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.

The Blanket Has Landed

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bare teddy bear must be in want of a scarf, and so I have begun knitting him one in green speckled Aran. Blanket, that is. Something of a stretch, metaphorically, from Neil Armstrong to Jane Austen.

Blanket landed this afternoon from somewhere mysterious in Scotland, via Ebay and the Royal Mail. He didn’t cost much (I can’t afford bears that cost much) and was described as “All right as long as he is sitting down, like many of us”. I was half afraid to unbox him in case one of his legs should fall off. It didn’t, but his head seems quite likely to unless he is delicately handled, which he will be. If you didn’t know he was a bear you might think he was a lamb because he has very large floppy ears and a kind of sheep-like expression. But making that leap of faith and assuming he is a bear…

Poor Blanket, propped up among cushions in the corner of my sofa, who was in Scotland a day or so ago, then plunged into the suffocating bubble-wrapped darkness and encased in shoe-box cardboard, emerging suddenly at the far end of This Sceptred Isle, amongst a heap of cats. His expression has not changed, of course, but what must he be feeling?

His is described as Probably a wartime blanket bear. Apparently people made teddy bears out of blankets during the last war, due to a shortage of materials. There seems little doubt that he is wartime, but I query whether he is hand-fashioned out of blanket, or was made by some loving wartime Mummy for her little girl (or boy).

He is certainly made out of something vaguely blanket-like, not the usual golden furry stuff, but I wouldn’t say it was blanket. I had a coat made out of blanket, post war, and boy did it itch. I remember being taken for tottering toddler walks wearing this bright brown, be-toggled monstrosity, and being unbearably itchy everywhere the coat touched, which seemed virtually everywhere. And my mother had a dressing gown made out of blanket. A grey blanket with green woollen daisies embroidered, and green blanket stitch all round the edges. Must have taken her, or Nan, ages to make it. It weighed a ton, but was possibly not as itchy as my little coat. Nothing could have been as itchy as that.

And then there are his joints. They seem to be kind of professional, and interior. It is perhaps thanks to these joints, now badly worn, that Blanket is still, if tenuously, attached to his head and his four limbs. They don’t seem the sort of joints a housewife would have used.

So, not a forgery but a mystery, and likely always to remain so.

I seem to have gone a bit overboard on the bears. The original idea was to buy a couple of battered old bears on Ebay to model the bear scarves which I am knitting and which I thought to sell for a teensy-tiny profit. The trouble is, it’s difficult to resist. I seem to have accumulated quite a few 98p etc bears over a short period of time. Once you’ve rescued one you are kind of compelled to rescue them all, every last battered, lost and suffering one in the world. Which is of course why I have nineteen cats.

Not for the first time I wonder about the connection in my head between cats and bears. I first noticed it many years ago, in the first years of my marriage, when I had a whole series of nightmares about suffering cats – cats that I had forgotten about and escaped through the window, cats that lived in the arm of my armchair (don’t ask me – cats inhabit armchairs in my dreams) and got too near the fire and suffocated; cats that I seemed to have poisoned and was now observing as they died; cats that followed me across zebra crossings and through busy cities amongst the rushing traffic and were in imminent danger, and yet I did nothing.

It seemed to me at first that cats were an obvious symbol for babies, and it was probably something to do with thwarted maternal instinct, etc etc. But later I came to think it was sadder and more visceral than that, and that cats were an outlet for physical affection, a lonely child’s something to love. Hence the suffering cats when I married entirely the wrong man in that respect. I decided this after another dream, when kittens falling to earth on parachutes changed mid-dream to teddy bears, and came to rest in a cornfield, between the furrows. Of course there’s something about furrows and fertility…

Ah, as with my poor rickety, sheep-like Blanket, the truth will never be known, and nobody but me cares about either.

My mother gave my teddy to Oxfam and I never forgave her, but that’s another story.

Talking of metaphor, people seem to be unable to detect it nowadays. Either that or it suits them better to take some sort of manufactured umbrage. One Labour politician pleads with the leader of the Labour party to “call off the dogs” when yet another Labour MP is threatened with deselection for not following the party line. His deputy then takes grave offence because his esteemed Comrades have been insultingly referred to as “dogs”. Hunting metaphor, dear boy. Metaphor, not actual dogs.

Anyway, I will not brood on that, it will make my headache worse. This evening I have been forced to lie on the sofa in my darkened living room, playing Dire Straits to myself through an earpiece and something that was once called an MP3 player. I may be the last person in the world still using an MP3 player. This was to drown out the noise of my neighbours once again playing some kind of war game at full volume, for hours. I wonder how I am going to explain the intermittent cacophony to Canadian Sister when she comes to stay with me after Christmas, as hopefully she will. Perhaps she won’t suffer so much from it, knowing she is soon going to be able to fly off and leave it behind.

Update: by popular (well, one) request a portrait of Blanket has been added, getting to know his new little friend Whitstable. More of Whitstable later. Probably. Once coffee consumed and gigantic fish and chips and strawberry ice cream slept off.

Of church, carrot cake and a chatty chihuahua

Sorry – how many times have I said sorry in my life, I wonder? – for not having written much recently. I seem to have lost my mojo or, as Shakespeare implied, find myself unarmed when it comes to the battle of wits. How wonderful Shakespeare was.

The best I can manage – and only because this morning I foolishly mentioned to Daisy in a text that I might do – is a brief summary of yesterday, which, as indicated in my title, did indeed involve churches, carrot cake and chihuahuas. As to whether the chihuahua – a tiny, pretty little soul – was actually talking, I will leave to your imagination.

I have reached that age, and those financial circumstances, where I have to take my entertainment wherever I can find it, the main test being Is it free, or at least no more than 50p? Thus did I find myself in a village church at 10 o’clock on a Monday morning, sharing a long trestle table with a number of quite old people – who for some reason didn’t seem to be noticing how much less wrinkly than them than them I looked – or maybe only imagined I looked – drinking tea from a mug and consuming carrot cake from a saucer, with a fork that looked as if it might originally have been intended for fish. I had just bought a paperback cozy detective (set in the Cotswolds, wherever they are, somewhere in England, rural, prone to inexplicable murders, with pitchforks, in graveyards) from the wooden trolley in the corner, which was another 50p. Moths flew up as I unzipped the purse. Really pushing the boat out today!

The chihuahua arrived with his owner in a wheelchair – I mean, the chihuahua was in the wheelchair, which the owner was pushing along, with great difficulty – and sat himself opposite me. I’ve got verbal diahorreah, he said, and he was not wrong.

But then we’re all different, aren’t we? Wouldn’t be the same if we were all the same, would it. We’re all odd in some sort of way. Ooh, cake…

He’s seen the carrot cake, said his owner. And indeed his nose was twitching. The dog’s, that is.

Cake? said the dog. Biscuit, maybe?

After all, said the dog, they’re getting punished for it now. And quite right too.

Punished?

Yes, serves them right. Why should they expect to get medals and honours and things when they don’t pay their taxes? Inland Revenue says no, you get to the back of the queue Mr Big Headed Old Comedian, Mr Internet Blogging Star Person…

I was impressed. A chihuahua who watched the news.

Carrot cake? That little left over corner morsel perhaps…?

No, it’s mine. It cost me 50p.

And later we ventured further – it was a kind of a Cheap Places To Go Trawl – to the hospital canteen, where for a modest sum we purchased overflowing platefuls of lentil risotto with boiled cabbage and carrots, followed by peach crumble. The canteen is in the basement. Anyone can go there and buy a whopping great platefuls of nourishing grub. Actually cooked, hot food, not the cheese-mayo-and-watercress-sandwiches (and probiotic yoghurt) one existed on most of last week. Smells like school dinners but looks and tastes so much better than school dinners ever did.

And to my mind there return images of actual sixties school dinners – scrag end of neck of lamb, lumps of gristle strung together with fatty elastic – liver and bacon, invisible under several feet of cold, greasy gravy in a communal tin, Gypsy Tart, so sickeningly sweet as to be good for nothing but drawing tramline patterns in with your fork…

Oh so much better, these hospital dinners. But just as cheap. And you can’t smell the smell after a while. It’s like perfume – all those little receptors inside your nose get full up and you can’t smell it any more.

And then, full of food, a quick drive down to another church, much more isolated, to find out when Harvest Festival was going to take place. Over the lentil risotto I had had a sudden whim, to go to a Harvest Festival service. The last one must have been when I was fifteen or so, at the Methodist. Something about Harvest Festival – and the Carol Services there will be before Christmas – suddenly seemed comforting, and indispensable. And of course, more or less free, though there would no doubt be a collection.

And then a little walk down a rutted track, looking out over the water at other land masses, at boats, and fields of corn. And the sun was suddenly quite hot, even though it’s autumn. I wondered whether to take off my cardigan. Got a bit of grit in my sandals. If I’d only known, I’d have brought the walking boots.

harvest6

The Battle Of Shapely Diamond

The above is not my Shapely Diamond Dishcloth, by the way. The above example is considerably worse than mine – which is pretty bad, but at least kind of straight around the edges and a nice pale gold colour – and this is heartening.

I seem to have discovered dishcloths. Dishcloths, the use and knitting of, seem to be very popular in America and Canada, less so here. Here, we buy those blue J-cloths in packets of 25 and throw them away as we use them. Dishcloths have to be washed and used again, but they are eco-friendly, sustainable and all that. In America and Canada, I gather, you can buy medium cotton yarn in every supermarket. Here, you have a job even to find knitting wool on sale nowadays, let alone cotton. You have to get if off the internet.

Canadian Sister got me into dishcloths, which she was being forced to manufacture by the Seniors group she belongs to, on the grounds that dishcloths will sell whereas lime-green and purple crocheted elephants probably won’t. I must admit, for the longest time, as they say in Canada, I imagined a dishcloth to be something off-whiteish and holey. Maybe rather slimy; the sort of item I vaguely remembered lurking around Nan’s kitchen sink. People actually buy those?

However, I have since discovered that dishcloth cotton comes in many bright colours, including interesting many-hued varieties called ombres. Furthermore, they work. They are really good at washing dishes. And, as Canadian Sister pointed out, although they are technically dishcloths, what they are, in fact, are samplers of many different and exotic knitting stitches. They are an opportunity to transform yourself into an Advanced Knitter without too much wastage of wool, an opportunity to express your creativity and show off your skills.

So there is more to a knitted dishcloth than meets the eye.

Once bitten by the dishcloth-knitting bug, as is always the case with my rapidly passing obsessions, I just had to buy a book on it. The book is called Kitchen Bright Dishcloths and features pictures of perfect, unwobbly, square-rather-than-unexpectedly-rectangular dishcloths. Perfect dishcloths. One cat vomited over it, projectile-ly, almost immediately, and another cat decorated it with claw-marks overnight but hey – they were just expressing their creativity. The patterns are still readable.

The last one in the book – for good reason – is called Shapely Diamond – and it is a beast of a pattern, 65 lines long and every line different. I am operating at a disadvantage, also, in having to learn American/Canadian knitting terms. One I puzzled over for ages was yarn over (in this country, wool forward). My sister managed a transatlantic phone tutorial in the various kinds of yarn over and make one – with neither of us able to see what the other was describing. We don’t have Skype, or Facetime or whatever. Lucky we have known each other a long, long time and are sort of psychic.

Anyway, I thought I would attempt Shapely Diamond just once. If you can manage that, I thought, you can manage anything. It was going quite well, and I had got past the half-way point with no major glitches. This is going to be a two-day dishcloth, I thought, and made the foolish mistake of going to bed. Next morning I picked it up again, but something had gone wrong. Somehow, many rows back, there had materialised – an Error. My diamond no longer looked exactly diamond-shaped. There was a wobbly step in it.

But, I thought, it’s only a dishcloth after all. No one’s going to see the thing, it’s just going to be washing dishes. And after all, as Leonard Cohen says, there is a crack in everything (that’s how the light gets in). And after all, you have never in your life successfully managed to unravel a pattern like this, for an unknown number of rows, and a) pick up all those weird loopy yarn overs and k2tbl’s – and b) find out which row of the monstrous 65 row pattern you had landed back on.

However, I found myself unravelling, and counting the rows as I unravelled. Eight rows. And I found myself picking up the yarn overs and the k2tbl‘s and crossing off the last eight rows from my checklist and (take a deep breath) starting again at that row, which might or might not have been the right one. And it worked! I had saved my Shapely Diamond. Not that the end result is in any way worth all that time and effort but at least I haven’t got to look at the thing for ever after and think there’s a mistake in it.

My life seems to be made up of fairly big disasters interspersed with (as in the example above) minuscule successes. Today the Jehovah’s Witness ladies came round. They seem to like me. I came out and closed the door behind me, so as not to let all nineteen cats escape. They told me about their cats. I feigned interest, and in the little leaflets about Family Life and God Knows The Future Even If You Don’t. And they showed me a verse from the Bible, and read it to me. I noticed they left most of a whole sub-clause out in the reading (a tiresome relic of having once been a legal secretary) and was so busy digesting this that I forgot to take any notice of the verse itself.

I think the Jehovah ladies thought I would have discovered Jesus by now. Instead I appear to have discovered dishcloths, but it’s a start.

And then I drove away the Jehovah ladies, more by accident than design, but another of those minuscule triumphs – by boring them to death about the six boxes of little shiny magazines that had just arrived and how, this very afternoon, I would need to stuff every one of the little shiny magazines with a navy blue flier with a picture of a bright yellow octopus on it, and then tomorrow I would have to load up my car with the little shiny magazines, take them into town and poke them through the first of seven or eight days’ worth of recalcitrant and badly-designed letterboxes; how I would have to face a succession of rabid Alsatians determined to remove my fingers, and weave my way through one overgrown nettle-and rubbish-infested front garden after another…

I can be very, very boring, I know, and once I start on one of my very, very boring jags I can’t seem to stop. (Ex was like this, too, it must be an Asperger’s thing). I mean, I can hear myself being very, very boring but somehow my mouth won’t stop talking, in fact the more panic-stricken I get about being very, very boring the more Mouth redoubles its efforts… like a kind of survival mechanism.

They backed off up my driveway and left me still talking, and clutching the two wilting Jesus magazines, and surrounded by boxes of little shiny other magazines, and navy blue fliers with bright yellow octopii upon them…

Another disaster, I suppose. Or another tiny triumph.

Mad Dogs and Englishwomen…

I was sitting in a little park today, around about 1 o’clock. This in itself was brave and/or disobedient of me as the Government has warned us all to stay indoors between 11 and 3 because The Sun Is Too Hot. Particularly if we are elderly, dehydration and heat stroke may just push us over the edge into Not Being Able To Cope. We may become Confused.

Thing was, I had just had my hair done. Well, that’s irrelevant. And I had just had my Free Eye Test. That’s irrelevant too. Thing was, I had to sit somewhere and eat my Boots packaged sandwiches and my car – but a few yards away – had been sitting in the sun all morning and would now be likely to Fry me if I attempted to sit in it without the engine running and the air-conditioning on full blast.

Yesterday morning I was delivering hundreds and hundreds of shiny little magazines round one of the less edifying sections of town. By mid-day I was tottering, despite my giant water bottle. Yes, I know I was out in the sun after 11, but I had to be. I only have ten days to deliver a whole garage-full (well, six boxes) and I can only manage one and a half hours at a time of trudging up and down people’s driveways, dragging my shopping trolley along behind me. You know, dog pee and garbage smell even worse when it’s hot? Most people’s front gardens seem to smell of that. Also, metal letter box flaps – when you can reach them for the discarded children’s tricycles, rusty old washing-machines and mountains of black bin sacks – burn your fingers. Wore foolish sun-hat. Didn’t think to wear gloves.

England is red hot. So, I gather, is most of Europe. Even Scandinavia is red hot and Scandinavia is such a cool place, usually. And in Japan it’s like, 40-something degrees. Here its somewhere between 30 and 35 depending on which newspaper you believe (Fake Weather!). And it doesn’t get any cooler at night. And then the next day it’s just the same. And the next night. How I long for snow, for a prolonged and arctic winter.

Anyway, in this little park there are gravestones, crowded into a narrow strip down the left hand side. They are very old gravestones, with names weather-faded in strange curly scripts, with ‘f’s instead of ‘s’s. They are long-gone people, with nobody to visit them and somebody on the Council, at some point, must have thought it a good idea to repurpose their graveyard as a little park. So they crammed all the gravestones, and those big box tombs, the sort you can sit upon to eat your sandwiches, into the strip down the left. Over the years they have developed a sort of earnest forward slant, as if desperate to escape.

I hate this. I have always hated this little park and seeing again what they did to those dead people. And funnily enough, it is unpopular. Only me in it today, and the Council gardening truck, the door flung open and a man’s booted foot just visible, poking out the passenger side and resting on the dashboard. He too is eating his sandwiches.

It’s not as if they’ve even done much to it. There were all these tall trees, but now they’ve cut them down, all but the stumps, from which leaves are still trying to grown. There’s a kind of dead-looking large shrub thing in the middle, and they’ve cut out a few random rectangular flower beds. This year every flower bed is planted with red geraniums. What is the point of red geraniums?

But you know how you can be looking at something for a while and then, suddenly, something strikes you as significant. I was eating my (interminable) sandwich in the heat of the midday sun, and staring at the yellow-brown grass of the Nasty Little Park, and comparing it to pictures I had seen on the news of Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, where the grass is also dying from lack of rain. And suddenly I saw it – the pattern of the graves of all those poor dead people, whose memorial stones were penned in on the left hand side. There they were, quite clearly – squares and rectangles, even and uneven, resurfaced from long ago.

I could have cried, actually, but it was too hot. Normally covered by lush green grass, now here they all were. I have seen aerial photos of similar things. With the earth being all scorched, this year it has become possible for archaeologists to see the outlines of unknown Roman Villas, or extra circles of wall beyond the known walls of castles. And with the reservoirs drying up, it has become possible once again to see the villages that were drowned in their making, outlines of cottages people once lived in, little stone bridges they once walked over.

And for the first time it occurred to me to ask, what did they do with all the people? Did they dig up all the bones and toss them into some unmarked pit? Did they consecrate them, hold some sort of service? Or are the people all still there, exactly where they were, arranged in this slightly eccentric grid pattern?

They’re all still here, I thought. One way or another, in bone or in spirit. And they’re accusing us.

Poor Sad Freda

A long time ago (1959) in the days when it was still permissible to advertise cigarettes on TV, there was a disastrous advertising campaign for Strand cigarettes. I can do no better than quote Wikipedia here:

This television advert depicted a dark, wet, deserted London street scene in which a raincoated character, played by Terence Brook, looking similar to Frank Sinatra, lit a cigarette and puffed reflectively. This was accompanied by an instrumental, “The Lonely Man Theme” by Cliff Adams, playing in the background, and a voice-over declared “You’re never alone with a Strand. The cigarette of the moment.”

The commercial… was popular with the public. However, sales of the brand were poor and it was soon taken off the market. The public associated smoking Strand cigarettes with being lonely and were put off from buying them. It was regarded as one of the most disastrous tobacco advertising campaigns of all time…

I do recall my parents laughing about Strand cigarettes and taking the mickey out of “You’re never alone…” People found it amusing, but they didn’t want to be that poor chap in the raincoat, wandering up and down a dark, wet city street – Billy No-Mates, Poor Sad Fred.

I am trying to resist getting hopping mad, because no one in any case will know that I am hopping mad, in which case what’s the point? That’s the trouble with Being Alone – no audience for one’s hopping madness.

It’s not my local hospitals per se, or any lack of medical expertise therein. It’s not the awful insufficiency of car parking spaces at one of them, meaning that patient-containing cars are queueing out in the street for what seems like hours before even getting past the gates, and then have to queue at the barrier ticket machine waiting for one single space to become vacant, and then having to circle a seemingly full car park, nerves a-jangle, desperately searching for that one space before anyone else leaves and the next car (also searching for that one single space) is allowed in, to beat you to it. No, it’s the insistence of NHS staff in believing that all persons will possess a Relative or a Friend who will be able to bring them in and collect them. These mythical Relatives and/or Friends will also come and Visit them during their stay, and should be instructed to bring in all those items – other than pyjamas and dressing gown – that said person is not permitted to bring in themselves because bedside storage space is strictly limited.

Particularly if you are old(ish), I find. They look at you and imagine you have (carelessly) left at home a host of helpful middle-aged Daughters and giant doting Sons. Any one of them can bring you in, or take you home, surely?

Failing that they see a host of conveniently-not-senile and able-to-drive Friends or their convenient Husbands, any one of which could bring you in, or take you home, surely?

Don’t you know anyone? They ask, humiliatingly. Come on, surely you can think of someone who wouldn’t mind just looking after nineteen cats for a couple of weeks? Any Neighbour would do that!

I am having this problem at the moment. I am having to undergo a Procedure which I am trying not to think about too much, under anaesthetic. A Procedure, not an Operation. No scalpels involved. But because of the anaesthetic, I cannot drive myself in, because I will not be permitted to drive myself home again afterwards. No, I will have to stay in overnight, while the cats remain unattended, fighting, wrecking the furniture and pooing-and-weeing with abandon, all over everything.

And then, in the morning, I still can’t get myself home to the cats because I am not allowed to use public transport for 48 hours, so even the gruelling four hour long downhill walk/train 1/train 2/infrequent bus/ long uphill walk marathon I had envisaged is not an option. And, even if I find some mysterious, car-owning Relative, Friend or Neighbour – that person has got to stay with me and the nineteen stinky cats overnight, when there isn’t actually a spare bed.

But you can get a Family Member, Friend or Neighbour to help you there…

The last time I was forced to ask my sister for help she didn’t answer the phone. I had a hugely-swollen septic hand and was being referred urgently to Accident and Emergency in Hospital 2. Ambulance? No, of course not. You’ll have to drive yourself there. Oh, but that would be a bit difficult, wouldn’t it, because of the septic hand…

You can’t tell me you haven’t you got any Family Member on that phone of yours? Go on, phone your sister now. So there I am, in a medical chair, having my hand bandaged and ringing my sister knowing full well she wouldn’t answer. They made me do it, and made me have to discover for myself, yet again, that I had Ceased to Exist as far as my next-of-kin was concerned. I could be in a road traffic accident. Yea, verily, brethren, I could be locked in a room with a salivating Alien-type monster or trapped in the central reservation of the M20 with giant lorries whooshing past me on either side – ça would ne fait rien as far as my sister was concerned. It was predictable, humiliating and embarrassing, but most of all, it hurt.

And this time, they have postponed the (don’t think about it, don’t think about it…) Procedure to give me more time to Make Arrangements. In other words, I will no doubt soon recall that I do indeed have Second Cousins, a Doting Offspring, or a cheery, helpful Neighbour who would just adore a two hour drive through scary rush-hour traffic in an unfamiliar traffic system, followed by an anguished circling of the car park looking for that single space… And then a three hour wait while the Procedure (don’t think about it, don’t think about it) is done and I wake up from the anaesthetic, and then another long drive back, and then – oh joy – spend the night upright on the sofa, in the house of a miserable, uncomfortable, grumpy old biddy who wants nothing more than to be left alone to recover quietly, in her own way, in the reassuring, comforting company of her nineteen stinky cats.

As it is, I think I have solved the problem by a series of complicated and expensive fudges and transport arrangements which they may or may not accept. It means an expensive taxi ride, followed by the two train journeys and the long walk which may get me there in time. Afterwards, it means an arrangement (not free, either) with a volunteer charity driver, male or female, a total stranger to me – to pick me up at the hospital and drive me home. And it means the lady over the road – with whom I have been forced to share medical details which by now the whole road will know about in glorious detail with a few added flourishes – being at any rate on the other end of the phone overnight if needed, and maybe popping in on her way back from walking the dog in the morning, to make sure I’m not dead. It would be so much easier to be dead.

This has cost me so much time in hospital appointments, so many phone calls, so many plans and revisions of plans, and working-out-of-strategies over pasta bake and chips in the Canteen/Restaurant in the bowels of the hospital, and castings-around-for-inspiration whilst staring at the fake Buddha and fake Chinese Lions in the weedy Zen Garden which – regrettably, as the notice says – is only for looking at through the double glazing and not for patients to actually sit out in – and sheer annoyance at the arrogant assumption that everyone lives no more than a couple of miles of whichever hospital they have been summoned to attend, and possesses a social circle they can call on at the drop of a hat for very large, inconvenient favours, in the middle of a heatwave.

Maybe they should send me out to negotiate Brexit with Brussels. I’ve done enough irritating and pointless negotiating this week to last me a lifetime, and I’m just in a mood for a scrap. Quake in your boots, Monsieur Barnier, I’m about to board the ferry!

Not Exactly Rubik’s Cube

For some reason today I resolved to make the perfect Dutchman’s Puzzle block.  Well, it is now 20 to 7 in the evening and I seem to have been making – and unmaking – versions of the Dutchman’s Puzzle all day. My sewing room (ie spare bedroom) floor is littered with discarded snippets, wispy ends of cotton and, somewhere or other – the back off one of my stud earrings. No doubt that has gone the way of all stud earring backs and now resides in one of the gaps between alternate universes.

It was meant to be a 12″ block but for some mathematical reason I cannot fathom has turned out to be 11″. So it won’t fit in with any other blocks and is an orphan, i.e. completely useless unless I decide to make another million of them just the same, and there’s a truly daunting prospect.

Nobody ever seems to show any curiosity as to why traditional blocks are called what they are. What, for instance, was the inspiration for Old Tippercanoe? Possibly someone in the Wild West had an ancient canoe that kept tipping them out, but for all that they were rather fond of it?

Dutchman’s Puzzle is an old block, dating back to around 1800, but why exactly was the Dutchman puzzled, or what is the puzzle the block contains? According to Ruby McKim who wrote One Hundred And One Patchwork Patterns somewhere around 1931, ‘The darker always points into the lighter and thus the Puzzle is solved into a 12-inch block’. Or in my case, 11-inch. But is that it? I mean, is that all there is to it? It’s like listening to someone tell a shaggy dog story and at the end having no idea what was meant to be funny.

Maybe he’s puzzled because something’s gone wrong with his sails (especially since I sewed them).

It didn’t turn out to be the perfect block. Apart from being an inch too small all round, even though I (thought I) did all the calculations, and the edges wafty and bedraggled-looking, the middles don’t match up

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and I accidentally included some of the holes from the selvedge. And now I wonder why exactly I spent all day – apart from mowing two lawns, cutting back the brambles, washing up several times, feeding the N-n-n-n-nineteen twice, taking delivery of a stack of slippery-shiny magazines which I’ve got to force through a minimum 188 eccentric letterboxes tomorrow, and driving over to the vets for three tins of disgusting-smelling invalid cat food for my invalid cat who, of course, flatly refuses to go anywhere near it –  in rapt concentration teaching myself to do something so utterly pointless.

I think it must be the dream. It’s a form of escape. So, as I cut and snip, and sew and unpick, arrange and rearrange, I am living another life. I am some lady in cotton bonnet in a log cabin in the middle of winter, and I am making the most of the daylight of some short winter day, thriftily using up scraps too small for anything else. And no doubt I have a husband who looks like that Grizzly Adams or that rather personable chap from Little House On The Prarie, who will shortly be returning home from a long day chopping firewood or what ever Grizzly Adamses do, and will greatly appreciate my homely cooking, my frugal patchwork and all my other other wifely attributes…

(Sigh!)

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PS: Invalid Mog has suddenly eaten whole tin of the disgusting invalid catfood, plus antibiotic tablet hastily thrown in, and drunk a whole bowlful of water, so maybe some sort of corner has been turned.