All posts by adrian

I love Frinton-on-Sea

Sunday 11th September

I really quite love Frinton-on-Sea.  We visited once when I was a child, my twelfth-birthday as I seem to remember, and we set off for a day trip by train from Liverpool Street.  I was expecting to spend the day on the beach, and was at that awkward age when the last thing you want is to be seen in a bathing costume, and the idea of buckets and spades and deckchairs appalled me, so I really wasn’t looking forward to it all, but, of course, this was Grandma’s idea so I said nothing.  As it transpired we hardly spent any time by the sea, the tide was in if I remember and there wasn’t much of a beach.  But I fell in love with the High Street, and have carried on visiting every couple of years or so.  As I do not drive I usually obtain a lift, by slyly suggesting it as a perfect destination, whenever my friends are talking about a day-trip to the coast.  The town is so quaint, and old-fashioned, it is almost set in a time-capsule.  There is still a real butchers and a fishmongers, and a couple of bakers on the high street, and best of all there are no chain stores, except a Boots.  It still has quite a few independent little shops selling elegant clothes or quirky home-ware.  There are some quite creditable restaurants too, and only one public house, quite smart too, so one doesn’t get those awful spilling-onto-the–streets louts one finds at so many seaside resorts.

My favourite shop is the Art-Deco emporium; it is simply crammed with genuine nineteen thirties pottery, light fittings, paintings, and even telephones.  I particularly love the Moorcroft jugs and vases and usually end up purchasing one, even though I am rapidly running out of space for anything new.

I suppose my love of Frinton is a sign of my hankering for a more genteel era, when shop assistants had time for you, when people were still polite to each other and when there was no rush and bustle. They say that as you grow older you become your parents; well I fear I am in danger of becoming Grandma.

My Puddy-Tat

Saturday 10th September   

I mentioned in the book that I have a cat, little Puddy-Tat, as I call her.   My mother, as you know, seemed to collect cats like some people collect acquaintances.  During the few years I lived alone with her, the house was almost overrun with them.  At the time I almost hated them, with their ingratiating habit of rubbing themselves up against your leg whenever they wanted feeding, added to the fact that most were waifs and strays and their toilet training left a lot to be desired.  It never appeared to bother my mother, who, forgetful as ever, would leave their litter tray un-emptied for days on end.  I resented the fact that the cats were the only thing my mother had any love for, she would pick them up and stroke and cuddle them all the time.  I cannot honestly ever remember her showing the slightest interest, or anything approaching love, towards me.  Not as a child anyway, I must admit that she quite surprised me when everything went wrong between Grandma and I, and she was quite sympathetic.  But it almost felt as if it was all too late by then; where had she been during my childhood, where was she when we left Cyprus and I was suddenly without a father, why didn’t she start to love me then?

So why on earth did I become the owner of a cat at all, do I hear you saying?  Well it was an accident, as most things in my life seem to have been.  I never wanted a cat, or any sort of a pet really; we used to be abroad for weeks at a time every summer, so to have owned a pet would have been either incredibly difficult or quite cruel, as it would have had to have been left behind.  About three years ago; Edward was quite ill by then, and we both knew it was only a matter of time, it was late at night, and one of my neighbours knocked on the door and asked us to help in an emergency.  She was leaving for a holiday in the morning and her cat-sitter had let her down, could we possibly look after her cat for two weeks, she had tried everyone else.  Without thinking we said yes, no problem.  Edward really took to the cat, and seemed to derive great comfort from stroking her as she purred on his lap, and though I knew it would be for a short time only,  as soon as our neighbour retrieved her cat, I went out and bought little Puddy-Tat for him. And now she is mine, and we are really quite good friends.  We seem to understand each other, each respecting the other, and not impinging too much on one another’s territory.

So in the evening I too derive great comfort when little Puddy-tat rubs herself against my leg, and as I open my arms she jumps up on my lap to be stroked.

The results are in

Friday 9th September   

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had some tests done, because I was fearful about some disturbing symptoms of late. I was recalled to the medical centre for the results of the tests yesterday.  I really don’t like the medical centre, not that I in any way doubt the medical prowess of the doctors there; it is the impersonality of the whole place I dislike. It is spotlessly clean, I cannot fault them there, but it is so, well, modern I suppose; you even have to register via a computer terminal at the reception, there are staff there, and it would surely only take them a moment to politely confirm your appointment, but no – you have to “log in”, and go through several screens, simply to tick a box to say that you are here – well who else would be ticking the box but yourself.  Then you wait in rows of beech-wood chairs and stare at the interactive tv screen, which as well as showing some daytime chat show, (with the volume off – so it is even more inane than it undoubtedly must be) you daren’t let your attention wander, as along the bottom of the screen are constant messages; five a day, reduce your salt, and patients being called to see different doctors in different rooms. And I suppose this is the nub of my gripe with this wonderful modern system; you never know which doctor or which room you will be going to. Not that it make much difference, the rooms are completely interchangeable, as I suspect the doctors are too.

At last my name appears, and rushing so as not to be late, and have the name flashing in red letters so that everyone knows you are not paying attention, off you trot, trying desperately to remember which room you are supposed to be going to.

Well, the doctor was very nice, a young (Iranian I would guess, from her name) woman, who seemed very efficient and competent; well she certainly knew how to use her computer, and had my test results and medical history up on the screen in no time.  As I suspected, the tests showed nothing positive – no cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, but somehow this failed to reassure me.  My blood sugar was fine, though she pointed out that my cholesterol levels were slightly higher than she would have liked. Oh, I am sorry, I didn’t realise they were for your pleasure, popped into my mind, but of course I said nothing, and smiling politely, folded the diet sheet she had printed for me into my handbag

Leaving the surgery, two contrary thoughts occurred; one, that I had been stupid in even worrying and having the tests in the first place, and secondly – what if they are wrong.  Why is it, that even when things are going remarkably well in our lives, we have to find something to worry about?

Forgetting things

Thursday 8th September   

I keep forgetting things; where I put my keys, where I left my oyster card, if I had double locked the front door.  And so I have to now invent little routines for myself; I have a little china bowl which stands on a slim table just inside the front door, and here, whenever I come in, first thing I do is to religiously go through the pockets of whichever coat or jacket I am wearing, and my handbag, and remove keys, credit cards, travel card, mobile phone, and (a particular favourite, especially for when I am in the walking in the park) my mp3 player.  They all go into the bowl, so when I next leave the house I have them all to hand, rather than try to remember which coat I was wearing with which bag yesterday. And I have a little shutting-the-house routine, almost a mantra now, of closing the windows, turning the tap in the kitchen off, dimming any lights and with the key in my hand double-locking.  The point I am making is that I am getting older, and rather than rely on remembering these petty details, I now don’t have to think about them, they have become automatic. I do keep forgetting to buy milk though. In London it is quite rare to actually see a milk float nowadays, as almost everyone buys milk from the supermarket, or as I do from the little corner-shop, which never seems to close.  But I keep forgetting, and then go to make myself a nice cup of tea, and realising I have no milk.  Disaster – I cannot abide black tea, so it means going through the whole routine again, china bowl, double-locking and all, and out to return with my single purchase of a litre (whatever happened to pints) of semi-skimmed.  At last I can sit and relax with a nice pot of tea, a milk jug, maybe a fig roll or two, my trusty volume of Trollope under my arm, radio 3 quietly in the background and look forward to a pleasant evening all to myself again.  Yet even with all my creature comforts about me, I find more and more lately that I cannot settle, I keep reading and re-reading the same paragraph, and bored and listless, close the book. Then with nothing to distract me my thoughts keep returning to the memories of Grandma, and my father, and all of that Adrian nonsense.  And I had really thought that writing the wretched book would have buried all of that for good, some sort of exorcism, but I find that it has simply opened up another box of that tiresome girl Pandora’s.  Or like those wooden Russian dolls, when-ever you have successfully opened one up for inspection; there is always another lurking inside. And so I find that I wasn’t that successful at all, and I keep remembering things I hoped I had forgotten long ago.

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.