Fogy or FOGO?

Amongst the British public, apparently, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has been replaced by FOGO (Fear of Going Out). Little by little they have been easing the restrictions that kept us locked down for months. In the past few days there has been quite a rush to ease this and ease that. Basically, now, almost everything is open, almost everybody can go almost anywhere and almost nobody understands where they can go, how close to anybody else they can stand, whether they can get on an aeroplane, when they need to wear a mask, etc etc. Basically, nobody has the energy to untangle it all, so they are just doing what they think.

I suppose I’m one of those Old, or New, Fogos.  Technically shielding – the strictest of all the lockdowns – will be suspended from August the first. Which means it might be reapplied if everyone starts dying again – as no doubt they will – but possibly on a regional ‘whack-a-mole’ basis, as the PM puts it. Meanwhile I could in theory now “bubble” with – I forget how many friends, relatives or households, whether outdoors or indoors, whether two metres apart or one. Since I have actually no friends, relatives or households within “bubbling” distance, and since I wouldn’t be “bubbling” even if hypothetical Loved Ones were to ask me to – I don’t really need to have memorised the details.

I have decided I’m Not Going Out until such time as there is a vaccine and I, and everyone else has had one. I can’t see how the situation has changed. The virus is still there, un-mutated, un-modified etc, and I still have my “underlying health condition”. I thought about it and decided I would rather die of the “underlying, etc, etc” than this virus, since the virus I have at least something of a choice about. I don’t want to go into hospital and be unconscious and gasping on some awful machine for weeks. I’d rather fade away gently, over years, and at a totally unpredictable rate. Besides, the cats require their two-legged Tin Opener. They have given me a stern talking to – Cats Come First, Mummy.

I have decided to live in the 1950s for a bit. I found a set of six “Miss Reads” on eBay, and they arrived from Cornwall this morning. There are hundreds (well, slight exaggeration – an awful lot) of Miss Read’s chronicling the uneventful life of two villages and a village schoolmistress. I remember them from years back. Comfort Reading. I intend to gradually munch my way through Miss Read, one second-hand paperback at a time – yet another pointless-but-pleasurable project. I have taped up a list on one of the kitchen cupboards, and am crossing them off as I go, to avoid duplicate purchases.

The above is a picture of a scarf – you didn’t know that, did you? – and I have been working on it it, in between all my other half-finished and largely pointless craft projects, for weeks. It is going to be 63″ long. I am starting to use up all the odds and ends in my “stash” – or rather “stashes” since I’ve got both a wool one and a fabric one. I feel a bit silly sitting indoors in a heatwave – curtains closed against the searing heat – knitting a thick woolly scarf of enormous and unnecessary length whilst binge-watching gaelic-language portrait-painting and farmhouse cookery programmes on i-Player, but somebody’s got to do it.

Until just now I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with the scarf, once finished. Could I sell it on eBay – use the proceeds to purchase a few more Miss Reads? I was in the middle of washing up when inspiration struck – Canadian sister. It would pad out the Christmas present, and weighing relatively little would not incur too much postage. What better place for a giant, multicoloured scarf than Canada? Or, as they say in the top half of Scotland – something that sounds like a-Hannada.

I did start trying to teach myself Scottish Gaelic before, but gave up. It was too much for me – the way the spelling, the sound and the meaning of a word were totally unrelated, and furthermore, all had a tendency to shift and mutate according to what sort of grammatical state you happened to have stumbled into. But this time I seem to have got over my fury at the un-Englishness of it all. I am delighted to learn that a rabbit is a rabad, pronounced something like – rebbich! – with lots of spit. Except when it’s a coineanaich, pronounced conyanyocccchhh. Probably.

Well, you’ve got to keep busy somehow.

Haven’t you, George?

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Ivy, Ivy, Give Me Your Answer Do…

Yes I know, but I didn’t have a picture of daisies. And I had a Great Aunt called Ivy.

…et o ces voix d’enfants… (or rather Grandma, to Dad, a hundred years or so ago)

“That Ivy – once she gets her feet under your table she won’t budge…”

Funny how grown-ups assume children aren’t listening – forget they are there, even – and have no thought that a hundred or so years later, when they are dead and gone, that same remark…

Poor old Ivy, whose face I can’t remember. She was single and she was lonely. No wonder she lingered overlong.

I am experimenting with one-finger typing on the tablet in an attempt to combine my photos with my writing, without a technological battle involving a box full of those black joining-up cables, only one of which will talk to my desktop. Sometimes.

Expect very short posts.

I am still shielding. Technically I could now go out for a walk once a day, with one other person, but distancing. The thing is, the virus hasn’t changed, it’s still here. And my health hasn’t changed. Therefore I am just as likely to catch it and expire most unpleasantly from it as I ever was. The only thing that’s changed is the Government’s need to re-start the economy. People have to start dying a bit more, basically. I’m not going to be experimented with. I was never much use to the economy anyway.

This morning I did have to go out, though. Four of the cats’ claws had reached the ‘dangerous’ stage, meaning they had finally entered the realm of ’emergency surgery’ and could be seen. I had had to actually email photos of the sixteen paws in question.

I haven’t had to get myself organised for anything since two weeks before lockdown, now suddenly I had to embasket (probably not a real word) four cats, one of whom is at death’s door, stow them in my car, drive (actually, physically) to the next village and deposit them, in the icy, spitting early morning rain of an English June. I phoned reception, got stuck in the “very, very busy at the moment” queue, then let them know the cats had landed.

A nurse came to the back door, and waved. Rubber gloves, mask. Cats disappeared inside. I waited in my car for half an hour. Rain on the windscreen, fighting the panic attack. I should be in there with them. I seem to be attached to my cats by that old invisible elastic band. It stretches, it stretches…

Then the cats reappear, re-embasketed, with the nurse, and a burly vet. They come right up to the car. This was not how I rehearsed it. No, I squeak, leaping back, I’m meant to be distancing.. My new pink flowery mask, I notice, is still on the dashboard, not on my face.

We do that cumbersome little social dance that only the English can do. The burly vet shuffles backwards on the gravel. The nurse has bought the paying machine out with her. I fumble in my bag for the card. We lean across the cat boxes at an awkward angle, passing bits of plastic back and forth, tapping in the PIN. It rains on us both. It rains on the cats. I mustn’t touch my face till I can get home and soap away the germs.

I mustn’t order any online groceries for at least the next fortnight. Four cats manicured equals two weeks’ food. Of course there’s still the Government’s food box, Friday. All those yummy carrots…

Old Lady Ankle Boots

They were in one of those limp little catalogues that plop through your letter-box on a Monday morning. “Cosy” – a word that nobody under forty-five can think without a flinch. But my feet were so very, very cold that I did think it, and sent for a pair of sheepskin-lined ankle boots.

I worked as a secretary for Messrs Gimp, Stanley & Co, an interesting, eccentric and notoriously parsimonious firm of solicitors. We rented half an eighteenth century building just off the High Street in a road stuffed with solicitors. The other half was taken by our rivals, Messrs Mafford Speers. Maffords were more corporate and less colourful than Gimps. They didn’t like their staff any more, but did see the benefit of central heating.

Equity partners lived on the ground floor, nearest our esteemed and much fawned-over clients. Salaried had offices on the floor above and everyone else, including me, was banished to the floor above that. The higher the floor, the shabbier and colder it got. Whatever the weather, we weren’t permitted to approach the gas fires until November. When November did finally arrive we brought in boxes of cooks’ matches – the ones with the extra-long stems. Failing cooks’ matches we would tape an ordinary match to the end of a metal letter-opener and lean as far back as possible before striking it and turning the gas on full.

The sash windows had been there since the building was new, in 1721. They rattled whenever it was windy. I typed stiff-fingered in a swirling draught, wearing the standard cheap office suit with hand-knitted fingerless gloves. I’d wind a pink woollen scarf tied around my ankles, and sometimes forget to unwind it when I stood up.

The ankle-boots drew disapproving glances from the Partners but they didn’t remark, and I wasn’t that bothered, being next on their list for constructive dismissal. People like me, with a surfeit of inspiration and a deficit in concentration, never tend to last long in offices.

It was winter when I caught sight of him. I was on my lunch break and, of course, wearing the old lady ankle boots with cosy sheepskin lining. There was a long queue in the Post Office and I joined it. My hair was a mess; I felt a bit pasty, with the beginnings of a spot on my forehead. The menopause plays havoc.

He was up the front by the Wait Here sign, next in line for a cashier. He should have been in Scotland, in a sizeable cottage, with small potted trees on either side of the door. Yet here he inexplicably was. Until that moment I had never given much thought to the expression “rooted to the spot”. The queue was closing up and I suppose I was shuffling along with it, but to all intents and purposes, I was rooted. That dear, familiar face, that that bony brow; that strange, masculine-yet-feminine shape that he unfortunately still was. Thirteen years had passed but he genuinely didn’t look any older; neatly turned-out, as always; mid-length camel coat and one of those expensive roll-neck sweaters in pastel blue.

I used to wonder if he was gay, half gay or potentially gay but he proved to be a lusty lover. He told me he had read books on technique – how to caress a woman with only his eyes, how to put her in the mood for love before ever laying hands on her.

He played the church organ, which in retrospect seems quite amusing. He had his piano delivered when we moved into the maisonette. On summer afternoons he would play Yesterday with the windows flung wide open to admit the salt breeze, and local children would drape themselves over the area gates, open-mouthed, to listen. He was good with children. He didn’t want his little girl to be upset by meeting me, so when she came over I would go out. I came to loathe her without ever having met her. Occasionally I had to disappear for a whole weekend.

He introduced me to leisurely breakfasts in the window-seat, with buttered toast, marmalade and the papers. He taught me to cook, a bit, with garlic even. He introduced me to Vivaldi, and Enya, but wasn’t at all keen a cat despite my wheedling: only later did it occur to me why.

Thirteen years since last I saw him; innumerable icy years to come – who knows what the final total will be – during which I will not to set eyes on him again. I should have tapped him on the shoulder, said something or anything to bank a fresh memory of his face that might tide me over. But those old-lady ankle-boots had glued me to the floor and struck me dumb.

He passed quite close to me on the way out. I looked away, sideways. Though my heart was beating like a thing possessed, as it had once been possessed, though I could barely breathe and tears welled up in eyes, I kept on shuffling forwards in my old lady ankle boots. I pictured him, out of the door, off down the street, off down another street, and then another; finding that expensive car in the car park and driving away. Back to Scotland, or wherever it was he now resided.

He told me once that God would always save him a parking space, in any city. God would reward all those who had faith in Him.

Time to grow out the moustache?

Until this morning I could think of very few positives to the coronavirus situation. As I have said before, choosing to be a hermit is one thing – having hermitry, hermitage or possibly hermitonomy imposed upon one by the Government is another. I self-isolated of my own accord a week early, knowing I was “at risk”, but now I am being compelled to I am sad. Three months, a whole summer confined with a herd of cats, trying to track down cans of catfood. If the worst really comes to the worst they will have to hold their noses and tackle the Bozita. The Bozita has been in the garage for a year. Not only would they not eat it when I bought it, they wouldn’t go within a yard of it.

But this morning I woke up with an idea. Well, I was woken up, forcibly, by Martha, my self-appointed “alarm cat”. She sees it as her duty to push, jump, scratch, dribble most persistently, hour upon hour if necessary, until I drag myself out of bed. My idea?

Let the moustache grow out!!

When will there ever be a better opportunity? Three months of seeing no one except the odd delivery driver – and delivery drivers never look at you. And now, they are so anxious to get away they linger even less. As the Tesco man said, “If you admit to symptoms we will drop your shopping on the doorstep and run away.”

I would not like anyone to think that I am, in my natural state, a grotesquely bearded lady. As far as I remember – back to when I was twelve or thirteen – the moustache was really only what you might expect to appear on a brown-haired English girl. But in those days – we’re talking Sixties, before Women’s Lib – neither facial not armpit hair was acceptable. Girls aimed to look like Twiggy – vacant, pale, pure and skinny. If it was an eyelash, you loaded it with mascara, liberally lubricated with spit. If it was in an armpit, you shaved it. If it was under your nose you bleached, tweezed, shaved, waxed, chemically removed – in fact bazooka’d it in any way you could.

We had a French girl at our school once, on an exchange visit. She was incredibly glamorous, we felt, until we all went to play tennis after school. My God, the girl was hiding a dead hamster under either arm. The horror of it! Poor girl. I hope she took no notice of our titters.

So – three months – maybe more – of not zapping the moustache. It occurs to me that since I am going grey – well pepper-and-salt, anyway – maybe el bigote will come out a soft, wispy grey. If it turns out anything like the above, though, it’s a goner.

Just as an aside. One of my two distant friends phoned me up last night, to check that I was all right. She says she will call me once a week from now on, just to touch base. The awfulness and wonderfulness of this is – that this is the same friend who has struggled all her life with bouts of clinical depression. I have witnessed – from the outside – the horrors she has gone through. I have visited her in a hospital ward, surrounded by mad people. I have found her sobbing behind her computer in the office we shared. I never, really, had any idea what to do for the best. Yet she was the one who called me.

Things are [Utterly Messed Up]

Plague-wise and every-other-wise, things are going from bad to worse. This no longer surprises or depresses me. My father used to quote some music-hall comedian – I haven’t been able to find it on Google – hopefully I didn’t just imagine it! I’ll expunge the B word in case innocent kiddies are reading, however unlikely that may be, since they all hang out on Insta or PeeWee or Grommit, or whatever:

“Life were [utterly messed up] when I came into it and no doubt it will be
[utterly messed up] when I go.”

I placed my Tesco order. They have no delivery slots until Saturday. Everybody putting in massive orders for quilted toilet paper, I suppose. Toilet paper has become the staff of life, more precious than bread, milk or cheese.

I have enough to live on, if I have to self-isolate. I have a cat-food mountain, for the mountain of cats. They chomp and slurp their way through ten tins a day. I also have a cat in the bath. She’s a bit off – sneezing, etc – more likely cat flu than some hypothetical cat-coronavirus – and the bath is cool. If I hoist her out, she relocates instantly to the wash-hand basin. If I decide to clean my teeth or – yes – wash my hands yet again and slather on the magic stinky pink stuff the vet introduced me to (Hibiscrub) I have to remove a miserable, moulting, watery-eyed moggie first.

It is rumoured that within the next week to ten days, ‘the elderly’ and vulnerable will be advised to self-isolate regardless. I do not regard myself as one of ‘the elderly’ but technically I suppose I do fit into both the age and dodgy immune system category, so I suppose that’ll be me, and the cat-mountain, cut off from society.

In some ways I don’t mind. My whole life, since I tunnelled out of the work-prison, seems to have been an attempt to avoid other human beings. When I’m alone I have some dignity. Forced to mix with other people I turn into this kind of clown-figure. I never know quite what I am going to say next or what new risible/embarrassing mistake I am likely to make. So, though I can get ‘cabin fever’ like everyone else, and appreciate the need to mingle occasionally for the benefit one’s mental health, I don’t feel compelled to.

My biggest problem will be my disabled friend, who lives an inconveniently short distance from me. She climbs the walls if she can’t interact with at least nine or ten people per day, preferably at great length, in person. Her health is also ‘compromised’ and she catches everything. Then, next time I have to take her anywhere in my car, she gives it to me. So what do I do, if she asks me for a lift to the hospital? What do I do if she’s running out of groceries because ‘they’ won’t allow her to use a computer? I suppose you just have to ‘play it by ear’. I don’t like playing things by ear, but you have to, sometimes.

Then there’s my own appointments – blood tests, specialist – coming up soon. Do I stay at home, hiding from germs, or do I venture forth and swim around in a sea of illnesses and infections at two separate hospitals, trying not to breathe in? Playing it by ear, again.

Part of me, though, is attracted to the drama of it. Part of me is angry and terminally bored and longs for the romance of some great disaster – a plague, a crashing stock-market, global meltdown or whatever. How weird is that?

I’ve been reading up about the village of Eyam, in Nottinghamshire. In the 17th Century, the Plague was sweeping through Britain. The disease came to Eyam and the villagers, lead by their vicar, decided to isolate themselves in their village to protect neighbouring villages. On the outskirts of the village there was a Boundary stone. The villagers left money in the holes in the stone, and people from the surrounding area left provisions there, to keep them going. The Earl of Devonshire also helped support them. In the course of  fourteen months, 260 out of 800 isolated villagers would die. People agreed to bury their own dead, close to their own homes, rather than in consecrated ground.

People may be a pain, but some of them are noble too.

The Lion and Saint Jerome

If you prefer, you can imagine me in a darkly-panelled study. Imagine it similar to that which, many centuries later, will be engraved by a certain long-haired German artist. Here I am then, in my study amongst my books. As usual I am shown with a long beard, a quill pen and a ledger. This is because I lived to be old, and wrote a lot.

The German engraver has not included my eyeglasses. In the latter years of mortal existence my eyesight became very bad. After dusk I was unable to make out the letters in Greek manuscripts, even with the help of a candle. It greatly hampered my studies.

A skull gathers dust in the window-seat. This is what they used to call a memento mori, to remind us that life is short and we have only a limited time to earn our place in heaven. It is also meant to remind you that I have become very wise in my old age. Angels, apparently, whisper divine truths into my ear.

Closest to you, viewers, is my lion. He does not sleep but lies relaxed on the wooden boards, luxuriously extended within swiping distance of a plump German corgi. What a tasty snack that dog would have made for my lion, in the old days.

The artist is gifted but cannot, I think, have had a real lion in front of him as he worked. Before lions were available to view, in zoos and such, artists seemed to imagine them the size of extra-large dogs. In real life, my lion was an impressive sight indeed. He was taller than me when standing on his hind legs, and could have ripped me apart in seconds. I am eternally grateful that he chose to love me instead.

The musculature and the claws are excellent and the tail, if not quite accurate, is at least decorative. But he is too small, as I have said, and this Dürer fellow has given him the face of a domestic cat; those charming, bristled whiskers, those Siamese eyes. The ears appear to belong to another creature entirely – a bear, perhaps, or even a mouse’s, scaled up. And the creature is smiling to himself. Neither cat nor lion would be likely to do so, but we can allow him a degree of artistic licence.

They say I removed a thorn from my lion’s paw, and in fact I did. It was a very long time ago, when I lived in a monastery. He was limping badly, and made straight for me, as if he had been sent. The others ran away, in any case. He sat before me and lifted his paw, that I might inspect it. I fetched water and cloths and cleaned the wound, and then could see the great thorn he had in it. So great was it in size that I could grasp it firmly between finger and thumb, without resort to an implement.

“This will hurt, my Brother,” I said, looking straight into his eyes. He put his head on one side and gazed straight back into mine. I gave the thorn a quick, sharp tug and out it came in a gush of blood and infected matter. Afterwards I applied the same healing herbs as I would have used for my monastic brothers, binding them into a paste with spiders’ webs and wild honey. My lion sat patiently as I bound up that giant paw with linen strips.

How, what shall I say happened between me and the lion? From my vantage point I can see both past and future, and I know that my lion has become a kind of fairy-story. They say he was attached to me by mistake, centuries later. They claimed that my lion was but a fable for the entertainment of credulous pilgrims to Bethlehem, where I left behind the mortal shell that was Jerome or, as others called me, Hieronymus.

You may believe what you like. My lion died of old age some years before me. He and I are back where we began, in the All and the Everything. We are one, my lion and I. You may sense us around you; within, enfolding and permeating you. We lift up our paws to you in supplication. We rest our golden heads upon your frail human shoulders.

We purr, and yes, we smile.

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Strange Days

Well, I fell asleep on the sofa. Then I woke up and the radio was playing The Boxer, over and over again, with different people saying what it had meant to them. Apparently The Boxer was Leonard Nimoy’s favourite song and when he was on his deathbed a grandson found it on his mobile phone and played it to him. This made me sad. Leonard Nimoy – or rather Mr Spock – was my favourite.

Then I tidied up and came to bed. Then I realised I couldn’t sleep so I got up again and started writing. Why is it easier to fall asleep on a cold winter’s night such as this in the corner of an uncomfortable faux-leather sofa than in a nice, soft bed with a big, thick duvet?

Nowadays I divide my nights between the two. That seems to work well enough. Two o’clock in the morning may find me back on the sofa, drinking a cup of tea in the dark with the World Service burbling away, low volume. So as not to wake the neighbours up, who plague whole days with their noise.

I have lost my Neighbours’ Names list. You’d think I’d have them off by heart after seven years, wouldn’t you? Yes, it had all their names on, plus their house numbers, plus the names of all their pet dogs and cats so that I could include all of them on the Christmas cards. I have forgotten the names of Next Door, who make all the noise, maybe because I dislike them. So I addressed their envelope “To All @…. ”

Strange days. My sister-in-law finally managed to catch me on the landline. I’ve managed to dodge her for – oh, probably several years. At the end of an hour’s conversation – mostly hers – my God, she can rabbit – she asked me if I knew that Ex had finally married My Replacement, because he was advised to by his financial advisor.

“No,” I said. I could hear myself sounding calm, sensible and quite un-hurt. “When was this?”

“Back in the summer. None of us got invited, they just sent us a slice of manky old cake.”

I hadn’t even got the slice of manky old cake. He hadn’t even rung me. He’d probably never have rung me.

“Oh my God,” she said, “I’m so sorry. I thought you’d know. You’re not upset are you? I mean, I know he’s my brother but, you know, I think we can agree you had a lucky escape.”

“Not upset,” I lied, “but thank you for telling me.”

“You’ll be all right won’t you? I feel bad now.”

“Yes, of course I’ll be all right. It might take me a day or two to process it.”

Process it! I sound like a psychotherapist. It rakes up all the Dad stuff. All the Ex stuff, since Ex, I long ago realised, was but a continuation of the conflict with Dad. All that love, all that violence; all that ancient grief; all that unresolved everything. It puts the full-stop to a forty-six year-long sentence; it gives away my title to someone else; it wipes me out, it negates me; it puts me beyond hope of making my peace with Dad. I can’t actually conjure up my own face inside my head any more. Process it!

(But of course, I will.)mirror6

Well, tomorrow will be another strange day. High winds forecast, and a General Election. I postal-voted weeks ago, and thank goodness I did because windy weather and me don’t mix. I know they worry about voters not turning out in bad weather, which is why Elections are traditionally held in the summer (and almost always on a Thursday, for some reason). I think people will turn out if they feel strongly enough – and I think they do, this time. The December wind will blow them out of their warm, shabby little houses and down the hill to the village hall. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Mayhem, maybe.

Another sleepless night tomorrow. It will definitely be the uncomfortable sofa-corner then, huddled in a blanket, covered in cats. As I’ve got rid of the TV I shall be tuning to Radio 4. Coverage starts at a quarter to ten, fifteen minutes before the polling stations close. And then the counting starts. This is far more exciting to me than Christmas, but then I’m a politics dweeb.

For all the tea in China

Two halves of the same cat

Every autumn I start putting out food for the strays again. I always tell myself I won’t, because strays means bonding and bonding means coming indoors and coming indoors means staying for ever and a day. I remind myself that I cannot save every single stray cat in all the world. Nevertheless, that seems to be what I am programmed to do. I have no other purpose.

The first dishes usually go to waste, but on the second day of the putting out of the food, strays appear; sometimes one, occasionally four but most often two of them. And so it is this year. At first I thought there was only one, since all I could see of it was a large, black furry bottom poking out of the dog/cat kennel whilst the head inside busily slurped. But no, it’s two – I heard yowling round the side and caught them nose to nose, whisker to whisker, an all black one and a mostly black one with white bits on her face. A boy and a girl, I think, possibly brother and sister. They will have to organise themselves not to turn up at exactly the same time.

The lawn fails to get the message

The lawn mowing duo turned up on time today, weather-beaten and muscular in their matching green tee-shirts. I haven’t yet decided whether they are married or siblings. Heavy morning rain had ceased only seconds before. They must have a line to whoever or whatever turns the rain on and off. (The cats think this is me.)

The industrial, gas-powered machines were unloaded from the truck, one large green person took the front and one the back and it was done in a tenth of the time it would have taken me. I could just about still do it, but have reached the stage of breathlessness/ agonising boredom where I just don’t want to do it. A monthly visit from The Green People is my only luxury.

They will not be back now till March, when the grass officially starts growing again. The grass has now, since it is November, officially stopped growing. Unfortunately nobody has told the grass. After the Green People left last month it was so made up, so overjoyed to have been mown by professionals, that it put on a spurt of growth. I have a feeling another spurt will follow their November visit. So under a carpet of snow, that bright green grass will be growing and growing…

But then, I’m not the one who will be doing the first cut next spring. Yay!

I have decided I don’t like my lady vet

I used to like the vet, when he was an eastern European chap with an accent you could cut with a knife. I don’t think he was Russian – because would Russian vets be allowed to come over here? – just sounded for all the world like one of those meercats in the TV ads. But he has gone. I went in one day to discover he had gone, for good, to France. He has taken all his cats, and his dogs, so he can’t be coming back. Indeed, why would you come back, here? I wouldn’t come back here if I had a chance to go somewhere else: no, not for all the tea in China.

But the lady we have instead – well, she is a lady, for a start. And she’s not him. She has an accent but not the same accent. She’s large, she has a tattoo and a brusque manner and I can’t bring myself to trust her. She talks to me like some generic, probably senile, Old Person, some tiresome Member of the Public; whereas he – I felt, anyway – actually seemed to be talking to me. I got the feeling he saw me as unpredictable and scarily odd: everybody seems to react to me like that – so be grateful that I am blogging rather than turning up on your street corner or lurking by the swings in the park. But occasionally amusing. And he didn’t make the mistake of thinking I was daft.

Really, it must be genetic. Why is it still easier to trust a man even though, throughout my life at any rate, the men I have known (in any detail) have proven themselves crueller, more devious, more judgmental and less supportive than women? No wonder we remain unemancipated.

But still, I think I’ll bite the bullet and try out (gasp!) another surgery altogether.

I think bread may be causing my IBS

I ate an experimental sandwich at lunch time and yes, the agony has returned. I am writing to distract myself from it. Think I will go and make myself a hot water bottle and distract myself still further by watching a really dreadful Christmas movie and knitting yet another dishcloth.

Haunted By Davids

Haunted by Davids

I observed fairly early on that the names of everyday boys and men, and those of the men in the romantic short stories in Nan’s old Woman’s Realms belonged to two different subsets of men’s names. Boys in my class, for instance, tended to be called John, James, Robert, William, Michael, David, Richard, Thomas, Charles or Gary. I remember one Andrew – but he was quite exotic – and one Paul – but of course he was Polish. What we didn’t have were any Dirks, Aidens, Bryces, Calebs, Dantes or Micahs.

I guessed, correctly, that a plain big lumpy girl like me was never going to snare herself a Micah. But I was haunted by Davids, for some reason. Everywhere I went, throughout my life there a David would “happen to be”. For some reason all Davids seemed to like me, whereas no other-named kind of man did.

I didn’t even like Davids, at least not in a marrying way. Davids sounded as if they ought to be round-shouldered and work in shoe shops, bringing out boxes of shoes to shoehorn onto your ungrateful feet; or perhaps behind the desk at the library, pathetically eager to help you locate obscure non-fictions in the card-index system or to point you in the direction of French dictionaries.

And so I married a man with another ordinary-ish man’s name. I didn’t particularly like it, but it was attached to him so I married it. Over the next twenty-two years or so I came to feel that I might have been better off with a David after all. Coincidentally, Devon Aunt chose to name all her rescue cats David. One stray, furry David after another, for thirty years or so.

Apple Peel and Cherry Pips

Halloween used to be a good time to find out the name of your future mate. At Halloween, it was said, a girl might see his face reflected dimly in a mirror – maybe standing behind you. I wonder if clothed or unclothed… Then there was the game with the apple core. You peeled an apple, being sure to keep the peel in a single piece, and tossed the peel over your shoulder, where it would – or might – form the initial of your husband to be.

Alternatively you could line up hazelnuts along a hot grate, giving each hazelnut the name of a prospective husband. Then you would recite:

If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die!

A variation – such of the nuts as cracked would be the fickle suitors.

Or you could place your shoes in the form of a letter ‘T’ (representing Thor’s hammer) and say

Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a “T”.

And then there were the cherry stones, which you placed around the rim of your plate as you ate them. My Nan actually taught me this one:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.

Nan preserved cherries in the summer from the cherry tree in the garden and we ate them in the winter, from thick glass jars arrayed on shelves around the top of the living room, just underneath the ceiling. But what I couldn’t understand was how one Sunday I was going to marry a Thief and the next a Rich Man, and so ad infinitum, all winter long. And if I didn’t like what appeared I could always eat another cherry.

Apparently there was also Silk, Satin, Muslin, Rags. That was what you would be married in. But Nan didn’t teach me that.

The Green Oil Lamp

I have only ever been to a fortune teller twice in my life. The second one asked me if I was married to a long-distance lorry driver, as she sensed my husband seemed to be absent a lot. I wanted to tell her that you didn’t need a long-distance lorry to seem to be absent a lot. A shed at the bottom of the garden would do just as well.

The first fortune teller had been the vicar’s wife, in a small but elaborate tent, masquerading as Gypsy Rose Something Or Other. I was quite young, and it was at a fête in the grounds of the local “big house”. I remember I had just failed to get the metal ring along yards of wiggly electrified loops, and was looking for something else to do. And thinking back – yes, I was dressed as Florence Nightingale in a longish skirt and a white apron, and clutching a green oil lamp.

I had been in for the fancy dress competition because Mum told me I must, and I hadn’t had any more success with that than the metal ring and the electrified snake. The green oil lamp occupied one entire small hand, and it was greasy and smelled of paraffin. I wanted to put it down somewhere and forget about it but I couldn’t, because Mum had told me I mustn’t.

The vicar’s wife looked at me despairingly from beneath her curtain-ring fringed headscarf. Then she waved her hands about and around her crystal ball. You will have four children and, um, an operation when you are forty, she pronounced, and snatched my penny or tuppence from the hand that wasn’t holding the oil lamp.

I waited for those four children with an odd superstitious confidence, considering I knew it was only the vicar’s wife; and I felt quite aggrieved when not only did the promised four offspring not arrive, but none did. And I do believe I rather dreaded that operation, which also did not happen – or at least not when it was supposed to.

The Bells, the Bells…!

I can’t pretend to have read Victor Hugo’s novel, but I do believe these words were said by Quasimodo, the deaf and deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame. To check this, I googled who said the bells the bells.

Now, this is only the latest of today’s google searches. Before that I googled sonnerie, of which more (probably) in a subsequent post. Briefly, sonnerie is a musical form based on the sound of bells in a bell tower, or similar. And then I thought, who lived in a bell-tower and slobbered The Bells, the Bells…! Was it not Quasimodo?

Before that it was rotoscoping animation. This was because I found a free film to watch on Amazon Prime (no mean feat, since Amazon Prime contains some of the very worst films ever – that’s why they’re free). The all-knowing reviewers of this particular free film were going on about the technicalities of rotoscoping. What on earth is rotoscoping? I wondered. Turns out it’s a kind of tracing technique used in animation. The one example I can remember having seen is that iconic A-ha video:

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Gosh, that Morten Harket was beautiful. Apparently he’s 60 nowadays. This is not good news.

Anyway, back to the googling. Before that I searched battery operated candle. I was thinking of lighting a solitary candle to celebrate Samhain. The trouble is you are supposed to leave it a-flickering in your window all night. I am averse to leaving anything burning overnight, especially with 19 cats restlessly patrolling the windowsills. Terrible fire risk. Also, the neighbours would probably have thought I’d lost the plot and come over to check on me.

Before that it was how to celebrate samhain alone. I mentioned Samhain in my last post and was suddenly inspired to – well, what exactly was I inspired to do? It’s all gone a bit blurry; after all it was several hours ago –

I believe I decided to replace all Christian festivals, in the privacy of my own home, with the marking of the eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year:

sabbat

I recalled that I was an Old Soul (probably) and therefore (probably) pre-dated Christianity. I needed to return to my roots like the proverbial falling leaf (reading suggestion: Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah).

You see, this is the trouble with being (probably) ADD – on the great, green pond of life you hop from one enticing lily-pad to the next, onward and onward, sideways and back, and then you can’t exactly recall how you got there.

To find the above Wheel of the Year I see I googled pagan festyivals. It found it in spite of the fat-fingered typing.

Before that it was wendy williams meghan markle latest. Now, this really lets me down after all the above semi-intellectual stuff, but Meghan Markle annoys me. She has especially annoyed me recently with all that simpering stuff about being a vulnerable new mom and having been so naïve as to think the British press would be fair to poor little me.

She married a Prince, for Pete’s sake, having previously been an actress in some TV drama that hardly anybody watched. She has him; she’s become a Duchess; she has the super-elegant wardrobe and all that money! She has comfort and security for life. She has that exorbitantly remodelled Frogmore Cottage, vaster and more luxurious than any cottage lived in by any normal British peasant:

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she managed the first of the two requisite babies (the heir and the spare) in spite of being somewhat long-in-the-tooth for such enterprises, and no doubt the second will follow on schedule, and no doubt it will be a girl so that they can designer-dress it.

She and Harry chose to make a spiteful (him) and whingeing (her) documentary about how terribly stressed and put-upon they were during a visit to a continent where many people are suffering unimaginable hardships on a daily basis. Oh, thank you so much for asking how I am. You see (flutter, flutter) people hardly ever ask how I am…. She’s an actress, and she’s acting now, and not even that well.

And before that it was alan rickman death. Sadly, when you get older you tend to be plagued by doubts as to people’s existential status. I had a feeling he was dead, but then I thought, maybe he isn’t – but I’m sure he died – but surely he was too young to have – ? I was wondering whether I could face watching Love, Actually just one more time. Maybe twenty-five was not enough – but then I thought, before I watch it I need to know whether Alan Rickman died or not.

I sometimes wonder how I managed to exist at all, before there was Google. I seem to remember ordering numerous books from the local library. They seemed to have to order them for you, even if there wasn’t a single copy in the entire County system, even if they were terribly expensive and no one else, ever again, would want to take out that book, and you only needed it to check a single fact. You had to fill in an A6 size green card. In triplicate –

An Old Naked Guy in a Curtain

Haven’t forgotten about cat/Halloween posts. Naked Guy just – appeared to me in a vision – or something.

saint jerome

Well, my sister, the one who was recently widowed, rang me from Canada. As part of her recovery she has signed on for an art degree course made up of a series of modules. Currently she is engaged upon a compulsory ‘painting’ module; something she had been dreading all summer.

Apparently, when the weekly project was announced – to copy an old master entitled Saint Jerome and the Angel by someone called Remi, there were grimaces all round. I’d have grimaced too. However, she completed it and, apart from getting his right leg a trifle too short in my opinion (I didn’t tell her) she made a really good job of it. I was going to try to insert her painting in here, but then I thought it wouldn’t be fair as I hadn’t asked her, and it might accidentally ‘identify’ her. Her angel a wee bit more spikey and etherial. We agreed the Remi angel was a bit of a porker. Maybe it’s just the draperies.

Anyway, we spent an hour or so on the phone discussing the Remi painting. I found it on my Fire after several false starts. No, not that one… it’s an old naked guy in a red curtain! But they were all old naked guys in red curtains. Everybody in the world seemed to have done their version of him. He’s got a leg, that pokes out… The same leg that’s a bit too short in her version.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the other leg. He doesn’t seem to have another leg…

We perused the painting together, and located it. It’s just a heel and part of a foot, really, and it looks for all the world like part of that improbable red drapery, but it is where a foot would be, given a knee where it is, beneath the book.

Sister and I tend to look at things differently. She looks at pictures like blocks of colour, and shade, and artistic stuff. I, not being gifted in that direction, look at them like stories. I want to know why stuff is there at all.

What’s that little pot? I asked. Next to the skull (why the skull?) there is a little black pot. Thinking about it, we decided it was an ink pot, which would go with the scrawny little feather in his right hand, which must be a quill.

Why is he reading?

We realised he was not reading. He was writing stuff down. In those days, presumably, paper or parchment would be bound into ‘books’ or ledgers.

What is he writing down?

Whatever the angel is telling him. Look – their eyes are locked, they are in rapt concentration on one another. She is teaching him something – look at her hands, she is making a series of points, enumerating them.

I don’t particularly like the painting. Why is her hair swept back by some invisible wind, whilst his beard isn’t being swept forward? Why does that left foot look so much like a piece of red curtain? He’s got the ‘flabby’ aspect of the ancient St Jerome right, but then why are his ancient arms and shoulders so magnificently muscled? Why is he naked in any case? Who sits about in a curtain? Why are her wings that dingy grey? What’s the point of having an angel if she’s – depressing?

This morning, out of curiosity, I decided to find out a bit more about Saint Jerome. He seems to have led a rather muddled real life but has a correspondingly vivid legendary life. He was the one who translated the Bible from Greek into Latin, producing what is now known as the Vulgate Bible. He also wrote a string of Commentaries on books of the Bible, and it is these that the angel is helping him with.

(He’s also the saint who, legendarily, removed the thorn from that poor lion’s paw. I love him for that, even though he only did it legendarily. Being a cat-person, if I came across a lion with a thorn in its poor old paw I would feel irresistibly drawn to try to help it. And no doubt the lion would eat me. )

st jerome lion

I like enjoy this painting much more than Old Naked Guy. Look at that lion! Oh, my poor paw! its face is saying. I love it. I suspect a real lion would be bigger than that in relation to a human being, but maybe not.

Further research. Like many saints, Jerome tends to be depicted with  a number of iconic objects, among them red garments (explains the curtain), a book and writing implements. Later – not in this painting – there were also eyeglasses. This is because in his Commentary to Ezechiel he complains that:

I am quite unable to go through the Hebrew books with such light as I have at night, for even in the full light of day they are hidden from my eyes owing to the smallness of the letters.

This made me smile. Suddenly I liked Old Naked Guy a lot better. Whilst researching for my previous post (the one about Cat’s Cradle) I had to get out the dreaded magnifying glass to read the tiny index. An admission of defeat. I am catching up with Old Guy. Short sighted, I was always comforted that I could read even tiny stuff if I took off my ‘eyeglasses’. Those days are definitely gone.

Addendum: Many, many decades ago I bought a postcard in the souvenir shop a posh London art gallery. I couldn’t afford to buy anything else. It was lurking around for ages, but then, like most of my possessions, it got lost. I loved Dürer – still do – and liked the look of the quiet old gentleman, with his casually sleeping lion and sleeping dog. How quiet it all looked. I so wanted to be in that sunlit room, sitting on one of those wooden benches. And it’s just dawned on me – that was St Jerome too.

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The Magic of Cat’s Cradle

When I was a kid some other kid showed me how to make a cat’s cradle by looping a circle of string around my hands. That was only one of the many possible patterns, I realise now – and probably the most basic; but nobody told me so I just thought – been there, done that, boring!

Now I discover there’s all this sort of stuff, for one pair of hands or two. Maybe more!

cats cradle 2

I seem to be spending the whole of my old age discovering yet more ways in which my youth was totally and utterly wasted.

I thought I might venture a few cat and/or Halloween-related posts. I have a really good book of English folklore – obtained second-hand/falling to bits – and with some difficulty. I also have The Golden Bough. These should serve as a starting point. There’s the good old internet to fill in any gaps, of course, but I do like to start with books, old books; proper books, all heavy and faded and dusty and smelling of – ah! -book.

I always assumed it was called Cat’s Cradle because what you were making was a cradle for a rather small cat. However, apparently not. It’s likely to have come from cratch-cradle. Cratch is one of those archaic English words. It used to mean – well, it meant to scratch or claw (appropriate for cats) but it also meant crib, or manger. It’s related to the French word crèche, which also used to mean manger.

If you type cratch into Google images you’re more likely to see a kind of plain or fancy gate still used on English narrowboats, which is there to ‘restrain’ the boat’s cargo and hold up part of the roof . The connection, I think, is the wooden framework involved – you can see how the same kind of triangular or crutch pattern could also have been the basis of a crib.

cratch2

It’s a kind of trellis, and cat’s cradle is also a kind of trellis.

I was looking for folklore around Cat’s Cradle, because apparently it is one of the oldest games ever, and has been played all over the world. The Golden Bough (1890) says that among the “Esquimaux” tribes, as they were referred to in those days, it was taboo for a little boy to play at Cat’s Cradle. Should he do so, when he grew to be an adult and went off hunting the whale his hands might become entangled in the harpoon line. I am guessing this would not do one’s hands any good. In fact, one might be handless at the end of it.

How is the one thing connected to the other? Because it’s an example of negative magic. In tribal (and not-so-tribal) societies magic can be both positive and negative. Positive magic would be to do a certain thing in order to make something desirable happen. Negative magic would be to avoid doing a certain thing in order to avoid something undesirable happening. So taboo and negative magic seem to be more or less the same. But it’s quite subtle. For example it’s not taboo to say ‘Do not put your hand in the fire’ – that’s just common sense. Taboo is to avoid doing something symbolic of the thing to be avoided, and the consequences of breaking the taboo will not necessarily take place now but at some time in the future.

Digressing slightly, it seems that in the past, in the village councils of one district of India, it was forbidden for anyone to twirl a spindle. (Since the meetings were all male, I would assume that both men and women might twirl spindles.) The twirling of the spindle would mean that the talk would be doomed to go round in circles and never reach a conclusion. It occurs to me that someone must have been secretly twirling in a dusty corner of the House of Commons over the last three years.

Cat’s Cradle has different names in different countries. In parts of America it is referred to, poetically, as Jack in the Pulpit. In China it’s Fan Sheng (turning rope) and in Russia, more prosaically, it is The Game of String.

choki

In case you should be seeking inspiration for Cat’s Cradle-related reading there’s a book called Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I would like to claim to have known that all along, but I just found out, and I haven’t read it yet. I’m not entirely sure I want to. It’s science fiction (one of my favourites) but apparently it involves man’s greatest fear: the witnessing, or worse still, the survival of Armageddon.

Bullet Point Blitzing

  • Uptown Top Ranking

The title of this post – which pinged into my reverse-colander of a morning-mind unbidden – reminds me of a vintage pop song called Uptown Top Ranking by the joyous Althea and Donna. I have looked up the words, and here are a few:

See me pon the road I hear you call out to me
True you see mi inna pants and ting
See mi in a ‘alter back
Sey mi gi’ you heart attack
Gimme likkle bass, make me wine up me waist
Uptown Top Ranking

At a guess I would say this is about setting off for town to have a really fun night out, wearing an outfit which includes killer trousers and a black halter top. I envisage drop dead gorgeous and plenty of bling. She calls to the bass player to crank up the bass, to inspire her in her wild and sinuous terpsichory.

I just love it, whatever it means. If you ever feel miserable put on Uptown Top Ranking and dance and sing along. You are unlikely get the words any more wrong than you would have done for a karaoke I Did It My Way or The Wind Beneath My Wings.

  • As Black As Yer ‘At (Over Will’s Mother’s)

Well, it’s as black as yer ‘at outside, despite being nine in the morning. This is because it is raining and when it rains, in this corner of nowhere-in-particular, the universe wants you to both know about it and suffer. When I’ve finished this – and believe me I’m spinning it out as long as possible – I ought to be getting out of my grubby dressing gown and into ancient jeans, jumper and raincoat, to drive fifteen minutes to the Farm Shop for a loaf of bread, plus – other stuff. There is a species of bread closer to hand, at our solitary village shop, but it is that white and doughy caravan people bread. Also, the village idiot tends to lurk either inside the shop or at the – solitary – bus stop outside. He likes me very much – unsettlingly odd people always do – and so I have taken to driving past the village shop/bus stop with head averted.

  • A new word

I have learnt a new word, from a post by Matthew, The Wolf Boy entitled Improve Your Blog While Minimizing Blog Suckage. Suckage…

Suckage… lovely word.

One of Matthew’s examples of Suckiness is this:

The paper is usually on your porch every Tuesday but this Tuesday it wasn’t, and now you have nothing to read with your tea.

I am very much afraid that my blog sometimes falls into the pit of suckiness on this count. I live a very dull life. Sometimes nothing much happens for a whole day apart from, say, Henry being sick along the back of the sofa or – noticing that the shed door is undone.

On that count I recently spent a whole rough windy night in terror, imagining that my house was about to collapse or maybe the water-tank fall through the ceiling into the living room, because of a deafening banging and creaking every few seconds. When I ventured out the following morning I discovered I had left the meter cover unlocked when I read the meter, and the thing had been slamming back and forth all night. The neighbours probably got even less sleep than I did. Oh God, I’m Antisocial.

  • Thinny Cat

Talking of cats, I notice my eighteen year-old Rosie is becoming kind of two-dimensional. She has shared and comforted me through so many horrendous adventures and I don’t want to lose her. Though of course that’s life – ie, death. She desires only to occupy my particular warm corner of the sofa; no other place in the house will do. Every time I get up, she slithers back and curls up.

This morning I realised the cushion felt a bit funny and there was Rosie, lightly sandwiched between it and me, unharmed but more two-dimensional than ever. Stay with me, little Rosie. You gave me my blogging name; now give me just a little more time.

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Leaks

It seems to be a leaky sort of time all round. Outside it’s a typical English October – leaks: leaks from steely rainclouds overhead; leaks from the neighbours’ guttering, beating an irregular tattoo on their new, annoying conservatory; leaks from my own guttering, landing on the back of my neck every time I open the back door; leaky politicians on the radio, dripping out the same old drivel everyday, and now – ? Leaks from my hot water bottle.

I have – well, had – a hot water bottle. It had a blue plush cover and was of German manufacture and so entirely to be trusted. But I suppose even German hot water bottles have a limited lifespan.

I’ve been unwell for the last couple of days – oh, waves of pain from something or other wrong with my innards. I long ago gave up trying to understand my innards, they are a law unto themselves. No doubt if I went to the doctor (if I could get an appointment with a doctor) he would tell me it was IBS, since I am female and too old for it to be the menopause or anything else female. If I was male, it would no doubt turn out to be something more specific and important-sounding.

And so I resorted to the hot water bottle (plus the occasional paracetamol, and patience)and went to bed clutching one to my poor hurty tummy. It makes not the slightest difference to the pain, of course. All psychological.

Waking at some ungodly hour in the morning, covered in snoring cats, I realised something was amiss. I was soaked. Much of the bed was soaked. The cats snored on, regardless. Surely, I thought, I am as yet too young for Incontinence. Please God do not let it be me who has started leaking! Visions of endless, shameful sheet-washing and visits from uniformed, patronising district nurses to ‘advise’ me on ‘products’… Oh God, please do not let it be that…

But, as you will have guessed by now, it was my no longer/trusty blue hot water bottle. Damnation, I thought, and threw it out, covering the wet patch with a folded blanket and continuing to be in pain until the morning when – guess what – I was in pain again.

Luckily I have two other trusty, Germanic hot water bottles – a cream one and a red one. We will see how long they last.

And now – just to add a little spice to life – my WordPress editor seems to have regressed into some kind of proto-editor, from back in the days of Tim Berners-Lee and the baby internet. I am now having to put in all the code stuff (like italics) by hand. I’m not risking any other code stuff. No idea when, or whether, it might decide to switch itself back to normal.

Tedious online research coming up, though I may risk another cup of coffee first.

Henry swallows a wasp

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

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

Henry was probably dying of a wasp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before The Deluge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cows and Hens in Jelly – yum!

I have always liked things with foreign writing on. Even when I was a child. It may be something to do with being left-handed. Scientists have recently discovered that left-handed people have better integration between the two halves of the brain, and often superior language skills. Well, finally! As if we didn’t know that! But at least, something positive after centuries of being called sinister, clumsy, weird and (effectively) shit-handed. The left is the hand Arabic-type countries use for bottom-wiping, whilst the right is reserved for eating.

Which reminds me, obliquely, of sugar. Somewhere around the Sixties there was a rash of rumours in the UK – this or that was going to disappear from the shelves. In fact these rumours seem to have been started by cunning suppliers intent on causing panic buying and as a result selling lots more stuff. I am fairly sure we are in for a lot more of that, come Brexit. If Brexit.

Anyway, one of them was for sugar. Sugar was going to be in short supply. In those days Mum was working in an office down at the little local Quay as some kind of shipping clerk. I think the rough, tough dock foreman (or whatever they are called) had taken rather a shine to Mum, happily married though she was, to my Dad. I am not sure whether Mum had taken a shine back, but she did blush and giggle a bit the day she brought home a couple of bags of sugar which had accidentally fallen off a ship. And into her bag.

The paper packets were white, like all sugar bags, but they were in Polish. I suspect Mum must have told us it was Polish, and the fruity old foreman must in turn have told her. Even with my superior cack-handed language skills I doubt if I could have deduced it, then. I perused those sugar bags for hours, trying in vain to decipher the mysterious, wonderful stuff it was written in. Words are like honey to me. Or sugar. I am Pooh Bear when it comes to any kind of print.

Incidentally, and biting one’s tail a bit, the next ‘shortage’ was of toilet paper. Another round of panic buying ensued. My mother even bought Izal. Now, if you’ve ever experienced Izal you will know that it is hard, it is sharp. It is not an item that you would want about your nether regions. Torn up newspaper would have been preferable. Apparently that used to be a children’s task, before commercial loo-paper – tearing old newspapers into squares, making a hole in one corner and stringing it all together. I would have done that willingly. Anything but Izal.

Back to foreign writing. It has now seemingly become impossible to buy Felix in tins over here. I don’t think this is anything to do with – the B word – since it has been going on for ages. You can buy the very expensive, and indeed very convenient sachets, but you can’t get the same stuff in tins. Now, I am a squeamish-ish vegetarian (who occasionally eats fish and chips, sorry) and would love to use sachets but with nineteen cats I just can’t afford to. One answer might be not to buy Felix at all but my cats – perversely – love Felix. Felix is to my cats as words are to me.

So I buy Felix over the internet, and they are German. They arrive in great monster packs of 40 or so, which nearly cripple the poor little delivery lady. (I have offered to help, but she won’t let me.) German Felix makes both me and the cats happy. The cats rush to gobble it down. I read the tins and savour the words. For some reason they will not automatically translate themselves into the obvious English equivalent. Lachs & Forelle turn into Salmon and Trout – fair enough. But Rind & Huhn in Gelee insists on translating as Cows and Hens in Jelly.

Cows and Hens in Jelly, I murmur to myself, as I go about my household tasks. Cows and Hens… I can hardly wait for the next random batch to arrive. What might it be – Goats and Pigeons in Tomato Sauce? Dog Fish and Canary?

My Emotional Support Rabbit

I want an Emotional Support Rabbit, I’ve decided. According to the BBC, anyway, such fabulous creatures are allowed to accompany those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues on to American aeroplanes. What a wonderful thing. There have apparently been Emotional Support Kangaroos, Emotional Support Turkeys, Emotional Support Cats and Dogs, even an Emotional Support Miniature Horse. (Presumably the turkeys would be excused flights home for Thanksgiving.) However, a Support Peacock by the name of Dexter was turned away because he was too big and heavy. The Support Miniature Horse was in fact smaller and lighter than the Support Peacock?

After the peacock incident United Airlines decided to ban a range of less usual creatures, including frogs, hedgehogs and goats, and are currently limiting it to cats, dogs, and of course miniature horses.

In Britain, of course, we are far more staid. Just tune in to a session of Parliament and watch the MPs discussing Brexit – bellowing, jeering, catcalling and even, fairly recently, making sheep noises – to be sure of this. (I am not sure if they ever tracked down that sheep-noise maker: they were certainly trying quite hard to.) So, British airlines, being far more staid, do not permit support animals for mental health conditions, though they do permit physical disability/guide dogs, and presumably those might be doubling as emotional support.

This reminds me of a Christmas Dinner I was once forced to attend with my colleagues at Poop, Stagger & Collapse, Solicitors (no, not really). We were sitting around long tables in a restaurant slightly more expensive than most of us would have normally been able to afford – draughty and underheated, with snowy-white tablecloths adding to the general chill. At the end of the food and quite a few bottles of wine, nearly all of the partners (or so it seemed) stood up to give a speech about the progress the firm had made in the past year and it’s plans for the one to come. The final, particularly long and rambling speech was interrupted by mysterious crowings – Cock-a-doodle-doooo, etc – from a novelty alarm clock. Everyone knew who it was, but since he was a Partner himself nothing was done.

Back to Emotional Support Creatures. Given the choice I would go for an Emotional Support Little Rabbit – just big enough to fit in my jacket pocket, with large brown eyes and twitchy little whiskers. Much as I love cats they are absolutely no good at emotional support. A cat will scratch you when you’re down, demand food when you’re stressed. Cats poop, piddle and vomit everywhere. Trying to persuade a cat not to perform three of his five Favourite Natural Functions just because it was on an aeroplane – nah! Taking a cat anywhere, even six miles in a motor car, leaves one a nervous wreck. Or nervous boat as a distance learning student once put it:

My postal course materials am stolen in the prison where I reside. Please, I am become a nervous boat.

It does seem to be a week for animal-themed posts. I follow an excellent WordPress blog called ‘English Language Thoughts’ and the question posed was;

Which would you choose – to be able to speak another language or to speak to the animals?

My Comment was that talking to the animals would be best. At my time of life and in my straitened circumstances I am hardly likely to need to speak to a foreign person in their own language. Unless Britain happens to be invaded by Foreign Persons in which case I shall sincerely wish I had learned that particular language and start scrabbling around for text books and studying by candle-light.

But how useful, to be able to ask your pet how it felt instead of hazarding a guess. Pets are notoriously ‘stoical’, ie they keep a poker face and disguise suffering as a defence against predators. How many trips to the vet could be saved if they could just tell you.

On the other hand – what if our beloved animals, no longer mute, chose to inform us stuff we didn’t want to hear – anything from I abhor this leopard-skin collar to Why exactly did you remove my reproductive organs when I was just a kitten? to What about vivisection!

I have always assumed my own cats to be super intelligent. Inside those furry little noddles they would have been composing Oscar Wilde-type witticisms or ruminating upon the meaning of life from a feline perspective. But it occurs to me that this ain’t necessarily so. Supposing they are really stupid? Supposing all they can chat about is Whiskas versus Felix? Supposing their political opinions can be summarised in one sentence: Well, there’s nothing I can do about anything in any case so I’m not even going to think about it.

Yes, someone actually said that to me. And she wasn’t a cat, either.

More Comething and Wentething

Further to my previous post. I should link to it, but I’ve forgotten how. It’s just… diddle down a bit.

The Maths Book Cometh

Sometime today. At intervals throughout my life I have attempted to fulfil my fantasy of Being Surprisingly Good At Maths. I did eventually get an ‘O’ level in Maths, many years ago in my twenties. I was quite proud of myself, since I was the one at the (very) bottom of the class who got 12% in one yearly exam, which the teacher informed me was for spelling my own name right at the top. Forced to re-take it, I achieved 7%. Presumably I had even got my name wrong this time. I was humiliated.

Perversely, ever since I have been fascinated by famous mathematicians and physicists, by unintelligible blackboards covered in chalked formulae, by genius. Even more perversely, I have been convinced that I am really a mathematical genius, or was destined to be. Something just went a bit wrong. It is a dream that won’t leave me alone.

So, in the spirit of crossing things off the bucket list of ongoing Lifetime Annoyances, and after spending most of one afternoon covering old envelopes with laborious pencil sums to compare one putative dual fuel tariff to another prior to switching  – yes, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing – I was quite proud of myself – I decided to send for a maths book and study it throughout the forthcoming Winter, a bit every day.

Partly this is to fulfil my inner conviction of being an Einstein or Hawking manqué, partly to fend off dementia. I read somewhere that the best thing you can do to Fend It Off – apart from eating vegetables a lot, jogging cheerily round the park and drinking several gallon of water a day – is to challenge your brain. Maths is the thing that challenges me most, but yet – I have noticed whilst wrestling with the calculator and the well-chewed pencil, that I am totally absorbed in the struggle. Sudoku (taught myself, still bad at it), comparative electricity prices, desperately creative household budgeting, whatever – I am lost to the world. This seem to me a good thing. This seems to me exactly the thing to generate new brain cells and forge new connections between them. The maths book should be arriving later today. Suppose I will have to start at fractions again.

Rationing Rumoured To Be Comething

It is as I suspected. Because of Brexit – sorry, should have said ‘The B Word’ – there are now rumours of rationing after we leave, due to possible hold-ups at customs points in this country or on the Continent, long queues of lorries on the motorways, etc., etc. I knew it, and have been stocking up on tins of cat food for some time. And I have other strategies, which I shall not reveal, for fear that others will copy me. Failing even these, I may have to go round the village knocking on doors, offering to swop one hour of ironing or dog-walking for a single tin of Whiskas. Failing that, I would have to let them out, to mouse as best they can, in spite of having had very little practice. Even the blind one, and the three-leggety one, and the one that’s so old it’s hard to believe she’s still alive… Sob!

Not bothered about me. I can live on bread-and-marmalade and the odd dish of microwaved porridge if necessary. (So much for the dementia-avoiding diet.) But bothered about the cats. It seems to me that if they are going to ration cat food, they will be doing so on the assumption that nobody has more than one or two cats. Stupidly! And of course, I have nineteen. I have visions of the cats and I starving together, slowly, with no way through the bureaucracy, no way of obtaining more of the life-saving Tins.

How ironic, that I should have been born soon enough after the last War for rationing of some items – sweets, I believe, and sugar – still to be in place – and here I am at the other end potentially rationed all over again. All the same, I have been fascinated by rationing all my life – bit like the maths – for no obvious reason. I read that whole series of books of correspondence to Mass Observation – people rejoicing having chanced upon an ancient tin of peaches in a corner shop – people triumphant after a three-hour queue in the rain had yielded a bunch of watercress or some spinach. I even found myself fascinated by the Potato Peel Pie in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (do read, of you get the chance) which consisted of mashed potato with an artful garnish of potato peel. I just loved all that, and imagined myself making do. And mending.

Funny how it always seem to be the awful things that most fascinate you the most. Almost like you are willing them to happen.

PS: I think there was supposed to be a Wentething, but I have forgotten what it was.

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night…

Readers may recall – though probably not – that I recently gave up my TV licence as a protest against the Government/BBC’s plans to remove free TV licenses from the over 75s next year. Annoyingly, the BBC mentioned on their radio news programme this morning that TV viewing figures are falling drastically, especially among the young. I imagined I was rebelliously depriving myself of something for the sake of a principle – now I discover I was conforming to some mindless Younger Generation.

Staring mournfully at the gap where the TV set used to be, I realise I used to use it to switch off, ie to become part of the mindless Older GenerationNow I am finding being at home all day quite hard work – all that thinking about stuff – all that What should I be getting on with now? TV was an excuse to sit still and do nothing. Or knitting.

I’ve been managing quite well with my collection of radios, each tuned to a different station – not being much of a re-tuner of DAB radios. I have one stuck on Radio 4, for the News and Woman’s Hour. I sampled The Archers (‘an everyday story of countryfolk’), in the hope that, being older now, I would suddenly be able to stand to listen to it.

I still hated it, apart from one episode when a character called Hayley was going round frantically demanding money from fellow villagers in order to solve her mortgage shortfall problem – telling them she was entitled to it. She was being so annoying and so manifestly and counter-productively foolish in her approach, and all in a fake rural accent, that I just wanted to slap her. I suppose I was gripped, but not enough to make me tune in to the next episode.

One of my other radios is tuned to something called Mellow Magic. I have always resisted anything with the word mellow in it, along with the words heart-warming and epic – but I tried it and was hooked. Basically they play all the songs you remember quite a few of the words to, that whisk you back to your past.

Another radio is tuned to Scala, which advertises itself a classical music station with a modern twist. I use this as background music for reading. I used to use Spotify for this, but was always worried that by listening online I might be using up a lot of data, whatever that is.

Most of the time it’s fine – film scores, sad tinkly piano music – but occasionally you are jolted back into the living room by something unexpected and truly ghastly such as the Dam-Busters March or Mars, the Bringer of War. It’s even worse when you’re trying to get to the end of a popular physics book which is proving beyond your comprehension. I used to read books that dealt with string theory, multiverses and spooky action at a distance, but I think my brain must have atrophied since then.

So, I just migrate from one radio to another. Now what I need is some kind of hooked pokey-stick, or series of long pieces of string tied to all the radio like reins – to take the place of the TV remote control.

Then there are the TED talks. Someone stands on stage somewhere in the world – Iceland, Toronto, whatever – and records a short talk about whatever they happen to know or feel strongly about. These talks are free to listen to and are useful if suddenly craving the sight of a human being moving about and gesticulating, as opposed to disembodied voices. You have to be selective – no point watching fifteen minutes of someone enlightening you on how to sell a million pink plastic water-jugs in one day.

That’s how I came to be watching a lady psychologist talking about deathbed visions. I think she worked in end-of-life care or similar. She was saying people attending at a death should not be surprised if the dying person was able to ‘see’ other people in the room, or even reached up to them. One person had regular visits from an old dog who had died many years before, and which slept curled up on a chair. The psychologist lady explained that visions would usually be tailored to the person’s cultural background, so people in different countries might see angels, or the Buddha, or the Hindu god of death. And children tended to see visions tailored to them – so one child told his parents that the children’s train had arrived at the station; it was time for him to go.

People also see dead relatives or friends, and have the sense that they have come to greet them from the after-world, and help them across. This set me to thinking – who would I want to come and meet me? At first I thought, nobody.  What dead person would be willing to go to the trouble of struggling into human form again, and go and lurk around at some windswept crossroads waiting for me to turn up? And then I thought, well it would be the ultimate poor sad me thing, wouldn’t it – turning up at the afterlife crossroads and nobody – not even the Devil – who I gather has a tendency to keep assignations at crossroads-es to collect the souls people have sold to him – could be bothered to be there to say ‘Hi’.

So I settled for Nan, who would probably be wearing her cardigan and her flowery overall; Sophie, a long-lost and much loved black and white ‘tuxedo’ cat, and Godmother. Godmother isn’t actually dead yet, but she’s ninety, so presumably she would be by that time. Unless, of course, what probate solicitors often refer to as The Under The Bus Scenario were to happen fairly shortly. I even considered Ex but then I thought no, he’d be tapping his watch saying You’re three-and-a-half-minutes late! Don’t you know that you are Low On My List of Priorities?

Who or what would you want to crowd around your deathbed, or be waiting for you at the crossroads?

rockabilly

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night
Are you gonna be there?
(Well I got my invite)
Gonna bring your records?
(Oh, will do) …

Mott the Hoople, Roll Away The Stone, 1974