A few notebook pages, roughly in chronological order, sometimes reflective, often to do with journeys, and the use of Pritt Stick usually obvious. Cutting out and sticking is such a delight. Occasionally content will find its way into a current book project, and is always fuelled by a certain amount of curiosity.
The thirteenth century chronicler, artist, map maker and Benedictine monk Matthew Paris was based at St Albans, one of the reasons I decided to visit again – I first came here a few years ago.
I’m a big admirer of Matthew P, who’s a bit of an entertaining gossip as well as being hugely multi-talented. I admire his curiosity about … everything. You can see his itinerary map of how to get from St Albans to the Holy Land with handy hints and fold out sections here. Maybe he himself didn’t travel all that much (although he visited Norway to see King Haakon) but perhaps he travelled in spirit through his map-making. His maps of England vary, probably as new information came in from travelling clergy?
Relics of St Alban, who died in 305 AD, were once spirited away for safe-keeping during religious upheavals, but his restored shrine now contains a piece of his scapula, delivered from its resting place in Germany in 2002.
There’s an intriguing wooden staircase near the shrine, protected by a metal grille. It leads to a Watching Loft, where an eye could be kept on sometimes costly offerings left by pilgrims at the shrine.
After a snack in the Abbots Kitchen – a piece of Miguel’s ginger cake is recommended – I had a go at a bit of brass-rubbing. This charming dog, who looks like he is sniffing, has tiny bells attached to his collar. As I finished the picture, the Cathedral bells appropriately rang out.
Morenotebookpages, this time about my latest visit to the eye clinic. I’ve added the little eye card which I acquired some years ago when briefly visiting a religious cult in Canada. Loved the card but didn’t join as amongst other things the use of the colour red was banned.
Walking round London is always a delight, especially when you spot some of its wildflife … clockwork pigeons in the Museum of London shop, a flock of Elizabeth Frink sheep in Paternoster Square where real pigeons cheekily land on the cafe tables, or even on tourists. A fierce wyvern aka dragon, symbol of the City of London perches on Holborn Viaduct overlooking Farringdon Road, the old Fleet River valley. The river now runs in a huge pipe under the road before emptying into the Thames. You can see the river outfall at low tide from Platform 4 of Blackfriars Station, which I discovered when researching my children’s book Draw It! London
Recently I walked past the London house where Mondrian once lodged, and thought about the postcard I’d seen at the Courtauld Gallery some years before at an exhibition of his work. I was intrigued not just by the artist’s work but by this postcard sent to his brother. Mondrian identifying with and signing himself as ‘Sleepy’ seemed so unlikely somehow. Apparently he was a big fan of Disney’s Snow White which came out in 1938.
I thought I’d take a photograph of the house, and saw a man working at his laptop in the window. He saw me and opened the window. I could see paintings on the wall behind him, by his mother apparently. We chatted very briefly, and when I asked if I could take this photo he agreed.
How often do you floss? asked my dentist. I didn’t want to say every night, because it sounded like I hadn’t anything better to do, which I hadn’t, recently.
The following week I bumped into my old dentist outside the local cafe. I’d left her practice years before after it went private, and in any case she’d had a problem with the amalgam in my old fillings. She could sense emanations from them apparently, and suggested using hazel drops.
She joined me at my table and told me she’d been to a Lewis Carroll party that week. We dress as characters from the Alice books, like the Tenniel drawings, she explained, and woe betide anyone who makes a mistake with their costume!
Suddenly she looked intently at me as I drank my cup of tea. Have you ever, she asked, had a longing for rancid butter? Sign of mercury poisoning you see, the Mad Hatter and the mercury association of course. I remember your fillings quite distinctly. I assured her I hadn’t given much thought to rancid butter. She looked relieved. I went as the Dormouse to the party, she confided, rather wistfully.
These are name tapes I had made for my mother when she was in her 90s and living in a nursing home. Apart from being shocked when she attempted (three or four times) to strangle me – I tried not to take it personally, she had extreme dementia – what I found extremely upsetting was the fact she was often dressed in someone else’s clothes. The staff were kind but very overworked and sometimes made mistakes, so I spent some time sewing my mother’s name on her clothes.
She was slim and good looking, and always loved looking smart. It seemed super important to me that she at least kept this part of her identity. After her death the nursing home closed down. It was part of an American portfolio of businesses, including swimming pools and sports complexes, and wasn’t making a profit.
Here’s my mother’s Finnish wedding skirt. She was married in Totnes, Devon to an elusive Finn. Whether she wore it at her wedding and gave the locals something to talk about I don’t know, as no wedding photos exist. The skirt’s waist is tiny. Sometimes when we were children we used to dress up in it, I think using it as a cloak.
Last saturday I visited Southwark Cathedral’s small but fascinating Larking exhibition, a display of mudlarking treasures found (mostly) on the Thames foreshore. Isn’t larking a happy-making word? Implying joyous activity I think. The little porcelain or bisque figures above are called Frozen Charlottes, referencing a Victorian poem about a child who died from hypothermia. Apparently the tiny figures were sometimes baked inside a cake or pudding as a surprise, dental or otherwise.
This salt-glazed stoneware fragment of a Bartmann or Bellarmine bottle shows a bearded man, who rather resembled my late husband. Some years ago I found a similar piece on the Thames foreshore, I think on the beach below the Tower of London, when it was open to the public one day a year in the summer. Later I propped up the fragment against a flowerpot in my tiny garden, but it seems to have disappeared, maybe to surface at some point in the future and puzzle the finder.
Another treasure, showing an image of Queen Elizabeth I, lay amongst coins and pins on a table in front of curator, mudlark and Thames archaeologist Mike Webber, who encouraged visitors to handle the objects, and was a delight to talk to.
Very strange to pick up an ancient flint hand axe, or pop on a Victorian thimble. Disappointingly, I wasn’t momentarily transported back in time, as my mother claimed she was occasionally.