Friday, 30 March 2007
Thursday, 29 March 2007
I carried out a series of interviews with people who knew of, or knew, Wallis, including the last 2 living painters who knew Wallis – Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Margaret Mellis.
Margaret Mellis gave me, and the Refugee family, a great deal of her time over 3 weekends over a year and some wonderful insights into life in the 1940’s with the remarkable Wallis. Margaret concluded that Wallis was the finest British painter because he was so ‘true’. In turn, I came to the conclusion that Margaret Mellis was the finest FEMALE British painter.
(Below is her self-portrait from 1935 when she was 21)
Talking with Margaret gave me the key to the denouement of any screenplay on Wallis and I saw her role in it. Despite my agent, Ian, declaiming that “painters don’t sell movies”. I’m now hoping that I might plough through the shelves of Wallis material and head towards a script: or perhaps even a radio play!?
Here is a portrait of Wallis and an example of his work.
Unfortunately, Margaret is now 93 years old and has been in failing health for some years but I trust that someday SOON someone will undertake a comprehensive exhibition of her extraordinary range of work.
Wednesday, 28 March 2007
I took HS to school – 90 minutes in the car. Bum okay.
Back home, I went into town, made a cuppa and checked emails etc.
At midday I set off to collect ES from school – 60 minutes in the car. Bum a little numb.
We had lunch, I filled the car with petrol and headed back to York as HS had an early finish – 90 minutes in the car. Bum losing sensation.
With 15 minutes to contemplate the meaning of Yorkshire life and some gentle massage I then took IS to her violin lesson – 60 minutes in the car. Bum completely flabbed out!
Back to dinner, heavy buttock pummelling and I fell asleep before The Apprentice.
In Balham the school runs would have equivocated to 30 TOTAL minutes of walking, aerobic exercise and a teency effort towards planet-saving.
Monday, 26 March 2007
Yesterday, we went for a wonderful lunch at their house – it was my first visit there. With bright weather and sparky company it was a perfect day and it was finalised with a visit from a neighbouring farmer delivering 2 chocolate(-coloured) sheep to join their menagerie.
Sadly, the day had a tragic aspect. 5 minutes down the road from their house we were stopped by the cops – due to a very recent accident we were detoured an hour out of our way. A couple of days later we discovered that the infamous B1257 had claimed yet another biking victim.
Sunday, 25 March 2007
So we did what you round here – go next door, go to other neighbours, go to the newsagent, go to the café….for a personal recommendation. By Saturday lunchtime we had 5 names and numbers of which 4 were unobtainable and 1 was on a job. So, a little desperate, we turned to good old Yellow Pages.
An hour later, an ex-pat Welshman, BI, rolled up and spent an hour dismantling various parts of our ancient boiler and blathering about Cardiff being like Beirut (!?). women were not to be trusted or married, dogs never let you down and how he sailed through his heating course. Meanwhile, SC kept glancing at me with that stroppy look that implied, ‘watch it’.
Needless to say BI finally extinguished his blow-torch and sighed, “You’re gonna need a new boiler. And I can’t do it on me own – I’m gonna get me mate Doddle, and we’re dead busy…and…and…about £3000.”
Result: Abject, cold misery.
SC said that she didn’t trust BI from the minute he walked and said that she phone the ‘man on the job’. MOTJ, Glyn said he would finish his dinner and 15 minutes later he was sitting by our ‘dead’ boiler and replacing the thermocouple. 10 minutes later our boiler was roaring and Glyn, Gawd bless his little fleecy socks, saved us £2960 and departed with profuse thanks ringing around Great Bickering.
Result: Warm happiness AND a very trusty reserve heating engineer.
Saturday, 24 March 2007
This meeting was predicated on the fact that IS has become bored with school and her work has suffered. The meeting went according to form. SC scrolled out a litany of our and IS’s educational woes: IS is not stimulated in class, her writing has deteriorated, her stories are flat, she feels that GJ doesn’t include her and, well, GJ just doesn’t like her. All SCgot back from GJ, in a mock-surprised, fake-anguished North-east accent was, “Oh really”, “That’s news to me”, “I am surprised” and a tilted, quizzical face.
The final repartee went along the lines of….
SC: When the whole of the class was writing this class poem why wasn’t IS involved?
GJ: I really don’t know. I think she was doing her own poem.
SC: But her poem is hardly started.
GJ: Well, all IS’s ideas were used up on the class poem.
SC: So, this is what’s happened to her writing?
GJ: Yes, I think she’s got writer’s block.
Hemingway had writer’s block, Pynchon had writer’s block but a 9 year-old girl…..!? Save me from the amateurs (GJ only has a NEST - North East Steiner Training – qualification: she previously ran a helath food store) who think are capable teachers.
IS is very bright. IS LOVES reading – she’s nearly finished Watership Down. IS has a gentle, imaginative way with words. IS is so quick-witted and witty – I tell her she’ll take up Dawn French’s mantle one day. So, having to deal with this teacher is frustrating, distressing and emotionally draining……..
Until the next educational hiatus….which I fear is not too far away!
Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Initially, we thought we might manage to go toboganning but by midday most of the snow had disappeared under a steady spring sun. As for the daffodils that should have flowered by now on the bank in front of our house, hail, sleet, snow and ice have put them into suspended florification.
On one of our visits before we moved up here, SC and I tried the Farndale Daffodil Walk. It’s one of the great walks around the North York Moors area. Try this - it does as good a job of advertising the walk as any and it ends in a welcome tea at The Daffy Caffy……Farndale Daffodil Walk.
It’s probably time for us all to try that walk once again.
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Further snow flurries carried on during the morning and I decided to collect the girls from school early just in case…….. Many times during the year the Moors drive is stunning and my lunchtime drive was no exception - it started in dazzling sun, with dark clouds scudding around and then I plateaued to the amazing Blakey Ridge in a hailstorm and the snow had drifted to a foot or so.
The day before SC had almost skidded off the road so I drove the girls home stealthily along this wild and treacherous landscape with extraordinary cloud formations. On the descent from the Moors the sun was shining fiercely again.
In Yorkshire, most drivers are not only experienced of driving in adverse conditions but have no fear of driving in snow. There’s a great attitude of getting on with it and bugger it. Up here you know that you’re going to have 1, 2, even 3 heavy snowfalls a winter so you just get on with it.
Whereas my recollections of snow in London were the shock and awe of inexperienced London drivers. Invariably, driving was hazardous because most drivers had little experience of driving in snow, and chaotic because of skidding in cramped conditions and minor accidents. Send a city-load of soft Southerners up here for a couple of winters – that’ll sort them out!
Monday, 19 March 2007
The snow soon stopped and I walked into town. Monday is Market Day in Great Bickering and I dropped in to our favourite shop, previously known as Seasons, for the latest gossip. Not only does it have a great range of deli products but Seasons has a top-notch bevy of staff but it came to a sticky end a few weeks ago – expanded over-ambitiously and the directors indulged in one too many Merc and…it went into liquidation. The previous owners (in the guise of a shining new company) bid to buy it back from the liquidator but they were beaten by a couple of local entrepreneurial businessmen.
So Seasons is being revamped as……well, no one quite knows what the new name is for certain.
Another space to watch.
The backbone of the store - Jenny and Mandy - was looking harassed and overworked but I dragged them outside for a pic in front of the newly-painted but unnamed shop. Then I noticed that a couple of very loyal staff have gone AWOL and I was led into a corner away from prying ears and my worst fears were confirmed – good staff were being sacked and not replaced. This does NOT augur well.
Sunday, 18 March 2007
Friday, 16 March 2007
Anyone who knows that I had a previous life as a pill-pusher will know that I have jaundiced and vocal views of many aspects of my first profession. My arrows of wrath are particularly directed at the retail sector, now known as the ‘community’ sector – that’s yer actual dear little local shops. And if you hadn’t noticed, the independent pharmacy, with its kindly white-coated pharmacist who has knowledge and time to help is more endangered than the polar bear. And why is that? Because the phalanx of cash-rich multiples, who I won’t deign to mention, just come along and buy up the NHS contract of the independent pharmacy and start to crunch numbers and targets for high-tech pharmacists to attain. The result is just a pleasant memory of a kindly white-coated pharmacist with knowledge and time to help.
Just 7 months ago two of these pharmacy giants, Alliance-Unichem and Boots, merged to form a multi-billion pound empire. The architect of that plan, Signor Pissonia, is now plotting with KKK, a private Equity group, to take this fledgling behemoth into private hands.
So, on top of the £1.3bn Pissonia made from the previous merger he would now will make millions more through this leveraged buyout. And let’s not forget Pissonia’s fellow directors who are probably rushing around with stiffies and getting hypertensive at the thought of private equity riches for their already bulging pockets.
Oh, and let’s forget the ‘little’ people who work so hard for Alliance-Boots. Will they benefit from this privatisation? A few might, but most likely there would be store closures and land sell-offs, pensions would be affected and customer services reduced. AND if the company leaves the stock market all of this would carry on in private corners without any public scrutiny whatsoever. Perhaps, I’m being a tad cynical but didn’t this same thing just happen with the AA in 2004.
Thinking back, maybe that explains why I had to wait 7+ hours for the AA to get me home one winter’s night in 2005.
Thursday, 15 March 2007
After about 10 days of perisitent and irritating coughing I'm feeling a bit weary. If only there was some Harry Lime figure down a Great Bickering mean street - a knowing smile in the shadows, I hand over a wad of notes and receive an unmarked box of bugbusters in return. I phoned the GP instead. A duty nurse phoned back and assured me that I didn't need to see a physician - it was just a pesky virus and just keep sucking good old Hall's Mentholyptus lozenges. Damn good jollop for the hot tub, strolling round Lidl or on the terraces.
Just in case anyone in the rest of world doesn't know...it's Comic Relief this week and this culminates in tomorrow's jamboree around Britain.
Richard Curtis has done wonders everywhichway.....which reminds me of a swish St John's Wood party in the mid-90's which we toddled along to. Amongst the glitterati was RC and his missus, Emma Freud, who, heavily pregnant, told me that my babe-in-arms HS was the cutest she'd seen. Meanwhile SC and Curtis got into a fond reminiscence as SC's dad had taught Curtis Latin at school.
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
....First Week in Great Bickering - mid-April 2001
I always find it amusing, if not troubling, that you can spend as little as an hour or so on what is probably going to be the biggest purchase of your life – a house – and can then spend years agonising of it.
The first week living in our new new house was an undiluted shock – the house defied an estate agent’s finest prose:
The Kitchen. It probably hadn’t been DIY’d for 30 years – Mushroom-coloured walls were not from Sarah Beany’s catalogue. The cupboards were falling off their hinges and the oven was……aagghhhh! Then there was half-tiled, half-carpetted floor that smelt of old wet dog. Pass the clothes peg!
The Larder. We stayed out of it for weeks,
The Sitting-room. The mankiest carpet this side of Krakatoa.
SC’s studio. Walls of nauseous crimson and an odour of 10,000 dead ciggies,
The Bathroom. Steps up to the bath and a carpet smelling of cat pee. Pass the air freshener!
Different wallpaper in EACH room – goodness knows what was concealed.
The rambling garden. Completely overgrown with inappropriate plants, shrubs and trees. At least it must have been low maintenance.
The Barns. Uninhabited and delapidated.
As for the house, we knew that the survey had thrown up some issues that needed work and that equated to a reduction in the asking price but now we had to find builders who could carry out the work. So, here are the London Refugees with our 2 London guinea-pigs, Mango and Pebble, with 2 weeks until our first Yorkshire school experience and surrounded by some 70 packing boxes and no paid work in this wreck of a house and grounds.
We woke at the end of this week to a 3-hour blizzard…in mid-April! Is this what our life was destined to be?
Undaunted, SC had a bright vision of how our Great Bickering pile would be……within months.
Sunday, 11 March 2007
Why didn't Tommy ask SC and I to pen this piece - I mean, we're just the folk who know all about 'moving to Great Bickering' and we could do with the £10 journalist fee.
Okay, Tommy, here are a few FAR more interesting things that Great Bickering has 'going for it':
.....our lovely old Castle Cinema has gone and soon to be forgotten - bought by some property developer. Philistine! Blub, blub. And what's become of the stuffed badger that stood in the foyer?
.....Scandal 1 - local councillor runs off with thousands in cash and a local schoolgirl,
.....There is a Conservative Club, a Liberal Club but no Labour Club, Green Club or UKIP Club,
.....The Star Inn has fallen from the pedestal of 'greatest restaurant in Britain',
.....Seasons has gone bust! We await the naming of the resurgent but now severely understaffed store,
.....Scandal 2 - the illegal parking in Market Place rivals Golders Green Road but without the BMWs, Mercs and blue rinses,
.....Try hanging out at Caffe Stop (rather than Concorde),
.....Tobogganing behind our house is the best in North Yorks,
.....Don't fret if you need a hair makeover - Great Bickering is overloaded with hair salons,
.....Market Day on Monday is a sociological treat - retired farmers gather in clumps and dressed as they have for 50 years and talk a language all of their own,
.....Scandal 3 - Hey Tom, why NO mention of North Yorkshire's finest Library in Great Bickering. A top place.
.....and lastly a royal mention of Great Bickering Castle - ruined but standing and in the fief of King William IV and Queen Kate.
So, Tommy, why not come to Great Bickering and do a proper 'outsider' literary makeover - you could stay in our pigbarn and we might even clear it out for you.
Friday, 9 March 2007
How kind of you to respond to my letter to your boss, KT, with your recent email – can I say how impressed I was by all the letters after your name and your title, ‘Clinical Governance’, eh? Heavy!
(I presume that KT didn’t reply to me personally as it was her night pole-dancing at Miroslav’s Club in Old Compton Street; I’m so glad it doesn’t clash with her pharmaceutical oath)
I have been searching in my Pharmacopoeial thesaurus for the precise description for the content of your email and I've settled on....Bollocks. In fact, Total bollocks!
But let’s not get emotional this early in our relationship so let me recap on my letter to ABC, the universe’s largest pharmacy group….”because we care…about our share price and not going private”. Essentially, GP, I regress to my erstwhile trade on a very occasional, emergency basis for ABC and, in return……I, and let’s not beat about bushes, ‘others’, do not get paid correctly. Then, after I scream and go red in the nose and flagellate myself, you DO pay me but you never say sorry which, as ES aged 7 says, is awfully bad manners.
As to the total bollocks of your letter I am switching back to my literary hat and suggesting that it was a masterpiece of denial, trivia, obscurantism, deflection and spin not to mention mis-spellings and lousy grammar. And I was so anticipating a reply to my 5 questions. My breath remains baited on the question of that implied, mittyish relationship between ABC and Her Majesty’s Revenue. And surely can it be true that one of your arrogant, officious, patronising, egotistical and incompetent Area Mangers had a spell at HM’s Pleasure!?
So, are we any further forward? I do hope so.
Except……you say you are handing me some of my cash from my hard work for your company, yet you’re redesignating it as a “goodwill gesture”. I have to say I’m struggling with that concept.
In closing, GP, let this toughened-up Southerner up North give a softened-up Northerner down South some advice. I worry about your psychological and professional well-being and I diagnose that you have a medical condition known as anal retention. So let me switch professional hats once again and suggest an ice-cold size 28 pestle shoved very solidly up your…CENSORED!!!
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
We also had to consider ES who has a wonderful new teacher, Louise, for almost half a term now. Louise has brought all the strengths of the state system to the ‘sensibilities’ of Steiner. ES not only really likes her teacher but ES is whizzing on this past 4 weeks.
So, the NO decision was a tentative positive decision……until the next hiatus.
Saturday, 3 March 2007
And I always thought that I would never own an ipod.
HS received a black ipod from us for Christmas. It was the first time that I'd held an ipod. Hey, very sleek design - from California - but typically made in China, duhh! HS gave me her first CD to import onto her ipod - Hilary Duff. How interesting that HS put her favourite singer first on her ipod.
A couple of weeks ago it was my Birthday. After the home-made cards and usual preliminary presents - bars of white chocolate, phrenology bust and nodding Jesus - I opened my main prezzie. A video ipod! Hey, er...thanks girls...just what I umm, always wanted.
Stuff happens for a few days as I avoided the ipod for a few days. Finally I had a proper and intimate fondle with it. And then I had what could be a tough decision - what to ipod on first!? Instinctively I went to the shelf and took down the most influentional album from my teenage years - Fairport Convention, 1st album. Halcyon days!
ipod, blog, what personal taboo should I break next? Let's have a think....mmmm.....how about.......Tantric sex?
...We’re In – 7th April 2001
Just before 8 o’clock on that fine spring Friday morning we turned into the private road that led to the back of Maison Nous in Great Bickerin Bickering. Astonished, we found the redoubtable John and Stuart already unloading our gear from the pantechnicon into the garden.
We entered the house through the back door that led in to the kitchen. The girls ran through the house investigating each room. We hadn’t seen the house for 3 or 4 weeks and now in its emptiness we began to appreciate the full extent of what we’d bought. What struck me was just how dull and grimy and smelly and old it was – well, it had been built at the time that Handel was writing his Oratorio. SC and I got involved with John and Stuart and each and every packing box and each piece of furniture that was unloaded.
Neither of them big men, John, a stocky Londoner of about 40, and Stuart, a wiry Kiwi in his middish 20’s, were amazing, even heroic. They had helped pack, driven the 250 miles north, been delayed a day and now they were turbocharged. We stopped for substantial sandwiches for lunch and regular drinks but they worked relentlessly through the day. They emptied the contents of the pantechnicon into the house and barn, assembled all beds and placed furniture in each room with great speed and care and always with good humour.
Strike 2 to the London crew.
Around about 8 in the evening the house was still and full. John and Stuart were invited to use the feeble shower and we ordered fish and chips from the shop opposite. After the Keystone Removals of yesterday we were full of gratitude and proud of ‘our’ guys; and we sent John and Stuart southwards with gratitude and a well-deserved tip.
Strike 3 to the London Crew!
Meanwhile 5 London Refugees collapsed in our newly-made beds and dreamt of what the future would bring.
Friday, 2 March 2007
This morning was suddenly lighter than the days before and also far noisier - the songbirds were out on the wing and signing chirpily. The snowdrops are still out, the crocuses are in full bloom and some daffodil heads are breaking through. The sky was a glorious blue at 7 this morning. This morning felt as if the spring was really about to burst forth.
Then, the sleepyheads are roused and the school day begins. Suddenly, IS asks me, "Dad, why did you marry Mum?" Whilst the others laugh and goad me I try to think of a smart or witty answer. Finally I reply, "Well, if you must know it's because I knew we'd have the best 3 girls ever".
.....Arrival - 6th April 2001
From London we headed to SC's parents (who lived 10 miles away from our new house) for the 48 hours before we took charge.
Friday came around and we and John and Stuart Removals turned up at 2 o'clock to bid farewell to the vacating D family. The scene that greeted us at the house could have been out of a slapstick movie. A number of sweaty, panicking removals men were desperately behind in their packing. In the grounds were 2 pantechnicons with men sweatily humping and arranging stuff inside. In the house, more men were busily packing and shifting and shouting in strong Yorkshire accents. 'Our' crew just looked gobsmacked at this tableau of madness. We went off for a coffee and...calm, and a preliminary look around our new town.
Nearly 3 hours later we returned and found a THIRD pantechnicon and more men - now totaling ELEVEN - even more sweaty, even more panicky and even more behind schedule. Pandemonium ruled!
Eventually, we spoke to one of the delightfully harrassed and apologetic D family who said they should only be another hour or two. We called an emergency London Crew Removals Meeting and decided to leave this Yorkshire mob to their unbridled incompetence and that we would keep in touch by phone. We returned to my parents-in-law whilst John and Stuart headed for the pleasures of who-knows-what.
We later found out that the D's vacated the house at 10.45pm.
Strike 1 to the London crew.
Thursday, 1 March 2007
At just 24 hours notice we were invited to visit a local Primary school with good word-of-mouth reports. The Head gave us a warm welcome and a thorough tour of the facilities, the teachers and the children. It seemed like a cut-down version of the first school we inhabited in Great Bickering - except that this Head resembled a younger, amusing, personable, Welsher version of Gunter Grass rather than our experience of the Bickering Head who was a cross between Stalin and Thatcher with the moustache and an overly posh Yorkshire accent.
In today's visit, the top class looked good, the lower class seemed rather beset by photocopies and colouring. IS and ES made all the right murmurs and gave all the correct looks. Lunch that day was toad-in-the-hole and sponge pudding - my kind of school. We left for home as uncertain as before as to which educational path to venture down.
SC was still agonising as I fell asleep. Until the next educational hiatus........
.....Departure - 4 April 2001
SC had lived in her Balham house for 19 years and I had been there 8 of those years. During that time we had delivered 3 girls back to the house and shared memories too numerous to recall. My family had often moved me and my sisters but I had never moved my family.
Now, this house was empty of EVERYTHING - except us. The five of us took our last voyage through the house stopping and saying goodbye to each room in turn. We ended up in the kitchen. HS produced a piece of card cut out in the shape of a heart on a piece of thread. SC placed the heart on the wall above the cooker - with HS's 6 year-old writing the card, 'We love you house'.
Standing outside the locked house we wished John and Stuart, our wonderful Removals men, a safe journey in their pantechnicon.
We all stood for a final look at our old house - SC was teary, we all hugged each other and gave a long, deep sigh and got into our loaded and trusty old Sierra. And we headed northwards. Forever!