Tuesday 31 March 2009

The last day of the month

March is normally a good month for me:
birthdays, spring flowers, longer days.
This year, not so much.

I know that we have been away
and I am grateful for those opportunities
but I am missing Poppy
and the quiet morning walks.

I am also aware of all the things
that I have given up
to make my not-so-new job possible:
photography, gardening, writing;
all things that are important to me
and make me tick as a person.
I feel as though my world has shrunk
so that I alternate between two work locations:
house and office.

I know that I have to find ways
to recapture the pleasures that I took for granted
and the life that made me happy.

I'm having a rest and a think.
See y'all after Easter

Monday 30 March 2009


MissM has just spent the afternoon
at the Fortune Theatre
watching 'The Woman in Black'
with her friend the Sassy MissS.

Oh! I see that you made a cake
and you started it without me!!



Your mother used
a special C-shaped cake tin...

Saturday 28 March 2009

Instructions for my Bhutan Estate Agent

Character property
Preferably detached
Potential for self sufficiency

Sheltered location
Would consider renovation project

Room for extension
Good views
Sunny garden

Off street parking
Not overlooked
Not on busy road

Definitely NO Internet Access.

Friday 27 March 2009

Thursday 26 March 2009

Pedestrian Crossing

Imagine, if you will,
a point on my journey to work.

Every day, they are there, holding hands:
This young couple coming down the hill.
Walking with that swinging stride;
Same height, same build.

Their stylish black clothes do not change:
He a duffle coat and she a leather jacket.
They talk and laugh as they walk
And their faces turn inwards towards each other.

They must set off at the same time every day,
Just as I do, so that we meet at this crossing.
Day after day they go past in their other life
And I observe, and smile.

I do not know if they see me.
But today, I stood between them,
He on one side of the road,
And she on the other, weeping.


for bb, who would have known what to do..


edited to add:

I saw them again this morning.
holding hands,
talking and laughing,
faces turned inwards towards each other.

Suddenly, the rain didn't seem to matter.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Joined Up Thinking

This is the house
where the Cook had no garlic.

She blames the Housekeeper
who is very inefficient.

The Housekeeper says that
the Cook should have let her know
when she had used the last one.

MrM is too hungry to notice
the fuss in the kitchen.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Just for the Record

The Department Board Meeting.

It is nearly the end of term.
Everyone is tired and scratchy.

It is lunch time.
The smell of onion soup
drifts across the room.

The Head of Department
has a vivid orange and red waistcoat.
With matching socks.

The business of the department is discussed.
Everyone is there apart from
the Professor who has meetings in Sierra Leone.

The tiny American academic
is wearing a beautifully cut
short suede skirt
with long black boots.

The Admissions Tutor thanks everyone
for their hard work
supporting the admissions process.
Evening Lectures, Open Days, School Visits.
Applications are up.

The academic who dreams of golf courses says
"I am worried that soil is slipping off the agenda."

The enthusiastic academic
is not happy about a proposal.
It has not been properly presented.
The air sparkles.

I am distracted by the sight of a heron
in the blue sky outside the window.
That part of the meeting will not be recorded.

The person next to me is eating
curried chicken in a ciabatta.
It is in imminent danger
of cascading all over his notebook.

The Professor of whom we spoke
requests information about manual handling
with a mischievous glint in his eye.

The Libyan expert is congratulated
on his forthcoming marriage.
Everyone applauds.
He blushes.

Outside, the Magnolia stellata is in full bloom.
In another life I would have been in the garden.

Monday 23 March 2009

Paddy's Day at the Madstad

The best hats are out

and the Guinness is flowing.

It is a sunny day to compare wigs

and the team are on top form.

Doris models her spring outfit

and the band is outstanding.

It is a great party.

I am sorry that I don't have a photo of the streaker...
I was laughing so much that the camera was shaking.
She looked as though she was enjoying herself.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Mothering Sunday

I have a son in South America
and a daughter at the top of Mount Snowdon.

I wish that I could magic them home
and cook Sunday lunch for them.

I have been thinking about parenting recently
after conversations with M and The Coffee Lady.

I didn't do much thinking about it
when MasterM and MissM were little
because I was too busy being a parent
but now that it is too late
I am allowing myself to think about it.

I have realised that
our principal objective as parents
was to raise children
who are interesting and amusing
to talk to over the dining room table.

I am delighted with the result.

I just wish they weren't so far away today.

Friday 20 March 2009

A Trainee Bibliophile

It is always a mistake
to buy a present for someone
when you really want it yourself.
You hand it over
and are gratified by their enthusiasm.
Then there is the titanic struggle with your conscience
in which you try to decide if it is polite
to borrow it immediately
or whether you have to wait for a day or so.
Such was my dilemma at Christmas.

I suggest to MrM that a subscription to
Slightly Foxed , the literary journal,
would be the perfect present for his father.
MrM is pleased with this idea.
Then I suggest that we could borrow
the journals after my father-in-law had read them.
MrM seems to think that this is acceptable.

I wait...for days...
and the first journal arrives.

I gloat over the cover,
A watercolour of St. Pauls!!
I read it quickly,
Sue Gee writing an article!!
I re-read it slowly,
An article about Hugh Walpole!!
I covet books in the list of collector's editions,
Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliff!!

I give in
and arrange my own subscription.

MrM does not know yet
so I am expecting a stern discussion
about frugality, economy and recycling.

I will be very contrite.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Confessions of a Reluctant Mountaineer

MissM and MrsM are in an Outward Bound shop.
They are surrounded by fleeces
and high visibility waterproofs
and carabiner displays.
They are outside their comfort zone.
The sock display fills them with gloom.

But..what is this?..
a very thin man wearing at least two fleeces
and some climbing leggings has come to help.

Errr...I wonder if you could advise us on socks?

Scary, Thin Man
You won't be wanting those socks that you are holding
they are No Good.

MrsM looks down and sees to her surprise
that she is holding four pairs of socks
on a two-for-one offer.

Scary, Thin Man
Where are you going?


Scary, Thin Man
You will be needing these socks
which have superior wicking
and are padded around the foot
with close knit stitching
to maintain the shape.
These are superb socks
especially for transitional weather conditions
with all the features you would expect
from the advances in textile technology.
They will last a lifetime.


do we need a liner?

Scary, Thin Man
Definitely not!
That is an Old Fashioned Attitude.
If you wear a liner
you will not get
The Benefit of The Sock

Can we have four pairs?

Scary, Thin Man
Four pairs?
Are you going for a month?
No! Two pairs will be more than enough.

MrsM is crushed by her own ignorance
but comforted by the knowledge
that MissM will get The Benefit of the Sock
all the way up Snowdon
and all the way down.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

The Art of Botany

Do you remember the aubretia
that we found at the bottom of Gold Hill?
It was named after the botanical artist,
Claude Aubriet (1651 - 1742).

Citrullus Colocynthius

He worked in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris
and his paintings attracted the attention of
the influential Professor of Botany,
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort
who employed Aubriet to record the botanical discoveries
of his trip to the Greek Islands and the Levant.

Flower Study

I am trying to imagine
a scientific expedition to Armenia in 1702;
it must have been like stepping back into
the Middle Ages for the cultured Parisians.


Aubriet was appointed Royal Botanical Painter in 1707
and retired in 1735 but his meticulous detail
infuenced a whole new generation of artists.


You can see Aubriet's illustrations
in the RHS Lindley Library.
I shall go and admire them when I have a spare moment


Roll on that day.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

News from Buenos Aires

...and so I saw these two great fish and I HAD to have them and so I bought a fish tank. When I got them back to the flat I didn't have anything to fill the tank with so I just used a saucepan. It took a while but when it was full I switched on the bubble making machine and it looked so cool and I put the fish in. Then there was this awful cracking sound and the leg on the table collapsed and the fish tank fell on the floor and smashed to smithereens. Not a good moment. And I had to rescue Aztec and Inca (that's what the fish are called) and so I am trying to pick them up and put them in the saucepan but they are all slippery and there is water and glass everywhere. And then I have to get a teaspoon and pick up all the gravel which you need at the bottom of the tank and I put that in the fruit bowl. And it was really sad because the little china tree that hides the bubble making machine was all broken. And the awful thing was that I didn't have a brush or anything so I had to leave it all for the cleaning lady...but don't worry about Aztec and Inca - they are fine - I got a new tank and it is on the bookcase. I don't think they are too traumatised - they are just taking it one day at a time. I just saw a catfish in the shop which I am quite tempted by - I could call him Puma ... or maybe Marco...

Monday 16 March 2009

To World's End... and back

Our friends, Graham and Ursula,
live in a small Oxfordshire village.

After we have enjoyed
Graham's world-famous 'Pot au Feu'
Ursula and I step out to take the air
and leave MrM to analyse the rugby with Graham
aided by generous quantities of 'Old Hooky' Ale.
Ursula is new to blog tourism
and is surprised but delighted that
a window with a reflection in
is sufficient excuse for a photograph.

We wander down Middle Street
and wish that we could see over
the high wall to the garden beyond.

A bright orange vintage tractor!
Everyone should have one in their back garden.

And then I get distracted
because Ursula makes me laugh a lot
and so there is no record
of the donkey,
or the child at the level crossing
or the beautiful china bowl in a cottage window
but this carving did catch my eye.

We stop in the Church but not for long
because a rather deaf elderly lady
with a hysterical dog
is waiting to lock up.

The village has a history dating back to Saxon times
and apparently it was once famous for apricots.
Ursula did not know that.

The pleasure is always in the small details.

Thank you, Graham and Ursula, for your hospitality.
I only wish that I had taken a picture of the Pot au Feu

Saturday 14 March 2009

A brief interlude

Last night I slept in an oak panelled room
with a velvet upholstered four poster bed.

The fireplace was carved limestone,
the ceiling moulded plaster,

and the bathroom luxurious.

This morning I sat at the pewter mirror

and looked beyond to the drive lined with shaped yew

and wondered at my good fortune.

Friday 13 March 2009

Peer Pressure

A double expresso for me.

A double expresso for me as well.

I will just have a single expresso.

That's not very impressive.


You should try a double - you might like it.

I never have a double expresso.

Go on, go on, go on...

What is this all about?
Why is there suddenly a big issue
about my coffee order?
I have never had to justify it before.

MrsM takes a photo of the coffee cup
as a clear statement of her intention
to record this emotional bullying in her blog.

MrM to MissM
Did you notice that she needed to use the Zoom function?

Thursday 12 March 2009

Just for the Record

A young finalist breezes into my office.
As she leaves I notice her well organised backpack.
With a pocket for a water bottle.
Students in my previous Department
did not use backpacks.
Which might explain why
they were always losing things.

This Professor can't stop to chat
because he has a conference call to Alaska.
It is a telephone-interview
for the Masters course.
I wonder if the candidate is smartly dressed
as they try to impress him from afar.

I discuss the arrangements with a PhD student
for a research trip to Vietnam.
We agree that it is unlikely that
rickshaw drivers will write receipts.

There is champagne in my office fridge
for the next PhD student
to celebrate a successful defence of their thesis.

It is such a pleasure to write an email which starts
Dear Dr....

Four of the best Post doctorate students in the Department
have come to the end of their research grants.
It is so difficult to say goodbye.

Waiting to hear if a grant application
has been successful
is nerve-wracking.
Grey skin and bags under the eyes
kind of nerve-wracking.
A young academic career hangs in the balance.

This young academic has just got his first job.
He shakes hands in a calm, courteous manner.
But as soon as he steps out of my office
he is surrounded by friends
rushing out of offices,
cheering, hugging him and each other
and hurrying him off to celebrate.

My Libyan expert is getting married next month.
He will be spending his honeymoon in Namibia
because he has 'always wanted to go there'.
I hope his wife-to-be enjoys travelling.

Little Rosa comes to see her daddy in his office.
I tell her about the little girl cousin
- also called Rosa -
who is very, very,very naughty.
Little Rosa's eyes grow large with delight.

I receive a special request for
next year's timetable.
I am delighted to be able to help.
I like to think that two children
can take it for granted that their father,
an eminent Professor,
will be home in time to supervise splashes and bubbles.

It is the people that you work with
that make the work worthwhile.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Parents' Consultation Morning

A record of a morning
spent in dusty corridors

waiting for appointments
outside thick wooden doors

peering through leaded windows
at the sunshine outside,

clutching a battered timetable
with the list of names of teachers

who smile as we enter the room
and say such good things about MissM.


In the middle of the morning
we met the Much Travelled MissC, friend of MissM,
and her Lovely Mother.
And the Lovely Mother of the Much Travelled MissC said

"I read your blog
and so does my mother
and my sister"

And MrsM felt slightly faint
because that means that the Lovely Mother
knows about the gilet
and the argument in the shop
and MrsM's failure as a parent
and countless other confessions
but she smiled weakly
and said "I am so glad that you like it".

Hi to you, Lovely Mother,
and the Much Travelled MissC!

Tuesday 10 March 2009

The problem with blogging is...

...that you start with good intentions
and you write about yourself
and your job
and your family
and your dog
and you think that you have set clear boundaries
and some things are outside those boundaries
and so you don't write about them
but one day something happens
and you feel that you must write about it
so that the blog is a true record
but it means that what would have been
a private sadness
becomes public knowledge
and you are not sure
if you are comfortable with that
but in the end
the need to record
is greater than
the desire for privacy
and you publish the post
and then friends from far and wide
send messages of such kindness and comfort
at a time when it is so welcome
and you feel overwhelmingly grateful
for this community that you have become part of
which stretches from
one side of the world
to the other,
where there is always somebody awake
and you just want to say
something that will express how you feel
and all that you can come up with is

'Thank you...
each comment and email
yesterday meant so much...
thank you...'

Monday 9 March 2009


9 January 1995 - 5 March 2009

The perfect dog for our family.

Brave, intelligent, devoted.

So many happy memories.

Much loved by us all.

Our home seems unbearably quiet without her.

Friday 6 March 2009

Anemone blanda

After a long winter
I glimpse sunshine
on blue anemones
and I know that
it is time to return
to the garden.

There is much to do.

Thursday 5 March 2009

wood engravings

The Bird's Nest

Sometimes a birthday present is so unexpected
and yet so thoughtfully chosen
that you catch your breath
when you undo the wrapping.

The Farmyard

My father-in-law, Thomas, is a bibliophile
and gave me the tiniest slip of a book
wood engravings by Gwen Raverat
published by R.D. & J.M. Carr
The Quince Tree Press


Gwen Raverat was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin
and later in life published 'Period Piece',
a memoir of her Cambridge childhood,
one of my parents' favourite books.


She was an exceptionally talented artist,
specialising in wood engraving,
who trained at the Slade
and then lived in France with her husband
until his early death in 1925.

The Balcony

The exquisite wood engravings featured
include examples from her time in France
and her later book illustrations.

In the Loft

The ones I have selected remind m
of my family home in Cornwall.
There are days when I wish I could be closer.

I had a dove