Thank God For Cup-A-Soup

It’s a long time since I wrote anything and the bit of WordPress that I can see when I type stuff seems to have turned a loathsome shade of magenta-cum-chestnut. Nothing stays the same, does it? Turn your back and…

I only retuned the TV at Christmas, in readiness for Canadian Sister’s visit. Retuning a TV is a Man Job as far as I’m concerned, but since there was no Man I was forced to puzzle it out. Well, I thought – that’s that sorted for another few years, but no. This week my Freeview channels have started vanishing again. Already! So I had to detach the instructions I taped to the back of the TV last time. My eyes seem to have gone to pieces in the last few weeks. I can’t read any writing on the TV now from the sofa, but, I think, if I stagger forward and perch on the coffee table

On the coffee table I make the unwelcome discovery that things are equally out of focus from there, merely larger. I settle for larger and, squinting, start to follow my own instruction. I had to cancel my optician’s appointment because of the chest infection my Sister gave me. Not even an exotic Canadian chest infection but something she picked up in Stockport.

So her visit, much looked forward to, did not go entirely to plan. My sister’s visits never go entirely to plan but this time, since so much has happened in between, and she has lost her husband in the meantime, I suppose I was fondly imagining that everything would be back to normal, ie back to the way it was when we were teenagers, not that either of us were exactly normal then. But of course, it wasn’t. Much water under the bridge.

I mustn’t catch this, I was thinking, in between trips to the fridge to find her ice-cold yoghurts or trips to the kettle to make her honey and lemon drinks. I simply mustn’t allow myself catch this, I thought, as I marvelled again at how giant shreds of damp and germy paper tissue could have spread themselves over such a wide area of carpet and sofa, in spite of the Tesco bag supplied for their depositing. The Tesco bag kept disappearing. It went upstairs every few hours and then did not come back down again. But of course I catch everything nowadays, and once I’ve got it I can’t get rid of it. By the Wednesday evening I had the Throat.

There wasn’t much we could do, what with her being sick and me being sick and my friend from down the village – who had scared us both with a long hypothetical and never-to-actually-be-disclosed list of activities, all of which would involve her – being sick as well. So we sat at home and watched TV.

Poor Sister. What they don’t tell you is now cruel a dying spouse can be. Apparently, among other things, he told her that all she had ever done was sit at home and watch TV. I wonder why dying people need to be so brutal, however frightened they are of death, knowing that their words will echo on down the years until all that people will remember is not forty years of Who You Were but two weeks of What You Said.

So we watched TV. Turns out we both ‘fans’ (possibly not the right word) of Whiny Lady, who has long, perfectly coiffed red hair and lives on a cowboy ranch. Day after day, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, we had been tuning in to Whiny Lady, learning how she prepares Yummy Meals months in advance and saves them all in Tupperware containers in her vast freezer, and how she loves to cook up vast plates of Mexican style meat from all the huge, handsome cowboy men and beautiful, healthy cowboy children in her life, and how she loves her Mom, and her Mom in law, and her Father in law, and how she cooks up huge, wonderful chocolate Thingys for them…

As we watched, and choked and sneezed, and the soggy remnants of paper tissue rained down upon my sofa and living room carpet and cats, we tried to analyse what exactly was the fascination here. Sister has been somewhat more adventurous in the kitchen than I – when permitted in the kitchen, which wasn’t often – but not necessarily more successful. My cookery is more like Do I Have Anything That Might Fit Between Two Pieces Of Bread? Hers is more of an ongoing scientific experiment. At least now she can conjure up slightly wonky Buddha candles in her kitchen – something that also used to be on the verboten list.

We analysed what it was about our daily doses Whiny Woman that absorbed our attention. Sister decided it was lifestyle porn, ie we didn’t so much want to be able to cook like her but to have all those wonderful husbands and check-shirted sons and daughters and supportive relatives, and a great big kitchen separate from the Ranch in its own Lodge, and the bunch of flowers on the ledge and all those tops. Whiny Woman wears a different wonderful top over her cowgirl jeans to cook in every day. Does she store them a walk-in wardrobe the size of Texas? Does she throw them away after a single use? Are they supplied to her by manufacturers of wonderful tops? How does she fry up all that pork and beef and chicken and grits (grits?) and never attract a spot of grease?

I narrowed it down to Implement Envy. I do not want to cook like Whiny
Woman and I know perfectly well that I’d be as miserable as sin on a cowboy ranch and couldn’t possibly cope with all that sincere and syrupy wonderfulness with relatives, but…

Oh look, she’s got a pale blue saucepan that exactly matches her top…. and that frying pay – sorry, skillet – yesterday – so heavy, so perfectly designed, so lusciously expensive and – it matched her top! And a special shiny silvery thing for draining cauliflower.

So now Sister is gone, returned with some difficulty, first on the train to Stockport via London, and then to Canada. And here I have been, at death’s door, ever since, sleeping upright in a corner of the sofa for a week and a half, night turning into day, a curious pall of unreality covering everything. You only know you’ve got a Respiratory Tract when you get an Infection of some kind. It’s the bit (apart from your head) that hurts so much when you cough that you hope to fall asleep so as not to be forced to cough for a while. It’s the bit the penicillin doesn’t seem to make any difference whatsoever to. Thank goodness for Cup-A-Soup.

Party On, Gran!

The usual Christmas card came from an old friend, many miles away. It contained the usual folded-in-four, once-a-year letter. I’m not sure how old Jen is now but she must be ancient, considering she was a great deal older than me when we typed together for a while, in that tiny, exhaust-fume filled basement next to the ring road – bars on the windows; stiflingly crammed with sweating female bodies and those massive old word processors and printers. She tells me that her husband and his mother are on different floors of the same hospice – rooms above and below one another – and that she walks uphill for twenty minutes or so several times a week to visit them both. Neither of them know who she is.

One sentence from her letter has stuck in my mind – “I am afraid my world has become rather narrow”. Poor Jen, it was always narrow, though she wasn’t one to complain – a narrow, if cheerful, upbringing, narrow horizons, narrow expectations, narrow opportunities – and now it is narrower still.

Yesterday I went to the free Christmas Dinner the Parish Council put on every year. This place gradually seeps into your bones. You find yourself beginning to acquire the local cunning, which basically boils down to a series of mottoes such as:

  • Pay no more than 50p for anything.
  • Get the 9.30 bus so that you can use your bus pass. Argue piously with the driver if he says it’s 29 minutes past. By the time you have finished arguing it will be 30 minutes past. And then you can use your bus pass.
  • Leggings go with everything, and they are very cheap.
  • Tee shirts go with leggings, and they are also cheap.
  • Get your hair (beautifully) cut and (unpredictably) coloured by college students. They are very cheap.

Everyone goes to the Christmas Dinner, and every tiny parish has one. You have to fill in a form from the Post Office requesting a place. You have to be old, and local. There are a series of Christmas Dinners on different days in one of the three possibly “venues”. Sometimes the same venue hosts different parishes on different days of the month. It’s complex. But free. And actually, quite good. At least there’s plenty of it, even sprouts, even those tough-ish roast potatoes that remind you of school – even if a rainstorm is swirling outside, the car park is a sea of mud, your baby elephant sized paper hat is falling down over your ears and you are being forced to listen to mega-amplified Sixties classics sung by a man with sideburns in a shiny suit.

saw him, hiding behind the amplifier, wolfing it down before he began. A plate of Christmas Dinner must be part of the fee.

Poor chap, he worked really, really hard, but they made the mistake of calling the raffle (30 sumptuous prizes, including a box of biscuits-for-cheese) moments before he got up to tune his guitar (new strings, he was having problems with them). Immediately afterwards all the oldies started struggling into their coats and hats to go home. Mr Guitar Man was left, mid-afternoon, trying to ginger up a three parts empty hall, the few remaining oldies in the middle with their elephant hats, full of Xmas Pud and clapping sporadically, and a few schoolgirls (still in uniform) propping up the bar. Presumably they were related to the proprietors rather than hardened drinkers.

And oh, he sang Driving Home For Christmas. Extremely tunefully, but very loud. How I loathe that song. And Another Brick In the Wall by Pink Floyd, which I used to like but only for about three and a half minutes back in the Seventies. Very, very loud. And that Ride, Sally, Ride one. What’s that all about? Wasn’t that the Fifties?

And this – by way of attempting to bite one’s tail, post-wise, serpent-wise – is what really worries me. But I don’t think I can explain it. Oh well, I’ll have a bash.

It’s what my first-paragraph friend said about the narrowing of one’s world. I see it happening to me, of course, and yet, oddly, not. I see the advantages of being sucked in and submerged, the comfort and blanketing ease that narrowness brings – old age, no money, working class. Belonging. You see, that is what I have never, ever experienced, and part of me wishes only to be absorbed into it, never to have to think ‘outside the box’ again. Never again to be forced to sit on some hard, chilly seat and observe. I didn’t want to write this, because I observed it.

All the while I was sitting in the corner on that hard, chilly seat and knew however much I was clapping and smiling and chinking glasses and wishing people Happy Christmas at the socially appropriate (also observed) times, playing with the debris from the Christmas crackers, wishing I’d got one of those tiny spinning tops instead of a tiny yellow car – I was making mental notes, and I couldn’t stop. And I knew that I would never be able to, however lonely it was.

Watching my friend (of this paragraph) struggling to her feet to clap and sing along to Driving Home For Christmas; watching her propping her telescopic walking stick out of sight and hobbling onto the dance floor to do a kind of dignified, shuffling Sixties dance in the middle of the floor with another woman; observing her dancing, her with her floaty, surprisingly-coloured-by-students hairdo, wearing a blouse so large, twinkly and besequinned it was like a little constellation all of itself, I so wished I could do that, be like that. And yet I didn’t, and I couldn’t. I would rather the floor had opened and swallowed me whole than venture forth to dance. The other half of me was wondering how soon it could think of an excuse to go home and feed the cats.

The part of me that recognised courage in the face of adversity, a certain inexplicable joyousness about her, also felt the horror.

A plague on all your Houses

Do you ever suddenly realise – now – something that ought to have been perfectly obvious at the time but wasn’t – because you were a child?

The other night I was lying in the bath, re-reading passages from Stephen King’s On Writing and simultaneously trying to fend off the three-legged cat, who was trying to eat the hairband I had scrunched my hair up in, and about to fall into the hot water. He has no sense, which may be why he ended up at the age of 2 or thereabouts with a leg missing…

And as I was lying in the bath etc., etc I suddenly thought:

When I was at Junior School we had things called House Points.

I can remember my father, who thought he was funny but actually tended to – not be, making a huge fuss about House Points. He thought they were hilarious. Take two house points, he used to say, though mostly to my younger sisters. I never seemed to deserve even one house point.

I recalled, suddenly, a big whiteboard thing on the left-hand wall of my classroom, and how it had been divided into colours – red, green, yellow and blue. When you did something clever, like get 10 out of 10 for maths, or were nauseatingly, toady-ingly obedient to the teacher’s demands, you got given a stick-on star, either in ‘your’ colour or in silver or, rarely, in gold. And you marched proudly up to the whiteboard in front of the whole class and stuck your star on.

And when you did sports, you collected a canvas band in ‘your’ colour and were forced to run about and jump over things on behalf of it. Though strappingly built and tall for my age, I had absolutely no stamina and would become crippled with the Stitch after running a couple of yards, but all teachers persisted in the delusion that strapping and tall must equal athletic. So I rarely won stars for my team. And I was really bad at maths, which was the best thing for getting stars in, so I never got any stars for that…

My allotted colour was blue, and blue was Wolf. Yellow was Sydney, Red was Chatham and Green was Darwin, and these were all Famous People, though we were never told why. Later I would discover that Darwin was the chap with the long straggly beard who invented Natural Selection and horrified Victorians by suggesting we had descended gradually from apes rather than being invented all on one day by God. Wolf, I think, may have been some sort of General who did something or other military in Canada. Chatham I suspect may have been a politician or Prime Minister, possibly Pitt the Younger. Sydney – no idea.

And then I thought:

Why were they called House Points?

And then I thought:

Oh, of course, our allotted colours and names (Blue/Wolf) were our houses, so the different coloured stars we got were house points. Duh! So it was a bit like Harry Potter and Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, except much, much duller.

It’s funny how memory works. From my first day at Infant School to my last day at Junior I knew both the Christian name and Surname of my fellow Infants, or Juniors, by heart. I can hear them now – Peter-Wheeler, Andrew-Begley, Lynda-Smith – and this is because every morning we had the calling of the Register, the names being read out in alphabetical order so that you could shout Present, or Here Miss, or whatever, and Miss could make a tick next to your name, with her fountain pen.

Now, I tend to recall the Christian names of a few close friends most of the time, although even those tend to escape me at odd moments, infuriatingly, usually when tired or distracted. You have this annoying situation where you can see someone’s face, know exactly where you first met them and whether you liked them or not, maybe recall huge swathes of their family history, but their name won’t swim to the surface.

Or you get this weird thing where information crops up, but not the information you want or need. So, I see a woman on the other side of the room, I know I worked with her once and where, I know what I thought of her and exactly what job she did – but not her name. I do, however, know that she had a daughter called Bethany, because she talked about her all the time but would pronounce it Beffany – my Beffany – and that this Beffany was some kind of wondrous prodigy…

The thing is, I don’t need to know this, any more than I needed to know why house points were called house points, or who Chatham was, or Sydney. And as for Beffany, I never met Beffany, thank goodness, and never will. Why does my brain waste so much energy on all this redundant stuff? Why can’t it conserve it’s limited energy and focus on useful stuff?

Monday Mash-Up

To be honest, I am not entirely sure what a mash-up is, except that it may or may not be something to do with music. The image I have is of a musical – or possibly visual, or whatever – Bubble & Squeak.

(If Bubble & Squeak turns out to be a purely British phenomenon – and just to add another layer of confusion – it’s a kind of fried mess of mashed potato and cooked cabbage – a tasty, greasy way of using up leftovers.)

So, if that’s what a mash-up is, this is a mash-up, and is indicative of a chilly, soggy Monday afternoon inability to string a coherent narrative together. Who cares? Just start with the rat and carry on.

Or maybe it should be the glasses…

OK, the glasses. This morning I was pottering around in the double nightie and hideous but comfortable and practical crocs…

(bother, now I will have to explain the double nightie… but can’t be bothered right now – Bubble & Squeak has exhausted me)

…feeding the five thousand cats, washing-up the five thousand feeding bowls from last night, drinking tasteless coffee, knitting a row or two and trying to unglue myself from the TV, where the nightmare mash-up of Brexit continues to play itself out – and I leant forward, and my glasses fell off and crashed to the floor. This in itself is not unusual, but this time, when I picked them up, I realised they were done for – not by the fall, but by the severing of some little piece of metal in the arm.

Sadly, I consigned them to the cardboard (ex-kettle) box under the sink marked Spex. Fortunately, I have two other pairs since I usually find myself compelled buy two (or more) of – whatever. This is a kind of nervous compulsion inherited from my mother, along with wisdom teeth painfully lacking a sense of direction, and one of those faces that looks miserable even though it feels perfectly normal – smiley, even – from the inside.

Which reminds me:

I watched a Christmas movie yesterday. I think it was called The Christmas Candle. I looked it up on Wikipedia whilst watching it – it was that boring – and it seems to have been a total turkey from 2013 or thereabouts. However, badness has never stopped me watching a film. By far the worst thing about it was Susan Boyle cast as some kind of Victorian churchwarden’s wife. The plot was so confusing I am still not sure why there needed to be a churchwarden’s wife in the film at all, but the worst thing was – she hardly moved – it was as if they had plonked her in a church pew and there she stayed, rigid in her poke bonnet, throughout the film and her face remained exactly the same. I know Susan has problems, but in that case why put her in a film where she is supposed to act, which she manifestly can not do? Why not get her up as an angel and let her just sing, something she does miraculously well?

And another thing it reminds me of – the rat.

I have often wondered whether men were really better than women at specific tasks, or whether it’s all a case of gender expectation. Handling dead things, for example. Is it a case that they are by nature more brave or less squeamish than women? Or is it maybe that they are better at disguising fear and disgust – putting on a poker face.

So, when I went down to feed the birds – in the drizzly rain and the double nightie – which I shall not explain – and I suspect in full view of the neighbours, but I no longer care – on my way to the bird table I nearly stepped on a poor, soggy dead rat with some sort of gaping, probably cat-inflicted wound in its neck. Part of me thought – just go indoors and forget about it. Sooner or later something will come and “take it away”, or maybe if I don’t go out there till spring, it will still be there but will have reduced itself to bones and be almost – handle-able.

But then, I thought, I will not be able to feed the birds, and I like to look at the birds out of my kitchen window. And then, Canadian Sister is coming to stay in early January, and if anyone is likely to tread on a dead rat and be totally freaked out by it, it is she. No, I must remove the rat.

And so – still in the double nightie and the crocs – armed with a plastic bag and a roll of kitchen paper, I forced myself to approach the corpse – rats are always much bigger than you expect, somehow – and not be sick, and reach out and wrap the paper round the rat and – ugh, it’s tail was all dangly and snakelike and cold and – ugh – put it in the plastic bag and throw it in the dustbin.

And it’s still in there, somewhere. Supposing it wasn’t dead but, revived by the warmth of all those recycling sacks full of fermenting cat-litter, somehow came back to life? And when I next open the bin lid, will it jump up, all hideous wound and cold tail, and…

I was looking for new genre to write a story in. Maybe I’ve found it…

I seem to be knitting a dog blanket

Yesterday evening, whilst watching TV and trying to decide What Just Happened at Westminster, I happened to look down at my hands and realised I was knitting a dog blanket. The thing is, I have nineteen cats but no dogs, so why am I knitting a dog blanket?

It’s quite a nice blanket consisting of twenty-five multicoloured squares – ten plain, five with small doggie paws on, five with medium doggie paws and five with huge doggie paws – but the fact remains, I do not have a dog.

I have observed this, with my decision-making process. Other people seem to identify a need or a problem, work out a strategy to deal with it, then implement that strategy. So it’s kind of cause and effect. I don’t do that, mostly. I find myself doing things, am mystified as to why I am doing them, and then try to work out why I might have decided to do them.

So, it now occurs to me that I am knitting the dog blanket for Queenie, my almost-Godmother’s almost-dog, for Christmas. Queenie is old, and has been quite ill this year. She doesn’t quite belong to Godmother, who also isn’t technically, officially my godmother. But she ought to be.

Queenie is a small, white nondescript pooch, possibly a Scottie or a Jack Russell or combination of both – I’m not good on dog breeds. She belongs to the overweight, elderly alcoholic woman who lives over the road from Godmother. Godmother regularly responds to slurred phone calls demanding rescue from the foot of the stairs, which the lady is unable to climb due to her day-long wine consumption.

Queenie has to return to the alcoholic lady for one hour a day, but Godmother, who is in her eighties, takes care of Queenie’s daily walks in the park, vastly expensive veterinary care and general need for love and affection.

So Godmother is my guardian angel, Queenie’s owner’s guardian angel, and also of course Queenie’s. I can’t say how much it has comforted me, throughout my life, to know that angels do walk the earth, and that one of them, miraculously, assigned herself to me.

So, the dog blanket is for Queenie. And of course, I knew that all along.

Didn’t I?
NB: Please see my reply to Belladonna’s comment below for further details and a link to the pattern, which was originally connected with an appeal by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Can one stockpile a carrot?

According to Sky News – yes, I do occasionally take sneaky-peek at Sky News, when the BBC won’t be looking – there is set to be a revival in Salsify. At Sky News they all professed never to have heard of Salsify, but then they’re all about fifteen and no one of about fifteen has ever heard of anything. I knew the word, and that it was a vegetable of some sort, but had never actually seen one.

On Sky News they showed a picture of Salsify, and one of the fifteen year olds pronounced that it looked like “a carrot with a nervous system”. He presumed that one would need “to shave” all those nobbles and whiskery bits off, in the process of preparation. A lady fifteen-year-old then suggested that he might mean “to peel”, whereupon he replied that he had not done domestic science at school and did not know the jargon. I love all this witty banter: an early morning distraction from cat boxes, washing up and delivery of post office parcels.

I gather Salsify is good for you. I doubt if I will try it, though, as I have a problem with fruit and vegetables that feel unpleasant. Kiwi fruit is good for you too, but I have never been tempted to handle one. Ugh, hairy!

I am becoming quite the social media person, in a second-hand sort of way. According to the BBC news app, a poor young lady (is everybody young?) by the name of Justyna Kowalczyk has been Twitter-stormed or trolled or whatever for revealing (why do people reveal things at all?) that she has started stockpiling in case of a no-deal crashing-out type Brexit in the spring. Personally, I would be only too glad if we could crash out, and only wish we had crashed out a couple of years ago and been done with the Froggie Bounders – we’d have been all sorted and back to normal by now.

The idea is that we may run short of certain things because, in particular, food imports to this country operate on a just-in-time basis. So if there are delays at the border as a result of inadequate, incompetent, incomplete or (as we are beginning to suspect) no preparations at all for the crashing-out scenario – we will find ourselves short of imported food items, and without facilities for storing them in any case.

My thought on this is that, rather than bleating and whingeing and issuing dire warnings to the Government, businesses should long since have set about returning to the sensible system we used to have, where we stored a lot of food, spare parts, medicines or whatever in warehouses, just in case. Now, it appears, there aren’t even any warehouses.

So actually I am with Justyna on stockpiling. I do wonder why, though, she has chosen to stockpile, in her plastic box under the sink – tonic water, French marmalade and extra shampoo. She is terrified that “we may not be able to shop as normal.” Welcome to the club, Justyna. She has obviously never been poor. Or maybe it’s just the airy-fairy foolishness of youth.

I mean, I am not one of these hardcore Preppers, like you have in America. I must admit, though nuclear bombs may rain down on any of us at any moment, or vile pandemics sweep the globe – I think it would be better to find a way to die quickly in those circumstances. I am not a survivor. If the atom bomb was on it’s way, I would hope to be right underneath it when it landed. If a pandemic, I would volunteer as a nurse and hope to catch it quickly.

However, I have in the past “prepped” in a small way each autumn for hard winters. And if you are on your own it makes sense to stock up, because if you were to be snowed in, or go down with the flu, or slip on the ice and break a leg, there would be no one else to go to the supermarket for you. It would be so much easier to have a few cardboard boxes full of tins.

I reviewed my “emergency” list just now, and find that I have put on it stuff like:

  • catfood
  • cat litter
  • porridge
  • tea and coffee
  • powdered milk
  • crackers
  • honey
  • tinned fruit and custard
  • tinned beans, curry, pasta and similar
  • soap
  • pasta
  • rice
  • powdered mashed potato
  • tinned vegetables

I notice some sites are suggesting stockpiling fresh carrots and eggs. How would that work? You only have to look at a carrot and it wilts. And eggs – eggs go sneakily nasty and suddenly – pouff!

The thing is, Justyna, you can live without extra shampoo. One bottle of shampoo, even if you wash your hair every day, will last for ages. Also, soap, or even plain warm water, will work as well; you can live without marmalade, French or otherwise. What might tide you over for a while are the deadly dull things, the basics.

Of course, after the apocalypse (or when spring comes, as I have found before) you are left with boxes of stuff you don’t really want to eat, but then you can be thankful that the apocalypse is over, and skip back to the supermarket to stock up on tonic water, anti-wrinkle cream, gateau and bottles of prosecco. Whatever that is.

What would you stockpile, if disaster was imminent?untitled

Oops, no title…

I’m not good at having fun, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever had fun in my life; not really. However, today was a good(ish) day. The sky was blue and so was the sea – well, the one mirrors the other – and it was warm. Shouldn’t have worn the boots, really. Or the long-sleeved autumn outfit. But I thought it was autumn. Well, it was autumn at six o’clock this morning when I awoke, dozily crumpled into a corner of the living room sofa in a sort of uncomfortable dressing-gown/person bundle.

I did go to bed but eventually had to retreat from the bedroom after one of the cats for some reason took fright and leapt into the air, gouging three long tramlines into my right forearm. That woke me up, as you can imagine, and by the time I had partially staunched the bleeding and debated whether to apply TCP to my right arm and risk stinking out the Over 50s minibus tomorrow, or not apply TCP and risk yet another bout of cellulitis, with a subsequent two weeks of daily drives to the hospital for antibiotic injections, and possible death – I couldn’t get back to sleep. And supposing yet another one of the nineteen moggies should land upon my sleeping form and savage me.

Hence, the sofa. I turned out the lights, arranged myself uncomfortably upon it, trying to keep my stinging arm away from the pale green faux leather – and yet more cats came to perch themselves uncomfortably upon me – any of whom, of course, might leap up in a fright at any moment – and plugged in my MP3 player. And listened to hours of John Renbourne, which reminded me of Ex, which made me cry in a self-pitying, 3 in the morning, just gouged by a cat sort of way. And finally I reflected that listening to John Renbourne would not in any way remind Ex of me, or make him cry, and fell asleep.

My life is so complicated, but I have said that before.

Another complicated thing about life is female friendships. I am no good at this sort of stuff. I don’t understand it. I feel the same about human social interactions as I felt about those interminable netball and hockey games at school – the ones I couldn’t find an excuse to get out of – left-handedness, short-sightedness, a touch of depression, left my PE kit at home – that I am in the middle of a lot of beings flying about and throwing or kicking things at one another, but I don’t know which team is which, or which way I am supposed to be running, or which goal is mine, or why… Why are we running about? What is the purpose? What are the Rules? Why has everybody else had a copy of the Rules, but not me?

The politics of them are more complicated than anything that goes on behind closed doors at Downing Street. I think I may have made a new friend today but I’m not sure how I did that. I mean, I wasn’t trying to. I never try to make friends but just occasionally total strangers for some reason decide to pick me up, look me over, dust me down and adopt me for a while, like a lost bear. And then how do you fit the new friend in with the old friend when they don’t seem to like each other much – or am I imagining that? Should I walk with this one or that one? How do I have more than one friend?

Over the years I have learnt enough to know, at least in theory, that I don’t need to worry myself sick and arrange everything. People usually sort themselves out without my help. I’ve also found that people tend to appreciate me more if I just allow myself to be an oddity instead of trying to appear normal – masking, I think it’s called. Thing is, first you have to notice when you are masking, and that’s an art in itself.

Talking of lost bears, I found another, in a Barnardo’s shop on a coach trip to Whitstable. Even that was complicated. I felt compelled to explain to the volunteer lady in Barnardo’s that I wasn’t the sort of person who habitually walked around with a bear, like Sebastian. Of course, she hadn’t read Brideshead Revisited and had no idea who this Sebastian was.  She told me of an old lady she knew, a harmless madwoman, who carried a doll everywhere and had even made it an outfit to match her own. Well, presumably a  number of outfits…

And then I – and my new friend – and my old friends – oh, so many of us and the relationships between us so fluid and complicated, jostling for position and attention around the depressing racks of wilted cast-offs and bobbly old men’s jumpers in Barnardo’s – went on down the street to a rival charity shop, Demelza’s. Where I got told off by the Demelza lady for buying my bear in Barnardo’s when hers were half the price. And how then to explain the subtle psychic difference between a merely cheap bear (I could have gone to Tesco’s for that) and a damsel-in-distress bear in a blue velvet dress and lopsided velvet bow, languishing among racks of jigsaw puzzles with several pieces missing; brown plastic handbags no one can ever, ever have liked and coffee-stained CDs of jazz musicians that nobody has ever heard of.

(Yes, I made the Sebastian joke again – I just couldn’t seem to stop myself – and no, she didn’t laugh either.)

But Whitstable was OK, and so was Herne Bay. Later, trying to eat a huge pink and white ice cream before it melted, under a blue sky, beside a blue sea, at a rainbow-painted bench, I reflected that it wasn’t such a bad day out after all. And recalled that my Aunt always planned to retire to Herne Bay and open a cake shop. It was her dream. But she married a blind chap from Devon several feet shorter than herself, and lived in Exeter, and never visited Herne Bay again, as far as I know. And then died.

That’s the trouble with dreams.