Saturday, 30 January 2021

One Morning in 1980

Getting up so early in the morning was always an effort. Then there was the walk to work, hunched up inside my coat, smoking my breakfast. When I arrived at work it would be 7am or, if I'm honest, 7.03 am or even 7.05 - by which time you were hoping the  assistant head was down the other end of the building, sorting out some crisis or other (not that she'd ever say anything - you just wanted to spare yourself the humiliation). 

It was a real institution in those days. Benign -it was a cheerful place to live and work- but an institution nevertheless. As soon as 'changeover' was over, the morning shift set about getting everybody out of bed. This was a challenge: we weren't bullies and we wanted everyone to do things in their own time but the pressure was on to get everyone into the dining room by 8. 

I'd go and hang my coat up in the staff-room. There would be a clatter of pans in the kitchen, where preparations for breakfast were already underway. There'd be a brief meet-up with the night-staff. This was usually a formality. Most nights they had nothing to do but iron the copious mounds of clean washing we'd laundered the day before. Then we'd divvy up the jobs. Some of us would have to help the residents who needed the most help to get up - you'd have to lift, wash and dress them. Others would go round knocking on bedroom doors and set the tables in the dining room. 

From that moment on it was all go, until everyone was sat in the dining room. I never remember thinking this at the time but it was rather like breakfast in a hotel. Perhaps that's because I'd hardly ever been to a hotel back then. You felt a vague sense of achievement at this point: the job, which seemed impossible an hour earlier, had been done. 

Once breakfast was over and the kitchen assistant had set about washing up, the residents retired to the TV room to spend the morning watching whatever happened to be on. At this point, we set off to make the beds, working our way down the corridor from room to room. Sometimes this was just a matter of smoothing sheets and blankets neatly and tucking them in. (These were the days -just- before the duvet took the British bedroom by storm: when they came in they took some getting used to for us professional bed-makers). Sometimes though, this involved a clean-up operation, a job that had been left for later in the rush to get everyone to the dining room. I can still hear  my colleague H--- now, as she recoiled in horror: 'Argh no! There's a number two in the bed, man!'

Twenty-six bedrooms, split over two floors. We worked in pairs: two of us upstairs, two of us downstairs. At the end of the corridor, in the room furthest away from 'the office', we'd open the window, sit on the bed and light up a well-deserved fag. Then we'd set off back to the dining room for our break proper, collecting up any dirty bedding on the way and sticking it into the washing machine. Our break proper involved sitting and chatting over a couple of slices of toast, a cup of tea and another obligatory cigarette. A year later, a new head of home was to frown upon the provision of free toast. He was not popular.

This was London in 1980. I remember realising that just about everybody I worked with was vegetarian, gay, or a member of an ethnic minority. We made a great team, I think. This was the time just before the AIDS epidemic and I often wonder, sadly, what became of Peter and the two Johns. Young people came and either went or decided (like me) that this was the job for them. 

As I said, it was a real -if benign- institution. Thankfully, over the next two years our jobs gradually changed for the better. Like the duvet, care in the community was on the way in. Where we had been expected to do things for people we began to help people do things for themselves. The staff-room became a bedsit: somewhere people could learn to live more independently before, ideally, moving out. We cheerfully gave up our space: most of us, although we had always enjoyed the job, were delighted with the way things were going. 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Not Snow Again!

 I'm sorry but I can't resist another riff on the nature of snow.

Usually, in the morning, I look out the window and confirm to myself that everything is much the same as it was yesterday. It'll probably -hopefully- be the same tomorrow. I guess we all do this without really thinking much about it.

When you look out in the morning and everything is covered with snow it can change, I think, the way we feel about time. It looks like the last time it snowed. It's a view I've seen most years, for years. It doesn't take me back to yesterday - it takes me back to all those years in the past when I looked out in the morning to see snow.

And it's the same. Made afresh but always the same.

I looked out of the window this morning, saw the sundial and realised that, in  a way,  it explained what I'm trying to say:

I was reminded of the beginning of TS Eliot's Burnt Norton:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
                                     But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.


Monday, 25 January 2021

A Birthday

Today is Virginia Woolf's birthday.

Her novels are not thought of as being easy to read. I'm not sure this is true and, even if it is, I think it's true to say that many of the most rewarding things in life are not easy to get to grips with at first. Perhaps if you want to be merely entertained you should read something else. But if you want to read a book that's going to make the world look different after you read it, you could do worse than read Woolf.

The first of her books I ever read was To the Lighthouse. I started trying to read it perhaps fifteen times and never got further than the first few pages. Every time I ran into the sand, though, I left it with the feeling that there was something magical about the book that I just wasn't getting but which I just had to discover. Next time, I'd finish it. Finally, I did. I read it again. I still drop in, regularly. It went from being impenetrable to being perhaps my all-time favourite novel. Her writing can be quite addictive when you get into it.

People often describe Woolf's writing as 'stream of consciousness'. It's an off-putting term that makes a book sound difficult even before you read it. Not only that, but in Woolf's case it's usually incorrectly applied. Strictly speaking, stream of consciousness is the writing down of a character's thoughts as they might be imagined to think them. Although she found radical new ways of writing novels, the way Woolf actually writes is usually more conventional than this. I think people misapply the term because Woolf, better than any writer I know (ok, I'm a fan), creates a vivid impression of actually being able to see inside the mind of another. It's worth persevering with her novels if only to experience this. It's the source of the magic I referred to earlier.

Once I'd read To the Lighthouse I went on to read Jacob's Room, Mrs Dalloway and The Waves. The only one, so far, I've not got on with at all is The Voyage Out. I started with To the Lighthouse because it was the first of her books I happened to pick up. I later realised that Mrs Dalloway is perhaps the easiest of her great novels to get to grips with.

To set her writing aside for a moment, and end on a more personal note, I read something she said the other day. I quote it because, with all great artists, people tend to dwell on and embellish the darker moments in their lives. I want to buck the trend. Reflecting on what made her happy, she wrote: I think it’s the moment when one is walking in one’s garden, perhaps picking off a few dead flowers, and then suddenly one thinks: My husband lives in that house—and he loves me.

Friday, 22 January 2021

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

fellow blogger brought this up.  Why do we repeat ourselves so much?  Their concern was with repetitive thoughts.  Why do we spend so much of our lives thinking the same thing over and over again? My answer was that I didn't know but that it wasn't just thoughts.  We repeat ourselves in time - we often  have the same breakfast every day, for example.  We also repeat ourselves in space - for example, we take care to arrange our living spaces to be broadly the same as everyone else's. These repetitions are very important to us. 

I once suggested carpeting our living room with AstroTurf,  painting landscape murals on the walls and painting the ceiling blue. We could furnish the room with garden furniture, I suggested. Nobody I suggested it to liked the idea - it was,  quite simply,  'not done'. 

It's the same in the arts. Did Bach write one Prelude and Fugue?  No.  He wrote hundreds of them. Did Agatha Christie write one whodunnit then follow it up with a Mills and Boone? No.  Did Picasso paint one blue picture and move on? No. He painted them by the barrowload. Of course,  once you've done something once you might want to do it again to improve and develop whatever it is you've done but nevertheless there comes a point when it's time to move on. 

In the arts,   it's even often said that 'form is repetition'. The composer John Cage had the right idea,  using chance and indeterminacy to sidestep repetition. However,  not content with doing it once,  he did it over and over again. 

To return to interior design. I quite like the idea of sleeping in a large tent pitched in another AstroTurfed room lined bookshelves (for when I feel like reading in bed). A hi-fi in the room could play recordings of ambient  sounds from outside: birdsong,  bleating sheep and so on. I could perhaps choose my location from a selection of ambient recordings. Before you ask,  I could turn the spare bedroom into a 'dressing room' where we could keep our clothes. 

I'll never get round to it. Like everyone else I'm too busy leading a repetitive life. We all repeat ourselves.  We even invent timetables to make sure that we do. In fact,  I  wonder if we're capable of doing otherwise?  If not, are we as free as we think we are? 

What sort of things would you do if you decided to reduce repetition to a minimum?

While you're thinking about that, it's ten to eleven here. Time to put the kettle on...

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Sandbag time again?

They forecast rain. Lots of it. I first realised when I saw J with his JCB thing dropping off a pallet of sandbags in the lane. The village gets flooded regularly, sometimes more seriously than others. We know the routine and when there's a deep depression approaching, people muck in. The year before last, we all had to get our shovels out and rebuild the road.

I've just been and sorted out the conservatory, lifting things off the floor - mainly a pile of cardboard boxes due for recycling. So far we've been lucky - the house has been just high enough up to avoid the floodwater, although the worst flood we ever had came within an inch of the threshold. The conservatory however, built onto the side of the house, is lower than the rest of it and has always flooded at the drop of a hat. It's just one of those things.

Most alarms are false alarms. Hopefully this one will turn out to be one too. What for us is merely having to mop out the conservatory can mean misery, trauma, trashed living areas and insurance claims for people up the road. Not something people need at the best of times - and this, of course, is not the best of times.


We've just been looking through the photos from Mrs C's wildlife camera again. The woodpecker's been back. It caught a shot of a starling, too. There used to murmurate spectacularly over the village but there aren't enough of them around to do it at the moment.


Watched this while going for an exercise-bike ride this morning:

Saturday, 16 January 2021


A day off. I don't work long hours but even so, it's nice to have a day when work isn't on my mind and I can just freewheel.

The sky's blue. The snow seems to be melting. although the field on the hillside opposite is still an unbroken white. 

I did have to unpack the Tesco shopping this morning, We've been getting supermarket deliveries ever since last March. I always wash the packaging in soapy water, which takes time. I guess there are those who do this and those who don't. There is a good case for doing it and anyway, at times like this, everyone needs strategies to preserve some sort of peace of mind.

I usually prop the tablet up on the cooker so I can watch a film at the same time. Today it was Patrick Keiller's film, London. There's short video about it here which, coincidentally, features the 'Tesco's scene' in it. I didn't register the connection when I was watching it this morning, although the scene always amuses me (click once,  then click on 'Watch this  video on YouTube'):

Made in 1994, the film is composed entirely of footage of London, over which a narrator (Paul Scofield) recalls the walks he's taken through the city in the company of his friend, Robinson. Robinson is an interesting character and a mine of information - not all of which, so the narrator tells us, is reliable. It's a powerful film with a thread of gentle, whimsical humour running through it.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

I Know Where I'm Going

Actually dared to start looking at possible holiday destinations the other day. We've thought about it before but never actually looked into it. First choice would be a cottage by the sea in Wales. It will need to have disabled access. We looked online and found one or two. It would be nice to get away again. It'll probably be months before we get vaccinated but such thoughts are good for morale. It would be nice, too, to have people stay again. The record (set the year before covid, I think) was seven. All the spare beds were full here. Someone kipped down in front of the fire, another under the piano. 

I never thought I'd feel nostalgic about queuing for the bathroom.

It's snowing again. This time it shows no sign of stopping.  It looks to be about six inches deep from what I can see from here, the deepest yet. I've been out a couple of times already to feed the birds but  I've no inclination, though,  to go outside again with a ruler just to verify this! 

Watching the snow come and go when you're stuck at home is a bit like watching traffic lights change at night when there's no traffic. I wouldn't say this makes me feel down - rather,  it intrigues me. 

North Stoke was talking about Powell Pressburger films.  This is one of my favourites. If I hadn't had any online work to get on with this afternoon I might have sat down to watch it:

I like their unique quirkiness: perhaps the most obvious example in this film being the telephone box next to the waterfall. The telephone box (on Mull,  I think)  exists and has become something of a shrine for Powell Pressburger fans. 

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Ways of Seeing

There's still snow on the ground. For once, I'm not worried how I'm going to get around. I've nowhere to go. I said in an earlier post how I thought being 'snowed in' was like being locked down but I've come to think it goes deeper than that. Snow creates a 'new normal' all of its own. Sometimes you can still make out the shape of things under the snow, like furniture in an empty house, covered in dust-sheets. Beyond that, all the elements of the outside world have been blanked out and reduced to memory.   Roads have become impassable. 

In some countries, white is the colour of mourning. They say this is because it represents purity and rebirth. I keep telling myself this.

Look at it closely though, as we all know, and snow becomes a mass of countless unique crystals. So, white emptiness or crystal garden, what you see depends on how you look. And here, looking out of the window, I can either stare at the blankness or fall back on my inner resources, such as they are.


Mrs C's wildlife camera has produced some intriguing shots of tits flying. Birds stood on the ground or holding on to branches and feeders can look cute. But this is not how they spend most of their time. When they move around, in the air, they do so so fast we can only glimpse them. Capture them with a camera and we begin to see the fantastic world they inhabit.  It's a bit like the snow: it depends on how you look.


Wednesday, 6 January 2021

The Mystery of the Missing Trousers

I've been wanting to write a post all day only every time I was about to sit down and start,  something else cropped up! Silly things,  mainly, like losing things and finding them where I least expected to find them.  Putting my glasses down while looking for my mobile only to find myself wondering around in a blurry funk looking for my mobile and my glasses,  in no particular order. At times like that,  when nothing seems to be where it's supposed to be,  I tend to fall back on Sherlock Holmes' method,  which he explains in The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier, one of only two Holmes stories narrated by Holmes himself. I guess I'm not the only one. It's pretty well-known:

"That process,” said I, “starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support. We will now apply this principle to the case in point.

It usually works. For example, today,  having hunted round the house for a pair of missing trousers,  In the end I decided, with Holmes' help, that I must have picked them up with a bundle of towels by mistake and stuck them in the tumble drier. I headed for the drier and rummaged around inside it,  hoping to find them. Sure enough they were there. 

The Mystery of the Missing Trousers.  Solved.  Elementary, really. 


Yesterday was less hectic. We even found time to watch this - Stravinsky's Petrushka performed by the Bolshoi Ballet:

Sunday, 3 January 2021

The Birds

Somebody bought Mrs Carruthers a wildlife camera for Christmas. It's a great present. It's now set up pointing at the bird table. We're still experimenting with the settings and the best time of day to set it running (the light quickly goes in the afternoon at this time of year). Anyway here's one or two shots she's captured with the machine. It's really great to be able to see the woodpeckers close up!

Saturday, 2 January 2021

The view up the Hill

 We woke up this morning to see large flakes of snow falling past the window. 

There's a good couple of inches now. For the first time this winter,  there's a chance it won't just be washed away by the next shower of rain.

We live in a dip in the ground.  Here, when it snows, you feel surrounded, coccooned. It feels like that too,  I'm sure,  because there's usually no need for us to go out these days.  

The snow plays tricks with  time. The day becomes disconnected from yesterday and connects instead with all the other days when it snowed here. It brings back memories of those days - mainly the memory of a feeling that everything you planned on doing will need to be postponed. It's not always possible,  of course.  Some things have to go ahead come what may but with regard to everything else, it's no bad thing, once in a while. 

Not that we had anything planned today,  what with the pandemic restrictions. There have been many times in the last few months when it felt here as if we'd been 'snowed in', without the snow. 

Of Lighthouses and Lagoons

We recently returned from a holiday in Cumbria. We stayed for a week on a caravan site in Haverigg. The site's situated on the edge of a...