Leap while you may, Young Ladies

I used to be able to do that once – that backward flip thing. Never in a bikini on a sunset beach, though. Back garden. Even my Mum used to do stuff. She’d tuck her voluminous 1950s cotton-print skirt into her knicker-legs (we all did that, it wasn’t just Mum) and execute a cartwheel or two on the bumpy grass that had once been a cherry orchard. Not bad after two or three babies. Leap while you may, Young Ladies. Leap for your lives and for the love of leaping.

Presumably this Leap ruse of WordPress’s is because it’s Leap Day – that extra day they put in every four years. I would explain why, but I expect everyone else is explaining why today. Google’s got bunny-rabbits, I see.

‘Leap’ unfortunately reminds me of stuff. At one point I signed on for a Creative Writing course at the University of Kent. I think I had actually got past that stage – sounds vain, but you know what I mean – but I wanted to be part of something for once. I was lonely. I wanted to belong to a Group. Fat chance. I found myself surrounded by Yummy Mummies some twenty years younger. There was one man (there always is) but he left after the first week (they always do) and was never seen again.

Earnest, they were, about The Art of the Novel and Being Creative. Earnest always puts my back up for some reason. I sat there week after week thinking, why do we need recipes for writing? Can there be a right way of writing?  Why aren’t we just…writing?

So we sat there in this underground dungeon of a classroom, evening after evening, and we brought in our exercises and assignments, and we circulated copies, and we tore each other’s work to pieces in a Positive, Creative, Intellectual sort of way. I had written a very strange story about an insectoid creature, distasteful in a semi-sexual sort of way, that lands on an Eden-like planet disguised as an Angel and fools the innocent inhabitants into letting it have charge of their children. Then, Pied-Piper-like, one day, it leads them off the edge of a ravine and they are all found dead and crushed to bits at the bottom and he is eating them. Yum, yum. I was working through some issues at the time. [see Eden (1) and Eden (2)]

The stories were circulated anonymously but to my chagrin everybody recognised mine. One of the Yummies explained, with a flashing, fluoride smile that illuminated the basement darkness – it’s because Rosie’s stories are always about Dead People and usually about Dead Children. Everyone was nodding.

Gulp! Afterwards, I went back over my past oeuvre. Bloody woman was right.

I have since made a conscious effort to write short stories in which no one dies – at all. It’s no good – my characters will keep snuffing it!

I was talking the other day about that free app I found – Dark Echo – and how the footsteps clatter around in the pitch dark, echoing, visually, and how sooner or later they reach an invisible wall and just sort of mark time, echoing the while, until you turn round and retrace your steps across the screen. It’s an infuriating game. It reminds me of writing. That Dead People thing – my dead end.

I went back over the few bits of fiction I have written for, or uploaded to, this blog and blow me down, I’m still doing it. SnuffingIts are rife! I accept it now: I’ve hit the wall, game-wise and creative-wise. I’m clattering around in the dark, my footsteps echoing, echoing; waiting for the monsters to come.

Help! Sharks are attacking my Shack

I do apologise. Being British, and a Lady, I don’t normally do sensational headlines. I can’t say I think much of the rubber shark. He looks like Miss Boakes, my school music teacher, but probably sings better.

So, sharks have not really come crashing through my roof or ploughed their way through the wall – it just felt like that when on a whole lot of buy-to-let investors arrived on my doorstep yesterday lunchtime. Normally my doorstep remains unsullied from one day to the next. Only the Post Lady and the Tesco Man venture down the driveway, and they have to do so carefully because at this time of year it is an inch thick in mud. Further up the hill is some sort of stream, or spring. Water runs down the hill and over the concreted driveways of house after house, then runs down my driveway, depositing silt. Grass grows in the silt. Grass grows in the one and only surface drain. Once a year I have to go out with a bucket and rubber gloves and pull out all the grass so that the annual torrents of rainwater can drain away, down a covert pipe, behind the garden shed and into the garden of the next unfortunate person down. The mud is only one of the reasons I want to move. Maybe the sharks didn’t notice it, in their frenzy.

They were nearly all men, and they liked the garage. It’s true what they say about men, you know – they just love a garage, especially one that has – wait for it – a work-bench and a huge rusty vice in it. Is it possible that someone will buy the whole house, complete with mud-pudding driveway and resident grass, just for the rusty vice?

The cats only poo’d once, which I thought was pretty good going. Violet, the weekend estate agent lady (75 if she was a day) kept them talking in the living room about the extremely low Council Tax rates hereabouts (it’s true – because the roads are kind of unofficial and full of potholes) whilst I slipped out and effected some damage limitation with the pooper-scooper.

I have to hand it to the ancient Violet – as I would to anyone who could keep their calm in a stressful situation – something I have never been able to do – she rose to the occasion. Arriving ten minutes behind schedule, at a house she had never seen before, she found the living room full already of rabid buy-to-let landlords and People Come Down Specially From Norfolk, plus thirteen terrified cats and a gibbering, panic-stricken Seller, and hit the ground running.

Tossing her black leather gloves and fancy document wallet onto the shelf next to the fridge she began to sell my house sight unseen. And this is… as you can see… the living room. Oh, and a… cupboard under the stairs? (I nodded, imperceptibly). And this must be the kitchen. Oh, what a lot of storage units. Well, sir, you could get all your saucepans in and room to spare and oh… what a lovely view down the garden. I do believe… that is honeysuckle, in the summer? (I nodded. Conveying No, actually it’s a passion flower but just as good as honeysuckle if not better was beyond me.) And that tree at the bottom of the garden – behind the fence – that is part of the property… I believe (?)

She was magnificent. She even coped with the People In The Office not having printed her off any sealed bids forms. You can download them on the internet, gentlemen. You haven’t got the internet in Norfolk, madam? Write down your address and I will post you a form and the requisite envelope. It’s all very simple…

But towards the end of our several-hour session she was beginning to drown under the weight of crowds of men in puffy anoraks with cheesy grins and far too many teeth. I knew I had to help her so I grabbed a handful of my pre-printed Annual Service Bills and Council Tax table, and started to take groups of them out to the garage while she did the upstairs. You’re supposed to keep an eye on them, you see, in case they pinch anything. Nerves forgotten, I got almost cheerful in the end, chatting away to the invaders and making up stuff about boundaries and Wonderful Community Spirit.

You were really getting into the swing of it! Said Violet, when they had all gone. No, I won’t have a coffee. Not that I don’t like coffee but it’s not fair to… use other people’s toilets, know what I mean? She works a whole day, does three or four Open Houses one after another, and never has a cup of coffee or a tiddle? The woman’s a hero.

I can see I shall have to watch out for my job! she quipped as, black leather gloves and fancy document wallet clasped to her, she negotiated the over-high muddy doorstep and  sidestepped a clump of thistles and a pothole. Must dash, now.

It took another hour and an open tin of tuna wafted from room to room, to retrieve a trembling Little Arf from down the side of the spare-room bed.

Made the same as the sand

You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?

What would I miss the most? Everything:

Water. Fountains; waterfalls, the little fountain in the courtyard at Leeds Castle; the sea, with ships balanced on the horizon like tiny plastic toys; hot showers; rain showers; puddles; floods; ponds; even swimming-pools with their weird chlorine stink…

Sitting about in parks; sun on my ankles and burnishing the top of my head; wind in my hair…

Dry leaves in autumn, crocuses in spring…

Butterflies, mice, baby sparrows, hedgehogs, seagulls, worms, snails.. When you’ve got the Garden of Eden, when you live in a green life-soup, why would you ever exchange it for red aridity and the First Circle of Hell?

satan eve

I’m with Milton’s Satan on this one. Here are the words Milton gives him in Paradise Lost Book 9 (the drawing is by English poet/artist/printer/visionary Willliam Blake)

With what delight could I have walkt thee round, If I could joy in aught, sweet interchange of Hill and Vallie, Rivers, Woods and Plaines, Now land, now Sea, and Shores with Forrest crownd, Rocks, Dens, and Caves; but I in none of these Find place of refuge And the more I see Pleasures about me, so much more I feel Torment within me, as from the hateful siege Of contraries; all good becomes Bane…

This is Satan being almost human as he contemplates the Earth and realises, with sudden anguish, how much he has thrown away for the sake of power.

If the day comes, as presumably it will, when men (and women?) set forth on some sort of Mission to Mars, I hope they can find pressing reasons for leaving Earth. Maybe they owe money to some machete-wielding gangster; maybe they are hankering for a long, slow suicide, because that’s what it would be.

In researching around this post I came across some information on the Bushmen of Botswana, who have been in dispute with the government of Botswana.

bushman3

This tribe is the most similar to the ancestors common to all of us, but they were denied access to their drinking holes and (unofficially) forcibly evicted from their ancestral homeland by the government of Botswana. They had to fight through the Courts for their continued existence.

They should be elevated from the status where they find themselves. We would all be concerned that any tribe should remain in the bush communing with flora and fauna. (Foreign Minister of Botswana)

How can you have a stone-age creature continue to exist in the age of computers? (Botswana’s former president, Festus Mogae)

Most of the Bushmen have now been moved out to the Reserve – often forcibly, though the government denies this. They were transported to camps outside the game reserve: places like New Xade, awash with disease, prostitution and the cheapest and deadliest booze. Their character as a people is being relentlessly destroyed there. Those who are left are threatened, abused, and forced to get their drinking water from plants and trees. (John Simpson, writing in The Independent)

And here are some of the things the Bushmen say. This is what it feels like to be sent to Mars, without even leaving the planet:

The lion and I are brothers, and I am confused that I should have to leave this place and that the lion can stay.

I was born in this place and I have been here for a very long time. This is my birthright: here, where my father’s body lies in the sand.

We were made the same as the sand.

Like Adam, we are formed from the small dust of the ground. We are made from this Earth and joined with it; and maybe we will only feel the full strength of those ties when they are about to be severed. It will be like cutting the cord – the one that we do not, as yet, even know we possess.

 

 

 

 

 

All the right words but not necessarily in the right order

My friend who-shall-be-known-as Daisy keeps sending me words for an app called Words With Friends. Now that I have a Kindle Wotsit I’m sitting target for apps. Words With Friends is more or less Scrabble, and as I suspected I am just as hopeless at the teensy-weensy electronic version as I used to be at the large cardboard-and-plastic version. ‘You’re good with words,’ people say, ‘so you’ll be good at Scrabble’. Alas, I’m impatient, and hopeless at strategy; I can’t resist a long, showy-offy, low-scoring word when a three-letter triple-word-thingummyjig would have been wiser.

When I was at Junior School teachers used to say ‘You’re tall – we’ll put you in for the 100 yards on Sports Day’. Since when does being tall mean you can run without banging your knees together and falling over your feet? Since when does being tall mean you give a rat’s patootie whether you stagger across some arbitrary white line first or last?

I was hoping Daisy might enlighten me as to another game app-thingy called Dark Echo which I foolishly downloaded in order to practice app-downloading, and because it was free.  How I wish I hadn’t. I just don’t understand. I mean, you’re in the dark, right? And there’s these little white clickety footsteps, right? And they clatter along, scarily, like a pair of foolish high-heels in a midnight underpass, giving off these little lines, which presumably represent echoes, only visible. And that’s supposed to help you find your way out, if the monsters don’t get you first. I haven’t met a monster yet. If you click on the little white feet it sends out a whole starburst of little lines, which seems to equate with noise, although it’s no noisier than the little white clickety feet themselves, and it is this hypothetical, visual noise that may attract a monster.  I think.

I did find my way out, once, but I don’t know how. It was an accident. And when I was out it was just as dark as when I was in, so what’s the point of being out? My little white footsteps go backwards and forwards, creepily retracing their steps, marking time at invisible walls, backing off, retracing the steps before the steps before, and I don’t know why. Is there some proper way to play Dark Echo? Why are there no instructions?

You can tell I’m tired, probably. Perforce, I’ve been doing housework all day – with breaks for this new electronic Scrabble-thingy – since it’s the first of my two Open Houses on Saturday. To get the house looking anything like presentable I shall be doing housework all day tomorrow, too. It’s done my hip in. You know you’re getting old when you start to realise you have hips – and knees – at all – because they hurt. The cats have temporarily lost the raggle-taggle saggy old beds they used to be able to flop into all over the house, and dirt-boxes have been strictly rationed. Net curtains are festooned everywhere to dry. Tomorrow they’ll have to go back up. I shall have to remember not to whip the bedroom curtains open to greet the dawn, in case I amaze the down-hill neighbours.

‘I am playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.’ Eric Morecambe 1926 – 1984, English comedian.

 

 

Mistrust all enterprises that require lipstick

I first came across this saying in A Room with a View – it is discovered by Lucy Honeychurch written in the back of a wardrobe. Until today I didn’t realise it was a version of a quote from Walden by Henry David Thoreau –

“I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

He is so right. I’d go one step further, for female readers (Thoreau probably didn’t have much experience of this) – forget about the new clothes: even the faintest urge to put on lipstick is an indication that…

… there may be trouble ahead…

So, when I found myself slathering on the one and only lipstick (Max Factor’s Rosewood – it’s lasted for years) in order to go and visit a possible care home for Mum with my sister, I thought ‘This doesn’t bode well!’ After all, who cares what the lumpy, flaky elder daughter looks like, lolloping along like a wonky Tesco trolley behind the slim, efficient youngest daughter? I suppose the lipstick was to make it look as if I had tried, or even to confirm that I had actually woken up at some point before falling into the car and turning the key in the ignition. With it – yes, that was the look I was aiming for – especially when venturing into a home full of dementia patients.

As we sat on a tiny sofa in the Lounge discussing (or in my case, not) fees, wander alarms and social activities – karaoke, Elvis impressionists – apparently they love Elvis – patting a giant inflatable ball from one side of the room to another, etc – with the home’s administrator, an elderly gentleman shuffled up and asked us kindly if we were getting to like being there, nowadays.

I began to think, perhaps I should never leave. Like the Hotel California. I seemed to be fitting right in… If it wasn’t for that faint smell of dinner… I mean, it was big and nice and sunny. And there were paintings on the walls. And I quite fancied having a pat at that giant blue ball… There was even a cat, somewhere. There was a notice as we went in:

Warning: Baby, our resident cat, likes to sleep in the corridors. Do not trip over him.

Not much chance of that. Thirteen moggies means you never raise your eyes above your foot-level. You’re wading through cats; an ocean of tails, paws and fur.

The thing is, beyond a certain age, lipstick becomes a liability. It travels. Best to avoid red wine for the same reason, at least in public, or you risk looking like Dracula’s Granny – and not realising it.

Is it even worth putting on lipstick any more? Even when I was in my prime I had the sort of face that lipstick didn’t improve. In fact, nothing improved it. Mum was striking-looking, in her twenties, with her upswept hair and sparkly eyes – you could see why Dad fell for her – and Dad was positively handsome in a raven-haired matinee-star sort of way. The trouble was, instead of taking after either one or the other (my sister takes after Mum) I got a bit of both – Mum’s crooked front tooth, Dad’s footballer’s-knees and piano-player hands. Worse, looking in the mirror – more and more as I get older, I see that my face has a kind of meridian – Mum from the nose upwards and Dad from the nose downwards and the two sections don’t match: I’m a chimera. I’m Franken-daughter.

What I need is the niquab. Maybe it’s not too late to convert? Alternatively, maybe I could carry one of those bespangled carnival masks on a stick… all year round.

Fashion and I have always had a difficult relationship. Mum used to despair of my marriage prospects since I refused to entertain corsets, eyebrow-pencil, false eyelashes or frills. And whatever I bought – however much it cost – once on me it always looked as if I’d got it in the Oxfam shop. In the end I gave up and short-circuited the whole tedious process by actually shopping at Oxfam. Still, whatever I bought would turn out to be uncomfortable: it would either cut in, hang loose, get in the way, sag, pinch or feel conspicuous.

The most comfortable time of my life was when I lost my prestigious position as a Partner’s Secretary and found one in an outbound call centre on an industrial estate where ‘smart casual’ might mean anything from wellington-boots and kohl-ringed eyes to fairy-wings and a fez. I ditched the office schmutter and lived in men’s clothing from supermarkets. A man’s shirt or jumper is about half the price of the equivalent woman’s shirt or jumper, did you know that? Ladies, they charge us almost double simply because we’re vain and love to shop. I discovered by trial and error what size men’s jeans fitted me. I gauged shirts, tee shirts and jumpers and socks by eye and was hardly ever mistaken – but women are used to doing that, since ‘standard’ sizes vary from one label to another.

Nowadays I compromise. The universal ladies’ ‘fashion’ here at Benefits-on-Sea is for leggings. This is because leggings are cheap, fit everyone and go with everything. So I wear leggings with a variety of long tops – tee-shirts, shirts, ‘sale’ dresses – whatever I can find. I look a bit frumpy and odd but what does it matter?

When have I not?

primp

 

 

 

 

 

The pig that walked away

He was unpredictable, my Dad. Most of the time I was afraid of his footsteps, homecoming; the sudden vicious swoop of his right hand; the stinging slaps; the turn of the key in some lock, with me on one side and him on the other. But I was even more afraid of the hectoring, the badgering, the elaborate sarcasm and the winding up. I had no defence to those.

He had a way with words, my Dad: he didn’t have to stop and think about them, they just came out. That’s where I got it from, this little gift, this way with words. He used them sometimes to write, more often to bully. I use them most often to write but I too, on the half-handful of occasions when rage has got the better of me, have unleashed that river of abuse at some cringeing offender and have failed to stop, when enough would have been enough. I felt that same joy, you see, the same joy he did. If you’re capable of doing something that well, however much you hate yourself, you long to let it rip. It’s a beautiful verbal violence; it’s like magic all bottled up and fizzing; you’ve become the box Pandora foolishly opened; you are what she unleashed upon the world.

But he wasn’t always Bad Daddy, and he did love us. He even loved me though I didn’t know that until he was far too old to tell me and I was far too old for it to matter much any more. I have happy memories of him too, and now that he is gone, I miss him more and more.

I prefer to recall his endless stock of “ditties”, and how he loved to sing foolish songs and recite nonsensical verses. Words for words’ sake, for their sound as much as their meaning: he was my first teacher in this regard. His material was drawn from a variety of sources, all before my time – music-hall, popular music, the military, in which he had so recently been an unwilling conscript. Nellie The Elephant was one of his favourites. We all used to sing that one:

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk and waved goodbye to the circus…

Elephants also featured in a little poem:

A wonderful bird is the elephant/ It flits from bough to bough / It makes its nest in a rhubarb tree/ And whistles like a cow.

Then there were the peas and honey:

I eat my peas with honey/ I’ve done so all my life/ It makes the peas taste funny/ But it keeps them on the knife.

There was Jemima’s Uncle, forever swimming in circles:

Oh Jemima, look at your Uncle Jim/ He’s in the duckpond learning how to swim/ First he does the back-stroke and then he does the side/ And now he’s under the water swimming against the tide.

There was the monologue about the Little Yellow God:

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu/ There’s a little marble cross below the town/ There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew/ And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

There was Stanley Holloway’s lugubrious tale of The Lion and Albert:

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool/ That’s noted for fresh air and fun/ And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom/ Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was young Albert/ All dressed in his best; quite a swell/ With a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle/ The finest that Woolworth’s could sell…

There’s the song about the pudding:

All of a sudden a blooming great pudding came flying through the air/ It missed me Ma and hit me Pa/ And knocked him off his chair.

But our joint favourite was the poem about the pig that walked away:

One evening in October/ When I was about one-third sober/ And was taking home a load with manly pride/ My poor feet began to stutter/ So I lay down in the gutter/ And a pig came up and lay down by my side. Then we sang “It’s All Fair Weather”/ And “Good Fellows Get Together”/ Till a lady passing by was heard to say/ She says, “You can tell a man who boozes/ By the company he chooses”/ And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

I remember visiting Dad in hospital for what turned out to be the last time, and making myself take his hand. My hands are a mirror-image of his, as it happens – veins and knobbles in the same places, odd flattened fingertips, even the same size. I had never voluntarily touched him before.

“Warm,” he said. “Warm.”

 

 

On eating cheese and breathing down rat-holes

My third (so far) 2016 diary is proving to be a gold mine for blog ideas. Should the cats decide to pee on this one too, I’m going to save it. Into the airing-cupboard it will go…

e-i-e-i-e-i-o oh, knees up Muvver Brown… sorry

… and although it will come out all yellow-stained, crinkled and fanned, those precious every-other-daily quotes will be preserved; a whole year’s worth of potential blog-post ideas – except not, because inevitably a few of them are duds.

The quote for Monday June 13th 2016 is from American actor W C Fields (1880-1946) – the one who was in that film with Mae West and memorably/cruelly said that he liked a child if ‘properly cooked’, and on another occasion that they were ‘very good with mustard’. But June 13th’s quote is about cats:

The clever cat eats cheese and breathes down rat holes with baited breath.

In real life cats are not that clever and rats are not that stupid, but the principle of eating cheese and breathing down rat-holes can be applied to almost anything in life. For instance:

If you’re desperate for the phone to ring, step into a nice, deep, lavender-scented bath; submerge, and reach for the second-hand paperback you have been looking forward to dipping into since it landed on the doormat this morning. I sometimes wonder if I ever had a phone call when not in the bath. How many times have I heaved myself out, dripping, squelched downstairs in a damp dressing-gown, only for it ring off on the sixth ring? As for answering a mobile phone in the bath – nearly all my mobile phones have died of drowning – in bedside mugs of water, in the washing-machine…

The best way to get a job – attend the interview hoping against hope that you won’t get it. An unemployed former boyfriend (I say boy, he was oldish even then) was once ordered by the Job Centre to attend an interview for work as a printer at a local firm. Up till then he had been a steam-train driver and couldn’t see himself in an office, but you can’t really refuse a job interview when unemployed: they tend to stop your benefits.

He really didn’t want the job, and he was nervous about the interview itself, so he popped in to the pub at lunchtime and rolled up at the interview feeling little pain, in a haze of exhaled beer. They liked him, of course, and he got the job. Twenty-five or so years later he was still there, one of their most senior and trusted employees, sitting it out till retirement and lacking the will to escape.

When I was still married, my husband used to spend nearly all day and most of the evening down the garden in his workshop. This was how we managed to stay married for 22 years, in fact. However, sometimes – if it was lunchtime, say, and he was still out there building clever man-things, I would get cross or lonely. We had a coal fire and I discovered the best way of getting him to come charging indoors was to reach out and put another lump of coal on the fire. He could tell by the colour and quality of the smoke exiting the chimney when I was wasting a lump of coal. Sometimes I only had to visualise that lump of coal and the reaching out, for him to come thundering up the stairs. We were psychically linked, I guess.

Fire-feeding was husband-territory and so was room-temperature; wives were never to touch the coal-scuttle and – having inferior feminine thermostatic arrangements – only ever imagined they were shivering. The lump of coal strategy worked but with a hefty price to pay in lecturing and altercation.

A typically British example of breathing down rat-holes is the gentle art of persuading buses to come along. British buses are hardly ever where or when you want them to be: as the saying goes, you don’t see a bus for an hour, then three come along at once. The art of persuading a bus to come along is to decide to walk home. No sooner do you get beyond running-back distance of the bus-stop you left, or running-to distance of the next bus stop, than the bus will come sailing along – and sail straight past you.

If you find yourself in a long queue in the Post Office, the best way to make it move quickly is to join the adjacent, shorter queue. This will instantly become the slowest because some old lady at the front will drop her purse or someone will decide to argue with the cashier about the price of Air Mail postage to Australia.

Best way to make a cat use the litter tray or throw up a heap of semi-digested cat-biscuits on the carpet right in front of you: fix yourself a cup of coffee and tasty sandwich; settle yourself down to watch Stargate Universe whilst eating it. Eat one mouthful…

An example from just now, even. Best way to make a BT Openreach (telephone network repair) van turn up – scheduled for anytime from 8 to 1. Start writing blog post, just get to the bit where ideas are zooming into your head from all directions but haven’t yet been safely typed… and there it is. However, my landline is fixed.

My landline finally is fixed. Never thought I’d see the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Parallel Processing

The car crash. I’ll try not to dwell on the blood and gore elements – but more on the psychic consequences. I don’t remember the crash itself at all – I was knocked unconscious. All I remember, weirdly, is this.

Before the crash I was replaying in my mind – or felt, afterwards, I had been replaying – the final episode of Two Thousand Acres of Sky in which the hero dies. Knowing the heroine has fallen in love with someone else, without meaning to commit suicide, exactly, he goes out in a small, unseaworthy boat and ends up on the beach of some windswept island, dying. Except that he doesn’t know he is dying. He thinks he’s dropping off to sleep. He is rather peaceful about it. We are, somehow, participating in his dying delusions, experiencing his faltering consciousness with him. I hadn’t been expecting that final dramatic twist in what was supposed to be a romantic comedy – it had shocked me.

The next thing I knew, the ‘drowning hero’ narrative was picking up exactly where it had left off, as I swam up from depths of unconsciousness. I remember thinking – something just happened, but yet it can’t have. I’m still in the same story.

Thinking about it now, I would guess my mind was gently talking to me in pictures (that’s what it does – there are no words in the Unconscious). It was letting me know, in its own way, that I either was dying, might be dying or had died, but that now it was time to wake up. Don’t drift away, it seemed to be warning me.

February 2002, that was. Climbing a long, winding hill-road, with woods on either side. Apparently some idiot was coming down the hill, turning round to talk to his kids in the back, swerved over to my side of the road and hit my car head on. My car rolled over – possibly more than once – and landed on its roof in the woods. I don’t know how I got out, but I did. The first thing I remember is the green uniform of the ambulance man leaning over me. It didn’t seem surprising – merely puzzling. He asked me where I had been going. I asked him what day it was. He said Saturday. I said if it was Saturday I must have been going to visit my parents. I apparently gave him their full address including post-code – I found where he had written it all out in my handbag notebook afterwards.

I ended up in hospital with a head injury, a neck injury, a bashed-in elbow, a twisted ankle and something wrong with my ribs, possibly from hanging upside down in the seatbelt. My glasses were in the car, smashed, so in hospital I couldn’t see anything. They kept moving me from ward to ward: same white-ish, green-ish blur.

Not a good time, and it took months to recover. My neck’s never exactly worked since. Even when I was well enough to drive again and the insurance had secured me a replacement for my written-off car, I couldn’t bring myself to drive up that hill. I followed a series of lengthy and inconvenient detours for the next six months.

I felt that the accident both had and hadn’t happened. I was me, now, recovering but I was her, then, and the accident was still waiting for me half way up that hill. The universe had bitten me, and now it was lurking in the undergrowth, waiting its chance to rush out and bite me again.

But that wasn’t all. It was the conviction that grew on me in the weeks after the crash, that I had died in the crash and that this was not that life but… this life. I felt that I had died and at that moment had moved into one of my parallel universes, in which I was continuing with my life as it would have been, except everything was subtly altered. Nothing was quite as it should be.

Make of that what you will. This still feels like the wrong universe but I suppose it’s better to be here (if I am here). After all, if I am still there what’s left of me is a paragraph in the local newspaper and an unvisited brass plaque in the grounds of the crematorium!

fishes2

Cryptic

I find myself wondering what sort of lives they lead.

There was the man in the woods, when my friend and I were seven. He seemed to live inside it, in boots and an itchy-looking coat tied up with string. There was an old mattress; it had lain so long in the entrance to the wood that only coiled springs remained. We assumed he slept on the mattress. We saw him, and presumably he saw us, but nothing was said.

There was the woman in the Post Office, parked at a table with plastic bags around her, holding a loud conversation – an argument, really, with an invisible someone-else. She was getting angrier by the minute.

There was Funny Philip, who took a liking to me and would arrive on his bicycle, having cycled all day; unannounced, and frequently. I hurt his feelings, eventually, I had to. But I hurt him. I could hear it in his voice.

There was the man in the park. He was often there, especially in winter, standing on the path at the far end. Just standing, and watching.

There was the Scotsman, who would march along the beach of our seaside town in full regalia, even in summer. The kilt, the sporran, the tartan drapery. He marched very fast, as if pursued by someone, or as if in pursuit. And other times he would be in other parts of the town. He covered a huge area. We imagined him marching all day, from dawn to dusk, maybe through the night as well. He looked neither to the right nor to the left.

The boy in the white suit, who haunted the coal-black railway. Who knew where every driver was at any time of day, which bridge, which crossing, when they were to be expected, whether they were late.

The girl at college with the weird little screwed-up face, who made up out-of-tune songs with many, complex verses and sang them at anyone who would listen, clapping her hands in delight.

The dancing man, in my mother’s home town, who prances and twirls at intervals, waving at passing cars. Every day, a different hat to be doffed, to be waved in the air. He’s everywhere. On the bench outside Tesco’s; waiting at the railway crossing. He styles himself the King of the Town. Some say he had a breakdown and emerged from it…changed. Some say he lost his wife, and cavorts to keep the dreadfulness at bay.

The old lady who escaped from the home and asked me where to catch a bus to a town a hundred miles away on a Sunday. She had no coat; she had no money and she was very, very old. I managed to find out where she had escaped from; called them from a phone box in secret and waited for them to come for her. When she noticed the policeman she turned and caught my eye. Traitor! She whispered. Traitor!

There are all these watchers, these sitters and standers, these scarcely-registered encounters with odd passers-by.

It is as if they have been sent from somewhere…

…to be caught sight of…

…out of the corner of my eye.

It is as if they bring messages.

As if each is a separate element in a code to be deciphered.

The Phoenix Fire Mystery

Reincarnation: do you believe in it?

I used to haunt my local library, and I found this enormous hardback book called Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (Cranston & Head, 1977).  I booked it out so many times in succession that I might as well have kept it. When eventually they decided to “modernise” the library, the book – along with a good third of the books in the library, it seemed – disappeared, during one of the days I had foolishly let it out of my keeping, to be replaced by a whole lot of tacky music cassettes. I was cross about that. All the times I’d thought about stealing ‘my’ beloved old friend Reincarnation, and never did because my conscience wouldn’t let me – and then they throw it out to make room for – not-books, for dross. It was at that point I gave up on public libraries altogether, and thankfully soon after it became possible to order books online.

Which is where I got the equally enormous paperback copy that sits on the desk beside me now.

Sometime after we divorced, my husband told a mutual friend that I had Got Religion around this time – one reason he was glad to see the back of me. There were many reasons he could have cited for being glad to see the back of me – looking back, even I’d even have been glad to see the back of me – but he was wrong about that one. I didn’t Get Religion then, and I still haven’t. I started thinking for myself around then, and searching for answers. The search goes on.

I remember one summer’s afternoon, sitting on the back step of our house. He was down the garden in his workshop constructing something intricate and splendid involving lathes and drills, and I was just… sitting on the step, thinking about reincarnation… and something suddenly clicked. It was… you know like if you mesh your two hands together in front of your face…?  Something fitted together, precisely. Something felt absolutely right, at last. And that was reincarnation. I just knew it was right, not through any intellectual process but as if retrieving an ancient memory. It fitted with that feeling I had since a child, that the past is not something irretrievably gone, but all around us still. I felt my ancestors, and strangers, and scenery long vanished – beside me. I knew time was an illusion, but I didn’t know how.

Over the years I have read more, in different fields – testing it – trying to find something that would be an antidote to that unreasonable, unscientific certainty – but only seem to have stumbled across more and more things that fit with it. It now seems to me that the traditional Eastern idea of reincarnation is a simplified version of an unimaginably complex reality. I think there is more to it than amassing good karma and bad karma, and the possibility of coming back as a worm/slug/dung-beetle if we misbehave, or working one’s way up to some kind of disembodied semi-angelic status if we’re really, really good.

My sense is that when we die, we leave our used-up physical bodies behind, obviously, but then maybe rest between lives. And during that between-lives period we design, assemble or are irresistibly drawn back into, another life, depending on what we next need to learn; the ‘life after life’ pattern being an extended learning or growing process. I think we are ‘sent out’ – or maybe even fling ourselves joyfully out – from our source – like flares from the sun – and we ‘return’ – or maybe sink gratefully back – to our source; and that in returning we bring with us what we have learned – so that the source is enriched and in a small way modified by everything we have seen, experienced and suffered.

I don’t see ‘That’ as anything that can be named; or as in any way static, but rather as  a something continually and violently in motion – boiling, like the sun – always rearranging, realigning and reconfiguring. I see human creativity – that surge of joy that happens when a poem line comes to you, or you when you paint a picture just right, or capture the photo – as a fizzy foretaste, a pale, just-bearable echo of what it is to be That – the violence, the frightening creativity, the rage, the restless urge for change, the passion to bring into existence Something from Nothing.

Getting Religion, I suspect, would have been the easier option!

Though all dies, and even the gods die, yet all death is but a phoenix fire death, and new birth into the Greater and Better.

Thomas Carlyle

Slightly Awkward

Well, the next of this little series of internet prompts is ‘An Awkward Social Moment’. This is going to be difficult since most of my social moments are awkward; I either blurt something out just as the room goes silent, or get the wrong end of the stick, or out of anxiety simply make a huge meal out of trying not to be awkward.

The other problem is – I don’t know about you – but I tend to erase uncomfortable moments. The more excruciatingly embarrassing they are, the less likely that I will recall them in a year’s time. My subconscious leaps in protects me. Good old subconscious.

I do remember a couple of social moments where, for once, the awkwardness wasn’t my fault. It was on one of my parents’ Sunday visits, when I was still married. They had come to our house first and then we walked round to the village pub for Sunday lunch. Unfortunately, we had just been relating to them the juicy scandal of the moment; that the handsome, grey-haired, many-years-married headmaster of the local comprehensive school had been discovered having a torrid affair with his secretary.

In the pub were a lot of giant saggy sofas. It was crowded, being Sunday lunch-time, so while we were waiting to be called in to the dining room we were forced to share one of the giant saggy sofas with another couple – a rather attractive lady and – you guessed it, a handsome, grey-haired gentleman. Poor Mum. She was a bit deaf even then and couldn’t judge how loud she was speaking; but even if she hadn’t been deaf the headmaster and his new lady-friend were so close they could hardly have avoided hearing as she relayed the whole scandal again. My husband was frantically doing that throat-slitting gesture and making “Urgh, they’re sitting right next to us…” expressions at her. She looked confused but didn’t stop talking – in fact the confusion seemed to have made it impossible for her to stop. On and on she went as I attempted to meld with the scuffed leatherette and become one with the cushions.

The second one also involved my husband – who had been my ex-husband for a while by then. My father died. Ex and my father had always got on well, so we invited Ex and My Replacement to the funeral. Appropriately, at the crematorium it was overcast, chilly and raining. Before the service began we were all clustered outside, hopping from one foot to another and blowing on cupped hands in our not-especially-warm funeral outfits. The outfits were not all black because my father had asked us not to wear mourning. So we had done our best to respect his wishes whilst not appearing in any way cheerful in various shades of grey, maroon or navy.

Other guests didn’t know about this and wouldn’t have taken any notice if they had – so they were all in black. We would so much rather have been in black as well – which was the first awkwardness – but what can you do?  Most of them were friends from my parents’ cycling days whom we hadn’t seen since childhood. Ex and My Replacement were huddled to my left, an elderly woman to my right. She was chatting away, having obviously seen me in romper suits and frilly hats, or no-front-teeth and a hair-ribbon. I had no idea who she was.

And then she asked, in a sudden, piercing voice, “Aren’t you the eldest? The one who got divorced from that dreadful Artist? Whatever happened to him, I wonder?” I could hear the dreadful Artist stifling a laugh inches from my left ear. I don’t remember how I handled that one: not well, I’m guessing.

And then, to add a kind of gloss to the occasion, as the tinny CD machine behind the velvet curtain, on some concealed console or wherever, started to play Dad’s favourite Ella Fitzgerald song, My Replacement’s mobile phone started trumpeting Colonel Bogie in the depths of her capacious handbag. First she couldn’t find it and then she couldn’t remember how to turn it off.

This did not surprise me in the least. Whenever I see that woman something bad happens. Before I even knew she was plotting to Replace me, I passed her in the High Street one day. A small ginger kitten suddenly poked it’s head out of her jacket and I half-fell off the kerb, twisting my ankle so badly it took weeks to recover. However, summoning what was left of my dignity I strode off up the High Street without looking back. Willpower alone kept the limp from kicking in until she was out of sight.

Another time I went to visit them in their new, wonderful country cottage etc., etc. It’s a long way off the road in the middle of acres of… well, you can imagine… and Ex was always very insistent that I should drive right down to the house rather than leaving my poor, scared little motor car parked safely outside their wonderfully rustic farm-type front gate. This meant a long drive down a crooked, rutted, muddy path, and then a long reverse back up the crooked, rutted, muddy path to the road. I can reverse but not terribly well. And when being watched by super-critical Ex and super-wonderful My Replacement (she built her own coal-bunker and garden shed, apparently, and dredged their pond… and she could lift a lathe with one hand..)…

Well, I managed to reverse poor, scared little motor car almost into their newly and wonderfully dredged (by Her) wonderful rustic pond complete with moorhens, bulrushes etc. I got stuck in the mud and Ex had walk up and take over and reverse my car out of their pond, and…

I won’t go on.

 graffiti5

 

“How you and your best friend met…”

I did have a Grand Plan to work my way – over the next 100 years or so – through all 250 of William M Tanner’s Topics (1917). However, I have had to admit defeat – at 1. Most of the topics, on closer inspection, either make no sense or fail to spark anything, in the way of inspiration. I mean, what can you do with The Joys of a Country Cottager, The Heritage of the Youngest Child or On Riding Pegasus with Spurs? It’s just too much like an exam. And I must say it’s a relief not to even think of tackling Our Ragtime Age or Sponges.

I am rather a one for Grand Plans. At one point I was going to walk all round the coast of Britain and Ireland. At another, I was going to move to some remote Scottish island and join a commune. I was going to do something vaguely ‘home made’, I remember, like recycling charity shop clothing into patchwork quilts. Or possibly making dollies out of clothes pegs and selling them for… something.

So I’ve rummaged around the internet and found a few, slightly more up-to-date, lists of essay subjects – avoiding the stupid school ones, like All Teachers Should be Forced to Eat Rice Pudding and Wear School Uniform.

So, this one is How you and your best friend met. In fact I have two best friends, and I met them at the same time – or at any rate in the same building and through the same person. I shall call them Rose and Daisy. We are all much of an age – Rose is almost exactly six months younger than me; Daisy a year or two older. We were all secretaries in the same old-established legal firm. The Partners tended to move us about at intervals. Just as you had got used to one desk, one icy draught, one view, one quirky computer, one cranky gas fire (I remember having to light one, first thing in the morning, with a match sellotaped on to a steel letter-opener, whilst leaning as far backwards as possible to preserve my eyebrows) you were being redistributed.

This time I was recruited, on the sly, by the secretary currently sharing an office with Rose – I shall call her Gert. The idea was to fill a suddenly vacant desk – with me – before the Partners could fill it with someone even less desirable. I didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. She was a forceful lady. She also drank a lot, smoked a lot and had a troubled – to say the least – domestic background.

On my first day in the office Gert marched me out for some kind of lunchtime bonding session. I had been planning to curl up in a corner somewhere with a sandwich and a book. We sat in a deafeningly noisy café down the High Street and she chain smoked for the next three quarters of an hour: I came back smelling like a kipper. I have weird hearing – a problem that only becomes evident in crowded places. She talked, over the clatter of dishes and the roar of the espresso machine; I have no idea what about. She blew more smoke at me.

Some time later, when she had decided I was not just a convenient body to fill an empty corner with, but her New Best Friend, she started calling me at home. She phoned me up at 7.30 one morning, from a hotel to tell me she had stabbed her husband through the hand. In any sort of emergency I’m about as much use as a chocolate teapot – entirely the wrong person to ring if you’ve just stabbed somebody.

Anyway, it was thanks to Gert that I got to know Rose – and thanks to Rose that I got to know her friend Daisy. And that’s it, really. We had work in common. Then I left, and one after another we retired – but we still had that particular eccentric legal firm in common, plus all the other times we had spent together – days out in the summer, in sunshine and – at least once, in the pouring rain; meals out to mark each of our birthdays, Christmas, New Year and anything else we could think of; trips to the cinema; the different-and-yet-similar problems in our own lives – practical matters; losses; illnesses; sadnesses and celebrations.

They accept me for what I am, no questions asked: we don’t ask a lot of each other, really. I’m always pleased to see them, and find myself chattering away to them over coffee – noisy background or not – “nineteen to the dozen” – which is a rare thing.

Usually I’m as silent as the grave…

 

The One-Hit Wonder

You’ve been granted magical engineering skills, but you can only use them to build one gadget or machine. What do you build?

I can think of a couple of gadgets/widgets I’d like to invent for me, but that’s pretty selfish. So, first, on a global, political level something in the nature of a Loaves & Fishes Machine for feeding the Many Millions, or Instant Rocket Vaporising Clouds to make it impossible for one lot of people to drop bombs on another just because they can. That’s the trouble; I can never just pick one thing. Give me a simple choice and everything… fractures.

Still political, but slightly more fantastical: I would breed a fox that could dress itself up in jodhpurs, a cravat and a smart red jacket (which it would refer to as ‘hunting pink’), heave itself up onto a horse, consume some nice mince pies and glass or two of champagne and then spend all day galloping about the countryside with a pack of hounds, chasing down any convenient human-being to the point of exhaustion, then encourage the dogs to rip the verminous creature apart, still alive. My fox would then return to its luxury lair, well satisfied for having Upheld British Tradition and been So Very Much More Civilised than the foxes of Less Advanced Societies.

And finally, something frivolous but extremely useful – to me. I would invent a Mechanical Moggie Maintenance Module. An hour or so before my alarm clock went off, the M.M.M.M. would silently detach herself from her Charging Pod and start wafting about, collecting innumerable little plastic bowls full of half-eaten cat food, scraping them into the kitchen bin, washing them up in steaming, sudsy water, drying them and stacking them neatly in the cupboard. She would refill a variety of water-bowls, upstairs and down. She would fill up a whole new set of little bowls with fresh cat food and distribute them at strategic distances around kitchen floor and work-surfaces so that every cat got at least some fresh meat and no snarly fights broke out.

She would go outside, in sunshine, snow or hurricane force winds, to put more food out in the dogless dog-kennel for innumerable neighbourhood strays. She would squelch or, more efficiently, hover the length of the rain-soaked lawn to feed the birds.

Then she would come indoors and start on the dirt boxes.

Oh yes, she would start on those…

 

 

There’s a Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose

Now this is the scary bit. I’ve just watched a bit of Loose Women – an annoying programme for Ladies featuring a selection of twittering Lady presenters with nothing better to do – hugely outclassed and overshadowed by the erudite Janet Street-Porter. Anyway, on this particular bit-of-a-programme the question was: Do you believe in an afterlife?  Janet Street-Porter, surprisingly, did, and explained why. That blonde woman who writes ghost-written romances and used to be married to Peter André appeared not to believe because… I mean, if you die and go to heaven, where can you go? Where is it? I mean, it’s not up there, is it? ‘Cos up there’s the sky.’

Anyway, they showed this film of a boy’s Wake in  the Philippines … well, lets see if I can find it…

[video since removed from YouTube by user]

Well, I had just been watching that and you just wonder – why wasn’t anyone else giving her a hug at this point? Are they all just sitting around filming her and watching her cry? And whether or not the balloon is her dead little boy come back to give her one last cuddle you have to hope, don’t you?

So I suppose I was already in a frame of mind to be spooked, because I looked down and there was Rufus the Younger looking up at me with a dead mouse in his mouth. Not a stuffed mouse – a real mouse. But dead. Which shouldn’t be. Because my cats are indoor cats. They have to be, because the neighbours are prone – or at any rate rumoured, which is enough – to murdering inconvenient cats and depositing them in wheelie bins for the bin-men to take away. I’ve been here around five years and no cat has ever caught a mouse inside my house. There appear to be no mouse holes, and if there is one that has escaped my attention in five or more years, why didn’t I notice all thirteen cats glued to it? No red-blooded cat is going to ignore a hole in the skirting board, not for a second.

I ran through all the possibilities.

Eight of the thirteen had had to be taken to the vets last week to get their injections (for going into a cattery on moving day). Could a mouse somehow have snuck into one of the pet-carriers, journeyed home with the cat (the equivalent of being sealed into the labyrinth with the Minotaur), jumped out once indoors and hidden all this time undetected by thirteen cats?

And yesterday… yesterday I had to go out in the garage. My landline is playing up and I was on my mobile to some boy in a call centre in Scotland. He was insisting on doing tests, over the phone. He told me to find my old handset and an old set of splitters. No hurry, he had all day, he said. Mind how you go there, dearie, don’t fall over anything… I was getting increasingly frantic and irritable. I had found the old handset (not in the garage after all) but no splitters. I had made several trips out into the garage, in the gloaming (as they say in Scotland). There is no light in the garage so I was bumping around among cardboard boxes (neatly stacked to impress male house-viewers) trying to find by touch a set of splitters. Then I remembered putting them out for the ‘small electricals’ collection last week.

So, a lot of stress, no splitters, no further testing possible, landline still up the spout, calls diverted to my mobile indefinitely, £10 on Amazon to order a new, unnecessary set… not a good day yesterday. But could I have brought a mouse in in my frantic searching of the garage in the semi-darkness? Could it somehow have hitched a ride in my pocket? Poor mousie. What a mistake!

I never kill anything, and I’m not afraid of mice. If I’d found one attached to the leg of my jeans or poking out of my pocket I’d have saved it. I’d have fought off flesh-hungry cats till Kingdom Come. But…

how did that mouse get into my house? Suggestions on a postcard, please.

 

Anna Maria’s film – so very bad it’s almost very good, if you know what I mean. Should point out – as she does, that though Anna’s video features her stuffed moose, Zeus (naturally) moose in ‘Scottish’ actually means mouse. The song Hoots Mon, There’s a Moose Loose Aboot this Hoose is by Lord Rockingham’s XI (1958).

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans

I had a whole post written in my head last night. Then I fell asleep. Then I woke up. Then distractions started happening.

Woken to the sound of an empty wine bottle shattering in the kitchen. That was the cats. Broken glass, right to the furthest corner. It was the wine bottle I’d been saving for the Open House. The idea was to re-fill it with tap-water (I mean, who’s to know, inside green glass?) and leave it hanging about casually on the worktop like a kind of lifestyle statement. You too could afford bottles of wine, fine cuisine in this kitchen… sunlit interludes on the patio…

Then Little Arf peeing on my hot water bottle. No point in moving a tomcat once he starts peeing – it only makes the situation worse. You just have to reach for the kitchen roll and wait. And wait. And wait. How can one cat even contain that much liquid?

Then an unintelligible answerphone message from Social Services about some appalling Summit Meeting at Council Headquarters re my mother. This will probably be the one where we have to make a The Decision on her behalf about residential care. She is threatening to run away and drown herself rather than go into a home.

Time wasted trying to find out who had called and why then sitting in several long queues with chill-out music being played at me, before being put through to the wrong person. The right person still hasn’t called me back.

An email from my sister telling me she was into the second day of her almost-weekly migraine, and that the mystery meeting was on Friday morning. So the call-back isn’t that important. Printing off a street-map of that town and working out how to get to a distant and unfamiliar building for 10 a.m using a mix of car, train and shanks’ pony.

A phone call to my phone/broadband provider asking them to reinstate now the free answerphone service they had mistakenly disconnected two days ago and promised to reinstate. More sighing and chill-out music.

Then a silly letter from my bank saying they had been unable to action cancellation of two direct debits because they had been unable to locate one of them.

Then a brief trip to the farm shop to buy vegetables. I’ve got to the stage where I dread leaving the house, especially in winter. The temperature’s dropping and in the borders of Scotland (according to the young man at the phone/ broadband call centre) snow is already falling. Going outside the house nowadays is like venturing into an alien spaceship and, when you take off your helmet, not being quite sure the air will be breathable.

I went all the same, because I don’t want to be dealing with agoraphobia on top of everything else, and I’ve decided to live on hotpot from now on. Healthier than porridge and toast. The staff were standing around in wellies and green fleeces, trying to warm their hands on giant mugs of coffee. Not many customers.

One vegetarian hotpot lasts three days. You eat one portion and put the other two in dishes with saucers over the top, in the fridge (saves on Clingfilm). The other two portions, you microwave. No two hotpots are the same, because you can put almost anything in. Vegetables – plus whatever you happen to have left in the cupboard. I even tried brussels sprouts once. That didn’t work. £3 something for vegetables + 3 store cupboard tins = 3 days’ food.

Stopped off at the village shop for tinned soup and a newspaper (in case there were any jobs – there weren’t). The shop seem to have been taken over by another Indian family. Everything’s been moved about on the shelves. Took ages to find the soup. Was served by a man with a single, disastrous, long tooth on the left-hand side of his mouth. No other visible teeth. Surely – surely – false teeth or no teeth at all would be better than that old brown snaggle, that fang

Then Stargate Universe – annoyingly rescheduled from 8pm to 11am weekdays, interrupted by quarrelling cats, purring cats, yoghurt, coffee, washing up – you name it.

Then a call to the estate agent to find out if anyone was interested in my house, at all. Got the girl in the office, who was reassuring in a Calm Down, Dear sort of way.

This was the day I was going to go out for a healthy walk and do some research and make a plan for some sort of e-book. Some sort of money-generating e-book. Fat chance, of course, but that was the plan, in the absence 0f any other ideas.

And now it’s 20 to 2…

 

Thanks, Hindsight

How is the year shaping up for you so far? Have your predictions come true, or did you have to face a curve ball or two?

I didn’t expect my brother-in-law to be dying. That’s the curve ball.

He’s younger than me. When they came over from Canada after Labor Day (always after Labor Day, when air tickets are cheaper) he spent two days painting my bathroom green. Except to him it looked yellow, because he’s colour blind. He did a really good job – not sloppy, like I would have done. Two days of sanding, masking and painting while my sister and I sat downstairs catching up on old times. She said he was tired a lot nowadays, but neither of us thought. He was waiting for a test. The test took a whole year to come round, and by then it was too late. He’s got about a year; maybe longer, with treatment.

I never thought I’d miss him in advance. I mean – he’s not my husband. And I suppose that’s what’s always been the trouble – such similar men, such spookily similar personalities – he’s always reminded me. I wasn’t nice, sometimes; I was prickly; I just daren’t let him take me over, start telling me what to think and do. I’d had twenty-two years of it. Twenty-two years of looking for the strength to leave, and more than that since, of paying the price. I escaped. Except you drag it all along with you, trailing clouds of resentment; clouds of mistrust; all men to be tarred with the same brush.

I was distracted: bound up in Mum and her problems. Mum with her dementia – and even before the dementia, that genius she’s got for sucking everybody in, bending all the attention in her direction. Being deaf will do that, of course. Everybody needs to face you; everybody has to focus on you, mime to you, repeat for you. Nowadays, when you don’t want to listen you screw up your eyes: so everybody writes you notes. When you don’t want to read the notes you screw them up and throw them on the floor. We haven’t told you, and we won’t. By the next day you’d have forgotten.

In the midst of all this it was spreading, this thing you have, and none of us knew. As always you flew over, and as always you did stuff for people. You keep a set of overalls in a cupboard at your Mum’s house. You bring your own drill and all the bits to go with it in a heavy-duty plastic case. A place for everything. You painted my bathroom green and thought it was yellow. Then you drove up North and did stuff for your Mum and your sister. You sorted us all out, like you always do. You did that stuff, flew home, and found out you were dying.

So that’s the curve ball.

My sister phones me most nights. She doesn’t know what to do. I just looked it up – we’re precisely 6,793 kilometres apart. What can I do? Only sit in that uncomfortable chair and listen. Only refer back to my own life, only repeat half-remembered stories from books I half-remember reading. What good is that?

I shall be glad to get out of this house.

Glad not to see those newly-painted walls.

Glad to be somewhere else entirely.

Metapawphosis

Back in November I posted an entry called Metempsycowsis and subsequently promised one of my regular readers never to perpetrate a bovine-based bit of writing again. Well, I have kept my word, sort of. The subject matter may be vaguely related and the title vaguely similar – but there are no moo-cows. Promise.

It just occurred to me that I may be turning into a cat. All that business with Franz Kafka becoming a beetle yesterday made me think. It wouldn’t be surprising, considering I share my house with thirteen of them and they, I am sure, do not regard me as a human being. I suspect cats have no concept of human being, any more than they have a concept of garden walls or ‘your space’ and ‘my space’. They will cheerfully roam across and casually anoint all the gardens in the neighbourhood. The entire neighbourhood is their territory and divided up in other, more subtle ways. Where they can go depends on other cats – how many? where? male or female? how fierce?

To a cat I am probably just another cat – giant-sized; female; not fierce; able to open tins. When I watch television there is often a tortoiseshell cat pushed up under my chin, obscuring the screen. Television doesn’t register unless birds happen to be flying about in it. When I read, there is often a cat sitting on top of the book or trying to climb inside the magazine. Words are just marks in paper. Literature is something rustly that gets in the way.

And when I curl up for a sleep in the middle of the day, and wake to find myself surrounded by cats doing the same, or when I bump noses with the cat on top of the fridge, and it breathes in my breath and I breathe in its, or at the surgery find myself listening to the cat rather than the vet, passing on its current health concerns – am I not approaching some sort of human/feline interface? The event horizon beyond which nothing more can be known, and nothing heard?

Some say animals have souls. I notice the ‘Michael’ channellings indicate separate souls for humans, ‘hive souls’ for animals. According to Shepherd Hoodwin (Journey of Your Soul) humans and cretaceans (ie dolphins and whales) have a complex, sentient soul, whereas most animals have ‘consciousness and feeling but are not capable of purely intellectual function, such as making or following a budget’. I do hope, if any whale-hunters are reading this, they will Just Stop Doing It.

Yesterday, by coincidence, this complex, sentient human soul spent many hours attempting to ‘make’ a budget. At the end of those few hours, pencil and calculator cast aside, it was forced to admit that its income was several hundred pounds a month less than its outgoings. That’s not clothes, books, cinema tickets or anything fancy. That’s baked beans, cat food and household bills. This explains the downwardly-trending bank balance, but not what to do about it!!!  Financially speaking this human is no better qualified than a tortoiseshell cat. If only she was a tortoiseshell cat – then somebody would feed her, man the calculator and sort out all the ghastly paperwork.

I do believe it is possible that we have both physical DNA and some kind of psychic DNA – something that links, not only humans to humans, but all creatures to one another. But now we’re getting a bit bells-and-flowers and weirdy-beardy. Best not go there.

I may well awake one morning, whiskered and furred, craving tinned who-knows-what meat masquerading as chicken. Maybe I will find myself smaller, and wondering why there are birds inside the TV – or might they be behind it? Maybe one of my cats will have to take over the remote control, and drive me to the vet’s.

Some fairly substantial fairies

I was once forced to go see an Alan Bennett play entitled Kafka’s Dick. It was with my writers’ group. Why on earth had this group of fusty, elderly people – most of them, I have to say, considerably older and fustier than I – chosen for their annual outing a play about a literary gentleman’s body-part? They may of course have assumed Dick was a close friend of Kafka, that strange novelist, more famous for accidentally becoming a beetle overnight.

It was just dire – and I do appreciate Alan Bennett’s gifts. I particularly enjoyed his Talking Heads sequence on TV. There was a lot of giant scenery that didn’t seem to represent anything but kept being twizzled round; I couldn’t follow at all what was going on, and to cap it all there was this tortoise – a mechanical tortoise that seemed to be under the actors’ feet all the time. I have no idea what the significance of the tortoise might have been vis-a-vis the plot, which I also had no idea about, but I spent the whole play in a fret in case one of the actors might accidentally take a step backwards and tread on it. Metal shards and clockwork everywhere. Because if that happened I might laugh; and might not be able to stop laughing.

I was sat next to Dora, who was faded gentry. In the interval I confided in her my difficulty with plays – live plays, that is. I can read a book and be totally involved. People have to wave their hands in front of my face to bring me back – from Hogwarts, or wherever. I can watch a play on television – that’s fine too. But I fail completely when it comes to either radio plays or live performances.

Radio plays – I can just always imagine the man with the cocoanuts pretending to be the horses’ hooves; the man with the tiny door that creaks, pretending to be the full-size door of some haunted castle, and the man shuffling around in a litter tray pretending to be footsteps on a gravelled drive.

Live plays – it’s the fact that the actors are real. They look as if they’re on television, way down in the distance (we always seem to get the cheap seats right up in the rafters – and that’s another thing – vertigo) but they’re alive – I know they’re alive – and I can ‘hear’ them pretending. The acting just doesn’t work, when they’re really there. And I’m terrified someone will forget their lines and there’ll be an awkward silence, and then a little voice from somewhere below their feet, stage-whispering the words. I can’t bear it.

“It’s because you didn’t grow up going to the theatre,” Dora said, kindly. She means I’m working class, I thought. She can tell.

Unfortunately, it’s not just plays: it’s anything on a stage. Ballet – I mean, it’s beautiful, magnificent and wonderful, but it’s people in tights and tutus prancing about and… And yet on telly, I can watch a ballet till the cows come home.

As for opera. Well to be honest I can’t abide opera whichever medium it happens to be infesting. It has the same effect on me as football; an instant grab at the remote control. It’s something about the voices, all that trilling and bellowing, just can’t get into it. And yet I love classical music.

kafka

However, what I do enjoy about going to plays, is the company of my friend, N. I used to work for N but now I mostly see her once a year. Since neither of us is a natural conversationalist we tend to go to a play, which gives us something to talk about over coffee afterwards. The enjoyment is not so much in the play as in the silent, shared amusement a really badly-acted play can generate.

We tend to go to the University theatre, where the plays are performed by drama students. The one before last was a Greek Comedy, the Thesmophoriazusae by Aristophanes. N muttered something about having received a telephone message from the theatre the previous day, warning her the performance might not be suitable for children. Obviously not everyone had thought to check their answerphones, because there were quite a few of the little dears in the audience, some as young as eight or ten. As to the play – my entire memory is of the enormous stuffed pink phalluses that popped up from under every short, frilly Ancient Greek male skirt at intervals. And the student-actors kept falling over – hay-bales, their own feet – any excuse to perpetrate even more comic stuffed-phallus-popping-outing.

We didn’t look at one another, but at coffee afterwards there was quite a bit of spluttering.

The one before that was the same student faculty attempting A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Behind a wobbly cardboard tree, centre stage, we could see part of a largish, green-tighted thigh and a wisp or two of purple net. After a while we realised that other fairies were concealed behind other woodland furniture, pretending not to be there. As these large young ladies emerged from their leafy concealment and began to flutter about, N leant sideways in her seat and murmured –

“Some fairly substantial fairies.”

 

Aim for the stars, gels, and you might hit a windmill…

I must admit, I loathed my last school. I loathed the fact that it wasn’t a grammar school but would have liked to be. “We have the crème de la crème of teaching staff in this school, gels,” said Miss Spinks. It has just occurred to me this may have been inspired by The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She was fond of quotes.

On our final day, I can’t remember much, except that we sang Blake’s Jerusalem. That was our school song. We shared it with the Women’s Institute. Of which, come to think of it, Miss Spinks was more than likely a member. And I know she gave an uplifting speech. I am not easily upliftable, and switch off as soon as bored. The only bit I remember was her advice to aim high. “Aim for the stars, gels, and you might hit a windmill. Aim for a windmill and you’ll hit the ground. Now, gels, which famous novel is that from?”

Silence.

She was fond of asking us unanswerable questions. I remember she once demanded to know which was correct – to take the tea-pot to the kettle, or to take the kettle to the pot? Not even the teachers – lined up on hard chairs down the side of the hall like prisoners waiting to be shot – knew what she was talking about. You could tell by the fractionally raised eyebrows and smothered smirks.

Silence.

Silence.

Don Quixote, of course!” Apparently this famous old Spaniard went around tilting at windmills, mistaking them for ‘thirty or forty hulking giants’. Poor chap. Should’ve gone to Specsavers. According to Miss Spinks, Don Quixote said that – about tilting at the stars in order to skewer a windmill. However, I have been searching the internet for half an hour and am unable to verify. I rather suspect she made it up.

Anyway, we were meant to aim high but expect – well, quite a bit less. We were gels, after all, and would most likely be married in a year or two. I remember being sent to see the Careers Advisory lady at one point.

“Do you have any idea what you would like to do after you leave school?” she asked me.

“I thought I might be a newspaper reporter,” I said.

Oh!” she said. Silence.

“Have you thought about the Women’s Army?” she asked, eyeing my tall frame.

People often eye my tall frame. After Dad died I went with a friend to a spiritualist’s meeting, and the visiting medium picked on me. “Your father is in heaven looking down,” she said. “I see him offering a you a rose. Does a rose mean anything to you?”

Silence.

He…” she opened one eye and eyed me with it, “he’s very, very tall…a…powerfully built gentleman, am I right?”

“Or Woolworths?” suggested the Careers Advisor.

I did once try for a Saturday job in Woolworths. It was a very hot day, I remember, and I was still in my school uniform, having walked down the hill after school. Black Watch Tartan in the summer – the zip used to burn a line down your back. Another of Miss Spinks’ inspirations.

I was ushered upstairs to a table in the staff canteen. There, surrounded by nasty-looking girls in Woolworths uniform, I attempted their Simple Arithmetic Test. I remember one of the questions was six cotton-reels at 6d each. Since 6d was half of a shilling (12d – you had to reckon in 12s rather than 10s in those days, just to make things more difficult) presumably I should have put 3 shillings, but I didn’t.

I was escorted back down the stairs and out into the shop, somewhere near the Pick ‘n Mix counter. Confused. Still sweltering in my Blazer, Hat and Black Watch Tartan summer frock; we weren’t supposed to take off either Blazers or Hats until we got home since we were Representing the School.

Even Woolworths couldn’t find a use for me.

Story of my life, really.

Beastly Little Blighters

(“Quirk of Habit”) Which quirky habit annoys you the most, and what quirky habit do you love — in yourself, or others.

Well, firstly, there is no such thing as a quirk of habit. Quirk of fate, yes. Quirk of circumstance, yes. Quirky personality? Quite possibly. Quirk of habit? A quirk is a kind of habit, a habit is a kind of quirk. This is a tautology, like saying habity habit or a quirky quirk, ie:

The saying of the same thing twice over in different words, generally considered to be a fault of style (e.g. they arrived one after the other in succession).

Sorry, Michelle W of the mysterious connection to WordPress, with the interesting corkscrewy hair and the black-rimmed glasses; I have always enjoyed your WordPress prompts, but this time you shall be hoist with your own petard (as it were.)

Tautologies do not always march up and smack you in the face with a wet kipper, as they used to say. (In fact wet kipper may itself be a tautology, depending on whether there is, or could conceivably be, such an item as a dry kipper.) Oh no, they are devious Little Blighters. They smarm their way into your sentences, they grovel and slime their way into the spoken word. People caught on camera for vox-pops seem particularly at risk of blighterfestation, I’ve noticed; surprise, and television cameras, seem to neutralise style.

Here are a few examples of tautology, lifted from Your Dictionary website:

I went there personally. (I implies personally; all you need is ‘I went there’ or ‘I went’.)

4g cell phones are a new innovation. (Innovations are by their nature new.)

The evening sunset was beautiful. (Does the sun set at any other time?)

I need a new hot water heater. (If it’s a heater, it will tend to make the water hot.)

Charlie told his mom he made it for her with his own hands. (If he made it, he made it with those.)

My first priority is to lose weight. (Priority encompasses first.)

There is a lot of frozen ice on the road. (If it’s not frozen, it’s not ice.)

I know it’s true because I heard it with my own ears. (What else could you have heard it with?)

She always over-exaggerates. (Exaggerates encompasses that ‘over’.)

In Rome, we saw dilapidated ruins. (A ruin is by its nature dilapidated.)

That is totally and completely ridiculous. (Totally encompasses completely, and vice versa.)

Let’s order a hoagie sandwich. (This one puzzled me. Google to the rescue. Apparently it is a chunky sandwich, similar to a Sub. In which case, no need to specify sandwich when ordering one.)

Alice started her presentation with a short summary. (If summary – is short.)

He is always making predictions about the future. (Predictions – not likely to be about the past.)

The school was in close proximity to the explosion. (Proximity encompasses close.)

The Gobi is a very dry desert. (Really?)

In my opinion, I think he is wrong. (Thinking encompasses your opinion.)

The storm hit at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. (So there’s 2 p.m. in the morning?)

The students will take turns, one after the other. (If they’re taking turns…)

Having a drug test is a necessary requirement for the job. (If it’s a requirement, what is it?)

They hiked to the summit at the top of the mountain. (If it’s the summit, where is it?)

She was a dark-haired brunette. (If she’s dark-haired, what is she?)

The hotel room wasn’t great but it was adequate enough. (Urrrgh! If it’s enough, what is it?)

I loved reading Sam’s autobiography of his own life. (If it’s Sam’s autobiography, what is it about?)

I won’t go on. I can’t remember where I hid the Rennies.

As to the ‘quirk of habit’ I dislike most in myself – probably this same inability to ignore stylistic infelicities: Style-Nazi-ishness. There are so many more important things in life – world peace, animal welfare and, for goodness sake, the meaning of life (42, yes) and yet I just can’t get seem to round the Beastly Little Blighters. Can’t go through them, can’t sidestep them, can’t clamber over them, can’t… Tautologies immobilise me…

dead…

…in my tracks…

…and I just can’t seem to move forward…

(as it were).