This post has been – literally – long time coming. The first photo in this set is from January, and somehow I feel like nothing much has happened in the interim, even if in reality the past couple of months have been busy in many ways.
I went to London when the waters (and winds) were at their highest. My two back-to-back trips were to see two marvellous women, both times at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; first Dame Felicity Lott and then Dame Eileen Atkins. That the South Bank was putting up its finest (and that Penelope Wilton was there too) was simply a bonus.At the Blenheim Palace great park, on a fine January’s day, with an old friend. That’s her in the picture.
At the Malvern Hills. How fine, how very English, is this view?
In February, I turned 40, and the children of a friend sent me this little posy of snowdrops from their garden. I still don’t quite know how I feel about this age – or how I should feel about it. Have I done everything I would have wanted to do by now, achieved what I should have achieved? Probably not. My novel still only lives in hand-scribbled notes and few chapters on the computer. I don’t live in the Suffolk-almost-seaside-cottage I have always dreamed about. The choices I made in my thirties confirmed what I sort of knew all along – I probably will never have children, and I’m fine with that.
When I turned 30, I had no idea what in ten years’ time I’d be living in another country, or have a degree from Oxford, or that my mother would have Alzheimer’s disease, or even that I’d celebrate my 40th birthday with a completely new, different set of people from those I celebrated my 30th with. My life has changed, and I have probably changed, and who knows where I will be when I turn 50 – and that makes life interesting, right?
When in doubt, Shakespeare.
The spring is coming. I’m sure of it.
Seems like forever since I last posted – much has happened, most of it mundane. I don’t even remember when I snapped these photos of my knitting group in a pub in Jericho, but I do remember that it pouring down rain when I walked home, and already/still dark at 9pm. I know for the British summer doesn’t start officially until Midsummer (people – the clue is in the name: midsummer), but for me this now – end of May, the spring flowers gone, is summer. Long days, that pale gold, cold evening sunlight, lush greenness of it all. I want to swim in a lake and eat grilled chicken and walk barefoot.
The school’s out forever for this year’s U6th form. I’d hate to be 18 today, but has there ever been a time when us oldies didn’t look at kids of that age and feel a tiny amount of regret – oh the blind confidence of youth!
Mayflower. I love museums – I have told you this, right? I often go to the Pitt Rivers Museum, and wander aimlessly on the ground floor. I never fail to find inspiration among its madcap blend of Victoriana and sheer horror – next to glass cabinets full of religious statues and thearical masks are broken skulls and shrunken heads, relics of ancient people who probably died in horrible, painful ways. Natural History Museum. Design Museum in London. Some days are like this: London. I usually love going to London, just not when it’s rainy and windy and the streets are full of tourists and city suits and my mood is as grey as the river. Anything east of the London Bridge is wilderness to me – I have only crossed the Tower Bridge three times during the many years I’ve lived in this country, and have never ventured further east than that. And yet I sort of love this crazy mixture of old and new, layering of architecture ancient, old, new and still under construction. Some bad, some lovely and elegant, some depressing and some simply horrifying.
One of the great things about working in education is holidays; though I don’t get as many as the teachers, couple weeks off between the terms is great. By its very nature, the school year is varied in its busyness, and from now till the end of the academic year, things will be hurtling forward at dizzying speed – there will be exams, events, another arts festival, all on top of all the regular things. Like most people returning from the holiday, I feel the sort of slight guilt that comes from not doing all those things I intended to do – read piles of books, redecorate the house, bake cake every day… I did manage however to visit one place I have never been to before – the National Portrait Gallery. I love museums in general, and occasionally seeing the “original copy” of a familiar picture, like Vanessa here, can be incredibly riveting.I also finished my socks and did some other crafty things too.
I love candles. My favourite smell in the world is a mixture of stearin and coffee – it’s the smell of my childhood spent eating cake after Sunday church service. I picked up a rhubarb and raspberry -scented candle in the M&S, and found a warning printed on the label: harmful to aquatic life. The candle also had a list of ingredients long as one’s arm, and that caused a mild consumer panic. A quick search online later, I happily ordered some Beefayre organic candles, which are dolphin and bee friendly, burn nicely and smell good. The packaging doesn’t hurt.
The spring creeping forward, despite bitter, cold winds.
At the end the hols, I went to the Isle of Wight for the first time ever, with some friends. We sailed across the Solent from Portsmouth and stayed in the Yarmouth marina; having grown up by the sea, I miss it every in the terribly landlocked Oxford. The sea is both constant and ever changing to me, a bridge – I cannot imagine how living deep inland, hundreds or thousands of miles away from sea is like, but think it must feel terribly isolated.
Easter holiday, long awaited. Spring, even longer. The Easter Monday dawned warm and sunny, such a relief after weeks of indifferently cloudy skies and chilly mornings. The long, gloomy winter has knocked the life out of me, and the recovery is slow. The last days before the Hilary term (life in Oxford is paced by the turn of the academic year, always) were exhausting and exhilarating, full of great things and no time to rest. Optimistically, on my last day at work I chose a set of books to read over the couple weeks I’ve off – I used to be a great reader, and feel embarrassed by how rarely I pick up a book these days, how long it takes me to finish even a simple detective story. I dream of healthy food, of fresh vegetables and nice bread and waking up with a clear head, able to read and think and paint and feel light and alive – as opposed to waking up with a head full of wool.
First snowdrops of the new year. I went looking for them, and came back with a cold. Such is January.
And the first wild primroses too, oh my!
Drinks party in a yarn shop just might be my favourite kind drinks party. With all the stresses of the end of the year, I often found myself skipping non-compulsory social occasions, and so I’m now making a conscious effort to ignore rain and darkness and all that, and go where the people are.
I bought the ticket Mark Hayhurst’s new play Taken at midnight already in the autumn, keen to see Penelope Wilton (I love Penelope Wilton more than my luggage, so to speak) on stage. I was very impressed by her performance, but even more so of this play; it is funny and easy to watch, but also harrowing, shocking and topical, telling the story of a woman trying to get her son freed from concentration camp, where he’s kept in “protective custody” along with other enemies of the totalitarian state – satirists, journalists, anarchists, “socialists and communists, on the same side for the first time” – as Hitler strengthens his powers and Germany settles in to a new regime. While the play focuses on the mother and her struggle – universal and simple – it touches the themes of civil liberties, and how those are the first things to go when a totalitarian government moves in. It seems sometimes that it’s ridiculous that freedom of expression and equal rights would even need discussing in 21st century, but here we are – sometimes it almost feels as if the years from the end of the WWI had never happened.
Little bit of spring in my place. Actually, quite a lot of it.
Curtain call at the ROH. I went to see the rather magnificent Robert Carsen production of Poulenc’s Carmelites. The opera itself is one of those one wouldn’t listen to on CD, but on stage it works. Every staging in the past twenty years owns something to this one, it seems, and it’s easy to see why. The minimalist approach, period costumes on an empty stage, use of the ensemble to define the space are thoroughly thought of, and the dramatic impact is breathtaking. Bonus points for Sir Thomas Allen in a bright crimson costume – I hear ROH staged this production on his request.
The streets are sparkling with litter and confetti, and everywhere there are bruised carnations and empty champagne bottles. Can only be Trinity and exam time in Oxford.