looks to be a longer time ago than that, even.  My mother's holding my hand; her mother is next to her; then the tall stern woman is my Auntie Jess.  I bet none of them envisaged that fiercely independent looking small person (and surely that fierce independence - let's not call it stubbornness - came from Ray) ending up in Los Angeles - a very long way from this Yorkshire doorstep.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Boxing Day walk

It was a glorious sunny day, which lifted my spirits no end.  I'm so lucky to have Wimbledon Common to go and stomp muddily around, in company with most of the residents of SW19 and their dogs (and for some of them, their new and shiny electric bicycles).  I did a good deal of thinking about what I'll be saying in Ray's eulogy - I think well whilst walking.

During the last couple of months, Ray kept asking me - are there any questions you want to ask, before it's too late?  Foolish me - I interpreted that (or part of me chose to interpret that) - as inviting questions about - oh, I don't know: his relationship with my mother, or his views on the afterlife; or whether I have any surprise half-siblings anywhere, or ... all the kind of intimate stuff that I actually would have had a great deal of difficulty even broaching.  But there are, now, so many things that I wish that I'd asked ...

- how do you turn on the dishwasher? (a fairly new replacement - some of you will remember the saga - rarely used, and when one goes to the Grundig website for it, one's offered the unmissable opportunity to download the manual for an entirely different model.
- where are the spare fuses?  The lights on the Christmas tree have stopped working.  All the bulbs are screwed in tight.  The lights are probably ancient.  Quite possibly this is a metaphysical sign or metaphor, anyway.
- where's the key to the little box by my mother's side of the bed?  It rattles a lot, so there's probably something in it. Cufflinks?  Or maybe the cufflinks were sold.
- which bin is for paper recycling?  The one with the blue top, or the other one?
- really?  Only one burner on the stove works, and that has two modes: off/very hot.
- where is the Birket Foster watercolour that used to hang in the living room, and was taken down some years ago when the room was painted - like very many other bits of art work that then Ray never got round to rehanging?  Here's a C19th print of it.

Indeed, although this had been in my mother's family since the C19th, after I did some work on Birket Foster a number of years back, I became suspicious that it was a copy/fake (BF was much faked in his lifetime) - now I wonder if it might even have been a print, although I think I'd have spotted that.  But whatever ... I was very fond of it, indeed; there are a limited number of places that it could be in this small house; and it's not here.  I have, of course, become obsessed by its absence, and, yes, I can spot psychological displacement activity, thank you ...

The Common offers plenty of space for musing on all the above, and more besides.


Sunday, December 25, 2022


Ray both loved poetry, and was fascinated by language.  Only the other week he was reprimanding me, as he cried over some Housman, for not getting sentimentally moved.  I knew he wouldn't follow (by that point) if I explained to him that the reason I don't teach much poetry, and don't read it a great deal, either, is that it can ambush me and make me far too upset... One of his fairly recent favorites was Hardy's "Neutral Tones": "We stood by a pond that winter day, / And the sun was white, as though chidden of God ..." - and those might be the most cheerful lines in it.  What, he asked, is "chidden"? ["rebuked," "chastized," since you too are asking.  I had to look it up].  Rest assured, this bleak lyric won't be making it onto the funeral order of service (but the Housman may).

On Wimbledon Common this morning, everything in sight - apart from embarrassed dogs wearing Santa hats - looked decidedly chidden.  It wasn't actually raining, but ... I sat on a bench for a gloomy while, and recollected the stories about the times that Ray used to bring me up here for a walk: the time, when I was about 3, I apparently said, excitedly, "look! look! a black seagull!" (I was glad to find the Zeiss binoculars today: that'll help me recognize crows when I see them). Or the time when he said that he could turn on the street lights as dusk fell by treading on a metal water plate on the ground - stomp - and (by pure coincidence, or well-timed guesswork), on they came.  But I don't really remember these: only the anecdotes.  I do remember, though, after we returned to London after four years in Cumberland, coming to the pond with him to sail my model boats: a yacht with a wooden hull, and a tug boat - I would have thought made from an Airfix kit, but I can't discover the precise model on line.  Maybe it was just model airplanes that I made from sticky plastic-and-glue Airfix kits, and the tug was bought at Peggy Bowbrick's, the toy shop at the corner of the Ridgway and the High Street.

And yes: I'm strongly aware that in starting to dismantle the contents of this house, I'm dismantling 61 years of my life.  I doubt I'll find those boats, though.

And no - not all the day was "edged with grayish leaves" - a daffodil came out.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

front door wreath


An image to be filed under "things of which Ray would not have approved," with two annotations: (a) it's not hung straight - that's horribly clear to me now (b) it's bought at a posh flower shop in Wimbledon Village, not something artificial picked up from Wilco, nor what Ray used to do - home-made, using wire, and holly from the garden.  But really - it wasn't the day on which to find the time to be inventive with holly, and without something, the door looked sadly UnChrismassy.  The things that were Not Approved Of - as I've corresponded with several people, it's a strange and liberating moment when one is, at last, an adult, and free from such concerns [and yes, of course, I know there's the deep-engrained unconscious, sitting squarking on one's shoulder].  But still.  

Friday, December 23, 2022

into the sunset

I took this view of the sun setting over South West London at 3.21 this afternoon, from my father's hospital ward window.  I turned, went back to his bedside and told him what a beautiful sky there was; told him how good it had been spending the day with him and reminiscing about him with a couple of visitors - and then he took one more breath, and that was it.  He hadn't spoken since Wednesday: his last words - having said that he wanted to go to sleep - were "lights out."  I'll never know, of course, whether that was a goodbye to the world, or a grumpy commentary on the fluorescent light in the ceiling - I was just relieved that the sentence of a few minutes earlier hadn't been his final utterance: "the ox tongue in the fridge is for the foxes" ...   It couldn't have been more peaceful departure - which doesn't mean that the whole rushed week hasn't left me in shock.  


Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christmas and hospitals

First, Ray is still with us - at 9.30 p.m. UK time - and I am still here, and am wedged onto a chair and mini-bench at his side, and will be here for the foreseeable future. It's impossible, of course, to gauge any time scale.  He had a few flickers of recognition, or something, early today, but the pain relievers and muscle relaxants are doing their job, and he seems very comfortable.  I talk to him; played him music - Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call" (his favorite); Aida - in which he once sang in an amateur production at Covent Garden [I missed that vocal gene, even if I got the stubbornness one]; the Messiah, because it seemed seasonal ...

but seasonality was nearly my emotional downfall when - as of course they would in a British hospital - the carol singers came round the wards.  I think "The First Nowell" will need to have a trigger warning slapped on it for me in future.  I can cope with the festive lighting, and the ward Christmas tree, and even the illuminated polar bear on the front desk, but carols just about did felled me.  Luckily wonderful Nurse Pauline bustled and bossed me out for a walk and some fresh air, and made me some coffee when I came back.  They are the kindest crew, here.


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

the longest shortest day

Here's a striking NHS ambulance - but judging by sirens there were plenty at work when there was, indeed, a life-threatening emergency.  Not a good day; nothing cheerful to report - Ray isn't responding to treatment for his viral pneumonia, and has been shifted to palliative care.  My thanks to everyone for all their kind thoughts and messages - because he was awake all day (hard not to be, on a busy ward, despite his pleas for drugs to make him sleep) there was no time to speak of in which to get online ... 


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

view from St George's

Miraculously, it was sunny when I (eventually) arrived in England, and took a cab to St George's Wandsworth (or is it Tooting?).  Anyway, I was glad that I didn't have to cross a picket line to get into the warren inside.  All I can say about the nurses' strike is that the nurses looking after my father - and I'm quite sure doing their job generally - deserve every single bit of salary raise that they're asking for: the standard of care is really terrific.

A basic bulletin - Ray's very sick; on maximum oxygen and receiving everything else through a drip.  But they can't yet tell whether he'll be able to respond, or not - it's not just covid and pneumonia, but uncertainties about what other underlying conditions may be.  We'll see tomorrow what direction things are going.  

Spending half a day on a covid ward was its own special kind of scary.

Thank you, everyone, for your support - it means such a lot to me to know there's a community out there.  Now it's time for some sleep.

Monday, December 19, 2022

a different Christmas tree

This is emphatically not a Christmas tree that I was intending to feature: it's at Albuquerque airport (note the sweet little airplane on top of it), and I'm on my way back to London, where my father is in hospital, suffering from both a fall (nothing broken, but he was lying on his own for about thirty six hours) and Covid - the relationship between the two, if any, is unknown.  So - it already seems a very long journey (one flight to DFW delayed, which would have meant that I missed my connection, so I had to scramble to find another one ...).  And I'll offer some understated observations, because as you can imagine, I'm in fact swiveling between a kind of efficient numbness, and incipient hysteria:
i) this is a truly crap week to be traveling to England, given various forms of industrial action affecting both travel and the NHS;
ii) the NHS is in a perilous state - it took 2 hours for an ambulance to come after it was called - and that's relatively speedy - and then my father was on a gurney in a corridor for six hours or so (probably giving everyone covid, in the meantime, since he hadn't yet been tested);
iii) it is utterly surreal traveling for such a reason when it's Christmas week.


Sunday, December 18, 2022

the Christmas tree is up ...

... and yes, as last year, it's outside - isn't it, Gramsci?  I find it very endearing that (and I don't know whether or not this is because I decorate it with red birds) it already has finches over-nighting in it.


Saturday, December 17, 2022


Today has been a sad day, since our beloved neighbor, the mountain lion known as P-22, is no longer with us.  These top two wreaths are, to be sure, not funereal ones, but are seasonal, and to be found in the Farmers Market - the bottom one is formed by Gramsci curling his tail in a suitably wreath like design.

Even though P-22 was elderly, and, it seems, suffering in a number of long-term, feline geriatric ways, it was so unspeakably sad that he was hit by a car and badly injured, just a couple of days after the decision had been made to capture him for a health evaluation.  He wouldn't have passed that with glowing colors, of course, but he might have had a few more quiet months.  He was walking down our street just about an hour and a half before the accident: although we never saw him ourselves, he was turning up with increasing regularity on security cameras just two blocks up from us - which is unsurprising enough, since Griffith Park backs onto the street in several places (as well as onto our back yard, though our cameras have never captured anything wilder than raccoons and skunks and possums and once, just once, a grey fox).  It sounded as though he couldn't have been cared for with any more love and compassion than he was, during his final days.

We will miss knowing that he's out there, living invisibly just over our back fence.


Friday, December 16, 2022

making the birds happy

Yesterday, I made a substantial raid on Wild Birds Unlimited, our inspirationally bird-loving store in Santa Fe, and purchased all sorts of goodies that I hung from trees today.  The heated bird bath, I hasten to add, was filled and turned on within a few minutes of arriving in town.  Within - what - five, seven minutes? - the bluebirds had arrived; and an array of finches, and a robin, and a ladder-backed woodpecker, and a flicker ...I'm hoping for more tomorrow. The most popular of all the offerings is the one with nuts and seeds and ... freeze-dried mealywprm grubs.  In the meantime, I'm so glad to be here for so many reasons, but not the least of these is helping the birds through this cold spell (as I type this, 16F outside, which is - 8.88 centigrade.  That's chilly.


Thursday, December 15, 2022

morning mantelpiece

The low early morning sun was hitting the mantelpiece perfectly this morning, illuminating the little wooden lion in the niche (bought on the beach in Kovalam, Kerala), and the lilies that we brought from Los Angeles - with care.  The white one came into flower today - the living room is very warm with the underfloor heating that delights the cats, and the passive solar heating through south-facing windows - which is quite an achievement, given that it was wrapped tight when we left LA.  Since lilies are very poisonous to cats, we've located these in the least feline accessible place in the house - where, luckily, they work decoratively decidedly well.


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Winslow to Santa Fe

La Posada, Winslow; the rest stop just over the border from Arizona to New Mexico; and post-sunset from our back yard.  We felt especially happy to be entering NM [no photos, alas, because I was driving], since there were a number of huge billboards - mostly in English; some in Spanish - welcoming people to NM since it's a state that supports and protects abortion rights (paid for by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains).  I think that group in particular will get my PP end-of-the-year charitable donation.

It's so great to be back here: complete quiet, and the cats can't believe the luxury of underfloor heating...


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

back on the open road

Filled up the car with humans and cats and books and left-over vegetables and bulbs that are about to come into flower and clothes and hidden-away Christmas presents, and off we head to New Mexico: spectacular skies, which dropped just a drizzle of snow on us near Flagstaff (at which point we realised that the garage in Glendale had filled up the windshield wiper fluid with water - as is usual for above freezing Southern California - not with anti-freeze stuff) - but once we dropped down from the Arizona Divide (7,335 feet), the snow and ice disappeared quite quickly ...

As ever, La Posada, in Winslow, was wonderfully decked out for Christmas. We were glad to fall on a couple of margaritas after a decidedly arduous drive ...


Monday, December 12, 2022

prancing reindeer

A few of the older houses in our part of Los Feliz - the ones set up high off the road, with a good number of stairs up to them - also have curving miniature railroads, like tracks in mines, with little carts that can run up and down them to carry one's shopping or suitcases or bags of potting soil.  I'm not quite sure what one should call them: "funiculars" isn't quite right, because funiculars - like Angels' Flight - operated on a balancing system - as one car goes up, the other one goes down.  Do tell me, if you know ...  In this case, I doubt they're going to be hauling their Christmas tree or turkey up to the house this way, since the whole contraption has been taken over by a herd of reindeer.


Sunday, December 11, 2022

a long day - but reunited at the end

I ordered an Uber to LHR over a week ago, and had a confirmation right away saying that Asleef would pick me up at 7 a.m. today.  By 10 to 7 I hadn’t had any of the customary reminders - so checked my booking on the Uber app - it said Searching for Driver.  By 7, it shifted to No Drivers Available - with the option of shifting to Cancel Your Ride at No Cost. [Doesn't the idea on an option involve a choice?  There was none, other than a hysterical breakdown].  Good job that (a) I hadn’t put my woolly hat in a bag and (b) that I always (while feeling slightly neurotic doing so) build in time for eventualities…. So, still dark and 25 degrees, with thick frost underfoot, off I trotted to the station.  It's not quite a mile ... My father's street is a cul de sac, with the old house at the bottom of it turned long ago into offices, but residents are allowed to know they padlock number to get them through the gate ...

Then the tube terminated at Hatton Cross because of "a lack of drivers," and we all had to get out and wait for another.  Then Heathrow as enveloped in freezing fog, and we had to wait an hour for a wing de-icer ...

But eventually, back to LA, and after a display of indifference (not totally convincing), Gramsci was back in his usual place, draped over my shoulders.


Saturday, December 10, 2022

a frosted hydrangea

The frost was so crisp and thick this morning that it didn't melt all day unless the sun was on it.  This hydrangea, protected from any one who might want to get closer by a solid fleur-de-lys iron fence, was on Spencer Hill - on the way down to the shops to get one last bit of Christmas gift shopping for my father, and a large tub of M&S custard - his current major gastronomic enthusiasm.


Friday, December 9, 2022

South Bank

To the South Bank, which had some rather luminous trees: destination Tate Modern, with two objectives.  First, the really wonderful Cecilia Vicuña installation in the Turbine Hall, Brain Forest Quipu: I'll just quote the Tate, here:

Cecilia Vicuña’s Brain Forest Quipu is a multi-part installation made up of sculpture, sound, music and video.

The quipu is an ancient South American recording and communication system made from knotted threads. Vicuña has been exploring and transforming the quipu in her work for over five decades.

At the centre of Brain Forest Quipu are two sculptures that hang 27 metres from the ceiling. They are woven together using a range of organic materials, including found objects, unspun wool, plant fibres, rope and cardboard to evoke the look of bleached-out trees and ghostly forms.

This is a uniquely collaborative project with Vicuña working alongside artists, activists and members of the community. Some of the items used in the sculptures have been collected from the banks of the Thames by women from local Latin American communities.

Vicuña created the soundscape with Columbian composer Ricardo Gallo. It brings together Indigenous music from around the world, Vicuña’s own voice and music from fellow artists, alongside field recordings of nature and moments of silence. On digital screens, Vicuña presents a collection of videos by Indigenous activists and land defenders seeking justice for their people and our planet.

‘The Earth is a brain forest, and the quipu embraces all its interconnections,’ Vicuña says.

Through this installation, the artist asks visitors to think about the destruction of our forests, the impact of climate change, violence against Indigenous people, and how we can come together to make change and begin a process of repair.

and although it was good seen from the side, it was even better standing underneath it, being surrounded by the bleached textures, and hearing sound from all sides.  I could have stayed a long long time (the sound loop is eight hours) - but also wanted to see the Cézanne exhibition, which I thought was really well curated...

... I've always rather thought - ah, yes, Cézanne: I know he's really important: but apples; Mont Sainte Victoire; bathers looking as though they have no skeletons and have been poured into sausage casings: ok.  But this show did a great job at showing Cézanne's radicalism - in socio-political terms, not just brush style; at demonstrating how he was in opposition to Impressionism in that he invites slow looking, living with material objects in space - and so on.

On the other hand, I would absolutely take issue with the characterization - repeated several times over - of Mont Sainte Victoire as "timeless" - and Cézanne's interest in geology as being an interest in the "timeless," too.  No, no, no ... it's a commitment to, an interest in, a non-human time scheme.  That's not the same thing, at all.  Opportunity missed.

Oh, and have some swans, floating majestically - dictionnaire des idées reçues: do swans ever float any other way? - down the Thames.


Thursday, December 8, 2022

the frosting of winter lawns

It was spectacularly cold and frosty this morning: I bundled up to take these pictures (and then go and fetch the newspaper).  Later, I bought my father his (early but necessary) Christmas present: a luxuriously thick goosedown duvet.  He's been a lifelong spurner of duvets, but thinks that the moment may have come.  The blankets on the bed date, after all, from the 1950s (and are still there, of course, supplementing the duvet).  It's down to 27 already tonight - which in a house with bad insulation (that's an understatement) is chilly.


Wednesday, December 7, 2022

one more morning in Paris

There was time for a longish walk this morning before I had to catch the train back to London ... so I headed northwest, to the foot of the steps of the Sacré Coeur - it's decades since I've been to Montmartre, even though it, or the area just to its east, used to be my regular stomping ground. I wasn't really there long enough to get any frisson of that past life - until I walked a bit down Barbes Rochechouart, which, with its deep trays of cheap clothes, suddenly seemed very familiar.

But first, I looked round the Marché Saint Quentin, and found myself hating - truly hating - Brexit, and the fact that I can no longer legally take cheese back into the UK. I didn't know whether or not they would have cheese-sniffer dogs at St Pancras, like the beagles who look for illegal apples at LAX ... it looks safe for smuggling, but if anyone with relevant could enlighten me ...

Had I ordered such cheese in Paris, however, doubtless I could get it delivered by bicycle, with other groceries.

There were a couple of sharp rain showers whilst I was walking, which made the streets look stunningly fresh;

and then, of course, there were some surprising corners.