07 April, 2014


a seemingly never-ending series of spindles (is that what they're called? the things that hold the banisters up) and the lightbulb has gone in the top hall and the light is fading and I can't reach the bulb to change it - so I'm stopping now and taking the poor long-suffering dog for a walk. Listening to music while painting:

(1) Adele: why does she sing as though she were some kind of world weary torch singer who's really been through the mill, when she's only 21? How many devastating relationships can she possibly have had? She's not bloody Billy Holliday
(2) soundtrack to 8 Femmes: love this. Now these ladies really sound as though they've been through the mill in a super-sophisticated French way. Perhaps I should actually try and work out what the lyrics are saying.
(3) Neil Young: After the Gold Rush - bought this cheap from Amazon and listening to it for the first time. Jury still out.

Going to give choir a miss tonight as I don't want to leave poor ill Child #3 on her own.


Tinned stilton and broccoli soup for lunch and tuna mayonnaise and tomato on toast. Dog looks hopeful. No chance, babes. Watching Gogglebox on 4oD.

Well, I was going to make a lemon meringue pie with Child #3 today, but since she has the dreaded lurgy, I'm going to sandpaper the top stairs instead, preparatory to painting it in brilliant white gloss. This is going to take a really really long time. It took me weeks to paint the shutters in the study because after about an hour, I'd lose the will to live and have to go off and do something else instead.

Thank God it's raining - no need to water the garden.

Mass Observation

I'm trying to get back into the habit of doing some writing every day and this seems like a good way to ease into it. So in the spirit of Mass Observation - so far today: Child #3 came into my room this morning to announce that she'd just thrown up and was feeling dodgy. I didn't think it could be food poisoning because I'd eaten everything that she'd eaten and I was fine - although to be fair, it has to be a pretty brutal bacterium to get through my Malaysia-honed digestive system - so I gave her some juice, some bread, some peppermint tea, a basin to throw up in (she hasn't again, so far) and sent her back to the bed. I suspect it's the same bug that Child #2 had a couple of weeks ago.

Toast and Marmite for breakfast, reading Wolf Hall on Kindle.

Had bath. Finished Norman Davies' Europe.

Walked the dog.

Went to Tescos and bought Spam, All Bran, rich tea biscuits, 2 packs of Duracell AA batteries, flour, chicken, salmon, bacon and Cif. Went to halal grocers and bought tomatoes. Went back to Tescos and picked up bag that I'd left behind.

Had a cup of tea with Anne. Bemoaned our uselessness in the face of life's challenges.

Defrosted mince for dinner.

Funded account with solicitors.

Bought some Sainsburys shares.

Played some online Scrabble against Little Sister.

Played some online Killer Sudoku.

Began JJ Norwich's History of Venice.

And now for lunch!

02 February, 2014


Walking in an unlovely part of Colliers Wood today, there was a lovely fresh smell of spring around that suddenly reminded me of the long road trip that Daddy and I did when he was living in Rome. I was a teenager and in a foul mood for the whole trip, but now all I remember is driving around with Daddy - a long avenue of cypresses and Mozart on the tape deck, a walled garden viewed from a motorway in Tuscany, a lakeside in Austria, Daddy's incredible corny jokes...

While Al is riding, I take the dog for a walk around Morden Hall Park and environs. There's a terrific old house nearby called Wandle Villa, mostly hidden from the road by hedges, with extensive grounds sloping down to the Wandle. The neighbourhood is terrible, with a grisly council estate lapping at its edges, but the house itself is wonderful.

Went to HMV to buy the Frozen soundtrack for Loggy's birthday. The young Indian guy at the counter said, Buy any of these DVDs, only £2.99, and indicating Sandra Bullock's The Blindside, That one's really good. I'm going to get it myself. I'd actually heard of the movie and wouldn't mind seeing it and the guy was so enthusiastic, I thought, Young man, you have made yourself a sale - so I bought it. Which just goes to show what a little salesmanship can do. HMV should give the guy a bonus - he's going to go far.

Oh, why is this post called Midges? Because there were millions of the horrible things infesting the banks of the Wandle today. I was walking around with my scarf over my mouth and nose like a burqa. Yack!

29 January, 2014

Dad Dreams

I like to listen to Tweet of the Day just before the Today programme begins at 6am during weekdays. It reminds me of Daddy and his birdwatching. I had a dream about him last night. I came home for a visit and he was there but well and healthy again, as he used to be, particularly standing up straight and not shaking. I kept on saying how well he was looking and wondering what had happened to bring about this recovery, but of course, just like our family, no one said anything and acted as though it nothing was different!

19 January, 2014


I am painting the shutters in the study - Farrow and Ball "dimity". There are 2 windows. Each window has 4 shutters. Each shutter has 3 panels. So front and back, 2 coats, that is 96 planes that need to be painted. You have to paint them in a certain order so that the hinges don't stick shut, you don't smudge the ones you've already done that haven't dried yet and you have dry bits to hold onto as you paint, as otherwise the shutters move about. It's like a fiendishly complicated Japanese puzzle.

18 January, 2014

Things i do because my father did them

wear a Seiko automatic
reverse using only the mirrors, instead of looking over my shoulder
straightening out the bend when taking corners
dressing for comfort, rather than style

Toilet Talk

L: I need a pee
me: maybe you should go before we leave the house
L: maybe you should
me: I already did. who else needs to update us on their toilets habits? Alice?
A: I'm not talking to you people.

17 December, 2013

Daddy Continued

Another thing that he did once that struck me: we were leaving a shopping mall car park in KL and it was one of those ones where you pay the attendant in the booth as you drive out. As the attendant handed him his change, a 1 cent coin fell onto the road. Daddy drove on. Then after a while he said, "That's the first time in my life I've ever not picked up money that I dropped." You can tell he is from that generation of Malaysian parents who grew up during the war and who never waste anything, especially food. He would always eat the plate absolutely clean of every grain of rice and faithfully save any leftovers to be bungkused. He was always berating us for not eating our chicken bones clean enough - just as I now berate my children.

My Dad

My father died today at about 3am Malaysian time, on 17th December 2013. He was 78. They always say that when people die, they live on in the memories of the people who knew them. I keep on thinking about all the things he used to do with us when we were little and all the other stuff he used to do that was so characteristic of him. So I thought I would write it down here, so that he is remembered. If I can find a digital photo of him, I'll post that up too.

So, in the order they come to mind: going to Port Dickson for the day. This was in the 70s when the water in the Blue Lagoon was still blue and still clear. And he would take us snorkelling and there was still coral to be seen. And he would climb us up the cliffs and point out what he said were dolphins. He always used to bring goreng ayam from the stall in what he called "the 2nd dirtiest medan selera in PJ" (not there any more!) and roti canai. And sometimes he would make fried egg sandwiches as well. You might think that cold fried egg sandwiches, with the soy sauce and white pepper soaked into the bread, do not sound very appealing, but you would be wrong. And if there is any better seaside picnic food than cold goreng ayam and roti canai, well, I have yet to come across it. He would also bring along a litre container of water, so before we got into the car, he could rinse the sand off us as best he could, but of course the back seats always ended up covered in sand anyway.

Thinking of the drive back reminds me of driving to and from Singapore when we used to visit the relatives, also in the 70s. This was before the super-duper new highway, so the drive used to take most of the day, because it was only a 2-lane highway, where you have to go into the oncoming lane to overtake, and if you get stuck behind a timber lorry, well, you are stuck for a long slow time, and you would pass lots of kampungs, with goats, chickens, children standing by the side of the road etc. And you could stop and buy whatever fruit was in season, rambutans, mangosteens, durians. Once Daddy took us on a 60 mile detour to get the "2nd best roti canai in Malaysia". So because the drive took so long, you always got to your destination after dark. We 3 kids would all be half-asleep in the back as we crawled towards the causeway in a massive traffic queue and I am sure everybody knows the feeling of security, with your parents in the front, talking about relatives' ailments and the stock market and other boring adult stuff.

It is because Daddy was such a good driver that I am a very trusting passenger now. It never crosses my mind that the driver could be endangering me. We all entirely trusted Daddy when he was driving. That is why it was so awful that as the Parkinsons got worse, he was a danger to himself and others and could no longer drive. Once, when we were holidaying in Italy, Daddy took off after a roadside stop on a bendy mountain road, but he was on the wrong side of the road. Too late he realised and there was a crash. As we all waited by the side of the road for the ambulance, police etc, he berated us for not noticing that he was on the wrong side of the road - but none of us ever bothered to look. We always trusted that he would get us safely to our destination.

When I was in the 6th form, I used to go for my holidays to stay with Daddy in his flat in Rome, when he was working for the FAO. Once we took a great long drive all the way up Italy, into Austria and Switzerland. I don't remember being very thrilled with Daddy's company then, but I look back now and it seems like such a wonderful trip. Cortina d'Ampezzo, with all the little Italian children skiing. A mountain refuge high in the Alps with huge clean white feather duvets. The Brenner Pass. The chill waters of a lake. A walled garden on a hillside glimpsed from a motorway cutting through Tuscany that is still my idea of what a paradisical garden should be, like an illuminated manuscript. Vienna, Salzburg.

Daddy always did things his own way. That meant when we were kids that nothing was ever to our minds quite right, because instead of doing it the conventional way, like everybody else, he would do the thing from first principles and come up with a substitute - usually one which he would claim was just as good, only cheaper. He had a thing about mozzarella being Italian tofu. Another one of his wacky statements, which he probably said once and completely forgot about, was that "once you switch on a light, you needn't bother to switch it off again, because you've already paid for the electricity." Thinking about this, I think he meant that there's a minimum amount that you pay for a unit of electricity, so once you switch on the light, there's a fixed amount of time that you could keep it on to get your full money's worth. However, he said this when I was very young, so the only thing that stuck in my mind was that it doesn't cost you any more money to leave the light on after you've switched it on - with the result that subconsciously I still don't switch off lights as much as I should.

He also had a whole lot of driving mantras, honed from years of driving in Malaysia and Italy. "Drive defensively" was one of them. It was him who taught me that you can anticipate the lights changing at a junction by watching the behaviour of the crossing cars, not your own set of traffic lights. And also that if you are in a strange neighbourhood and don't know where your turning is, you can see which the busy roads are by looking at the tyre marks on the road. Another useful tip if you are ever lost in the jungle, which I think he had actually had cause to use in his time working for the Malaysian Forestry Department, was that you should go downhill, because that way you will find water, and then you can follow the water out of the jungle.

I've got to go and pick up the girls from school now, so I'll post this up and continue later.

I love you, Daddy. XXX

30 October, 2013

busy day

today : up at 6.30. watched latest inspector Montalbano on the exercise bike while waiting for bath to run. doing ultimate killer sudoku in the bath. walked dog down to garage to pick up car from its mot. breakfast : homemade bread and leftover Gorgonzola. Chinese lesson on Skype with my teacher in Tianjin. changed bedsheets in spareroom. batch of laundry. aerial guy came round to fix the freesat. tidied up the garden, weeded the paving stones. baked some more bread. walked dog and girls across the common to the pub for lunch. walked back. had my go on Scrabble with little squish. made banana fritters with homemade coffee icecream and golden syrup for little daughter. did washing up. watched countdown. took big daughter to clinic for mmr. having cup of tea before making dinner - spaghetti bolognese.