23 February 2006

snow & caterwauling

It snowed this morning for almost an hour. That may be a record for Chiswick this winter. None of it settled of course, this is London after all.

Something happened the other night - I meant to write about it but kept forgetting. There was a noise from outside the Belfry. Now this happens quite a bit, and in fact had been happening a lot that night. The groans of the various trees and their branches was reaching new heights. I swear there are times when it sounds like they're trying to open a door or window. But this sound was different. It was a cat. But the sound was not your standard meow. It was low. Like a double bass or baritone meow. It also didn't have the "ow" lift at the end of it. It was a single note. And it sounded like it was pretty close. So I got out of bed and shut the skylight over my desk, thinking that that was why it sounded so close. As soon as I was back in bed the bass meow without the "ow" (a figurative "ow", for the "me" sounded nothing like me) started again. It was coming from the window above my bed, the highest window in the Belfry. And then the noise changed and someone else joined in.

For the most part, when you think of noises that cats make, it's mostly meows and the occasional hiss. Think of these as the domesticated cat noises. In the grand scheme of animal noises, they're unique but pretty pedestrian. A hiss is a fair warning not to touch a cat, but hardly the stuff of nightmares. Cats have other noises though. Noises that remind you that they're a lot closer to their wild cousins than you really want to know about. I'm sure the two cats outside my window thought there were no humans about because they let loose some crazy scary demon noises. The bass "me" shifted down and could now not be called a note. The closest thing to describe it would be a growl, but if that's the case then a bulldog's growl is a mere falsetto in comparison. I thought it may be facing up to a fox, in which case I felt sorry for the fox (not for very long, they're bloody pests). But an answering gutteral growl came that ended in an unholy shriek and then dipped back down. And then they fought. Then they stopped and started again. It went on for about half an hour. Having been a bit of a nature documentary junkie of late my curiosity overwhelmed my need to sleep. The noise was frightening. Imagine the vocal range of a 10 year-old boy going all the way down to the depths of James Earl Jones or Louis Armstrong. Then imagine that it curdled with a liberal dash of hell. Gurgling growls, shrieks and then peaking in the odd hiss. It took me awhile to fall asleep.

Sure they're cute now... but wait until they learn to talk. Be afraid.

22 February 2006

keeping the belfry tidy

There is a box in the Belfry. Within it is about 3 years worth of paperwork. It remains sealed. It shouldn't, as its contents are important. But I don't have room for the paperwork. I should make room for it. Shred the closed bank account files and replace with open bank account files. I will do this. But at the moment I'm basking in the glow of a monumental tidy up and can't be bothered with the paperwork.

I finally put some of my art up on the walls. This made me very happy. One of them was the print of St Andrews harbour I was given as a leaving present by the Luvians gang. I refused to succumb to the futility of further personalising a place that must be sold. I make this place mine while I have it. Photos, prints, paintings, poems, postcards and posters now adorn these walls, most of them truly mine. There is an old spattering of memorabelia as well. Some of it so old I can't remember its significance. A couple of wedding invites kicking about as well. I don't know whether to save these or not.

I drove yesterday. Driving an automatic Volvo S80 is much like driving a tanker. A wide tanker. And automatics give me the creeps. Someone said it was like driving a go-cart. I think it's more like driving a dodgem, though with less control.

21 February 2006

charity mate

A flotsam consisting of 2 1/2 decades worth of clothes, toys and books found its way to Oxfam today. Well. I dropped it off. I was worried they wouldn't take it. It was a lot of stuff - three large bags of clothes and two boxes of toys and books. One of the books was a National Geographic publication: The Adventure of Archaeology. It was a big coffee table book, the title print in a mock Indiana Jones typeface. It was quite a tome, brought out to cash in on the mad rush of kids wanting to be archaeologists in the wake of the movies. I was one of those kids, reading it and re-reading it fascinated but slightly disappointed about the lack of bullwhips and Nazis. It was well thumbed and had a few of the bloodstains from paper cuts that go hand-in-hand with big glossy books. I was sad to see it go and have thought I may buy it back from Oxfam at one point. Strictly for nostalgia. It's a kids' book. But I'd forgotten about it for so long and would no doubt forget about it again. I may well buy a new book on archaeology, one more suited to someone with a degree in medaeval history. More text, fewer pictures.

I have a proper fedora now, but no bullwhip. And I've not punched a Nazi yet, but hope springs eternal. Maybe when David Irving finishes his prison sentence?

After giving loads of books away I felt I should fill some more gaps in my bookshelves. Ok, there aren't any gaps in my bookshelves and in fact they overflow into various empty wine crates, but I still wanted to buy books. And I love bookshops. Even evil multinational chains like Waterstones.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before I went to buy more books, I stepped into a wine shop. It was wonderful. Not the wine shop itself, which was good but not great (a Nicolas - they've got a very good selection of 2nd wines from great chateau), but just wandering, the smell of wood (wine boxes smell wonderful) and seeing the odd interesting bottle. I didn't even buy anything (this is for the best, I assure you). The incredibly attractive shop assistant made this remarkable. I was struck by several pangs of nostalgia and a bit of a thirst. So I ran away before my wallet lept from my pocket and my palate usurped common sense.

To the book shop I ran, where I added to my pile of books I must read. Both War & Peace (bought today) and Don Quixote (bought earlier) are in the pile now, new translations of both. Three volumes of Gabriel García Márquez as well (a collection of short stories, 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera). None of it light reading, but stuff you kind of have to read. Especially the Tolstoy and Cervantes, just so that, as a writer, you know when you're ripping one of them off.

I finally finished Atonement. I took my time with it for a couple of reasons. The first is the sense of impending doom through much of the first part. It's so beautifully written that you know when something awful happens it will appall you. The other was that I just didn't want to finish it. If you haven't read it, read it. Many thanks again to my cultural advisor for moving it up to pole position in my must-read list many months ago.

In the midst of Atonement I read The Sea by John Banville, winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize. It left me a bit cold. I think it was a bit of a triumph of style over substance. The writing is stunning. I'm just not entirely sure what the point of it was. I'm lending it to my mum to get a second opinion.

Currently ploughing through Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Bit of fun after the tragedy of Mr McEwan's writing.

20 February 2006

mussels, mud pies and goulash

Remember those incredibly expensive notebooks? Well, I lost one. I thought I might have left it in a restaurant. But they told me (twice) no one had turned it in. So maybe I left it on the tube. I lost a pen at the same time, be it on the tube or in the restaurant. That was Friday. I met some friends at Belgo for an obscene amount of mussels and quite a few litres of Belgian beer. Both were pretty fantastic, and anyone seeking decent mussels should check it out. It's not the most common craving I suppose. But when it hits, head over to Covent Garden.

So I was pretty grumpy about the notebook.

And then Saturday morning I had an early start to go to breakfast. At Covent Garden. Which was kind of cool, though repetitive. It was cool because going in the morning before the tourists arrive, you get to see the loony street performers getting set up. This one guy arrived looking perfectly normal but carrying this massive case, and over the next 25 minutes (I'd arrived early to phone the restaurant to check if they'd found my notebook, but they hadn't) the case had become one of the palace guard huts and the performer had become a guard, albeit with a big red nose and clown makeup. Awful tourist rubbish, but quite cool to see the transformation. I was waiting for Ric & Simon. While waiting for Ric and Simon, it is not a question of who will be late, rather who will be more late. And they were, but within mere seconds of each other.

Breakfast was a dreadful rendition of eggs benedict. The hollandaise had seperated and the eggs were overdone. I didn't say anything. Eggs benedict is one of my favourite things though, so seeing it screwed up was annoying. And lemonade was £2.75. Which was outrageous and annoying. The company was fun though, and made the food and prices easily bearable.

The rest of Saturday was a bit of a write off.

Sunday was all about mud. And willows. And goulash. Every year the local residents don their wellies, grab some serious gardening tools and march over to the eyot (a tidal island in front of our houses) and prune the willows. I had new wellies just for the event and felt a bit awkward about it. New wellies are like new wax jackets - there's a bit too much shine and you don't look as though you've been doing enough dirty, mucky, outdoorsy type things to own them in the first place. Fortunately walking along the bed of the River Thames is about the best way to speed age wellies ever. And speed pruning 100 odd willows is a good way to knacker yourself out. I reckon the youngest helping out were about 10 and the oldest in their eighties, so for a strapping nearly 30-year-old, capitulation was not an option. It was muddy, dangerous, cold and windy, but when a 74 year old is happy to reach out on a precarious limb and clip that last branch, you can't wuss out. So 2 1/2 hours later, covered head to toe in river mud, dad & I headed home and helped mom prepare lunch for 25. All of those at the pollarding (for that is its name) came over, ate, drank and were merry. It was really nice and a perfect restorative after the morning's work. It started bucketing with rain as we tucked into our goulash and then pear tarts (seriously yummy pear tarts) and we all breathed sighs of relief that it had held off until we'd finished. Everyone seemed to leave in one big group and we realised that we still had a lot of food.

We had so much food left over that I invited some friends to come over and eat more. We still have food. And I'm not sure I can take much more goulash. Another slice of pear tart? Well, if I must.