Why did George I, a German, become King of England?

September 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

I called in at the National Portrait Gallery today and went up to the top floor, the old stuff. Here’s what I discovered about one bit of King and Queen history (for those of you interested but too busy at work to look into this for yourselves).

This is a picture of Henry, Prince of Wales, King James I’s elder son, painted by Robert Peake the Elder, who seems to have been the big portrait man in James’s Court.

Prince Henry

Henry didn’t always get on with his dad, who sounds a bit serious when it came to his son’s learning.  Apparently, Henry was popular, witty and so on, and his dad felt a bit threatened by this. Sometimes Henry looked like this:

More tricky clothes

Henry died aged 18, probably of typhoid, in 1612. James didn’t go to his son’s funeral because, well, he didn’t like funerals. This left younger son, Charles, as James’s successor – and we all know how that ended.

James had another child, Elizabeth. Here she is, aged about nine in 1606, again painted by Mr Peake.


Elizabeth went on to marry Frederick, who was briefly King of Bohemia, but ended up in exile in Holland. She died in 1662, while visiting her newly restored nephew, Charles II. In between, she had a daughter, Sophia, who was the mother of George I. Under the English Act of Settlement of 1701*, the succession was settled on Sophia and her issue, so that all monarchs of Great Britain are descendants of Elizabeth – i.e. THE GIRL.

And here’s a more racy picture of her, by Nicholas Hilliard.

Let that hair flow.

* After Queen Anne failed to produce an heir (poor woman had 18 miscarriages), there was seen to be a need for a new law that would guarantee that the line of succession would continue in the Protestant line, and excluding any possible claims by the deposed James II or his Catholic son and daughter.

More of scarves

September 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Hair started to head south yesterday. Not ideal but to be expected. I am now practicing wearing a head scarf and think I could do worse than take note of how this fellow is sporting his head wear.

Nice scarf work

This is a another work by our old friend, Jan van Eyck (see earlier entry on Mr & Mrs Arnolfini). Portrait of a Man is possibly a self-portrait. The National Gallery (where you can see this painting) says we can tell this because of the inscription on the frame, ‘Jan van Eyck made me on 21 October 1433’, and because of the direction of his look. Whoever he is, this chap is a mean-scarf-wearer.

Preparing to look awful

September 27, 2011 § 4 Comments

My previous experience with medicine has been this: I felt ill, took some medicine, felt better. This lot though, this chemo, is rather the reverse: feel fine, take medicine, feel bad. Feel and, indeed, look bad. No hair, sickly pallour, weird finger-nails, all that.

I’ve been trying to prepare for this.

Wig and hair

On the advice of my friend, Cheryl, who has been through all this herself, I headed to Vicki Ullah in Harrods for a wig. If ever there was a time to shop big, this was it, we decided. My friend Hilary came with me, as did Rex3000. Hilary is much smarter than I am, wears many more accessories, and her clothes match.  She is also observant and very kind, so I knew she would be a good person to offer an opinion. I worried a little about taking Rex300. Either it was a great, “include him in the whole process” move, as recommended in many leaflets, or else something he will need a bucket’s worth of therapy to get over.

In the end, it proved to be a reasonably jolly trip. Vicki Ullah, the wig lady, was great. Not fussy, but knew what she was about. I walked out with a wig, some scarves, a couple of cooking turbans (“Don’t go near heat in your wig”), and a super-unattractive sleep hat, like something out of Little House of the Prairie.

Soft toys modelling hair replacement items

We discussed whether I should have my eyebrows tattooed on…

Make up

…which leads me to Sunday’s keeping busy activity. My neighbour works on a make up counter at John Lewis. I was chatting to her about how I am about to look awful and that, even though I am old enough to know better, I still don’t know how to put on make up. She very kindly offered to make me over. Hence, on Sunday I was perched on a high stool, having my skin tested (it’s dry and slack, by the way), followed by the steady application of creams, primers, foundations, eye creams, liners, blushers, and lip sticks.

I think that briefly, it was ok. I was not quite so tired looking, a bit fresh-faced even. But it was a brief window. The eye-liner was a step too far. Not that it wasn’t applied well, just that it was unusual for me, confirmed by RMD and @Rex3000 falling about with laugher on seeing me. The word “clown” was used.


My young friend, Aggie, an expert in all things appearance based, took me to the House of Fraser to have my nails done. I heard that chemo does strange things to your fingernails which can be prevented by painting them, and Agnes generously offered to help me with this. I chose a rather dark blue, and listened to a lecture on how my cuticles need softening up.

Two days later, the lovely paintwork was chipped and ruined.

The problem…

…is that I will be caught between A) looking different (bald, pasty, etc), and B) looking different (wearing eyeliner, painting my fingernails, sporting hats and/or a wig). The activities involved in B may well just draw more attention to A.  I will be self-conscious enough in a headscarf without trying a new shade of emerald green for my eyes at the same time.

If there’s a point to having a major event turning your life upside down (and I’m not convinced there is), it may something about challenging the things you have always done. Well, this hasn’t really worked in the case of make up and nails. It’s still not really me. Even with more time on my hands, and a desire to keep busy and look better, there seem to be more interesting things to do than practice with an eyeliner.

Maybe, in this case, challenging myself has to be about something different. Perhaps it will be about learning what it feels like to look different. Some people cope with this day in, day out.  According to the charity, Changing Faces, 542,000 (or one in 111) people in the UK have a significant disfigurement to their face. Here’s one of them, http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/Support-Us/Personal-Stories/David.

Brave man; brave folk. So, a few months of no hair and a grey face, with a will, it’s probably do-able.

(By the way, just so we’re clear, all this “other people are worse off than me” may be withdrawn at any moment as the chemo progresses and it becomes clear that, indeed, I am the most unfortunate person in the world.)

Uncomfortable Clothes

September 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

Carrying on a little from yesterday’s cleaning theme, firstly – who knew our flat could be so sparkly. Bravo to the elbow grease applied by someone else. Even our bathroom taps, which I had thought to be ruined by me applying inappropriate products sometime ago, are now all shiny-bright.

The odour of oven cleaner lingered around the flat for perhaps a bit too long. There was something about the smell that made me think that my chemo (to date, anyway) is like having the most astringent cleaning products applied to my insides. My mouth tastes like someone has rubbed too hard with a Brillo Pad, while the fumes from the oven cleaner seemed to be attempting to unit with the chemicals inside me (fluorouacil. epirubicin, cyclophosphamide) to form some kitchen-human super cleaning agent.

On a lighter note, today I have been mostly keeping busy by meeting two lovely friends, plus visiting the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square. (For those not familiar, this is a collection of art, furniture and armour assembled by one family, the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Hertford, over four generations, then donated to the Nation in 1897 and still housed in the original town house of the Hertford’s: http://www.wallacecollection.org/ ).


1. Huge number of paintings of dead game

2. Good wallpaper

3. Lesson to us all in how accumulating stuff, supported by real wealth, can get way out of hand.

In particular I was drawn to two paintings. Firstly, there is poor Prince Baltasar Carlos in Silver (1633) by Diego Velázquez; the three-year old is pictured in the stiffest silver dress you can imagine (and he went on to die at 16 so doubly poor Prince).

Hardcore boy dress

Secondly, there is Susanna van Collen and her Daughter Anna (1633) by Rembrandt, or someone from his studio. This gives us the whole “look at us, we’re so wealthy” thing again, the mother handing her daughter cash in anticipation of a serious dowry. As a side issue, apparently the grapes in that basket on the table behind suggest hoped for fecundity within marriage.

Massive collar

What link these pictures for me is just how darn uncomfortable those clothes must have been. The dress looks like steel, while Mrs van C’s collar is just insane.  How scratchy must that have been, not to mention plain awkward?



(Maybe not strictly an upside, but…)  I’m grateful not to be living in an age of uncomfortable clothes. Uncomfortable on the inside is enough.

“The psychological scars never really heal.”

September 22, 2011 § 5 Comments

First things first, RMD’s bite is better. People have been asking, although I am reliably informed that, “the psychological scars never really heal.”

So, this week I have been mostly keep busy by consuming coffee in the company of good people. Hurrah for them all. Indeed, I think RMD is beginning to suspect that a little too much fun is being had, given that I’m supposed to be sick an’ all.

Also, we now have a cleaner, Amala from Romania. Even now she is filling the flat with a scent unfamiliar and strange. I can only assume these are the odours of the cleaning products with which this family is not overly familiar. She arrived with a range of products of her own, to match the huge bag of bottles and cloths I had purchased in anticipation. Not sure she was overly impressed with my choices, picking up each one and sniffing in a slightly disapproving manner. Not that I’m complaining. She had only been in the flat five minutes when she had her head in the oven, purely in a professional capacity, of course. (Her job is made somewhat easier by our oven being not much used for cooking. I refer readers to a tweet from RMD last night: “Ah, the unmistakable, appetite-quickening, mouth-watering sound of outer packaging being removed and film lid being pierced.” Indeed, Amala herself took one look, laughed, and said, “I’ve seen much worse.”)

I suppose having a cleaner is a little anti-keepingbusy. If I were truly keeping busy, I’d be doing my own cleaning, may be an argument. Completely fair enough. I’m choosing to go with the alternative view that this the time to be good to oneself and also, in my case, to rex3000 and RMD, who could probably do without wading through waves of dust balls in order to bring me the many cups of tea and bonbons that I will soon be demanding.

But here’s an actual keeping busy activity. I went to the National Gallery, bought their guide-book and saw several paintings on the tour, including The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), by Jan van Eyck. I learned: 1. Mrs Arnolfini is not pregnant, but holding up her full-skirted dress in the contemporary fashion, showing off that she can afford lots of extra cloth;  2. that van Eyck is doing something new and groundbreaking with oil paints.

Mr and Mrs Arnolfini and their extra cloth

Mr and Mrs Arnolfini and their extra cloth

 I also saw The Wilton Diptych (1395-9), which I like because: 1. I enjoy the word “diptych; 2. those angels have such enormous wings; they remind me of the lady version of Brian Blessed’s Hawkmen in “Flash Gordon.”

Hawklady angels

Coincidently, and very much in the keeping busy spirit, thanks to my young friend, Aggie, last week I had my nails painted the same colour as those frocks. Word has it that chemo causes odd things to happen to your fingernails which painting them may prevent. Unfortunately, not being used to painted nails, the polish was chipping off in a few days. Another good reason to have a cleaner.


Friends and Not Sleeping

September 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

It’s not proving a problem to keep busy. In part, this is due to lovely people keeping in touch, asking me for lunch and coffee, to go for a manicure or meet for early dinner (medium or late dinner, not such a great idea due to falling asleep). Thus…


Realising that I haven’t seen enough of people I like over recent years, that what’s going on encourages friends to be in touch and for me to give them news back. It’s a nice thing. Please keep doing it.

In another way, keeping busy is easier when you’re tired. You need less to have happened in a day in order to have been busy. At the moment – one week in – tiredness and feeling tummy odd (like I have indigestion up to my ears) – are the main post-chemo issues. Tricky to say how much the tiredness is due to chemo and how much to sweaty nights: probably a little of both.

Lack of sleep is new to me, well, new since @rex3000 started to sleep through the night, which in some ways feels like only yesterday. I’ve sometimes had difficulty dropping off, but listening to bad thrillers or the Radio 4 John le Carré dramatisations has usually cured that (because I love Simon Russell Beale’s voice, not because they are boring). Now I am waking up three and four times, and then not falling back to sleep.  It’s not the end of the world because I’m not going to work so there isn’t a pressure to be up, smart, thinking and out. Probably not good for RMD, all my tossing and turning, covers off and on, not to mention the horrific alien odour my body is producing – fresh pjs every night. As always, he is being very stoical and maintaining it isn’t bothering him.

Discussing with friends, I realise that not sleeping through the night is really, really common, for all kinds of reasons. I wish I’d known that before as I’d have been more appreciative. Now, I wonder if the days of waking up and feeling that sleep has done its job – i.e. refreshing, energising, repairing – are gone for good. Next step, old person waking at 5am to Hoover the house and do word searches.

Sorry, this was more about not being busy than being busy. Will be busier next time.

Also, RMD has a bite on his leg. Lest we forget.

The Day After

September 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Actually, it’s the day after the day after, but who’s counting. Tuesday saw the first of my chemo rounds. Strange combination of the mundane and the odd. Sitting in a dentist-type chair, opposite another row of people in dentist-type chairs, feeling a bit like one of the fat people in WALL-E. Lovely nurses, plugging me into hugely toxic chemicals. Volunteers and orderlies offering me magazines, cups of tea and sandwiches, repeating my name many times to check that I was getting the right hugely toxic chemicals. Lovely friend to chat to, and husband dropping by with cups of coffee. No pain. Nurse running off (again) the alarming list of “things to look out for”, while doling out some drugs to help deal with said “things to look out for.”

So, general thumbs up to Barts. Only blip was an incredible woman accompanying her friend who was receiving chemo. Large lady, who had gone blind in one eye on Monday – “I was seeing six Ant and Decs” – who insisted on talking loudly to anyone and everyone about a long list of people she knew who’ve had cancer, who have suffered in most of the hospitals around London, not to mention the clearly not great state of her partner, who sat in silence throughout. This is not what you want to hear while screwed into the chemicals. Annoying and depressing, (although actually my friend and I got dreadful giggles, particularly when we got to the sister who’d been married nine times – “and they all died.”)

I was cross but then thought about all the support and help I have received since this kicked off; from family, from old friends and some new ones, from the hospital, from people I’m paying and from volunteers from cancer organisations, from work, and even from my great hair dresser. If I didn’t have all these people maybe I’d be talking to anyone and everyone in the middle of a chemo ward.

Best not to judge.

Where Am I?

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