Strange, when looking back every summer seemed full of sunshine, and the photo’s don’t lie, at least not the ones we took back then – you know, real ones – those bits of very glossy paper with white borders, about 3 inches by four. The photos’ from my Mum and Dad’s honeymoon are even smaller and a brown-grey, but very clear and bright. They were taken with a box Brownie, when you had to hold the camera really steady as the slow aperture clunked shut. I had a Leica half-frame camera that was my pride and joy, and on which I became something of an expert, working out the light, and the timing of the shot before carefully clicking the lens open. You took a lot less pictures in those days, and I for one tried to compose the shot, avoiding lamp-posts sticking out of people’s heads, or cutting them off at the forehead, or losing their feet. And I tried still to make the pictures look natural; I hated those posed-for photos. And of course I hated flash, so I tried to take pictures in full sunshine – hence the remembrance of sunny days. See, the camera doesn’t lie – the sun was always shining.
Now with photo-shop, and camera’s on your phone with auto-focus and auto-exposure I cannot even be bothered, hurriedly taking a picture now and then and barely looking at them again. And nowadays it doesn’t matter if the sun was shining because you can always lighten the computer image up, or add a bit more contrast – making every day sunny for future generations I suppose.
But now photo-record or not, no-one can claim we had no sunny days in 2013, we have had two weeks of glorious sunshine, strange thing is I don’t think I have taken a single photo. So, if I have no record will I remember it, or will I next year complain that yet again we have no summers anymore. I’d better get the camera out quick before the clouds return and normal gloomy service is resumed.
All year it has seemed one mad rush; commuting from one house to another, and one of the casualties has been the garden at Walton. But this weekend we managed to fit in a visit and one of the tasks was to tidy up the garden.
Well, with such a late spring and now a hot summer spell everything has gone wild. There was a mad profusion of plants and even the cemented over cracks between the crazy paving was erupting as weeds found a way to break through. For my birthday in March my sister bought me an unusual present; some potatoes. Seed potatoes and three grow bags to plant them in, which I did some time in April. For a few weeks I watered them assiduously, but with the last month or so being flying visits only I had neglected them.
Well, of course they are all dead. What did I expect with this heat. However intact in the soil were quite a nice crop of very small new potatoes, enough for two or three meals – so after all, all was not lost.
Hidden away in the undergrowth too I discovered last year’s rhubarb plant, that had done absolutely nothing while I tendered the garden, but now with total neglect I have several long stalks of rich red rhubarb……yum, yum.
The garden has been hacked back considerably and now looks half decent again, but I wonder whether you actually get better results with neglect than nurture.
One of the advantages (or not) of living in London is that you never cease to be amazed by what passes as street fashion. Today in the same tube carriage there was a young black woman with very dark skin and what appeared to be another, only larger, head on top of her own. It was a concoction of her hair, braided and woven and shaped into a huge ball which sat atop her face. It was quite amazing but despite this unusual spectacle my eyes were inexorably drawn to the woman who was sitting opposite me.
She had a tattooed tit.
Now in this hot weather it is quite usual to see larger and large areas of cleavage, a not unpleasant consequence of the current heatwave; but this woman was not displaying any more tit than acceptable, it was simply covered in a tattoo. She was wearing or strapped into one of those cantilevered bras which thrust the goods out and tilting upwards, so that the tits lay like two coddled eggs in a basket. The lady in question was probably late thirties, early forties and her tits though not large were probably already subject to gravity and if let loose would flop considerably. Not that that makes them any less attractive when served up for inspection, which hers certainly were. She had loads of make up on, and false eyelashes and porn-star nails and a few sparkly bracelets and rings and a real blingy watch ringed with sparkling (well I doubt if they were) diamonds. High red strappy heels, a skimpy white blouse and short black skirt completed the ensemble. But undoubtedly the most striking thing was that her right tit was tattooed.
Now, I am perfectly happy for anyone to tattoo any part of their body, but don’t ask me to join in. As Sophia Loren once sang to Peter Sellers “Doctor Kitch, Oh no no no, I can’t stand the size of your needle.” (How many of you remember that). And I am sure that many young women have tattoos in places where only close friends ever see them. But then if you have gone to the bother (and pain) of having your right bosom covered with shooting stars in red and green and blue why keep it to yourself.
I just wondered how far down the shooting stars went, and whether she had incorporated her nipple as Saturn maybe. In fact it is quite possible that she was an astrology teacher and had half the cosmos tattooed on her tummy. But please don’t even make me think of black holes – too early in the morning.
As a young teenager I was fascinated by the Profumo scandal. A cabinet minister, a ‘prostitute’ a Russian Naval attaché, and the whole seedy underbelly of British post-war society. And since then there has been scandal following scandal, though in my mind, of almost diminishing importance.
And now we are in the age of perpetual scandal, where every misdemeanor and crime or case of negligence or cover-up is a “scandal”. Even phone hacking, though exciting as the mighty Murdoch was humbled, was hardly a ‘scandal’. The scandal was that this was considered normal behaviour by our gutter press; that the ruining and invasion and ridiculing of ordinary people was justified for the ‘public’s’ amusement; that the publishers thought they could fill pages with semi-nudity and celebrity gossip and pass it off as news – that was the scandal.
And now daily we have scandals, one day rate-fixing, miss-selling of financial products, the next – too many deaths in hospitals. And all the while the public’s confidence and respect falls even further. It is probably true that without regulation people will slip into illegality, whether it be at the top of society or at the bottom. If you think about it, it is only the likelihood of getting caught that acts as any sort of deterrent at all. And then we have the problem of the guardians, the regulators and the ‘scandal’ of themselves covering up their own poor performance. The ‘scandal’ of Government Ministers not knowing, or not asking; the ‘scandal’ of doctors who were doing their best with limited resources and maybe making the wrong call; the ‘scandal’ of MPs being awarded a pretty fair pay-rise, given the abuse of expenses that was also a ‘scandal’.
And so it goes on. We need to reclaim the meaning of a scandal. What we need is a real scandal; a Minister, a Prime Minister maybe, shagging a Celebrity, and the photo’s published in Italy, and available on the internet. Then we would stop calling every irregularity another ‘scandal.’
After a break of a few years I seem to be surrounded by young children again, both my partners and my own grandchildren. They are charming and no matter what we, the older generation, think about the lack of discipline our own children display, they are not really bad at all. At my Mum’s party at the weekend they were delightful, and despite my partners fears were great with the dogs, taking it in turns to walk them round and round the house until the dogs, weary and exhausted took to hiding behind chairs for protection.
And today, entering Mile End tube station I saw a whole class full of five or six year olds. Walking excitedly in pairs, holding hands, black and brown and Chinese and Indonesian and all races and colours in between; there were even one or two white kids in there somewhere. They all had sun-hats on, caps and floppy white cotton ones. They wore a delightful school uniform of khaki shorts and white T-shirts and were having the time of their lives. The few teachers had little to do, but shepherd them along, they were so well-behaved. I just had to stop and look at them, such a delight to see this crowd of happy integrated faces unafraid of the world.
And despite all the stupid press and attacks from Government ministers they are being taught well; a hell of a lot better than I or my children were anyway.
And these smiling little faces are our greatest treasure, they are our future. I am already at the age where I feel like letting go. My own kids are all grown up with families of their own. I no longer feel any real responsibility for them, just a slightly sidelined, but no more genuine for that, abiding care for their well-being – and even more importantly for their children’s well being. There may be a lot wrong with the world as readers of this blog will need no reminding, but the future is safe with these children.
Every morning I walk the dogs, and this simple task provides me with that rarest of commodities – a moment of calm amid the madness of life. I don’t always realise it, sometimes hurrying them on, eager to get on with whatever else is pressing to the forefront of my mind, but just lately I am beginning to savour these few minutes. The dogs know the way and actually they are taking me for a walk, and not the other way round. There was a time when they would both pull on their leads, but they have settled down now and are happy to take a lazy pace on our little morning circuit. They do retain the doggy habit of sniffing every single lamp-post and corner of a wall where some other doggy may have left their scent.
They are however quite oblivious of the beauty of these early morning strolls. With the sun coming up over the river I am often stunned by the beauty of it. The water, all dapples and changing and yet changeless at the same time; the occasional barge being towed along; the ebb and flow of the tides exposing large stretches of mud where the seagulls peck for worms and bits of long abandoned junk emerge ghostly and mud-drenched from the depths; the hazy hills in the distance, the sun glinting off the serried rows of windows in the new flats; the beautiful symmetry of the Royal Naval College opposite and a bit further on the masts of the Cutty Sark, rebuilt after the devastating fire; the dark grey chimneys of the old power station looming against the skyline; the dry docks where boats are laid up ready for repainting or repair; the greeny-grey walls of the slipway, where the tide washes twice a day and will continue long after I am gone and round another corner the millennium dome slips into view with its red tipped masts and now a tourist walkway right across the top, and there you can just make out the latest white elephant in London, the cable car to nowhere. Sometimes I just lean on the riverside railings and breathe in all this beauty.
How lucky we are. And yet how unappreciative of the beauty all around. Then it is back home and ready for work, where occasionally I will think of that moment of calm in this crazy life.
Who would have thought, that after all my years climbing the greasy pole, wheeling and dealing, always having plan B, C and D in my mind as I watched plan A slither down behind me, that I might end my days working in a soap factory?
My beloved partner has learnt how to make soap and is now selling one day a week on Greenwich market and has a place in the market in Eymet for the summer. At first it was just a hobby, making a few bars here and there, experimenting with colours and fragrances, translucency, having inserts, and different shapes. But now the tourist season is upon us we seem to spend longer and longer every Sunday morning making soap.
And it isn’t the making of the soap that really takes the time, it is the wrapping and packing that is the most time-consuming. Inevitably this little ‘hobby’ has turned into a business, and though only generating about a hundred pound a day or so, we are trying to build up a stock of successful lines, while selling the less popular ones cheaply, and re-using the very old early experiments,
I do quite enjoy it, but at time it can be tedious. Last night I wrapped over a hundred bars of soap. I am cling-filmed out. Our weekends are rapidly turning into the busiest days of the week. Mind you the soap does look lovely. We are awash with it, hahaha
The weather is peculiar, isn’t it. A very late Spring has merged straight into Summer. And everyone begins to feel better. All those little problems seem to evaporate, much like the morning mist on the horizon. The gardens are suddenly full of flowers, it must be a great time for all those pollinating insects, buzzing from one nectar filled flower to another. But people generally feel happier too.
There are some of course who are complaining. But let’s ignore those today, and just lift our faces up and enjoy it. As a child you never thought about the weather. If it rained a bit during the six week summer break, so it rained and you played indoors, but actually all my memories are of playing cowboys and injuns or explorers or tarzan out in the countryside. I was lucky, I now realise in that our little council house backed onto farmland and fields and spinneys and lots of hedgerows and footpaths so it seemed perfectly natural for us all to just play out in the fields. We also had a large green space right outside the front of our house which was the perfect size for football or cricket. And even then we could play safely in the road, as we were practically a cul-de-sac with little or no traffic, certainly no lorries or fast cars.
But as a child you don’t appreciate it. You think the sun will always shine. And even as a young man I took the summers for granted; looking back the seventies seemed full of hot lazy summers. So, maybe our appreciation of the weather has far more to do with our moods than the actual weather. Whatever, at the moment I feel I just want to enjoy this one a bit more than many of late. I may not have that many left.
Who would have thought it, my mother who I have known all my life (hahaha) is eighty today. Which of course means that I am sixty-two, and though I look quite like her, is a frightening prospect as she now looks so old, and I still consider myself young.
My parents both retired early, my Dad at fifty-three, though he did work part-time until he was sixty, the same age as my mother stopped working. They were both lucky and have received excellent final salary pansions which gives them a generous income, part of which they still save. For a few years they still seemed quite young in their retirement and thought they are keen caravan-ers they have undoubtedly slowed incredibly in the last five or so years.
They have now decided to become ‘old people’ and complain about ailments and keep saying they are getting old every time you see them. They are almost childlike now too, in that they are quite happy to be led by my sister and I. They are actually far nicer people too; my mother was an absolute tyrant while I was growing up, and my father was very distant and hardly spoke to me. Now he seems genuinely pleased whenever I ring up, and my Mum is suddenly an understanding and forgiving kind old lady.
I can remember hating my mother as a child, rebelling at every turn, fighting her in my silent disobedient way (I never dared answer her back) and being the recipient of her temper. I think I was a great disappointment to her; I was certainly not the child she wanted me to be. And as I grew up and failed relationships and children with different mothers piled up that disappointment only grew. There was a gulf between us that has taken years to bridge. Too much lost time, but in a strange way the fact that I had to do almost all of it on my own, without much help from my parents at all has made me a stronger person. And importantly my mother’s equal at long last.
Anyway, at last we are friends, so Happy Birthday Mum. You are eighty today.
Well, it must come as no surprise that the government is selling Royal Mail; there ‘ain’t much else left in the cupboard to sell is there. And as one of the last ‘socialist’ public services left it is no surprise that they have had it in their sights for a while. By ‘socialist’ I mean that as well as being a great boon to ordinary working people to be able to send and receive letters the over-riding principle of the Royal Mail was that wherever you lived in the United Kingdom you got the same service. This goes against all market ideas. It makes commercial sense to offer a cheaper service for letters to be delivered within London, say, than from Lands End to John O’Groats, but we were all treated equally, everyone’s letter given the same consideration. Obviously if you wanted guaranteed or very fast delivery you paid a bit more, but essentially and despite recent hikes in the price of stamps we were all equal.
And this is another gift to private enterprise, literally hundreds of millions have been spent on modernizing the Royal Mail, and now at long last it is actually profitable and contributing to the exchequer, so what better time to give it away to those with money to buy.
Can we honestly say that any of the privatisations have brought benefits to ordinary people, except that now we are all paying far more for services so that shareholders can receive their dividends. Half the electricity and gas suppliers are now foreign owned too. Rail fares increase above inflation every year and there has even been the ridiculous scenario of the government having to step in to relieve those poor operators who couldn’t make a profit. The last privatized coal mine has also been taken back into Government hands, though this received hardly any news coverage.
But even though Royal Mail is making a profit now, who can say for how much longer. Every day, I receive invoices and statements by e-mail. You are even penalized now by some suppliers if you require a paper invoice rather than seeing it on-line. Apart from Birthday and Christmas cards who send letters? There are still all those deliveries of internet-ordered goods, but with more competition can we really see Royal Mail remaining profitable.
And what will happen if one day the privatized Royal Mail admits it cannot run the business at a profit. Will the government of the day have to step in to save them as happened with the railways and the coal industry in the 1940’s? I am sure they will sell-off Royal Mail and after an initial flurry the shares will settle down but I am not sure it is a great investment at all.