Becalmed

It doesn’t flash, it drifts, whatever they say.

Images came to him, one after another. Lying on his back, he let them do what they would. They seemed in no particular hurry to play themselves out.

Sometimes he looked up at the sky, which was a livid purple, with streaks of orange. Back home, or down home, such a sky would have meant a cold wind, distant thunder, rain on the way. He would have been shivering. But here it was pleasantly warm. This was not home. He counted the many-sized moons and noted their by now all-too familiar arrangement in this all-too familiar sky.

That would be his first request. To lie once more beneath a blue sky and watch white, summer clouds drifting over the shallow hills and valleys of his boyhood: blue and white and green. He had made daisy chains, but out of buttercups. The stems of buttercups were different from the stems of daisies. They had little corners and angles to them. The juice got under your fingernails as you split the stems: blackish-green.

And then there was the time by the river. He had been sitting on the bank, high up, looking down, and a girl was playing in the water. His parents were there too, but taking no notice. The girl wore a black one-piece, slick with water. She was swimming with the green weed as the current pulled downstream. Her hair drifted downstream too. She was beautiful, but he was just the wrong side of puberty to know how or why he knew.

At Brixham, his aunt and uncle had taken him out in a shallow tourist boat, with a glass bottom to it. The water was so clear, you could see the rocks and the fish. It was like Australia, he had thought at the time. Like looking down at a coral reef, except not like that.

He had lost count of the days since he and the metal wreckage came down in this corner of a foreign ocean. There might be land. He might come to land. There might be creatures. To begin with he had hoped for that. Now he saw how he might look through their eyes – a whiteish sea-worm adrift in a puffy orange flower; some slug unaccountably tumbled from the sky. Maybe they would eat him. More likely they would dissect him. Work out how he worked, what structure might hold him together. Or maybe they were not there. Maybe there was no land, and nobody.

He looked up at the purple sky one final time.

With an effort he rolled himself over, surrendering to the dayglo embrace of an alien sea.

(flash fiction: 446 words)

 

Oddly, this little story was inspired by Edward Thomas’s poem ‘Adlestrop’. His railway journey, with its brief stop at Adlestrop, took place in 1914. Nothing, and yet everything, happens in the poem. Although there is no mention of war, it is generally thought of as a war poem in that is is a longing for a lost and quieter time.

Twelfth Night

Soon after she left us, it began to snow. From now on my life would be all snow, and all falling. My husband cleared our driveway then dug a diagonal path across the lawn, starting at the back door and ending at his shed. The snow didn’t ease or stop as it normally would have; it crept up the glass in our patio doors; it piled up on our windowsills; icicles oozed down from the guttering.

It had been so very dark inside our house, and for so long. Twelfth night: the sixth of January, the day people in other houses would be taking down their decorations.

I had not crossed the threshold since it happened. I was frozen already: why would I want to be colder? But Twelfth Night made me realise I must. I couldn’t spend the rest of my days indoors. My maiden voyage would be this: I would exit by the back door, navigate the icy patio, cross the lawn diagonally via my husband’s snow-path, stand outside his shed for a minute then come back.

I wrapped my scarf around my face, covering my nose. Birds’ feet patterned the snow. What does it feel like to weigh so little? When – or if – Jesus walked on water, did he feel like one of God’s beloved sparrows, hopping about on snow?

The snow my husband shovelled aside this morning was already in the process freezing, forming a rough wall at the level of my elbows. Fresh snow was already settling on the cleared path between the walls, so I made footsteps.

Then I saw it – a small, honey-coloured arm poking out of the broken snow. In his narrow focus on the task in hand my husband must have overlooked it. He is a different man nowadays: something has been subtracted from us both.

There was no hand to grasp, only a familiar, frayed, mended, frayed-again paw. I eased the body out of the snow with care, afraid that the arm would sever itself in my hands. Touching it took me back. I was sitting by a lilac bush in my mother-in-law’s garden, with a needle and strong thread, an off-cut of yellow felt pinned to the thinning fur fabric. How warm it had been that day and how rich the scent of the lilac. Jessica must have been there that day, but somehow I couldn’t see her.

The bear had never had a name. He was just Bear. Did he know his owner had gone away? Could a stuffed bear sense that sort of thing? I stowed him inside my coat while I completed my journey to the shed. I held him close to my breast as I waited the minute or two I had promised myself to wait. We took a few quiet breaths together before setting off back to the kitchen. When I took off my coat, the jumper I wore beneath it was soaked and icy.

I washed him in soapy water, rinsed him in plain but warm. I wrapped him in a towel as if he were a child, folding the cloth carefully around his threadbare neck to keep out the draught.

I sat him in her little chair by the kitchen range.

I gave the chair a bit of a push, and it rocked as it used to do.

I sat down and cried and cried.

When he dried out, I wrapped him in a patchwork shawl and hid him in her room. I sat him on the bed with her favourite picture book. Sometimes, for variety, I propped him up in the window seat so that he could look out at the garden. Every now and then I would sit beside him, and together we watched the patterns black branches made against a grey sky. Sometimes he sat on my lap, while I knitted him a scarf. Jessica had liked pink, so I knitted her bear’s new scarf in many shades of pink.

Together we sat and waited for the spring.

(flash fiction: 671 words)

Disingenuous What?

Difficult to find an interesting picture of a carpet, so it’s a mat.

I just wondered if anyone would know what a plopcarpet actually is? I’ve had the word going round and round in my head ever since that actor – the less-funny-than-James-Cordon one from Gavin and Stacey – tweeted it at BBC political news editor Laura Kuenssberg in the middle of General Election night. It was meant to be an insult:

Resign, you disingenuous plopcarpet. 

It’s given me the worst kind of earworm – the one word kind.

I haven’t bothered to read the back story too closely, because frankly it’s not as memorable as the insult itself, but I have a feeling poor Laura – my favourite reporter, as it happens – had foolishly mentioned that Labour’s Red Wall appeared to be crumbling. Now, it was crumbling, it did crumble, and you would think it was simply her job as a political analyst to make at least a passing mention of crumbling, but less-funny-than-James-Cordon actor person took offence.

To be fair, he did (eventually) delete the tweet – or string of tweets – and apologise to poor dear Laura, who graciously accepted his apology with more humour than I would have been able to muster at the end of a long, exhausting week of trailing round after politicians.

I googled plopcarpet, assuming it was one of these ultra-trendy snowflake, gangsta, hipster or woke-type words. It was obvious what it sounded like it would have to mean, but if people were going round regularly calling each other plopcarpets, why hadn’t I noticed? Get to the back of the queue, you queue-jumping plopcarpet, you!  Or perhaps they were. Perhaps only an ancient boomer would be unaware of all this electronic plopcarpetry.

But Google had no suggestions either, which means, probably, that the less-funny-than-James-Cordon actor made plopcarpet up on the spur of the moment, and thought it just the right epithet (epithet?) to tweet at a lady news presenter.

And assuming he made it up, what made him imagine that disingenuous was the adjective to qualify it?

However, I must thank the less-funny-than-James-Cordon actor because he has given me an idea for a flash-fiction story. (I am collecting them at the moment, in an exercise book.) It is story in which a person thinks up a ludicrous insult, only to have that predictive texting gremlin helpfully correct it to something horrifyingly unpleasant. And the consequences thereof.

Just to round off this tiny post, here is a selection of famous, and slightly wittier, insults from pre-Twitter times:

She ran the whole gamut of emotions, from A to B. (Dorothy Parker)

All morons hate it when you call them a moron. (J D Salinger)

My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly. (Winston Churchill)

I like your opera. I think I will set it to music. (Ludwig van Beethoven)

His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork. (Mae West)

She speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them. (Sir John Gielgud)

He is simply a hole in the air. (George Orwell)

Objets Perdus

Now, this is a bit of a strange one, and I have been putting off writing about it for days. Something to do with shame, I think – shame and sorrow. But what’s the best way for a writer to call up and exorcise her ghosts?

Write about them.

When I was a child I had a (very) few treasured objects, and one by one I lost them or gave them away. Something seems to compel me to ‘lose’ the things that mean the most to me – and not just objects, people. One by one, I have mislaid them all.

Setting aside the people, because nothing at all can be done about them. Those objects…

I had a copy of Aesop’s Fables. It was a beautiful book – they are ferociously expensive to buy second-hand now. You know, I thought, until this very moment, that I had given it away. I had been wracking my brains to think how I gave it away. Why would I have done that with my beloved Aesop? I read that book over and over. The fables, and the beautiful but slightly creepy illustrations, those glossy, full-page watercolours, seeped into my childhood consciousness.

But I gave it away. Or did I? I just turned sideways and there it was, sitting in the bookcase beside me. It has lost it’s cover, the boards have faded from scarlet to orange, but – still here. Inside I have written my full maiden name, in ink, in weird little-girl writing. Two pages on and an inscription reads With love to Rosie, on her 7th Birthday. From Grandma & Grandpa. Well, Rosie or, you know, whatever.

But other objects I really did lose. I once had a stone, with the impression of a prehistoric sea creature upon it, like a tiny octopus. I found it half-buried in the path between the allotments. It was as if it had been waiting for just me, that magical fossil, for billions and billions of years. If only I had kept it, if only I had not somehow lost it – what luck it might have brought me.

And I gave away my Odhams Encyclopaedia for children. I remember the struggle I had at the time. It was when my niece was born and I foolishly had this idea that the child should “inherit” something of value from her auntie. And I have regretted the loss of that book ever since.

And then there was my teddy bear. I temporarily forgot about him and instead of taking him with me when I got married I foolishly left him with Mum. In fact he was up in the attic, and I didn’t realise. Mum and my sister are alike in “getting rid”. She accidentally informed me one day, several years later, that she had given my bear to Oxfam. After all, she knew I wouldn’t want it.

I never stopped missing my bear. I mourned for him. Even now – especially now, when I am old – I want my teddy bear back. I realised today that that was what my teddy-bear buying jag had been all about. I now have a cupboard full of disreputable 1950s teddy-bears courtesy of E-bay. None of them are my bear, but I have rescued them. I couldn’t save it but I have saved them.

I know, it doesn’t make sense.

And now I have gone and saved “my” Encyclopedia. And in fact I have saved more than one of them because the other day eBay came up with a second, horribly battered copy for only £2 and I bid the £2 and won. To my surprise. The first one, which arrived a week ago, cost a massive £20 but is in excellent condition. Unlike me, its owner must have held it close, kept it. Presumably there will soon be a stack of second-hand Odhams Encyclopaedias on my coffee table, all ridiculously, pathetically rescued by some ancient woman, just in case one of them might turn out to have been her actual one.

When I was a child the page that fascinated me the most was the one with the anaconda. My mother used to take the mickey, saying that the encyclopaedia would fall open at the snakes page of its own accord. I do hope it was nothing sexual. I mean, I was very young and, lacking any kind of brother (though over-supplied with sisters) did not even suspect the existence of that appendage which, according to Dr Freud, snakes represent.

In my memory the anaconda took up the whole of the page and was vividly coloured, green and gold and glittery. Now I see that it is smaller, and in black and white, but I still like the way the artist has coiled and draped the various snakes around the branches, the way the pictures and the text bleed into one another.

How beautiful that anaconda was to me, and how utterly terrifying. In my mind’s eye I stood before him in the South American jungle, tiny-small in my cotton check school dress and pudding-basin haircut. Anaconda was looking at me out of that glittery, sardonic eye. He was weighing up whether to wrap me in his sinuous, gorgeous coils and crush me to smithereens. Because that is what anacondas do, being the largest of the boa constrictor family.

And I wished he would. And I wished he wouldn’t.

And this is him, my beloved, my childhood version of God: the anaconda, unchanged over the decades and decades since I first caught sight of him.

Why do we lose the things we love?

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Fungums

This is my new umbrella term, as sociologists used to love to intone in the sixties (along with ‘dichotomy ‘) for anything either unexpected or unwanted that suddenly appears in one’s garden. Above is something my mother would probably have called a honey fungus. I wonder how big it will get?

At the bottom is something disgusting and fungus-like which has begun to grow on an old cane chair I left outside. Maybe it is some exotic type of fungus that has lain dormant within the cane since it was imported from India or Malaya or wherever. Maybe it will be like Japanese Knotweed and gradually Take Over.

In the middle is a Something that my burly  next-street-down neighbour kindly left behind in my garden, having invaded whilst I was out in order to replace a fence panel. It’s too heavy for me to lift and too big to go in my car. I was quoted £50 or £60 to remove it, the dumping fee being £30.

Or, said the Quoter gently, seeing the look on my face, you could get out the secateurs and regard it as a Little Winter Project…

4: Imagine

Continued from 3: Send in the clowns

I was also saved by my imagination and, if you like, the weird alternative-brain thing itself. That was – and is – by far the strongest form of defence, less costly than human relationships, far more flexible/portable than a husband. I always had the ability to tune right out, and this happened automatically whenever I began to get bored or things got rough. When things got very rough indeed I used to practice Silent Singing, most often The Sun Has Got His Hat On. I had my own way of distributing my consciousness between several places at once. I disappeared into books and stories, daydreams and plans. Inside my head was something like the Holodeck on the Spaceship Enterprise – the entire range of alternate universes on demand – and I spent many aeons away on my holidays on distant planets.

Later I started writing poems and stories. I found out how I felt through the poems and learned how I worked and what I thought through the stories. Together they became my Voice. I didn’t fret greatly that little I wrote was ever likely to get published – that wasn’t why I wrote. Much later I came to understand that a poem written (or a song sung, a painting painted, a love loved, an experience experienced) is engraved on the fabric of the universe, and will never be lost. You may have forgotten all the words or lost the old envelope it was scribbled on, but the poem is still there: all is taken in by the All That Is, which is constantly Becoming, in us and through us.

My parents were pretty bad until I left home. Almost as soon as I did they became pretty good. They did what they could to support me through the trials of what passed for my ‘adult’ life, though I never ceased to bewilder and exasperate them. I relied heavily on them for company as Ex seemed to be drifting further and further away, and when I found myself divorced, as a middle-aged ‘teenager’, basically – I had to learn how to change a light bulb and get petrol – I was glad of their support. I think they loved me. If only they could have told me so when I was young enough for it to have made a difference.

I would say to parents: even if you don’t understand what’s ‘wrong’ with your child – even if there is no medical word for it yet – even if (he or) she seems uncomfortably different to you or anybody else you have ever met – even if she is neither what you wanted nor what you anticipated – try to accept and love – or at least appear to love – what you did get. It works both ways. Your child has absolutely no choice but accept and love you, even as you shout abuse and raise your hand to strike.

When you are many years dead, do you really want your now elderly child to remember in technicolour what it felt like when you slammed her head into a door, trumping any good memories – like the day you taught her to swim; those Stanley Holloway monologues that made her laugh; the communal singing in the car?

If one approach fails, try and think of another. Watch and listen to your new child, as you would a new and exotic pet: work out what she needs. If you can’t work that out, talk to other people and be willing to ask for help. Be kind. Be gentle. Be creative. Think about what you are doing.

Summertime…

Above: Shadow (girl)

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Missy (blind, girl)

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Kitten (girl, aged 23)

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Arthur

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George

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Poor Hugo, a Wild One who shouldn’t really be here. If I hadn’t wept all over the vet…

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Nicholas, the three-legged

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Hector, one of the Wild Ones, Pandy’s brother

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Pandy, Hector’s brother

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Mary, Martha’s sister

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Martha, Mary’s sister, who wanted to stay aloft

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Frizzle, one of the Wild Ones – the closest I’ve ever managed to get to her

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Sunshine (boy)

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Matilda

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Snoots (boy)

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Fifi

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William

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Henry

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Rosie

The Antipreneur

I thought of this snazzy little title on the way to the vets, with Winnie. In fact, when approaching an awkward mini-roundabout. That beastly little roundabout is particularly good for popping blog post titles into one’s head, I’ve noticed. No wonder cars always seem to be having collisions there.

Money or the lack of it always crosses my mind (multiple times) on the way to the vets, with a cat. But today being the Sabbath it was a locum, and he mightily impressed me by not extracting money from me when he undoubtedly could have, since having nineteen cats (as he could see from his computer screen) tends to give the game away – that you will do anything for a sick or suffering moggie, even if it involves remortgaging or maxing out the plastic.

But he spent a long time making a gentle fuss of poor Winnie and listening to her alarming breathing, and then told me it was a difficult one. He said he asked himself, if this was his own cat, or a human being, would he put them through an anaesthetic, an x-ray, a battery of blood tests, to find out what was wrong. Long experience has equipped me with a mental calculator for veterinary investigations. You’re looking at hundreds, I thought. Hundreds and hundreds… in fact maybe a thousand… Simultaneously trying to recall the PIN for my credit card – the one I swore I would never again buy anything on.

There is some sort of process going on inside Winnie, he said, but without the investigations it is hard to guess. I can tell by the flecks in her eyes, he said, that she is maybe fourteen or fifteen years old (this is news to me, as she was a stray, but I am not surprised). Winnie is an old lady. As long as she is eating and drinking, and seems to be happy, I think it might be better just to watch her, and wait. Bring her back to me when the time is right.

And with that he restored my faith in human nature. I hope he won’t get into trouble for not selling anything this rainy sabbath. I seemed to be their only customer this morning, so his lack of financial killer instinct will be pretty obvious when they come to do the till at lunchtime. I hope poor Winnie’s “time” will not come for a while yet, but when it does I will know, because he also restored my confidence in myself, my own instincts.

As for Anti-preneur – I guess that is I what I must be. At intervals I research into ways of supplementing the meagre income; preferably very, very quickly; without a huge outlay for three years of evening classes in upholstery, or the purchase of a stack of books on website design. Apparently website design is now becoming a bit “niche” as an income-generator, since the technology for building one’s own website is nowadays available to all online. I throw out that hint in case any of you are also making long lists of How To Make Money.

Truth is, I just haven’t got the mindset. I need money but I am not interested in it. I need money but I am not terribly willing to do – or terribly capable of doing – any of the things that are necessary to get it. I found a very useful article in The Guardian – Fifty side businesses to set up from home.

What is a side business, I wonder. I suppose if you are making oodles in the City, a side business would be something you did in your back bedroom, after spending three hours commuting home on a tightly-packed train. I have never had a front business, let alone a side one.

I run through the list, listlessly, trying to convince myself that I could manage one, or any of them:

Antiques dealing – what do they think I am going to purchase the antiques with? (Sigh!) And would I know an antique if I saw one? (Sigh!)
Babysitting. No one would let a childless old baggage like me near their children. And I don’t even much like children. I would be like Nanny McPhee… without the magic.
Bed and Breakfast, it says. I don’t want another person under my roof – unless they are my sister, for a week, in January – and anyway, I would have to hoover, relentlessly. And what about the nineteen cats?
Biscuit-making – oven broken
Cake-making – ditto
Car boot sales (Sigh!)
Car cleaning/valeting (Sighhhh!)
Census distributor – not till 2022, and I have a feeling I somewhat failed to impress at that the time before last…
Computer repairer/trouble-shooter – if only I could, I could save myself hundreds of pounds in visits from Scary Computer Man…
Become a DJ – seriously?
Be a doula – OMG, no….

Every time I think about making money my subconscious, which utterly refuses to stick to the point in any situation, however dire – in fact the direr the situation the more it is tempted to stray from/misremember any conceivable point – reminds me, visually and facetiously, that I need only to purchase a Red Hat and walk up and down the High Street murmuring… whatever ladies in Red Hats are supposed to murmur… Hello sailor! Got a light, dearie? Maybe ladies in Red Hats did murmur that sort of thing in the days when there were plenty of sailors and everybody used to smoke. Maybe. I doubt if they wear Red Hats nowadays, and suspect that whatever they now murmur to passing gentlemen, it is  direct, and graphic.

Deceased Devon Aunt once informed me that if I bought a bottle of Devon Violets perfume I would smell like a Lady of The Brook (or, as her Deceased Brother – my Father – would more likely have put it – like a Whore’s Handbag). Perhaps I should look on Amazon to see if one can still purchase little bottles of Devon Violets perfume – or red hats for that matter – and if so set forth to supplement my pension in this time-honoured way.

If only I wasn’t so old. And if only I could bear the thought…

So I suppose I will just have to write the novel. But that will take years. And what sort of novel. And whatever sort of novel, nobody is likely to publish it. And…

(Sigh!)

Not yet the flaky roses…

(Sofa In Multiple Occupation)

(Shadow: Sunday Morning Chillin’)

I just typed into Google Is ADHD the same as flaky? (should it have an ‘e’? why does it sometimes have an ‘e’ and sometimes not? distracting…) and Google reckons it is, sort of.

To be exact, Google opines that flaky seemingness (to one’s friends, employers etc) is in fact but one symptom of high-functioning ADHD. So whilst one is not technically or actually flaky (or flakey) everybody will always be convinced that one is. Furthermore, flaky-seemingness is but the visible tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to the daily struggle for survival in a world where 99 out of 100 brains are wired the opposite way to your own.

This is depressing, and the thing is, since I retired – or rather, since the world decided it could no longer be bothered to pay me for being bad at various kinds of work I really didn’t want to do – the ADHD, or whatever it is, has got distinctly worse. I used to be able to read, for instance. Spent hours engrossed, rapt, with my nose in some novel or some abstruse metaphysical text, trying to figure out how exactly I seemed to have missed Birmingham and been taken on to Crewe.

Oh Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I wanted to go to Birmingham but they’ve taken me on to Crewe.
Take me back to London as quickly as you can –
Oh Mr Porter what a silly girl I am!

Now I can read for twenty minutes, as long as it’s something lightly-ish and historical and I’m immersed in hot soapy water. My current in-the-bath read, by the way, is The Posy Ring by Catherine Czerkawska. It’s good, even in damp, twenty minute instalments. About antiques seller Daisy Graham who inherits an ancient house on a Hebridean island. She put a little publicity card in with Blanket.

Because, believe it or not, this is the same lady who, under a different name, sold me Blanket the rickety wartime blanket bear (or just possibly sheep) via eBay, and posted him to me in a shoebox from Scotland. I have now knitted Blanket a warming yellowy-browny scarf, by the way, and fastened it with a big yellow kilt pin. I would have posted a photo (as requested when he last appeared) but it is too dark indoors to take one at the moment. I will put it on my To Do list, which I very occasionally manage To Do something from. (Done)

(This is because it’s dark outdoors too, which seems to happen at intervals.)

The trouble is, you spend your life trying to appear not-flaky. Today, for instance, I agonised for several hours before texting a friend to say that I would not be able to come on a coach trip to Southend because I wasn’t feeling too well. The thing is, I am not feeling too well, so it’s a perfectly genuine excuse, this time. But I know she does not believe me. And if I were her I would not believe me either. But what do you do? The constant battle against flaky-seemingness results in a lifetime of ghastly events sat through with gritted teeth or perspiring brow. Boredom or pain, and no escape in either case because to flake out would be viewed as… flaky. Or flakey.

I think I reached some sort tipping point today. I realised I have to stop trying to explain myself, otherwise I am in for an Old Age as dire and dull as my Youth and Middle Age have been. Well, Bog It, I think, I just want to do what I want. Or at least not continually have to be doing what I don’t want.

And finally… another quote, this time from author Claudia Carroll, writing in an old Woman’s Weekly Godmother passed on to me on Friday:

When you’re in your 20s and 30s, life gives you things, if you’re very lucky. Love, a partner, maybe even kids. But you hit good old middle age, and that’s pretty much when life starts taking things away from you…

A cheering thought there, from Claudia.

It set me thinking, what Life did actually give me in my 20s and 30s. Certainly not children. It took away my husband and gave me a lover who was nice while he lasted, though he didn’t last very long. It gave me wrinkles round my eyes… and violent toothache… or was that in my forties?

But I suppose it did give me a few things. A giant(ish) healthy body inherited from my father, which has served me faithfully till recently. Now not quite so faithfully, but it’s doing it’s best, poor thing. Nineteen cats. I do believe the nineteen cats are my equivalent of the nine lives cats are supposed to have. Every time I lose a cat I lose one of my lives. Conversely, of course, every time I gain a cat I gain a life, but that can’t go on. Moggie Gathering Must Stop. And it’s given me a sister who, if not quite as flaky-seeming as me, is getting there. Or maybe equally as flaky-seeming, but a kind of variant. Same reason (backwards brain wiring) but different manifestation. However, it means that she understands me, and I understand her, and so we can love each other, which is a blessing indeed.

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Would you be in the B-Ark?

I may have a weird sense of humour but I particularly like a race of beings that appear in Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. They are called Golgafrinchans and they originated in “a red, semi-desert planet that is home to the Great Circling Poets of Arium and a species of particularly inspiring lichen”. The story is this. At some point in their history the Great Circling Poets decided they wanted to get rid of the useless third of their population. So they invented a story that the planet Golgofrincham would shortly be destroyed in a great catastrophe (by a “mutant star goat”). The useless one third of the population were packed into a spaceship know as the B-Ark – supposedly one of three giant Arks – and launched into space. They were told that the remaining two thirds of the population would follow in the other two Arks.

Of course the remaining two thirds did not follow – there were no other Arks – and the B-Ark was programmed to crash land on a remote planet on the spiral arm of the galaxy – which happened to be Earth. So they crashed. The Golgofrinchan societal rejects mingled with and usurped the native cavemen and became the ancestors of humanity.

But who were the useless third? According to Douglas Adams they consisted of hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants and telephone sanitisers.

I have always assumed – being a gloomy sort – that I would be included in the “useless third” and would find myself on a spaceship hurtling towards relative oblivion. But then I started to wonder – how do you define “useful”? Surely “useful” itself is relative, since it depends on the society you happen to find yourself living in, and the relative needs of that society? And doesn’t it depend on the intelligence of the individual, his or her store of arcane knowledge, unused skills and potential to change or adapt?

I mean, in some societies there is little choice. In our own, for instance. There are many pretty trivial jobs but most people need a job of some kind.  Inevitably this means quite a few will be left with no alternative but to become – telephone sanitisers or whatever. I’m pretty sure those bored gentlemen forced to stand/pace around for hour after hour in stores in a silly uniform as a deterrent to shoplifters, don’t really want to be doing that. They do it for the money, and for security.

Hairdressers – well, yes, in an apocalyptic situation or primitive society you wouldn’t need hairdressers. It is quite possible – as I have discovered – to cut your own hair after a fashion – at least well enough to keep it out of your eyes – or just to let it grow long. In our current society, hairdressers are somewhere between a necessity and a luxury: their function is to make people look and feel better; a good hairdresser is an artist in his or her own right. Do we really need musicians? Do we need artists, or tailors, or comedians? No, we could survive perfectly well without them if they all suddenly disappeared in a puff of green smoke.

If I were to be marooned on a desert island with a brilliant violinist, would he or she be able to save me from starvation and the encroaching tide? Probably not. On the other hand that same violinist might be good at maths (musicians often are) and might be able to calculate the tides around our island, so that we knew the most fortuitous time to set off on our raft – which he/she might even have been able to help me construct. Because being musical does not preclude you from having other talents – simple construction work, for example. That telephone-sanitiser might happen to know how to weave, or paddle a canoe. Or they might have qualities not previously utilised – a clear head in an emergency, people skills, courage under fire – whatever. Until you are tested, you don’t know what you can do.

So I would say, be careful who you write off as useless. Do not write off disabled people, autistic people, artistic people – or people who have never had much of a chance in life and so are forced to accept trivial or low-status jobs. Do not assume that that is all they are, or all they could be if circumstances were suddenly to change and a new and different version of society come into being.

It is a risky thing to define any skill or occupation a “useless” – we do not know enough, about the present, let alone the future, to be able to make such value judgments with any confidence.  Fate has a way of taking its revenge on those who are absolutely sure they know best.

According to Douglas Adams, the Great Circling Poets of Arium were eventually wiped out – by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

Trumpitty-Bumpitty / Bumpitty-Trumpitty (you decide)

Several things have happened today. Well, several things happen every day but you know what I mean…

President Trump has decided against visiting himself upon us this February in order to ‘cut the ribbon’ on the new US Embassy. The new US Embassy is rather an incredible building, but apparently he hates it and it’s all President Obama’s fault for selling off at a ludicrous price prime real estate in central London for such a monstrosity in an ‘off’ location. He hates it, so he’s not coming to cut the ribbon.

Everybody here breathes a sigh of relief and tears up lists of possible things to throw –

rotten eggs – always popular?

yellow paint, maybe?

flour bombs?

or maybe umbrellas. Maybe we could litter the road in front of his car with unfurled yellow umbrellas. I just thought of that, but of course he would probably see it as a tribute.

UK Citizens showering me with golden umbrellas. Local custom I believe. ‘Nice’ of these peasants, but Sad!

Now we won’t get the chance, which is a bit Sad (though also a Relief) because we have a long creative tradition over here of being Gently, Incredibly Rude to people we regard as crass, common or beneath us in some way. Just read Jane Austen. Possibly Trump has been warned of this but by now he will have forgotten.

At least the Old Horror won’t be coming on the informal visit, but there is still the State Visit to contend with. Why exactly She rushed to offer him a State Visit – an honour American Presidents are usually only accorded in their second term of office – trade deal or no trade deal – so soon – at all, even – nobody knows, but now we are stuck with that dire event, looming on the horizon.

Admittedly both sides are doing a very good job at the moment of something I believe they call “kicking it into the long grass” or “kicking it on down the road” – in other words, failing to set a date, procrastinating, making no firm plans as yet…so we may escape.

If he does have to come over here (in which case rotten eggs, unfurled umbrellas and flour bombs will be the very least of his problems, protest-wise) I think the Queen herself may have supplied the answer.

She has recorded a TV programme about Coronations, which I believe is going to be shown tonight. I just saw a clip. There she sits, and they bring in the great Coronation Crown from the Tower of London, and place it reverentially in front of her. She leans forward, curiously. This is the first time she has seen it herself, up close, for many years.

She talks about the Crown, how heavy it was, back in 1953 when she was a mere 27 years old, and how lucky that her deceased father and she ‘both had the same shaped head’ so it more or less fitted her. She explained that it weighed such an awful lot – so much, in fact, that she had to remember to lift her speech to eye-level to read it, for if she had leant forward the weight of the Crown could have broken her neck.

She also talked about the Golden Coach. It was very uncomfortable, she said, and she was driven all round London in it – at least five miles. The coach had only leather suspension, which meant the occupants were constantly jolted about and felt every bump in the road. And it went on for ever because the horses could only go at walking pace – the State Carriage was far too heavy for them to do anything else.

So it seems to me that, if and when our civil servants (famed for their numerous and subtle delaying tactics) finally do run out of excuses to “kick it on down the road” and he really does insist on a Visitation of Himself upon Us, the best response would be to be All Smiles and Obsequity and arrange for him a very long sight-seeing trip around the many wonderful sights of our capital city.

He could visit our beloved Big Ben (whose ‘bongs’ are currently silenced due to a lengthy maintenance programme) and be driven around – and around and around and around – Nelson’s magnificent, pigeon perch of a Column. He could be taken to see the London Eye and Tower Bridge, and maybe that historic old ship they run past on the Marathon – even some of the outlying suburbs – ideal sites for new golf courses – and then there must be quite a few other historic buildings, plus of course that splendid new American Embassy…

embassy

Probably he doesn’t have piles – he looks pretty healthy for a man of his age, in spite of the fast food diet – but you never know.

Maybe we could arrange for it to also to be raining on the day of the Golden Coach. That really wet English rain that drives in through windows and soaks you to the skin. Almost certain to be raining, in any case…

Maybe he might even be allowed to wear the Coronation Crown, in the very uncomfortable coach, in the extremely wet rain, all the way round the sights of London and Greater London. He’d love to be the first American President to wear a Crown – can you imagine the tweets?

And with any luck it might just slip his mind about the hazards of that mighty jewel, and he might just forget and bend forward for a tiny moment…

A “Two Soups” kinda day

If you’ve never seen Victoria Wood’s “Two Soups” sketch, I’ll briefly describe it to you. A couple are engaged in some sort of tense discussion whilst awaiting the arrival of their meal – or at least the first course of their meal. Cue Julie Walters as an ancient waitress with scary false teeth and an old-fashioned hearing-aid cord dangling from her ear.

Asked what the soup of the day is, she totters backwards and forwards from table to kitchen, kitchen to table, crabwise, a seemingly infinite number of times, so  incredibly slowly, forgetting the question en route. When she finally emerges through the swing-doors from the kitchen with the two plates of soup she manages to empty both plates onto the floor, but brings them to the table nonetheless. Best just to watch it – it’s not that long, and it’s on YouTube.

Well I had that kind of day. The infected hand had brought me to the hospital for one last time, or I sincerely hoped so. Sign me off, sign me off. Oral antibiotics please was the refrain running through my head as I queued in the Friends of the Hospital shop for tea, and a cheese-and-pickle roll. And lo and behold an ancient female Friend of the Hospital was engaged in re-supplying the coffee machine. Standing on a stool with her back to the queue she was tremulously attempting to open foil bags full of coffee beans that wouldn’t open, and find various other bags of stuff that needed to go into various slots and canisters in the innards of the machine. I felt sorry for her, but I have never (since the Two Soups sketch) seen anyone do something so very slowly and so very badly. But after all, she was a volunteer.

“I’ll just have the cheese-and-pickle roll,” I said. I only had half an hour.

I don’t do queueing up. That is, I do queue because everyone in this life is forced to wait and wait for all manner of vital goods and services, especially in Britain. Everyone queues in Britain, and the odd foreigner who pushes is regarded with horror, and proof if proof was needed that British civilisation never did reach other parts of the European Union, nay, not even as far as Calais on the boats.

I queue because I simply have to, but mentally I suffer. Over the years I have perfected my Patient Face, a mask of ethereal, Mona Lisa-like serenity to be worn whilst staring into the middle distance. Inwardly, like everyone else, I seethe.

In the clinic I tell them my appointment is at 10 o’clock, knowing I won’t be seen until at least half past and maybe not for several hours, if it’s a particularly bad day in A&E. This clinic is where the walking wounded of A&E end up. I wait with people who have bad feet, slipped bandages and bad stomachs, with fretful, feverish children and people who arrive in wheelchairs that take up half the floor space. The man next to me screws his eyes tight shut and clutches at his heart. He is obviously trying not to groan. Why have they sent him here? I wonder. Surely he is dying of a heart attack? But there is nothing I can do.

And then I am sitting in the squeaky plastic chair next to the nurse/doctor. She is typing,  possibly updating my notes prior to (please God!) discharging me back onto oral antibiotics. She types with one finger, at the speed the Two Soups waitress walks. She does not talk to me while she is doing this. I can feel my heart racing just from the sheer tension of this silent wait. Then she turns to me, as if surprised that I am still there. “I am finished with you,” she announces. “Season’s Greetings.”

And then I am sitting at another hospital – the local one – awaiting a blood test. I have taken my ticket which says B59. They are the same tickets you get from the delicatessen counter at Sainsbury’s, when you’re after some non-standard type of cheese. Everyone in front of me in the queue turns out to be very, very old, and not to be able to get their arms out of or into their coat-sleeves. Outside it is icy. There are very many layers to shed/don. Then there are the elbow-crutches. Don’t get me started on those.

And now I am sitting at home. I have had to scribble out a timetable to accommodate the ingestion of more tablets than I have ever had to ingest in my life. One lot has to be taken three times a day with food, another three times a day but no specific instructions re food, and the third set has to be taken either one hour before or two hours after a meal, four times a day. This proves almost impossible to fit in with my normal eating times, so I am having to stretch out the times between meals, unnaturally.

I am very hungry, but hey – I see there are only ten minutes to go. By the time I get downstairs and have microwaved one of those tasteless old-person’s meals, it will be OK to eat. OK to eat!

And not soup.

Hospit-ality

Hospitals are not my natural milieu, you might say

(she types, wincingly, with injured paw).

I mean, I just don’t go with the décor. Sitting in the Friends of the Hospital shop toying with a Styrofoam cup of unlikely-coloured tea with rapidly submerging tea-bag

(the dangly bit fell in)

is not my idea of Christmas Eve. I have bought a TV listings magazine to pass the time until I make my way to the clinic for my appointment

(if you don’t arrive before ten a.m. there are no parking spaces till tomorrow before ten a.m.)

but it contains nothing but staged photos of soap-opera actors pretending to be anguished, because it’s Christmas, and everyone knows Christmas is the perfect time to murder your missus and bury her beheath the patio.

(I hate soaps.)

At least it’s different. I mean, what else would I have been doing over Christmas? Compared to sitting in the conservatory with my mother for three silent hours listening to the clock ticking, and maybe knitting a row or two, driving 23.3 miles to the nearest A&E hospital

(and the same back)

four days in a row

(yes four, including Christmas Day)

to have my bitten hand prodded and redressed and antibiotics injected into some miniature piece of yellow or blue plastic bandaged into to my arm for the duration, this is actually quite exciting. This hospital is almost beginning to feel like a Home From Home. Like Home, without the cat litter and the non-functioning lightbulbs

(they are packing up in some mysterious sequence – it may be a code)

and Bertie ringing me up at 1.30 in the morning saying he thinks he’s dying but he’s not sure what of and it could be his waterworks but it might be his throat… or his psoriasis… and now I’ve got a car would I mind driving him to the hospital because an ambulance will never arrive in time… but that’s another story.

I may not tell it. Maybe it would be unkind? It probably would be unkind. But I may still tell it, because in spite of the nurse telling me I was a kind person, really I’m a bit of a moo.

I might tell it…

Suffice it for now to say that Nurse has instructed me to instruct Bertie next time he telephones in the middle of the night that the Nurse has ordered me to conserve my strength at the moment or my hand won’t get better. She says the technique is to be apologetic, kindly, sympathetic but not of any actual practical use over and over again. Eventually, she says, the person gets the message.

(I do not think Bertie is of a constitution to get any message, ever, but maybe her advice would be worth a try. It was kind of her to offer it, whilst slowly squeezing cold stuff into my arm from an enormous syringe.)

You will be please to hear

(I hope you are not reading this over your Christmas Dinner)

that although my cat-savaged hand still looks like the surface of some distant red planet, with scattered, erupting volcanoes, and feels as sore as the surface of such a planet must feel after aeons of being erupted under and onto by volcanoes, the hand itself has now returned to normal size. It originally swelled up and looked like the puffer fish featured above, without the mouth and the funny little fins. And at that point, of course, I could not drive although the taxi driver

(I have met quite a few taxi drivers in the past few days)

did explain to me that I could probably change gear for 23.3 miles by pushing the gear stick with the puffer-fish-type hand. He has obviously had to drive this way in the past so as to maintain his livelihood. A truly scary thought.

There’s a few good things about stuff like this. You get to chat to people you would never have chanced to meet, in your life. This morning, for example, I spent a couple of minutes with a middle-European lady who was allergic to painkillers, who was suffering from the most agonising bad back I have ever witnessed someone trying to walk along with. I think she must have slipped a disc. Even sitting still, talking to me, she was pausing to scream at intervals. I wished – I jut wished, at that point – that I possessed those healing hands, the sort you can just lay on or hover above people, to take away their pain. But hopefully they will find at least one painkiller she is not allergic to.

You may find out things about yourself you would never otherwise have known. I discovered via the blood tests that though  I may not have sepsis (may not, presumably I’d feel a bit iller if I had) I do have anaemia. So now I have iron tablets. How exciting! This may be the beginning of the inevitable metamorphosis into one of those old ladies with a medicine cupboard bursting with cardboard boxes of tablets for this and tablets for that…

And you get to master new skills, if only tiny ones. I am a coward, you see. I tend to avoid doing stuff that’s stressful, and for me, anything I haven’t done before, anything new, tends to get avoided. New cars contain many such skills, and I have been avoiding learning them all. In case I couldn’t. In case it was stressful.

But last night, thanks to Bertie and his hyponchondria/panic attack demand to be whisked to the Community Hospital (only about 6 miles away) I was forced to work out where the button was to switch on the headlights

(yay!)

and this morning, in anticipation of having to retrieve a car-park ticket from one of those scary yellow machines via the car window so that the barrier would lift, I had to devote some time to deducing how to open windows in a car so very modern it has no handle to wind. At all. And then I managed the drive to the hospital, round one of the worst-designed many-laned roundabouts of all time

(get in your lane well in advance and don’t whatever you do move out of it till you get to the other side: taxi driver)

and bought petrol, even though the petrol place is on completely the wrong side of the car and there is no cap just some sort of hole

and found my way on Christmas Eve through dense traffic in an unfamiliar town, and actually found a parking space, and then actually managed to reverse the entire sequence

(apart from buying petrol, which would have been silly)

on the way back.

Pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules!

Now that’s set your teeth on edge, hasn’t it, proper French speakers?

I had a very unoriginal thought today.  I googled it and discovered that it was in fact even more unoriginal than I imagined. I was looking at my books, all 2,000 of them piled vertically now (for cat fur/ease of hoovering reasons) into a high stack of de-shelved book cases.  It suddenly struck me, if I had to take the complete works of a very limited number of authors to a desert island with me – say, ten – which authors would I choose?

Now this isn’t as easy as it seems. It would be no good taking to a desert island a book with a thrilling but memorable plot, for example. However good it was, what would be the point of reading it again?

No good taking anything too distinctive, either. Harry Potter, for instance. I loved reading Harry Potter, each new book as eagerly anticipated as if I had been thirteen and three quarters rather than middle-aged. But once you’ve read them the surprise is gone out of them – they were whizz-bangs when they landed on our bookshelves but now… they’ve fizzled.

Not really much point in taking thrillers or detective novels, for the same reason. You might not think you remember whodunit but as soon as you start to read, you will.

And humour probably wouldn’t travel well. Only so many times you can laugh at a conversation between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves whilst fishing in the sea with a piece of string and an improvised hook, or trying to persuade yourself that shredded palm leaves are edible. Jokes are best not repeated – to the same audience – yourself.

No, the books would have to be kind of meaty. The sort that, though they may be a bit of a struggle to get into, pay dividends on later reflection. Also books with plots so labyrinthine that it is impossible to remember them on re-reading.

But you’d also need an element of comfort reading. So some of your books would be there just because they reminded you of home in some way – winter afternoons by the fire and snow falling outside; long walks down country lanes kicking autumn leaves with your wellies – whatever.

I’m thinking that, as with Desert Island Discs, a few ‘master’ works should be taken for granted – found in a deserted cabin, chewed a bit by moths but still perfectly readable, say. I believe Desert Island Discs allows castaways to assume The Complete Works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible, and I would add the Complete Works of Dickens. (It’s my island, I can make Dickens be in the deserted cabin if I want to. Maybe I’ll put the skeleton of the previous inhabitant in there too…)

Of course, the books you take may also reflect the age you happen to be when cast away. If you are twenty, say, you will have longer to savour the books of your choice, but also longer to get heartily sick of them. If you are ninety-five you might want to be more rigorously selective still, or take rather more spiritually-inclined reading matter.

So this is my list, in no particular order Still a work in progress. As you will see at the end I still haven’t managed to whittle it down to ten. I did consider simply putting the total up to twenty, but that seemed like cheating.

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. A S Byatt
  3. Neil Gaiman
  4. Annie Proulx
  5. Charlotte Brontë
  6. Rose Tremain
  7. Alice Munro
  8. George McKay Brown (non-fiction, comfort reading)
  9. Ellis Peters (comfort reading – how could you be on a desert island and not have Cadfael for company?)
  10. ….

And here’s where I’m stuck. I feel I should take at least one author that I always felt I should read but only ever got round to reading around the edges of – so I’m torn at the moment between George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Aldous Huxley. Maybe Huxley would be a bit dated? Trollope would certainly be meaty but… as well as Dickens? And Eliot – is she perhaps one of those authors you feel you ought to read but Life’s Too Short for – like whoever perpetrated Moby Dick and War and Peace? Not to mention Ulysses. I carted that fat paperback of Ulysses around with me for years when I was a student: never managed to get beyond the first page.

I don’t know… I don’t know… And remember you have got to take all their works – pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules! as I like to imagine they would say in Brussels. So you can’t take Howard’s End and leave the posthumous Maurice behind, or take the whole of Neil Gaiman except American Gods which is just too long.

To digress slightly. Having just discovered (after how many years?) that I can watch more or less unlimited dramas and TV series on my Kindle Fire for absolutely-free merely by tapping on that dull little icon top right – who knew? – I launched into American Gods on video, thinking I might find it more digestible.

They were putting each other’s eyes out! Severed limbs were flying through the air! I don’t remember that, in the twenty percent of the book I did manage to get through. So I plumped for The Night Manager.

To digress again. I read a comment on the internet by a girl who felt it should correctly be deserted, not desert island, since how many islands do you find in the desert? Duh! An island with nothing on it but a lot of desert-type sand and perhaps a wobbly palm tree and a man in faded rags with several weeks-worth of stubble – not an island rising majestically from the sands of the Sahara.

Anyway, enough. What would be your ten desert island authors? Or just the first one on the list…

Pigeon Pout

I am having to force myself to go out for walks. It’s for my health. More of this in a mo, no doubt. Who knows what I am going to write?

I dislike going out for walks. Partly this is because there’s nowhere to walk round here – I mean, it’s a mini-bungalow-grid attached to civilisation by means of one very, very long road lined with holiday camps. The very-very-long-road is very weedy, in between the holiday camps. More kinds of weeds than you could shake a stick at. To mitigate the utter boredom of either walking round the bungalow grid three times in succession, possibly reversing polarity midway, or walking from one end of the very-very-long road to the other, turn left and sit on a damp bench for five minutes before heading back, I listen to music. Even with the sound up it is difficult to hear the music over the passing traffic. Yesterday the left ear of my headset packed up. It was chewed by a cat, some five years ago, and held together with sticky tape.

I also dislike going for walks because walks mean going Out There, and Out There is full of Them. By Them I mean both Locals, who stare at you slack-jawed and drooling as you pass by their front gardens (possibly an exaggeration) and the Holidaymakers, who are here ten months of the year. Holidaymakers are more or less normal to look at but they wear funny clothes; shorts and strange shirts over big hairy bellies, or, in the case of women, sundresses over big but less hairy bellies, and sandals.

Some of them are rather sweet, though, in a city sort of way. Yesterday I passed two ladies in sundresses, with the usual huge, toddler-filled stroller each. They had stopped, fascinated by a couple of pigeons having a bath in a puddle. Apparently London pigeons don’t ‘do’ washing in puddles. I was tempted to stop and point out that there probably aren’t as many giant pavement-craters in London as there are round here, for the rainwater to collect in. I’m sure a London pigeon would be pleased to splash around and get the dust off its feathers, if only it had the facilities.

The walking boots are rather heavy: it’s like gravity increases as soon as you put them on. If only I could turn the world upside down like a piggy bank, I think, clumping womanfully along to the suicidal maunderings of Sarah McLachlan. Then all the people would fall out… somewhere… and I could go for my walk in peace.

So, it’s the cholesterol. I don’t know the reading yet but some pharmacist is threatening to phone from the doctor’s surgery on Monday morning. I am guessing it’s not too bad because last time they tested it it was under the safe limit, but the wretched girl was so mysterious about it over the phone.

‘Why is the pharmacist going to ring me?’ I asked.

‘Um, about cholesterol.’

‘So, is my cholesterol too high?’

‘Um…’

‘Could you give me my results, please?’

‘Ummmm…’ It’s as if I have asked something really embarrassing. But I mean, it’s cholesterol, not gonorrhoea.

‘The pharmacist will discuss it with you on Monday.’

I was so cross that I looked up the legal situation on the internet. Bad news: apparently one’s blood test results are not one’s own property in this country. They belong to the National Health Service, or more specifically to the Secretary of State for Health. So if this pharmacist chooses, he or she could simply say: ‘Your actual cholesterol score is confidential and none of your business, but I recommend you take statins until you rattle, for the rest of your life.’ Hopefully, he or she will be more helpful than that or I will be forced to go private, or buy one of those expensive self-testing kits and puncture one of my own fingers with a nasty sharp piece of metal. I just have to stew about it all weekend.

However, I have already made a start on my not-taking-statins-under-any-circumstances campaign. I have started on the daily walking and am gradually feeding the birds the large store of cakes, biscuits, sugary pies and so forth I happened to have in stock. The bird are dining like Henry VIII at the moment, off the fat of the land.

I have swapped butter for that yellow substance that looks like margarine but is advertised as hoovering up cholesterol. I have exchanged hard cheese for cottage cheese. I have exchanged ordinary pasta and bread for wholemeal pasta and bread. I am reading a book about it. I suspect I’m even going to have to cook again: no more cheese-and-pickle sandwiches and hastily microwaved soup; no more late-night bowls of cereal slathered in sugar; no more Mars Bars.

Hard cheese – it is indeed. Forced to eat stuff I don’t like. Forced to not eat stuff I do like. Forced to go out for walks. Outside. With people.

Flavorful? Eeeeeeeugh!

There is no such word as flavorful – or if there is there jolly well oughtn’t to be. What’s wrong with flavoursome (or flavorsome, if you’re American and determined to leave out the ‘u’)?

Or tasty? or piquant? or delicious? or savoury for that matter? Or scrumptious or yummy if you feel like going downmarket?

Flavorful?

What a truly horrible word that is! Just seeing it in print has ruined what’s left of my day.

I refuse to write a post about it.

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Mincemeat Bakewell

For the avoidance of doubt (as I often used to type in my legal days):

The kind of mincemeat to which this recipe refers comes in a jar, or it’s easy enough to home make. Although back in the 15th, 16th or 17th centuries the mincemeat that went into pies would have contained real meat – often venison – nowadays it is sweet, and does not.

According to Wikipedia, variants of mincemeat are found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, Ireland, South Africa, the UK and the US but in other parts of world it could be taken to mean minced or ground meat.

Eugh! please do not use minced meat.

For the avoidance of even more doubt:

This does not automatically mean it’s vegetarian. The suet used in the product’s manufacture could either be beef suet or some vegetarian alternative. You would need to check the label.

If that hasn’t put you off, here is the recipe for Mincemeat Bakewell:

Pastry

6 oz (ounces) plain flour

2 oz caster sugar

3 oz butter or marge (margarine)

2-3 tablespoons milk

Filling

12 oz mincemeat

4 oz butter or marge

4 oz caster sugar

2 medium eggs, beaten

2 oz self-raising flour

4 oz ground almonds

1 tablespoon milk

2-3 drops almond essence

1 oz flaked almonds

Little icing sugar for sifting, optional

9 inch fluted tin, lightly greased

Oven: moderate – Gas Mark 5 or 375ºF/190ºC

Pastry:

Sift together the flour and sugar. Rub in butter or marge until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface, knead gently then roll out and line the tin. Chill for 15 mins (the pastry, that is).

Filling:

Spread the mincemeat over the pastry base.

Cream the butter, marge and sugar together. Beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, milk and almond essence. Spread this over the mincemeat. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.

Bake in centre oven about 50 mins or until firm. Sift with icing sugar if liked.

Short Little Span Of Attention

Raindrops keep falling on my head…

I feel as if I should be riding round in circles on a bicycle, typing this. Alas, my bicycle-riding days are over.

This one is about how to keep dry at bus stops. Since being forced into the realms of Public Transport I have only been drenched at a bus stop once, but that was enough. The thing with bus stops is that you may have to wait up to an hour at one, and that’s an awful lot of getting wet to endure when all you want is to be already at home with your lunchtime sandwich, swilling back cups of tea.

I thought I had made provision for this by including in my bag the light duty green festival rain cape. Remember, in a previous post I mentioned a heavy duty green festival rain cape? This is now permanently installed on my bed to protect it from senile cats wanting to wee on it.

The light duty green festival rain cape was no good at all. I wrestled it over my head, spectacles and pony-tail, and the head tore off. I deposited the head in the bus-stop-side refuse bin in disgust and sat for the next half an hour in the remaining three-quarters of the rain cape. It seemed not quite long enough to cover the sit-upon problem either, and the bench was damp.

I have been stewing on this problem ever since. I mean, in the middle of summer you don’t always want to be carting around your winter coat just in case. Bulk and weight are the enemy of the traveller on Public Transport – or any traveller. On the other hand, in Britain you can never say it isn’t going to rain. It nearly always is going to, and if you fail one day to take a rainwear of some sort with you, it’s definitely going to.

This morning whilst washing up in my dressing gown the solution came to me – clear plastic bin bags. Our local Council insists on these for excess recyclable waste, because they suspect that we will otherwise be attempting to sneak out our excess vegetable peelings and general filth. They don’t provide them, of course, you have to buy them.

So, what you do: you take two of the clear plastic bin sacks and just leave them folded exactly as they are. This saves having to squeeze the air out, which is a pain. Then you take another two and slit them up one side, and you nest one of the slit-up-the-side bags inside the other. You fold them up like this and squeeze out the air. The whole lot fits inside something the size of a pencil case.

The idea is this. You arrive at the bus stop just as it starts to rain. You observe the bus you ought to have caught disappearing into the distance, so you’ve got an hour to wait. Black clouds loom overhead, the rain is going to get heavier and you do not have a mac. So, you whip out your clear plastic bags. You fold one into four and place it on the damp bench, to sit on. You take the two operated on bags and place them over your head like a monk’s cowl. This will keep you dry(ish) from head to hip, and the bags are light enough that you can push them out of the way to check if the bus is coming, even if you can’t see through them. You sit down on your folded bin sack and place the remaining sack over your knees like an invalid rug.

I haven’t tried this yet, but promise I will as soon as it rains. I imagine it won’t work well in a gale, in which case I suppose the answer is to find a shop doorway or walk to the nearest bus stop with a shelter. Amazing how many bus stops do not have shelter, or only overhanging trees to drip down your neck or expose you to lightning-strike.

One of the few benefits of having a creative turn of mind plus a short little span of attention.

Strange Pillows

Snatches of conversation from a very long day on an assortment of buses and trains:

After you, ladies! Six of you today. It’s my job to count you. I don’t count because I’m a gentleman, and because I’m the Counter.

There’ll probably be some more gentlemen along in a minute.

I only like ladies.

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It’s really quite warm on this bus. I’m beginning to feel Quite Hot. Good thing I wore my deodorant.

Thinks: So that’s what that smell is!

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So I said to her, I’ll bring along some sunflower seeds but I don’t know whether they’re the sort that’ll grow or the sterilised sort for feeding to the birds.

Some of them grow too. I’ve got a little mountain of weeds under my bird table.

So I said to her, you’ll just have to plant them and see if anything comes up.

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This metal thing is very low, for waiting on.

Yes, but better than nothing.

‘Spose so. Do you think it’s meant to be a bench or a piece of artwork?

Artwork – probably cost thousands.

A bench would have been more useful.

 

I pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel to shower off the dust

And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust 

I dreamed of 747s over geometric farms

Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

Joni Mitchell: Amelia

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…

Apparently, human beings are evolving towards a state of complete hairlessness. This is because being less rather than more hairy is considered attractive, particularly in women. Therefore, by a process of natural selection over many thousands of years, hair is  on the way out – faster in women than in men because quite a few women still rather like the hairy man and continue to select him for a mate.

Apparently, for reasons I have now forgotten, if I ever read that bit, our many, many times great grandchildren may have huge foreheads, great gobstopper eyes like those Manga characters, and teensy-tiny teeth. They are likely to be very tall, but physically rather weak. Etiolated – I seem to remember that word from biology. You put a plant in a dark cupboard and it grows and grows, looking for light, but not finding any light it blanches and weakens and droops. That’s what we’re doing as we sit in the flickering dark catching up on all those box sets. Etiolating.

But that’s in 100,000 years time, and by that time we’ll probably all have long since nuked or poisoned ourselves to extinction. Earth will be crawling with cockroaches and the sea a mass of blind white amoeba type things. Pseudopodium – another word I remember from school biology. It means “false foot” and is a temporary protrusion on the wall of an amoeboid cell for movement or feeding. Irrelevant, of course.

(Why am I suddenly writing about hair? Well, I found this vast list of one word subjects for poems – far better than the usual WordPress prompts – you know the sort of thing – Taxes – Beige – Ant – Cactus – Hat. I thought I would make use of them here from time to time, taking care to cross them off neatly once used, like my mother with her shopping list – Ryvita – Yoghurt – Comb – Comb again – Tinned Peaches – T/paste.)

You may have noticed the picture at the top of La Tour Abolie. I do believe it is of Rapunzel and may have been taken in some open air Grimm’s fairy tales museum. She was the girl who, imprisoned in a tower by a nasty bit of work by the name of Dame Gothel – a tower with no stairs only a very, very high window – learned to let down her long golden hair so that a Prince who happened to be passing could climb up. There are various versions of what happens next. Her skirt becomes mysteriously tight around the waist. She gives the game away to the witch, who cuts her hair and casts her out into the wilderness. Rapunzel’s hair grows back once the Prince touches it. She gives birth to twins. Dame Gothel herself gets trapped in the stairless tower. Who knows?

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb thy golden stair.

rapunz 2

And then there’s poor Sampson, Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves. Foolish man, he (eventually) confided in the prostitute Delilah that his fantastic strength resided in the seven braids of his hair, which were at once shaven off so that his strength left him, and his eyes were gouged out and he was sent to work at the prison mill, grinding grain with slaves. However, the shaven hair at once began to grow back, and…

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