Tuesday, 29 June 2010

So...what to write?

Philip was away for the weekend, his annual trip to Stockport to see his very fine friend Ian. He came home yesterday, and in the midst of our 'I'm glad you're back' 'It's nice to be home' 'what have you been up to?' exchange, he mentioned that I hadn't written a new post while he'd been away.
He was right. I haven't actually written anything at all for just over a week. I've thought about it several times, but haven't got as far as setting finger tips to key pad.
Why? I hear ( hope) you ask.
The answer is, quite simply, I got stage fright. This blog thing started out as an exercise in making me write -  it wasn't supposed to matter what the subject was, or how eloquently I expressed it as long as I went through the motions of writing - regularly. One of the appealing aspects was what I, somewhat naively, thought was the anonymity of the blogosphere; the fact that nobody would know who I was, and  I wouldn't need to know who was reading, or what they thought.  Oh how foolish I now seem with the wisdom and hindsight of a few short weeks.
I was thrilled that some people started to read my posts, some even became followers, they started to leave comments. I returned their visits, started mooching around on other people's bloglists, tried the random approach of clicking on the 'next blog' button. After only a short while, I'd built up my own list of blog favourites. I began to enjoy the mix of intelligence and humour, poetry and prose, fiction and opinion . I wondered about the events fellow bloggers were portraying.
Then a couple of things happened that really threw me. One blogger I'd been reading from the beginning, who was one of my very first followers, decided she was 'packing up and moving on' from Blogspot. There was a link to her final post on my reading list, but by the time I'd clicked on it, the blog had already closed down. I've no idea  what her reasons were for stopping. I hope it means there are other good things that she'd rather be doing. I'm sorry I didn't get to leave a final comment.
Charlie, a man I've never met, who lives half way around the world,  got sick and had to go to hospital - I love his blog. I enjoy the mixture of insight and rant, and I'm always glad when he leaves a comment at mine. I've been genuinely worried for him and his family. I want him to get better. Soon.
I'm not quite sure how or when it happened, but it seemed that, in a very short space of time I'd come across a group of people I wanted to know more about.
And that was when I started to care what they thought about me, about my life and my writing. From there it was a very short step to worrying about what I wrote. Suddenly I seemed to be writing for an audience - and it was then that I found I couldn't decide - what to write or how to say it.
I can almost hear Philip, exclaiming as he reads this 'oh pretentious moi', But I hope I'm not giving the impression that I'm caught up with my own ego. I'm not claiming writer's block or anything grandiose. It's only been a few days for goodness sake. I guess I'm just surprised at the impact that joining the blogging world has had on me.
Before I started this whole thing, I used to wonder at the way it had trapped Philip's attention and was using up so much of his time. I think I understand a bit better now.  And I'm beginning to recognise that I won't be able to keep writing unless I do just that - keep writing.

There was a time we’d come upstairs together
a nightly rite, a cup of peppermint tea.
Often now, I go to bed and leave you;
captured by the laptop’s blue-lit screen.

We go our separate ways to end of evening.
Me to sleep in silence - dreamless, blind.
You to worlds of words and shared opinion,
where you re-write, re-site your shifting mind.

Perhaps too many times I failed to hear you,
- no more enough to speak to only me.
Is that why you need to seek endorsement
where others in their thousands might agree?
Reflecting on the life that you portray
Where is the man that, nightly, you betray?

Monday, 21 June 2010

A load of old codswallop...

Summer in Shoreham brings with it a range of local entertainment - the  village fete, a garden safari, the horticultural show and lavender weekend to name a few. These have all been going for some years and bring a fair number of visitors to the village. This weekend a beer festival at The Two Brewers was added to the calendar of events.

We resisted  on Friday, stoically staying indoors to watch England play. But by Saturday evening, the temptation of sampling strange potent brews was too strong to overcome.
It's not like we were drinking to drown our sorrows - the footie had been dismal, but we'd had a grand afternoon out, listening to Dan German singing in the park. And although we'd got soaked in a sudden downpour, we were still in pretty high spirits. We were also very wise - eating a good bowl of pasta before setting off - far too sensible and grown up to go drinking on an empty stomach.
When we got to the pub there were barrels of beer lined up on the bar, lovingly wrapped in dampened beach towels. I'm not a great beer drinker, so I declined the option of a pint of Roaring Meg, or a half of The Ginger Tosser, and settled for a peach cider - delicious, just like drinking the nicest fruit squash, but much, much, much stronger.
As the night wore on, we all seemed to be on fine form - laughing and chatting. I can't remember when any of us were quite so witty or erudite. I'm not sure exactly how or when the fish conversation started, but once it had begun, there was no stopping it - the fish puns flowed like the beer.
I'd had enough of perching on a stool, and felt a little tench, so we found a plaice at a table. There were enough of us to fillet. For a while, the conversation floundered, slightly off-bream, but Philip was a dab hand at it, so we got back to bassics and found our porpoise. By the end of the night, I was feeling quite eel, but we'd had a whale of a time.
When I was young, my Dad had a great way with words. In the cold light of a Monday morning I can almost hear him summing up our big night out.... 'what a load of old codswallop.'

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The loneliest job in the world?

Views have been aired, thousands of words have been written and printed. I can add little to the wisdom, perceived, imagined or actual, of the TV commentators, sports journalists and sofa pundits, who have already tried and judged the outcome of last night's football game between England and the USA.
I am, however, still reflecting and wondering why anyone would ever want to be a goalkeeper.
My beloved and I go to a lot of football matches - almost every week during the football season. We always choose to sit or stand behind the goal, which means we spend a lot of time watching the man in front of the net. For the best part of ninety minutes, a goalkeeper is on his own, while his team-mates run around the field, playing without him. He can't join in. He can't astound and excite the fans with a hundred yard dribble then fire in a shot that threatens to burst through the net. There's no skilful passing, no holding up the ball in midfield, not even a chance of a sliding tackle. When you're a goalie, there's nothing you can do to help your team's progress. All you can do is keep warm, stay focused and keep your eye on the ball. All you can hope is that, at some point, you will be called on to make a heroic leap, a dramatic dive that will stop the ball and keep your team in the game.
And if, as happened to Rob Green last night, you slip or stumble, fluff or fumble - then you become not only an outsider to the ten men who are supposed to be your team-mates, you become an outcast to thousands.
We all make mistakes. I'm sure we all know that feeling of wishing we could turn the clock back, retrieve a situation. What most of us never have to endure is the humiliation of seeing our slip-ups filmed and photographed, played and replayed, again and again and again.
Last night's images of England's goalkeeper will stay with me for a long time - heartbreaking pictures of him down on all fours, desperately crawling back towards the goal, in the vain hope that he could snatch back the ball and his reputation. 
There were eleven men in the England team, but only one of them is shouldering the blame for our faltering start to the World Cup. Sometimes, being a goalkeeper must be the loneliest job in the world.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Quotes from the bench

'The bench is looking very fine indeed.' Philip called back over his shoulder as he headed out the front door. A strange inconsequential comment, you might  think, but this particular bench has been the focus of some very  intense effort, some might say craftsmanship, this weekend.

In the village where we live, there is a rather fine house, whose owners have developed a foolproof approach to selling on any furniture that is no longer needed. A kind of e-bay without the 'e'. They simply put the furniture outside the front door, with a ludicrously low price written on it and an invitation to post the money through the letter box and take the furniture away.

We've been saying for a while that it would be nice to have a bench on the allotment - all digging and no sitting is not much fun. Earlier this week, a wooden bench appeared outside the rather fine house, with a price ticket of just five pounds. Philip spotted it on his way to work and lost no time in posting the fiver, picking up the bench and bringing it home. It needed a bit of work, so he's spent the last two days cutting and fixing slats to make a new seat. Then he painted it - a pale, early-morning sky, kind of blue - and now it does indeed look very fine.

This isn't the first time that Philip and I have smiled benignly on a bench. It might be a fairly ordinary, work-a-day article of furniture, but the humble bench  has featured in some of the finest moments of our relationship and given us some very fine memories.

There was a time, when we first knew each other and just before we got together properly, when I wasn't sure that it would happen at all. I was the older lady with a failed marriage, four teenage children, and a fairly ramshackle hand-to-mouth lifestyle. He was the tall man, always dressed in grey, with kindly smiling eyes and passionately held opinions. He also had another life in another part of town. One January afternoon we went for a walk in the park, to see what future, if any we might choose. We sat on a bench, both a bit scared, on the edge of committing to something we thought might turn out to be pretty important. As we sat there, it started to snow. We sat there for a long time, the beautiful white flakes falling all around us, the chill in the air forcing us closer. By the time we stood up from the bench, the decision was made.

It was another year or so before we started living together, during that time we'd travel backwards and forwards between parts of London, me snatching the odd night away when the kids went to stay with their dad. One weekend, on the way back home from Philip's flat in Camberwell, we saw a bench for sale in Woolworths' window. It was perfect for the porch outside my house and seemed to be a bargain price so we decided to buy it there and then. Maybe not the wisest move, as we had a long train journey ahead of us, and the fairly heavy bench came packed in a large, unwieldy cardboard box.

After some debate, we took the flat-packed bench back to the flat, freed it from its cardboard container and assembled it. Then we carried it back to mine. Down the hill to the station, onto the train, off the train at the other end and along the road to where I lived. It was still heavy, but whenever we got tired, we just put it down and sat on it. We did get a few quizzical looks, but it came in very handy when all the seats were full on the train.Woolworths stores may be no more, but the Woolworth's memorial bench still has pride of place outside the front door.

Two years ago we got married. No snow this time, but I think we were again both a bit scared as we set out on the next stage of our big adventure. As we left the registry office we just wanted somewhere to sit down, to catch our breath before heading off to celebrate with friends and family. There, just when we needed it, was a wooden bench. It features in some of my favourite photos of the day.

So I'm very glad that Philip spotted and brought home the latest in our line of memorable benches. I'm looking forward to sitting on it at the allotment, surveying the fruits of our labours. And I find myself, somewhat bizarrely, in agreement with Napoleon Bonaparte, who proclaimed that:

A throne is only a bench covered with velvet. 

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Testa Rossa

I have, for as long as I can remember, loved the sight, sound and smell of a fast car. Some years ago, my very lovely husband, for a birthday treat, bought me a day's driving at Silverstone (home of the British Grand Prix). I cannot even begin to explain the thrill of driving first a Lotus, and then a Ferrari around the racing circuit. It was, without doubt the best birthday present ever.
Earlier this year, for another rather big birthday, Philip repeated his act of kindness and bought us tickets for the British Grand Prix in July. I am ridiculously excited, even though it's still six weeks away. When I tell you that he doesn't drive himself, needs to wear earplugs to escape the noise of the race cars, and finds Grand Prixs the least entertaining sport on the planet, you will appreciate the scale of his magnaminity. Perhaps it's love.
To keep my childish excitement at a containable level, I have been trying to occupy my mind with other pursuits. Below is a version of a poem I wrote some time ago when I was practising alliteration. It is my own homage to the symbol of the prancing horse.

Testa Rossa

I listened, lusted, longed for
the throbbing thrusty roar.
Three hundred horse power hammering home,
no music moved me more.

I joined, with jade-eyed jealousy
The Tifosi's swelling ranks
Saw seductive, screaming scarlet
through the swirling yellow flags.

Never wearied then of waiting,
wasteful, wistful hours and days
while you haunted, taunted thrilled and chilled me -
Cavallino rampante.