Author Archive | Caroline

Comedy Relief

It’s ‘Red Nose day’ or ‘Comic Relief’ – bombardment on the conscience – all that contrast between our ‘celebrities’ entertaining us, and images of sick and suffering humans elsewhere – somewhere – a long way from my and your sofa, our kitchens, however worn, or short of aspirations.

It’s weird that I’ve spent more in this last week on my dog’s unidentified infection in his pee-pipe than the money needed to inoculate ten or more children in some forsaken village on another continent, to save their lives.

When I think about life, I think of a random thing that enters at fertilisation or conception, the other part of life – not the physical. I think that it was completely random that I entered a life in a Western, middle-class womb, and not one in Uganda or wherever, and of course, I am thankful. And I don’t want to get all political, but it is all down to that, because we developed a society that protected the starving and diseased.

It’s weird too to find with all this DNA research recently, that we, with our white skins and tiled bathrooms come out of Africa – from the original pool – polluted, muddy puddle that it is.

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Pink

Moon-crazy I might lose her
I must stem this red tide.
Her unlearned words swell inside me,
well, before a bedroom mirror.
She tugs insistently at my elbow
with all her unspent curiosity,
wants to play with lipstick, earrings –
dress herself in my old things.

I see her in a filmy aura, playing
being ballerina, dusty barefoot in the loft,
a whirl of ostrich feather and tinsel,
to a found Dancette and 45s –
or hoof-clacking kitchen flags
in grownup shoes, hat umbrella’d,
her trailing hem –
trailing off like sleepy words
to fall exhausted on the sofa.

I’d smooth the silk-tails
from her face, count freckles,
brush the downstroke of her lashes with my murmur –
watch her sleep, her sea-deep sleeping.
Oh my daughter unmade daughter –
every moon’s revolve I lose you,
lose you over –
you nameless, lovely unstained thing.

by Jodi Cox

by Jodi Cox

 

 

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A metaphor

You don’t need to be a specialist to decode dreams, but maybe being a student of literature helps. One of my recurring dreams (common, apparently) is that of  searching for a disused room I know I have in my house. In the dream I know it’s a beautiful room, containing lovely furniture and art, and sometimes I discover it, not having known it was there. Sometimes I’m searching alone, sometimes I’m trying to take guests there, and I turn down countless corridors, up and down countless flights of stairs.

But last night I found the room. I had been trying to regroup my children. There were four, maybe five of them. Maybe someone else had been looking after some of them. There were several rooms, all dusty, with faded curtains and antique furniture, and all were bedrooms, and the disused room was at the end of the corridor. I opened the door. It was a big room with several beds, and the children, who were excited, bouncing on the beds, said they wanted to share the room, so I started to rearrange the furniture and shake the thick quilted satin eiderdowns.

I had a distinct feeling of relief and well-being that I had these children safe together, and that I found the room, which had perhaps been waiting.

 

 

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Volpone, Reynard, Zorro, Fox

Twenty-eight years have passed since I sat in my mother-in-law Helen’s kitchen. We were bickering over something trivial. The room was huge and tudor-beamed, and we were at a long oak refectory table, where many enjoyed the Jacobs’ family hospitality, often given to down-and-outs as well as old friends. I was six months pregnant with my first. There was a knock at the back door, which was odd.

Helen got up to see who it was. A young policeman stepped into the kitchen and removed his helmet. He asked for me by maiden name, and I proudly and chirpily responded that I had changed it with marriage.

Then he told me that my father had died.

I’ve never been one to hold back emotions, although while I howled, I do remember thinking I should not, for the sake of my unborn. The policeman started to cry too. I can’t remember what Helen did – undoubtedly she tried to console me.

Dad’s only form of identity was a letter found in his pocket. I’d written it a few days earlier, inviting him to Helen’s farmhouse where I and my young husband were living.

My father was a goldsmith and horologist, and his name was Anthony John Fox. With such a surname, collections of fox images and ornaments are inevitable. I have many, but the main is my middle name, which I took a few years back by deed poll – his surname – my maiden name.

It was the day after Dad’s sixty-fourth birthday. Apparently, he’d seen some lads spraying graffiti on a Clerkenwell street. He shouted and gave chase, but his heart couldn’t take any more. He was in the middle of his third divorce. He was sure his wife’s lover (the two children’s piano teacher) was a pedophile, but who would believe a cuckolded man?

Twenty-odd years later, that piano teacher (who eventually married my stepmother) was imprisoned for pedophilia – my half-sister, Antoinette, one of his victims.

A.J. Fox – 20-2-1921 to 21-2-1985

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That apple

It being Lent, our local vicar, who’s quite cool, and recently took part in the TV show, ‘Come Dine with Me’, put a long post on facebook. The first paragraph made reference to ‘Eve eating of the tree of good and evil’, and I got no further.

Since childhood, I’ve heard and read the story, or references to it, countless times, but this morning, the thought of ‘Eve’ taking those first brave steps out of ignorance, raised her in my imagination as a sculpture or stained glass window, lifting that symbolic apple high in triumph, turning her back on the blinding light – making a halo of it, her vision newly focussed, young face full of epiphany.

‘Adam’, meanwhile, cringed and wrung his hands in angst. Ever since, he’s been trying to suppress and control that precocious woman.

Don’t get me wrong, although often mystified by their behaviour, I like men, but I’m so happy to be a daughter of Eve. I love my woman’s body, that I grew babies in it, that my female mind looks for subtle solutions, not bloody conflict, and I remember a day back in my twenties probably, when I had an epiphany, that my actions were powerful, that they had repercussions, and I had to be careful. I’m not saying I’ve always been careful – far from it – I’ve had my moments of true madness, but that epiphany gave me a strong sense of independence, even though my yin always felt better nestled against a yang. The one without the other becomes tear-shaped – together they are a complete apple.

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Eh?

My husband is in denial.  He needs a hearing aid.  Having spent most of his working life as a guitarist in noisy rock and blues bands, this is hardly surprising.  When I say he’s in denial, that means he’s in denial of needing the hearing aid – he’s quite aware he’s ‘losing frequencies’.

The constant ‘Eh?’ making me repeat my last sentence has begun to wear, and recently rather than repeat the sentence slightly louder and slower, and not without obvious irritation, I’ve responded with silence, and it turns out he often has heard, and repeats the ‘missed’ sentence himself.  Is there such a thing as lazy hearing, I wonder?  Or is it ten-years-married syndrome, where everything his wife had to say of any consequence, has probably already been said?

A few weeks ago, he received one of those phone calls, not for PIP, but for claiming off old employers for work-related hearing loss.  Not really practical to sue every drummer he ever stood in front of, or every landlord who ever booked him on a gig.  It did lead to a hearing test though, which proved he needed an aid.

‘You could get a hidden one,’ I urged.  ‘You see them advertised all the time.’  Either he didn’t hear or he chose to ignore that.

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Shriven

It’s Shrove Tuesday.  ‘Shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive’ which means to hear confession, give penance, or absolve a sin.  I’ve mostly called it Pancake Day, but it’s also known as Mardi Gras, (French for Fat Tuesday). Somehow in America, Mardi Gras became a street carnival where women bare their breasts for strings of plastic beads, but in the (comparatively boring) older tradition we’re supposed to get whatever is left in the fridge and cupboard and fry it up, stuff our faces, then more or less starve for the following six weeks of Lent. Sounds like a good slimming plan.

A thin pancake, fried in butter, served with a generous squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of caster sugar is my favourite.  I quite like it with maple syrup or honey, but the former is the best.

When I first married, we lived in a flat comprised of several high-ceilinged and huge windowed rooms in an old house (Weirton Place, just outside Maidstone). The little kitchen overlooked a bike shed, on the roof of which there was often a noisy peacock.  Whenever I think of that kitchen now, where the open oven was the only means of heat in winter, I remember pressurised whipped cream, squirted all over our pancakes, then each other – Bonnie the border collie, bouncing around excitedly, and getting her share.  We were cash-strapped, I was newly pregnant and unemployed, but that kind of shared hilarity kept the serious, responsible world from worrying us.

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Horsemeat and heartfelt

So now frozen lasagne as well as burgers are found to contain considerable amounts of antiquated and outlawed Romanian modes of transport. I ate horsemeat years ago in France, even though I’d worked with horses most of my young life and developed sentimental attachments with some. It was around that time, (in the 70s) with bravado, I also ate snails, frogs-legs, lambs’ testicles, squid – you name it.  Just showing off really. But I’ve never been squeamish about food, having been introduced to a variety as a child. My stepmother loved to be seen at the village deli back in the 60s. My favourite was dried bananas. They came in paper packs printed with a Caribbean man in exotic setting, and were wrinkled black sticks, so sweet and chewy. I wish I could find them in the supermarkets now.

I’ve been struck by the number of people who comment in response to the horsemeat scandal, that they have no problem with eating horse, completely missing the point that they are being conned.  Effectively, meat usually intended for dog food has ended up on their plate labelled as something else. It’s nothing to do with whether it’s morally okay to eat horse, or whether it tastes nice, or is nutritious –  it’s to do with fraud and deception.

What all this has led me to think most, though, is the historic and social criteria we use to select which meat is okay and which is not okay. Why is it that we have a list of animals that we have no qualms in consuming, and another that go into the inedible category? If it’s perfectly fine to eat horse (which is a genetically selectively modified domestic animal, as are dogs or cats – nothing like their wild equivalents) why is it not okay to eat Fido or Kitty? A facebook acquaintance who shoots wild animals and claims to eat roadkill states that cat would be too greasy, and (he owns one) dogs were specifically bred to be our pals, so we can’t eat them. My own suspicion is, it’s to do with which animal is herbivore or not. As far as I know, I’ve not eaten dog or cat, but who knows what 1970s Chinese and Indian restaurants were serving in spicy sauce?

Really, the more I think about this, the more I ought to become a vegetarian (which might put me first in line if cannibalism takes off), but I shan’t, and in fact, this has made me hungry. I’m off for a bacon butty!

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An unveiling

February 6

Kent’s Lord Lieutenant, Viscount De L’Isle visited the village of River outside Dover today to unveil a bicentenary plaque at Crabble Corn Mill. The Mill is the finest surviving example of an early 19th century merchant watermill in Europe, and it’s a Listed Building of National Importance having a grade II star.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt in 1812, on the site of a much earlier one, the Mill used to be managed by Dover District Council, but when major repairs became necessary in the mid 1980s, they decided it was too costly a project. The building stood for years in a state of near collapse, supported by scaffolding and having failed to interest the National Trust, the council decided to apply for permission to demolish it.

But in 1987, a group was set up by many local people and tradesmen to save the Mill. The resulting Trust is an independent chairty whose sole responsibility is to own the historic watermill and preserve it for posterity. The Reid family are a central part of this, Harry Reid being the Trust’s chairman, his wife Pat running the cafe and tearooms, and son Anthony, the Mill’s manager.

After the speeches made by Harry Reid and the Viscount De L’Isle, the unveiling of the very smart blue plaque took place accompanied by the quacking of ducks and clicking of press camera shutters.

In attendance at the ceremony were local dignitaries including Sue Nicholas – the Chairman of Dover District Council, Pauline Beresford – River’s District Councillor, Derek Leach – the Chairman of River Parish Council, and many Mill trustees and volunteers, whose work, given for free, along with workers from the Community Payback scheme, maintains the building. Disappointingly, Charlie Elphicke, Dover’s Conservative MP, had been invited, with no response.

As for the future, the Mill cottages, bought in 1995, aided by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, still need considerable refurbishment, but two spaces are now used as Mill shops, providing a small additional income. More urgent, is the repair of the waterwheel itself, which lost some blades in a mishap towards the end of 2012.

The Mill runs an annual beer festival in May, a cider festival in October, and a big Christmas event. In addition, quiz nights, folk music nights and OAP lunches are held every month. Amazingly however, few of River’s current 4,000-plus residents have visited, or support this important building in their midst.

 

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Insomnia, pottery and a gin palace

February 5

I couldn’t sleep. Something was on my mind, but nothing particular was on my mind – images were random and passing. I even tried visualising sheep jumping hurdles in order to count them.

Obviously I sleep eventually, as we are woken by a tap on the door. The postman with a parcel. By the time I’ve descended the stairs and opened the door, he is in his van and driving away, leaving a card.

I take the dog and walk into town. A bright day, but with chill winds. The parcel, when I get it home, turns out to be a little pottery frog I’ve bought on eBay. It’s by a 1970s Mexican potter called Carlos Villanueve (Charlie Newton – in translation, I guess), whose work I would like to collect.

Dinner on our friends’ boat in Ramsgate Harbour.  It’s all walnut and stainless steel, cream leather – and I feel a little astonished we have friends with this level of luxury. The lights around the harbour glow in arches, and the masts of yachts clang like Tibetan monastery bells.

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A hunch it was him

February 4

The news is full of stories about gay marriage. There are so many narrow-minded people in ‘power’. There’s nothing wrong in gay couples getting married and it could be more sincere than a lot of heterosexual marriages, which are often made for money, security, escape from home or country. Some men buy brides as no more than domestic slaves. That’s okay is it? I’ve known some truly committed gay couples, who have been absolutely charming to be with – the kind where you bask in the glow of the love and good companionship they give one another.

Meanwhile Richard III’s remains are confirmed. They run stories about his fatal wounds, sounding sympathetic. Unpleasantly, there is evidence of a dagger being thrust up his anus – just like Muammar al-Gaddafi then – not a lot changes in the brutal human heart.

There’s to be a presentation at Crabble Corn Mill on Wednesday. I’ve been helping to clean and tidy it in preparation. One other volunteer is particularly hostile towards me. My dog knows, and barks at him.

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Scavengers

February 3

An early start before the sun is fully risen, my usual giant bowl of coffee, and I’m into the car and heading to a boot fair. This one, just outside Canterbury is on hardstanding, so no mud.

I gravitate to the jumble of boxes that signify a house clearance – so none of those pieces stuck in an endless trade loop, passing from hand to dealer’s hand, rising each time in price.

Along with the excitement I always feel (treasure hunting) I’m aware of a dichotomy – that the items I rummage through were the property of someone who has passed away. So I try to be respectful, but need to elbow with speed and aggression, others like me, looking for that marvel amongst the mundane.

I stand back and see them briefly as scavengers. And we are, just as creatures in nature pick over carrion remains to benefit their survival, so do we, except our survival, complicated species that we are, has become all about material things.

I come away in triumph, finding a blue and white Royal Doulton Norfolk cheese dish, and beautiful pastel 19th century plate by Bloor Derby. It has a wading bird in the centre and rim decorated with flowering shamrocks. Next stop eBay.

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St Columba’s ruin

February 2

In the late 1800s “a large and handsome” church was built at the bottom of Dover High Street, not far from the Town Hall. Its tower, rising to a height of 80 feet, was “a striking feature”, and the whole “an ornament to the town”. When first opened on 7 September 1904, it became a United Reformed Church dedicated to St Columba, revered as a warrior saint, and often invoked for victory in battle.

As well as being a place of worship, St Columba’s was also a focus for the community, and for many years used as a drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees in Dover. Work was progressing to convert the church into flats but, sadly, on 22 September 2007, the building caught fire and was severely damaged. Only the ragstone shell has remained these 7 years, like an open wound on the High Street.

Yesterday, as I walked into town, I saw surveyors, yellow-jacketed against the rain, with theodolites, picking their way carefully over rubble. A hunk of rough wood blocking the entrance to the church had been pulled open revealing its fallen, charred remains. I crossed the road and asked what they were doing. They said they were seeing what could be done with the old building. When I asked for who, the surveyor said ‘for a client’ – he wasn’t permitted to tell me more than that.

I spent today in the shop, rubbing down wood-filler on the front door while it was quiet. At home I cook chilli-con-carni, and after recording the Dover Community Radio Sunday news, settle for a quiet evening.

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Politics and ping-pong

February 1

After meeting Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, yesterday when he visited Dover, many thoughts I have about the town began to crystalise. But more than regeneration, employment, education – all the usual concerns and subjects, I started thinking how disconnected our whole system of government is between local and Parliament.  They should do away with parties and just have MPs. Having general elections every four years is actually counter-productive. Too many projects that the outgoing party have begun get rubbished and all the money spent on them wasted, as the incoming party wipe the slate and start again. There’s no continuity.

Meanwhile, I dreamt of being in a modern detached house on a steep bank. A huge torrent of muddy water came, causing a landslide, taking the house with it. I sat in the front window with others as we were swept down and along the road with other houses.

Later, I rather enjoyed walking the dog in the pouring rain, safe under a big golfing umbrella. In magpie mood, I brought home a heart-shaped piece of chalk, and a large piece of heavy bark, washed up at the base of a waterfall.

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Little earthquakes

January 31

The shadow chancellor visited today. I am seated next to him and ask what he can do for our poor war-scarred and disheveled town. His eyes are blue-grey and very direct. He listens carefully and answers as politicians do, but seems interested. The device I use for interviews shows a jagged graph, like seismic waves, but nothing said today will shake the earth.

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Dream-swept

January 30

All night the wind harassed the roofs and treetops, rearranging anything it could. Ferries in the Channel hastened to safe-harbour; lifeboatmen and coastguards balanced on the edge of high-alert.  I dreamt of being lost in concrete stairwells – a university perhaps – looking for dorms, but finding doors to shopping malls, car-parks, or hospital wards – or locked. We oversleep, woken by the gentle insistence of the dog.  Downstairs, I open the curtains. The sharp white sun, low in its streaked sky, reveals dusty windows and other evidence of neglect.

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Swan-girl

January 29

Tuesdays is deadline day for my newspaper column.  I write about forthcoming village events, local issues etc. Today I forgot to tell the story about the barefoot woman in the park who I saw in the water trying to catch a swan. The parkkeeper left a ramp overnight for it, to no avail. The swan was the same one I saw last week on land with others in the snow.  A shelduck was sitting on its head bullying it.  The keeper and I looked on as the woman cornered and caught the swan. She passed it up the steep bricked bank onto the paving.  It waddled off and joined some others nearby plucking at the grass. I said her feet must be freezing. She said she couldn’t feel them anyway – she had MS.

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Green church

January 29

Morning-song.  The chirping choir, serenade, trill and warble of it all. They raise an hallelujah, a song of praise.  The still bare trees show their architecture and reach into the baby-blue.  In the distance is the sound of traffic, and somewhere a chainsaw wails, but I shut it out. The snow has gone – ground saturated and lake overflows its banks, but on the woodland slopes, snowdrops show their buds, and catkins dance.  Today, being pagan would make absolute sense.

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Sunday roast

January 27

Chicken and tatties in the oven.  The aroma of Sundays – roasting meat, garlic and herbs, leaving an expectation for apple pie.

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Renewal

January 26

It took me a while to find keys to the patio doors. They hadn’t been opened for a long while and were home to hiding spiders and dusty webs. On this icy day, I stepped through into full sunshine heating the flagstones.  The rotting sills began to dry.  I scraped off the old paint and brushed on a bright-white. At the end of the garden the brown vegetable patch was near waking, dreaming of sweetpeas, butterflies and fruit.

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