Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Granny expanded

Granny has a piece on the Guardian Book Blog. Go here if you feel like it.

She apologises for not writing more here. It's been very hot; 42 degrees on Sunday, high 30's yesterday, today, God knows. All of it accompanied by a blisteringly hot wind, straight from North East, which is odd; most hot winds on this island come east, from the Sahara; not this time.

Granny and Beloved's house being an old one, restored, has thick stone walls that keep the heat out much better than the new single breeze-block constructions. But even they struggle as the heat goes on and builds up, inside and out. She is trying to dry figs. Her tree is as usual producing more than she can cope with. She could just say 'hang it' but someone her age, grown-up during rationing, finds it a moral problem to reject food - especially in a place where pre-water desalination, people regularly went hungry, the figs they dried in summer one of the the few foods they had. (There are limits to her virtue though; she also has an abundance of prickly pears on her land, but she doesn't harvest them, not liking to have hands like a reverse hedgehog, the spines all sticking in. Which happens unless you know exactly what you're doing, She not only doesn't know, she doesn't enjoy the results of such painful efforts. Cactus fruits taste of sweet nothing in a far from romantic sense.) She hasn't been very successful at drying figs yet. But she is pushing on with it. The alternative is to make jam and bottle compotes which she has done/she will do too, but that's far more effort. Did she say it was very hot? She will repeat that, are you listening you lazy so and so's out there, all the ones not on holiday that is: IT IS VERY HOT.

Back to her hammock. Well no, actually. It is too hot even for that.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


What Granny is mostly using at the moment is her hands. She's typing - writing. She's heard other writers say this too, that there are times when you write rather than live; you can't do both. This week, since arriving home on Lanzarote, she has written a new chapter for Going Mental, got back into her Lanzarote book and drafted half a chapter for that, written a piece for the Guardian book blog - whether that will be accepted she won't know till next week -and revised a blog post, the one about her meeting with her friend Lucy over the respective deathbeds of her twin and Lucy's mother, as a piece for Guardian G2's 'First Person' slot; this will definitely be published, in mid-August most likely: - she will let you know about that.

Living? What's that? Word-spinning as if suffocates her senses, days go by without her experiencing anything fully, let alone feeling it. She admits one possible exception: she and Beloved have had an orgy of watching Six Feet Under - it gets better and better and last night they saw the last of Series One. But she's not sure that's exactly living, either; Beloved wouldn't think so, he calls all such things - watching films, listening to music, reading novels - 'entertainment' - up to and including reading life-changing books like Jane Eyre or Anna Karenina; a 'doing' man, Granny's Beloved. He is quite unlike Granny who prefers to spend her life not 'doing' mostly. Not doing, in his view at least, includes sitting at this machine all day, typing, typing, spinning words, painfully, out of her head, not knowing what time it is, what day it is, barely. Luckily the mostly dreary weather hasn't tempted her outside, into her hammock or wherever: it has changed now, turned stinking hot, but her office the coolest room in the house, she's still not much tempted to leave it. Her favourite place down on the shore, is, apart from being stifling, awash with local campers - the locals spurn the tourist beaches - and anyway, the tide has been out at the times she takes her dog there, all this week, so there are no birds or anything interesting to be seen, merely sandflies which bite her.

Her hands then, are busying away. And let's narrow down the attention to them, to her RIGHT THUMB, in particular, the one you're looking at: she seems to remember promising the story. As you can see, her right thumb is deformed. She wasn't born with it like that but it got so straight after. She and her twin sister were premature babies; according to her mother, no-one knew that there were two of them till right after Granny's sister was born, when the doctor said 'Oh my god there's another one,' and out came Granny less than half an hour later. (Granny's dad told a slightly different story, but as he was in London at the time and the story is less entertaining she prefers to stick with her mother's version, mythical or not; it is certainly true that the presence of twins wasn't noted till very near the last minute.)

What is also certainly true is that the twins, born three weeks early, were very small and very sickly. This was partly due to their being twins, partly to their being the second pregnancy of a rhesus-negative mother - noone then realised the full significance of that. Granny weighed 3 and a half pounds only, her sister 2 and a half. These weights, their size, would have been viable enough in a hospital with a proper premature baby unit, even then. But Granny's mother was, as usual in those days, giving birth at home, under the care of a local GP and a especially-employed maternity nurse. The doctor looked at the twins on his way out and said, dismissively, 'I don't expect to see these two alive when I come back this evening.' (Attitudes to life and death were much more rough and ready those days, which, given the mere semblance of life some people, old and young, are reassembled to at present, was not an entirely bad thing, in Granny's view.)

Just the same, the nurse who had seen worse in her time, was not having any of it. 'I'll see about that,' she said. She improvised an incubator, using a hot water bottle, swaddled the babies, laid them in. As you can tell by the fact Granny is here writing this, it worked. The only problem was, is, that as the one laid closest to the hot-water bottle - you can gauge her size by the fact that the bottle was as long if not longer than she was at the time - she did not emerge unscathed from her battle against death. The hot water bottle, her fellow-warrior, exacted its price. Its heat burned her thumb and her knee together, melting the bone of the thumb, misshaping it, while the skin of both knee and thumb remain red and mottled to this day, the front of the thumb prone to eczema, too, to splitting, painfully, in winter.

As an adolescent Granny was offered plastic surgery. She declined. Her thumb was weird alright; but so what? As a left-handed child, she had a problem telling left from right; except that she didn't, all she had to do was look at her thumbs. As an adult she regards it as interesting, part of her, an honourable battle scar, stigmata rather than stigma. It reminds her to be grateful for being alive, reminds her to kiss the memory of that maternity nurse, whom she's only ever seen in pictures, smiling broadly and wearing a vast, winged white nurses' cap and an equally vast white apron, cradling a minute, very wrinkled baby in either arm. She looked proud. She deserved to be. If Granny doesn't forget her, it's because she has the thumb you see above to thank for it.


Monday, July 23, 2007

trains, planes, buses...

If Granny has not been much in evidence lately, it's because she's spent much of the past few days on various forms of public transport. Though often enough not transported; more often that not, simply standing still....

Monsoon rains/floods had something to do with it. And no, relatively speaking, she didn't suffer much, wasn't flooded out, let alone drowned, lost no possessions, didn't have to take to the boats, nothing like that, nor did any of her family. She was sorry about the people who weren't so lucky and who had a good deal more to complain about than she and they did. But she was affected, somewhat. On Friday afternoon, after a drizzly morning in Bristol, she got into a bus there. The driver - a woman - apologised for its likelihood of arriving in London a little late; this was Friday afternoon and, besides, the weather wasn't good. Beloved Daughter and eldest granddaughter were to follow in the train a little later.

An hour into the journey - by this time Granny's bus was sitting in a long traffic jam, west of Swindon - her mobile rang - trains all cancelled Beloved Daughter told her; four inches of rain in Swindon; floods on the line; no buses either. She and Eldest Granddaughter were stuck in Bristol. Granny had been lucky, on the other hand. Her bus was the last one out.

Flood wasn't the only problem; fire happened too. Not much later it became clear that this particular traffic jam was caused by a blazing van that sat by the side of the motorway, reducing it to one lane for a while. Further jams ensued; road works etc, weight of traffic, finally more floods on the M4 diverted them off it onto another almost static line of traffic on the A4. Everyone on the bus started talking to everyone else the way people do in these circumstances, passing on information gleaned from others' conversation on their phones, or from the text messages sent them. The little beep beep of texts, the many and varied call tones hardly stopped sounding for a minute. Those who didn't have phones borrowed them - Granny lent hers to someone just across the aisle. At least everyone knew knew what was going on: in pre-mobile days she, they, those meeting them, would have been left in the dark. Telecommunications 1: Global Warming 1: pick whichever side you like. Or stay neutral.

A journey which usually takes just over two hours took five. Granny doesn't know what this did for most of the passengers' plans. She does know that she missed a dinner with all three of her grandchildren, and that the young woman in the seat next to her missed the ballet at Sadler's Wells. Beloved eldest granddaughter still trapped in Bristol next day, she missed the Blue Peter prom with Granny; and London next day being gridlocked for one reason and another, Granny also missed an afternoon with all three grandchildren, having lunch and then going with them and their mothers to the Hayward to see Anthony Gormley's metal men - and the one cut out of, falling through, slices of Mother's Pride bread. Oh and going into the fountain, the one in which if you're careful you don't get wet. But she did spend over an hour in a queue in the rain outside the restaurant where they'd all planned to meet up, underneath the Festival Hall, At least the train Granny took home after that failed meeting worked, though she did have to get out of it at one point and find another. And no, she will repeat, she didn't get flooded out, she barely even got wet. She ought to have been grateful really, despite the disappointments. But she wasn't.

All very disappointing. And now, after another five hours sitting in a plane which missed its departure slot and remained on the tarmac for an hour, she is back on Lanzarote, looking out on grey skies and burnt land, listening to the wind, and aching, if not for the rain, for the astonishing, lively, brilliant greens of her other island; and missing her grandchildren. She's happy to be back with Beloved of course. But not too happy to discover that the new-hatched chick which she hoped would cheer her up turned out to be one-eyed and one-legged and has had to be put down. Will nature ever stop bashing everyone; with a little help from its friends of course - us - if not from God? Good afternoon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Foxes, balloons ...thumbs

Granny is in Bristol. There are foxes in the garden. One was sitting on the grass yesterday when she looked out; a large, dog fox, probably, with a good red coat but a thin brush, more like a cat's tail.

'Hullo, Reynard,' Granny said. (She knows her French, you see, and will willingly show it off even to foxes too far away to hear and too ignorant of language to understand.) The fox sat there looking at her and twitched an ear; its language presumably and she was too ignorant to understand that, even if she didn't need to be near to hear or rather see it. But it felt as if it was talking to her. (She can hear Beloved in the background here, muttering 'anthropomorphism' - well, that's his problem, she thinks.) The cat appeared then. The fox took off over the wall. There are other foxes, Beloved Daughter says. Some of them have big brushes, but this was a beautiful fox, nonetheless. Her fox. They had a conversation, after all.

In the evening everyone else went out to attend to Beloved Eldest Granddaughter's star appearance as Viola in her school's much adapted version of Twelfth Night. Granny will attend that tonight - how she is looking forward to it. Meantime she lay on the sofa watching telly on the one hand, balloons floating past on the other. Bristol is the city of balloons. Beloved Daughter who has lived in Bristol ever since she went to university there, took up flying balloons herself once, and, loving it, trained as a pilot. 'All the pilots are a) rich,' she said, 'b) male. I'm neither. Let's try.' Though this meant a lot of being obliging, going round the countryside picking up the balloons belonging to the other pilots almost all rich, and almost all male, in order to cadge flying practice, she did train, she did get her licence. She promised to take Granny up with her, but then almost immediately became too busy to fly any more so that was the end of that. Just as well, probably; Granny suffers from vertigo, somewhat, she does not think she would have enjoyed the experience much; though she would have gone, of course. She is like that; intrepid. (You can believe that or not as you wish. She's not sure whether or not to believe it, herself.)

Meantime she's been taking photographs of her rather peculiar right thumb on her mobile's camera, and trying to email them to herself: in vain. She was going to tell you the story of why her thumb looks so weird, but since the emails aren't getting through and she can't yet post a picture of her right thumb here you will have to read it another time.....sorry.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Down at the farmer's market the other day, at the wonderful Moroccan foodstall, Granny was served by a man who was clearly not Moroccan. He looked Chinese - no, more complicated than that. His face was thin, fine, porcelain coloured, he had a little close drooping moustache, he looked more like a Tartar, say; or maybe, rather, he looked like one of Genghis Khan's warriors. Except for this: on his head he wore one of those high, all controlling hats that Rastas wear to hold their huge nests of dreadlocks; the Genghis Khan warrior's hat bulged as if his hair was in uncut dreadlocks too. A certain cultural confusion there, it seemed to Granny; but this is London after all.

Very shortly after she found herself talking to an unmistakable Englishman in a raincoat who'd come to check on a broken door to one of her balconies. And who turned out to be married to an Iranian woman, met in London, and to adore life in Iran, You can go into shops, he said, to buy, and come out with bags full of stuff, not having spent a penny, it's all been given to you. While out in the country he'd met herdsmen miles from anywhere and sat down on the grass with them to drink tea. That was the best experience of whole my life, he said, it was really. (Bush should have heard him; oh yes we all know about the mad revolutionary guards, mad mullahs, and the madder president whose name Granny cannot get her tongue round let alone her keyboard: but there's much more sense in Iran than that. Let the place alone and it will all come out. If only...)

And now it's Sunday afternoon and it's the weather in a state of cultural confusion, and a good deal else besides. Granny is blasted by racket from the Irish pub on the corner. Celtic supporters are in town for a friendly with QPR just up the road. They are all wearing brutally-striped green and white shirts just like the players, right down to the Carling label in the middle. They are well-oiled by the sound of it and making a lot of noise; at times they burst into the worse kind of sentimentalised Irish folk song. Granny doesn't know how the match went; it must have been affected by the culturally confused weather that dumped a mighty thunderstorm right on the top of it. After which the sun came out - and the insects and the screaming swifts to add to the racket, And now it looks as if there's about to be another storm. She wonders if it will drive the revellers back inside the pub and ease the noise a little. Wishful thinking probably. How can a not so enormous group of men make such a DIN? Oh god, they're singing again now. Come, thunder, please come.

Still she's had a good weekend. Family and friends all out of town, her two flatmates off with their respective squeezes, she's had the flat to herself since Saturday morning. She's written a lot, had her hair cut, been to a weird opera about twins, which she can't recommend because it's finishing, and the weird exhibition of Anthony Gormley at the Hayward Gallery which she can recommend because it goes on until late August. Fancy metal men on rooftops looking out wherever you look? You will find them. Oh and aside from him, along the South Bank, outside the Festival Hall there are two extraordinary fountains created by a Danish artist. One of them you can get right inside and end up dry still - more or less. Bring children. Hurry. For them it is total bliss to judge by the faces of the ones there. N0t bad for adults either.

London in summer can be pretty nice. Really. Ask an at-the-moment, happy Granny, about to feed herself on goodies from the middle Eastern supermarket up the road; fancy a honey mango anyone, or home-made baba ganoush, or a huge bunch of rocket in a salad with tomatoes? Yes. Really.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007


There's one thing Granny particularly misses in summer in Lanzarote. No swallows - or hardly any. Worse still; no swifts. It's how she's always measured summer - by their coming in May, their disappearance in August. Arriving In London late one night last week, hearing the unmistakable screaming the following afternoon, she rushed to her high window and looked out and and there they were, a whole flock, dashing, diving, filling her, yet again, with the kind of unbearable adolescent screaming ecstacy that such things fill her with still.

The poets were good at this: Shakespeare called swifts dragons of the night. Edward Thomas said that they looked, flying, as if the bow had gone off with the arrow. Ted Hughes, lovely primitive Ted Hughes, did best of all:

Fifteenth of May. Cherry blossoms. The swifts

Materialize at the tip of a long scream
Of needle -- "Look! They're back! Look!"

"Scream of needle is exactly IT. If there was only ever one reason to return to England in summer that would be it; just to hear/see that.

As a writer, Granny had a go at swifts once, herself. It was for a BBC radio schools' programme, in the days when schools radio producers were serious radio professionals and the programmes went out to everyone, morning and afternoon, instead of being in a ghetto labelled "education." She wasn't the only writer those producers trained to write for radio then. One of the producers was the irreplaceable Philippa Pearce, author of the inimitable 'Tom's Midnight Garden,' briefly Granny's own mentor. No such luck now. They are all teachers first and foremost these days, cramming scripts with hard facts.

It wasn't Philippa Pearce who commissioned Granny's piece on a migrating swift. She was glad to do it just the same, and discovered all kinds of things about the birds she didn't know before, thanks to a long dead ornithologist called David Lack who took out part of the wall in a church tower in Oxford and replaced it with glass; that way he could watch the swifts breeding on the other side of it.

The main thing about swifts is this; they are useless creatures really, it's a wonder, in evolutionary terms they survive. Only able to fly they do everything on the wing, mate, eat, sleep. If by some accident they land on the ground they can't lift themselves off without help. (Granny knows this from experience; she found a swift at her feet once, helpless as a wounded bat. She picked it up and threw it into the air; off it went.) And all they know to eat is insects. If there are no insects because it is raining they fly any distance to get them no matter how far.

The only thing they can't do, airily, is lay their eggs and raise their young. Hence the nests in the eaves of houses, in the church tower modified by ornithologist Lack. He discovered what happens to swift broods if the weather is bad and no insects are to be found locally. The fledglings can go dormant, survive without food for a time. But if like this summer it just keeps on raining, if the parents have to stay away too long, they die. When the parents at last return they lay more eggs on the bodies of their first brood, rear those if the weather improves. In due course, assuming this second brood survives, the young swifts emerge from the nest. They don't get practice in flying like other young birds. They tumble straight out into the air and migrate with their parents, ending in Africa, or wherever it is they winter, if they are lucky.

Dear old Gilbert White, the Hampshire naturalist and parson was the first person to work out that swifts and swallows migrated; before then it was thought they retired to holes in the ground for the winter. But even he, against everything his sense and observation told him, continued to be fond of the old theory, continued to look vainly for swift and swallow burrows. It's like learning there's no father Christmas or that blackbirds were never baked in any pie. Some part of you still wishes that the nursery tales were true. Nice to know the legendary and oh so scientific parson was as human as the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Welcome to Bookarazzi

Here it is folks; if you click on the following you will find yourself in a very good new site created by Granny's writer group. Go there! And please keep reading - all human - written - life is in there. From serious fiction through erotica to graphic fiction to autobiography to disgustingly delicious cookbooks for kids - in Portuguese - to any kind lof lovely lunacy you like.....we offer it. ....Enjoy


(Also on Granny's sidebar now, in fancy script, if you prefer to click there.)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Time warps

There are several crumbling houses along the street in Lanzarote which leads into Granny's street. Two days ago a shutter had blown open in the front. Granny and Beloved had a look inside. And there it was still furnished and much as it must always have been. The most recent piece of furniture was a big wardrobe, a cheap version of art deco. Otherwise the bed and chair could have come from a hundred, even two hundred years earlier. So could the piece de resistance - a big wooden cradle on rockers with the mattress still in it; there was a mattress still on the bed too - and of all of it, bed, wardrobe, cradle, chair, mattresses was thickly layered with dust. Even the lurking ghosts of the baby in the cradle, the parents in the bed, felt layered with dust.

(On the other hand... it could have been worse. Beloved once bought a house from an old man who had been rushed into hospital after a heart attack and never came home again. Months later, when they first viewed the house his uneaten dinner was still mouldering on the table...it was still there when they moved in. At least there was nothing like that.)

Lanzarote is full of crumbling old houses. The problem as in much of Europe is an inheritance law which means all property has to be divided between all children; if they can't agree on selling the parents' house, handing it over to one of them, whatever, it's just left to rot. More often than not a new house is then built next door, a Disneyland version of the old one. It's much cheaper than doing up the old house - even assuming its fate has been agreed on. The new build, of course, one breezeblock thick, is far less attuned to the climate; doesn't keep wind, cold, rain heat out according to season the way the thick stone walls of the older house used to. But it's trendier, smarter as well as cheaper. On an island dirt poor up till the sixties, the notion of heritage hasn't really taken root; one or two particularly big and special buildings have been restored, in one or two places, but that's the limit of it.

Granny is back in a London now, in a different kind of timewarp; juddering and shuddering just like when she arrived there two years back, shortly after 7/7. Bombs. Saturday's date is another 7/7; complete with Wimbledon and the Tour de France, which does not help. But at least it seems to have stopped raining. And Granny is rising above it all -trying to - by catching up on her culture. As she writes this Leyton Hewitt is on the telly attempting to come back from the dead in a match against someone with an 'ic' at the end of his name who she's never heard of... But then she's out of touch these days. It's called getting old, or something...but at least she thinks - she believes - she hasn't got a redundant cradle, let alone dinner mouldering, metaphorically, inside her.... there are different ways of growing old....

She's attempting another sort of restoration, this time on herself. She's gone out and bought - how dare she left herself be wooed by the hype? - she has been - some of the stuff about which there was so much fuss back in April. You know, that elixir of life in a Boots' bottle which turns old skin to new skin, something like that. If houses can be done up, why not people? Another useless aspiration. But she's sticking to it. Even to the extent of buying two bottles. Twice fooled her you could say. And all the more profit to them.

Poor Leyton Hewitt's restoration has failed; maybe it's a lesson to her. He's out. And Granny is off to see a film....it will do nothing to renew her skin. But what will it do to renew her soul?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Naked Island..

Granny is recovering from her insomnia, thanks to all the advice. She's grateful.

Also very pushed for time - heading back to UK on Wednesday on family business. And trying to get another chapter of Going Mental together (not yet done) and set up a wi-fi system here (failed so far.) Growl.

She has had time for a little play though. On the other side of this island -the side that is sunny at this - trade winds - time of the year, sparkling blue sea, clear sky, all the cliches of perfection, unlike here which remains under a belt of cloud - there is a long established naturist colony. It was started by Germans, Granny doesn't quite know when; there's no beach, but good flat rocks for sunning naked bodies on. At some point they built a small tourist complex, with houses, swimming-pools, a supermarket, the odd restaurant, but nothing more. The country round is empty of development, and the place hard enough to find, no signs anywhere pointing to it. Naturists believe in discretion, probably with good reason. A year or two back, the two mayors of the two boroughs it straddles decided to develop the whole area; locals and naturists alike objected. Some naturists, interested in more than one kind of natural history, discovered that a rare anti-cancer plant grew on this empty land. The development was promptly aborted. The greedier of the two mayors dispatched a party to pull up the plants on his side of the border. This got him nowhere; the perpetrators were brought to court accused of wanton damage - not the mayor, unfortunately, though attempts are being made to get him for other developmental abuses. Naturists and locals 1: developers:0. GOOD.

Granny had never visited the place before Saturday. But she has a writer friend staying on her island, a member of her writer's group. Writer is self-styled sexpert, dispenses sensible - and sometimes very explicit, not to say racy - sexual advice in all directions: her adventures in trying to insure 300 vibrators over the telephone are worth hearing. Granny can't find the link, unfortunately

Currently the sexpert is writing a piece on naturists. Hot from a naturist disco in London, (Granny has interesting visions of people bopping with no clothes on - does everything swing in rhythm she wonders?) she booked on a naturist tour to the island's resort. Granny would love to describe her friend's observations on that at greater length, but she doesn't care to nick other writers' material; enough to say that the man leading the group should not have been allowed near any such place - or women for that matter; claiming that he was only a naturist because he liked looking at naked women..... enough said. Her writer friend will not be writing favourably about him. Good.

No, Granny kept her clothes on. Lopsided as she is, she would, she fears, make even the naturists blench; no Wok Gong on earth could come up with any means of making this ageing body look good naked. The much younger, thinner, far-from lopsided and very pretty writer kept her clothes on too, for granny's benefit. Noone else did though. Granny was happy to that see the nudity on offer all belonged to people of certain age and very uncertain shape. It would have done little to titillate the voyeuristic tour leader, any more than it titillated her. GOOD.

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