Catherine’s blog – day thirteen

Friday 12th August 2011

Reflecting on my life so far, I am not really too dissatisfied.  At a certain age it is almost inevitable to look back and assess things, weigh up the achievements and the disappointments.  As the old saying goes “is the glass half full, or half empty?”  And of course, it depends on which way you look at it.  On the positive side, I had a good and happy marriage; I have a comfortable home and no money worries.  The negative?  No children (although that could be considered a positive as well), a truncated career, lack of a university education, and a gnawing sense that I could have done better, had I had a different upbringing.  I suppose that I was always slightly resentful of the fact that I was deprived of my father’s influence from the age of seven, and probably just when I needed him most.  I believe it led me to be far more withdrawn than I could and indeed should have been.  And slightly withdrawn i have always remained, always on the outside of the picture looking in.  But then again that may have worked to my advantage too, at least as a writer.  I can remember as a young woman when reading books, I always imagined I was the writer, developing the characters, teasing out the plot, telling the story  – or maybe a film director, positioning my actors on the set, checking the lighting, running through the spools of film in the cutting room.  And this, even as I was reading, devouring the book in question, instead of just taking it in, I was somehow creating it at the same time.  Maybe that is how it is for everyone.  And now at last I have written my own book, and even as I was writing that I was imaging reading it, as if it had been written by another person altogether; which maybe it was.

Catherine’s blog – day twelve

Thursday11th August 2011

And London seems to be back to its’ normal hustle and bustle.  Nothing seems to halt its’ avaricious progress or growth.  The masses of tourists keep on flocking here; the economic migrants from Eastern Europe and Russia; more and more Chinese everywhere you look, and of course, the Wealthy, who never seem to tire of the fashionable restaurants of Mayfair and the shops of Bond Street.  I can remember when Bond Street was so different back in the early seventies.  It was still trendy, but it was almost a secret world, discovered only by the lucky few cognoscenti.  It was still predominated by fashion, but not by the big names; the Christian Diors, the Guccis and the like.  It was a much more higgledy-piggledy affair, with tiny boutiques and hairdressers and shoe shops – always new ones opening or closing.  And the clothes were really original too, not seeming to be mass-produced as are today’s “Designer Items”.  Nobody called them designers either back then; it wasn’t cool to parade a name on the outside of clothes or be decked out in Burberry check.  And I really think it was friendlier too, although I couldn’t afford to actually shop there that often, I used to pop into one or two favourites and the girls there all seemed to know me, and were quite happy for me to browse, all of us knowing I had no real intention of buying.  Now, you go into a clothes shop and are either deliberately ignored, so that even if you like something, there is no chance of finding it in your size, or a different shade – or are descended on by vultures of sales assistants, who hover dangerously close, so that you are instantly intimidated and don’t even want to stay another minute in their wretched shop.   Or maybe it is just that I was young then, and now I am just another old woman who should really have known better than to have wandered into the territory of the new and fearless. Ah, well.

Catherine’s blog – day eleven

Wednesday10th August 2011

Well, apologies for yesterday.  As you can see, it made my blood boil – just somewhat!!  The waste, I suppose, and the pointlessness of it all.  And yes I do remember living there.  They say that love is blind, well I must have been truly besotted not to have taken stock and refused to return night after night to Amhurst Road and those nightmarish mansion blocks.  Where on earth was my reason, where was my self-respect?  Or was I so in love that I was incapable of seeing around me – the desolation, the despair and the waste of human potential.  Or was I as trapped as all the other residents; Adrian by his previous homelessness and need for a roof over his head and I by my stubborn refusal to let Grandma see she had won, that she had beaten me.  More fool me, you may be thinking.

But no, maybe I had to go through all of that in order to emerge the other side.  And it also, of course, taught me a lesson.  And that was that I would never end up there again, or anywhere like it.  I worked hard and took my opportunity, when it appeared, to make sure I was financially secure.  And I make no apologies for that at all.  None whatsoever.

We all in our own ways have to learn to survive.

Catherine’s blog – day ten

Tuesday 9th August 2011

And now on top of potential financial  meltdown and European countries in massive debt, we have riots in London.  As if that will solve anything.  The helicopter pictures are showing the very same dreary streets in Hackney, and the same wretched prison-like blocks of flats I lived in with Adrian all those years ago.  And nothing seems to have changed at all; the same hopelessness on the faces; the same desperation; the same squalor.  And people are still having to live there like that.  I know because I had to live there, and it was depressing, then, in 1972.  Everywhere else people’s living standards have risen out of all contrast to those dark days.  Why on earth are those mansion blocks still standing, they were decrepit and ripe for demolition in the seventies.  .

It seems as if the Police and the Courts and all the Social Workers are just perpetuating the misery; simply processing a problem rather than attempting to solve it.  God, I sound like a Socialist.  Heaven forbid!!  And New Labour with all its’ false promises failed to do anything either, so it is no use pointing the finger at just one political party.

And I can safely predict that in twenty years time we will have young people out on the streets rioting again.  As Marlene Dietrich used to sing in that strangely hypnotic husky voice, “When will they ever learn, When will they eeeee-vurrr learn?

Catherine’s blog – day nine

Monday 8th August 2011

And back to normality, or what passes for it these days.  One of the hardest things when one is single again, (and no, I have no intention of dipping my toes into that water ever again) is simply what to eat. After being a complete novice for years, my few adventures into culinary expertise while still at home had long since petered out.  The same problem as now, when one has only oneself to cook for, really, what is the point.  My mother was either not actually around, or even if she was, she seemed completely indifferent to anything I had cooked, so more often than not I would simply rustle up a sandwich or poach an egg on toast.

But when I met Jennifer and her crowd, and that wonderful first holiday in Tuscany I really discovered or uncovered my love for cooking.  With Edward we always ate well, and I am not ashamed to admit to being a really reasonable cook.  Following a recipe is after all only applied intelligence.  Once one has mastered a few techniques and understands the terminology then it is only a case of following instructions.  The mistake most people make is simply not to properly read the recipe in the first place.  But now I can’t help feeling that there is no point anymore.  So I trudge around Waitrose picking up and discarding ready meals for one.  So it is back to poaching eggs, or heating up ready to eat soup. Funny how life goes round in circles.

Catherine’s Blog – day eight

Sunday 7th August 2011

Sunday Sunday so good to me, as the refrain I remember from one of Adrian’s records went. (Don’t ask me who, I have long ago forgotten, and rarely listen to pop music these days) But Sunday Sunday is not always so good.  When one is retired, or not needing to work, as has been my situation for many, many years now, that wonderful elation one gets at the prospect of the weekend, those two days when work is no more, and one has a new-found freedom.  The actuality is all too often that the days are wasted, of course, but there is no replacing that Friday night feeling.

I can remember the few years after Adrian, when my hotel colleagues and I would set off for the pub for a few drinks.  All of a sudden, the cares and woes of the working week were behind us, and a daft sort of mood would take us over.  They were some of the happiest memories I had of that time. The disappointments I had suffered at both at the hands of Grandma and Adrian were in the past now, and I could relax and just be one of the girls.  A feeling I had never had before.  I was never really a joiner-in, I don’t know why.  Even at school I was actually a complete loner.  Jennie and Gwennie seemed to like me for some reason, and though I was generally quite indifferent to other girls, it was no hardship to go along with them and be their friend.  It made schooldays a bit more interesting, but I was not surprised that as soon as school was over, and we went our separate ways, I hardly heard from them.  But my work colleagues, especially Rosemary and Gillian have kept in touch, and Rosemary and her second husband Trevor even came out to Tuscany one year.  They live in Maidstone and they are constantly asking me to go and spend a weekend with them, but I think not.  I find it easier on my own.  I mean what do you say when they inevitably ask how I am getting on without Edward.  So I mostly spend my weekends alone, and I find Sundays particularly tedious.  I sometimes think I should work again, just for that weekend experience, but really, what would I do? Maybe I should contact the Hospice again and see if they need any help. Or maybe I should try another book.  Fiction this time, I think. Or perhaps just more fictitious than last time.

Catherine’s Blog – day seven

Sitting here in the quiet stillness of my sheltered but tiny garden. I feel that Ihaven’t really told you very much about my old school in Putney.  Queen Mary’s Preparatory School for Girls, to give it its’ full title.  It was an Edwardian monstrosity, tall, dark and foreboding.  It was actually taller than it was wide, as were all six classrooms, and the Assembly Hall.  All were shoe-horned into a space the width of maybe three houses in a quiet leafy road well away from the busy high street.

It was here that wisdom was to be imparted into the heads of the few lucky girls whose parents had the slight wherewithal to pay the not too exorbitant fees.  The staff were all women, and of a certain age too, and one or two of the really older staff wore their black University Gowns with their College Ribbons around the halter necks.

The classrooms were almost all identical and I can particularly remember green glass conical light shades on long brass chains hanging in regimented rows, each light imparting a six foot wide circle of light, so that on winter days there was as much gloom in the classroom as light.

The desks were also of Edwardian vintage I would say, and were paired together, each classmate permanently shackled to their twin.  The sloping desk-tops were also lids to coffin-like boxes where we were supposed to keep our exercise books, pens, pencils, ruler and a bottle of Quink; but they also served as receptacles for each girls’s favourite pastime. Jennie had her stash of Woman and Woman’s Own, I could never quite work out if she had purchased or purloined them from her mother.  Gwennie had her penknife, several swodges of damp blotting paper, and various balls of differing size and consistency. My desk was tidy and secreted amongst my exercise books would always be a novel or two, and one of many notebooks for my secret of all secret jottings.  Here I would write down words I wasn’t quite sure of the meaning of, which I had come across in a book, or just a lovely turn of phrase, a neat simile or a clever metaphor.  Wish I had them now.

 

Catherine’s Blog – day six

I have been away from my laptop for a couple of days – no internet.  Have you missed me?

Thursday 4th August 2011

And they were right, it has rained again. The now typical English Summer is hot and sticky for days on end and then deluges of heavy rain. As if it didn’t rain enough throughout July.  And we don’t seem to have heard much from the Global Warming Brigade of late either, do we?  I wonder which stone those particular doomsayers have crawled back under.  As far as I can remember there has been strange weather for years.  Maybe some little butterfly in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest has been flapping his wings a bit too furiously of late.

Actually it always gives me a tiny thrill when we have bizarre weather, or volcanoes erupting or earthquakes and tsunamis.  Awful, of course, for the victims, and another reason to be thankful we live in England, land of the bland and free, and not on some wretched fault-line in the tropics.  The thrill I get is because we, mankind, despite all of our wonderful technology, are helpless in the face of Nature.  And it makes me realise how insignificant we are.  and when you realise how insignificant our planet, our solar system, our galaxy even in the wider Universe – well you get my drift.   And so when the uncontrollable forces of nature let rip it always excites me a bit, more than a bit, truth be told.

I am, as you know,  in no way religious, beyond a sneaking respect for the teachings of Christ, if not the actions of his Acolytes, so I am certainly not in awe of God.  I am not even sure if I am an Atheist or just a non-believer in any specific God.  I am quite interested in the theory of Zen Buddhism, but “interested in” is as far as I am prepared to go.  Religion has been responsible for far too many conflicts in the World down the ages, and even now, most of the troubles between people seem to have their roots in religious differences.  And why do differences have to divide us?  Why can we not celebrate them like the French.  Vive le difference !!

So here endeth today’s lesson.  Sorry to have gone on a bit.

Catherine’s Blog – day five

Wednesday 3rd August 2011

Another hot day in town, though they say it will end in heavy downpours.  This seems to be the pattern these days.  As if the weather is mimicking the furious pace of human activity. Where are the languorous days of the summers I remember, when time seemed to stretch to eternity and we had all the time in the world to waste.  Now time seems to be at such a premium, what with twenty-four hour news and the internet bombarding us with information all the time, and you pop into town to do some window shopping and automatically pick up the Metro, which you hadn’t intended to, and certainly didn’t need to read, having already had the Telegraph delivered and devoured over breakfast, with the TV on BBC news quietly humming in the background, casually peering up from the Leader prattling on about falling standards in society, (when haven’t they been?) you can’t help catching the strap-line “Breaking News” and you watch even though you know, of course, that it isn’t even News, let alone Breaking, so you settle into the tube carriage and partly out of habit, partly to avoid the embarrassment of actually meeting some fellow travellers enquiring eye, and the imagined accusations of being caught staring, you read some regurgitated piffle which you not only saw on the ten o’clock News last night, but also in slightly more detail on the News Channel and splashed all over page 4 of the Telegraph, and yet you again re-read this edited down précis, which gives no depth, no understanding, just a few what might be considered facts, which like everything else, is instantly forgettable.

And so the time goes.  Whatever happened to time for personal reflection?  Well maybe there was a tad too much of that in the book of course.

Catherine’s Blog – day four

Tuesday 2nd August 2011

And I am late, I who am never late.  I got home late last night from dinner with my mother and was just too tired to gather my thoughts together to write my little blog.  I am rather enjoying it, after a fashion.

My mother, do I hear you enquiring?  The real dark horse of my Story, when all along I had assumed it was my father. And unlike my father, she was there all along. Looking back I am amazed that I was so unaware of her all those years in Putney.  Maybe unaware is the wrong word, it was more a case of taking her for granted, and of course, taking for granted that she was quite unimportant in my life, whereas maybe she was silently looking out for me.  If so it is of little consequence now, as whatever caring role she may have thought she was carrying out, I was totally oblivious of.  And, as you know it did not stop me from rushing headlong into mistake after mistake.   And she could have said something occasionally, some kind word of reassurance, some friendly advice, some motherly, or even sisterly confidences.  It seems I have had to manage without any of that friendly female camaraderie, for Grandma was in no way a comrade, a brother in arms,  No, Grandma was always far too aware of the difference in status between us to have let me feel an equal to her.  She was friendly but always in a slightly condescending way, making sure I was in no doubt that I was a junior partner in our little enterprise.  And then as she began to loosen her grip, as she became old and poorly, I had already slipped away from her.  And when those dark days after Paris descended on us, I was almost happy not to have to talk to her at all.  And where was my mother with her quiet solicitude then? Nowhere that I could discern! Nowhere at all, and that is the problem I have always had with her, she is so evasive I find it quite hard to locate her most of the time.  She never seems to phone me; that, apparently, is my job.  And when we meet, she never really enquires about my life, what I am up to, who my friends are and such like.  I find that just as last night, I am left to do all the talking, and just as when Grandma used to dominate the conversation, even now my Mother is happy to sit quietly, lost in her own little world no doubt, while I prattle on and on about my life,

Re-reading this, I do sound rather bitter.  But no, I was never bitter, just so disappointed with her.  What irony to have a real missing father and an even more real missing mother.  No wonder Grandma filled the vacuum with her overwhelming personality.