Wednesday, 21 March 2018

I Receive Royalties

Chatting with a friend today, she told me about seeing the Queen when in London earlier this week. "Did she look like the Queen?" I asked. "Yes!" came the reply, along with photographic evidence.  Republican or Royalist, you'd have to admit she looked dazzling and very much like herself in a bright orangey-red coat and matching flamboyant hat.

I have had encounters with royalties of my own today.  A four figure (plus decimal point) sum was paid into my bank account courtesy of ALCS - the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.  This made me feel, for a moment, like a poetry princess.

Like most famous people, The Queen is shorter in real life.  Very early one morning, I once saw the Royal Train on the platform opposite me on Shrewsbury station.  I thought I saw a curtain twitch. And once I saw Peter Ustinov in the Oriental Hotel, Bangkok.

I earned the taller-than-I-expected royalties because I registered my poems published in anthologies, and my own pamphlets, with ALCS.  I did this after I'd seen a friend's post on Facebook about this organisation which collects money on behalf of writers from libraries, and those who've legitimately photo/copied their work.

When I receive money which comes from my poetry, I like to spend it on something memorable. I think I'll be spending these royalties on a meal out with my sons and heirs.

Friday, 9 March 2018

I Languish In Bed

I can tell I'm getting better because there is a new splodge of paint on my bedroom wall. 

Last Sunday, I was chatting to my eldest son on the phone when I was felled by a virus, not that I admitted it at the time. My eyes started streaming and I choked on my words. Always one for a bit of healthy denial, I told him that my response was probably an allergic reaction to some cut lilies I had bought which were starting to unfold their petals after a couple of days in the warmth. The fact that I have never reacted to lilies like this before didn't strike me as a reasonable objection to my theory. I couldn't possibly be ill, I told him and myself, as I've had the 'flu vaccine and I'd made it through the winter in good health and wasn't going to be caught now.

By evening I was in a position of defeat - horizontal, lying on my side with a tissue under my nose. And for the next three days, that's pretty much how I stayed, with occasional forays to a sitting up position and my laptop whilst I reassured myself that the bits of the world for which I feel a keen sense of responsibility were doing absolutely fine without me.  I leapfrogged Ibuprofen and Paracetamol and went off lots of things including coffee.

Then yesterday, I got dressed at midday, went to the shops to get more pills, and on the way back, picked up a paint sample pot. Within 15 minutes of being seized by the idea of decorating something, and soon, I'd dolloped a small patch onto my bedroom wall.  I then sunk back into my pillows, feeling more peaceful.

As for the sudden onset of decorating fever, maybe it was the result of staring for too long at four walls this week; or maybe it arose from the need to feel a sense of achievement after being taken out of my daily routine - that deeply ingrained work ethic which says that ill or not, progress must be made!

Two days on, that paint splodge has become a mark of comfort: something about an intent almost as convincing as a fully painted wall. I've fallen for its pale light blue-grey - a fresh, clean hopefulness. Maybe on my brief trip outside, I was caught by something else - by the sense that spring, with all its promise of new and bright colour, is at last in the air.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

I Parallel Park

Once, I lived in a one-way street with tightly-bound on-street parking. I was an expert at parallel parking on the left-hand side of the road.  Looking over my shoulder, I could, thanks to power steering, nudge my way into a space just longer than my car and end up with it neatly straight, placed at a few inches distance from the kerb.  I might wake up the next morning to a broken wing mirror and a curry splatted onto the windscreen, but at least I knew my angles.

I thought this skill for keeping things on the straight and narrow was, like making brownies, one I had acquired for life. But it turns out it was just for particular situations, and my son kindly pointed out to me the other day that, whilst my brownies remain roughly square, my parking has become skewed.

Parallel parking is an occasional activity these days - I travel by train as much as possible, and when I do have to park, it's usually in a marked out space, or a street-side so ample and so generous that I can drive into a space headfirst.

For reasons of basketball, though, last week I had to get into a small space: mercifully left-hand side. It took me five, or maybe seven, attempts of backing in, checking the kerb, realising I was adrift, heading out to start all over again. My son sat patiently with me throughout, occasionally opening his passenger door to look down and see where we were up to.

It was a companionable sort of dance this - me edging in, him checking, me edging out, him offering encouragement, me edging in, him checking, us chuckling, me edging out, him commenting on his game's highlights to pass the time before I edged in again. 

Back home, we concluded I need more practice, or less practice. Either way, I'm up for it.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

I Rate My Jams

I have been wondering how to rate my jams - the 11 jars plus one of blackcurrant I received from my Longest Serving Friend for my birthday. Five jars in, and I'm in danger of losing the plot. I haven't been sure how to do the rating - I've been mulling over categories such as 'Jamminess', 'Blackcurrantiness', 'Jamminess' ... and generally going around in circles. 

Inspired by marking some assignments, I have decided to use categories I'm used to - ones which are used to judge essays. The four categories are:

Presentation - How's the look of the thing, the grammatical integrity of its label?
Structure - how do the blackcurrants sit together? Is there a sense of flow and logic?
Content - How relevant is the jam to the question set?
Knowledge and understanding - Does the jam understand what it's trying to do?

The table below is a work in progress. I'm five jars in, seven blissful more jars to go.


Knowledge and Understanding
St Dalfour

Slim and elegant

Predictable and shapely
Loose – random placement of blackcurrants in a thick enough syrup.
Blackcurrant-lite compared to the others but maybe not compared with budget versions which my LSF didn't consider birthday material
This jam does not understand that it’s a jam. It thinks it’s a form of entertainment
Fortnum and Mason

Conservative and purposeful
A dense, thick jam. More of a spread, with its own definition of integrity
This jam, whilst rich and privileged, lacks self-awareness. It approaches toast as if it is triangular and crustless
Wilkin & Sons Ltd
Traditional yet stylish
A delightful texture which accommodates to any surface: toast, bread, spoon, tongue
The baby bear of blackcurrant jams. This jam can do no wrong, but it is risk-averse.
worthy and lower case

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference
Get your act together, Sainsbury’s
Somehow, the blackcurrants are whole and plump
Tart and sweet. Best of both.
This jam has the maturity to know when to lay it on thick. Every spoonful is a coming of age.
Oh pl-eeease! Streamline! I like the lid, though.

You know how I feel about Waitrose

Waitrose Duchy Organic
Jam is a classist issue

M & S
Come on M&S. Get in a new graphic designer. Maybe my friend Pixie.

Bonne Maman
Perfect. Does what it says on the jar. But what about Bon Papa?

Goetre Farm
Perfectly acceptable home-made appearance
Perfectly acceptable home-made structure
Perfectly acceptable  home-made content
Perfectly acceptable  home-made understanding of jam

Friday, 2 February 2018

I Grind My Teeth

... at least that's what the dental hygienist suggested to me today. Not that she suggested I start grinding them (in fact, maybe she was suggesting that I stop, but she didn't say that or offer me any suggestions, and neither should you). She suggested that night time grinding might be the explanation for wear and tear. I thought of mentioning eating as another possible explanation for wear and tear, but decided not to as I had a suction thing in my mouth by this stage.

And earlier today the Council suggested I won't get listed buildings consent for some loft alterations I want to make. When I look out across the town centre, at some of the various shop fronts clad in garish plastic, I wonder what the objection could be to me making an internal improvement to a building which has already been internally improved / altered by many people in its past: especially as this objection is designed to preserve some things that no one ever sees.

The hygienist also said that my teeth were stained green. Although I'd not noticed this, in the interval between her hypersonic jet cleaning and her more traditional tooth pick cleaning, I claimed peppermint tea in my defence. This was a precautionary measure in case she mentioned crème de menthe, or moss.  She said that chlorophyll is good for me, and I can keep drinking peppermint tea, but I have to brush my gums in the crowded part of my mouth with more discipline.

Before I wrote to the Council asking for their permission, I thought they'd be enthusiastic about my plan to upgrade an unused part of my home into useful space. I'd imagined it light, spacious, airy. And me, being a poet, looking out over rooftops before going downstairs to make peppermint tea.

Before I went to the dentist, I felt quite okay about my teeth. I have the same three fillings I've had since my sugar-fuelled childhood, and only one of those filled teeth is currently heading towards greater catastrophe.

I think I may grind my teeth particularly hard tonight, in-between bouts of snoring and dreams about being hemmed in, or losing all my teeth.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

I Refuse A Biscuit

I know - I am surprised too. It was, admittedly, a second biscuit. Context is everything.

Another bit of context is that I've been reading about boundaries in relationships. Having clear boundaries means knowing what you will and won't accept from people before that thing happens.

So I knew I was going to refuse the second biscuit because I've decided on a lo-biscuit strategy for the time being. This is on account of the cheesebelt, or the cakebelt or the winebelt or the whatever-it-is that's-contributing-to-the-unboundaried-bit-about-my-middle belt.

I like biscuits a lot.

Just thought I'd put that out there.

If you were to offer me a biscuit, as my Longest Serving Friend did earlier, and if that biscuit were to be of high quality (All Butter Salted Caramel, for example) it would require an act of decisive will based on an earlier decision about biscuit-boundaries on my part to refuse it.

Boundaries are ours to tend and nurture. If you were to offer me two biscuits (let's say two Chocolate Olivers) and if I were to accept and then eat both, and then a third, that'd be my responsibility.

Just thought I'd put that out there.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

I Practise The Piano

There's a myth I've grown up with that the black notes are harder.  "They're not," says my son, categorically, this evening. He realises that I am a pupil who comes with baggage. This is shown again later when he suggests, "Use your imagination - you know, the one suppressed when you were a child." We laugh.

I'm learning the piano, and my son is teaching me. I pay him - it's strictly business, strictly for pleasure. He fills in a notebook with instructions and comments. He encourages me - "Your hands are looking great!"; he imparts wisdom, "To make a mistake is not a problem, but to play without passion is a crime."

I'm learning the piano because I have unfinished business. I spent years practising the flute, taking exams and playing some of the repertoire I still hear at school concerts - ah yes, here comes Faure's Sicilienne arching down the years. But I listen, have always listened, to piano music - Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Shostakovitch, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Brahms ...

My fingers are re-playing the keys I first found under my mother's guidance decades ago. She taught me for a couple of years when I was seven or eight, and then as a teenager I'd often meander around her piano for an afternoon, mostly sticking to the things I knew.

During this evening's lesson, when my son asks me to start with any scale I like, I gravitate self-consciously to Middle C, the easy note, the one my mother showed me first. I play C major - the easy scale, avoiding the black notes. "I like B major," says my son. "It sits under my hands."

On the first page of my notebook, he has written:

Liz's Piano Journey

17th October 2017

And so it begins ...

I don't know where I'm headed, so I look at his notes.  Get your hands to do different things at the same time, he writes. And then: Enjoy yourself!