Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

2010 has been an odd year for me, with some good things and some tough ones, but I feel on balanace it was a year of slow progress forwards. I hope to make more of the same in 2011; and hope very much that the same will be true for all my friends and family. Sometimes when the tough times strike one down it can feel almost impossible to get through and come out the other side. But it does happen; day by day one gets there. All of you who've had a stinker of a 2010, my thoughts are with you and I wish you better times to come; healing for your sorrows and strength for your hands and your hearts, and happiness to come. May it be a good New Year for you all!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Almost at Christmas...

...and really looking forward to the break. I have developed a cold in the head and a chesty cough, and probably thanks to being chilly for large chunks of each day for the last few weeks I'm quite ridiculously tired. Can't wait to get on the train tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Love and life and fear and joy, and snow...

I was struck by these words today, mooching about online in my lunch break (I have avoided going out today after picking the wrong footgear and nearly falling arse-over-tit three times on the way into work – okay, so I’m a big baby and I have no shoe-sense, or no snow-sense, or something…):

“’The way to a woman's heart is through love and faith and trusting each other.’ That's what my mom told me, and in the long run, it turned out to be true. But I sure spent a long time getting through the stage where women only go for the guy with money or an athletic build. I was never that guy -- I was the dull trustworthy one.”

I just read that, and my heart gave a little skip of recognition. It’s different for girls, of course (what isn’t?!), but I have been stuck in the woman’s equivalent of that stage for so long now (ie, the stage where a guy only goes for the women who are either drop-dead gorgeous or else sweetly nice-but-dim), and it touched me to see a man admitting to having been through a similar experience. Because I’m the ‘dull trustworthy one’, too. I know exactly how it feels.

I can’t offer high-impact sex-appeal, or that humbler but more durable quality, real beauty; I can’t offer excitement; I can’t offer most of the classic “feminine virtues” (you know, the list that includes ‘good cook, sweet-natured, doesn’t answer back’…). I am reliable and a bit old-fashioned and I can cook, but I’m intelligent, and not ashamed of it, I’m not particularly sweet-natured and I have a mind of my own.

And I am single. That’s not to say my life is loveless; but most of the love in my life at present is the broad, joyful, general love I feel for the world and its beauty, for plants and birds and all living creatures, for art and music and all my friends, for good food, fresh air and a glass of decent whisky...

I wish that I could find that “special someone”, Der Richtige; a man with whom I could share these passions, a man I respected and loved and with whose life my life could walk in partnership, with whose roots my roots could grow together.

Although I am not getting any younger and not getting any better-looking, and my behaviour is not getting any more like the cliché model of proper femininity, I still hope one day to meet someone who fits with me and with whom I fit. A healthy, secure, intelligent man; a man I could do the garden with, and who liked my cooking. A man who wouldn’t mind my penchant for ballet and birdwatching, my ever-growing collection of bog-standard hybrid phalaenopsis, or the fact I’m probably too old now to give him any kids. There must be some of them still out there… I still believe it is possible to have an honourable relationship that is a marriage of true minds, despite my being rather quiet, plain, and downright wilful. In the meantime, the world is full of beauty, and miraculously there is always room for more, so that I cannot complain that my life is fruitless or unhappy, though it is lonely sometimes.

But sometimes I can feel as though all of this happiness has vanished. Sometimes I am consumed with such fear that it leaves me weak and drained of energy; sometimes I feel sucked dry with misery and depression. Will I never do my own true work? Will I never find human love? Will I leave nothing of worth to anyone behind me? When fear strikes it undermines everything that I have achieved, everything positive, every hope and every past gain. It kills me as surely as really being killed, and then leaves me still alive afterwards to cringe in dread and horror at my own inadequacy and hopelessness. I cannot deny this deep inner fear; it too is part of my deepest feelings, just as much as the joy and the love of life.

I sweat it out, each time it strikes, and eventually I come through and out the other side and I see that my life is still good, and still full of hope and worthwhile things, and the beauty and wonder is all still there; and I fall in love with the world again, when perhaps only days earlier I had thought it all mere dust and ashes.

The other things I love are the arts; the magical work of performing artists and the magical creations they perform or display. Although I know I am not a performer, I also know that I belong in that creative world, because that is what I find feeds my soul time after time; creative work, my own true work in this world.

I write and draw, and these give me a buzz that little else can equal; a delight in life that feels like being in love. Being in love with the world fills me with the energy to write and draw, too, so it is very often a circular process.

And whenever I have a muse, a man-of-my-dreams to whom in my mind I can direct my admiration, and for whom I can pretend I am working, this too inspires me to heights of creativity. It is partly simply the passion of the crush, but also a little inner dream that my creative work makes me somehow the equal, the match, of all those talented, successful people I admire from afar. I don’t really think that they would all like me – that idea is a bit daft, after all! – but this dream/hope says to me that if I could just met them as an equal, they would recognise me as such. In my dream, Imogen the writer and artist is not inferior to the musicians and singers I admire, to the writers I long to emulate, the actors I dream of seeing play my fictional characters, the brilliant botanists and horticulturists here at Kew. In my dream, I am their equal, their comrade in arms, even their friend. It is only that I’m really Imogen the office junior, and she is invisible to them. Invisible, as well as dull and trustworthy. No wonder I feel a tad blue at times.

None of that, Dent! – stand up, take a deep breath and head out into the snowy night. It’s beautiful world. No, really, it is. A big, cold, snowy, beautiful world.

Midwinter's Day

Midwinter Greetings to all!

Midwinter's Day

From tomorrow
We start back up the hill
And the year
Will remember the idea of spring.

From tomorrow
The fallen leaves
Begin to break down, renew the earth
As their fate demands.

From tomorrow, the day
Is a few seconds,
A few minutes,
A few bare breaths of time longer than today.

From tomorrow
Though the full moon wanes
The empty year
Begins to wax again.

And the world’s strength
Gathers anew.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Panic over least until the next one.

Journey down to Kent - smooth as butter. Journey back, last night, smooth as butter, but very slightly delayed (10 mins late, approx). In between, a lot more snow. Very pretty. Very cold! But I had a lovely weekend with my mum, set up and decorated a seven-foot Christmas tree, and hauled a large quantity of shopping home for her with an old-fashioned wheely basket (up a fairly steep hill, in the snow - great calorie-burning activity).

This year's Christmas tree is gorgeous, tall and columnar in shape. It's always a real tree, and we decorate it into a vast pile of ecumenical/pagan/multiple-world-view symbols. It features plenty of angels and stars, and regular baubles, tinsel and fairy lights, as well as dragonflies, birds, flowers, fruit, a donkey, a flying horse, several musical instruments, a mirror, miniature hatboxes and crackers made by my aunt, candles, feathers, mushrooms, a Caga-Tio and a goat.

Back at work for a few days now, and it looks as though the weather may turn everything upside down again for Christmas - but so long as I see my family and we all get a break and a rest together, I'm not bothered by anything else. Peace on earth and goodwill to all don't come from Sainsburys, after all...

Friday, 17 December 2010

More snow...

I’m meant to be going to my Mum’s in Kent this weekend, to help her with Christmas shopping and planning, getting the tree indoors and the decorations up, and so on. I’m about to set off; but it may turn out to be a bit of an adventure getting there…

Over the course of the day we’ve had a series of alternating bursts of heavy snow and sunshine. Bizarre, and very pretty at times, but the result is that today heads into evening the ground is fast refreezing, with a mixture of snow and ice, and more snow on top of the ice, and I think I can safely say this is not nice.

I felt a bit silly, first thing this morning before the snow started, putting on my proper walking boots in case the forecast icy conditions came along by the end of the day. Boy, am I glad I did, now.

As far as I can tell from the BBC and from assorted travel update websites, trains in the south east are still running fine at the moment. More snow is forecast for the weekend. I will set off, and travel hopefully – and hopefully arrive (& hopefully get back again, too).

Wish me luck, and have a good weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Carol service - success

The carol service went really well. I got the Berlioz almost right. Everyone else sang wonderfully. Nigel turned up and sang with us, which was nice. Tall Woman did a fantastic job. It all went off just fine. And I only wobbled once,one tiny bit, reading "In the beginning was the Word". I had been afraid I'd get choked up; but someone had brought a little child, about eighteen months old at a guess, to the service, and he/she was chortling and babbling away happily in the background, so that instead of getting a lump in my throat I was fighting not to giggle as I read "...children born not of natural descent..." etc. No easier to deal with, vocally-speaking, but at least funny rather than emotional!

Carol service

I'm very nervous. The kind of nervous that alternates tummy-status between queasy and hungry in successive waves. The staff carol service/concert is in a couple of hours and I still haven't managed to get to grips with the "Shepherds' Farewell" with its horrible key changes. I think I have managed to get the other three carols straight, but that Berlioz - ugh. I shall just have to give it my best shot, and try at least not to go flat. Smile, Magnolia, smile! (um, and I will also try not to sing "After the ball is over" instead...).

We had one rehearsal where one of the other altos kept turning in her seat to correct me - "You're doing this instead of this, you're singing that bit wrong, your voice is too deep" - etc - I know she meant well but I was a nervous wreck by the end of that rehearsal and considering dropping out. I know I'm not much good, but it is only an amateur choir, and we are just doing it for fun...

Final rehearsal is at 2.00pm, concert at 3.30. Just to add to my panic, I went and stuck my hand up when they asked for volunteers for the readings. Now I'm landed with doing one; and it's the opening of St John's Gospel, which even in the New Englsih Bible's stolid wording is still a fine bit of stuff.


At least St Ann's has good accoustics...

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A year ago today...

A year ago today, at about this time, I had just got home from the A&E department with a broken wrist. I had been x-rayed, examined, and strapped up in a Fortuna splint, and I had an appointment at the Fracture Clinic for the next morning. I trailed in, somehow got out of my coat, and then struggled round the kitchen, making myself a cup of tea and some toast, I rang my boss, then my mother, and then I sat down and felt sorry for myself.

It’s amazing, looking back on the last twelve months, to think I have accomplished anything at all this year. There were times when I felt I would never get through the near-eight weeks I was in plaster. Then there were times, after the plaster came off, when I feared I’d never get the use of my hand back. There were times when I felt I’d never again have a scrap of spare energy. Any kind of shock or anything remotely out of the ordinary could reduce me to tears. I slept badly for months and toiled through life bribing myself onward with meals out, trips to the ballet, chocolate and alcohol.

I am very, very grateful that that time is over. I am very grateful to the NHS for all the treatment and support, and to everyone who bore with me while I was so slow, so clumsy and so tired all the time. I’m very grateful too for having had the grit to stick at my exercises. I didn’t feel very gritty, but something reminded me, each time I wanted to fold up and cry, that there really was no other option. I’m grateful to the still small voice within, that shouted at me and kept me going.

And, above all, I am very grateful that nothing worse has happened to me. When I think of some of the horrors that people bear, the illnesses and accidents, the devastating effects of natural disasters and wars... my blood runs cold at the thought. A simple broken wrist gave me such a bitter endurance test, even here in a wealthy, civilised country like this. My prayers and thoughts go to everyone who is struggling with circumstances far worse than mine were; may their gods be with them, may their life not fail them.

I’d had all sorts of plans for what I meant to do in 2010; and despite the first six months of the year having been almost entirely focussed on getting back the use of my right hand and arm, I have still made some progress on them. Given the circumstances, this pleases me inordinately.

In particular, I’ve finally started on trying to get an agent for my writing. Agent No 1 turned “GY” down; the first three chapters are now with Agent No 2. If she also says no too, then I move on to Agent No 3, and so on down the list. It may take some time to get anywhere - I may never get anywhere at all - but I have overcome that huge, smothering fear about showing my work, and that means a good deal to me.

I’ve also begun on my “Working through the back burner items” project, and it’s proving really worthwhile. I’m trying to draft a synopsis and make a few notes about where an idea came from and what I see as the theme of a story, and the results are fascinating. Doing this really clarifies how ready (or not) a story is. It brings all the glitches and weaknesses to the fore, but it also fires up my creativity, thinking of the things I want to do.

Another odd discovery I’m making as a result of this exercise is the quantity of common threads between the stories. Some of these were expected – for example, I am a whole-hearted romantic, and I love Science Fiction and the fantastic, and it shows. But so far, if I had to pick an overarching theme of the stories I want to tell, it would have to be “redemption”, and I would not have anticipated that.

The “back burner” project also gives me something relatively simple to do of an evening, if I’m tired and feeling uncreative. Each synopsis is done-with in a few pages at most; I don’t need to follow through with the details, just explain the basics. It doesn’t stretch me, but at the end of each one I do I still feel I’ve achieved something.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Bad dancing and "entertainment"

I'm a "Strictly" fan. "Strictly Come Dancing", that is, for those who don't recognise the term. I can't handle the bear-pit of "The X-Factor" or those "we will make you a star"-type programmes, but "Strictly Come Dancing" is highly entertaining, involves people who already know what celebrity means, and usually features some very good dancing - especially by this stage in the competition.

This year I've been suffering a bit with "Strictly", though. One of the contestants was Ann Widdecombe, the retired former MP for Maidstone. She's a very short, very stout, very stiff (physically and in character) sixty-something with a very high opinion of herself, and she has been painful to watch. She simply cannot dance. Last night she and her professional dance partner (the rather odd but very patient Anton du Beke) were finally voted off. Next week is the semi-finals. The worst dancer they've ever had on the show nearly made it to the semis.

The public are very odd sometimes.

I don't agree with most of Ms Widdecombe's views, but that isn't why I've found it so hard watching her progress. She is, all questions of politics and religion aside, a game old bird, and she's stuck at this like glue for ten weeks. I respect determination, even in people I disagree with. But oh boy, she was so awful; and she got worse and worse, when other weak contestants have got better.

As far as I can gather, people have not voted for Ann Widdecombe out of liking or loyalty, or enjoyment of her dancing; they've voted for her partly because they are laughing themselves silly at her, and partly out of a desire to blow a raspberry at the judges. I haven't come across anyone who actually thought she deserved to win.

The unfortunate judges, whose job is to watch and guide the contestants and give them a critique of each week's performance, have over the years been shifted in the audience's view from being respected for doing their job to being abused for it. At first they tried to give Ms Widdecombe sensible advice, but she has been completely resistant to their tips (partly, in fairness, because she was physically incapable of acting on most of them), and the audience, having decided she was the best joke they'd seen all year, proceeded to boo and harrass the judges at every turn for daring to criticise their darling, and to cheer them to the rafters if they ever made a friendly comment (nothing so unlikely as actual praise, but remarks such as "I thought it was funny").

There were a couple of other very bad dancers in the initial line-up, but also a lot of middle-of-the-road also-rans. Many of the also-rans were far better than Ms Widdicombe; they were voted off ahead of her. Michelle Williams, for example, could have progressed a lot further (& I did enjoy watching her learn to control her enormously long limbs - tall women dancing rock!), as could Jimi Mistry and Tina O'Brien. None of them was terribly likely to be the final winner, true, but it is unpleasant to see someone who is working their a*se off and making real improvment ditched by the voting public in favour of a spectacle as ugly as Ms Widdecombe's attempts to dance.

Ms W herself appeared to think she had become the Nation's Favourite (rather than the "f*** it" brigade's) because of her charming personality and sense of humour; I don't think it ever occurred to her that many of those laughing were laughing at, not with, her. But laughing at a stout old lady making a fool of herself isn't entertainment...

And now, finally, she's gone. Thank you, heaven.

This leaves us with a line-up for the semi's of four very capable dancers, plus the gormless Gavin, who is slowly getting a bit better but still isn't anywhere near the rest. He's is also a preening wally, convinced he's flippin' terrific for no good reason except his enormous personal vanity. So I hope he's one of the semi-final knock-outs next week.

Who the other should be, I'd hate to guess. Who it will be, even harder. The voting public don't seem to be too hot on Scott Maslen, who is a funny-looking chap from the soap "Eastenders", although at his best he's excellent. Pamela Stephenson becomes more elegant by the week and Kara Tointon has looked like a dancer since week one. But Matt Baker has been a real surprise for me. I watch "Countryfile", so I had seen him in action many times, but I would never have guessed I'd end up with an out-&-out crush on him. I mean, he's an amiable enough fellow, and presentable in a skinny way, but if you'd asked me who was the best-looking "Countryfile" presenter I would have said "Adam Henson" without hesitation. Now, suddenly, I see that Mr Baker is in fact a sex-god... There really is nothing so gorgeous in a man as being able to dance.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Harry Potter and the edible hat

I had a lovely birthday evening, despite the bitterly cold weather. Met up with The Geek, had supper out and a good natter and went to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One” in Hammersmith.

“Harry Potter” was excellent; dark and scary, as it was bound to be, but with a good balance between plot exposition, unhappy teenage emotions, and things blowing up. It looks great, delivers plenty of thrills and is genuinely upsetting at times. The three young leads have gradually shaped up into capable actors and now they virtually carry the film, with all the big name actors having little more than cameo roles to do. The design and special effects were splendid. In short, it’s cracking good stuff.

Prior to that, we had a meal in a South Indian Vegetarian restaurant down the road, called Sagar; a proper Bhel Poori house, with real Indian goodies and Mumbai beach food on the menu. I could have eaten the entire menu twice over – bhel poori, dosas, idlis and so on (Dent drools quietly into her keyboard at the memory). I had the paper dosa masala; it was twice the size I expected and absolutely scrumptious (if messy – I was still licking sambar off my fingers on the way to the cinema).

My paper dosa, unlike those I’ve seen served elsewhere, came not as a neat scroll, but spiralled into what I can only describe as a giant edible wizard’s hat. Most appropriate. It was perfectly crisp and savoury, and the sambar, coconut chutney and potato and veg masala (think colcannon, but spicy) were plentiful and tasty. Proper tart tangy lassi, too. I can’t wait to go back.

More snow today; I was planning to go down to Kent this weekend but have had to cancel as there are virtually no trains going that way at all, and severe delays on those that are. My mum and stepmum are both going slightly cabin-crazy, cooped in their respective houses with eighteen-inch snowdrifts packed round the doors, and Big Bro is equally frustrated with the road outside his flat a sheet of ice and a publishers' assignment at HMS "Victory" cancelled because the photographer can't make it. I must get them all up to London for a day out when the weather improves, and take them for bhel poori in Hammersmith.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Who is Sylvia?

Marianela Nuñez, that's who. Delicate, smiling, cool as a kitten and twice as lively Marianela Nuñez, dancing her socks off at Covent Garden last night.

"Sylvia" is, to be frank, some of the silliest stuff that ever I saw. It's also absolutely gorgeous. Like another fairly preposterous ballet, "Le Corsaire", it's set in Greece, or rather in an extra-romantic alternative-history version thereof...

Act One: The curtain rises on a wooded glade and a shrine to the god Eros. Dryads and fauns are cavorting in the moonlight. They are interrupted by the arrival of Our Hero, Aminta - Aminta-nice-but-dim, to give him what ought by rights to be his full name. He is smitten with the beautiful maiden huntress and devotee of Artemis, Sylvia - Our Heroine. As portrayed by Rupert Pennefather, Aminta is tall, handsome, badly-dressed and a bit daft, but boy, does he jump beautifully.

He prays to Eros for help, then hides as Sylvia and her fellow maiden huntresses arrive, carrying a comedy dead animal and wearing delicious curlicue-shaped helmets. They dance together, doing increasingly showy things, led by the beautiful Sylvia doing even showier things. As Nuñez is beautiful, and handles all the showy stuff beautifully, one can see where Aminta gets his problem. But Sylvia is scornful of love, and mocks the statue of Eros defiantly.

Unknown to her, Sylvia has another man problem, for she and her companions are also being observed by the villainous hunter Orion, who is lurking on a nearby bridge and clutching his spear in lust (I kid you not. Very big spear, too). The huntress maidens discover Aminta, and Sylvia sneers at him, but when she makes to shoot at the statue of Eros (presumably to show how completely she despises Love), Aminta gets in the way and is wounded.

Eros promptly comes alive (poor Kenta Kura has by now stood stock still for well over twenty minutes, wearing nothing but the very sketchiest of lioncloths and a lot of stone-coloured body paint). Nocking an arrow to his stone bow he shoots Sylvia in the heart. She at once begins to feel emotions hitherto undreamt-of. She leaves with her friends, but she's soon back, literally shaking with confusion and grief (fantastic pointe-work here), to hover over the rapidly-failing Aminta. The arrow of Eros is working its magic, and Sylvia, apparently too late, notices Aminta's noble face, muscular limbs and fine body.

Meanwhile another set of muscular limbs creep behind her, for Orion The Evil Hunter is stealing across the stage. Orion has a beard, seemingly ballet short-hand for being dastardly, and even worse dress sense than Aminta - think satin trousers and a weird sleeveless shirt-waister with satin revers panels in the skirt, topped off with dashing but rather camp lilac suede boots. Good old Gary Avis manages somehow to convey virile villainy even in the teeth of this outfit.

He snatches Sylvia! She fights! She kicks and leaps, and they do some spectacular tricky lifts as she tries to get away. But it's all too much for her emotion-buffeted heart and she faints dead away, beautifully, at the climax of a big overhead lift, and is carried off by her wicked abductor.

Some harvesting peasants find the hapless Aminta at death's door, and Eros reappears, in a deeply dodgy disguise, to revive him and heal his wound. Inspired by Love, Aminta sets off - I thought, to rescue Sylvia...

Act Two: ...but - it turns out she can rescue herself, or very nearly so, without his help.

Act Two is set in Orion's rocky hideout, where he is getting drunk and ordering his slaves to heap gifts of jewellery and fancy clothes on Sylvia. Sylvia scorns everything and tells Orion she isn't interested, as bluntly as she can given that it has to be done in mime. Her refusal has no effect, and nor do tears - both seem only to increase Orion's interest. She decides to play along in the hope of distracting him long enough to get away.

She accepts some of the fancy clothes and jewels, dances provocatively, and refills Orion's wine goblet repeatedly. Two of his slaves dance a rather embarrassing "We are exotic oriental savages" dance, and then Orion and Sylvia do a kind-of pas de deux of increasing athleticism and eroticism. Things are getting pretty steamy, but at last all the drink tips Orion over the edge between amorous and incapable, and he passes out.

Sylvia looks for a way out, but cannot find one; however, she steals the arrow of Eros, now her most precious talisman, from Orion's drunken hand, and prays to Eros to help her. Light breaks over the cavern as the walls fall away, and Eros appears, carrying a torch and ushering in a beautiful little caravel, aboard which he and Sylvia set sail to find Aminta.

Act Three: Aminta and an assortment of peasants, dryads, demi-gods and gods are awaiting Eros' return, dancing a series of rather lovely divertissements to pass the time. The caravel arrives and Sylvia and her companions disembark with Eros. She pledges her love to Aminta, and Eros joins their hands in token of their betrothal. They do a gorgeous, fiendishly tricky Grand Pas-de-deux, packed with exquisite footwork and athletic lifts and jumps.

Everything seems to be resolving towards a happy ending, when suddenly Orion barges in to demand that Sylvia return with him. It transpires that he thinks she is His Woman, and he refuses to accept her gentle explanation that she was just leading him on in order to be able to get back to her True Love, Aminta.

Orion and Aminta fight (cue more spectacular leaps and lifts, and balletic throwing of one another about the stage). Sylvia hides in a nearby temple and Orion, having knocked Aminta down, tries to smash open the door. With a thunderclap, the goddess Artemis emerges, bow and arrows in hand, beautiful, majestic and fizzing with rage.

It's at this point we realise Orion is just not very bright. Confronted by an angry, armed goddess, he doesn't bow down, pay homage, or even make nice; he gives her attitude. Artemis shoots him.

Exit Orion, stage left, with an arrow in him - he has to die offstage or get trodden-on for the remaining ten minutes of the ballet.

Artemis, it turns out, is spitting-tacks furious with Sylvia, who wants to marry and therefore break her vows of chastity. She expressly forbids it, despite pleas from the young couple. But Eros sneakily reminds her of her own lost beloved, the shepherd Endymion, who fell into an eternal sleep and never consumated their love. Artemis, overcome by the memory (& possibly just a bit embarrassed at this airing of her little secret), relents and gives her blessing to the marriage of Sylvia and Aminta. Cue general rejoicing as the young huntress Gets Her Man.

It's lovely and daft, and technically very tricky stuff, and made for a perfect birthday treat (well, one day early). A final bonne bouche was to come out of the theatre to find delicate snowflakes falling over Covent Garden piazza, and all the christmas lights glittering. I walked on air all the way back to the tube.

Today it has snowed on and off all day. I was meant to be meeting a friend and going to see the new "Harry Potter" film tonight, but I'm wondering if we may have to postpone. In which case perhaps I'll treat myself on the way home to a birthday Pizza Express trip. Or a birthday Starbucks. Or something. It seems odd to remember that last year I spent my birthday on a beach, swimming in the sea and eating ice-cream, and here I am in the office looking out at Kew Green under a thick, white blanket of snow.

But at least I have the crazy loveliness of "Sylvia" to remember.