I have occasionally been accused of being a snob

Catherine’s blog – day sixteen

Monday August 15th

I have occasionally been accused of being a snob, not the nicest of accusations, I must admit, but I think that often people mistake reserve or diffidence for some sort of elevated snootiness.  I am, as almost everyone seems to be nowadays, middle class.  I was born into the middle classes, unlike many who now seem to have acquired their middleclass-ness, much as one might acquire the habit of wearing sensible shoes; it just seems to fit better that way.  And this classlessness, or middleclass-ness, is by far preferable to the awful class restrictions I grew up with; the aristocracy, the county set, the professional and the lower managerial middle classes, the white collar and the blue collar workers, and the unashamedly working classes, and all gradations in-between.  Now; apart from a few who consider themselves upper class at the top, and those that do not want to be known as, but undoubtedly are, ‘chavs’, at the bottom, the majority of us are middle class.  We are just  as comfortable buying ciabatta as white sliced, we holiday all over the place without looking down on those who stay in Britain, we buy ready meals from M. & S, we are quite at home in any ethnic restaurant and we watch less and less television, and spend more and more time on the internet.  I like the anonymity this brings, the sense of unquestioning where you came from or who your parents were, that we all enjoy.  So call me a snob at your peril.  Discerning, slightly reserved, outwardly comfortable in myself- yes, but in no way do I consider myself superior, far from it – if you only knew how inferior I feel to almost everyone else.  That is why I try to hide it with my old-fashioned looks, and my sometimes pre-occupied air.  So despite my own declaration you should not always judge a book by its cover.  But I sincerely hope you do mine, and decide to buy it.

A visit to Aunt Maud

Catherine’s blog – day fifteen

Sunday August 14th

And here is one of those little snippets of memory:

It is 1959 and I am 13, we are all living happily (or so I supposed back then) in Putney, the memories of sunny days in Cyprus far behind me, and getting harder to remember  by the day, stuck here in this pale and rainy city.  We are off to visit Aunt Maud in Cheltenham, we only go about once every two or three years; so at my age each visit seems like a little adventure.  We take a taxi to Paddington, heaven knows how we could have managed it all on the tube, as Grandma has insisted in taking not only clothes for every contingency, including tropical sunshine and monsoon rain, but also a whole suitcase of shoes, and one for towels too. (as Aunt Maud is not known for her generosity in that department)  We are only going for a week but we seem to have enough luggage for at least a month.  Added to that my mother disappears at busy-bustling Paddington , and catches up with the porter pushing our haphazardly loaded trolley just as our train is announced, clutching a veritable stack of periodicals and magazines and even a couple of paperback books.  As soon as she spots a W. H. Smith she turns into some demented reader who simply must empty the shelves of all the shop possesses.  Grandma is fussing with the two or three large hold-alls perched on the trolley, trying to locate the thermos and sandwiches, if only to reassure herself that, yes indeed, she had packed them.  “At least we don’t have to rely on the Buffet car.” She chirps.  I am lost in admiring the latticework struts and pillars which seem to disappear, high-high up above us amidst a whole cathedral’s worth of smutty green and black glass.  I am turning and turning slowly round and round lost in the kaleidoscope of engineering, and wondering how on earth they ever managed it.  Grandma is busy instructing the porter which carriage we are in, and my mother is already surreptitiously flicking through some gardening book.  We are just settled into our compartment, with Grandma’s assortment of Gladstone bags and hold-alls safely in the overhead string-woven luggage racks; my mother deep into one of her paperback books in the opposite corner, and me, testing out the bounciness of the long upholstered seat.  I rub a space out of the yellowed grimy window by spitting on a hanky and rubbing, the whistle blows three high pitched blasts, the guard’s flag is raised and slowly we lurch forwards and out of Isombard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpiece of iron and glass, out past the dirty blackened brick rows of London houses, and away.

Enough for now, but I will finish this piece later. (Promise)

Catherine’s blog – day fourteen

Saturday 13th August 2011

And so the weekend rolls on again; inexorable isn’t it.  The weeks seem to go so fast that I have great difficulty in even remembering what I did last week, let alone things that happened a month or a year ago. And then all of a sudden a memory, a little gem pops up fully formed into the mind.  Something you thought you had forgotten entirely is there, crystal clear and bright.  A day on the beach maybe, or part of a conversation; which infuriatingly you cannot quite place in time or space. A bit like those muddled up dreams that the scientists tell us (somewhat unbelievably) are not the dreams we have been dreaming all night, simply the ones when our mind was surfacing, as sleep was breaking us into wakefulness.  You know, the infuriating repetitious ones where the same silly things are happening, but in some sort of slow-mode style and not quite recognisable.  The structure and the actions are all too obviously correct, but the people populating them are all wrong, mixing up people you used to know years ago with places you visited for the first time only a few weeks ago.  One part of your mind knows it is completely irrational, impossible even, and yet it is so clear and bright and maybe the repetition of the thing makes it, for a few seconds, utterly believable.  Well, my memories are often like that. I know that something happened, I can almost taste it, but I cannot quite place the time and location.  But when I start to write it down then it begins to make sense, as if the very act of writing is an aide-memoire.  And so I am writing more than ever these days; just unlinked little memories mostly. And yes, maybe I will share some with you sometime; we’ll see.

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.