Not everyone made it to this meeting and so we used it as an excuse (opportunity?) to focus on the just start of the second part of ‘A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs’.
the narrator’s focus on the blue of the blind at the window of the train carriage. Significance – to underline the importance of what we see ( in this case the colour) as opposed to what we know we see ( it is a blind).
the importance of light and its impact on what we see. As seen in the changing impressions of the same scene as observed through the train window as the train follows its winding track. Same scene, different perspective. Affected by time, light, distance.
the relevance of these visual experiences become clear when the narrator describes what he sees through his hotel window. eg he describes the sea as a mountain, the crests of its waves as snow.
Proust here makes the distinction between intelligence and intuition/ sensory response. He reveals to us his developing aesthetic – that to touch the truth, create art, he needs to respond to the impression, to be faithful to what he sees, rather than to allow what he knows to come between its expression. (cf. voluntary and involuntary memory)
To place this in a historical context, these ideas are clearly connected to those of the Impressionists.
We are told that the artist Elstir, even before he is introduced, will have a significant influence on the narrator’s artistic evolution.
It is also aesthetically important that Baudelaire is mentioned here. Baudelaire’s use of synaesthesia within some of his poems has a definite correlation to Proust’s use of metonymy here. To taste the smell of a rose is akin to seeing the mountain in the sea.
further points for discussion
humour. Now we’ve spotted it we see it everywhere. Perhaps the narrator’s grandiose claims and anguished exclamations are intended to express genuine pathos, but we can’t help but hear a self-conscious, self-mocking bathos – the voice of a wiser, more knowing older self who is prepared to elicit humour out of his more naive younger self, even in his most despairing of moments. Waiting at the train station; seeing the milk girl; drinking the alcohol.
By concentrating on such a small section we managed to talk about the writing in detail. It really is a joy to be able to read ‘A la Recherche’ in this way and to see how much we’ve still got left to read makes my heart soar as it means we’ve got so much more to explore.
NEXT MEETING : Friday 5th February
TARGET: To finish reading the 2nd part of ‘A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles…’ or, at least, try to.
I’ve clearly not been writing any posts in a while and did think that I would walk away from this website/blog all together.
Because I was becoming obsessed with stats, hits and search engines, that’s why, desperate to think of the latest click-bait to push those numbers up.
Because I found I was more intent on recording life on my phone than actually living it (that’s a BIG one). I dislike Facebook but it crossed my mind that what I was doing here had many of its negatives. And that had never been my intention.
Because I wasn’t concentrating on anything else in my life, just writing randomly and uploading it aimlessly. The result, one huge, word soup, fairly sludge-like in consistency.
BUT because I have stopped recording certain things that I find important and useful, I’ve learnt that when a moment has passed (the details of which I think I will never forget), I have trouble calling to mind even the most basic of information about it. The feeling always remains, of course. I can tell you with gushing enthusiasm, for example, my favourite book, or film. But I can’t always tell you why. And ask me what it’s about and I’m completely scuppered.
And so, for that admittedly selfish reason, I intend to continue writing up what I want to remember just in case I ever want to get my hands on recipes for a dinner party or just rediscover what’s so great about ‘A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs’. I know this is not for everyone but as I get older I realise that it’s not about trying to please others but finding things that make me feel alive. The same things might not do it for you, and that’s fine, but this year on Frock Friday I will offer what does it for me and if you want to share it please help yourselves. And I’m going to start with a little bit of Proust.
‘Ladies! I know you thought I’d never get round to it but I have, and I’m just about to press ‘BOOK’. Do you trust me on this?’
The evening before, on a wine fuelled night out at the Urban Standard on The Gloucester Road, Cecily, Jilly and I all said ‘Great idea!’ when Fee suggested going away together. Sometime. Somewhere. Having tried and failed with ‘India for a month?’ ‘Sicily for a fortnight?’ ‘Bruges for the weekend?’ Fee finally had to settle upon…’Oxford. For one night’.
And so the very next day she’d booked it so that we couldn’t back out. Accommodation secured –
one night at Magdalen College, Oxford, bed and breakfastfor the four of us.
One week later and we were there!
The drive from Bristol to Oxford took just one and a half hours. Once in the city, the first thing we did was to go full-tourist and do
the open-top bus tour,
price £13.50 and valid for 24 hours, complete with knowledgeable guide (an actual person) and the chance to hop on and off at key stops dotted around the city. This was an excellent start to our stay, not least because it was a beautiful day. The spires against the blue sky were breathtaking and we took in many of the key sites.
Sufficiently inspired and surprisingly moved, we got off at bus stop 10, on the High Street, and we did what any right-minded tourist to Oxford should do –
go for afternoon tea at the Grand Café.
It really was such a treat! It’s reputed to be the oldest coffee house in England, mentioned by Samuel Pepys in 1650. Although we very nearly didn’t make it over the threshold of this little piece of history as a woman pushed past us muttering ‘They charge £3 just for a glass of tap water!’ As none of us had ever visited a cafe that charges £3 for a glass of tap water before we decided to remain steadfast and channel our inner Marie Antoinettes, replacing water with champagne and eating bread AND cake. And scones. And cream. And jam.
Grand High Tea
The food was abundant. So much so that ‘Eyes bigger than your belly’ very rapidly came to mind after I’d greedily loaded up my second scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream…
Time to find our accommodation – Longwall Street refurbished double room with ensuite (Magdalen College) – and have a little nap.
Feeling decidedly sluggish we crawled to the porter’s lodge at Magdalen College, conveniently situated not five minutes away from the Grand Cafe on the opposite side of the road. Told that our rooms were not in the main building but situated a mere 3 minutes away, we went in search of them. Unfortunately, and most embarrassingly, we all turned into women not accustomed to getting out much. Clearly giddily giggly, we had all relied on each other to listen to the porter’s directions which meant that not one of us could remember how to get to where we were staying. We got lost just going round the corner and after 30 minutes walking up and down the same stretch of road and putting our keys in every keyhole along the way (not to mention -oh the ignominy – following a student through a self-locking gate only to find ourselves trapped in the grounds of one of the colleges) we had to admit that not one of us had listened to the porter when he’d told us where to go. We went back to ask him again. And this time we listened.
3 minutes away (it was true), we saw the arched door with the phone booth in front of it. Once inside we found our newly refurbished rooms. Warm , with comfortable beds, soft white towels and white cotton sheets, it really did exceed our expectations (that we were all miffed that we hadn’t packed a hot water bottle and bed socks as Fee had done gives you a clue as to what we thought the rooms might be like…). The ensuite bathroom was immaculate – light, clean and with a radiator so hot you could brand your bum on it. And Jilly did. So be careful!
Time to unpack, then a trot around ‘The Meadow‘, located near Christchurch College.
Then back to our rooms for a quick shower before eating out at ‘La Cucina‘, a family-run Italian restaurant just ten minutes walk away from Magdalen College at 39-40 St Clement’s Road.
‘La Cucina’ proved to be a great find. The food was excellent and plentiful, and the service was charming. I shared what has to be the most generous portion of vegetarian antipasti I’ve ever had, followed by a great pasta and clam dish. Given that each of us had a starter, a main and several glasses of wine the bill came in at a very reasonable £90 for 4.
Feeling pleasantly full and ready for bed it was good to know that we had a very short walk back to where we were staying.
Next morning, after a great night’s sleep in a bed more comfortable than my own, we made our way to Magdalen’s great medieval Hall.
As I tucked into my full English breakfast with my yogurt, fruit, cereal, croissant, toast, butter and jam all lined up I suddenly remembered why I’d put on two stones in weight when I had been living in catered halls as a student many years ago. But that’s where the parallels began and ended, the neon lighting strips of the canteen where I’d eaten as a student bearing no resemblance at all to the Harry Potter-esque surroundings in which I now found myself. I couldn’t help but feel a little awestruck at the very beauty and grandeur of the setting and wished I’d tried that little bit harder at school…
For the candle-lit suppers?
Our 24 hours in Oxford was passing quickly. We just had time to have a wander round Magdalen, with its cloisters, quads, past its deer park and into its chapel.
And as we did so we became more and more ecstatic. The awe that had started for me in the refectory reached its crescendo in the chapel when I took this for the original –
I was surprised, but not as much as I should have been given that I knew it was in Milan. But, after my ‘You had me at hello’ moment where I’d been robbed of all critical faculties in the refectory, I was now ready to believe that anything was possible here in this most inspiring and magical of places.
Shame I’d not taken my glasses…
Still, the chapel was beautiful, and as the organ played, so my spirits, not to mention imagination, soared.
Our twenty-four hours were up. But what a glorious twenty-four hours they’d been.
Accommodation : Longwall Street refurbished double room with ensuite (Magdalen College) cost £105 including breakfast
Grand High Tea at the Grand Cafe£23.45
Dinner at La Cucina, St Clements £20-£35
Bus Tour of Oxford £13.50
visit the Ashmolean
try the Turl Street Kitchen for lunch and Quod for dinner
Back in August I bravely embraced my child, fighting back my selfish tears. He’d travelled the world. He’d gone to university. But I knew that this time it was different. His adult life was about to start and he wouldn’t be looking back. He was leaving the nest for the final time and my heart was breaking.
Fly my boy, fly! May your life be full of joy. Oh , my special one! Words cannot express the depth of my love for you nor my anguish at saying this one goodbye.
As I drove home from the train station I had to pull over, my eyes temporarily blinded by the tears that they could no longer contain. And I let them fall, full and heavy over my cheeks, my head awash with images of Tom. My happy, smiling Tom. Tom. The pain and the beauty of the past, brought back so intensely in the moment, took my breath away.
But now, at the start of October, it’s just bitter.
Because he came back. Why?
Nothing’s changed. He’s still my lovely, beautiful joy of a child. But why did he come back?
Now don’t get me wrong, he can always come back. But to come back when he’d never intended to (and I’d been planning to re-decorate his bedroom and turn it into a workroom) hasn’t been good for him. And, perhaps not more to the point but a consideration to bear in mind, it’s not been good for me either (workroom aside). To see him moping around when he should be out embracing life is painful. I understand his frustration at not knowing what he wants to do with his life. I do. I really do.
But I’ve discovered a frustration equally real.
That is, the very real frustration of the parent of a grown-up child living at home. A parent who knows best. Or, at least, thinks she does.
You could say it’s a sign of the times – grown-up children all over the land having to live with their parents because of student debt, lack of jobs, rising property prices.
I know this.
I also know what Tom could do to prevent this. And therein lies the rub because now he’s back in my house it’s oh so difficult not to tell him this. I’m torn between on the one hand letting him find his own way and on the other, sharing with him the wisdom of my very considerable experience.
I endeavour to do the former as I realise the importance of making your own mistakes but when I see him falter (and that’s the problem, that I can see it ), I resort to letting him have ‘my wisdom’, both barrels. But, looking down just one of the barrels of my experience-loaded shotgun Tom can only see the smoke. What’s happening to my little fun boy?
‘It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results…’
This old Bananarama/Fun Boy Three song has been going round in my head for some days now and it’s only in the writing up of the words that I fully understand why…
It’s clearly time to rethink my approach ( nearly wrote ‘attack’…). I want what’s best for Tom. I want Tom to know this and to understand that I will do all in my power to support and help him.
Maybe I’m not as smart as I like to think I am.( Cue Dean Friedman song.)
Clearly the overt advice isn’t going down well. Think, think, think.
I know, I’ll make him a cake. And not just a Victoria Sponge. Oh no. A raspberry and hazelnut cake with hazelnut liqueur and mascarpone topping.
This goes down well. I may not be as smart as I like to think I am but I’m smart enough. Back in the parenting game And so, fuelled with maternal zeal, I consider my next move.
And then I have it. A calendar. A Christmas Advent Calendar. Genius! Take that Dean Friedman…Back of the net!
While Tom argues with himself about what he’s definitely not going to do with his life as he doesn’t want to sell out, and he wants to make a difference, and he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, and he’ll think about doing that job he supposes as a stop-gap, and his arm is twitching, and his work experience is boring and he certainly wouldn’t want to be doing that at the age of 40, and he doesn’t see himself as a corporate type or the type who…. I find that I am surprisingly happy just agreeing and cutting out little felt shapes. Whereas before I might have finished his sentence with ‘the type who earns money?’ now I spend hours nodding supportively, making gently sympathetic sounds, all the while cutting out numbers, squares, holly leaves, berries…
In fact, I decide to show my love for all three grown-up children in the same felt-advent-calendar way. Hmm. Foil covered chocolate coins in the pockets? Tom likes this idea. We think as one.
Strangely, Tom has just told me that he is now leaving home to start his life. My Fun Boy is back in the game. But not without his Christmas Advent Calendar .
Where the wisdom-loaded shotgun failed Cake and Christmas prevailed. Up yours Dean Friedman!
The image of those philosophers of yesteryear, Bananarama and The Fun Boy Three, is from the siobhanfaheyrealm.blogspot.com
‘Un livre est le produit d’un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices’.
(A book is the product of another self than the one that we show in our habits, in society, in our vices.)
Discuss with reference to ‘Combray’.
It’s been a delight to read and re-read the same piece of writing. And this is particularly the case with Proust as the writing is so very dense.
At this week’s meeting we tackled the difficult question about the idea of the creative self. The quotation that makes up the title is from a work by Proust entitled ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’, a work in which Proust attacked the notion expounded by Sainte-Beuve that the person who creates should not be distinguished (or distinguishable) from the person as they present themselves in society. Proust clearly disagreed with this, hence his writing of ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’.
He then went on to challenge Sainte-Beuve’s supposition further in his writing of ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’. And nowhere is there greater evidence of this than in Combray where we are presented with the great composer and musician, Vinteuil, who is seen in society as someone to be pitied.
One specific example : Vinteuil
In his devotional duties as father his attention to his wayward daughter is considered misplaced. Even in a detail as slight as adjusting his daughter’s shawl to prevent her from feeling cold he renders himself ridiculous seeking to protect a daughter who seems to grow in strength on the condition that he diminishes. The assumption is obvious – a seemingly weak and blind father cannot be capable of great artistic achievement. Oh how wrong this is and when we read ‘Un Amour de Swann’ we see Swann’s surprise, and downright denial, when he discovers that the ‘phrase musicale’ that he so loves is by Vinteuil.
-Je connais bien quelqu’un qui s’appelle Vinteuil, dit Swann, en pensant au professeur de piano des deux soeurs de ma grand-mère.
– C’est peut-être lui, s’écria Mme Verdurin.
-Oh! non, répondit Swann en riant. Si vous l’aviez vu deux minutes, vous ne vous poseriez pas la question…mais ce pourrait être un parent …, cela serait assez triste, mais enfin un homme de génie peut être le cousin d’une vieille bête. …
-I know someone called Vinteuil, said Swann, thinking of the piano teacher to my grandmother’s two sisters.
-It’s perhaps him, exclaimed Mme Verdurin.
-Oh!No, Swann replied laughing. You’d only have to see him for 2 minutes to know not to ask that question…but he could be related…, it would be quite sad, but then a man of genius can be the cousin of an old fool…
one general observation
Ironically, Swann, as an artist ‘manqué’, is also presented as a fool in love in ‘Un Amour de Swann’ . This contrasts with the Swann we see in ‘Combray’, where Proust also hints at another Swann, the one interested in art and ideas yet who conceals what he really feels. Personality itself is seen as multi-faceted where the facets are sometimes contradictory and this informs Proust’s notion of the artist.
one real-life example
And who better to provide us with this than Proust himself? Turned down for publication by the very eminent André Gide because he deemed that the Proust that he had met was too lightweight to have written anything of particular merit, it was only later, when he had actually read Proust’s work, that Gide realised the magnitude of the mistake he had made.
Now, I’ve never been to a book group where the start of a novel has been discussed with such enthusiasm nor indeed at such length, nor indeed read and re-read so many times.
And it’s been a joy.
And so, it’s with a mixture of regret – at leaving Combray behind – and excitement – at what’s to come – that I have to say that, at last, it is time to move on…
Next meeting : ‘Un Amour de Swann’ – love and jealousy
Over the past two weeks I’ve had a fair bit of experience of 2 worlds colliding.
On a serious level, the holiday Gabriel and I just had in Budapest and Vienna thrust us up against the reality of a displaced people. As we walked through underpasses full of sleeping families and walked through barriers, desperate refugees made to wait on the other side, we couldn’t have imagined a more surreal situation.
And then there was yesterday. We had gone to watch the Oresteia at ‘The Globe’.
The first clash was between ancient and modern. As we sat listening to Katy Stephens’ powerful Clytemnestra, her black and white dress now black and blood-red, I found myself distracted by helicopters and planes flying overhead, drowning out her anguished cries. I half-expected her to stop and wait until the interference had passed.
However, not all unexpected distractions were damaging to the performance as when a pigeon flew into the crowd providing the sign from the gods that Electra, Agamemnon’s loyal daughter, is waiting for. Right on cue.
And then there were the deliberate distractions, with actors appearing up from amongst the audience, pulling your eye away from the stage to the crowd, as if reminding us of our shared, fragile humanity.
And perhaps, most amusingly, there were the Italian teenagers on a school trip standing just in front of us. Bored beyond belief. Until Cassandra tore off her dress. Then they could barely stifle their giggles causing them to let out even more uproarious snorts of hilarity. When they started to froth coca cola through their nostrils it was time for them to go. They exited stage left on the advice of a very vigilant attendant.
As for the Oresteia itself, played out in the midst of the many and varied unintentional sideshows, I loved it, expressing as it did that collision between the will of the gods and the will of man that constitutes Greek tragedy.
And there was blood. So much blood, underlining what it is to be mortal and giving visceral meaning to the report that ‘They found the house dyed red’. Agamemnon returns victorious from Troy, Cassandra in tow, his throbbing limbs covered in the stuff. Clytemnestra appears drenched in his blood after she kills him, his butchered limbs piled up high in front of her, dress sodden, face and arms dripping.
In some ghastly parallel scene Orestes too later stands before his mother’s dismembered torso, his own bloody duty, to avenge the murder of his father, done.
All this viscerality was shrouded in the haunting and melancholy atmosphere created by Mira Calix’s music (expressed by a saxophone, horn and clarinet), which at times of dramatic tension added a dolefully discordant edge to the action.
You are made painfully aware that ‘Nobody is innocent’, and certainly not in this most accursed of families. You have pity for Agamemnon. Then you listen to Clytemnestra and have compassion for her. As for Orestes, torn between his duty to a dead father and confused hatred for a living mother, we feel for him. Even the loathesome Aegisthus, son of Thyestes and lover of Clytemnestra, wine glass in hand, has a story to tell so vile that it cannot fail to move you (Atreus, Agamemnon’s father and Aegisthus’ uncle, served up his brother Thyestes’ children to him to eat, sparing Aegisthus).
Family ties and betrayals fuel the endless crimes of revenge. It’s all in the blood. A bloodline that is thus tainted -‘cursed’- demands loyalty, vengeance, justice. The tragic paradox demands that blood destroy blood. The gods will it so.
The final play, Eumenides, is where the gods grant absolution and the spectators experience catharsis. The tone changes from tragedy to… well, you’ll see. Mercy is meted out to Orestes by a magnificent, gold sequin clad Athena, goddess of wisdom and daughter of Zeus. Then, ‘dove-from-above’ -like, a strange winged giant golden phallus descends on to the stage (presumably that of Zeus), only to be feted in a conga-style procession, with gold confetti. Dazzlingly, farcically patriarchal – order is thus restored to the world. Huge golden phalluses were often paraded round at the end of Greek plays. Apparently.
Oh, if only those Italian boys had stayed! Titter ye not…
Large enough to grace Phidias’ statue of Zeus at Olympia?
The Oresteia comprises three plays by Aeschylus – Agamemnon, Libation Bearers and Eumenides and is on at The Globe Theatre, London until October 16th.
Ticket prices : standing £5. Seats £17 – £43.
MUST GO – if you love the theatre. If you love/study literature ( in particular European 17th century drama/tragedy) or Ancient History.
MUST NOT GO – if you suffer from a bad back. If you don’t like tragedy as a dramatic form. If you don’t speak English. Although, as my little Italian friends can testify, there is something to entertain everybody in the Oresteia. Shame they didn’t stay until the end…
Less Cher more Frankie Howerd
Running time : 3 hours with two breaks.
To get the most out of the performance :
Book a seat. Front rows are best and restricted view really does mean restricted view here so avoid if possible. To give yourself the best chance of hearing the actors when the planes fly above go for the seats facing the stage.
Hire cushions. The slatted wooden seats with backs are even better (a fact I discovered when an early leaver kindly bequeathed one to me when she left midway through the performance).
After a visit to the lovely Charleston (home to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, key artists within the Bloomsbury group) this Sunday, Gabriel, my mum, Tom and I went in search of a pub.
As Vanessa Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf, had lived in the nearby village of Firle it seemed only sensible to look for one there.
Firle itself was a delight, tucked away in the beautiful East Sussex countryside. Pretty and oozing a sense of community, with its Arts Trail in full swing and residents’ gardens opened up as impromptu cafes, all fluttery bunting and clinking tea cups, it revealed an identity many of us only get a chance to experience in books. And when we saw the pub with its red brick and flintstone walls , offset by the colourful flower baskets and tastefully cream and brown sun umbrellas and dark green paint work, we knew we’d made the right call.
Nestled within the space created by the L-shaped red brick and flintstone building was a large outdoor seating area which on this surprisingly still and warm Sunday was buzzing with life and colour, people constantly coming and going, and so we got a table quite easily. Excited by the menu we only hoped that we hadn’t cut it too fine to order lunch.
When the waitress emerged from an interesting side bar (‘The Farmers’ Bar’ decorated in a Farrow-and-Ball-Does-Muddy-Walking-Boots style which was rather wonderful. Dark walls, sparkly chandeliers, rustic barrels, deliberately aged ram painting, spit and sawdust floor), we knew that we had not.Although not usually one for a starter for a Sunday lunch, I agreed (big of me…) to share a cured fish and shellfish board. Mum was paying. And it did sound good. Delicious smoked salmon, smoked haddock, prawns…looked and tasted good too and the sharing board for two was more than enough to take the edge off the incredible hunger that the four of us had built up after walking round the small but perfectly formed Charleston garden…
As main course, three of us ordered roast beef, only Gabriel lured away from the charms of the traditional in favour of a Mediterranean tart. Must have been due to the surprisingly warm and sunny weather.
The drinks order came quickly, as did the starter.
Yet somehow the main course seemed pretty damned elusive for more than an hour. And we didn’t mind. Making the most of the sun and red wine, we people-watched, marvelling at the intricacies of the tattoos sported by the bearded young men on the table next to us, learning that the Cotswolds were not, contrary to what we had previously believed, the exclusive habitat of the pink trousers brigade, and enjoying the sight of so many dogs attached to serious walkers (sun hats, shorts and walking boots – had to be).
The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed with most dogs sleeping peacefully under their owners’ seats, occasionally giving each other a gentle nuzzle before being roused to carry on their blissful country walk. Happy. Companionable. What an advert for having a dog of one’s own!
And this picture of a rural idyll just got even more idyllic when two riders ‘parked’ up their trusty steeds and came over for a drink.
‘A beef and a chicken?’ A young waiter asked shyly. We said that we hadn’t ordered the chicken causing him to scurry back in with both plates and us to realise that we’d been waiting for over an hour. Thankfully a mere ten minutes later two beefs appeared. When it was clear that the remaining two plates weren’t going to be appearing any time soon mum and I reluctantly started to eat.
With no staff around Gabriel went in to find out if there was any problem with the order. There was. They had forgotten about it. With a party of 30 inside, the warm weather, not to mention the village art trail, attracting a never ending flow of customers looking for that perfect Sunday lunch in a quintessential English village, chaos had descended on the kitchen.
Thankfully Gabriel and Tom got their lunch. And they enjoyed it. As mum and I did ours.
The beef was pink and soft and served with a mustardy cauliflower that was not overdone and a delicious chunky home-made horseradish sauce. I don’t know if it was because I had to wait for so long, my senses thus heightened, but even the kale, not my favourite vegetable, had a depth of flavour that married well with the meaty gravy. And Gabriel loved his little tart…So, fab food.
But we declined the pudding. This time.
And inspite of the long wait we’d had a magical afternoon in a bustling pub in a charming village.
Address: The Ram Inn
The Street, Firle
The bill came to £84 for 4 people. Great value given the quality of the food and wine.
Service: Despite the pressures of an incredibly busy day the waiting staff remained polite and accommodating throughout. As did the customers when left waiting for their food. Good, kind people, mistakes and all, on both sides.
Walks (which I will definitely fit in next time – and there will be a next time – I visit Firle)
Firle circular walk : a six and a half mile walk that takes approximately two and three-quarter hours.
After bonding with the cat formerly known as the Devious Defecator, I am now attuned to all things pet-y.
When my good friend Pam calls and tells me all ( and I mean ALL) about her dog Honey’s hilarious exploits (‘Oh she’s a hoot!’), I no longer zone out, wander off to the kitchen to fetch myself a coffee, to return in time to pick up the receiver and say, ‘Oh yeah?’
Although zoning out has often brought with it its own unforeseen consequences…such as unwittingly subjecting myself to Pam’s favourite Honey-rings-the-doorbell trick ( imagine the scene : door bell rings, I answer. I look down, I see Honey framed in the doorway. Alone. Muddy front paws already up on the doorstep. Seconds later, attempting to hide the horror in my eyes, Pam’s head pops into the frame – ‘We’re here!’ If only I’d paid attention on the phone…).
Once in, the funniest, most beautiful and tallest labradoodle in the world continues to delight and entrance…Pam. Oh how she laughed when Honey went into the kitchen, and helped herself to a lasagne I’d made for tea. ‘She’s such a hoot!’ ‘Isn’t she!’
Then there was the time when ‘My lovely little funny Honey bunny’ sat in my postage-stamp of a pond while Pam sat and watched her. Chortling away. As for me, I was transported back to a time when friends (probably Pam) would allow their toddlers to crunch their biscuits into my carpets or wave their wax crayons scarily close to my newly painted walls. And I couldn’t do a thing about it.
But now I’ve changed. Or at least I’m changing, after the cat (formerly known as the Devious Defecator) experience. Take last week, for instance, when Pam and I left Honey home alone. Even I felt a strange tugging on the heart strings to see the oversized puppy, huge muddy paws up on the sofa, beautiful face tilted beseeching to the right, watching us walk away. Without her.
And I didn’t even think, never mind say ‘Why?’ when an old friend bent her head forward and whispered confessionally into my ear, ‘I’ve got a puppy.’ As she waxed lyrical about her lovely, funny bichon frise her face took on a beatific glow. ‘It’s like having a baby! Oh my word! It really is.’
Then it hits me.
I gasp as I foresee a future full of wellies, pooper scoopers, Pedigree Chum and a faint wet dog smell…
Now there’s no frock for this Friday just a pair of jeans and a top from Marks and Spencers!
Straight leg jeans £22.50 M&S Indigo Collection
Pretty, flowing pull-on top £29.50 M&S Limited Edition
Lovely delicate blouse. Fewer ruffles on the sleeves would make it perfect. Dresses up jeans a treat.
Time to get myself togged up for all those dog walks. I’m just going to phone Pam to see if I can tag along.
..to arrive with my parcel. And I have been for hours. I’d forgotten just how frustrating that can be.
My wait so far
7 a.m. Got up. Showered before Gabriel left because, as everyone knows, the moment you decide to take a shower when you’re in the house alone the doorbell goes.
And I know this from bitter having-to-wait-in experience.
The time when I tripped over the towel and hit my head on the side of the wash basin only to drag myself to the window and see the delivery man speed off in his van springs to mind.
As does the time when I made myself a cup of tea. As the kettle clicked off so the delivery man rang the bell. Once. As I walked past the front door, ever-vigilant, cup of tea in hand, I saw him through the frosted panes post the ‘called-but-you-weren’t-in’ card. I opened the door in time to see him running off at speed, seemingly unable to hear my hysterical cries of ‘Wait! I’m in!’ Perhaps he’d exceeded his 1 minute per delivery target time. Or he just wanted to piss the hell out of me. As I watched the delivery van zoom down the road I can safely say he succeeded in doing the latter.
7.30 a.m. Up and ready. Checked outside for signs of van. Coming. Or going. Opened all doors in the house and turned off the radio which Gabriel had left on in the kitchen. All for optimum hearing-the-bell conditions.
9.00 a.m. Decided to load the dishwasher and the washing machine, thinking may as well while temporarily captive. So much for optimum hearing-the-bell conditions…The whooshing and gurgling of the water pipes made me beat a hasty retreat to the living room where I remained on guilty look-out for a while. Felt bored and tempted to chance it back in the kitchen to make a cup of tea but the thought of a note with the details of a collection depot in the middle of nowhere which I might have to go to in 48 hours stopped me.
10.00 a.m. I tried to read the Guardian online. Found a very silly cat quiz and some even sillier pictures of famous paintings where the key figures have been turned into cats. Really. Funny how, when you tune in to something, you suddenly start noticing them everywhere. The Meowna Lisa…who would have thought it?
A van pulled up outside. Promising. I hovered in the hall waiting for the doorbell to ring. Which it did. I experienced a peak of exhilaration. ‘Would you mind taking this for … next door?’ Followed by a trough of disappointment.
11.00 a.m. Got bored. Moved to the bedroom. Made the bed. May as well. Caved in and switched on the radio. Heard something ringing. Couldn’t have been the doorbell but I went downstairs to check. Just in case. No tell-tale ‘we’ve been’ notes on the doormat. Phew! Returned to the bedroom and fluttered around, picking up socks and other articles of clothing, one at a time, and putting them into the wash basket.
11.30 a.m. Machine noise finished in the kitchen. Was it too early to have lunch? No. Heard that strange not-the-doorbell ring again. What was it?
It took me a while to figure out that it was a What’s App message from Tom, my son who’s not a child any more (although he does a mighty fine impression), informing me that he’s arriving at Bristol airport tomorrow at 5.
Tom:‘Any chance of a lift?’
Me: ‘Of course.’
Tom:‘i’m off to london at 8 that eve so will be a pretty quick turnaround – actually don’t suppose i could ask another favour – would you be able to wash my pink shirt and the blue and white small checked one?’
With the midwife’s words ‘rod for your own back‘ ringing in my ears (and that was when we took our first baby home ) I checked the front door and looked out of the window -all clear – before rushing upstairs to Tom’s room, a maelstrom of emotions and thoughts eddying around in my head.
‘Shouldn’t do it.’
‘Happy to help if I can.’
‘Is it good to make things too easy?’
‘He’s off to his girlfriend’s graduation, don’t want him to turn up looking a mess.’
‘But perhaps I’m not helping her – or him – by doing his washing for him.’
‘But I have the time.’
‘He should have done this before he went away.’
‘He would do this for me.’
And that final point was the clincher, the one that if it didn’t erase all others, it certainly put them into perspective.
It wasn’t about gender inequality, and it certainly wasn’t all about point-scoring. As for his washing, I don’t ever do it, thus explaining the carpet of clothes on his bedroom floor while he’s staying with us (which makes me feel vaguely hypocritical to mention as I’ve just spent quite some time this morning trying to separate the pants from the shag-pile in my own room). Clearly, he rarely does it either. But that’s up to him. No, it was about helping out someone you love if you can. I love him and, trapped here in my own house with nothing to do but wait, I certainly could.
Now: Still waiting BUT the doorbell has just rung as I’m putting Tom’s shirts into the washing machine! My wait could soon be over. Need to get Tom’s shirts in first. There. Done. It’s ringing again. For the second time.
‘Mrs Morgan? A delivery for you!’
It’s arrived. And as I close the door I reflect on what a great morning I’ve had.
And on all the jobs I’ll be able to get him to do when he does finally make it back home for a week or two.
Did I say that it wasn’t allabout point-scoring? Well, it isn’t. Not completely…
And as for gender inequality, worry not as I’m looking forward to re-dressing the balance and preparing him for the outside world.
He can do it. And he will!
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