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.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore wert you…

There is a man playing an acoustic guitar on next door’s little patio, under the pergola, or whatever those overhead latticework things with greenery hanging off them are called. I am doing the ironing, now the day has cooled down a bit. As the iron moves to and fro I listen in, oddly pleased.

He’s teaching himself that Dire Straits one, ‘Sultans of Swing’ so he plays in fits and starts, a few bars here, a few bars there, a few muttered words sung along. Really, he should stick to the few muttered words because his voice isn’t up to his playing. When he has a go at the high bits he gets seriously out of tune, like karaoke. But it makes a change to hear real music played on a real instrument. It brings the hillside to life somehow.

It took me a while to locate the music since sounds echo most peculiarly in this village. Any loud-ish conversation can be heard by all, at least in part. Shouted phrases charge towards you, then are muffled, then return. Laughter sounds like someone’s laughing at the bottom of an invisible canyon. Sound swirls.

The guitar playing reminds me of Ex, which is sad, though not so terribly sad. He was always sitting around in empty rooms, at least in my memory – abstracted, growling away to himself or playing some complicated gigue or saraband in fits and starts. I’m not even sure if I’ve spelt those right.

I know who this chap is. He’s the husband, or rather, for relationships are so complicated nowadays, the former-husband-not-actually-remarried-but-fairly-frequently-present husband of the lady next door. Whereas Ex is my former-husband-basically-never- present, except once or twice a year over the phone. But that seems to be OK.  I suspect I disappear from his mind the instant he puts the phone down. A puff of white smoke, that’s me; what’s left over when you snuff out a candle.

I happened to be talking to Canadian Sister about this on the phone earlier this evening. She is going through another bad patch, the reality of widowhood seeming to have engulfed her all at once. She tells me she can’t abide being alone in the house, that she needs her dead husband to see or have seen what she is doing from one moment to the next. Everything she does she still seems to need to run past her husband first – He would have been interested in that, she says. He would have been proud of me for managing to do this. He wouldn’t have liked me doing this (manufacturing lopsided bright blue buddha candles in his newly-perfected kitchen).

I said when she had been alone for twenty-seven years she would probably find, as I had, that she had evolved in completely the opposite direction, and would find that she could no longer stand the idea of someone else in the house, observing everything she did. For many years after I first was on my own, I confided – casting around for something intelligent-yet-comforting to say and, as usual, failing – I carried Ex around with me in my head. Everywhere I went – maybe for the first ten years – this Miniature Grumpy Hypercritical Ex would be inside my head, providing a running commentary.

You’ve made a complete Dog’s Breakfast of that, haven’t you! Why don’t you do something worthwhile with your life? Have you got the map upside down again? Don’t put apple cores on the windowsill! What you need is a hobby, something to take your mind off things. Etc.

I would hold long, self-pitying, angry conversations with him in my head. But if I asked this apparition its advice, mentally, it would go completely silent on me. Nowadays he is little more than the occasional little cloud of black smoke, a drifting whiff, a kind of Bonfire Night residue. My head is completely empty most of the time. Echoing. Tumbleweed…

… so you see, I said, in my best transatlantic psychotherapist voice, in another twenty-seven years or so you’ll be seeing things through the prism of yourself and not through the prism of your lost husband.

I am likely to be dead in another twenty-seven years, she reminded me.

I must admit I hadn’t thought of that.

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

Shop Till You Pop

I am not keen on shopping, and neither is my English Sister. A hatred of shopping is one of the three and only three traits we have in common – shopophobia, extreme tallness and a voice. I once worked in a terrible call centre and was given the opportunity to hear my recorded voice. I was not being Bright & Bubbly enough. I gather they thought I sounded like that donkey from Winnie The Pooh, although it did not seem to stop me from persuading members of the public (who were as nauseated by Bright & Bubbly as I am by shopping) to take part in a series of witless, dull market research surveys.

Listening to myself yattering away on tape was unsettling. To myself, you see, I sound a bit like my Dad, with a few of the cockney corners knocked off. On the tape I sound like exactly English Sister sounds on the phone. If I had answered the phone to me, I would have been convinced I was her.

There is a difference, of course, between shopping and spending. I am quite capable of spending. If I were to win a couple of million quid tomorrow I would have a great time. Even with no money I still manage to find considerable enjoyment in spending. Those two 30 litre sacks of cat litter I got at the farm shop this morning, for instance – the bags such a bright, sunshine yellow, the wood pellets inside making a heavy, swishing sound…

Some women may spend a whole day in Lakeside, Bluewater or whatever, searching for that designer handbag or the perfect pale blue Fascinator for a friend’s wedding. You would have to pay me to go to Bluewater – and quite a lot. I can, however, spend happy half hours zooming up and down the lists on Amazon and be delighted to discover a dog-eared one penny paperback version of a book that, last time I looked, was a fat, ruinously expensive hardback.

Who reads hardbacks anyway? They are so heavy they hurt your hands and you have to read them propped up on a sofa-cushion, and that thick, expensive paper sets your teeth on edge, like the disposable wooden knife-spoons or sporks they give you with fish and chips. If they want you to eat with bio-degradable implements why don’t they smooth or polish them somehow so that you don’t have to gingerly pick flakes of cod up with your teeth so your actual lips don’t have to make contact with a dry splintery wooden thing? But as usual, I digress.

I have a problem. It involves a friend, and shopping. My friend is disabled and likes to go shopping, a lot. She doesn’t like catching the bus into Town, which I can appreciate as who likes to wait an hour in the icy rain outside the one and only village store in the hope that an overcrowded bus might turn up. What she likes is for me to drive her into Town in my motor car, park for free with her disabled badge, have a lengthy cup of coffee in the disabled persons’ centre, a supermarket café or whatever, followed by a lifetime, an eternity, of shopping. She buys a whole lot of stuff that I could never bear to pick up – fifteen or twenty plastic poinsettias, for example – table decorations for next Christmas.

She picks things up and she puts them down. Then she goes back and picks them up again. She reads all ingredients on every single tin in the supermarket. She will not buy food online because it might not be fresh. How can you tell if it’s fresh if you’re not there in person to poke it and prod it and read and re-read the sell by date? I tell her nothing has ever turned up outside my house in the Tesco van that was not fresh. I would like to tell her that life is too short to read the labels on tins, or anything else. I yearn to bellow that Stuffing The Proverbial Mushroom would be less of a waste of time.

Tired of wandering round behind her, pushing her trolley, carrying her wire basket, reaching up for items beyond reach of her walking stick handle, I sometimes manage to persuade her to let me go off on my own for an hour or so. I tell her where we can meet up. We synchronise our watches. She never turns up. Eventually, after half an hour or so of sitting about trying not to check the time again I might catch a glimpse of her, laden with bags and shopping trolleys, disappearing into some distant shop doorway, and she might give me a half-hearted sort of wave, if she notices me at all.

mr homm

This is how I feel when shopping with my friend – like Mr Homm, Lwaxana’s silent, ever-present and amazingly tall manservant in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Simultaneously totally conspicuous and utterly insignificant.

I am going to have to Say Something, aren’t I? But Saying Something, in the sense of being honest about what I like and don’t like, want and don’t want, is a major trial for me. I dread upsetting people. Well, basically, I don’t dread upsetting them. What I dread is having to add to the burden of self-loathing I already carry their anger, their tears, even their slight chilliness, their bewildered silence, the hint of a huff.  I don’t much like other people, in the flesh, to be honest. I don’t like being forced to negotiate with them, reason with them or charm them. I particularly don’t like having to tell them the unadorned, un-fictionalised truth because then they can lash back at you rather than the elaborate cock-and-bull story you just fed them. Oddly I’m good at it over the phone – hence call centre success despite sounding like Eeyore. But with real people my instinct is always to flinch, and retreat.

Last week, though I approached Breaking Point. After a year of excuses I was finally prevailed upon to transport my friend to an Exciting New Shopping Conglomeration that has grown up around a Mega-Supermarket not far from where we live. Her disabled sticker is temporarily in abeyance meaning I now have to pay for all the parking as well as the petrol and the larger part of the coffees, occasional café lunches, more coffees and whatever. We spent hours in Sports Direct a large, gloomyish store full of po-faced, handsome young men picking up pairs of white trainers and putting them down again. There is nothing in Sports Direct that I want but we lingered for what felt like an eternity by the men’s stretchy shirt racks, hooking down (with the walking stick) one virtually identical shirt after another. For one of her sons.

Then we had to hobble round everything else and not buy it, very, very slowly, still with the armful shirts. Then we had to queue up for another several hours to pay, behind a slow-moving trail of po-faced young men holding pairs of white trainers, pairs of tracksuit-bottoms. Beside us in the queue, a display of white underpants on well-endowed plastic gentlemen. I tried not to look but you know how it is, one of your eyes might be averted but the other gets drawn

And then we went to some enormous underpopulated shop that sold huge, untidy piles of everything in plastic bottles – shampoo, shaving cream, carpet cleaner – plastic poinsettias, garden chairs – and spent almost as long in there. And then another shop – I had just shut down by then. I was existing only inside my head, awaiting for my release from this life-sentence, this torment. I needed to sit down. I was hungry. I desperately needed to pee. I tried hinting at all these things, but…

Oh God, I hate shopping.

Oh God, I am going to have to say so.

Dead Fly Biscuits and Other Horrors

Apologies in advance for my feverish incoherence. I am on the first day of either hay fever or a cold – who knows? – plus, the Heatwave has finally arrived. In between explosive sneezes, my nose dribbles. I hate my nose today.

It’s to be a Saturday Only Heatwave, apparently. In this country we believe in Moderation. ‘Moderation in all things, Miss Nugent’, as Mr Swindley once said on Coronation Street.

Actually it’s not too hot indoors and I had planned to stay indoors until the Jehovah Gentlemen arrived. Yes, Gentlemen. Not the two Ladies who usually enliven the occasional five minutes of not really listening in my back garden, but the husband of one of them and another man with a foolish expression, in a suit – in a suit, and a tie, and a thick shirt, in the Heatwave! The Jehovah Gentlemen proved harder to either discourage or distract than the Jehovah Ladies – I tried them on cats, pets in general, hay fever, I remarked on their bravery to be trudging from door to door in this weather. Nothing deterred them.

Have you got a Bible?

Yes, I told your wife that last time. Which one was your wife, by the way?

Have you  heard of the Lord’s Prayer? How would we know the name of God if it was not for the Lord’s Prayer? It just (what just?) proves that the Bible was not written by earthly hands but has come straight from God…

I don’t care, I was thinking. My right nostril is about to gush.

And God is going to step very soon to save Mankind from all its suffering because like any Good Parent He cannot abide to see His children suffer…

The sun beat down on my poor, aching head, and standing in the long grass of my back garden, as next door’s Rottweiler-or-similar started to bark at us though the fence, I began to feel positively feverish.

The lawn so need mowing, I thought. Should have done it yesterday…

And God…

What a good thing I didn’t put my washing out yet. They would have been staring at my sad old underwear.

Here, you see, it says YHWH and that is the name of God in Roman Numerals…

I know. I did Religious Education O Level. I really must go indoors now. As I said, I’m not feeling well… and the cats…

Ah yes, my wife said you had many cats. All cats are beautiful, aren’t they? I ran a mental inventory of my cats.

Well no, not all of them.

Inside, I mean.

No, not even inside. Thinking of Snoots – he of the Poirot moustache and the supercilious glances – who recently gnawed through the plastic of my last loaf of bread, and also bit me on the hand eighteen months ago, causing cellulitis and a fortnight of daily drives to a very distant hospital for antibiotic injections.

Thinking of discovering my Catch 22 paperback under pile of watery cat-sick on the coffee table, and trying to mop it up. I had planned to read it next for no other reason than that there is a film of Catch 22 with George Clooney in it, which I will not see. Reading the book, finally, after having bought it at least 22 years ago, was the next best thing. The book is sopping wet, the cardboard of its front cover beginning to buckle. So also is the book of short stories that was under it. A cat did that.

The Bible…

I was unable to tear my eyes away from the moving mouth of the Husband One. He had false teeth, rather uneven on one side, but a sort of brown fleck in the middle of the right front one. I wondered how I had ever found men attractive. I prayed that in my next life, if I was forced to have one, I could go back in time and be a monk or a nun, or some prim ascetic living in a cave on a desert island…

I was listening to Radio 4. They were discussing their favourite ways of cooking aubergines. I thanked YHWH that I was not middle class and therefore did not need to care about cooking aubergines. Until that moment, it had had never occurred to me that an aubergine could be cooked. I had an aubergine in Devon once. I was on an ultra long-distance date with a lonely middle-aged farmer. This was in the days when I felt I needed to replace Ex with someone, even if they did live at the other end of the country and play the trumpet to their cows. Even if they didn’t believe in central heating, even in February…

Anyway, we stopped off at a supermarket on the way back from the train station to his isolated and unheated farm, and he told me one of his cows had died recently and he’d had to bury it single-handedly, and he bought some aubergines and some sort of dressing to go on them. That was OK, but it wasn’t cooked.

He smelt of cows.

He smelt very much of cows and I was a vegetarian.

Later he chased me round the kitchen table, amongst the muddy wellingtons.

He did not catch me.

I was consuming the Dead Fly biscuits instead of my usual mid-morning sandwich. They were the ones left over from a packet of Sainsbury’s assorted biscuits and I had been putting off eating them. They don’t taste too bad, it’s just the look. Even Snoots wouldn’t touch them.

I was phoning the Doro helpline about my Doro phone. Doro phones are designed for rather old people, I suppose, and are Scandinavian in origin, possibly Finnish. Like their potential users, Doro phones are short on memory. Also, they tend to flash up simple but strangely unsettling phrases like ‘Welcome to Internet’ and ‘Apps For Home’.

I explained to the Finnish (or alternative Scandinavian) lady that my Doro phone would not let me move any single one of my apps to the new 32GB SD card I had just inserted, not a single one.

There are many apps that the Doro phone will not move. That is just the way it is. We can’t help you.

But surely it should move some apps. I mean, Amazon is full of comments from people who have installed a 32GB SD card in a Doro phone and been delighted with the extra storage it afforded…

These are no doubt system apps, that the manufacturer will not allow you to move…

No, it’s all apps. Every single one. Even apps that have nothing to do with the system, that I have downloaded myself. And on Amazon people are saying…

I am afraid I cannot help you.  These are system apps and the manufacturer will not allow you to move…

But, um, what is the point of the phone having a slot to insert an SD card in, if no single item can be moved across onto a SD card?

The manufacturer will not allow you to move…

And so I rang off, having thanked her, with elaborate and formal politeness, for her time. Afterward I wondered why I felt I had to be polite to some foreign woman for not actually solving, or even really listening to, my problem and could only think that it was because she had been from Scandinavia, where ABBA came from.

Turn Left At Dover

I haven’t written anything for months. Sorry.  Canadian Sister came over to stay just after Christmas, laden with bugs, gave the bugs to me, returned to Canada and got better. Whereas in March I was still trying to sleep propped up in the corner of the sofa because I couldn’t manage to breathe and lie down at the same time. Feeling that bad for that long kind of makes you feel that life is not worth living, let alone blogging about.

Anyway, where is the heatwave? For days the BBC have been exhibiting these bright red charts and warning us of heatwave horrors on their way to us from France. Apparently Nimes or somewhere similar is set to exceed last year’s summer heat record by one degree. If it does so it will also be setting a new temperature record for France. Global Whatsit, of course. They show pictures of temporary mist machines set up in public places, of young ladies in chic shorts prancing about in Parisian fountains. Apparently air-conditioned cool places have been pinpointed all over that city for citizens to escape into when the midday sun becomes unbearable. And this – delight – is about to blaze its way up to the UK.

In Britain, of course, the nearest thing to air-conditioning is the freezer section of Tesco. I was thinking of driving into Town and spending a surreptitious hour or two Freezer Bathing with an empty wire basket if things got too bad. Never do to admit that one was wilting, of course. Mad Dogs and Englishmen and all that.

I also reviewed my underwear. I decided I had to find an alternative to bras, which have been the bane of my very, very long life – at least, it seems very long when I think of all those sweltering days in the office with Les Girls encased in sturdy elastic and my shoulders being cut into by even sturdier elastic. I abhor bras. When I was young it was rumoured that my contemporaries were burning theirs in the cause of women’s liberation, although I never actually saw one being burnt and it still seemed impossible, on pain of pointed stares and terminal embarrassment, to go out in public – let alone to work – without one.

I decided to purchase a pack of three boob tubes (made in China, of course) in view of the apocalyptically hot weather. They might be cooler, and I would be able to open the door to Amazon man without having to rush about looking for a shirt to disguise any unwarranted jiggliness.  So now I am experimenting with them. They are cooler but they worry me. I am thinking  that, lacking in straps, the thing is going to end up around my waist. Or ride up suddenly, and I will find myself opening the door to the Amazon man with an inelegant roll of elastic somewhere north of my armpits. Not that he’d probably notice. They don’t look at you, just toss the parcel in your general direction and run away.

I woke up this morn expecting Dante’s Inferno, having left all the windows propped a little way open overnight to get a through draught without letting the nineteen cats go sailing down into the garden – no, seventeen – one is blind and one is very, very old – they probably wouldn’t be so foolhardy – only to find it was cool. Overcast even. I went out to collect the dustbin and actually had to put on a cardigan over my sawn-off jeans, loose teeshirt, newly-purchased boob tube etc. So where exactly is this heatwave?

If asked where anywhere ‘foreign’ was my father would invariably reply Turn Left At Dover. I guess I have inherited his devil-may-care attitude to Geography. Canadian Sister is, I believe, currently on a short break in a place called Jasper with some female friends. At any rate, she hasn’t WhatsApp’d me for while. Yes, I have mastered WhatsApp. And today I even managed to stuff an SD card in my Kindle Fire. What next? A job with Microsoft?

To begin with I was convinced that this idyllic Jasper short-break destination was in Colorado. Surely Colorado is quite a long way away from Edmonton, I mused. Isn’t it in America? Which part of America is Colorado in? Then I realised I was probably thinking of Boulder, which may or may not be in Colorado, wherever Colorado is, very possibly America. Finally I bothered to Google jasper Canada map and discovered that Jasper is left of Edmonton and down a bit, in what looks like the Rocky Mountains. I am sure she will enjoy that. Whether the three ladies she is sharing a hotel room with will enjoy it, I am not sure. Can only hope that they are not unpleasant to her, as she won’t understand why.

Well, I was going to tell you how my garage was flooded in a positively vicious thunder-and-lightning storm a couple of days ago – Global Whatsit again, no doubt – and how Snoots the moustachioed black and white cat nibbled chunks out of my one and only remaining loaf of bread all down one side through the plastic – not once but twice.

I was going to tell what I had been reading, and all about the dishcloths I had been knitting. Oh yes, and that the man over the road had scissor-trimmed the front two-thirds of his ancient blind poodle-type dog (he’s doing her in instalments) and all about a lady called Ilona in Yorkshire who believes in wearing Boys Pants because they’re cheaper and more substantial, and my attempts to manufacture handkerchiefs out of some spare pillow-cases….

But I mustn’t go on. Gotta save something exciting for next time…