Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Late Night Treat

Diana Athill

It was a late night – 10.35pm – 11.35pm and I hadn’t managed a siesta, but my concentration only wavered twice: once on learning Diana had been diagnosed with cancer and once when a voice over said her sister was born as a result of an affair of her mother’s. The comforting thing is that Diana looks strong and well and her genes from her mother and grandmother should stand her in good stead.

It was all perfectly relaxed and as if one were really spending time with the author. Credit to the programme makers – what happens behind the camera is key to the whole atmosphere and Diana had said they were ‘honeys’. Alan Yentob – quietly deferential - encouraged her to let her memories flow with an occasional question to stimulate her thought process.

She is very good with people and captivated an audience in Bath as if she had been born in a trunk. Her wit is undimmed and in spite of hearing aids, bad feet and slight mobility problems she is what my first husband called ‘a ball of fire.’ She makes me proud to be of the same generation.

I do wish they would stop calling where she lives an ‘old people’s home’. Diana reckons you have to have read Proust and Kafka to be accepted. It really is a splendid place but – at present – there are no men. There was another kind of life class taking place where some of the residents – including Diana, were drawing a female model who was posing without a stitch.

My heart sank when Diana got into her rather battle scarred car. I had thought that after a terrifying accident on a drive to Norfolk she would no longer be driving. I’m hoping by now she has called it day.

I think I shall have to go back and re-read ‘Life Class.’ It is four books in one consisting of ‘Yesterday Morning’ about her idyllic childhood in Norfolk, ‘Instead of a Letter’ about her being jilted by her fiancée in the most heartless way, Stet about her life in publishing and ‘ Somewhere towards the End’ about getting old..

What impressed me most about Diana is her unflinching honesty; she tells us she read in her sister’s diary that her sister’s boyfriend had warned her against certain behaviour, ‘You don‘t want to end up like Diana,’ and her sister agreed that no she didn’t. Then again she tells us she read in a male friend’s diary that he has started to detest her and every thing she says or writes.

Diana’s mantra is to tell it ’just as it was.’

Whether you read the books separately or tackle the tome ‘Life Class’ give your self a treat and read Diana Athill.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tonight's the Night!

You know I've been burbling on about Diana Athill for some time now and have just finished her great book 'Life Class.'? Well tonight there is a documentary about her in the 'Imagine 'Series at 10.35pm on BBC 1 - TV
At 92 she is a best selling author starting at the age of 80. I'm excited that it is not just going to be a straight forward interview but she will actually revisit places from her past and people from her past will appear including her first love - better looking than she remembered - and also her last love.
If you don't get BBC - don't despair. Eryl ( see side bar) taught me that you can catch BBC programmes after they have been broadcast on BBC eye on your computer. I have done this so I'm hoping that being on the other side of the pond won't prevent you from seeing this programme. I do hope I'm right.
That's a date then . There'll be wine and bits;)
Uppa/photo shoot
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Monday, June 28, 2010

A Blot on my Landscape

Every time I open a Word document I get this - see below. I can't remove it by normal means ie the cross top right or delete on file. How it came about - I was trying to send an attachment which needed to have a separate title page. I think I tried INSERT and probably clicked a number of options with this tiresome result.

Now I can only post from Dashboard which is not ideal. Before I send for the cavalry - has anyone a clue how to rectify my stupidity?

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Bird's eye view

Nadal comes close but Federer wins hands down. I'm talking behinds and was at a loss to describe them without sounding vulgar. Madame D (side bar) gave me the clue in her delightful post. Pert is the perfect word for Roger's bottom.

Sunday afternoon's World Cup was less fun as I watched the German team totally outplay England and beat us 4 -1. Yes it should have been 4 - 2 when we had a legitimate goal disallowed but rules are rules and FIFA declare no goal technology. Karma I'm told for 1966.

Goalie James - in canary yellow, did his best, with little help from his backs. Maybe if Rooney had sung the National Anthem with as much conviction as Mick Jagger things might have been different.
As the game came to its inevitable conclusion I longed to ask;
What part of possession don't you understand?

The commenters called it an abject failure and the one who looks like a puppet from Thunderbirds called it four levels below abysmal.

The truth is the German team were the better side and deserved to win and congratulations to them.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

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Friday, June 25, 2010

This week's stars

This little blue flower creeps all along the west side of the house.

and nestles happily on an old bag of sand.
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I love these pristine white bells.

The purple is a bulb which comes up every year- Queen Fabiola.

These ? geraniums are great value and I have them in lovely shades of pink and purple. MTL calls then mallow.

At last I have a blooming peony.
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Not yet fully out but I can't wait.

This was new last year and proves Karen's point that you can put a new rose where an old rose has been if you dig deep enough

The gorgeous clematis the girls gave me.

The potato plant it's wrapped around we had given up for dead and its now sprouting all over the place

The sunshine had given me a burst of energy so I'm doing lots of things other than blogging.
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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Quiet Woman

May Dixon Barnes


‘I don’t think we should talk about that Pat.’

I was cam-cording an interview with my mother; she was about to leave her home of over 60 years to settle in America and I knew this could be the last chance to ask her questions that had always been on my mind. She had fallen in love with my father aged 17 and got pregnant. I managed to persuade her she had nothing to be ashamed of and she answered my questions. After the initial shock her parents were a tower of strength and there was never any question other than she should have the baby.

Yes my father wanted to marry her – he had always wanted to marry her, but knew Gran would never allow it. Not only was he not a Catholic but Gran, somewhat of a snob, would feel Mum was marrying beneath her. In time she came to realise his worth and thought highly of him for the rest of her life.

Mum said she blamed Gran because the only sex education she had was:

‘Don’t talk to boys.’ (Exactly what Gran had said to me when she was explaining puberty)

Mum and I had our last real laugh together when we agreed you could do anything you liked with boys and it would all be alright as long as you didn’t talk to them.

Mum got married in June when she was 18 and Maddie, a bouncing girl, was born in October.

May’s parents were comfortably off; her father was an engineer and they spent a lot of time in Portugal. Then disaster struck and whilst working in Africa he had an accident which left him with a crippled hand so they came back to Rossendale and bought a grocer’s shop. Gran - never one to be dictated to by circumstances took herself off to Edinburgh and trained to be a midwife.

Around the time May went to Haslingden Grammar School Gran had another daughter a sister for May so she was not so closely monitored. She told me she used to hide her dancing slippers behind some shelves in the shop and sneak out with them to meet my father.

They were married when May was 18 and Maddie was born four months later. They set up home together, Fred working at a local factory and May earning a little doing hairdressing in the home. A second daughter, Pat, appeared and they were allotted a council house on a pleasant new estate on the hill with a school and church a minute’s walk down the hill.

They never went hungry as her father sent up an ‘order ‘ every week with one of his 'bread men' and Gran visited every Saturday with fresh fruit and vegetables. Soon a little boy Jack was born – all the babies were delivered by Gran, her mother. Jack developed bronchial pneumonia and almost died. May was loving to all her children but Jack was always special and she also had a special relationship with her beloved father.

Maddie, aged 6 went to live with three maiden aunts who were no relation but the dear friends of Fred’s brother – Uncle Jack. It was something that everyone

seemed happy about – Maddie would have a better chance in life, she was close by and could come back to live at home whenever she wanted. It meant that life was a little easier for May with just two little ones to care for. I think as the years went by and her daughter seemed happy to come round every Sunday there may have been some regret. All three children went to Grammar School and had an excellent start in life with lots of love.

When the children were still little May got a job in the local slipper factory and worked there until she was almost 70. I think the firm were shocked when they realised just how old she was. She gradually became head of the clicking room and with another woman ran the first –aid department – which she loved.

Her passion was the country-side – a love she passed on to her children. She also passed on the ethic that you work hard and then get a reward – always something to look forward to. As soon as they could afford it they bought a motor bike and side-car and took the children all over the country but especially the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Sometimes Uncle Jack would have Maddie in his side-car but mainly she was taken on more upmarket holidays with the aunts.

The two younger children were climbing mountains from an early age and camping on the edge of Lake Windermere where they led a real Swallows and Amazons existence.

May’s persona was laid back, quiet and gentle and she had the whim of iron that often accompanies this. Once she thought the lavatory should be replaced. The council official wasn’t convinced so she took an axe to it to make it more apparent.

May and Fred were well matched: May ultra feminine, soft and silky, no hard edges and cuddlesome. Fred all male, handsome, devoted to sport and an occasional pint with the boys. Sometimes Fred would get irritated with May when, for instance, she read in bed at night and then woke Fred by snapping her glasses case. When he complained she would either smile sweetly or give him the look and a sniff and go her own sweet way.

Soon after her father died she took Gran in to live with us for the rest of her life. Fortunately there were intervals when Gran visited her daughter in USA and as we left home - her grandchildren.

May and Fred’s world really opened up when we children left home. She was a great mentor to me as I discovered men and the emotions they aroused. She would always calm me down and give advice which always seemed to work - mainly: ‘Wait and see what happens. They were free as birds and travelled at every opportunity and loved visiting their children. They walked every weekend and May did the Pennine Way twice – in short bursts. By then Fred wasn’t up to long walks and he would drop her and pick her up at the other end.

They came to stay every summer and I always tried to get May to cut down on luggage - without success. One time we met then off the train at Taunton - it was always a frantic rush to get the off the train before it zoomed off to Penzance. May indicated the cases to MTL and got off the train with her large handbag and holdall with thermos flasks, and enough food to keep them going for a couple of days. When we finally reached home and emptied the car May pointed to a bulging suit-case and said: 'That's not my case.' Back to Taunton we drove- a 60 mile round trip.

Maddie had a house in the States and in Portugal and every year they visited both – house-sitting for their daughter as she pursued her business in Europe. In his eighties when Fred was partially paralysed by a stroke May continued to take him abroad and to visit children. When he died they had only been back a few days from Portugal and he was regaling the ambulance men with tales as they rushed him to hospital

May had badges for all the blood she donated and did much work for charity. She was loved and respected by all the people she had worked with and walked with, over a long life and where there are flowers and fresh air May will be around.

My elder son said:

She loved Portugal, the country and the people. But she never really mastered the language. Somehow she always made herself understood though, mainly due to her charm and the linguistic talents of her hosts. I remember one day at a restaurant where four of us were scanning the menu. When it was May’s turn to order she studied the Portuguese menu once more and after some thought came out with “porko choppo…… wi’chips”. That brought a few smiles from the waitress but more importantly the right food which was duly dispatched. When the waitress approached for the second time May was more confident, “Na’then, what ‘ave yer for sweet?”.


That last camcorder interview was bitter sweet. Mum was emigrating to live with my now widowed sister in the States. She was 90. I knew there would be lots of flights and weeks when she would be alone. I had always imagined that she would come to live with us when she could no longer manage on her own and did my utmost to change her mind but she was adamant. I think it may have been her way of making up for the years when her daughter was with the aunts. Who knows? In the event my worst fears were realised and within a couple of months Mum was dead just ten days before her darling son Jack.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

May's 90th birthday party - an emotional moment for mother and daughter
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May the millgirl- on the back she had written in pencil - to Fred with love

starting to have a life of their own.

This is May at her happiest.
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May and Gran as a baby. Sorry the photos are so random. It seems to be out of my control.

May and Fred with daughter and grandsons in the Lakes
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May in her pinnie with the younger daughter off out.

May and Fred in their element

Christmas1949 May , Fred, Gran and three children.
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Commercial Rubbish?

A kiss and a hug cost nothing. If you are lucky enough to have one - Happy Father's Day.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Date for your diary.

Some weeks ago I wrote:

Preparing yesterday’s lunch-time salad I was listening to MTL’s radio which is always tuned to Radio 4 and heaven help anyone who fiddles with it. I pricked up my ears as a woman with a pleasant voice talked of how – reasonably healthy and independent but in her nineties - she decided to live in a retirement home in Highgate. It sounded so attractive I said:

‘If ever we had to move that’s the sort of place I’d like to go to.’

It got more interesting – her name was Diana Athill and she had her memoirs published when in her eighties. She had had a happy childhood and had her heart broken as a teenager. You can imagine my double take! However she never married, never had children and had a dazzling career in publishing. I look forward to reading her book Life Class (a title used by two other authors) which should be on its way as we speak. It was interesting that she also was greatly inspired by Alice Herz- Sommer who I did a post about recently.

I bought the book and in spite of its fatness have been devouring it with utmost pleasure. It’s the sort of book that you can’t put down except you have to because it is so heavy to hold in bed.

I have always regretted that I never wrote to John Gielgud when he moved me to the core three times in Ivanov. So I wrote a letter of appreciation to Diana and got such a lovely supportive letter back.

Here’s the thing: on June 29th there is an Alan Yentob programme on BBC 1 some after 10pm with a film about Diana – part of a series called Imagine. If you have any interest in the arts or writers don’t miss it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's new in the garden

Karen calls this the secret garden. When the door is closed you would never know it was there. One can wander round in one's nothings quite safely.

With the help of Sarah Raven's plug plants I'm aiming for delectable pots. These are verbena and I'm just about to settle them in their new home.

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This week's plants

Potentilla moonlight - well named - from a cutting from someone's garden - first time its flowered

Alium - not quite fully out but I'm an impatient gardener.

Who knows the name of this plant? I did once.

Its a rose - ask me another;)
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

May Dixon Barnes

I've been thinking about my late mother's birthday all week and then forgot today after getting wound up about Helen Mirren. Dear Parsnip(side bar) reminded me with a tribute on her blog. Every day there is evidence of the fellowship between bloggers.
Sorry Mum.
The song and its singer is very dated - as it should be:)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ovation for Mirren on the Letterman show
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Helen Mirren on the world cup results

Because you know if Britain had beaten America, what with BP, which to my mind stands for bloody p***-poor '

The actress was cut off by a round of applause from the American audience before continuing.
Risking a few raised eyebrows this side of the pond, she went on:
'I mean I don't think I could have come on this show. I would have been so embarrassed and mortified at being British that I think I would have had to cancel.'

The match was actually England versus US

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

News Flash

Charlie - see side bar - is in hospital. Please visit his site to leave good wishes , prayers, positive fibes - what ever may help him and his wife Martha. Please.

A word in your ear.

I’ve told all the family and I’m telling you: be sure to have windscreen wiper liquid in your car instead of plain water. It prevents legionnaire’s disease. Whilst you’re at it squirt some antiseptic lotion on your shower head.

According to a recent survey most of us don’t know our neighbours and pensioners are the friendliest. The latter is true in these parts. When I visited my friend D the other day she had been surprised to find her opposite neighbour – a widower - up a step ladder trimming her hedge although she now has a gardener. Apparently his house is up for sale, he’s going to live near his daughter and was bored. He’s 94.

D is much more comfortable after a cortisone injection for her knee. We think she should probably have a new knee but as she is a carer and in her eighties I think there is a reluctance to operate and with noro virus and the rest, it does seem more of a risk these days. We get our new local hospital on Valentine’s Day next year, so hopefully it will be virus free and we won’t have to do the 30 mile trip to Taunton.

Mark Lawson, as an interviewer, is growing on me. His affable, slightly bumbling persona hides a sharp intelligence and those gimlet eyes behind his glasses miss nothing. He was talking to the man who has interviewed everybody of note over the last fifty years, so he needed all his skill. David Frost – now 70 was the subject, his features softened with age but with his ambition and lust for life undiminished. He’s looking for the next frontier to broadcast from – maybe outer space?

Some of the old quotes were mentioned: Peter Cook saying his greatest regret was saving David Frost from drowning. He did save him but Frost queries the quote.

Mark asked him if all his life passed before him, and Frost said he wished it had as it would have been interesting.

He had already been saved from drowning as a child, when swimming in Beer – the little seaside town we have just visited. Then his life did pass before his eyes but there was little of note.

Further quotes: Billy Graham saying sex before marriage was wrong because ‘it’s blunting your love.’

‘David Frost rose without trace.’ That might have been Peter Cook again.

From his days at Cambridge when he was in The Footlights and with Granta he was surrounded by brilliant, witty and talented people and later on seemed to be hanging on their coat tails. He was asked if he had ever used anyone else’s material.

‘Not knowingly,’ he said.

He doesn’t like to waste money but more importantly he hates to waste time and one remembers the days when he would have breakfast in London and lunch in New York on a weekly basis. That ground breaking show ‘That was the week that was,’ introduced so many stars and it wouldn’t have been the same without him. And unlike many of them - he’s still standing.

He spoke movingly of his Methodist father who died in his sixties and when asked what he would like his obituary to say answered;

something about he didn’t waste time and if he had been half as good a father to his three boys as his own father he would be happy.

He was wearing scarlet socks and I wondered if – like Richard Burton - he had Welsh blood.

A reminder of that great Saturday night show below

David Frost's show TWTWTW.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup -UK versus USA

Clearly goalie Green's gloves were too big. Cheer up - it could be worse - we live to fight another day and well done the Yanks.
Actually we watched Emma Thompson's 'Sense and Sensibility' but we did flick over during the ads. Speaking of gloves I've fished out my old evening gloves with the intention of wearing them the next time I iron , to avoid another burnt wrist.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

By the Way

If you have children or are maybe still a child at heart, you may be interested in the email below from our French son. I remember they introduced us to Shrek some years ago and we enjoyed watching it with the children. Prince of Persia reminds me of 'The Princess Bride' - always a favourite in the family.

Just a quickie to let you know that we went to see « Prince of Persia » at the cinema with the kids on Sunday & it was brilliant.

It is an unusual film in that it appeals to boys & girls, young & old(er) … and is an old fashioned adventure movie, with some spectacular special effects, but which are part of the plot, rather than the ‘raison d’etre’ for the film. There is a good storyline (like Arabian Nights) and some romantic elements, some humour & a very pleasant looking leading actor & actress. There is a fair degree of action, but not a lot of violence (which we were worried about as the video game is only that) & it is made by Disney.

I think that Dad would really enjoy it & it is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

The French family scored it 5/5.

“Super” … elder boy aged 15

“Génial” …younger boy aged 12

“When can we tape it on the TV” … small girl aged 7

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Meanwhile – Back at the Ranch.

Just had a gruelling time at the hygienists and the injections are just beginning to wear off so this will be brief. The assistant said I had an amazing skin – which softened the blow somewhat. It’s that uber strong light overhead which makes one glow.

Below are highlights of the garden last week. When I saw the exquisite photos that Kim has just taken (see side bar) I almost didn’t publish these but as Kim kindly said they are a record of my garden. But take a look at Kim’s and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m having coffee with Joy and Jackie tomorrow (today). Joy has been hors de combat with a gammy knee but a cortisone injection has done wonders so it will be good to catch up.

Back at the ranch
Aquilegia - BTW I'm distrait to hear I'm too late for sweet peas. The nursery is bare.

A yellow rose - of Minehead - not Texas.

Glorious Poppies
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