The Cabinet

A version of this was published in the anthology Tangerine Tango. Hope you enjoy it. GC

 

It was time to tackle the garage. I’d been meaning to do it for some time, ever since we’d finished painting the new house, in fact. I found the light switch and blinked as the glare of neon replaced the furtive gloom of the late afternoon. I looked around and wondered where to start.

I sighed as my eyes finally came to rest on a small mahogany Continue reading

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Walking to Church – 1959

In the summer, when the weather was good, we walked to church. Daddy would be in his suit and tie, wearing a trilby hat, which he would remove as we crossed the threshold of the church.

Family 1959

I’m on the left, my Polish godmother is on the right, with my sister Alex on her knee…

My four sisters and I would be in our best dresses.  The twins, at twelve two years older than me, usually had identical ones, with perhaps a different colored cardigan each, blue for Jane, and green for Kay.

I would be in the dress my Polish godmother had sewn Continue reading

Seeking refuge

My father was stranded in England after World War II. So he wasn’t an immigrant, exactly – he hadn’t made a plan to leave Poland for better things. I suppose, technically, he was a refugee.

What he had done, before the world went to war, was to leave his homeland in 1938 to work in Toulouse, in south-western France, for a year. He was an agricultural economist, and at 25, had no ties to prevent him from going. He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, and they assigned him to the Polish consulate in Toulouse, to give him some gravitas. His French is excellent, although the regional accent of that corner of the country can be hard to understand.

Daddy ToulouseI have a couple of photos of him from that time. Here he comes, strolling along a French street, sporting a beret, hoping to blend in. But the camera Continue reading

Ten of my favorite poems – a challenge

My friend Sally Allen at BoooksInK challenged her readers recently to produce a list of their ten favorite poems. I thought this would be simple, but when it came right down to it, I found it hard to choose. Still, I did, and this post explains my choices, since I notice that I chose them for various reasons that include: if I ever learned one by heart, if it says something about a certain time in my life, if it makes me laugh, if it makes me cry…so many reasons. Anyway here they are:

1.      Some one by Walter de la Mare

This may be the first poem I learned as a little girl. It’s a great poem for kids, because the metre, repetition and rhyme make it easy to remember. And it tells a story with a mystery at its heart. It’s got everything.

2.      The Lady of Shallott by Alfred, Lord Tennysonshalottcircle

This poem I love because it reminds me of my mother, who knew parts of it by heart and would recite it in lieu of a bedtime story. It’s very visual and the parts she remembered were about how the Lady, imprisoned in the Tower of Shallott, becomes desperate. Good stuff.

3.      Morning has broken by Eleanor Farjeon

Who couldn’t like this one? I know it’s a hymn, but it’s also a poem, and it makes me happy to recite it to myself. Or sing it, Or listen to Cat Stevens sing it. All good.

4.      I remember, I remember by Thomas Hood

006_2We had a wonderful cleaning lady who used to teach me poems as I followed her around while she tidied the house. I must have been a pest, but she never complained. This is a very sentimental poem, but it meant something to me when my grandparents’ house by the sea (see left), where I was born and spent my summer holidays, was sold. Mrs Ryder taught me another one but I can only remember the title and the first 4 lines. Harry and the Cake: Run off to school, Harry/Why do you wait?/ Nine o’clock striking/And you will be late.

5.      When icicles hang by the wall by William Shakespeare (from Love’s Labours Lost)

This I learned in high school, and it’s so very evocative of the perishing cold winters we’ve been having recently that I’ve remembered it again. It cheers me (somewhat) to know that winters were hard four hundred years ago, too.

6.      The Conway Stewart by Seamus Heaney

This is a poem about a pen, the brand name – Conway Stewart. I had a fountain pen in high school, because we had to write everything by hand. I think my favorite was a Waterman, because they were also my mother’s favorite, but I went through more than one including Parker and the eponymous Conway Stewart. Hopeless show-off, I used turquoise ink, which if it ever leaked, was a disaster because it wouldn’t wash out, unlike the Royal blue washable used by sensible people.

7.      Granchester by Rupert Brooker brooke

Another sentimental poem. Written just before World War 1, in which the poet died (unsentimentally, of dysentery). Rupert Brooke was beautiful to look at, and I read him at an age when romance was all. The poem ends with the famous lines: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? In the late sixties, British comedian Peter Sellars wrote and performed a fake travelogue: Balham  – Gateway to the South. (Balham was a very boring suburb of London.) The final lines are: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? To which a waitress replies: Sorry honey’s off, dear. (Meaning there wasn’t any.) Perhaps you had to be there…

8.      Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

On a much more serious note, this poem, written by Wilfred Owen was a devastating indictment of World War 1. Owen was killed just before the end of this war, and we studied the war poets in High school. The impact on me was extraordinary. When I won a prize for English they asked me which book I’d like and I chose Men Who March Away. At about the same time, the BBC was showing a 26 part series called The Great War. Using archival film footage and interviews with the survivors, they retold the story. As a child in the fifties, my sisters and I would see the veterans sitting in wheelchairs outside the Star and Garter Home in Richmond. My mother would explain that they had been gassed in World War 1 and would have to live there all their lives. I have never been able to look at war with any shred of romanticism since then.

9.      The Lanyard Billy Collins

Back to the cheerful. When I first heard Billy Collins reciting his poem, I was entranced by the deadpan way he managed to capture a relationship between a boy and his mother. It’s funny and serious. Just listen to it.

10.  Mrs Icarus by Carol Ann Duffy

icarus

As for this, it’s only five lines, but it makes me laugh out loud. A pillock, for my American readers, is a fool. Surely I’m too young to be cynical? Helena Bonham Carter reads it with aplomb.

Are any of these your favorites?

The Young Arm of the Law – Part 2

All is forgiven. Read on to find out why…

My crime writer friends Ben & Beth Oak were kind enough to send me the Police Blotter of the crime of which I was suspected. Here it is, courtesy of the Minuteman newspaper:

 
Cigarettes stolen at Citgo
The cashier at Citgo, 2747 Post Road, said that on Friday at about 3:50 p.m., a white female, 40 to 50 years old, with long blonde hair, wearing a red scarf, tan jacket and black pants came to the front counter and, having asked to buy one pack of cigarettes, inquired about two more. When the clerk turned his or her back, she took the cigarettes worth $9.21 and walked out, leaving in a newer white Mercedes.
I forgive the policeman everything! He thought I was between 40-50! And apparently I drive a Mercedes. Makes you wonder why I’d need to steal the cigarettes…
 
 

The Young Arm of the Law

I have no idea why I’m not in jail right now. It was a close shave, it really was.

I was walking down the street at about 6.15 on Friday evening, when I noticed a police car driving slowly towards me. It pulled up to the kerb, and I experienced a small frisson of excitement as a 20-something policeman leapt smartly from the car and bounded up onto the sidewalk. I was brought up to believe that the police were on my side, and, as a frequently demonstrating student in the 60’s and 70’s never felt able to yell “pigs” at them like the rest of my friends. I lost some street cred thereby, but…

Which is my way of saying that I was perfectly prepared to help this policeman if I could. He looked me sternly in the eye (he wasn’t very tall).

“Ma’am, were you at the Citgo station earlier today?”

He must have noticed my blank expression (I was trying to remember which of the many local gas stations was the Citgo) because he pointed in a westerly direction, and said “The one on the corner of the Post Road and Pine Creek.”

Mais oui, I admitted. I had been there at around 12.30 earlier that day, walking through the forecourt as a shortcut to my hairdresser’s where I had a 12.30 appointment. My women readers will understand that no matter how late I may be for other less important events like plane trips and oil changes, I wouldn’t dare be late for my hairdresser.

I explained this to the policeman, who began to look a bit distracted after a few minutes of my clarifications. He cut me off suddenly.

“Do you smoke?”

“Not for 40 years,” I said, wondering whether he was going to offer me a cigarette.

The policeman didn’t offer me a cigarette, nor did he look particularly convinced.

“Would you like to sniff my coat?” I asked. “If I smoked you’d be able to tell.” I was trying to be helpful. He shook his head.

“I need to see your ID, please. The point is, that a woman matching your description was seen stealing a packet of cigarettes from that very same gas station at about 12.40 today.”

I opened my mouth to explain again about the 12.30 appointment and the hair but he suddenly changed his interrogation tactics.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

I pointed down the street.

“Paul Place,” I said.

“Oh, ho,” he said, or he would have if he’d had proper training. “That’s pretty close to that gas station.”

I tried to be patient.

“Which was why I was walking to my hairdressers, which is right next door,” I said, and I tossed my head in what I hoped was a convincing way to show him my new haircut (which was great, if I do say so myself).

Looking rather alarmed, he took a step back, but he persevered.

“Thing is, ma’am, this person was wearing a tan coat like yours…”

I put my hand up to stop him right there. “My coat is pink,” I said firmly. It is well known that a lot of men are color-blind, and in any case the street lights were orange so I couldn’t entirely blame him for getting it wrong.

“Furthermore,” I went on. “Earlier today I was wearing my fur coat. It was colder then, and…”

I paused. He was beginning to look a bit tense.

He pulled out a notebook. “I’ll just take your name.”

I gave it to him. And the address. And the phone number.

He seemed rather discouraged as he wrote it down.

He looked up. “Could I take a picture of you?’

My, I thought, it must be some haircut. I smirked as he raised his phone and took a photo.

I wondered if this orange light was making me look younger than I am. My reverie was interrupted.

“I’m going to take this round to the gas station and show it to them in order to eliminate you from our inquiries.”

I know what that means. He thinks I’m guilty, but he can’t prove it.

2013 Christmas edition

The Reef

The Reef

And so it’s time for the annual update. I closed last year’s letter by saying that we were expecting my sister Jane and her friend for the holidays. What I didn’t mention was that because we were having so many people to stay, all arriving and departing on different dates, that I resorted to creating a chart which showed each bedroom (color-coded, of course ), who would be in each one on what dates, and how many people I’d be feeding on any particular day. I adore my family, but honestly – I can’t do that chart again. Next time they’ll have to fight it out among themselves. I will be in the local inn… But in the meantime, this year will be much more sensible, with everybody arriving at carefully regulated intervals.

It was only in January that I managed to get out from under the pile of sheets and towels and pack a bag for our house in Phoenix AZ. Jay and I decided to take a few days and see what we might need if we were going to use it as a holiday home. To get us started, Jay insisted on packing a huge suitcase with household paraphernalia, including various serving dishes and knick-knacks. Since the beds hadn’t been delivered when we arrived, we spent the night in a hotel, but Jay left the suitcase in the house to save having to carry it around. Much to our surprise, it was gone when we arrived at the house the following day. Apparently this is the first burglary in the area for over three years…Well, Jay bore it stoically and added serving dishes and knick-knacks to our ever-expanding shopping list. One forgets that a new home needs everything from knives and forks to furniture, but we had a good time visiting the consignment (OK, second-hand) shops, where Jay bargained to his heart’s content.

2013 Australia 368

Morning visitors outside our tent

We’d barely come back from our visit to Phoenix when it was time to leave for Australia. I had visions of kangaroos and koala bears, but in fact, Australia turned out to be much more interesting than that. We snorkeled around near the Great Barrier Reef (my favorite thing). I mean that I swam, towing Jay behind me. I think he liked it…Then we took a tiny plane to a luxury camp in the middle of nowhere, where noises in the very early morning turned out to be wallabies waking up underneath our cabin. If only the tiny plane company hadn’t gone bankrupt while we were there… Still, we did manage to get to our next destination, the aptly named Kangaroo Island. About 100 miles long with a population of 4,000 people and about 10,000 animals. All the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and emus you could wish for. And then it was on to check out the wild life in Sydney…

Sydney wild life (pretty tame...)

Sydney wild life (pretty tame…)

Just to remind us of our trip, I got us tickets for the Australia exhibition that was showing in London when we visited in September. We were on our way to Prague, to meet friends. Prague and our friends were delightful, and Jay was particularly pleased, because our enormous bedroom (in a former mansion by the river) had a balcony from which he could give speeches to the population below. He was going to try it, too, but I managed to distract him with the promise of some souvenir shopping nearby.

Eagle ignoring Jay in Budapest

Eagle ignoring Jay in Budapest

After that we took one of those Danube cruises from Budapest, via Vienna and Linz to Passau (on the German/Austrian border). Very relaxing. So much so, that Jay immediately went home and booked a cruise on the Volga River (Moscow to St. Petersburg) for next summer. Yo-o heave-ho. Or something.

We returned to New Hampshire in time for the end of a beautiful fall. It was too late for Jay to sit on his beach (see last year) but he was quite happy with his new lawn (did I mention that he’d had someone plant a lawn last year when we were thinking of selling the house?). He, Freddie and Bertie had spent most of the summer perfecting this, with Fred and Bert doing most of the work (heaving huge boulders out of the ground) and Jay ‘supervising’. From the beach.

The boys really didn’t need to do this, since they both graduated from university this year. Moving rocks hardly seems like fit work for a biomedical engineer and an astrophysicist, but Jay can be very persuasive…

And what of our careers? I hear you ask (don’t I?). I’m still writing; there’s a memoir of my mother based on her wartime diaries and my blogs keep me busy. Next weekend I’ll be telling my story of Jay and the Santa suit at a couple of Christmas concerts at a local inn. Jay will be there to heckle cheer me on. Meanwhile, he’s still very busy with his usual pursuits, to which he has added the position of board member at Colby-Sawyer College, a small liberal arts school (liberal? Jay? Surely not…) in our New Hampshire hometown of New London). The board seems to like him, even though Jay spends most of his time “suggesting” ways they could be more businesslike.

I was beginning to think the whole idea of building a new smaller house had died down for good, when the house next door to us came onto the market. Last weekend (bear with me here) we were supposed to be visiting houses around town that had been decorated for Christmas. Instead I found myself being shown around a characterful (read: not enough bathrooms) 100-year-old house, with Jay murmuring things in my ear, like: “we could put the other bathrooms over here”, and “what about extending this wall and making this into a new bedroom?” I should have let him do more shopping in Budapest, so he got it out of his system.

Just for now, we’re still in the house with the beach, the lawn and the gigantic fireplace, so I’m going to ignore the future and enjoy the present. (I think Jay got me a present?)

Wishing you a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and an encouraging New Year

Talking Turkey

It’s that time of year again –  With Thanksgiving speeding towards us, my husband Jay wanted to talk to me about the menu.

I was surprised, because we always have the same Thanksgiving meal: turkey, stuffing, roast vegetables, asparagus, pumpkin pie and a pecan pie for Jay. But this year there were only going to be five of us for Thanksgiving. And I’m a vegetarian.

“So, what should we do about ordering the turkey?” he asked one evening last week.

turkey

Being a seat-of-the-pants type person, who leaves everything until the last minute, I hadn’t really thought about this, but his question made me reflect.

“Well,” I began. “They usually say about a pound per person for turkey…”

Jay interrupted me.

“So we should order a 4lb turkey?” he asked brightly.

“We could,” I said, “but it would be called a chicken.”

“But a chicken’s not the same is it?”

I had to agree.

“I mean, there’s nothing like the smell of turkey cooking on Thanksgiving.”

He had a point. “We could buy a turkey breast and roast that,” I offered.

“But then I’d have nothing to carve.” (I do the carving but I let it pass.)

We discussed the options. Duck? Too small. Goose? Too greasy, and anyway a goose is a Christmas bird. Lamb? Easter. Roast pork? Too pedestrian. I could see that Jay was going to find reasons why none of my suggestions would work, so I sat back and waited for him to make the choice I wanted him to. It took a while, but, you’ve guessed it, we’re having roast beef (and Yorkshire pudding).

beefAt last, an English Thanksgiving.