Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Patry Francis - The Liar's Diary

This is a special post in honour of a new writer, Patry Francis. She's just published a book, The Liar's Diary.

Her story is here, while this is the LitPark post I came across via Neil Gaiman's blog, explaining how the online community established this carnival in her honour.

I haven't read her book yet. I don't know the woman personally. But I'm deeply touched by her 25 years of waitressing while dreaming of this book, writing in her spare time, and believing that she had more to offer than just the day job she happened to do. So many times when I've been working one of my random things-I've-done-merely-to-make-money positions - all of which I try to do as well as I can - I've been typing away, or building walls, or trimming fish, or stuffing envelopes, or picking grapes but in my imagination I've been stringing together sentences, crafting turns of phrase, imagining paint and fabric and drawing and collage coming together, mentally stepping through a dance routine, thinking about what spices I might add to the next batch of biscuits, plotting the next leg of my journey, knowing that I am more than just what my hands are doing at this moment.

We all have imagination, and dreams, and grand plans. I even had to create a blog tag for "grand plans", they seem to come up so often. Patry Francis followed her dream, and although she's going through a personal time of great trouble, I salute her courage and her determination. Best wishes to her, and to everyone involved in the Carnival!

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Canoe polo, marmalade and lindy hop - my disjointed life

It's been an interesting few days.

On Saturday, Mum, Dad and I drove up to Coventry to see my sister competing in a Ladies Division 1 canoe polo tournament. She's been playing for over 10 years, captaining the GB Ladies Under 21s, and even getting into the GB Ladies squad. However, she'll be away in Botswana for two years, so this was really our last chance to see her play. It was pretty hot sitting up in the viewing gallery of that huge pool, but great to get a view of the action from above the pitch. As with all sports, from above you see the tactics in play - how certain players try different attacks, or work together to set up defences. She got one scorching goal and made some great saves, but the standard was very high overall. Things have come on a lot since I watched her and her friends training by sprinting up and down the cold muddy waters of the canal, before I went travelling!

On Sunday, we made marmalade. We're in the three-week season of Seville oranges, too tart and ugly to eat but perfect for marmalade. It's a long process: boiling the whole fruit until soft; scraping the pips into one saucepan to be boiled up for their pectin, the natural setting agent; scraping the mushy fruit into the liquid-filled main vat; scraping out the pith and stringy bits; chopping the hot, moist peel into fine shreds; adding sugar, lemon juice and chopped fresh ginger and keeping this vast concoction at a rolling boil for hours until it reduces by a third. We made 16 large jars full: that's a lot. Today I delivered a jar each to our neighbours - those on one side will reciprocate with mincemeat for mince pies at Christmas, while those on the other side will share the illicit Limoncello they made from an Italian recipe. This is another great thing about being back at home - being part of such a great community!

Last night I went into London to meet up with friends: the travel companion I journeyed through Romania with, now a scientist and celebrated dancer; a girl I knew a long time ago from a drama group who now has a job so exciting I still can't quite believe it; my wonderful cousin Anna, always up for fun in the big city; and some new acquaintances who were keen to have a go at something a bit different. We arrived at the celebrated 100 Club thinking a little dubiously, "Is this it?" There's a modern skyscraper built on top of an ancient basement jazz club. Once through the cream and brown foyer your clamber down a dark staircase and into a sweaty, red-painted slice of authentic Old London Town.

There were well over 100 people there - a few more women than men, as should be expected. What I hadn't appreciated was that so many would be in costume! High-waisted baggy trousers held up with braces seemed to be the norm, along with two-toned shoes and debonair hats and hairclips. We started with a casual class, learning individual Charleston routines and then putting together a sequence with a partner. As the band, King Groovy and the Horn Stars, took to the stage, we began attempting to do these routines ... to the music.

The - frequently - rather fast music.

To covers of Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters and other 1940s classics, we had to take a partner and endeavour to sashay across the crowded dancefloor, in time, without treading on each others' feet or twisting ankles while doing the Suzy Q. This, for me, was easier while looking down at my feet and counting under my breath, occasionally sharing an anxious glance with an equally timid new partner. Of course, when you look down at your feet, you're much more likely to crash into other dancers. Well, it's a good way to meet people! You tend to learn best when dancing with people who are slightly better than you, and there were certainly a lot of experts around. The ages ranged from teenagers to spry old dapper chaps in their 70s and 80s, one of whom wiped his perspiring face with one towel and mopped his armpits with another as a courtesy before escorting me to the dancefloor.

A great time was had by all, and if I were living in London, rather than out in St Albans, I'd love to go regularly.

Sometimes you read an article that's so inspirational, such a breath of fresh air, that you sit back in your seat thinking "Wow! That's what the world should be like." That was my reaction to this: we need this guy to come and run the British trains!

As part of my getting-ahead-with-Web 2.0 mission, I have signed up for Google Reader and am adding RSS feeds from the various blogs I like to catch up with. It was amazingly easy: all my questions were answered by this video, Common Craft's Guide to RSS.

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Monday, January 21, 2008


Postcards from the edge

These guys did a journey of the sort I'd definitely be interested in doing - exploring the UK slowly, in depth, taking their time and having chance encounters with archaeological celebrities. Who should they encounter while recharging their milk float (definition added for the benefit of confused readers who buy their milk in shops) but an archaeological luminary,
none other than Phil Harding from Time Team, who was soon regaling us with
stories of the only other person he'd ever come across who owned a milk float -
our unofficial patron saint, Keith Moon.

In other news, a huge box of postcards kept by Mollie have turned up. Most of them are from the 1950s onwards, from family holidays, featuring comments about the weather. However, there is also a treasured packet dating from around 1900 - 1910. The few that were posted are dated between 1904 and 1906. Excitingly, they feature theatrical stars such as Ellaline Terriss (not the same person as Ellen Terry - although there are a few of her as well), Edna May, Seymour Hicks, Henry Irving, Wilson Barrett, Maud Jeffries and various other intensely glamorous characters.

There are several featuring Mr C. Hayden Coffin giving us his dandy highwayman pose, his American newspaperman impersonation, and demonstrating many other ardent stances in a manner that seems to me the epitome of high camp. I promise to scan some!

It's as if people sent postcards several times a day - I suppose there were several postal deliveries, and no telephones. Some are rather peremptory, like this one (with an image of Mr Seymour Hicks as "Dickie" and Miss Ellaline Terriss as "Blue Bell"), which could have been penned by Lord Peter Wimsey's mother:
Dear G,

I sent the goloshes off this afternoon by maid. I don't think they are much
Hope you are well. With love - Mother.

Goloshes! Maids! I am charmed. I imagine these read in the perfectly clipped tones of a dowager duchess.

There is also a very repressed, suitably inhibited one-sided British love story, tantalisingly played out ... if only I knew how it ended! More to follow soon.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008


In memory of Mollie

My great aunt Mollie has died. She had lived with Alzheimer's for many years, and spent the last eight years in a nursing home. A former nurse herself, she looked after the other residents, reassured them if they had to go to hospital, and was a firm favourite among the staff for her sunny nature. Apparently she used to believe she was living in a serviced hotel! It was always a pleasure to see her, her face wreathed in smiles, happy to have a visitor even if she wasn't certain who we were.

Nursing homes get a lot of bad press, but I won't hear a word against this one. One carer even came in on her day off to sit with Mollie's head in her lap, even though she was on morphine and not necessarily aware of her surroundings. It's an image that touches me profoundly. When Mollie passed away, all the staff were there with her.

Dad and I took Grandpa up to see her one last time, and I'm very glad we did, reconnecting with one of Dad's cousins who I haven't seen for years. But as I write this, we're trying to find out what kind of a person Mollie was. No-one is sure where she was born. We don't know quite which hospitals she worked at and when. Our memories are uncertain, half-remembered scraps of fact filled out with supposition. What we remember of her is her welcoming smile, the polite way she wouldn't smoke in your house, and her genial good humour. I remembered the last, triumphant line of Larkin's poem, "What will survive of us is love" - and despite his tentativedoubt in the penultimate line, it's that conclusion that stays with me. I suppose our family are "the endless, altered people," looking back, rather than reading her past. But her "remaining attitude" is the "final blazon" - it's love that survives.

So, in tribute to Mollie, a lovely person I never knew as well as I'd have liked to, I give you "An Arundel Tomb."

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would no guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

- Philip Larkin

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Thursday, January 17, 2008


Cousinly love

I'd encourage any travellers, real or armchair, to check out my cousin Jane's regularly updated blog (she puts me to shame!) where she shares stories of her gap year journey through Asia.

Anna is staying with us! My lovely cousin has always been an inspiration. I'm taking much more of an interest in the family's meals: she's a veggie, and whereas this may seem a daunting prospect to some, I'm enjoying the challenge of creating meals under that limitation which we all enjoy, without wondering where the meat is. I took her on a mini-tour of St Albans, appreciating various historical landmarks but also doing some basic shopping. After India, she was amazed at how simple and easy it was to:

a) withdraw money
b) send postcards (queue up, buy stamps, stick them on and drop the cards in the letterbox outside - a 10 minute transaction here that in India would involve queueing at multiple counters)
c) buy a UK SIM card for a mobile - no registration required, we were in and out of the shop with her new number set up in less than 5 minutes.

We've been discussing social differences between Australia, where I lived for the last 2 years; England, where I'm from and she was born; and India, where she's spent several months. We were thinking about schools, and teaching, and changes in society - and I was surprised to come across this article - not from a source I'd normally read, but still an interesting topic from a teacher. My Mum is very well informed about the social changes in London, due to her working at one of the London hospitals.

How we use and create media sources is changing rapidly: I came across this post discussing the importance of social networking, a good summary of many trends I've observed.

The year in newsbreaks, from the New Yorker:
Without Comment.

Great name changes of English eccentrics:
Toasted T Cake, Daddy Fantastic, Jellyfish Mc-Saveloy and Mouth Who Wants to Know O'Mighty.

And finally, because we could all do with some sweetness and light:

This is the Tower of Ecthelion. If a candy tower could be measured in units
of pimpness, this candy tower would be off the f***ing charts. And if that
wasn’t pimp enough, in front you can clearly see the White Tree of Gondor,
which I made out of white chocolate pretzels. Give me my Nobel Prize now,
This is a quote describing a startling Christmas holiday project - the creation of the Battle of Pelennor Fields through the medium of sweets. This is from Lord of the Rings fans who last year brought you the Battle of Helm's Deep, also in candy (that's lollies, for any Australian readers.)

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