All posts by adrian

A small apology

Sunday 4th September   

And now for a small apology; I realise now, re-reading together the two pieces about my early memories of London, how dreadfully sad they sound. I cannot really believe I was that sad as a child. Perhaps these memories are not so much specific, as the result of many nights laying awake and thinking about Cyprus and leaving my father, or had I lost him somewhere, because I couldn’t really remember saying goodbye, perhaps he had got lost on the boat back to England.  But no, he had definitely stayed behind; I knew that much, as Grandma had great pleasure in relating it to all and sundry.  She took almost a relish in letting people know, and the complicity in her voice, “Of course, the child’s father stayed behind in Cyprus. Yes, a bad choice my daughter made I am afraid.” Was there a knowing wink in her voice? As if they all knew the reason he stayed behind and nobody had told me, and yet I almost had to go along with it all and as I got older it was just assumed that I knew the whole story.  Well, of course, nobody knew the whole story, and you will just have to buy the book to find out.

But no, I wasn’t always sad. It may just be the act of remembering that throws up this miasma of misery around coming to London.  Maybe on a different level I was really enjoying the adventure of it all, and had, say, my father joined us later, I may have been writing quite a different story altogether. Perhaps if I had had a brother or a sister things might have been different too, but I had to deal with it all on my own. My mother hardly ever spoke to me, and Grandma was always the one informing of things rather than sharing them.  She was always the fount of knowledge, but would never put up with me moping about or being maudlin’, so I had to do my moping on my own. And I seemed to be left on my own an awful lot, there was no television to crowd around, and we didn’t have the wireless on much in the evenings either, so I would wander up to my bedroom, and write up my diary or read another Agatha Christie, or just lay on my bed and think about it all.

So a little apology and a small promise: that I will try to be a bit more cheerful over the next few posts.

Early memories of London – part two

Saturday 3rd September   

The move to my new prison in Putney took place some few weeks later.  At the time I did not understand and had thought that we were to be here forever in the hotel, with its’ dark green curtains and silent dining room and cobwebs high up above the light fittings. We had travelled out to the new (old I thought, how could they possibly be calling it new) house in Putney, and though it had been explained to me I am sure, I just saw it as another temporary place of containment, another place to lock me away.  And then the move was upon us, and Grandma was too busy organising the furniture and carpets and boxes of china to be bothered with me, and I was sent out to the garden.  At least here, I could feel a touch of the sun, as it tried to make its’ warmth felt through the dreary grey clouds banking up row upon row.  There was a scrubby patch of overgrown lawn, one or two trees and borders of shrubs in some mad overgrown matted mess that was never quite tamed.  We had a weekly gardener for a few years, but he just used to mow the lawn, and had cleared a couple of beds for my mother to plant geraniums in, but he was a great one for taking his cap off, rubbing his head and sucking air between his teeth and declaring it was such a big job, and so he never cleared back the shrubs, and neither did my mother, or me for that matter.

Then grandma called me in and took me by the hand and led me upstairs, stairs I felt went on forever as they turned at right angles and then up again.  She walked me down the dank and dismal hall and stood me in front of a brown painted wooden door, with a tortoiseshell Bakelite handle.  “This is your new bedroom, don’t you want to go take a look. Come on Catherine, you are a big girl now, with your own special bedroom, let’s look inside shall we.”  And we did go inside, but it didn’t feel special at all.  It felt like all the other rooms in London, cold and old and boring. There was a bed and a tall boy and a little combination desk and chair. I later learnt that like all our other furniture, this had come out of storage. It was Grandma’s old furniture from before the war that she had put into storage when she went to live in my parents’ first house in Chelsea.

It took a while, but I eventually came to accept the house, the garden and my bedroom as my own. My bedroom became my place of refuge, the one place I could be alone and dream, they couldn’t stop me dreaming then, and no-one has ever been able to either.

Just like a light-bulb

I used the phrase ‘just like a light-bulb’ to describe my reaction to the concept of monochrome drawings – in particular to the use of biro, a favourite medium of Adrian’s, and in some ways this was an apt description.  The harsh edge of a well-defined black or dark blue in some cases, area, against the pristine field of white, is just like a light going on and off.  But in a way it is far more subtle than that; it leaves to the imagination of the viewer the task of in-filling all the gentle gradations – the suffused softness, especially in a face, of the movement from light to shadow.

And Adrian was clever with it; he seemed able to draw the initial outline with ease; one take and it was done – no revision at all. How did he know just where to draw the line, because he was quite incapable of drawing the line in real life; his behaviour always bordering on the outrageous. How did he manage to let us see the hidden form in those blank patches of black and white. Or is it just our own power of imagination, the propensity to see faces in all things. You know, the fires flickering flames, clouds slowly grazing the close-cropped sky, even in the random swirls of vinyl tiles on a bathroom floor – we see faces in all of them. I do, at least.

I did tire of the repetition in his drawings though, and always hoped he would turn his talents to other mediums, but stubbornness, or some sort of working out a penance on his part, seemed to drive him on to draw even more monochrome faces.

Ah well, that is all over now, of course. Long gone, thank goodness. And now back to the tedium of my boring life, and I just remembered I had to buy a new light for the bathroom, the one room in the house you cannot go without one. Actually I am reminded because of a small item on the news. The traditional sixty-watt filament light bulb is to be no more. Extinct, a victim of global warming, and it is to be replaced by those wretched energy-saving bulbs, which start off dim, and remain a poor substitute even when fully warmed up. They are useless, they are just a farce.  They are just like a light-bulb – but quite definitely not like a real one.

Early memories of London

Thursday 1st September   

I may have mentioned before that when we were first decamped, quite unceremoniously, from Cyprus, we stayed at a hotel in Holborn.  I was seven at the time, and remember all of this quite clearly.  Although I had been born in London, and had lived there until I was about two or three, I cannot remember that at all.  My first memories, and getting fuzzier by the day, are of Cyprus – of sunshine, of blue cloudless skies, of the little beach near our house where I used to play and the sharp spiky grass that used to grow in the sandy dunes.

So my return to London never felt like a homecoming; more like being banished into exile.  Rain, I can remember rain; and grey skies every day.  Dark, tall and grimy buildings everywhere; where in Cyprus it was all dusty grey or dazzling white.  And the noise, I was shocked by all the noise, the traffic and the people rushing everywhere were quite frightening for a seven year old used to a slow languid pace of life.  I don’t actually remember much about the hotel itself, or our accommodation within, but I do remember the Dining Room.  How peculiar it felt to be eating in such a large and impersonal room, and everyone eating together, at separate tables, but eating in silence. The heavy, were they green, drapes at the windows and the silence; everyone ate in complete silence. I can remember the clatter of the plates being cleared away, and Grandma, one finger to her pursed lips, as she shushed me quiet.

And the tube, I can recall with startling clarity my first time on the tube. The long clacking wooden escalators with the lights on vertical poles with their yellowed-glass lamps shining up to the circular ceiling, and me, trying to hold onto the moving high handrail, which moved a bit slower than the steps moving my feet along, so I had to keep sliding my hand forward, and looking over and seeing the rows of moving faces and hats on the opposite side, then the platform with its’ yellow-cream tiles which seemed to go on forever, curving into infinity, and the noise of the train, the roar as it hurtled out of the dark maw of a tunnel, its’ one eye of a headlight bearing down on me.  And me, the only child in the carriage as I sat on Grandma’s lap, and looked at all the pale and old faces opposite. And then more people got on, and were hanging by real leather loops in the ceiling.  And everything so dirty, the greasy windows, worn seats and grubby floor with rubbish everywhere, and in Cyprus everything had seemed so clean.

I was devastated, in my naivety I thought of it all as some sort of punishment; I thought this would be forever, and I would never see the sea, or Cyprus, my home, again. They had taken me away from the sunshine and had locked me away in a London cupboard.

The end of the line

Wednesday 31st August   

I have been aware for many years now that I am the end of the line.  My family line, I mean.  Both of my parents, as I myself am, were only children, and as you know I had no children myself.  Although I do have cousins, great cousins actually, who I last saw at Grandma’s funeral, we have long lost touch – and besides I don’t think they really count, not in my reckoning anyway.  I just mean that I am the end of the line of my immediate family; Grandma, Mummy and me.  And in a funny sort of way I always knew I would be.  There were no babies being born in our family while I was growing up, and since then I haven’t heard of any either. It was as if we were in some sort of suspended animation; the possibility of my marrying one day and having children was never entertained. Oh, I had those romantic daydreams, based more on some Daphne Du Maurier novel than any real desires, of being swept off my feet by some super-handsome rich stranger.  But they never involved having children.  I think that my growing up as an only child, and with no possibility of ever having a sibling, made me in some way assume that I was possibly special.  The special child in the family; the only ever child there would be – and so I never imagined ever having a child of my own.  Strange? Yes, possibly, but understandable, I think.

I did have a few qualms in my mid-forties when I realised that time was passing quickly, and any chance of my having a baby was diminishing too.  But I knew deep down that it was just a passing notion, and not a serious desire.  In some ways it confirmed my special status – the special child, the last of the line.

Selfish? Yes, a bit.  But I never claimed to be perfect.

Money’s a funny thing

Tuesday 30th August   

The older I get the more I realise that money is a funny thing. So much of human activity is bound up in a desperate struggle to obtain it, and so much misery is caused by the disparity in the amounts different people possess, and yet in itself it is of no value.  Only as a means of exchange does it have any value, and the rate of exchange – what money can buy, or how much money one is prepared to spend to obtain something is a fluctuating thing, entirely dependent on circumstances.

When I was growing up in Putney I was not entirely aware of how much or how little money we had. Actually my mother’s alimony settlement was pretty paltry and I have since discovered that quite regularly both Grandma and my mother would be forced to sell investments to make ends meet.  As I started to earn a living I can remember how expensive clothes were, and how long it would take me to save up for them.  Later, as my income increased I would find that I was accumulating a balance in my bank account, simply because I was unused to spending money frivolously, and had continued living quite frugally. After I met Edward, money was never a problem, but neither of us spent foolishly, and although I was never short of it, I never felt I had money to waste either.  Now that I am alone I find that I have a very healthy bank balance, and several investments.  By force of habit maybe, I have these plotted on a spreadsheet, and regularly check my share values and record them in their separate columns.  But in a strange way, that is all they are – numbers on a spreadsheet – they have no real value other than that.  What on earth does she mean, I hear you mutter.  Well, let me put it this way; I have no needs that my income from Edward’s pension does not meet; I do not want a larger or a second home; I have more clothes than I can be bothered to wear and,  so, I have no intention of cashing in any of these investments in the foreseeable future.

There is comfort in the knowledge that I am financially secure, of course, but if I did spend it (on what I cannot imagine) it would no longer be there, and so in a strange way its only value is in not spending it. As I said at the start of this piece, money is a funny thing.

My Potential Unrealised

Monday 29th August   

Being a girl raised in the fifties, I, like most of us, have existed without our potential ever being truly realised.  Nobody expected much of us girls, and my two role models had always been the recipients of the wealth of others. Grandma had lived in her father’s house and then her husband’s without ever having to work. And when potential disaster loomed when her husband died and she was potentially to be homeless and penniless, why, along came my father, recently orphaned and with his own money and a career in the diplomatic service to boot. My mother, as I am sure you are aware, also existed on his limited wealth, and has never had to work either; though what on earth she would have been fit for I really do not know. So it was hardly surprising that not much was expected of me, except maybe, to take over from Grandma when she got old, which I had started to do before I left home so suddenly.

But as to my own potential being realised not much thought was ever given – and very little by me either. I had idled away my schooldays and my employment in Accounts just fell into place. Nobody ever talked about a career for me, and I simply looked on my work as a source of income for the most part. Then, when I met Edward, he persuaded me to give up my little job, as he called it, and become a full-time housewife, and I suppose, housekeeper, for him.

The only real thing I have ever done was to write “Catherines Story”, and now I can hardly believe I, and I alone (you must not believe the name of the author on the cover) have achieved a childhood dream – to be a writer.  I just wonder where I would have been, had I ever been encouraged, at school or home to have pursued my potential, and had I worked at being a writer, rather than having simply recorded these desultory observations of a middle aged woman.  I wonder what I might have achieved then – or is this it, is this one, sort of autobiographical novel, to be it – or is there still more to come.  We will have to wait and see, won’t we.

Pain in the Pursuit of Beauty

Sunday 28th August   

I have never understood those who suffer pain in the pursuit of beauty.  Actually I don’t really understand the seeming infatuation of the young (or some of those old enough to know better) with the concept of bodily perfection in the first place.  It is all part of the celebrity obsessed culture we appear to be living in; the worship of the few, who are chosen more often, not for what they have achieved, but for who they are openly acknowledged to be sleeping with; the triumph of the pointless over the meaningful.  Such is the world we live in.  For all the faults of us, children of the fifties and sixties, we were at least a generation of thinkers, creators of ideas and ideals; we genuinely wanted a better world for all, rather than just our own fifteen nano-seconds of fame.

Whilst waiting at a station buffet for a train, I have just noticed a girl, who must be, oh, all of nineteen. She has tattoos on almost every available and observable bit of flesh, (and one assumes the bits we cannot see also) her arms, ankles, shoulders and legs are covered, and she has that one in the slight dip just above the waist at the back, which seems to be almost obligatory these days.  Her hair is dyed the brightest of reds and she has rings in her nose, ears, eyebrows and upper lip (and probably in places I shudder to think of too). The effect is startling to say the least, and she is certainly noticed by almost everyone; though whether in admiration, amazement or disgust, who is to say.  One does wonder though how she will feel at forty or sixty when the flesh, ample enough already, begins to sag and wrinkle. How will those intertwining snakes up her arms look on fifty-year old bingo wings? Will the flowers on her calves peep from behind her varicose veins at seventy? Will she still have enough stainless steel on her face to make a kitchen sink with? Or will she have suffered even more pain and expense as she undergoes laser treatment to remove the excesses of her youth.

And don’t even get me started on plastic surgery, which, besides being such a waste of surgical talent, is almost always unnecessary and disfigures more than it attempts to correct.  Why can we not just celebrate our gently ageing bodies, with all the wrinkles of age and wisdom there for all to see?

Try this. Stand in front of the mirror. Now, smile – there, not so bad looking after all.

The History of our Times

Saturday 27th August   

When the history of our time comes to be written, I wonder what they will say.  Will they commend our good sense, our tolerance, our understanding of the world we live in, or, more likely will they condemn us for our lack of foresight, our greed and our stupidity. And, of course, we just don’t know. When one looks back a mere one hundred years the world the Edwardians (and Grandma of course as a young woman) lived in must have seemed very secure and surely nothing was about to happen to upset this ordered and civilised world.  They were living on the very edge of World War One, and I am sure that very few people were able to predict what was about to follow.

What concerns me most, I suppose, about the way we are conducting ourselves at present is that we are forcing Western Values and Western Culture on everyone.  Will there simply be one culture in, say, one hundred years time.  With the instant dissemination of ideas on the internet, and the seemingly unstoppable globalisation of business, what will happen to people’s cultural identity?  Will it disappear altogether or maybe become entrenched in different, more subtle, ways.

And will there be some new invention, which will make computers look stupid.  Maybe that dream of science fiction writers of Artificial Intelligence is about to be realised.  Maybe humans will not be the only things capable of clear and rational thought; if they ever really were.  And will the world in one hundred years time be run by machines which never make mistakes, leaving humans to exist peacefully with each other. We all know the answer to that one, don’t we? Or, in the words of one of Grandma’s favourite songs…. “Que Sera, Sera, Whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que Sera Sera.”

Paris revisited

Friday 26th August   

Well, despite my earlier experience in Paris, when I let my naivety and perhaps my curiosity get out of control, I have revisited Paris a few times.  It is not however my favourite part of France, I prefer the countryside, the small towns and villages, especially in Burgundy, La Bourgogne. But Paris does have a special allure too, the wonderful wide boulevards, the art-deco Metro stations, but most of all the street characters you only seem to see in Paris; the bohemian arty types, complete with blue Gitanes packet in hand, the chic Parisienne women with their elegant clothes and little white dogs on pencil thin leads, the teenagers who seem to have buckets more style and individuality than you see in London, and the whole jazzy feel of the place which is unmatched anywhere. Whenever I go, I like to do one of the cemeteries, Montparnasse or Saint-Denis or Pere-Lachaise; I love wandering down the rows of little crypts, and gazing at the statues or reading the inscriptions, it’s always so peaceful and still, right there in the middle of bustling Paris. I have also explored again and again the Art Galleries and Museums, though I have never managed to do the whole of the Louvre, it is just too big, and whatever time of year it is full of tourists. My very favourite though is almost a secret – it’s hardly mentioned in the guide books.  Nestled by the river in the Jardin des Tuileries  is L’Orangerie.  It is quite small, and has only a few exhibits which seem to change quite often, except the reason for its existence in the first place.   It is the home of, and was chosen to house Les Nympheas by Claude Monet, the Water-lilies.  And nothing can prepare you for them.  You go downstairs, and there in two huge elliptical rooms are the most incredible two paintings I think I have ever seen.  All around the walls in one continuous three hundred and sixty degree sweep are the lilies, floating on a deep blue green lake. And you have to just sit on the benches in the middle of the room and stare in wonder at them.  Close up, you can see the wild brushstrokes, full of greens and whites and pinks, but stand back and the whole thing calms down, and comes to a different sort of life altogether.  And no amount of description can come close to being there.  It is the main reason I return every few years and I never revisit now without going there.