27 December 2011


I read a borrowed 1950's Penguin paperback copy of 'The Blessing' by Nancy Mitford on my bus journey back home for Christmas. Towards the end a glamorous, powdered, female French aristocrat throws a party in Paris. The theme is famous parents and famous children, with guests having to bring along a trussed up son, daughter, neice or nephew. Never before had children been at such a premium...legal adoptions were hurried through at a rate never previously known in the department of the Seine.

The party becomes the talk of the town, and the upper crust turns up fully kitted out. Very soon the famous parents dumped their famous offspring at the buffet and left them there while they went off to dance, flirt, gamble, or gossip with other famous parents. The children happily stuffed away with cream and cake and champagne, all of which very soon combined with the lateness of the hour to produce a drowsy numbness. Every available sofa, chair, and settee now bore its load of sleeping babies; they lay on the floor round the edges of the rooms, under the buffet, and behind the window curtains. The grown-ups, all set for jolly evening, waltzed carelessly among their bodies. The party doesn't end until 6am.

Ingleside doesn't have parties like that (well, only on very special occasions...) but it does have ALL the food, ALL the booze, and all the waterfalls on very rainy, very beautiful Christmas day walks. A brother and I had been to pick up the meat from the butchers. SO MUCH MEAT. We had a sword fight with the obscene sausagemeat batons, and dripped blood all over the table. I didn't get the meat sweats as I am a vegetarian, but I did get the rich trimmings sweats. And the red wine sweats. Dad went on a booze cruise (in his car to Majestic Wine) so we will be able to deck out a whole Cathedral with stunning wine and champagne stained windows using the shattered glass of our empty bottles. These tasty panes may even keep the howling winds out. As we sang the nine lessons in carols inside our ancient Abbey on Christmas Eve we heard the winter weather circling the towers, haunting the rafters, heralding the onslaught of chocolate coin showers, epic cooked breakfasts, and sweet mullings of spiced alcohol.

The most hilarious present of Christmas day was a tile bearing the legend 'Home is where the heart is!' - the exclamation mark is the best bit. Perfect to hang above Ingleside's Aga. And I have my new Angel of the North mug to take down South, reminding me of my roots, cheering me with his open wings, looking like a big old dirty flasher. I love Geordies. I am the only true one in my family, having been born in Newcastle. Aye man. But instead of drinking Newcastle Brown, I'm drinking raspberry beer and reading new poetry from Alice Oswald. She writes of dead heroes in her version of The Iliad, and she is my heroine. Her book is the colour of Christmas - bright red, with 'Memorial' picked out in green. I'm so greedy for her words. And greedy for enargeia. Ancient critics praised The Iliad for its enargeia, which translates as 'bright unbearable reality'. This version, trying to retrieve the poem's enargeia, takes away its narrative, as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you're worshipping.

11 December 2011

Artist, Shaman, Witch Doctor

I was in The Dover Bookshop in Covent Garden again this weekend. It sells copyright-free images. Nobody owns these images anymore so now people like me can buy them. There are images of every conceivable thing, as well as collections of beautiful illustrations by the likes of Arthur Rackham and Aubrey Beardsley. While I was pawing the cover of a Gustave Dore illustrated edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a white-haired man also stroked the title page. He asked me if I knew it, referring to the poem. O Coleridge! I wittered that I had studied it and loved it. He told me that it was the first book he ever bought when young, though the copy was not half as beautiful as the one before us. He was a very smiley man. The agonised soul with the albatross around his neck between the Dore-embellished pages may be rightly placed in this shop, as Dover Publications (who produce most of the items at the bookshop) is owned by a printing company which, among other things, prints Gideon Bibles. Trivia.

I have been in Covent Garden quite a bit of late, enjoying a very well-attended and cosy anthology launch at the Poetry Cafe and having a late dinner out at The Ballerina with my mother. I love that little Italian, with its hanging ballet shoes and hot ricotta pancakes and tiny tables so perfect for a gossip. We had also been to the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum that day. The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. I wanted to touch everything, all of it so tactile, colourful, ugly and beautiful. A man-sized visual feast of a ship was strewn and studded with casts of many objects from the museum, collected from many countries and eras, created by many unknown hands. It made mum cry. I was very struck by the little love tokens too. They are small silver discs, about the size of a coin, and bear engraved words and pictures of arrow-struck hearts. 'No heart so thru as mine to you'. 'By hammer and hand all arts doth stand'.

My notes from the day
This past week I happened to watch a TV show in which a delight of a stoned young woman headily remarks that 'there's this pollen in the air that smells like kissing'. This made me giggle then swoon a little. I also discovered a saying: 'kissing is in season when gorse is in bloom'. Well, one can always find some flowering gorse. It is getting colder and there is not a whole lot of pollen about, so we may have to make do with snatched mistletoe smooches and Eskimo kisses.

3 December 2011

New Project

So it's not quite frosty yet, but I have a perpetually split lip that floods and crusts with blood and red wine in equal measure as this season's festivities start to kick in. And I'm clumsier than ever; crashing into things, tripping over the edges of rugs, falling over my own feet. Yes, my own feet. The greatest irony of my life is that my first name apparently means grace (though I think more in the religious sense), and I was born on a Tuesday so should really be full of grace. The stars must have skewed their alignment or something as I emerged into the world with my foot all twisted up and awkward. A sign of things to come.

However clumsy and cold it gets outside, we have a thing of humming pleasure in the house. A projector lives in the attic bedroom. The attic is deep red with one white-papered end; the whole wall a screen for whatever we fancy. We lie on the comfiest floor-mattress ever and look up. We are in the scenes of what we watch.

We watched Pina, a film by Wim Wenders about the choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch. Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost. Dance for love. Dance for love. She danced as though she had a hole in her tummy. What treasure lies within our bodies, to be able to express itself without words, and how many stories can be told without saying a single sentence. The music and the physicality of this film, with its dance sequences so varied, so wild and quiet and loud and mesmeric, is all-consuming when viewed real close and big in a bedroom. It wasn't in 3D, but we were right there, wide-eyed.

We watched Alien. I had never seen it before, a sacrilegious admission, and this had to be rectified. Ripley and her heroics are fierce, she is role-model material, constructed from steel and sense. The darkness and fire made for nail-biting viewing, and though we were lying against pillows, we were really in the spaceship being voyeuristic members of the Nostromo crew. The alien was a disappointment I must say. From some angles it is a cross between a house plant and a dolphin. I like the cat. It is a survivor.

We watched sections of The Endless Summer, a 1966 documentary about surfing (surfumentary?). Two wholesome sun-tanned young American men chase an endless summer around the globe on a quest for the best waves. The cheeky-chap narration is hilarious. A woman's green bikini top is referred to as a 'chest protector'. Watching scenes from this sunny, bluesky, bluesea, golden sand film will stave off winter blues for sure.

Another use of the projector is to be a LAD and play video games. Play them noisy and really, really big. I tried to be a LAD for a bit, but ended up reading Vogue instead. Which is something I never do. But it was given to me so I didn't have to pay the extortionate retail price, and it had Tilda Swinton and Miranda July tucked between the gazillion adverts. It reeks of mixed perfumes and is about as heavy as the textbook copy of Chaucer's works I used to lug around. Well, almost.

I'm told that porn is pretty intense on the projector too.