Saturday, April 28, 2012

These I Have Loved - but don't eat any more - -

My mother's attitude to food is still rooted just after the war.  Anything you couldn't get whilst fighting Hitler, my mother now loves.  And a lot of that involved sugar.

So her idea of bread and jam is to take a small piece of bread, slather it in butter and then add as much jam as can be balanced on it without actually falling off.  No meal is complete without a slice of cake at the end of it.  No dessert is complete without a liberal helping of Instant Whip or Dream Topping.  No snack is complete without chocolate.

For my mother, none of this matters.  She eats lot of fruit and vegetables too, many of them home-grown.  She eats salad every day.  Mum was eating five portions of fruit and veg a day before the idea was invented.   She doesn't have a big appetite, because she was only five feet tall at her tallest, but she eats a little bit of everything.  The original balanced diet.  No fads, no funny ideas about food - - just a mixture of lots and lots of fruit and veg, a mixture of cheese and meat for protein - - and plenty of sweet stuff for dessert.

This diet has worked brilliantly for my mother.  At eighty-eight, she is incredibly fit.  She can still run, and does.  She is very flexible, with no trace of arthritis.  If there are more people than chairs, she'll be the first one to sit on the floor and thinks absolutely nothing of it.  She is out gardening for several hours every day, and not just a little bit of pruning, either - I'll see her with a spade.  "Just digging this bed over."

So, I'd guess it's her balanced diet that's done it.  Oh yes, and I suspect that the fact that her parents met when they were both members of a gymnastics team helps, too.  My grandfather was one of the men at the bottom of the pyramid and my grandmother was the little one on top.

Her father, my grandfather, was a machine-gunner in the First World War at a time when their average life expectancy on the Front was about twenty minutes - - and yet he lived through it all.  I'd guess his ability to shoot - - and then run like hell - - probably helped.

I have inherited some of Mum's flexibility - my joints seem as bendy as ever! - and I think my swimming helps with this.  Sadly, I didn't inherit her athletic ability.

But, unfortunately, I also inherited my father's genetic tendency to Type 2 diabetes.  He was diagnosed very late, after years and years of my well-intentioned mother providing an ending to every meal of jam and cake and chocolate and sugar in all its many enticing forms.

I was diagnosed much earlier, in my forties and have, (with a lot of effort it has to be said!) radically changed my diet.  And now I come to what this post was going to be about - - which is the sweet things I don't eat any more.  Thinking about it, there are lots of them.  All my childhood favourites.  Some of these that I loved I eat very, very rarely now:  some not at all.

Cake, chocolate, treacle toffee, toffee apples, custard, sweets of all kinds, sponge puddings (ohhh treacle sponge!!) chocolate cake, cheesecake, Instant Whip, Dream Topping (I still love it - - or would do if I ate it) fruit yogurts (LOTS of sugar in them), fresh fruit juice (LOTS of sugar).

Ahhh, glorious food of my childhood.  I think I deserve some sort of Government Award for giving it all up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eurovision Song Contest Time Again Hurrah

It's that time of year again.  The time when I start looking at lists like this one and knowing with a sinking heart that we're never going to win.

Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest.  It first entered my consciousness in 1967 when the tall and barefoot Sandie Shaw won it with the bouncy Puppet on a String, which I loved.  Let's have another sing along to it, shall we?  All together - - "I - - - - -- - -- - wonder if one day that, you'll say that, you care - - "

 In those days the United Kingdom was a force to be reckoned with.  Not any more, obviously.  We last won it in 1997 with Katrina and the Waves singing Love Shine a Light.  You can never go too far wrong with the word "love" in the title.  On the other hand, the title Don't Play That Song Again which was our entry in 2000, does set the wrong tone rather and the whole of Europe seems to have obeyed the instruction.

Ahhh yes, Europe.  Eurovision.  Every year the European country that wins it one year gets to host it the next year.  This year it's being held in Azerbaijan.  It's not the country that would spring to my mind immediately if I were asked to list the countries of Europe, but I am making no further comment.

We've tried all sorts of tactics over the past few years to try to win Eurovision.  We even got the mighty Andrew Lloyd Webber to write a song for it (a rubbish one that he wrote on a definite off-day) but we're never going to win, because all those countries which end in the letters ia  - Latvia, Estonia - that kind of thing - all vote for each other, and nobody likes us.  End of.

This year we're trying a different tack.  We're wheeling in Engelbert Humperdinck , old crooner from the 1960s and he'll be 76 when he sings for us on Saturday.

I'm not sure if it's considered a fresh and different idea, or if we're making an ironic statement about our glorious past..  But I listened to it and thought hey, you know what - - it's not the greatest song in the whole world ever, but the old crooner can still croon, and - er - I'm forced to admit it - I like it.

We still won't win though.  But hey, we'll have done our best.  We'll be gallant losers.  It will make us proud to be British.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Our post office also has a little corner-shop-and newsagent as part of it. 

So I'd bought some stamps, and now I was at the corner-shop-and-newsagent counter, buying a loaf.  As I was putting it in my bag, the assistant turned to the next customer and said,

"Hello, Lizzie, is that all you want?"

There was something in her tone, which was friendly but - - there was something a bit different.

I turned, out of curiosity, to look at the lady standing next to me.

"Yes, just this sandwich, please," said Lizzie.

Lizzie was a tall, athletic-looking thirtysomething with long dark hair.  The first thing I noticed about her was that she absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke.

As she showed the shop assistant the sandwich and handed over the money, the next thing I noticed were her hands.

They were filthy.  Not just a bit grubby.  Filthy.  Black.  As though they hadn't been washed for years and years.  The insides were the blackest, as you might expect, shading to dark grey round the edges and pale grey on the tops.  I tried not to look as though my eyes were out on stalks, even though they were.

Following her out of the shop, I saw that she was wearing a longish black skirt, bare feet and boots.  The boots were covered in mud.  So were her legs.

She handed the door to me so I could follow her out and I saw her face.  Also filthy.  Grey splodges all over it.  Her dark, curly hair could have been glossy and beautiful -  instead it was lank and greasy.

I was heading home, which is only a few hundred yards from the shop.  She was walking in the same direction as me and set off with a fast, swinging stride, head up, carrying the sandwich and nothing else.

And so we walked until I reached our house.  She turned off down the road directly opposite and that was the last I saw of her, striding confidently away into the distance.

Lizzie isn't really the name that the shop assistant called her.  I feel somewhat protective of her and whatever her story might be.  "Mental health issues" I'd guess, as a glib description.  All day I have been wondering what Lizzie was thinking as she walked along on this grey April morning, clutching her sandwich.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


 Few of us ever live long enough to have one of these:

It was my mother's eighty-eighth birthday on Friday.  Much to my mother's fury, Adolf Hitler's birthday was the same date, April 20th.

Mum's gentleman friend had stuck Happy Birthday banners on the outside of the windows: (her garden's looking lovely)

My brother cooked a great birthday meal and here's my mother towards the end of it, looking a bit tipsy:

She still managed to blow the candles out, though:

She's very well at the moment, and happier than she's been for a long time.  Her hair still isn't grey, as you can see.  Just as well, as she thinks dyeing your hair is a ridiculous thing to do.

She had a lovely day, and another one yesterday as we all went out for a meal in a restaurant.  I hope she'll continue well and happy for a good while yet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Balancing Act

It's a balancing act, diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetics (like me) don't produce enough insulin, or have become resistant to it, so that the sugar in our blood, instead of going to bits of our bodies to give us energy, just sloshes around in our blood, coating everything in sugar and being no use at all.

So if our blood sugar's too high, your body is rather like a car engine coated in sugar - - it doesn't work properly.

On the other hand, if your blood sugar is too low then you become hypoglycaemic and feel faint, shaky, angry, confused and finally pass out.  It's a really vile feeling, let me tell you (and it's not that much fun for those around me when I'm in the shaky-and-angry phase!)

Because of this, any diabetics keep their blood sugar just that bit too high, because then they don't get that "hypo" feeling - - but, of course, that's storing up trouble for later on as blood sugar that's too high can lead to blindness, or leg amputations, or other unpleasantnesses such as death.  Type 2 diabetes used to be known as "mild" diabetes but believe me, that's a total misnomer - you can still die from it, just rather more slowly.

For several years I've been taking metformin, which is a very safe diabetes treatment which works by lowering your blood sugar.  The only thing is, it says on the side effects that they can cause "digestive disturbances" - - which in my case means feeling slightly nauseous just about all the time.  When I tell this to doctors, they say triumphantly "Well you could try the modified slow-release metformin"  - - yes, well that's what I'm on.  The non-modified type made me actually throw up!

But on metformin my blood sugar was still a bit too high - - so the doctor added gliclazide to my tablets.  

Gliclazide works in a different way from metformin - by boosting the insulin - and can make you more prone to hypos.  This lowers blood sugar, rather suddenly in my experience.  So a couple of hours after breakfast I am really hungry and an hour or so later I am beginning to have a hypo.  And I hate it.

All winter I've been taking gliclazide - just half a tablet a day - and all winter I've spent a lot of time wondering about when I can next eat something, and what it would be.  What I want to eat is anything with a lot of fat in it, or sugar, or a lot of carbohydrate.  Fish and chips.  Snickers bars.  That's the kind of thing I've been craving every moment of every day.

But because I know what's causing it, and I'm pretty determined, I have done my best to resist.  I've had a lot of exercise too, walking or swimming just about every day.

However, with the best will in the world I've been eating just that bit too much every day, because that "about to have a hypo" feeling is one of the worst things ever.

Then I stepped on the scales and saw with horror that over the course of the winter I've gained half a stone - - that same half a stone that it took me about a year to shift. 

And I have a damaged leg from a deep-vein thrombosis years ago and excess weight is really bad for it.  Also - - being overweight is really bad for diabetics.  Damn!

So I've stopped taking gliclazide.  I've upped the exercise a bit more.  Suddenly I've stopped wanting to eat everything in the house, all the time.  I'm going to lose that half a stone.

But I don't want my blood sugar to creep up again, because I know I'll really regret it in years to come.  Jolly tricky, this balancing act.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Round the Reservoir

Sunday morning was glorious and we were up early as I had cunningly checked the weather forecast the previous evening.

So off we went to Eccup Reservoir to do the circular walk. It's amazingly near to our house - only about three miles - and apparently it's the largest lake in West Yorkshire.

I do love a path stretching away in front of me on a sunny day!

So off we went, round the reservoir. Past the woodland:

Round the other side, past some houses and then some fields and the Scary Tree:

Then past the Curious Cows:

Actually they were a load of bullocks but I think Curious Cows sounds better. Anyway, they were very curious, particularly this one.

All the way along there were chaffinches and sparrows in the hedgerows and skylarks in the sky, singing like crazy - - delightful! One swiftly plummeted down to the ground as a red kite flew overhead - for Eccup Reservoir is where Leeds's red kites are based. We saw five or six on our way round - or perhaps it was the same one five or six times - anyway, it was great to see them.

Then we reached the far end of the lake:

Then there's a long, fairly straight section on the way back, where we watched two grebes building a nest. Actually, only one of them was building it - the other one seemed to be sitting and giving instructions. I expect you will have thoughts about which was male and which was female but I couldn't possibly comment.

It's a lovely, varied walk - slightly over five miles but very easy walking. So close to home too! We only learned about the walk a few years ago and I was very surprised that I hadn't known about it before. Perhaps when I was a child, the circular path didn't exist.

A delightful walk on a beautiful Spring morning - we plan to do it again soon.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sweepers - Sweet Perfection

We were in the car on our way to see an actor: a new applicant to the agency in a play (he was superb, I'm delighted to say).

But I had woken up at seven and cleaned various bits of the house with great thoroughness and speed as though cleaning is my favourite activity ever (it's not).

So by the time we left the house at two, I was rather tired, and fell asleep in the car. No, I wasn't driving, luckily.

I was only asleep for a little while but I woke up with a whole new product firmly prepared in my mind, and I have no idea why. But this is what I dreamed:

They are a kind of sweet and they are called Sweepers.

They are brightly coloured and round with swirls of different colours. The tag line on the packaging is Sweet Perfection and the words are cleverly combined so that the Swee and the Per make the name of the product with an S swirling through the middle.

The television commercial shows a group of people - some adults, some children - all dipping in and choosing different coloured Sweepers until they have all gone - - with the voiceover saying something about "a clean sweep".

Then I woke up.

Now then - - where on Earth did all this lot come from? What is going on in my head? I have never aspired to make my fortune in either manufacturing, or retail, or confectionery - - so why did this all spring to my mind in such completeness?

I do occasionally dream in verses - I have posted a few on this blog in the past - but I've never dreamed anything so comprehensive before, and all perfectly formed in my subconscious as we drove through Doncaster. Blimey.

I'm hoping that tonight I'll be dreaming the business plan and the location of the factory that's going to make them.

Anyone want some Sweepers? They look good, and they taste good too. I like the red ones best. Sweet Perfection.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Records of My Life

The first record I ever bought as a teenager was Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, because I had heard it on the radio in our only-classical-music household, and loved it.

At home, the non-classics in our collection consisted of one Val Doonican record, Rolf Harris's Sun Arise and The World of British Comedy.

Nothing has ever left this house, so I still had them all. Until two days ago.

Over the years, many additions were made to our collection, in a rather haphazard way. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Beatles records. Kate Bush. Grieg's Peer Gynt, given to me by a friend as a very welcome gift because I looked after him when he'd done his back in. And then there were others which just - - - well - - appeared, with no trace as to how. Pope John Paul II's Visit to Ireland. Nat King Cole.

Firstly we used to play them on the Dansette record player, which, thrillingly, could play a whole pile of records, if you placed them carefully one on top of the other.

Then we had an Eighties thing called a "stack" which had speakers and a radio as well as a record player. Wonderful (except, in a sinister prequel to my current inability with all things electronic, I found it hard to work all its bits).

But then, when we moved into this house in 1999, our stack didn't come with us, because it had stopped working properly.

And all our records, eventually, came out of their vinyl-record-keeping containers and ended up in a big cardboard box in the junk room.

And there was no point in keeping them, was there? Nothing to play them on - - hadn't looked at them for over a decade - - so the rational decision was - - they had to go.

So we Freecyled them. In case you don't know, you can post unwanted items on Freecycle and people who do want them turn up and collect them. As happened with our piano recently.

A very pleasant young man came to look at our boxful of records and seemed extremely pleased when we said he didn't have to choose, he could take the lot and choose later.

I kept three, just for the memories. Ian McKellen in Marlowe's Edward II, which was a big step on the road to fame for him, and on the road to love of theatre for me. Betjeman's Banana Blush - - some of his poems set to music - - just because I picked it up and could instantly remember everything about the day that I was given it. And finally, this:

In 1974, when the excellent film came out, we used the Scott Joplin music for our drama group's adaptation of Pinocchio. When I bought the record several of us, including my friend David, danced to the music until the early hours in the room where I'm typing this now.

Looking at my handwriting on the record sleeve, from back then when I was eighteen, I notice it hasn't changed at all. This must mean something but I'm not sure what!

So now our vinyl collection is down to three records, and that's the way it's going to stay. Giving the rest away was the right decision, I know. It's just that I feel really sad about it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Things I Used to Believe

Here are some of my beliefs from when I was a small child:

Italian turns into English when written down.
It was the only foreign language I had ever heard and I was mystified by it. "How do they write it down?" I asked my mother. "The same way as we do," she replied. She meant using the same letters. I understood her to mean that, once written down, I would be able to understand it. Written Italian proved a deep disappointment to me.

There is a bear at the bottom of the garden.
This has never been disproved to my satisfaction and that's all I'm prepared to say on the matter. It was a huge, scary bear (probably a grizzly, at least). I refused to go down to the bottom of the garden on my own, in a sensible act of self-preservation.

The spread for bread that is made with fruit is written "gam".
I was both shocked and hideously embarrassed when I discovered, age five, that this was not the case. I remember struggling with this spelling for what seemed like hours whilst writing my first novel The Fary and the Todstool. (Yes, I still have it, of course, all eight tiny pages of it. It has a happy ending, in case you were worried).

A Ren and a Wern are two different kinds of birds.
I heard people talking about a bird called a Ren. I saw a kind of bird written down which was spelled Wren, which even at the age of five I knew must be a spelling mistake, and one that I was never going to make.

It's fine to trail your feet along the ground when being pushed in a pushchair.
One of my earliest memories, this. I thought it was fine and a generally fun thing to do. Grown-ups disagreed, and told me so, frequently. But I knew that I was right, and took the considered decision to continue to do it in the face of all opposition.

"A pair of compasses" are two of those round things that tell you where the North is.
My most embarrassing moment as a child came about when the Headmistress of my primary school, whose name was Miss Gregory, asked me to pass her a pair of compasses, and then laughed at me when I said I didn't have one, let alone two. "I'm FIVE YEARS OLD," I thought. "Am I supposed to know EVERYTHING?"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Two Kites - - or perhaps just one

Yesterday, driving towards York along Wetherby Road, I saw a familiar shape circling in the sky.

A Red Kite! They are whopping great birds of prey which were at one time hunted nearly to extinction in this country. Their wingspan can be nearly six feet and they always look, to me, to have longer wings than any other bird. They look rather like a flying Angel of the North.

Red Kites always survived - just - in the wilds of Wales but now they have been reintroduced in several places in Britain - if you scroll down a bit, this map shows where. One of the circles, you'll notice, is just where Leeds is. The red kites were introduced at Eccup Reservoir some years ago - only a few miles from our house.

(If you don't know where Leeds is, if you look for the Humber estuary - shown as a slit on the East side of England about half-way up the coast - and then work your way inland to the middle - - well that's where Leeds is. And also where some red kites are).

I always love to see them - their size and their circling brings a real feeling of wildness with them. So I was delighted to see one as I began my journey to York yesterday.

Then, today, Stephen was letting the cat in (or maybe out. We do this kind of thing a lot. Cats are very demanding) and he called me. "Big bird in the sky."

Yes, another red kite - - or perhaps the same one - - circling over our house. Wonderful to see.

They eat mostly carrion but will also take birds and small mammals.

I did wonder if word has got round the Red Kite community about my tiny mother, always out gardening, sometimes in her swimsuit. I think I'd better warn her.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Strange Sound in the Woodland

I've never been very good at identifying birds by their song. I have a cd of all the different garden birds' calls, but it still doesn't help much. Descriptions in English of the calls are even less helpful. They say things like "A short chirring sound followed by a long Peep". It's like trying to describe, say, French prononciation in written English - - it just can't be done.

A couple of days ago, Stephen and I were walking in The Hollies, which is a huge Victorian wooded garden which was given to the public in 1921 by its owner in memory of his son who died in the First World War.

As we walked, we heard a sound. Now I'm not good at identifying birdsong, as I said - - but I knew that I'd never heard this before, ever. It sounded like water bubbling along in a river - - or perhaps a soft whistle being blown many times in quick succession.

We peered into the trees to try to find the bird which was singing. Finally Stephen spotted it, silhouetted against the sky. But one thing I could see clearly was the shape, with a long spiky bill. I could see a black stripe across its eye, and a pinkish colour on its front.

"I think it's a nuthatch," I said. Actually I was surprised that I knew - - but I have spent quite a bit of time looking at books of British birds.

Thirty seconds later Stephen had looked it up on the internet using his smartphone. And sure enough, there it was - - a nuthatch. You can listen to the song there too - - and it was exactly what we heard.

Ohhh, I do love the internet.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Buried Treasure

When my parents bought this house, in 1959, I used to love digging in the garden. There was always treasure to be found.

Our house was built in 1896 and belonged to a doctor. For a reason I have never understood, when the house was built a huge quantity of Victorian crockery was buried in the garden. There were lots of shiny hexagonal tiles. We had a dog then, a poodle called Fluffy (Okay, I know you're going "a POODLE? called FLUFFY? REALLY?" Look, it was the 1960s and everyone had poodles. Yes, I did choose the name, since you ask, and I was only seven when I chose it. No, it wasn't a very butch name for a male dog but he lived till he was sixteen and was very happy, okay?)

Anyway - - Fluffy loved the hexagonal tiles. One of his favourite things ever was to have a tile put on a flat surface. He would push it round in circles with his front paws, barking like crazy and wagging his tail like mad. Unfortunately he was never able to explain to us the exact appeal of this manoeuvre, but he loved every moment.

As well as the tiles, there were lots of pieces of several different Victorian dinner services, all delicate bone china with floral patterns. I loved finding and collecting all the various different pieces. How they got there we never did discover. Perhaps hurling crockery at each other on a spare patch of land was a little-known nineteenth-century sport.

The soil in the garden is great to dig in. My parents - and, in earlier days, my grandmother - have been making compost from all vegetable and fruit remnants for years and hence the soil is full of nutrients and easy to turn over.

A couple of days ago, I was planting a miniature willow tree. It had a lot of roots and I knew the hole would need to be over a foot deep, because I wanted to put some compost at the bottom of the hole too.

As I dug, I hit something hard. Half a brick! Yes, there have always been lots of old bricks to be found in the garden too. A bit more digging and something else hard - - another half-brick.

And then something else, really deep down at the bottom of the hole, with a slightly different feel to it.

Out it came - - and it was this.

Okay, it's not quite a Roman relic, but I did know exactly what it was. There are still a couple of letters visible on the label: MA - - - and the rest of the word would have been RMALADE.

I recognised the jar, because I would see a similar one every time I went upstairs to visit my Grandma - my mother's mother - who lived with us from 1959 until she died, age ninety-three, in 1992.

It was Rose's Lime Marmalade, which I don't much like - but she loved it and always had a jar of it on the go. The label's slightly different these days, but the jars seem just the same.

How it came to be buried relatively deeply - over a foot down - I'm not sure. Perhaps Grandma had a cutting of some plant in it and the jar got buried by mistake. But I loved finding it, because it made me think of her, and how she was out there in all weathers, much as my mother is now.

I'm the third generation of women to work in that garden, and I love that idea.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

With Us in Spirit

Here is Gareth's phone as it was this morning.

Gareth was trying to dry it out. We marvelled at how little is to be found inside a Smartphone. At least, you'd think, there would be a mysterious glowing orb, or some flashing buttons, or the eye of God, or something. But no - - just a few bits of electronics.

Meeting with little success in cleaning it and bringing it back to life, Gareth went exploring down the cellar which has Things that Might Come in Useful dating back to the late 1950s when my parents bought this house.

The Communist's tendency to label and keep everything paid off this morning. "Industrial Spirit" it said on the bottle. You'll notice that the label is pre-printed with "R.H.Blass and R. Fisher". It was a label from the Communist's Chemist Shop in York. Mr Blass was the Communist. Mr Fisher was - at the time of printing - sadly dead. But he lived on for years both on labels, as this one, and also as a way of resisting salesmen. "I'm sorry," the Communist would say, "but I can't buy anything without consulting my partner, Mr Fisher, and he's not here at the moment."

The Communist retired in 1985 so the Industrial Spirit's been in the bottle down the cellar for a while. But, old or not, the Industrial Spirit worked a treat on the phone, which has now leapt back into life, as good as new. Thanks, Dad.

As for why the phone wasn't working - - well, Gareth went on a day trip to the seaside, to Scarborough yesterday.

His phone, being a Smartphone, has a video recorder on it. Here's the last thing that it filmed. I expect that you'll be able to piece together the reason that the phone broke from the subtle clues in the video.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Silver Sword

My reading habits are a mystery to some of my family.

"But you read gloomy autobiographies," says Olli, "so why won't you read gloomy fiction?"

It's a fair question. I love autobiographies. In my younger days, if it was a true story, I'd read it, no matter how harrowing. Japanese prisoner-of-war camp? Yup. Holocaust survivor? Yes, I'd read it, often on the beach, on holiday, to the horror of my mother.

"You're reading WHAT? On HOLIDAY?"

Not that my mother would be reading a frothy Jilly Cooper or a little light Catherine Cookson or similar. No, she'd be reading some Serious Fiction. No Chick Lit has ever been held in her hands.

Or in mine either, I must say. I can't bear the Beach Novel-type stuff. I'll read the autobiography that tells the true story - - but I will not read a fictionalised version. And yes, I do know that it's possible to use a fictional situation to get at the truth - that's what I do all the time in medical roleplay. It's just that, to me, when reading I can brace myself for, and cope with, the horror of the real thing. But I don't want invented gloom set in a real setting.

I know exactly what this feeling dates from, too. It dates from being made to read, at school, a book by Ian Serraillier called The Silver Sword. Here's my original copy from that time.

It was first published in 1956, the year I was born. My copy dates from 1968, when I was twelve, and has my name in it, in my mother's handwriting.

It is set during the Second World War and is about three siblings - Ruth, Edek and Bronia - in Warsaw, Poland. Their parents have been taken away by the Nazis, their home blown up, and they are trying to survive on their own with the help of their friend Jan. When the war finally ends they trek across a chaotic Europe in search of their parents.

It isn't that it's a bad book - quite the reverse. It's really well-written and brilliantly evokes the horror and misery of those times. But I would never, ever have read it, had I not been compelled to read it at school.

When I was a small child everyone was still talking about the War. If you left a light on in our house my Grandma would shout, half-jokingly "Put that light out! Don't you know there's a war on?"

Amongst my earliest dreams were nightmares of the men in big boots who came in the night to take you away, and I knew that they were Nazis. I'm half-Jewish and this did indeed happen to all my relatives in Eastern Europe - there was no trace of them after the war.

The Silver Sword is the kind of book that adults think children should read, to learn what those times were like. But I didn't need to read it - I didn't want to go there, not even in my imagination. Just looking at the cover gives me that heavy sense of horror and gloom, even to this day.

So I would come home from school and hurl myself into Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, or his very funny true stories about his zoological trips abroad, which were my reading of choice at that time. I still have many of those, too - - all very battered, from having been read so much.

My copy of The Silver Sword is in much better condition. It has been read - - but it has never been loved, not by me, anyway. Looking at it again, I see with amazement that it very nearly has a happy ending. That's not what I remember.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

In the Spring Sunshine

The weather has been simply glorious for the past couple of weeks. For several days running my mother has been out gardening wearing only her swimsuit. All the Spring flowers are out early and the trees are beginning to get their leaves.

I've been working a lot, of course, and in fact was working today - it was the actors' agency's monthly meeting - but even so, I've managed plenty of walks in the sunshine.

Today it was cooler and not swimsuit weather, but gorgeous nevertheless. Here's my mother this morning, sitting in her garden (which joins on to our garden) on a bench which a friend of hers painted in seaside stripes, knowing how much she loves the seaside.

She's had a really tough few years, but she's very happy at the moment. She loves the open air and is incredibly active.

Today we were moving a six-foot tall bookcase upstairs. "Would you like a hand?" asked my mother, and meant it.

On the 20th of April she will be eighty-eight.