Something slowed the traffic down to a crawl and then a halt as I drove through Brixton market. A crash? A police incident? No – peering ahead I saw that the drama was one of opportunistic exchange – the oncoming bus driver was taking delivery of his Christmas shopping – a shiny circular dish-rack!
A week or so ago the early train I was travelling in to an appointment in Reading was suddenly stopped at Ascot and we were all turfed out into the frosty morning – the unfortunate victims of a burst water-main at Bracknell. Dozens of travellers – herded, shivering, confused – waited to be squashed into some very few-and-far-between taxis and transported onward. I became one of a breakaway group wanting to get directly to our destinations without detours via other unknown stations. Finally our car arrived and in we squeezed; I suggested that we could, like the Canterbury pilgrims, each tell a story as we travelled. And indeed the stories revealed that we four thrown-togethers comprised a former homicide detective, an archaeologist, a librarian and myself – quite a collection of intrepid foragers – sounds like the beginning of rather an elaborate joke in itself! Some tales were told as we shared our unexpected proximity and then we dispersed and went on to try to recover lost time at our various appointments. On the return journey the archaeologist and I encountered one another again – more stories were exchanged. They made the entertaining best of a rather inauspicious start.
I’ve had a lot of fun sticking stamps on envelopes this week. All through the year I’ve been buying the special editions marking particular events – the Queen’s jubilee, fashion exhibitions, crown jewels, Olympic gold medallists, Dickens anniversary, that sort of thing – and as I distributed these amongst the addressees I was able to recall the exciting year of 2012. I only had to buy twenty of the new santa stamps – it would be fun to design stamps wouldn’t it?
I usually use the red pillar box up the road – a rather quaint hexagonal item. A new acquaintance I recently met on her travels in Europe is the American fabric-lover Jennefer Penfold; she came to tea the other day bringing her great-niece. On leaving my flat that young woman noticed our neighbourhood post-box and identified it as a mid 19th century ‘Penfold’! I knew nothing of the Victorian architect Mr P, but in sharing a name my visitors had an interest. And what an apt name for a man concerned with directing the mail. As I ease my too-big envelopes into the tiny slot I often think of the elegant smallness of earlier letters and see in my mind’s eye the addresses carefully handwritten or typed on narrow cream rectangles and the simple bright royal stamps beaming in the corner.
With any luck we will all be writing our ‘thank you’ letters in a few days’ time. You may need some nice cards for this – visit the shop and buy in a box of birds, a crate of creatures, a bunch of blooms – cards packed in themed groups, five different designs to a pack.
Another little group of five has blossomed on my wall: pictures of the women in my family – five generations of us. My two grannies, when left to fend for themselves, both turned their hands to sewing – the glamorous Mayfair milliner and the inventive countrywoman seamstress. My mum, an actress, sits there in her rosy bedroom running the world from her morning bed – typically on the ‘phone, lined block and pen to the ready for the lists to be written, the scripts to be underlined. There are my sister and I laughing together, then another pair of sisters – her two dark daughters my smiling nieces, and in turn their daughters – the current generation of beautiful creative cousins. It’s a lovely collection.