About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

WEEK 23--Fish Spa Pedicure

Garra Fish Spa Pedicure.  At Gymophobics of Lichfield.  Soothing.  Exfoliating.  Relaxing.  And no longer available.  I called on Saturday to explore this deeply odd and unsettling beauty treatment, in which a tank full of seriously maladjusted fish dine on the dead skin of your feet.  I saw the fish swimming in their tank.  But they were not happy fish, the ladies of Gymophobics told me, wringing their hands.  I would have to come back next week, when the water levels had settled (or some such thing).  I rang today and was told that they no longer do the fish spa.

DAMN!  Now I'll have to think of another new thing!  In fact, two new things, as I'm a week behind, and that's not counting the bloody car wash which I still haven't done.  I admit that this is a totally egocentric response to the fate of the unhappy garra rufa fish, who for all I know were found on Monday morning bobbing on the surface of their tank, gorged to death on a diet of verrucas and athletes foot.

I have been spared the thing I most dreaded, however, which was to stick my feet in the tank and discover that there had been some silly mix up at the tropical fish counter, resulting in a consignment of piranhas being sent to Lichfield instead.  You might not realise till too late.  You can never really tell with beauty treatments how much it's supposed to hurt.  Waxing, for example.  You need to be stoical.  It's like childbirth, you tell yourself, it won't go on for ever.  Plus you won't have to worry about tuition fees for your bikini line when it grows up.  Or else like minor medical procedures, when they say 'You may experience some discomfort--when we CRUSH YOUR BOOB IN A VAST METAL CLAMP, MWA HA HA!!'  (I occasionally wonder if this is how they check for testicular cancer as well.)  So with the piranhas, you might be sitting watching the blood swirl round the tank, thinking, actually, this is jolly painful, still, they must be doing a good job.  Then in a deeply English not-making-a-scene kind of way, you'd hobble home on your stumps thinking, Well, that got rid of the hard skin, anyway.

Hard skin!  Duh.  I must have been mad to even contemplate getting rid of it.  I have spent all year toughening my feet up so that I can do run around the karate dojo without whimpering.  Sorry--fish is off.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ordinary Time

As promised, a suitable green background.  Leafy green and fresh, just like the world outside.  I was enjoying it this morning on my run.  The lime blossom is just coming out, and filling the air with one of my favourite smells.  There were two enormous lime trees on our Primary School playing field, and the scent takes me straight back to childhood.

I was thinking happy thoughts as I ran, when I was suddenly interrupted by a bloke on a bike coming the other way, who shouted 'Nice tatts!'  Nice what?  I don't have any tattoos, and I'm pretty sure I didn't mishear.  How very strange, I thought.  Maybe there was a heavily tattooed person running along behind me?  It's been a long time since I wast last oiked, I didn't quite know how to respond.

I suppose I thought the custom had more or less died out.  When I was 20 I went to Rome with a blonde friend and we were harrassed day and night by importunate Italian males.  When I returned to the city some 28 or so years later with my husband, I was please to note the huge improvement in manners of the young local men.  I mentioned this to my friend when I got home.  She told me she'd noticed a similar improvement in males across the board.  The behaviour of labourers and construction workers in particular had been steadily improving from her late 20s, then exponentially after the age of 35.  We agreed that we now felt entirely safe to walk past building sites without any fears of unwelcome shouts and whistles.  The whole 'considerate constructors' drive has been very effective.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pentecost Sunday

For one day only, we have gone red for Pentecost.  Tomorrow it's back to Ordinary Time.  I speak the strange language of liturgy here, in which I am not really fluent, being a humble Baptist in origin.  I think that green is the correct colour for Ordinary Time.  Doubtless some pedant or other will post a comment if I am wrong.*

Pentecost used to be called Whitsuntide.  Nobody calls it that any more.  It's gone the way of Mothering Sunday.  I presume 'Whit' meant 'white', and was something to do with the robes worn by baptismal candidates, back in the days of the desert fathers, or some such.  But these days the colour is red.  Red for the tongues of fire which descended on the disciples from heaven with the sound of a mighty rushing wind.  That's what Pentecost is about: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the church.  In case you were wondering.

Why isn't it a Bank Holiday?  Surely we used to have Whitsun Bank Holiday?  This year Easter was late, therefore Pentecost is late; so the festival has become detached from its holiday by a couple of weeks.  Still, we have enjoyed our traditional English glorious Bank Holiday weather, regardless.

* the correct wording for complaints in cathedral circles is: 'I was saddened and disappointed, though not surprised, to read...'

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Dukan Update--Second Half of Consolidation Diet

Well, it still seems to be working.  Weight stable, within a few pounds either side of my target.  The Consolidation Phase, so vital because 'you are like a deep-sea diver coming up from the depths who has to do it in stages for safety's sake', lasts a set length of time: 5 days for each pound lost.  In my case 100 days.  I have reached the halfway point, and may now eat two celebration meals a week, instead of one, and two servings of starchy crap; while still faithfully maintaining 'the famous protein Thursday' and the 3tbsp of oatbran a day, without which Dukan is not Dukan.

In fact, I passed the magic 50 days on Wednesday without noticing.  If I'd known that yesterday, I would have eaten chocolate cake with my champagne.  The chancellor and I were celebrating the successful re-display of the Anglo-Saxon Lichfield angel and the Chad Gospel (older than the Book of Kells) in their posh new glass cases, ready for the Staffordshire Hoard Touring Exhibition next month.  It was a hair-raising day (from 8.30am till 6.30pm) in the chapter House, all captured on CCTV.  Never again will I make the mistake of thinking museum curators and conservators lead a dull bookish life.

But back to Dukan.  Hats off to the fellow.  Or 'Chappeau!' as I believe the French say.  I went for my usual 3mile run this morning, and I have to tell you, It's a whole lot easier to get round when you're not lugging the equivalent of 40 packs of butter.  Of course, the real test comes two years down the line.  I acknowledge there is still time for the whole Doodah Diet to go pear-shaped.  I use the term advisedly.

Monday, 6 June 2011

WEEK 22--Up Early for the Dawn Chorus

I have often heard birds singing before dawn, but for the first time today, I got up on purpose to listen to the dawn chorus from our back garden. Above you may see the setting, featuring oversized walnut tree, brown recycling bin and two plastic chairs. The one on the lawn is where I sat in the grey hour before dawn. May I just say in passing that I am no gardener. I don't garden, I write books. If I also got a few more books published, I would be able to pay a gardener. But there you go.

This morning sunrise was officially at 4.47am. I did a bit of preliminary dawn chorus research, and discovered that it begins an hour before sunrise. I was out in a big coat in my plastic chair at 3.45am and there were already a couple of blackbirds and robins singing in the distance. The garden was still almost in darkness, but as time passed and the sky gradually lightened, colour seeped into the flower beds.

Then came the sound of a blackbird tuning up in the neighbouring garden. It was answered by another somewhere in Gaia Lane (which runs beside the old moat which was once part of the Close fortifications, at the bottom of our garden). This pair kept up what sounded like a duet, but which experts assure is is more like a shouting match. Like two drunk blokes across a street. Oi, mush, yeah, you. Yeah? You looking at my bird? Establishing territory. It was interspersed by sudden trills from a wren somewhere in the moat.

I kept an ear cocked for a thrush, but didn't hear one. Nothing was on the wing. In the distance, perhaps up on the cathedral's facade, came the occasional caw of a rook. Three ducks flew over and landed on the school roof next door. But nothing seemed to be singing in our garden. No sound from the walnut tree above. Far off a wood pigeon called. They always used to say 'Tak two coos, Taffy.' Who knows what they sing in these politically correct days? Then in the middle distance, another wood pigeon. After a few more minutes there was noise above. A kind of gargling sleepy wood pigeon call. It took a couple of goes to get into gear, but then it was away. Then a great tit's call: 'Teacher, teacher!' Next door's blackbird took a breather, then struck up again, adding a new flourish to his repertoire. Then more cawing of rooks, until on all sides the bird choir of cathedral Close was in full voice.

The first insects began buzzing past. A couple of bats flickered home in the dawn, and I went back indoors to bed. Worth getting up for.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ascension Day

Keen-eyed readers of an Anglican bent will have noticed that I change the background to my blog to reflect the liturgical season. The little chicks were for Easter, and now we have a flock of pigeons rising heavenward for Ascension Day. Which is today. Only I forgot. Aaargh. I went to karate instead of to church. Probably because this is half term and we are sort of half on holiday.

This is shame, not least because it's possible they sung 'Hail thee festival day'. This is a hymn of such bizarre musical complexity that it will take me the rest of my life to master, and you only get to sing it this time of year. The tune changes without warning, and as far as I can tell, there are more syllables to sing than notes to sing them to, so you end up gabbling the second half of the sentence to catch up with the choir.

But to return briefly to pigeons. These are not well-loved birds in clergy circles, because they roost on our historic buildings and erode them with their acidic crap. (Like some members of every congregation. Metaphorically.) Here in the Close the pigeon problem is kept under control by pest control people, who come and fly a Harris hawk to scare them off. The recommended solution--made by jaded parish priests--is to baptise the pigeons. That way you'll never see them again.