Wednesday, 19 May 2010


I’ve just got back from the gym, where I watched myself skipping in a mirror... and felt ashamed! Until today, I had no idea I skipped with chronic pigeon toes, and to make matters worse, sometimes I sing whilst I’m doing it. I began to feel self-conscious about my skipping a week ago when a ruggedly handsome man, with cool tattoos appeared out of nowhere and started skipping in front of me. And when I say skipping, I actually mean expressing his innate masculinity and absolute ease with his body. He was double-skipping, side-skipping and jumping up and down at a speeds I’ve never seen before. Everyone in the gym was watching him admiringly, and you could see their eyes flicking from him towards me. I'm sure they were thinking; “look at the little fat girl with the pigeon-toes skipping in the corner. I bet she’s got no friends”. Minutes later, the Adonis was in another corner, spinning on his head and doing all these cool street dance moves. I consoled myself with the thought that he probably, well, hopefully, hadn’t written a symphony...

On that note, I had an email today from Alison up in Leeds with a copy of a letter she’d received from someone who’d seen our Doreen reading her poem on Look North. Here’s what it said:

"On the day that you recited your lovely poem for the Symphony for Yorkshire on Look North my dear husband lost his fight against cancer. He was born in Yorkshire and spent all but a few of his 83 years living in Leeds, escaping, whenever he could, to the countryside that he cherished and enjoyed so much. It was as if you had written the poem for him and so I arranged for it to be read at his funeral - the last verse being so moving and so appropriate. The whole congregation was touched by your words that took us in our imaginations to the fresh air and space of the moors and dales."

It’s moments like this that make me realise I’m doing at least something right

Saturday 19th May 1660, and still no news from Montagu junior. Pepys didn’t seem hugely concerned. Mr Pierce the surgeon was probably still with him, somewhere in Holland, so there was little he could do other than wait for his return. Instead, he went shopping. He called in on a lady who made pretty carvings in shells and rocks, which he thought were very fine, but too fragile to transport back to England. In a picture shop, he saw countless examples of trompe l’oeil, which was something of a speciality of Dutch painters at that time. The image Pepys particularly liked was framed by a curtain, which seemed to be almost three dimensional. It was, however, incredibly expensive and Pepys was interrupted by the arrival of Montagu Junior with Mr Pierce, with whom Pepys was incredibly angry and vowed not to forgive him for a long time. A bit rich, by all accounts...

A surprisingly modern-looking 17th Century example of Dutch Trompe L'Oeil

Pepys and the boy then took a trip to Lausdune (Loosduinen), a small village on the outskirts of the Hague, where the Countess Margaret of Henneberg was said to have given birth to what can only be described as a litter of 365 children in one gestation! This eerie event, which was thought to be the result of a curse, was said to taken place on good Friday in 1276. The story is as surreal as any I’ve encountered. Each of the children was said to be no bigger than a worm. All the boys were called Jan, and all the girls were named Elizabeth and everyone in the tale (Countess included) died shortly afterwards. The house then disappeared into the ground.

They returned to The Hague on a wagon, playing a rhyming game called crambo as they travelled. Pepys palmed Montagu Junior off on a passing uncle and spent the evening drinking heavily with a university friend, in a tavern, where the serving girl was an “exceeding pretty lass.” Pepys was convinced that she was up for a bit of how’s your father, but despite staying in the pub until past midnight, he didn’t manage to pull her. His friend, on the other hand, got lucky "and lay with her all night".

Pepys ends the entry with a rather charming line, which to me captures a moment in time...

"Going to my lodging we met with the bellman, who struck upon a clapper, which I took in my hand, and it is just like the clapper that our boys frighten the birds away from the corn with in summer time in England. To bed."

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