Friday, February 29, 2008

Auntie Queen

Today is my Auntie Queen's birthday.

She's the only person I've known with a leap year birthday.

I'm not sure how old she would have been this year - she was actually a great-Aunt and I suppose would have been well over a hundred (or i guess in her early 30's in leap years).

Her "real" name was Ivy, but only Uncle Stan ever called her that.

This is her wedding photo.

She was my (paternal) grandfather's sister and always seemed great fun - as was Stan, who was nearly as wide as he was tall (by the time I knew him) and who was very like Johnny Morris, who used to talk with the animals on childrens' TV.

When I was growing up they seemed fairly like other "old" people in some ways, but also somehow more fun and even a little racey. Queen was a wonderful dressmaker and always very stylish.

They had an almost nude art deco lady holding a globe lamp which I was slightly in awe of (which was stolen from my parents' house some time ago).

I remember my mother commenting on how rather shocking this lamp was. Neither side of the family was particularly bohemian or daring.

They played table tennis competitively, and cards, and laughed a lot. They were party people.

My parents had always got on well with them, they had a very good friendship and used to spend holidays together.

Just once my auntie showed me a little of the sadness she'd also had.

They had had a baby boy who died fairly young - at round about 18 months, I think. Mum said that Uncle Stan had then decided they shouldn't have any more children as he didn't want any risk of such suffering for her in the future. Queen had a difficult relationship with my Gran - her sister-in-law - who was not an "easy" person and who could be nasty and manipulative. On one family occasion we found ourselves sitting in my sister's bedroom - I have no recollection of how we came to be there, or what had led up to it - but she was in tears, and told me how my Gran would cross the street to avoid her when they were young, and how she would make comments to the effect that "people with no children of their own shouldn't try and steal other peoples' children."

I was young at the time - early teens perhaps - and can't remember what I said or did, but I wish I'd had the maturity and confidence to talk and listen more, to be a comfort and get to know her better. She never mentioned or alluded to any of this, ever again.

She was of a generation where such things weren't talked about.

I have a small blue beautifully knitted jacket and a rattle which Auntie Queen made for her son which was about all, I think, that she kept of him.

I've not thought of her for some time, but I'm in tears writing this - and there is more. I learned from my mum - after Auntie Queen had died (which was about 13 years ago) - that although she loved and was happy with Uncle Stan, he was not her first love. She'd fallen deeply in love with someone else, but he was considered unsuitable by her family.

This photo of her young man is, touchingly, far more faded than the matching photo of her - i've already considerably darkened it.

So, that relationship was forbidden and/or ended, and she met and married Stan. I wonder if he knew? I wonder what became of that first young suitor.

What heartache and regret she'd known.

I think Auntie Queen always had a soft spot for me: mainly because I've always been very like my mother who she loved so much; also because I was married for over 10 years before we had a child, and I then had 2 miscarriages before LG was born. I always thought that she must have wondered why we waited so long, though she would never have asked, and would have felt some affinity for me in my childlessness, while my brother and sister were producing beautiful bouncing babies.

Auntie Queen and Uncle Stan moved frequently and were ruthless about turning out things they didn't want or need any more. She sold most of her jewellery and mum persuaded her not to sell her exquisitely embroidered and lace-edged tablecloths only by saying, very directly, that she would love to have them and would be more than happy to pay her for them. Needless to say, Quntie Queen gave them to mum and I now have and treasure one of them.

But she kept the little jacket and rattle, and she gave me a couple of pieces of jewellery - a cross and chain which her father gave her for her 21st birthday, and an exquisitely delicate little pendant with seed pearls and tiny sapphires which she said was given to her by a "special friend".

they are all treasures.
Happy birthday Auntie Queen.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Neighbourhood tour continued:

This is the Assembly Halls (sort of community hall/function rooms, and used as a church on Sundays) in the "Village" - and I say "Village" to disabuse you of any notions of rusticity.

It would have been a village once, surrounded by fields and woodlands and no doubt considering itself some distance from the Big City, but now its a stretch of roads and shops, merging into all the other roads and shops and part of the greater London sprawl.

It has a church - the oldest parts of which are C17th -

and public toilets which have been closed for at least the last 15 years.

Newer houses and roads - some of them are post-war in-fill: filling in gaps left by bombed-out houses.

Some of them are more recent estates. Embellished as you can see in the style of 'south London eclectic'.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Here i am on my way to work - see, we have had some sunshine lately

But on the whole its been pretty cold - bright, sharp sunshine with knife-edge shadows. The sort of weather I love on a good day, but weather that somehow requires energy.

This is my road, mid-late Victorian terrace houses

like most of the streets around my part of south london.
Nice details.

Our front door isn't half so lovely as this one and I have no idea who lives here at No. 135.

or here at No. 89, but I like the curly bits.

These houses - below - are just at the end of our road. They are much bigger (basements and attic rooms) and also older, I think.

I think these buildings below might also be older than our Victorian terraces but I have no evidence to support that assertion, nor any idea where it comes from. Its just an uninformed instinct on my part.

Anyway, I like them. The ground-floor level is a row of shops including an optician called "Ray Small Optometrist", which always makes me smile. I wonder if he is?

I pass all of these buildings frequently, on my journey to work - and i'm thinking of posting pictures of other aspects of my route before long in a "look - this is my neighbourhood" sort of way.

More often, recently, the buildings have been shrouded in fog, which sometimes lasts pretty much all day. Less demanding weather and better for concentrating just one or two footsteps ahead.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


i've had a fit of the blahs lately, but here i am back again.

i've had a nastily compacted bottleneck of work to find my way through, with not really enough time for anything much.
i've had some other moody "Stuff" on my mind.
i've been missing sunshine and friends and my mother.
i've not blogged much at all for a couple of weeks, but it feels like much longer.

I have kept going and am nearly ready to splurge out in an exhausted heap.
I have mostly managed by just keeping on putting one foot in front of the other, not looking too far ahead, but pausing now and then to take notice of sparkly cobwebs and interesting shadows on the pavement.
I have felt out of touch with you and your blogs, but hope to catch up with you soon.
I have noticed and appreciated snowdrops, crocus, daffodils everywhere and green- and goldfinches in my garden.

some of which is sort of related to my last instalment on the exhibition I saw at the Victoria & Albert museum which I need to post in any case before it is completely past its sell-by date.

V & A Part V (the end)
"Better days" and "Why we dream" by Susan Collins.

Along with the glass etched blocks by Annie Cattrell, I think these were my favourite pieces in this exhibition.

An installation which looks like the remains of a decorating job is hardly new.

the paint stains and splatters on the dust-sheet in the corner have been embroidered onto the cloth by hand in silver and gold threads. This is 'Better days', and it made me smile.

'Why we dream' is the table, which I loved and wanted to bring home and use every day.

The wood is inlaid with precious and semi-precious stone, shell, gems, seed pearls - even some diamonds i think - in replication of the kinds of patterns which might be spilled or splattered by painting or baking.

This "paint ring" is inlaid mother of pearl (or something similar) and the large splotch in the picture below is opal.

"I have always wanted my work to bring together two different opposing terms, like tidy and untidy, clean and dirty - to bring them together and see what happens. I think this ties into my feelings about craft. Craft in my mind, has that 'good' label and that's what draw me to it. To make something look bad, dirty or stained using these processes that are usually deemed to be good and worthy, to jumble up the two." Susan Collis

I just loved this, the way it brought together the precious and the ordinary, the extraordinary and the everyday, the random and accidental with the painstakingly crafted and carefully executed.

How wonderful would it be to have a table like this upon which to write or bake, to eat your breakfast?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

730 days


two years today
and 250 posts (not counting this one)

here it all started

and i've travelled a long long way since then

and thats all i have to say about it just now.

oh, except sorry i'm not returning your visits much at the moment,
busy tired blah blah blah - not for too long i hope.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

silent poem

Moments of Grace
by carol ann duffy

I dream through a familiar, wordless place.
The small boat of the day sails into morning,
past the postman with his modest haul, the full trees
which sound like the sea, leaving my hands free
to remember. Moments of grace. Like this.

Shaken by first love and kissing a wall. Of course.
The dried ink on the palms then ran suddenly wet,
a glistening blue name in each fist. I sit now
in a kind of sly trance, hoping I will not feel me
breathing too close across time. A face to the name. Gone.

The chimes of mothers calling in children
at dusk. Yes. It seems we live in those staggering years
only to haunt them; the vanishing scents
and colours of infinite hours like a melting balloon
in earlier hands. The boredom since.

Memory's caged bird won't fly. These days
we are adjectives, nouns. In moments of grace
we were verbs, the secret of poems, talented.
A thin skin lies on the language. We stare
deep in the eyes of strangers, look for the doing words.

Now I smell you peeling an orange in the other room.
Now I take off my watch, let a minute unravel
in my hands, listen and look as I do so,
and mild loss opens my lips like No.
Passing, you kiss the back of my neck. A blessing.

carol ann duffy
new selected poems 1984-2004, Picador 2004