About Me

Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Year For Birds

Lots of birds in the garden. Plenty of greenfinches today, plus coal, blue and great tits, a robin, a female chaffinch, a handful of goldfinches and a magpie, who clumsily balances on a thin branch to get at the sunflower seeds. One of the great tits is a giant (a giant in the world of little birds). With his long tail and body, he's the same size as a sparrow. I love watching them.

 I think I'll be listening to the Staves a lot next year. They make such a beautiful sound.(Click on the link.)

The Staves - Facing West

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The day after yesterday...

...otherwise known as Boxing Day or, if you are a Catholic or tend towards the  higher reaches of the Anglican candle, St Stephen's Day. 

The name Boxing Day derives from  the tradition of the well-to-do giving money or gifts to fill up the  Christmas boxes of tradespeople and servants. All very Downton Abbey (a bit more of that later). St Stephen  was an unfortunate chap who turned up in the 'Acts of the Apostles', attempted to preach the Word and got stoned to death for his efforts, an image that's a little at odds with turkey sandwiches and Match of the Day.

Despite my recent blogging about my personal faith, I didn't go to church, though I did listen to choirs singing on radio 3 on Sunday, whilst I warmed samosas  and made some hummus - a poor excuse but there you go.  I cooked dinner, didn't drink too much but did watch a lot of telly, tuning in to housewives specials such as 'Call the Midwife' and 'Downton Abbey'. I get laughed at work by some of my more intellectual colleagues for liking 'Call the Midwife'  but, for all its cosiness, I do like how it reminds us of what a difference the NHS made to ordinary people's lives.The part about the poor old girl who lost all her children in the workhouse may have been over-sentimentalised but such stories are not derived from fiction.

On Downton Abbey, far more of a Tory favourite, I imagine, with its nostalgic view of the hard-working, loyal lower classes who certainly knew their place and woe betide  them if they didn't, the blue-eyed-boy from the 'Line of Beauty' ended up dead in a ditch, reminding us that death is no respecter of class. Likewise, the cousins in the Glens were there to remind us that even the poshest of toffs will find their lives sad and empty if deprived of love. (That last bit sounds a bit like a Vanessa Redgrave's voice-over in 'Call the Midwife'.)

Much less preachy and a lot more fun, the 1995 film adaptation of 'Restoration' with Robert Downey Jnr. on one of the cable channels was a jolly picaresque through the ..err.. Restoration..as experienced by physician come wastrel Robert Merivale. It didn't do justice to the book but a comic cameo from Hugh Grant as an ambitious and foppish artist and a good turn as a Puritan doctor from David Thewlis lent it something, and Robert Downey Jnr. was funny and cute.

Today it's raining, so I have postponed my walk  and shall, instead, try to write a 50 words story for the book gathering on Saturday. I think that calls for a guilt free, festive, Feast of St Stephen brandy and a few chocoates.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Cold, cold, cold. The  frost nips and the sun shines and  it's the very first day of Advent. The run up to Christmas Day; the run up to the birth of sheer goodness and innocence: the birth of very Light of the World. Sceptics and cynics may scoff but I love it. Not only Christians but Pagans celebrate the rebirth of the light each year. And, whilst the Saturnalian aspect is pretty upfront, the Christian part of the festival still calls out to those who want to listen. The birth of the baby down among the animals, the visitation of the Angels and the visit of the Shepherds, followed in Epiphany by the Wise Men with their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh is about as precious a story as you can get.

Of course, the early Church stole the festival. We all know Jesus wasn't born on Christmas Day but, at the time the Christiansiers did  this,  it probably made perfect sense. The remnants of  paganism are never far away as we celebrate the middle of winter - for who can ignore the power of   Nature? - but  the forgiving face of the Christian God is there to be discovered should you wish to find it.

The imperfection of the Christian Church is legion and the latest debacle  over women bishops in the Anglican Church does nothing to endear it to secular folks and many within its ranks, myself included, despair at the conservative attitudes of those who fail to understand the rightness of equality. Yet, when I light a candle on cold winter's night and await the birth (symbolic or otherwise) of the child who was born to King, my heart cannot help but sing a merry tune.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

A candle in the winter night

Autumn's nearly through and advent is closing in. Soon it will be dark at ten to four and I'll be burning a Christmas candle and reflecting on the circular nature of existence. Writing this blog for a number of years has made me as aware of the significance of the different times of the year as did the times I spent in Church becoming  increasingly aware of its calendar.  I ought to go to Church more but it doesn't feel quite right at the moment. I don't always feel at home in my local church but my faith still glows like a candle on a winter's night.

Image from: The People's Commons

Friday, 28 September 2012

Red and Twittering

I've changed my page colour and gone all red and vibrant with a hint of cosy. It's redder than my new hair colour.  I've also got into Twitter a bit. It's not all mindless and suits my ever so slightly compulsive streak. So far, I've had three followers. One of them left within a week, the other had a very bizarre web page which seemed like some kind of anti-Semitic cult (I blocked him) and the other is the TES resources page, which must have automatically cross referenced my email which makes up part of my Twitter address. Still, it's quite nice to be followed by the off-shoot of a national institution.

I decide to follow Jeanette Winterson after reading her wise and feisty memoir 'Why be happy when you can be normal'  about growing up with a megalomaniac for an adoptive mother. The book revisits the events which inspired 'Oranges are not the only fruit', Winterson's first novel.  A wonderful book that I would recommend to anyone. In terms of Twitter, it might be viewed as a  bit weird or even sad to be 'following' intelligent 'celebs' like Ms Winterson, Mark Gattiss and the bubbly historian and keeper of Royal Palaces Lucy Worsley but, on the other hand, it's quite fun. Like a sort of virtual dinner party with people who seem  rather interesting, as super Twitterer Stephen Fry might put it.

 I get so many news tweets from The Gruniad that I have to scroll down a long way to see what Lucy's up to: presenting a programme on BBC 4 next week about an eccentric female culinary historian who went to Africa and, later on,  wrote a history of British food.  So it's not all mindless drivel, despite an actor informing his followers, of whom I am currently one, that Virgin Trains smell of wee. Meanwhile Giles Fraser informs me he lost his jacket before appearing on News Night and felt under dressed whilst conversing with one of the brothers Milliband at some fancy reception or other. I'm sure such an interesting cultural life fits in nicely with running an inner London Parish. Whatever, it really is quite diverting to read about the lives of mildy interesting actors, writers and liberal clerics, whilst commuting to work on a packed out bus, while the rain just keeps on raining and I suffer from start of term nerves and wish I existed in a less-exhausting environment.

As for my own tweets, well it's a bit like that Billy Idol song 'Dancing with Myself' but, who knows, maybe one day I'll be famous enough to delight 1,550 followers by commenting on the smell of the Cornish pasty outlet at Euston station as I pass through on my way back up north? Meanwhile, I'll  curl up with 'The Casual Vacancy' and try and have a chilled out weekend.

Dancing with Myself

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Autumn comes early

Autumn comes early this year. The wash out of a summer ended with a few warm and sunny days and now, all of a sudden, warmer clothes are in order. Flashes of brown and red have appeared in the trees and stray leaves begin to fall.

The birds are back, despite the influx of cats of which there are five in all.  Greenfinches, blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, coal tits and great tits join the blackbirds, the dunnocks and the robin.

On the home front, I bought a new fridge and a freezer and hopefully, the man who does most of our jobs will sort us out a new front door. The old one is worn and scratched and is now, basically, an embarrassment. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Lancashire lad captures the essence

Like a lot of other people, I enjoyed the Olympic opening ceremony. Danny Boyle communicated a real sense of what it means to be a Brit without any element of misplaced nationalism or overweening pride. An Australian commentator described it as 'boastful self-depreciation' (great use of an oxymoron),  which is pretty spot on.  Rather than trying to compete with China's impressive display of autocratic  imperial grandeur we stuck to what we're best at: a spot of Shakespeare, a big nod to the significance of the industrial revolution and some good tunes. It was great to celebrate children's literature, whilst reminding the Tory grandees that the NHS and the work of our nurses  is something to cherish as well as to be proud of.

Overall It was a grand* cerebration of who we are and what matters to us from social networking to the suffragettes. There was something really symbolic about the forging of the Olympic ring. It reminded the world of Britain's industrial heritage but went beyond it. It made me think of all the people who labour long and hard, all over the world. It reminded me of the people working at the Olympics, not only the army of volunteers, but those working bloody hard to earn a crust  in places like McDonalds, those  working in  fast food outlets in almost every major town, city and airport the world over. It reminded me of those who sweat a living making sports clothes and trainers for athletes and 'hoodies' alike; the army of factory workers who produce the clothes on almost everyone's backs. It was hats off to  labour, literature and popular culture and who the heck could complain about that?

I read in Saturday's paper that Boyle himself invited Frank Turner to sing  'I still Believe' prior to the ceremony. Great publicity for an underrated singer songwriter, bringing him to a massive audience and allowing Boyle to convey the sense of hope we may not always wear on our cynical sleeves but which lies well protected in our collective heart.  Someone posted it on You Tube.(It was taken off later.)

*Usage note: 'grand' in the sense of Lancashire dialect for bloody good rather than to denote magnificence.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fifty Shades of.... Jeremy

It's the holidays.  A break from the routine of work and more work. Time to go shopping, cook more, go away for a bit, sleep longer - afternoon naps a speciality - and read.  Currently, I'm reading Jeremy Hardy's book about trying to trace his roots. To the disappointment of his mother, he's not  famous enough for 'Who Do You Think You Are', so he wrote a book instead. The book is very funny.

I have just finished reading a book about the Pre-Raphaelites, which makes it two non-fiction books in a row. That's good because, apart from work related reading, it's nearly always fiction I find myself reading for pleasure but now I'm stuck with reading 'Fifty Shades of Grey' - an insane book group choice - I may have been put off fiction for some time to come.   How tedious to read of perfect, pounding, earth shatteringly orgasmic sex with characters as near to cardboard as those little cut out and dress up figures I used to play with when I was a little girl.  I have now  reached the stage where the book kicks in to the BDSM stuff, which I'm finding doesn't lie very comfortably with me. I really don't like the idea of control or submission to that degree. Each to his own, of course, but I'd rather sit in the sun and be entertained by Jeremy Hardy describing his experiences at the National Archive than have to bother reading about Anastasia and Christian Grey. 

Tomorrow I'm thinking of going to Wigan to do some shopping. I think I'll take Jeremy with me. At least I don't need a Kindle to read him in public. 

My Family and Other Strangers

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Shopping and TV

 I went a bit mad this afternoon buying accessories and costume jewellery at Salford Quays. I've been so busy lately, focused on work or slumped on the settee watching drama of varying quality that, apart from a trip to the hairdressers, I've hardly bothered treating myself till last week, when I bought a Betty Jackson top in Kendals. That day I  also indulged in some expensive eye make-up, which looked great on the palette but made me look ill when I wore it. Retail therapy gone wrong.

On a totally different note,  I have really  enjoyed  the BBC 2 documentary 'Our Secret Streets', which takes a look at streets in London that were surveyed by Charles Booth in 1866. I like the way it show how economics and class still shape our lives. Although the first  programme may have misrepresented a former Deptford councillor by setting him up as a bogey man for wholesale house clearance policies, it's been really fascinating.  It focuses on real life characters in a way that adds a dramatic element to what would otherwise be a rather sober socio-historical appraisal of the issues. It's good to see history, education and entertainment so well blended. Much better than mediocre drama.

The Secret History of Our Streets

(This image is  from wikipedia)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


 I'm very ambivalent about the Royals. I don't toast them, unless it's embarrassing to do otherwise and I rarely find myself in a situation where, as Irene Ruddock in Alan Bennett's 'A Lady of Letters' more or less puts it, 'I am called upon to do so.'

In 1989 I performed in  a scene from a community show, which was watched by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, in our local town centre as part of a celebration of 150 years of local government. I painted on a moustache in the hope I might  not be recognised. I helped organise a street party for a community project in 1977 and once waved a Union Jack, whilst listening to Land of Hope and Glory at an open air concert with my dad's Lions' group in Kent at some point in the noughties. The latter  took place far enough away from home to avoid me being  spotted by numerous Republican associates.

I didn't attend any street parties but watched the flotilla of boats float down the Thames on the telly; likewise the concert - which will hopefully not be remembered for Gary Barlow and Cheryl's lamentable duet.  The boats looked great and would have been a sight to see no doubt but I really can't get my head around all that cheering.

The Queen, however, seemed as modest and reserved and unassuming as usual and in this noisy, brash culture in  which everyone- myself included -  is keen to more or less publicly share their 'journey', her inscrutability is a rare thing indeed.

I was rather hoping Paul McCartney would sing this little ditty at the concert  but I guess he may have thought it disrespectful.

Her Majesty

I love the beacon lighting. We should do it more often.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Nothing to write about

All getting a bit fallow up here lately.

Friday, 4 May 2012


Cats have invaded our garden bringing danger into our untidy little piece of paradise. Our neighbours on one side have had a couple of fairly passive cats for years. These cats wear bells and so the birds are forewarned. Now the other neighbours, always an edgier proposition, have suddenly whipped two fully grown brass necked creatures out of a hat. One barred, the other a Burmese, they stalk the blackbird and the dunnocks through the undergrowth and sit underneath the bird house where a pair of robins have nested. They climb the elderflower tree and sit on the shed roof underneath the feeders. The tits and the finches fly out of their reach but they hide further down the tree and wait to pounce.  How will the little chicks fare with such predators? It sends a sharp chill through my heart.