MISSING!

 

Joanna and Lawrence & Erin and Dana, with Emma Robins.

We had Elisabeth, Robert and William this weekend, and it was very enjoyable, except that William bawled for an hour and a half on being put to bed (most unlike him). Nothing we tried consoled him, until Elisabeth figured out she was playing him ‘the wrong sort of lullaby’. By the miracles of modern technology which is as impenetrable to me as the periodic table (of which I know Nothing) she managed to obtain the ‘right’ lullabies, and glorious silence promptly descended.

I was reminded of an incident with our own children. We took Joanna to Paris when she was less than six months old. As I recall it was a special offer; we went from Scotland on the train. At that time we were not so well travelled so this was a big adventure. It was wintertime, I think November.

At first all was well. She slept in our arms on the train. We negotiated Paris and the Metro with her pushchair. Our hotel had a cot for her. But once in our hotel, we ran into problems. She would not go to sleep and cried and cried. We gave her drinks, changed nappies, sang to her, walked up and down with her, put her in her pram and wheeled her back and forth. Nothing made any difference. We could not understand it – she had never behaved like this before.

The French are not in the least sympathetic to other people’s difficulties if it affects their own comfort, Our neighbours banged on the wall; the management rang us and said, did we know our child was crying (John’s reply was unrepeatable); another guest arrived at our door convinced that the child was abandoned and surprised (but not appeased) to see that I was walking the floor with the baby in my arms. When we went down to breakfast I heard the phrase : ‘le mauvais bebe’ but we assumed our fiercest Make-my-day expression and no-one challenged us directly. We were to return the following day.

It was only when we returned to our own house and the baby’s own bed that I realised what the problem was. Joanna had two white blankets which I had crocheted. I used to place her in her cot and then lay the blankets down on her, saying as I did so, that’s One, and that’s Two. She had become attached to the blanket, which she referred to (when she could talk) as her One-y. We had not realised that her One-y was necessary for her to fall asleep.

We made sure both of our subsequent children were presented ceremoniously with their own One-y and it was never left behind.

The first photograph shows Joanna at ELISABETH’S wedding; she has no need for one-ys these days but has to provide them for others; the second shows William in his crib but it wasn’t from there he took HIS one-y. Both photos courtesy of John Armstrong.

I’m off on my travels for a week or two.

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WEATHER

As a Scot and a Brit, you’d expect me to like ‘weather’ – and I do. In Scotland, there is nearly always a wind blowing, which can vary from a light zephyr that just stirs the leaves, to a ferocious gale that whips the trees round in great circles. When we left Scotland, I kept wondering what I was missing until I figured out it was the sound of the wind. I used to love when we would be out on bicycle in Banffshire and would leave our bikes in the ditch and venture into a pine wood and sit there to eat our lunch, surrounded by the lovely pine scent, and the creaking of the trees as they were buffeted by the wind.

I like rain. There’s the refreshing smell when a shower falls on a parched and thirsty landscape – of dust and heat and then a green refreshment (all the lovelier because the necessary hot dry spell first is rare where I come from). There’s the washed clean feel of the landscape after rain. There’s the strange exhilaration when you’ve been caught in a downpour and you’re soaked to the skin, so you can’t possibly get any wetter, and you feel as if you’ve been set free. There are the beautiful rainbows that come after rain, sometimes doublers with strange light, that make you remember the scripture: ‘And I will set my bow in the clouds, and make an everlasting covenant with thee…’

I like mist and fog. The East Cast ‘haar’ – a cold, thick, grey fog that can linger all day – is not very pleasant, but the thin layer of cloud that will descend over a mountain can be like a bridal veil, concealing the treasures within. What had been a prosaic view becomes shadowy and mysterious -possibly slightly sinister, when previously its mood had been quite different.

I like snow. I love how when you look up into the dancing flakes you feel slightly drunk and disoriented. How silence falls swiftly, and the world is transformed into somewhere else, white, magical and beautiful.

I don’t like heat that makes entering a sunlit room feel like going into an oven. How you lie at night in a slick of sweat unable to breathe and how doing anything at all feels like far too much effort.

If you went out for a walk, and you sat down in the lea of a gorse bush so that you are sheltered from the wind, but the sun still shone on you and it was warm enough there that you thought: Maybe I should take my cardigan off – but decided against it – that’s the kind of warm day I like!

Au revoir to France

My name is William. I live in our house in London with my mother and father. My mother is the most beautiful mother in the whole world. She has blonde hair and when I snuggle up with her and twist my fingers in her hair, I know I’m a happy boy. My father is fun and I want to be as big as him and do all the things that he can do. He plays football with me, and takes me swimming and carries me up high on his shoulders. He also mostly drives our car. I watch him. I wonder how big I will have to grow before they let me do it. Our dog is Milo. He is just a dog. Daddy whistles and he comes. Sometimes when I whistle he does not come. Then he is a Very Bad Dog.

One day my Mummy was putting our clothes in a suitcase. She puts in so many of her clothes that Daddy cannot shut the case and gets annoyed. I am anxious that Fox goes in, but Mummy does not forget him. I do not know why we take all those clothes. It is warm and we don’t need any.

Daddy comes home from work and they put me in the car in my seat, surrounded by stuff and off we go. Nobody has told me where we are going.

We drive for ages and ages and eventually Mummy says its Plymouth. We line up with thé cars with dogs in them, and then we drive on to a very big ship. We have a very tiny room with 4 bunk beds in it to sleep in. It is called a cabin. Then we go wandering off through the ship – there are lots of these little rooms, and the floor moves up and down on the water. Then we meet Grandpa and Granma. I am very surprised to see them. Granma is in her wheelchair. She looks very tired. I wonder if my other grandparents are on this ship too, but if they are, we never fnd them.

We are to sleep on the bunks. (It is like sleeping on a shelf in a cupboard). Mummy tucks me in with Fox, and then she climbs into the bunk above me. We sleep. The bed rises and falls and rolls.

When we waken it is morning. Mummy dresses me before breakfast, even though I know I should get my breakfast in my pyjamas. I try to tell her this but she doesn’t listen, just gives me a roll. Then we go in the car and we drive off the ship. We have to queue for a man to look at us to see if we are who we say we are. How does he know, I wonder. But apparently we pass the test. Then we drive off the ship and drive into Roscoff. We are in France!

The four of them think Roscoff is a very nice town. It has very old buildings with statues carved in holes in the wall. There are nice shops and flowers beside the street. Grandpa has gone marching ahead and shouts to us to come. It is a hotel and thank goodness, they serve breakfast. I eat bread and jam, croissants and milk with a tiny bit of hot coffee in it. I am very hungry and it is all very good. Eventually we stream off in the hot hot car. Daddy is driving but he is on the wrong side of the road. I am very worried abut this, until I see that everyone else is doing the same so I relax and stop thinking about it.

We go to a French supermarket and they buy stuff. There seems to be a lot of bottles.

We find our house that we are going to stay in. I walk round it by myself. There is one big room with a cooking place, sofas and a TV, and a table where we eat beside the big doors that are windows. The dishes are kept in a wardrobe! Then there is a room with the washing machine in it and buckets and mops and all sorts of interesting things but they won’t let me go in it; and a bedroom and bathroom for Granma and Grandpa that the wheelchair can go in; and a toilet besde the stairs for everybody. Upstairs – I can climb them myself – are a bedroom for Mummy and Daddy and one for me. There is another bathroom but no bath so I get my bath in a thing like a little boat.

We stay here for a week and I do not want to leave it and neither does Milo. We visit small towns with churches with very ornate towers (called steeples.) We go to different beaches. They all have white sand, the cold, blue water that moves and tries to catch you, and nobody else on them but us. Grandpa has bought a little tent that I can sleep in. There are stones, and shells, and I make things with my bucket and spade. Milo digs holes – I don’t know why, he never finds anything in them, and I lie down in the hole. We have picnics. There is always sand on the food.

Most days we go out for lunch. I love when this happens. There is a special menu for me and Mummy discusses what I would like. But the things the adults are having are always more interesting. Granma will always give me some of hers. I eat lots of pancakes, and lots of icecreams. They are really good.

One day we go out and we find a field covered in stones that stand up, in rows. The adults are very interested in this, but I can’t see the point in these rows – they don’t go anywhere. In the garden of our cottage there are huge boulders as big as our shed, and they think these have once been part of a stone circle. I don’t think they’ve thought this through – these boulders are so huge, nobody could move them, and what would be the point?

I love it here. There are new things to see, every day. There are wonderful things to eat. Daddy doesn’t have to go to work, and there is always someone to play with me. Milo and I are sorry when it is time to go home.

Mummy says to say Au revoir to France. It means we will see it again.

LEOPARD SKIN SHOES

We woke this morning to a Towering Inferno incident where a high rise, heavily populated tower block in Notting Hill burned swiftly and fiercely. It is obvious that there will be heart rending tales of families trapped and dying on the upper floors, Somehow it seems to reflect our country’s present misfortunes. We watch while we burn but cannot help ourselves, except to salvage what we can and comfort one another.

Once again we were abroad when the General Election results were being called and listening to the outcome on our phones and laptops.

Looking at the mess and shambles left by the General Election, I wonder why political strategists (and politicians) get matters so horribly wrong. You would think they would understand the mindset of the public – it’s their profession to do so.

Firstly, one felt mild irritation that a General Election was called at all when the Prime Minister had said repeatedly that she would NOT call one. But, the British electorate being tolerant and reasonable, once it is called we resolve to play our part, to listen and decide.

Theresa May then takes that goodwill which she has been enjoying, which is extended to every in coming Prime Minister, and proceeds to throw it away more decisively and rapidly than I have seen any Prime Minister so far. She is arrogant and condescending. She employs the christian names of interviewers as if they were an unsatisfactory pupil and she the head-mistress. She does not bother to explain her Brexit strategy to us – we are too stupid to be involved in such weighty matters and we should be content to let her decide on our behalf. Indeed she does not seem to feel there is much need to persuade us, and on the Debate night, she does not deign to turn up. All she says is – repeated ad nauseum – that we have to choose between herself with strong and stable government, and Jeremy Corbyn, whom she rubbishes incessantly. Here is where I wonder about the intellectual capacity of her advisors. To my knowledge, whenever any politician has addressed the country saying, Who would you rather have running the country, Me or – (in Heath’s case The Miners), we have responded either by choosing the other party, or at the very least by stating, Not You. Also the British genuinely desire justice and fair play, and they do NOT like negative campaigning.

As for Corbyn, I found myself obliged to vote for him. I do not believe this election was about Brexit, the economy etc. I think in the end it came down to the moral stature of the candidates. Jeremy Corbyn had been threatened and humiliated by the Labour party’s disgraceful behaviour. Who did they think they were, to reject a leader who had been lawfully elected? Corbyn did not abandon his post; he did not give in to despair; he endured the isolation and rejection. He never lost his temper. He spoke his truth sincerely and I didn’t take exception to anything he said. In spite of the many nasty (and untrue) things she said about him, Jeremy Corbyn did not make any personal attacks on Theresa May. I am doubtful whether Corbyn would make a successful prime minister (though he is certainly more fit than those who opposed him.) It is quite likely that his policies would not be in my best interests. Yet I gave him my vote and could not in all consciousness have done anything else. It must have been a great comfort to him that in the latter part of the election every time he came out to speak, vast crowds had come to hear him.

As for personal integrity (or lack of same) consider George Osbourne. He was so ungentlemanly as to kick Theresa May when she was down and wounded; and he betrayed his party for a newspaper headline. We knew he was a shit; but we did not know to the full extent the kind of shit he actually was.

Theresa May does not appear to have learnt anything since the election. She only apologised to Tory MPs who have lost their seats when forced to, and she appears to see no necessity for apologising to us, for wasting our time and money on what was just a vanity and for being over taken up with her own image. As for going to bed with the DUP – that’s a dangerous game to play. She has returned Gove to her cabinet. Has she actually looked at him recently?

But I do not know why I am surprised that Theresa May has not exhibited more taste and judgement. This woman first came to our attention by wearing leopard skin shoes!

GARDEN VISIT

 

 

 

 

6 Elm Avenue, Littlehampton

John and I visited an interesting garden in Littlehampton this week, under the National Gardens Scheme.

Among the delights of visiting gardens in the yellow book is that it takes you into parts of Sussex (or wherever you reside) that you otherwise would never see, and you never know what to expect. The ‘garden’ can be the parkland of a stately home – one we visited had an avenue of wellingtonia – or a tiny precious haven of a terraced house.

It was a very hot day. The house was a large 1930s two storey house with an entirely flat garden. Looking at the front garden, it was obvious that it had been laid out by a garden designer. There was a pleasing selection of plants in purple and gold, mostly in flower.

We ambled round to the back, where there were already quite a few visitors. The garden had been divided into sections around a central walkway. Between the back door and the eventual ending of the garden it was bisected by a high fence, which had a moon gate in it. The planting was again in purple and gold and was dominated by hundreds of enormous alliums, all purple, with flowers as big as a football. The lady of the house, graciously in attendance and welcoming, informed us that this allium was called Globemaster. There were pools, and mirrors dotted about.

Among other interesting features was an alpine collection housed in guttering attached to strips of wood fastened to the blank wall of a summerhouse. Near the house were two large wooden receptacles which made deep beds, and were supported by trestle type stands so that they provided portable deep beds at waist height, filled with herbs and salad vegetables.

We had a cup of tea and cake in amongst all this splendour. I reflected that I would like the garden, lovely though it was, to be less ‘designed’. Let some other colour edge in, I thought. However it had only been planted the previous year and perhaps needed time to settle

As we exited the garden, we passed a side entrance; and there was a cat flap in the door, and fixed to the wall below was a step to access the flap. Everyone’s needs were considered.

Just to remind us that we weren’t in paradise, stuffed under our windscreen wipers was a peremptory note accusing us of blocking their exit (which we had not: you could have driven an army truck through the space we left.) We concluded it must be a case of jealousy by the neighbours plus resentment of the noise and activity of the builders of the garden, plus the arrival of so many visitors to their patch.

Then we drove to Littlehampton. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with English seaside resorts: it’s the people in them and their lamentable taste that is the problem. The beach at Littlehampton is pleasant enough (there is some sand); the water is clean. There is a little train with a friendly driver who puffs slowly along the promenade and back (we had a shot.) But there are some startling displays. A young woman, perhaps size 16, and going to run to fat if she doesn’t mend her ways, walking the promenade with her voluptuous flesh straining at the seams.

Another very overweight woman, a mother, wearing a skimpy bikini top and shorts bottoms, her flesh oozing out of them, sitting on a chair in a restaurant on the beach. In my first horrified glance at her, I thought she was naked.

I ate possibly the worst baked potato I have ever eaten ; eventually I wondered if it actually was a potato or some noxious substitute.

So we drove back, but we think we’ll return in September when that garden is, once again, open to visitors. I wonder what will have replaced the allium?

A LITTLE IRISH TIN

We went to Nymans on Saturday – Robert with Milo, Elisabeth, William and me.

Robert and Milo went off to do the woodland walk, and Elisabeth and I explored the garden. The davidias were out, as well as many azaleas. They have unusual magnolias. The wisteria flowers were dangling off their support. The herbaceous border was bright with tree peonies and ceanothis, but the late summer border which in only a few months will be a riot of colour, was lifeless and empty.

We sat in one of the outside booths and had tea. We three adults had cake with our drinks. William elected to share my cake (this may well be because he calculates that he will be given a greater percentage of my cake. He is not stupid.) Then Elisabeth wants to show Robert something she’s noticed on her way round, so they leave me for ten minutes or so in charge of William.

I still have a small piece of cake left but I need to make it last. Looking for something to interest him, I inspect my handbag. He does not care for my purse. He thoroughly despises my handkerchief. He does not care for my little red quilted bag which contains my Disabled Toilet key, and a lipstick and a tiny Japanese mirror, though he does look at himself in the mirror. Then he spots in the murky depths of the bag a small enamelled tn.

It’s blue and gold with a celtic design on it, and John bought it for me at some place in Ireland where there were stone cells for monks, beside the sea. The tin is circular and has a lid which shuts with a click and to open it you press a tiny stopper and the lid pops open. I use it to carry my day’s supply of pills. But this tin is just empty in my bag so I let William play with it, I make the remaining piece of cake into large crumbs and put some in the tin and shut it. William then tries really hard to open it. He understands the mechanism completely but his fingers lack the strength and dexterity to effect the opening. I help him. He removes the crumbs and eats them. I fill it up with more crumbs and we repeat this process several times. Eventually we finish the crumbs. William explores my lap and finds a currant which he carefully places in the tin. I close the tin. I open the tin. He eats the currant. His parents return.

The little tin has kept us wholly occupied!

A QUESTION OF TASTE

A MATTER OF TASTE

I was reading in fascinated horror an article in the Saturday Times about an interior designer to the mega rich, one Celia Sawyer. There is a photograph of her in the write-up. She is a hard faced dyed blonde with long hair hanging down her back, I would guess in her 40s, blue nails, short black leather skirt, very high heeled gold boots. There are two illustrations of proposed dining room and bedroom for a client’s aeroplane, which have so much glitter and gilt I think I would feel ill if obliged to sit in them.

William Morris is famous for the saying, Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. The interesting word there is ‘believe’. Evidently he thought it was obvious whether or not an object was useful, but its beauty had an element of taste in being so regarded.

If you regard ‘good taste’ as having the capacity to discern quality and harmony and beauty in an object, then William Morris possessed this gift to a remarkable degree. If you visit his exquisite house in Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, you can see that he kept his embellishments of it to a minimum, allowing its natural beauty to shine through. He had ‘good taste’.

But these issues are not straightforward. We are often told that ‘real’ jewellery is in better taste than vulgar costume jewellery. Now I like to enhance my appearance with a little jewellery and I do have some modest pieces. But costume jewellery can look just as good – worn sparingly on the right person. It costs far less; it’s not a worry to wear it, and skilfully worn you can scarcely tell the difference. You can throw it away when you’re finished with it. But ‘real’ jewellery has baggage. It tells of your wealth; your family’s status if it is inherited; the love the giver had for you… Are these desirable qualities to hang round one’s neck like the albatross?​

I enjoyed reading the series of novels Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (which I assumed was a spoof mocking the snobbish pretensions of the upper classes. Sadly I later discovered that Powell was in deadly earnest!) The hero regarded himself as an expert on art and was scathing about the ‘vulgarity’ of those whose walls bore cheap, vulgar and nasty reproductions. Now it must be wonderful to be able to have in your sitting room an original work by a famous artist. But is a poor original by a lesser artist ‘better’ than a reproduction of some great work that appeals to you? I think what you decorate your walls with should be chosen on the same basis as that which adorns your person. You should choose what you can afford; what makes you feel good; what you enjoy. It is not admirable to choose things because someone else has labelled them ‘good’.

The Duchess of Windsor was famed for her elegance. Her beautiful clothes were designed to show off her jewellery. Her lover, briefly King of England, used to go to the vaults where the royal family stored uncut stones gifted to it (as representatives of their country) from the nations of the British empire. He would take handfuls of these emeralds, pearls, diamonds, etc and then wander round to Cartiers and empty his pockets of these treasures on to their tables. This would then be transformed into the jewellery the Duchess most famously wore. (NB The nations gifting those gems did not anticipate them being worn by the king’s mistress as she was when he first began giving them to her. It was first recognised she was his mistress because of the stunning jewellery she was wearing.) She was also well known for the elegance of her apartments. They were lovely: her taste was flawless, except that they were explicitly created and designed to impress, and as a result became unspeakably vulgar.

I had a friend many years ago in Scotland whose husband was invariably either about to become exceedingly rich or else about go bankrupt. They lived in a very large Victorian house parts of which would be sumptuously furnished while other rooms would be bare and unfurnished. The house was so large, her children used to cycle around inside, much to my children’s envy. As you entered the large hall, you were practically met at the door by an enormous gilt and glass chandelier (which later crashed to the floor, only marginally missing a workman.) A large downstairs room was converted into a cloakroom with white marble, glass and gold fittings, huge gold framed mirrors and red carpets. Decorating the vanity unit was a life sized glass swan. One felt it was rather indelicate to use the room for the purpose intended and the outsize mirrors only added to one’s discomfort. Her sitting room, a large high ceilinged room, had one wall grey and other three a vibrant pink. One sank into pink and cream long haired carpet, before slipping on white leather sofas. But what I especially marvelled at, and what I think summed up her whole philosophy, was the ornament given pride of place on a large glass coffee table. It was an enormous representation of Cinderella’s coach in glass, gold and ceramic,complete with the princess, the fairy godmother, the glass slippers – the whole dream. I loved going there because it was such fun. She was warm and generous. She had created this sugary nest which corresponded with her ideas of beauty. It certainly expressed the fantasy section of her quite childlike personality. She drew everyone in with her laughter, her kindness, her generosity. I knew it was not in the best possible taste, but going to hers was always fun. Certainly for a short visit, you could appreciate her exuberant enjoyment of her husband’s somewhat temporary wealth.

We’ve all been to houses where everything is of exquisite taste, designed to reflect the owner’s wealth, class, and education, and where the hostess has a veneer of social politeness (what Jane Austen would describe as ‘ well bred ‘ ) but little warmth. But wouldn’t you rather spend the evening somewhere more homely, where the paintings, perhaps though charming are a mixture of reproductions of Great Masters, amateur but good drawings of their children, and unknown artists portrayals of places in the world of significance to them? Where possibly their furniture isn’t antique, but a harmonious mixture of modern classic, Ikea and a lovely desk inherited from the hostess’s grandmother. The chairs may not be Chippendale, and a trifle shabby, but they are inviting and comfortable? Or even where the only decoration is a statue of Buddha and a print of Babar the elephant. What matters is how welcome and comfortable they make you feel.

I think it was Alan Clark who sneered at Michael Heseltine because he ‘bought his own furniture” (as opposed to inheriting it.) (Nothing at all wrong with inheriting it, of course.) Furniture is for using – sitting on, writing or eating at, etc. How you acquired it, as long as it’s legal, is neither here nor there.

Returning to Morris, furniture should be useful, fulfil it’s function, and it can be in the opinion of the owner, beautiful. But. in the long run, taste doesn’t matter. Kindness does.