That Whole Ken Russell/D H Lawrence Thing

Wednesday 30th November

I really hadn’t meant to write about films two days running, but I had already planned and started writing yesterday’s blog ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’ when I heard on the news that Ken Russell had died.  Well, he was eighty-four, and I suppose he must have had a good life – at least he made a lot of films, though like writers and artists everywhere, maybe he ended his days thinking he had made the wrong ones.

I was never a big fan of Ken Russell; I had seen a couple of those early docu-drama’s on BBC2 in the sixties, and beautifully filmed as they were, I found them overblown and more than somewhat exaggerated; why should the fact that someone composes extraordinary music mean that their lives are really so extraordinary, it just doesn’t follow. Also before meeting Adrian I had never read any D H Lawrence, another writer who seemed to be caught up in the whole sixties artistic revival, along with my own Virginia Woolf.  Adrian was fanatical about him, and had read everything of his, from Aarons Rod to Sea and Sardinia, he had them all lined up in uniform Penguin paperbacks on his bookshelf.  I was dragged along to see the Ken Russell directed “Women in Love”, which I attempted to read after seeing the film – but I found it all a bit preposterous, and Lawrence’s passionate writing never quite stirred my heart into flames.  The film was good though, and cinematically a triumph, I found it a bit confusing having not already read the book, and some of the scenes such as the London Salon where Hermione dances like a possessed dervish and the famous scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling in the nude with their bits flopping about were not exactly helpful in telling the story.  Adrian loved the film more than I did, and had already seen it, so irritatingly kept telling me ‘this is a really good bit coming now”, and spoiling it slightly for me.  We also saw the Music Lovers, which was another Ken Russell film about Tchaikovsky, never my favourite composer, but at least I knew some of the music in the film.  This started off quite well, but again veered off into the ridiculous, especially in the 1812 Overture, where heads were actually being blown off by cannonballs, and I must admit that the sight of Glenda Jackson’s pubic hair is not a sight I wish to see again, quite unnecessary I felt.

I have never watched any of Ken Russell’s later films, the reviewers seemed to feel he was becoming more and more ridiculous with each release, and the Devils was universally slated.  I never read any other books by D H Lawrence either, and don’t expect to, but I did watch ‘Women in Love’ when it was shown again on BBC2 a few years back.  All the memories of Adrian came flooding back, and it was as if we were still sitting in that little picture house in East Finchley, the Pheonix it was called, on a warm summer evening in nineteen seventy-two, as the story of Ursula and Gudrun unfolded before us.

A magical time, and one we seldom repeated, so my heart always skips a tiny beat when I think about that whole Ken Russell/D H Lawrence thing.

The French Lieutenants Woman

Tuesday 29th November

I read the book first, but this was one of those rare times when the film equaled if not exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were quite high.  I had read the novel by John Fowles soon after it was  first published in 1969; I was then and am still in the habit of buying favoured authors works in first edition hardback, and I remember I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one, even though they seemed to cost a fortune back then it was one of my few indulgences.  I had read ‘The Collector’ and ‘The Magus’ and was hooked on these psychological novels, where I felt the novelist was almost playing games with one, pushing you this way and then that, and besides the writing was elegant and I enjoyed the stories. I have tried a few of his later works but he seemed to go off the boil a bit after what has remained my favourite of his, and the often re-read – “The French Lieutenants Woman”.  And we never really find out anything about the French Lieutenant either.

But it is the film rather than the book I wanted to talk about.  It starred Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons and came out in, oh I think, 1981.  It was a huge hit, and I can remember every cinema showing it, the Titanic of its’ day, but this was nothing like Titanic, which personally I thought was utter dross. The thing about ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’ was that it appealed to all age groups, and the reason that every cinema was showing it was because so many people who would never have dreamed of going out to the cinema to see a film were somehow caught up in the excitement and there were actually queues outside small provincial cinemas all over the country.  Was it the quiet and understated hunkiness of Jeremy Irons, or the emotional intelligence brought to the part of Sarah by Meryl  Streep, both were hot Hollywood actors at the time, but I think there was something else going on.  This was a film, which like the book, treated the viewer as an equal and an intelligent equal at that. The book is clever in that it has not one but three actual, or possible endings, which still annoys me slightly as I would like to settle on one as my best ending but can never decide if Sarah would be better off as an Artist now, and with a child and a possible happy future with Charles, or the sad little third ending where she seems to be rejecting any affection with or from him.  The film however goes one step further in that it is a film within a film, with Jeremy and Meryl as modern day actors making the film we are seeing of The French Lieutenants Woman itself.  So one switches; between modern day actors actually having a affair and then the film itself, and the contrast between the Victorian film with all its suppressed sexuality and desires shown by glances and looks and the actors themselves quite openly and no holds barred sexual encounters is nothing short of brilliant.  The film of the film, as does the book, owes a lot to Thomas Hardy, being set in and influenced largely by the West Country, in this case Lyme Regis, and is so beautifully filmed it matches almost any period drama you want to mention.

And the film has two endings, one as in the book with Charles finding Sarah again when she is a happy Artist with a child, probably Charles’s, and ends with him rowing her across a beautiful lake.  There is also the modern day ending and again this is much sadder with Sarah, or the actress who plays her just as in the book rejecting poor lovelorn Jeremy.

I have it now on DVD, one of the few I actually possess and often on a cold winter evening curl up with puddy-tat and watch again as Jeremy and Meryl, with her air of unexplained mystery, re-enact the splendid ‘French Lieutenants Woman’.

Seven Deadly Sins – Lust

Monday 28th November

I bet you were wondering when I would get to this one. Well, after encountering Gluttony, Anna and her sister Anna, the dancer, head for Boston where they discover or rather are the object of Lust.  And Lust may well be the oldest of all the deadly sins, one can almost imagine Neanderthal men Lusting over Neanderthal women, or maybe they didn’t so much Lust after them but just have them, perhaps Lust is a more recent invention.  We read about the rich and decadent Romans and their orgies (echoes of which appear to be alive and well in recently departed Berlusconi’s Italy) but one wonders how much Lust was really involved or if it was more just an oversaturation of all the vices, from cruelty to over-eating and sex and the desire to perform it was just one of the items on the menu.  In more sexually repressed times I think Lust will have had more than a walk-on role.  Apparently there were so many prostitutes plying their trade in London in the nineteenth century that they made up about a tenth of the population; I should imagine that for certain gentlemen, (though hardly worthy of the title), sex with courtesans or highly paid women of easy virtue or the inhabitants of well-known but discreet bawdy houses or just plain street women was far more common an occurrence than actual congress with their wives.  These wealthy and respectable men would find it perfectly normal behavior to over-eat, drink large quantities of claret and port and round the evening off with some dirty, but maybe highly enjoyable, sex with a prostitute, and as personal hygiene was not considered anything like as important as it is today, the spread of disease was prevalent, if a trollope didn’t have the clap already she would soon get it from a punter.

So, what exactly is Lust?  It is apparently, not so much the committal of the sexual act, but the unnatural and overriding desire to have somebody; literally the Lusting over someone.  So, in modern day usage we think of Lust as the desire which causes us to be over-attracted to someone before the act, or as in Lust for power where a politician is ruthless to get to the top, or even Lusting after money where one will do anything to get the filthy lucre; whereas the Lusting over rather than the committal of, or not as the case may be, is the deadly sin referred to.  In other words it is the thought rather than the deed, which is a sin.  But if the act is not consummated or even attempted, is a little quiet Lust so awful.  I am sure that we have all quietly fantasized about people we do not know, and even some we do know, and wondered just what they would be like in bed, though when this tips over into Lust, which one imagines is a state where all one thinks about is the person of one’s desires, one’s ‘Lustee’, I suppose, is hard to measure.  When does a desire become an obsession, maybe only the ‘obsessed’ knows, and by then it might be too late.

I have only once been in that situation, as you might read in the book ‘Catherine’s Story’, and I justified that by convincing myself that I was in love with that person.  So is real Lust just another variation of Greed and maybe a bit of Jealousy, if the person you are Lusting after belongs to someone else.  And in any case if the object of one’s Lust Is unaware of your Lust who is really hurt by it.  But like all of the seven deadly sins, I am discovering that it is to the committer of the sin rather than the object that the damage is done, so the person who is consumed by Lust is actually more harmed by it than anyone else.

In any case, none of this really matters, as Anna and her sister soon leave Boston for the town of Tennessee, where they meet the far more interesting sin of Greed, something we maybe all know a bit more about than Lust.

My how things have changed – heating our houses

Sunday 27th November

It is amazing that in just the last half-century how the way we heat our homes has changed.  We must have moved into the house in Putney in 1955, and the whole economy was run on coal; everyone had coal fires which belched smoke and soot into the air.  In the winter instead of Fog, London would be shrouded in Smog, a nasty mix of fog and soot and sulphurous gases; I cannot really remember this as we were in quite a leafy suburb and rarely ventured into the centre of town, but apparently in 1952 there was such a bad smog that it practically closed the city for five days and resulted in about twelve thousand deaths, mostly through exacerbated respiratory diseases.  Clean air acts were passed which gradually changed things but it was economics and cheap gas that really made the difference.

Let me tell you about coal fires; firstly they are quite complicated to get going, though Aunt Maud did have a gas tap which fed straight into the coals and so got the fire roaring away in minutes. No such luxury at Putney, you had to empty out the grate of soot and ash from the previous fire, I was sometimes given the job of carrying this full tray out to the ash bin by the back door.  Then it would be my mother’s job, though this later became mine, to build a lattice-work criss-cross of kindling, these were small sticks of wood about a foot long and half an inch square which you bought at the ironmongers, this would be built on a scrunched up page or two of newspaper and a few small coals placed on top.  The paper was lit and you then had to watch it and hope that the wood caught light and that before the wood was finished that the coals had started smoking and your fire was lit (if the coal failed to light you had to start all over again).  It was then constant attendance, as you had to carefully add coals, making sure you didn’t smother it too soon.  Then there was banking up the fire with small coal and dust and opening out the vent so that air would be drawn through the coals and up the chimney, this produced the main fire for the evening.  At weekends the fire would also be banked up before we went to bed and restarted from the few still warm coals in the morning.  Hot water was heated by a back-boiler which took heat directly from your fire, we also had an electric immersion heater which could heat up the hot tank, though Grandma was rather miserly in actually switching this on.  All too often you had to boil a kettle to get a decent wash.

And that was the only heating in the whole house; bedrooms were unheated, and we would have a hot water bottle to thaw out the very cold sheets, my mother also had a paraffin heater in the kitchen which smoked and smelled and again was a trial to control and we only used this on the bitterest of evenings.

In the late seventies we had night storage heaters installed, which were again almost impossible to regulate but at least they provided some background heating.

Nowadays everyone has central heating, usually gas, which thanks to North-Sea Gas used to be pretty cheap but is now beginning to run out.  It is incredibly easy to control with thermostats on every radiator, and hot water on tap, and we are all now used to this luxury of warm houses.  Except of course when it breaks down, and we are huddled in warm clothes and still shivering waiting for the boiler repair man to come.  It happens rarely but when it does I am instantly back in that cold house in Putney waiting for the fire to draw through, and wondering whether to put another cardy on top of my pullover.

The House of God

Saturday 26th November

On a recent visit to my friend who lives in Docklands, we were walking around Canary Wharf and I looked up at one of the huge overbearing shiny steel and glass buildings and saw ‘Bank of America’ and suddenly the words of a song came back to me, clear as a bell, which I was certain I had forgotten years ago.  Let me take you back to 1972, and that little flat in Hackney, where I spent five miserable months with Adrian.  He was an avid music fan, to the point that he almost worshipped some Artists and their music; he would want to buy everything they had ever recorded, and would sit hunched up close to the speaker with the LP sleeve on his lap, learning the words to every song, burning them into his consciousness.  He would occasionally call me over to listen as he gently lifted the needle and put it back a few grooves (yes, I do know there is only one groove, but you know what I mean) and insisted I listen to a particular phrase.  He asserted that this was poetry of the highest order, and though I was tempted to disagree with him, I usually just listened quietly and made my own mind up in silence.  There was no point in arguing with him, and besides at times we were hardly talking so I wasn’t going to spoil these occasional moments with a disagreement, was I?

I can remember the words so clearly; they were by an American singer called John Stewart, who no-one has ever heard of I am sure, the words were – “Standing in line in the Bank of America, Nobody spoke, they were in the House of God.”  And yes, they were very apposite, though hardly worthy of his accolade of great poetry.  But this was 1972, when banks were not looked upon with such disdain as they are today, what with the scandals of sub-prime mortgages and Government bail-outs, and huge bankers’ bonuses.  Back then they were respected and very respectable institutions, being a bank manager was almost as admired as if one were a Doctor or a Solicitor.  Banks were considered as safe, as helpful places where your bank manager would often call you in for a chat, and would offer free financial advice, all as part of the service.

But then gradually the local branch managers were replaced, and all you ever saw were cashiers who had to refer everything up to area level, and you began to get the feeling that you were just a name and an amount of money on a ledger rather than a valued customer. And now we almost all despise at least, if not actually hate, the power which the banks have over our lives

And the large banks, especially in the City, or Canary Wharf are really modern day cathedrals, built for the worship of Money.  And God-llke the banks have become, too big to be allowed to fail, and yet too powerful for any mere Governments to challenge in any meaningful way.  And I am sure that none of us, poor taxpayers and citizens can understand in the slightest how it can be, that despite owning almost all of Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, (my own bank, for my sins) we simply cannot stop them from awarding themselves huge bonuses, while our very same Government is cut, cut, cutting real people’s livelihoods and throwing vast numbers of (mainly women) public workers on the scrap heap.  It really is an obscenity – and all because they are scared of challenging the Houses of God.


Christmas is coming, and they’re putting up the Ice Rinks

Friday 25th November

It was in Paris, not that fateful time back in the seventies, but much later when I was in my forties that I saw my first city open-air Ice Rink.  It was outside the Hotel de Ville and it was early February, but the rink was full of ecstatic youngsters, many little more than children, skating away. I was struck by the novelty of the thing, the whole idea seemed irrational and yet eminently sensible at the same time.  I had tried ice-skating a couple of times at Queensway with friends from work, I think the rink is still there but you don’t hear about it anymore; it was subterranean and dark and damp and all a bit forlorn, with its one sad little glitter ball and a couple of blue and green spotlights.  I was no good at ice-skating, barely daring to leave the safety of the wooden sides, my skates going every which way whenever I tried to actually skate, except once when I grabbed someone’s hand at the end of a chain and was whirled round for a couple of circuits without having to move my feet at all.  I hadn’t even learnt to roller-skate as a child, far too dangerous an enterprise for Grandma to have considered for a moment, and though I did have a push bike in my teens I was always a sedate rider, and would keep meticulously to the paths in the park, and rarely cycled on busy roads.  Consequently I have never broken any bones, and have always had a silent dread of anything that might result in such an eventuality.  Edward did once suggest a winter holiday in Andermatt, but although we talked of it endlessly we never went, which was a relief as I really think I would have been hopeless at either ski-ing or skating, but I would have liked to have seen the mountains in the snow.

For several years there were no temporary outdoors ice rinks in London, and then I remember one being erected a few years back at Somerset House, I only noticed it as Edward and I were at the Courtauld institute and saw the workmen building it in the courtyard as we arrived.  It was a real surprise and we went a couple of times, not to skate, but to watch and to drink hot mulled wine and eat mince pies in the big marquee where you could stand out of the biting wind and enjoy other people speeding along and occasionally falling over.  It all seemed great fun and the temporary nature seemed to add to the excitement, as everyone knew it was only there for a few short weeks.

But now there are ice Rinks everywhere, at the National History Museum, the Tower of London, one in Hyde Park along with a full-blown funfair, at Canary Wharf and at both Westfields, east and west, all over the place in fact, as well as the one at Somerset House, and all over the country they are springing up, alongside those wretched ‘Christmas Markets’ where all sorts of nonsense is plied from glorified garden sheds, so that now the novelty has completely gone, and it is just another business opportunity.  One wonders what the companies that own all the equipment and erect these temporary structures for a few winter weeks actually do for the rest of the year, but like firework manufacturers and Easter Egg makers it seems that they must make money or they wouldn’t bother. But like putting up the lights on cherry-pickers along Oxford Street, it is a sure sign of Christmas in the offing when they start erecting Ice Rinks everywhere.

Virginia Woolf and Me

Thursday 24th November

At one point in my life I became more than somewhat obsessed by Virginia Woolf and her writing; it was when I was most alone, after my Paris episode, when for a couple of years I felt I was living in some sort of a cupboard, just blanketing out most of what was going on around me, as some sort of self imposed penance.  I devoured ‘The Voyage Out’ and ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and then turned ‘To The Lighthouse’ and ‘Orlando’, but after reading ‘The Waves’ I had begun to run out of steam, and apart from reading ‘A Room of One’s Own’ a few years later I haven’t bothered to go back to her.  I suppose I became Virginia-ed out, as they say nowadays.

She isn’t so very popular anymore, but you still find a few of her novels in Penguins in most semi-decent bookshops, so she is still read by some people, though I suspect that this may be more because they have to, on some English Literature course, than through pure choice.  The whole Bloomsbury Group seems not to hold the fascination over the young that they used to in the sixties and seventies.  We were introduced to them at school, by our Art teacher, old Jack Trodd, who came in three afternoons a week to take the older girls for ‘Art Appreciation’, which I found far more interesting than actually drawing or attempting to paint still-life bowls of fruit, which was what passed for Art at our school.  He used to love to waffle on about different movements in Art, and was largely responsible for my initial interest in the Impressionists, and one day he got onto the subject of The Bloomsbury Set, a loose group of artists and writers and even an economist or two, who seemed to share ideas about Art, Literature and Society in general.  They were incredibly influential in the late twenties and thirties, and I have kept up my interest in them over the years and still look out for new books about them.  Virginia Woolf was probably the most famous writer in the Group, and certainly I enjoyed her work far more than say Lytton Strachey and in her own way she changed the very meaning of the idea of a novel.  Before Virginia, novels tended to be fairly straight forward narratives with a beginning, a middle and an end, and some actual story to tell, but she seemed to create the whole book out of the consciousness of her characters and what they are feeling, drifting off on tangents of thought and sometimes losing the reader altogether, so that you had to backtrack and reread a few pages to work out what is maybe happening.  But the writing is so beautiful, poetic and expressive without being at all soppy, especially Orlando, which tells the story of a boy who becomes a man over several centuries and lives without appearing to age significantly, even changing sex into a woman at one point.  And of course Virginia was quite repressed sexually and apparently her marriage was open to the point of her having a long and passionate affair with another married woman Vita Sackville-West, possibly the great love of her life.

I am not sure why I became obsessed with her, if only for a relatively short time, possibly she was the sort of writer I always wanted to be, maybe I was just infatuated with the whole idea of this wealthy but liberated free-thinking woman being able to so freely express thoughts and emotions, while I was living my life at that time as a virtual recluse, of my own making I hasten to add, and so immersing myself in this alter-ego was some sort of substitute for actually living myself.  And in a way, although I stopped reading her I have always been fascinated by her, as a person as much as a writer.  Maybe you never do get over your early infatuations, with either people or writers, a part of them is still inside your head and your heart forever.

Chatting with Sales Assistants

Wednesday 23rd November

I have a friend, Liz, who works in Retail – she is actually an Area Sales Manager now, but for a few years she was on the shop floor.  She works for a luxury skincare product which is sold exclusively in high end stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and John Lewis.  She was telling me about how she had to train her staff to engage with the customer, to establish eye contact, and to start a conversation, all in order to break down any barriers, perceived or otherwise, and to help sell the product.  She asked me in passing if I usually chatted to sales assistants, and I had to think about it for a moment, and my answer was no, I did not.  “Not even in Starbucks, say, when buying a coffee, don’t you ask them if they are having a pleasant day, etc?”  “Well, no, quite the opposite really, I just ask for my coffee, and decline their habitual invite to buy a snack, then when they repeat my order ‘a grande latte’ I correct them by politely repeating my original order for a medium latte, thank-you.” And it is true, I don’t just chat to people I do not know.  I don’t have that free and easy manner with strangers; it isn’t that in any way I consider myself above them, or any of that nonsense, it simply never occurs to me.

But this conversation set me wondering, was I so different from everyone else; had my upbringing somehow made me more reserved than most people; had Grandma succeeded in her task of bringing me up to be a typical middle class snob ?  I must admit that when I first started working I was very reserved and found it almost intimidating to engage in idle chit-chat, it was more that I didn’t see the point in just exchanging pleasantries rather than having anything meaningful to say, and had found all too often that when you tried to turn the conversation to anything serious you were met with a stare, as if you had made some sort of faux-pas by actually wanting to discuss something that might matter. And I think that this is the nub of the matter with me; I am more than happy to talk to anyone about something that I care about, but as to whether they are having a nice day or how rainy the weather is when I don’t even know them seems quite pointless.  Surely they must know that I don’t really care and am only saying these things to be polite, but what if they consider me to be impolite to not say this kind of thing.  So, I decided to do a bit of people watching.

In the queue at Starbucks, or when in Waitrose I started to observe other people a bit closer, and listening in, to see if they were more communicative than I, and the amazing thing was that hardly anyone did actually chat to people serving in shops, even in John Lewis, except to ask on which floor children’s clothes were or some other enquiry.  Absolutely nobody in Starbucks chatted, except for a perfunctory hello, or a query about whether their products contained nuts or dairy products, there was simply no small talk.  Maybe this is just a London effect, and in smaller communities, people do chit chat with strangers, but London is all I know.

So, who was right, Liz or I?  I suspect that both of us are in our own way; it may simply be that for people like Liz, who are dealing with the general public, in effect people they do not know, all day long, it is perfectly natural to talk to them, to break the ice with a polite enquiry about their day or the weather, but for myself, who, even in my working days, was never talking to people I did not know, it is just as natural to keep oneself to oneself.  I do sometimes wish I could be a bit more like Liz though, maybe I will try it tomorrow when ordering my Starbucks, we’ll see.

Walking in the Fog

Tuesday 22nd November

On Sunday morning there was a splendid fog; a really dense white-out of a fog, not quite a pea-souper but quite superb all the same.  As soon as I looked out of my window and saw this thick blanket of whiteness I was enthralled, captivated, and quickly getting dressed I went out walking in the park.

Not being a car-driver, I suppose I have a quite different perspective of fog; rather than a dangerous element to be avoided or requiring extra caution, I find it a beautiful and strangely affecting phenomenon. I especially love the silence it seems to bring with it, and again maybe this is slightly illusory, but it is as if time stands still, or at any rate slows down in a fog.  I think this is because one of your basic senses, spatial awareness, is so dulled and dented, that you almost enter a new world, one of limited vision and tighter horizons, so your world is suddenly reduced to the few yards you can see and hear and smell ahead of you.

And here, walking alone before eight on a Sunday, here in the heart of the metropolis you could just as well be in a small copse or a completely unpopulated island or in a fairy tale, or like Titania in your own mid-Autumn days dream a million miles away from reality.

I especially love the way that trees gently loom into view, being at first just the hint of a shadow, a pale grey against the blankest white and as you approach, they unfold themselves from the mist, and drip their silent Autumn wetness on you.  The very bark seems alive, especially the variegated blotches of the maples and the shiny skin of the silver birches, and as you pass they silently fold themselves back into oblivion again.

And not a soul was around, and even the dog-walkers, usually so active early on, were kept indoors by this alien atmosphere, and I seemed to have the whole park to myself.  But even this was maybe an illusion too; maybe there were hundreds of silent walkers out in the park and our receded vision kept us unaware of each other, each hermetically sealed in our opaque worlds, where even sound seems muffled, and the smell of the fog is so dense that we are one with the mist as we too drift aimlessly along, with no sense of direction at all as the clammy chill seeps through our North Face jackets and into the very fibre of our being.

And the usual sun’s burning up the morning haze never happened, and we were more or less shrouded in this dense miasma all day long.  As I say, wonderful; a momentary lapse of nature and suddenly how we lose so much of our sense of importance.  Every year around this time the atmospheric conditions are just right and down comes the fog, sometimes in early December, but this year in late November and I can let myself loose and go walking again in this truly splendid fog.


My how things have changed – the food we eat

Monday 21st November

They say; scientists and nutritionists, that the post-war diet, with rationing still rigidly enforced was the best start to life for the post war generation, and that they are consequently healthier than the generations that followed.  Well, we were privileged; at least while we were in Cyprus, and though I never ate with the grown-ups, but downstairs in the kitchen, I am sure we were never troubled by rationing at all.  We left when I was seven, so I cannot really remember any of the food of that time, but I surely can remember the food we had while we lived in Putney, and it was pretty boring.  Bland is the best word to describe it, even onions used to upset Grandma’s constitution, so that eternal standby was used only sparingly.  I had school dinners, and they at least were nourishing and full of flavour, but at home the food was dull as ditchwater, and so repetitive, you could actually tell the day of the week by what was for tea.  Sunday was always roast, and almost always a piece of beef, which used to be overcooked almost to oblivion.  Strange to think that chicken, now the cheapest of meats, was very expensive in the sixties, and was a real treat, whereas beef was far more commonplace than it has become today.  Monday, we would have the remains of Sunday’s beef served cold with mashed potato and maybe cabbage.  We didn’t even have the excitement of pickles to spice it up; Grandma never gave them house room. Tuesday would be sausages, or a pork chop, fried in lard I might add.  Wednesday and Thursday we had something on toast, usually cheese or eggs or sometimes warmed up pilchards from a tin. Friday was fish, and usually poached in milk, and pretty tasteless, but sometimes we had that gorgeous smoked yellow haddock, a real treat.  My mother slowly took over the culinary reins from Grandma’s unsteady hands and did at least introduce a few different vegetables into our diet.  We always seemed constrained by money, or lack of it, and eating was never considered a luxury, but an unfortunate and costly necessity.

After I started working, I would try out new ideas I had read up in the Sunday Times Review, but Grandma was never too enthusiastic about my Quiche Lorraine or Chicken a-la-king, though my mother seemed to enjoy the unpredictability of the thing.

Then when I met Jennifer and her crowd I was suddenly introduced to real pasta and exotic items such as veal and sun-dried tomato, which you never really saw in the shops at all.  For several years you would have to seek out small delicatessens where these items could be bought, but now the supermarkets are literal cornucopias, spilling out all sorts of food from every corner of the globe.  Nothing appears to be unavailable, though it is sometimes on a bottom shelf or you have to ask an assistant for it, so now you can follow any recipe by those TV celebrity chefs and you know you will be able to get them at any decent sized superstore.

The latest innovation though is the total elimination of real cooking; there is an amazing variety of ready cooked microwavable meals of every variety, Indian, Chinese, Thai and Italian, and it is all so easy, and even if you suspect, as I do, that they may be full of salt and sugar and e-numbers, none of us really cares.  The irony is that real cooking programmes have never been so popular; as we sit down to watch them with our tray on our lap, tucking into yet another micro-waved ready meal.