Henry swallows a wasp

I was pursuing the wasp around the kitchen, as you do, with a glass tumbler and a piece of cardboard. I was waiting for it to settle. Several of the cats had a go at it, but I managed to thwart them. Henry, however, was too quick for me. The wasp was gone, down inside him, and as with Browning’s Last Duchess, all buzzes stopped together. Surely it must have stung him all the way down? I waited, aghast, for his little oesophagus to start swelling up, for the gasping, the terrible whining indrawn effort at breath –

I was wondering if the vets had those pens you were supposed to stab people with when they accidentally ate peanuts. Were there those pens for cats? Would the vets have them. They were only a small vets, not much room for supplies. Should I just bundle him in the car and drive the six miles to the surgery? Would I have to burst in in some awful melodramatic way? Please – my cat – he’s swallowed – a wasp – ! Every bone in my non-melodramatic body rebelled against it. I simply couldn’t draw attention to myself. But I must.

Henry was probably dying of a wasp.

But if he was dying, he’d probably be dead by the time I got there anyway. Suppose I got to the car park with him in his little box and he was lying there, all golden and expired? I could hardly walk in, in front of the gloomy waiting hordes and their miscellaneous creatures, who would turn their gloomy waiting eyes upon me, expecting entertainment. What could I say?

Excuse me. My cat just died in the car. Of a wasp. Yes, a few seconds ago. Maybe we could arrange a cremation?

Henry continued to occupy the sunlit windowsill, bolt upright. He licked his lips several times. Oh My God, I thought, this is it, the wheezing, the –

What did you have to go and do that for? I asked. I sounded rather petulant.

Henry inspected his immaculate, pale gold coat – the faintest of stripes therein. He licked his lips again, and did not die.

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands,
Then all smiles stopped together.

Useless And Unacceptable Gifts

I think today’s probably takes the biscuit – a portable mouth-to-mouth resuscitation kit in a tiny green plastic box, on a wire keyring. At the moment I am still trying to think what the heck to do with it, so it is hanging from the knob of one of my kitchen cupboards. The giver (the Illegal Scotsman from over the road) explained to me that new “innards” can be obtained for the tiny green plastic box free of charge from his firm, once I have resuscitated someone. He also explained that it was so that you did not have to ingest any of a person’s highly infectious spittle whilst attempting to save their life. I turn into the proverbial headless chicken the moment there is any sort of medical emergency…

He was rewarding me for allowing him to park his work van in front of my house for the rest of the day. He didn’t want some people who were coming to visit him to discover what sort of work he actually did.  I thought he sold solar panels to go on south-facing rooftops, but the new van proclaims that he is a plumber. Since when? Is he qualified? All sorts of dodges like that happen round here.

This reminded of the comedienne Joyce Grenfell. If you have access to Spotify you will be able to hear her recorded “talk” to some kind of Institute. It’s worth a listen, though not perhaps quite up to the classic George, Don’t Do That. In it she plays a lady earnestly describing some Useful And Acceptable Gifts for you to make. The first is a (gruesomely mispronounced) boutonnière fashioned from “beech nut husk clusters”, a phrase the lady obviously loves the sound of since she repeats it ad nauseam. I had to look up boutonnière; apparently it’s a little spray of flowers to be worn in a gentleman’s buttonhole at a wedding. I haven’t been to a wedding since 1980 or thereabouts.

The second Useful And Acceptable item was an artistic waste paper basket made out of a biscuit tin. You had to persuade someone to give you the biscuits first, and then remove all trace of advertising matter. The third I was having awful trouble working out – maybe you can. Either my hearing’s even worse than I thought or it is a very crackly recording.

That reminded me of my father, whose greatest pride was that he had danced with Joyce Grenfell when she came out to entertain the troops in India during the War, and that he had been the driver trusted to drive her back to the station in his army truck at the end of the evening. It was his Fifteen Minutes of Fame. Actually, if you look at a picture of Joyce Grenfell you are looking at Devon Aunt, my late father’s older sister. It’s uncanny. Maybe that’s why was so taken with her.

joyce grenfell.jpg

Joyce Grenfell, 1910 – 1979

I was trying to recall other gifts I have received, appalling enough to come under the heading Useless And Unacceptable. I do recall a white plastic soap-dish on a stalk, a present from a Great Aunt soon after I was married. It was like a half a clamshell. Perhaps it was intended as a late wedding present. The minute you put a bar of soap on it, it toppled over.

There were the endless manicure kits. I bit my nails from seven onwards, and in fact have only managed to stop in the last few years by the simple expedient of clipping and filing my nails the minute they reach the ends of my fingers so that there is nothing to bite.

Mum presumably informed every single friend or relative that I bit my nails, which resulted in a fresh manicure set from one ancient aunt or another every Christmas and birthday complete with orange stick – I never worked out what that was for – a coarse, unusable metal file with a little mother-of-pearl handle and another, matching item for pushing back the bit at the top of your nail – the quick, my mother called it. My quicks never seemed to actually need pushing back and I couldn’t understand why other people’s did.

There was also a horse’s head key-rack, from a rather strange schoolfriend. Wooden, shaped like a horse’s head and garishly painted. In those days I did not have a single key to hang up. My parents never did let me have the longed-for ‘key of the door’. When I reached twenty-one I got tired of waiting. I got married, and got one, and unfortunately also a husband.

Python Poem

Well, this is my second day of learning to code in Python. I decided to write a little love poem, in code…

Bear with me – if the code were accidentally to work, rather than just looking like itself, you could end up with two identical copies of the same silly poem, and no code. Here’s the code:

print(“Ssssending \nlove ‘n \nkisses \nfrom Mr P \nto Mrs”)

And here’s what it’s supposed to print out like:

Ssssending
love ‘n
kisses
from Mr P
to Mrs

Maybe I’ve invented a new art form?

For a moment or two I was quite pleased with myself. However, nothing new under the sun. Further research revealed this Wikipedia entry:

Code poetry is literature that intermixes notions of classical poetry and computer code. Unlike digital poetry, which prominently uses physical computers, code poems may or may not run through executable binaries. A code poem may be interactive or static, digital or analog. Code poems can be performed by computers or humans through spoken word and written text.

Examples of code poetry include: poems written in a programming language, but human readable as poetry; computer code expressed poetically, that is, playful with sound, terseness, or beauty.

And – I just discovered – you can even write a thing that will generate poems. So, each time you press Run, a new version of the same poem appears…

Sigh!  I’ve got a long way to go.

 

Before The Deluge

I need to get out more. Too many days in a row spent indoors in various stages of unkemptness, saving money, saving petrol. Or could that be Unconscious Code for saving effort or (whisper it) incipient agoraphobia? And what have I been doing?

Not a lot, to be honest. Well of course I’ve been feeding and cleaning up after the houseful of cats. That in itself is the equivalent of a part-time job. And I’ve not been slumped on the couch watching television because I no longer have a TV. I have done some ironing, and discovered why my tumble dryer isn’t working, and that I can’t fix it.

And I have forced myself to start working through Python For Infants. I was pleased to find that I could understand the first few pages. I have made it print out Hi Python! and not print out You are a silly shoe! I have learned about Strings, Comments, Syntax Errors and Escape Characters.

Getting rid of the TV actually made me realise how long a day is, and how much of it I must previously have used up – watching TV.  At the moment I still haven’t adapted. I seem to be cycling through alternative ‘things to do’, trying to settle into a new routine.

I check the News App more often than is necessary. The news doesn’t change that often in the course of one day, but it might. That’s the trouble. What if something really dramatic did happen, and I didn’t know? What if somebody was assassinated or something actually changed in connection with Brexit? What if – I don’t know – Scotland suddenly calved away from the mainland – after all, it’s only attached by that little skinny bit in the middle –  or there were to be a plague of tigers?

Sadly, I have to confess, I have watched some TV on my tablet. Not live TV, obviously, because I haven’t got a licence, but those highly addictive whole series. I watched the first three series of Mr Robot in a very short time, and still haven’t recovered. The fourth series is supposed to have started in the United States but it isn’t on my tablet yet. When will it be on my tablet? I simply can’t wait.

And today I have been watching, in short bursts between housework, cat-tending, ironing and coding-learning, a British TV movie called Flood. It stars David Suchet and Robert Carlyle. Any film with either of those in is usually a guarantee of quality, but something has gone awry. David Suchet is acting all right but everyone else – including the great Robert Carlyle – seems to have got an attack of awful-acting-itis.

However, this is made up for by the tension of following this great hypothetical storm surge, from Scotland down the east coast and up the Thames, overwhelming (of course) the Thames Flood Barrier. In the control room here is a lot of terse commanding whilst staring at multiple wall-screens. In British disaster movies the characters, no matter how stressed, tend not to bellow or punch one another on the nose. No, they command, increasingly tersely.

And then there’s a lot of dramatic splashing about in the water and clinging to the tops of lamp-posts, just visible above the flood. And everybody’s hairdo is ruined, and they are rescued by helicopters with searchlights.

Given where I live, and knowing my luck, if there were to be such a flood I would be the lady up in the attic, hammering against the stuck-fast dormer window, the water up around my ears. I spend some time, whilst washing up, making plans. I will bring in all the cat boxes from the garage and – if I can get the dormer window open (which I do not have, by the way) I will pass all nineteen moggies up to the hovering helicopter with the searchlight first. Take them first, I hear myself tersely commanding. Don’t bother about me… Come back some time. If you can.

As the helicopter slowly sinks towards the water, weighed down by all those hefty cats in all those hefty pet carriers.

The News app shows newspaper headlines. The Sun appears to be saying we should prepare ourselves for three months of non-stop 100 mph winds. I find this hard to believe and impossible to imagine. I am refusing to try. I inherited my paternal grandmother’s hatred of windy weather.

“Devilish Wind!” she used to exclaim. Tersely.

My word, you do look queer!

My father loved Stanley Holloway’s monologues, and would recite ‘The Lion And Albert’ at the drop of a hat:

Then Mother said, “Right’s right, young feller;
I think it’s a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we’ve paid to come in!” 

The one I was reminded of today is of a man who thinks he is feeling better after an illness, only to be told by everyone he happens to bump into how very, very bad he looks.

I’ve been very poorly but now I feel prime,
I’ve been out today for the very first time.
I felt like a lad as I walked down the road,
Then I met Old Jones and he said, ‘Well I’m blowed!’
My word, you do look queer!
My word, you do look queer!

Sadly, the meanings of some words do change over time.

Well, I celebrated the 1st of October in style by indulging in one of my quarterly (ish) hospital check-ups, audits or assessments – they call them something different each time. Friends and relations have a nasty habit of sending me good luck texts in advance of these, or putting on that sad, sympathetic face.

‘You’ll be so worried, but I’m sure it will turn out OK’.

‘Don’t let the nerves get to you. Think of something nice while you’re waiting.’

‘I’m keeping my fingers crossed.’

‘Thinking of you… xxx xxx’

By the time you’ve received a whole lot of these anxious, condolence-type good wishes you do begin to wonder if they all know something you don’t. Should you be more worried? Maybe you should be chewing your fingernails or tearing your hair out in little clumps?

Actually, I don’t worry so much about the appointments. The initial diagnostic sequence of events was a bit of a shock to the system, but now it’s just wait around for ages then get told a lot of numbers you don’t entirely understand by a dishevelled, distracted young lady who is reading them off a computer screen, generally indicating that not much has changed since last time you met. Then you go home.

Two things really stress me out, the twenty-two mile drive to the hospital through the morning rush hour, and finding the one remaining space in the hospital car park. I set off at seven this morning for a nine-thirty appointment, having been up since three-thirty feeding and mucking out the cats. Nose to tail traffic. Headlights, more headlights. Rain on the windscreen. Listening to local radio as I drive. The helicopter has spotted long, long queues on the very road I am on, and have no option to get off. By the time I get there my hands are stiff from gripping the steering wheel in fierce concentration. My eyes are beginning to hurt. Since I gave up the TV I haven’t needed to wear my glasses, except for driving.

The reason I opt for the earliest possible appointment is to stand a chance of finding that elusive space. The hospital is huge, reached only via a maze of tiny street lined with pigging little sooty-looking houses, like something out of Dickens. There is nowhere to park in these pigging little streets and indeed every one of them for miles around is double yellow lined, just in case you might be tempted to try. Even early in the morning the queue just to get in to the hospital stretches out into these streets. It stretches round the corner and through the traffic lights and back up the preceding road. The lights change, but nothing can actually move, because of that queue.

And once inside the gates there is another queue, to get to the car park barriers. Above one’s head giant red signs inform you how many spaces there are, theoretically, remaining. These signs bear no relation to the actual number of spaces.

You have to draw up next to the barrier, wind down your window and press a button hoping that a ticket will, eventually, slide out and the In barrier go up. Sometimes it doesn’t slide out. You can be pressing that button every few seconds for five minutes or so. No ticket. This is because the machine believes there are No Spaces Left. Effectively, you are waiting for one person to come out the hospital, amble to their car and leave.

Then suddenly you get your ticket, which you have to grasp between your teeth whilst accelerating madly and fumbling with the button to wind up the window at the same time. If you’re too slow the ghastly yellow thing might come crashing down again – chop the car in half. Or maybe you.

And then when you get in there are no actual spaces only theoretical spaces and cars circling, and circling. And once in it’s like the Hotel California – even if there is no space, you can’t leave. Not without having spent several hours in the hospital first, and then inserting your little cardboard card in another machine, which will not, of course, pay any attention to your bank card when you attempt to ‘contactless’ it…

No, the appointment is the least of my worries.

Oh, for Pete’s Sake!

I’m not sure who Pete was, originally. I suspect he got slotted into this generalised expression of annoyance merely because he had one syllable and was easy to substitute for the word you really wanted to say. But then, you’d have thought Jack would have been better. Closer to the original, as in Cripes! for Christ, Heck! for Hell or – that old favourite of American scriptwriters attempting to write Cockney – Blimey! which was originally ‘Gor Blimey’ and before that ‘God Blind – or Blame – Me!’

A number of things have prompted me to exclaim Oh, for Pete’s Sake! recently. The Millennial or Snowflake Generation, it is claimed, have grown up over-protected and therefore tending to feel special, unique, entitled, overly emotional and easily offended. I am not actually in a position to discuss this with any genuine Millennials/Snowflakes and I wouldn’t want to tar all with the same brush. But…

Recently the Prime Minister generated a great cloud of apparent shock and horror by using the word ‘Surrender’ in relation to a parliamentary Bill. Apparently, ‘Surrender’ is a militaristic word, and therefore to be classed as inflammatory language. ‘Surrender’, it seems, has never been and cannot ever be used anywhere else than in the field of battle. So if I am driving erratically and a policeman should tap on my car window and say, Excuse me, Madam, I will require you to surrender your driving licence at the nearest Police Station … ??

‘Humbug’ is an ornate, old-fashioned, but no more offensive version of ‘rubbish!’ Dickens was fond of it and had Scrooge exclaim Bah, Humbug! in A Christmas Carol. A humbug is nothing more than a sugary sweet (see above). I don’t like them myself, probably because of their horrid stripes and tooth-cracking hardness, but I would defend anybody’s right to refer to them as humbugs as opposed to laterally-banded confectionary items.

So, in relation to the apparent shocking and terrifying of his fellow MPs by the use of the word ‘Surrender’ in relation to the enactment of a Bill which would in effect bring about political surrender, he replied

“Mr Speaker, I have never heard such humbug in all my life.”

Gasp! Another shocking word.

I suspect this parliamentary outrage is of the deliberately manufactured political kind rather than true Snowflakery, which makes it hypocritical and therefore twice, nay thrice as annoying. English is a vigorous, robust, joyous language; its rich, eccentric vocabulary has been drawn from wave after wave of invaders and conquerors. We had the Saxons, we had the Vikings, we had the Romans, we had William the Conqueror, let’s face it we almost had the Germans as well… And politicians in the past, whether within Parliament or outside of it, have never shied away from using this linguistic resource to its fullest.

A couple of examples:

From Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. I for one am not afraid to find it on the internet and read it – yea, and carefully, from start to finish – for fear of some mental contamination, an instant attack of rabid racism:

“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’ .”

And then from possibly the most famous Prime Ministerial speech of all time:

‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender…’

‘Humbug’ begins to look a bit tame after that, doesn’t it?

What hope for us if we have even, now, become afraid to express our own thoughts in our own language?

Chaos At The OK Corral

Chaos, etc

So, it is not the Iceman that Cometh after all, but the B-word. Or maybe not. Who knows? Who cares?

Unfortunately, we all do care, and that’s the problem. Mostly, in this country, we don’t care about very much. Cricket? Football? Taxes? The Cost of Living? Nah! Most of us shuffle about our daily chores in soggy old England, soggy old Wales, even soggier old Ireland and soggy, windy and snowy old Scotland, not really caring about very much. Most of us are more interested in who’s going to be in Strictly this year or what ghastly disaster is currently causing the cast of Coronation Street to bellow and screech at each other in unbearably exaggerated local accents.

Before the B word, most of us were wandering about in supermarkets trying to decide between salted peanuts or salt-and-vinegar crisps or, at the weekend, wandering about in garden centres trying to decide whether to plant tulips or daffs next spring. Unless roused, we are not a passionate race. It takes a lot to get us out on the street, bellowing stupidities through a megaphone for twelve hours a day, or throwing milkshakes at one another. Mostly we just do – in England, anyway, is a bit of vicious mumbling, the odd heavy sigh or – if really furious – a barely-audible click of annoyance.

But now we all do care. They – whoever they are – have actually made us care – and we are simply not equipped for it. We were mostly brought up to be polite, to the point of never actually saying exactly what we mean to anyone. We were mostly brought up to be deferential, retiring, obsequious, oblique – and now – now we are really, really, really angry, all of us, and we don’t know what to do about it. Who or what can we beat up? Should we take to the streets with yellow umbrellas, like in Japan? Who actually possesses a yellow umbrella, in this country? Who do we scream at? Is anyone going to listen if we do?

What can we break? Because sooner or later, something is going to get broken. And once that old Viking berserker has taken possession of us, do we actually have the wherewithal to turn him off?

I have decided, in order to survive the next few weeks and months, my plan is this: I will make myself numerous cups of tea and huddle in the corner of my sofa listening to Country & Western music all day. I will cry with Dolly Parton. Along with all those lonesome cowboys and cowgirls I will pine for parts of America I have never visited or heard of, and have no idea where they are in relation to all the other bits of America.

I will knit endless, pointless dishcloths just because I happen to have a lot of cotton yarn. I will carry on reading my way through a houseful of disintegrating paperbacks. I will feed the cats twice a day. If things get really bad I will turn Dolly Parton up to full volume:

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene… I will trill, off key and out of tune

… Please don’t take him just because you can.

Hindi in Three Months

This book arrived today and I read the introduction whilst munching my cheese and mayo sandwich. Not a good idea, grease-wise, but who cares? The world is about to end anyway. It seems reassuringly laid-back in comparison with the other books in the Three Months series, which strive to impress upon you how hard Language X is going to be, how much work you are letting yourself in for if you are foolish enough to proceed with the course, etc., etc. Hindi in Three Months tells you that it is not expecting you to actually write Hindi, just (with any luck) be able to communicate, in a basic sort of way, should you walk into a village in some remote part, where English is not spoken.  I particularly like this bit:

In Hindi, all nouns are masculine or feminine (with no logic to decide which). They can be singular, plural, honorific or ‘oblique’, and their endings change accordingly. Similar changes apply also to adjectives and verbs. In commonly-spoken Hindi, though, such rules are blatantly disregarded…

Hooray! It’s like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My father was sent to India during the war. His job was driving trucks around. He had only ever driven his father’s car around a car park in Rochester, but because he admitted that… Never volunteer for anything, he told me. Never admit, for example, that you can play the piano, or they’ll have you moving one.

My father was an electrician. Apprenticed before the war, when they finally allowed him to return (along with the germs for recurrent malaria) he was employed in the same trade. Around that time there was a big wave of immigration, and Chatham, one of his main areas of work, seemed to fill up with people newly-arrived from India, many of whom, especially the ladies, did not speak English and were therefore isolated, in the poorest and most depressing back-streets.

Sent to investigate an electrical problem he would walk in – and I can imagine, all six foot four of him, deep voice, ready smile – and announce – well, it sounded like – Tora Tora Hindi Bolla which, he said, meant I speak a little Hindi. And then, he said, everyone would be delighted and very pleased to see him, and offer him Chai.

I never quite believed this. It used to make me cringe, rather, as one’s parents always do. Surely this mangled phrase fell into the same embarrassing category as Grandad’s Dooz Ooofs ay Pom de Tare Fritz Si Voo Plate! However, I just did some detective work in the mini-dictionary at the back and I can see he was more or less right:

thoRaa – a little

bolnaa – to say, to speak

So – a little, a little – Hindi – I speak. Somehow, this pleases me.