Sunday, 23 October 2016

I Act The Man

Not for the first time there was an imbalance between the number of men and women at badminton, so it was suggested I join the men's doubles court, as an "honorary man".  The implication I wanted to hear was, "You're a good enough player for the top group," but the subtext I heard was, "We think you can hold your own amidst the stronger, faster and (let's face it) better players.  And by the way, men are generally superior to women.  Be flattered." 

I did feel flattered, a bit disgruntled and confused all at once.  Blushing with annoyance at feeling flattered for the wrong reasons ("honorary man"!) I let rip with my smashes.  This display of an approximate sporting prowess felt powerful.  I glowed and perspired through my sweat in equal measure.

This smashing experience might have been the one which prompted my recent god as goddess poem / conversation.  "What would it be like," I asked people who mind about such things, "if the word goddess were substituted for the word god throughout the C of E liturgy?"   I believe in Goddess, the Mother almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  I don't believe anything of the sort, by the way, but I find it extraordinary how much the change of the gender of a noun shifts things in my socialised imaginings, mainly towards something Pagan, or Greco-Roman.

The status of honorary man is familiar to me. At 51, I am tall for my age.   That badminton evening's mixed emotions echoed the themes from my all-girls school days when I was cast as a man-boy in plays and country dancing.  As luck would have it, I've never been asked to dance Sir Roger de Coverley anywhere other than in the hall at South Hampstead High School.  If I had been, I would have got it all inside out and back to front.

I told a friend what had happened at badminton. "What," he asked, "did you do to attain that exalted position?  Did you comprehensively internalise your emotions? Did you use doner kebabs as a substitute for real relationships?" 

"What are you up to, showing sensitivity and insight with self-deprecation thrown in?" I responded. "Are you, by any chance, having a go at playing the woman?"

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

I Answer Some Questions

"Shall I at least set my lands in order?"

Last night was University Challenge night.  Now that my elder son is actually at a university, my younger son and I watch it a deux.  Some of the answers I got this week were: 'Platinum Blonde'; '1812 Overture'; 'Napoleon III'; 'Polaris' and 'Copper Sulphate'.  We even managed Caravaggio and Botticelli in the absence of our art expert. 

"Who is the third who walks always beside you?"

My son was particularly impressed by my knowledge of the Roman name for the city of Bath: Aquae Sulis.  Ever since I stopped understanding his Maths homework, moments like this have been particularly sweet.

"A pool among the rock"

Lines from TS Eliot's The Wasteland did not appear in last night's questions, though they and he often do. The thing about many of the answers I blurt out is that I didn't know I knew them until Jeremy Paxman reads the question.

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"

These snippets of knowledge, however inapplicable to my daily life, feel like proof of something: of my own university years, of the reading I've done, the music I've listened to, the films I've watched and the people with whom I've learned, listened, and watched.  Fragments pop into my head in response to a question, having often lain dormant for years.  They make sense of a kind, like quotations from a life-script, and (my son always being pleased when I score points for the team) they lend a convivial peace to our Monday evenings.

"Shantih    shantih    shantih"


Friday, 7 October 2016

I Begin Again

This time, as a fox.  Each day is a new one, after all.

I saw fox in a window, and despite him being urban, irresponsible, admired him.

"Thought Fox," I thought.

He is orange, bold, corduroy.  I bought him for myself.  Called him Foxy.  Call her Vixen.

My affection for stuffed toys is rational, goes back a long way.

When I was 7, I saw the dolphin on a stall at Christ Church Highbury's annual Garden Party.   He was red, bold, corduroy.  When I returned, with insufficient pocket money, to admire him again, he had disappeared.  He re-appeared on my bed that evening.

That was when I knew for sure that my mother loved me.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

I Paint A Canvas

Back in the spring I had a sudden urge to paint.  The urge came out of a therapeutic conversation - something to do with my inner child, something, it being therapy, to do with woundedness.

I sometimes find it hard to write because I'm a poet, and so I judge anything I write with a critical eye, even stuff like shopping lists and diary outpourings meant for my eyes only.  I needed a new, uncritical mode of self-expression.

I told a friend about the urge and the next time I saw him, he gave me a set of acrylic paints.  Everyone needs a friend like this.  Being well-brought up, I had no choice then but to respond to his kindness by going to buy some canvasses and brushes.

My first attempt involved painting my inner darkness.  It turns out that my inner darkness is a sludge-greeny-brown colour.  Halfway through, sick of brown, I got out the orange, and, enjoying its orangey-ness more than expected, ended up looking at the work of my inner 5-year old half an hour later.

I sent a photo of the painting to my friend by way of a thank you letter:

Painting #1

I received an unexpectedly kind and non-judgmental response, mentioning a Star.  Even though I know that the sun is a star, I hadn't thought of it like that.

Still having quite a lot of orange left, I embarked on Painting #2:

I took this canvas to therapy, proud of the depiction of my inner 6-year-old's free-ranging spirit.  "Well," said TP, "That's a fine Picture of Hell if ever I saw one.  I'll see you next week."

For Painting #3 I decided to restrict myself to blue and yellow.  I'd like to say that this was an artistic choice, or even a therapeutic choice, but it was a choice determined by the colours of the free samples of paint available in the local art shop.  I decided to name this painting before anyone else could get in there first.

Painting #3 - Free Samples

Painting #4 occurred when I had a vase of sunflowers on the table.  I also had candles on the table and it was a lot of fun dripping molten wax in lines across the canvas, watching them set, then putting my fingers into the paint and spreading it around.  I'm not sure what this is called, or how old I was when I was painting it, but maybe someone else will tell me.

Painting #4

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I Squeeze Two Oranges

I have a new habit.

No, I have not entered a convent,  although as a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl, I did offer 'Nun' as a reply to a question a careers teacher put to me once.  I forget what the question was.

My new habit is to squeeze two oranges each morning - for the juice of it.

Orange juice is best straight from the orange.  Ever since my mother taught me this, I've been spoilt for the bottled / canned / cartoned varieties, though I've mostly made do until recently.

No more.  I begin my mornings these days by taking two oranges from my constant supply, using the pleasure of my new sharp knife to cut them in half, before turning them this way and that on the ridged dome of an orange juicer, and then tipping the collected juice into a glass.

After all this, I'm too wanton and needful to sip the half glassful, so, still standing, I down the lot in a few sweet, crazy mouthfuls.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

I Cause A Stir

Three weeks ago, young Tim turned up at badminton. 

I'd met Tim in an idiosyncratic  pub which serves excellent beer.  I had been chatting in Poets' Corner with a friend from badminton about putting up shelves, motorbikes and whether he was going to play at the next session.  Tim overheard our conversation and asked about the badminton club. 

"This is Tim," I said to Hollie the following Tuesday. "I met him when I was out with Paul."

The next Tuesday, Chelsea asked me who the new guy was with Tim.  It turned out to be young Jack.  "I hear you met Tim when you were out on the pull," said Chelsea, "I'm impressed." I was momentarily perplexed, blushing.  "Oh! No!" I insisted. "I met Tim when I was having a drink with Paul," adding, by way of explanation, "talking about badminton.  And shelving."  This suddenly sounded highly implausible.

This week, Tim and Jack turned up with young Raj.  When Chelsea arrived, she winked at me.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

I Puzzle Over Significance

A friend came round earlier in the week and saw the half-completed jigsaw puzzle my Younger Son and I have been tackling.  "I didn't have you down as a puzzle person," he said. "I'm not," I replied.

I didn't have myself down as a Mahler person either, but what I've learnt, seven symphonies and 1000 pieces later, is that listening to rousing music whilst searching through barely distinguishable tiny bits of blue card can make me behave like a different sort of person from the person I imagine myself to be - I become meticulous, methodical, patient, single-minded: satisfied in passing by the finding of a piece that fits.  Looking for Lego pieces, my son reminded me, used to produce a similar, almost forensic, effect in me.

I have also discovered that, when looking for missing pieces, shape matters more than colour as in indicator of fit.  I've learnt that if I keep looking, the piece is always there, somewhere. I am pretty sure this is a metaphor for something significant.

I am less sure whether it is significant, or merely a coincidence, that I came across the puzzle, a reproduction of a painting of Mount Lefroy, for sale in a shop in Presteigne when looking for a birthday present. Or that my son saw I'd bought it and asked to open it before I could give it away. I do know that the puzzle has provided the backdrop for several hours of gently concentrated conversation, some of it about Mahler, some of it about shades of grey, and also has resolved the problem of what to give my co-named relatives for Christmas.  It's also set me thinking about taking a trip one day to the place my Canadian grandfather was born.

The next symphony coming up on our playlist, no. 8, is known as the Symphony of a Thousand.  And next door in the charity shop, a thousand piece puzzle is displayed in the window, going cheap.  Now there's a thing.