Thursday 26 May 2011

I couldn't believe it when I found this in the charity shop yesterday and pounced on it in glee.
And then I opened it and felt sad.
It is inscribed in curly black writing, To my sweet EJ. Love always, D.
(Or maybe that's M. No, I think it's D.)
Who was sweet EJ ... Elizabeth Jane? Emily Jessamine? Was it love always from her D for Dad or from Damian, Daniel or David? If he loves her always, how come his lovely gift ended up unappreciated in the charity shop (it was only published about two years ago)? And there's no splodges and stains to show that she ever made Molly's mother's blueberry-raspberry pound cake or the French lemon yogurt cake that brought about a blog romance and then a wedding. (If you're not familiar with Molly's blog Orangette, she met her curly-haired husband - who was one of her readers - when he e-mailed her after discovering her yogurt cake recipe, and their long-distance romance blossomed from there. I have to remind myself that this is extremely unlikely to happen twice.)
Anyway, I've been engrossed in Molly's family reminiscences and recipes all morning until they made me so hungry that I had to make pancakes for lunch.
Don't you think that her book has found a much better home with me? EJ is probably a thin person who watches cookery programmes on television and doesn't know how to make pastry.
I'll let you know how that lemon yogurt cake turns out.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

I picked marigolds and dog daisies along the beach
And red roses, valerian and elderflowers from the garden.
I filled another vase with Spanish broom
Which has a slightly medicinal scent.
I made buttermilk scones with strawberries and clotted cream
And they turned out just right,
Though not quite as good as my mum's.
But they never are.
I watched a splendid sunset
While drinking Portuguese wine
With new friends who own the very posh beach-hut.
And I discovered that a very famous ice-cream family
Have set up an ice-cream cart only five-minutes from my front door.
So all in all
It was a very good weekend.

Saturday 21 May 2011

'Really only someone with that superior intellectual honesty could have given a record like that. I could equate it in musical terms with Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters.'
Bob Geldof, on Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

I've listened through five hours of Dylan on the radio last night and tonight. And there's more to come next week.
It doesn't seem right that he's 70.
He was the soundtrack to every broken heart I've ever had.
When I revisited my old college bar a few years ago, I was profoundly shocked to discover that Lay Lady Lay was no longer on the jukebox.
I wonder if I should apologise to my much younger neighbours?
It's hard not to sing along when you know all the words.

Thursday 19 May 2011

There's so many wonderful loan exhibitions in London that I'm inclined to neglect those art treasures that we can see all year round. Absolutely free.
So when I had an hour to spare at lunchtime today, I decided that it was far too long since I'd paid a visit to the Leonardo Cartoon.
No better time than the present, because when the Leonardo blockbuster opens later this year, the hordes will descend.
Oh dear, I arrived in the quiet, darkened corner where you'll find the Virgin and Child and St Anne and John the Baptist, just as a tour party filed through ... I hung back and watched them. Shuffle, pause, blink, two-three seconds average attention span, that's it, we've done Leonardo.
And then I was blissfully alone ... just me and Leonardo ... and I sat and gazed until it was time to get back to work.
When I was about 11 or 12 - before helicopter-parenting was invented - I used to gad all over London on my own. (Nothing's changed then!)
And I used to spend hours in the National Gallery. I loved the soft lines of this work, and the gentle faces. I haven't been back to see it since my own mother died, so maybe that's why I was so struck today by the tenderness of the pose - the mother perching on her own mother's knee. (Mustn't get over-sentimental. I'd have flattened my mum if we'd tried this at home!)
I did think how lucky I was to have spent so many lunchtimes here over the years.
It has made me a very fierce defender of free museums.
And the rights of 12-year-olds to grow up without too much adult interference.

Friday 13 May 2011

Yesterday was one of those unremarkable days when, if I kept a diary, I'd have to say Forgot What Did.
But if you'd like to go down as a footnote in history - sorry, but it's only for Brits - you might like to write yesterday up for Mass Observation.
I've visited their archive in Brighton and trawled through boxes full of these one-day diaries dating back to the 1930s.
My pasta and goat's cheese dinner last night was an ordinary middle-of-the-week supper. In 2011.
But I wouldn't have been eating it in 1951 Austerity Britain.
And in 2051, maybe it'll seem as far in the distant past as dried eggs and Lord Woolton's Pie.
Now ... what on earth was I doing for the rest of the day?
I forget.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

The local museum (no longer free, sadly, thanks to cutbacks, unless you're a resident) has organised a nettle trail ...
Into the wine shop (for nettle beer)
And the cheese shop (for Yarg cheese),
Around the allotments
And into the cafe (for nettle soup),
The health food shop (for a tonic),
Even into the wool shop (for nettle-dyed yarn, but surely not nettle knickers?).
I'm now wondering whether to expect people tramping through the bottom of my garden? You might call it laziness ... but I call it bio-diversity. Do you think I could start selling teas?
The well-dressed gentleman in the next seat was trying to read the Standard over my shoulder.
He asked me what it said about the show.
(Actually, it was two influential bloggers who originally dubbed it Paint Never Dries. And now that's what everybody calls it.)
The well-dressed gentleman pulled a face.
He was a backer who had lost money on Lord Lloyd-Webber's Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, set ten years later on Coney Island.
(He said he'd also put money into Phantom. So I stopped feeling sorry for him.)
Paint Never Dries was very loud. Shouty, screechy loud.
And I still managed to nod off.
And there wasn't a single tune you could hum on the way home.
But I liked the skeleton pushing the hostess trolley and agree with the Whingers, that was the best bit.
The well-dressed gentleman pulled me another face. He said they'd made changes since the first night but it hadn't really improved.
'I've given up hope,' he said.
'It'll never get to Broadway.'
I didn't think much of Paint Never Dries ...
But it's not every night that you get to meet an angel.

Friday 6 May 2011

Walking through Soho this afternoon, I was flabbergasted to see a flowerstall selling buttercups, at £1.50 for a modest (and rather wilted) fistful.
I burst out laughing - but the stallholder assured me that people buy them.
Are we getting too posh to pick our own?
I wonder what he'd have charged for the elegant cow parsley I picked by the side of a busy road the other day?

Tuesday 3 May 2011

I'm not likely to get there, but I'd love to see this exhibition of Fantin-Latour's flower paintings in Co Durham.
I like the thought of him going out in his slippers to pick nasturtiums and anemones to paint later.
Normal service has been resumed ... here's some laugh-out-loud photos of Bea's hat. I love the one with the cat.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Not the Royal Wedding ... but as near as I'm ever likely to get.
Maybe the Archbishop had heard that I was a bit miffed yesterday and told them to roll out the red carpet or they'd never hear the end of it.
What a day I have had. And I only queued ... look away, this might make you jealous ... I only queued for ten minutes. Yes, that's right.
It didn't bode well for my return trip to the Abbey after I went to bed with a half-plan to compose a worshipful face and go to matins. I didn't open my eyes until 8.15am. (I know, I know, but I'm not a morning person.) I nearly rolled right over and went back to sleep.
I shot out of the house on a gulp of tea and half a slice of toast. But even so, it was 9.40am before I emerged out of Westminster tube station. Blown it, I thought ...
Until I walked around the corner and realised that there was hardly any queue at all. So I chatted away to three elderly American ladies who were just as thrilled as I was. (They had camped out all of Thursday night on the Mall. I could only admire their stamina.)
And by 9.50am precisely, I was seated in Poets' Corner. (Under Robert Garrick if you really want every literary detail.)
But, oh ... the scent of lilies of the valley as you walk into the Abbey ... it was heavenly. She must have wafted down that aisle on a cloud of perfume.
Now, having criticised Huw of the BBC for his lack-lustre commentary, I shall have to try to do a better job. And for our overseas readers - that's you, Darlene - and those who haven't been inside the Abbey since they were at school (that's me) ... what can you see from Poets' Corner?
Well, these are the posh seats. Not exactly the orchestra stalls, more the stalls circle. On the Queen's side of the church but several rows behind the immediate family. Think foreign dignitaries and diplomats. But you'd be straining to see much over Princess Bea's Moose Hat.
Needless to say, I was delighted. This was Mission Accomplished. And the music was wonderful, the organ and the choir soaring up into that glorious vaulted roof ... and yes, I did well up. (Tears rolling down my cheeks, if you must know. I think I'd quite forgotten that this was Not the Royal Wedding. Not really.) I'm relieved to realise that - contrary to reports in yesterday's papers - the cart-wheeling verger doesn't seem to be in trouble. At least, the venerable canon cracks a joke about him in her sermon.
And then it was over. I shuffled around Poets' Corner, paying social calls ... Anne of Cleves (heavens, it must have been quite an amicable divorce); TS Eliot, the War Poets, Tennyson, Robert Browning, DH Lawrence (well, fancy that). But despite this morning's unusually large congregation for matins, it is being made abundantly clear by the vergers that Sightseeing is not playing by the rules. Anyway, they're trying to clear the Abbey for the next service.
I'll have you know that my behaviour so far has been impeccable. But I really, really want to stand for a moment looking down the nave at all those trees. (I've only had a sideways glimpse of the flowers over the altar.) So I did what any determined, churchgoing lady would do ... I ducked under the barrier. Only for a quick look ...
And then I realise that people are taking their seats again. The verger assures me that you can sit anywhere you like ...
And that, ladies, is how I came to be sitting - for the next hour - in one of the best seats in the Abbey at the foot of the steps to the altar.
Because I was in Carole Middleton's seat. Her - actual - seat. Smug ... I've been insufferable all day. I mean, I queued for ten minutes!)
Now I could see the flowers ... and a glimpse of that avenue of trees. As the bride entered into the quire, it must have been absolutely enchanting as if she were walking out of a woodland glade. (It is completely true what you've read in the papers. Here in the posh seats, the atmosphere is intimate.)
But those flowers .... high, high above me there's a tumble of white rhododendrons, and what might be white wisteria, entwined around the clerestory windows as if it was growing wild.
There's white cherry blossom and azalea. And every so often, a flap of clerical vestments creates a draught ... and that heavenly scent of lilies of the valley washes over me again.
And I realise that this is the stage upon which one day William's Coronation will be enacted.
It feels overwhelmingly solemn.
Belatedly, I realise that the floor of the high altar is the famous Great Pavement that supposedly predicts the end of the world. (For years, it was carpeted over and only revealed for a couple of days every three years or so. And I never remembered the dates, so I've never seen it.)
When it is time to leave, I walk slowly in Catherine's footsteps - to music by Elgar - through the beautiful blue quire, under the golden arches ... thank you, all sarcastic remarks have already been made by family members ... and out into that avenue of trees. Where it is heaving with people. And there is plenty of time to bury my nose in all those lilies of the valley. They are planted at the base of each tree ... and suddenly I notice something that Huw didn't mention. They're interspersed with strawberry plants ... tiny white flowers, and tight berries, and just one that's almost ripe. (No, I didn't. It didn't even cross my mind. Actually, there was a chunk out of it as if a mouse might have got there before me. And, anyway, those vergers would have been down on me like avenging archangels. They were already fighting a losing battle against the cardinal sin of Photography.)
Talking about sins of decorum ... would you believe the woman sitting next to me? Who chobbled her way loudly through an apple and took swigs out of a bottle of fizzy pop. During a service. In a cathedral. In the front row before the high altar.
Anybody still reading? I promise never to mention weddings again.
Just curtsey on your way out ...
And many thanks to Westminster Abbey.
For a morning I'll remember for the rest of my life.

PS Almost forgot to mention, that the bride's bouquet had been laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The flowers beginning to fade ... more lilies of the valley, hyacinth and myrtle, and what looked like sparkling raindrops but was actually silver wire twisted through the flowers.
The last word promise starts now!
Still sighing over the loveliness of the wedding, I made my way to the Abbey this afternoon, thinking I'd take a look at the flowers ...
And I had one of my Good Ideas.
I would assume a devout and respectable face and attend Evensong. (For which there is no absolutely-whopping admittance charge. As yet.)
Now ... could I really outsmart the CofE on its biggest money-spinning weekend for decades?
There were two queues winding around the Abbey ... credit cards to the right, cash to the left, and I reckoned the queue on either side was an hour long. If you were lucky.
And when I asked about Evensong, they said I'd be most welcome ... but it was in St Margaret's.
**@!** They're not daft, are they?
A nice verger was holding court outside, explaining that he wasn't the one who turned cartwheels.
I'm afraid for £16 and a hour's queuing, I'd expect tea with William and Kate thrown in.
Thirty years ago, after Charles and Di's wedding, I remember dropping into St Paul's to see the flowers in my lunch-hour from work. So there can't have been much of a queue.
Looking over my shoulder - in case the Wrath of God might smite me there and then - I nicked a white daisy. (The Wrath of God smote the daisy instead because despite my best efforts to preserve it, it turned brown and the petals fell off. And eventually I chucked it out.)
I would like to say here that I am now a reformed character. And hadn't the slightest intention of pilfering trees from the Abbey.
As soon as I saw them on telly, I thought ... that'll never fit in my handbag!