Wednesday, May 24

The Castalia


was a 'failed ferry' -  it became a hospital ship in 1883 when the Metropolitan Asylum Board bought it, built several chimney-ish warehouses on it and moored it out at Deptford.

Last Saturday I became embroiled in a Metropolitan-Asylum-Board-themed jigsaw game. 

I discovered about the ship and the jigsaw last month when I was busy cleaning bits of boat and basket embedded in the foreshore* in Rotherhithe. There was a 'Receiving Station' at this place, people with infectious diseases like cholera and polio were held here until a fireboat took them away to the hospital ships. The Castalia was the ship for women.

The Receiving Station was bombed out of existence in the war and now a city farm occupies the site









On the footpath outside the city farm is a display case with shards of crockery from the Metropolitan Asylum Board (MAB), there were many items in the services; platescupssaucers, jugs-of-every-size, tureens ...

Items lost in the river often don't go far, the river buries them for a while and then allows them to re-emerge. People picking up pieces of  MAB crockery have noticed that sometimes they fit together - it has become a huge community jigsaw - if anyone finds a piece they leave it on the display case and each month people get together around a big table to try the new pieces and see if they fit. The aim is to reconstruct an example of each piece.


*I have developed a fascination with the Thames foreshore - the bit that's briefly visible at low tide. People come here to enjoy the river and look out for treasures; neolithic tools, bronze-age jewels, bones and bodies and reminders of bodies - It all comes back to bodies one way and another - this is what my anthropology thesis is about

A terrible thing happened in Manchester this week. 

I hesitate to write about any of these attacks because I don't want to fuel the publicity which seems to be the desired outcome -  to say that it's a horror and an unimaginable sorrow for the families concerned is to state the obvious - but it is beyond horrible. My niece and nephew are the age of these children - just going to their first pop concerts ...


Wednesday, May 17

I am now catless


- Porky's owner returned at the weekend and I went back to my Putney palace where it's raining so hard that I've had to light the fire inside as a sort of counterbalance - I can't carry around enough clothing to cope with British weather.

I do have the right sort of clothing to dress up as Kalinda Sharma (my latest crush) - which I did today to meet M. at a very delicious lunch cafe*  I ordered a glass of orange blossom tea which I now realise is the flavour that makes baklava taste like Savlon


I recently learned that there are about 100 million discarded things in space, including a spatula, an obsolete space station and a space suit that was thrown overboard with a transmitter attached to it's head - an 'ephemeral satellite'. 

An art project about this junk includes a short beautiful film about Suitsat


I'm dwelling on Suitsat because I am currently feeling adrift, school is nearly over, all I have to do is write a big essay - ON MY OWN - there are no more classes. In an effort to cling on to institutionalisation a little bit longer I signed up for a grim tutorial about how to use a software package - this involved being trapped in a dark room with a clunky pc that I couldn't turn on and a lady lecturing us at speed from the dim end of the room. 


*broad bean purée, soft boiled egg, paprika and asparagus followed by pistachio-cherry-frangipane cake and cardamom coffee if you're asking.

Tuesday, May 9

I'm in Bethnal Green




keeping company with a large male cat in a tiny ground floor flat. I'm under instructions not to give in to Porky's requests for more food and must watch out for the lady who sometimes lets herself into the front garden at night, convinced that the cat is starving, she likes to push food through the catflap-in-the-window.

It's all about bodies lately - my research has led me to reading about London burial places and bodies on the Thames Foreshore. 

I teach Life Drawing in an old mortuary* - sited near the place on the Thames foreshore where bodies tend to wash up. Our model for the next couple of weeks is a body builder, pumped to the point that his head doesn't quite belong on that body but this might be a help to students who worry about being realistic.

*no longer functioning as a mortuary

image: Lucy Mcrae

Wednesday, May 3

I had one of those builders round

the sort that do a lot of teeth-sucking before telling you how difficult it will be to fix a broken window. This one, in his broad brummie accent, assessed the situation and told me quite frankly it would be cheaper and less trouble to move.   

I said  we can't move, there's 50 different species of bee* in the garden, it's like having a farm

he said   I know what that's like, I leave a sandwich out every night for the fox - a chip buttie, he bites the middle of it and then just walks off leaving the crust - every night         



*More about bees here

Sunday, April 30

This week has mainly been wet


by day I have been on the Thames foreshore scrubbing chunks of ship and other items embedded in the beach and visible at low tide - this is part of an archaeological survey and a pleasant way to spend a morning - even when it's raining which it did between bursts of spectacular sunshine.


At night I have been creeping down to the gym in the Glamorous Apartment Block. It's a bit spooky weaving through ranks of gigantic walking machines, rowers and other pulley contraptions but finally I arrive in the darkly shiny spa. It's a novelty for me and I am alone here so I spend far too much time steaming, sauna-ing and jacuzzi-ing before emerging prune-like and squeaky clean to drift back to my penthouse where the cats are waiting for me to play Evil Villains which involves caressing them on my lap as we swivel in the Big Evil Villain chair surveying the entirety of London laid out before us.

Friday, April 21

I think I am living in a Smart Home



but I'm not smart enough to know what that means.

There's a lot of automated things that seem to be operating me: a circular hooverbot will suddenly start trundling round the room bumping into furniture, chewing up the cat's toys and getting stuck under the fridge, then a voice tells me that I'm going to enjoy 'this' music or she'll start nattering to herself but if I ask her what the weather's going to do tomorrow she keeps a sullen silence. I can see 'eyes' in all the objects - I've no idea how many things are watching me (I've turned some of them to look at the wall but they might be unsmart eyes). 


In the bathroom the soap will only dispense itself if I stroke it in a particular way and there's a creature there that sometimes sneezes perfume. Heaven knows what the lavatory is capable of.

Wednesday, April 19

as usual I am kept under close surveillance





The Look Out team consists of: 
The-One-That-Perches-On-Things
The-One-That-Peeps-Through-Things
and 
The-One-That-Licks-Things-To-Keep-Calm

Monday, April 17

This week I am in luxury accommodation

 this is my view 

and these are my new friends

Monday, April 10

Life classes continue

There was a bit of confusion at the old mortuary a couple of weeks ago; Dora double-booked Chumpy and a large amphibious man to model for the life class - I asked them to pose as though they were both in an everyday environment, chatting to each other in the pub or watching telly and was surprised how unlikely it looked - much more realistic for them to be emulating classical statues or acrobats.

I told Dora that I'd been in Switzerland with David Attenborough and showed her my photographs, she was well impressed then said - you look like a television presenter so I expect he felt comfortable around you

Saturday, April 8

I was in Switzerland last week


the Man is making a film about ants in the forest - I went out to spend his birthday with him.

Sir David Attenborough was there too, narrating the story  (I had been to this same place with him about 12 years ago and tell that story here) - it's always interesting to see how other people react to him. The head waiter at the hotel played a series of jokes,  actually it was the same joke over and over again where he pretended not to have any of the food that was ordered or to have run out of wine. SDA accepted this punishment with good humour but  clearly wasn't enjoying the joke as much as the waiter - it must be really hard being a National Treasure

Monday, March 27

a hairy beardy man in a hooded parka

waved his bumper pack of chocolate digestives at me as I was about to go into a tube station saying that he wanted to recite me a poem, I said no thank you but he said 'pleeeease' and I felt a bit cornered. 

Thinking I was going to say no again he popped a biscuit in his mouth at the same moment that I said go on then
  
Not wanting to give me the opportunity to change my mind, he launched into some really quite shouty verses and, being English, I felt that I couldn't shield myself overtly - I squinched my eyes and sort-of-shrank into my coat collar for the duration. 

When he finished I opened my eyes and said thank you and he said how was it? and I said a bit biscuity

Tuesday, March 21

I'm missing my home in Bristol





I miss hearing the school children crashing down the hill by our house and the ruckus as they muck around at the crossroads, climbing on a neighbouring wall and arguing under the wonky lamp post outside our front gate. Once 4 boys stood by the lamp post to properly practise a rap that I'd heard them working on since beyond the top of the hill.

They are also a bit naughty, they pinched figs off next-doors tree last year and I suspect it was they not the wind behind the incident reported yesterday in an email from the Chinese lady living there at the moment

One thing want want to let you know. One of the roof on rock pillar at front door* fell down yesterday, due to the strong wind maybe. I found it was moved into the yard this morning by someone, I must say thanks because it is too heavy to move for me. I don't know how to deal with it, just leave it in the yard.
*trans note: front door = gate post in this instance

Sunday, March 19

Our friend died




there was a long illness, a funeral, weeping

words and music

and this piece of music



I recommend a chapel but eyes-closed-listening works well too

Wednesday, March 8

Just a normal phone message conversation

from neighbour 
Help - people keep giving me pheasants and rabbits will you teach me how to peel them and  I've run out of room in my freezer do you have space in yours until I have time to deal with them


from me 
we can do it Monday, there's probably room in my freezer for about 2 rabbits and a pheasant let yourself in  but first you'll have to remove the wool that's in there hiding from moths

Saturday, March 4

In the life class



Our model this week was a yoga-ista who held poses for 30 seconds, 1 minute and 5 minutes  we scribbled away like banshees and at the end we taped everything to the wall and admired our efforts. Here's a selection. Prizes for guessing which is mine




Sunday, February 26

The current cat

doesn't drink water from her bowl or a running tap  but when I take a shower, she runs upstairs and jumps in when I step out. 

Then she sits in the puddle that I've left behind, head cocked waiting for drips to land on her tongue

Thursday, February 23

We've had a bit more Chumpy


in the Life Class, which was divertingly chaotic. I'd booked a pregnant female model for this evening's class but she couldn't make it, so one of the office staff agreed to fall asleep and let us draw her, I put some Agnes Obel on the music box and it was lovely.


Monday, February 20

House of Dangerous People

The Man has been filming jaguars in Costa Rica, standing far too close while they suck the heads off gigantic flipping turtles. He was also nearly squeezed to death by a giant boa constrictor but he returned alive to Bristol last week. I was missing him and missing being at home so I took a break from studies to go and make dinners, do laundry and sniff the Bristol air.

Our home has been languishing emptily but now we are joined by two new female housemates: Lu is Chinese, she is studying how to prevent landslides, this is research commissioned by the controversial Three Gorges Dam project. Our other housemate Sarah is employed as a danger-aversion-person by EDF who are building a controversial nuclear plant near Bristol.

I've been instructing Lu in the art of moth-combat and the need to shake woolies out on a regular basis, the idea of clothes-eating-moths horrifies her far more than the prospect of nuclear explosions, snakes, jaguars or landslides.

Sunday, February 12

At the very posh local farmers market

a chap was selling premium dairy products; hand churned butter, fancy milk and  ... buttermilk.  Proper buttermilk is so difficult to find that I'd forgotten about it's existence. I was sort of excited to see this rare thing but couldn't remember why.

Seeing my hesitation the dairyman handed me a leaflet with suggestions for how to use buttermilk, then he said

one of my customers drinks it but you're not supposed to do that 

Why not?

it's already been used  

!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, February 4

In my search for a good Local

I was directed to a bar along the waterfront and across the park. It was almost empty, a blazing fire blazed in the middle of one wall, two young men were behind the bar trying to work the till. The bar room contained a dozen assorted wooden kitchen-type tables and chairs, the only other customers were two women and their gentleman friend.

I finally got a pint and took it to a seat at one of the large tables, shortly afterwards the other party got up and assembled themselves in coats and scarves. During this disruption they asked me if I lived nearby, we had a short exchange and they left.

Five minutes later one of the women ran back in and asked if she could join me. We entertained each other for the next half hour. My New Best Friend is the twin of the other woman, I shall call them Sybill, the other twin had lived in the neighbourhood longer and knew more people - this was a good opportunity to even things up a little.

We arranged to meet, me with both twins the following week.

That was yesterday. The experience was like a being in a story co-written by Lewis Caroll, Edward Lear and Mervyn Peake

The first thing I had to be made aware of was size, they were identical and both the same size they said, so they could wear each others clothes but they also pointed out that one was taller with a much longer body and exceptionally large hands and feet, we stood and compared all these things. They felt that they were so identical that the large-handed one differentiated herself with a fat bow on her head.


The large-handed twin was by far the bossier - as she questioned me she would stop to wave her enormous hands in the air and cry

My darling we have absolutely NOTHING in common!

Their lives revolve around omens, they each have their special sign to look out for, the small-handed Sybill looks for things with vertical lines and the large-handed Sybill looks for horizontal lines, this system is used for every important decision; for example when they need to know to trust an estate agent - they look at the pattern of his tie. This and numerous other examples were given to show how well the system works.

We are planning to go to the cinema together soon  

We are very critical
yes very critical

we used to work in the cinema industry as extras so we know a lot about it

we've been directed by ... who's that actor who's now a director?
(many names are tried out)
Clint Eastwood
yes him
we are very critical and we don't like much   
and we don't like much food  
no we're very fussy  
we're terrible to eat with  




Sunday, January 29

Making up for his early arrival last week


Chumpy turned up just slightly late for our class this week, there was a lengthy explanation about how he'd been too absorbed in his book and missed his bus stop then he went and made himself a cup of tea and was just about to get on with modelling when he noticed a small pile of cheap out-of-date biscuits in the kitchen, someone had put a sticker on for anyone who wanted them to take them . . . we waited while Chumpy found his coat and filled the pockets. . .

My ballerina has cancelled for next week

Sunday, January 22

I still haven't visited Penge

I've been staying in Dulwich (pronounced: dull itch) which is on the way to Penge, a place that also sounds like a medical symptom in this case maybe a pain/twinge, as in:

I can't do that - it makes my knees penge

The Putney heating is still broken so I jumped at the opportunity to look after a cat-in-a-warm-house last week but alas I have now returned to the Putney fridge.

In the Mortuary

I've been running the Life Drawing classes. I had a special one on Saturday - after  a day spent marching against Drumpf I had to rush eastwards only just making it to the mortuary in time to set up for the Birthday Party Life Class. The model I shall call Chumpy, an excitable man who was already naked and waiting for me in the kitchen, there were things to be done before the guests arrived and every time I looked around Chumpy was doing something dangerous while naked - he had to be ordered down from a stack of chairs that he'd decided to clamber onto (he wanted to pin bunting up), then he cut his finger. When he'd done bandaging the finger he started blowing up balloons, it was during this episode that he managed to hurt his eye. The class arrived and the host wore gold shoes with flashing blue lights, he handed out artist berets to his 30 friends along with Champagne and fizzy jelly sweets.  When I finally got the class settled with crayons and paper, I asked Chumpy if he could start with a simple kneeling posture which he did by attempting a sort of upside down pretzel shape - knocking over a cup of water as he fell.

I've got Chumpy again next Thursday but after that I get a Ballerina.

Saturday, January 14

On the bus to Penge

I'm on the top deck. Sitting across from me are two boys aged around twelve years old and a chic young woman who might be their big sister or aunt, they are talking and laughing and sound like they come from south London, she says:

There's this stuff called escargot, it's snails eggs and people eat it

that's disgusting!

it's like caviar which is fish eggs, you eat hens eggs, what's the difference?

Thursday, January 12

I've been engaged

as Drawing Mistress

to teach a Life class

in an old mortuary ...

just gonna leave that there

Tuesday, January 10

Coping with death



is tough and is a difficult concept for a child, my niece (age 5) and nephew (age 9)  lost  two grandparents last year, the 9-year old was beside himself with grief and decided to do something about it by raising money for Cancer Research and have a bake sale. He wrote to various supermarkets and packaging companies to ask if they'd donate ingredients and other things he needed. The local vicar said that he could hold the sale after Sunday service just before Christmas and my nephew posted about his endeavour on facebook (via his mum).

Orders came flooding in and by the end of the church porch sale he'd raised £700 which is bloody impressive.

this is the boy 4 years ago making a Star Wars birthday cake.



My 5-year old niece is still trying to work out what 'death' is and is currently doing a star jump after every time she crosses a road, shouting triumphantly with every leap  


I'M STILL ALIVE  



(photo credit: James Prinz)

Saturday, January 7

Yesterday at 5 am

I drove the Man to  where his filming crew, a big pile of suitcases and a bus were waiting for him to start a journey to Costa Rica where they will make another film about animals.

Today at 5 am I drove Kanako to the airport so she could start her journey back to Japan, we did a lot of crying and then I went home and cleaned our empty house and then I filled the car with logs and jumpers and cake and drove to London. 

I drove to Putney, to the house I am taking care of during school term time - the house with the Rude Mad Man next door. Currently it is also the house-with-a-broken-heating-system-until-a-Man-comes-to-fix-it.

Friday, January 6

Kanako is going back to Japan tomorrow



we are making sure that we have exchanged as much vital information as possible. I have introduced her to oxtail and steak-and-kidney and she has discovered English sandwiches and jam rolypoly for herself. On Christmas day we did crown-wearing at dinner.

Yesterday we held a conference

have you had mince pies?

yes at least seven pieces they are very delicious

Christmas cake was missing from the list but luckily we found some that I hadn't eaten yet, we also covered bramble jelly, fried christmas pudding, sponge cake and marmalade.

We moved on to some Japanese essentials

1) Dried firefly squid tastes densely old fishy and gluey, the tentacles have a nice crunch but the wings and body have the texture of a plastic blister pack - this aspect is a bit sore on the mouth.

2) The Japanese winter sock routine involves four pairs of exquisite white socks, the silk and cotton socks with toes - footgloves - first put on the silk then the cotton. Then the silk foot mittens then the cotton foot mittens until you have a pair of very fat and warm feet.

This is the secret to being able to continue wearing little thin flattering easy-to-move-about-in clothes on the top of your body in winter.

3) The Japanese omelette is a delicious and beautiful thing. 

Put a fish-and-seaweed teabag in a cup, pour on a little hot water, add this infusion to eggs in a bowl and beat with chopsticks.

Heat a little vegetable oil in a frying pan (at this point my drawing skills fail)

Pour some of the fishy egg in the middle section of a pan, muddle it around until set then add a small pool of egg mix to one side, as this part sets the middle section can be rolled onto it then you can lay down another side section of egg and roll again, if you add seaweed at each part the omelette spiral becomes more evident and very beautiful. The end result is a fat egg sausage to be sliced up like a Swiss Roll






Friday, December 23

the bus from Bristol to London



is a journey that takes one hour and a half, this is just to get to the beginning of London, if you want to get into the centre of town the bus takes at least another hour to get through the traffic.

Like most sensible passengers I get off the bus at the beginning of London and take the tube


I got on the bus at Bristol on Monday and the driver said You going to Victoria?

I said, Yes but I'll get off at Hammersmith (with all the other passengers)

You're supposed to get a ticket to Hammersmith and you're supposed to pay more to do that !!!!

The whole week went the way of Alice in Wonderland 

After Blind Ken started questioning me about my appearance I became aware that another person was in the house, Ken kept leaving the room to squabble with someone that might have been a housekeeper - should she use a supermarket voucher to buy milk or fish? He'd say what he wanted, come back to where I sat and bring our conversation back to my piratey teeth then he'd change his mind and leave the room again to tell her to buy fish ... or milk.

Clearly she could have been more use in the room to tell Blind Ken if I also had an eye patch and a parrot but I never got to meet her.

Thursday, December 22

Saw this tempting ad


in London yesterday.

In the afternoon I met Ken who is blind and would like someone to go and read to him now and again. 

Ken asked me to describe myself. After I'd said that I was a fairly average sized sort of woman  I felt I ought to try and think of distinguishing features, I described my hair which went down well, then I said that children tend to notice my gold tooth and that I supposed it made me look a bit swashbuckling. 

This bit made Ken visibly anxious

Monday, December 19

my friend is returning to Japan

after living in the UK for nearly two years she now has just two weeks to get everything done. Yesterday she told me excitedly that she had achieved another item on her bucket list:

today I had jam roly poly
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