Tuesday, 21 November 2017

You Have Saved the Best 'til Last


Driving down the dual carriageway, I peer out the windscreen and say anxiously to Nigel, “How much longer will they last?”
“Another week maybe?  Not long?”

I love the way that trees which seem a uniform green in Summer each choose a different colour.  The beeches are copper, the birches gold.  I love the way the spindle tree, drab and insignificant for ten months of the year suddenly becomes the Rupaul of the hedgerow - camp pink berries and fabulous, flame coloured foliage. 

But now the leaves were nearly all over for another year.

I was supposed to be going for a last Autumn walk with Carol, but unfortunately something came up.

I decided I’d go anyway.

It was early, bright and frosty.
And the colours took my breath away.

This wasn’t so much the end of Autumn as a grand finale.

As an empty-nester, one of my preoccupations is a regret for the passing of time and the shift from one generation to the next.

But when I saw the trees that morning, a phrase from the Gospels kept going through my head – “You have saved the best 'til last.”




Friday, 17 November 2017

Pigeon postscript















1st pigeon:  “Sparrowhawk! Sparrowhawk! Let’s get out of here!”

2nd pigeon: “But wait, aren’t we flying directly towards some artwork by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, that master of Art Nouveau design?”

1st pigeon:  “I don’t care!  There’s a sparrowhawk, I tell you!”

Me from the sitting room:  “Did anybody else hear that loud bang at the kitchen door?”


Sadly the Charles Rennie Mackintosh window decals haven’t worked.

(The picture above is the print of fine dust which a pigeon leaves when it hits our patio door.)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Pigeons.

I have never before asked myself whether pigeons might like the Art Nouveau designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

But I am about to find out.

In our garden, we have a cluster of bird feeders.  They attract every kind of finch and titmouse.

Woodpigeons lumber beneath, hoovering up dropped seeds.

However, five times now, we have discovered the complete, yet ghostly, outline of a pigeon in flight on our patio door.  
When they hit glass hard, fine dust flies out of their feathers and makes a print.

But why are they zooming into our patio door?  
There’s no window on the other side to trick them into thinking there’s a through-route.

Fact is, we’ve made our garden such a great place for sparrows that we’ve also attracted a sparrowhawk, skimming stealthily along the hedge, scaring the grit out of our little birds.
I’m guessing it’s blind panic that stops the pigeons from spotting our door.

So how to warn them off?

At the weekend, we visited 78 Derngate, a house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  I oohed at the luminous stained glass,  aaahed at the detailing in the woodwork.

But the best thing of all was in the gift shop – window decals.

“Do you think the pigeons will appreciate Art Nouveau?”

“Maybe not, but they’ll enjoy not bashing themselves on the glass….And besides, there aren’t any Art Deco decals here so they'll just have to make do.”


Friday, 10 November 2017

My Family and Other Animals

Pascoe was home for the weekend. Although we’ve had holidays together, it’s the first time he’s been home this year.

It was time to become Mumzilla.

I put out a three-line whip.  For one Saturday, we would ALL do something together. 

But what?

Lately I’ve felt nostalgia for Whipsnade Zoo.
But it was risky – the forecast was cold and rainy.

More than that – nostalgia can backfire - it’s not always wise to go somewhere you have fond memories of.

We went.

Sure enough some old friends were missing.
Where were the white wallabies?  Where Horatio Hornbill?

Until we went back, we had been able to imagine Horatio still perkily offering gift-twigs to visitors.  But now…

We had to rescue the day, and fast.

We rushed to lay down some new memories.

I will always remember sleek lionesses playing with giant bags of rustling paper and catnip only feet from us, like lethal kittens.
And the warmth of the butterfly house where dazzling blue morphos alit delicately on our shoulders.

Only the dusk persuaded us to go home.

We had planned to go out to a fireworks display, but there was something we had forgotten.

The perfect end to a tiring day at breezy Whipsnade is to snuggle down by the fire. 
And that’s what we did.
Nigel lays an egg: flamingos outraged!

Three-line Whip







Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Werewolf

The earliest stories about werewolves are in Latin literature.  When I teach fabula mirabilis in the Cambridge Latin Course, I make it spooky for the children with candles and creepy sound effects.
I also have a happy schooldays memory of the werewolf story from Petronius.  The way I translated it made it sound as if the werewolf was exposing himself.  My lovely teacher, Yvonne Simmons, roared with laughter – “It’s not that kind of story, Clare.”

So you’d think I’d be alright with werewolves.

But I’m not.

They are my pet fear.

So when Ann and Steve invited Nigel and I to go and see An American Werewolf in London, my first impulse was to say “No”.

“Oh come on, Clare.  It’s very tongue in cheek.”

Surely I am now grown up enough to sit through a light-hearted horror movie?

I could do this.  I really could.

“Look,” said Steve, “Great seats – right at the front.”

Turns out that I am now so grown up that I lasted only half an hour – even less than last time.
Luckily the Odyssey has a cool bar and I have a Kindle. 

After an hour of sipping a G & T and reading Naomi Alderman’s The Power, I began to believe that we women would one day gain world dominance.


This is possibly even more improbable than the existence of werewolves but at least it took my mind off them. 


Friday, 3 November 2017

Modern slavery

On Saturday night, a blonde woman was sitting in a darkened kitchen, forced to work by candle light.
In front of her was a huge bucket of muddy windfall apples. 
She had been asked to peel, core and slice them.
She was many miles from her home, and she was sniffling.

So where was this sad scene?

I am sorry to say, it happened in our kitchen.

Charlotte was visiting from Glasgow – she was in the South East to give a talk on Martin Luther.
At our house, that Saturday, all the lights went out.  Peering through the window at the entire street in darkness, we deduced a power cut.
We lit the candles in the warm kitchen and began to cut up the cooking apples which Chris and Christine had so generously given us. 
Charlotte came and joined us. 
Unfortunately, the eighties music we were playing gave her a head-ache.
Plus I had forgotten she was allergic to raw apples.

And there were an awful lot of apples.

All I can say, Charlotte, is sorry.  
But on the bright side, when you next campaign or speak on social justice you will have extra knowledge of how modern slavery can exist even in seemingly respectable homes.


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Love Autumn!

chestnuts and a parasol toadstool
I heart Autumn.  I really do. 
In education Autumn represents the start of a new year.  Full of promises and excitement.

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY

My birthday falls in Autumn.

The trees are all wearing MY colours.

And Nigel and I get to forage.

This year we had the added bonus of David and Carolyn coming to stay.  Carolyn wears Autumn colours too, otherwise I obviously wouldn’t have invited them.

The other really cool thing about them was that even after knowing us for twenty-five years, they still took our word for it that the big toadstools were edible and consumed my risotto without blenching.

They’ve gone home to the North East now.  I’m sure we’d hear if they’d suffered from our toadstools. 

Unless of course they’re seated paralysed and drooling in a layby on the M1.

But they won’t be.  Things never go wrong in Autumn!

Autumn’s so great.