Just Tell Daisy

I was just emailing Daisy and mentioned in passing I was going to have to resort to another of Mum’s Old Recipe Book recipes as alternative blogging inspiration had failed to strike – when it did. Second time it’s happened. So, that’s the cure for Writer’s Block then – just tell Daisy.

I do despair of myself some days…

most days…

every day, in fact…

because I can’t seem to focus. I have the attention span of a gnat and the persistence of… something that’s not very persistent… can’t actually think of anything (ideas?)

I can’t seem to be able to manage anything sensible and business-like.

I’ve been trying to activate my dormant Crafting gene in order to have stuff to sell at the Artisan Market. Up to now all my ‘creativity’ seems to have gone into writing but now that seems to have worn itself out, or at least the fiction-creating part of it. But surely, I thought, I could make like Canadian Sister and Make Interesting Stuff. Trouble is, though both of us have the gene for inventing, neither of us seem to have the gene for selling or being able to conceive of what might sell. She is always getting into trouble at the Seniors Craft Group in her local community centre for not wanting to knit dishcloths and insisting instead on trying out green and purple crocheted elephants. “Elephants Don’t Sell” the Seniors are always telling her. “Dishcloths Do.”

“But how do you know my Elephants Won’t Sell if you won’t even Put One On Your Stall? How are people to know there is the Possibility of Elephants when all they are ever presented with are Dishcloths?”

I paraphrase and possibly exaggerate here, but you see what I mean.

I have been trying to force myself to make sensible little items – “small objects of desire” as the phrase used to be – but what comes out is weird stuff – eccentric items that surely Won’t Sell – a miniature Dr Who scarf, for example – so many possible uses:

  • Winter wrist-warmer
  • Granny Chic bracelet (I have only just discovered Granny Chic, unfortunately you have to be no older than twenty-two to wear it)
  • Must-have addition to Teddy’s wardrobe?

Or the Dancing Doorknob Cat (don’t ask) or the Two-Tailed Catnip Mice (my cats look askance at them) or the Odd-Eyed Lucky Fish. I can visualise the potential customers at the Artisan Market – that army of muffin-topped, much-tattooed, legging-wearing, toddler-toting females – and somehow I can’t see them going for the Dancing Doorknob Cat even if I label it Shabby Chic. Shabby Chic, like the lurid feature wall, is much in vogue here still. Granny Chic hasn’t got here yet and probably never will.

Canadian Sister once told me she finds it difficult to make more than two iterations of any design – she just wants to move on – and I suspect I’m the same. No wonder she hated doing all those dishcloths. I’m sick of the sight of Two-Tailed Mice already.

And now I’ve discovered Pinterest. For years Pinterest was just a nuisance to me, popping up all over the internet and interrupting my browsing. I didn’t know what it was for, to be honest. And then I saw someone on the business programme explaining it was a search engine, like Google, but for images, and the penny dropped. I registered. Now, far from constantly clicking on that little ‘x’ in the corner to get rid of it because I didn’t want to enter my email address, I’m hooked on Pinterest.

But now I am both fascinated and depressed. Fascinated because there’s an Aladdin’s Cave of beautiful, creative, wonderful stuff being produced all over the globe. But depressed because – too overwhelmingly many un-have-able (by-me) crafting ideas. Too wonderful ever to be emulated by a spare-room Lucky Fish manufacturer like me. I feel like Mrs Macron standing next to Milania Trump – like, why bother being a svelte, elegant, Parisian older woman when there’s that towering above me?

Ah well, on with the motley. Tomorrow, maybe, a patchwork bag with a Two-Tailed Mouse poking out of the pocket…

dr who cat

 

My life is so complicated…

The old ginger cat just peed in my hairdryer. Oh joy.

I now have not one but two ancient, toothless cats, far gone into senility. One is over a hundred in human terms, the other, who knows? Combined, these two make my domestic life a nightmare.

One is deaf and, I suspect, very nearly blind. She wakes me up at all hour of the night with a chorus of bellowings and screechings. Nothing can console her, neither little tins of extra-special-and-very-expensive food nor consolatory pats-and-strokes nor witty conversation. She stands, gazing at where she senses I probably am and lets rip at full volume. If the new neighbours were not so noisy and party-prone themselves I would probably feel guilty about this.

The other is incontinent. By this I mean that he spends his entire day inventing ever more exotic places in which to pee voluminously, which are not a dirt box. He pees on boxes of cat-food, he pees against sacks of cat litter; he spray paperback books on the lower shelves of bookcases, he leaves deposits in dark corners, he waters the front doormat. Worst of all, now, he has taken to peeing in my bed.

A couple of weeks ago somewhere around midnight I entered the bedroom and observed (why am I talking like a policeman all of a sudden?) that the bed seemed eccentrically rearranged. Fearing the worst I pulled back the covers and there, behold, a spreading circle of wetness. It had gone through two duvets – the summer one, but also the winter one which, for want of anywhere else too keep it, I ‘store’ on the bed itself, underneath the bottom sheets. It had gone through the sheets. It had gone through the counterpane. It had gone through absolutely everything. And naturally this was on the side I would usually sleep on.

So of course I stripped it all off and washed it all. It was a damp and drizzly week, not a glimpse of the sun, and it took me a full five days to dry everything out. I had duvets draped over the stair rails and sheets hanging from coat-hangers in doorways; it was a chamber of horrors. In the meantime, night after night I slept on a naked mattress, awkwardly rolled in a child-size duvet. Every so often a cat playfully pounced up one or other of my naked feet, and savaged it.

And I had only just been telling GE today of my ingenious solution to this problem. Every morning I make the bed and immediately spread over it one of those heavy duty green ‘festival’ rain-capes – the sort that opens out and doubles as a groundsheet. This makes the bedroom smell rather rubbery, but since then the bed has not been peed on. He must have got the message, I thought.

But this evening I briefly but foolishly left my hairdryer on top of the green heavy duty festival rain-cape. When I picked it up, cat pee cascaded from it in veritable torrents onto the bedroom carpet. Where I had picked it up from, a golden pool of wee.

At least the bed’s still dry but I daren’t use that hairdryer. It wouldn’t be worth the risk of electrocution – or would it? No, it wouldn’t!

Unfortunately I’ve got long, long hair like some ancient hippie, mainly because I can’t afford to have it cut – I just wash it and dry it and snip a bit off the fringe at intervals. I don’t go out with it inappropriately flowing, though. It does get tied up a variety of buns, pony tails and plaits. But without the hairdryer…

Luckily… I have a spare hairdryer. Spare for everything, that’s me.

But now I suppose I ought to buy a spare for the spare, just in case.

My life is so complicated.

Bonphobia

I was going to call this post C’mon Baby, Light My Fire. It would probably have attracted more clicks but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.

I was a Girl Guide, actually, for about a week. Having miraculously escaped being drummed out of the Brownies for landing in the middle of the Toadstool and crushing it to death I became a Girl Guide but my new blue uniform hadn’t even arrived before I left of my own accord having been instructed to light a fire in a puddle round the back of the Junior School.

I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t so much the fire, at that stage, it was the ridiculousness of it.

I have never before tried to light a bonfire, to be honest. All this time and I left it to men. It was one of those men-tasks. Ex was very keen on starting fires. He was a man of many talents and in spite of being an artist worked for quite a while as a miniature steam train driver. As they chugged along – he and the Guard, who shovelled in the coal – they frequently set accidental fires all along the track. He loved doing that.

Later on he used to hold Bonfire Night parties and invite all the neighbours, and he personally would have built that gigantic bonfire down the bottom of the garden, and the elaborate Guy Fawkes. He personally had set up and would rush round setting off every single firework. He personally would have cooked vast trays of sausages and he personally would be dishing them up, in between rockets. I did nothing. All I saw of him all evening was this demonic shadow, leaping about, running the whole show. Something of a control freak.

Yesterday I was forced to try to light my first bonfire. I mean, how hard can it be to set light to some stuff in a bin? Too hard for me, evidently.

I was having to have the bonfire because I can no longer afford to drive my car. Seventeen cats means an awful lot of damp sawdust minus poo, sacks and sacks of it, and the Council only collects once a fortnight. Hitherto I had solved the problem by loading the car up with black sacks at intervals and driving ten miles or so to the tip where Council employees might or might not help me to drag the (leaking) sacks up the steep wooden stairs to the skip and heave them, somehow, over the top. Over the years as I have become weaker this has become more difficult.

I did ring the Council. I explained about the not driving and asked whether it would be possible for me to hire a second green bin, though really I couldn’t have afforded to.

No, she said.

Then would it be possible to class, say, paper bags full of sawdust as garden waste and hire one of those brown bins?

No, she said. Could you perhaps bury ten bin sacks full of damp sawdust in your garden every week?

Not really, I said.

I obtained all the stuff. The dustbin with the chimney, the red fireproof gloves, some little sachets called “fire starters”, a poker. I checked online when I was allowed to have fires and which weather conditions to avoid. The sawdust mountain was taking over the garage and I knew the day had came when I had to actually Set Light To Stuff. I hardly slept the night before. I don’t like to draw attention, you see. I don’t like to be seen. Setting Light To Stuff and causing a lot of smelly smoke was the equivalent, for me, of the casting off of the Seventh Veil.

As an afterthought I filled a large bucket of water to throw on it if it got out of hand.

I had no idea how to begin.

I realised I couldn’t just tip the sawdust in because there were air-holes in the bottom of the bin and it would just fall through. I thought I might have solved that problem by bagging the sawdust in paper bags. I put quite a lot of these in the bottom, and a bit of garden waste, and one or two of those little sachets of what looked like damp sugar, took a deep breath, lit a match and threw it in there.

Fifteen matches later, most of the bags had kind of singed through and blackened cat litter was trickling out of them. There had been a small amount of smoke but scarcely any flame, and what little flame there had been had died, repeatedly.

So, what did I do? Well, I did what I usually do in such crushing situations, of which there have been many in my life, I hid and trembled for a bit. Luckily in the corner behind the garage there happened to be plastic chair. No one could see me. Could they?

After a while I gathered myself together and went indoors, leaving the mess, temporarily. I went upstairs and turned on the computer and watched several YouTube videos on – How To Start A Fire, My New Garden Incinerator etc. Twenty minutes of watching some man throwing one log in after another and then putting the lid back on. I thought I would die of boredom but it was better than dealing with the mess.

I decided I had missed out several stages. I should have scrumpled up paper in the bottom, and on top of that I should have placed something called ‘kindling’ in a kind of horizontal lattice pattern on top. I searched for ‘kindling’ on Amazon and ordered some. Oh God, more expense. I should have set light to that and then introduced the cat litter once it was really hot. But how to introduce the cat litter, a mountain of which was currently bagged up in large brown paper bags guaranteed to kill any flame?

Then I found a video made by some bearded man with a pipe in a garage in America. It was about making fire-starters out of sawdust. He gnawed on this pipe as he melted down wax candles and mixed them with the sawdust in a bucket. Something about him was…soothing. Maybe it was the sound of the rain hammering on his workshop roof. I’m gonna work indoors today, he said, because of the rain. I wondered what manly, competent thing he usually did outdoors.

And then, he mumbled, around the pipe, you transfer the mixture still warm to these here muffin tins. Don’t use your wife’s (your wife?) best muffin tins because she will not be pleased. You press it down hard, like this and you put these here muffin tins in the fridge for twenty minutes or so to harden off and then you knock them out, like this, and…

So that’s what I’m going to try next, just as soon as the candles arrive.

Pensioner in Crumbling Cliff-top Plunge, Almost

Did I tell you I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school? I was sent to see the Careers Advisor and confided in her my secret ambition. She looked very depressed, but she smiled. I have some pamphlets here about the Women’s Army, she said, eyeing my not inconsiderable height and sturdy skeleton. And there’s always Woolworths…

That was it, and truth to tell it would have taken less than that to discourage me. Some kids, unfortunately, need a great deal more input than their surrounding adults are prepared to give them; they will only flourish when bathed in the sunshine of positive and persistent encouragement.

But onwards, to that cliff-top: I’m sure you’re desperate to know all about the crumbly and her plunge from dizzying heights – almost.

Yesterday I decided to experiment with catching the bus. It must be twenty years since I caught the last one and I was nervous. How would I cope with being away from home without my car in which to beat a hasty retreat if necessary? Could I really use the Bus Pass the Council issued me with a while back and which has been mouldering in the bottom of my handbag ever since? Which way up did it go? What happened if it was invalid now? Would I be ejected from the bus in disgrace?

However, I managed it and spent the next hour hurtling around narrow country lanes, jolted this way and that whilst clinging to the seat-rail in a howling gale from the driver’s open window. That was why all the passengers were sitting on the left hand side. During one of the bus’s brief stops I shuffled across to join them. I saw villages, hamlets and straggly clumps of houses I had never seen before. I swept past field after field of bright yellow oil seed rape. I never thought a bus could go so fast. I never realised that speed bumps mean nothing whatsoever to a bus driver. In a way it was quite enjoyable, a bit of an adventure.

By the time I was waiting at the hospital bus stop to come back I felt almost confident. I had read the timetable affixed to the stop. I at least, unlike the brace of old persons waiting with me on that hard metal seat, knew when the next was due. Do you know when the next one’s coming? the old lady asked the old man. Search me, duckie. I’m a Londoner. Last time I was sat ‘ere over an hour.

A bus arrived ten minutes early, a bad sign which I failed to recognise at the time. But it had the name my home village on the sign on the front. What could possibly go wrong? Is this the one for Town? asked the old lady.

No, I threw back over my shoulder as I mounted the step with the air of a seasoned hippie-world-traveller, this one is going the other way.

Well, it was going the other way – from Town. Unfortunately it was also going another other way that I hadn’t even thought of. After three quarters of an hour of jolting through fields of this and that, a lengthy detour to the prison, where we picked up neither prisoners nor visitors, and a tortuous negotiation of country lanes too small for a small car let alone a large bus, the bus came to a stop at what I recognised to be the top of the cliffs, close to but far, far above where I lived. The bus driver and her bus driver apprentice turned and regarded me – the last remaining passenger – interrogatively.

I – I believe I may have got on the wrong bus, I murmured, and they agreed. In front of me a red and white sign saying Dangerous: Impassable to Motor Vehicles!!! or some such.

Um, I believe that road joins up with the top of my road? They stared at me again.

There’s no way I can get the bus down there, the lady driver said. She actually thought I was asking her to drive the bus down there, for my sole benefit.

No! I mean – I meant – I can surely walk it, if I’m careful? I’m only about fifteen minutes away from my house as the crow flies. They had obviously never heard that expression.

So I got off the bus and set off down the path, doing that confident, bibbety-bobbity Bugs Bunny walk I tend to do when I know I am making a complete idiot of myself. The bus did a several point turn and disappeared. The silence as I walked was deafening. Nothing but the odd cricket chirping. I was old, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a warm spring day, and quite alone.

Now, if it is possible for an old person on foot to screech to a halt, that’s what I did. A few inches in front of me the clifftop sheered away to nothing, in fact there was an overhang. I was standing on a thin overhanging shelf of mud whilst far below me the cold spring sea churned and tiny ships went back and forth on the horizon. It’s like Breughel’s Icarus, I thought. All I will be is a leg disappearing into the water, spotted by a ploughman.

I reversed, carefully, and walked back along the path, still cheery-looking and bibbety-bobbity. I know where I’m going, my jaunty walk proclaimed as I examined my options. I had overheard the bus driver and her accomplice saying that the bus only came up here once a day. Maybe I could call a taxi. Would my mobile phone get a signal up here? Maybe I could walk to the nearest house and plead insanity.

easter bunny

And then a horse came alone – not on its own, I mean there was a human being perched on top of it in a riding hat. May I ask you something? I asked the lady on the horse. The creature reared back several paces, or maybe the lady pulled it back. I suppose a wild-haired, panicking pensioner must have been the last thing either of them expected to see.

I’ll stay back, I heard myself saying, ridiculously. I wouldn’t want to frighten the horse.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Horse Lady pointed out another path, one that looked for all the world like the entrance to a holiday camp but wasn’t. Follow that right round, keep going and you’ll end up in the right place. It was a bit pot-holey – in fact very pot-holey. Very muddy, but luckily dried mud. Very quiet. I began reviewing the likely headlines:

Pensioner Found Dead on Remote Pathway

Pensioner Tumbles into Giant Pot-Hole

What Was She Doing There Anyway? Enquire Grieving Relatives

I felt quite smug once safely indoors slurping tea and munching on a cheese and pickle sandwich surrounded by cats. The hip would be playing up tomorrow but I had learned a valuable lesson (not ever to get on that bus again) and escaped unscathed, unplunged etc.

The relatives would just have to grieve another day.

He was only expecting a manicure

Could forgetfulness be some kind of germ – catching, transmittable, etc? I only ask because… because….

Well, as you know my mother’s got dementia. I’m not at all sure she knows who I am now – if she looks up at all when I go in, it is with a vague sort of puzzlement. I might be anybody, from cleaner to carer to relative to friend. The important thing is, can I reach her water jug? Can I untangle her sheets?

And of course, you start to check yourself – daily, hourly, by the minute. Why didn’t that fact spring to mind? Why was there that slight hesitation over someone’s name? Have I just done something peculiar? Would I know if I had?

The other night the new lady came round from next door. She introduced herself. After she’d gone I went straight through to the kitchen, scribbled “Claire” on a slip of paper and taped it to the fridge. Gotcha!

Next night she came round again. We were talking about a workman who might be needed to do a repair on her house. “He does know you want to see him,” I assured her. “I told him that your name was Claire.”

“Ros,” she said.

At least it’s not just me. Yesterday one of my elderly neighbours very kindly offered to help me with my many cats if ever the need arose. “I’ve written my number on a piece of paper,” she said. “You have only to call me and I’ll come straight over.”

“That’s so kind of you,” I said, “but aren’t you allergic to cats?”

“No,” she said. “I love little moggies.”

Now a few years back she told me she couldn’t take in a particularly muddy, flea-ridden and unneutered stray kitten herself, though she would have loved to, since she was allergic. Started sneezing and coughing almost straight away, she did. (That’s how I got George.) Several times she’s come to the door and I’ve invited her in and she’s dithered in terror on my doorstep. “Oh no, I couldn’t. I’m allergic, you see. Start sneezing and coughing almost straight away…”

Has she forgotten the allergy or the fib? Or could I over the years somehow have fabricated an entire narrative, in several successive parts, about my neighbour and her allergy to cats? Either way, I’ve got to think of a way for her to feel useful and wanted now that she no longer has her disabled sister to care for – which I suspect is what she really needs – without letting her loose on my rambunctious and precious moggies, at least in any unsupervised capacity.

And finally, as they say on the News. Late this afternoon I telephoned the vet’s receptionist . “Could I make an appointment for Rufus to come in and have his claws clipped by the nurse?”

“Certainly,” she said. We discussed possible dates as she leafed through the diary. In the background I could hear somebody muttering “Anal glands, anal glands.”

That’s odd, I thought. Maybe there’s someone standing behind her, trying to remind her of the urgent anal glands of some other furry client.

“Yes,” she said, “Rufus can come in for his anal glands on Saturday morning.”

“Um, where are you getting anal glands from? Poor little chap, he was only expecting a manicure…

“Not anal glands?”

No, really, just his claws.”

“Oh dear! Where did I get anal glands from?”

Who knows? How did Ros metamorphose into Claire between the front door and the refrigerator? And where did my neighbour’s allergy disappear to?

It’s a mystery.

Is there a very thin man inside my TV set?

I still don’t know how my TV works. Do you? Basically, I don’t know how most household items work unless they happen to be held together with nuts, bolts, screws or elastic bands and don’t require electricity to function. And basically I’m not interested enough to find out. I prefer things that I can take apart and put together – things where you can see what’s what.

I gather from WikiLeaks that the FBI may now be able to spy on me from my TV. Apparently there are microphones inside Samsung television sets – and naturally I have a Samsung television set – that can be recording the most intimate details of one’s private life whilst appearing to be safely turned off. Reactions have been mixed. One man has vowed only to watch TV in the nude from now on.

The only thing is, it says smart TVs. Now, I’m not sure my Samsung TV is all that smart. The thing seems to have trouble even managing its pixels. A good strong wind or a torrential downpour outside and it takes to pixilating wildly. If the bad weather continues it become one big pixel and no picture. Then I have to try all the usual recipes for getting electronic devices to work – first I talk to it, gently but reprovingly; then I screw all its little pointy plugs back in at the back, several times over; then I waggle its wires and inspect the bits stuffed into the waste paper basket (yes, my wires are in a waste paper basket) that one of the cats once peed on. Have those sections dissolved any more since last time I looked at them? Finally, I do what everyone the world over does – I turn it off and turn it on again. Of course it might still be listening? The rainstorm pixel-storm might just be a ruse to make me think it was turned off or a cover for FBI agents or Russians tuning in:

Hey, Hank, it’s the dame with the knitting and the Sudoku set or

Ach, Yuri – dat babushka vid all the felines…

I was trying to think whether I had got anything at all in my house that might be classed as “smart”. There’s the fridge of course. It’s fairly new but it doesn’t seem to talk to anything, just sits there – whitely, despondently – gurgling to itself at intervals. It certainly doesn’t hold conversations with the oven, which just sits there – rustily, sulkily – refusing to communicate with anybody.

I tried to clean the interior of the oven a while back, with a substance recommended on the internet – probably bicarbonate of soda, that’s what the internet usually recommends. It foamed up, dribbled out and, eventually, rusted. Not that I cook much anyway. I did manage one of my signature vegetable hotpots in it yesterday, and that tasted OK. There’s the toaster, of course, but most of the time it lurks inside one of my kitchen cupboards. I do place my ear to the door at intervals but so far haven’t heard it tapping, or a muffled toaster-y voice demanding to be let out.

As for tech, I have a mobile phone but it’s not the smart kind – devious perhaps – forever hiding the address book and relocating the place where you can update the clock. It and I do not get on.

I have a desktop computer – indeed, and here I am sitting in front of it – but somehow I doubt that it is looking back at me. It’s been rebuilt so many times by despairing Mr Computer Fixits that any eavesdropping device the FBI may have put in is likely to have been destroyed several times over.

There is the tablet, of course, the Kindle Fire. Now that may indeed be smart. Certainly it’s got apps on it: does merely having apps make something smart? I wonder if they will ever get round to installing apps into children – bypass all that schoolwork, just download Pythagoras’ Theorem, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Shakespeare’s Sonnets….?

In any case I can’t see why anybody would be in the least interested in listening in to me and my twelve moggies. I mean, they’d surely die of boredom since most of the time it would be silence; maybe the odd shuffling of paper, a cough, the slurping of tea, a chorus of plaintive meows around feeding time. Reluctantly, I had to rule myself out as a potential candidate for Gogglebox on that very basis.

I do enjoy Gogglebox, though like everything else it becomes almighty tedious after the first few series. Gogglebox consists entirely of couples and families slumped around on sofas throughout the realm, being filmed as they are watching TV whilst eating sandwiches and salted peanuts, attempting to remove large dogs from their line of vision, screaming, gasping, chortling, arguing and exchanging barbed marital witticisms.

giles.png

Giles and Mary, Gogglebox

I did think I would like to be on it, but it’s difficult to be entertaining, even unintentionally, when you live on your own. Whether it’s a baby bird teetering on the edge of its nest high up in some mountain eyrie, a turtle being chased by hundreds of snakes and just about making it over the sand dunes to the water’s edge, some politician saying something mind-bogglingly stupid or someone falling over and revealing their bespangled knickers whilst meant to be ballroom dancing – what can you say, when you’re on your own in the room? It’s hardly worth an “Oh!”

I was looking at the TV just now – not the front, the back. It’s very narrow. When we got our first television set it seemed to take up most of the living room. It was the size of a sideboard. In those days it was quite possible to credit what your parents told you – that there was a little man who lived in the TV, and he was what made it work. I really believed that. I used to worry about him. Wasn’t it stuffy and dark in there? Didn’t he ever get tired of wrestling with the vertical hold? How did he eat? How did he pee? Did he have a special bottle?

Now of course I have put away such childish misconceptions: if the FBI or the Russians are indeed lurking inside my TV set with microphones or secret cameras, all I can say is they must be very thin men (or ladies) indeed.

The Kama Sutra Mystery

My Uncle and Aunt invited me down to Devon when I was sixteen. I was to stay for a week. To this day I’m not sure why they suddenly took it into their heads to invite me. Childless themselves, maybe they were assessing me for an inheritance. If only that had worked out. Maybe my parents had secretly begged for me to be taken off their hands.

I doubt if my Uncle and Aunt were enchanted by me either – a sullen, awkward lump of a teenager with nothing to say, who insisted on going to church on her own on Sunday and spent most of the time holed up in the spare room of their narrow Victorian mid-terrace hammering away on a black Imperial typewriter she had found there. What was I writing, I wonder? Something terribly creative but not terribly good, probably.

My Uncle was blind – well, as good as. He had those creepy gobstopper glasses. Green glass, perfectly round. At that point he was still keeping up his bicycle round as a door-to-door collector of insurance premiums. He had an inner map of all the streets in Exeter, and navigated using this. When I visited years later, with my new husband, we managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost in some godforsaken suburb of the city. I had come down on the train when I visited before, so I had no idea how to drive there. We telephoned Auntie for help but Uncle answered and proceeded to talk my then-husband through the entire route to their house in the town centre from memory; which still doesn’t explain how he managed to stay on his bicycle when he couldn’t see more than an inch in front of him.

Uncle was bold, quite fearless and seemingly unaware of danger. Walking with him on the quayside at Brixham one afternoon, my Aunt and I were in a constant state of fear, ready to retrieve him as he strode towards fallen ropes, anchors and bollards as if they couldn’t possibly exist, and somehow managed to avoid them all. Later, though, he wasn’t so lucky. Someone had left open a pavement hatch leading to a coal-cellar, and down he tumbled.

On the night of the moon landing he stayed up all night in an armchair, leaning forwards, his nose pressed almost against the glass of their tiny black-and-white TV. ‘Your Uncle will be in a very bad mood by morning,’ my Aunt warned me. ‘Best we stay out of his way.’

They were an odd couple to look at – she a gawky, big-hipped, toothy six footer – far taller than other women of her generation – he a small, round man with a West Country accent thicker than clotted cream. They had met at night school somehow – quite how I don’t know, given the geographical separation between Devon and Kent – and married when my Aunt was over thirty and well-settled into the old-maidhood for which she seemed to have been designed.

Instead, Uncle whisked her off to Devon to spend many years running round after her mother-in-law, who despised this unexpected ‘foreign’ giantess of a daughter-in-law and quickly developed dementia. Years later, Uncle also got dementia, so Auntie was destined for the double whammy. But in between these two episodes of horror there would be a good few decades of peaceful companionship. My Aunt was a patient woman and content with very little – visits to the allotment; a part-time job in the Post Office; a never-to-be-realised fantasy of one day retiring to Herne Bay, where she would open a genteel cake shop on the sea front, and a series of semi-adopted neighbourhood cats, all known as David.

It may have been that night or another when I discovered paperback copies of The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden in the bookcase, in my attic room. Full colour illustrations  of exotic, glassy-eyed men and ladies doing strange things to one another with oddly abstracted expressions. They were concealed by a row of dull Fabian Society pamphlets and thick layer of dust.

I read them, of course, then hid them again. It added a certain spice to the week and I learned quite a bit, though nothing that was to come in very useful, really. Whatever Cosmopolitan said, there never seemed to be a lot of call for all those contorted and excruciating positions… ah, well. I did memorise a number of words that have come into their own recently in Scrabble, so they weren’t wasted.

But the mystery remains: which of them had been reading The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden, given that Uncle was blind and Aunt so very school-girlish and corseted?

And why, exactly?