I Wish I Was A Wizz

Or should it be: I Wish I Were A Wizz? Suspect latter, but grammar purists free to comment/vote. Unlike UK Parliament at the moment. If I was or were a Wizz, I would no doubt be able to sort out what was going on, politically speaking. Or perhaps only a Sorting Hat could do that.

I always had a bit of a thing about wizards. Not witches, for some reason. I saw myself as a bit of a wizard, only I was a green (with stars) robed wizard, not a blue one. Suspect green is more elevated and wonderful than mere blue, in my imagination. Well, if you’re going to have fantasy fantasies, you might as well be the hero.

It’s been a funny old day. I was meant to go to some sort of ‘do’ at the Over 50s, which is now not, technically, the Over 50s but the Tea and Bingo Club, or possibly the Bingo and Tea Club. All ages welcome. As it turns out I didn’t quite make it to the meeting, in the Scouts Hut in the next village, but suspect 99% of the members playing Bingo and drinking tea will still be Over 70, just as they were when they were the Over 50s and met in the pub.

I did try to go, even though I didn’t want to. It was the Christmas one and would have involved purple tinsel, Christmassy paper plates with red and green elves and reindeer on, and Christmassy tablecloths. I know because I helped with the sourcing of these items in one shop after another in town, and the lugging of them around afterwards. And the driving of them home in the boot of my car, and later re-delivery.

I gave myself a good talking to all morning, trying to work up the enthusiasm.

You know you’ve got to go.

It’ll only be a couple of hours – or three, or four… time will soon pass.

It might be fun, you never know. There’s always a first time, in a fun-less lifetime, for something to turn out to be fun.

They might have made special vegetarian sandwiches for you, the only vegetarian. What are they going to do with a mountain vegetarian sandwiches if you wimp out?

And so on, and so forth. And I did set out, honestly. I drove all the way over to the next village, repeating the above backbone-stiffening mantras in the car, and wound my way through the snarled and tiny streets in the hope of a) avoiding loss of wing-mirrors and b) finding a parking space.

And there was a funeral on. Outside the little, scenic, Christmassily decorated church, a horde, a veritable Ghengis Khan’s Army of self-conscious, shoe-polished, black-clad mourners.

I did try the tiny car park outside the Scouts Hut but, as anticipated, it was clogged to the muddy fences with large, shiny mourners’ car, everything double-parked and blocking everything else in. With difficulty, I extracted myself from the car park and, with even more difficulty, got back out onto the village street again without losing a wing mirror or getting dented. Dented already, of course, but that dent was self-inflicted, which is different.

And I did look for an alternative parking space in the narrow village street, honest, but there was nothing I could get into without parallel parking skills or one of those cars that does it all for you.

And so I panicked and came home. Unlike the Prime Minister, I am not Admirably, but Quite Exhaustingly, Limpetishly Resilient. Or it may be that when I see quite clearly that something is not going to work – never, ever going to work – I instantly give up. Make a new plan, Sam. Hop on the Bus, Gus. Don’t need to discuss much… Etc.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A Einstein

And so I went home, texted

(apparently only old people say texted, everyone else says, ungrammatically ‘text’. I text… the ‘ed’ which would have made it clear that I am not texting right this second but actually text some hours ago – being silent)

my plate-and-tablecloth buying friend and told her the plain truth, that the funeral had prevented me parking. Which she will not believe. Sigh!

And then, as if in retribution, the Jehovah Ladies turned up again – smiling, anxious, warmly wrapped up against the cold. I have written before of the Jehovah Ladies, who like me. I usually manage to deflect them into discussions of cats with three legs, the weather, my-mother-in-the-home (they had it on their secret card index system that she was passed or gone beyond or whatever and I had to correct them on that – still technically alive). This is where being probably ADHD is an advantage – your mind works on digressions and cul-de-sacs. A veritable quagmire, a bottomless pit of irrelevancies and non-sequiturs is at one’s command… Normally, the difficulty is to avoid sinking into it…

So I got my coat on and stepped out into the back garden to have the usual little chat and accept the limp leaflets – two, this time, because they missed me last time. I don’t actually listen to what they say, to be honest, but I value the fact that they care about my soul, and my salvation. No one else does.

A moment of inattention and they had managed to wrangle me back from three-legged cats, vets, mother-in-the-home, weather etc – to tell me that I need not worry. The world appeared to be in a dreadful state but God would step in. God was just waiting for his opportunity to step in and save us all from ourselves. Didn’t I find that comforting? I would find that comforting indeed, if I could only believe it.

Maybe I should try the back-stiffening mantra thing, as above:

God will fish all the plastic out of the sea…

God cares what happens to us stinky old polluting naked apes…

We really don’t deserve to make ourselves extinct, the sooner the better…

And then they told me the story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve ate the apple because the Devil was disguised as a snake. Strangely enough, I knew that. I remarked that people will always feel compelled to do the one thing they are told not to do, it’s like children. And cats.

And then I foolishly remarked that that would be all very well but it said in the Bible that God granted man dominion over all the animals, which was why man felt entitled to eat said animals and perform horrifically cruel experiments on them. They said ah yes, but dominion only means caring for. God instructed us to care for all his creatures, to love them as He loves them. I said I thought dominion didn’t mean that at all.

So they tried me on another word, subjection. They showed me the relevant verses in Genesis, though none of us had our reading glasses on so it was all a bit out of focus. And they said subjection also meant caring for. And I said, to me subjection meant more or less the same as dominion, it meant imposing your will on something or someone weaker than yourself because you felt you had a right to.

But no, apparently subjection also means caring for.

And then I think I managed to non-sequitur them back to cats, and the price of cat food.

Do you possess a Bible, by any chance?

Actually, yes. Do you possess a cat?

Can one stockpile a carrot?

According to Sky News – yes, I do occasionally take sneaky-peek at Sky News, when the BBC won’t be looking – there is set to be a revival in Salsify. At Sky News they all professed never to have heard of Salsify, but then they’re all about fifteen and no one of about fifteen has ever heard of anything. I knew the word, and that it was a vegetable of some sort, but had never actually seen one.

On Sky News they showed a picture of Salsify, and one of the fifteen year olds pronounced that it looked like “a carrot with a nervous system”. He presumed that one would need “to shave” all those nobbles and whiskery bits off, in the process of preparation. A lady fifteen-year-old then suggested that he might mean “to peel”, whereupon he replied that he had not done domestic science at school and did not know the jargon. I love all this witty banter: an early morning distraction from cat boxes, washing up and delivery of post office parcels.

I gather Salsify is good for you. I doubt if I will try it, though, as I have a problem with fruit and vegetables that feel unpleasant. Kiwi fruit is good for you too, but I have never been tempted to handle one. Ugh, hairy!

I am becoming quite the social media person, in a second-hand sort of way. According to the BBC news app, a poor young lady (is everybody young?) by the name of Justyna Kowalczyk has been Twitter-stormed or trolled or whatever for revealing (why do people reveal things at all?) that she has started stockpiling in case of a no-deal crashing-out type Brexit in the spring. Personally, I would be only too glad if we could crash out, and only wish we had crashed out a couple of years ago and been done with the Froggie Bounders – we’d have been all sorted and back to normal by now.

The idea is that we may run short of certain things because, in particular, food imports to this country operate on a just-in-time basis. So if there are delays at the border as a result of inadequate, incompetent, incomplete or (as we are beginning to suspect) no preparations at all for the crashing-out scenario – we will find ourselves short of imported food items, and without facilities for storing them in any case.

My thought on this is that, rather than bleating and whingeing and issuing dire warnings to the Government, businesses should long since have set about returning to the sensible system we used to have, where we stored a lot of food, spare parts, medicines or whatever in warehouses, just in case. Now, it appears, there aren’t even any warehouses.

So actually I am with Justyna on stockpiling. I do wonder why, though, she has chosen to stockpile, in her plastic box under the sink – tonic water, French marmalade and extra shampoo. She is terrified that “we may not be able to shop as normal.” Welcome to the club, Justyna. She has obviously never been poor. Or maybe it’s just the airy-fairy foolishness of youth.

I mean, I am not one of these hardcore Preppers, like you have in America. I must admit, though nuclear bombs may rain down on any of us at any moment, or vile pandemics sweep the globe – I think it would be better to find a way to die quickly in those circumstances. I am not a survivor. If the atom bomb was on it’s way, I would hope to be right underneath it when it landed. If a pandemic, I would volunteer as a nurse and hope to catch it quickly.

However, I have in the past “prepped” in a small way each autumn for hard winters. And if you are on your own it makes sense to stock up, because if you were to be snowed in, or go down with the flu, or slip on the ice and break a leg, there would be no one else to go to the supermarket for you. It would be so much easier to have a few cardboard boxes full of tins.

I reviewed my “emergency” list just now, and find that I have put on it stuff like:

  • catfood
  • cat litter
  • porridge
  • tea and coffee
  • powdered milk
  • crackers
  • honey
  • tinned fruit and custard
  • tinned beans, curry, pasta and similar
  • soap
  • pasta
  • rice
  • powdered mashed potato
  • tinned vegetables

I notice some sites are suggesting stockpiling fresh carrots and eggs. How would that work? You only have to look at a carrot and it wilts. And eggs – eggs go sneakily nasty and suddenly – pouff!

The thing is, Justyna, you can live without extra shampoo. One bottle of shampoo, even if you wash your hair every day, will last for ages. Also, soap, or even plain warm water, will work as well; you can live without marmalade, French or otherwise. What might tide you over for a while are the deadly dull things, the basics.

Of course, after the apocalypse (or when spring comes, as I have found before) you are left with boxes of stuff you don’t really want to eat, but then you can be thankful that the apocalypse is over, and skip back to the supermarket to stock up on tonic water, anti-wrinkle cream, gateau and bottles of prosecco. Whatever that is.

What would you stockpile, if disaster was imminent?untitled

Poor Sad Freda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Café Collection

The one-armed cat is asleep, a scarf draped over the still-baldy-bit where his arm until recently was. I felt he might be cold. I’m certainly cold, in spite of the central heating. Sleety snow falling outside. A long, soggy trek to the bird table to fill it up yet again. Darkness falling though it’s barely afternoon. According to the not-so-smartphone it’s 4 degrees C in my location. I notice it’s even 9 degrees C in Edmonton, where my sister is, and that’s only somewhat south of the Arctic Circle. Something’s gone wrong.

I was thinking about cafés the other day. I accidentally met Bertie in a café in town, to which I had resorted in desperation having found myself with yet another hour to fill whilst waiting for my bus home. Bertie had had the same idea, as had a number of his disabled friends. It’s an Italian café, the usual thing – formica-topped tables, cheery service, steamy coffee with free tiny biscuit wrapped in cellophane.

 I actually walked right past Bertie, startling though he is to behold – wrapped in my own thoughts, a number of scarves and a woolly hat. Till he yelled my name. If Bertie yells your name, you know it. Everybody, all along the High Street, knows it.

And so we all passed the time. There was a man from Spain – or at least he was English but he had been in Spain for quite a few years. He had come home for a ‘recce’, presumably spooked by the idea of being marooned in Spain sans pension after Brexit, the plan being to do the ‘recce’, have his car shipped over and then drive round looking for somewhere to live, back in Blighty. 

However, one cold, damp afternoon in town, drinking tea in steaming cafés, surrounded by tattoo parlours, pound stores, charity shops, seedy pubs and branches of Nationwide had begun to sew seeds of doubt in his mind. ‘Maybe I won’t get the car shipped over,’ he remarked to Bertie. Bertie started listing the library opening hours for him. Bertie likes to provide answers, if not to questions anyone has actually asked.

And I fell to wondering how many dingy cafés I had inhabited in this my elderly life. What would they look like strung end to end, I mused. As Bertie continued with the library list and the returning expat continued to agonise and ruminate, unheard, about the car locked in the garage behind his rented villa in drier and sunnier climes, I visualised a string of past cafés and myself wandering through them endlessly, in one door and out the other, over the whole of my life. 

Here was Lyons Tea Shop in Chatham, where I went with my mother. I must have been quite small. I remember the black tiles and the mirrors – the long, long mirrors and the way they made the room look twice as big – and the woman behind the counter slopping teas from a giant teapot over a selection of teacups on a grid, not caring if the tea went in the cups or not. And the Knickerbocker Glories – ice creams and other miraculous sweet stuff in a glass so tall you had to eat it with a long spoon, and I could only just reach…

And then the cafés I went to with Mum and Dad on their Sunday cycling club marshalling duties. Plain, workmanlike cafés with cheese sandwiches, and egg and chips, and solid white mugs, unbreakable unless you hurled them forcefully against a wall. Full of cyclists, chatty and rather sweaty, in embarrassing get-ups: not lycra in those days but plus-fours, cycle clips, saggy shorts (with special saddle-padding, as my Dad foolishly showed me once) and cycling shoes that clicked and clacked as they walked. Loud. They were always very loud.

And the cafés where I did my student courting. Romance blossoming in some tiny, trendy dive. Juke box playing the same records over and over. People going up to put money in them. Coffee machines that sent out sudden jets of steam and deafened you further. What was that romantic thing he just murmured? My long-haired, half-Austrian lothario (several inches shorter than self) in the fraying cardigan his mother had knitted for him.

And the garden centre cafés I would meet Mum and Dad in, most of the rest of my life, on Sundays. People shopping for bags of manure for their roses, for garden trowels, for just the right lawnmower. People pottering and dawdling and thoroughly enjoying themselves, as British people love to do on a Sunday. Dad sitting there with his knife and fork clasped in his ham-like hands, impatient for dinner. Mum spotting a cyclist outside the window behind my back, before I had finished the sentence, so I would have to repeat it. Then spotting another cyclist. Nothing I could say was interesting enough to hold either of their attentions for the span of a complete sentence.

And the Greek café I had to take Mum to, when we were still pretending she wasn’t yet quite mad enough to be Taken Away.  The powdered scrambled egg, the sea of baked beans, the wobbly plates, the tasteless frothy coffee. Sugar in a long tube. Ever frugal, Mum took the tubes home in her handbag, but then forgot about them.

The malicious comments she thought she heard (though deaf). The accusations to the waiting staff. The explanations that were necessary. The walking stick on the floor, constantly on the floor, getting sticky, and me having to retrieve it. Trying to get her arms into her coat when they didn’t seem to want to bend backwards, even a little bit. I drew a broken heart right on your windowpane playing faintly in the background. Too-small dresses in the charity shop opposite. The bookshop she wouldn’t let me go into when we came out…

The cafés with friends. Serviettes with the sandwiches, overworked staff, sudden bursts of baby bellowing, toddlers running up and down the aisle, plate glass windows, shoppers scuttling far beneath like one of those L S Lowrie painting. All only half-noticed. The conversation is the thing.

And then a hundred – seems more like a thousand – cafés alone. The cafés above department stores and supermarkets, long and echoing. Complicated systems for queueing up for food and self-service beverages. Draughts. Shopping bags dumped under the tables. Unnatural quiet. The cafés on train stations, warming my hands on a polystyrene cup, wondering if the lid will fit back on if the train comes…

And this one. Bertie seems to have exhausted Library Opening Hours and is staring at me, perplexed. I ought to be talking, presumably. I’ve been in one of my Absences. The man from sunny Spain is gone ahead of us to the bus stop, to catch one of the red buses (we are waiting for a blue one). But when we get to the bus stop he is nowhere to be found. Bertie is concerned. I wonder if he is simply Walking Back to Spain, just like that woman used be Walking Back To Happiness on the juke box, all those years ago…

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…

Mote-Mote, Montreal and Marmalade Bread Pudding…Mountains of Things

Well, little mote-mote has had to be sold because I could not afford to drive her any more – for a sum equivalent to the Biblical thirty pieces of silver. By a kind of divine retribution for my Betrayal of my Beloved she has been bought by the Brother-in-Law of the man over the road who, for some reason that he did explain but I was too upset to understand, is keeping her on the driveway of the man over the road and seems in no hurry to take her away. So – there sits my little blue car for an unknown, indefinite spell, no longer mine and not even invisible.

In the odd, sinuous way my mind works, particularly when in distress, this reminds me of Canada and some lines from a famous poem:

My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr Spurgeon

O God! O Montreal!

Of course there is plenty to be getting on with, to take my mind off it. There are cats to be fed, there’s divan beds to be manoeuvred downstairs, there are bathroom sinks to be cleaned, there are two lawns to be mown, there’s an empty bird table, there’s a monster pile of ironing. Stuff to do, people to see…

The world is full of stuff, isn’t it? There’s no getting away from what singer Tracy Chapman once referred to, tunefully but irritatingly, as Mountains O’ Thangs and which Zen Buddhists tend to refer to as ‘The Ten Thousand Things’:

“All things are one and have no life apart from it; the One is all things and is incomplete without the least of them. Yet the parts are parts within the whole, not merged in it; they are interfused with Reality while retaining the full identity of the part, and the One is no less One for the fact that it is a million-million parts.”

(Yes, I read D T Suzuki too; and no, I didn’t understand most of it either.)

This, owing to the aforementioned sinuous way my mind works, reminds me of a little motto my sister once recited to me over the phone: Your in-tray will never be empty, which was the single most depressing piece of advice anyone ever gave me. The thought of an endless in-tray, endlessly refilled… O God! (O Montreal!) it’s like that bloke having to push the boulder up the mountain day after day and it rolling down again at night, or Penelope at her loom, weaving her husband’s burial shroud by day, unweaving it by night…

Canadians seem to be fond of little mottoes, or maybe it’s just my sister: mottoes, ice hockey, children and crafts. Innocent, homely, Little House on the Prairie type things. I rather wish I was there now: how much nicer to be collecting little mottoes and entranced by the manufacture of braided coasters and the knitting of dishcloths than a barrage of Brexit, Bombs and Burning Buildings. O God! O British Isles!

But this reminds me – homely things – I promised to share with you one or two of Mum’s recipes from the recipe book I rescued the other day. Here is the first one. I’m afraid I don’t know what the equivalent quantities are in other systems, but I have put the abbreviations in full in brackets, to assist:

MARMALADE BREAD PUDDING

Makes 16 slices

1 lb (pound) stale bread, with crusts removed

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

½ pint milk

8 oz (ounces) mixed dried fruit

4 oz dark brown sugar

3 oz soft magarine

2 level tsp (teaspoons) mixed spice

4 level tbsp (tablespoons) marmalade

1 level tbsp granulated sugar

7 x 11 x 1-inch tin, greased

Set oven to moderately hot, Gas Mark 5 or 375F/190C

Cut the bread into small pieces, place in a large bowl with the orange rind and juice and milk. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Mash with a fork and break up the pieces.

Add the dried fruit, brown sugar, margarine, mixed spice and marmalade to the soaked bread. Mix well together.

Turn into the tin, level out the surface and bake for 1 ¼ hours until firm. Leave in the tin to cool, turn out on to a wire rack and dredge (dredge? does that mean dust?) the top with sugar. Cut into 16 slices.

To freeze: Wrap in foil or polythene bags. Will keep well for 3 months.

In my monogrammed gold pyjamas…

I don’t normally write about politics – well, maybe a wee nudge in passing – mainly because, after all, who am I?

Closely followed by and who cares what I think?

Supplemented by and in any case, it’s boring. Well, not to me, but then I’m odd. But this post seems to want to be written, and nothing else is queuing up to be written instead of it, so here goes nothing.

I feel I’ve learned quite a few things recently, by observing the rise and rise of Mr Trump in America, and Brexit gradually unfolding in Britain: the value of humility, for instance, and a willingness to modify your opinions where necessary.

When That Woman in the Horrid Trouser Suit, that Elderly Plumber with the Rod Stuart Hairdo and possibly Someone Else Annoying went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge our Government’s right to trigger Article 50 (signalling our intention to leave the European Union) I was furious. I voted to leave. We voted to leave. I lived in a democracy. I had been given – wisely or not – a vote in a democratic referendum. So I voted. And I won. We won, and now this woman

I hated her. Every time she appeared on my television set yet again, I hated her. However, I would not have abused her on social media, as some did. Neither would I have written a newspaper headline describing the Lord Chief Justice and two of his colleagues, who decided in Ms Miller’s favour, as Enemies of the People. That’s because I’m old fashioned. I believe in courtesy, kindness and moderation. I believe in good sportsmanship – the idea that you should be modest in victory and generous in defeat. I believe that blind fury/incoherent ranting mean you have already lost the argument.

And now, watching what is happening in America, it seems to me that I was wrong even to have thought ungenerous thoughts about Ms Miller and her irritating trouser suit, or those pompous old farts of Judges in their wigs and gowns. I see the various Courts in America struggling to curb the rise of an out-and-out autocrat. I see that they, and the people themselves, protesting in whatever way they can, are now all that stands between democracy and dictatorship, and that may well be the case for the next four or (surely not?) eight years. How could I have thought badly of our own judges for doing what they were appointed to do in helping to define our democracy?

Before this last year, I wondered how dictators ever came to power. How did Hitler, for example, ever get to be in charge of Germany? Couldn’t people have seen through him? How did all those ghastly African dictators get to be in power in the first place? I used to think maybe it was because in Africa people were less sophisticated than us, politically (I know – a prejudice left over from Imperial days) but that did not explain Germany. Now I have watched this process happening, potentially, in the last place I would ever have expected to see it. I see how easy it is to fool at least half of the people, half of the time. And that’s all you need. Half of the people, half of the time.

I have been thinking about the Peter Principle:

Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.

Or, more specifically:

In an organizational structure, assessing an employee’s potential for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job. This eventually results in their being promoted to their highest level of competence, and potentially then to role in which they are not competent, referred to as their “level of incompetence”.

Maybe this is what has happened on a grand scale in America. Someone who was extremely good at one level of “running things” has got himself promoted to a much higher level of “running things” and he’s not exactly coping.

I dislike having to feel sorry for obnoxious people, but in spite of myself I am beginning to feel a little sorry for President Trump. Unwillingly, I try to imagine myself in his place: I am seventy-going-on-three and wandering around the palace of my dreams late at night in my monogrammed gold pyjamas, gleefully exploring its many rooms and corridors. My father’s house has many mansions… Maybe I open a desk drawer here, or peer behind a brocade curtain there. I look up at the portraits of past presidents. Here I am guys!

I wanted to win, and now I have won. At last, I’m in charge…

(My father, an electrician working for the Electricity Board, over the years refused several offers of promotion. He was popular, and a good organiser. He’d probably have made a good foreman, but he used to quote this little verse:

The working class can kiss my ****/ I’ve got the foreman’s job at last.

The extra money would have come in handy for a man with a wife with a wife and three large daughters to support, but he stuck to his socialist principles.)

…but oh, it’s not much fun in my palace of dreams: it’s hard work, it’s long hours and SO much more complicated than I imagined. People don’t just do what I tell them, like they ought to. People are criticizing me. Me!

And there’s NO ESCAPE. I can’t just tell them well, I won – but now I’d really rather go off and play golf a lot or get back to buying hotels. I can’t just turn to the nearest minion and say – here, take over this President thing for me, will you? It’s not nearly as exciting as campaigning.

I’m BORED now.

Now, I am BORED.

So bored!

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