Featured

End of an Era

The Queen died on September 8th. I was five years old at the Coronation in 1953.  I wore my party dress and my school blazer and spent the day with the family at my grandparents’ house.  They had a television set with a tiny grey and white screen in a big shiny wooden cupboard with doors.  It was a sunny day and I kept running in and out of the garden asking if the Queen was on yet.  I remember pushing my miniature golden coach around on the carpet. I vividly recall my mother waking me around 11pm that night to walk to the park to see a firework display culminating in a giant ER  surmounted by a crown. It was very special. We rarely did anything alone together and it was thrilling to be out in the dark.  I wore my pixie hood. At school we were given tins of toffees with the Queen’s picture on them.  I ate the toffees but kept the tin for decades.

Coronation toffee tin

On the day of the funeral, I treated it as a holiday but felt that I should watch some of it and perhaps listen to some of the music. I was underwhelmed by the military uniforms and the processing but rather enjoyed the spectacle of the service in Westminster Abbey. The later service at Windsor seemed more personal and I sang along with the hymn The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended because my mother loved it and we sang it at her funeral..

The Day Thou Gavest, Lord is Ended

The whole day was strangely quiet with virtually no traffic in our normally busy street. It was like an old-fashioned Sunday with shops closed and everyone in their houses. Having a new Prime Minister is another slightly unreal situation as well as the feeling that, not only have we lost our Queen, but there is a void where our government should be.

Tarot Reading: The Empress

Expecting a more doom-laden Tarot card like Death or The Falling Tower, my instant reaction to unconsciously choosing this card was to think of the Queen. She was the Empress, the Great Mother. Her rule was more about the power of love than the love of power.  This image also fits my celebration of two women writers, Empresses in the literary world.

Hilary Mantel’s death was a real shock.  This was my comment on the Guardian website:

I’m devastated. Loved all her work. Can’t believe there will be no more books.  Goodbye to a wonderful writer.


I wonder if she has discovered the afterlife she half-believed in.  The other is Maggie O’Farrell, still very much with us, although like Mantel, she has written about her own  ill-health.  I remember at school studying Robert Browning’s poem  My Last Duchess.  I always wanted to know the story behind it.  O’Farrell has used it as the starting point for her new novel The Marriage Portrait. Told from the point of view of the young bride, the duchess, the story draws you into a world of intrigue and power.  The young woman escapes into her own miniature paintings, while her portrait is painted as the image her husband requires.  I devoured it in two days, but didn’t want it to end. A wonderful book.

However, I have a couple of very special books which I have had since I was about five. Read and reread, handled many times over, they had reached a point where pages were falling out and temporary repairs with Sellotape no longer worked I found Riley, Dunn and Wilson Ltd in Falkirk who have been book restorers for many years. I met with Colin McArthur, General Manager, a craftsman and enthusiast who showed me examples of their work and discussed how the books might be mended.

When they were delivered I was excited to open my parcel. I remember sitting behind the sofa in my grandparents’ house looking at the strange Pre-Raphaelite pictures in Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales. Once I could read, I started on the first story, The Rose Elf , in which the head of a murdered man is buried in a flower pot. I went on to read about a girl who has her feet cut off in The Red Shoes and The Little Match Girl who dies from the cold. When I wanted to take the book home my mother said that it was too scary for me but I took it anyway. It was the stuff of nightmares.

I remember my Grandpa taking me to the big bookshop in Paisley to choose any book I wanted as my fifth birthday present. I chose a big hardback book of Nursery Rhymes with a shiny paper cover and colour illustrations on every page. I loved looking at Little Miss Muffet as I played her in the school concert. As well as learning every rhyme by heart, it became the book in which I kept my ‘scraps’ coloured paper pictures – collected, hoarded and exchanged in the playground.

When I was ten my father bought me a subscription to the Elizabethan magazine as more suitable than the comics I liked to read. It embodied the moral values of the Brownie promise but also had some good stories and illustrations by artists like Gerald Scarfe. The idea of being a Young Elizabethan was actually quite appealing.

Problems with my right hand have made drawing and painting difficult but I’m trying different techniques.  Collage is possible.  This one started with a very wobbly left hand drawing.  And I’m managing to knit in short bursts.  Son’s rainbow stripe jumper may take a while.

Returning to Pilates after months away,  my body immediately responded to familiar movements. Teacher J’s description of Pilates as gruelling calm was exactly right.  I’ve been to the indoor pool twice, just floating and watching Wee Boy demonstrate his crawl and mushroom float.

Self-portrait on a spaghetti squash. It’s been a strange and stressful month. Apologies to friends I still haven’t been able to catch up with. Still helping Son get settled in. A, our brilliant joiner is here making my Wash House studio damp proof and putting in a new stair window. Usual book reviews, film and television next time. Keep in touch in all the usual ways. Let me know how things are for you in these challenging times. Stay well, keep warm, take care. Love, Elinor xx

Featured

Some Like it Hot



Climate change dominates the news. High temperatures continue.  People keep getting Covid. Footage of fires, war, famine and refugees fills our screens.  At home, political upheaval, price increases and strikes make life uncertain.

Our London trip was the holiday we needed. Not too hot but pleasantly warm. My planned visits to two libraries, especially the Wellcome Collection, allowed me much needed quiet hours surrounded by books and documents. It also has a great coffee shop.

Wellcome ceiling

I loved this sculpture on display on the first floor, a life size ballgown made from contraceptives.

Cannyrob went to the Imperial War Museum and Tate Britain. We both enjoyed the Africa exhibition at the V&A along with a nice lunch. Tina, the Musical was a great night out at the Aldwych theatre.

Time in Ealing allowed me to re-visit the street where my grandmother’s family lived, last visited by me and my Sister when I was 15 and she was 12. I had met with my other Sister just before our trip.  She has done lots of detailed research, going back to the 18th century.  I had some family papers and photos. Pooling our resources means she can finish writing up the family story.  I used a photograph of the house (built in 1894) to imagine how it might have looked based on similar houses still standing. It was demolished some years ago. See featured image at top of blog and sketch of details below.


Enjoying being home but disappointed not to be able to visit Son as his ward was in lockdown due to Covid although we could phone and message him.  Now we can visit again, which is so good. Daughter and WeeBoy spent time in the grounds with him on Saturday.  Redecorating his flat is  a family effort, bringing us together. My contribution is limited by a shoulder injury which has become quite painful. I am having an ultrasound scan today. My contribution to the project has been cleaning, using my left hand and doing load after load of washing. 

I’ve been enjoying sitting in the garden reading, listening to and watching the constant bird activity.  At least three broods of sparrows have been raised in our blue tit house. The adults have a bit of a squeeze getting in and out but they don’t seem to mind! Thanks to L our wonderful neighbour, who, in spite of being ill with Covid, watered our plants in the greenhouse and courtyard while we were away. They survived the drought and are an absolute joy especially the sweet peas.

I almost put this month’s Tarot card back.  It wasn’t what I wanted.  But that is not the point.  The time has come to face the Devil once more. The thing with Tarot is to find meaning in the card.  The Devil looks aggressive, but the sword is in his left hand, suggesting a haphazard use of power.  Rather like some of our political leaders.  The Devil’s wings remind us of the bat – a night flyer, often feared. He represents  the beast within us, causing destruction, war and climate change. But Satan’s role is ambiguous.  The apple brought knowledge of good and evil. The strange couple in the picture are neither wholly human nor entirely free.  They must assume responsibility for their actions.

I’m on my fourth audiobook this month.  In Our Father by Marilyn French, (author of The Women’s Room) four sisters gather at the bedside of their dying father. A story of shocking events from the past unfolds. The House Party by Mary Grand is a murder story set on the Isle of Wight.   My absolute favourite has been Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, a very special book about books, voices and grief.  I loved it!  Right now I’m back with Dickens – his last, unfinished book The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

I’m reading more, mostly on my Kindle: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer writer of quirky thrillers,  Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee, fourth book in his Calcutta detective series, The Unheard by Nicci French in which a small child witnesses a murder.  Jane Casey’s new book The Killing Kind, is  a good read as always.  After enjoying Rizzio, I looked for a Denise Mina crime story. The Less Dead is a gritty novel about prostitution in Glasgow. Like my friend A, I find her crime novels a bit too gory. The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters, set during the Civil War, is enjoyable, and well researched. Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry also has a historical setting with a mental health and vaguely supernatural theme which ties in with my interests.

So sad to hear of the death of Susie Steiner. at the age of 51 from brain cancer.  Novelist and Guardian journalist, her three Manon Bradshaw crime novels, mentioned in previous posts, are compassionate, funny and compelling. 

Some time ago I wrote a blog about teddy bears and my relationship with my very old Teddy. I loved the stories other people shared and realised how important these ‘transitional objects’ can be. I told the story of losing my Panda when I was 2 and having to do without a cuddly toy until my third birthday. Recently I happened to see a panda in a shop window. On impulse I went in and bought a mummy and baby panda. They are soft and cuddly in a way Teddy never was (well they didn’t have the materials in his day) and fill a gap for me I didn’t even know was there. They do seem to have bonded with Teddy as a family, although I do have less room in bed. I took baby panda to London and he shared many of my adventures, becoming a meme (is that the word?) in messages to the family.

We’ve had WeeBoy here. He and I had a great time, paddling in the tidal pool, playing the piano and generally having fun.  He is now strong enough to carry chairs and bags of logs out to the garden, which I couldn’t manage.  We had fish suppers round the fire bowl on Friday night.

The magic firestick

Wearing summer clothes has made my forearm tattoos more noticeable.  Lots of comments.  Mostly favourable.  Women of my generation tend to say nothing. I have to admit to enjoying looking at them myself!  That is kind of the point.

Lace tattoos by Morag Sangster
Silver bangles by Ellen Kirk Ali

For once, I was not only watching football last night,  but supporting England.  Great to see these talented women winning the Euro final.

I feel I have lost touch with some of my friends this summer. I haven’t been able to get to my usual Pilates classes or go swimming. Holidays and family stuff have left me with less time for visiting and phone calls.  I haven’t stopped thinking about you and hope to do lots of catching up once Son is settled back in his flat and I have had some treatment for my shoulder.

I hope you’re staying cool and avoiding Covid. Please keep in touch in whatever way suits you.  Elinor xx

Featured

“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.” — Oscar Wilde

Music has got me through another difficult month. Driving with my Raybans on and the sunroof open, pretending not to be a pensioner. It used to be cassettes and a Walkman. Now my playlist starts when I switch on the ignition and my earbuds are always handy. For a while I had stopped listening to music, sticking to audiobooks. But music is taking me back to places I’m happy to revisit. Each of these tracks is playable but you might not want to listen to all or any of them. Featured image shows our home-grown freesias in the greenhouse. For me, an incredibly nostalgic scent. My mother loved them.

As a wee girl I loved to sing and dance. At nine I taught myself to play the ukelele and worked on my Tommy Steele impression. Shaking my unruly dirty blonde locks, I swivelled my skinny hips, (how I longed for a pair of jeans!) strummed a chord and belted out: ‘We..ell…I never felt more like singin: the blues…’. I even learned to whistle for the intro! Note: this is a link as I couldn’t post the audio file. Please scroll down to select the track.

As a teenager I remember seeing the Rolling Stones on TV and instantly switching allegiance from the Beatles. They are still brilliant performers.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

The 70s and 80s were the decades of family life and shared music on car journeys. Abba was a favourite. This song always gets me on my feet till my knees give out.

Dancing Queen

Soul Asylum‘s Grave Dancers Union was our album of summer of 93 when Daughter and I went to California. She was supercool and impressed the American teenagers with her grunge look.

Runaway Train

In the mid to late 90’s I was on my own, coping with major life changes. Female vocalists got me through. especially Tina Turner. This was the song I played on repeat.

On Silent Wings

One of many Leonard Cohen songs I love, Cannyrob and I danced up the aisle to this at our wedding in 2013. We also have this Jack Vettriano print.

Dance Me to the End of Love

Daughter and WeeBoy went rollerblading recently, with some elegant moves and only a few tumbles. I remember associating this Dire Straits song with Daughter at 9 rollerskating everywhere.

Skateaway

Our current Netflix bingewatch is Peaky Blinders. It was something we hadn’t got hooked on before. It is gritty, visually stunning and strong on storyline and characters. Sad that Helen McCrory is gone.

Red Right Hand
Peaky Blinders

There are songs that always make me laugh like the Ying Tong Song (The Goons) and songs that always make me cry like Father and Son (Cat Stevens) I think I am using music to access my emotions. They have been shut down while I’ve coped with difficult stuff.

Tarot card of the month is, appropriately, the Sun.  (Sophie Mackay Knight’s Painted Tarot) This is what we  need right now: another transition card, taking us into the world of sunny childhood, a time of understanding and fulfillment.  Some actual sunshine would also be acceptable.

I am still listening to audiobooks. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates is a fictionalised biography of Marilyn Monroe. Incredibly real and very moving. Portent by James Herbert, published in 1992, describes a climate catastrophe not unrelated to the present day. My non-fiction choice ( I also bought the print book) is New England Bound by Wendy Warren. Using contemporary documents, the author tells the story of the enslaved people of the 17th and 18th centuries and their Puritan masters. I was shocked and intrigued by the term Chilld of deth used to describe a runaway slave girl. This meant she had a death sentence imposed on her due to her parents being rebels, Native Americans who had fought the settlers and had already been executed.

I am reading again. My top choice is Rizzio by Denise Mina, recommended by my pal A (we often like the same books), a minute by minute account of a historic murder. Katherine Rundell’s adventure novel for children The Explorer is a great read for any age. Graves of Whitechapel by Clare Collins is a Victorian crime story with a twist. I just discovered Gillian White, a fomer journalist and television writer. Her dark exposure of reality TV in The Witch’s Cradle had me hooked, as did Refuge, an all too credible story of child crime.

Having managed to avoid Covid, I’ve had my first cold for three years, coinciding with family birthdays and visiting children. Missed seeing Son for his birthday, but managed to give WeeBoy his big yellow beanbag. I’d love one but would struggle to get out of it!

We are watching Love Island as a way of avoiding the awfulness of national and world events. Trains and Covid permitting, Cannyrob and I are escaping to London next week to visit some exhibitions and do some family research. I love that dusty summer city heat. Maybe because I live by the sea? Will collect postcards and sketches for next blog. Happy summer!

Featured

Love you So Bad

Love you so Bad Ezra Furman

The Covid Carousel keeps turning, Recently Daughter and WeeBoy have had it, my nephew, my brother, close friends….Cannyrob seemed better after having it but has just spent ten days in hospital.

On the Saturday of Easter weekend he was suddenly in excruciating pain.  He was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a volvulus (twisted bowel).  The initial procedure didn’t work and they had to try again.  It was a very anxious time, with worries about recurrence and wondering why it had happened.  My friend in Seattle (I can phone her at 3am) said Hang on in there.  Yes indeed, like the Tarot Hanged Man.  Waiting.  Hoping. Trying not to think.  I did a two card reading on April 20th.  ( All cards from the Leonora Carrington deck.)

Judgement: termination of present ordeal – a new beginning.  The Star: a guiding force, calm aftermath of the storm

He eventually had emergency surgery to remove the damaged part of the bowel. He is now home to convalesce. After more than two years of being the one being cared for, I have had to step up into the role of carer.  At least I can drive now and get around the house.  I have cut the grass and done some weeding and planting.  I’ve fed fish, birds and next door’s hamster.  I’ve collected prescriptions and shopped for food.  I’ve put the bins out.

My family have been amazing.  Both Daughters, Son and WeeBoy have offered practical and emotional support.   Friends have rallied round and helped me handle the stress.

Reading for 22nd April, the day of Cannyrob’s surgery.  The Hermit shines a light of hope and comfort, reminds me to conserve my strength.  The Magician reminds me that I am a seasoned traveller with creative energy that will get me through.

Life will be challenging for now, but it has brought us closer as a family and made us appreciate the value of everyday pleasures. Sitting in the garden listening to the birds.

And now for something completely different…..

Daughter (here for the weekend):

Mum. Did you happen to see my special Youth to the People Spinach and Kale face wash (from Cult Beauty) in a reusable bottle in the upstairs shower room?

Me: Em…. I might have thought it was shower gel and used it.  I might have put the bottle in the bin…..

We found the empty bottle in the green plastics wheelie bin outside.  So I was forgiven.

I’ve stopped looking at clothes, apart from in charity shops and am knitting a jumper from wool stashed away ten years ago.  Unfortunately, when I located it in a cardboard box from the Wash House I found unmistakable traces of mouse occupation.  Salvaged balls went in the washing machine in a net bag.  Then they had to be rewound and the chewed strands discarded. My knitting has been a good pastime on hospital visits, initiating nice chats with staff.

Mouse salvaged knitting
Summery top £2.95 from Sense shop

Audiobooks have helped me through sleepless nights and long car journeys this month. Endurance, an abridged version of Shackleton’s incredible adventures in the ice is shocking and gripping. Although I knew the story, this account, based on diaries and letters, is vividly realised and made me appreciate my warm bed.

My next listen was Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Read by Martin Jarvis, this is a satire on the industrial revolution. Mr Gradgrind’s philosophy of ‘Facts. facts, facts!’ damages his own children and ultimately himself.

The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews is a story of post Civil War England, told by a young soldier who returns from the army to find his family beset by what appear to be supernatural powers. There are a number of novels with a similar theme, but this one is different, with its connection to political thinking and religious attitudes.

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley is an excellent ghost story set on a Scottish island. Utterly absorbing with a soft- voiced Scots narrator. I recommend it. Next was Last Woman Hanged, the terrible true story of Louisa Collins by Caroline Overingtonl, an Australian true crime story about a whole culture and way of life through this gripping account of four trials and a botched execution. I’ve gone straight on to another modern Gothic tale, Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster.

My reading this month has been intermittent. My concentration since Cannyrob got ill has not been good. I have probably spent more time than usual listening to audiobooks. I was disappointed by My Real Children by Jo Walton.  I liked Among Others but this dual tale of the same woman’s life didn’t appeal. Next was Roadway by Roger Zelazny. This writer was mentioned in Jo Walton’s book and as I used to read a lot of SF I thought I’d try it. I didn’t like it.

To Eat a Bear by Mikael Noemi, recommended by B at Waterstones.   This is an unusual book set in 19thC Sweden. A murder mystery played out against a backdrop of superstition and prejudice where literacy is empowering.  I loved this quote:       If you owned books, you would never be alone

The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister edited by Helena Whitbread is an entertaining read. I didn’t watch the television series so it’s new to me. Super-infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell is a beautifully crafted biography of this amazing poet.  Cannyrob and I read The Good Morrow, verse about, at our wedding. Companion Piece is Ali Smith’s new book.  She is a unique writer who continues to intrigue me

I am still hooked on Outlander, watching it when I have time on my own.  It is pure fantasy but highly enjoyable. The Split  on BBC is a series we’ve loved since the start, with great performances by Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan.  I think Season 3 has to be the end though. Watched Coda, a wonderful award-winning film about a hearing girl in a deaf family.

I’ve been working in pastels, a medium I tried before but couldn’t master.  Forgetting all the ‘how to’ advice, I’ve been working on portraits.  Here are a few, shared with permission.

This has been a month of unexpected events, a topsy-turvy roller-coaster of emotions. A testing time for our family. My Daughters have surrounded me with love and strength, providing practical help and emotional support. Family and friends have kept in touch and offered help. Most of all, I have faced the prospect of losing my Lover, my soulmate, but he has come home to me.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere

John Donne The Good Morrow

Thanks for reading, supporting, being there. Love. Elinor

Decorated face for Easter Sunday (stickers not tattoos)