Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Royal intimations

A new royal child is on the way, most people are happy but some of us are rattled.
It’s unsettling to realise that this new baby of the blood, will not get a chance at the throne for at least sixty years.
I will never see it become a sovereign. If it turns out to be twins I will also miss the civil war which might ensue,  and  I doubt if I will be around for King William V.
On the radio today other middle aged people were commiserating because they will never see another diamond jubilee, the next one will probably occur in the 22nd century.
All I can hope is to see the coronation of Charles Philip Arthur George and I hope he doesn’t mess it up by relinquishing the title, Defender of the Faith.
 I wonder which name he will take. He could style himself King Arthur II which would be fun.
Rather than coffee spoons I am living out my life in royal crowns, and owing to the tough royal genes and increasing longevity, one coronation is all any of us are likely to get. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

English maidenhood 2012

On my way to the hospital this morning, Monday 26th Nov, walking past HMP Wormwood Scrubs, I met a young woman, aged about 23, who asked me where she could find a cash point. I suggested she should come along with me to the Hammersmith Hospital entrance where they have one. As we walked she told me she was on her way to visit her boyfriend, aged 24, who is now in the Scrubs doing five years for fraud.
Apparently he stole all her money and defrauded about 40 other young women.
"But I still love him," she told me, "and I have decided to wait for him until he gets out."
I felt that she wanted my approval and felt a bit harsh for not giving it.

On the bus back home I sat in front of two well spoken school girls aged twelve. I know that was their age as it was discussed as one of them told her class mate that her mother is 36 years old. She also has a sister aged sixteen. The two of them set about trying to work out how old the mother was when she had her first and second child. They could not do it. They struggled with the subtraction sum for most of our journey and never hit on the correct answer.
I was very surprised firstly because my life has been blighted by my inability to do maths, but I could do that one albeit using my fingers. Secondly because I have been labouring under the delusion that maths teaching has been improved in our schools lately. From the sound of them they were attending quite a "good" school. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

OK I am back!

25th November, 2012.

I have been writing my blog on the Salisbury Review on line blog spot for a few months. That is all bad tempered political stuff,  not a place for random thoughts, or reflecting on the cancer which originally led me to start blogging.

It is now over two years since I took ill and had the dread diagnosis, ovarian cancer stage four, grade three, that was in May 2010 and despite predictions of doom, I am still here going strong!

My check ups are every six months from Feb, but I was surprised when the time of the 3 months check came, I felt anxiety, even though I didn't have to go for a check. My brain is still hard wired for the 3 monthly anguish it seems.

I wouldn't perhaps think much about the cancer at all now, if I didn't keep meeting other unfortunate beings who keep getting it.

On Saturday at my art class a middle aged woman revealed that she has brain cancer. She told me that it began with a polyp up her nose which her GP failed to diagnose. By the time they found it, it had developed into a rare form of brain cancer. When they operate she will lose the senses of taste and smell and perhaps her sight, and the tumour  could of course kill her.

She is a self-important, rather unfriendly woman but I felt bad for her of course. She is striking a pose of absolute strength and determination, even saying, "if I die, I die, can't do anything about it." Perhaps not the best way to face the future, but she will change as she enters the tunnel and goes along it, at what ever pace.

This morning I was thinking about her as I got ready for church. As I walked there I suddenly felt terribly tired, after the service I came home and went to bed. I dreamed that a large tumour had come up on my neck. The fear is all there in me, and other people with cancer act as "triggers" re-traumatising me, but I don't resent that at all. That is all part of my new life, post cancer, or "in remission" as people put it, which is  a word which also traumatises me, as my conscious, waking mind likes to believe  I am am cured.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Dear pals and enemies alike, 

at present I am putting my blogs on to the Salisbury Review blog spot. 
It is a magazine of conservative thought, but don't let that put you off! 
You can add your remarks

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Mother's 90th birthday


Home to Codsall for my mother’s 90th birthday. The houses seem increasingly adorned with vertical drapes and the new, apparently modish, shit coloured window frames.

On the morning of the birthday she found a large brightly coloured hoola-hoop on the back garden. It had a label on and seemed to be new. None of the neighbours knew anything about it and we noticed small holes in the edges. I think it was a gift from the local fox population, or possibly carried there by the birds. She has been feeding them steadily every day, for the last fifty years. Over the years their food has improved greatly, they now get all kinds of expensive seed all year round and in the winter tiny,  perfectly cut lard sandwiches.

I always take my cat Maisie, who in human years is 86, for treatment when I’m up there, as it is so much cheaper than vets in London. Looked up the phone number in my mother’s book, hunting through a maze of crossings out  realised her book is like a grave yard. Almost everyone in it is dead.

My mother seemed a bit disturbed before her birthday, worrying about her future. She also started “de-cluttering” facing up to the possibility of losing her home by offering to unload her treasures on to me. She has some very nice things but I have noticed in the past that when I bring them  back to my place in London they don’t look right – removed from  the context of her house they lose their shine, and my joy in them.

Later, when she was feeling better she started congratulating herself on living so long.
 “I must have done something right” she said with satisfaction.
 I mentioned my great grandfather who lived to be 100 although he was hugely fat, smoked and drank heavily.
 “It’s the luck of the genes,” I said.
“It wasn’t genes,” she said, “He was just wicked Irish.”  

She received at least 50 cards, not bad going and I gave her lots of parcels. Ever the optimist she wanted a watch from me, and was quite specific; stainless steel face, black strap. 
I ordered it from Samuel's on line. It arrived in a very large box with lots of wrapping and two other boxes inside. We opened the final one and there it was - sparkling gold with a brown strap. 

The cancer survivor's diet


The fear I had after I started treatment, when the doctor's told me such bad news, has begun to fade now after two years. Sometimes it returns unexpectedly but I recognise it as it almost always comes back in the evening when I'm alone. I notice feelings of bloating, indigestion etc. the symptoms of ovarian cancer - but in the morning I wake up feeling fine, nothing wrong. All that was going on was my digestive system responding to daily battering from whole heads of broccoli, thick tangles of fresh parsley, sage and coriander,  and pounds of  fresh fruit.

The cancer survivor's diet is a work of intelligence and industry. I visited a friend recently who has prostate cancer. He was once a jolly farm lad who lived on burgers, pub food and beer.  He now has a juicer in his kitchen which he told me cost £350. He has a breakfast of juiced pomegranate seeds with grilled tomatoes topped with turmeric in olive oil. This is followed by apricot kernels ground to dust and drunk in fresh pineapple  juice. He eschews all sugar and alcohol.  Under his sink he has installed a maze of pipes to provide purified water.

Does it work? Well he was given 18 months to live over three years ago. The food he eats might not be able to shrink his tumour but battling away in the kitchen to defeat it seems to be keeping him going.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The interview with a survivor


I have just put up an  interview about an Olympic athlete who was diagnosed with Ovarian C last year. 

It's  not terribly penetrating - she was diagnosed a year ago, had chemo but now says she has a clean bill of health. Is that possible? 
Doctors here are much more pessimistic about it coming back and surviving with the thought of recurrence is the most difficult thing. I wonder if she has to have the 3 month check ups? I have got my next one on Monday and I am starting to get all the psychosomatic symptoms and anxiety - not as bad as it used to be though, it no longer resembles a crashing seventh wave that smothers everything in its wake.

Olympian battle with ovarian cancer

My name is Heather Von St. James. I came across your blog and noticed that you have written about ovarian cancer. I was wondering if you would help me to spread the word about the silent killer.

 The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance did an interview with former Olympic gymnast, Shannon Miller, on her recent battle with ovarian cancer. With the Olympics underway, I think this is the perfect opportunity to shed some light and increase awareness of this disease. I was wondering if you’d be willing to post a link to the interview: http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/staff/from-olympic-gold-to-ovarian-cancer-our-interview-with-former-us-gymnast-shannon-miller.htm
Let me know if you decide to post it! I think we can really shed some light on ovarian cancer with this being so current!  

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Help! They are throwing BRICs at us!


The Olympics have taught me to keep my elbows up in the breast stroke and use my forearms more. Today I did a full summersault at the end of the line to start off my backstroke, I haven't done that before. So far I just cannot get that fly kick going to start me off though. I wish I had some of that stuff that Chinese girl is taking, it would surprise the bored lifeguards at my Virgin health Club.

I have also concluded that we will have to start treating the O Games the way we now treat the Eurovision Song Contest. Demographics and globalisation are so much against us that we should retreat with a gracious smile.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

All Gas & Gaiters

25th July 2012
Maisie my cat is outside all day, she doesn't put her nose outside the door unless it's at least 30 degrees. I stay in, near a large fan as much as I can. But today I braved the horrible heat, why oh why didn’t I ask for “aircon” in my car, for the coffee morning at the vicarage in Ealing. We sat in the garden for the first time this summer and that wasn’t the only surprise. We were visited by an Archbishop of   Malawi,  apparently they have several, and his wife.
He seemed a sweet, gentle man but I was surprised by the wife in her bright blue robes with big frill round the bust. Gladys, a Nigerian lady who celebrated her 80th birthday on Sunday produced some chocolates. She gave them to me to hand round. Archbishop’s wife grabbed them, took three out of the box, handed them to him then made no attempt to pass them on. Then came my biscuits and another cake from Gladys’s birthday party. The wife seemed to have been struck dumb as she made no attempt at conversation, did not introduce herself, make eye contact or smile, just grabbed everything I handed out, without a word of thanks.
Eventually, offering her another piece of cake I said, “thank you” pointedly. She smiled at me faintly and murmured it like a good child.
Our vicar, Bill,  asked the bishop to say a few words. At first he was silent. I thought he might have dropped off in the heat, but then he launched into a  peroration, beginning with the subject of greed. I couldn’t help thinking  that was pertinent as I glanced at his fat wife’s swanky Swiss bracelet watch.
I was determined to do him the courtesy of listening intently. Some of it was quite interesting; he  said he came from a very poor area of peasant farmers, talked about the “slaughter” of Christians by Muslims in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. The indifference  of foreign governments including UK and USA. Then he added that he’d heard that Obama’s govt was supporting the Muslim rebels in northern Nigeria.
 I was aware that some people's attention was slipping, they were cutting more cake,  fiddling about and great monolith wife was looking at her mobile. Now and then he would stop talking and seemed to be praying but it was hard to say.
When it was fairly clear he had finished I leaned forward to ask him  whether our Archbishop of Canterbury is interested in the  plight of Christians in Nigeria. His eyes remained shut and he did not answer. I didn’t know if he’d heard. The stone faced wife gave him a nudge, he opened his eyes and his mouth to speak, but at that moment Father Bill  insisted we all turned round to have photos taken.
I retreated to the shade  and sat staring at someone’s long, uncut, desiccated toe nail. At the table in the sun, the wife went on sitting silently beside her husband, and I wondered how she could come  from such a poor area and sit there with expensive watch, grabbing cake.
On the way out I told Fr. Bill that I thought they were a disappointing couple. He shook his head.
 “There are problems with African clergy” he said wearily. “It’s extremely  hierarchical. She is used to a very high status."
 "You can’t fight that at a coffee morning in Ealing”he snapped.
I wasn't trying. It was far too hot. He also said very sadly that the bishop was “In the grip of American evangelists in Texas, who are very generous.”
 That explained the mixture of prayer and speech, the constant closed eyes, and  the strange implication that  the Obama gov’t is supporting Al Qaeda backed murderers in Nigeria.
I had a vision of this somehow very innocent African couple touring Europe and America picked up hither and thither by well meaning  groups vying to support them for a whole variety of reasons, some worthy others  utterly misguided.
They  were on their way to Hastings next where their son is due to get married. If the bride is anything like the mother I think it will be a case of marry in Hastings repent at leisure.        Image of Fr. Bill worrying that I might write something libellous.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Snooping and prying

Sometimes I think I lead a rather odd life. Today 11th July 2012 I had breakfast consisting of a stale old roll left from some I made last week after  impulsively trying out Kamut, an Egyptian bread flour which it said on the bag, contains lots of selenium.  I also had a piece of Hovis wholemeal toast from a bag of bread I found unopened on the pavement outside my flat.  I also found a beef tomato in good condition on the pavement in Chiswick yesterday and ate that. Perhaps I am turning into one of those people who eats road kill?

Set off for the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery,  in the rain as usual, and the bus driver pointed out that my umbrella was “all broken up.” I told him I  had only used it twice. I  was nurturing the futile desire to  “get some wear out of it,” just like my mother would have done.

There are three paintings on show, Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and the Death of Actaeon, all made for Philip II of Spain in about 1551. If you are trying to find anything good about Philip of Spain and his vicious reign, this must be it.
These great paintings are  together again for the first time since the 18th century,  but not for long as two of them are soon off to Scotland on permanent loan, so I for one will never see them again.
I tried to foment some anti-Scottish feeling about this among the old ladies and unemployed gathered in the gallery, it’s a free exhibition,  and they were suitably disgruntled.  
Attached to this show are  some contemporary installations by Chris Ofili who is famous for his elephant dung, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger. Don’t know what they are famous for but it’s bound to be something disturbing.  There are also  three ballets opening at the Royal Opera House called Metamorphosis, tying  in with Titian’s work.  
We had a look at set design, costumes, a film shot very close up and low down of ballet rehearsals, and at the installations and paintings. Very dreary they were apart from an installation by Wallinger consisting of  a locked wooden box containing a  naked woman inside having a wash. Several women change places during the day to do this chilly task.
We were able to spy on her, like Acteon on Diana, through a break in the misted glass and slits in the closed window blinds. These were set so high that my friend and I  couldn’t see anything. We agreed that they were placed at man height. Men were obviously meant to be cast as peeping Toms.
I was a bit annoyed and banged on the door, shouting: “Are you going to be in there all day?”
A good question in the circumstances but from out of the Stygian gloom the prissy  voice of an attendant said :  “They would prefer it if you didn’t  do that.”
At least I wasn’t turned into a stag and torn to bits.
 My friend noticed a  key hole, painted black in the black door. The traditional  and best method of snooping. We had a peer and all I could see was the woman’s bottom filling the expanse of the key hole. Surely a repressed, prurient English perv’s dream come true but it didn’t do anything for me.  Then I got an eye full of unpleasant Scottish looking red pubic hair.
I was glad to have seen something but it was a rather a mundane experience.  Perhaps we should have left it to the men.
After that we went off to room 35, to see two small paintings by Andrea Schiavone,  showing Zeus disguised as Diana seducing Callisto. Now is that is a very odd idea, which assumes that most women at the time were Lesbians. The other shows Arcos shooting his mother Callisto by mistake,  after Diana had turned her into a bear. Well these things happen.
They were in room 10 and took some time to find, but were worth it. Vibrant, beautiful little paintings and I would like to use them in my work and my friend felt the same.  Then we had a conversation about all the cross-dressing men we’d known in the past. One of her friends had been tricked into sleeping with a prostitute in Paris who looked like a lovely girl but turned out to have 5 o’clock shadow. I noticed an elderly man standing near us  covertly listening to what we were saying. Thanks to Titian and his friends it was an afternoon of  prying and snooping.  

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A good impression


To the Clark collection Impressionist show at the Royal Academy.
A beautiful exhibition full of jewel like paintings collected by the grandson of the man who founded the Singer Sewing machine empire, and his wife, who was once a French dancing girl.
They were particularly keen on Renoir and owned thirty of his works. I have never liked him much, his strokes seem too busy and his subjects too similar, those sugary cat faced girls all looking strangely alike. But this included a splendid pile of onions by Renoir and one of his sunsets, which was extraordinarily expressionistic and free. It reminded me of a water-colour by Nolde.
I wish he'd stuck to nature and left the ladies out of it, or perhaps they were considered to be "nature" at the time.
Brian Sewell in the Standard wrote a strange review of the show, sneering at people who like the Impressionists saying that they respond to the famous painter's names like Pavlov's dogs hearing a bell, then saying how wonderful many of these paintings are and well worth a visit.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Nordic Beauty

To  the Munch exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday. It  was a scream, or a "skrik" as the Norwegians apparently say which  sounds like a cross between a scream and a shriek. I think I will call that painting, which was conspicuous by its absence from the show, "The Shriek"  in future.
There was a catalogue of his work on sale, in three volumes, costing over £200. They said you had to buy all three, you couldn't have only one at a time. I had a look in vol one. It was interesting as it contained many early paintings before he became an expressionist, before he managed to paint so loosely, tighter but lovely works that I have never seen before. 
I think they are all dispersed where as all his later work, over a thousand canvasses which were kept in his house, were all bequeathed to Oslo on his death. Apparently he did that to stop the Nazis getting the paintings as they were still in Norway when he died. I can't think that would really have stopped them,  they probably regarded his work with the deepest suspicion "entarte dekunst" as they put it. 
I have seen two exhibitions of his work in London, but this one was rather different, showing  his photographs and his films. The self portraits sometimes in the nude showed Munch in all his handsome glory, what a gorgeous creature he was. I am not surprised that women followed him about obsessively and used fire arms against him. He was operated on for his gunshot wound without an anaesthetic because he said it was important to "live each moment to the full." 
With that attitude he could have had a great sex life but I don't think he ever did, as his upbringing left him with anguish and guilt. I suspect that he gave up on sex quite early as too dangerous and too distracting. 
He was not only a cracker but he cracked "it" becoming world famous with one image, which is want every artist now wants to do. I whispered this to one of  his small, faint photos, congratulating him. 
His films were very hazy and flickering,  most of them long lost. But it was interesting to see how he applied  to painting what he saw through cheap camera  lenses;  faces bang up against the picture plane, legs and road plunging away into the background, foreshortening and cropping. 
Two of Munch's themes I take away from the show and hope to use more strongly in my own painting -
"Thou shall write thy life" and "Death is always nearby." 

It was a lovely day to be out in London, despite the crowds,  and I enjoyed seeing the Olympic rings hanging from Tower Bridge. They cost the same price as my flat.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012


After my experience with the doctor in the menopause clinic who wanted to pump me full of drugs, I am still reflecting on my apparent loss of libido. According to the doctor this "lack of chemicals." 
It is strange to think something like that can have happened without my knowing – it’s like the theft of something I hardly used, still a shock when you realise it’s gone. You look at the space where it used to be and wonder about it, but it doesn’t mean a great deal and you vaguely hope you might just have mislaid it somewhere.
I toy with myself by thinking of things that used to excite me. There is a moment of anticipation – then nothing. Like pressing a button or flicking a switch, expecting a power surge which doesn’t happen.
I now look at people in a very detached way, and observe beauty very coolly,  easily, without any envy. That has died too and I’m glad to lose it.

One trial of getting older is that many people you know, old and middle aged, die off. But this also  includes the people who remember your most embarrassing failures.

The Daily Telegraph has a whole Saturday spread on what they call “predatory” women, single women thy call “lone wolves,” and married women who try to snatch innocent husbands.
It was very like a Daily Mail piece with reckless chariacature and deep mysogeny.  Perhaps if  us “lone wolves” were invited out to dinner by married couples more often we wouldn’t be so desperate. There is of course another syndrome they ignore  the married ladies who think that if you talk to their husband for more than a minute you are “after” him. That is often horribly insulting.  

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Still feeling surprisingly sunny

Follow up letter from the doctor in the menopause clinic arrived today.
She describes me as a “nulliparous lady,” never heard that said about me before.
Says I finished chemo in November 2010, wrong, once had “severe menopausal symptoms,” wrong, and “continues to be troubled” by night sweats, decreased memory, and irritability. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. 

I used to feel panic when I thought about the past, the fact that there was now a great chunk of it behind me. I wanted to run back and change things, do it better,  differently to produce better results. I don’t feel that horrible regret now. My days have separated out like a child’s, each one enough and I don’t think much about  past or future.

My only problem is money. Well a lot of people have that worry and it’s not fatal. Everyone wants salmon on a herring diet. And I worry about getting fatter. I noticed recently that my friend Pam who has always been rather round, seems much slimmer. She insists she hasn’t lost a single ounce, it’s just that all her friends have put on loads of weight. That is one answer to the middle-aged spread issue. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Feeling young again

I went to a birthday party last night, put on make-up and pretty dress and felt like a teenager again. No eligible men around though so it's a good job I didn't take the testosterone. 
It was in the church hall, with two vicars present but a jolly, boozy time was had by all. I was sitting opposite young, perfectly formed Fr Steve, and another young man of the parish. The generation gap showed strangely when I tried a joke. To wit:
The Scots are like haemorrhoids. If they come down and go back up again you are OK, but if they come down and stay you have a problem.
They both stared at me uncomprehendingly.  Fr. Steve blinked and said, “I think we will have to find out more about haemorrhoids before we can appreciate that one, Jane.”
Oh well.
Got home late and slept well. I can sleep now after over two years of insomnia. I used to struggle hopelessly for sleep then wake up at 3am. I would lie there my neck and shoulders aching,  hands tingling and I couldn’t find any comfortable position. Looking back I think that I was literally scared stiff.
The sleeplessness started with the menopause, got worse with the chemotherapy and the doctor’s dire words. Time goes on. Words fade.  I remain well and slowly my mind unclenches. The fight or flight response retreats to normal and I can sink into my pillows like a child. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Jubilee final day

Tuesday 5th June 2012

Have spent almost all day spread out on the sofa in my pyjamas, only getting up to feed the cat and the birds. I never usually do this unless I have a really bad cold. Even when I was having chemo I always managed to get dressed in the morning. The Queen has turned me into a slob.

I was pleased to receive this message from a friend in Chicago:
“Have been having a very good time watching the Jubilee, particularly as the British people are enjoying themselves so much and seemingly feeling at home in their own skins despite decades of PC social engineering trying to effect the contrary.”

It’s quite moving to see the crowds on TV, so jubilant despite the wet. The Mall looks like an Impressionist painting, with a great mass all pinks and greens with threads of blue.

I am even catching up with a repeat of the concert which I missed last night.  It sounded like a lot of good natured but excruciating acts, egotistical outpourings so diametrically opposed to anything that the Queen represents.

Robbie Williams introduced it, waddling about the stage like a cross between Norman Wisdom and Little Richard. His movements are strangely erotic, but it seems he has no voice which is rather a let down. In the end he provides a poor pastiche of Sinatra.

A lot of old faces are there ready to parody themselves, but happily no sign of   Engelbert, Steven Cowell or the normally ubiquitous Stephen Fry.  It was a bit worrying that  there are a few guests I’ve never heard of. Who exactly is Gary Barlow?
I will stick with it until Rolf Harris comes on with his wobble-board.  He is sure to be there as like the Queen he has recently started to become a cult figure.

Madness were best, even though they sang an old song they managed to be funny and interesting, or at least the lighting engineers did, opening up Buckingham Palace like Queen Mary’s doll’s house, and sometimes turning it into a simple terraced house.

The Queen arrives  wearing a long cloak  similar to the one she wore when she was painted by Annigoni in 1969. Perhaps she goes flapping around in it a lot, much more theatrical than one would have thought.

I know that many republicans out there think that the utterly dim British public has been hoodwinked by the evil “meedja” into coming out in force to support the Queen’s Jubilee, as if they’ve been herded into the streets and forced to smile and wave their little flags. They’ll dismiss it all as “bread and circuses,” but I think this outburst of enthusiasm has put paid to their miserable, boring agenda for awhile.

It’s still out there though  – the struggle between fun-loving Cavaliers still proud to be Brits and pious  Roundheads who insist that Britain and particularly the English part of it an immoral concept which happily no longer exists. 

Those doctors again

On May 30th I trundled off rather reluctantly to the menopause clinic at Queen Charlotte’s hospital. I did this because when I had my check up three months ago, I told the doctor I had some hot flushes and insomnia. The symptoms weren’t bad but she referred me, and I thought I’d go as I am worried about weight gain. Even though I am reducing what I eat, I seem to be increasingly shaped like a turnip.
I saw a young woman doctor who looked rather like one of those women in Personnel,  girlish some how whilst being slightly over-dressed with stiletto heels. I noted the sapphire engagement ring on her finger.
She fired questions at me and I tried to explain that I have hardly any symptoms now.
She ignored that and recommended HRT.
 I was surprised as I’d always thought women who’d had cancer had to avoid drugs containing oestrogen. Glancing up briefly from her pad she said they had no evidence that HRT would cause ovarian cancer to return, but then she admitted they had no evidence that it didn’t. I said no thank you.
“How’s your sex life?” She asked. I said it’s  non existent but I don’t really care.  I don’t fancy anyone and no one fancies me.
“That is probably all chemical,” she said.
Perhaps I would get my libido back if I met an interesting man? I suggested. She  flashed me a line of straight pearly teeth and prescribed a course of testosterone saying  “there might be some increase in body hair but it would be alright.”
 I pictured myself, with beard and moustache  out on the hunt for men, returning to those dingy speed-dating venues and trying to find someone honest on line. I pictured the depression that was sure to follow these adventures.
I questioned this too and she admitted it worked partly with oestrogen. I said no thanks again and  realised she was one of those doctors who are clever but mad, or perhaps unashamedly working for the drug companies.
“I can see you are a bit sad,” she said. “Frustrated with the hand life has dealt you.”
There she was, young, full-health, brilliant job, ring on finger, what could she see when she looked at me, nothing she could really understand. She went on asking for my medical history. I said that I once had vaginal warts and saw the look of surprise register briefly in her eyes. She didn’t think I had ever been that kind of woman, but how could she tell.  She thinks I’m sad, does she know anyone who isn’t at my age. As a matter of fact I am happier than I have ever been before. 
I said I was sorry if I came across to her or anyone as sad and anxious.
“Well, you’ve got a lot to be anxious about” she replied.
There was the doctor’s killer line.  I had felt it hanging in the air above me all through this interview, just waiting to descend and stick in my head.
She prescribed what she called a “mood enhancer,” and I certainly needed it by then.
I sat sadly in the pharmacy for an hour and a half waiting for the happy pills, and got home feeling glum and rather scared.
Perhaps she was right and I do have sad, bitter, regretful feelings, I am just repressing them. Even if you feel quite happy you might in fact be suicidal without knowing it until someone tells you.
When I took out the box of  pills and read all their contra-indications, such as,  be careful about taking them  if you have ever been depressed, had negative thoughts, had conniptions or felt like kicking anyone, I decided to put them away in a drawer.
When I was a child I was depressed. As a student I was on Librium, Valium etc and I do not intend ever to go down the path of pharmaceutical hopelessness again

Sunday, 3 June 2012


Sunday 3rd June.

Last week I found a Coronation copy of Good Housekeeping in a second hand shop. It wasn't as lively  as I hoped but it did include a recipe telling readers how to make an exact replica of St Edward's Crown, the great state crown, out of jelly. I think some of those bored ladies on the staff were having a bit of a laugh.
Ventured up to Piccadilly in the rain and watched on a big screen set up in the street as Queenie boarded  her boat looking very vulnerable her white hat sticking up. I watched standing next to a friendly policeman as tables were laid all along the highway for a festive lunch. I had just had mine at St Michael's Church, far too much of it; Coronation Chicken followed by at least three puddings.
This image show me standing in the RA in front of my painting, "Dead Hand."
In the  Royal Academy again,  found that my painting has now sold, which was a bit of a relief. A red dot can mean a lot.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Special day slightly later

The 244th RA Varnishing Day starts with a service for artists at St. James Church.
 I didn’t think many artists would be interested in going to church, but there was a queue along the pavement and the church was packed.  Perhaps the RA attracts the Anglican chapter of painters, but I stood next to a young Canadian called Joel Penkman who told me she had a painting  on show, the image of a tin of treacle in egg tempera. As there were no pews left we  had to go up stairs where it is hard to see anything going on below, and to hear properly thanks to Sir Christopher Wren’s acoustics.

There was a happy feeling rising up towards me with the heat, but  I don’t think many there were as happy and grateful as I was. All my anxiety of earlier on melted away and I was so happy that I sang with gusto, particularly Come Down, O Love Divine, by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

It was a good service, quite rigorous with good prayers for people in Afghanistan, Syria, and Congo. We heard a poem by New England poet, Mary Oliver called, “When Death Comes.”

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

The Revd Mark Oakley took up this theme of struggle and making a mark and the difficulty of being  an artist and a “person of faith.”
Apparently if you try being both you will be accused of being mentally deficient or an emotional wreck. I happily admit to both and so did he, I suppose on the basis that if you lay down your arms no one can attack you. 
He said most people think the search for God and the search for Art are a shocking waste of time.  
Back inside the Summer Show at last, I made my way slowly round the great rooms where the light pours in through the high windows, looking for  my painting of Maisie. I was  also looking desperately for the tiny tables they put in a few rooms, where you could put down your glass, catalogue, vegetarian chillie,  strawberries and cream.
 They have abandoned the usual room once kept for small paintings, which is always so popular and spread the small works throughout the gallery. Maisie looked surprisingly good sitting there among much bigger works, across the room from a large Ken Howard, and Olwyn Bowery’s usual green house  paintings.
My painting is on sale for £600, but there was a young woman from Hungary with a work next to mine on sale for £15,000.  She was standing there balanced on killer heels, tossing her long blonde locks,  chatting to men who seemed enchanted with her. When I went back an hour later she was still there by  her work, chatting up mainly elderly men. They looked so pleased and flattered and she was certainly businesslike.
By 1pm there was a very large crowd, “arty types” you might say of all sorts from savage looking retro punks, to very smart women in designer dresses to frail, bookish elderly men. And of course the single women  artists like me, who tend to look slightly battered and crazed. 
I don’t remember so many people there before, twelve years ago. Then we sat at tables with our strawberries and cream. But it’s a bit hazy. I walked around half cut with the Champagne enjoying the sense that I didn’t have to look at anything too hard, I was just there for the pleasure, and all was well. 

Special day early

Arrived at the cancer clinic at Queen Charlotte’s at 8.30am for a 9.20 appointment, because I woke early and then just couldn’t hang about, best to get it over with,  to start walking. Two fat magpies in the park, a good sign as I crossed over into the dismal atmosphere of east Acton.
In the waiting area with my copy of Metro,  I felt the stinging anxiety of waiting again, just like every time  before. Everything hangs on so few words.
By 9am the clinic had begun to get crowded; youngish women with gynae problems still hoping for children, and older women like me hoping for a bit more life.
I continually imagine meeting with the doctor; her clean, bright face, they way she will welcome me,  we’ll sit down feeling fairly formal almost as if it was a job interview, she’ll look away for a few moments at the screen or go through some papers then she will speak –  words that mean everything, more than “I love you” or “will you marry me?” ever meant.
“Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire,” we said on Sunday. Where is it when you need it. Banished by  panic is the answer.
The Metro headline reads: “Football is a matter of life and death says Sol.”
Sitting here too early in the morning is a matter of life and death. I wonder who Sol is with his silly words.
How many women have passed through here and died? Tell myself I have got to stop being afraid of death as that is the only way to live.
The nurse from Belfast I saw on the Victor Bonney Ward goes past. When I had my original op she used to come and stand at the bottom of my bed in the morning looking furious and dressed up  like an admiral. She was part of my morphine dream.  I saw her again last August and she seemed to have been demoted to mere nurse.
There is the same young male receptionist. I wonder how he sticks it. A chav girl  comes in with bottle tan and wearing a vest covered in sparkling sequins.
Then I am moved a bit nearer to the doctors’ consulting rooms.  There are nine of us in this new waiting area, two of us English, one Scot, the rest veiled, sitting with anxious looking men. The Belfast nurse notices me and a smile flits across her lumpy  features. Perhaps she recognises me or my note-pad.
Then I am in with the doctor, a very young man I haven’t seen before. He welcomes me, we sit, he looks at the screen and says, “Everything is fine from the blood test. Any problems?”
Tell him I had a short period of constipation and got really worried about it thinking that the cancer had returned. As I speak realise I am getting emotional and struggle to control it. That is very embarrassing. Tell him I am taking Asprin to try to prevent the cancer returning. Not a good idea he says, thirty percent get a stomach bleed. He wouldn’t do it. That thirty percent again, only that number survive this cancer longer than five years.
All over in about ten seconds and I am out in the sunshine again, on my way to the Royal Academy for  "Varnishing Day," which these days means champaign.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Here Comes the Sun


Getting used to breathing easily now that the thieving Robsons have gone. Went out into the garden this morning without the unpleasant feeling that curtains were twitching above me. There was a robin on the garden table, haven’t seen him or her for a while, and a tiny little bird balancing merrily on top of one of those tall thistley things. It was almost as if they were greeting me, I had come back into their zone.
Later I remembered more things missing from the flat. Perhaps Robson is a case of nominative determinism?
I haven’t got a recent inventory and didn’t bother with it much as all my previous tenants were honest. They had an enormous amount of stuff when they moved in which surprised me as I was offering a furnished flat. Now I wonder if they do this if they regularly acquire property from other people.
Well, never mind. Taffy was a Welshman as they still used to sing when I was a child, along with De Camptown Races and Paddy McGinty’s Motor Car.  

Monday, 21 May 2012

Other Adventures


Apart from reclaiming my territory from the bug-eyed Welshman and his hygienic wife, I had my three monthly  blood test today at the cancer clinic in Hammersmith Hospital.
How things have changed since all that started almost exactly two years ago – they have moved the chemo clinic upstairs, removed the large fish-tank and replaced it with a large flat screen TV and you no longer seem to have to queue for hours in a corridor.
I am different too, at least this time.  I felt no fear, no dread. Watching the face of Robin Gibb appear on the TV screen, I thought more about the day I once spent with him and his wife rather than the fact he has just been killed by cancer.

Spick & Span and Away They Ran

21/5/2012 Approached the flat with caution this morning at 8am. Found the keys hidden in the electric box and got in holding my breath with anxiety. It looked OK. They had done some cleaning up – the wife was always worried about hygiene. In the first long text of complaint I received from them after they moved in, they listed, “layers of dirt,” and “fleas” in the carpet.
Later after she had been convinced there were no fleas she said she could see dust mites. The last thing I heard before the outbreak of hostilities was her insistence that there was a stain on the carpet in the hallway which would give her asthma. Looking at that bit of carpet today in the early morning light, I could see there was no stain of any kind there at all.
 Being so conscious of these things they had dusted every shelf and cleaned every drawer and cupboard – unfortunately for me they had also emptied every drawer and cupboard. There was nothing left, not a pan, a wash-cloth, a pedal bin, waste basket, or Little Henry vacuum cleaner. All gone. They had indeed cleaned the place out. They’d even taken a rather melancholy old stick umbrella that used to hang on the back of the door, used by many tenants over the years. I saw it as a token of London.

A Small Win in Life's Lottery

20/5/12 8pm I am sitting here listening intently for noises from my flat upstairs. The squatters who moved in before Easter verbally agreed to leave tonight, but I have no way of knowing when or even if they will really go. They don’t answer any phone calls or e mails, so I just have to wait. I think the place is empty. They lived with all the curtains and blinds permanently drawn and now they have been opened, but I cannot be sure. If I hear the floor boards creaking above me at 3am I will be sick. Tomorrow I could go up there and find they have gone but not left the keys (they changed the locks illegally) or they might not have gone at all. If that happens the agent’s husband, a burly policeman has promised to come over and assist, but it could all be so ugly. Or it could be OK – they will be gone and I can clean the flat and start again. This is a situation I never expected, a bit like cancer, suddenly you can find yourself in a very nasty place without any certain means of delivery. Not many people have recourse to the law these days, it’s too expensive. You just cut your losses again and again, or perhaps take out endless insurance the way they do in the US.
 However, yesterday was a very good day. On Friday night, when I returned from my portrait painting class, which is like being in a hot  room with a lot of spitting cats, I discovered that I have got a painting in this year’s RA Summer Show. I had to read the letter several times. I went through the same disbelief last time I got in, way back in 2000 with a portrait of Ken Livingstone. In those days they sent a card showing just the number of the paintings you’d sent in and a code for refused or accepted or accepted but not hung. It is easier to understand now, but just as hard to believe. This year I submitted a painting called “Insomnia,” which I liked. It was small with lots of glazes and showed my hand reaching out for the DAB radio in the night. Also a painting of my cat Maisie lying on my arm, called, “Dead Hand.” They chose that one. I am not proud of that painting but at least I’m in. After getting in with Ken I got a series of D Notices, which means selected but not hung, then straight rejections. Getting a painting in against 11,000 other entries and all the boring old RAs is like winning a national lottery. So yesterday I was moving hither and thither on a cloud of joy. I hope we still get the strawberry and cream reception that they used to do on Varnishing Day, not sure.  I remember a week before the public were admitted, wafting around the RA rooms, all flooded with sunlight, feeling extremely groovy. I had a busy but joyful day; I had to go all the way over to Stratford East, to find the Lakeland cookery shop as a friend had given me a token to spend there for my birthday. It's a seductive shop, at least if you like heart shaped pastry cutters, cake-tins celebrating the Diamond Jubilee and kettles for fish. I bought a new hand- mixer for making bigger and better Victoria sponges. What a summer we have to look forward to – the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in all their daft glory, the Bedford Park “Green Days,” two days of unparalleled garden fete, then the Bedford Park Arts Festival, with speakers, poets, plays, film and music. Also a “Festival Mass” at St Michael’s, Bedford Park, with full orchestra and professional choir.
 (27/5/12) I completely forgot here to mention the Olympics!  For most of my friends and me our only real interest in that subject concerns how well our public transport system is going to hold up.  After the emporium of baking I set off for Bethnall Green on overland rail as the Central Line was off. After a long walk from the station I found a rather obscure, dusty art shop called AP Fitzpatrick on the Cambridge Heath road, near the picturesque “Three Colts Road,” where they sell odourless solvent at half the cost of the regular art shops. At the classes I attend you are forced to non smelly solvents for H & S reasons, and in Cass Arts they cost £10 for about 250ml. I made my way back to Stratford to get the overland again, no buses from there to Islington.   I struggled to get there carrying 4 litres of solvent and one of  linseed oil. The weight wasn’t too bad but one of the tins really cut into my back even though I tried lagging it with newspaper. I had to reach the The Hen & Chickens pub in Highbury and Islington in the other direction.
I had promised to see a friend in a matinee performance there of a new production entitled, rather vaguely, “An Evening of Neo-Absurdism.” I was worried about being late, shoved a slag heap of natchos down my throat and rushed up the stairs to the stage door where I was told it was not going ahead as I was the only person who had showed up. The cast had a vote on it and went ahead. I was joined in the audience by a member of the production team who designed the posters.
I was expecting some wild Dadaist stuff on stage, but they were gentle sketches about the absurdity of modern life, rather Lewis Carroll meets N F Simpson, with a bit of Oscar Wilde thrown in. Some might have made afternoon radio plays if they were worked on, but it was all a bit flaccid. During the performance I almost dozed off, had a sneezing fit and my mobile went off. The John Heartfield  chap was fiddling with his mobile throughout. Between us we committed almost as good a range of theatrical crimes as if there had been a full house.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A new sight on the English high street

15/5/2012 We are deep into May now and the drought and hose-pipe ban continues with heavy rain day in day out. I have noticed increasing numbers of people like me, holding up broken umbrelli like dripping thorn bushes above their heads. Something dire has happened to the umbrella making business; you buy one for £5 or more and within two uses it's dead as a squashed roadside crow. Perhaps the insistent British rain is full of acid, not sure, but almost as soon as you open them out the spokes rust and resemble the desiccated legs of dead insects. Not many of us can afford to keep buying new each time we have a down pour, which is almost every day, so you will see us going about with these bunches of wet, rusting metal twigs held above our heads.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Before I go to sleep

When I first realised that I wasn’t going to get any rent and was facing about ten rent free months before any sign of the bailiffs would appear, I went into a kind of spin. I made my way to Chelsea for my portrait class and when I got off the overland train at Imperial Wharf I didn’t know where I was. I cautiously followed the other passengers up the street quite unable to recognise anything around me or be sure I was going the right way. This was a very scary experience, rather like being a small child walking alone to a new school, feeling totally disorientated. It was as if shock and distress had knocked everything out of my head. When I got to the class I couldn’t recognise the teacher. I told one of the other students and she laughed. I made a joke of it too but wasn’t sure of what was going on just hoping that whatever was going on in my brain would settle down soon. This week on my way to the class, having heard that I was being accused of racial harassment etc I got on the wrong train, going entirely in the wrong direction. I decided not to get hot and bothered, just to go with it. Since then various other landlords have spoken to me, including this tenants previous landlord who had the temerity to give them a reference. After telling me how bad they’d been he said, “try not to worry, this will pass.” My friend June said, “Just think to yourself, all this will pass.” Well yes, quoting George Harrison or someone is all very well, but I seem to have entered a new world of landlords’ karma, where we all wander around soothing each other because no one can actually afford to get the gloves off and go to law.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Scones and arrows of annoying fortune

Oh God, if I could have my health back. Oh God, if I could have my peace of mind back! I was feeling much better after my recent drive to the Isle of Wight and back, I actually felt happy, yes happy, it was there almost palpable and rather a new thing. Now I have just had another bolt of bad luck and joy has evaporated. New tenants moved in upstairs before Easter and they are refusing to pay any rent. First they made incessant demands, which were all met and really promptly. Then came the silent refusal to put anything into my bank account, then an illegal changing of the locks. I now face the long process of getting them evicted and losing about six months rent in the process. Disaster. My system of getting by; small pension and rented flat works OK but only if I get tenants who pay up. Now I realise that these two are not going to pay anything, and to make matters worse he has launched some kind of campaign against me, getting legal advice to see if he can prosecute me for entering the property unlawfully to fix a sash window before Easter as we were all rushing to go away and I couldn’t get hold of them. I also left a note at that time telling them when to put the bins out and he said this was evidence he could use against me, of illegal entry. He has reported me to the council, demands to see all documents relating to the flat, and has, he says, reported me to the police for “racially harassing” his wife who is Portuguese. He also accuses me of harassing his parents. His father guaranteed the rent but has no intention of paying either. I went to the police station myself to check it all out and a rather borned WPC said, “harassment is a series of consecutive acts.” I have only sent the father one polite e mail so that doesn’t amount to much. As for the race business, after she sent me a text accusing me yet again of going into the flat unlawfully, I sent her a text saying, “I know your English is not good but can you understand these words: “pay your rent.” The policewoman said it might be fact that her English is not good, and not to worry. Maybe the English is worse than I thought, she certainly didn’t get the message anyway. As they live upstairs from me the situation is particularly unpleasant an uneasy. They keep all the curtains drawn front and back but seem to know my movements. I lobbed a very small snail over the fence last night into a garden where they do not gardening. I wonder if he noted that one down? All that aside, I have just had my 56th birthday – it sounds auspicious somehow that number, but I realise I am living precariously, relying on one rent. It is not what I imagined for myself when I was twenty five. I think I thought I would have a big house in Hampstead by now and a successful career at something. Wonder if I should sell the flat and live on the proceeds. If I got £240k for it that would last about seven years. No point in investing it, it would just go in the bank. But then the banks might default too. All over the country there are people making these useless calculations about the future. In the meantime it is a matter of getting the evil little shit and his ghastly wife off my premises! Despite all that I managed to have a lovely birthday. I had a big lunch on the Sunday and on Monday. My friend June and I went to the Picasso exhib at the Tate and then she took me for afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel. It was a sumptuous tea, although we had to ask for the scones to be brought out and the tea-cake was the size of a fifty pence. The sandwiches and small, warm quiche were best, and they came with gold and silver leaf on top, so you can enjoy a genteel afternoon treat and cure yourself of clap at the same time. In the evening my friend Brian took me to see Sweeny Todd, and he even paid for a box. I have some wonderful friends.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Down in the non-dumps

23/4/2012 Something has happened to my system. For most of my adult life I only went to the loo, as we say politely, once a week. This was normal for me and I wouldn’t be worrying about it now if it weren’t for the – the thing that happened, the cancer. When I changed my diet and began consuming large amounts of foliage, plants and olive oil it changed and I became very regular. That felt good; at least I could control whether the cancer came back in my bowels, and as things were going so smoothly I felt reassured. Since Easter that has changed. I feel rather empty, not bloated or heavy, but my insides seems to have decided to seal themselves. I remember sitting on the lav at my mother’s praying for a bowel movement, the way I once prayed for a period to appear to show I wasn’t pregnant. There was an unusual level of stress about it building up and once it starts building you can’t stop it. Last week I was walking in the street praying, “Please let it happen, but not at any inappropriate moment of course.” This weekend nothing. Considering the amount of vegetables and fruit, about ten pieces a day, this could only mean that there was a tumour in there. All these months when I have felt so free and optimistic it was building itself, accruing cells, taking on weight. I began stuffing in crinkled old packets of “Movicol,” left over from the hospital in 2010. I gave back a full box as I didn’t think I’d need them, thinking I could control things. By last night I felt that slide into despair. I did try phoning the oncology dept at Hammersmith as they have someone on call, but no one answered the phone. There was no where to get reassurance anyway. I saw the future – recurrence. What do you say to people, do you say when they say, "You are looking well, how are you? Perhaps nothing at all? I was now a new person, the one who lives with the knowledge that it had come back for a second go. That it is the end, five years of life at most and more chemo to get even that. Why did I ever think I would be one of the lucky ones, one of the saved? Other things flitted through my mind; I was no longer going to worry about money at all. I’ve always had a fear of overdrafts and spending capital, just like my Victorian grandparents and parents. Now I would spend without worrying. Lately I have been on a low carb, low olive oil diet, but that small cookery book which came with the Saturday paper, “Carluccio’s Perfect Italian Cooking,” I would follow it, make every oozing, cheesy, oily recipe. This morning things were better, not much but enough to make me feel hopeful again. So I am now back to the other persona, the survivor, in remission, someone hanging on to the edge of the rock with enough of a foothold left to climb back up if they can only hold on a bit longer.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Essential danger and fright

15/4/12 Reading The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal, come upon a quote from the radical German poet Rilke, which seems to apply to my life right now, and probably to the lives of any one else “in remission” from some catastrophe. It offers a great deal of consolation: “all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further.” You have to live like a bird before an “anxious launching of himself on the floods where he is gently caught.” Rilke also says flatly: “You must change your life.” One must never get too cosy. Well cancer, divorce, bankruptcy, childlessness changes it for you, a slow creep of despair and what feels like inevitable decline. But I remember when I had a very good job, lots of money coming in. I lived in a kind of bubble and that was terrible. I fretted endlessly that there must be more too it, longed to change my life somehow, endlessly postponing doing anything about it. Then I was sued by Diana Rigg and sacked, so that did it for me. Of course once you’ve changed your life you are destroyed in different ways.

Titanic Day

15/4/12 Titanic Day. In church today I suddenly started thinking about Lord Astor and his Airedale terrier, Kitty. I heard Jeanette Winterson's pieces about the Titanic on R4 last week, and towards the end she mentioned that Astor's pregnant teenage wife, confined to the lifeboat out on the freezing sea, saw her husband standing alone on the deck, and their terrier Kitty running up and down. It really upset me to hear this and I cried a lot. I never thought about the kennels on board. How ghastly! Apparently there were 12 dogs, but no cats, thank God. Two Pomeranians survived because their owners were first class passengers and were allowed to stuff them into their Astrakan coats and slip them unseen into the life boats. I have spent this afternoon trying to make some drawings, exactly as it appears in my mind, but it’s difficult as you have all the complications of the ship’s railing etc. I want something abstract but powerful, to convey the horrid comedy of the whole thing.

Lets not play it too safe

15/4/12 (Titanic Day) There is something hubricious and unpleasant about this constant quest for public safety, something conformist and controlling – not really for our good at all. This Easter I took a friend to see some of the Civil War sites near my mother’s home in Staffordshire. Chief among them is of course Boscobel House and the oak tree where Charles Stuart hid from the Cromwellians in 1651. I have been visiting this tree since I was very young. You take a long path through fields up to the old tree, a daughter of the original, stands behind narrow iron railings close to the trunk. Behind is a spectacular view of Wenlock Edge and the Clee Hills. Not any more – some worthy soul from English Heritage has decided to put a white picket fence all round the site so you can no longer get up close to the Royal Oak. After Charles got his throne back and he told the story of his uncomfortable night up the tree, eager tourists visited Boscobel and tore lumps off it for souvenirs. At that time a low brick wall was placed around it to protect the tree – but this new fence, all the away up to the farm fence, so you can’t get under it, has been erected to protect us, in case one of the two remaining branches should fall on anyone’s head.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Talk of the devil

Sat 31st March 2012

A church outing from St. Martin’s, Ealing, to Coventry Cathedral. It was wonderful to see this monument to modernism again. 1960s architecture never got any better than this; in fact it seemed to go from this height of creativity straight to the depth of tat. The canopy connecting the old church with the new looks astonishingly inept, but apart from that the place is full of grace and majesty.
I love the face of Christ in the great tapestry by Graham Sutherland. Never have eyes been so well lit. That highlight seems to make the whole face shimmer with light.
I first saw this work when I was six years old, not long after the cathedral opened to the public. I remember waiting with my parents in a long queue in the cold. When we got inside we were some way back from the tapestry and my mother asked me if I could see the tiny man standing between Christ’s feet. I just couldn’t see it, or recognise it at all.
On this visit, a woman on the front desk, dressed in the rather unpleasant puce coloured surpluses they seem to wear there, presumably to match the pink stone walls, said the little man is five foot tall. This was surprising. She said it several times, as if she was trying to say that it was put there to show the scale of the work, which is still the biggest tapestry in the world. Not sure what she meant. Perhaps the word “scale” was deemed too hard for the public.
Someone mentioned the sculpture on the outside wall, by Jacob Epstein, showing St. Michael casting a skinny and obscene looking Satan down into hell. I was not too short sighted or dim to notice that as a small child. It was impossible to miss its dramatic message.
The lady in the surplus said, “In the old days they used to say it was the Archangel Michael casting the devil down into hell, but these days we prefer to say that Michael is saying to him, “You can come back, once you’ve got your life sorted out.”

Most of Epstein’s work looks terribly dated now, but it was nice to see his door knobs on the outside of the cathedral, shaped like the heads of scowling cherubs. The only time you will be able to hold one of his works. Apparently his widow didn’t like them, and gave them to the cathedral in the 1970s.

I sat for awhile in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, the most lush and literally sparkling of the modernist chapels, with Michael appearing again holding out a chalice. I suppose what makes the place so special, and so cohesive, is its theme of suffering and redemption. There are thorns and nails everywhere, a drawing done by a soldier at Stalingrad, and some of the art work seems to me to have been influenced by Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which caused a sensation in 1945.

It’s impossible not to be moved by the work. I thought I’d also have a look at the Blitz museum in a corner of the nave of the old burnt out cathedral. I was a bit anxious about doing this as I feel rather emotional these days. My eyes well up at the slightest thing, and certain memories and music can bring on an attack of humiliating tears. Since the cancer arrived I avoid any TV, film or radio involving crying children, lost pets, the Titanic, and that photo of the three queens mourning the death of George VI. One of the doctors said that this was highly advisable. The museum was closed and I felt rather relieved not to see it.
The lady in the surplus said it was definitely open, so I hovered about for half an hour, looking more closely at the old cathedral remains and the buildings round about. Eventually I knocked again and the door opened. A startled looking man with his sleeves rolled up opened the door. He looked harassed and rather wild, the sort you used to see in garages up to their elbows in grease. “We can’t open today,” he said. “I’ve got trouble with my volunteers.”
Then he said I couldn’t come in because “they were expecting a tour.”
I peered in. The museum was the size of a small front parlour. There was no one else about so he reluctantly agreed to let me have a very quick look around.
His assistant, a plummy voiced young boy with thick wavy hair accompanied me as I walked past school desks, just like the ones I once used, and a kitchen interior rather like my mother’s and grandmother’s. There were a few uniforms on scorched looking old dummies that looked as if they’d met with a terrible decanting petrol into a jar disaster, ration books and gas masks.
At the end was a small dark room with a film showing bombers from the air, no idea which side we were looking at, cities from above, but the boy recognised Coventry. We saw more of the blitz, then Coventry after the attack, VIPs arriving. The King looking blank, Churchill furious and upset.
I might have been OK if not for Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing in the background. The boy beside me knew what it was, I didn’t I am ashamed to say. My eyes kept filling up, and every time I gasped with suppressed emotion, and dabbed at my nose with a tissue, he ran out of the room as if I was giving off toxic rays, or perhaps he just thought I was bonkers beyond the point of no return.
That all took about five minutes and the frantic looking man was soon seeing me out with an irritated grunt, to get on with what ever you get on with in an empty museum.
I hope they didn’t think I was a mad old bat. I am miles away from feeling it’s OK to show emotion in public, and when a woman gets to a certain age there is that creeping suspicion that she might easily be written off as doolally.
I have had these fears at least since early middle-age, not comfortable with how I appear. For years I felt uneasily that I was wearing the wrong make-up for my age, and my anxieties were as visible as too much rouge.
This got worse after I encountered George Galloway for the Standard, after he had appeared in the Big Brother house in orange tights lapping milk like a cat.
He decided we should meet in a Nando’s on the Whitechapel Road, the periphery of what became his Muslim fiefdom. I made my way up the street knee deep in fast food wrappers with an ominous feeling. When I arrived I was greeted by a strange assortment of people, some Irishmen who seemed to be guarding him, and some of the Galloway family.
He’d brought along his very Cockney working class daughter, her husband and their children. They sat next to us, staring ahead, not saying much, like chavs in a sit-com. He did not look at me much and I could tell he was not interested in doing the interview. I asked him why he’d brought his close relations along, no answer, just a tightlipped look.
“Well I promise not to ask you anything about your sex life,” I said, attempting to be jocular.
“I think you’re a nutter,” he said, levelly, sliding the words into me like a knife.
I instantly blamed my make up as he rose up from the table, slammed some cash down on the table in front of me plus a £5 note, and careered off into the litter strewn night. Was it too much eye-liner, too much foundation?
“It takes one to know one,” I suppose I should have said to his disappearing back, but I was frozen in horror. His family went on sitting there like the frog footman in Alice, not saying a word. One of the Irishmen appeared and said he’d sort it. I waited, still numb as he returned, sat quietly and did the interview as if nothing was wrong. He spoke to me about his life for over an hour.
I’ve never really got over that though, the way he was so astute and slashed me, straight in to the shank. Later one of the Irishmen took me for a drink. He seemed to like me, which I found astonishing, and pressed on me an old CD he said belonged to George. A small act of rebellion against his master perhaps. It was Joan Baez singing, Love Minus Zero, No Limit, which reminded me of my student days in Scotland in the 70s, when the whole world seemed to be full of men just like George.
I am of course since then his mortal enemy. I believe there are quite a few of us. When I remember that meeting I could kill him, but then again I don’t want to go to the devil, cast down into hell for someone like that.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Going Gracefully

Thursday 29th March 2012

To the Royal Academy early, to hand in two small paintings for the Royal Academy Summer Show. I haven’t had anything accepted since 2000, just D notices since then, but hope springs eternal doesn’t it – at least in me.
Mooched about a bit afterwards in this delinquent Spring sunshine which is so unexpected. Bought some delectable cheese in Paxton’s and some rose creams in Fortnum’s, to give out at Easter.
I had a sandwich in the café attached to St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, had a look inside and saw there was an exhibition going on called, A Graceful Death.
It’s not the death that’s the problem, for me it’s the lead up to it. I usually avoid all reminders of this horrible prospect, but I was attracted by the portrait of a dying man on the poster.
Antonia Rolls painted her husband Steve while he was dying of liver cancer, and there were paintings of a few other people who had allowed her to paint them at the end of their lives, including one old cat.

It was a poignant show. In the visitor’s book someone called Sogyai Riaponche had written rather desperately:
“Moment to moment I live with the possibility of imminent death.”
I wondered if she was a tourist, going round in big trainers, trying to take her mind off things by looking at London. Some hope.

Many people like to say glibly, “We all die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. It could happen any time,” but they don’t really know what the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness is like, anymore than they know what it’s like to sit on death-row.

When will it come, how will it be?
I’m stuffing in veg, drinking green tea,
Sitting in the sun, grabbing Vitamin D.
Listening to the wireless all night,
Sleepless, as if waiting for news of war.
Tell me, how long now, it's almost a bore,
Like some long expected catastrophe.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Davy Jones

It was a shocked to hear about the death of Davy Jones last week. (7/2/12) A heart-attack, aged sixty six. It also felt a little creepy as I’d been thinking about him the night before, after not doing so for years. Remembering my childhood in the 1960s, he’d somehow floated into my mind – that ever cheerful boy’s face and sweet voice.
I realise that he was twenty two when aged eleven, I first saw him on TV and became obsessively in-love with him.
From the age of seven I had been a committed Beatles fan so I held out against the Monkees for as long as I could. In my last year at Primary School I went on a school cruise, and every morning in the Mediterranean, they woke us up in our sweltering cabin by playing loud music over loud-speakers. One record they chose was called, “Take A Giant Step Outside Your Mind,” sung in a soft nasal drawl by Micky Dolenz, the Monkee’s drummer.
I really liked it but didn’t admit that I liked them until I saw the TV show and instantly became besotted with Davy. Their famous song, Daydream Believer became the continuous sound track of my life. If we’d had those things you stick in your ears back then, I would no doubt have been annoying people on buses and trains by playing it at full volume.
Like the Beatles, the Monkees were all very different characters, but were all young men behaving like children. This offered us real children a sexed up version of the old Enid Blyton fantasy of children going off and having adventures in secret places where no adults were permitted. This captivating new version of adult hood was just like childhood, but without any of its pains or frustrations. They didn’t go to school, their only work was singing, they had endless time for play, they had sex, they had money. Perhaps because they were a produce of the swingingest years of the 1960s, 1966-68, they offered us children a highly optimistic view of the future.
Once I became a Davy fan, like millions of others, I started buying fan magazines I’d never bothered with previously. I once spent 3/6 on a magazine, way beyond my pocket-money, because it had a photo of him on the front, a rather bad one at that. “Sun, sand, surf and sex,” I read in one of the expensive black and white magazines showing his photo. My mother looked on it all with great disapproval, as if I was about to run away and join him.
But I didn’t want to put these photos on my bedroom wall. I didn’t want to elope with him that much, although that was there, what I wanted was to be him. On the cusp of adolescence, I could already see that my own sex lagged behind when it came to fun and freedom. Girls were already losing out, worrying about how boys would see them if they spoke up in class, appeared too clever or independent. There would be no taking giant steps for most of them. I wanted to be a young male just like Davy. He later made a record called, “I Wanna Be Free,” which he sang in a plaintive, yearning voice. From what I could see he was absolutely free, an almost grown up version of Just William, living out a perfect extended adolescence on Venice beach.
I gazed for the first time at grainy photos of wide roads lined with swaying palm trees. This confused and excited me. Brought up in a Staffordshire village, the nearest town being Wolverhampton, I couldn’t understand how L.A. a city, could look like a paradise island. The Monkees travelled those broad boulevards in open top sports-cars, shirt-less and covered in girls. They showed us a shiny new world of youth and beauty.
The summer of love came and went and I was too young to do anything other than catch its scent. By my mid-teens I had forgotten them. When I became a journalist in the late 1980s and spoke to Davy Jones on the phone, I thought he sounded nice, still chirpy, but dull.
About ten years ago when I was in Dublin, staying in the plush Shelbourne Hotel, I was told that the Monkees, who had reformed, were in the bar. I stared at my Bruchetta wondering whether to go and meet them, but what can you say when you meet your former idols? It’s tricky. Unless drunk you can’t easily tell people that they made the last part of your childhood special, gave you a psycical if not physical escape from home into a fantasy where you had an entirely different self-image and fulfilled all your ambitions. I did once say something like that to an author whose writing had made a big impact on me when I was very young. He had stared into his beer without any sign of interest.
Of course they would be nothing like the young men I remembered from puberty. They might be sporting Botox, be ravaged by drink or boring. What I was really thinking of course was that I would be the let down – what would they see now apart from a tired, sad, middle-aged woman?
I didn’t venture into the bar but as I walked past on my way out, I glanced inside. It was empty. They’d all left too, if they were ever really there and not some tribute band. I was relieved.
I didn’t think about them again until the night before Davy Jones died, and listening to the obituaries. His death was still a real shock, connected as he was to the fun in my early life. We don’t expect our childhood idols to die. They remain some how intimately connected with our own sense of well-being, a hang-over from the time when life itself seemed to depend on collecting their images and seeing them every Saturday evening.
Of course people can have heart attacks at any age, his death doesn’t mean that my generation are old and also about to peg out, but it points that way and spells out a message that it is still impossible for most of us to hear and believe – our childhood is not only but long gone.
It’s so easy for us optimistic children of the 1960s to forget this, and so hard to accept that if we haven’t driven up Hollywood Boulevard, in an open topped Cadillac, to our beach front mansion by now, we are probably never going to do it. Still being a day dream believer may amount to delusion.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Stats about life and death

5/3/ 12
Had to go to the hospital for my 3 monthly results this morning. It's like facing the death sentence every few weeks, not nice at all. For a few days before I go I feel shredded, knowing that on a certain date my life could easily stop. There is also the thought that, if it's OK this time what will happen when one day it isn't OK, how will I cope with getting that news?
My CA125 which is a cancer marker in the blood was low as usual. "Your tumour doesn't show any signs with this test," said the doctor.
What was she on about - "my" tumour?? I thought I had given it away in May 2010. And if it doesn't show up in the test, may be it isn't there? Doctors seem to think that an ovarian tumour is a permanent guest which never goes away entirely. That is their view, I think mine has gone!
An examination showed that everything is still OK. The doctor said that 70 % of people have a recurrence within two years, but my two years is up in May, and if I get there, I can "relax a little."
"Perfect," she said, optimism again like the last time. I floated out of her surgery out of the clinic and across the road to the bus stop.
You always hear different things though. I remember Proff Gabra, head of the department, saying that I could start to relax in 2014.I wrote it in my diary.
They used to say that 37% of ovarian cancer sufferers survived after seven years, but that recently went up to 40%. But this doctor seemed to be working on a 30% figure. Or maybe the survival rate after seven years is an entirely other set of stats.

As soon as I got home I went out again for a swim. It feels almost prayerful to me, this pushing water, rhythm building, the feeling of being transported into another element, sunlight shining through the windows onto the blue and yellow tiles on the bottom of the pool, it's almost like being in church.


So it's three months until I reach a marker, where I might be able to say that statistics are now more on my side - just over eight weeks away. But does it count as the beginning, middle or end of May? In which part of the month will I be more safe than I am now? And after that - no, I cannot allow myself to relax, not for may be seven years. Suddenly this has become rather tough, a three month wait in hope, a sprint to the end, or just a long excruciating holding of breath.
The doctor was trying to be helpful, being so positive, "perfect," she said smiling as I was going out the door, but now my mind has gone into knots.
Swimming today I had gone into something like a calm trance, but able to think clearly. Not far from the end of the lane I was enjoying the lights you can see underwater when a begoogled, fat arsed woman swimmer, wet and round as an orca, swam straight into me, smash, then plunged away. I had committed the cardinal sin of going too slowly in the fast lane. Perhaps they should put a notice up on the wall, along with the "No diving," could be "No praying."

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Lucien Freud exhibition


I am still playing the role of cheerful little Miss La Creevy in Nicholas Nickleby, the good soul who makes herself of use to people instead of sleeping with them, and keeps her own counsel, because she has to. Not the way I envisaged myself in middle-age. To think I once saw myself growing up to be a kind of Eleonora Duse.

On Monday I went with two friends, Eve and Nigel, to the Freud exhibition at the NPG.
I was struck by how different the crowd were from the people at the Hockney the week before. Those coach loads of people, mainly well dressed women, were all the type who like art the way they like TV. It has to some how makes them feel good, like the Antiques Road Show and “Downton.” Nothing political or edgy please!
The people at the Freud were real art lovers, clued up, working very hard as they walked slowly round, and almost completely silent, as studious as if they had to face a viva-voce on the exhibition as soon as they’d seen it.
I think Eve and I were the only people talking and even at times laughing. Freud’s work is magnificent in many ways, masterly paint work, wonderful marks, but his perspective is sometimes odd, floors and beds shooting out towards the viewer and Eve noticed this about the female genitals.
“They are in the wrong place,” she exclaimed, pointing out that in correct perspective from where we were, they would have been entirely vaginated, but he had painted them exposed. They often looked like floating raw shell-fish.
What was the matter with the man? I wish I knew more detail about what happened with his mother.
In a recent TV documentary, his friend David Hockney contributed a terrible clichéd piece, all “ee-by-gum, ekky thump, ee were a right lad that one, very shy but he loved the ladies.”
There was no love of the ladies on show, unless ploughing and furrowing is love.

It was a great exhibition I must say, relating some of the story of his life, as he wished. He wanted his work to convey his feelings and worked hard to achieve that. One painting of himself and Lady Caroline Blackwood in Paris, is like a short story, a terrible tale of love turning to dust and ashes, or two spoilt people driving each other crazy.
As I walked around I amused myself by trying to imagine Freud, hawkish, ruthless, atomised, unyielding, totally preoccupied by his art, father of at least 15 children while insisting that he was “no family man,” as a woman. It wouldn’t work would it – no woman could ever take so much from life and be rewarded the way he was.

Monday, 20 February 2012


Ah, Quinquagesima at last!

I’ve just had that rare thing for a person on a low to non existent income – an exotic winter holiday, before Lent.
There I was basking in turquoise waters, along side brilliant yellow Emperor Angel fish, electric blue parrot fish and sleeping sea cucumbers. I felt fit. I felt brown. I almost felt slim but kept prodding myself in the new concave areas of my body that were appearing, looking for tumours like some relentless diver seeking for pearls.

Mass on Sunday and sometimes during the week. Holy Mass in my head and in my heart, but please God, no mass in my belly.