Tuesday, 31 October 2017


"We had this really cool aunt - called Aunty Libby Lou - and she was kind and she wore pretty dresses and was ever so slightly potty and when we went to stay with her she did all this cool stuff with us, like baking and making things...

"That's how I'd like my nieces to remember me," I tell my husband, "after I'm gone. So I'd better not spend the whole time they're here this weekend sitting in front of my computer leaving them to play on the Wii. I'd better actually do the stuff with them that I want to be remembered for."

My husband agrees.

On Saturday, after my two nieces arrive, I send them off to Lidl with Youngest to buy a pumpkin, then spend the rest of the day sitting in front of my computer, apart from when I'm cooking, or down the pub, while the kids play on the Wii.

On Sunday morning I do some washing, then sit in front of my computer while the kids play on the Wii. By Sunday afternoon I realise my chance to be remembered as cool Aunty Libby Lou is running out so we have a frantic burst of activity. We carve a pumpkin, while listening to spooky music, bake Halloween cupcakes, making orange icing by combining red and yellow food dye, then draw pretty cards to send to a close relative who's been in hospital. All this takes about an hour and a half, then they go back to the Wii and I go back to sitting in front of my computer, and then to the pub, but only for a quick one.

When my sister-in-law sends a text enquiring how it's going I send her pictures of the pumpkin and the cakes and neglect to mention the Wii, or the pub. "Wow!" She replies. "What a lovely creative weekend!"

On Monday morning my brother and sister-in-law arrive to collect their daughters. We all stand together in the kitchen drinking coffee and my brother asks how I'm liking the MA.

"It's great." I say. "Except now I'm obsessed with Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Do you know they used to write together, often back to back? He would set her writing tasks."

"It didn't end well, though, did it?" Says my husband. 

I have to agree that it didn't.

"She bit his cheek when they met, and drew blood."

"I bet that's the only thing you know about Sylvia Plath," I say to my husband. "That, and the fact that she killed herself in a tiny flat, in February, when her husband had left her for another woman and she had two small children to look after, by herself, and it was a Monday."

"I didn't know it was a Monday," he says.

Walking down our hall to our front door with his wife and two daughters my brother decides he'd like to leave us with a joke hanging in the air, it's one of his trademarks.

"You've heard my Sylvia Plath poem, haven't you?" he asks. 

It's not really a question.

"Yes," I say.

"Bell jar, bell jar, on the shelf," he begins.

"Yes, I've heard it." I say.

He opens the front door.

"I think I'm going to kill myself." He says.

"By the way," I say. "They spent pretty much the entire time playing on the Wii." 

Love E x


P.S. On my MA course we've been looking at writing in which there is a sudden switch in point of view.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A Text Message.

An evening train journey home in the rain and the dark.
I find a seat, find my book, find my place, start to read.

A text message.
Hi! I've chosen the subject for my dissertation.
Roll Over Beethoven. It's going to be on the movement away from classism in 1960's film music and its cultural and ideological context.
It is great. No one else has done this.
Sounds amazing.

I find my place again, start to read again.

A text message.
Netflix recommendation: Get Me Roger Stone.
You have to watch it.
It's about this Republican strategist who's basically had a hand in every election since Nixon.
He's literally like a super villain.

The book. Turn a page. Begin to read again.

A text message.
Can we make it coffee instead of lunch I have to teach?
9.30. Same place.

I stare out of the train window.

A text message.
Hello. Are you on the train?
I was thinking stir fry.
Is there any veg though?
I'll get some from Tesco on my way.
Chop garlic, ginger and fresh chili.

The train pulls into the station. I get off, walk home, blasting ACDC through my earphones. At home I sit and drink a beer.

A text message.
They discharged me. I'm home!
Hooray! I've been so so worried about you. You must never be ill again and you must promise to absolutely never ever die.

Love E x


P.S. A text message.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Light and dark.


Here's something that sums up what's happening in Tooting nowadays. An all female three-handed feminist performance of Medea in a shop that used to be Sadiq Khan's Labour campaign headquarters on the High Street, near Lidl. I get two tickets for Saturday night. 

It feels mean to ask my husband to come with me so I ask a friend to come instead. She agrees, and tells him he owes her one when she arrives at our house for a pre-performance drink... or two. I decide getting lightly tanked up is the only way to approach this. Husband skips off to get the wine.

We know it's going to be good when we're met at the door by a charming young man who informs us the performance will be 45 minutes long with no interval and the audience must stand as actors move among us... and there's a bar at the back. 

"This is surreal," my mate says, as we loiter by the fairy lights, sipping more wine and listening to the opening blast of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive as one of the three young actors mimes the words at us just inches from our faces. 

It was surreal, and great, and watching it made me feel about 18-years-old. Look out for more performances in unusual spaces by By Jove Theatre.



Not taking my usual route across the common under a tunnel of green and orange - rustling leaves, ribbons of light, breeze in the face, glad to be alive - avoiding that path completely now because the chestnuts are gone. Cycling a different path instead past a man on a bench who pulls back his head as I approach, throwing it forward the moment I draw level in order to hurl to huge gob of spit in my direction. Looking back in disbelief; realising it was deliberate, and it missed.

Later, turning up at a local ward meeting to confront another man who has, in his own way, also hurled a gob of spit on Tooting Common - Councillor Jonathan Cook of Wandsworth Borough Council - ultimately responsible for the loss of the chestnut trees on Chestnut Avenue. 

Seeing him for what he is: an arrogant man, spouting misleading waffle, taking ten minutes to answer my question about council consultations, telling me I know nothing about the situation at Tooting Common, that the people there wanted that avenue of trees felled because lots were dangerously damaged and likely to FALL ON THE CHILDREN'S PLAYGROUND! And that as a boy he remembers feeling sad about Dutch elm disease actually, blah, blah, blah...  Not coming close to answering the question, enraging the audience with his response to this and many other questions, sitting next to his fellow counsellor, Guy Senior, who actually loses his temper at an audience member and shouts at the top of his voice. Wow. 


Another weekday evening, another meeting, a very different one. This time at Goldsmiths College in New Cross where two second year students inform the room about Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, arrested almost five years ago, sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes. They quietly explain that he's had 50 of these lashes now and must wait for his back to heal before having more. And the case of Nadhir al-Majid, who had his sentence of seven years' imprisonment upheld by the Riyadh Court of Appeal on June 4th 2017, whose crimes include writing articles such as "I protest, I am a human being." After he was arrested he was beaten, kicked and ordered to stand for hours, then placed in solitary confinement. 

Sitting listening, remembering what I was doing 19 years ago when these two teenagers were born: hanging around playgroups with babies and toddlers who banged bricks and dribbled and filled nappies. Now their contemporaries - these informed and compassionate people - are big enough to stand before a meeting and explain about a Saudi blogger who had his back lashed so hard it "opened up" and why we should all care that writers the world over are oppressed and imprisoned. Thinking: human beings can be amazing, particularly the younger ones.


Love E x



Light, by Ted Hughes

Eased eyes open, showed leaves.

Eyes laughing and childish
Ran among flowers of leaves
And looked at light's bridge
Which led from leaf, upward, and back down to leaf.

Eyes uncertain
Tested each semblance

Light seemed to smile.

Eyes ran to the limit
To the last leaf
To the last vein of the least flower-leaf.

Light smiled,
And smiled and smiled

Afraid suddenly
That this was all there was to it.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Out of the box.

The old one.

I'm a student again after thirty years and can't believe my luck. I stroll round the campus feeling twenty years younger, half expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to leave. But I'm allowed here, incredibly. On my first day I line up in the main building to register and there's an 18-year-old boy behind me not dissimilar to the one I have who is registering at another university in another part of the country. How weird is that? There are three of us in this family at university at the same time. We could start our own Soc. If we weren't hundreds of miles apart.

"What documents do we need?" the boy asks me.


"Well," I say, "I have my degree certificate, but I imagine it's different for you."

At the freshers fair I join three societies including the Samba club and talk to a girl who does burlesque. She shows me her Instagram pictures. 

"So, your breasts, they're, you know, actually... bare?" I ask her. 

"Oh no!" She says. "I'm wearing tit faces. I made them myself." 

Of course.

Sitting in a cafe opposite the main building I watch a girl approach a table outside. She sits, pulls at her sleeves, checks her phone, looks a bit lost and forlorn. I want to go outside and say: it'll be okay, don't worry. But I don't. Instead I watch as a boy approaches. He says something to her, which I imagine is: "is this seat taken?" or, "is it okay if I sit here?" Her mouth moves in reply, which I imagine is: "sure, go ahead," or, "yeah, fine, no worries." He sits. He chats to her. He waves his arms around as he talks and looks away, then back again, then laughs. She also laughs. Her demeanour changes, her shoulders relax, she puts her phone down on the table. Maybe she'll be friends with him for the next thirty years? Maybe she'll marry him?

Version Control.

I re-read And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison. It's an unflinching and at times unflattering portrayal of the author's father, shot through with love. Here's a lovely line from it - 

"What consolation can art be, what comfort are reading and writing, now that grief streams through the trees and this home he made for living in is about to become the house where he will die."

The book makes me think about the responsibility of the writer to his subject matter, about having the power to damn and defame. It makes me think about versions of people and how we never truly know who someone is. Morrison asks: what was my father? A domineering old sod, a loving dad, a loyal husband, in love with a woman who wasn't his wife? Then answers these questions brilliantly. He was all of these things. Of course.

By coincidence that same day I stumble across the furore concerning that book cover of Plath on a beach wearing a white bikini, looking fantastic in my view; although it would have been even better if she'd been wearing tit faces, ones she made for herself. I don't think Cathleen Allyn Conway writing for the Guardian would agree with me about that, though. She thinks it's all wrong, this image of Plath is "...  antithesis to the ambitious, intellectual poet."  Rebecca Rideal in the New Statesman disagrees with her, "we seem fixated" she writes, "on putting [women] into easily identifiable boxes: Blonde Bimbo, Angry Feminist, Downtrodden Mother, Suicidal Writer." While Ella Risbridger, for The Pool, sums it up. Plath is all of these things, she says, "depending on who you're asking." Of course.

I once wrote a damning account of my maternal grandfather. Here's another version of that same story. A bright working class lad meets a pretty factory girl and gets her pregnant. He marries her out of duty and it's not a particularly happy marriage; she's not his soul mate. He reckons he's lifted her out of poverty, put a roof over her head, so he can carry on as before: playing golf, going to pubs. They argue a lot. He's a big success, makes a lot of money, owns a factory. She stays at home, keeps house, looks after him. They have three children. One dies as a newborn and another dies when he's a young teen, which breaks his heart, and hers, and one survives; my mother. 

A little after he married the factory girl he did meet his soul mate, in a pub, but doesn't leave his wife for her, instead he conducts a secret affair with this woman for forty years, until he dies, because he loves her and because, as Morrison says, quoting his mother, it is possible to love two women at the same time. So, that's just a different way of seeing that same story. I imagine it's how he saw it. Of course.

Love E x

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

By Chestnut Avenue I Sat Down and Wept.


Towards the end of her life when her body was frail and her mind almost an empty vessel my grandmother still loved trees. She suffered from macular degeneration and couldn't see much and yet she was somehow able to discern the outline of trees that stood in the grounds of the old people's home where she lived. "Look at the trees," she would say, screwing up her misty eyes to focus on something beyond the confines of her room, "aren't they beautiful?" I shared her love of trees so I always agreed. Trees are the first thing I remember: three huge beech trees in our back garden. To me they were BFGs before I ever heard of Roald Dahl; Ents, before I stumbled across walking trees in The Lord of the Rings. My mother says as soon as I was big enough I would stand at the picture window in our lounge and shout at them.

Who doesn't love trees? They are capable of out-growing and out-living us all, with roots that crawl through the earth as far and wide as canopies that stretch above it. They are the lungs of the world, producing oxygen to enable us to breathe. They absorb carbon dioxide and other potentially harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. They cool the air, bind the soil, provide shelter and shade, bear fruit and nuts, nurture life for birds, insects, bats, mammals and man.  They hint of mystical things, tales they might tell if only they were able, plus they look great.

In cities where air quality is poor and we are surrounded by dirt and grime trees are more important than ever. After bin men visit on Monday mornings the litter they carelessly discard floats down our road like seaweed on a tide. Graffiti is splattered across bricks, hoardings plaster buildings, pitiful homeless people sleep on chewing gum ridden pavements because they've fallen through cracks of this government's risibly named social care programme, but still in the midst of all this we have precious green spaces with trees. Our commons and parks provide respite from the city, allowing us to breath both literally and metaphorically, and they belong to us all. Given this, it beggars belief that Wandsworth Borough Council just took it upon itself to fell more than 50 mature chestnut trees on Tooting Common.



It's a week and a day now since this dirty deed was done - see above. My first inkling was a phone call from a friend on Monday morning: it's started, she said, and I went straightaway. We had failed to stop the massacre - despite the Save Chestnut Avenue campaign and 6,565 people signing a petition - the least we could do was record it.

A steel wall was erected around the trees and a man with a paint gun condemned each trunk with a number. More people arrived, a few elderly ladies, a kindly old gent, my mate Jay, an Evening Standard reporter, a woman from BBC local news. Those inside the metal cordon became trapped there, told by police if we left we wouldn't get back in. It became clear the trees wouldn't fall that day after all: they had a stay of execution. Their end would begin at dawn, hidden away from prying eyes, coincidentally on a day when our MP, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, and a local councillor, Fleur Anderson - who both supported the campaign to save them - were away at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

We arranged a candlelit vigil for 6.30am, Tuesday. There were perhaps twenty of us there, armed with tea lights and flowers: a middle aged woman in pink wellies (me), an American, a Canadian, my Australian mate Sam, a straggle of anxious by-standers. The council sent a private security firm, police, and a van full of barking dogs. When I ran after lorries to get photographs, just before 7am, I was aggressively told to move on. That steel fence, the diggers, the men with alsatians, the absent faceless bureaucrats hell-bent on environmental vandalism, despite thousands of objections: it was Orwellian.

The vast majority of trees destroyed were not rotten and diseased with bleeding canker as the council has claimed, nor were they all chestnut trees, some were beeches and oaks. Of the few that were damaged most could have been saved with careful pruning and maintenance. The saplings planted in their place - all small leafed limes - in no way compensate for the loss of so many mature trees. It will be thirty years before the limes provide similar shelter from rain and sun; they will not cleanse the air of pollutants or dapple the path with sunlight or lower the surrounding temperature in the way their predecessors did during what remains of my lifetime.

And what did it cost? The security? The steel ring? The man power to fell them? What did it cost to plant pathetically small saplings in their place? The Heritage Lottery grant used to fund this hobby horse was £45,000. How much of it has been spent on new trees? Could it be that the council was motivated to destroy the chestnut trees not out of concern for the safety of its residents - as it claims - who were after all walking up and down that avenue with children and dogs and grannies for two whole years after the decision to fell them was taken behind closed doors in June 2015, long before the 'public consultation' of 700 people? And not by a 'vision' of a future majestic avenue of small leafed limes either? (Incidentally they can't decide which of these two justifications to use and keep flip flopping between them.) Could it be that instead of bearing the cost of maintaining a bunch of old trees, they saw an opportunity to save money? Even to make a fast buck?

In his fabulous book entitled The Secret Life of Trees: how they live and why they matter, author Colin Tudge describes how in their own way trees speak to one another. The beautiful trees on Chestnut Avenue certainly spoke to me, they said - for God's sake, don't let this cretinous tory council chop us down!

Sorry trees.

Love E x


P.S. If you are one of the 6,565 people who signed the petition to save the trees or were part of the campaign @SaveChestnutAve or merely love trees, as I do, you might want to send your objection to @wandsbc or http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/  or Cllr Jonathan Cook executive member for environment, culture and community safety - jonathancook@wandsworth.gov.uk