Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Royal correspondence

On June 7th I wrote to the new Duchess of Cambridge asking if she might take an interest in the charity, Ovarian Cancer Action.
No response. I rang the office at Clarence House today. They only got my letter on October 4th for some reason, well at least they got it, and as they have had 60,000 other letters they are just getting ready to reply now.
Picture some poor person beavering away below stairs in the great old palace, opening and passing on all those missives. I wonder if the girl herself ever gets to see and touch the letters.
The woman I spoke to wouldn't say how many people they now have to employ opening Kate's mail but she says it's "quite a few."
A new example of job creation, and she says, "very exciting and wonderful."

Monday, 14 November 2011

A job at last

I went to an Xmas fair on Saturday, at St Martins in Ealing and manned, if that is the word, the tombola. There is a first for everything!
The tombola barrel was an old thing with peeling paint. Fr. Bill said it had been around since the war, and it did look as if it might have fallen off the side of a Spitfire.
It wouldn't spin properly and the door kept coming off, letting the tickets flutter out. I spent hours on Friday night cutting up cloak room tickets and folding them, and sticking labels on bottled and horrible objects, 0 - 5. It was hard work, and I had two problems, the tickets and the children.
Winning tickets kept getting back into the barrel, so they would come up again, some how, don't know why as there were so many other tickets in there, and there would be no prize for them. So I had to take a prize number off an object and give it to them, which meant another rogue number was still in side.
The children were rather trying too. They had to have free gifts if they didn't win anything and I gave away stuff right at the end, but they never seem to say "Thank you." When I said the word to them rather pointedly they would give me a killer stare that clearly said I'd over stepped the mark and forgotten the deference owed to them.
One little girl in glasses, who had her face painted like a cat, but looked like an owl, couldn't leave the barrel alone and kept spinning it, sending tickets flying out, and her sister, painted to look like a butterfly, wanted to put her rubber ball into the thing, she did this several time and eventually went off and left it in there.
The other problem was that all the stuff donated by Fr. Bill, endless tins of fruit and veg, and bottles of pasta sauce and dried pasta from the back of his cupboards. They turned out to be over their sell-by date and people kept bringing them back and crossly demanding something else - so more rogue tickets. A lot of young children won bottles of wine. I was handing one over when this officious woman who was supposed to be busy selling pork buns, came over and told me I wasn't allowed to give alcohol to children! I kept on giving it to them as I was too confused already to work out any alternative, telling them to hide bottles under their clothes. One little girl burst into tears and didn't want to take the bottle, I forced her to, and ordered her to give it to her mother. Her mother came up later, really pleased, the girl was baffled, obviously not a wine drinker, yet.
There was a good outcome - I made £60 or more on the stall, the event made £2,204. The vicar got all his old food back, and went I home with home made ginger mulled-wine mix and fairy cakes.

Poppy Sunday

Remembrance service at St. Michael’s, Bedford Park. Beautiful singing by choir and good bit of organ blast during the National Anthem, before we trooped out to the small war-memorial. Not quite enough strength there though, as if the poor old organ can’t rev up enough.

During the silence, disturbed only by the buses beyond the hedge, it was hard to know what to focus on. My mind flitted about, there are so many people to remember; that young man filmed while being shot through the head in Vietnam. Edith Stein going off in the cattle truck to Auschwitz. Edith Frank, Sophie Scholl, Wilfred Owen dying so near the end of his war. Marshal Foch who lost his son and son-in-law on the same day.

The Great War remains upper-most, the day is still really about them. And it’s still infuriating that the whole thing happened at all – an unnecessary catastrophe, off shoot of a worthless struggle about empire, which led to even more social collapse, and hecatombs of dead. I don’t mean that the empire was entirely worthless, but going to war with Germany about it was like two thieves fighting over stolen goods.

Remembrance or not


It’s odd how Londoners pronounce the word poppy. A little girl pointed at mine and said, “puppy,” and I looked around, wondering what she meant.

Potter down to Shepherd’s Bush to try to find a poppy brooch in Westfield shopping centre, as I can’t keep the plastic stem things on.

Hardly any poppies are worn in this part of town, no one is selling them in or near the vast shopping centre. Inside, the shop assistants don’t wear them, not even in cosy old Marks & Spencers.

Perhaps some idiots worry that it might be a religious or political symbol. For me it’s about death, nothing else; remembering people who died caught up in recent conflicts, including Germans, French, Turks, Italians etc.

Not sure that also applies to people who joined the Condor Legion, Gestapo, Einzatzgruppen, Arrow Cross groups, or the NKVD.

In the quest to end poppy misery, I roamed around, floor by floor until I found Swarovski the jeweller, as they had been advertising some little crystal poppy brooches for £15. In this shop the Japanese looking staff stared blankly at me, they’d never heard of them. Finally got a little cloth brooch with a good clasp from among the racks of girly things in Accessorise.

I hope I am not turning into a “poppy fascist,” but I wore my lone poppy proudly on the crowded bus home but also felt slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps people wearing them were all sitting up the front of the long bus, because I didn’t see any around me, just drab, worn out looking foreign mothers with babies and Somali lads in odd knitted tops talking into their i-phones.

I do wonder what all this new enthusiasm for the poppy is all about. A few years ago I distinctly remember there was very little public interest and elderly people would sit outside M & S in Kensington with their full poppy trays, looking very gloomy. People no longer seemed willing to give money to wounded soldiers or think about the past.

Perhaps that was due to the economic boom that was on, and Tony Blair’s attempt to turn us into a land without history. Well all that is over now and the poppy has become a rallying point, the only symbol of cohesion we have left as a country, and I think people are clinging to it rather desperately.

Backing the wrong pale rider


Hear that Evelyn Lauder the woman who founded the pink ribbon breast cancer campaign has died, aged 74, from ovarian cancer.

She did wonderful work of course, but ignored ovarian cancer, the most lethal of the gynaecological diseases. It has no popular ribbon or badge and remains the Cinderella sister of breast cancer. If only she had sold tiny ovary mascots as well.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Self portrait as a member of the WI

Money Matters


Just sold a piece to the Daily Telegraph about Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, comparing her experiences to mine. She discovered details about her real mother recently, then met her supported of course by her new lover, super shrink Susie Orbach. You couldn’t do much better than that. I met mine when I was 19 just after I left home to become a student and hadn’t a clue what I was doing. In both cases it didn’t end well.

That money, £350, plus fee for doing some on-line work for Private Banking Magazine, will pay the £500 for the short portrait painting course I’ve just signed up for at Heatherley’s School of Art in Chelsea.

Twenty years ago I was getting £500 a piece and had so much work I never stopped. Now I am living hand to mouth, like a student; just the way I thought I wanted to live when I was about twelve and anticipating life’s challenges as nothing more than exciting adventures. I saw myself as a kind of Tin Tin. I had a white cat at the time called Blossom who could have stood in for Snowy. Be careful what you wish for I suppose, and be sure to marry Captain Haddock at some point, even if you find him boring and his breath smells of fish.

Of course I still believe that fame and fortune follows. I hope I’ve still got enough time left for it!

A friend of mine says that in the photograph of me, on the front of my book, Inside, about teaching in HMP Wormwood Scrubs, I don’t look at all well. Not surprising as I was at the time, unknowingly, fizzing with cancer. Remember myself at that time, all the symptoms boiling and bloating away, and how I just ignored them.

Take a painting, a self-portrait where my head is replaced by a Victoria Sponge, to the vicarage in Ealing as a present for Fr. Bill. He insists on giving me £10 for it. This is my lucky day. He is my Dr. Gachet.

Also take him a quince and apple tart. Try to explain that the quince seemed a bit tough, much more so than the apple so he will need to re-heat the pie slowly so it cooks a bit more. As usual he wasn’t listening.

He was mumbling on about the C of E – and the shenanigans at St. Paul’s. There are of course a few vacancies there now, and there will be jostling for new positions. When one goes we all move up one.

Some lucky vicar will soon be getting more pay and a nice cosy, 17th century vicarage. Fr. Bill won’t be applying.

“The ambition of clerics is terrible in London,” he says peering into his empty fridge. “It’s a shark-pool and very few can get to the top.

“But the important thing is being a good vicar of a demanding parish. What ambition is better than that, and my ambition is achievable.”

I wondered if Ealing, once the golden suburb of the west, is really that demanding.

He says it’s now very big and full of “all sorts,” later he referred to that fact that the parish is now barely Anglican or even Christian.

“You are running hard to keep still,” he said. “There is no money. But in the end the C of E in the diocese of London will be brought down by dry rot.”

Apparently the fabric of the buildings, churches and vicarages is all rotting away, returning to the damp earth, helped along of course by the new voracious breed of metal thieves.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Disgusted of Acton


I’ve got to stop reading newspaper columnists as they get me so stirred up. Of course I’d love to have a column of my own, what an off-loading of bile, what a superb weekly defaecation that would be. One reason I fell out with the Mail was that they wouldn’t unpigeon-hole me from Features and give me the chance to comment.

Like most people I can only sit back and read the opinions of wealthy journalists, writing with elegant fountain pens from their homes in Chipping Norton and Pewsy, about an England I do not recognise.

On Sunday Dominic Lawson declared that he is not worried about predictions that the UK population will soon rise to 70 million. When he was a newspaper editor I believe he used to commute to work by helicopter. I doubt that he now uses the bus or tube, or that he and his family have to struggle to find an NHS doctor or dentist and wait for appointments. He probably doesn't have to worry about his place on a housing list or getting his children into goodish schools which have a preponderance of English speakers. I don't think he is likely to find himself living in an area which suddenly becomes an ethnic ghetto.

More power to Mr Lawson, he is a good, ballsy chap, but like most wealthy people he doesn't see or feel the effects of mass immigration and population growth. He doesn’t have to look at the everyday vandalism of this country.

Tubercule 2


Grab a seat, grab a Metro – it’s almost an obsession. A feeling of failure and misery descends if I fail to do either.

There was a photo in the Metro of Olympic diver Tom Daley looking at his clay likeness in Mme Tussauds. It was amazing - not a thing like him. The putty nose was a completely different shape to his, one being convex the other concave.

I wonder what kind of people work at the wax works what they are trained for, certainly not getting a likeness for portraits.

Opposite me a young boy aged about seven playing some kind of computer game on an i-phone with his father. They were totally concentrated but occasionally the father would get annoyed with the boy for pressing the wrong button and snap at him, then remember he was supposed to be playing a game and speak to him more gently. The younger son went over to join them. He sprawled on his father’s knee nearly kicking the bored, fed up looking man slumped next to them. The father told him to apologise and immediately the boy made a small involuntary gesture offering the man a toy tractor he was clutching in one hand. For a moment I imagined this dreary commuter taking the toy and playing with it happily.

In another carriage I saw a young couple with a boy of about three lying in a pushchair. The child had a look of pain and discomfort, wrinkling his brow and I realised that this must be what he does, how he looks just before he falls asleep. His mother leaned over putting her fingers lightly onto his eye-lids while his father began stroking his head. In a few moments he was asleep.

I am fascinated by these little family scenes. I’ve never seen a child being badly treated on the tube, although I have seen that on buses and in parks, when I never know what to do about it and I can’t forget it afterwards.

There is another kind of domestic group, headed by the braying parent, sometimes audible on the tube, but they tend to travel in 4 X 4 and family saloon, so you mainly see or rather hear them in public places.

Yesterday, 5/11/11/ I was sitting in a café in Devonshire Road, Chiswick. It was the kind of place that has real looking cakes and bits of filo pastry with spinach, where customers pointedly walk out if you start using your mobile. To avoid their disapproving looks I sat outside, looking at a free copy of the Times and listening to a well dressed man called Max bawling his head off at his small son Otto, aged 3.

"Otto you must listen to your teachers. Otto, we must see this, a new Leonardo exhibition starting soon. Would you like to see it? I am going to phone Granddad and tell him.

“Hello! Max and Otto here. Look you must come with us to the Leonardo exhibition it’s starting soon at the National Portrait Gallery…”

“The National Gallery,” I piped up from behind him.

His braying stopped dead. It reminded me of one of those moments at night in an Africa hut, or a long-house in the jungle, when there is a terrible racket going on from geckos, birds, bats, cats and monkeys jumping up and down on your roof. But if you clap your hands or scream, “Shut up!” There is a sudden moment of tense, shocked silence, before they all start up again.

“Oh, thanks,” he said and went on at full volume, “It’s the National Portrait Gallery. Otto is dying to go. He’s a precocious three year old who won’t listen to his teachers.” Etc etc.

I don’t suppose poor Otto wants to listen to anyone at all by now. I’m surprised he doesn’t go round in ear-muffs. I don’t think I had any teachers at all when I was three. I didn’t have to go down that tortuous road until I was four, and then only in the mornings.

Father and son shuffled off down the street, I hadn’t heard a single word from Otto, and I was left wondering just who his monologue was for, not Otto who plainly wasn’t listening, not me sitting behind him, or granddad. Perhaps it was for the people of Chiswick at large, part of a Chiswick symphony of braying, bragging and deep groaning self-satisfaction.

Happy if paltry news

My friend in Toulouse has named two of her stoutest hens Jane and Kelly.

Long may they scratch about in the good French earth and avoid the foxes waiting everywhere to devour them.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tubercule 1


Travelling home by tube last night I had to sit next to some horrid oik with the white plugs in the ears, from which came a sound like a swarm of maddened mosquitoes. I was a victim of the new curse of “sodcasting,” the playing of loud noise on public transport.

He looked Latin American and was reading, O Americano Tranquillo, by Graham Greene. I thought of pointing out the irony of this to him, but I think it would have been wasted.

When I changed at Earl’s Court I sat next to another of them, not reading anything this time, just blank. I swapped seat to sit across from her and glare.