Summertime…

Above: Shadow (girl)

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Missy (blind, girl)

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Kitten (girl, aged 23)

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Arthur

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George

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Poor Hugo, a Wild One who shouldn’t really be here. If I hadn’t wept all over the vet…

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Nicholas, the three-legged

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Hector, one of the Wild Ones, Pandy’s brother

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Pandy, Hector’s brother

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Mary, Martha’s sister

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Martha, Mary’s sister, who wanted to stay aloft

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Frizzle, one of the Wild Ones – the closest I’ve ever managed to get to her

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Sunshine (boy)

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Matilda

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Snoots (boy)

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Fifi

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William

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Henry

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Rosie

I eat Green Berets for breakfast…

Breaking news! Arnold Schwarzenegger is living in my washing machine.

Have you ever noticed that electronic gadgets and domestic appliances have accents? You’re not going to hear the accent just by opening the box, but you will hear it the first time you are forced to peruse the Instructions.

Remember when things used to come with big, chunky manuals in readable-sized print? Now all you get is a teensy-tiny white leaflet, mostly in foreign languages. I sometimes glance at the Serbo-Croat segment first, on the grounds that it will make no less sense than the English, assuming there is any English. Isn’t English one of the most widely spoken languages in the world?

Moving away from washing machines for a moment – to my Doro phone. Before I met her I’d assumed she would be Italian. Doro, Doro – sounds dark and sultry like Sophia Loren. She is designed for the the post-Pension, pre-Alzheimer’s market or, shall we say, the first-time or apprehensive user.

Welcome to Internet

What happened to the ‘the’?

Standard smartphones contain all sorts of clever stuff, but if you’ve never seen one before, have never heard of an app and have no idea that all those little round blobs are called icons and are meant to be clicked on, they can be intimidating. Doros contain all the stuff that standard smartphones do, but heavily camouflaged under giant primary-school lettering in bright colours, and very simple sentences that – confusingly – could mean almost anything.

Search
What?
Something on the internet.
What song is playing now?
Something in my phone.

Discover
What?
My phone
Around me
Something on the internet

Send
What?
A message
A contact card
A note…

It took me a week to discover that a message was the same as a text, and I still don’t know, or care enough, to find out what a contact card is.

In fact Doro is Swedish, or Danish, or Finnish, or Norwegian – one of those Scandi types, and she ‘sounds’, and in my mind looks, like the less beautiful one from Abba. I like Abba and deeply admire Scandinavians, but I’m not keen on Miss Patronising Snootyface Doro. Still, she serves her purpose, and by now I have worked out by trial and error where she’s hiding all the complicated stuff (so Granny can’t wreck the phone).

And this morning – another new friend. I discovered that my washing machine was voiced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Did you know that Arnie was turned down to voice the German version of the Terminator, even though he did offer, because he’s Austrian and sounds to Germans like a yokel? It’s true. I heard it on Radio 4. Poor Arnie.

For months he’s been silent since I have failed to peruse the instructions. I did the usual 2-second scan once the uniformed delivery chappies had left, just to make sure they were instructions and not some form I was supposed to fill in. I only ever actually read instructions when things go wrong, and sometimes not even then. I’ve found I can figure out how gadgets work in less time by pressing buttons at random/semi-dismantling them, than by trying to follow the instructions. I’m not dyslexic, just unable to focus on any collection of words that bore, or might possibly bore me.

But this morning my empty washing machine was half full of drainy-smelling water.  I suspected this might be something to do with the plumbers having just been to fit the water-supply-cut-off-lever under the sink, which had involved cutting off the water, but I couldn’t be sure. I knew the time had come – just in case, I was going to have to tackle that oft-put-off task, draining the filter for the first time.

The filter and hose on my washing-machine are supposed to be cleaned once a month. They have not been because:

  1. I knew it would be a megastressful experience, and I am not good with stress;
  2. the filter/hose service compartment on the right hand side of the machine. I am strongly left-handed and could see that if I was going to manipulate any thingummyjigs and whatsits I was going to have to use my much weaker hand.
  3. the pump filter/hose service compartment is right down at floor level. I am not as young as I was and could see that to look into the pump filter/hose service compartment I would need to be lying flat on my face. How would I get up from there, there being nothing within range to haul myself up with?

Firstly I take the instructions upstairs to the printer and magnify the Cleaning The Filter page by 150% so that I can see it. I collect a few things I think I might need, plus a low plastic stool.

Unplug the machine.

The plug is at the back of the alcove behind the machine. The machine is huge, rather like its body-building resident, and I suspect I haven’t the strength to pull it out. Also I know from past experience that if you pull a washing machine out it instantly loses all its stability adjustments. Next time you use it it will attempt to flog itself to death against the sink or shuffle across the kitchen to have a chat with the fridge.

I turn off the electrics for the whole house at the junction box. Surely that beast can’t electrocute me now, even if he is still plugged in? Sitting like a milkmaid on the tiny stool I attempt to open the service flap using a coin or a screwdriver.

Nope, and nope. I experiment with a range of small crochet hooks. Nope.

I try a bigger, altogether meaner-looking crochet hook. It falls into two halves. I screw the two halves back together and tug with all my might. The flap comes open – in fact it falls off with a clatter – and the crochet hook falls apart again.

Inspect flap. Miraculously it isn’t broken.

Provide a flat container to catch water. What is a flat container? If something is flat, how can it contain water? I get a mug.

These could be big amounts. 

At this point, Arnold Schwarzenegger kicks in.

Zese could be beeg amountz!

What do you mean beeg amountz – enough to flood the kitchen? Enough to be contained in a flat container?

If it bleeds, ve can kill it!

Pull the drainhose out and hold its end above the container. 

The drainhose is quite small. I had been expecting something the size of Arnie’s… thigh. I hold it above the mug and remove the sealing plug. The sealing plug is, of course, rammed in there tight and difficult to remove, but I manage it.

Consider zat a divorce.

Smelly water starts dribbling into the cup. After complete drainage close drainhose and push it back into the machine. This is all rather distasteful. I am trying not to remember what it reminds me of.

Unscrew and remove counterclockwise the pump filter.

He had to spleet.

He refuses to spleet. The pump filter will not budge. I remember Ex explaining (probably for several hours) the difference between finger-tight and the other sort of tight that only people with whirly-machines or cast-iron wrists can achieve. Ex used to turn off taps that way: no wonder the washers were always perishing. This one has obviously been tightened by Arnie himself.

I go in search of my black and yellow super-man-size-industrial pliers…

You are one ugly motherf….er

…grasp them in both hands, brace myself with my foot and wrench. Yeah, baby! The pump filter gives way and stinky water gushes onto the kitchen floor. I had expected the very-much water to come out of the hose. It hadn’t occurred to me that the screwy-thing would contain so very much more very-much water.

I lied.

Clean carefully the pump filter. I clean-carefully-it, using a J-cloth rather than running water as specified.

I eat Green Berets for breakfast…

Yeah, yeah…

…and right now I’m very hungry.

Refix the pump filter and tighten clockwise to prevent leaks. Surely not. You don’t mean you have to screw-back-it clockwise having unscrewed-anticlockwise-it? And if you don’t, water will come out?

Close service flap. Before doing so I attach a stout piece of red garden string to the slot in the flap. Next time, I can just pull on the string. Why didn’t it come with string?

Hasta la vista, baby. I’ll be back.

Gibbering Idiocy

I live my life in a state of perpetual, if thinly spread, fear, ie I tend to worry about virtually everything, a lot. Many a time I will wake in the middle of the night in abject terror over some future scenario that is almost certain to come to pass, and contemplating ever wilder and more impractical solutions. Unsurprisingly then, the other night, in raging summer temperatures, in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm I was suddenly jettisoned from a scary dream and into an equally scary wakefulness.

In the dream, brown, filthy water was cascading down from the ceiling of my house. This has actually happened to me twice before in this house, once thanks to incompetent plumbers and once because of a broken or malfunctioning something or other on or adjacent to the water tank. Sitting bolt upright in my dark and stuffy bedroom, I envisaged what would happen if – no when, for of course I am catastrophising – this occurred in the middle of the night.

The muppet neighbours with their trillions of friends and relatives and their million large vehicles would once again have parked a jeep/all terrain vehicle/Rolls Royce/army tank so as to obstruct my water-meter cover, which is out in the road. Either their big, fat, plebeian tyres would be right on top of the cover or their big, fat, plebeian car would be right over the cover.

If the former, I would be knocking on their door attempting to rouse them in the middle of the night. Their baby would wake up and scream, but naturally they wouldn’t: they seem immune to their own baby. (If only I was.)

If the latter I would be laid out full length among the puddles and weeds trying to reach under their vehicle to lever or heave up a metal cover which even brawny plumbers have had trouble with. Then I would be trying to wrench some sort of flooded underwater handle a quarter (or might it be half?) turn to the right (or could it be left?) in the hope that this would shut off the water.

I spent some time, bolt upright in the thunderstorm, hatching plans to prevent this scenario. I would, I decided, look on the internet for some sort of specialist traffic cone – preferably a blue and white one with Water Meter! Official! stamped all over it. I would sneak out there when, hopefully, the Muppets were not spying of me out of their front window, and place the cone over my water meter. Do not to park on it, Muppets. I then envisaged male Muppet coming round and lecturing me, terrifyingly, for – what? Something or other.

Either that or the (expensive) specialist traffic cone would simply disappear into Muppet Mordor – that heap of half-finished projects, wrecked garden, spare washing-machine drums, motorbikes, speedboats, dog poo and smouldering bonfires – never to be seen again.

Then I realised I could instead buy a small tin of luminous bright blue metal paint and sneak out there when they were not looking and paint my water meter cover blue. This would take longer to accomplish than the placing of the cone, the risk being that someone, or several someones, would emerge and ask me what I was up to – and laugh – but would have the advantage that they could not steal luminous blue paint, once applied.

By this time it was daylight, and plan C dawned. I could call a plumber and ask him to fit some sort of water-supply-cutting-off-thing inside my house! Then, if filthy brown water were to come gushing through my ceiling in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t have to throw myself upon the Muppets’ mercy at all – Muppets circumvented – I could just toddle down to my kitchen and turn it off.

The plumbers came this morning. It took them about ten minutes to fit a snazzy little handle under the sink and they charged me an awful lot of money – twice as much, apparently, because it is a Saturday. They didn’t mention that when I phoned them, or I would have waited till Monday.

Who’d a thunk it?

Firstly, I have realised something about my fridge-freezer. It isn’t. I bought it thinking the bottom half was a freezer because, after all, top or bottom, one half of a fridge-freezer is always a freezer, isn’t it?

I suppose I did vaguely wonder, over the eight months or so that this great white monster, larger than any fridge I ever owned before, purchased in a fit of post Brexit/Apocalyptic prepping, was not actually making the many loaves of cheap sliced bread I stored in it rock hard. I had a vague memory of having to defrost frozen bread before eating but this – this was just a bit on the parky side. Half an hour in the fridge proper and Bob’ yer Uncle.

Yesterday, the on which the British Heat Record of 2003 was broken – the hottest day in Britain ever – I staggered out to the garage in search of my acrylic heart-shaped ice-cube moulds. Why they were in the garage is a long story. To do with ill-fated soap-making. I filled all the wobbly moulds with tap water and wobbled them back across the kitchen to the “freezer”, spilling quite a bit. I left them in the “freezer” and forgot about them.

The hottest day has come and gone. Canadian Sis rang up and, after an hour of (once again) advising her how to deal with her intrusive, borderline bullying next-door-neighbour and (once again) explaining that negotiating with, defending against or manoeuvring around Other People is not a generic Man’s/Husband’s Job, but something that, male of female, we all need to set our minds to sooner or later. She is so angry at her deceased husband for leaving her with all these unsuspected complications that she actually berates his Ashes, in their Urn on the mantel piece, in passing. How could you go and get cancer and leave me to deal with all this… stuff? You weren’t supposed to do that! Anyway, after that hour, I peeled the landline phone from my left cheek to find it – the phone, that is – running with sweat. No wonder it crackles.

After an appalling night spread-eagled naked on top of the bed (not as exciting as it sounds) which had somehow been wheeled into some sort of nightmarish oven full of itchy, hot cats, aching heads, lightning flashes and distant thunder, waking at fifteen minute intervals to drink lukewarm water from a row of plastic bottles, and then at thirty minute intervals to totter out to the loo to spend a penny – after which my face still looks like some puffy, puce balloon – I staggered to my “freezer”, remembering my “ice cubes”. Which of course were still unfrozen. A bit colder, perhaps, than they would have been in the fridge but definitely still liquid.

I can’t say I understand, but I think the best and cheapest option is a change of nomenclature: my fridge freezer is, henceforward, the fridge-and-ever-so-slightly-colder.

Secondly, we have a new Prime Minister. I doubt if anybody is very hopeful. Pity us poor Brits, all hope has been leached out of us – leached, I say. How could the Government have stuffed things up so very badly? How can we possibly escape from this dreadful mire? All is lost. We might once have hoped for greatness from Boris, and maybe we still do, secretly, in a dull, dispirited sort of way. However, he is if nothing else telling us to lighten up. He is standing at the Dispatch Box, waving his arms about, laughing, joking, and assuring us that everything is going to be all right. Better than all right, in fact. Fantastic! Somehow. And it’s the greatest relief. Not the extravagant promises, not the fractional likelihood of success, not the grim political odds against him, not the likelihood of this brilliant but careless man making some gaffe or blunder and thereby ruining it for himself, but the humour. Humour is our national medicine, like grass to cats. It’s the way we cope. It’s that Monty Python thing. It’s our weird, homegrown kind of courage and it’s the glue that holds us together. Irreverence, bad jokes, the refusal to take our opponents, however formidable, at all seriously; wild, wonderful laughter – is perhaps, right now, our only faint hope of a cure.

And finally, the Meaning Of Life. Never say I don’t end with a biggie. Many years ago when I was still, if precariously, living with Ex, I was driving home from work one day and fell into a kind of reverie, and out of the blue it came to me: The Meaning Of Life. Which was (wait for it) The Two Worlds Are One. I remember being overjoyed as I drove down this long, twisty country lane across the Marsh, avoiding deep ditches on either side, that The Meaning Of Life had miraculously been vouchsafed to me.

The next day, although I could remember that The Two Worlds Were One, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what that meant – or what I had thought it meant during my Road to Damascus moment. I suspect I am not the only person that has happened to.

Every since, at intervals, I have wondered whether The Two Worlds Are One meant anything at all. I mean, how likely was it that a mediocre legal secretary would intuit something that people like Einstein had been unable to tell us? But finally, cheeringly – today I opened a book called “You Are The Universe” by Deepak Chopra. It had just come through the door. I stripped off the Amazon cardboard, took a sip of coffee and opened it randomly at page 232, and there was this (subtly ungrammatical) paragraph:

“The great pause can be found in the words of a scientist, including Heisenberg and Schrödinger, who suddenly sees, quite clearly, that there is only one reality, not two. There is no inner and outer, no me and you, no mind and matter, each half guarding its own marked off territory. The realisation is like a pause because the mind has stopped conceiving of reality and now starts living it.”

Ta da!

Unlicensed To Chill

The careers advice at school consisted of one short interview in an office off the main entry hall, with a bored, irritated female “sent from somewhere”. I remember shyly confiding in her – not unreasonably I thought since I was getting good marks in A level English – that I would like to be a newspaper reporter. She shook her head and passed me pamphlets on the Women’s Army. One of the perils of being tall and built like a brick outhouse, thanks to your father, is that people can only picture you charging around some jungle like Camouflage, that heroic and – as it turns out – somewhat ghostly marine.

And her face at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale…

Oh dear, earworm time.

But given the uninspired naffness of this blog title, perhaps the Career Cow was right after all. Too old for a career now, in any case.

But not quite old enough, as yet, to have my free TV licence whipped away from me because neither the Government – that shameful shambles – and the BBC – that parcel of pillocks – are willing to fund it any longer. As from 2020 all pensioners not in receipt of Pension Credit will just have to carry on paying their £12.85 a month until they drop. Up till now, if you succeeded in clawing your way to your 75th birthday you were allowed to watch TV for free. It was the one thing most of us had to look forward to about getting old. Dementia, possibly – galloping arthritis, possibly – chronic constipation, unreachable toenails, being patronised by everybody, whatever – but at 75

I won’t have to pay for my TV licence. Yay !!!**!!!

In one sense I am lucky. I am some way off 75 so would have been having to pay for some years anyway. However, my friend Daisy and beloved Godmother already have the free TV licence. As of next year, those will be snatched away. I wonder whether they are going to drag 100 year old pensioners through the courts because, being a bit wafty or not having access to “online” they didn’t get the email explaining this and therefore failed to start paying. I believe the fine for watching without a licence is £100. You can’t be imprisoned for failing to purchase a TV licence but if you fail to pay the £100, you can be. Imagine prisons filled with bewildered geriatrics. At least they can probably watch TV in there.

So, that is one reason why I have now given up my TV licence. Solidarity with all those unknown oldies who are about to have an already depressing existence made just a tad more depressing. Either they can carry on coughing up £12.85 a month (which will no doubt increase) ad infinitem, or they can do as I just did – chuck the TV, remote control and all that wiring into a cardboard box and banish it to the garage.

(Almost immediately after that my garage was flooded in a freak thunderstorm. I’m not sure the TV would even work now.)

No more live TV and no more catch-up or live TV on BBC iPlayer. (That’s the bigger loss.) No more Charlie and Naga perched on a hideous red sofa chirping out the news every morning. No more weather forecasters with unpronounceable names forecasting gales and flooding. No more interminable weeks of Wimbledon. No more late night panels of journalists pontificating or shouting each other down over Brexit.

The other reason I gave up is logical, but in a female sort of way. It was one of those lightbulb moments: if, to continue watching live TV, I am henceforth doomed to pay £12.85 a month by direct debit until they stuff me into my coffin – why am I actually paying it now? I mean, I really can’t afford it. I can’t afford anything. I have had to give up buying 1p second hand books from Amazon, for goodness sake, because they add on £2-something for postage.

Why am I paying £154-ish per annum to this BBC, who are about to snatch free licences from my elderly friends? Why should I let them pocket a chunk of my meagre State Pension, damn them? They pay a former footballer called Gary something-or-other – who already makes a packet out of advertising potato crisps – trillions per annum just for presenting a sports programme that no woman could ever bear to watch. Why not sack him for a start, Mr Pointless Football Pundit? And his female equivalent high-earner Claudia Winkelman, who is famous for having a too-long fringe and making kooky unfunny jokes on Strictly Come Dancing. Bin her. Bring back free licences.

And the final straw came when some twenty or thirty-something late night journalist, whose opinions I had always been interested to hear, up to that point, blurted out something to this effect:

Old people are nearly all rolling in money anyway, unlike us millennials. They don’t deserve free licences. And after all, they can just go out and buy a subscription to Netflix….

The difficulty with this is, many people in the over 75 age group do not have a computer of any sort. And even if you can afford to buy one at that age you are going to need a smartarse grandchild or computer chappie to set it up and teach you how to use it. It is not easy learning to use a computer later in life. I know, I was forced to teach myself the whole lot by trial and error, being childless and so not having access to a smartarse grandchild. Also, how many old people know what Netflix – or even what an app is? How can they afford to subscribe to Netflix if they can’t afford the licence fee? Can you even watch live TV on Netflix? My research says not, but some Millennial will no doubt correct me.

The Millennial’s co-late-night-journalist sat and gazed at her silent and slack-jawed when she came out with that one. I don’t think he could believe she had actually said it.

Anyway, rant over (phew!). I am actually finding it’s OK-ish without TV. I have deleted  BBC iPlayer from my tablet so that I can’t click on it accidentally, thus incurring a £100 fine or communal prison television surrounded by murderers, rapists and drug-dealers. I have three radio sets, set on Radio 4, 4 Extra and – miscellaneous music stations. I look up the daily schedules on one app (thus saving myself the expense of buying the Radio Times), the weather on another and news headlines and in-depth articles on another. Sorted! as they say around here.

2: Supping with the Devil

Continued from 1: A house divided (technically, published on 29/7. You might need to use the Search box)

It’s a hopeless task, really, trying to explain how an alternative brain-wiring scheme works. I don’t know what it feels like to be inside a different kind of brain. Each of us has either the one experience or the other, so in what terms can I describe my experience?

Dad used to hit me. I think maybe later in life he realised he could be fond of me, but not in those early days. I soon learned not to meet his eye, not to answer back, not to say anything, but he didn’t like that either. He knew I was afraid and he just couldn’t resist the challenge. It would start off in the third person: She’s not saying much – what’s up with her? Then it would go to the first: Cat got your tongue, has it? Hey, you, I’m talking to you. He used to taunt me until I rose to the bait, until I snapped, answered back, pleaded or cried. And then he used to hit me.

I remember crouching once against the front door, with its bobbled glass panels. My head was against the lowest row of glass panels, my left arm covering my head. I remember the fancy sculpted shape of the wooden bits that divided the glass and the rough texture of the cocoanut doormat through the thin cotton of my school dress. I remember waking covered in vomit (the bedroom wall was the background that time) because I had cried myself to sleep. I remember rocking, rocking and howling, and saying over and over to myself for hours, or so it seemed: I will never, never have children. I will never, never do this to them. Sometimes I wonder if that was why. If on that one day, rocking and howling, at the age of eleven I actually killed off all those little eggs.

He used to get off his bike and wheel it round the side and into the garage. I would be listening to his heavy footfall and the sound of his bicycle wheels slowly click-clicking by his side. A monster, a giant was about to burst through the back door. There would be the urgent, whispered conversation between the two of them, before the door was even closed – that was me being reported on. A quick look in my direction, that frown, and then he would hit me. Or maybe he would just send me to my room; or sometimes, for variety, grab me by the collar and drag me to my room. If I resisted he might drag me by the hair along the polished passage floor to my room, blubbering. I would be in there for hours, until I wrote a note apologising in general terms – since in specific terms I didn’t actually know what I had done – crept out and pushed it under the kitchen door.

Whether Dad’s bullying had anything to do with me being odd I will never know. It was beyond my limited understanding. Another thing I didn’t understand at the time was why Mum never stood up for me. Knowing the consequences, why hadn’t she dealt with my crimes herself, before he got home? As it was, the minute he got in from work he was faced with a whispered, unfavourable report. She expected him to ‘do’ something to stop her being upset. And he certainly did.

In retrospect I think Mum was like me, or maybe mildly autistic. Dad was her prop and her shield against the world and she knew she couldn’t – or didn’t want to – cope without him. If he could burn off most of his frustration on me, he would be closer to her. Nothing would be her fault and she would keep him on her side, at her side whatever the cost, no competition. I suppose that’s scapegoating. She fed me to him, that’s what I feel.

Godmother has been around since I was just a bump. She babysat for Mum and Dad in the early days, when they had weekly meetings at the Cycling Club. Recently I asked her about some of this stuff, half expecting that she would say no, it wasn’t like that, you misunderstood – but she had seen it too. She said my father probably shouldn’t have got married and had children. I said maybe he would have been happier staying single, having serial girlfriends, going out on his bike whenever he wanted, not having to work so hard to support all those great lanky girls. He was a handsome enough chap, after all. But she said he probably couldn’t have got away with that. In the 50s marriage and children were the norm.

What that ’50s childhood taught me was that I wasn’t going to win. An unnatural, un-cuddly sort of baby – according to Mum – morphed into a fractious, defensive child, an automatic arguer and questioner of authority; an impulsive blurter-outer; a foolish answerer-back of people much larger and stronger than herself; a raging, hysterical demander of impossible justice. I learned that I was fatally flawed and that my Achilles’ heel was a combination of femaleness and my difference. I realised that I would not be able to get through life without some sort of bodyguard, and bodyguards were usually husbands.

My mother married my father in 1949 or thereabouts. He was six foot four inches tall, athletic and seven years older than her. He could be charming. He had a sense of humour, plenty of funny stories, a few silly songs and poems. He was at ease talking to  strangers when she was definitely not. He could tell her what to think and what to do. She never once voted a different way, she had no friends but their joint friends. At one point they were both agnostics, and then they were both humanists. They’d sent for all the pamphlets and signed all the forms. It was impossible to talk to one of them independently of the other or even catch one in a different room to the other. Especially towards the end they seemed to have merged into a single being. They stayed happily married until his death, after which Mum got increasingly deaf, then distressingly psychotic, finally settling into a less dramatic kind of dementia.

In ’70s I married a man nine years older than me. He looked like Dad and – guess what – was very definite in his opinions and would brook no argument. On one ‘courting’ visit he won an argument with Dad, and it was at that precise moment that I knew I had found the one. Later on I realised that he talked all the time – droned on, in fact – and since he never paused for breath everyone had to listen to him. In any case, since he was very clever and pretty gifted in several different fields, people admired him. It was as if they were in the presence of royalty. In the pub they would gather round in a circle and gawp at him open-mouthed as he held forth on art, music, model engineering or whatever. I used to watch them sometimes; their expressions. They never noticed because their eyes were glued to him. I didn’t need to join in, couldn’t have done if I had wanted to, and nobody expected me to. When we were alone he barely spoke. This suited me well enough for the first fifteen years or so, although I knew within the first week that it wasn’t going to be joyful.

That seems to be the thing with ‘shield’ relationships. The stronger one shields the weaker, but the power they use to shield you they are draining from you. In the presence of Ex, I would not have dared make a joke. I couldn’t have launched into one of my interminable ‘tales’. I couldn’t have showed off or spoken up, contradicted, criticised, interrupted, sung, recited a poem or laughed. An overbearing husband can hide you from the world, but will also hide you from yourself. Gradually, from behind the shield of his loud voice, broad shoulders, manly tweeds (Germaine Greer’s expression) or whatever, you find yourself fading away. You merge into the wallpaper and turn into a living ghost.

It’s a cliché, isn’t it, escaping your father by marrying someone just like him. On one of his alternate weekend ‘courting’ visit to my family (he used to camp in the living room at mine, I was installed in the spare room at his) he won an argument with my father. He didn’t shout – well, neither of them shouted – but there was this tense, gruff, masculine thing going on. They both just continued ‘reasoning’ at one another, going round and round in circles. Mum and I cringed quietly in our armchairs, waiting for all the windows to shatter and bricks and mortar start crumbling around us. No one contradicted Dad. Except, it seemed, Ex.

See 3: Send in the clowns