Bullet Point Blitzing

  • Uptown Top Ranking

The title of this post – which pinged into my reverse-colander of a morning-mind unbidden – reminds me of a vintage pop song called Uptown Top Ranking by the joyous Althea and Donna. I have looked up the words, and here are a few:

See me pon the road I hear you call out to me
True you see mi inna pants and ting
See mi in a ‘alter back
Sey mi gi’ you heart attack
Gimme likkle bass, make me wine up me waist
Uptown Top Ranking

At a guess I would say this is about setting off for town to have a really fun night out, wearing an outfit which includes killer trousers and a black halter top. I envisage drop dead gorgeous and plenty of bling. She calls to the bass player to crank up the bass, to inspire her in her wild and sinuous terpsichory.

I just love it, whatever it means. If you ever feel miserable put on Uptown Top Ranking and dance and sing along. You are unlikely get the words any more wrong than you would have done for a karaoke I Did It My Way or The Wind Beneath My Wings.

  • As Black As Yer ‘At (Over Will’s Mother’s)

Well, it’s as black as yer ‘at outside, despite being nine in the morning. This is because it is raining and when it rains, in this corner of nowhere-in-particular, the universe wants you to both know about it and suffer. When I’ve finished this – and believe me I’m spinning it out as long as possible – I ought to be getting out of my grubby dressing gown and into ancient jeans, jumper and raincoat, to drive fifteen minutes to the Farm Shop for a loaf of bread, plus – other stuff. There is a species of bread closer to hand, at our solitary village shop, but it is that white and doughy caravan people bread. Also, the village idiot tends to lurk either inside the shop or at the – solitary – bus stop outside. He likes me very much – unsettlingly odd people always do – and so I have taken to driving past the village shop/bus stop with head averted.

  • A new word

I have learnt a new word, from a post by Matthew, The Wolf Boy entitled Improve Your Blog While Minimizing Blog Suckage. Suckage…

Suckage… lovely word.

One of Matthew’s examples of Suckiness is this:

The paper is usually on your porch every Tuesday but this Tuesday it wasn’t, and now you have nothing to read with your tea.

I am very much afraid that my blog sometimes falls into the pit of suckiness on this count. I live a very dull life. Sometimes nothing much happens for a whole day apart from, say, Henry being sick along the back of the sofa or – noticing that the shed door is undone.

On that count I recently spent a whole rough windy night in terror, imagining that my house was about to collapse or maybe the water-tank fall through the ceiling into the living room, because of a deafening banging and creaking every few seconds. When I ventured out the following morning I discovered I had left the meter cover unlocked when I read the meter, and the thing had been slamming back and forth all night. The neighbours probably got even less sleep than I did. Oh God, I’m Antisocial.

  • Thinny Cat

Talking of cats, I notice my eighteen year-old Rosie is becoming kind of two-dimensional. She has shared and comforted me through so many horrendous adventures and I don’t want to lose her. Though of course that’s life – ie, death. She desires only to occupy my particular warm corner of the sofa; no other place in the house will do. Every time I get up, she slithers back and curls up.

This morning I realised the cushion felt a bit funny and there was Rosie, lightly sandwiched between it and me, unharmed but more two-dimensional than ever. Stay with me, little Rosie. You gave me my blogging name; now give me just a little more time.

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Writing on a Postage Stamp

Jane Austen pursued her unusual hobby discreetly, so as not to embarrass her family or attract censure but also, I would guess, so that she could observe, unobserved, the social rituals going on all around her and the characters who came to visit. Writing in secret – hiding tiny scribbled slips of paper under her blotter every time she heard the door creak – was her way of being herself. It was her way of being ferociously clever, when women were regarded as more of a – decoration.

So in theory one could write a blog post and make it interesting no matter how dull one’s life had actually become. I have this image of myself sitting in a tiny prison cell, creating the most amazing fantasy kingdom whilst day after day, year after year, nothing ever happened but the cell door opening and a plate of bread and cheese, maybe a mug of beer, being pushed through it by some unseen jailor. That would be the extreme.

My life was never particularly expansive, though I suppose it had its moments. Most of these were too ghastly, shameful or humiliating to want to write about. I have written about a lot of stuff here on this blog, and put out there for public consumption, many tiny episodes, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes raging angry, sometimes frankly pathetic, that I have not told a single friend or relative: never would have, and never will.

Recently, life has narrowed even more for me, though we’ve not quite sunk to the prison cell scenario.  Partly it’s because of getting older and no longer being in the best of health. Partly it’s lack of money, unemployability, far too many cats… and partly it’s my natural inclination. I incline towards the hermit. This necessary stay-at-home, inward-looking-ness has thrown up new challenges, blog-wise. Mainly, the problem is that I am not Jane Austen. Jane Austen was so very gifted, she could have got blood out of a stone.

I think I got on to Jane Austen because I was debating whether or not to tell you the story of the Mystery Beep, and thinking no, that is just too small and uninteresting and generally paltry a sequence of events to write about it, and then thinking But Jane Austen…

I will tell you the story of the Beep, but in a separate post. In the meantime I will disclose that a second-hand Russian textbook has just crashed through my letterbox. The postmen round here are lacking in delicacy. Anything at all, they believe, can be got through a letter box if you shove hard enough.

That’s the thing about being retired and having no money to go out or do anything – you end up having to invent unnecessary but faintly interesting things to do. ‘Projects’. I have three of them on the go at the moment.

One is turning every scrap of yarn, material etc into something just in case I need to swap items for tins of cat food, should cat food be rationed in the case of You Know What. I just have a feeling they aren’t going to ration with nineteen cats in mind. That would constitute a cattery, and I am not one. Officially. So I am making things that could be offered as a swap for either one, two, four or six tins of Whiskas – hippie stuff – knitted dishcloths and pet blankets, knotted hemp bracelets, origami cranes and anything else I can dream up. I will probably end up with a box of items nobody ever wanted, but hey – before that they were boxes of odd balls of wool, balls of string, patchwork scraps. What’s the difference?

Another is re-reading a lifetime’s collection of paperback books. I know I have been determined to do this ever since I began writing this blog, and have never got round to it. I did give quite a few bags away to charity, but now I have sorted what’s left – still a lot – into alphabetical order once more. Since I do not have enough bookshelves (the bottom shelves have to be kept empty so that the boy cats can’t pee at the books when I’m not looking) I have brought in some splintery old apple crates from the garage. Apple crates, when lined with strips cut from plastic cat-litter sacks, make quite good bookshelves. Luckily I’m tall, as they go right up to the ceiling.

The third project is learning languages. I know I will never have occasion to speak another language to another human being, but why should that matter? What I am interested in really is linguistics, and what I really want is to learn as many languages as possible to read and to a certain level, i.e. I do not need to become an expert; I don’t even need to pronounce them correctly, though I’ll try. I’m interested to know how languages work, and how they compare to one another, and to find out whether I can still learn. I imagine myself, during those long, cold winter days – not so far off now – bundled in duvets and shawls to economise on heating, striving to master the intricacies of foreign grammatical systems – and keeping my brain alive.

Today it was Russian – most of these books can be had for less than £1 second-hand on Amazon, plus postage. I sat down with my cup of tea and dipped into it. Some kind soul had annotated many of the pages in tiny, annoying pencil writing, but I suppose for £1 you can’t complain. After a short perusal I decided Russian was going right to the bottom of the languages ‘to do’ heap, even under Welsh. I did learn one word, though – in the Cyrillic alphabet it’s written something like Myxa and pronounced (well of course) moo-ha. It means ‘fly’. So next time one of them is buzzing around my living room I can tell it to Buzz off, you little moo-ha.

My Emotional Support Rabbit

I want an Emotional Support Rabbit, I’ve decided. According to the BBC, anyway, such fabulous creatures are allowed to accompany those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues on to American aeroplanes. What a wonderful thing. There have apparently been Emotional Support Kangaroos, Emotional Support Turkeys, Emotional Support Cats and Dogs, even an Emotional Support Miniature Horse. (Presumably the turkeys would be excused flights home for Thanksgiving.) However, a Support Peacock by the name of Dexter was turned away because he was too big and heavy. The Support Miniature Horse was in fact smaller and lighter than the Support Peacock?

After the peacock incident United Airlines decided to ban a range of less usual creatures, including frogs, hedgehogs and goats, and are currently limiting it to cats, dogs, and of course miniature horses.

In Britain, of course, we are far more staid. Just tune in to a session of Parliament and watch the MPs discussing Brexit – bellowing, jeering, catcalling and even, fairly recently, making sheep noises – to be sure of this. (I am not sure if they ever tracked down that sheep-noise maker: they were certainly trying quite hard to.) So, British airlines, being far more staid, do not permit support animals for mental health conditions, though they do permit physical disability/guide dogs, and presumably those might be doubling as emotional support.

This reminds me of a Christmas Dinner I was once forced to attend with my colleagues at Poop, Stagger & Collapse, Solicitors (no, not really). We were sitting around long tables in a restaurant slightly more expensive than most of us would have normally been able to afford – draughty and underheated, with snowy-white tablecloths adding to the general chill. At the end of the food and quite a few bottles of wine, nearly all of the partners (or so it seemed) stood up to give a speech about the progress the firm had made in the past year and it’s plans for the one to come. The final, particularly long and rambling speech was interrupted by mysterious crowings – Cock-a-doodle-doooo, etc – from a novelty alarm clock. Everyone knew who it was, but since he was a Partner himself nothing was done.

Back to Emotional Support Creatures. Given the choice I would go for an Emotional Support Little Rabbit – just big enough to fit in my jacket pocket, with large brown eyes and twitchy little whiskers. Much as I love cats they are absolutely no good at emotional support. A cat will scratch you when you’re down, demand food when you’re stressed. Cats poop, piddle and vomit everywhere. Trying to persuade a cat not to perform three of his five Favourite Natural Functions just because it was on an aeroplane – nah! Taking a cat anywhere, even six miles in a motor car, leaves one a nervous wreck. Or nervous boat as a distance learning student once put it:

My postal course materials am stolen in the prison where I reside. Please, I am become a nervous boat.

It does seem to be a week for animal-themed posts. I follow an excellent WordPress blog called ‘English Language Thoughts’ and the question posed was;

Which would you choose – to be able to speak another language or to speak to the animals?

My Comment was that talking to the animals would be best. At my time of life and in my straitened circumstances I am hardly likely to need to speak to a foreign person in their own language. Unless Britain happens to be invaded by Foreign Persons in which case I shall sincerely wish I had learned that particular language and start scrabbling around for text books and studying by candle-light.

But how useful, to be able to ask your pet how it felt instead of hazarding a guess. Pets are notoriously ‘stoical’, ie they keep a poker face and disguise suffering as a defence against predators. How many trips to the vet could be saved if they could just tell you.

On the other hand – what if our beloved animals, no longer mute, chose to inform us stuff we didn’t want to hear – anything from I abhor this leopard-skin collar to Why exactly did you remove my reproductive organs when I was just a kitten? to What about vivisection!

I have always assumed my own cats to be super intelligent. Inside those furry little noddles they would have been composing Oscar Wilde-type witticisms or ruminating upon the meaning of life from a feline perspective. But it occurs to me that this ain’t necessarily so. Supposing they are really stupid? Supposing all they can chat about is Whiskas versus Felix? Supposing their political opinions can be summarised in one sentence: Well, there’s nothing I can do about anything in any case so I’m not even going to think about it.

Yes, someone actually said that to me. And she wasn’t a cat, either.

There is actually a timetable affixed to this bus stop…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘To the holiday camp’, she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not very.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An attempt at reconstitution

A phrase from the ‘Mum’ recipe included in the previous post has stuck in mind:

CARE – if you do the latter, don’t let any water get into it or let it get too hot, else it goes solid and you can’t reconstitute it.

She was talking, of course, about the delicate art of melting chocolate. However, it led me into an area of thought I would rather have avoided – or more likely have been avoiding, all this time. To what extent is the ‘Mum’ who appears in this my blog – the reconstituted Mum, as it were – the real one?

I started writing this blog, as I recall, around the time that Mum’s dementia/ psychosis was getting really bad. Around that time we had several silly arguments during my Sunday visits, about foolish claims she made, completely illogical conclusions she had come to, and her patronising insistence that it was me – the stupid child – who had got things all mixed up. Twice I came home from a visit in tears because of the illogicality of it all.  Dementia is something you are forced to learn about from scratch, and usually doesn’t look like dementia to start with. You make mistakes. You let it get to you because somehow or other you haven’t spotted it – that great black storm cloud on the horizon, barrelling towards you.

As far as I recall, the time I wrote my first post and started rescuing all sorts of ancient, spider-infested writings from cardboard boxes in the garage was about the same time I realised I could no longer talk to Mum on an adult to adult, person to person basis. I could no longer talk to her as a daughter. I could no longer ask her advice or rely on her for anything. On the contrary, she was going to be relying on me. It was then that I started this blog.

And so, I have often thought, the ‘dementia’ part of this blog (a relatively small percentage of it) has been an attempt to put her back together again, to recreate her, to preserve her – whatever. And the same for my father – whom I scarcely mourned when he died and did not begin to miss really badly until my mother began to leave me too. And the same of course for my lost life, my lost past selves. These multiple ‘goodbyes’ must happen to every human being as they age, I think – just maybe not all at once or concentrated into so short a time.

In painting word-pictures of Mum, and Dad, and me, and my sisters, I have tried to be honest. I mean, I find it difficult to restrain myself from writing honestly – that’s how it tends to come out – but I sometimes wonder if any of us – the typed up and published ‘us’ – are real? Or could it be that the typed-up and published ‘us’ is in some ways more real than the flesh and blood sad, distracted old folk we really are? Hyper-real.

Damn, I knew this was going to be difficult one to write. How can you put into words something so… transitory and vague?

I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the Mum of the recipes, the Mum of the sewing box, the Mum with whom I Listened With Mother, the Mum who enraged me by throwing out my boyfriend’s copy of 1984 because she had happened upon the scene with the rats… with the thin, poor person in the plastic armchair, yesterday. I find it difficult to understand this creature who can no longer be shown how to drink from a spout on a plastic cup with the bright-eyed girl who went to grammar school and passed all her exams (except geography!) with flying colours in spite of the second world war. I find it hard to believe that this is a human being let alone my human being. I can no longer talk to her, nor she to me, and without the salve of words I struggle to feel any connection between us. It is as if we no longer belong to the same species, or that she has become animal… or vegetable.

I once had a lover who was – or claimed to be and I have no reason to disbelieve him – clairsentient. He asked me once about the bond between soon-to-be-Ex and I. Did it still feel, he asked, like an umbilical cord stretching between us? Did it still feel as if we were joined by a strong thread, navel to navel and that any separation would produce a painful tug? At the time I suspect I denied it, but whatever I said he would have ‘felt’ the truth as I was speaking. And he was right.

colored dust

It seems to me now that once you have really loved someone, willingly or not, that cord is formed and can never again be broken. You might say that the cord between Ex and I has worn awfully shabby over time and now more closely resembles a thin and greying old piece of elastic than the magnificently throbbing ‘shared umbilical’ of my lover’s psychic imagery. Still, it stretches through the miles between us.

And I suppose the same cord stretches between my mother and I. We are cut off from one another, adrift on different rafts, but still just about within sight. Maybe that is the final, almost-impossible lesson we are forced to learn – how to just be with someone. But how painful it is just to sit. How raw it feels just to be in a room with someone and not be shielded with words or even understanding. How hard it is, finally, to permit yourself to feel the cord stretching and stretching as the other person pulls away, and to know that you are never going to be able to cut the cord, however much it hurts.

Strangeness

I occasionally attempt to write about subjects randomly generated through a subject generator website. It rarely ends well.

The idea, of course, is that one tends to get bogged down in one’s little domestic world – feeding the birds, tripping over the cats, visiting Mum in the Home, memories of stuff there seems no particular reason to have remembered and even less reason to inflict on anyone else. After a while, you begin to get bored with yourself, or the sound of your own written voice. You start to suffer from bloggers’ angst with angst-ridden questions drifting randomly through your mind, like

Who on earth is going to want to read all this old gubbins anyway?

Should I do everyone a favour and publish something useful, such as ‘Yet more recipes for cleaning stuff with baking powder and lemon juice’ or ‘How to look after your terrapin’?

(Does anybody know what a terrapin is? I have a feeling it’s something that lives in an aquarium.)

Anyway, this afternoon the Random Subject Generator has flung this one back at me:

Strange experiences, that can’t be explained rationally.

Oh dear. The trouble is that although I am very interested in spookiness and strangeness – as a one-time drippy hippie, why wouldn’t I be? – spookiness and strangeness never seem to have happened to me; always to other people.

For example, my younger sister went babysitting over the road, in the company of the (admittedly fairly strange) girl next door. They had not been in the house long when shrieking started and stuff got thrown around. The (admittedly fairly strange) girl insisted that it must have been poltergeists. The owners of the house seemed more inclined to believe that my sister and the (admittedly fairly strange) girl next door had decided to throw a wild teenage party in their absence, and that was why the house was wrecked. However, considering that the girls were twelve or thirteen at the time and knowing my sister’s placid and gentle nature I am more inclined to believe it was poltergeists.

Ex told me a story once, and Ex wasn’t one for fanciful tales, in fact he was compulsively and depressingly honest. No point asking him ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ He would have said ‘Yes, in fact it does’ and wouldn’t have understood why that was the wrong answer.

He told me that he had been visiting a school-friend at a remote farm in the Weald of Kent. Again, they were young teenagers. His friend’s parents were out on the farm somewhere so they stayed indoors, chatting. All at once a cabinet door flew open and shelf upon shelf of glass objects was hurled onto the floor, as if an invisible arm had swept along the shelves. Here’s me with all this imagination, and Ex with his pragmatic, down-to-earth seriousness yet he’s the one who witnesses the smashing glassware.

But why didn’t those poltergeists happen to me? I deserved them, surely, and I’d so have enjoyed them. I spent endless hours babysitting and not once did I encounter a ghost of any sort.

Maybe strangeness has happened to me, but in a different way, expressed through found objects or chance happenings that could easily have be explained logically, but which seemed to have a special significance, for me. In a way, these objects/events have felt like half-memories; clues to something, or perhaps to a whole series of somethings, long since forgotten and maybe irretrievably lost.

When I was a child I picked up a smooth stone in the middle of a piece of waste ground. It was almost buried in the pathway through some brambles so that I had to pry it loose. It contained a perfect fossil of something like a jellyfish, with clearly-defined legs and suckers and such. That stone got lost again. I don’t know what I did with it. I always felt I should have hung onto it, and that things started to go wrong when I let it go.

Many years later, at the end of my marriage, beachcombing mournful and alone (à la Princess Diana) in a little cove in Yorkshire I found amongst the pebbles a piece of white bottle glass worn away into a battered, lopsided heart.

One night, on a train, I found myself alone in the carriage apart from a young soldier. Talk to me, he said, please talk to me. I’m off to Northern Ireland tomorrow. At that time Northern Ireland was a kind of war zone and he might well have been going to his death. I don’t think I did talk to him, much. I think I was too frightened to. He got off the train at the next stop and I never saw him again.

Such stuff as friends are made on

I probably wouldn’t notice – not straight away, anyway – if one of my followers decided to stop following me. This is partly because I find any kind of statistics difficult to pay attention to, but it’s also WordPress’s fault, or at least the fault of some electronic WordPress thingy. My stats today say I have exactly 200 followers but the widgety-thing (bottom right) says no, you have 212 followers. They haven’t agreed for some time. Both seem to fluctuate from day to day so presumably I am being followed and un-followed all the time. Is it the same people going away, changing their minds and coming back? Or are they going away for good but being compensated for by new arrivals?

After a while, of course, it would dawn on me I hadn’t heard from a regular follower a while, and I would miss them. No more feedback, no shared similar experiences, no comments. No little : )s  or ; )s. Even then I doubt that I’d check to see if they’d unfollowed me as opposed to being away on a lengthy, luxury cruise or locked up for some nefarious doing or other. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. Better that things stay vague, in a comforting electronic limbo.

Which leads me to my Thought For The Day. What exactly is a real friend? Is a real friend

(1)  a flesh and blood person you can share a pot of tea and a giggle with in Debenhams? Someone who will listen to you without judgment, though they’ve heard you wittering on about whatever it is so many times before? Somebody who mysteriously continues to like you however dislikeable you know yourself to be?

(2) a name-and-selfie you have never heard of, who has clicked some button on Facebook – is that a friend? or

(3) somebody you will never meet (thank goodness! I hear you all sighing), who may live  many thousands of miles away and in a culture so different from your own that you can barely imagine it; somebody whose real name, age, gender or circumstances you may never know, but you have shared at least some of your history with them and at least a few of your innermost thoughts, feelings and ideas. Is that a friend?

In my headI think – well, I would be thinking if I was in my head – a friend is another entity I have shared time and stories with. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot of time – maybe even a chance encounter would count as friendship, a joke about the lateness of the train, an intercepted glance and a half-smile across a crowded street would qualify. Friends, or followers, can be fleeting or longer-lasting.

It doesn’t even need to be human. It might be an animal, or even a book. It could be an encounter/series of encounters with anyone or anything as long as time and stories have been involved. On that basis I think I would go for (1) and (3) but scrub (2).

After all, we have in a sense ‘imagined’ every one and every thing we think we know. Every friend you ‘have’, whether now or then, here or now and whether constituted of flesh or electrons, is stored in your head as a kind of blueprint, a memory-pattern to be reconstituted as required by the firing of electrical pulses between neurons.

We store every thing, every one and every when and every where as electrical patterns. In my head I have at least my version of all the things, people and places I have ever encountered. In my head jumble around together my flesh-and-blood friends, my internet friends, friends long-dead and friends long fallen-out-with. They’re all the same stuff.

I can never visit my grandmother’s garden again but it’s here and, by the firing of neurons in a particular pattern or sequence, I can walk around it. I can see the hollyhocks and the London Pride, the yellow roses, the swing on the apple tree, the bird-bath with the poem all round it. I can recite the poem. I can see it. I can never see my father again, but he’s in here somewhere and if I want to I can hold a conversation with him. I can never meet Jane Eyre – after all she’s not ‘real’, merely a character I constructed with the help of Charlotte Brontë. I can never meet Charlotte Brontë either.

And yet here they both are.