Category Archives: Family

A paper paragraph

The_Paperbag_Prince_Colin_ThompsonThe clothes and books are decluttered. Now there’s paper, paper everywhere and all the (blog) posts did shrink. This tiny belated paragraph is just to note the passing of more than three decades of wage slips; cheque book stubs; credit card statements; receipts for baby products (for someone who willl be 18 in under a month); birthday, Christmas and a shop display variety of greetings cards … My friend’s industrial shredder is complaining but the worst cupboard is yet to come.

If anyone’s thinking of such a clear-out: it’s hard work but so well worth it. I see The Hazards of Too Much Stuff is one of the best read BBC features today. I know the subject strikes a chord with many but it’s quite a rigorous self-examination process.

The picture is from one of my daughter’s favourite book’s when she was small: The Paperbag Prince sifted through the valuable things others didn’t want any more.  Once the place is sorted, the tricky thing will be not to start over again. I don’t want to add to his load or waste resources any more.

Not A New Year resolution

Decluttering is a resolution thing, I know. It’s a constant, time-wasting, procrastinating, energy-sapping vampire thing for me. I’m tidy but  ugly, make myself wretched sort of tidy; a make everyone else unhappy while I up end it everything, swearing loudly, every few weeks style of tidiness.

I can never find the notebook I wrote a synopsis in on the train amid so many notebooks on the  desk, floor, or in the cat basket. I’m late hunting for my keys and boots. I buy new lip balm because the tin is in another bag. I have a LOT of tins of lip balm.

Then again, my keys may be under the magazine I loathe myself for wasting money on. The one with the experts’ advice on decluttering. I know how that ends: another few evenings of gazing sadly at into a box of unidentifiable cables  under the  jiffy bags I keep in case of needing them for post. You get the idea. Then I read Tim Harford.

I read his article, got the book on the Kindle and read it until the early hours yesterday. I’m unsure about what process led me to trust Tim Harford when the same tidying expert featured in the magazine I’d had bought a few days before. But I’m glad I did.

The method advocated by Marie Konodo feels made for me. Many of the cases she’s dealt with are two-bedroom flats in crowded Tokyo – not so very different from my home in London. I don’t have a large house or valuable inherited stuff to worry about, and I love simplicity and clarity but feel emotionally invested in objects.

So I started as instructed with clothes. I found clothes hanging up in and in baskets on the wardrobe, baskets in the cupboards, clothes hanging on the back of doors and in the hall, piled up on two chairs in the bedrom and in a suitcase under the bed. And I believed I have no clothes – they don’t really interest me and  I wear the same things all the time.

I did the process pretty much as described – held each piece and told jackets they’d done a good job and I was grateful, or  they’d been valuable in showing me how they didn’t suit me or hadn’t been a good way to spend money.

Goodbye and thanks to the wildly extravagant bronze silk dress with floor-length trailing medieval style sleeves, bought from a tiny boutique in Stockholm while a friend and I chatted to a gorgeous poet choosing her red wedding dress. And the leather jacket my daughter’s father bought in Amsterdam, when he lived around the corner of Anne Frank’s house, and I spent days felled by food posioning from a dodgy mussel after first wearing it.

There’s the black dress bought for the wedding of a neighbour, who had his heartbroken by a woman making a marriage of convenience. Another black dress was for my 50th birthday party, hated and never worn since.

I filled two carrier bags with socks: mismatched black pairs, As MK says, they’d gone saggy around the top as I’d twisted them into tight lumpy balls. There’s a suitcase full of clothes for the charity shop and a rucksack full to go with it, as well as a tote bag of boots.

Backs of cupboards were stuffed with odd running gloves, a suit jacket with shoulder pads almost as wide as the entrance to the doorways and the surgical-looking strapless bra I got for my wedding.

I found pair after pair of black trousers, a dress I bought for a formal dinner and wore only once, barefoot by a pool in France last summer and the Jack Wills t-shirt my daughter gave me and I wore when I wrote on a naked Amanda Palmer at her Kickstarter party.

That’s the hard thing. Getting rid of stuff when it’s invested with so many memories. Part of me wants to hold on,  and it’s a good thing those bags are going to the charity shop this morning before I change my mind and start taking things out to make them look as small and insignificant as possible, rolled up in and hidden behind sofas or sneaked down to Mum’s house.

MK’s customers have done much the same, and she  details the reasons why this is not a good idea. So I’ll move on, to the next group of items to be be removed from every one of the places they are kept, and piled on the floor for the process of sorting.

And that next group is books. Same protocol:  examine each one but don’t start reading, discard any that don’t bring you joy.

Much of my flat is books. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Lookout: Folkestone Triennial 2014

The_Electrified_Line_Gabriel_Lester_Folkestone_Triennial_2014‘Lookout tells as many stories as there are visitors discovering the artworks’

I’m glancing through the Folkestone Triennial 2014 brochure I bought yesterday: the page is open at The Electrified Line, by Gabriel Lester.

The brochure notes how the sculptor valued the aesthetic presence of bamboo scaffolding while he was in China. His sculpture ‘proposes the coming ‘Chinese century’ in Folkestone’s heart.’

In the background, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme advises British businesses how to invest in China. It seems a good place to start a quick post on the first few works I visited yesterday. Please don’t think this is even a vague attempt to look at the Triennial with any form of critical eye: it’s just personal experience.

Our party comprised one would-be art appreciator, a local now based in London (me); a bolshy 17-year-old whose potential love of art has been largely trashed by GCSE drudgery but likes Gaudi (daughter, hereafter referred to as 17) and my mum (78) who likes nice pictures of flowers and the countryside.

They’re a good example of  ‘two fixed points determining the position of a third’, as described in the brochure. I’ll only get to go where they’re prepared and able, or can be persuaded, to visit.

From the brochure again: ‘The unofficial brief is create something ambitious, high quality, fun, surprising, challenging, and maybe a bit crazy: these things make an exhibition memorable and thought-provoking.’

I arrive home to much excitement. ‘There’s one of them headless chickens on the Martello Tower and you can see it lit up from your bedroom!’ Mum hands me a  piece of paper from one of the small notepads Dad bound when he worked at a printers.

She’s written down the different colours that roofoftwo’s Whithervane turns at night, depending on the output of alarmist words in the newsfeeds it monitors. On Saturday night, it’s green: fear levels are low. Mum is concerned that it’s been blue and whoever told her the colours hasn’t mentioned this. We agree it’s probably a nice colour.

The view from the tower is one of my dearest and best. I am allowed to walk to the end of the road for a look at the illuminated chicken, in the dark, on the promise that I won’t go up on the cliffs at this time of night. I am 52.

Sunday morning: I meet Best Friend for coffee. Best Friend is a very talented, though no longer practising, artist. We talk about the best-known work: Michael Sailstorfer’s Folkestone Digs. News of this had reached me on holiday in the forests of Sweden, with several friends emailing, texting and tweeting  that Folkestone was full of people digging for gold.

We agree that it’s fun, bringing optimism and life to the Outer Harbour. I admire her suggestion that all the digging should be filmed on timelaspse camera and then put on two minutes of video to the Benny Hill theme.

Her shop in the Old High Street is next door to Andy Goldsworthy’s Clay Window and Clay Steps. She’s watched its progress with fascination. I meet 17 and 78, who look into Georges House Gallery and its tiny 3D printed figures and chorus ‘Ooh no!’ at the idea of being scanned and turned into teeny  statuettes like The Luckiest Place on Earth.

We walk to Payers Park and I read aloud from the brochure about the ‘series of open-ended invitations to visitors to occupy and appropriate structures.’

‘Like that,’ notes 17, nodding at a woman changing a nappy on the grass. ‘It’s a nice place,’ 78 says. ‘Bit steep but good for you.’

At Something & Son’s Amusefood , 78 is enchanted and spends a long time talking to the attendant. The aim to produce fish, chips and mushy peas aeroponically is a response to the twin evils of obesity and food scarcity.

17 and I have talked about this very subject on the train, as it’s part of her A Level Geography course; she hadn’t known we’d visit this. She’s initially excited, then disappointed at the small scale, then saddened by trying to work out on what a huge level this would need to be to produce a meal on demand. It’s made her think.

A look at Clay Steps meets with hisses and mutterings about modern art from 17 and frank confusion from 78. Both are reluctant to enter the thick darkness of the shop interior, and then:

‘Oh! It’s so beautiful!’ 17 is impressed by Clay Window. 78 has a nice chat to the attendant about ‘her’ Whithervane.

Off to Electrified Line. It made an unexpected impact on me. I’m saving that for a separate post after I’ve gone back for another visit. 78 notes that she wouldn’t have gone up it if I hadn’t made her and she’s glad that she did: you can see the posh people having their lunch at Rocksalt and it’s the closest she’ll ever get to it.

We walk to the harbour and stop to stare up at Alex Hartley’s Vigil, eventually rewarded by a wave from the tiny, tiny hand of Em Peasgood. Please, please read her blog post here, from Saturday 6 September. One of the most moving and inspiring things I have ever read. What a truly brave woman.

17 has recently given up climbing after four years and is reluctant to engage with Vigil in any way. 78 is again frankly bemused. After a cup of tea at the Station Cafe – top hospitality there – we walk along the old platforms, reminiscing about the ferries. Tim Etchell’s Why is the Place is pronounced ‘very nice’ though it would look better if the railway line were weeded.

I am FURIOUS that the pilot station has been demolished and the only way I can see the work as it was installed is in the brochure. I hope it’s one of the works that becomes permanent but suspect the likelihood of vandalism will rule that out.

We walk along the Harbour arm towards Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Weather is a Third to Place and Time. I regret the silencing of the foghorn, which would have been a wonderfully mournful soundtrack on such a misty day. 78 says no, because it used to keep her awake. All three of us look through the telescope, in separate admiration.

There are faded knitted poppies along the rusting handrails. ‘I wonder if Prince Harry came along her,’ says 78. ‘He should of done.’

I have a five-minute dig for gold (nope) under the distant disapproving eye of 17. Then home to London but I can’t wait to come back.

 

 

Ten things I’ve never done before

Sainte_Baume_France

Beaten up the mountain:
Sainte Baume

Thursday morning. I started wondering as usual what to write about for Weekly Blog Club. I’ve been dashing around over the last two weeks and thought I’d try to pick something out of that. I don’t keep a diary and am shocked at how hard I’m finding it to remember everything I’ve done – or even several things.

I spent about five minutes when I woke on Wednesday  trying to remember what day it was – not an exaggeration. So I’m giving my brain a shake-up and challenging myself to find new experiences from the last fortnight. Thinking it over, I’m shocked (again) to see how many are to do with aging; one way or another. So the first is  to push myself:

1. Write a blog post in 15 minutes. Possibly allowing five more for links and finding a photo. Haven’t done it yet: I’ll let you know by No 10.

2. Gone to Bristol. This one is down to, yes, failing memory. I am fairly sure that I have been there before: on one of the many whistle-stop tours around the country I used to do as a Home Office press officer. Several towns in a day, visit CCTV cameras when they were a New Thing, lunch for provincial journos etc. But as my memory of it is people throwing eggs, and the Home Secretary was Michael Howard, that doesn’t narrow it down enough to check.

3. Take my daughter for a University visit. Which is why we were in Bristol, the Friday before last. Gosh that made me feel old. I didn’t make any university visits myself as I didn’t expect to be able to go to university. Now I feel I missed out but it’s a delight to see her excited and so motivated.

4. Sneaked into a first class train carriage. This is because the trains back from Bristol to London were all cancelled and rubbish. After several hours and changes of train, we joined some drunk Welsh women at Reading in taking up residence in the posh seats. To be fair, we did get free bottles of water and some peanuts. I would have preferred to have been home by midnight as we had an early flight to France the next day. And yet …

5. Not had to RUSH for a flight. Up early, two trains to Stansted ahead of time, leisurely breakfast and gasps of horror at the price of Toblerone, usual beeping noises as mysterious setting off of all security systems by luggage and self … all with no swearing, falling over, dropping stuff and crying. A great first.

6. Beaten up a mountain by an octogenarian. The noticeboard at Sainte Baume said to allow about 40 minutes to walk up and up and up steep paths and steps to the church in a cave . My father, 81, snorted. ‘We will do this in 15 minutes.’ Not me. Time for all the falling over and wailing I missed out on at the airport. He went off and played golf afterwards while I wondered if my Achilles tendons would ever forgive me.

7. Walked around a golf course. Part of the reason the 81-year-old is so fit is down to a couple of hours of golf at 5.30 every morning. He gets there before the Provencal  sun is too strong and all the ‘bloody slow idiots’ come out: i.e. the people who do not actually RUN around the course as he does. I wandered along behind him for six holes, getting in the way, looking at interesting mountainside ruins and taking photos of trees. I don’t get golf.

8. Waved my daughter goodbye for ever. She went off to St Tropez on the back of my father’s motorbike. As every other road user is a ‘bloody idiot’ too, who must be overtaken at all costs, I assumed that was the last I’d see of her. Huge surprise that she came back in one piece.

9. Watched a spectacular theft. There are jays everywhere in that part of Provence. I was swimming in the pool of my father (note French construction of sentence) when a jay flew low overhead, stolen fig from the tree in the garden in its beak. Brilliant.

10. Watched baby swallows leave their nest. Another wonderful bird-related first. It feels symbolic too.

Look: 15 minutes.

 

Happy 50th Birthday Charlie Bucket

KarenJKHart_child

My reading spot

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators earlier this year, as part of my continuing efforts to Be A Writer.

The British Isles’ section has a wonderful online magazine: Words and Pictures. I was delighted to write a post for them this week on the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl:

Happy 50th Birthday Charlie Bucket.

#bookadayuk

John_Bauer_Sagovarld

John Bauer: sparks my imagination every time

#bookadayuk is one of the better Twitter hashtag events. A different book with a different theme, chosen by readers each day throughout June. Such a lovely, simple idea from new HarperCollinsUK imprint The Borough Press.

Here’s the full list, just in case you haven’t seen it. I didn’t spot it until today: 3 June and have been kicking myself for missing the first two days. Despite thinking off myself as a free-thinking, anarchic type, I have such an inbuilt nervous regard of rule and regulations that I just can’t bring myself to put my Day 1, 1st June, on Twitter today. So hurrah for Weekly Blog Club and the chance to play catch-up.

There are some categories that have got me thinking already. In fact, I will have to treat this like an advent calendar and not peek ahead to later days, or I can easily spend the whole day thinking of books. But I think I’m allowed to list a few here to inspire any one who’s yet to join in:

12th: Pretend to have read it: there’s a few that can go into this category. It’s possible there might even be one or two from university days, when I was terrified at the jump from finding myself Good at English to not having read ANY of the shelves and libraries full of texts that the omniscient people in my Modern Literature seminar had got through.

19th: Still can’t stop talking about it: I suppose I’ll have to make a vow that not every single book will be Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. If I’d had his blue-covered Turtle Diaries to hand, that would have been my choice for today: One with a blue cover.

27th: Want to be one of the characters. Wow: where to start with that? Perhaps I’m wrong and I should spend much of today considering it. These are serious choices. Anyway: time to catch up with Days One and Two. These are somewhat similar.

1st: Favourite book from childhood. It’s ‘book’, not ‘novel’, so that makes a difference and it’s book singular. Yes, I am taking this very seriously. I said I am a respecter of rules. Favourite novel would probably be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I won’t go into detail now because I’m writing a blog post to celebrate its 50th anniversary for Words and Pictures, the online magazine of the British Isles region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

‘Books’ would probably have been the Jill pony series by Ruby Ferguson. There are no words to describe how I loved them. I longed with all my heart to be Jill, while trapped in a pony-free home without enough money for riding lessons and over-protective parents who wouldn’t have let me within a mile of a scary horse anyway.

I didn’t have many books when I was a kid and once I got to school, I read my way throughout the bookshelves fast. So teachers used to take me to the town library. Skirting past the staircase (because upstairs, in the museum,  the nightmare-inducing skeleton used to grin at you)  I picked the same book, time and time again: Myths of the Norsemen, by Roger  Lancelyn Green. The link goes to a blog post that details all the chapters.

Everything in it spoke to me. I knew the Greek myths too well and was bored by them. Anyway, what tedious Greek god could compare with Loki the trickster, beautiful Baldur and his heart-breaking brother Hodur? I tried to work out how to pronounce Yggdrasill, the World Tree, and upgraded my pony fetish to an eight-legged horse. There was always something new to find out and wonder over and imagine. It set my reading tastes for good. Beside my bed, there’s Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Joanne Harris’s Gospel of Loki, both for re-reading. Reading her library tale in the link, we could be the same person: her being a wildly-successful author aside …

Fast forward some 40 years to June 2: Best bargain. John Bauer‘s Sagovarld – Swedish Faerie and Folk Tales, picked up for a few crowns in a Stockholm secondhand shop. So much has changed. I’ve found a huge birth family in Sweden: seven brothers and sisters, just like a fairy tale. I’ve walked thought the forests and swum in the lakes I used to dream about.

This could also go in for June 8th: Own more than one copy. My original, battered Swedish version is somewhere in a book pile. The picture is of a second copy closer to hand: a present from Swedish family. I’ve got copies in English too. Yes, I like John Bauer. Another book of Norse legends, bought for my daughter, has a blue cover, taking me back full circle to today’s choice.

#bookadayuk – the best kind of distraction.

*amended 10 June as the hashtag was changed by the organiser

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polling Day: barefoot and no biscuits.

East London  Suffragettes Festival

East London
Suffragette Festival

Dawn over the rooftops of Bethnal Green. Not quite sunset over the Florida Keys but the photo on Twitter was enough to inspire me to go on my Stepney roof for a picture early this Polling Day.

It’s a flat roof; I’m not stupid. Achilles tendons screaming in protest at tiptoeing over rain-soaked moss between the stone tiles, I hear the unmistakable sound of the front door slamming shut behind me. My mobile, with perfect comedy timing, beeps and dies.

Husband has left for work; daughter sleeps in an exam-, revision- and not-much- past-dawn-induced coma. Stage whispers through the letterbox and gentle knocking are not enough so after ten minutes I am shrieking and yelling and booting the door. Ow. Barefoot.

She’s up, with a pale face and unopened eyes, clutching a cat. No words.

I’m not telling her it’s Polling Day.

When she was little, I took her with me to vote.  In 2001, I was on the Home Office’s new press desk that dealt with electoral matters. I put together a briefing document for the media. On paper, digital natives; I know.

I talked often and excitedly to her about how we were able to get rid of bad people in charge, if we didn’t think they were doing good things, and could stop worse people trying to be tell us what to do. About the long, hard struggle of workers and women and how we must always, always, ALWAYS use our special, wonderful votes.

‘That’s right: they’re a sort of magic.’ She came along to the polling station expecting a form of Narnia and scowled at the tall City of London policeman on the door. ‘They didn’t even give us a biscuit!’

She wasn’t convinced and delivery of the suffragette movement for school history certainly hasn’t given her my passion for the mandate. It’s a shame she wasn’t studying here, in the heart of the East London Suffragette movement: look what’s happening to celebrate them soon.

Next elections, she’ll be old enough to vote. She will and I will and you should: today and all the polling days.