All posts by adrian

Window Shopping

Wednesday 7th September   

I used to really enjoy window shopping, especially as a young woman.  I worked for several years just a few streets to the north of Oxford Street, the Marble Arch end, and only a stone’s throw from Beauchamp Place and Bond Street itself. There were far fewer tourists around in those days, and quite often even Oxford Street would be almost deserted mid-week, an impossible scenario today. I only had an hour’s lunch-break, and would rush my meal, and dash out for thirty minutes of sheer indulgence.  I used to imagine I was one of those wealthy ladies who could just drop in to Fenwicks or one of the smaller boutiques and buy anything in the shop, just on a whim. I used to dream that I didn’t have to work for a living, that I hadn’t only ten minutes left of my lunch break, that I didn’t live with Grandma and my mother in our tawdry monstrosity of a house in Putney.

And then when I became one of those ladies, or almost, I did occasionally shop there again.  But I was never profligate, I still looked for value, and can remember being appalled (and still am) at the prices of some of the clothes featured in the Sunday Times Magazine, or in the fashion pages of the Telegraph. Five hundred pounds for a quite ordinary looking blouse, just because it happens to be designed by a top name, though you would never know just from looking at it.  And shoes nowadays start at over two hundred, and there seems to be no upper limit for a pair of “Jimmy Choos“.  The worst, by far are handbags; what is it with handbags that the uglier they are, the more chunky metal, the more messed about the leatherwork, the higher the price tag.  And so, nowadays, even though I could actually afford to buy almost anything in the whole shop, I am quite contented to idle away an hour or two at a time, simply window shopping.

The sun is shining

Tuesday 6th September   

So summer is officially over, or so they tell us, though I have always considered the passing of the quarterly equinoxes as a better guide to the seasons, which seem to be almost slipping around the calendar these days; what with winter lasting well into March, and often surprisingly warm Christmases.  The three official months of summer, June, July and August have been a massive disappointment, especially August which was largely a washout. But is that a silver lining I see on the horizon; so far the few days we have had of September have, April withstanding, been the best of the summer so far.  Who knows – maybe we will have a flaming summer at last, or even a golden October to boot.

Is it simply the roseate glow of childhood’s memory, or were summers really so much better in the fifties and sixties?  I seem to remember blazing hot Julys and Augusts in the mid seventies too. During the eighties and nineties I was always in Italy with Edward, so have nothing to compare this dreary summer with.  Ah, Tuscany, how I loved those long summer days.  I suppose I should go back again – maybe next year.  Heaven knows, I am not short of invites, and it will be well over two years by then so I really should begin to socialize again.  I am afraid I have shrunk back a bit into my shell these last two years; partly of course, because I was writing the book, which dredged up so many memories – and took up nearly a year of my time, especially with the re-writes, and worst of all; the proof-reading.  It was the hardest part for me, almost a chore and one I struggled with. The trouble was that I knew the book almost off by heart by then, and was sub-consciously looking forward to and relishing (what I considered to be) some of my best little similes or descriptions, rather than looking for spelling or punctuation errors.  I also wanted to keep on adding or changing the text too. Far too late for that by then of course, and even when I got my grubby little mitts on the final printed book, I not only spotted all the mistakes I should have seen whilst proof-reading, but again had the urge to change bits. I have been so busy since then trying to write this daily blog, and other bits of promotion, that another summer has simply flown past.  Still, the sun is shining for now at least.

PS – I did actually write this yesterday, when the sun was shining.

The meaning of Justice

Monday 5th September   

I have just noticed on the BBC news that they are using the word “Justice” in a strange way, and it is a development that has been encroaching in our Media for some time.  They were talking about the wretched Libyan conflict, which seems to have been going on forever, but is actually only about six months old. One of the long-standing problems this country has had with the Libyans was the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, way back in the eighties. The authorities in this country believe they have identified the member of the Libyan embassy staff who pulled the fatal trigger, and naturally want to bring him to Justice.  Fair enough – one cannot just go about shooting people willy-nilly, although of course, under certain circumstances such as a war, or a semi-officially authorised conflict, that is exactly what happens.  Strange how the death of one individual often assumes immense importance whereas mass genocide, or “collateral damage”, as our American friends so nicely put it, are ignored with a general shrugging of the shoulders. But that is really beside the point.  The point I was attempting to make was that the news report talked of “Justice for Yvonne Fletchers family”; as if the whole panoply of laws passed, police investigations, and lawyers acting at a trial were solely for the benefit of the victim’s family.  This is actually a codeword for “Revenge”, a sanitized semi-legal type of revenge maybe, but revenge alright.  There is, or should be, no “Justice”, especially for the victims, tragic as that may be for them.  Justice is a concept that is about the attempt by mankind to be fair and responsible in dealing with an alleged perpetrator of a crime, and in finding the truth and coming to a just decision. Invariably these days, it means that Justice is done when that alleged person is found guilty, and usually when they have received a very heavy sentence. But, it is of course, equally Justice, if, after a fair trial, and hearing all of the evidence, the alleged is released, or given a very minimal sentence.

You may accuse me of being pedantic; (that won’t bother me at all, I have heard that particular one many times before) but I think that this is important.  Unless, of course, you go along with President Obama, who declared that the assassination of the truly despicable and nasty Osama Bin Laden, was an example of Justice being carried out.  Heaven help us, is all I can say.

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.