Journalism

Summertime makes me happy

August 9th, 2008

Summertime makes me happy. Rain, sun, wind, what does it matter, as long as the geraniums are on the back step and the peas and beans are growing in the garden?
I have been looking after my two godchildren all week – both girls, one aged twelve and the other nine. One is a vampire and thinks that sunlight will kill her – actually it’s just that she can’t see the computer screen – the other is a little outdoor tyke who made me plant one hundred and twenty sunflower seeds, which have now grown into around a hundred sunflowers.
Planning my week was really about planning their week, and it had to begin with a visit to the Borzoi bookshop in Stow on the Wold, near my home. I let them choose six books each while I took the cats to the vet for their flea jab, (oh the glamour of a country life). Then we all went swimming, (not the cats).

I have a little house in London in Spitalfields, and a deli on the ground floor, which does the best coffee anywhere. Whizzing up there for the day, (kids safely parked with my lovely ex-wife, and please bear in mind I am an ex-wife too, not an ex-husband), I discovered that someone else is pretending to be Jeanette Winterson. My neighbour Tracy Emin was down in the shop, and she said that there was another Tracy Emin in Southend, who is a prostitute, and that my doppleganger was probably a prostitute too. I suggested to her that she and I go round and confront the other JW, but Tracy reckoned we would get bopped on the nose. She did come with me as far as the pelican crossing.   Sadly the other JW was not at home, and so I kept my nose, but have yet to get to the bottom of the story.
I realise that for all my years of living down south, and also of being a reformed character who doesn’t chuck water over journalists or go round and bang on their doors anymore, I am still a Lancashire lass who was born a terrier. There I was running up and down Spitalfields, thinking ‘I’ll just kill this woman when I find her.’
What will I do? Don’t know… am reading lots of books by the Dalai Lama to keep me calm.

The kids were happily quieted by their own selection of bedtime reading, though the younger one moans about the older one keeping the light on. I solved this by giving her my British Airways Sleep Mask, which I call a CatFlap, because one of my cats has black eye markings and looks like she’s permanently wearing a sleep mask. Now Cara won’t be parted from the CatFlap, and wears it on top of her head like Posh Spice and her sunglasses.
The other bedtime hit has been a fabulous thing called a SunJar, which is an opaque Kilner jar with a solar cell inside it. By day it soaks up the sun and at night it makes the most wonderful night-light, soft and comforting, planet-friendly and free.

Mama Mia the Movie is such fun. I piled a party of eight into my Landrover, and off we went to Oxford to watch the movie and hook up with the kids’ other godmother. It’s great to do something silly and pleasurable, and rare too, to find a movie where the women are the stars, and over forty. I wonder if the male reviewers who have slated it have done so because they are uncomfortable with such a celebration of femaleness?
Or maybe it’s because the men end up looking daft?
Anyway, the kids loved it, and by the time we got home, after an hour of Karaoke opportunities in the back of the Landy with its rolled-up canvas back, everybody was ready to do a Mexican Wave on the lawn to Dancing Queen.  Not bad, especially when the other godmother is Dr Larrington, Dean of St John’s College Oxford. I wonder what her undergraduates would think?

Fiona Shaw came to tea, which impressed the kids mightily, as a personal Mrs Dursley is exactly what a Harry Potter fan would want. Fiona already has a doppelganger – the writer Fiona Shaw, so I suppose the writer Jeanette Winterson shouldn’t mind too much about hers, – except that Tracy Emin warns me I will have to give my fingerprints to the police to prove that I am not smuggling illegal guinea pigs into Britain or running a brothel round the back of Spitalfields Market, or whatever the other JW is up to.

The high point of my week was our visit to Gifford’s Circus. Even if you live miles away from the Cotswolds, you should find a way to come and see this. It is a real old-fashioned circus; greasepaint, horses, tightropes, clowns, a band, and interval tea in proper mugs and served with homemade chocolate brownies.
Gifford’s is one of those English eccentricities, begun for love, making just enough money, and miles away from the cynical celluloid cash-cows of children’s entertainment.
It isn’t just for kids either. The skill is incredible, and because the tent is small, you find yourself right in the arms of fire-eaters, and feeling the wind-swish of the trapeze, and wondering how anyone can be riding side-saddle, rearing a stallion on a sixpence, and calling a falcon through an opening in the canvas. It made me cry.
It made the kids laugh, and there’s not much better in life than laughing happy kids, even if, as it seems, I have forgotten to bathe one of them for a week.
I thought they were bathing themselves. I shall probably get carted off by Social Services and put into prison, and then the other JW will be down here eating the peas and the beans as well as pretending she has written my books.

My whiz to London included lunch with Ali Smith at my favourite restaurant; Alastair Little in Soho. There is no finer food to be had, unless it’s from my garden, and Juliet Peston is the sort of chef who makes cooking into a miracle. It is simple but perfect.
I had to rush back to the Cotswolds because another bit of English eccentricity – The Guiting Power music festival is featuring my friend the cellist Natalie Clein, and I want the kids to hear her play.
The last time I saw her live was in the Albert Hall playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and now she’s in a tiny village nearby with other world-class musicians, doing it for love.
Life has to be about love, and life has to be about finding happiness where we can and not letting the shadows in our lives block out the happiness. I am having quite a tough time in some ways right now, but this has been a week of simple contented life.
The bad stuff so easily wipes out the good, and maybe it needs to be the other way round. Shadows, rain, but if the sun shines, stand in it.