Sunday, 31 July 2011

OK To Not Be OK

I know this is supposed to be a happy blog; the pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile kind of thing...but after dinner with a dear, dear friend...and considering my own state of mind, I just have to say...

It's OK not to be OK.

Weep if you have to, then dry your tears. It may be better tomorrow, it may not be.

There is always hope.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Smiley Faces

This is my new picture byline. I'm smiling. The way to make yourself smile is to take a snapshot of yourself smiling and then stare at it. Or better still, get the chief photographer to do it, only because he has no choice and the bosses are going to kill you if you use the same crappy picture for your picture byline again.

Stare at it long enough, you're bound to break into a grin.

Or record yourself laughing and play it over and over again.

What doesn't annoy you will only make you laugh.

Friday, 29 July 2011

All That Glitters

The things I write when not quite sober are not quite sober. I wrote this five years ago. Hard to think. Prabs was still here, a body turning away, just leaving. Mary was still here. And glitter was what people wore on their bodies because they liked to glimmer like stars softly shining in a sky of deepest black.

Some things change. Others remain the same.

Life would be futile without memes. Blogs would remain empty, grass would wither and there would be something rotten in the state of Denmark (what state is that, you ask? Ask Aragorn, I answer, he's from there. Or at least, Viggo is) I love Viggo. Well, OK, I love Legolas more. Julie loves Viggo. So I wake up to Viggo every morning cos Julie has plastered a poster of him on my wall, which she has yet to move to her own room. I can live with that. Besides, I left my Legolas poster on my door in Australia.

You can say, I left my heart in Perth.

Talk you of killing?

The lady doth protest too much, methinks...

Brevity is the soul of wit. And discretion, the better part of valour.

Shut up Jenn! Get on with it!

OK, OK, keep your shirt on.

I am thinking about whether I should take a shower. Mary covered my chest in glitter. It spilled out of the glitter box she got for Gorgeous. So she simply swept it up from the table and liberally adorned me with it. In a restaurant. Gorgeous was sitting too far away to be similarly adorned. And Gorgeous was wearing her blouse all buttoned up to there. I was less conservatively dressed. And I have the glitter to show for it.

I said the quality of glitter is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Mary said all that glisters is not gold. And I said, sometimes it is. And we giggled at how profound I could be. And Gorgeous smiled at us in a superior fashion. Silly kids, she did not say. Can't take them anywhere, she did not add.

I wish that this glitter was actually fairy dust and I could fly away - second star from the right and straight on till morning. Or some such direction. Maybe I could disappear down a rabbit hole. Run to stand still. Sing, oh frabjuos day, calloo callay! Slay the Jabberwock.

I hear that plump is the new thin. And dumb is the new smart. And prevarication is the new truth.

I wonder if the world has gone mad and what I can do to fit in. Or out. I want to fit out. How do I fit out?

I regret I didn't say goodbye to Boomer when I had the chance.

I am all textures of nothingness. I am the void into which it all disappears. I see copies before me, copies of copies of copies. I feel no colour. I feel no song. I feel nothing.

I dance when I'm pleasantly buzzed. Wine now. JD before. It all adds up to music.

I sing pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile smile smile...slightly discordant, but life is a soundtrack by the Teenage Fan Club. N'am sayin'?

I cry when my existential despair surfaces. And the protective layers are stripped off. And the pointlessness comes home to me. And nothing means anything.

I am not always chipper.

I make with my hands things for people I love. Like muffins. Or cookies. Vindaloo. Or tapestries. Christmas angels. Sometimes stories. Silly poems. You know, stuff...

I write nonsense, mostly. And that too, when I am in a good mood.

I confuse Oscar Wilde with George Michael. Madonna with Princess Diana. Guildenstern with Rosencrantz.

I need to disapparate.

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
'The one thing I regret,' he said,
'Is that it cannot speak!'

Thursday, 28 July 2011

We Live Beyond Hope

We live. We continue to live. Despite it all. I thought it was most beautifully encapsulated by Prior Walter in Angels in America (yes, that again, I can't help it, if I love something, I love it...I soak in it until my fingers get pruny).

So here is the excerpt. From Angels in America. Towards the end. When Prior meets the angels. And returns The Book.

Europa: This is the Tome of Immobility, of respite, of cessation.
Drink of its bitter water once, Prophet, and never thirst again.

(Prior puts the Book on the table. He removes his prophet robes, revealing the hospital gown underneath. He places the robe by the Book.)

Prior: I...can't.
I still want...My blessing. Even sick. I want to be alive.

Angel: You only think you do.
Life is a habit with you.
You have not seen what is to come:
We have.
What will the grim Unfolding of these Latter Days bring?
That you or any Being should wish to endure them?
Death more plenteous than all Heaven has tears to mourn in.
The slow dissolving of the Great Design,
The spiraling apart of the Work of Eternity
The World and all its beautiful particle logic
All collapsed. All dead, forever,
In starless, moonlorn, onyx night.

(The generator begins to fail, the lights to dim.)

Angel: We are failing, failing,
The Earth and the Angels.
Look up, look up,
It is Not-to-Be Time.
On who asks of the Orders Blessing
With Apocalypse Descending?
Who demands: More Life?
When Death like a Protector
Blinds our eyes, shielding from tender nerve
More horror than can be borne.
Let any Being on whom Fortune smiles
Creep away to Death
Before that last dreadful daybreak
When all your ravaging returns to you
With the rising, scorching, unrelenting Sun:
When morning blisters crimson
And bears all life away,
A tidal wave of Protean Fire
That curls around the planet
And bares the Earth clean as bone.


Prior: But still. Still.
Bless me anyway.
I want more life. I can't help myself. I do.
I've lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much much worse, but... You see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay their eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children, the live. Death usually has to take life away. I don't know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to die. But I recognize the habit. The addiction to being alive. We live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that's it. that's the best I can do. It's so much not enough, so inadequate but... Bless me, anyway. I want more life.

(Prior begins to exit. The Angels, unseen by him, make a mystical sign. He turns again to face them.)

Prior: And if He returns, take Him to court. He walked out on us. He ought to pay.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Irrational Exuberance

“The love of life is not something rational, or founded on experience of life. It is something antecedent and spontaneous.”

George Santayana

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


I am presently obsessed with this video/song. The idea of reconciliation fascinates me. You need to know the relationship between these two guys to appreciate how profound this video actually is.

Miracles do happen.

If it happened to them it can happen to me.

And you.

Monday, 25 July 2011

My Heart Is Like A Singing Bird

You've probably read Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (I'm guessing) and if you haven't, you should. I loved the whole rambling essay, her way of being precise and voluptuous all at once. And the thing I loved the most was the description of a luncheon at Oxbridge where everyone feasted on the fat on the land, and how it affected the senses and made everyone particularly brilliant, bursting into spontaneous poetry, or remembering a sort of joyous carol that went on under one's breath, all the time.

Was it ever really like that?

I don't know. I was born too late.

It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist's convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a cigar or drank a glass of wine. Here, however, I shall take the liberty to defy that convention and to tell you that the lunch on this occasion began with soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had spread a counterpane of the whitest cream, save that it was branded here and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe. After that came the partridges but if this suggests a couple of bald, brown birds on a plate you are mistaken. The partridges, many and various, came with all their retinue of sauces and salads, the sharp and sweet, each in its order; their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard; their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. And no sooner had the roast and its retinue been done with than the silent serving-man, the Beadle himself perhaps in a milder manifestation, set before us, wreathed in napkins, a confection which rose all sugar from the waves. To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an insult. Meanwhile the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been emptied; had been filled. And thus by degrees was lit, half-way down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard little electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse. No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. We are all going to heaven and Vandyck is of the company - in other words, how good life seemed, how sweet its rewards, how trivial this grudge or that grievance, how admirable friendship and the society of one's kind, as lightning a good cigarette, one sank among the cushions in the window-seat.

If by good luck there had been an ash-tray handy, if one had not knocked the ash out of the window in default, if things had been a little different from what they were, one would not have seem, presumably, a cat without a tail. The sight of that abrupt and truncated animal padding softly across the quadrangle changed by some fluke of the subconscious intelligence the emotional light for me. It was as if someone had let fall a shade. Perhaps the excellent hock was relinquishing its hold. Certainly, as I watched the Manx cat pause in the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe, something seemed lacking, something seemed different. But what was lacking, what was different, I asked myself, listening to the talk? And to answer that question I had to think myself out of the room, back into the past, before the war indeed, and to set before my eyes the model of another luncheon party held in rooms not very far distant from these; but different. Everything was different. Meanwhile the talk went on among the guests, who were many and young, some of this sex, some of that; it went on swimmingly, it went on agreeably, freely, amusingly. And as it went on I set it against the background of other talk, and as I matched the two together I had no doubt that one was the descendant, the legitimate heir of the other. Nothing was changed; nothing was different save only - here I listened with all my ears not entirely to what was being said, but to the murmur or current behind it. Yes, that was it - the change was there. Before the war at a luncheon party like this people would have said precisely the same things but they would have sounded different, because in those days they were accompanied by a sort of humming noise, not articulate, but musical, exciting, which changed the value of the words themselves. Could one set that humming noise to words? Perhaps with the help of the poets one could. A book lay beside me and, opening it, I turned casually enough to Tennyson. And here I found Tennyson was singing:

There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near';
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late';
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear';
And the lily whispers, 'I wait.'

Was that what men hummed at luncheon parties before the war? And the women?

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.

Was that what women hummed at luncheon parties before the war?

There was something so ludicrous in thinking of people humming such things even under their breath at luncheon parties before the war that I burst out laughing, and had to explain my laughter by pointing at the Manx cat, who did look a little absurd, poor beast, without a tail, in the middle of the lawn. Was he really born so, without a tail, or had he lost his tail in an accident? The tailless cat, though some are said to exist in the Isle of Man, is rarer than one thinks. It is a queer animal, quaint rather than beautiful. It is strange what a difference a tail makes - you know the sort of things one says as a lunch part breaks up and people are finding their coats and hats.

This one, thanks to the hospitality of the host had lasted far into the afternoon. The beautiful October day was fading and the leaves were falling from the trees in the avenue as I walked through it. Gate after gate seemed to close with gentle finality behind me. Innumerable beadles were fitting innumerable keys into well-oiled locks; the treasure-house was being made secure for another night. After the avenue one comes out upon a road - I forget its name - which leads you, if you take the right turning, along to Fernham. But there was plenty of time. Dinner was not till half past seven. One could almost do without dinner after such a luncheon. It is strange how a scrap of poetry works in the mind and makes the legs move in time to it along the road. Those words -

There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear -

sang in my blood as I stepped quickly along towards Headingley. And then, switching off into the other measure, I sang, where the waters churned up by the weir:

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree...

What poets, I cried aloud, as one does in the dusk, what poets they were!


But why, I continued, moving on towards Headingley, have we stopped humming under our breath at luncheon parties? Why has Alfred ceased to sing

She is coming, my dove, my dear?

Why has Christina ceased to respond

My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Moments of Beauty

I have found a name for moments like these in my teens, a name borrowed from Stendhal, my favourite author at the time. I saw myself in the young heroes of The Scarlet and Black, the Charterhouse of Parma, in the tension they lived between their worldly ambitions and their greatest happiness, which lay in their simple delight in timeless moments. Stendhal called these moments de beauté, and when I first moved to London to wprk for Thomson Newspapers, I would spend my lunch hours sitting in Trafalgar Square or by the Thames, collecting my own "moments of beauty." Impossibly, shamelessly romantic, the phrase sounds today, forty years later, so very nineteenth century, yet it still captures the spirit of a moment like that. The power of Now, you might say today; or just being. Whatever you call it, being in the moment is life's simplest, most available treasure.

Stendhal's heroes would stand transfixed with some detail that had caught their eye: this bowl, that face, this carpet, this cup of tea. But it wasn't the object of appreciation itself that mattered so much as the growing intimacy with it; a gathering of love, one might almost say, that ushered the character into a deeper revelation of the light buried in all matter, and ultimately in the character himself.

Roger Housden, Saved by Beauty

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Glamour Shot

We were in the middle of a meeting today when Shan suddenly looked at me and said: "Don't you have any picture?"

As we were discussing Japanese investments in Malaysia (Sue Ann's story, not mine) and as my stories had involved a regulator and a highway operator in turn, I racked my brains trying to figure out which picture he meant.

Anna cut in at this point: "What's wrong with her picture? Nice, what?"

And he said: "I couldn't even tell who it was."

Fair do. Because it was an old Facebook picture taken in 2007. And I was supposed to have my picture taken last week. Or was it the week before that? I don't know. Anyways, I didn't. And guess what? There was another picture byline this week. And again, that awful picture, dark and flipped.

So I thought about my glamour shot, also taken in 2007. With loads and loads of make-up and airbrushing. (Rather than let it go to waste I've used it as my Twitter pix). I've gone back and re-read what I wrote on that occasion and hey, it qualifies for my Happy Blog.

So here it is. In all its untarnished splendour.


I spent the day wrestling dust. Literally. I dusted out corners of my room that hadn't seem a broom since old Methuselah was regaling us with tales of the good old days. I cleaned the windows. Wiped the fan. Thrust a broom at sundry cobwebs on the ceiling. Mopped the floor. Washed the bedsheet.

Well, anyway, you get the picture.

Then I sat down to watch The Secret while epilating (OK, you didn't need to know that, but I've just been reading Liz Wurtzel, which means I share disgusting details of my life, unashamed) and then, for good measure, I watched some Shakespeare in Love. Rewinding that montage bit:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea
My love is deep
The more I give to thee
The more I have
for both are infinite.

Stay but a little, I will come again.

Oh would thou leave me so unsatisfied....

You get the picture.

Then I thought I should round off a productive day by going to the gym. I needed to do some shopping at Megamall, so I figured, shopping first, gym later. Especially since the gym is open till midnight and the shops, well, aren't.

Anyway, there I am, at my favourite Clarins counter, chatting with the sales assistant, (she had this big beautiful smile on seeing me and I love the love of shop assistants), and after I made my purchase she said:

Jennifer, you wanna makeover?

And I said: huh? why?

Was she implying that I looked less than perfect?

OK, I was in my chappalang, unironed tee-shirt and jeans, hair uncombed as always, I did look less than perfect. About the only thing about me that looked halfway passable was my new pair of sneakers.

And she said, for funlor...they do your make-up, they do your hair, then take picture. RM20 oni.

Hmmmm...I'm a little shy (which is why I blog and put my picture up for all the world to see, cos I'm shy!) and I was not comfortable with someone slapping makeup on my face, while passer-bys stopped to gawk. (Like real, oni, as if passer-bys have nothing better to do)

Anyway, she talked me into it.

So there we are, walking out of the departmental store, into the concourse (Oh God, publicker and publicker) and she stops at this huge Clarins booth there in between the Bobbi Brown and Watson's stores. Two make-up artists are busy beautifying two different women.

My nice Clarins lady said Thomas would "do me". Oh whoppee do! I get Thomas! To do me!

Anyway, this lovely, gregarious, friendly make-up artist, who rejoices in the name of Thomas shows up. After making sure my face has been suitably cleaned with Clarins products, he gets at it.

"There are no ugly women. Just lazy women. And Malaysian women are so lazy about make-uplar."

He squeezes something onto the back of his hand.

"Look this foundation, we call it Apple Glow in Taiwan. Asian skin too yellow. This brings out the pink."

"Um, does it have a whitening effect," I ask, unable to keep the accusation out of my voice. I don't like whitening products. Love me, love my tan. Or as my Mummy would say, my BLAAAAACCCKKK!

"Nolar, it just pinks you up. See, see, this half of your face I put the foundation, see the difference?"

The only difference I see is that one half of my face is whiter than the other. My forehead crinkles up doubtfully, but Thomas is so enthusiastic, I don't want to disappoint him.

He then put tons of concealer to hide the Guccis under my eyes.

"Smile! Look in front and smile"

I oblige.

He slaps on the blusher.

Then he applies eyeliner. And brushes my eyelids a reddish bronze.

"You know Beyonce, she likes these bronze autumn shades."

"You know what Beyonce likes?

"Yeah, we keep in touch with all the latest trends, see what the stars like, see what colours are in..."

"So, what colours are in, then?"

"Donnolar, that's all bullshit. It's basically whatever colour you're comfortable with."

(Brushes my eyelid some more).

"Your eye shape nicelar. Indians so lucky. You see my eyes? I put a tape to get a fake double eyelid."

I hadn't noticed so I look up and he shows me where he taped his eye to get that double eyelid. I grin at him. What will people do next?

Then he outlines my eyes and puts the mascara. "So nice, no need to curl oso, long lashes." So I bat them at him and laugh.

In between painting my face Thomas regales me with the story of his life. (I always love listening to the stories of other peoples' lives. They are usually interesting). He started out as a make-up artist with RTM1. That is, government TV. He made up the stars for the soap operas.

"I tell you ah, government oso, not good. They kept holding back our pay. Sometimes two months oso, don't get paid. And I would be like, hello, I need to pay bills. I don't even have money to buy Maggi Mee."

I nod sympathetically.

"What about the other TV stations?"

"Aiyo, all the samelar. So I went behind the make-up counters. Started out with Mac. But I tell you ah, so bitchy those people. All fighting for sales. In front of you, smile smile, behind your back, so kiasu. And I hate fighting for sales. So I quit and went on to Dior. Then Clarins came in with a better offer. I lurve Clarins products," he finishes enthusiastically. I am now under five layers of Clarins products and counting.

Finally, he adds the gloss...."oooooh your lips are so voluptuous." I smirk and wonder how that would sound if this guy were not so obviously gay.

"I don't look like me," I say, staring at this painted visage.

"Hmmm...I would be a very bad make-up artist if you still looked like you lar. A make-over is a make-over."

Then it's time for the hairstylist. This very interesting woman (she's attractive, but more interesting than attractive), takes my hair into a curling iron and starts teasing it into curls.

She is not chatty like Thomas, so we proceed in silence for a while. Then she breaks the ice, asking me which country I'm from. I gape. Isn't it obvious than I'm born and bred Malaysian? Don't we have a certain look about us?

Seems that one of the other girls who was having her face painted is from India. The hairstylist thought we were part of the same gang. I set her straight. "Aiyo, Malaysianlar! KL-ite some more."

Anyway, we chat some and I tell her I like her hair. And she says she did it at the Regent Hotel salon. Wow. Must have cost a pretty penny, but it looks good. Professional. Sort of layered and tapered and flyaway.

Then it's time for my close-up. The photographer keeps saying, head down, look up. Spread your fingers. Touch the wall, hold your collar...I fight down laughter. This is just too ridiculous.

He takes me in three different tops (Purple, you wanna wear purple?) and then hands the disk to his compatriot to transfer to the computer. The computer guy chooses a shot. "OK this seems to be the best, what say, we print this out?"

He spends a few minutes airbrushing the chosen photo. (I never knew how much help I needed to look even halfway OK)

Then he asks if I'd like a copy of the other shots on a disk. Like, of course, man. I mean, when would I do this again?

Probably, never...

I didn't end up going to the gym.

But I did end up having to buy make-up remover.

Oy vey.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Happy Pictures from Joyful Calendar

Isn't it beautiful? I have a calendar of 12 of such images by James Christensen. A friend who no longer talks to me (or is it me who no longer talks to her) couriered me my birthday present because we had difficulty meeting last year. It had a lovely card and a voucher from MPH.

I went to MPH to find something I really really wanted, not a book, I already had a million of those, but something, something that would last me the whole year through, that would make me happy.

When I stumbled upon this calendar I could hardly believe it. I'd never even heard of James Christensen before and here he was with all these beautiful, dreamlike images that looked like they could be out of one of my all-time favourite books, Alice in a Wonderland, but weren't.

A blend of humour, imagination, dreams, rainbows, flying, owls and pussycats.

So I wake up to look at the calendar and it fills me with a quiet contentment.

And I think of the friend whom I no longer talk to, and am grateful.

It's the little things.

And sometimes, the not-so-little things.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Memories, Light The Corners Of My Mind...

One of the weirdest things about me is my ability to remember stuff from when I was an itty bitty kid. I even remember not understanding language. I mean, I knew my name and I knew a few babytalk words (awa meant kiss) I knew my mother was Mummy and my father was Dadda, but not much beyond. And yet, I remember...

Being one (or less) and planning to climb into the bathtub. We used a dipper and scooped water out of the tub, and bathed that way. It was a great privilege to be allowed into the tub and I wanted to have a bath one day, without anyone bothering me.

I noted that everyday at about four, my grandmother, who was looking after me by herself while my parents were at work, was distracted. She would be making sweets for tea. I remember watching over a few days and deciding that was the best time to put my nefarious plans into operation.

So one day, at about four (I think it was four, all I know is it was evening and about an hour or so before my parents got home), I slipped into the bathroom, locked the door and climbed into the bathtub. Now these tubs are not long but high. They were not meant for bathing in, but for holding water to scoop out and pour over oneself. I splashed happily for a while and then grandma discovered I was missing. She wandered through the house looking for me and discovered the locked bathroom door. She pounded on it, screeching my name, terrified.

I, for my part, had finished playing and wanted to get out. I tried to lift myself out of the tub, but found that my arms were not strong enough. I was mildly irritated at my grandma screeching, but didn't trouble myself to answer her (I was a spoilt little only child at the time). Finally, convinced I had drowned, she got the neighbour to come and break down our very solid wooden bathroom door (it has never been the same since). She remembers the door flinging back and little me standing in the tub naked, regarding them with large eyes, a little frightened, a little pruney, but singularly unhurt. (I don't remember this part, the last I remember is trying to get out of the bathtub and not being able to and wondering if I would have to live there for the rest of my short, short life).

My mother told me later that when she got back from school, my grandma said: "Go and thank the man next door. He saved your daughter's life."

Surprisingly (or maybe, unsurprisingly, since I was then an only child, spoilt, precious and princess-like) I was not punished. I remember watching a man come to fix a new door and wondering what it was all about. Years later, I was reminded of myself when our naughty kitten who had made the corner of the hall her latrine, watched with interest, as I moved the furniture aside to scoop up her reeking doo doo and then wash the floor.

Ahh, the halcyon days of childhood. I wonder why I never lived up to my potential. I would have made a swell master criminal.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Helpless, Dumbfounded

I love Rumi. I just do. Here's why:

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty,
If we say that we can, we're lying.
If we say No, we don't see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Heart I'm Trusting You

I love this song and it has been playing on my mind a lot lately. So I thought I'd put it here...on my happy blog...and try and figure out what I am screwing up my courage for.

Monday, 18 July 2011

What The Living Do

I found this poem in one of Roger Housden's "10 poem" collections and loved it so much, especially the last two lines. And it's a reminder. No matter how much I screw up (and I do, on a minutely basis), no matter how weary I feel, and how frayed everything around me is, and what chaos I exist within....I am living. And I do...I do remember you. Always. And forever.

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days,
some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and
the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is
the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep headstrong blue, and
the sunlight pours through

the open living room windows because the heat's on too
high in here, and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries
in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And
yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my
coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a
hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What
you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come
and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss - we want
more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a
glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:

I am living, I remember you.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Looking To A Brighter Day

Sometimes I guess, it's good to have a post for the purpose of contrast. I'm feeling wretched this morning and such a fraud for even keeping a blog like this. I'm feeling wretched because last night I allowed my temper to take over, blaze over me and everyone in my vicinity and suck the the joy out of the place.

And I knew while it was happening, I knew that I was being mean and stupid and childish. And I still went ahead and behaved like that alienating everyone around me, severing some relationships, I don't know, for life?

Deep breath.

Today is a new day.

Today is a new day.

And the thing about the dawn is that I can always ALWAYS look to a brighter day.

It's started with everything wrong.

Maybe it will end with everything right.

In the space created by silence grace creeps in.

And that is the miracle.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Miss Mapp

I don't know if you've ever heard of E.F. Benson but when I first read this he very quickly became one of my favourite authors, like ever...he's so witty, funny, incisive...most people love the character Lucia that he created. Miss Mapp (who got a book to herself before she was forced to join Lucia and play a secondary role) is my favourite, however. She is considered a supreme villainess, one who "carelessly cut you and smile while you're bleeding" like Billy Joel's Woman. But, well, for all that, she has me laughing out loud, belly laughs, rolling all over the floor like my Arnold boy. Seriously, there's nothing like village life. And we miss so much, living in our tiny cocoons in the city, with no old biddy to look over our shoulder and conjecture, conjecture, conjecture.

So here she is. Miss Mapp.

In the incident of "the dress".


Diva was sitting at the open drawing-room window of her house in the High Street, cutting with a pair of sharp nail scissors into the old chintz curtains which her maid had told her no longer 'paid for the mending'. So, since they refused to pay for their mending any more she was preparing to make them pay, pretty smartly too, in other ways. The pattern was of little bunches of pink roses peeping out through trellis work, and it was these which she had just begun to cut out. Though Tiling was noted for the ingenuity with which its more fashionable ladies devised novel and quaint effects in the dress in an economical manner, Diva felt sure, ransack her memory though she might, that nobody had thought of this before.

The hot weather had continued late into September and showed no signs of breaking yet, and it would be agreeable to her and acutely painful to others that just at the end of the summer she should appear in a perfectly new costume, before the days of jumpers and heavy skirts and large woolen scarves came in. She was preparing, therefore, to take the light white jacket which she wore over her blouse, and cover the broad collar and cuffs of it with pretty roses. The belt of the skirt would be similarly decorated, and so would the edge of it, if there were enough clean ones. The jacket and skirt had already gone to the dyer's, and would be back in a day or two, white no longer, but of a rich purple hue, and by that time she would have hundreds of these little pink roses ready to be tacked on. Perhaps a piece of the chintz, trellis and all, could be sewn over the belt, but she was determined to have single little bunches of roses peppered all over the collar and cuffs of the jacket, and if possible, round the edge of the skirt. She had already tried the effect, and was of the opinion that nobody could possible guess what the origin of these roses was. When carefully sewn on they looked as if they were a design in the stuff.

She let the circumcised roses fall on the window-seat, and from time to time, when they grew numerous, swept them into a cardboard box. Though she worked with zealous diligence, she had an eye to the movements in the street outside, for it was shopping-hour, and there were many observations to be made. She had not anything like Miss Mapp's genius for conjecture, but her memory was appallingly good, and this was the third morning running on which Elizabeth had gone into the grocer's. It was odd to go to your grocer's every day like that: groceries twice a week was sufficient for most people. From here on the floor above the street she could easily look into Elizabeth's basket, and she certainly was carrying nothing away with her from the grocer's, for the only thing there was a small bottle done up in white paper with sealing wax, which, Diva had no need to be told, certainly came from the chemist's, and was no doubt connected with too many plums.

Miss Mapp crossed the street to the pavement below Diva's house and precisely as she reached it, Diva's maid opened the door into the drawing-room, bringing in the second post, or rather not bringing in the second post, but the announcement that there wasn't any second post. This opening of the door caused a draught, and the bunches of roses which littered the window-seat rose brightly in the air. Diva managed to beat most of them down again, but two fluttered out of the window. Precisely then, and at no other time, Miss Mapp looked up, and one settled on her face, and the other fell into her basket. Her trained faculties were all on the alert, and she thrust them both inside her glove for future consideration, without stopping to examine them just then. She only knew that they were little pink roses, and that they had fluttered out of Diva's window...

She paused on the pavement, and remembered that Diva had not yet expressed regret about the worsted, and that she still 'popped' as much as ever. Thus Diva deserved a punishment of some sort, and happily, at that very moment she thought of a subject on which she might be able to make her uncomfortable. The street was full, and it would be pretty to call up to her, instead of ringing her bell, in order to save trouble to poor overworked Janet. (Diva only kept two servants, though of course poverty was no crime.)

"Diva darling!" she cooed.

Diva's head looked out like a cuckoo in a clock preparing to chime the hour.

"Hullo!" she said. "Want me?"

"May I pop up for a moment, dear?" said Miss Mapp. "That's to say if you're not very busy."

"Pop away," said Diva. She was quite aware that Miss Mapp said 'pop' in crude inverted commas, so to speak, for purposes of mockery, and so she said it herself more than ever. "I'll tell my maid to pop down and open the door."

While this was being done, Diva bundled her chintz curtains together and stored them and the roses she had cut out into her work-cupboard, for secrecy was an essential to the construction of these decorations. But in order to appear naturally employed, she pulled out the woollen scarf she was knitting for the autumn and winter, forgetting for the moment that the rose-madder stripe at the end on which she was now engaged was made of the fatal worsted which Miss Mapp considered to have been feloniously appropriated. That was the sort of thing Miss Mapp never forgot. Even among her sweet flowers. Her eye fell on it the moment she entered the room, and she tucked the two chintz roses more securely into her glove.

"I thought I would just pop across from the grocer's," she said. "What a pretty scarf, dear! That's a lovely shade of rose-madder. Where can I have seen something like it before?"

This was clearly ironical, and had best be answered by irony. Diva was no coward.

"Couldn't say, I'm sure," she said.

Miss Mapp appeared to recollect, and smiled as far back as her wisdom teeth. (Diva couldn't do that.)

"I have it," she said. "It was the wool I ordered at Heynes's, and then he sold it to you, and I couldn't get any more."

"So it was," said Diva. "Upset you a bit. There was the wool in the shop. I bought it."

"Yes, dear; I see you did. But that wasn't what I popped in about. This coal-strike, you know."

"Got a cellar-full," said Diva.

"Diva, you've not been hoarding, have you?" asked Miss Mapp with great anxiety. "They can take away every atom of coal you've got, if so, and fine you I don't know what for every hundredweight of it."

"Pooh!" said Diva, rather forcing the indifference of this rude interjection.

"Yes, love, pooh by all means, if you like poohing!" said Miss Mapp. "But I should have felt very unfriendly if one morning I found you were fined - found you were fined - quite a play upon words - and I hadn't warned you."

Diva felt a little less poohish.

"But how much do they allow you to have?" she asked.

"Oh, quite a little: enough to go on with. But I daresay they won't discover you. I just took the trouble to come and warn you."

Diva did remember something about hoarding, there had surely been dreadful exposures of prudent house-keepers in the papers which were very uncomfortable reading.

"But all these orders were only for the period of the war," she said.

"No doubt you're right, dear," said Miss Mapp brightly. "I'm sure I hope you are. Only if the coal-strike comes on, I think you'll find that the regulations against hoarding are quite as severe as they ever were. Food hoarding, too. Twemlow - such as civil man - tells me that he thinks we shall have plenty of food, or anyhow sufficient for everybody for quite a long time, provided that there's no hoarding. Not been hoarding food, too, dear Diva? You naughty thing: I believe that great cupboard is full of sardines and biscuits and Bovril."

"Nothing of the kind," said Diva, indignantly. "You shall see for yourself - " and then she suddenly remembered that the cupboard was full of chintz curtains and little bunches of pink roses, neatly cut out of them, and a pair of nail scissors.

There was a perfectly perceptible pause, during which Miss Mapp noticed that there were no curtains over the window. There certainly used to be, and they matched with the chintz cover of the window-seat, which was decorated with little bunches of pink roses peeping through trellis. This was in the nature of a bonus: she had not up till then connected the chintz curtains with the little things that had fluttered down upon her and were now safe in her glove; her only real object in this call had been to instill a general uneasiness into Diva's mind about the coal-strike and the danger of being well provided with fuel. That she humbly hoped that she had accomplished. She got up.

"Must be going," she said. "Such a lovely little chat! But what has happened to your pretty curtains?"

"Gone to the wash," said Diva firmly.

"Liar," thought Miss Mapp, as she tripped downstairs. "Diva would have sent the cover of the window-seat too, if that was the case. Liar," she thought again as she kissed her hand to Diva, who was looking gloomily out of the window.

As soon as Miss Mapp had gained her garden-room, she examined the mysterious treasures in her left-hand glove. Without the smallest doubt Diva had taken down her curtains (and high time too, for they were sadly shabby), and was cutting the roses out of them. But what on earth was she doing that for? For what garish purpose could she want to use bunches of roses cut out of chintz curtains?

Miss Mapp had put the two specimens of which she had so providentially become possessed in her lap, and they looked very pretty against the navy-blue of her skirt. Diva was very ingenious: she used up all sorts of odds and ends in a way that did credit to her undoubtedly parsimonious qualities. She could trim a hat with a toothbrush and a banana in such a way that it looked quite Parisian till you firmly analysed its component parts. and most of her ingenuity was devoted to dress: the more was the pity that she had such a round-about figure that her waistband always reminded you of the equator...

"Eureka!" said Miss Mapp aloud, and, though the telephone-bell was ringing, and the postulant might be one of the servants' friends ringing them up at an hour when their mistress was usually in the High Street, she glided swiftly to the large cupboard underneath the stairs which was full of the things that no right-minded person could bear to throw away: broken basket-chairs, pieces of brown paper, cardboard boxes without lids, and cardboard lids without boxes, old bags with holes in them, keys without locks and locks without keys and worn chintz covers. There was one - it had once adorned the sofa in the garden room - covered with red poppies (very easy to cut out), and Miss Mapp dragged it dustily from its corner, setting motion a perfect cascade of cardboard lids and some door-handles.

Withers had answered the telephone, and came to announce that Twemlow the grocer regretted that he had only two large tins of corned beef, but -

"Then say I will have the tongue as well, Withers," said Miss Mapp. "Just a tongue - and then I shall want you and Mary to do some cutting out for me."

The three went to work with feverish energy, for Diva had got a start, and by four o'clock that afternoon there were enough poppies cut out to furnish, when in seed, a whole street of opium dens. The dress selected for decoration was, apart from a few mildew spots, the colour of ripe corn, which was superbly appropriate for September. "Poppies in the corn," said Miss Mapp over and over to herself, remembering some sweet verses she had once read by Bernard Shaw or Clement Shorter or somebody like that about a garden of sleep somewhere in Norfolk...

"No one can work as neatly as you, Withers," she said gaily, "and I shall ask you to do the most difficult part. I want you to sew my lovely poppies over the collar and the facings of the jacket, just spacing them a little and making a dainty irregularity. And then Mary - won't you, Mary? - will do the same with the waistband while I put a border of them round the skirt, and my dear old dress will look quite new and lovely. I will be at home to nobody, Withers, this afternoon, even if the Prince of Wales came and sat on my doorstep again. We'll all work together in the garden, shall we, and you and Mary must scold me if you think I'm not working hard enough. It will be delicious in the garden."

Thanks to this pleasant plan, there was not much opportunity for Withers and Mary to be idle...

It was not to be supposed that Diva would act on Miss Mapp's alarming hints that morning as to the fate of coal-hoarders, and give, say, a ton of fuel to the hospital at once, in lieu of her usual smaller Christmas contribution, without making further inquiries in the proper quarters as to the legal liabilities of having, so she ascertained, three tons in her cellar, and as soon as her visitor had left her this morning, she popped out to see Mr Wootten, her coal-merchant. She returned in a state of fury, for there were no regulations whatever in existence with regard to the amount of coal that any householder might choose to amass, and Mr Wootten complimented her on her prudence in having got in a reasonable supply, for he thought it quite probable that, if the coal-strike took place, there would be some difficulty in a month's time from now in replenishing cellars. "But, we've had a good supply all the summer," added agreeable Mr Wootten, "and all my customers have got their cellars well stocked."

Diva rapidly recollected that the perfidious Elizabeth was among them.

"Oh, but Mr Wootten," she said, "Miss Mapp popped - dropped in to see me just now. Told me she hardly got any."

Mr Wootten turned up his ledger. It was not etiquette to disclose the affairs of one client to another, but if there was a cantankerous customer, one who was never satisfied with prices and quality, that client was Miss Mapp...

He allowed a broad grin to overspread his agreeable face.

"Well, ma'am, if in a month's time I'm short of coal, there are friends of yours in Tilling who can let you have plenty," he permitted himself to say...

It was idle to attempt to cut out bunches of roses while her hand was so feverish, and she trundled up and down the High Street to cool off. Had she not been so prudent as to make inquiries, as like as not she would have sent a ton of coal that very day to the hospital, so strongly had Elizabeth's perfidious warning inflamed her imagination as to the fate of hoarders, and all the time Elizabeth's own cellars were glutted, though she had asserted that she was almost fuelless. Why. she must have in her possession more coal than Diva herself, since Mr Wootten had clearly implied that it was Elizabeth who could be borrowed from! And all because of a wretched piece of rose-madder worsted...

By degrees she calmed down, for it was no use attempting to plan revenge with a brain at fever-heat. She must be calm and icily ingenious. As the cooling process went on she began to wonder whether it was worsted alone that had prompted her friend's diabolical suggestion. It seemed more likely that another motive (one strangely Elizabethan) was the cause of it. Elizabeth might be taken for certain as being a coal-hoarder herself, and it was ever so like her to divert suspicion by pretending her cellar was next to empty. She had been equally severe on any who might happen to be hoarding food, in case transport was disarranged and supplies fell short, and with a sudden flare of authentic intuition, Diva's mind blazed with the conjecture that Elizabeth was hoarding food as well.

Luck ever attends the bold and constructive thinker: the apple, for instance, fell from the tree precisely when Newton's mind was groping after the law of gravity, and as Diva stepped into her grocer's to begin her morning's shopping (for she had been occupied with roses ever since breakfast) the attendant was at the telephone at the back of the shop. He spoke in a lucid telephone-voice.

"We've only two of the big tins of corned beef," he said; and there was a pause, during which, to a psychic, Diva's ears might have seemed to grow as pointed with attention as a satyr's. But she could only hear little hollow quacks from the other end.

"Tongue as well. Very good. I'll send them up at once," he added, and came forward into the shop.

"Good morning," said Diva. Her voice was tremulous with anxiety and investigation. "Got any big tins of corned beef? The ones that contain six pounds."

"Very sorry, ma'am. We've only got two, and they've just been ordered."

"A small pot of ginger then, please," said Diva recklessly. "Will you send it round immediately?"

"Yes, ma'am. The boy's just going out."

That was luck. Diva hurried into the street, and was absorbed by the headlines of the news outside the stationer's. This was a favourite place for observation, for you appeared to be quite taken up by the topics of the day, and kept an oblique eye on the true object of your scrutiny... She had not got to wait long, for almost immediately the grocer's boy came out of the shop with a heavy basket on his arm, delivered the small pot of ginger at her own door, and proceeded along the street. He was, unfortunately, a popular and a conversational youth, who had a great deal to say to his friends, and the period of waiting to see if he would turn up the steep street that led to Miss Mapp's house was very protracted. At the corner he deliberately put down the basket altogether and lit a cigarette, and never had Diva so acutely deplored the spread of the tobacco-habit among the juvenile population.

Having refreshed himself he turned up the steep street. He passed the fishmonger's and the fruiterer's; he did not take the turn down to the dentist's and Mr Wyse's. He had no errand to the Major's house or to the Captain's. Then, oh then, he rang the bell at Miss Mapp's back-door. All the time Diva had been following him, keeping her head well down so as to avert the possibility of observation from the window of the garden-room, and walking so slowly that the motion of her feet seemed not circular at all...Then the bell was answered, and he delivered into Wither's hands one, two tins of corned beef and a round ox-tongue. He put the basket on his head and came down the street again, shrilly whistling. If Diva had had any reasonably small change in her pocket, she would assuredly have given him some small share in it. Lacking this, she trundled home with all speed, and began cutting out roses with swift and certain strokes of the nail scissors.

Now she had already noticed that Elizabeth had paid visits to the grocer's on three consecutive days (three consecutive days: think of it!), and given that her purchases on other occasions had been on the same substantial scale as today, it became a matter of thrilling interest as to where she kept these stores. She could not keep the in the coal-cellar, for that was already bursting with coal, and Diva, who had assisted her (the base one) in making a prodigious quantity of jam that year from her well-stocked garden, was aware that the kitchen cupboards were like to be as replete as the coal-cellar, before those hoardings of dead oxen began. Then there was the big cupboard under the stairs, but that could scarcely be the site of this prodigious cache, for it was full of cardboard and curtains and carpets and all the rubbishy accumulations which Elizabeth could not bear to part with. Then she had large cupboards in her bedroom and spare-rooms full to overflowing of mouldy clothes, but there was positively not another cupboard in the house that Diva knew of, and she crushed her temples in her hands in the attempt to locate the hiding-place of the hoard.

Diva suddenly jumped up with a happy squeal of discovery, and in her excitement snapped her scissors with so random a stroke that she completely cut in half the bunch of roses that she was engaged on. There was another cupboard, the best and biggest of all and the most secret and the most discreet. It lay embedded in the wall of the garden-room, cloaked and concealed behind the shelves of a false bookcase, which contained no more than the simulacra of books, just books with titles that had never yet appeared on any honest book. There were twelve volumes of 'The Beauties of Nature', a shell full of 'Elegant Extracts', there were volumes simply called 'Poems', there were 'Commentaries', there were 'Travels' and 'Anatomy' and the lowest and tallest shelf was full of 'Music'. A card-table habitually stood in front of this false repository of learning, and it was only last week that Diva, prying casually round the room while Elizabeth had gone to take off her gardening-gloves, had noticed a modest catch let into the woodwork. Without doubt, then, the bookcase was the door of the cupboard, and with a stroke of intuition, too sure to be called a guess, Diva was aware that she had correctly inferred the storage of this nefarious hoard. It only remained to verify her ignominy. She was in no hurry: she could bide her time, aware that, in all probability, every day that passed would see an addition to its damning contents. Some day, when she was playing bridge and the card-table had been moved out, in some rubber when she herself was dummy and Elizabeth greedily playing the hand, she would secretly and accidentally press the catch which her acute vision had so providentially revealed to her...

She attacked her chintz curtains again with her appetite for the pink roses agreeably whetted. Another hour's work would give her sufficient bunches for her purpose, and unless the dyer was as perfidious as Elizabeth, her now purple jacket and skirt would arrive that afternoon. Two days' hard work would be sufficient for so accomplished a needle-woman as herself to make these original decorations.

In the meantime, for Diva was never idle, and was chiefly occupied with dress, she got out a certain American fashion paper. There was in it the description of a tea-gown worn by Mrs Titus W. Trout which she believed was within her dressmaking capacity. She would attempt it, anyhow, and if it proved to be beyond her, she could entrust the more difficult parts to that little dressmaker whom Elizabeth employed, and who was certainly very capable. But the costume was of so daring and splendid a nature that she feared to take anyone into her confidence about it, lest somehint or gossip - for Tilling was a gossipy place - might leak out, Kingfisher-blue! It made her mouth water to dwell on the sumptuous syllables.

Miss Mapp was so feverishly occupied all the next morning with the application of poppies to the corn-coloured skirt that she paid very little attention to the opening gambits of the day, either as regards the world in general, or more particularly, Major Benjy. After his early retirement last night he was probably up with the lark this morning, and when between half-past ten and eleven his sonorous "Qui-hi!" sounded through her open window, the shock she experienced interrupted for a moment her floral industry. It was certainly very odd that, having gone to bed at so respectable an hour last night, he should be calling for his porridge only now, but with an impulse of unusual optimism, she figured him as having been at work on his diaries before breakfast, and in that absorbing occupation having forgotten how late it was growing. That, no doubt, was the explanation, though it would be nice to know for certain, if the information positively forced itself on her notice...As she worked (framing her lips with elaborate motions to the syllables) she dumbly practised the phrase 'Major Benjy'. Sometimes in moments of gallantry he called her 'Miss Elizabeth', and she meant, when she had got accustomed to it by practice, to say 'Major Benjy' to him by accident, and he would, no doubt, beg her to make a habit of that friendly slip of the tongue...'Tongue' led to a new train of thought, and presently she paused in her work, and pulling the card-table away from the deceptive bookcase, she pressed the concealed catch of the door, and peeped in.

There was still room for further small precautions against starvation owing to the impending coal-strike, and she took stock of her provisions. Even if the strike lasted quite a long time, there would now be no immediate lack of the necessaries of life, for the cupboard glistened with tinned meats, and the flour-merchant had sent a very sensible sack. This with considerable exertion she transferred to a high shelf in the cupboard, instead of allowing it to remain standing on the floor, for Withers had informed her of an unpleasant rumour about a mouse, which Mary had observed, lost in thought in front of the cupboard. "So mousie shall only find tins on the floor now," thought Miss Mapp. "Mousie shall try his teeth on tins."...There was tea and coffee in abundance, jars of jam filled the kitchen shelves, and if this morning she laid in a moderate supply of dried fruits, there was no reason to face the future with anything but fortitude. She would see about that now, for, busy though she was, she could not miss the shopping-parade. Would Diva, she wondered, be at her window, snipping roses out of chintz curtains? The careful, thrifty soul. Perhaps this time tomorrow, Diva, looking out of her window, would see that somebody else had been quicker about being thrifty than she. That would be fun!

The Major's dining-room window was open, and as Miss Mapp passed it, she could not help hearing loud, angry remarks about eggs coming from inside. That made it clear that he was still at breakfast, and that if he had been working at his diaries in the fresh morning hours and forgetting the time, early rising, in spite of his early retirement last night, could not be supposed to suit his Oriental temper. But a change of habits was invariably known to be upsetting, and Miss Mapp was hopeful that in a day or two he would feel quite a different man. Farther down the street was quaint Irene lounging at the door of her new studio (a converted coach-house), smoking a cigarette and dressed like a jockey.

"Hullo, Mapp," she said. "Come and have a look round my new studio. You haven't seen it yet. I shall give a house-warming next week. Bridge-party!"

Miss Mapp tried to steel herself for the hundredth time to appear quite unconscious that she was being addressed when Irene said 'Mapp' in that odious manner. But she never could summon up sufficient nerve to be rude to so awful a mimic...

"Good morning, dear one," she said sycophantically. "Shall I peep in for a moment?"

The decoration of the studio was even more appalling than might have been expected. There was a German stove in the corner made of pink porcelain, the rafters and roof were painted scarlet, the walls were of magenta distemper and the floor was blue. In the corner was a very large orange-coloured screen. The walls were hung with specimens of Irene's art, there was a stout female with no clothes on at all, whom it was impossible not to recognize as being Lucy; there were studies of fat legs and ample bosoms, and on the easel was a picture, evidently in process of completion, which represented a man. From this Miss Mapp instantly averted her eyes.

"Eve," said Irene, pointing to Lucy.

Miss Mapp naturally guessed that the gentleman who was almost in the same costume was Adam, and turned completely away from him.

"And what a lovely idea to have a blue floor, dear," she said. "How original you are. And that pretty scarlet ceiling. But don't you find when you're painting that all these bright colours disturb you?"

"Not a bit: they stimulate your sense of colour."

Miss Mapp moved towards the screen.

"What a delicious big screen," she said.

"Yes, but don't go behind it, Mapp," said Irene, "or you'll see my model undressing."

Miss Mapp retreated from it precipitately, as from a wasp's nest, and examined some of the studies on the wall, for it was more than probable from the unfinished picture on the easel that Adam lurked behind the delicious screen. Terrible though it all was, she was conscious of an unbridled curiosity to know who Adam was. It was dreadful to think that there could be any man in Tillng so depraved as to stand and be looked at with so little on...

Irene strolled round the walls with her.

"Studies of Lucy," she said.

"I see, dear," said Miss Mapp. "How clever! Legs and things! But when you have your bridge-party, won't you perhaps cover some of them up, or turn them to the wall? We should all be looking at your pictures instead of attending to our cards. And if you were thinking of asking the Padre, you know..."

They were approaching the corner of the room where the screen stood, when a movement there as if Adam had hit it with his elbow made Miss Mapp turn around. The screen fell flat on the ground and within a yard of her stood Mr Hopkins, the proprietor of the fish shop just up the street. Often and often had Miss Mapp had pleasant little conversations with him, with a view on bringing down the piece of flounders. He had little bathing drawers on...

"Hullo, Hopkins, are you ready?" said Irene. "You know Miss Mapp, don't you?"

Miss Mapp had not imagined that Time and Eternity combined could hold so embarassing a moment. She did not know where to look, but wherever she looked, it should not be at Hopkins. Bu (wherever she looked) she could not be unaware that Hopkins had raised his large bare arm and touched the place where his cap would have been, if he had had one.

"Good morning, Hopkins," she said. "Well, Irene darling, I must be trotting, and leave you to your - " she hardly knew what to call it - "to your work."

She tripped from the room, which seemed to be entirely full of unclothed limbs, and redder than one of Mr Hopkins's boiled lobsters hurried down the street. She felt that she could never face him again, but would be obliged to go to the establishment in High Street where Irene dealt, when it was fish she wanted from a fish shop...Her head was in a whirl at the brazenness of mankind, especially womankind. How had Irene started the overtures that led to this? Had she just said to Hopkins one morning: "Will you come to my studio and take off all your clothes?" If Irene had not been such a wonderful mimic, she would certainly have felt it her duty to go straight to the Padre, and, pulling down her veil, confide to him the whole sad story. But as that was out of the question, she went into Twemlow's and ordered four pounds of dried apricots.

The dyer, as Diva had feared, proved perfidious, and it was not till the next morning that her maid brought her the parcel containing the coat so that she might have no other calls on her time to interfere with the tacking on of bunches of pink roses, and she hoped to have the dress finished in time for Elizabeth's afternoon bridge-party next day, and invitation to which had just reached her. She had also settled to have a cold lunch today, so that her cook as well as her parlourmaid could devote themselves to the job.

She herself had taken the jacket for decoration, and was just tacking the first rose on to the collar, when she looked out of the window, and what she saw caused her needle to fall from her nerveless hand. Tripping along the opposite pavement was Elizabeth. She had on a dress, the material of which, after a moment's gaze, Diva identified: it was that corn-coloured coat and skirt which she had worn so much last spring. But the collar, the cuffs, the waistband and the hem of the skirt were covered with staring red poppies. Next moment, she called to remembrance the chintz that had once covered Elizabeth's sofa in the garden room.

Diva wasted no time, but rang the bell. She had to make certain.

"Janet," she said, "go straight out into the High Street, and walk close behind Miss Mapp. Look very carefully at her dress; see if the poppies on it are of chintz."

Janet's face fell.

"Why, ma'am, she's never gone and -" she began.

"Quick!" said Diva in a strangled voice.

Diva watched from her window. Janet went out, looked this way and that, spied the quarry, and skimmed up the High Street on feet that twinkled as fast as her mistress's. She came back much out of breath with speed and indignation.

"Yes, ma'am," she said. "They're chintz sure enough. Tacked on, too, just as you were meaning to do. Oh ma'am..."

Janet quite appreciated the magnitude of the calamity and her voice failed.

"What are we to do, ma'am?" she added.

Diva did not reply for a moment, but sat with eyes closed in profound and concentrated thought. It required no reflection to decide how impossible it was to appear herself tomorrow in a dress which seemed to ape the costume which all Tilling had seen Elizabeth wearing today, and at first it looked as if there was nothing to be done with all those laboriously acquired bunches of rosebuds; for it was clearly out of the question to use them as the decoration for any costume, and idle to think of sewing them back into the snipped and gashed curtains. She looked at the purple skirt and coat that hungered for their flowers, and then she looked at Janet. Janet was a short, roundabout person, it was ill-naturedly supposed that she had much the same figure as her mistress.

Then the light broke, dazzling and diabolical, and Diva bounced to her feet, blinded by its splendour.

"My coat and skirt are yours, Janet," she said. "Get on with the work both of you. Bustle. Cover it with roses. Have it finished tonight. Wear it tomorrow. Wear it always."

She gave a loud cackle of laughter and threaded her needle.

"Lor, ma'am!" said Janet, admiringly. "That's a teaser! And thank you, ma'am!"

"It was roses, roses all the way." Diva had quite miscalculate the number required, and there were sufficient not only to cover collar, cuffs and border of the skirt with them but to make another line of them six inches above the hem. Original and gorgeous as the dress would be, it was yet a sort of parody of Elizabeth's costume which was attracting so much interest and attention as she popped in and out of shops today. Tomorrow that would be worn by Janet, and Janet (or Diva was much mistaken) should encourage her friends to get permission to use up old bits of chintz. Very likely chintz decoration would become quite a vogue among the servant maids of Tilling...How Elizabeth had got hold of the idea mattered nothing, but anyhow she would be surfeited with the idea before Diva had finished with her. It was possible, of course (anything was possible), that it had occurred to her independently, but Diva was loath to give so innocent an ancestry to her adoption of it. It was far more sensible to take for granted that she had got wind of Diva's invention by some odious, underhand piece of spying. What that might be must be investigated (and probably determined) later, but at present the business of Janet's roses eclipsed every other interest.

Miss Mapp's shopping that morning was unusually prolonged, for it was important that every woman in Tilling should see the poppies on the corn-coloured ground, and know that she had worn that dress before Diva appeared in some mean adaptation of it. Though the total cost of her entire purchases hardly amounted to a shilling, she went in and out of an amazing number of shops, and made a prodigious series of inquiries into the price of commodities that ranged from motor-cars to sealing-wax, and often entered a shop twice because (wreathed in smiling apologies for her stupidity) she had forgotten what she was told the first time. By twelve o'clock she was satisfied that practically everybody, with one exception, had seen her, and that her costume had aroused a deep sense of jealousy and angry admiration. So cunning was the handiwork of herself, Withers and Mary that she felt fairly sure that no one had the slightest notion of how this decoration of poppies was accomplished, for Evie had run round in her small mouse-like circles, murmuring to herself: "Very effective idea; is it woven into the cloth, Elizabeth? Dear me, I wonder where I could get some like it," and Mrs Poppit had followed her all up the street, with eyes glued to the hem of her skirt, and a completely puzzled face: "but then," so thought Elizabeth sweetly, "even Members of the Order of the British Empire can't have everything their own way." As for the Major, he had simply come to a dead stop when he bounced out of his house as she passed, and said something very gallant and appropriate. Even the absence of the one inhabitant of Tilling, dear Diva, did not strike a jarring note in this paean of triumph, for Miss Mapp was quite satisfied that Diva was busy indoors, working her fingers to the bone over the application of bunches of roses, and, as usual, she was perfectly correct in her conjecture. But dear Diva would have to see the new frock tomorrow afternoon, at the latest, when she came to the bridge-party. Perhaps she would then, for the first time, be wearing the roses herself, and everybody would very pleasantly pity her. This was so rapturous a thought, that when Miss Mapp, after her prolonged shopping and with her almost empty basket, passed Mr Hopkins standing outside his shop on her return home again, she gave him her usual smile, though without meeting his eye, and tried to forget how much of him she had seen yesterday. Perhaps she might speak to him tomorrow and gradually resume ordinary relations, for the prices at the other fish shop were as high as the quality of the fish was low...She told herself that there was nothing actually immoral in the human skin, however embarrassing it was.

Miss Mapp had experienced a cruel disappointment last night, though the triumph of this morning had done something to soothe it, for Major Benjy's window had certainly been lit up to a very late hour, and so it was clear that he had not been able, twice in succession, to tear himself away from his diaries, or whatever else detained him, and go to bed at a proper time. Captain Puffin, however, had not sat up late; indeed he must have gone to bed quite unusually early, for his window was dark by half-past nine. Tonight, again the position was reversed, and it seemed that Major Benjy was 'good; and Captain Puffin was 'bad'. On the whole, then, there was cause for thankfulness, and as she added a tin of biscuits and two jars of Bovril to her prudent stores, she found herself a conscious sceptic about those Roman roads. Diaries (perhaps) were a little different, for egoism was a more potent force than archaeology, and for her part, she now definitely believed that Roman roads spelt some form of drink. She was sorry to believe it, but it was her duty to believe something of the kind, and she really did not know what else to believe. She did not go so far as mentally to accuse him of drunkenness, but considering the way he absorbed red-currant fool, it was clear that he was no foe to alcohol and probably watered Roman roads with it. With her vivid imagination she pictured him -

Miss Mapp recalled herself from this melancholy reflection and put up her hand just in time to save a bottle of Bovril which she had put on the top shelf in front of the sack of flour from tumbling to the ground. With the latest additions she had made to her larder, it required considerable ingenuity to fit all the tins and packages in, and for a while she diverted her mind from Captain Puffin's drinking to her own eating. But by careful packing and balancing she managed to stow everything away with sufficient economy of space to allow her to shut the door, and then put her card-table in place again. It was then late, and with a fond look a her sweet flowers sleeping in the moonlight, she went to bed. Captain Puffin's sitting room was still alight, and even as she deplored this, his shadow in profile crossed the blind. Shadows were queer things - she could make a beautiful shadow-rabbit on the wall by a dexterous interlacement of fingers and thumbs - and certainly this shadow, in the momentary glance she had of it, appeared to have a large moustache. She could make nothing whatever out of that, except to suppose that just as fingers and thumbs became a rabbit, so his nose became a moustache, for he could not have grown one since he came back from golf...

She was out early for her shopping next morning, for there were some delicacies to be purchased for her bridge-party, more particularly some little chocolate cakes she had lately discovered which looked very small and innocent, but were in reality of so cloying and substantial a nature, that the partaker thereof would probably not feel capable of making any serious inroads into other provisions. Naturally she was much on the alert today, for it was more than possible that Diva's dress was finished and in evidence. What colour it would be she did know, but a large quantity of rosebuds would, even at a distance, make identification easy. Diva was certainly not at her window this morning, so it seemed more than probable they would soon meet.

Far away, just crossing the High Street at the farther end, she caught sight of a bright patch of purple, very much of the required shape. There was surely a pink border round the skirt and a pink panel on the collar, and just as surely Mrs Bartlett, recognizable for her gliding mouselike walk, was moving in its fascinating wake. Then the purple patch vanished into a shop, and Miss Mapp, all smiles and poppies went with her basket up the street. Presently she encountered Evie, who, also all smiles, seemed to have some communication to make but only got as far as "Have you seen -" when she gave a little squeal of laughter, quite inexplicable, and glided into some dark entry. A minute afterwards, the purple patch suddenly appeared from a shop and almost collided with her. It was not Diva at all, but Diva's Janet.

The shock was so indescribably severe that Miss Mapp's smile was frozen, so to speak, as by some sudden congealment on to her face, and did not thaw off it till she had reached the sharp turn at the end of the street, where she leaned heavily on the railing and breathed through her nose. A light autumnal mist overlay the miles of marsh, but the sun was already drinking it up, promising the Tillingites another golden day. The tidal river was at the flood, and the bright water lapped the bases of the turf-covered banks that kept it within its course. Beyond that was the tram-station towards which presently Major Benjy and Captain Puffin would be hurrying to catch the tram that would take them out to the golf-links. The straight road across the marsh was visible, and the railway bridge. All these things were pitilessly unchanged, and Miss Mapp noted them blankly, until rage began to restore the numbed current of her mental processes.

If the records of history contained any similar instance of such treachery and low cunning as was involved in this plot of Diva's to dress Janet in the rosebud chintz, Miss Mapp would have liked to be told clearly and distinctly what it was. She could trace the workings of Diva's base mind with absolute accuracy, and if all the archangels in the hierarchy of heaven had assured her that Diva had originally intended the rosebuds for Janet, she would have scorned them for their clumsy perjury. Diva had designed and executed that dress for herself, and just because Miss Mapp's ingenuity (inspired by the two rosebuds that had fluttered out of the window) had forestalled her, she had taken this fiendish revenge. It was impossible to pervade the High Street covered with chintz poppies when a parlourmaid was being equally pervasive in chintz rosebuds, and what was to be done with this frock executed with such mirth and malice by Withers, Mary and herself she had no idea. She might just as well give it Withers, for she could no longer wear it herself, or tear the poppies from the hem and bestrew the High Street with them...Miss Mapp's face froze into immobility again, for here, trundling swiftly towards her, was Diva herself.

Diva appeared not to see her till she got quite close.

"Morning, Elizabeth," she said. "Seen my Janet anywhere?"

"No," said Miss Mapp.

Janet (no doubt according to instructions received) popped out of a shop, and came towards her mistress.

"Here she is," said Diva. "All right, Janet. You can go home. I'll see to the other things."

"It's a lovely day," said Miss Mapp, beginning to lash her tail. "So bright."

"Yes. Pretty trimming of poppies," said Diva. "Janet's got rosebuds."

This was too much.

"Diva, I didn't think it of you," said Miss Mapp in a shaking voice. "You saw my new frock yesterday, and you were filled with malice and envy, Diva, just because I had thought of using flowers off an old chintz as well as you, and came out first with it. You had meant to wear that purple frock yourself - though I must say it fits Janet perfectly - and just because I was first in the field you did this. You gave Janet that frock, so that I should be dressed in the same style as your parlourmaid, and you've got a black heart, Diva!"

"That's nonsense," said Diva firmly. "Heart's as red as anybody's and talking of black hearts doesn't become you, Elizabeth. You knew I was cutting out roses from my curtains-"

Miss Mapp laughed shrilly.

"Well, if I happen to notice that you've taken your chintz curtains down," she said with an awful distinctness that showed the wisdom teeth of which Diva had got three at the most, "and pink bunches of roses come flying out of your window into the High Street, even my poor wits, small as they are, are equal to drawing the conclusion that you are cutting roses out of curtains. Your well-known fondness for dress did the rest. With your permission, Diva, I intend to draw exactly what conclusions I please on every occasion, including this one."

"Ho! That's how you go the idea then," said Diva. "I knew you had cribbed it from me."

"Cribbed?" asked Miss Mapp, in ironical ignorance of what so vulgar and slangy an expression meant.

"Cribbed means taking what isn't yours," said Diva. "Even then, if you had only acted in a straightforward manner-"

Miss Mapp, shaken as with palsy, regretted that she had let slip, out of pure childlike joy, in irony, the manner in which she had obtained the poppy-notion, but in a quarrel regrets are useless, and she went on again.

"And would you very kindly explain how or when I have acted in a manner that was not straightforward," she asked with laborious politeness. "Or do I understand that a monopoly of cutting up chintz for personal adornment has been bestowed on you by Act of Parliament?"

"You knew I was meaning to make a frock with chintz roses on it," said Diva. "You stole my idea. Worked night and day to be first. Just like you. Mean behaviour."

"It was meaner to give that frock to Janet," said Miss Mapp.

"You can give yours to Withers," snapped Diva.

"Much obliged, Mrs Plaistow," said Miss Mapp.

Diva had been watching Janet's retreating figure, and feeling that though revenge was sweet, revenge was also strangely expensive, for she had sacrificed one of the most strikingly successful frocks she had ever made on that smoking altar. Now her revenge was gratified, and deeply she regretted the frock. Miss Mapp's heart was similarly wrung by torture: revenge too had been hers (general revenge on Diva for existing), but this dreadful counter-stroke had made it quite impossible for her to enjoy the use of this frock any more, for she could not habit herself like a housemaid. Each, in fact, had, as matters stood, completely wrecked the other, like two express trains meeting in top-speed collision, and, since the quarrel had clearly risen to its utmost height, there was no further joy of battle to be anticipated, but only the melancholy task of counting the corpses. So they paused, breathing very quickly and trembling, while both sought for some way out. Besides Miss Mapp had a bridge-party this afternoon, and if they parted now in this extreme state of tension, Diva might conceivably not come, thereby robbing herself of her bridge and spoiling her hostess's table. Naturally any permanent quarrel was not contemplated by either of them, for if quarrels were permanent in Tilling, nobody would be on speaking terms any more with anyone else in a day or two, and (hardly less disastrous) there could be no fresh quarrels with anybody, since you could not quarrel without words. There might be songs without words, as Mendelssohn had proved, but not rows without words.

Diva gazed out over the marsh. She wanted desperately to regain her rosebud frock, and she knew that Elizabeth was starving for further wearing of her poppies. Perhaps the wide, serene plain below inspired her with a hatred of littleness. There would be no loss of dignity in making a proposal that her enemy, she felt sure, would accept: it merely showed a Christian spirit, and set an example to Elizabeth, to make the first move. Janet she did not consider.

"If you are in a fit state to listen to reason, Elizabeth," she began.

Miss Mapp heaved a sigh of relief. Diva had thought of something. She swallowed the insult at a gulp.

"Yes, dear," she said.

"Got an idea. Take away Janet's frock and wear it myself. Then you can wear yours. Too pretty for parlourmaids. Eh?"

A heavenly brightness spread over Miss Mapp's face.

"Oh, how wonderful of you to have thought of that, Diva," she said. "But how shall we explain it all to everybody?"

Diva clung to her rights. Though clearly Christian, she was human.

"Say I thought of tacking chintz on and told you," she said.

"Yes, darling," said Elizabeth. "That's beautiful, I agree. But poor Janet!"

"I'll give her some other old thing," said Diva. "Good sort, Janet. Wants me to win."

"And about her having been seen wearing it?"

"Say she hasn't ever worn it. Say they're mad," said Diva.

Miss Mapp felt it better to tear herself away before she began distilling all sorts of acidities that welled up in her fruitful mind. She could, for instance, easily have agreed that nothing was probable than that Janet had mistaken for her mistress...

"Au reservoir then, dear," she said tenderly. "See you at about four? And will you wear your pretty rosebud frock?"

This was agreed to, and Diva went home to take it away from Janet.

Friday, 15 July 2011

All Are Welcome

Come, come whoever you are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair,
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.


I've always loved those places, those cultures, that open their arms to embrace you. It takes only a smile to welcome.

Only a smile.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A State of Mind

Hey. It's me again. Hard to think I was half thirty when I wrote this. Already going wacko then. Completely wacko now!

Senility is an interesting state of mind. I know. I am getting there. I made it to my mid-30s (yesiree Bobbo! as Julie would say) two days ago and am now feeling the effects.

I find myself gazing at my friend Mary with mild interest when she says:

"Yes, and you were saying?"

"I was saying...?"

"Yes, you know, just now, you were talking about..."

"I was talking about?"

Her nostrils start to flare a little. What are we, a vaudeville act? I continue to look mildly inquiring, sort of like a friendly cow.

"You know about MPH? The presents? You were saying something..."

I root around in my mind for any possible connection. MPH. The bookstore. You know, lots of books. I was saying something about lots of books? What could I have been saying about lots of books? That I like to read? But everyone knows that. What else? Presents? I thought I told her I was making my presents this year.

And then a dim candle goes off in my head. Oh yeah, now I remember. I relate my pithy anecdote. She nods in all the right places, satisfied. God is once more in His Heaven. And all is right with the world.

And then, this happens again, about 10 minutes later. Distract me for one a half seconds and I find myself gawping like a friendly goldfish. (I don't know what gawping is, but I like the sound of it)

When it happens the third time, Mary, who is about 15 years older and has more right to senility, tells me I had better start writing things down. So as not to forget. Although some things are best forgotten. I agree wholeheartedly. She waits for me to remove my ever present notebook and fountain pen from my bag so I can make a start.

She waits.

I stare into space.

She waits.

I stare into space.

She taps her foot.

I stare into space.

"Angel child?"

"Yes?" I turn to her. Mild inquiring surprise at the slight impatience in her tone.

"The notebook?"

"What notebook?"

"You were going to write things down..."

"I was?"


"Are you feeling all right?"

She starts to tear her hair out.

I continue to gaze at her with (you got it!) mild inquiring surprise.

"I give up, I give up, I give up!"

I try to remember what we were talking about. No cigar.

So I resume my examination of the air in front of me.

Senility is an interesting state of mind.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Waiting On The World To Change

I have to interrupt regular programming to show this video. It's relevant based on what's happening here today.

When you trust your television
what you get is what you got
cos when they own the information
they can bend it all they want.

Truth, somehow, painful as it may be, always brings joy. A certain kind of joy. Not the fluffy anaesthetic, pretending-that-everything's-OK kind of joy. But the kind that sort of slits you open, like a really fine blade, so you can bleed...freedom.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Notes from the Universe

I received this in the mail today, and loved it so much, I thought I'd share it with you. Mike Dooley (author of the Notes) is truly one of a kind:

It's not the day you have to manage, Jennifer, but the moment.

It's not the dragon you have to slay, but the fear.

And it's not the path you have to know, but the destination.

What a relief, huh?
The Universe

Love every moment, Jennifer; nothing can make you less.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Happy Wanderer

I thought I'd take a time out from posting other people's words to post some of my own. Firstly I'd like to say that this blog has done what I intended it to do; brought me joy.

Secondly I'd like to say that I write for the people who read it as much as for myself and it means so much that it's you and that the words matter to you.

It's funny, when you start something, you're kind of like Perceval setting out on a journey, a happy fool with no idea of what's in store. You go your own merry way, stumble over every pitfall and then somehow crawl out, right yourself, and continue on whistling a solitary tune.

Heigh ho, life is jolly
content is wisdom
complaint is folly...

And once in a while you bump into someone else, you stop for a while, share sandwiches, swap stories and then get up, dust yourself off, and go on your way, as they go on theirs, subtly changed by the encounter.

It's all about love.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Saved By Beauty

Humane sentiments found expression in the nobility and sheer beauty of the building: more rational and gracious than the work of the Assyrians or Hittites, more lucid and humane than that of the Egyptians. The beauty of Persepolis is not the accidental counterpart of mere size and costly display: it is the result of beauty being specifically recognized as a sovereign value. Arthur Upham Pope, American scholar.

Beauty...recognized as a sovereign value. What an extraordinary claim to make on behalf of a culture! It made me wonder what the sovereign value of our own culture might be. The word freedom sprang to mind; so did the word dollar. What, then, of my own sovereign value? Could I say love? Was that what my own life was honestly given to? If I said truth or authenticity, if I said goodness, would I be doing anything more than mouthing mere platitudes?

No, it was Upham Pope's beauty that struck a chord in me - not as a concrete object, nor even in the form of a beautiful thing or scene, but as a visceral sense of the moment. Beauty as a moment of harmonious proportion, everything in its place. In those moments I felt my self-awareness fall away. The only thing missing in moments like those was myself. Such moments entailed a self-forgetting, as when I would while away hours in the garden at St. Catherine's Court.

The usually ever-present and separate observer falls away when you pay attention so utterly and completely that there is only the leaf floating on the pool, the brush painting the painting, the pen writing the line. When we disappear like that, a presence arises that encompasses everything. Nothing is separate, nothing is left out, everything glows in its unique distinctness, an irrevocable part of the whole.

Roger Housden, Saved by Beauty