Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Took S. there for the first time and he was enchanted - we was enchanted, old buildings, cobbled courtyards, lagoon, the beach and all the sculpture. Only worrying note was the people, old hippies and not wearing well, they looked stale and worried and short of cash, shacks not maintained but astronomical real estate prices. The trouble is it is trendy, and the old guard are dying off or just being squeezed out. Visitors were like us, no tourists at all, hardly surprising as the locals still take down the sign and reputedly torched the trendy garden of an enterpeneur who bought in. Bit like Wales.

I came back inspired by all the lovely bosky greenery up Point Reyes, it must be the constant sea mist I think. It occurred to me that I could build up soil from the lowest level of rock to make a garden so I started by cutting back all the entanglements over the boulders, keeping an eye out for furious raccoons from the catacombs below. The may etc was covering a dump of breeze blocks, bricks, cement and broken glass which did very nicely as fill for the new bed (except the glass of course), but one thing which diverted me was how extremely ENGLISH I felt while doing this. I hate the Marin way of bringing in a designer and a contractor and never doing anything hands-on.

I do need an awful lot of fill of course, before I even think of topsoil as there is no point in letting it wick salt from the highest tides, as it would. Love will find a way: I want more fruit trees and another rose just to begin.

I saw Lobsang while I was driving past Mill Valley, back from India and doing well, I hadn't his email so he will come to dinner and fill us in, sometime next week. Eileen will be here this weekend so I am gearing up for that, I am so looking forward to it. Oddly, we only just got the photos of Sarah and Rick's wedding in Boston, and I albumed them yesterday. Unflattering of me but I look suitably benign. I am ready to take on another wedding...

It is all interesting and engrossing and involving, I'm beginning to feel that I live here.

Spirit of Bolinas: http://www.coastalpost.com/97/11/6.htm (sorry, it wouldn't accept my link; copy and paste).

Monday, May 29, 2006


I have been thwarted of my noisier pursuits so am sitting here in the center of a web of humming: the washer and dryer, the recharging of my cordless drill, Stefan's puffer. Spot the thwarter.

There is never really silence here, I can hear cars passing from my office, and birds calling, and when it is windy the clacking of sheets from the marina is constant. The hum of life which does include machines.

We are about to go off in search of the ocean, the winds have been so rough there should be dramatic surf up along Point Reyes. My mind has been in Dorset because I was listening to Ramblings on Radio 4, from Devon which is not so far.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I celebrated finishing Molly's three linen curtains with an Oslo sandwich, does anyone remember them? Homemade bread, butter, Vegemite and lettuce. Not somethng that usually tempts me but after a sophisticated lunch involving marinated and pounded chicken, roasted corn, fresh salsa and salads and wonderful almonds fried in bacon fat and dried off in soy sauce, I wanted a homely treat.

It has been a quietly incandescent afternoon, bright and blowy, William was over and we all settled down, busy in various pursuits, stopping to chat or eat cherries and watermelon. Lovely.

My fingernails have never looked so clean thanks to primer; I was reminded that painting was one of Sheila's hints to combat Gardener's Cuticle. Good thing I didn't get too messy with the blue now inside the kitchen upper cupboards, the exact blue traditional Greeks use to keep insects away. I sorted and chucked while I was at it, alphabetacized the spices wondering why fully half of them began with 'c', created a 'baking cupboard' and a coffee tea and jam cupboard, a tins of things cupboard and on and on. I indulged myself by buying only good sea salt, no lingering Morton's, found six tins of anchovies (salade Nicoise throughout the summer) and three enormous bottles of olive oil. Um.

While waiting for the arrival of the new countertops I tracked down and bought my longed for continuous power strips, called Plugmolds. Plugmolds. There's one company without a PR department. Every kitchen should have them, power every six inches, and I might spray mine violet. If it looks dreadful I'll spray again but I am enraptured by the idea of a thread of violet against all the tones of grey from slate to silver.

Stefan has announced that he intends to drink himself silly now so I had better cook and save him from the fatal second glass. Nothing more righteous than a teetotaller.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


At this very minute Steve is putting the new kitchen window in, the old one is in the back of the truck and I am just about to prime the new trim before it is attached. It reminds me rather of Leo and me struggling to dismantle the enormous frame of the arch in my big room at Heatherwood, and his inspired, crazy WONDERFUL tossing of it to the skip below, three stories, instead of prudent dismantling and scurrying down the stairs, up and down in little pieces.

It is a heavenly morning with just the right amount of breeze off the water, and we should be through by lunchtime so I am wondering what to do next. I primed the ceilings of the attics above either side of the living room vault, it was like Bridge over the River Kwai, though I don't suppose Alec Guinness did much cosy housekeeping in his box. I had to lie on my back with just enough space over my nose to slide the roller over my head into the ever-diminishing slope beyond, then of course it got easier as I approached the apex though I still couldn't sit up. It has made a big difference, the light bounces off the white and the room feels larger. I brought my two beautiful woven wicker laundry hampers down - I commissioned those over thirty years ago - because really, empty space looks better.

The terrible thing is I feel all this is busywork, I have lost the sense of meaning and the accompanying hum of content. I'm but a stranger here, heaven is my home, and I'm not the first person to dread that if there is a heaven, it will be dull.

June and Sara rang me fresh from a morning walk in the Gorwell bluebells, Sara is redoing her kitchen and wanted to know the name of my cooker in Midhurst, which is of course the same model I have here. We chatted happily about rangement de cuisine and I enjoyed that. I'm looking forward to visiting Dan on the weekend too. These are blessings.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Well, here it is pouring with rain (in May!) - and I’m gled, gled I tell you – because it will give my garden a good soaking. Somehow the soil doesn’t absorb a sudden watering, but sweet, gentle steady rain it laps up. The martyred fig tree, the vine, the rose New Dawn, the lilies of the field consider themselves considered.

I seem to have nothing to do, so I have scrubbed and vacuumed, and two plump oiled and scented Cornish rock hens are cosying up in the oven with lime, ginger and honey, garlic and olive oil. And cardamom flapjacks, so the house smells like heaven.

I had another steroid injection in my thumb, and if that doesn’t work I’m for the chop. I have decided I can’t put the kitchen window in by myself so that should give my joints a rest, so there’s a chance I won’t need an operation. I just don’t like roping in my activities if I don’t have to.

A glorious thing called a Freehander will be arriving this week, it lengthens the shower head. I’m almost sorry I didn’t get the spa attachment to my bath, the only way I could get a bath which was deeper than the usual Californian horse trough was to go for a spa minus the apparatus, and Canadian to boot. I thought the bubbling bit would be effete, now I wonder.

Twitching to get busy again.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another Gem

I have been rootling in my briefcase you see, where I keep all my archives:

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the Gold Cup won by the worst horse at the races
So I trust, too.

John Masefield

American Kitchen Magazine 1899

How can I tell her?
by her cellar -
Cleanly shelved and whitened walls.
How can I guess her -
by her dresser,
By the back staircase and halls,
and with pleasure
Take her measure
by the way she keeps her brooms;
Or the peeping
at her keeping
Of her back and unseen rooms.
By her kitchen's air of neatness
& its general completeness
Where in cleanliness and sweetness
the rose of order blooms.

The belle of Spotless town you see
Who shines in bright society.
Her mind is broad, her waist is trim.
Her pots and pans are never dim.
She has the cents to make a show
By polishing with Sapolio.

I found it charming right down to the plug, but as I typed I felt the urge toward satire and bawdy, both. Maybe I'll never grow up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I wonder what can be done with leftover slats from a Venetian blind. I can't bear to throw them away. Same with leftover scraps of fabric. At least now I have learned to be ruthless with things nobody wanted to eat in the first place.

Odd pieces of wood or fabric (or paint) trail clouds of glory though. I used to love going through scraps when I was a child, and we considered it a privilege, chose favorites, folded them carefully to put back. Skeins of embroidery silks too - all in the absence of television. It certainly stood me in good stead.

The Right Question...

... can open up the mind. Today when I could be bone idle if I wanted to, which I don't, I want to select my question, not what will I do today (mundane), or what SHOULD I do (martyred), but a larger sweep - can I do something permanent, something positive, something beautiful, or maybe something just for fun? shocking, courageous, thoughtful? Even if I end up gardening or painting, what is the question?

This morning was beautiful, but I woke to the smell of low-grade disinfectant! where did that come from? If I could create olfactory hallucinations I would direct myself to a bluebell wood. June says they are magnificent, and she is still finding new ones. The next time I wake early I will go to Muir Woods for the dawn, since that is the spirit of this place. In September I'll have my English fix.

I feel verbose today, rudderless. How can I redeem that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


When my grandmother died, the only memento my mother wanted was her opal engagement ring, but Aunt Jean claimed the privilege of the elder and kept it herself.

Some six years ago Aunt Jean asked me to come up and help her sort out her things. She had had a fall and was pitifully aware that her mind was going, and part of her distress was that she had mislaid the ring, but we had a good visit, sorted her papers and had jaunts. The next time I came up she was in the nursing home, and Sheena Hutchinson, Margaret-Jean and I sorted and cleared the house for sale. I missed her funeral - my plane was cancelled- so didn't have a chance to sit with Sheena and Jim, or Margaret-Jean, then I left for California. Aunt Daisy died, I lugged barometers, tools, books and my grandfather's walking stick to Australia, and Naroma, which had always been mythical to me, went back to that place in my mind.

Yesterday Jim and Sheena knocked on my mother's door in M'bah and gave her the ring. Sheena had found it in the top cupboard in the back parlour, carefully packed away in tissue, in the red velvet case, in a cup. Aunt Jean must have put it away so carefully even she couldn't find it, and Sheena didn't want to mail it so travelled 12,000 miles instead, SIX YEARS LATER.

Isn't that a story? My mum is delighted, beside herself - and is going to pack it away very carefully too!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Stumbling on Happiness

"Stumbling on Happiness" is a new book by Daniel Gilbert, reviewed today in the NYT, and a wonderfully fluent, tumbling and falling torrent of words quite apart from the content. I have read only the first chapter (courtesy of the NYT), but like it because it ties in with what I have been discussing with Norma et al about wide and shallow. None of it is news, but doesn't it make a difference to read good writing?

I am also ordering Mark Twain's Hawaiian Journals with all the naughty bits in.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wide and Shallow

"I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day". Actually the fell of a mosquito buzzing about, so by the time I had fumbled for repellent, gone to the loo, put on the dishwasher I was in a more positive state of mind than Hopkins, which is the comfort of the mundane. "Under a comfort serves in a whirlwind", and standing a moment to admire my increased collection of shiny appliances is, on a different level, a satisfaction which serves its small purpose.

Of course I Googled those two lines, plus Carrion Comfort, and wondered if Hopkins ever got up and made cocoa and felt a little better, even some warmth at the distillation of his woes into poetry. The blessed simplicity of waking, with at least the night over and the early morning air fresh.

I was discussing friendship with Nom, who maintains that we are best served by wide and shallow, not the chimera deep and meaningful. It is not just starting with wide and shallow either, but preferring it. I agree, deep and meaningful is an elephant trap and you can't know it until you are already in it. Also, the trouble with deep and meaningful is that you are leaving it all the time, or it leaves you, and it can't be replaced, and trying to replace it only dooms us to failure. Better to sojourn in wide and shallow where we have a fighting chance.

The remedies for angst: fellow-feeling, creativity, simple pleasures, simple communications. Strange that I have left out faith, but I have. I have also overlooked altruism which I do believe in, simple kindness, no matter which end of it we are at.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Waiting for the FedEx man, hence blogging.

I am full of the domestic hum of content, new window, new kitchen counters, new glass for a broken pane, even a new toaster, black and steel, full of Teutonic rigour and packed in cardboard, not polystyrene. Small advances make me happy. I have cut the two piece dado rail for the hall on my trusty chop saw and made a picnic in an attempt to drag Stefan into the outer world. (He has a New Tripod, and that makes him happy.)

I am not ambitious, at all. There is a book in the loo which contains among other things, advice on organisation, business concerns and general efficiency. I read it - well, it is print, isn't it! - but it doesn't acknowledge any of the reasons I do things, and that makes me curious. I can't believe I am at the far left of these things, I have been quite good at making money, but I can't whip myself into a froth of time management as these people as deadly seriously advising. It is of course all from a certain stream of advice, opposite the la-la extreme of do-what-you-love which has been so bad for women of a certain age and condemned them to unreliable cars, flaky men and tie-dye.

I have seen a backlash, investment bankers who don't want to become aromatherapists, so maybe that toxic tide has turned, and the next generation could be more realistic about what they want to study, do and achieve instead of rushing to a name college or high-profile profession which maybe doesn't suit them. Or contrarywise, they might come to realise that there are far grander horizons and lope along quite easily to them because they have that capacity, not because it is expected. Colin Powell was acid about fast-track kids in an AARP article, and I can only agree. It is unlovely to put a racehorse to the plough, and just as offensive to gussy-up a mule - what's that you said, Black Mammy?

Off to China Camp to picnic - Stefan is bringing his tripod, so he can pat it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

California Poppies

I am having to water the garden again, and have had plenty of time to study the bright orange California poppies which have sprung up outside the fence. The leaves are sea-green and fretted, but blunt across the tips, and spring like a posy from the ground. The flowers grow singly from each frond, first with a long pale green dunce's cap on top of a flat, bright pink disc like a tutu which marks the beginning of a flower, then suddenly the dunce's cap disappears and a swirl of impossibly bright petals unfolds. It's all over in a day or two, only a long thin capsule with a few contorted stigmae, still on the tutu, so far no swelling seed case but I'll keep my eyes open. I also want to find a discarded dunce's cap.

Are they true poppies? I have been going over the sequence for oriental poppies and it is quite different - the leaves, the two hairy pods which split apart to show petals, then the flat black open arrangements of anthers, then that wonderful sculptural seedpod grooved like a melon and topped with a rippled lid, holes all around the lip like a glorious censer.

I can clearly remember walking back from church with Colin,my cousins, my father and his father, across the Applegarth through golden wheat laced with red poppies, and suddenly realising that we ate what was growing there at eye level. I was transfixed, and my father had to come back and take me by the hand, scolding me because we had to get back for lunch, Aunt Emily and my mother had stayed home to prepare it in all its Yorkshire glory. I knew before that that we ate the vegetables we helped Old Rose pick (he didn't WANT our help!), but the significance didn't hit me until that day, that the earth and plants fed us. Could it have been Harvest Festival, and the sermon fell on receptive infant ears? I can have been no more than four, probably two or three.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Looking up

Well, things are looking up after my Lunchtime of Discontent last Saturday. Four of us walked down Tennessee Valley to the sea with a picnic and a kite, exactly what I wanted. Yesterday Caroline and I had a jaunt to Poppy Fabrics, her reaction was most satisfactory! And today Stefan and I are taking the ferry into the city to gallery-hop.

I don't like the blue paint. If I can't make it work, it goes.

The kitchen drawings came in for approval this morning so I had a happy half-hour fussing over dimensions, made miniscule adjustments and sent it back.

Norma is having her kitchen installed and rowing in the big Regatta and flying up to Murwillumbah. How does she do it?

I have been playing Suscipe like a bagpipe, under my arm. The more I squeeze her, the louder she purrs.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I don't know the last time I respected a film so much - maybe City of God. Talking about it will spoil it - just get it. It is simple and light, but it isn't.