Saturday, 10 October 2015

Mrs Bean and the Greek Tragedy

As a birthday treat, Caroline kindly took me to a local production of the Burial at Thebes.
We carried drinks in plastic glasses to our excellent seats in the second row of the intimate studio theatre.
 Antigone was determined to bury her dead brother, but he had been a traitor so her uncle/ great uncle (sadly they were relations of Oedipus) threatened to execute her. Emotions ran high.

In the intimate theatre space, things began to get a little warm.

Creon and Antigone faced off, just inches from each other.  Just feet from us. Perspiration stood out on their foreheads.

I could feel a flush coming on.

Inch by inch I removed my jacket.  My chair-back put up a fight. Just as I thought I had succeeded, I kicked over my wine glass.  There was a plasticky clatter but I did my best innocent face.  It wasn’t only on stage that great acting was happening.

Creon was condemning Antigone to death.

Things were still too warm.  I felt in my back pocket for my hair band.  My seated position meant I couldn’t reach.   I squirmed in my seat as I tried to hook the hair tie.  People were beginning to look.

Antigone was saying she would rather be dead than betray her brother.

Finally I pulled the band out triumphantly and began to haul my hair into it when it snapped and pinged into the person behind me.


Antigone was about to be buried alive.  I would just have to put up with my flush.

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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Bake Off

Until now I have resisted it.  All my friends have been talking about it.  Many were visibly cheered when it reappeared. 
Finally, I gave in and watched it too.
The Great British Bake Off.
I assumed it would improve my baking.
It gave me something to talk about with friendly acquaintances.
It gave a heart-warming picture of multicultural Britain (a three-cheers, two-fingered salute to UKIP).
It offered an engaging picture of the different personalities involved.
When Nick and Jackie were coming to lunch, I thought about the delicacies to which I had recently been a spectator – chocolate soufflĂ©, three-tier religieuse, macarons.
And I bottled it.
After all, even the mighty Nadia’s soufflĂ© had not been fluffy enough.
I would just make something with which I felt comfortable.   Something which I had baked successfully many times before-
- I would use the apples Chris and Christine gave us and the blackberries we gleaned from the hedgerow and make a wholesome Autumn crumble.
I was so relaxed with my unambitious choice that I kinda forgot it was in the oven. 
Put it this way – I now have a new carbonised prop to use in my lessons about Pompeii and Herculaneum.
My baking actually appears to have become worse.

I don’t know if I can blame it on the Great British Bake Off, but I certainly intend to try.

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Friday, 2 October 2015

Speed Awareness

I got caught speeding. 
Everybody always has a very good reason for why they got caught speeding, generously peppered with mitigating circumstances.
But my story is simply general dopiness, with a little joie de vivre thrown in.
At the speed awareness course,  I and my fellow criminals queued to be registered.  There was the low hum of restrained British indignation.  The Indian Summer sun pulsed through the hotel blinds.  To have to give up a day like this!
Several of us stole glances at an extremely elderly woman, bent with age and with very sparse soft white hair.  Speeding eh?
When the policeman/driving instructor (I never disambiguated) looked at my licence he said,
“Oh, a doctor, what kind of a doctor!”
And I heard myself replying,
“Well clearly I was on my way to an organ transplant when I got caught speeding.”
The guy was staring at me. 
Fearing that I might be clapped in irons, I quickly amended,
“Just an academic doctor.”
Obviously, I then got picked on to answer a few questions in the session.  Smartarse!
At tea break (criminals get tea breaks?) everybody switched on their mobile phone like divers coming up for air.  Except me.  I call it mindfulness.  My family call it inconvenient.
Oh, and except the very elderly lady.  She told me her story in a cut glass accent.
“I was just leaving a wedding when it happened.  I hadn’t had anything to drink, you know – well, not very much.  I just felt light-hearted.  Light-hearted.  I think that was it.”
We went on to discuss the beautiful weather, then time was called.
As we made our way, she smiled up at me and said,
“It is wonderful though, isn’t it?”
“What is?”

“Speeding!” she replied happily.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Into the Woods

The worst thing about decorating is thinking about it.  Just contemplating the upheaval  makes me feel like a lie down.
Carenza was very young when we decorated her last bedroom.  Together, she and I painted her tall bed lipstick pink.  Together we got drips and dribbles on tummies and sleeves.  Together we smeared it all around the house. 
For some reason, this time Carenza favours neutrals.
She picked colours more grown-up than I ever had.  We spent half an hour in Homebase squinting at paints which should have been called magnolia or cream, but, due to the vagaries of fashion, weren’t.
If only her father was as mature as she is. 

However, following touching scenes of Father-Daughter cooperation her new bedroom has been beautifully decorated.
Even the far end of her walk in wardrobe has been papered with trees.  Now all we need to complete the look is a lamppost, some snow, and Mr Tumnus.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Apple Surprise

When we arrived in St Albans it was an Indian Summer and we had inherited a bramley apple tree which showered us with its abundance.  I spent dreamlike weeks in the garden peeling apples and watching our three tiny children scampering about in the sun. 
Eight years later, we moved to another neighbourhood and we had an apple tree again, but it bore fruit only grudgingly.  Then Nigel pruned it and it began to flourish.
In October, we would sometimes have a dessert called Apple Surprise.  Apple Surprise was any pudding which actually contained no apples.  That was the surprise.
But this year we have moved again. 
As yet our garden is a featureless rectangle.  We are focusing on the house so the garden must wait until next year.
Except for one thing – the apple tree.  I came home last week to see a very long cardboard box on the drive.
Bert the Bramley had arrived and Nigel spent much of Saturday planting him. He then lavished him with compost and flooded him lovingly with water.
 But it will still be two or three years until we can eat apple surprise again.
Which is why it was particularly welcome when Chris and Christine appeared at our door on Sunday with a generous bucket of windfall apples.

Rest assured Chris & Christine, Bert the Bramley was watching and one day he will reward your kindness.

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Friday, 18 September 2015


Ellie is surprised!
As you get older you are harder to surprise, but on the other hand, more and more people seem eager to try.
Last Friday, Ellie thought she was picking her mother up from choir practice to go for a birthday meal.  But we all jumped out from a darkened hall shouting “Happy Birthday”.
She was happy and astounded.  A successful surprise.
On Saturday, Chip, whose surprise we could not attend, went to the same hall to run through a church service.  Then everybody yelled “Happy Birthday”.
She was delighted and stunned.  A successful surprise.
We couldn't be at Chip’s because I had already booked yet another surprise.  This one was for my family plus old friends David and Carolyn. Would it be successful?
Photo ID was necessary, so Nigel guessed at the Houses of Parliament; Perran, a day out in Calais(!).  Those destinations sounded more interesting than what I actually had planned.  I hoped there would be no disappointment.
Then we took the tube into the City.  Carenza guessed we were going on a tour of ancient Guild Meeting Halls. Oh dear.
We gazed on the outlines of the Gherkin and the Cheese-grater and the Walkie Talkie.  Did we like them or not, dwarfing the much older surrounds?

Then suddenly, we were entering the Walkie Talkie.  Happy as we took the slick lift to the thirty-fifth floor.  Delighted as we poured out into the light of the SkyGarden, a lush public park high above London.  A successful  surprise then.

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015


One disadvantage of middle age is that I sleep poorly.
I long for the far off days when I woke up to a sore ear  - I slept so deeply that I didn’t stir, and my ear would suffer from pressure.
I wake nowadays fractious and craving more kip.
My sleep is shallow and restless.
Or so I thought.
Today I have knocked on four of my neighbours’ doors  to apologise: my car alarm went off in the wee small hours.
Piecing together the neighbours’ politely tetchy comments, it went on for maybe two hours.
I wouldn’t know – I didn’t wake up.
And this is not the first incident: three weeks ago young Kit, who was staying with us, finished his late shift at the restaurant only to find he had no house key with him.  The neighbours heard him banging on our front door, but we didn’t. 
Nor the doorbell.
Nor our mobiles.
He cleverly used social media to locate a friend who was still awake and went to sleep at their house.
“Well,” I said to Nigel, “On the bright side, at least this means I must be getting more sleep than I realised.”

“Yes.  And you’ll be needing it.  You’ve got another seven more neighbours to apologise to.  Off you go.”

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