Unexpected Rainbows

Sometimes life throws you an unexpected bonus or – if things have really been bad –  a consolation. For example, the other day I had to wait an hour at the hospital for a blood test, and the buses home only go once an hour. I sat with my torn-off paper ticket (number 106 in a queue starting at 85) and I sat, and I sat, and finally I got behind that blue curtain to get my blood test, one minute after the bus was due to have left. I trudged to the hospital bus stop and found nobody waiting. Yes, my bus had definitely gone. And then there it was, like magic, my precious bus coming round the corner, two minutes late. Did you just do me a good turn? I asked the universe.

And today I have rainbows. I put some sheeting stuff up at the kitchen windows – it’s clear, textured plastic, held up by nothing more than warm water and washing up liquid, plus suction. The reviews on Amazon did mention rainbows but I hadn’t seen any. Ah well, I thought, I am now invisible to the neighbours and vice versa, and that’s all that matters. Privacy is restored.

I have this thing, you see, about eyes. It feels as if I am caught in the headlights when someone stares at me, and particularly if they persistently stare at me. I read somewhere that in the 17th century and earlier, people did not yet understand about light and vision (I believe it was Newton who eventually sorted it out) and actually believed that people ‘saw’ by sending out an invisible beam from their eyes. In other words, their eyes were sending out light rather than receiving it. John Donne uses this to good effect in his erotic poem The Ecstasy:

Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread / Our eyes upon one double string…

Anyway, although I am a Thoroughly Modern Post-Newtonian Person and know that nobody is actually fixing me with their X-ray eye-beams, that’s what it feels like. In some sort of psychic or psychological way, it hurts. And similarly, if I am forced to stare at someone or even see them when I don’t want to, it hurts. Without intending to they are invading me, and the space around me, just by being in my line of sight.

So, given this weirdness, which seems to be  one of two absolutely fundamental and incurable issues with me – boundaries and visibility – I more-or-less solved the problem by buying two rolls of the plastic stuff on Amazon. And today, finally, the sun shone brightly enough through my kitchen window to create those promised rainbows.

Sorry it’s cats again – and sorry for apologising since I know from previous feedback that this is British of me – but sorry, anyway – but cats is what I have a lot of and cats are what I spend most of my day either feeding, tripping over or being sat-upon by. I just saw these rainbows on the cats – and on the floor – and decided I must try to capture them – for posterity – for this electronic treasure trove of ours – and for – not having to wash up a whole sink load of cat dishes for at least another five minutes. So much more fun to tiddle about with photographs.

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Plastic rainbows on my grubby kitchen floor (hence the vignette filter causing a convenient Darkness on the Edge of… um, the floor tile)

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Henry in his basket, bedecked with rainbows. Suspect he cannot see them, as I read somewhere that cats can only see in shades of blue and lilac. This seems like a terrible disability, if it’s true, but it doesn’t seem to stop them catching mice.

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 Henry – more rainbows.

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Martha -no rainbows, because being a tortoiseshell (calico) she carries one around with her.

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Rosie – no rainbows, just because I love her, and she’s getting on a bit now. Rosie was rescued from a road in Norfolk as a tiny, sick, dehydrated kitten and brought to me on a hot summer’s day, in a cardboard box with no proper air-holes, all the way round the M25 and beyond. She is the inspiration behind my blogging name: Rosie2009 and the reason for much subsequent confusion.

Forwardspringing Through Technicality

For a long time we were regaled with ads for motorcars which ended with some deep-voiced actor mumbling Vorsprung Durch Technik. And not translating it. I suspect it was the same actor who voiced that Irish butter ad – the one where he does his damnedest to seduce you into baking a large spud slowly and luxuriously in the oven instead of microwaving it like any normal person would – and then slathering it with Irish butter. I am something of a connoisseur of ads.

Anyway, at the time nobody except real Germans and German A level students knew what Vorsprung Durch Whatsit meant and most, like me, were too idle even to look it up. In a way, it was more interesting untranslated, like a mantra. Who really needs to know what Om Mani Padme Hum means?

But of course, worrisome Translating Mind would not, could not leave it alone. Way back in the past I had made a couple of attempts at learning German, the first being a term of adult education evening classes. I had been good at French at school. Unfortunately being good at French does not make you good at German. Two totally different Kettles of Fish.

The classes consisted mainly of nouns and verbs. Our teacher, a thin, weary man with an untidy beard and corduroy trousers, must have decided it would be too difficult to explain to us the masculine, feminine or neuter article so for a whole term we chanted (in German) such things as Cat Sits On Mat, Dog Walks in Park and Hedgehog Hunts in Hedgerow.

Part Two of each lesson involved a very long film. Every Thursday evening we watched this same film, starting from the beginning and never, ever getting to the end. It was something to do with two unattractive backpackers called Mary and John, who were really looking forward to sightseeing in Köln. Mary and John, having first changed their money at something called a Wechselstube, bought tickets at the Hauptbahnhof von Köln. That was how you always had to say it – von Köln. We never got any further than that and I have been unable to ‘wipe’ the Hauptbahnhof von Köln from of my mind ever since.

So, rather than look up Vorsprung Durch Technik I toyed around with it, idly splitting it into its component parts.

Vor I was fairly sure meant Forward, and the sprung bit was probably something to do with springing – the spring has sprung, the grass is riz, and all that – so Vorsprung must mean Forwardspringing.

Durch I actually remembered was ‘through’.

Technik I decided, losing interest now, must be Technicality.  So, this car firm was Forwardspringing Through Technicality. (Yawn…)

This leads me, finally, to flea traps. I have eighteen cats and, now, in spite of expensive flea treatments and in spite of the fact that they are indoor cats and until recently were flea-free, I appear to have eighteen cats with fleas.

It only takes one. You open the door, and in it hops, and onto a cat it hops and then you’re done for. You take a cat to the vet and it comes back with a flea. Yipee! Rich pickings!

This afternoon two German Flea Killers or Floh-Vernichter (Flea-Make-Notter) or alternatively Destructeur des Puces (Destroyer of Fleas) and Matapulgas (Flea-Matador) arrived, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. German engineering is famously splendid, of course, but it seems only Germans are clever enough to assemble items designed by Germans. It took me an hour and a half to put together one kit and almost as long again to assemble the other.

I just couldn’t get that piddly little light bulb into its piddly little socket. The bulb socket was designed only for German fingers, for those mutig enough to risk a finger-and-thumb-ful of brittle glass. All Germans, I think, must be right handed.

And that was only the beginning. Then there were the little plastic supports which had to be placed inside the lid using something called the non-return end (benutzen sie hierzu die Rücklaufsperren an den Enden).

And then there was the sticky paper disc which, as I discovered too late, had to go in before you attached the lid to the base with your Rücklaufsperren. Super-sticky, this paper disc. I couldn’t detach myself from it. In the end I had to anchor it with the top of a biro and wrench my hand away. No mere Floh would stand a chance against a Schutzpapier this ferocious. It would be Vernichted, slowly and excruciatingly.

It would be an ex-flea. This flea would be no more.

It occurred to me that rather than bombing us during the Second World War it would have been wiser to drop great sacksful of Floh-Vernichter kits. Shortly thereafter the invading armies could have hopped across the channel and taken over the whole country quite easily. As  we puzzled over our Rücklaufsperrens, our Glühlampes and our Schutzpapiers, we’d scarcely have noticed.

There is actually a timetable affixed to this bus stop…

Bertie from the bus stop has asked me my name, eventually.

We are standing outside his house, which is just around the corner from the bus stop, way before my house. I still have a fifteen minute hill to climb and am so tired I am wishing that someone would install one of those ski lifts, so that I could just hop on. Bertie thought this was a good idea last time I mentioned it, and asked me how much it would cost.

He has been telling me about his blackberries. These are a tangle of what I would have called brambles in one corner of his front garden. However, they do actually have blackberries on them, half of them unripe as yet. He is saying something about picking them, or not picking them or other people picking or not picking them. I am past the stage of being able to piece it all together. It has been a whole day on public transport to visit Mum.

I have sat next to Bertie on the bus from town for almost an hour and he has been talking at me all the way: shards of his life: fragments that would probably make sense if only he would give you some sort of context for them. It is like ancient coins under a metal detector – you never get the whole horde, only this battered coin, and that.

He starts in the middle, or he’ll just tell you the edges. He skips from when his Mum was alive, which now seems to have been back in the 70s and in another part of the country; to his health and mobility problems, which he is assuming I know all about; to the problems of a friend who is struggling to help another friend, who lives a long way away. It’s one of those stream-of-consciousness autobiographies – you feel that if only you could put enough energy into your listening you might be able to piece it together.

He is still telling me about the blackberries. My feet are on fire from too much walking about in new walking boots. I am overheated, wilting. The sun has been beating down on me through the bus window and before that there was an hour just waiting at the bus stop in town. Until Bertie came along, that is, and started advising some woman about the times of the buses. Five minutes ago she had asked me the same question and now she was asking him. People just automatically ignore everything I say.

‘There is supposed to be a bus at half past,’ she said. ‘So where is it?’

‘Where exactly are you trying to get to?’ I asked, although I could tell from the look of her where she was going – the holiday camp.

‘To the holiday camp’, she said.

‘Then it’s twelve minutes past’, I say, ‘though it may be up to ten minutes late’.

‘There’s supposed to be one at half past (this hour).’

‘No, there isn’t one till twelve minutes past (next hour).’

So now she turns to Bertie and asks ‘When is the next bus?’

‘Eleven minutes past,’ he says, ‘though it’s usually late’.

She nods, comprehendingly. Oh, eleven minutes past, not twelve minutes like that woman just told me. Eleven minutes past. Bertie, of course, has now got her by the (metaphorical) throat and is regaling her with the intricacies of the local bus timetable; telling her where in the town centre she could obtain a copy of said publication, although of course she will miss the bus if she sets off to obtain one now.

People at bus stops tend to annoy me anyway, especially holidaymakers. They are always cross from the unaccustomed hanging about (apparently buses happen more often than once an hour up in London), they have never read the timetable and every one of them has a different and contradictory certainty as to when the bus ought to have been due. But still they ask you when it is due. And then they don’t believe you when you tell them.

There is actually a timetable affixed to this bus stop, I hear myself pointing out, snarkily. Occasionally, nowadays, I seem to be saying exactly what I mean, having spent a lifetime avoiding this dangerous practice. Pretend Me is always shocked when Real Me decides to pop out of her box and Say Something Snarky. I know it is only because Pretend Me is very, very tired, also hungry and thirsty having just spent lunchtime watching repeats of ‘The Simpsons’ with her mother in a bedroom with a dark blue wallpaper frieze and a view consisting of air-conditioning clutter and a toilet window or two.  All her life Pretend Me has managed to keep Real Me stuffed down under that painted lid, the catch firmly on. Now, at random moments, this strategy fails.

Confused and distracted by Bertie’s monotone mumbled timetable monologue, the woman hasn’t in any case noticed the underlying acidity of Real Me’s remark. She is a faded blonde, this woman; hooped earrings; strappy sundress; glittery cheap flat sandals with bunions poking through the straps, chin beginning to sag into her neck. She’s around about my age, pretending not to be. Pretend Me feel ashamed of Real Me’s intended nastiness, even if she didn’t notice.

But not very.

I sometimes wonder if this blog isn’t the same sort of thing: fragments of a whole life – the double-helix life, perhaps I should say, of Pretend Me and Real Me. And as with Bertie’s autobiography, no one will ever have the time, energy or inclination to piece it all together. Maybe this is an autobiography but with other bits and pieces tossed in for good measure, like the sixpence and the mixed spice in the Christmas pudding.

Maybe one day, so far into the future that nothing remains of this century but internet echoes, some future history student will decide to ‘do’ this blog for their dissertation. And fail, distracted by blackberries, bus stops, observations apropos of nothing, chance acquaintances and recipes for appallingly sugary cakes.

‘I don’t think I caught your name…’ says Bertie, oddly formal and still lurking beside his blackberries.

‘I don’t think I told you,’ I say, and tell him. He repeats it to himself several times.

‘I’ll try to remember that,’ he says, looking anxious.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘I can always remind you’.

With the voices singing in our ears, saying…this was all folly

So…

(I hate people who indulge in this modern trend of starting off with a ‘So…’, as if you were fully cognisant of all that they had been thinking before, or as if they had just been waiting for you to finish asking so that they could launch forth into whatever they’d already decided to say before you ever asked it.)

So…

We (the bus) had got as far as the prison and a prisoner was waiting to get on. They get day passes because it’s an open prison and in theory they’re not murderers or anything. Mostly they look like you and I and behave in a perfectly civilised fashion, but this one did look a bit unsavoury. Unshaven. Beetling-browed. Grubby. Didn’t much like the look of him.

So…

It was particularly important that the bus not linger longer than scheduled at the prison because I had to catch a connecting bus and the connecting bus was only two minutes behind this one!

The prisoner and the bus driver decided to have a row. The prisoner demanded to know what time the bus driver was ‘due in’. He had been standing there, waiting, for several hours, he said. His social skills were poor. There were other ways of putting it. Better still, the option of not putting it at all.

The bus was on time, or had been before the prisoner and the bus driver decided to unleash their joint supply of testosterone upon the world.

The bus driver said he could (*******) get off the bus and what way was that to talk to anybody?

The prisoner said he wasn’t going to (********) get off the bus and did the bus driver get out of bed the wrong side this morning or summink?

This went on for some time, with the language getting riper and riper. Being British we all stared out of the window pretended not to be aware of any argument at all. Including the wriggly little girl with the dummy and various other infants.

To get to visit Mum for an hour I was going to have to be on buses and trains all day. This was only my first bus. The connecting bus, scheduled for minutes behind this one, would surely be gone by now. Another half hour or forty minutes wasted at a damp and chilly bus stop.

The argument went on and on, but eventually the prisoner stumbled to the back of the bus, still swearing, and the bus driver set off. Heavy on the accelerator. Vicious on the brakes all the way to the next village. It felt like some sort of fairground ride. More than usual like some sort of fairground ride.

Everyone was unhappy.

I couldn’t quite forget about it. How had that argument even happened? And then it occurred to me that the prisoner had not read, or maybe was not able read, the timetable attached to the bus stop. He had not noticed the long gap between the workmen’s bus – somewhere around seven a.m. – and the start of regular buses – somewhere around nine a.m. So he might have been standing there for hours.

‘You’re talking b*******’ shouted the bus driver from the front of the bus.

‘No, you’re talking b*******’ shouted the prisoner from the back of the bus.

Is this perhaps how world wars start? Could Armageddon be loosed upon the world through nothing more than two grumpy men and a simple misunderstanding?

Pass me that tin hat, would you?

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Christmas Morning Cranberry Muffins

I know it’s not Christmas, and I know I mentioned Christmas once before already this summer. Blame it on the patchwork. For some reason best known to Self-of-a-few-days-ago I am piecing some Christmas fabric at the moment. Presumably then-Self thought it would be an excellent ruse to try to sell Christmas cushion-covers or a Christmas quilt top in July/August. Who knows?

(Oh dear, five Christmases!)

However, that’s what they’re called, according to Mum. And after all who’s likely to be cooking muffins on Christmas Day itself? Need a few practice runs.

(Seven!)

CHRISTMAS MORNING CRANBERRY MUFFINS (eight, sorry)

  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

I had to look up ‘all purpose flour’. It’s is in Mum’s own handwriting but I notice everything’s in cups so this may originally have been an American or Canadian recipe. According to the internet British plain flour can be substituted for ‘all-purpose’ in all recipes, except bread.

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsps (teaspoons) baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/4 tsp grated orange peel
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup melted margarine
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Coarsely chop cranberries. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.

In bowl stir together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon & spice. Make a well in the centre.

Combine egg, orange peel, orange juice & melted butter. Add all at once to the flour mixture to moisten. Fold in cranberry mixture and nuts.

Fill greased muffin tins and bake at 375º F for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Did I just not-bodge something?

I have lived a long time and in all that time I have been, as far as I could tell, a bit of a bodger.

My father was a bodger too, sadly. I think I inherited the gene. My father mended things with lumps of putty and wadges of duct tape. My father stood in the bath in his boots to descale the boiler. The bath – as my mother had, in hysterical whispers, predicted – filled up with sharp lumps of stuff which the big boots then ground in, ruining the surface of the bath. More hysterical whispers. My parents rowed in whispers, and occasional muffled sobs.

My father brought home some special rubberised white paint and painted the sandpaper surface of our bath. We did not have a shower in those days and so had all had to put up with sandpapered sit-upons for some weeks by then. The special rubberised white paint began to blister and peel the first time it came into contact with hot water. We are a family of tinkerers and destroyers. Powerless to resist we all separately and secretly picked and tinkered at that peeling paint until the bath was a mass of torn white strips. I don’t recall what happened to the bath in the end. Did they ever replace it?

My father cut down my mother’s favourite tree in the front garden, though she had begged him not to. He just couldn’t resist having a go at that tree once the urge to tinker and destroy struck him. I know that feeling. Must…just…ruin something.

Ex was scathing about the practical manly abilities of my father – and indeed of my grandfather, a carpenter with a tendency to produce stools with a slight wobble to them – criticisms which hurt my feelings all the more deeply for being factually correct. Ex was a clever, gifted and gentle man in many ways but there was a Wide Sargasso Sea of human interaction that he never managed to navigate – or even notice. You could summarise it something like this:

  • Occasionally you can avoid stating the obvious.
  • Sometimes, with difficulty, you can bite your tongue and pretend not to know something when in fact you know it very well.
  • Once in a while you can allow people prove you wrong even when, if you really set your incisive, logical mind to it, you could easily prove them wrong.
  • It is not lying to appear to be impressed by something that is neither clever or wonderful, purely for love of the person who just paid you the compliment of sharing it with you.

Where was this leading? Someone remind me…

Oh yes, not-bodging. Today I made my first patchwork quilt block on the sewing machine. I took care over it, mainly because I wanted to, and because am hoping to sell the ‘quilt’, or rather the quilt top as I have recently learned to call it, once completed. I ironed every seam. I unpicked one seam that had failed to come out exactly a quarter of an inch at one end. And do you know, examine it as I might I can’t actually find any evidence of bodging. One down, only seventy-seven more like that to go.

I thought I might enjoy designing my own quilt patterns but am still waiting for  squared paper to arrive. In the meantime, so as to strike while the iron is hot, I have embarked on a Christmas-themed sampler quilt – ie, working my way through all of the traditional American quilt blocks in my book using the three templates conveniently provided in an envelope at the back. They thought of everything!

Did I just mention the ‘C’ word in July? Sorry.

They have lovely names, but some of the block patterns are more compelling than others. I started with Anvil, which does look like an anvil but is pretty ugly. I guess it may look better when repeated over an entire quilt. Good to get that one out of the way first, I thought, so that’s what I did. And not-bodged it! Next block: Barbara Frietchie’s Star. I am wondering who Barbara Frietchie actually was (and what ‘Old Tippercanoe’ might signify). Answers on a postcard, please.

By the way, if you haven’t yet got round to reading Wide Sargasso Sea – a kind of ‘prequel’ to Jane Eyre from the point of view of Mr Rochester’s infamous Madwoman in the Attic – it’s good. Disturbing, but good.

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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.