1. Clear the area to be filled with concrete of dust and loose matter.
2. Get bored of sweeping up dust and gravel.
4. Have lunch.
5. Blog some more.
6. IM your little brother in BA
7. Heft bag of concrete out to the back garden.
8. Find a bucket.
9. Find a bucket that isn’t full of dead leaves and slugs.
10. Pour small amount of dusty stuff from concrete bag into bucket.
11. Add water.
12. Mix until pliable (yeah, right, this stuff sets just like..er..concrete…)
13. Pour resulting glop into hole to be filled.
14. Realise you haven’t mixed anything like enough
15. Go through whole rigmarole 3 more times
16. Go to B&Q to buy another bag of concrete mix.
17. Mix yet more fucking concrete.
18. Finally fill hole and hope to God that the cats don’t walk all over it before it dries.
1. Get a man with a cement mixer in next time.
(originally published January 2005)
I have been flicking through Monica Redlich’s wonderful book again and thoroughly enjoying its wicked take on life. It is a book that was given to me by my grandmother about 10 years ago and, looking in the flyleaf, it seems it is the December 1935 impression (the title has now been changed slightly). Certainly the edges of the pages are spotted with brown and the paper is of a quality that you just don’t get any more. It also has that old book smell, which is so delicious.
Despite the innocent title, this book is fantastically wicked (which is why it appeals to me so much!) For instance, this is what the author has to say on the subject of other people’s features:
The nice girl is far above petty jealousy, and will never try to make out that her friends are not good-looking. You will, I know, be anxious to say all you can in their favour, and will do your best to discount any trifling blemishes. The following remarks combine kindness with absolute honesty.
‘Oh, but I think Mary’s charming. One really hardly notices those teeth.’
‘Darling Cynthia – so bright. You’d never suppose that she’s ten years older than I am.’
Even should your friend be hopelessly plain, you will want to stand by her. Admit her plainness (for one cannot lie), but point out that she has a sweet nature.
If a friend should aks you herself what you think of her features, there are many ways of showing how generously you admire them. For example:-
‘Everyone says you look charming, when your face is in repose.’
‘They always say a big nose is a sign of character.’
‘What nonsense, my dear – you don’t look wicked at all.’
Throughout the book there are wonderful stylised illustrations by Anna K Zinkeisen (can’t find a link anywhere – sorry), which beautifully enhance the tone of the book. For instance, the front cover shows an angelic girl, dressed in ribbons and lace – with cloven hooves poking out from underneath her skirt.
There are sage words of advice within for every occasion, from parties to The Season to relationships – and some of the insults are absolutely priceless and well-worth remembering. This is a book to be picked up and chuckled over whenever possible.
(Originally published February 2006)
Directed by Nicholas Hytner and with a cast including Simon Russell-Beale, Alex Jennings, Lesley Manville and Ian Richardson, The Alchemist (currently playing at the National) was always going to be an odds-on bet for a good night out.
Subtle, a pimp (Alex Jennings), Dol Common, a prostitute (Lesley Manville) and Face, a gentleman’s valet (Simon Russell-Beale) are ensconced in Face’s master’s London house, which the Master has vacated due to fear of the plague. He is not expected to return until at least the end of the summer, and so our 3 ne’er-do-wells cook up a scam in which Face (posing as ‘Captain Face’) heads out to find gullible victims to lure back to the house, where they will be met by ‘The Alchemist’ (Subtle), who (they are told) is on the verge of making the Philosopher’s Stone, which will cure all of their ills. Face also finds the odd trick for Dol to turn, and all 3 have a share of the takings.
This much, I confess, I had to pick up from the programme notes, as the combination of fast paced action and Jacobean language were sometimes hard to follow. Jonson introduces so many characters that it is hard to keep up, especially as there are different roles within roles – each ‘gull’ that comes in is met by an alchemist tailored to exploit their individual weaknesses. Quick changes are therefore the order of the day for Subtle, from Californian hippy to besuited Scottish doctor to new age druid. Face also plays various characters, including a hilarious Dutch scientist, togged out with leather gauntlets, flying goggles and wild hair, and sporting an exaggerated limp. Of course, the number of different characters that they have created leads them ever further into confusion, as their various dupes start crossing over, and the action quickly falls into ever more enjoyable farce, with confusion and double-crosses abounding.
Madcap, funny and well-acted, this is a production that I will certainly be seeing more than just the once. Great stuff.
(Originally published 12 October 2006)
It’s a peaceful sort of a day. The sun feels hot on my back as I sit, cross-legged, filling pots with compost, taking pleasure in the feeling of the soil under my nails, resisting the urge (but only just) to make mud-pies. There’s a certain joy in potting up the window boxes and hanging baskets, marking the distances between the tiny plants to give them room to grow. The rhythmic crack of the polystyrene as I pop each plant out of its tray. The hole burrowed by hand into the damp compost. The springy feel of the earth as I firm each plant in to its new home. Then the pouring of water and the start of impatience – it seems like an age to wait for the plants to take hold and grow, sprouting flowers and trailing down the sides of the baskets. In truth, it will probably happen sooner than I think. One morning I will look out of the window and be taken by surprise by the myriad colours; the proof of life.
There’s a robin in my garden. He’s a cheeky sort of a chap, never far away when the garden fork appears, hoping for a fat, juicy worm or two. Strangely, the cat doesn’t seem interested in him. Maybe he’s just too small to be worth bothering with, but she continues to sun herself at my side, stretching onto her back, rubbing dust into her head and then giving me a quick sideways glance to check that I’m still watching her performance. Suddenly her attention is grabbed by something undetectable to human eye and she leaps into action, streaking up the walnut tree. Halfway up the tree she stops for a moment, hanging precariously, planning her route maybe; then she snakes her way up to the top, faster than greased lightning. Maybe she was in search of a sunnier spot, or maybe she just wanted to show me that she could do it. She sits, like the Cheshire Cat, waiting for Alice in the topmost branches.
(Originally published April 2006)