Punk Morris Dancers, Glitter Tattoos and a Man Dressed Like a Baby

You will see the man dressed as a baby in the shot above. Thats him with the whitish beard and white hair scraped up into two schoolgirl ‘bunches’. I have no idea what his function was in the Morris Dancing troupe with which he was performing. I know Morris Dancers are partial to Green Men and Hooden Horses, but this was the first large elderly man in a pink dress, boots, bells and bunches. No doubt he was deeply symbolic of something.

I once read that ‘abroad’ the British are universally pictured as marching about in bowler hats and carrying furled umbrellas, usually in the pouring rain. I thought these pictures, taken today at the Rochester Sweeps Festival, might go some way to redressing the balance.

I quite like this picture – a lucky accident as I couldn’t actually see the screen, the sun was shining on it so brightly. Dazed and confused, for all of them I simply lifted the mobile phone up at random and pressed the button. The thing I notice most about it though is that although everyone is having a good day out, engaged in ‘fun’, no one – not the woman in the wheelchair, the leaner on the lamp-post, not even the jolly dancers hopping around and bashing their sticks together – is actually smiling.

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There were more Morris Dancers than you could shake a stick at. Apparently they converge on Rochester from all over the country. In my younger day it was all rather sedate. The men always wore white and always sort of matched. Nowadays anything goes. I particularly liked this punk troupe with their fishnet tights and top hats. It also answers the question: Where did all the hippies go? Here they are, in all their faded glory, the remnants of My Generation.

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I wondered what they all did when they weren’t dancing. The one in the thonged leather – might he be a bank manager in everyday life? The lady in the multi-coloured tatters with the pint of beer – possibly works behind reception at the local leisure centre?

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As the day went on we passed more and more people with painted faces, so this tent was obviously popular. I cropped out an unfortunately-shaped young woman in unfortunate jeans. No doubt she’ll appear in somebody else’s picture.

So, a good day was had by all, and back we clambered onto our Community Minibus. The wheelchair took some time to affix. Boy is it tiring, enjoying yourself!

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A Plague By Any Other Name

William or Leetle Weely as the vet calls him has a disgusting-looking ailment of the paws. The vet speaks very good English, but it is not his first language and I believe has not quite got the hang of seaside postcard humour and double entendres. It may be that double entendres are the last linguistic hurdle a foreigner has to cross.

Speaking of double-entendres, even I missed one the other night. I was in a long conversation with my sister in Canada, complaining bitterly about an overbearing male who entered my kitchen and even, irritatingly, sniggered at the way I cut the cheese, saying it was probably because I was left handed etc., etc. Said man has now been disposed of (fingers crossed) but not before he nearly electrocuted himself by poking a kitchen knife into my toaster, whilst said toaster was plugged into the electric socket and red hot, because he had managed to get a crumpet stuck in it. He then asked me why I had turned the toaster off and I mentioned saving him from electrocution. Probably I should just have left him to it – would have been easier than trying to convince him to kindly leave me alone – but, as one of my neighbours said to me when I went out to mow the lawn this afternoon, you wouldn’t want the corpse of a fat, condescending old baggage cluttering up your vinyl floor covering.

Anyway – rambling again – I kept referring to cutting the cheese as part of this sisterly transatlantic rant, and it wasn’t until the end of the conversation that my sister told me that cutting the cheese in Canadian was actually a euphemism for breaking wind.

Anyway, William has a paw complaint, which hopefully will be improved by antibiotics and steroids. Its scientific name is Plasma Cell Pododermatitis but it’s also known as Pillow Foot or, the vet tells me, Bumble Foot. Really, if you hadn’t seen Leetle Weely hobbling about on the sore, scabby and peeling paws in question you might imagine him joyously floating about with a tiny white pillow strapped to each foot, or maybe being transported by a quartet of little fluffy bees…

It made me think about the names we choose for diseases, and why they are so often really attractive names when the ailment they represent is so unattractive. When I was a child I had Scarlatina (why Scarlatina and not Scarletina?). I don’t remember much about it except that I had a sore throat and my mother hung white sheets at my bedroom window. They had to be soaked in something-or-other (disinfectant, probably). I believe  Scarlatina was quite serious – children often died – and yet what a lovely name someone chose for it! Can’t you just imagine it – a flamenco dancer in a red silk dress, clacking black cube heels on a polished floor.

And then there was Impetigo. Just down the road from me lived the butcher’s twin girls (well, one of them was a girl, the other nobody was ever quite sure). They were not identical, obviously, but what they did have was permanent identical Impetigo – like crusty stuff around their mouths. In those days the treatment for Impetigo was Gentian Violet (another lovely name) and so the poor non-identical twins were permanently daubed in purple. But Impetigo – can’t you just imagine it stalking silently through a green and gold jungle, the ghost of twinkle in its eye?

We were once asked in an English lesson what our favourite-sounding word of all time was, and whether we loved it for its sound alone, or for the meaning of the word. One girl said she just loved the sound of Diahorrea (the spellcheck obviously doesn’t – I could never decide how to spell it) which caused much laughter but showed that, as Shakespeare put it, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

And what about Schizophrenia, Chlamydia, Fasciitis, Eczema. If you didn’t know what these words meant, wouldn’t you think they were rather lovely?

Saturday Night Ramble

Mum and Dad used to belong to a Cycling Club, one of whose (which’s?) many sub-activities was know as The Wednesday Wobblers. This was a group of older cyclists who met on a Wednesday and cycled unbelievably long distances in order to eat a pub meal and drink a pint of beer and wobble all the way back home again. My parents disliked the name actually, because they didn’t wobble; they were better cyclists than that. And because it had been invented by their arch enemy, Fat Pat.

And so, being now in a Club of One I thought I would engage in a Saturday Night Ramble, mainly because I haven’t written anything for some time and still can’t come up with anything coherent to say. But that never stopped me in the past. Incoherence is my middle name.

Today it was chilly, and raining on and off, but my friend and I had arranged to go to the next village down for fish and chips and so we went. Actually we almost never manage to get into the fish and chip emporium since it is always stuffed full of seaside-visiting grockles in tracksuits, hooped earrings and tattoos, and today was no exception. We always seem to time it wrong. One moment the place is empty. By the time we have crossed the road – rather slowly since my friend is disabled – the grockles have packed it and are spilling out onto the pavement.

We ended up with egg and chips at another place, almost equally packed, and a three-quarter of an hour wait for that. Then they brought only one plate of egg and chips, though I had clarified (twice, in fact) to the very slow woman at the till that we needed egg and chips twice, there being two of us, as they could clearly see, rather than one of us requiring two eggs with their chips. So I sat and watched my friend eat her chips, and her two eggs, and meanwhile got through six half-slices of bread-and-marge off a hefty white china plate. She had more or less finished by the time my egg and chips arrived. The mug of tea seemed to me to taste strongly of fish, but she said it was probably just that my mind was still in fish and chip mode.

Home again, I turned the central heating on and sat for several hours doing battle with my mobile phone. It is one of those Doro old-people phones with all possibility of doing anything dangerous strictly hidden from view so as to discourage Mother or Father from tampering with the settings and messing things up. Unfortunately I am not quite old enough for a Doro and am finding it increasingly frustrating, and patronising in its attitude. It thwarts me at every turn. It was populated with an awful lot of what I believe is collectively known as Bloatware – lots of Google stuff I had no need for, and obscure features nobody with any sort of life could possibly have need of. Add to that a small memory, an absolute refusal to use the memory card I had purchased and installed, and an insistence that I delete every single app I had ever installed in order to make room for Bloatware updates it didn’t have enough Memory to perform…

I tried swapping the SIM and the memory card to another phone, but this caused all sorts of problems. Google demanded that I sign in and kept presenting me with all those unreadable wiggly things. After an hour it was still refusing to accept that I was me, and I gave up, moved the SIM and the memory card back. Then I installed a file manager and viciously (viciously, I say) disabled or deleted every single Google bloat-thingy, every single Doro feature I had never found a use for and every single app that I couldn’t attribute a function to. That worked! Pah, I hate smartphones.

And now I am listening to music on my MP3 player to drown out the noise of the party next door. The trick is to turn the volume up just loud enough to partially distract from the thumping electronic beat and screeching pre-teens, but not quite loud enough to damage your own hearing.

Catwise, I now have another problem. One of my outdoor strays looks to have a damaged leg, but I can’t get near him. If he had just allowed himself to get tame first, I could have picked him up. All I can do is keep putting food out and hope he can manage to heal himself. Or for the universe to persuade him he really needs to trust the Giantess to take him to the vet and get fixed. So far the food is continuing to disappear, but I can’t be sure it’s him eating it, since there is Mystery Dog, another ginger tom (Sunshine), the ever-present Ratties and now a small brown mouse. The cats are glued to the back door watching the mouse’s insouciant preening of his whiskers inches from their noses, the wrong side of the double glazing.

The Cats Protection lady is still going to come and see me, but her companion is not. We have arranged this between us. He took a fancy to me and mowed my lawn. Then he told me I was Not Very Practical and obviously needed Taking In Hand and a Real Man To Look After Me. Then he grabbed me in the kitchen and started sending unspeakably suggestive texts all evening, every evening. Yuk! I find it amazing that now, when I am old and toothless (well, not completely toothless) – weirdo men seem to be coming out of the woodwork, attired in big boots, khaki shorts and hearing aids, or too tight overcoats that smell strongly of mothballs. Whereas when I was younger and at least willowy and acceptable-looking I couldn’t seem to get a boyfriend for love nor money. And oh, old men are so disgusting. They just never seem to lose the conviction that any single woman must be just gasping – gasping – for their slobbering embraces. He brought me unwanted food, and secreted it in my fridge, in cupboards etc., when I wasn’t looking. I have been throwing it out as I find it. This morning yet another dryish sultana loaf fell out of the cupboard…

Ow, think I’m going to have to turn the MP3 down. Perhaps they’ve stopped, next door…

Yes, a few minutes break before…

Ah, but there they go again. And it’s that idiot with the paint pot singing “I can hear it coming in the wind tonight”. They always get onto that one sooner or later.

And now Ed Sheeran… beautiful and sweet… we were just kids when we fell in love…

I wish I was a human being

Well, this is where I was at lunchtime today, at a place call Docklands Outlet in Chatham. I think this bit, which is kind of round the back, is probably the Marina rather than the Outlet. I was sheltering from Shopping Man, Shopping Woman and Shopping Infants, and relatively scorching temperatures in a patch of shade six inches by three. I was on a bench, crammed in behind a potted bush identical to the one on the left of the picture. My hip hurt, my feet were swollen and I had only been there an hour and a half. Only two and a half more hours to go before I could go home.

I always head for water when alone and under stress. I must say this wasn’t particularly exciting water, sort of man-channelled, black and not going anywhere much, but it was water, and I was mercifully alone with it. I had just eaten a large dribbly ice cream with a chocolate flake subsiding into it, followed by a double Mars bar, melting so fast I had to eat it before it began to form a chocolately layer in the bottom of my canvas shopping bag. Earlier on I had eaten an expensive toasted cheese sandwich, which wasn’t really agreeing with the chocolate, and Iwas attempting to read a David Mitchell novel called Slade House – much, much shorter but not quite as brilliant as Cloud Atlas – creepy and kind of gothic. But the sun, and the inner battle between melted cheese, melted ice cream and melted chocolate, together with thirst, boredom, loneliness, and the likelihood of being discovered and Sat Next To at any moment by some tedious variant on Shopping Man/Woman/Infants was preying on my mind and I could not really concentrate.

I was on an Outing, in a coach. Only six of us had turned up. One lady’s dog-sitter had let her down, another was ill, another… etc. But most of them had sent along their five pounds anyway, so that was OK. Except for the driver, who wouldn’t be getting as much in the whip-round at the end. I had a conversation with the driver later, about Ant and Dec. He said poor Ant (at last, a way of remembering which of them is which) had been going through such a bad time, what with his wife having left him, and no wonder he turned to drink. I ventured (foolishly) that for all we knew he might have left his wife, or his wife might have left him on account of the drinking. Which came first, the lost wife or the drinking? How could we possibly know?

The driver retorted that it was always the woman’s fault, if she left. (I left.) It transpired that his wife had left him. He then returned to a picture of a large bare lady in the newspaper, whose hands were absently but conveniently cupping the very end part of her gigantic bosoms. I told him those most certainly weren’t real. Silicone, definitely.

Two hours and fifteen minutes. My watch was doing that running backwards thing, like the wall clock in the call centre used to do as I counted down the hours, minutes, seconds even, to the blessed end of another Twilight Shift.

In the end my entire day’s haul was:

  • Two plastic peg baskets
  • Two planet-saving water bottles (with additional compartment at the bottom for biscuits or some other kind of snack)
  • One additional canvas shopping bag
  • An eighteen month diary. Eighteen months of not having to think about getting a diary. Excellent. And for some reason it was cheaper than a twelve month diary.

Then it was home again, complete with hurty hip, to feed a house full of cats. Lo and behold a letter from a Debt Collection Agency on the doormat, insisting once again that I owed an electricity company £82.22, the final balance on a house I moved out of five or six years ago. Last time I phoned them and explained that I did not owe it, I could clearly remember paying the final bill, by card, over the phone etc., I got the weary, condescending disbelief thing from the Young Person on the end of the phone, and then another Young Person, and was eventually reduced to tears. I was on the phone to their call centre for what felt like hours after being held in a queue for hours beforehand – but finally they conceded they probably wouldn’t bother me again.

And today, predictably, they were bothering me again. Would I kindly phone them, the letter said, as Further Information was required. With the nineteen cats gnawing at my ankles in search of their evening Whiskas, and the dirt boxes overflowing from a day’s neglect, I phoned instead the Electricity Company (EDF – whose customer service number was not supplied in the letter from the Debt Collection Company, meaning I had to hunt for it on the internet). The Electricity Company tut-tutted quite a lot and read me out a prepared statement saying to please ignore the Debt Collection Agency, which seemed to have been pursuing innocent former EDF customers in error.

Thing is, I very nearly gave in and paid the £82.22 last time, even though I knew I didn’t owe it, simply because I was so wearied and upset and wanted to be rid of them. It was only because I couldn’t afford to pay the same bill twice over that I dug my heels in, and cried all over them instead. This time, had I phoned the Debt Collection Agency as requested rather than being inspired to call the Electricity Company, I would probably have been ground down into paying it.

So how many poor old ladies and gentlemen have been bullied into paying non-existent electricity bills from years back? Will they be getting their money back anytime soon, I wonder?

Ah well, all’s well that ends well. But sometimes I loathe human beings. I loathe them for their all-pervasiveness and their pomposity and their long-suffering condescension and their overflowing shopping bags and their fat, food-stuffed faces. I despise the lot of ’em.

I wonder when and where my next Outing will be?

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Keep Calm And Carry On

This phrase – famous from mugs, biscuit tins tea towels and whatever – was invented by the British Government in 1939 just before the start of the Second World War. It was a motivational poster intended to carry the British populace through such horrors as the Blitz, and to remind them that the British were famous for their Stiff Upper Lip. I can’t imagine what a Stiff Upper Lip looks like, in practice, can you? How did they communicate, with all that stiffness going on?

For some reason, in spite of the Blitz actually Happening and turning out to be Even Worse than Anybody Could Have Imagined, the poster was hardly used.

I was thinking it’s a bit like that now. Still no motivational poster, while we wait, with a growing sense of Foreboding, for those superpower idiots to stumble into bombing and nuking – or maybe horribly gassing and poisoning – the hell out of one another, presumably in and around what’s left of Syria. And in the meantime a military grade nerve agent, apparently capable of wiping out the entire population of the UK, is used on a former Russian spy and his daughter on the quiet streets of – of all places – Salisbury. Until now, nothing of note ever happened in Salisbury. People who don’t live there are not even sure where it is. It was just getting on with things, minding its own business.

But we are the British. We possess Stiff Upper Lips. We Keep Calm and Carry On. Apparently. But it seems to me that that is what ordinary people, everywhere, tend to do. Mostly.

My Mum had what they then called a Nervous Breakdown, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time I wasn’t aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and only aware of my Mum’s Nervous Breakdown because it involved what seemed to me like Years of lying on the sofa taking aspirins every four hours, and Nan coming along the road to do Mum’s housework after she had done her own, and me getting ignored and understanding that this was all My Fault. Indeed, my father told me it was My Fault. Mine and my sister’s, for fighting so much.

The thing Mum was most worried about, she told me later, was the Atomic Bomb. The Atomic Bomb was about to fall on all of us, any day now, and we would be just like the people in Hiroshima, reduced to piles of smoking ash, black shadows on walls or irradiated to death. Now we all live with that, don’t we? It’s got old and tired, and we no longer have Nervous Breakdowns over it. Indeed, we no longer have Nervous Breakdowns. We get Tired and Emotional, or we suffer from Exhaustion and have to book ourselves into some Clinic or other, for Cognitive Therapy.

All over the world, we carry on; we wash the dishes and put out the rubbish; we feed our pets and fill in our tax returns; we grumble because the bus hasn’t turned up – again; we wonder whether we should mow the lawn, or is it too wet still? There is nothing whatsoever we can do about the Bigger Picture: having no power to do anything else we focus on our postage-stamp lives and hope that somehow or other Armageddon will give us a miss.

Yesterday – apropos of nothing, or something, not sure – I took Fifi to the vet to get her claws clipped. For months she had been hooking up on one bit of furniture or another. It was time. But Fifi didn’t think so. Fifi is a tiny tabby, old and kind of frizzy looking, but on the nurse’s table she turned into a Wild Beast. It took two nurses to hold her, plus the application of a teensy-tiny muzzle that covered her whole face so she couldn’t see and being wrapped in a thick blanket. The nurses wrestled with poor Fifi, whose snarls and spitting could be clearly heard in the waiting room, and finally the claws were clipped. “If only you could have just Kept Calm, Fifi,” said one of the nurses, “it would all have been over with in a few seconds.”

But cats, unlike humans, are not programmed to Keep Calm And Carry On.

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The Return of Mystery Dog

I sometimes feel as if I am living inside an unpublished chapter of Cold Comfort Farm, here. Like when Charlie says things like

‘Arrr, they comes in from the field, them rats. And in the summer they goes back there.’

How does he know that? I mean, there is a field at the end of our road – acres and acres of one featureless field that stretching so far into the distance that its boundaries are invisible. It grows – field stuff. Stuff that changes colour with the seasons and at least once a year coats everything with a kind of fine chaff. Sometimes it needs ploughing, and it is ploughed. The ploughing seems to go on all through the night and the tractor has a light on it. That is about all I know about the field.

I mean, how has he even got into the field, since we are disbarred from it by a rancid, weedy ditch full of rubbish and brambles, and an old hedge? And assuming he, being a country person, has managed to get in, how has he learned the ways of the local rats? Has he spent many hours standing in the middle of it, like a scarecrow? Indeed, now I think of it he would make an excellent scarecrow.

That’s the trouble with having been born and spent the first twenty-one years of your life in a suburb, among bungalow-rows and metalled roads and tame suburban trees – you never quite fit in anywhere else. Deeply, deeply uneasy in the big city, you are equally out of your depth in rural – by which I mean the real, shabby, workaday rural England, not leafy Surrey with its secluded mansions – though I would probably feel equally ill-at-ease there.

So, the rats have come in from the fields, apparently. And will return there, apparently. I have my doubts. If I was a rat and found a ready supply of tinned cat and dog food, plus bits of bread fallen from the bird table, I think I might decide to stick around, but who knows how a rat thinks? Maybe Charlie really is tuned in to rodent thinking. He certainly seems to be one with the soil, and all that.

When he departed, to sort and deliver several hundred parcels that had just been dumped on his driveway by the gigantic daily lorry, I thought again about poor Mystery Dog, and his plaintive woofs in the pitch-black garden around midnight, when he found his giant bowl of dog-food absent. I thought I had made a grown up decision for once, a sensible decision, in discouraging the ever-burgeoning colony of rats in my garden, but the thought of that little woof… And such a big dog, who must have been so very hungry these past two nights…

I have noticed, every time I make a grown-up decision it turns out to be the wrong one. I should obviously be following my instincts rather than trying to think. So I put more food out. Maybe the rats will have forgotten that there ever was food here, after two days of no food. How long is a rat’s memory, for goodness sake? I suspect it is pretty long since they can work out mazes and stuff, and press buttons in complicated sequences to get grapes – or is that monkeys? But still I put the food out.

I think maybe Mystery Dog himself will have forgotten, after two nights of misery. Maybe he has packed his belongings in a spotted handkerchief and set off for pastures new. But this morning all his food was gone. The stray cats’ dishes were polished too. So it’s either him or – as Charlie suggested – a fox. Or a hedgehog capable of eating three times its volume in supermarket meaty chunks.